There are three references in the NT to a believer having their whole household baptized. Lydia (Acts 16:15), the Philippian jailor (Acts 16:33-34), and Stephanas (1 Cor. 1:16). While it doesn’t explicitly say that they had small children, it strongly implies it. There is no instruction anywhere to exclude them, rather the only NT exhortations we have about children are not to prevent them from coming to God, and additionally even to be like them, in having “faith like a child.” (Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:14-15 and Luke 18:16)
In fact, this represents such a radical change from the established tradition of circumcision that we would expect to find clear instruction forbidding infant baptism if it was not supported. However, Paul expressly states that the crossing of the Red Sea and following the cloud were baptism in I Corinthians 10:1-4:
“Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.”
Even most paedobaptists do not properly apply these verses, because they do not admit that it shows that both baptism and communion are sacraments for the entire Christian community (and a warning that just because you are outwardly part of that sacramental community doesn’t mean you won’t fall away.) Colossians 2:11-13 further demonstrates the point:
“In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;”
Many Baptists fail to note the distinction between John’s baptism and the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which are categorically separated in Scripture. John openly stated that he was baptizing only with water (merely as a symbolic washing to demonstrate a desire to be cleansed from sin) whereas the one who came after him would baptize with the Holy Spirit, which is of course Jesus. You can see this in Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3, Acts 18:25, and many other verses which refer explicitly to the baptism of John as a different baptism than that of Christ. In Acts 19:4-5, Paul explicitly tells people that they should be baptized again in the name of the Lord Jesus, and not merely in the symbolic washing of John. The baptism of Christ goes beyond a mere symbol as a burial and resurrection through which the Spirit acts in us and saves us. (Romans 6:4, Colossians 2:11-13, 1 Peter 3:21)
In connection with this confusion, the common command “repent and be baptized” is used to say that children are incapable of being properly baptized. Exodus 12:48 shows that circumcision functioned in the same way though. It was not an exclusive blood covenant, but required outsiders to “repent and be circumcised” to join the community, including the circumcision of their whole house.
I Peter 3:21 is particularly bothersome to many people. “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:” However, we must see (in proper Calvinist fashion) that baptism saves us only by the inward work of the Spirit, and not by any automatic outward work of man. Every baptism, adult or child, must acknowledge the depravity of man and the unworthiness of the individual to receive God’s free gift, but that by His mercy He may act effectually on anyone and bring about a good answer from their conscience.
Of course, this acknowledgment of the sovereignty of God in salvation is very important, because we recognize that we contribute nothing to our salvation no matter what, so it shouldn’t be difficult to see how God saves those who are too small to pretend they contribute anything to their salvation. For Arminians this is a much bigger, unexplainable problem.
Now that I have set out the clear teaching of Scripture on baptism, I know it will be very hard for many to accept because it is not the popular view in our society. There is a very strong pull towards “believer’s baptism,” despite it being entirely contrary to the Scriptural accounts. I will therefore add some corroborating evidence.
In I John 2:12-14, John addresses different stations of people within the church, telling how each demonstrates the glory of God in different ways. Twice he names little children, separate from young men or from fathers, which makes it quite clear that he views small children as being members of the congregation.
“I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake. I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father. I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.”
Baptists often have to write off large portions of church history, saying that the Roman church quickly perverted many doctrines, and that what we know of church history is nonsense. While Roman perversions have multiplied, there is some use to looking back to the early church teachings, especially those things which were held in common among different factions. Many seem entirely unaware that there were non-Roman Christians from the first century onwards.
There are a wide array of churches tracing their lineage directly to the apostles, including the Roman, Eastern Orthodox, Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic, and Armenian churches, and although they have big doctrinal disagreements from very early on, they all baptize infants. There is one heterodox theologian I am aware of from early church history who recommended later baptism, but Tertullian’s view was entirely incompatible with the modern Baptists and sought to delay baptism in order to be washed of your sins as near to death as possible. Clearly not a good example, and his peers also thought so which is why the practice ended.
Although there is no evidence of the Romans changing the standard to infant baptism, and in fact the other churches who had very little contact with Rome did the same, there is evidence that they changed the practice for communion, and very late at that. At the 4th Lateran council in 1215, they abolished communion for children, and also limited wine to only priests. They still do this today. So if you would like to avoid Roman errors and get back to the practice of the early church, rather than worrying about infant baptism which almost all Christians for almost all of history have practiced and is in the Bible, you should go back to including your children in communion as the fulfillment of the family Passover meal.