John Wesley on infant baptism

August 4th, 2015

John Wesley's understanding of infant baptism is multifaceted as he addresses various aspects of the subject. As a priest in the Church of England, Wesley baptized children, and he makes a theological and biblical case for the practice.

Wesley supports the notion of baptismal regeneration. Since infants are born with original sin, baptism is not only appropriate when it comes to children, but necessary. Baptism is thus a cleansing sacrament. There is a tension that runs throughout Wesley's thought in reference to his view that baptism is regenerative in nature, while at the same time teaching the necessity of a conscious turning toward the new life that Christ offers. Thus, while baptism is more than symbol for Wesley (it is necessary to enter Christ's church), the act of repentance is also indispensable for salvation. Wesley does not seem to be concerned about this tension.

Wesley addresses those who reject infant baptism. He argues that infants and children are not only acceptable candidates, but that it can be demonstrated biblically. Like circumcision, baptism is a sign of the covenant in which children are included. In addition, Christ not only welcomes the children to come to him, but he rebukes his disciples for turning them away (Luke 18:15-16). To those who respond that Jesus' welcome of the children is not about baptism, Wesley responds that baptism is the way the risen Christ welcomes children into his church.

Moreover, the Book of Acts is clear that entire households were baptized, which must have included children (Acts 16:31-34). While direct evidence for infant baptism is quite sparse in the first century, it is clearly practiced in the second, which is difficult to explain had it not been practiced in the early years of the church. To those who continue to remain skeptical, Wesley reminds them that nowhere does the New Testament explicitly forbid the practice.

Water is necessary for baptism, but the New Testament gives no specific mode of baptism. The traditional methods of pouring, sprinkling and immersing (what Wesley calls "dipping") are all acceptable. Wesley is not persuaded by arguments that suggest the word "baptism" itself prescribes a particular mode.

Father John's understanding of baptism is clearly sacramental. He places emphasis on the covenantal nature of baptism, and while he reflects upon the symbolic aspect of the practice, it is more than symbol; it is a means of grace.

Allan Bevere blogs at

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