Should we wait to have babies baptized until the next Sunday after the birth? Or should we employ the sacrament as soon as possible in the hospital? There is freedom in this area, but why do we wait, and what do we say about babies that die then before they were baptized?
Considering that people are conceived and born in sin and have a need for the forgiveness of sins (Psalm 51:5), there is reason to be baptized very early in life. “How early?” is a question the Bible does not answer. While God instructed Old Testament believers to circumcise a male infant when the child was eight days old, the Bible presents no timetable for baptizing infants. Still, baptizing sooner rather than later makes a great deal of sense. If there is unnecessary delay in administering Baptism and death takes place, then we are left with trying to address another question the Bible does not specifically answer: “What happens to children who die without Baptism?”
Certainly, the Bible teaches that Christian faith saves, and unbelief—not the lack of Baptism—condemns. Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). We baptize our children early in life because we know the Holy Spirit graciously works through Baptism to change hearts (Titus 3:4-6).
When I served as a parish pastor in the midwestern part of our country, numerous parents requested Baptism of their children in the hospital before they ventured out on snow-packed roads. A reaffirmation of Baptism then took place later on in a worship service. When I served as a parish pastor in the southern part of our country, some parents requested Baptism of their children in the hospital, but the reasons were not weather related. They simply saw the need for Baptism and wanted their children to receive the benefits of Baptism as early in life as possible. I was happy to carry out their requests—and also have a reaffirmation of Baptism in a later worship service.
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). Jesus’ words illustrate his love for children. Christian parents show their love for their children and for Jesus when they have their children baptized.