Baptism is a sacrament of the Church. A sacrament is something that God does. It is a way that God breaks into our lives and gives us His good gifts. This is opposed to the word “sacrifice”. A sacrifice is something that we do for God and His glory (praise, thank, sing, pray, etc.). Baptism is not a sacrifice, but a sacrament.
In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus commands His disciples to make more disciples. They are to do this in 2 ways, by baptizing and teaching. These two elements (baptism and teaching) always go hand in hand. One should never be done outside of the realm of the other. If teaching will not occur, then baptism should not happen. If baptism is not the goal, then teaching is of little use.
The word “baptize” means “to wash”. Washing can occur in many forms: plunging, pouring, sprinkling, etc. When we speak of baptism in the Holy Spirit we do not mean that we have been dunked into the Spirit, but that the Spirit has been poured out upon us.
According to Matthew 28 all disciples are given the right to baptize. Disciples are to make more disciples. So, in an emergency, any Christian can baptize. However, a pastor on behalf of an entire congregation and the Church as a whole normally does this.
And what are the criteria for baptism? Well, there is none. We are to baptize all nations. Anyone who is brought to the font by the power of the Holy Spirit is to be baptized. No race or color or language or age is to be discriminated against.
Romans 6:1-11 reads as follows:
1What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
5.For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
In this section of Scripture we are told what baptism does. When it comes to baptism, Paul is never focused on the human actions of coming to the font, confessing sins, professing faith, or pouring water. His focus is entirely on the actions of the Triune God through water and the Word.
What has God done to us through baptism? He has killed us. He has put an end to our life of sin and raised to life a new person, a new creation. In other words, we have been united (6:5) with Jesus Christ. We were baptized INTO (6:3) Christ. Baptism is not a mere confession of faith. It is God making His mark on us, pulling us out of the world of darkness and into His marvelous light.
And now we live in the reality of baptism. I Corinthians 6 reminds us of the implications of baptism. Yes, we could go back and live lives of sin. “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (I Cor 6:11) We are baptized, we are washed. That is how we should act. You do not take a bath so that you can go out and wallow in the mud. You take a bath so that you can do clean things.
Ephesians 4:24 and Galatians 3:27 both teach us that in baptism we are clothed with Christ. We are covered with His good deeds. We become bearers of His image, His righteousness.
Notice that not a single one of these passages says anything about confessing our faith or performing some sort of rite. God’s action is plainly in view. It is God who baptizes. It is God who cleanses. We are simply there being acted upon. This is how God has chosen to save His people, by baptizing them into His Son.
So, should infants be excluded from this baptism? No. An infant is plainly included in “all nations.” An infant can be taught as they grow. Matthew 28 teaches us to baptize infants as well as adults.
If baptism is God’s action and not ours then there should be no objection to baptizing children. God can choose a child just as easily as an adult. Baptism is the way in which God cleanses us from sin. It is how God chooses to unite us to Christ. Why would we keep our children from this?
The argument against baptism for children usually runs along these lines: 1. Children are not accountable for their sin until they are 12 years old or so, 2. Baptism is a profession of faith and an infant cannot have faith.
The first of these ideas is completely unscriptural. Children are just as accountable to God as a grown adult. Anyone who sins is a slave to sin (John 8:34). Children disobey their parents far before they reach the age of 12. David confesses that he was conceived sinful by his mother in Psalm 51:5. There is no age of accountability that can be found anywhere in Scripture. Infants are sinful. They need God’s mercy. They need to be united with Christ in baptism.
The idea that an infant cannot have faith depends upon your definition of faith. Saving faith in Christ is not a cognitive grasping of ideas. Faith is not a list to be memorized. Faith is a total dependence upon Christ for our salvation. It is assurance and conviction (Hebrews 11:1). In fact, an infant lives a life that is of total faith. A newborn can do nothing but trust that its needs will be met. A baby has complete faith that his parents will provide for his every need, including the need for baptism.
In the Old Testament God made a covenant with Abraham. God blesses Abraham and promises to make him the father of a nation filled with people too numerous to count. This covenant was for Abraham and his entire family. And how were you to be brought into the covenant? By circumcision. Every male of the covenant was to be circumcised. At what age did this circumcision occur? 8 days. Jesus Himself was circumcised at 8 days old. If a child could enter into Abraham’s covenant at 8 days old, what prevents a child from entering into Christ’s covenant as an infant?
Then we have the simple fact of Church history. The Christian Church has been baptizing children and infants for longer than it can even remember. And never, until the radical reformation and the emergence of the Anabaptists, did any Christian question the authenticity of infant baptism. Calvin, Zwingli, and Luther all agreed that infants should be baptized.
Colossians 2:11-12 says, “In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” Baptism is simply the way that God has chosen to connect us to the death and resurrection of His Son. All people need it, young and old alike.