Father Jörgensen’s Questionings

A week ago, I was asked to baptize an infant later that morning. I have misgivings about it because nowhere in the Bible is there any such thing as infant baptism. Jesus wasn’t baptized until He was thirty years old. As a baby, He was dedicated to the Lord.

Last night I read every scripture relating to baptism and one thing was very clear, the person being baptized had to believe in Jesus first. Baptism was an outward, public commitment to give one’s life to Jesus Christ.

Baptism was by immersion, not pouring or sprinkling. Jesus was baptized in the Jordan. The Ethiopian eunuch was baptized in a river. The Greek word used for baptized was baptizō which meant to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge. Jesus came up out of the water. He had been immerged in it. The same thing with the Ethiopian eunuch. Baptism requires much water in order for people to be submerged in. Baptism is a personal choice.

The apostle Peter told the people on the day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized, every 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.  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” How could infants repent? What sins could they have committed that they would need forgiveness?

Jesus said that whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved. How could an infant believe? Baptism follows faith. Everyone who was baptized in the Bible, heard the Gospel and believed. Acts 2:41 clearly stated, Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. Unless, you hear the Gospel and believe its message, you shouldn’t be baptized. Infants aren’t old enough to hear or to believe the Gospel, therefore, they shouldn’t be baptized. They should be dedicated to the Lord as Jesus was.

The Catholic church baptize babies for the sins of Adam known as original sin. Far from being a biblical doctrine, original sin is an Augustine Christian doctrine. This doctrine teaches that they are born with a built-in urge to do bad things and to disobey God. It’s an important doctrine within the Roman Catholic Church. The concept of Original Sin was explained in depth by St Augustine and formalized as part of Roman Catholic doctrine by the Councils of Trent in the 16th Century.

I’ve been taught that original sin is a condition, not something which people do and that it’s the normal spiritual and psychological condition of human beings, not their bad thoughts and actions. Even a newborn baby who hasn’t done anything at all is damaged by original sin. Some Christians believe that original sin explains why there is so much wrong in a world created by a perfect God, and why people need to have their souls ‘saved’ by God. Some people believe that mankind can’t cure themselves of original sin and that the only way they can be saved from its consequences is by the grace of God.

We are taught that the only way we can receive God’s grace is by accepting his love and forgiveness, believing that Jesus Christ died on the cross to redeem our sins and getting baptised. How can an infant do any of these things?

For a long while I have struggled with the idea of Original Sin. I’ve been asked what it is and have used this simple definition: Original Sin is a term that defines the nature of mankind’s sinful condition because of Adam’s fall. It teaches that all people are corrupted by Adam’s sin through natural generation, by which—together with Adam’s imputed condemnation—we all enter the world guilty before God. Original Sin shows that we sin because we are sinners, entering this world with a corrupt nature and without hope apart from the saving grace of God in the gospel.

I’ve read St. Augustine’s writings about original sin. He thought that original sin was transmitted from generation to generation through sexual intercourse, that it was transmitted from father to child. It transmitted both humanity’s guilt for Adam’s crime and the sickness or defect that gives human beings a sinful nature. The Council of Trent gave their seal of approval of the idea that original sin was transferred from generation to generation by propagation – which means during the sexual act that led to conception.

Before the 13th Century, the church taught that all unbaptized people, including newborn babies who died went to Hell and that was because original sin had not been cleansed by baptism. I’m sure that scared many people into baptizing their babies soon after they were born. I was happy when my mother told me that I had been baptized when I was a newborn. Hell sounded like a very scary place and I didn’t want to end up there. I thought of all the babies who died before they could be baptized and was very sad.

The church amended their teaching on the fate of unbaptized babies after it was criticized by Peter Abelard, a French scholastic philosophizer, who said that babies who had no personal sin didn’t even deserve punishment. It was Abelard who came up with the idea of ‘Limbo’ which means the edge. This would be a state of existence where unbaptized babies and those unfortunate enough to have been born before Jesus, would not experience pain but neither would they experience the Beatific Vision of God. Pope Innocent III accepted the Abelard’s idea and it was defined in 1904 by Pope Pius X in his catechism.

A non Catholic friend of mine asked me what happens to babies who die before they are baptized. I repeated to him the words of Pope Pius X: “Babies dead without baptism go to Limbo, where they do not enjoy God, but neither do they suffer, because, having Original Sin alone, they do not deserve Paradise, but neither do they merit Hell or Purgatory”.

“What about the thief on the cross ?” he asked me. “Didn’t Jesus tell him that he would be in paradise with him even though he wasn’t baptized?”

“He wasn’t born before Jesus,” was my argument.

“Do you think it’s fair for a baby who has never sinned to end up in limbo while the thief ends up in paradise?”

I had to admit that he had made a good point there. Would a loving and merciful God have babies who weren’t baptized, through no fault of their own go to Limbo where they could not enjoy being His loving presence? God gives and takes life. Would it be fair of Him to take the lives of those babies before their parents even had a chance to baptize them? And what about when those parents went to paradise? Would they be happy there being separated from their babies? I just couldn’t reconcile a loving God with one who sent babies to Limbo and to this day, the church still faces much criticism for this teaching.

When I spoke to another priest about Limbo, he said, “The church has never claimed to know for certain who will end up in heaven, apart from the saints and who will end up in hell. All we know is that God is merciful and that baptism is necessary for salvation. God won’t impose punishment on babies who are free from personal guilt, but as far as what their afterlife will be like, no one knows for sure.”

Scriptures used to support the teaching of Original Sin are Genesis 3 where Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden for disobeying God’s commandment not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Psalm 51:5 where King David declared, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” and Romans 5:12-21. I reread all of these to see if there is any evidence that they taught Original Sin. In Genesis 3, there is the fall of humanity when Adam and Eve disobeyed God. Eve was deceived but Adam wasn’t. He willfully disobeyed God as a result, sin entered the world. God metes out judgment on him, Eve and serpent, beginning with the serpent.

As descendants of Adam and Eve, we have their fallen nature because we were born of Adam’s corrupt seed. We have the propensity to sin and commit evil but God, in His infinite mercy didn’t leave us to perish in that state but He showed his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Our sin situation isn’t hopeless. We have a Savior who reconciled us to God through His death on the cross. And through being born again or of the Spirit, we can live righteous lives. David acknowledged his sin nature but trusted that God, in His mercy could create in him a clean heart and renew a right spirit within him. We aren’t stuck with our sinful nature. We can have a new nature according to Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3:10.

I’ve read the Bible and never have I come across any scripture which supports the teachings of Original Sin, baptism of infants or the existence of Limbo. I will go ahead and perform the baptism later this morning but I pray that when the child is old enough, that he will read the Bible and discover Christ for himself, believe and be baptized again. Faith must be present before baptism is even possible.

Sources: BBC; Wikipedia

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