This past weekend I had the privilege of baptizing my son. He is 5 months old. Depending on one’s church background, this can be a very normal thing or a very odd thing – even a dangerous thing which reflects liberalism, nominalism, baptismal regeneration, etc. However, not only does it have (I believe) historical precedence, but it is a conclusion from our understanding of Scripture.
I know that many will see things differently. I wish the issue of baptism was more clearly laid out in scripture, and divided the church less than it does. But, I hope that we can be charitable towards those who disagree and consider them brothers and sisters in Christ. This, then, is not meant to spark a debate but inform and explain our practice. Furthermore, those who hold to a believer’s baptism view are still warmly received as full members in our church.
So, here are 5 reasons we baptize infants of believers. Or, a 5-step argument by which we reach that conclusion:
- Infant children of God’s people were included in the Old Covenant. And, the reformed tradition maintains that the Old Covenant, though it undergoes signifiant progression and transformation, is still part of the “Covenant of Grace” – having the same substance of salvation by faith that we see in the New Covenant of the New Testament. (For more on this, see chapter 7 of the Westminster Confession of Faith. The Covenant of Grace is in contrast to the “Covenant of Works” which God made with Adam in the Garden).
- Circumcision was the sign of entrance into the Old Covenant. In the New Covenant, baptism replaced circumcision (see Colossians 2:11) just as the Lord’s Supper replaced the Passover. And, circumcision was not a thing of mere physical significance, but pointed towards a spiritual significance (see Deuteronomy 30:6, Romans 2:28-29). Baptism, then, correlates to and replaces circumcision by being the sign of entrance into the covenant community, along with sharing some of the same spiritual significance.
- The New Covenant differs from the Old Covenant in that it not only brings greater spiritual blessings and fullness, but is radically more inclusive. Now, instead of primarily being for Jews, it is directed outwards towards all nations. The Old Covenant sign was only given to males, now it is given to males and females. Circumcision was primarily for Jews, but baptism is directed radically outward, towards all nations (see Matthew 28:19) who come to Christ in faith. If the Covenant of Grace moves towards greater inclusion, then it would be odd that the covenantal sign is more restrictive, without a clear command in that direction.
- And, that clear command is what is lacking. This point is an argument from silence, but it is a loud silence. If the prevailing custom was to include children of believers, then what is more to be expected is a command to stop then to continue. And, what is harder to account for is silence over ceasing this practice, rather than silence over continuing. This is especially true when we consider that the New Testament made it clear (usually, over and over and over) where the New Covenant abrogated common practice of the Old Covenant in a way that would be unexpected – such as the food laws, where all foods are explicitly declared clean. We can only assume that the early church – primarily Jewish at first – would have continued to include children of believers as part of God’s covenant, and therefore proper recipients of the covenantal sign. So, the lack of an explicit command changing what would have been assumed is hard to account for.
- Not only is there a lack of a command to cease this inclusion, but the New Testament always treats children of believers as part of the church – part of the household of God. They are considered part of the church rather than the world (a roughly parallel distinction to Jew & Gentile in the old testament). Jesus welcomed the little children and blessed them (blessing, in biblical terms, is not a trivial thing such as when we say “bless you” when someone sneezes, but it carries significance, especially when Jesus holds them up as models of kingdom possessors). But not only this, consider 1 Corinthians 7:12-16. When even just 1 spouse is believing, it is the holiness of the believing spouse which “sanctifies” the other and governs the child’s status, not the other way around (in the old testament, ceremonial uncleanness always spread to infect cleanliness, but in the new testament it is the other way around). In Ephesians 6:1-3 (and related passages), Paul directly addresses children of believers in his letter which, remember, was addressed to “the saints in Ephesus” (1:1). Not only does he address them directly, but he also reminds them of their covenant obligations – which they could not have if they were not in some way members of the covenant. Of course, this doesn’t mean they are members perpetually or definitely, irrespective of faith. When they grow up to the “age of discretion”, they then must choose to become covenant-keepers and become full members, lest they become covenant-breakers and fall under greater judgement than one lacking faith as an “outsider” – not having been exposed throughout their childhood to the blessings and privileges of the Church.
Baptism, then, does not guarantee salvation or regeneration, or that the recipient has or will ever have true saving faith (and thus is a member of the invisible church) – but that is just as true in believer’s baptism as in infant baptism. (And, it should be said that our church practices believer’s baptism for those who enter into the church as unbaptized converts later in life or for those who grew up in the church but weren’t baptized as infants). But, it does mark out who is a part of the visible church, as distinct from the world. And, children of believers, from our understanding of scripture, are most certainly rightly part of the visible church – surrounded by it’s blessings and privileges by being raised in the Church: exposed to the teaching of the gospel, objects of the prayers of God’s people, and included in the fellowship of the saints.
For a more detailed discussion, see “Jesus Loves the Little Children” by Daniel Hyde. I’d be happy to lend you a copy.