Letting Christ Transform You From The Inside Out

Edward Fudge - Baptizing Children

Edward Fudge is a Christian scholar, author and Bible teacher living in Houston, Texas, who has been a pulpit preacher, pastor/elder, editor, publisher and, since 1988, a practicing attorney. He was raised in the Stone-Campbell “Restoration Movement,” and he has lived most his life in the Churches of Christ, in which he presently serves. From 1975-82, he was pastor of a small nondenominational church called “Elm Street Church.”

Edward runs a blog called gracEmail.  It is a thoughtful, seasoned, informed, spiritual internet column — usually no more than four paragraphs long. A gracEmail might answer a biblical or other spiritual question asked by a subscriber, present a teaching from scripture,  give a book notice or review, a devotional or meditation, or commentary on current events.

His website is edwardfudge.com. Here are some of his thoughts on baptizing children. 


A scholarly minister writes, “I am leading a study this summer with five other families, all having children who have expressed an interest in baptism or a desire to be baptized. The children range from seven to 13 years of age. What are your thoughts on this subject?”         
On this question, gracEmail readers (like Christians for the past 16 centuries), do not all share the same understanding. I would like to call attention first to a few historical details. Although some believe they see infant baptism implied in the New Testament, it explicitly originated among early Roman Catholics who believed, in an era of very high infant mortality, that no person could be saved without water baptism. Today, however, many Roman Catholics are returning to immersion of believers, which they describe as baptism’s original form. And evangelical conviction has permeated some Roman Catholicism, especially in the United States and particularly through the charismatic movement.
Lutherans and Anglicans emphasize that baptism does not save apart from faith, but retain the practice of baptizing their own infants. Methodists and other Wesleyans continue the Anglican practice and, officially, the same theology, although many of them practically view infant baptism more as a dedication and a parental promise to rear the child in the Lord.
Reformed or Calvinistic Christians baptize their babies to signify that they are part of the covenant community, much as circumcision identifies covenant males while in infancy among the Jews (Gen. 17:9-14). Yet some Reformed theologians from Karl Barth to Paul K. Jewett have questioned infant baptism, noting that the new covenant expects a personal faith-response as a prerequisite for admission into the believing community.
During the Reformation, the Anabaptists insisted that baptism was only for professing believers and that one did not become a Christian automatically by birth into a “Christian nation.” This doctrine directly challenged the state churches of the Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists and Anglicans, which often used secular power to persecute to death those who taught it. (In retrospect, we can suggest that the fatal heresy of the Anabaptists — whose name meant “Re-baptizers” — was as much political as theological).
Churches today practicing believer baptism include the Brethren and Mennonites (usually by pouring), Baptists of all kinds, Restoration Movement (Churches of Christ, Christian Churches and Disciples of Christ), Adventists (Advent Christians and Seventh-day Adventists), many Pentecostals and most charismatic and Bible churches. With the passing of time, however, the age at which these churches have been willing to regard their children as believers, and therefore as candidates for baptism, has fallen lower and lower.


A scholarly minister writes, “I am leading a study this summer with five other families, all having children who have expressed an interest in baptism or a desire to be baptized. The children range from seven to 13 years of age. What are your thoughts on this subject?”
* * *
I was discussing the topic of Christian baptism several years ago with the late Professor F. F. Bruce, whom I admired immensely and who kindly contributed forewords to two of my books. The most likely path to accord on the action of baptism, surmised the great commentator, will not be through focusing on the mode itself but rather by reflecting on the meaning of the rite. Baptism’s meaning also provides the best light regarding the appropriate age for baptizing children of believers, it seems to me.
The New Testament specifically reports the baptisms only of repentant believers. Those who baptize babies say they are not surprised, since the New Testament records only first-generation converts. I consider it significant, however, that Jesus connects baptism to the Gospel (Matt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15-16), and that the apostles and first evangelists regularly relate it to repentance and faith, which the gospel intends to elicit (Lk. 24:47 with Acts 2:38; Mk. 16:16; Acts 8:12-13; 10:43, 48; 11:17-18; 16:14-15; 16:31-34; 18:8; 22:16; Gal. 3:26-27; Eph. 4:5; Col. 2:12; Heb. 10:22).
If one sees baptism as expressing personal repentance and faith, by that act acknowledging and personally claiming the good news that Christ died for sinners, one tends to conclude that baptism is for persons who are old enough to experience and to express those heart responses. All that Scripture says on the topic seems consistent with that understanding and I know nothing in Scripture which rules it out.
Add to that the fact that repentance and faith are God’s gifts, fruit of the Holy Spirit’s regenerating work in one’s heart, and the plot thickens, as the old saying goes. Children do not automatically believe at a particular chronological age — which we sometimes call “the age of accountability,” but which the Bible never mentions anywhere. We look, therefore, not for certain birthdays but for evidence of God’s activity.
When a child feels conviction of sin, expresses a need for Christ, and declares trust in Jesus’ atonement for personal redemption and forgiveness, we may conclude that the girl or boy is prepared to be baptized. A catechism class might draw out such comments, or even suggest or encourage them, but it might also convey external expectations or generate peer pressure which substitute for God’s work in the heart. That does not mean such a class is inappropriate — only that it is not a perfect solution.
In the end, nothing can take the place of Christian parents who model faith and nurture it in their own dear children. Such parents, who pray regularly with and for their young, and who discuss spiritual realities in the course of daily life, will not have difficulty recognizing saving repentance and faith when it appears. When that occurs, they can guide their children to express these heart-responses to the gospel by baptism in water, in obedience to the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on whose atoning accomplishments we totally depend from first to last.


“Father Paul,” a gracEmail subscriber and Roman Catholic priest from Pennsylvania, tells me I am confused concerning infant baptism. Even if it is not explicitly found in the New Testament, he explains, it is “a precious apostolic tradition,” part of the oral teaching which the Apostle Paul equated in authority with apostolic writings (2 Thes. 2:15). Augustine (5th century), Origen (3rd century) and Irenaeus (2nd century) all attest to the practice, and Polycarp (born 1st century) might have been baptized as a baby. “I hope you can now respect the Catholic view,” Father Paul admonishes. “It is apostolic.”
* * *
Indeed the church fathers make plain that infant baptism began as early as the second century after Christ. That is 200 years sooner than I previously suggested, and I am happy to make the correction. As a Protestant and an evangelical, however, I still consider it 200 years too late. Father Paul claims that infant baptism rests on apostolic authority, but the first person I can find who made that claim was Origen of Alexandria in the third century.
The “apostolic tradition” which the Apostle Paul commends is the core of Christian truth handed down by the Apostles themselves (1 Cor. 15:1-4; 1 John 1:1-4; Jude 3). Not everything handed down from ancient times is authoritative, however, as Jesus had also to remind the Jews (Matt. 5). I know no scriptural or historical reason to believe that the Apostles passed on their unique authority to a chain of successors — although I am personally awed by the historical continuity which those churches with “apostolic” bishops do represent. There is something to be said for deep roots.
One primary reason for collecting and preserving various writings into the Bible was to provide a permanent standard, recognized as apostolic in authority, by which teaching could be measured. We therefore speak of the “canon” or “rule” of Scripture — it is a measuring stick for testing oral tradition, as well as all dreams, visions, revelations and prophecies claimed to be divine in origin.
I have no difficulty acknowledging the tradition of the universal church as one basis of authority — so long as it remains under Scripture and subject to testing by it. You need not worry that I lack respect for Catholic views. I appreciate full well the heritage and gifts of the undivided Church of the first several centuries — including the Apostles Creed, the eucharistic liturgy, and the Bible itself.


“God calls children blessings, in Psalm 127 and in many other texts,” writes a Christian sister. “Why, then, don’t we want to have them? Or why only one or two? Are modern-day babies not also a part of God’s plan?”
* * *
Indeed, children are entrusted to us as gifts from God. However, we need not forget that the Old Testament people of God lived in extended families in agrarian and semi-agrarian societies. Childlessness was socially undesirable, for children (especially males) not only constituted needed workers but also the “social security” for aged parents. I know no reason why we should think those people were unaware of family planning by “natural” means or that God frowned on such foresight.
Jesus suggested that one should not go to war or plan a construction project without counting the cost — although winning a war or building a house both depended on God’s favor and blessing. Should we think it less prudent to combine fiscal stewardship with planning a family? Of course, the conclusions a couple reaches are their business and God’s alone, and ought not be second-guessed or judged by others who have no responsibility in the matter.
If we entrust our families to God — in planning, rearing, and teaching — he will certainly guide and provide in that area of life as well as in any other. We parents learn much about God’s love as we deal with our children, and children learn much about God’s fatherhood through the example of godly parents. May your house be filled with his Presence and his abiding peace.

The above thoughts on Baptism were copied to this site from edwardfudge.com on October 20th, 2016).