What Do Protestants Believe About Infant Baptism?

|

This article is part of a series on what Protestants believe according to the great Protestant confessions and catechisms, especially the 25 Articles of Religion (Methodist); 39 Articles of Religion (Anglican); Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism (Reformed); Augsburg Confession (Lutheran); Westminster Confession of Faith, Shorter Catechism, and Larger Catechism (Presbyterian).

Most Protestants believe that infants should be baptized and that those baptized as infants should never be baptized again. This is demonstrated in the following selections from key Protestant confessions and catechisms. Notable exceptions include the Anabaptists of the Radical Reformation, as seen in the Shleitheim Confession, and Baptists, as seen in the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession of Faith.

25 Articles of Religion

The 25 Articles are doctrinal standards for the people called Methodists. They were abridged by John Wesley from the 39 Articles of the Church of England. Article XVII, “Of Baptism,” reads as follows:

The baptism of young children is to be retained in the Church.

39 Articles of Religion

The 39 Articles are doctrinal standards for the Church of England. They were affirmed by John Wesley, a lifelong Anglican priest, until his death. Article XXVII, “Of Baptism,” reads as follows:

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

Augsburg Confession

The Augsburg Confession is a key document of the Protestant Reformation. It was first written to defend the movement against detractors and is still a doctrinal standard for Lutherans. Article IX, “Baptism,” reads as follows:

Of Baptism we teach that it is necessary to salvation, and that through Baptism is offered the grace of God; and that children are to be baptized, who, being offered to God through Baptism, are received into His grace.

We condemn the Anabaptists, who do not allow the baptism of children and say that children are saved without Baptism.

Belgic Confession & Heidelberg Catechism

The Belgic Confession is a doctrinal standard for Reformed churches, and was affirmed and defended by Jacob Arminius, along with the Heidelberg Catechism, until his death. Article XXXIV, “Of Holy Baptism”:

Therefore, we believe that every man who is earnestly studious of obtaining life eternal ought to be but once baptized with this only Baptism, without ever repeating the same: since we can not be born twice. Neither doth this Baptism only avail us at the time when the water is poured upon us and received by us, but also through the whole course of our life. Therefore we detest the error of the Anabaptists, who are not content with the one only baptism they have once received, and moreover condemn the baptism of the infants of believers, who, we believe, ought to be baptized and sealed with the sign of the covenant, as the children in Israel formerly were circumcised upon the same promises which are made unto our children. And, indeed, Christ shed his blood no less for the washing of the children of the faithful than for adult persons; and, therefore, they ought to receive the sign and sacrament of that which Christ hath done for them; as the Lord commanded in the law, that they should be made partakers of the sacrament of Christ’s suffering and death shortly after they were born, by offering for them a lamb, which was a sacrament of Jesus Christ. Moreover, what Circumcision was to the Jews, that Baptism is to our children. And for this reason Paul calls Baptism the Circumcision of Christ.

Question 74 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks, “Should infants, too, be baptized?” and answers:

Yes. Infants as well as adults belong to God’s covenant and congregation.[1] Through Christ’s blood the redemption from sin and the Holy Spirit, who works faith, are promised to them no less than to adults.[2] Therefore, by baptism, as sign of the covenant, they must be grafted into the Christian church and distinguished from the children of unbelievers.[3] This was done in the old covenant by circumcision,[4] in place of which baptism was instituted in the new covenant.[5]

[1] Gen. 17:7; Matt. 19:14. [2] Ps. 22:11; Is. 44:1-3; Acts 2:38, 39; 16:31. [3] Acts 10:47; I Cor. 7:14. [4] Gen. 17:9-14. [5] Col. 2: 11-13.

Westminster Confession & Catechisms

The Westminster Confession is the doctrinal standard of Presbyterians, and was often cited and defended by the Methodist divines, along with the Westminster Shorter Catechism (which Wesley revised for Methodists), despite their disagreement with the Westminster Standards at key points. Chapter 28, “Of Baptism,” reads as follows:

4. 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.

5. Although it be 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.

6. 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 belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time.

7. The sacrament of baptism is but once to be administered to any person.

Question 95 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “To whom is Baptism to be administered?” and answers,

Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible Church, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him; but the infants of such as are members of the visible church, are to be baptized.

Question 166 of the Westminster Larger Catechism asks, “Unto whom is Baptism to be administered?” and answers,

Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, and so strangers from the covenant of promise, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him,[1] but infants descending from parents, either both, or but one of them, professing faith in Christ, and obedience to him, are in that respect within the covenant, and to be baptized.[2]

[1] Acts 8:36–38; 2:38; [2] Gen 17:7, 9; cf. Gal 3:9, 14; Col 2:11–12; Acts 2:38–39; Rom 4:11–12; 1 Cor 7:14; Mt 28:19; Lk 18:15–16; Rom 11:16

Shleitheim Confession

The Shleitheim Confession of the Anabaptists (e.g., Mennonites) is distinguished, first and foremost, by its rejection of infant baptism. The first point of the Confession is “concerning baptism,” and reads as follows:

Baptism shall be given to all those who have learned repentance and amendment of life, and who believe truly that their sins are taken away by Christ, and to all those who walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and wish to be buried with Him in death, so that they may be resurrected with Him, and to all those who with this significance request it [baptism] of us and demand it for themselves. This excludes all infant baptism, the highest and chief abomination of the pope. In this you have the foundation and testimony of the apostles. Mt. 28, Mk. 16, Acts 2, 8, 16, 19. This we wish to hold simply, yet firmly and with assurance.

Second London Baptist Confession

The Baptist tradition also excludes infant baptism. Chapter 29 “On Baptism” reads,

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

Johnathan Arnold
Johnathan Arnold is a husband, father, and aspiring pastor-theologian, as well as the founder and president of holyjoys.org. You can connect with him on Twitter @jsarnold7.