A gracEmail subscriber writes that his infant grandson is soon to be baptized, although Grandpa raised the baby’s mother in a church that baptizes only confessing believers. This grandfather requests more information on the subject.
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The New Testament does not specifically mention infant baptism or, for that matter, an “age of accountability” of older children. Luke does report “households” being baptized (Acts 10:24, 48; 16:15, 32). Some theologians suppose that those households contained infants; others suppose that they did not. The Book of Acts reflects a first-generation church in which adult conversions were the norm. It is altogether possible that the spiritual status of believer’s children had not yet become a pressing question.
Scholars on both sides of this issue focus on the New Testament’s connection between baptism and the benefits achieved by Christ’s atoning work — new life, cleansing, forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Spirit, incorporation into the body of Christ. Scholars also note that the New Testament relates baptism to repentance (Acts 2:38) and to faith (Mark 16:16; Col. 2:12). Christians who decline to baptize babies reason that babies do not need to repent and cannot exercise saving faith. Christians who do baptize their babies either presume that the infants have faith (which they cannot yet express) or, given the faith of the parents, anticipate that the babies will come to personal faith in due time.
Not all Christians who baptize their babies do so for the same reason. Nor, of course, do all who baptize adults. For Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans, baptism is a sacrament with saving significance. For Presbyterians and Reformed, it signifies membership in God’s covenant community, just as circumcision marked Israel’s baby boys as belonging to the Abrahamic covenant. Methodists and other Wesleyans officially think like Anglicans on this subject, although in practice they often view infant baptism more as the parents’ dedication of the child and as their own promise to nurture the baby toward personal faith as it grows older.