By Rex Deckard
The fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. had a profound effect on early Christianity. The removal of what had been the central base of the Apostles forced the early fathers to create new centers from which they could work. These emerged in Asia Minor, Europe, and Northern Africa. The most influential became the church in Rome. While Christianity was on the rise during the second century, Roman culture was in a period of swift transition. Divisions between the Eastern and Western portions of the Empire were becoming more acute. Barbaric tribes were pressuring the Roman legions in Northern and Western Europe.
When the Caesarship passed from Diocletian to Constantine, there was a serious erosion of control. The increasing influence of Christianity was also a serious concern to the Roman emperor. Repression from thepolitical system had only fueled the flames of fervency as the movement spread. Constantine siezed upon his only opportunity to salvage his power. After a dramatic turn toward Christianity it became the state religion and Constantine worked to unite this new religious force with his political system. For Constantine, it had some success. For Christianity, it was a disaster. Pagan temples became “Christian” controlled. Church leaders (sympathetic to Constantine) were elevated to positions of great temporal power. By the end of the third century many of the pagans were forced to accept this new religious system. When Constantine moved his capital to Constantinople (now Istanbul), even more power fell into the hands of the religious leadership in Rome.
The effect on the church was tragic. Those who did not comply with the new marriage of Romanism and “Christianity” with its many neo-pagan philosophies were persecuted. The true followers of the Apostles’ teachings and practices were once again forced underground. Most of what we know of them for the next 1200 years comes from the accusations and writings of their adversaries.
By the very nature of its inception this new Roman Christianity had to compromise repeatedly to fit the purposes of its political masters. Power was the key to political stability and control-and what greater power can be yielded than that of religion? In conquering the heathen tribes of Western and Northern Europe they were forced to accept this religious system. In some instances this worked to mutual advantage. New elements of pagan mythology mixed with the already confused neo-Greek philosophy in this religious system. The only consistent requirement made of cultures entering into this religion were baptism and submission to the system. Entire tribes were baptized, including their children, as an indication of their “conversion”. In most cases, they didn’t understand what baptism even signified. In some cases they aquiesced because of force. Once baptized as infants they were considered to remain in the church for life: “…it also condemns the opinion of Erasmus that those who had been baptized in infancy, should be left free to ratify or reject the baptismal promises after they had been adult..”
In referring to the baptism of infants, the Archbishop of Baltimore, Cardinal Gibbons wrote in 1917 that “….if any doubt exists regarding the Apostolic practice of baptizing infants it is easily removed by referring to the writings of the primitive Fathers of the Church, who, as they were the immediate successors of the Apostles, ought to be the best interpreters of their doctrines and practice.” He then quotes from these primitive “fathers of the church” of the third century. (After the death of the last Apostle and during the period of strong Roman influence.) If we are to understand the precept of baptism, understanding must come directly from the New Testament, not from questionable sources hundreds of years after Jesus’ ascension.
John the Baptist refused to baptize a group of religious leaders demanding that they “bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance.” Matthew 1:8). Mark says of the baptismal candidates that they were confessing their sins” (Mark 1:5). Repentance as a prerequisite for water baptism is clearly stated in Acts when Peter said, “Repent, and be baptized, everyone of you, in the Name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…” (Acts 2:38).
Jesus commanded the church to, “…teach all nations, baptizing them…” (Matthew 28:19) Instruction is clearly essential to the baptismal candidate. Luke says that, “When they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12). The baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch was preceded by instruction from Philip as well (v37). The baptism of Lydia was preceded by instruction from Paul: “…she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household…” (Acts 16:14-15).
Faith is clearly required for the individual seeking baptism. Notice in Mark 16:16, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” “When they believed Philip…they were baptized…Then Simon himself also believed: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip” (Acts 8:12-14). The baptism of Paul was preceded by faith: “And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.” Later he told the Philippian jailor, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. He took them the same hour of the night, and washed theirstripes; and was baptized…” (Acts 16:31-33).
If baptism requires repentance, instruction (understanding), and faith on the part of the candidate, then every infant must repent, be taught and have faith in the baptismal operation. Certainly baptism is reserved for those old enough to abide by these prerequisites. Any teaching to the contrary is unscriptural. . Never is it mentioned in the Bible that an infant was baptized. The term “household” that is so often used as a reference point by proponents of this doctrine is stretching credibility to the extreme. The implication is always that these are members of the household that have likewise obeyed the requirements. Any individual that does not meet these qualifications should never be baptized!
Under the Law of Moses young children shared in the sacrifices and obedience of their parents in the temple until they were old enough to understand the teaching and offer their own sacrifices. In the Church Age children should not be baptized until they have reached the “age of accountability.” This is determined by their ability to understand, repent, and have faith in God’s saving power. It is our responsibility to lead children to and through these first qualifications. Churches that never have revivals of children (not infants) being saved, should indeed by concerned.
Doctrine must never be the product of tradition, philosophy or the rational thinking of humans. It must always come directly from scripture. Individuals baptized as newborn infants must be baptized agai, after they have met the aforementioned qualifications.
(The above information was published by the TRUMPET, February 1992)
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