The Subject of Baptism

By Mike Willis

As the restoration leaders began to study themselves out of denominationalism, they found that what they had previously believed about baptism was wrong. In addition to discovering that the action of baptism was immersion, they also found that the only proper subject to be baptized was a penitent believer. This was contrary to the former beliefs and practices of many of the leaders among them. Nevertheless, they were committed to following the Bible rather than human creeds and traditions. Consequently, they committed themselves to the word of God and rejected their creeds for the Bible.

Particularly was this the case with Alexander Campbell. On 13 March 1812, Campbell’s wife gave birth to his first child whom he named Jane. Prior to this time, Campbell had not made the careful examination of the Scriptures which he needed to make in order to find out what they taught on this subject. However, he was now faced with the question of whether or not he should have his infant sprinkled. Soon he became convinced that there was no Bible authority for infant sprinkling. Robert Richardson records the history of Campbell’s change;

. . . Admitting that infant baptism was without warrant, the question began to assume quite a different aspect, and was no longer, “May we safely reject infant baptism as a human invention?” but, ‘May we omit believers’ baptism, which all admit to be divinely commanded?” If the baptism of infants be without warrant, it is invalid, and they who receive it are, in point of fact, still unbaptized (Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, Vol. I, pp. 393-394).

Campbell became convinced that he had not been baptized. Soon Campbell contacted Matthias Luce to baptize him and several other members of his family. At that time, he became convinced that infant sprinkling was unauthorized of God and that those who received it needed to be baptized in obedience to Christ’s commandment.

One hundred sixty-eight years have passed since that event. Already signs are beginning to manifest themselves that this truth, discovered and expounded for so many years, is beginning to be lost. I make this statement on the basis of the writings of some among us who are stating that those who have never received an immersion in water as a penitent believer shall nevertheless receive salvation. Writers in Restoration Review, Ensign Fair, Mission, and some other periodicals openly admit that they are prepared to extend the right hands of fellowship to those who have simply received infant sprinkling. Whether openly admitted or not, such statements result in the affirmative position that one can be saved without being immersed in water and that baptism is acceptable in the sight of God without being preceded by faith and repentance. Though no one to my knowledge has avowed infant sprinkling among us, several are ready to extend fellowship to those who do.

As testimony that several are willing to extend fellowship to some who preach infant sprinkling, consider these statements from Leroy Garrett.

When I say this is no problem to me, I simply mean that I do not conclude that a brother necessarily rejects Christ when he leaves what we call the “Church of Christ.” Going to the Presbyterians might be a matter of conscience, not a lack of it, an act of faith and not faithlessness (Restoration Review, Vol. 21, No., 4, April, 1979, p. 77).

And I realized more than I was able to 30 years ago that these Presbyterians are also my sisters and brothers in Christ (Restoration Review, Vol. 20, No. 9, November 1978, p. 168).

Only recently I heard a reforming Methodist, laboring within his own context for that one, great, spiritual community of God on earth. Praise God that he is using this man where he is! He is talking to Methodists, in their language and out of their history, of a better and more spiritual way. It would be folly for me to try to take him from his own people, converting him to the Church of Christ . . . . I met with a group of Roman Catholics a few times recently, some of them being business associates of ours, who are really turned on to Jesus. In their own “sanctuary,” with their priests sitting with us, I laid before them a long view of the scheme of redemption in scripture, God’s eternal purpose in Christ. These folk want their people to get with it and turn to Jesus, and they are working to that end in various mini-meetings. How foolish it would be for me to try to bring them into “the Church of Christ. . .” ( Restoration Review, Vol. XVI, No. 9, November 1974, p. 367).

Notice that Garrett and those who accept what he teaches are willing to extend the right hand of fellowship to those who have never been immersed into Christ for the remission of their sins. He is willing to extend fellowship to those who follow the creeds of men with reference to infant sprinkling.

Infant Sprinkling And The Creeds

The creeds of men are the best authority that can be found for infant sprinkling. They are very specific in granting to men the right to have their children sprinkled and admitted into covenant relationship with God on the basis of the parents’ faith. Here are some sample creeds:

Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ but also the infants of one or both believing parents are to be baptized (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXVIII, No. 4).

Let every adult Person, and the Parents of every Child to be baptized, have the choice of sprinkling, pouring, or immersion (Discipline of the Methodist Church, 1940, p. 602).

13. We believe that Christian baptism is a sacrament signifying acceptance of the benefits of the atonement of Jesus Christ, to be administered to believers, as declarative of their faith in Jesus Christ as their Saviour, and full purpose of obedience of holiness and righteousness.

Baptism being the symbol of the New Testament, young children may be baptized, upon request of parents or guardians who shall give assurance for them of necessary Christian training (Manual of the Church of the Nazarene, 1944, p. 30).

In the book Facts of the Faith by Monsignor J. D. Conway, which contains the Catholic imprimatur, the following statement about infant baptism is made:

It is because of the essential necessity of this sacrament that the Church insists on the Baptism of little children as soon as possible after their birth. If the tiny child is in any serious danger of death, he should be baptized at once, and any person who knows how to do it and who wants to do it can baptize. If there is time, of course the priest should be called. He is the regular minister of baptism. If there is not time, then a lay person may do it. All he has to do is to pour water on the head of the child and say while pouring it, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The church naturally prefers that a Catholic person do the baptizing, but if a Catholic is not available, then a baptized Protestant may very well do it, and if no baptized person is available, then the Baptism can be given by a non-baptized person. It is not even necessary that he believe personally in Baptism. It is only required that he perform this ceremony properly and that he intend to do what the Church wishes done in Baptism.

In spite of all the care that we may use, it does occasionally happen that a baby dies without Baptism. What happens to that baby? As far as we can know, it has never received the life of heaven into its little soul, and without the life of heaven it cannot get into heaven. It does not have the capacity or ability to see God or to live in union with God. Its little human soul is not capable of living in the rarefied spiritual atmosphere of heaven. It would be lost if it got there. We must keep in mind that heaven is a free gift of God, that no one has a claim to it. Since our nature is not adapted to it, we make no natural demand for it.

Of course we know that Almighty God in his goodness and justice will not punish anyone unless he is personally guilty of sin. No baby will suffer positive punishment or the loss of natural happiness because of the sin of Adam, or the sins of the human race. But that does not mean that the unbaptized child will be able to live above its nature and perform functions of which it is naturally incapable.

It is the traditional belief of Catholic theologians that Almighty God has provided a place of natural happiness for these children who die without Baptism. For want of a better word, we call the place Limbo (pp. 142-143).

These creeds and statements of belief give us some idea what the denominational world is teaching about infants receiving baptism. These are the doctrinal beliefs held by those to whom some of our brethren are willing to extend fellowship.

What Saith The Scriptures?

Having read the doctrinal statements of those who teach that baptism can and should be administered to babies and noticing that some of our more liberal brethren are ready to extend fellowship to those who so teach, we now turn to the Scriptures to find out who is the proper candidate for baptism.

1. Baptism is for the sinner. Inasmuch as baptism has for its purpose the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Mk. 16:16), it is assumed that the person to be baptized is guilty of sin. Sin is not something which is inherited (Ezek. 18:20); it is an action of an individual in which he disobeys the law of God (1 Jn. 3:4). Consequently, the infant is not in need of baptism inasmuch as he has not violated God’s law and, therefore, is not a sinner.

2. A person must be taught before he is a proper subject far baptism. The Scriptures clearly teach that one is drawn to Christ by teaching. Jesus said, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me” (Jn. 6:44-45). Notice that no one can come to Jesus without being drawn to Him by God; one is drawn by God through hearing and learning of the Father. Inasmuch as a child cannot hear and learn, he could never be a proper subject for baptism. Infant sprinklers teach that one can come to God without being drawn by God! In the Great Commission, Jesus said, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them . . .” (Matt. 28:19). One must be taught before he can be baptized.

3. A person must believe in Christ before he can be properly baptized. Jesus “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved . . .” (Mk. 16:15-16). The gospel must be preached and the person must believe it before he is ready to be baptized. Obviously, an infant cannot do this; consequently, he is not qualified to be baptized.

When Philip preached the gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch, “they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If though believest with all thine heart, thou mayest” (Acts 8:36-37). Notice that Philip told the eunuch that one must believe before he can be baptized. An infant consequently cannot be properly baptized inasmuch as he cannot believe the gospel of Jesus Christ.

4. A person must repent of his sins before he can be baptized. On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached the first gospel sermon. Peter charged those who were present with participating in the murder of Jesus Christ. Apparently he convinced them of their sin because they were “pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:37-38). Notice that one had to repent of his sins before his immersion in water did him any good. We have properly understood this for many years, teaching that one simply gets wet if he is immersed without genuinely deciding to quit practicing sin.

For the subject of infant baptism, we notice two things: (1) an infant has no ability to repent and (2) and infant has no sins of which he needs to repent. Consequently, an infant could never be a proper subject of baptism inasmuch as he cannot repent of sins.

5. A person must confess his faith in Christ before he can be baptized. Christ has only authorized a person to baptize believers. The only way that I have of knowing that a person is a believer is for him to tell me that in some way. Inasmuch as an infant has no ability to believe and no ability to indicate that he believes, he cannot be considered a fit subject for baptism.

Inherited Sin And Infant Sprinkling

The testimony of the Scriptures and the testimony of the early Christians show that baptism is for the forgiveness of sins. The belief that baptism was essential to salvation was coupled with the doctrine of inherited sin to produce the practice of infant sprinkling. In the years after the close of the New Testament canon, the doctrine arose that the sin of Adam was transmitted to the entire race. A person was supposed to have been born guilty of the sin of Adam; this was taught in spite of the fact that Ezek. 18:20 teaches otherwise, Infant baptism was started to grant forgiveness of the guilt of inherited sin. Read the following statements:

The theorist of baptism who has been influential for succeeding ages in S. Augustine . . . . The first effect of baptism is the forgiveness of sins, which extends itself to all sins, both to all actual sin and also to original sin. This latter sinfulness, inherited from Adam, would indeed alone suffice, without actual sin, to bring man to damnation, as too, infants dying unbaptized are excluded from the Kingdom of heaven in consequence of original sin, and live in the world beyond in some form of perdition, even if of the mildest kind. Baptism has effect upon original sin, in the sense that it takes from it is character of guilt; thereby free access to God and His heavenly kingdom is opened . . . . (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1944 edition, Vol. III, p. 84).

The early controversies regarding infant baptism seem to have centered on whether or not infants needed baptism (M’Clintock and Strong, Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Vol. I, p. 648). As the view of Augustine prevailed, baptism was administered to infants to take away the guilt of Adam’s sin.


Bible baptism was never administered to infants! The person to be baptized in the New Testament was always an individual who had heard the gospel preached, believed it, and repented of his sins. No one who had not done these things was considered a proper subject of baptism.

Those among us who are willing to extend fellowship to those who teach and practice infant sprinkling are compromising on what the Scriptures reveal about salvation and baptism. They may state that they personally do not believe in infant sprinkling but so long as they are willing to fellowship those who do, their statements to the contrary are rather hollow.

Truth Magazine XXIV: 37, pp. 595-597
September 18, 1980