Church: Infant Baptism
Grace Communion International practices both believer’s baptism (baptizing people who have come to personal faith in Jesus Christ) and infant baptism (baptism of very young children who have one or more parents or guardians who are believers and are committed to raising the child in the faith). This article addresses infant baptism. To download a copy of GCI’s infant baptism ceremony, click here.
What is the biblical warrant for baptizing infants? In the New Testament we find examples of whole households being baptized upon the conversion of the head of the household (Acts 16:15, 31-33; 1 Corinthians 1:16). It is likely that there were infants and children in these households, but these texts are not conclusive evidence that infants were baptized. For example, the fact that entire households believed (Acts 16:34; 18:8) suggests that the terminology is a generalization, and not meant to include every single person regardless of age.
A more persuasive text is Acts 2:39. In Peter’s speech on the Day of Pentecost, he speaks of the covenantal promises of God given to believers and their children, verifying that believer’s children are already included in the household of faith even before any personal profession of faith. First Corinthians 7:14 likewise indicates that the children of believers are in a different category than the children of unbelievers, although neither text specifies exactly what the difference is, or how it is to be denoted.
Trinitarian theology affirms from the Scriptures that it is the faith of Jesus Christ, not our own faith, that saves us (Ephesians 2:8; Galatians 2:20 KJV). Christian baptism signifies what God, of his own initiative, has done for us, and it is upon the truth of this already accomplished fact that faith comes to rest. As Paul says, “…while we were yet powerless” Christ died for all humanity (Romans 5:6). Christ lived on behalf of all humanity, died for all humanity, and rose again for all humanity. Similarly, he was baptized on behalf of all humanity, and in that way all have already been baptized, whether or not we are old enough to understand it. Powerless and helpless humans (both adult and infant) are loved and affirmed by God in spite of their current inability to understand or respond.
When adults are baptized, they are able to give their response of faith to God’s claim and call upon their lives. Those who are baptized as infants also come to a point in their lives when they can consciously give their allegiance to Christ. For those who are baptized as infants, a “confirmation ceremony” can provide an opportunity to give public acknowledgement of their faith.
James Torrance put it this way:
In the practice of infant baptism, we believe that in faith we are doing something for the child, long before the child comes to faith, in acknowledgement of what Christ did for all of us nineteen hundred years before we were born. But in faith we pray that Christ in his faithfulness, and in his own, time, will bring this child to personal faith. The efficacy of baptism is not in the rite or in the water, but in the faithfulness of Christ. (pp. 80-81)
In most churches, infants are welcomed into the community of faith and their special status before God is recognized either by a blessing or by baptism. Either way, the community of faith (parents, extended family, caregivers, and all members of the local congregation) has the covenantal responsibility to work together to bring up the child “in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
Daniel Migliori says:
While the practice of infant baptism is not absolutely necessary in the life of the church, it may be permissible. And whether it is permissible depends on whether it is being practiced as a routine social rite, or as a form of cheap, magical grace, or instead with the clear understanding that it proclaims the unconditional grace of God in Jesus Christ and calls both parents and community to responsibility for the care, nurture, and guidance of the baptized child in the life of faith, hope, and love” (Faith Seeking Understanding, 2nd ed., p. 286).¹
When infant baptism is practiced responsibly by the community of faith, it can be viewed as a sign of God’s gracious initiative and a powerful expression of the fact that God loves us even before we begin to respond. Infant baptism proclaims that God’s love, grace, and salvation are purely his gift. Any human response to this is just a matter of time as to when it occurs.
Therefore, GCI elders may baptize an infant when requested to do so by the infant’s parents or guardians. They are also free to explain these principles to parents or guardians and offer infant baptism as a scripturally permissible and spiritually blessed expression of God’s unconditional grace and love. They are also free to explain the principles involved in infant blessing and believer’s baptism.
When a child who was baptized as an infant comes to personal faith in Christ, these children should not be baptized again. Instead, they should be given instruction in the meaning of their earlier baptism and the other basic teachings of the Christian faith, followed by a confirmation ceremony in which they can publicly express their faith in Jesus. The ceremony provides a “rite of passage” that helps mark their conscious acceptance of the grace that has already been given to them.
¹Migliori’s book has an excellent discussion of the permissibility of infant baptism from a Trinitarian theological perspective (including a critique of Karl Barth’s negative position).