Infant Baptism

January 4, 2011

The Pastor's Page

Sacrament of Baptism at Immaculate Heart in Cross Lake

The Sometimes-Heard Objection to Infant Baptism. Some parents and Christian groups believe that the Sacrament of Baptism should be delayed until adolescence or adulthood, to a time when the person is fully capable to maturely and freely decide on their own to be a Christian.

Adult Baptism at First. The earliest persons to receive the Sacrament of Baptism were adults. After Peter delivered his speech on the first Pentecost, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added that day” (Acts 2:41). It is presumed that these first converts were adults because they had to be old enough to accept the message. After Peter’s second speech, “Many of those who heard the word came to believe” (Acts 4:4); and no infant is old enough to hear and comprehend. After the apostles worked signs and wonders, “Men and women were added” (Acts 5:14). The Ethiopian eunuch was an adult convert (Acts 8:38). So was Saul (Acts 9:18) and Cornelius (Acts 10:48).

An Early Biblical Precedent for Extending Baptism. When Paul first preached in Philippi, Lydia became the first Christian believer in Europe. Lydia was not the only person to be baptized. Wonderfully both she “and her household” (Acts 16:15) were baptized. A typical household is a mother, father, and children. The entire family was brought into the Body of Christ on the basis of Lydia’s faith, including the children who, if young enough, would not have been old enough to decide for themselves. Other examples of household baptisms include the families of the jailer (Acts 16:33), Crispus (Acts 18:8), and Stephanas (1 Cor 1:16).

Infant Baptism from the Outset. “The practice of infant Baptism is an immemorial tradition of the Church. There is explicit testimony to this practice from the second century on” (No. 1252, Catechism of the Catholic Church).

Official Church Teaching on Infant Baptism. “Parents are obliged to take care that infants are baptized in the first few weeks” (Canon 867.1). This teaching is based upon the high rate of infant mortality over the centuries, even in some areas today; the need to blot out original sin; and the desire to access sacramental grace as quickly as possible. The urgency for Baptism within “the first few weeks” has been modified somewhat in light of improved infant survival rates and a better understanding of the gift of salvation. The Church also teaches that “For an infant to be baptized licitly: the parents or at least one of them must consent; [and] there must be a founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion; if such hope is altogether lacking, the baptism is to be delayed” (Canon 868.1, 868.2).

A Family of Faith. When it comes to Baptism, it is “the sooner, the better.” Infants should be incorporated into the Body of Christ without delay. If the parents are members of the Church, their children should be members with them. If the parents are practicing their faith, their children should be raised in the same faith and practice it together as a family. The greatest privilege and duty of parents is to pass on the gift of faith to their children.

Learning the Language of Faith. When it comes to learning a foreign language, it is easier for a child than an adult. This is evident in school curriculums in which foreign languages are taught in earlier grades, and in adult learners who have difficulty speaking without an accent. It is the same with our Catholic faith. It is easier to learn as a child. Children assimilate the faith from their parents. If the parents believe in God, say their prayers, go to Mass, and love each other, so will the children. Then, when they are older, when the time comes for them to choose for themselves, because they have learned the language of faith and have built a firm foundation, it is much more likely that they will choose the Catholic faith for themselves.

Beware of Empty Arguments. Some say, “Let them decide as adults.” When an unbaptized child becomes an adult, it is much less likely the person will choose to become a baptized Catholic. Why? Because people rarely choose what they do not know or do not value. Please, do not be fooled. The Church’s teaching on infant baptism is on solid rock.

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About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

View all posts by Father Michael Van Sloun