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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15

Infant Baptism:

Its History and Its Harm

Dr. William Pettingill

Available in tract form. Contact the Editor.

I am convinced that believers should be baptized in water. If I were compelled to choose, I would unhesitatingly say, "no water baptism" rather than the baptism of infants. Happily, I am not thus compelled to choose between two evils, but am free to walk in the light as I see the light.

It is my purpose in this article to set forth my reasons for saying, as I have often said, that infant baptism is responsible for sending more people to Hell than any other cause. From my point of view it is a dreadful thing to baptize a baby and let him grow up believing that by that baptism he has been saved and is on his way to Heaven. "To the law and to the testimony!"

Infant baptism has no warrant in the Scriptures. Many efforts have been made to find such warrant, but these efforts are too feeble to merit serious consideration. But did not the Lord Jesus say, "Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me"? Yes, He did; and there is no objection to suffer them to come unto Him. The question here is the bringing of infants who are too young to come by themselves. There is no authority for such a thing.

Baptismal Regeneration

In church history there is no record of infant baptism until the year 370 A.D. And how did it come about? It resulted from the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, the teaching that baptism is essential to salvation. It was natural for those holding this teaching to believe that everybody should be baptized as soon as possible, and so baptism of unconscious infants came into vogue among many of the churches. These two grievous errors, baptismal regeneration and infant baptism, according to reliable historians, have caused more bloodshed and persecution than all other errors combined.

It is reliably estimated that over fifty million Christians were put to death during the "Dark Ages" covering twelve or thirteen centuries, mainly because they rejected these two errors and insisted that salvation was the gift of God, apart from works or ceremonies.

The professed conversion of Emperor Constantine in 313 A.D. was looked upon by many as a great triumph for Christianity. As a matter of fact, it was the greatest tragedy of church history. It resulted in the union of church and state and the establishment of a hierarchy which afterward developed into the Roman Catholic system, which of course is not the church of God at all, but a hateful counterfeit of it.

It is doubtful that Constantine was ever truly converted. At the time of his supposed vision of the sign of the cross he "promised to become a Christian," but he was not baptized until near death, having postponed the act in the belief that baptism washed away all past sins, and he wanted all his sins to be in the past tense before he was baptized.


In the year 416 A.D. infant baptism was made compulsory throughout the Roman Empire by law. This, of course, filled the churches with unconverted members who had only been "baptized into favor," and whatever power the church had retained was now gone.

The world was plunged into the gloom of the Dark Ages, which endured for more than twelve centuries, until the Reformation. But all the time, from the beginning of the church age, God always had a remnant remaining faithful to Him. They never consented to the union of church and state, nor to baptismal regeneration, nor to infant baptism.

These nonconformists were not a sect, and they were not even called Christians. Indeed, it became illegal for them to be called Christians or to call themselves Christians. They bore nicknames, depending sometimes upon a leader's name, or the name of their locality. They were Montanists, Novatians, Paulicans, Arnoldists, Henricians, Petrobrusians, Waldenses, Paterines, Albigenses, Studist, etc.; but their generic name was Anabaptist, meaning re-baptizers, for they ignored infant baptism and rebaptized those who had been saved through personal faith. They also had a generic name for themselves: they called themselves Antipedobaptists, meaning opponents of infant baptism.

A Hangover From Rome

When the Reformation came, these Anabaptists or Anti-pedobaptists did all they could to help the Reformers; but when the Reformers came into power they turned against the Anabaptists and persecuted them as Rome had done and continued to do; and thus the troubles of the Anabaptists were increased instead of diminished, for now they had persecutors on both sides — from Romanism on one hand and from Protestantism on the other.

All honor to the great Reformers, but the truth must be told that in their reform, they brought with them out of Rome, the two hateful errors union of church and state and infant baptism; and moreover, when they had the power in their hands because of this union of church and state, they themselves became popes in their own realm and persecuted those who would not conform to their ways.

The Lutheran church became the established church of Germany, and persecuted the Anabaptists for nonconformity. While Zwingli held power in Switzerland, the Senate passed a law making infant baptism compulsory and providing that "if any presume to re-baptize those who were baptized before, they should be drowned;" and at Vienna many Anabaptists were so tied together in chains that one drew the other after him into the river, wherein they were all suffocated.

Calvin in his field, Cromwell in England, Knox in Scotland — these all stuck to the union of church and state and infant baptism, and used their power, when they had power, to seek to force others to conform with their own views.

Before the Massachusetts Bay Colony was twenty years old, it was decreed by statute that:

"If any person or persons within this jurisdiction shall either openly condemn or oppose the baptizing of infants, or go about secretly to seduce others from the approbation or use thereof, or shall purposely depart from the congregation at the administration of the ordinance — after due time and means of conviction — every such person or persons shall be subject to banishment."

By the authorities in this colony Roger Williams and others were banished, when banishment meant to go and live with the Indians. This Williams did and was received kindly and dwelt with them for some time, and after days it was shown that he had saved the Massachusetts Bay Colony from utter destruction by the Indians by his earnest pleadings on behalf of the Colony which had banished him.

Church and State

And it was in the Constitution of the Rhode Island Colony, founded by Roger Williams, John Clarke and others, that religious liberty was established by law for the first time in thirteen hundred years. Thus it was that Rhode Island, the first Baptist Colony, established by a small group of believers, was the first spot on earth where religious liberty became the law of the land. The settlement was made in 1638, and the Colony was legally established in 1663. The second place was Virginia in 1786.

Congress declared the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States to be in force on December 15, 1791, which granted religious liberty to all citizens; and Baptists are credited with being the leaders in bringing this blessing to the nation. If that be true, they proved themselves to be worthy successors of their Anabaptist or Anti-pedobaptist forefathers.

But, it may be asked, what has all this to do with us? Has it any practical bearing upon us in our day? And here is the answer: The union of church and state continues today in most of the countries of the world. In these "state churches" they "christen" babies - which means they make them Christians. The average Briton, for example, thinks he is on the way to Heaven. Wasn't he christened in infancy, and hasn't he been taught all these years that that saved him, and isn't he a member of the same church with the king? What more could you ask?

Are Unbaptized Infants Lost?

And, what about this country? Let us see:

The Roman Catholic teaches baptismal regeneration and practices infant baptism. In its statement of doctrine it says: "The sacrament of baptism is administered to infants or adults by pouring of water and the pronouncement of the proper words, and cleanses from original sin."

The Reformed church says: "Children are baptized as heirs of the Kingdom of God and of His covenant."

The Lutheran church teaches that baptism, whether of infants or adults, is a means of regeneration. Martin Luther himself, when asked whether unbaptized infants are lost, said:

“Not lack of contempt for, the sacrament condemns. I hope that when little children are denied baptism without their fault, and the command of Christ and prayer are not despised, the kind and merciful God will graciously remember them. Let their souls be left in the hands of and at the will of their Heavenly Father, who, as we know, is merciful."

Mind, he says only, "I hope." Not a very good foundation for faith. Mr. Luther should have done better than that.

The Episcopal Church teaches plainly that salvation comes through infant baptism. In his confirmation the catechist answers a question about his baptism in infancy by saying, "in my baptism, wherein I was made a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the Kingdom of God."

This is printed in the Prayer Book and may be seen there by anyone interested enough to look for it. The fact is that most people who practice infant baptism believe that the ceremony has something to do with the salvation of the child.

We have left the commandment of God to follow the traditions of men, and the end is awful to contemplate.