I was raised in the non-denominational Christian faith. This means I was raised without tradition or a church hierarchy dictating the interpretation of the Bible. Our church was run by elected elders, and teaching was straight from the Bible. Baptism was a personal choice which came following one's decision to accepted Christ as one's Lord and savior. Now I belong to an independent Baptist church which teaches the same Biblical teaching.
There are 2 theologies surrounding baptism:
1) Baptism is an outward symbol of the inward transformation that comes with being "born again" in Christ
2) Baptism is a washing away of original and current sin and a right of passage into the church
But what does the Bible say about this? I do not believe that the Bible says that infant baptism (which falls into the second category above) is correct. Let me explain my reasoning.
Many who point to infant baptism point to Acts 2:38-39, which says Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him They also point to Acts 22:16 Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.
Another verse which is often pointed to is 1 Peter 3:21. It was interesting to me when I saw a pamphlet once on the importance of infant baptism where they pointed to this verse. They paraphrased it like this: : Baptism . . . now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That certainly sounds clear doesn't it? These 3 verses clearly point to the fact that baptism is necessary for the washing away of sins, right?
Well this is what 1 Peter 3:21 says without paraphrasing:
and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ
Hmm kind of confusing how one verse could be seen 2 totally different ways, huh? But even if that verse could be construed as the way the brochure on infant baptism said, what is it saying about infant baptism? Does this mean that anyone who isn't baptized is not saved?
I do not think that Peter could have meant in these verses that baptism (as in the ceremony of being submerged in water) cleanses us on our sins. It is clear this was not the stance of the early Christian, as recorded elsewhere in the book of Acts.
Acts 8:35-38 says:
Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized? Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.
This story shows how belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God was fundamental in being baptized. This is one of the major problems with infant baptism. An infant has no knowledge of Jesus Christ as their savior. They cannot say whether they accept Christ as the Son of God or whether they believe in what that entails (the shedding of his blood to redeem humanity from the sin which had kept up separated from God since the Garden of Eden).
Another verse which is often pointed to by those who practice infant baptism is John 3:5, where Jesus says: “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit." Again, this could be very persuasive in proving the necessity of baptism for salvation (hence the importance in baptizing infants to save them should they die young). However, with knowledge of everything else Christ says in the Bible, it is impossible to believe this is exactly what Christ meant. He was most likely talking about the symbol of being born again which baptism (water) symbolizes. When one is born again, they become a house for the Holy Spirit.
How can we know this? Think of the very prominent story of Jesus on the cross and exchanged words with the thief hanging next to him:Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
It was that simple. He believed, so he was saved. We know from other places in the Bible that we are not saved by anything that we do, but rather by Christ dying for us and becoming a sacrifice to God for our sins.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
You cannot boast that you or your infant have been saved due to baptism. We are saved by the gift of Christ's life, nothing else.
Ephesians 1:13 says:
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit
The holy spirit and our salvation did not happen when we were baptized, but rather when we believed! We see many stories of people coming to salvation and immediately being baptized afterwards in the Bible. It was a profession of faith, followed by the public act symbolizing the dying with Christ (being submerged in water), and rising again clean of sin (coming from the water).
So let's take a look at Acts 2:38 again:
Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit
We know that salvation happens when we accept Christ, and the result of that faith must be the turning away from our sin. You are made new in Christ. Therefore based on everything else we see written about salvation and the act of baptism, we know here that they are talking about repenting (turning away from sin), being baptized (dying of our old self and rising clean and new) all in the name of Jesus Christ and in response to his sacrifice, the result of which is the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide us. If you are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, you will already have made that transformation and declaration in your heart of the acceptance of his sacrifice for your life, and in that case baptism is a response to that.
In this way, I cannot see how infant baptism fits in. Baptism is obviously a response to the inner transformation of Christ in our hearts. It is the decision to accept him and follow him which leads to baptism. And as much as we would like to, we cannot make that decision for our children when they are young.
Let me also address another common reason for infant baptism, and that is as a ceremony of bringing children into the church. Unfortunately, only the acceptance of Christ as one's personal savior is what makes you a member of the church. This is based on the Biblical definition of Church, which means the community of believers (not a building). 1 Corinthians is full of advice towards a church gone haywire, and Paul consistently addresses them as the saved, the ones called to Christ. If you are not called to Christ, you are not a member of the church (as in the global community of believers). You can be raised amongst believers, but until you have chosen to enter into a relationship with Christ with him as your savior, you are not a member of that community, because by definition you must be a believer to be a part of it.
Since we know that the act of submersion in water is not what saves, I believe that children who are too young to understand and make the decision to accept Christ or not are not punished for their sins. Some refer to this as the age of accountability, and I believe it varies from child to child, based on their maturity and what God knows of their heart and understanding. Children come into a sinful world and are therefore impacted by the sinful nature of humanity. However, 1 John 2:2 says He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. Therefore I believe his sacrifice is sufficient for everyone, even children who are unable yet to make the decision to accept him.
If parents believe that it is important to have some sort of ceremony with their infant, I think that baby/child dedication is quite nice. Although it is not a Biblical tradition, it is a public announcement before the church that you, as parents, will raise your child and guide him/her in the ways of the Lord. The church then makes the same pronouncement toward the child, promising to help the parents in guiding their children. It is a nice little tradition, and not meant to confuse people about where salvation comes from.
Let me talk briefly about my baptism story. You may have read my testimony in the tab above, but let me expand on what baptism meant to me. I was never baptized when I was younger, and even when I professed to believe as a teen, I never had the urge to be baptized. It just never felt right.
When I rededicated my life to Christ at age 21, I knew I wanted to be baptized. I was living abroad, however, and the options were very limited. When I returned to America, I was baptized a few months later and it was a very emotional experience for me. I was baptized in the church I was raised in, a large non-denominational church, while hundreds of people watched. They even projected me on 2 large screens so everyone could see.
I wrote my testimony (the story of how I came to Christ) and recorded it in my voice beforehand. They played my testimony aloud while I was in the pool with the pastor, and it was the first time I had publicly admitted to believing in Islam. My family was there and it was incredibly difficult. My deepest, darkest secrets were now public, out there for everyone to see. I remember feeling like I was drowning in shame.
But it was very healing. I remember saying in my testimony "I know Christ has forgiven me, and now I just pray he helps me learn how to forgive myself."
I was crying and shaking the whole time I listened to my testimony play, and the new close union I had with Christ in me helped sooth my soul. I could almost hear the angels rejoicing for me. I remember thinking of Luke 15 and the parable of the lost sheep:
Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
I just remember looking at the pastor with tears streaming down my face and saying in a voice which was so shaky "I am just SO happy to be here". I knew I was that lost sheep, and I knew I had barely escaped death. And the joy and healing that came with going under the water and coming back up was so amazing! Showing God, my brothers and sisters in Christ, and myself publicly that I am a new being thanks to nothing I have done. Praise and honor belong to Christ ALONE!