"I visited a friend's church the other week and they sprinkled a baby and called it baptism. I always thought babies were christened and older children, youth, and adults were baptized. But I was told the baby was baptized and wouldn't be re-baptized even when she got old enough to understand and make a decision on her own. Is this Biblical?"
The question of infant baptism has been posed for many, many centuries. The notion has long been held that since Jesus was baptized as an adult, that children should be. Further, it has been asserted that since Jesus was immersed (dunked) in the Jordan River, Christian baptism must be by immersion.
The thought that Jesus was baptized by immersion came from the gospels of Matthew and Mark. There we read, "And when Jesus had been baptized, as he came up from the water . . . " (Matthew 3.16). The phrase, "came up from the water" has been understood to indicate that Jesus was immersed and raised back up from the water. However, the Greek word anabaino literally means to climb up or ascend-neither of which happens in immersion baptism. The more natural understanding would be he was coming out of the river onto the river bank. In fact, this word is later used to tell of Jesus climbing up a mountain to pray (Matthew 14.23). Of course, this isn't to say Jesus wasn't immersed-the passage says he was baptized, it just doesn't say how.
For many centuries many have insisted baptizo, the word transliterated baptize, means "to immerse." However, in Mark 7.4 we read, ". . .and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, bronze kettles and tables" (Mark 7.4). Here the word baptizo is used and translated "washed." Now, one might argue that cups and pots are immersed when they are washed, but how many sinks will hold a whole table? No, the word baptizo cannot mean immerse, instead it must mean cleanse, clean, or wash. The word baptizo names the rite or the act of baptism, but doesn't indicate how it's to be done. Clearly that point has been left for the church to decide on its own. And many churches have decided sprinkling is a legitimate form of baptism; for other congregations pouring has been the time-honored practice; many prefer to immerse-which is certainly a legitimate form of baptism as well.
But baptizing infants? Where does that come from? Again, Jesus has been used as an example: "If Jesus was an adult when he was baptized, so should we." However, Jesus was also a law-abiding Israelite who was circumcised on the eighth day (cf., Genesis 17.12). In Colossians 2 Paul likens baptism to circumcision. For Paul, the rite of circumcision was an act of Israelite law to be avoided, but for the Christian he believed the ritual of baptism supplanted circumcision: "In Christ you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism . . ." (Colossians 2.11-12). And although Paul doesn't specify an age for baptismal candidate, his comparison of baptism to circumcision is certainly inclusive of any age.
And there are other scriptures implying early-aged baptisms as well. In Acts 16.14-15, 16.32-33, and 18.8 we read of whole households being baptized. In the first century "households" included the spouse(s), servants, children, and servant's children. In these three recorded incidents it is quite likely there were young children involved in the rite.
Infant baptism and sprinkling has been a part of recorded history from early in the church's history. There have been times when some have claimed superior knowledge and wisdom against either the baptism of infants or the sprinkling/pouring modes of baptism. However, these traditions continue, perhaps not only because they are traditions, but because they are biblically supported.