I heard that Reese Witherspoon, the actress, recently had her two children baptized into the Episcopal church. This practice of “baptizing”, more properly sprinkling or pouring and not the more accurate immersion, is widespread among groups which call themselves Christian. Why do they have this practice for infants and small children?

The doctrine of original sin which says that Adam’s sin is passed down to each generation so that each child is conceived with the stain of sin and is born degenerate . It follows that they are lost and separated from God due to this. This teaching goes back to the time of Augustine who argued that the infant sinned in ways that could be seen. Here are his words from his “Confessions of Augustine, Book I, Chapter 7.

“Whoremindeth me of the sins of my infancy? for in Thy sight none is pure from sin, not even the infant whose life is but a day upon the earth. Whoremindeth me? doth not each little infant, in whom I see what of myself I remember not? What then was my sin? was it that I hung upon the breast and cried? for should I now so do for food suitable to my age, justly should I be laughed at and reproved. What I then did was worthy reproof; but since I could not understand reproof, custom and reason forbade me to be reproved. For those habits, when grown, we root out and cast away. “

Augustine saw the natural tendency of the child to want to stay latched to the mother as indicative of a sinful spirit in the child. Later in the same chapter he said that the small child’s jealousy for attention was proof to him of the child’s sinfulness.

Augustine was wrong (and some conclude that his conclusions about inherited sin were rooted in the pagan religion of his younger days). A child does not know right or wrong. It instinctively wants to eat and be nurtured by his mother. It is the parents duty to wean the child and to develop a secure and confident spirit within the child. But the baby that cries when its tummy is hungry or cries when it wants to be held is not sinful. And sin is not sin unless the person has the faculties to know right and wrong and the ability to choose. As wrong as Augustine was, he has many followers today. And because of his influence, many parents continue to bring their children to be baptized for the remission of their sins (See Luther’s Catechism on the subject).

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