Historian Michel Meslin, president of the University of Paris–Sorbonne, wrote in “The Encyclopedia of Religion” that “infant baptism, though possible, was probably not practiced in the early period of the church,” but officially permitted by the 6th Century if not before, became popular by the 10th or 11th Centuries, and was the common Catholic practice by the 13th Century, with parents taking vows on behalf of their youngsters.
The 16th Century Protestant founders continued this Catholic tradition except for dissenting “Anabaptists,” “Brethren” and Mennonites, centered in Switzerland and Holland, later succeeded by pioneer “Baptists” in 17th Century Britain and its American colonies.
Canadian Priest John Hainsworth wrote a helpful explanation of the Eastern Orthodox viewpoint for the website Pravmir.com. He drew especially upon Colossians 2:12, which portrays continuity between baptism and God’s command, beginning with Abraham, for Jews to circumcise all boys eight days after birth.
Colossians teaches that with the spiritual “circumcision of Christ” that is “made without hands,” a Christian is ”buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the work of God.” Unlike circumcision, Christian baptism is a rite of admission applied equally to both females and males.
Circumcision was part of the ancient “covenant” of God not just with individuals, Hainsworth said, but with the Jewish people collectively. Yes, “intellectual consent” is crucial for adult converts, but as with circumcision, Christian infants through baptism join “communion with the whole Church” as their “spiritual family.” Linkage with circumcision is central to “covenant theology” associated with Presbyterian and Reformed Protestantism that stemmed from John Calvin.
Others say that infant baptism carries out Jesus’ own welcome, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14, paralleled in Mark 10:14 and Luke 18:16).
Presbyterian layman Jack Lee posted several blog articles on Patheos.com defending infant baptism to fellow evangelicals who often take the opposite view. For one thing, he argued from Ephesians 6:1-4 that the Apostle Paul treated children as accepted members of “the body of Christ” by giving all youngsters in the church at Ephesus admonitions “in the Lord.”
“The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church” observes a major problem in modern times. Parents who present an infant for baptism may be “only nominally Christian” and unable to fulfill their baptism vow to raise the child as a Christian. Yet some church leaders find it difficult to deny this sacrament.
Regarding full bodily immersion, the New Testament Greek word for baptism means to “immerse” or “wash.”
CONTINUE READING: “Unending Debate: Should Christians Baptize Babies?”, by Richard Ostling.
FIRST IMAGE: Baptist Press photo of 2005 baptism rites in Daytona Beach, Fla.