The Baptism of Children

Paul E. Kretzmann

Objection to children’s Baptism

In view of the fact that the rights of children, so called and real, are being discussed more and more at teachers’ conventions, mothers’ meetings, neighborhood clubs, federations of woman’s clubs, and in countless other organizations, it seems almost like an anachronism to hear the objection to children’s baptism voiced time and again with great emphasis and bitterness.

Baptism of children is commanded by God

For there is, first of all, the plain command of Christ with reference to children. “Make disciples of all nations,” He says, Matthew 28:19, and He mentions Baptism as the first method, not without a very good reason. There is His command to baptize the children, for they surely make up a considerable part of the nations. If the objection is made that children are not specifically named, we may ask: Are the women specifically named? And was it so self-evident in the days when the women were largely regarded as chattels that they should be placed on an equality with the men of the nation, presumably the representatives of the nation? The Apostle Paul says, Colossians 2:11: “Ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands.” And in Colossians 2:12 he explains this: “Buried with him in Baptism.” But if Baptism is to take the place of circumcision by such a close analogy, it follows that it is to be administered to children also. In his great sermon on Pentecost Day, Peter tells the multitude: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you. … For the promise is unto you and to your children,” Acts 2:38-39. Again a plain command to include the children in the blessings of Baptism.

Children can have faith

There is, furthermore, the fact that children can believe and do believe, which is an urgent reason for baptizing them. Christ says: “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. … Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in Me,” Matthew 18:2-6. There can be no clearer words than these to show that Christ regards them as believers in Him, and without faith in Him it would be impossible for them to enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again He says: “Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein,” Mark 10:14-15. Human language can hardly be made plainer.

Historical evidence

There are, in the next place, the facts of Scriptural history in support of the baptism of children. It would be doing outrage to the common understanding of the term, if the word “household,” Acts 16:15, or the expression: “He was baptized, and all his,” Acts 16:33, cp. Acts 16:32-34, should exclude the children. There are, finally, the facts of the history of the early Church, which make child baptism appear as a custom which had always been practised in the congregations. There was a difference, of course; those converted in adult life receiving Baptism at that time, and since that was the case in most of the mission-stations, it follows that adult baptism was more prevalent in the early centuries than child baptism. But it seems to have been the custom from the very first to baptize the children of Christian parents. A few examples will suffice to show this truth. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons in the second century, says that infants and little ones, boys and youths, and aged persons are baptized. Origen, who lived a little later, writes that the Church had received the tradition to give Baptism to infants from the apostles. Accordingly, a council held in the city of Carthage, A. D. 253, declared that Baptism should be denied to no human being from his birth. This answer was given with reference to the question whether children should be baptized before the eighth day, or on that very day. Tertullian’s objection to infant baptism, at the end of the second century, shows that the practise was universal. Gregory of Nazianz, in the fourth century, demanded that infants be baptized at once, especially if there were any danger of their not living.

Our children belong to Christ, and to Him we bring them in Baptism.

[Cp. Syn. Ber. Mittl. Distr., 1910; Lehre und Wehre, 1909, Feb.; 1910, Sept.]