Most Christian churches practice infant baptism. Among them are the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodoxy, the Anglican Communion, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, the Assyrian Church of the East, the Church of the Nazarene, the Reformed Church in America, the United Church of Canada, the United Church of Christ (UCC) and the Continental Reformed.
Groups within the Protestant tradition that reject infant baptism include Baptists, most Pentecostals, Mennonites, Amish, Community of Christ, Plymouth Brethren, Seventh-day Adventists, most non-denominational churches and other Arminian denominations. Infant baptism is also excluded by Jehovah's Witnesses, Christadelphians and Latter-day Saints.
Most Christians baptize their baby by either pouring water (affusion) or by sprinkling water (aspersion) on the child. Some Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions baptise their babies by totally immersing them in the font.
Although it is not required, many parents and godparents chose to dress their baby in a white gown called a christening gown for the baptism ceremony. Christening Gowns often become treasured keepsakes that are used by many other children in the family and handed down from generation to generation. Traditionally, this gown is white or slightly off white and made with many laces, trims and intricate details. In the past, a gown was used for both baby boys and girls. In more modern times, it has become appropriate to baptize boys in christening outfits. Also made of white or off white fabric, the christening outfit consists of a romper with a vest or other accessories. After the baptism ceremony, these articles of clothing are preserved as a memory of this very special and significant event in the child's life.
While the earliest extra-biblical directions for baptism, which occurs in the Didache (c. 100), seems to envisage the baptism of adults, rather than young children, since it requires that the person to be baptised should fast, writings of the second and early third century indicate that Christians baptized infants too. Irenaeus (c. 130–202) speaks not only of children but even of infants being "born again to God and three passages of Origen (185–c. 254) mention infant baptism as traditional and customary. Tertullian (c. 155–230) too, while advising postponement of baptism until after marriage, mentions that it was customary to baptise infants, with sponsors speaking on their behalf. The Apostolic Tradition, attributed to Hippolytus of Rome (died 235), describes how to perform the ceremony of baptism; it states that children were baptised first, and if any of them could not answer for themselves, their parents or someone else from their family was to answer for them.
Some writers who believe that baptism of infants began to be practiced only after the first century - in the third century it was certainly the universal practice and was believed to be of apostolic origin - posit a link between it and the use of baptism by methods other than immersion, methods which, in spite of the evidence of the Didache, some claim did not at all exist in the first century.
From at least the third century onward Christians baptized infants as standard practice, although some preferred to postpone baptism until late in life, so as to ensure forgiveness for all their preceding sins.
During the medieval and Reformation eras, infant baptism was seen as a way to incorporate new-born babies into the secular community as well as inducting them into the Christian faith .
Christian groups who practice infant baptism divide approximately into four groups of opinion:
The Church has no official teaching regarding the fate of infants who die without Baptism, and theologians of the Church hold various views (for instance, some have asserted that they go to Limbo, which has never been official Catholic doctrine). "The Church entrusts these infants to the mercy of God.
The Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodoxy and the Assyrian Church of the East also insist on the need to have infants baptized as soon as is practicable after birth. For them too baptism is not merely a symbol but actually conveys grace. Baptism is a sacrament because it is a "tool" or "instrument" instituted by Jesus Christ to impart grace to its recipients. Infants are traditionally baptized on the eighth day, recalling the biblical injunction to circumcise on the eighth day. However, this is not mandatory. In many of these churches, the Sacred Mystery of Chrismation (Confirmation) is administered by the priest immediately after baptism, even of infants. Holy Communion, in the form of consecrated wine, is also given to infants after they are baptized.
However, Wesley's own views of infant baptism seem to shift over time as he put more and more emphasis on salvation by faith and new birth by faith alone. This has helped to fuel much debate within Methodism over just what infant baptism does, though almost all are agreed it should be continued.
Infant baptism is particularly illustrative of the Methodist doctrine of prevenient grace. The principle is that The Fall of Man ruined the human soul to such an extent that nobody wants a relationship with God. In order for humans to even want to be able to choose God must empower their will (so that they may choose Christ) which he does by means of prevenient grace. Thus God takes the very first step in salvation, preceding any human effort or decision. Methodists justify infant baptism by this principle of prevenient grace, often arguing that infant baptism is God's promise or declaration to the infant that calls that infant to (eventually) believe in God's promises (God's Word) for salvation. When the individual believes in Jesus they will profess their faith before the church, often using a ritual called confirmation in which the Holy Spirit is invoked with the laying on of hands. Methodists also use infant baptism symbolically, as an illustration of God approaching the helpless. They see the ceremony additionally as a celebration of God's prevenient grace.
Presbyterian and many Reformed Christians see infant baptism as the New Testament form of circumcision in the Jewish covenant (Joshua 24:15). Circumcision did not create faith in the 8-day-old Jewish boy. It merely marked him as a member of God’s covenant people Israel. Likewise, baptism doesn’t create faith; it is a sign of membership in the covenant community.
Presbyterian and Reformed Christians consider children of professing Christians to be members of the visible Church (the covenant community). They do not necessarily consider them to be members of a particular church (a local congregation), nor of the universal Church (the set of all true believers). A profession of faith is required for the former, and true faith is required for the latter.
Who should be baptized?
The paedobaptists answer is: adult believers and the children of believers.
The credobaptists answer is: only those who have professed faith (believers). The credobaptist argument is often characterized as "adults only", but this is not an accurate representation. Simply being an adult does not qualify one for baptism; one must come to saving faith and profess Christ as Lord and Savior. This could happen for some in the earliest stages of life and still be valid according to credobaptists.
Some of these answers would be given also by paedobaptists. A sponsor or sponsors (godparents) give a public profession of faith on behalf of the child being baptized, who is expected to ratify later the profession made on his or her behalf; and paedobaptists have no doubt that by baptism a child is cleansed from sin by the blood of Jesus and is symbolically buried with him and raised as a new person to life eternal. They do not accept that divine grace is not given in baptism, and they disagree that an explicit act of faith is necessary for being a member of the church.
Paedobaptists think that baptism is more than would be indicated by these answers alone. They typically give the following additional answers:
According to Covenant theology God makes two basic covenants, or agreements, with humans. The first one, the Covenant of Works is an agreement that bases man’s relationship with God on human obedience and morality. The covenant was made with Adam in the Garden of Eden. Adam broke this covenant so God replaced it with a second more durable covenant--- the Covenant of Grace. The Covenant of Grace is an agreement that bases man’s relationship with God on God’s grace and generosity. The Covenant of Works failed because it was based on human performance. The Covenant of Grace is durable because it is based on God’s performance.
All the covenants that God makes with humans after the Fall, (e.g. with Abraham, Moses, and David) are really just different forms of the Covenant of Grace. They may appear to be different but are fundamentally the same covenant. The underlying Covenant of Grace stays the same even though the external forms changes. Consequently, Covenant theologians see in Old Testament Israel the people of God (the church) before Christ was born. For the Covenant theologian, therefore, there is only one people of God - the church.
According to Presbyterian and Reformed Christians, this theological framework is important to the Biblical case for infant baptism because it provides a reason for thinking there is strong continuity between the Old and New Testaments. It provides a bridge linking the two Testaments together.
Covenant Theologians claim that the New Testament book of Hebrews demonstrates that much of Israel's worship has been replaced by the person and work of Christ. The result is that some important forms of worship in the Old Testament have New Testament equivalents. The Passover festival, for example, was replaced by the Lord's Supper (or Eucharist).
It is across the bridge of Covenant Theology that the sign of Abraham’s covenant, circumcision, walks into the New Testament. The sign of the Covenant changes its external form to reflect new spiritual realties. It was a bloody sign in the Old Testament but because Christ has shed his blood, it has been transformed into a bloodless sign, i.e. washing with water. Passover was a bloody form of Old Testament worship and also transitions into the New Testament in the bloodless form of bread and wine.
Covenant theologians point out that the external sign of the covenant in the Old Testament was circumcision. Circumcision was performed upon the male children of Israelites to signify their external membership in God's people, not as a guarantee of true faith; the Old Testament records many Israelites who turned from God and were punished, showing that their hearts were not truly set on serving God. So while all male Israelites had the sign of the covenant performed on them in a once off ceremony soon after birth, such a signifier was external only and not a true indicator of whether or not they would later exhibit true faith in Yahweh.
In the New Testament, circumcision is no longer seen as mandatory for God's people. However there is compelling evidence to suggest that the Old Testament circumcision rite has been replaced by baptism. For instance: "In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism." (Colossians 2:11-12a)
Some paedobaptists, then, think the analogy of baptism to circumcision correctly points to children, since the historic Israelite application of circumcision was to infants, not to adult converts, of which there were few. Covenant theology, then, identifies baptism less as a statement of faith than as an assumption of identity; that is to say that infant baptism is a sign of covenantal inclusion.
Paedobaptists challenge credobaptists on this point: Why would a whole household be baptized just because the head of the house had faith? Shouldn’t they baptize each member of the family as they come to individual faith? Household baptism implies that the rules for membership in Abraham's covenant have continued into the New Testament, the main difference is the sign of the covenant.
Credobaptists counter with verses such as John 4:53, Acts 16:34 and Acts 18:8 in which entire households are said to have "believed". As such, the paedobaptist assumption is that household baptisms mentioned in the Bible involved infants, presumably incapable of personal belief.
Credobaptists would admit that infants are in need of salvation but paedobaptists push the point a step further by arguing that it makes no theological sense for infants to need salvation but for God to make no provision for them to be saved. Some Credobaptists who agree to the Psalm 51 interpretation, argue that even though infants are sinful they are not accountable, because of the "age of accountability". Although many theologians would argue that an "age of accountability" is nowhere mentioned in the Bible.
An alternative viewpoint of some credobaptists is that since all Christians are predestined to salvation (John 15:16, 1Cor 1:27, Eph 1:4, 1Pet 2:4), God will not allow His elect to die before receiving their need, even if they are in old age (Luke 2:25-35), an argument whose relation to baptism whether of infants or adults is unclear, unless it means that infants who die without coming to explicit belief and baptism are not among God's elect.
The Great Commission passage speaks of believing: "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned" (verse 16, NKJV). This, they say, excludes infants, whom they see as incapable of believing.
Pedobaptists point out that the second clause mentions believing, but not baptism. Therefore, one could be baptized and still not be a believer. They argue that this may not exclude infant baptism, but rather corroborate it. In return, opposers declare that baptism is for those who already believe and are able to state their belief, which infants cannot do. In Peter's address to adults, "Repent and be baptized" , they see repentance as a prerequisite, and this requires a mature understanding of sin and a decision to turn away from sin. Some point to or as evidence that each individual must make a mature decision regarding baptism. See Believer's Baptism.
Some oppose baptism of children as incorporating them into the church without their own consent.
Denominations that do not accept infant baptism as valid generally require those who join them, after being baptized as infants elsewhere, to be "rebaptized", or rather to be baptized for the first time. They deny that they in fact rebaptize, saying that Christians are to be baptized only once, but as believers, and they reject the term "Anabaptist" (i.e. Rebaptizer) as a description of them.
Religious groups that oppose infant baptism have sometimes been persecuted by paedobaptist churches. During the Reformation, anabaptists were persecuted by Protestant, Anglican, and Catholic regimes. The English government imposed restrictions on Baptists and Quakers in Britain and Ireland during the 17th century. The Russian Orthodox Church repressed Baptists prior to the 1917 revolution, and sought restrictions on Baptists and Pentecostals after being re-established after the fall of Communism.
B.R. White describes the motivations behind persecution of the anabaptists during the Reformation as follows:
Other Christians saw the baptism of each new-born baby into the secular parish community and close links between church and state as the divinely-ordained means of holding society together. Hence many other Christians saw the Anabaptists as subversive of all order. Consequently, from the earliest days, they were sharply persecuted and leaders were soon executed.
For some other Christians the ceremony of Confirmation is a matter not of "being confirmed" but of "confirming" the baptismal vows taken on one's behalf when an infant. This is the essential significance of the Lutheran non-sacramental ceremony called in German "Konfirmation", but in English "affirmation of baptism" (see Confirmation).
In Eastern Christianity, including the Eastern Catholic Churches, the sacrament of Confirmation is conferred immediately after baptism, and there is obviously no renewal of baptismal promises. In the Latin-Rite (i.e. Western) Catholic Church, the sacrament is to be conferred at about the age of discretion (generally taken to be about 7), unless the Episcopal Conference has decided on a different age, or there is danger of death or, in the judgement of the minister, a grave reason suggests otherwise (canon 891 of the Code of Canon Law). The renewal of baptismal promises by those receiving the sacrament in the Western Catholic Church is incidental to the rite and not essentially different from the solemn renewal of their baptismal promises that is asked of all members of this Church each year at the Easter Vigil service. Only in French-speaking countries has there been a development of ceremonies, quite distinct from the sacrament of Confirmation, for young Catholics to profess their faith publicly, in line with their age.
The Anglican Book of Common Prayer requires that all who are to be confirmed should first know and understand the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments, and be able to answer the other questions in the Church Catechism. Confirmation enables those who have been baptized as infants, when they are of age to do so, openly before the church, to take upon themselves and confirm the promises made on their behalf by their godparents.