Since baptism remits sin, original and actual, the Catholic Church has always baptized infants, because their souls are stained with original sin. Evangelicals disagree, and say that baptism should be given only to those who are old enough to make an adult faith commitment, since, they say, baptism is just a sign to show the rest of the world that one is a Christian. It does not regenerate, work the forgiveness of sins, and infuse grace and the Holy Spirit into the life of the baptized, as the Catholic Church teaches.
After saying, "Repent and be baptized, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38), Peter added, "For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him" (Acts 2:39).
When people brought their children to Jesus for a blessing, He said, "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 19:14). Luke's account reads: "Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God'" (Luke 18:15-16). Because the passage says "let the children come to me," evangelicals say that the children are old enough to approach Christ on their own. But in Luke's account, the word "infant" (brephe) is used. These are children who would not be able to approach Christ on their own, and would not be old enough to make an adult faith commitment. Since the "kingdom of heaven" belongs to infants, it is right to baptize them, since the command to baptize applies to "every one whom the Lord our God calls to Him" (Acts 2:39).
Paul says that baptism is the new circumcision: "you were also circumcised in Him, not with the circumcision administered by the hand by with Christ's circumcision which strips off the carnal body completely. In baptism you were not only buried with Him but also raised to life with Him" (Col. 2:11-12). In the Old Testament, circumcision was given to infants. Circumcision brought children into the covenant, just as baptism does now.
Evangelicals say that only adults should be baptized because only adult baptisms are to be found on the pages of the New Testament. This is partially true. We only find adult baptisms because virtually all of the converts to Christianity then were adult converts, and the Biblical writers were concerned with adult converts.
But it is not entirely accurate to say that the Bible says nothing about children being baptized. Accounts of infant baptisms would not be handled separately, because infant baptisms, if they happened, would have taken place upon the conversion of the parents. The Bible speaks in many places about whole households being baptized, which could include infants. Lydia "was baptized, with her household" (Acts 16:15). The Philippian jailer, "the same hour of the night . . . he was baptized, with all his family" (Acts 16:33). And Paul said that "I did baptize also the household of Stephanas" (1 Cor. 1:16). These households must include children. Otherwise the passages would say "he and his wife" were baptized.
What about the lack of faith in infants? Does Christ work through the faith of parents in the absence of the child's ability to make an act of faith? In Mark 5:22-23, Jairus asked Jesus to heal his dying daughter: "Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name; and seeing him, he fell at his feet, and besought him, saying, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.'" Jesus later healed the daughter (Mark 5:41-42), acting on the faith of the father.
We see a similar concept at the Passover. Those who would sprinkle the blood of the sacrificial lamb on the doorpost (Ex. 12:13) would not have their first-born die (Ex. 12:24-28). The first-born of Israel did not show faith, but it was the faith of the Israelite and Egyptian parents that made the difference.
In the New Testament, adults must repent and believe before they can be baptized. On the other hand, it is not enough that one be baptized as an infant. Anyone who has been baptized must, upon reaching the age of reason, make an act of faith and live that faith, or his baptism will be of no avail. But the grace given in baptism makes it easier for the child to accept Jesus as Lord. And parents are required to "train up a child in the way he should go" (Prov. 22:6), and foster in the child the life of faith. For adult converts, faith is necessary. For infants, an exception is made, and the faith of the parents suffices, which also held true for circumcision. In the absence of any guarantee that an infant will be raised in the Christian faith, the priest will not baptize the infant.
Evangelicals say that children who die before reaching the age of reason are saved no matter what. Yet they also believe that faith is necessary for salvation. Thus, they make an exception, and say that some, namely infants, do not need faith in order to be saved. So they cannot criticize the church for making the same exception, namely that infants do not need faith in order to be baptized.
Hippolytus (The Apostolic Tradition 21:16[A.D.215]) "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". Origen (Commentaries on Romans 5:9 [A.D. 248]) "The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants".
Cyprian (Commentaries on Romans 5:9 [A.D. 248]) "The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants. The apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of divine sacraments, knew there is in everyone innate strains of [original] sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit".
Gregory Nazianz (Oration on Holy Baptism 40:28, [A.D. 388]) "‘Well enough,' some will say, ‘for those who ask for baptism, but what do you have to say about those who are still children, and aware neither of loss nor of grace? Shall we baptize them too?' Certainly".
John Chrysostom (Baptismal Catecheses in Augustine, Against Julian 1:6:21 [A.D. 388]) "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 (Christ's) members".
Augustine (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 10:23:39 [A.D. 408]) "The custom of Mother Church in baptizing infants is certainly not to be scorned, nor is it to be regarded in any way as superfluous, nor is it to be believed that its tradition is anything except apostolic".