Common Misunderstanding: That the Catholic Church is wrong in baptizing infants. Baptism, say the fundamentalists, is to be administered only to those who can believe, who have “accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” When this happens, when the person is “born again”, the person becomes a Christian and his salvation is assured. Baptism ordinarily follows but it does nothing to secure salvation.
Response: Scripture teaches and the Catholic Church has always held that baptism is a sacrament, not just an ordinance, and that it is necessary for th remission of sin and for salvation. Consistent with this, children of believers under the age of reason should be baptized for their salvation and the forgiveness of sins, effectively making them Christians.
Source: Catholic and Fundamentalism, Keating, pp 177-181; Archbishop Sheehan, “Why Be A Catholic? Part Five. Why Do Catholics Baptize Infants?”
- Acts 2:38,39 Peter in his first sermon makes it very clear that the promises of baptism are for adults and their children. “Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children and to …. Whomever the Lord our God will call.’”
- John 3:3-6 Jesus said that no one (adult or infant) can enter heaven unless he has been born again of water and the Holy Spirit. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdome of God.” This is a direct reference to baptism and consistent with Mark 16:16.
- Col. 2:10-12 St. Paul notes that baptism as a sacrament has replaced circumcision. Under the Old Covenant this was normally applied to infants as the means of being engrafted into the covenant community. Since there were few adult conversions, circumcision applied almost always to infants. If St. Paul meant to exclude infants from this, it is strange that he did not say so explicitly “In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not administered by hand, by stripping off the carnal body, with the circumcision of Christ. You were buried with Him in Baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the power of God, …”
- Salvation and the forgiveness of sins was not always the result of a person’s faith when faced by Jesus. The healing of the paralytic (Mk 2:1-12; Mt 9:1-8; Lk 5:17-26) places the emphasis on “their” faith, not on “his” faith. Calvin saw a direct relation between this story and the baptism of infants.
- There are at least four instances in the New Testament where it is likely recorded that infants were indeed baptized. In the case of Lydia, “She was baptized, with all her household” (Acts 16:15). The jailer of Paul and Silas indicates the same thing. “Without delay he and all his were baptized” (Acts 16:33). Crispus and his household believed (Acts 18:8) and were baptized (I Cor 1:14). St. Paul also recalled that he did baptize the household of Stephanas (I Cor 1:16). Nothing in the New Testament says that infants are not to be baptized. St. Paul never mentioned the exclusion of little children.
- The early Fathers understood that children were to be baptized. Current Catholic practice corresponds to this witness. Origen wrote in the third century that” the Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism also to infants.” St. John Chrysostom said, “For this reason we baptize even infants, though they do not have sins (of their own); so that there may be given to them holiness, righteousness, adoption, inheritance, brotherhood with Christ, and that they may be His members.” The Council of Carthage, in 252, condemned the opinion that infants should be withheld from baptism until the eighth day after birth. This demonstrates that infant baptism was accepted and practiced. All that was in question was the time at which the infant should be baptized.
- It should be noted that the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace (CCC 1285). In the case of those who were baptized as infants, confirmation is the occasion where they personally affirm their belief in Christ before receiving the sacrament (CCC 1298). At the time of their baptism as infants, someone else responsible for them affirmed the promises of faith (CCC1250-1252).
- Mark 10:14 Jesus says, “Let the little children come unto me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the Kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’ And He… blessed them, laying his hands upon them.” Fundamentalists say this verse does not apply to children below the age of reason, since it implies the persons being referred to are able to approach Christ on their own. But the text itself says, “And people were bringing children to Him that He might touch them… Both Matthew (19:13-15) and Luke (18:15) say that “children were brought to Him.” This is a good example of fundamentalists having a conviction that over-rides the actual text of the Scripture itself.
What is the place of the Parents? The parents supply the act of faith for their infants until such time as they can profess mature Christian faith on their own. The faith and consent of parents (or other Christians taking their place) are essential because it is from them, first of all, that their children will learn that ways of Jesus. Children should not be brought to the Church for baptism unless the parents have every intention of raising those children in a practicing Catholic household.
Baptism is the point at which one becomes Christian, not just the making of a personal commitment in one’s heart. The understanding of becoming a Christian when one makes a personal decision for Christ runs counter to all other memberships. One does not become a member of Rotary when one decides to do so in his heart. One must make application, be judged worthy, and be initiated or received into membership. The same stages have always been true for the Church, though the qualifications are quite different. For example, in most organizations one must prove oneself “good” enough. To become a Christian one must confess that one is “bad” enough (a sinner) and seek salvation through faith and obedience in Christ.
What about baptism by sprinkling or pouring in contrast to immersion? The Catholic Church sees immersion, going under and coming out of the water, as the most complete sign of dying and rising with Jesus through baptism. But from the Old Testament (Ezek 36:25; 43:18; Ex29:16) understands sprinkling as a manner of purification for the people. And the Didache (first manual of Church discipline) says that for baptism, “If you do not have running water, baptize in some other. If you cannot in cold, then in warm. If you have neither, then pour water on the head three times “in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
Why do Catholics assert that “baptism saves us?” We say this for two reasons. First, anyone coming for baptism must make (or have made for him) an affirmation of faith (See Acts 22:16 – “Rise up, and receive baptism, washing away your sins at the invocation of His name”). Secondly, Scripture affirms that Baptism “saves” us and is necessary for salvation (See 1 Pet 3:21 – “This prefigured baptism, which saves you now.” Also Mk 16:16 and Rom 6:3-11). It is truly a sacrament, not just an ordinance (See CCC 1257-1261).