What about infant baptism?

Straight Talk

The Question

My daughter lost her second baby at 22 weeks of pregnancy. She wants the baby baptized, as was the first baby after 20 weeks still born. It is wrong to do so? Both husband and wife are practicing Christians.

– JI from Syndey, Austrialia

The Answer
Part 1: The meaning behind baptism
Part 2: Why baptize infants?
Part 3: Right or wrong?

The meaning behind baptism (Part 1)

It must be a terrible grief to have lost two precious children prematurely. All of your daughter’s thoughts and emotions were tied up in joyful expectation and then every hope was dashed. I pray God’s comfort on your family.

Now I want to answer your question from two perspectives: the viewpoint of theology and also of grief. Perhaps my approach can provide an answer that does justice to both perspectives. I hope it will bring a sense of peace to your dilemma.

First let’s talk about baptism and its history in the church. Scripture never speaks of baptizing infants. All recorded incidents in the Bible are of adults or at least older children. As the forerunner of Christ, John the Baptist proposed baptism to demonstrate repentance. He came “preaching in the wilderness of Judea…and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins.” (Matthew 3:1,6)

Additionally, baptism identified a new believer as a follower of Jesus. “Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized.” (Acts 18:8) It is generally realized that children (though born with original sin like all mankind) are innocent of personal sin until they reach an age when they recognize their need of a savior. Of course that understanding would disfavor infant baptism. Once a person of whatever age accepts Christ, then they undergo baptism.

When did infant baptism come into use and favor? My research shows much controversy on that subject. Some claim that infant baptism was practiced from the first century but others say it didn’t come about until the late 300s. I noticed that the research results usually follow the opinion of the writer and the denomination they represent. Suffice it to say that baptizing infants has a long history in the Christian church. But WHY?

Why baptize infants? (Part 2)

If you consider baptism essential to salvation (as the Church taught for centuries) then infant baptism is easy to understand. Simply put, children who died without it could not go to heaven. With high infant mortality rates, it was never assumed that a child would reach maturity—the place where they would believe on their own. Insurance!

Unfortunately what that system led to was a false belief that baptism was all that was necessary—that baptism made you a Christian. There was not also a requirement that at some point you proclaim a belief in Jesus Christ for yourself, separate from the one the parents proclaimed on your behalf in infancy.

My own case sort of falls into that category. My parents (who had nothing but the very best intentions) baptized me into the Catholic Church as an infant. They believed that baptism protected me in the event of death and that it made me both Christian and Catholic. As I grew up, the gospel as an invitation was never presented to me and I had no idea I needed to receive Jesus personally as Lord and Savior.

When I was saved in August of 1977 it wasn’t long before I felt a need to be baptized. The pattern I saw in scripture was that baptism followed heart change. Once that happened to me I desired to follow that same pattern. I know everyone doesn’t feel a need to be re-baptized but I felt it strongly.

Was my baptism as an infant entirely worthless then? Maybe not. Perhaps it planted a seed that prepared me to later believe. There is value in declaring the things of God over your children at the offset and the Christian rite of baptism is filled with good declarations. With the right heart, baptism may make a prophetic statement. Today I would prefer baby dedication over baptism but I respect the possibility that parents who decide either may have the same intention.

With that in mind I will finally get to your question.

Right or wrong? (Part 3)

Your daughter wants to baptize her dead baby and you wonder if that is wrong. By doing so, does your daughter believe that she can affect her baby’s eternal home? Does your daughter believe baptism itself saves? If the answer to either is yes then I feel she is wrong. Certainly both of her babies are in the presence of Almighty God right now – not dependant upon whether they were baptized.

Yet, if your daughter wants to proclaim her own trust in God and make a statement of faith of trusting her child to God’s care by baptism then I don’t see any harm. The rite of baptism may somehow bring closure and a sense of peace. She may connect baptism with the hope of seeing her children again in heaven. Not that the baptism got them there but the baptism affirms that they are there.

Grief is worked through by all of us differently. Your daughter already baptized the first baby and evidently it had value to her or she wouldn’t want to do it again. You may simply accept her desire as part of her own personal grieving process. If you sense she somehow has the theology of it all wrong, that can be gently broached at a later time.

My prayer for her is that she not ever be faced with the same circumstance again and that all future children will live long and happy lives.