Baptism and the Early Church

By COGwriter

What was form of baptism was the early practice of the Christian Church? Was it by immersion or sprinkling?

Was the original practice changed? And who changed it?

There currently are major differences between the Roman Catholic Church or the Continuing Church of God (CCOG) in this area. Which is the church that is most faithful to the teachings of the early church? What was the position of at least one Eastern Orthodox leader?

This article will attempt to answer those questions from early literature, Catholic-approved sources, and the Bible.

What Was the Original Practice?

John the Baptist was the first person shown in the Bible to baptize.

Notice that the Bible shows that repentance was necessary, as well as a lot of water, for this practice:

... the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. 3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (Luke 3:2-3).

After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized. Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized (John 3:22-23).

Notice what the Apostle Peter taught:

Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call (Acts 2:38-39).

After the Apostle Paul taught:

And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized (Acts 18:8).

The original practice in the New Testament was immersion after belief and repentance. It was essentially considered as the process to wash new Christians of the sins/faults of their past. Notice:

9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, KJV).

Baptism was mostly done out of doors, but sometimes inside, but always by immersion. And clothed.

Notice that the Roman Church admits that immersion was the original practice, without the use of baptismal fonts (like it now uses):

In the Apostolic Age, as in Jewish times (John 3:23), baptism was administered without special fonts, at the seaside or in streams or pools of water (Acts 8:38); Tertullian refers to St. Peter's baptizing in the Tiber (De bapt., iv); similarly; in later periods of evangelization, missionaries baptized in rivers as is narrated of St. Paulinus in England by Bede (Hist. Eccl., II, xiv-xvi). (Peterson JB. Transcribed by the Cloistered Dominican Nuns. Baptismal Font. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume II. Copyright © 1907 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York).

The word Baptism is derived from the Greek word, bapto, or baptizo, to wash or to immerse. It signifies, therefore, that washing is of the essential idea of the sacrament...The most ancient form usually employed was unquestionably immersion. This is not only evident from the writings of the Fathers and the early rituals of both the Latin and Oriental Churches, but it can also be gathered from the Epistles of St. Paul, who speaks of baptism as a bath (Ephesians 5:26; Romans 6:4; Titus 3:5). In the Latin Church, immersion seems to have prevailed until the twelfth century. After that time it is found in some places even as late as the sixteenth century. Infusion and aspersion, however, were growing common in the thirteenth century and gradually prevailed in the Western Church. The Oriental Churches have retained immersion (Fanning, William H.W. Transcribed by Charles Sweeney, S.J. Baptism. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume II. Published 1907. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York).

1214 This sacrament is called Baptism, after the central rite by which it is carried out (Greek baptizein) means to "plunge" or "immerse"; the "plunge" into water symbolizes the catechumen's burial into Christ's death, from which he rises up by resurrection with him, as "a new creature" (Catechism of the Catholic Church. Imprimatur Potest +Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Doubleday, NY 1995, p. 342).

Notice that The Catholic Encyclopedia admits that immersion was the biblical practice, the practice of the early Church, and was slowly dropped in the Latin/Western Church. Hence it admits that it is not faithful to the original practice of baptism. Also notice that the Catechism of the Catholic Church admits that baptism is a plunging/immersion that shows a burial and resurrection, but this certainly is not the ceremony that they use of infants (which most likely are the majority of those baptized by Roman Catholics).

After reviewing documents and other evidence, Catholic scholar and priest Bagatti correctly concluded that Judeo-Christians did not baptize infants, “following the example of the Lord” (Bagatti, From the Church of the Circumcision, p. 239).

Irenaeus Condemned the One Who Came Up With the Baptismal Practice Now Utilized by the Latin Church

From a "Christian" perspective, it appears that a heretic named Marcus may have come up with a version of the Catholic eucharistic and baptismal sacraments/ceremonies. Notice that Irenaeus (a Roman Catholic saint) condemned mystical consecrations and non-immersion baptismal practices:

1. But there is another among these heretics, Marcus by name, who boasts himself as having improved upon his master. He is a perfect adept in magical impostures, and by this means drawing away a great number of men, and not a few women, he has induced them to join themselves to him, as to one who is possessed of the greatest knowledge and perfection, and who has received the highest power from the invisible and ineffable regions above. Thus it appears as if he really were the precursor of Antichrist. For, joining the buffooneries of Anaxilaus to the craftiness of the magi, as they are called, he is regarded by his senseless and cracked-brain followers as working miracles by these means.

3...Others, again, lead them to a place where water is, and baptize them, with the utterance of these words, "Into the name of the unknown Father of the universe -- into truth, the mother of all things -- into Him who descended on Jesus -- into union, and redemption, and communion with the powers." Others still repeat certain Hebrew words, in order the more thoroughly to bewilder those who are being initiated, as follows: "Basema, Chamosse, Baoenaora, Mistadia, Ruada, Kousta, Babaphor, Kalachthei." The interpretation of these terms runs thus: "I invoke that which is above every power of the Father, which is called light, and good Spirit, and life, because Thou hast reigned in the body." Others, again, set forth the redemption thus: The name which is hidden from every deity, and dominion, and truth which Jesus of Nazareth was clothed with in the lives of the light of Christ -- of Christ, who lives by the Holy Ghost, for the angelic redemption. The name of restitution stands thus: Messia, Uphareg, Namempsoeman, Chaldoeaur, Mosomedoea, Acphranoe, Psaua, Jesus Nazaria...

4...But there are some of them who assert that it is superfluous to bring persons to the water, but mixing oil and water together, they place this mixture on the heads of those who are to be initiated, with the use of some such expressions as we have already mentioned (Irenaeus. Adversus haereses, Book I, 13:1; 21:3-4. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

I no longer recall the precise terms that the Roman priests use when they baptize (and they usually use Latin), but the appearance of these Roman Catholic sacraments seems to bear a strong resemblance to the type of ceremonies that Irenaeus condemned.

I should probably add that while I do not know if any oil is used with Roman Catholic baptisms, that oil is placed in the baptismal fonts when they are blessed (normally by a bishop or priest). The Bible mentions water and the laying on of hands only (Acts 8:36; 19:5-6).

Justin and Others Utilized Pagan Practices

Justin had practices that were similar to those employed by the followers of the sun-god Mithra (see also Do You Practice Mithraism?):

For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water...And this washing is called illumination, because they who learn these things are illuminated in their understandings (First Apology 61).

Lest anyone think that he did not have ties to Mithraism, notice what the historian and scholar K. Latourette observed:

One of the earliest descriptions of the Eucharist, that by Justin Martyr, not far from the middle of the second century, recognizes the similarity to what was seen in one the mystery cults, Mithraism...it has been repeatedly asserted that in baptism and the Eucharist Christians borrowed from the mysteries and that Christianity was simply another one of these cults...The similarity is striking...baptized, which Justin calls "illumination" (Latourette KS. A History of Christianity, Volume 1: to A.D. 1500. HarperCollins, San Francisco, 1975, pp. 198,200).

Of course, true Christianity could not "borrow" from the sun-cults, but Justin and those that follow his examples apparently have.

It should be understood that while Justin calls the newly baptized "illuminated" the Bible does not.

Are you aware that one of the objectives of mystery religions like Mithraism was to become illuminated? Notice the following:

FOR more than three centuries Mithraism was practised in the remotest provinces of the Roman empire and under the most diverse conditions...the promise of complete illumination, long withheld, fed the ardor of faith with the fascinating allurements of mystery...The gods were everywhere, and they mingled in every act of life; the fire that cooked the food and warmed the bodies of the faithful, the water that allayed their thirst and cleansed their persons, the very air that they breathed, and the light that illuminated their paths, were the objects of their adoration. Perhaps no other religion ever offered to its sectaries in a higher degree than Mithraism opportunities for prayer and motives for veneration (Cumont, Franz. Translated from the second revised French edition by Thomas J. McCormack. The Mysteries of Mithra. Chicago, Open Court [1903] pp. 104,120,149).

I suspect that some who had some connection with Mithraism professed Christ and that those ceremonies got picked up by apostates who Justin apparently came into contact with. And even though Justin is attempting to state that Mithraism copied "Christian" ceremonies, the fact is that the Mithra ceremonies were in existence prior to Jesus coming (see also Do You Practice Mithraism?).

Another bizarre practice that some claim used to be involved with compromised"Christianity" was nude baptism. Notice the following:

In at least some churches...the candidate was baptized naked, the children first, then the men, and finally the women. No one was to take into the water anything except his body (Latourette KS. A History of Christianity, Volume 1: to A.D. 1500. HarperCollins, San Francisco, 1975, p. 194).

As the Bible in no way endorses (nor records) nude baptism, the above demonstrates that pagan practices were used for people who professed, but apparently did not understand, Christ. (For more information, please see Did Real Christians Practice Nude Baptism?)

Hence, sadly, at a relatively early stage, between calling baptism "illumination", having mass naked baptisms, and including children, there were heretical practices that many who professed Christ adopted--though thankfully not all of those have been retained by the mainstream religions (Do You Practice Mithraism?).

Baptism of Infants/Children

Of the 100 or so times the terms Baptist, baptize, baptized, etc. are used of those in the New Testament, there is never one time that infants or young children are specifically mentioned as being baptized.

There is no recorded instance that baptism not allowed unless there was some type of repentance or professed belief. The Roman Catholic Church (as well as other churches, like the Eastern Orthodox) understand that, but they change the practice for infants.

Notice what what Catholic named Jodocus Tiletanus admitted,

We are not satisfied with that which the apostles or the Gospel do declare, but we say that, as well as before as after, there are divers matters of importance and weight accepted and received out of a doctrine which is NOWHERE SET FORTH IN WRITING. For we do blesse the water wherewith we baptize, and the oyle wherewith we annoynt; yea and besides that, him that is christened. And (I pray you) OUT OF WHAT SCRIPTURE have we learned the same? HAVE WE NOT IT OF A SECRET AND UNWRITTEN ORDINANCE? And further what scripture hath taught us to grease with oyle? Yea, I pray you, whence cometh it, that we do dype the child three times in that water? Doth it not come out of this hidden and undisclosed doctrine, which our forefathers have received closely without any curiosity, and do observe it still? (Harvet, Gentianus. Review of Epistles, PP. 19B, 20A, London 1598, as quoted by Hislop, A in The Two Bablyons, emphasis mine).

Hence it is known that infant baptism is not from scripture and that somehow it entered Catholicism from a secret ordinance. Furthermore, the Catholic Church itself teaches that following about baptism:

Baptismal Vows The name popularly given to the renunciations required of an adult candidate for baptism just before the sacrament is conferred. In the case of infant baptism, they are made in the name of the child by the sponsors (Delany J.F. Transcribed by Janet Grayson. Baptismal Vows. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume II. Published 1907. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York).

1427    Jesus calls to conversion. This call is an essential part of the proclamation of the kingdom: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.” In the Church’s preaching this call is addressed first to those who do not yet know Christ and his Gospel. Also, Baptism is the principal place for the first and fundamental conversion. It is by faith in the Gospel and by Baptism that one renounces evil and gains salvation, that is, the forgiveness of all sins and the gift of new life. (Catechism of the Catholic Church. Imprimatur Potest +Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Doubleday, NY 1995, p. 398).

However, since a baby cannot repent nor confess belief in Christ, any statement by an adult sponsor cannot be imputed to the baby. That is one of the most important reasons why infant baptism is not appropriate. The Catechism of the Catholic Church sort of even admits that when it states:

1231...By its very nature infant baptism requires a post-baptismal catechumenate. Not only is there a need for instruction after Baptism, but also for the necessary flowering of baptismal grace in personal growth...

1254 For all the baptized, children or adults, faith must grow after Baptism...

1255 For the grace of Baptism to unfold, the parents help is important. So too, is the role of the godfather and godmother, who must be firm believers, able and ready to help the newly baptized--child or adult--on the road to the Christian life. There task is a truluy ecclesial function (officium) (Catechism of the Catholic Church. Imprimatur Potest +Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Doubleday, NY 1995, pp. 342,351).

What is a required post-baptismal catechumenate? The statement does not make logical sense (as the dictionary definition of catechumenate does not seem to mean "godparents", it seems to mean one new to the faith instead, which is about the same definition of a catechumen). More importantly, an infant does not have any faith to begin with, hence does not the have faith that grows after baptism. An infant is incapable of repentance and no one can repent for someone else (the Bible, in Philippians 2:12 teaches, "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling").

In addition, there is nothing in the entire Bible that suggests that any "godparents" are assigned to either children or adults after baptism (there also is no example of infant baptism in the entire Bible). How can "the role of the godfather and godmother" be an important and ecclesial function if it is not even mentioned in the Bible? It is also not mentioned in any early Christian writings.

Interestingly, Irenaeus says that the Valentinians had heretical views regarding baptism:

But there are some of them who assert that it is superfluous to bring persons to the water, but mixing oil and water together, they place this mixture on the heads of those who are to be initiated, with the use of some such expressions as we have already mentioned. And this they maintain to be the redemption (Irenaeus. Adversus Haeres. Book 1, Chapter 21, Verse 4).

Yet is this not close to what is done today within Roman Catholicism, as well as other groups, that practice infant baptism?

Infant Baptism is Simply a Tradition of Men Without A Solid Early Foundation

Some claim that because the New Testament records that some households were baptized that this proves that infants were also baptized. But this is reading something into the Bible that is not there. Let's look at the first example of this in the Book of Acts:

1 There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, 2 a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. (Acts 10:1-2)

13 And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, 'Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, 14 who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.' 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, 'John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' 17 If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?" (Acts 11:13-17)

Thus, since the household was also fearing God, and infants obviously cannot do that, the term household should not be concluded as proof that infants were baptized. Using passages like Acts 11 is not a solid foundation; and few would insist that infants started speaking then. Furthermore, if that was the case then early Christians would have accepted infant baptism and there would not have been controversies associated with it. Thus, early Christians did not understand that the baptism of households in the New Testament authorized infant baptism.

If infant baptism was a a New Testament need or practice, why, then, does the Bible nowhere command us to baptize children? While circumcision was required for infant boys in the Old Testament (Genesis 17:12), there is no similar requirement for the baptism of infants in the New Testament. In those days infant mortality rates were high, one would expect Scripture to mandate infant baptism if it was essential to a child's salvation.

To the contrary, there is not a single clear example of a child being baptized in the New Testament

There are many admitted traditions that the Catholics and others follow, including infant baptism. But one amazing one is a false conclusion about Polycarp of Smyrna (a church leader in the second century). Notice the following false tradition that supposedly proves infant baptism (I have read similar claims from other Catholic writers.  Note: Any bolding is in the source):

St. Polycarp, who was the disciple of the Apostle John himself (as well as an associate of the Apostle Philip). And, in AD 155, St. Polycarp said this at his execution:

"Polycarp declared, 'Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me injury. How can I blaspheme my King and Savior?" (Polycarp, Martyrdom of Polycarp 9 c. AD 156)

Now, it is well documented that "The Martyrdom of Polycarp" was written the year after the saint's execution; and so the quote above is extremely reliable. It is also well documented that Polycarp was 86 years old at the time of his death. Therefore, if the saint claims to have served Jesus for 86 years, it therefore follows that he was Baptized as an infant. And, in another place, we are told that Polycarp was Baptized by none other than the Apostle John! :-) Therefore, at least in the case of St. John, we can show conclusively that the Apostles Baptized infants (Bonocore MJ. Infant Baptism.  Apolonio’s Catholic Apologetics. http://www.bringyou.to/apologetics/a26.htm viewed 10/06/08 ).

Now while the above may sound plausible, the truth is that Polycarp never claimed to have been baptized as an infant. Nor did he claim he was 86 years old. An ancient manuscript called the Harris Fragments shows the following with one addition from me in {}:

Polycarp...He was… {an} old man, being one hundred and f[our] of age.  He continued to walk [i]n the canons which he had learned from his youth from John the a[p]ostle.(Weidman, Frederick W.  Polycarp and John: The Harris Fragments and Their Challenge to Literary Traditions.  University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame (IL), 1999, pp. 43,44).

So, if Polycarp lived to be 104, then he was baptized at age 18, and thus was not baptized as an infant (more on Polycarp's age can be found in the article Polycarp of Smyrna: The Heretic Fighter).  Hence, the Harris Fragments are one other way to help disprove mythological traditions that are simply not biblical. No early true Christian advocated, nor practiced, infant baptism.

Polycarp had to have been older than 86 when he died to have possibly been appointed a bishop by any of the original apostles, especially if this happened when Polycarp was around age forty. Notice what Coptic Orthodox Bishop Youssef has claimed

Polycarp...Appointed to be Bishop of the See of Smyrna by the Apostles themselves, at the age of 40, he provides us with an important link in our long historical chain of Orthodox tradition clasping together the Apostles and the Second Century Church. (Youssef HG, Bishop. St. Polycarp the Blessed Peacemaker. Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States. http://suscopts.org/resources/literature/174/st-polycarp-the-beloved-peacemaker/ viewed 12/01/2012.)

Perhaps it may be of interest to mention that in 1821, “Cler. Gloc.” wrote that Polycarp was placed in charge of the “See of Smyrna” for around seventy years, that he calculated that Polycarp probably lived around 100 years based upon other historical records, and that the idea Polycarp died at age 86 was a “misconception”(Gloc. C. Letter to the Remembrancer, August 1821. As shown in Scott W. Garden F. Mozely JB. The Christian remembrancer. Printed for F.C. & J. Rivington, 1821. Original from the New York Public Library, Digitized Nov 21, 2007, p. 454).

Where Did Infant Baptism Originate Among Early Professors of Christ?

Actually, Origen, a third century Alexandrian who was later condemned as a heretic by the Roman Church, was one of the first to declare that infant baptism was a tradition (many odd traditions were claimed to have apostolic origin in Alexandria--see the article Apostolic Succession). Other third century Greco-Romans did as well.

Some Catholic-accepted leaders raised questions about infant baptism. If infant baptism was strongly encouraged by the Bible, it is not likely Tertullian would have written (late second/early third century):

But they whose office it is, know that baptism is not rashly to be administered...God's approbation sends sure premonitory tokens before it; every " petition " may both deceive and be deceived. And so, according to the circumstances and disposition, and even age, of each individual, the delay of baptism is preferable; principally, however, in the case of little children...The Lord does indeed say, "Forbid them not to come unto me." Let them "come," then, while they are growing up; let them "come" while they are learning, while they are learning whither to come; let them become Christians when they have become able to know Christ. Why does the innocent period of life hasten to the "remission of sins?...If any understand the weighty import of baptism, they will fear its reception more than its delay: sound faith is secure of salvation (Tertullian. On Baptism, Chapter 18. Translated by S. Thelwall).

Infants are incapable of possessing a sound faith. Hence it is clear that infant baptism was not widely understood to be a biblically encouraged practice as late as the beginning of the third century. The only thing that seems to be realized is that Jesus blest little children (which is what that passage related to "Forbid them not" is related to).

Also notice what Eastern Orthodox Archbishop Gregory Nazianzen taught in the fourth century:

Be it so, some will say, in the case of those who ask for Baptism; what have you to say about those who are still children, and conscious neither of the loss nor of the grace? Are we to baptize them too? Certainly, if any danger presses...But in respect of others I give my advice to wait till the end of the third year, or a little more or less, when they may be able to listen and to answer something about the Sacrament; that, even though they do not perfectly understand it, yet at any rate they may know the outlines; and then to sanctify them in soul and body with the great sacrament of our consecration (Oration 40: The Oration on Holy Baptism, Chapter XXVIII. Preached at Constantinople Jan. 6, 381).

In other words, unless some child was about to die, even into the late fourth century, baptism of infants and small children was not a universal practice, nor requirement. And actually what was still advocated is that the person (even if a small child) should be able to "be able to listen and to answer something about" baptism.

The Catholic Encyclopedia clearly admits that infant baptism was a practice that eventually became customary--in other words it was not part of the original faith. Notice:

Further, when infant baptism became customary, confirmation was not administered until the child had attained the use of reason. This is the present practice, though there is considerable latitude as to the precise age (Scannell T.B. Transcribed by Charles Sweeney. Confirmation. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IV. Published 1908. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Perhaps it should be mentioned here that "confirmation" did not become an issue until after infant baptism was accepted. Notice this admission:

Before the time of Tertullian the Fathers do not make any explicit mention of confirmation as distinct from baptism. The fact that the two sacraments were conferred together may account for this silence (Scannell T.B. Transcribed by Charles Sweeney. Confirmation. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IV. Published 1908. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Actually, since baptism was not done for infants, there was no need to have a separate confirmation. Nor does the Bible anywhere explicitly teach about the need for properly baptized individuals to be later confirmed. The idea of a separate confirmation is clearly another tradition of men--and is not even truly claimed to be a "tradition for the apostles" by any early writer.

Notice that one associated with the Eastern Orthodox admits that infant baptism is not based upon scripture:

I myself must admit that I did not always feel comfortable about the Orthodox Church baptizing infants. I asked myself several other questions as well: "How can an infant 'believe and be baptized'?" "Where in Scripture does it show an infant being baptized?" (Bajis J. Infant Baptism. Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. http://www.goarch.org/en/our faith/articles/article7067.asp 8/21/05).

It should be clearly stated that there is not one verse in the Bible that says that any infants were baptized or are to be baptized. It should also be understood that since the fourth century Archbishop of Constantinople Gregory Nazianzen advised against infant baptism unless there were life threatening issues, that obviously automatic infant baptism was not a practice of the Eastern Orthodox.

The Catholic Encyclopedia admits that infant baptism and other practices are simply based upon tradition:

The designation of unwritten Divine traditions was not always given all the clearness desirable especially in early times; however Catholic controversialists soon proved to the Protestants that to be logical and consistent they must admit unwritten traditions as revealed. Otherwise by what right did they rest on Sunday and not on Saturday? How could they regard infant baptism as valid, or baptism by infusion? How could they permit the taking of an oath, since Christ had commanded that we swear not at all? The Quakers were more logical in refusing all oaths, the Anabaptists in re-baptizing adults, the Sabbatarians in resting on Saturday. (Bainvel J. Transcribed by Tomas Hancil. Tradition and Living Magisterium. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XV. Published 1912. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

It is true that most of the traditions mentioned above are practices that most in the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches accept. Since those traditions do contradict the biblical accounts (and even The Catholic Encyclopedia admitted that on most of them), those practices should be rejected and should not be part of the traditions of either of those groups. This rejection is consistent with the previously cited writing by Irenaeus, who is accepted as a Saint by the Catholics, the Orthodox supporters, and many of the Protestants. It is also consistent with the Sola Scriptura position publicly taken by Martin Luther and most of the Protestant followers. Most importantly, rejecting those practices is consistent with the teachings of Jesus that we are not to accept the traditions of men above the commands or other words of God.

It is of interest to note that those in the Churches of God (which are not Protestant--though there are some Protestants who use the name Church of God) do rest on Saturday instead of Sunday, do not regard infant baptism as valid, do not baptize by infusion, do refuse swearing by oath, do only baptize adults, nor do they hold to a long list of non-biblical doctrinal traditions that most in those groups hold.

Infant Baptism Became Important Centuries After Christ, But Was Disputed

Infant baptism probably did not become widely practiced until the third or fourth centuries (and not universally done in the Roman/Orthodox faiths until even later). If infant baptism existed from the beginning, then there would have not been various controversies. And once infant baptism became the norm, throughout history, those associated with the Church of God have opposed it.

In his book titled God's Church Through the Ages, John Ogywn (a COG leader) makes the following comments:

In the eighth and ninth centuries, many Armenian Paulicians were forcibly resettled in the Balkans by Byzantine emperors. They were placed there as a bulwark against the invading Bulgar tribes. Relocated to the Balkans, the Paulicians came to be called Bogomils.

What did these Bogomils teach? "Baptism was only to be practiced on grown men and women… images and crosses were idols" (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed., "Bogomils").

The Catholic Encyclopedia noted:

Infant baptism has, however, been the subject of much dispute. The Waldenses and Cathari and later the Anabaptists, rejected the doctrine that infants are capable of receiving valid baptism, and some sectarians at the present day hold the same opinion (Fanning, William H.W. Transcribed by Charles Sweeney, S.J. Baptism. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume II. Published 1907. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Some affiliated with the Waldenses, Cathari, and even the Anabaptists were part of the Church of God (please see the article The Churches of Revelation 2 & 3).

Furthermore The Catholic Encyclopedia also recognizes:

Persons rejecting infant baptism are frequently mentioned in English history in the sixteenth century (Weber N.A. Transcribed by Robert H. Sarkissian. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume II. Published 1907. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Some of the most important Protestant reformers embraced infant baptism and condemned those who opposed it.

Martin Luther taught:

"Why are babies to be baptized? A. Babies are to baptized because they are included in the words ‘all nations’ (Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation. Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, 1986, p.202).

Martin Luther also got these statements confirmed,

Article IX: Of Baptism. Of Baptism they teach that it is necessary to salvation, and that through Baptism is offered the grace of God, and that children are to be baptized who, being offered to God through Baptism are received into God's grace. They condemn the Anabaptists, who reject the baptism of children (The Confession of Faith: Which Was Submitted to His Imperial Majesty Charles V. At the Diet of Augsburg in the Year 1530. by Philip Melanchthon, 1497-1560. Translated by F. Bente and W. H. T. Dau. Published in: Triglot Concordia: The Symbolical Books of the Ev. Lutheran Church. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, pp. 37-95.)

Thus Martin Luther not only encouraged infant baptism, his supporters condemned those who opposed infant baptism.

Nor was he the only one. Sadly, notice the following account:

Calvin, who could smile with complacency over the tortures of those who refused to be governed by his own opinions; and Zuinglius, who, when questioned regarding the fate of certain Anabaptists, replied, 

"Drown the Dippers" (Davis, Tamar. A General History of the Sabbatarian Churches. 1851; Reprinted 1995 by Commonwealth Publishing, Salt Lake City, p. 106).

Yet, the Bible shows that those who received John's baptism had to be "re-baptized" (Acts 19:3-5) and that those baptized needed to repent--that is something that infants simply cannot do.

Recall that the Apostle Peter taught,

Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38)

And the Bible shows:

Then those that gladly received his word were baptized (Acts 2:42).

Christian baptism cannot include those who cannot repent.

In the 20th century, Herbert Armstrong (a COG leader) wrote:

Should Children Be Baptized? One cannot be baptized until after he has fully REPENTED. Only those who BELIEVE, both the true GOSPEL (the Message Jesus preached, which is the Kingdom, or Government of God) and on JESUS CHRIST as personal Saviour, can be baptized (see Acts 2:38; 8:37; 16:31). Children have not reached that maturity where they have the self-discipline to truly repent, and believe (Armstrong H. All About Water Baptism. 1948, 1954, 1972 edition).

In the 21st century, the Continuing Church of God, which does not baptize infants, teaches:

Baptism of Christians was by immersion and did not include infants. (Statement of Beliefs of the Continuing Church of God, 2013).

Blessing of Little Children is Scriptural

On the other hand, the Bible does enjoin the fact that infants/toddlers can be prayed for and blest. Notice what Jesus said and did:

14 "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. 15 Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it." 16 And He took them up in His arms, put His hands on them, and blessed them (Mark 10:14-16).

15 Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them to Him and said, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. 17 Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it." (Luke 18:15-17)

13 Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 But Jesus said, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven." 15 And He laid His hands on them and departed from there. (Matthew 19:13-15)

It is likely that the worldly churches, who had read the accounts in the gospels and perhaps heard of it performed in the early COG, may have used that as part of their justification.

In fact, when I researched this further today, I found that the Catholic Church does refer to this passage in Luke 18 & Matthew 19 as part of its justification for infant baptism (see article Baptism in The Catholic Encyclopedia).  But sadly, they are confusing a blessing ceremony with baptism. 

None of the children that Jesus laid hands on are recorded to have been immersed into water or sprinkled with water prior to Jesus blessing them (which is part of why I thought I should list all the accounts in the gospels on this).

Hence what Jesus did WAS NOT a form of infant baptism, but instead a ceremony that is retained by relatively few today, like those of us in the Continuing Church of God. But oddly, those groups that embrace infant baptism do not seem to have kept this.

Those Who Held to the Teachings of the Early Church Have Been Unjustly Condemned

In spite of the fact that infant baptism was not done originally, eventually those who opposed infant baptism were considered heretics by Roman, Orthodox, and Protestant leaders.

The Bogomils, who opposed infant baptism were condemned by the Catholics. Notice this from The Catholic Encyclopedia:

The heresy of the Bogomili was started in the tenth century...followers called themselves Christians and considered their faith the only true one (Klaar K. Transcribed by Joseph E. O'Connor. Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume II. Published 1907. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Notice that a pope also condemned the Bogomils and Paulicians:

The pope in 1096 described the Valley Louise in Dauphiny, France, as infested with "heresy." It was a result of Paulician and Bogomil evangelization of the Alpine regions. About 1104, a man from this valley, called Peter of Bruys, began at Embrun to preach REPENTANCE throughout Languedoc and Provence...One of the definitions of the Greek word Thyatira is "sweet savor of contrition," in other words, "real repentance." Peter of Bruys taught that infant baptism was useless. He only baptized persons old enough to know and mean what they were doing -- that is, only AFTER REAL REPENTANCE. He further rejected the Catholic MYSTERY teaching that the priest in the Mass produced the literal flesh of Christ...For "nearly twenty years" Peter preached. Then the false church would no longer stand for this open rejection of its authority. He was taken and burned alive at the stake... (LESSON 51 (1968) AMBASSADOR COLLEGE BIBLE CORRESPONDENCE COURSE "And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place ..." Rev. 12:6).

Early Protestant leaders such as Martin Luther endorsed infant baptism. Notice this section from Luther's Small Catechism:

Why are babies to be baptized? A. Babies are to baptized because they are included in the words ‘all nations’ (Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation. Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, 1986, p.202).

Around the time of the "Reformation", Anabaptists repeatedly stood up for the fact that infants should not be baptized. But they were not listened to.

Martin Luther not only encouraged infant baptism, he and his affiliated Protestant leaders specifically condemned those who opposed infant baptism. Martin Luther got these statements confirmed:

Article IX: Of Baptism. Of Baptism they teach that it is necessary to salvation, and that through Baptism is offered the grace of God, and that children are to be baptized who, being offered to God through Baptism are received into God's grace. They condemn the Anabaptists, who reject the baptism of children...(The Confession of Faith: Which Was Submitted to His Imperial Majesty Charles V. At the Diet of Augsburg in the Year 1530. by Philip Melanchthon, 1497-1560. Translated by F. Bente and W. H. T. Dau. Published in: Triglot Concordia: The Symbolical Books of the Ev. Lutheran Church. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 37.)

Futhermore, the so-called early "Protestant Reformers" were so supportive of the non-biblical practice of infant baptism, that they had opponents of it killed. Notice the following:

An example of the Reformers’ intolerance toward Anabaptists is the trial and execution of Felix Manz, a Swiss leader of the movement. At his trial in January 1527, Felix Manz freely confessed to being a teacher of adult baptism, forbidden in Switzerland: “We bring together those who are willing to accept Christ, obey the Word, and follow in His footsteps. We unite them by baptism, and leave the rest to their present conviction.”

The Clerk of the Courts wrote this explanatory comment in the records: “They do not allow Infant Baptism. In this way they will put an end to secular authority.” This revealing comment shows the concern of the local government to preserve the practice of infant baptism in order to ensure the commitment of the people to secular authorities that controlled the state church. Being baptized as an infant into the state church meant being loyal and committed to the state for the rest of one’s life.

Even more extraordinary is the outburst of Manz’s accuser, Ulrich Zwingli, one of the leading Swiss Reformers. Speaking at the trial of Anabaptist Manz, Zwingli shouted: “Let him who talks about going under [the water by immersion] go under.” What seemed to be poetic justice was carried out literally by the local authorities who condemned Felix Manz to death by drowning.

“Led into the boat, he was forced to sit up and his arms were passed around his bent knees and bound at the wrists. Next a stick was pushed between the knees and elbows to secure him in this position. The boat was rowed to the center of the [Limmat] river, and the helpless prisoner was thrown overboard, to choke in the dark, deep waters.”

One wonders, How could Protestant spiritual leaders kill fellow Christians for the crime of obeying their understanding of biblical teachings regarding baptism or other doctrines? How could Calvin influence the Geneva’s Council on October 24, 1553 to sentence to death by burning Michael Servetus for denying the Trinity and infant baptism? Regarding infant baptism, Servetus said: “It is an invention of the devil, an infernal falsity for the destruction of all Christianity.” Servetus was well-known not only for his theological treatises, but also for his scientific discoveries. He was the first European to describe the function of pulmonary circulation of the blood–a discovery that was largely rejected at that time.

One wonders, how could such outrageous criminal acts happen just few years after the beginning of the Reformation in Europe? An answer is to be found in the prevailing misconception that fighting and suppressing “heretics” was more important than loving them. As the church of Ephesus in Revelation lost its first love in the process of fighting those “who call themselves apostles but are not” (Rev 2:2, 4), so Christians with a passion to fight perceived heretical teachings, often became heartless and brutal in the suppression of alleged heretics (Bacchiocchi S. ENDTIME ISSUES NEWSLETTER No. 198 . “INFANT BAPTISM: Part 1, April 2008).

And the truth is that these “Protestant Reformers”, simply were not true Christians. True Christians do not kill (Military Service and the Churches of God: Do Real Christians Participate in Carnal Warfare?).  Nor do they endorse infant baptism.

Also notice what the Roman Catholics, in the Council of Trent ("the nineteenth ecumenical council opened at Trent on 13 December, 1545, and closed there on 4 December, 1563") declared as heretical:

Infants, not being able to make an act of faith, are not to be reckoned among the faithful after their baptism, and therefore when they come to the age of discretion they are to be rebaptized; or it is better to omit their baptism entirely than to baptize them as believing on the sole faith of the Church, when they themselves can not make a proper act of faith (Fanning, William H.W. Transcribed by Charles Sweeney, S.J. Baptism. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume II. Published 1907. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Thus, the Council of Trent actually seems to be condemning (or at least minimizing) infant baptism.

Strangely, it does not seem to matter to Catholics/Orthodox (and many Protestants) that since infants are not able to make an act of faith, they should not be baptized.

Sadly as history shows, those who have remained faithful to the biblical practice of not baptizing infants have been clearly condemned by Catholic and Protestant leaders.

Baptism Statements

Although the Bible does not precisely record all the statements used in a Christian baptismal ceremony, the Bible teaches:

38 Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call." (Acts 2:38-39)

5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them (Acts 19:5-6).

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen. (Matthew 28:19-20)

What has been more or less used in the baptismal ceremonies of the old Radio Church of God, Worldwide Church of God, and the Continuing Church of God tends to include the following statements (the following was originally provided to the Continuing Church of God by Aaron Dean, a minister who probably spent more time with the late Herbert W. Armstrong than any other minister in the latter years of his life):

As a result of your repentance of your sins, which are the transgressions of God's holy and righteous and perfect law, and your acceptance of Jesus Christ as your personal saviour, Your Lord and Master, your High Priest and soon coming King, I now baptize you, not into any sect or denomination of this world, but I baptize you into the name of the Father and the Son and through the Holy Spirit, by and through the authority of the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. Amen.

These statements are consistent with not only Matthew 28:19 (see also Is Matthew 28:19 in the Bible?), but the other passages in the New Testament about clearly being baptized in Jesus' name.

After those statements, the baptismal candidate is immersed under the water.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that the New Testament supports baptism by immersion. Also, the New Testament does not have any clear recording of the baptism of infants or small children. Jesus blest little children, but did not have them baptized prior to (or immediately after) that blessing.

There is no doubt that the early post-apostolic Church practiced baptism by immersion. There is no doubt that non-immersion forms of baptism were condemned.

Yet sadly, many who have adopted these condemned practices have a history of condemning those who have held to the teachings and practices of the Bible.

Sadly, the Roman Church (as well as those that have followed her example), simply changed that practice and adopted practices that were condemned and/or questioned by early leaders.

Yet we in the Continuing Church of God still practice only baptism for adults, and that by immersion. The genuine Church of God is the church faithful to apostolic practices on this and many other doctrines (while some Protestant sects agree with the COG baptismal doctrines, they have adopted other Catholic accepted practices--please see the list on the History of Early Christianity page or the article Hope of Salvation: How the Continuing Church of God Differs From Protestants).

Immersion baptism of adults was clearly observed by the early church. Should you rely on the Bible or tradition? Is the real Church of God for you?

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Thiel B. Ph.D. Baptism and the Early Church. www.cogwriter.com (c) 2007/2008/2009/2011/2012/2013 0825

An article of related interest may also be Which Is Faithful: The Roman Catholic Church or the Continuing Church of God?