I’ve spent most of my life conflicted over baptism, not about whether or not one should be baptized, but about the proper age for baptism.
My parents dedicated me when I was an infant. Back then, Dad pastored a Wesleyan church and the denomination believed that baptism was for those who had reached the age of accountability and could personally choose to be baptized. They believed that dedication is something parents do for their child and that baptism is something the individual chooses for himself. The denomination based its theology on the fact that the New Testament seemed to indicate that baptism was for adults who decided to follow Jesus Christ.
When I was about thirteen, my father was ordained as a Presbyterian minister. During the years preceding his ordination, he had revisited the question of infant baptism and found something interesting in a particular passage in the New Testament in which it states that entire households were baptized and not simply the adults (Acts 18:8). Dad showed the passage to my mother and indicated to her that they might be wrong in their rejection of infant baptism. From that point forward, they embraced infant baptism, but as an adult, I continued to flip flop in my beliefs.
After years of vacillation, I decided it didn’t really matter whether couples baptized or dedicated their babies. To each his own — that was my philosophy. For the most part, I thought everything was fine as long as the child eventually embraced the faith.
And then I began attending RCIA classes.
For me, the single most persuasive argument for infant baptism came from the Old Testament. Abraham obeyed God, and all infant males were circumcised on the eighth day — without their choosing it for themselves because that was how one was marked as being a member of the chosen people. When circumcision was instituted, there were many adult males who had never been circumcised. These grown men made up the majority of those circumcised — at first. I realized that this is how it would have been when Jesus instituted the sacrament of baptism. Initially, the majority of those to follow the Lord in this sacrament would have been adults – but once the sacrament was embraced by a people, the majority of those presented for baptism would be infants. It just made sense. Further study of Old Testament prefigurements (baby Moses floating on the Nile, Noah’s entire family saved in the flood, the saving of the first born male through the Passover lamb) seemed to create a beautiful case for infant baptism.
Finally, I thought about Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John (3:5), I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. And a passage in the first book of Peter tells us that, just as the eight (Noah and his family) were saved through water, so too we are saved through the waters of baptism (3:20-21).
It seemed that Jesus Christ wanted adults, children and babies of all ages to come to Him (with no age restriction), and that it was important to call the sacrament by the name Jesus gave it: Baptism. I thought I had more than enough to settle the question, but Our Lord has continued to underscore this teaching for me.
Denominations that hold to adult baptism do so because they believe an individual should choose for himself to follow Christ. So, the key point for some Protestants is that baptism should be meaningful to the one being baptized.
Here’s what I’ve learned. Every time a Catholic dips his fingers into the font and crosses himself, he remembers and embraces his baptismal vows for himself . Every time he enters the season of Lent and asks for sufficient grace to die to self, he embraces the vows of baptism for himself . Every time he picks up the cross — through suffering or death — he embraces the vows of baptism for himself . In fact, everything we do as Catholics from cradle to grave is done because we have been baptized into Christ Jesus.