Today Christians in the Western world are typically living in a post-Christian society. Christian beliefs are met with skepticism, and people see little reason to believe. Christians are confronted with daily challenges to their faith, and often struggle to understand the relevance of Christianity to modern life.
We could find no direct references to the baptism of infants in the second century. There is a statement of Irenaeus that has been taken to refer to the practice, but there is some question that it was so intended. Irenaeus writes: “For he came to save all by means of himself – all, I say, who by him are born again to God – infants, children, adolescents, young men and old men.” From its context, it is doubtful that the writer meant to countenance infant baptism, or that the practice was known to him (Against Heresies, II, xxiv.4).
The following note may be of help with this quotation: “The context of Irenaeus’ statement is his doctrine of recapitulation according to which Christ summed up all of humanity in himself. Involved in this conception for Irenaeus was the idea that Jesus passed through all the ages of life, sanctifying each. There is nothing specifically about baptism, but ‘born again’ makes one think of baptism. ‘Regeneration,’ a different word from what is used in the passage under consideration, regularly means baptism for Irenaeus” (Everett Ferguson: Early Christians Speak, p. 59).
Tertullian, early in the third century, writes of the baptism of infants, thereby indicating that it was done in his day; but he does not approve of it. We would assume from his comment that it was not the general practice. “Let them become Christians when they are able to know Christ. In what respect does the innocent period of life hasten to the remission of sins? Should we act more cautiously in worldly matters, so that divine things are given to those to whom earthly property is not given? Let them learn to ask for salvation so that you may be seen to have ‘given to him who asks’” (Tertullian: On Baptism, xvii).
Baptism continued, after apostolic times, to be the means of entering the household of faith, and for many years it was administered in the apostolic fashion. That is, baptism implied submersion, and the candidates were believers who had been instructed in the one faith.
Early Witness – Baptism Essential
Barnabas (AD 100): “We descend into the water full of sins and uncleanness, and we ascend bearing reverence in our heart and having hope in Jesus in our spirit” (Epistle of Barnabas, xi).
Justin Martyr (AD 150): “… in order that we might not remain children of ignorance and necessity but become children of choice and knowledge and might obtain in the water the forgiveness of past sins” (The First Apology, lxi).
Melito, Bishop of Sardis (AD 170): “Are not gold, silver, copper and iron, after being fired, baptized with water? One in order that it may be cleansed in appearance, another in order that it may be strengthened by the dipping” (On Baptism).
Clement of Alexandria (AD 193): “It is the washing through which we are cleansed of our sins … Instruction leads to faith, and faith [to] baptism … We have repented of our sins, renounced our faults, and are purified by baptism…” (The Instructor, ch. vi).
Evidence – Baptism by Submersion
Didache: “Concerning baptism, baptize in this way. After you have spoken all these things, ‘baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,’ in running water. If you do not have running water, baptize in other water” (On Baptism).
Tertullian (AD 200): “Baptism itself is a bodily act, because we are immersed in water, but it has a spiritual effect, because we are set free from sins” (On Baptism, vii).
Origen (AD 230): “… you descend into the water … having washed away … sin, you come up a ‘new man’” (Homilies on Exodus, v:5).
Basil of Caesarea (AD 350): “How then do we become in the likeness of his death? We are buried with him through baptism … How then do we accomplish the descent into Hades? We imitate the burial of Christ through baptism. For the bodies of those being baptized are as it were buried in water” (On the Holy Spirit, xv:35).
Ambrose (AD 375): “So therefore also in baptism, since it is a likeness of death, without doubt when you dip and rise up there is made a likeness of the resurrection” (On the Sacraments, iii).