Monday, 29 April 2013

A question about believers baptism

( Gratuitous pics of Marie-Aibhlinn's baptism!)
My friend Charlotte, an evangelical Christian, is currently in RCIA and considering becoming Catholic.

She has a question about infant baptism which she has posted on Catholic Answers and she also emailed it to me.

When I was considering how to answer it occurred to me that it might be helpful to post it here so that some of you reading here, could perhaps shed a bit of light on her question.

Here's what she said:

" I am hoping to convert soon but there are a few questions I have and I would greatly appreciate help.
The first is baptism. There are scriptures that can be said to support 'believer's baptism' and others that seem, by assumption, to include infant baptism. However I am stumped by this scripture that seems to clearly preclude infant baptism in favour of believer's baptism:
John 1:27-27 says '12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.'
This not only says that to become children of God, we need to actively receive him (it then clarifies - to 'believe' in Jesus as the Messiah) - it clearly states that simply to be born naturally, whether planned or simply a natural result of sexual union - is not sufficient, whether or not the child is then baptised (as it could not actively believe in Jesus)."

So here are my thoughts, with the obvious caveat that I'm no theologian and am totally open to correction in the com box.
I'm not seeing how this verse *precludes* infant baptism.

We are still required to cooperate with the graces we receive at baptism.

The grace of baptism for an infant is somewhat like receiving a great inheritance. They may squander it or leave it sitting in a bank vault and live like a pauper.

If this verse meant that active belief was necessary for salvation then those who are incapable of active belief ( the very young or the mentally unfit) would be excluded from God's covenant.

Catholics believe that baptism is necessary

( "and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you.." 1 Peter 3:21 )

and that children are included in Gods covenant just as the children of Israel were ( circumcision being a type of baptism under the old covenant)

Also, this site explains that the Greek translation of Acts 23 " Repent and be baptised" literally means "If you repent, then each one who is a part of you and yours must each be baptized” (“Metanoesate kai bapistheto hekastos hymon.”)

In Acts 2:39 Peter says "The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

So he is saying that baptism is given to children, who are also part of Gods covenant family.

According to the site linked to above "those who are far off" refers to those who are at home, primarily infants and young children.

But that doesn't mean that to be baptised *guarantees* our salvation. We are still free to reject or accept Christ and to sin or to pursue holiness.

In baptism we have the hope rather than the assurance of salvation.

Nor does it mean that those who die without baptism are damned.

The Catechism puts it like this:

"The Lord himself affirms that baptism is necessary for salvation [John 3:5]. . . . Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament [Mark 16:16]" (CCC 1257).

And here it talks about the possibility of salvation for the unbaptised:

"Those who die for the faith, those who are catechumens, and all those who, without knowing of the Church but acting under the inspiration of grace, seek God sincerely and strive to fulfill his will, are saved even if they have not been baptized" CCC 1281

The catechism also allows for the possibility of salvation for unbaptised infants ( CCC 1260-61 and CCC 1283 )

In today's reading at Mass Paul and Barnabas are quoted as saying

"It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God"

( Acts 14:21-27)

They are exhorting new Christians to persevere in the faith, but surely they are not precluding the newly baptised infant who dies without undergoing any hardships whatsoever from entering the Kingdom?

I'd be really glad if any reading this have any comments on this question. How would you reply to Charlotte?

Please add your thoughts in the combox!


  1. I wouldn't disagree with anything you say, but I would be tempted to take the conversation in a different direction.

    One of the defining aspects of Catholicism that is alien to Protestant thinking is the authority given by Christ to His Apostles and their successors, which pre-dates the writing of the New Testament (though the NT does bear witness to it, of course).

    Thus we reject the Protestant dogma of Sola Scriptura, and accord weight also to apostolic tradition, and accept the teaching authority of the Magisterium as the true interpreter of Scripture.

    If Charlotte is to be received into the Church, it is important that she is helped to understand that underlying principle - which also, of course, helps explain why we see the Catechism as authoritative.

  2. She's right in that "to become children of God, we need to actively receive him" for Catholics, as for the first Christians, the requires Baptism and a laying on of hands by the bishop.

    Beautiful pictures BTW!

  3. Thanks Ben and Mark
    Yes, Ben, accepting the teaching authority of the Church is at the heart of this, and other questions about interpreting scripture. Charlotte and I have already talked quite a lot about this which is partly why I didn't address it here. But it is the crux of the question because without there there are an endless number of I's to dot and T's to cross.
    When I finally surrendered to the mind of the Church it was a huge relief to me and felt like a great weight off my mind. I realise that this can sound a bit unthinking, especially to evangelicals for whom it is second nature to "test everything". But the truth is that my own thinking and insights were constantly proving to be subject to all kinds of limitations. It was frustrating.
    Mark, it's a strange one though isn't it. Because we are children of God by baptism. But then we appear to need to 'activate' our divine filiation as we are able. Not sure I've expressed that very well. So I don't think the requirement to "accept, believe, obey" obviates the saving grace of baptism for infants.
    I'm interested to know what Charlotte makes of this and whether she has any more thoughts.

  4. Everyone does have a genuine argument. I am used to this question and have had to, most recently, strenuously defend infant baptism to no less a person as my sister (who is no longer catholic 20 years now and counting). I start with these two observations.

    a. Yes it true that (as has been noted) that for a sacrament (to which baptism is one) to be EFFECTIVE it needs to be correctly (according to the properties proper to that sacrament) ADMINISTERED AND PROPERLY RECIEVED (to which the positive disposition and cooperation of the receiver is essential). Having said that with all other sacraments, the efficacy of a sacrament is guaranteed once a sacrament is properly administered irrespective of the disposition of the receiver because it has been agreed that it is dependent on the holiness of the church to which the foundation is Jesus Christ. I other words the church is holy because Jesus Christ is holy. For instance, that is why a priest never loses his "cultic function of sacrifice" even if he is in a state of sin or even leaves the priesthood.

    b. Protestant have always accused Catholics of using Tradition as a "cop out" from answering the difficult doctrinal questions and I would confess that I have sometimes been guilty of this. I myself have questions regarding our article of faith I struggle to "wrap my head round" but accept only because the church has declared it so and for no other reason. It is this disposition I would advice Catholics to have if they want to remain firmly grounded in the faith.
    For Catholics, in affirming a doctrine they ask the following.
    -What did Christ say and do?
    -What did the Apostles Say and do?
    In other words, to get a full picture of the 2, the church adopted the position of relying on both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition as it is well known that Scripture alone cannot give us this full picture.
    So the question is how do we know what the apostles said and did?
    Well the Apostles had companions and followers and the followers of the Apostles had followers and so on. The Apostles taught their followers both orally and in writing (refer to the concluding verses of the last chapter of John's 2nd and 3rd letters), who in turn passed it on to their followers and so on, until this present day, that continuous chain has been running and has been WELL-DOCUMENTED (scripture and tradition)over the centuries. The Apostles taught before they wrote!

    So from these observations, how do we know that infant baptism is doctrinally correct? Well looking at the work of Irenaeus (2nd Century Bishop and an early church Father) who was a follower of polycarp who in turn was a follower of John the Evangelist, it has been well - documented that he wrote favorably about infant baptism in his book "Against Heresies". In the same book, he made suggestions to the fact that the practice could have been prevalent during the time of the Apostles and also suggested that graves with certain inscription on them during his time were those of infants baptized before their death.

    (I will try to get you the exact references and citations for this before the end of today but also you can access "Against Heresies" on It is in Series.)

    With regards to infant baptism, I believe it is a reasonable position to hold that if it was practiced during the time of the Apostles and the Early Church Fathers then it is must be doctrinally correct having in mind the what the Gospel said about the importance of Baptism in relation to salvation.

  5. Teenagers should NOT be baptized!

    I was reading my Bible on the topic of Baptism last night when, like a bolt of lightning, this revelation came to me: there is not one single example in the Bible of teenagers being baptized! Why didn't I see this before? Why haven't other Christians seen this glaring fact before? What are we doing baptizing teenagers if there is no specific mention of this practice in the Bible??

    "But teenagers are capable of making a mature, informed decision," you say.


    Would you let your thirteen year old make a decision to buy a gun?
    Would you let your thirteen year old make a decision to drive a car?
    Would you let your thirteen year old make a decision to buy and drink alcohol?
    Would you let your thirteen year old make a decision to get married, move away from home, join the army, or volunteer to participate in cancer drug trials?

    No! Of course you wouldn't.

    So what makes you think that a teenager has the maturity to make a decision to choose which religion to join and which god to believe in?

    Logic, reason, and good ol' common sense make it clear that a thirteen year old does NOT have the maturity to make major life decisions, so what makes you think that he or she can make major "eternal life" decisions?

    The Bible does not explicitly mention baptizing infants...I mean this practice is just another Catholic false teaching and must be abandoned and replaced with the true teachings of the Bible: Only adult men and women should be baptized in a true Christian church.

    Since no Christian Church on planet earth follows this scriptural practice, which God has just revealed to me in my heart, I am starting my own Church as of today. We will only baptize adults over age 21.

    Our new Church will be called the "Garyites". We are the true Church.