The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued on 20 October 1980 an instruction on infant baptism, whose purpose was "to recall the principal points of doctrine in this field which justify the Church's constant practice down the centuries and demonstrate its permanent value in spite of the difficulties raised today". The document then indicated some general guidelines for pastoral action.
Lutherans practice infant baptism because they believe that God mandates it through the instruction of Jesus Christ, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19)", in which Jesus does not set any age limit:
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In John 3:5, Jesus says, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God," which, according to some religious groups, means that an infant who dies without being baptized cannot enter heaven and may go to limbo instead.
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Paedobaptists also point to Psalm 51, which reads, in part, "surely I was sinful from birth", as indication that infants are sinful (vid. original sin) and are thus in need of forgiveness that they too might have salvation.
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 (Lutheran Church)).
For Roman Catholics, Confirmation is a sacrament that "confirms" or "strengthens" (the original meaning of the word "confirm") the grace of Baptism, by conferring an increase and deepening of that grace.
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Religious groups that oppose infant baptism have sometimes been persecuted by paedobaptist churches. During the Reformation, Anabaptists were persecuted by Lutheran, Calvinist, Anglican and Catholic regimes. The English government imposed restrictions on Baptists 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.
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Credobaptists counter that only those who believe, and children who believe are recipients of the promise. Otherwise, all children of Adam would be saved. Caleb Colley says that, also, Peter's first instruction was to repent, and since repentance requires an awareness and understanding of sin, baptizing an infant is pointless, because they are not capable of such awareness and understanding.
From at least the 3rd century onward Christians baptised infants as standard practice, although some preferred to postpone baptism until late in life, so as to ensure forgiveness for all their preceding sins.
Some oppose baptism of children as ostensibly incorporating them into the church without their own consent. This, however does not absolve the responsibility of biblical parents to raise their children in the training and admonition of the Lord within the cultural context of the church.
In the Old Testament, if the head of a household converted to Judaism, all the males in the house, even the infants, were circumcised. Some paedobaptists argue this pattern continues into the New Testament. Reference is made, for example, to baptising a person and their whole household—the households of Lydia, Crispus, and Stephanas are mentioned by name Acts 16:14–15, 18:8; 1 Cor 1:16.
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).
Paedobaptists point to a number of passages in the New Testament which seem to corroborate the above argument.
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Paedobaptists do not completely agree on the reasons for baptising infants, and offer different reasons in support of the practice. Among the arguments made in support of the practice are:
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)
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 visible covenant community.
Several early Church Fathers seem to have taught that infant baptism is proper; Origen states that the practice of baptising infants is of apostolic origin.
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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.
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An alternative viewpoint of some credobaptists is that since all Christians are predestined to salvation (John 15:16, 1 Cor.1:27, Eph.1:4, 1 Pt.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.
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.
Presbyterian and Reformed Christians base their case for infant baptism on Covenant theology. Covenant theology is a broad interpretative framework used to understand the Bible. Reformed Baptists are in many ways Reformed yet, as their name suggests, adhere to Believers Baptism.
Note: Christian Scientists, Quakers, the Salvation Army, and Unitarians cannot be classified as specifically opposing infant baptism, since they generally do not observe baptism in any form.
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."
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During the medieval and Reformation eras, infant baptism was seen as a way to incorporate newborn babies into the secular community as well as inducting them into the Christian faith.
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Different Christian denominations who practice infant baptism attach different meanings to the sacrament and explain its efficacy in different ways.
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.
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Wesley's own views of infant baptism shifted over time as he put more emphasis on salvation by faith and new birth by faith alone. This has fueled much debate within Methodism over the purpose of infant baptism, though most agree it should be continued. Wesley and the Methodists would agree with the Reformed or Presbyterian denominations that infant baptism is symbolic.
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The command is general. It includes infants, women, men, and teenagers, even though none of these groups is specifically named. Each of these groups is included in "all nations."
Methodists contend that infant baptism has spiritual value for the infant. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, held that baptism is a means of grace, but it was symbolic. Methodists view baptism in water as symbolic and believe that it does not regenerate the baptised nor cleanse them from sin.
Most Christians belong to denominations that practice infant baptism. Denominational families that practise infant baptism include Catholics, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians and other Reformed denominations, Methodists and some Nazarenes, and the Moravian Church.