Sunday, January 11, 2004

Baptism and the Early Church

All churches that date back to the earliest Churches of Asia, Africa, and Europe, to this day, hold to infant baptism. I think that speaks volumes, and should give any Christian pause before he or she dismisses the idea of infant baptism without a thorough study. Believers baptism only is, before modern times, is a rare phenomenon, this to should be a read flag to our Christian brethren who deny infant baptism.

The early church fathers disagreed and debated many things, but they didn’t debate this subject. All those ancient Churches were paedobaptist churches as far back as we can see. This includes the Greek Orthodox, The Coptic Church of Egypt, the Ethiopian Church, The Arminian Church, The Assyrian and Chaldean Churches of Iraq, the Lebanese and Palestinian Orthodox Churches and of course the Western or Latin Church which split in the 16th Century into Protestant and Roman Catholic camps, both of which were and are paedobaptists.

The Church Fathers debated many things (just as we do today) but they never debated whether the children of believers should be baptised. That subject was a reality in their world. The only objection to infant baptism in the early Church came from Tertullian (160-225 AD), and even he admits that the common practice of infant baptism was the norm in his day. If you have read any of Tertullian's polemical writings, than you know that he was not one to pull his punches. So let's look at his argument against infant baptism.

Tertullian wrote:
According to circumstance and disposition and even age of the individual person, it may be better to delay Baptism; and especially so in the case of little children. Why, indeed, is it necessary -- if it be not a case of necessity -- that the sponsors to be thrust into danger, when they themselves may fail to fulfill their promises by reason of death, or when they may be disappointed by the growth of an evil disposition? Indeed the Lord says, 'Do not forbid them to come to me'
Let them come, then, while they grow up, while they learn, while they are taught to whom to come; let them become Christians when they will have been able to know Christ! Why does the innocent age hasten to the remission of sins? ...For no less cause should the unmarried also be deferred, in whom there is an aptness to temptation -- in virgins on account of their ripeness as also in the widowed on account of their freedom -- until they are married or are better strengthened for continence. Anyone who understands the seriousness of Baptism will fear its reception more than its deferral. Sound faith is secure of its salvation
! ( On Baptism; Chapter XIV)

Tertullian is the best my credobaptist (believer's baptism only) friends have to support their position from the ancient church. He argues against the baptism of infants using the same argument that he puts forth to defend his view that unmarried people and widowed women too should not be baptised. Tertullian's reasons have everything to do with baptismal regeneration and nothing to do with modern baptistic reasons. The important thing here (IMHO) is that Tertullian seems to admit that the baptism of "little children," like that of virgins and widows is common, but because of his regenerational views he argues for delay.

Tertullian is is the only person my Baptist friends have in the ancient church who they can put forward as an example for believer's only baptism. And as I said, if you know Tertullian than you know that he could be very bombastic and he usually blasted opponents, but his argument against paedobaptism is quite feeble.

Justin Martyr (110-165 A.D.) says "And both men and women who have been Christ's disciples since infancy, remain pure, and at the age of sixty or seventy years ..."

Irenaeus (circa 125-202 AD) was a disciple of Polycarp (69-155 A.D.), who was a disciple of the Apostle John. Irenaeus wrote to a friend who was also a disciple of Polycarp that "I saw thee when I was still a boy in Lower Asia in company with Polycarp... I distinctly remember the incidents of that time better than events of recent occurrence...I can describe the very place in which the Blessed Polycarp used to sit when he discoursed...his personal appearance...and how he would describe his intercourse with John and with the rest who had seen the Lord, and how he would relate their words."

Lets look at what else Irenaeus wrote:
He [Jesus] came to save all through himself; all, I say, who through him are reborn in God: infants, and children, and youths, and old men. Therefore he passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, sanctifying infants; a child for children, sanctifying those who are of that age . . . [so that] he might be the perfect teacher in all things, perfect not only in respect to the setting forth of truth, perfect also in respect to relative age. (Against Heresies 2:22:4 [written between A.D. 155 to 189])

Let's now look what Hippolitus wrote his work Apostolic Tradition in 215 AD. He said:
And they shall Baptize the little children first. And if they can answer for themselves, let them answer. But if they cannot, let their parents answer or someone from their family.

Infant baptism, when it appears in the early church, is accepted as a given. Had some Christians started to baptise babies, in opposition to the Apostolic teaching and practice as our baptistic brethren suppose, there can be no doubt that there would have been a serious debate, excommunications and accusations of heresy. But that never happened. Even Tertullian, who is the one person who argues for delaying baptism, seems to admit to the common practice of infant baptism in late 2nd century.

I would also add that it appears that Polycarp was burned at the stake when he was 86 years old. Here are his words when he is called upon to say ""Caesar is Lord." Polycarp responded "Eighty-six years I have served Him, and He has never done me wrong. How, then, should I be able to blaspheme my King who has saved me." He was then burned at the stake.

My dear Baptists brethren (including my dad) have no historical validation for their view. We paedobaptisers have much more. Even the one apologist against paedobaptism (Tertullian) admits that infant baptism existed at a very early date and it was most likely) the norm in his day. Other Fathers, who are his contemporaries, consider it the normal and Apostolic position of the Church.

My Baptists brethren argue that the church slipped from believer's baptism "ONLY" with not one Christian standing up for the truth, and that is (IMHO) totally inconceivable. The Fathers were men quick to debate and defend the faith, yet we are asked to believe that the WHOLE church from England to Ethiopia and India to Spain all slipped quietly into an heretical doctrine without even a whimper or one apologist standing for the truth. This is (IMHO) both fantastic and unrealistic.

Dominus vobiscum,