Recently, my wife and I welcomed our third child into the world. We are looking forward to getting her baptized as Christians have done since the time of the early Church. But… as I’ve become more familiar with the historical Christian faith largely through my conversion to Catholicism, I can understand the need to explain infant baptism to folks who are not Catholic. If you’d like to understand, read on.
Before explaining the importance of infant baptism, it’s necessary to touch on the importance of baptism overall. However, because I don’t want this post to be super long, I’ll simply refer you to some of the places in Scripture where the importance of baptism is strongly emphasized:
John 3:5 “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’”
1 Peter 3:21 “Baptism… now saves you”
Titus 3:5 “he saved us… by the washing of regeneration…”
Rom. 6:3-4 “all of us who have been baptized…”
Mark 16:16 “He who believes and is baptized will be saved…”
Gal. 3:27 “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
1 Cor. 12:13 “…we were all baptized into one body…”
Rom. 6:3,4 “We were buried therefore with him by baptism…”
Matt. 28:18-20 “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.’”
Obviously baptism does not replace Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, but rather is the means that God chose to transmit the grace to us from that sacrifice as a free gift and a sign of our entrance into God’s covenant family.
To help explain infant baptism and the process of discovering its importance, I’d like to share a quote from Scott Hahn’s conversion story as written in his book “Rome Sweet Home”:
Studying the covenant made one thing clear. For two thousand years, from the time of Abraham to the coming of Christ, God showed his people that he wanted their babies to be in covenant with him. The way to do it was simple: give them the sign of the covenant.
Of course, back in the Old Testament, the sign of entering God’s covenant was circumcision; whereas Christ changed it to baptism in the New Testament. But nowhere did I find Christ announcing that, from now on, babies were to be kept out of the covenant.
In fact, I found him saying practically the opposite: “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19:14).
I also found the apostles imitating him. For example, at Pentecost, when Peter finished his first sermon, he called everyone to embrace Christ by entering into the New Covenant: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children…” (Acts 2:38-39).
In other words, God still wanted children in covenant with him. And since the New Testament gave only baptism as the sign for entering the New Covenant, why should the babies of believers not be baptized? No wonder, as I discovered in my study, the Church practiced infant baptism from the beginning.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we have wonderful descriptions of the Sacrament of Baptism in paragraphs 1213-1284. For now I’ll share paragraphs 1250-1254 regarding infant baptism:
Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called. The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.
Christian parents will recognize that this practice also accords with their role as nurturers of the life that God has entrusted to them.
The practice of infant Baptism is an immemorial tradition of the Church. There is explicit testimony to this practice from the second century on, and it is quite possible that, from the beginning of the apostolic preaching, when whole “households” received baptism, infants may also have been baptized.
Baptism is the sacrament of faith. But faith needs the community of believers. It is only within the faith of the Church that each of the faithful can believe. The faith required for Baptism is not a perfect and mature faith, but a beginning that is called to develop. The catechumen or the godparent is asked: “What do you ask of God’s Church?” The response is: “Faith!”
For all the baptized, children or adults, faith must grow after Baptism. For this reason the Church celebrates each year at the Easter Vigil the renewal of baptismal promises. Preparation for Baptism leads only to the threshold of new life. Baptism is the source of that new life in Christ from which the entire Christian life springs forth.
If your baptism into God’s covenant family happened when you were an infant thanks to the faith of your parents, remember Ephesians 2:8,9…
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God- not because of works, lest any man should boast.”
Even with the biblical principles laid out, many will still argue that the Bible does not specifically command infant baptism, and this is true, but honest Christians are still left with the evidence of tradition.
Now, we should pause for a moment and clarify the concept of tradition in reference to the way it supplements Scripture. For some people, the word “tradition” itself sends up red flags, often as a result of their loyalty to the ironic tradition of “Scripture alone” which has developed among modern groups as the means of determining doctrine while divorced from Church authority. Tradition can be dangerous because you’re consulting the wisdom of previous generations, not just your own experience, and Christianity can turn out to be different than what you assumed. Having said that, I would like to point out that Scripture itself speaks of the importance of tradition:
2 Timothy 2:2 “and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
2 Thessalonians 2:15 “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.”
1 Corinthians 11:2 “I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you.”
So if Scripture advocates tradition, we must accept tradition, but naturally we’re left asking “well, how do we know which traditions are faithfully preserved according to God’s will?” Well, that is where we consult the Church, which St. Paul referred to as the “pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).
From “Radio Replies” by Fr. Leslie Rumble, Catholic Answers edition:
…Not all revealed truth was written down. The divine teaching has been preserved and handed down completely in the Catholic Church, both by that section written in the New Testament, and by that section of revealed truth that was not committed to writing but that is declared by the living voice of the Church. For example, which books of Scripture are canonical, the very inspiration of those books, the teachings on infant baptism, or on the matter and form of the sacraments, and many other things, are known to us by the traditional and living voice of the Church only. But as I have pointed out, Christ intended that, for he did not order anything to be written but established his Church and sent it to teach all nations what he had revealed, and its applications in practice.
It’s practically impossible to deny the authenticity of the practice of infant baptism after considering the traditions revealed in the writings of Church history:
In closing, I would like to share a few verses of Scripture that indicate the likely baptism of children and even infants among the first converts to the Christian faith:
Acts 16:15 “she was baptized, with her household”
Acts 16:33 “he was baptized at once, with all his family”
1 Cor. 1:16 “I did baptize also the household of Steph’anas”
For Bible-believing Christians who remain opposed to infant baptism, I will keep coming back to this question:
Does the Bible anywhere restrict baptism to adults?
P.S. I should mention that no one is suggesting that you should go half-drown your infant by dunking him or her underwater. Obviously it’s assumed that the tradition of pouring water over the head applies here:
Baptize as follows: after first explaining all these points, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, in running water. But if you have no running water, baptize in other water; and if you cannot in cold, then in warm. But if you have neither, pour water on the head three times in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… –The Didache, ca. A.D. 70, as quoted in “Four Witnesses” by Rod Bennett
I was recently listening to a Catholic apologist who suggested being able to share your testimony in 100 words or less. I thought that was a really cool idea.
1 Peter 3:15 says “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence…”
So here’s my testimony in exactly 100 words:
I was raised by Christian parents to love Jesus and trust the Bible, and I still do. However, as an adult I needed to know exactly what I believe and why, and I ultimately wasn’t satisfied with a Christianity that’s determined by personal interpretation of Scripture. Study uncovered historical Christian beliefs and legitimate papal authority. I found that we received Scripture through the Church Jesus founded and promised to preserve. Scripture was intended to be understood as part of that Church’s overall teaching. Through logic and God’s grace, I’ve found the fullness of the Christian faith in the Catholic Church.
P.S. This testimony obviously presumes and excludes many things about my life and beliefs (for sake of brevity), so don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions. Also feel free to share your own 100 word testimony in the comment section.
It was one of those glass-shattering moments for me when I really began to understand the significance of the wedding feast at Cana, as seen in John’s Gospel. It is the first recorded miracle performed by Jesus, when He turned water into wine, but Mary’s role in this event offers us an important lesson for our lives today.
Here’s the story:
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. -John 2:1-11
Jesus referred to his mother as “woman”. This seems strange to us at first glance. We know that Jesus would not have broken the 4th commandment and disrespected His mother. His phrasing recalls the prophecy in Genesis 3:15. Satan had been in the garden of Eden in the form of something like a serpent or dragon, tempting Eve to sin. And God said to him,
…I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.” -Genesis 3:15
Jesus’ reference to Mary as “woman” is significant, as she is understood to be the new Eve… the woman who would have a role in redeeming mankind from sin, which makes sense, as the original Eve had a role in bringing mankind into sin.
But let’s return to Cana. Here is the main question that strikes me regarding Jesus’ miracle there:
Would Jesus have turned the water into wine for the wedding guests if Mary had not interceded on their behalf?
John indicates Jesus was unwilling, and Mary’s influence seemed to make all the difference. This helps to explain why Christians so often turn to Mary when there is a need. It’s not always clear if Jesus is willing, but either way it can be a good idea to hope His mother might intercede with Him on our behalf.
It’s also noteworthy that John says that Jesus “revealed his glory” through this miracle, which shows us how Mary’s intercession ultimately brings glory to God.
Part of my spiritual development has been a deeper realization of why various things were recorded in the Gospels… especially John’s Gospel, which was written around 60 years after the events. We’re not talking about some old guy writing down his memoirs for the heck of it, saying “Oh, yeah… and there was this one time…” These stories carry specific lessons for Christians. One lesson we can glean from the story of the wedding at Cana is this:
Mary is observant, and she has a feminine concern for people who need help. If she felt sympathy in her heart for the problem at the wedding, imagine how much she would be concerned for people who are in serious crisis.
How does this apply to us today?
Well, Mary’s concern and ability to intercede is in no way diminished. On the contrary, she’s actually in a greater position to help more people, especially those loyal to her Son:
A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars… Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus. -Rev. 12:1,17
There’s John referring to the “woman” again. But this time he’s given us a glimpse of her in a beautiful place of honor and power, as the mother of Christians.
John, as Christ’s loyal disciple, had a special understanding of Mary’s motherly role, as He was there with Mary at the foot of the cross and heard Jesus pronounce the words:
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. -John 19:26,27
As I strive to be loyal to Christ, I want Mary to know she is welcome in my home and I am happy to see God glorified through her intercession on behalf of us, her adopted children.
Scripture does not offer the whole picture of Mary’s significance, but we can definitely see enough to get us started in understanding her better.
It’s fairly common knowledge among Christians that we don’t know for sure who wrote the book of Hebrews in the Bible. The Church knows it to be inspired Scripture, despite the lack of certainty regarding its author.
Well, I’ve been reading an interesting book on Church history called Roots of the Faith, by Mike Aquilina, and he directed my attention to an interesting section in the writings of a Church historian named Eusebius, who lived in the late 200’s through the early 300’s. Since I happen to have Eusebius’ Church History on my shelf, I looked that particular section up for myself because it sounded intriguing.
Here, Eusebius is describing the writings of Clement of Alexandria, who was born circa 150, and Clement seemed to be quite confident in his knowledge of who wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews:
“He says that the Epistle to the Hebrews is the work of Paul, and that it was written to the Hebrews in the Hebrew language; but that Luke translated it carefully and published it for the Greeks, and hence the same style of expression is found in this epistle and in the Acts. But he says that the words, Paul the Apostle, were probably not prefixed, because, in sending it to the Hebrews, who were prejudiced and suspicious of him, he wisely did not wish to repel them at the very beginning by giving his name.”
–Eusebius, Church History, 6.14.2-3
So he’s saying that Paul wrote Hebrews, but left out his usual greeting for good reasons. The writing somewhat resembles Luke, because Luke translated it into the Greek.
“Farther on he says: ‘But now, as the blessed presbyter said, since the Lord being the apostle of the Almighty, was sent to the Hebrews, Paul, as sent to the Gentiles, on account of his modesty did not subscribe himself an apostle of the Hebrews, through respect for the Lord, and because being a herald and apostle of the Gentiles he wrote to the Hebrews out of his superabundance.’” (6.14.4)
So even though Paul’s primary mission was to the Gentiles, his “superabundance” overflowed to the Hebrews as well, and the Church has been blessed to this day with the Epistle to the Hebrews apparently as a result of Paul going above and beyond the call of duty (so to speak). I understand that there are other sources from the early Church which also offer insight into the subject of Hebrews’ authorship, but Eusebius is the one I came across and I just thought it was really interesting.
Unrelated to the authorship of Hebrews but included in the same chapter, Eusebius refers to Clement’s writings regarding Mark’s Gospel:
“As Peter had preached the Word publically at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it. When Peter learned of this, he neither directly forbade nor encouraged it.”
–Eusebius, Church History, 6.14.6
I’ve already shared significant portions of my journey from Evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism in my posts Considering Catholicism, On the Road to Rome, and How Francis Chan Helped Me Become Catholic, however I also wanted to share a pivotal moment of my testimony that I haven’t shared on my blog before. By the time 2013 was winding down, I was facing some very real questions about my faith. Some questions had begun to nag me years before, such as why someone as intelligent as G.K. Chesterton could conclude that Rome was right. But others were more recent, such as how Catholics can point to Jesus’ clearly articulated words in John chapter six to explain Christ’s Body and Blood being present in the Eucharist (a.k.a. Communion or Lord’s Supper), while Evangelical Protestant explanations were falling short to say the least in saying our Lord’s words must surely be symbolic.
Facing the very real prospect of being convinced of the truth of Catholicism, but struggling with the unfamiliarity of it compared to my prior beliefs, I began looking for a way out of the spiritual conflict. Turns out, it’s easy to find a way out, especially when you’ve been raised in the fringe minority of Christianity that thrives in modern American culture. It’s easy to lose yourself in American culture whenever you get tired of theology (the study of God). I even found a song that I felt I could adopt as symbolizing my new determination to pursue only minimalist Christianity. “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd was how I felt and by determining to believe that God wanted nothing more from me than wholehearted simplicity, I decided to just read the Bible in a simple way, pray in a simple way, and serve others in a simple way, and Christianity didn’t need to be any more complicated than that. The admonitions of my relatives and friends seemed to echo the lyrics of the song:
“Boy, don’t you worry you’ll find yourself
Follow your heart and nothing else
And you can do this, oh baby, if you try
All that I want for you my son is to be satisfied
And be a simple kind of man
Oh, Be something you love and understand
Baby be a simple kind of man
Oh, won’t you do this for me son if you can?”
Trust me, if you drive down the road blasting songs like this with the windows down, it’s easy to forget about things like sacraments and ancient beliefs. But some things still rise above the noise:
“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” -1 Cor. 10:16-17
I had a nagging suspicion that the little symbolic crackers that are passed out in Evangelical Protestant churches are not the body of Christ, even if I wished that it might be true, and if it wasn’t “a participation in the body of Christ”, was I even part of the body of Christ: His Church? Nonetheless, all of the Christians I grew up with and hung out with were all able to shrug it off as no big deal, and I was determined to do the same. Forget the Catholics and their evidence, they’re weird anyway! Perhaps the less I think about it, the better… Well, God had a patient way of working in my restless mind, and I should mention that even though I was growing weary of theology and wanted to live a simple life, I was also praying earnestly for God’s direction.
In the mean time, my wife and I decided to back away from Catholicism and we determined to make our Pentecostal church home work for us. We were sitting in a sparsely populated worship service at the Assemblies of God church one Sunday morning, and it was time for communion. I had been raised to take communion very seriously growing up, and I did, using it as a time of quiet reflection and bringing my sins before God. The pastor usually goes out of his way to remind everyone that it’s a symbol, even while hearkening back to Jesus’ words at the Last Supper. Even though I had been wrestling with the biblical, theological, and historical evidence put forth by the Catholics, I decided that I was just going to leave it in God’s hands and take my time figuring it all out… someday.
As we sat in what was nearly the center of the sanctuary waiting for the crackers and grape juice trays to make their way to us, it gradually dawned on me that the ushers had somehow missed us. I tried to think whether in all my years of attending Evangelical Protestant church services this had ever happened to me before… it never had as far as I could remember. How could they have missed us? I had determined that it would be fine to partake of this symbolic communion as I always had, but had God prevented it? A crazy thought… or was it? While the short communion time proceeded without me, I pondered the possibility that God was saying, “I am fine with you taking your time to work through the process of understanding the Catholic Church… but you know better than this.” My wife wasn’t as sure that God had intended to send a clear message, but she did find it strange at least that we were missed, especially since we had been wrestling with whether or not to continue the Evangelical Protestant version of communion in a symbolic way.
An usher came up to us after the service and was genuinely apologetic for having missed us. He didn’t realize it until after he had passed us by. I happily informed him that it was no problem at all. Little did he know how much God may have used him in that moment.
The journey was still long after that point, but it did seem to be the final clincher in the subject of symbolic communion. And knowing what I know now, it would probably be a sin for me to do something that I know to be a symbolic reinvention of what God intended to be a Sacrament, without the defense of unknowing sincerity. I know that people can quickly and easily disregard this story as coincidental (and even bring up instances of being missed in communion themselves), but I see this as being just the sort of thing that God would use to speak to a specific person in a specific way, and in a way that cannot be used as proof for anyone else. In and of itself, it is hardly evidence of anything, but as it was a tipping point for me (on top of a pile of evidence and prayers for God’s guidance), it might be helpful to others in a similar situation.
In closing, I’ve noticed that if there is one subject that even the most biblically-minded Evangelical Protestants like to avoid, it’s the subject of the Eucharist. Once the biblical evidence is honestly examined, you need to do some very creative footwork to justify that communion is a symbolic “ordinance” rather than a sacrament. After ruling out the churches of our upbringing, we still had to choose between the options that remained. For awhile, we tried out the local Episcopal church, and we would have gladly gone to an Anglican church (at the time) if one was nearby. Also, the Eastern Orthodox have some substantial arguments… but we knew we could never innocently go back to where we were before.
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.” -1 Cor. 11:27
From here, I recommend this post:
In my transition from Evangelical Protestant to (Roman) Catholic, there was an orderly process of understanding that allowed me to slowly release my grip on the presuppositions and perks of Protestantism. The three steps I’ve outlined below are the foundation upon which Catholic understanding was established in my mind and heart:
- Truth is not relative. In other words, Jesus’ death on the cross does not mean whatever we want it to mean. If you want real Christianity, you need to venture outside the realm of preference. Important: misunderstanding Christ and His Church does not equal condemnation. However, every Christian should want to pursue the most accurate version of Christianity possible. Christians should desire the fullness of the faith. It seems rather dangerous to cling to a minimalist understanding of Christ and trust that God will look mercifully upon a refusal to look deeper. For too many people, it is simply convenient that Catholicism looks wrong to them, and an honest examination of Catholic beliefs is not on their to-do list. If someone is stuck at step 1, and they believe Christianity can be defined according to their preferences, then an explanation of Catholic doctrines can be a frustrating exercise.
- History matters. The accumulated knowledge of Christians throughout the centuries far surpasses my own knowledge. As someone with a degree in history I can vouch for the value of reading primary source material. Basically… if you want to better understand America, read the writings of the Founding Fathers. If you want to better understand Christianity, read the writings of the early Church Fathers. If nothing else, they offer some of the best possible commentary on Scripture that you can find. I began to really ponder how orthodox (authentic) Christian beliefs could be preserved against heresies through the centuries. The fact that heresies can be fueled by a misunderstanding of Scripture should be disconcerting to Protestants (of course an acknowledgment that heresy is bad should be part of step 1). Find a Protestant who cares about history, and you’ve got someone who can learn… and can grasp the need for apostolic succession and the value of Sacred Tradition.
- The Protestant concept of “Sola Scriptura” (“Scripture Alone” as the doctrinal authority for Christians) simply doesn’t work… nor is it biblically defendable. This was the death blow to my Protestant assumptions. Unity in the Body of Christ is important (again, step 1 is necessary), and Sola Scriptura causes tragic division among Christians. Sola Scriptura is not defined or demanded in Scripture itself. Perhaps even more importantly, there is no definitive scriptural way of knowing which books should be in the Bible, thereby creating uncertainty within the confines of Sola Scriptura about the reliability of the Bible’s contents.
Backed by history, and guided by the Church, Catholics are able to rely on Scripture with confidence and accuracy.
As a Protestant, I wholeheartedly embraced the first two steps in regard to secular subjects, but Catholics demonstrated how the principles could (and should) be applied to my faith as well. Also, it isn’t that I clung to the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura in opposition to the evidence… it’s just that I didn’t know any better. Finally, I was able to see that personal interpretation of Scripture is unreliable, and I began to seek solid answers to some tough questions. Watch for others like me, and be able to point them to the Church.
After the basic steps were covered, I was able to seriously consider what is perhaps the most important question I faced in my conversion process: the question of doctrinal/spiritual authority.
I think most Protestants never imagine that Sola Scriptura is wrong, and that is why they talk as though they are defending the Bible against the “men” or “traditions” of the Catholic Church. In reality they are defending their personal interpretation of the Bible against the Church that God has placed on this earth to guide all Christians. I had to learn that the Scriptures were intended to be part of the Church’s guidance and not our excuse to protest the Church’s guidance.