The Baptism Debate
I have been progressing through some of the controversies of water baptism. In my last two articles, I argued that baptism is to be done by immersion and for the purpose of symbolizing the spiritual reality of being identified with Jesus in His death, burial and resurrection.
There is one more debate to address – namely, the subjects of baptism. In this controversy, we wrestle over who should be baptized rather than how or what for. It is the debate of infant baptism (paedobaptism) and believer’s baptism (credobaptism). The goal of this writing is to show that Scripture argues for a believer’s baptism only and that infant baptism confuses the symbol even if it is for the purpose of committing the child to the Lord.
Let’s look at the narratives first. In every instance, the disciples baptized believers. Beginning with Acts 2:41, we find the story of the Day of Pentecost. After the Holy Spirit fell upon the disciples and Peter preached the gospel, the multitude “who received his word were baptized.” Notice the language here, only those who received the gospel message were baptized and no one else.
The same is found as the Acts of the Apostles continues. In Acts 8:12, “they believed Philip as he preached the good news” and “they were baptized, both men and women.” The following verse says that “even Simon himself believed” and was baptized before leaving with Philip.
The story of the eunuch, who said after he believed the gospel, “what prevents me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36). Was there something that prevented his baptism before this? It was belief. Prior to belief, there is no baptism.
Even the apostle Paul (formerly Saul) was baptized after his conversion (Acts 9:18). Add to that those in Cornelius’ household (Acts 10:47-48), in Lyida’s household (Acts 16:14-15), in the Philippian jailer’s household (Acts 16:31-34), and Crispus and those at Corinth (Acts 18:8). In no accounts (even those in the gospels) do we find any babies being baptized.
In fact, the most popular command given from Jesus to His disciples was to baptize believers. Notice what Matthew 28:19-20 records for us, Jesus commands them to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (emphasis added). Who should they baptize? Who is “them” to which Jesus is referring? It is those who are made disciples.
Also, basic reasoning would suggest that infant baptism confuses the symbol. As addressed in an earlier article, water baptism symbolizes the conversion of the one being baptized. Therefore, without the ability to understand and believe, one cannot appropriately illustrate that which has not happened. If you do not believe, then you have nothing to symbolize.
The baptism of infants is unwarranted and confusing. The baptism of believers is Scriptural and best communicates the truth it represents – buried with Christ and raised in a newness of life. For these reasons, I believe that water baptism should be reserved for only those who believe the truth that Jesus has died for my sins and raised on my behalf. In him I have salvation.