The Evils of Infant Baptism

This list comes from Robert B. C. Howell, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1851-1858, and the entire book is available online.

  1. Infant baptism is an evil because its practice is unsupported by the word of God.
  2. Infant baptism is an evil because its defense leads to most injurious perversions of Scripture.
  3. Infant baptism is an evil because it engrafts Judaism upon the gospel of Christ.
  4. Infant baptism is an evil because it falsifies the doctrine of universal depravity.
  5. Infant baptism is an evil because the doctrines upon which it is predicated contradict the great fundamental principle of justification by faith.
  6. Infant baptism is an evil because it is in direct conflict with the doctrine of the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration.
  7. Infant baptism is an evil because it despoils the church of those peculiar qualities which are essential to the church of Christ.
  8. Infant baptism is an evil because its practice perpetuates the superstitions that originally produced it.
  9. Infant baptism is an evil because it subverts the scripture doctrine of infant salvation.
  10. Infant baptism is an evil because it leads its advocates into rebellion against the authority of Christ.
  11. Infant baptism is an evil because of the connection it assumes with the moral and religious training of children.
  12. Infant baptism is an evil because it is the grand foundation upon which rests the union of church and state.
  13. Infant baptism is an evil because it leads to religious persecutions.
  14. Infant baptism is an evil because it is contrary to the principles of civil and religious freedom.
  15. Infant baptism is an evil because it enfeebles the power of the church to combat error.
  16. Infant baptism is an evil because it injures the credit of religion with reflecting men of the world.
  17. Infant baptism is an evil because it is the great barrier to Christian union.
  18. Infant baptism is an evil because it prevents the salutary impression which baptism was designed to make upon the minds both of those who receive it, and of those who witness its administration.
  19. Infant baptism is an evil because it retards the designs of Christ in the conversion of the world.

Of these points, which form the chapters for his book, the ones bolded are those I found most persuasive.

Why did I post this list?

I am to some degree taken with the gospel-centered movement represented by T4G and the Gospel Coalition. There is strong Scriptural support for a gospel-centered kind of ministry. (Gal. 6:14, et. al.)  Yet, I’m also uneasy with the theological ambivalence that can surround “non-essential” issues such as baptism, speaking in tongues, women in ministry, old-earth theories of creation, and views of the millennium. Maybe these are all second tier doctrines because none of them in part or in full is the gospel. Or, maybe they each have one foot in the secondary and one in the primary category.

Is it possible that non-gospel doctrines can actually have a direct and logically necessary effect on God’s plan of salvation? Are all secondary doctrines exclusively secondary? This list might serve to call attention to the important aspect of “unimportant” teachings of Scripture.

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14 Responses to The Evils of Infant Baptism

  1. Khensile miehleketo ya n’wana, boti. A couple questions: Who do you know that would call baptism, forms of creationism and and women in ministry “non-essential” doctrines?
    Also, you gave a list of five doctrines in which you questioned whether or not they were secondary. Is there such a thing as a secondary doctrine, and if so, could you give me a few examples of what those doctrines would be?

    • Seth says:

      The gospel-centered movement (T4G and the Gospel Coalition) has men within it who hold to various views of baptism, creation, and spiritual gifts. So they are necessarily saying that those doctrines are secondary in comparison to the gospel.

      Their unity states that their differences are secondary.

  2. Seth says:

    1. Who? Those within the T4G / Gospel Coalition movement.
    2. A few examples: baptism, views of creation, and spiritual gifts.

    • Paul says:

      Regarding your answer to #1, you seem to be equating “secondary issue” with “non-essential”. The T4G guys may agree to disagree on these issues, but I don’t think they would call them “non-essential.” Or perhaps you were saying a “non-essential” for fellowship. Is it fair to say you disagree with them on this? If yes, that means you wouldn’t preach at a church with a different Millennial view than you, right?

      Regarding #2, my question was: which doctrines are secondary issues TO YOU. If you understood my question this way and you say baptism, views of creation, and spiritual gifts, then you agree with T4G and all is well. But if you DON’T think those are secondary issues, which I believe was the point of the latter portion of your article, then what ARE some doctrines that are secondary in your mind?

      • Seth says:

        Yes, non-essential serves as a good summary for secondary because they are not necessary in order to be in the Family. Certain doctrines are not the essence of who we are. “Primary” are those things which get you in and mark off the family borders. Secondary is anything else. At least in the context of a group that says we are Together For the Gospel.

        I said in the original post that I sympathize with the gospel-centered movement. At our church we pray for “all churches that love the gospel.” I’ve preached at churches that are amil. So I do see, eschatology for example, as secondary.

        But I don’t have a tidy list of what doctrines are secondary since some doctrines, at some times in church history have a greater or lesser effect on the gospel. Various views of creation have a direct impact on inerrancy which has a direct impact on the gospel. Old earth views also have a particular view of death that has an impact on the gospel. Even if a doctrine is not part of God’s plan of redemption, because all revelation is perspectivally related, many false teachings that seem peripheral may cut right to the quick given the right historical setting.

        Then again, Bauder argues for a great many degrees of unity and separation within the body of Christ depending on numerous factors such as the kind of unity and the kind of teaching or practice that the two brothers disagree on. At the end of the day, that may be what we all do anyway.

  3. ilyston says:

    Seth, I agree with your overall assessment.

    Doctrines are interlinked, and they do not stand by themselves, especially the ordinances. It is funny that it used to be that the church was identified by right preaching of the gospel AS WELL as the right understanding of the ordinances and church discipline. Evangelicals rightly differentiate the ordinances from the gospel (1 Cor. 1:17), and no one seriously would identify church discipline with the Good News. Yet, instinctively our forefathers saw that these two other doctrines are so rooted in the gospel that to get them wrong is to destroy the doctrine of the church. As Mark Dever says, the church is the gospel made visible.

    Possibly, the issue really is about non-ecclesiastical fellowship. But to what end is that fellowship? If it is to promote the Gospel, then the undermining of the outcome of the gospel –the church — makes the endeavor meaningless. It would seem to me that the para-church ministry of NT missions (Paul from Antioch church, Timothy from Ephesian Church, Barnabas from Jerusalem Church, etc) was all about the promotion of the Gospel for the sake of establishing churches, seeing that churches are essential for discipleship and the fulfillment of Great Commission. Should we not, therefore, question any para-Church ministry that focuses upon evangelism apart from the church? Can such a focus find any warrant from the NT?

    If such a non-ecclesiastical fellowship is to promote fellowship with other Christians without the church, then we are in essence saying that the NT’s focus upon the Church is insufficient and that real and meaningful fellowship can be had outside the confines of the church. But I find that this fellowship is not rooted in the biblical structure and has no accountability. Again, can this be sustained by biblical theology, or is it more of a practical, pragmatic thing? Can the fellowship be a fellowship wherein the Lord’s Supper is taken without destroying its meaning? Etc.

  4. gary says:

    Why is the New Testament silent on Infant Baptism?

    Baptist/evangelical response:

    The reason there is no mention of infant baptism in the New Testament is because this practice is a Catholic invention that developed two to three centuries after the Apostles. The Bible states that sinners must believe and repent before being baptized. Infants do not have the mental maturity to believe or to make a decision to repent. If God had wanted infants to be baptized he would have specifically mentioned it in Scripture. Infant baptism is NOT scriptural.

    Lutheran response:

    When God made his covenant with Abraham, God included everyone in Abraham’s household in the covenant:

    1. Abraham, the head of the household.
    2. His wife.
    3. His children: teens, toddlers, and infants
    4. His servants and their wives and children.
    5. His slaves and their wives and children.

    Genesis records that it was not just Abraham who God required to be circumcised. His son, his male servants, and his male slaves were all circumcised; more than 300 men and boys.

    Did the act of circumcision save all these people and give them an automatic ticket into heaven? No. Just as in the New Covenant, it is not the sign that saves, it is God’s declaration that saves, received in faith. If these men and boys grew in faith in God, they would be saved. If they later rejected God by living a life of willful sin, they would perish.

    This pattern of including the children of believers in God’s covenant continued for several thousand years until Christ’s resurrection. There is no mention in the OT that the children of the Hebrews were left out of the covenant until they reached an Age of Accountability, at which time they were required to make a decision: Do I want to be a member of the covenant or not? And only if they made an affirmative decision were they then included into God’s covenant. Hebrew/Jewish infants and toddlers have ALWAYS been included in the covenant. There is zero evidence from the OT that says otherwise.

    Infants WERE part of the covenant. If a Hebrew infant died, he was considered “saved”.

    However, circumcision did NOT “save” the male Hebrew child. It was the responsibility of the Hebrew parents to bring up their child in the faith, so that when he was older “he would not depart from it”. The child was born a member of the covenant. Then, as he grew up, he would have the choice: do I want to continue placing my faith in God, or do I want to live in willful sin? If he chose to live by faith, he would be saved. If he chose to live a life of willful sin and never repented, and then died, he would perish.

    When Christ established the New Covenant, he said nothing explicit in the New Testament about the salvation of infants and small children; neither do the Apostles nor any of the writers of the New Testament. Isn’t that odd? If the new Covenant no longer automatically included the children of believers, why didn’t Christ, one of the Apostles, or one of the writers of the NT mention this profound change?

    Why is there no mention in the NT of any adult convert asking this question: “But what about my little children? Are you saying that I have to wait until my children grow up and make a decision for themselves, before I will know if they will be a part of the new faith? What happens if my child dies before he has the opportunity to make this decision?” But no, there is no record in Scripture that any of these questions are made by new converts to the new faith. Isn’t that really, really odd??? As a parent of small children, the FIRST question I would ask would be, “What about my little children?”

    But the New Testament is completely silent on the issue of the salvation or safety of the infants and toddlers of believers. Another interesting point is this: why is there no mention of any child of believers “accepting Christ” when he is an older child (8-12 years old) or as a teenager and then, being baptized? Not one single instance and the writing of the New Testament occurred over a period of 30 years, approximately thirty years after Christ’s death: So over a period of 60 years, not one example of a believer’s child being saved as a teenager and then receiving “Believers Baptism”. Why???

    So isn’t it quite likely that the reason God does not explicitly state in the NT that infants should be baptized, is because everyone in first century Palestine would know that infants and toddlers are included in a household conversion. That fact that Christ and the Apostles did NOT forbid infant baptism was understood to indicate that the pattern of household conversion had not changed: the infants and toddlers of believers are still included in this new and better covenant.

    Circumcision nor Baptism was considered a “Get-into-heaven-free” card. It was understood under both Covenants that the child must be raised in the faith, and that when he was older, he would need to decide for himself whether to continue in the faith and receive everlasting life, or choose a life of sin, breaking the covenant relationship with God, and forfeiting the gift of salvation.

    Which of these two belief systems seems to be most in harmony with Scripture and the writings of the Early Christians?

    Gary
    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

    • sethmeyers says:

      Thanks for the reply, Gary. Do you have a blog?

      So you would like to adjust the first proposition above so that it reads:
      1. Infant baptism is an evil because its practice is unsupported by the New Testament.

      Secondly, if you see the genesis of the church in the book of Acts, then there is no difficulty in understanding the discontinuity between the signs of the Old and New Covenants. If the church is a new body that was previously a mystery unknown in other ages (Eph. 3:3-5), separated from the Old Covenant believers by the indwelling Holy Spirit (Acts 2), then we should expect discontinuity. Isn’t that what Hebrews 8 talks about when it refers to a better, newer covenant quite different (discontinuous) from the old, first covenant?

      Framed that way, the patterns from the Old Covenant don’t carry exemplary force for the New Covenant believers.

      • gary says:

        The silence regarding the salvation/safety of infants in the NT is overwhelming evidence that the covenantal inclusion of infants continued into the New Covenant.

        Your beliefs are an invention of western European radicals in Switzerland. It never existed during the first 1,000 years of Christianity. It is false doctrine.

        Repent.

        • sethmeyers says:

          The reply is late because we’ve been traveling this last week.

          Gary, your arguments are:
          1. Because the NT does not talk about infant baptism we should do it. There’s no Scriptural force to arguments from silence.
          2. Because historically infant baptism has been accepted. There’s no Scripture in this argument either.

          My conscience is bound. Unless I am convinced from Scripture, I cannot recant for to do so is neither right nor safe.

          • gary says:

            So I assume that means you also:

            1. Do not allow women to partake of the Lord’s Supper.
            2. You do not have communion tables, pulpits, or pews in your church.
            3. You do not have paid pastors.
            4. You do not have trustees in your church.
            5. You do not require your primary worship service to be on Sunday.

            In the 1800’s the Church of Christ taught that unless something is specifically mentioned in the Bible, it should not be in the church. Out of this “pure” Church, came the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

            • sethmeyers says:

              Sorry, brother, but I’m losing you.

              1. The NT speaks about baptism. Therefore, we should study what it says
              and try to do it, believe it, and love it.
              2. I fail to see how your 5 examples disprove the proposition above.

              But just briefly, there is NT data for examples 1 (Gal. 3:28), 3 (1
              Cor. 9 and 1 Tim. 5), and 5 (Acts 20:7, Rev. 1:8). The NT does not
              prohibit either 2 or 4, so they may be decided by the situation.

  5. DO INFANTS QUALIFY FOR BAPTISM?

    What preceded water baptism under the New Covenant?
    Under the New Covenant terms for pardon, all who were baptized in water believed before they were baptized.

    Jesus said in (Mark 16:16 Those who believe and are baptized will be saved. But those who refuse to believe will be condemned.)

    Jesus did not say those who are baptized and then believe will be saved. Water baptism always follows belief. There is no Scripture under the New Covenant where water baptism precedes belief.

    Infants do not qualify for baptism because they cannot believe.
    Atheists do not qualify for water baptism because they have not believed. Infants and atheists are both non-believers.

    On the Day of Pentecost all three thousand had some things in common.
    1. They heard Peter preach Jesus as a miracle worker. They heard about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. They heard Jesus preached as the Lord and Messiah.

    Infants cannot understand the meaning of the apostle Peter’s sermon. They cannot believe. They do not qualify for water baptism.

    2. Peter told the three thousand what they had to do after they believed. (Acts 2:38 And Peter replied, “Each one of you must turn from sin, return to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of yours sins; then you also shall receive this git, the Holy Spirit.)

    Infants do not qualify for water baptism. They cannot turn from sin because they are not guilty of sin. They cannot return to God because they have not left God, they are innocent of any sin. Infants cannot follow the instructions to believe, repent and be baptized.

    Acts 2:40-41 Then Peter preached a long sermon, telling about Jesus and strongly urging all his listeners to save themselves from the evils of their nations. 41 And those who believed Peter were baptized— about 3,000 in all.

    Peter was not urging infants to save themselves. Infants do not understand sermons. Those who believed were baptized. Infants cannot believe, they were not baptized on the Day of Pentecost.

    ALL OF THE PEOPLE BEING BAPTIZED IN WATER, UNDER THE NEW COVENANT, WERE BAPTIZED AFTER THEY FIRST BELIEVED.

    1. Acts 2:22-41 (The 3000)
    2. Acts 8:13 (Simon)
    3. Acts 8:26-38 (The eunuch)
    4. Acts 22:6-16 (Saul)
    5. Acts 10:30-47 (Cornelius)
    6. Acts 16:13-15 (Lydia)
    7. Acts 16:29-34 (The jailer and his household were all believers. Infants cannot believe.)
    8. Acts 18:8 (Crispus and his household were all believers. Infants cannot believe, they were not baptized.)
    9.Acts 19:3-5 (They were baptized in the name of the Lord (New Covenant baptism) after they believed, not before they believed.

    If infants can be baptized for the forgiveness of sins before they believe, then atheists can also be baptized for the forgiveness of sins before they believe.

    JESUS SAID BELIEVE AND BE BAPTIZED. JESUS DID NOT SAY BE BAPTIZED AND THEN BELIEVE.

    (Scripture from: The Living Bible —Paraphrased)

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