January 16, 2021

Let’s Discuss…Baptism

Baptism of Christ, Bondone

By Chaplain Mike

This past Sunday we had a baptism in our Lutheran church. Four small children received the sacrament and were introduced to the congregation as members of God’s family. This led to a discussion after worship among members of our family who have been in churches that practice only believer’s baptism.

At the risk of starting a bar fight, I thought it would be a good time to have a discussion on Internet Monk about the various views of baptism which our readers hold. In order to give us some solid material as a basis for discussion, I am including statements from some of the major traditions that set forth their position on the sacrament (or ordinance).

I ask that you remain civil and respectful in the discussion. You may be passionate about your viewpoint, and that’s ok. But let’s not be questioning another’s salvation or casting stones of judgment. This is a discussion, and I hope it will be among friends.

Photo courtesy of Don Danz, DanzFamily.com

ROMAN CATHOLIC VIEW (Catechism of the Catholic Church)

977 Our Lord tied the forgiveness of sins to faith and Baptism: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved.”521 Baptism is the first and chief sacrament of forgiveness of sins because it unites us with Christ, who died for our sins and rose for our justification, so that “we too might walk in newness of life.”522

978 “When we made our first profession of faith while receiving the holy Baptism that cleansed us, the forgiveness we received then was so full and complete that there remained in us absolutely nothing left to efface, neither original sin nor offenses committed by our own will, nor was there left any penalty to suffer in order to expiate them. . . . Yet the grace of Baptism delivers no one from all the weakness of nature. On the contrary, we must still combat the movements of concupiscence that never cease leading us into evil “523

979 In this battle against our inclination towards evil, who could be brave and watchful enough to escape every wound of sin? “If the Church has the power to forgive sins, then Baptism cannot be her only means of using the keys of the Kingdom of heaven received from Jesus Christ. The Church must be able to forgive all penitents their offenses, even if they should sin until the last moment of their lives.”524

980 It is through the sacrament of Penance that the baptized can be reconciled with God and with the Church: “Penance has rightly been called by the holy Fathers “a laborious kind of baptism.” This sacrament of Penance is necessary for salvation for those who have fallen after Baptism, just as Baptism is necessary for salvation for those who have not yet been reborn.”

ORTHODOX VIEW (An Orthodox Catechism adopted from ‘The Mystery of Faith’ by Bishop Alfeyev)

The sacrament of Baptism is the door into the Church, the Kingdom of grace. It is with Baptism that Christian life begins. Baptism is the frontier that separates the members of Christ’s Body from those who are outside it. In Baptism the human person is arrayed in Christ, following the words of St Paul which are sung as the newly-baptized is led around the baptismal font: For as many of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ’ (Gal.3:27). In Baptism the human person dies to his sinful life and rises again to new spiritual life.

The sacrament of Baptism was instituted by Christ Himself: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Matt.28:19). Christ’s commandment already contains the basic elements of the baptismal rite: preliminary teaching (‘catechization’), without which the adoption of faith cannot be conscious; immersion in water (Greek baptismos, literally ‘immersion’); and the formula ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. In the early Church Baptism was accomplished through complete immersion in water. However, at an early date special pools (baptisteries) were built and into these the candidates for baptism were plunged. The practice of pouring water over the person or sprinkling him with water existed in the early Church, though not quite as a norm.

At the time of Constantine (fourth century) adult baptism was more common than the baptism of infants, the emphasis being laid on the conscious acceptance of the sacrament. Some postponed the sacrament until the end of their life in the knowledge that sins were forgiven in Baptism. The Emperor Constantine was baptized just before his death. St Gregory the Theologian, a son of a bishop, was baptized only when he reached maturity. Saints Basil the Great and John Chrysostom were baptized only after completing their higher education.

However, the practice of baptizing infants is no less ancient — the apostles baptized whole families which might well have included children (cf/ Acts 10:48). St Irenaeus of Lyons (second century) says: ‘Christ came to save those who through Him are reborn into God: infants, children, adolescents and the elderly’. Origen in the third century calls the custom of baptizing infants an ‘apostolic tradition’. The local Council of Carthage (third century) pronounced an anathema upon those who rejected the necessity of baptizing infants and newly-born children.

The sacrament of Baptism, like all other sacraments, must be received consciously. Christian faith is the prerequisite for the validity of the sacrament. If an infant is baptized, the confession of faith is solemnly pronounced by his godparents, who thereby are obliged to bring the child up in the faith and make his Baptism conscious. An infant who receives the sacrament cannot rationally understand what is happening to him, yet his soul is fully capable of receiving the grace of the Holy Spirit. ‘I believe’, writes St Symeon the New Theologian, ‘that baptized infants are sanctified and are preserved under the wing of the All-Holy Spirit and that they are lambs of the spiritual flock of Christ and chosen lambs, for they have been imprinted with the sign of the life-giving Cross and freed completely from the tyranny of the devil’. The grace of God is given to infants as a pledge of their future belief, as a seed cast into the earth: for the seed to grow into a tree and bring forth fruit, the efforts both of the godparents and of the one baptized as he grows are needed.

Immediately after Baptism or in the days that follow, the newly-baptized, irrespective of age, receives Holy Communion. In the Roman Catholic Church Chrismation (Confirmation) and First Communion take place after the child has reached the age of seven, but the Orthodox Church admits children to these sacraments as early as possible. The understanding behind this practice is that children ought not to be deprived of a living, even if not a fully conscious, contact with Christ.

The sacrament of Baptism occurs only once in a person’s life. In Baptism the human person is granted freedom from original sin and forgiveness of all his personal transgressions. However, Baptism is only the first step in the human person’s ascent towards God. If it is not accompanied by a renewal of one’s entire life and a spiritual regeneration, it might be fruitless. The grace of God, received in Baptism as a pledge or as a seed, will grow within the person and be made manifest throughout his whole life so long as he strives towards Christ, lives in the Church and fulfills God’s commandments.

LUTHERAN VIEW (Luther’s Small Catechism)

What is Baptism?
Baptism is not simple water only, but it is the water comprehended in God’s command and connected with God’s Word.

Which is that word of God?
Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Matthew: Go ye into all the world and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

What does Baptism give or profit?
It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

Which are such words and promises of God?
Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Mark: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

How can water do such great things?
It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is simple water and no baptism. But with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost, as St. Paul says, Titus, chapter three: By the washing of regeneration and renewing the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior, that, being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying.

What does such baptizing with water signify?
It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Where is this written?
St. Paul says Romans, chapter 6: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

PRESBYTERIAN VIEW (Westminster Confession of Faith)

I. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world.

II. The outward element to be used in this sacrament is water, wherewith the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by a minister of the Gospel, lawfully called thereunto.

III. Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but Baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person.

IV. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized.

V. Although it is a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it: or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.

VI. The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time.

VII. The sacrament of Baptism is but once to be administered unto any person.

ANGLICAN VIEW (Thirty Nine Articles)

XXVII. Of Baptism.
Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but it is also a sign of Regeneration or New-Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed, Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God.

The Baptism of young Children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.

BAPTIST VIEW (London Baptist Confession of Faith, 1689)

1. Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be to the person who is baptised – a sign of his fellowship with Christ in His death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into Christ; of remission of sins; and of that person’s giving up of himself to God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life.

2. Those who actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects for this ordinance.

3. The outward element to be used in this ordinance is water, in which the person is to be baptised in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

4. Immersion – the dipping of the person in water – is necessary for the due administration of this ordinance.


  1. Ben Carmack says

    After doing some reading on the subject, there was a period about a year ago when I was strongly attracted to the infant baptism position, but I’ve retreated back to what I had believed before for a simple reason, having nothing to do with anything specific in Scripture: propriety.

    Baptism, as the Creed says, can only happen once. Agreed. Our re-birth in baptism is the most important thing that can happen to us in our mortal lives. As the New Testament makes clear (at least my reading of it makes this clear; my fellow evangelicals would disagree), baptism saves us. It is the introductory rite into the life of Christ.

    Think about the Ethiopian eunuch. As soon as St. Philip explained the Gospel to him, he asked St. Philip how he could be baptized. They saw some water out yonder, and they did the deed right then and there, no public proclamation needed! It was about salvation, not church membership.

    Speaking only for myself, if the most important event of my life were performed when I had no awareness of what was going on, I would feel a bit cheated and a little rushed. I’ve heard good arguments from the Bible from both sides, but what gets me is propriety. It just doesn’t seem proper to make someone a Christian until they are ready to do so themselves.

    If your conscience tells you that you should baptize your newborn, I have no quarrel with you. Do what you think is right. Likewise, do not force me to do things your way.

    Baptism initiates us into the Church; we are made able to follow Christ, whereas in our former depraved state we could not follow Christ. Once we are made able, we can never become unable. We will be judged by what we do with our ability. That’s why the NT emphasizes our obedience as well as our faith.

    • I like it, we can call it the C-3PO defense – “It just wouldn’t be proper.” (From, “It’s against my programming to impersonate a deity, it just wouldn’t be proper.”)

    • Eric Lintz says

      If it is about salvation, as you say, then why withhold that from an infant? Salvation first, then teach the child as it grows to understand as he/she grows. Baptism is not absolutely necessary to be saved, but to reject it outright is condemning. Its not the water doing anything, it is the Word of God that is with and in the water that is saving. This is meant to be truly a blessing.

    • Mr. Carmack,

      As a father of children I find your perspective curious. The thrust of your reply seems to be that it would be a sort of imperialism, or whatever word you want to use, to make the child a Christian without giving the child a say in the matter. If you are yourself a father I would ask you if this is how you approach other fundamentally important issues concerning your child’s well being? Would you use the same modus operandi with regard to the child’s gender as the parents of those poor children in Canada have done? I won’t belabor the point because I don’t want to insult your intelligence. There are many choices that we can and must make for our children without their input and we often do so without thinking about it or questioning such an act. I would submit that raising our children as Christians from the beginning is the fundamental imperative of parenting.


      Fr. John Cox

  2. I was reading Oscar Cullman’s book “Baptism in the New Testament” where he notes two different issues. First, there are no instances of instances of the baptism of adults born of parents who are already Christians, though by AD 50 these things should have occurred. He then notes a tentative proposal that 1 Cor 7:14 indicates that children of Christian parents have no need of baptism because they are holy by reason of their birth. They are “citizens of heaven” by reason of their birth the same way babies born to American parents are automatically citizens of the
    USA. They may later renounce their citizenship or be a traitor to it, but at birth they are considered citizens.

    Cullman then backed off this proposal almost immediately in the book since its conclusion was that it then proved that the baptism for the children of Christian parents should not take place at all.” In this, i go where Cullman could not. I think baptism took place in the first century, and it was for all the family at the time of conversion of the head of the household; wife, babies, children, bondservants. Then the family were citizens of heaven. After that, any new babies were automatically in that family and shared that citizenship. No need to baptize from that point on.

    For this reason, the scriptures are unclear on the nature, means, and objects of baptism. That is why all the views above exist. Yet scripture is unclear because this was a first century ritual for the conversion of those living at that time into the new “land” of Jesus. With the destruction of the Temple, the scattering out of the land of Judah, and the “sign” of the new age of the Messiah, King Jesus, implemented at AD 70, baptism as a ritual is no longer mandatory. Hence, scripture does not go into it’s details.

    This is a poor summary. I do a more expanded explanation here.

  3. The best discussion of Baptism, with the Scriptural references, is in Johann Gerhard’s Comprehensive Explanation of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, available from Repristination Press.

  4. I have always found it odd that many have no problem saying and believing that Jesus actually lives in their hearts.

    But yet they deny that Christ Jesus could be present in a bowl of water accompanied by His Word.

    I find that odd.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Remember, “Heresy” and “Apostasy” and “False Doctrine” is always what the OTHER guy does.

      Never what YOU do.

  5. I’m kind of surprised you didn’t include the “Campbellite” view, since it’s different still. Or do you consider it heterodox?

    I’m honestly not trying to open a can of worms. If this is a thread you’d hoped not to see started, feel free to delete this post.

  6. Read again every passage in which the Word talks about baptism. Notice how consistently God’s gifts (Holy Spirit, Christ, forgiveness of sin, salvation etc.) are intimately connected with baptism. This is his doing, not mine.
    One problem with modern American evangelicalism is that it robs baptism of God’s power and grace and makes it a matter of my obedience. No wonder no one wants to talk about baptism. We are afraid of it, and well we should be if it depends on the depth of my commitment and obedience to be effective.
    Give me Scriptural baptism which promises and does not demand.

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