What does the Church of God teach about infant baptism? I was christened as a baby in another church. Do I need to be baptized as an adult also?
You’ve recalled a word not in wide usage among us these days: christen. It was used early on of anointing (krismas, Greek) with oil (laying on of hands) or with water at baptism, as when the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus at His baptism, christening Him as Christ, or Messiah. Later, christening was used in the Roman church for naming infants at their baptism (sprinkling or pouring). By extension, anything used for the first time may be named, or christened, like a new ship being launched. By infant baptism, newborn babes are supposedly launched (christened) as Christians.
The Church of God’s practice, on the other hand, is called believers’ baptism. We teach that water baptism is a Christian ordinance designed only for those who come to the truth of the gospel though personal faith in Jesus Christ and a conscious, decisive repentance toward God.
Believers’ baptism finds its main scriptural support in the close link between faith and repentance on the one hand and water baptism on the other. This link is seen in these primary texts that prescribe baptism, or describe it:
Matthew 28:19: By baptism in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and by teaching, faith is manifest and disciples are formed.
Mark 16:16: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.”
Acts 2:38: “Repent, and . . . be baptized” are proper steps for those who believe.
Acts 8:36-39; 16:30-33; 22:16: Baptism requires believing on the Lord Jesus Christ with all our heart, and “calling on the name of the Lord.”
Romans 6:3-10; Colossians 2:12-14: Baptism presupposes conviction for sin as the disease and confession of Christ’s death and resurrection as the cure.
1 Peter 3:21: Baptism is “the answer of a good conscience toward God” — impossible for those who know nothing of conscience.
By positioning faith and repentance as preceding baptism, Scripture implies opposition to infant baptism. An infant is incapable of experiencing either faith or repentance, let alone giving them public expression.
None of the texts listed above raises the option of baptizing babies or the very young. If the households of Cornelius and the jailor (Acts 10:24, 48; 16:31-33), who were baptized, included infants, it is not at all clear that they were immersed with the rest. The dedication of newborns and blessing of children by the church (Luke 2:25-40; Mark 10:13-16) should not be confused with the extra-biblical practice of infant baptism.
Faith and repentance, the two requirements for Christian baptism, are experienced and expressed by only those who understand the message of Christ and recognize their sins. Therefore it is inappropriate for infants to be baptized because they are unable to acknowledge faith in Christ, repent of their sins, and knowingly follow Jesus (This We Believe, p. 81).
. . . those baptized as infants should be ‘re-baptized’ once they come to understand its meaning for the first time. Likewise, those who experience sprinkling or pouring for baptism as adolescents or adults are encouraged to be baptized in the proper biblical manner [immersion]. In neither of these cases would baptism be redundant. Other legitimate reasons for rebaptism may exist. Any reader who feels a need either for baptism or rebaptism is urged to consult a pastor or minister (This We Believe, p. 82).
Vital as it is in expressing our faith in Christ and repentance toward God, baptism does not assure us of God’s forever smile. Knowing and trusting Jesus and turning from our sins do!
— Elder Calvin Burrell
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