On the Faith of the Fathers and Infant Baptism

This is a message I wrote prior to my ordination.  It was shared on the 8th Sunday after Pentecost in 2015.

Glory to Jesus Christ!  Glory forever!

In today’s first epistle reading, the reading designated for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, Paul discusses the ancient sacramental practice of baptism, as it existed in the early Church.  He discusses it, as part of a larger discussion of Church unity.  He is writing to the Church in Corinth, which was in a bit of a state of disorder.  Paul cautions the Christians in Corinth to avoid controversies that may tear them apart, and he emphasizes the importance of a unified belief that was the essence of the early Church.  Paul warns them that they must be of one accord:  “that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”

For to be a Christian was to be of one mind.  To believe what was believed at all times and in all places by those who called themselves Christians.

By coincidence, today also marks the commemoration of the Holy Fathers of the first Six Ecumenical Councils, those bishops of the Church who were called upon in times of controversy and heresy, to rightly divide the word of the Truth.  Those councils, assembled when division was being sown within the Church, were guided by the Holy Spirit to assure that Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, was indeed One – that in matters of Faith, the Church spoke with one voice, whether in the See of Jerusalem, the then Orthodox city of Rome, the coasts of North Africa or the far flung missions to the British Isles and Gaul.  And Paul is as insistent in his Epistle to the Hebrews, which was read as our second epistle, that the faithful “9 Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines.” Because “Jesus Christ [is] the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.”

Yet here we sit in the United States of America, a land that has given rise to nearly 40,000 different denominations of churches.  Groups that call themselves Christians but because they believe something a little different than the church down the street, they have to go start their own jurisdiction.  Almost to  a one, these groups claim to be good, Bible believing Christians.  They talk about how the Bible is the inerrant word of God (forgetting that it is in fact Jesus Christ, the Logos, who is the Word).  But they tell you they follow the Bible faithfully, yet they seem to not even want to consider that their very existence violates precepts that Paul gives the young Church in the Epistles we read today!

And we see the painful and dangerous results in how these churches ignore the true Faith in so many of their practices.  Today we read about Paul baptizing.  He is clear that he does not baptize in his own name – in fact he says he is glad he didn’t baptize many people so that nobody could claim he was baptizing in his own name.  In fact, he recounts his baptisms in Corinth:

“I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; 15 Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. 16 And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other.”

Now this may seems innocuous, but consider the last baptism he discusses – the household of Stephanas.  This is not a unique reference in the Bible.  In the New Testament we read that Lydia was converted by Paul’s preaching and that "She was baptized, with her household" (Acts 16:15). The Philippian jailer whom Paul and Silas had converted to the faith was baptized that night along with his household. We are told that "the same hour of the night . . . he was baptized, with all his family" (Acts 16:33).  What Paul tells us is that everyone in the household was baptized,  the men, the women, and the children.

But yet we have these so called Bible churches that refuse to baptize their children.  My younger brother belongs to one of them.  Video screens, praise bands with electric instruments, and a steadfast belief that children are simply not to be baptized.  My little niece and nephew are “dedicated” to use their words, but they’ve yet to receive even the protestant version of baptism.  They’ve created some man made regulation claiming that children can’t be baptized before the “age of reason”  They claim you have to “make a decision for Christ” before you can be baptized.  And they insist that the bible nowhere tells us to baptize infants.  Now if they are looking for those exact words, as if the Bible was an owners manual for the Church, they are right – you won’t find it.  You also won’t find anywhere where we are told to baptize teenagers, people over the age of 65, single people, or indeed any discreet group.  What you will find is the very clear command to go forth and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Period.  Not except for the kids!

But these groups have become so dependent on their philosophy of man – the idea that they can reason their way of God – that they have lost sight of the fact that on this matter the Early Church was of one mind and one faith.  Of all the heresies that arose in the first 700 years of the Church, nobody ever so much as suggested that infant baptism was an improper practice.  To the contrary, the Fathers of the Church are clear.

Hippolytus

“Baptize first the children, and if they can speak for themselves let them do so. Otherwise, let their parents or other relatives speak for them” (The Apostolic Tradition 21:16 [A.D. 215]).

Gregory of Nazianz

“Do you have an infant child? Allow sin no opportunity; rather, let the infant be sanctified from childhood. From his most tender age let him be consecrated by the Spirit. Do you fear the seal [of baptism] because of the weakness of nature? Oh, what a pusillanimous mother and of how little faith!” (Oration on Holy Baptism 40:7 [A.D. 388]).

John Chrysostom

“You see how many are the benefits of baptism, and some think its heavenly grace consists only in the remission of sins, but we have enumerated ten honors [it bestows]! For this reason we baptize even infants, though they are not defiled by [personal] sins, so that there may be given to them holiness, righteousness, adoption, inheritance, brotherhood with Christ, and that they may be his [Christ’s] members” (Baptismal Catecheses in Augustine, Against Julian 1:6:21 [A.D. 388]).

And these are but a few of the many voices of the Fathers who were of one accord.  Frankly, I question how those groups who deny baptism to infants can even identify themselves as Christians!  When St. Paul warns that we must be of one voice, it is for our safety and for our sanctification!  When the Holy Fathers of the first Six Ecumenical Councils met to rightly declare the True Faith, it was to be sure that the wolves in sheep’s clothing did not divert the faithful from the path of righteousness to a path of darkness and perdition.  The faith once delivered to the saints was a precious gift that the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is charged with protecting.  It is not a plaything for philosophers and self-important pseudo-intellectuals who believe that the humanist philosophy of rationalism can bring them closer to God.

Let us stand firm in the faith of our Fathers, passed down from the Apostles, preserved against heresy by the Ecumenical Councils, defended by the blood of the martyrs and residing in its fullness in the Orthodox Church.  Let us be ever vigilant against “divers and strange doctrines” that may seem appealing or even logical, but have no connection to the faith of the Apostles.  “Jesus Christ [is] the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” He hasn’t changed in 2000 years.  Neither shall the Church.

Glory to Jesus Christ!

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