By Paul Smithson
Why do some denominations baptize little children, even babies? Is doing so scriptural? The practice of infant baptism stems from the false idea that children are born in sin. With this same idea of inherited sin, some baptize little children after they have supposedly “been saved” as a “sign of cleansing.” But do little children have sin? Or are they innocent until they grow old enough to know and understand their accountability before God and then choose to do wrong?
We all are born into a sinful world. However, the Scriptures teach that none are born sinners having inherited sin from someone else. Each individual alone is responsible before God. “The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself” (Ezek. 18:20, cf. 2Cor. 5:10). Jesus also taught the innocence of children stating, “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” He then declared, “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all” (Mk. 10: 14-15). If children are born with sin as some teach, then Jesus is saying that the kingdom of God belongs to sinners and that one must become as a sinner in order to even enter into the kingdom. Such makes a mockery of the Lord’s teaching.
Who then should be baptized? Jesus commanded His apostles before He ascended, “Go teach all nations, baptizing them…” (Mt. 28:19). Thus, Jesus implied that the subjects of baptism were those who could first be taught the gospel. Involved in being taught the gospel includes the ability to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus said, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mk. 16:16). The gospel is designed to save “everyone that believes” (Rom. 1:16). One must also be willing to confess that belief. Philip was “preaching Jesus” to the Eunuch. “As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?’ And 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’” (Ac. 8:35-37). Being taught the gospel in order to be baptized also involves coming to an acknowledgement of one’s sins and making a change in will (repenting) concerning those sins. On Pentecost those who heard Peter’s gospel message “they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins’” (Ac. 2:37-38). This passage also shows that baptism is for the remission of sins. Saul too, was commanded, “arise and be baptized and wash away your sins” (Ac. 22:16; cf. 1Pe. 3:21).
According to the Scriptures, little children are not subjects for baptism. They cannot be taught the gospel with an understanding to believe Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God. They do not have the ability to confess with understanding, nor do they have sin for which they need to repent or be forgiven. Thus, we read in Ac. 8:12 that when the people of Samaria “believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike”–not little children.