Why do we baptize the infants of Believers?
Many of us come from different persuasions concerning the doctrine of Christian baptism. Sadly, the differences that exist in the Christian Church concerning baptism are the source of much heated division and contention. Think of the strife among brothers and sisters in Christ over the proper mode and the proper subjects of water baptism.
Remember the preeminent mark of a true Believer in Jesus is love to those that love Jesus. Fights among Christians are of the flesh and not of faith. And I would say, even if we are Biblically correct in the debate. Our goal is instruction in the truth of God’s word in love, being gracious to those that differ especially in non-gospel things. (I Jn.4:7-21, Jn.13:33-35, I Tim.1:5, 2 Tim.2:24-25, Phil.2:14, Gal.5:15)
We all have limited knowledge and we all still see dimly. And we still have so much sin and corruption. (I Cor.13:9-12)
Sometimes our corruption shows itself in our doctrinal or denominational biases, most of which we do not consciously perceive. We can say, I am of Spurgeon, I am of the credo-baptists. Or we can say, I am of Calvin, I am of the covenant-baptists. (I Cor.1:9-19, I Cor.3:4-6) Of course, you know that I am paraphrasing what God the Holy Spirit said through the apostle Paul in First Corinthians. It is interesting that their division appears in some way to touch on baptism.
Baptism is not the gospel. Yes, I understand that baptism does depict Christ and His salvation. But it is significant that the apostle Paul said that Jesus Christ did not send Paul to baptize but to preach the gospel of salvation. (I Cor.1:17) The gospel is the audible or written words that God in Christ has come in the flesh and lived a perfect life and died a sacrificial death to purchase salvation for sinners. And those that believe in Christ as their Sin-Bearer are saved. (I Cor.15:1-6, Eph.2:1-9, Rom.5:1-10, Jn.3:16, 36)
Baptism does not save. The sacraments do not save. It is the hearing and the believing of the gospel of Jesus Christ that saves. (Rom.10:1-17) As an aside, I am aware that there are people who say that baptism does save, or baptism is necessary to be saved. I deny this is according to Scripture. But to prove this now is beyond the scope of my current subject.
Beloved, please consider all people that believe the true gospel your brother or sister in Christ, who you now are spiritually united to in Christ and who you will spend eternity worshiping Christ with very soon. This will bring love and peace into the debate on baptism.
Someday, there will be no more debates on baptism or on anything else. Until that day, we strive to approach the subject with gentleness and love towards all, and preeminently fidelity to God’s word.
Not to contradict what I have just said, it is Biblical and legitimate to debate the meaning of Scripture with other Christians. It is Biblical to examine the Scripture to see if a teaching is according to God’s word or not. So, to differ with and to debate other Christians on non-gospel issues (like baptism) is right – if done in a right spirit. (Acts 15:1-7, 15:35-39, 17:10-12, 2 Tim.3:14-17, 2 Tim.4:2)
But we should be aware that an inordinate desire to debate non-gospel issues with other Christians is often a snare unto sin. We should seek to avoid this. (Titus 3:9-10, 2 Tim.2:12-26, 2 Cor.12:20, I Pt.5:3-6) Let a Christian study the Scriptures and be convinced according to the truth of baptism in his own conscience. (Rom.14:1-13, WCF 20. 1-2)
As a very brief disclaimer. I do realize that there are some credo-baptists who also espouse to be ‘covenantal’. Please permit me the general distinctions that I am making of credo-baptist and covenantal or paedo-baptist for ease of discussion.
My purpose with this brief paper is to explain why we as reformed Presbyterian Christians believe the Bible requires us to baptize our infant children. I do not intend here to prove that the proper modes of baptism include sprinkling, pouring, and dunking. As reformed Presbyterians we believe all three modes are legitimate. (WCF 28.1-3, Heb.9:10, I Pt.1:2)
My main audience is my own congregation of Covenant OPC Pensacola. My desire is to build up the saints that Christ has sent me to minister the word of God to. If this brief work helps anyone understand Biblically why we as Believers baptize our infants, I am thankful to the Lord. May He be honored.
I realize that I minister in a geographical area that is predominantly credo-baptist in their convictions and that some that read this paper may disagree with my conclusions from God’s word that children of Believers are considered members of His church as children and therefore are required to receive the sign of baptism. Study the Scripture for yourself on this subject. Believe what you understand. May God give us grace to love and accept one another in Christ.
Some maintain that Believers baptizing their infants is just a tradition of man and not a command of God. We believe that God in His word requires us to baptize our infants as disciples of Christ. The Bible is our rule for faith and practice. (2 Tim.3:14-17) Christ has told us to baptize disciples.
Matthew 28:19. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
The Bible addresses our children as disciples of the Lord (as children disciples) so we baptize them as disciples.
Ephesians 6:1. Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER (which is the first commandment with a promise), 3 SO THAT IT MAY BE WELL WITH YOU, AND THAT YOU MAY LIVE LONG ON THE EARTH.
I will labor to show from Scripture that God requires believers in Christ to baptize our infants.
It is often been said that there is no explicit New Testament command for believers to baptize our infants. That is true. But there is also no express NT command for our Baptist friends to have a dry baby baptism with their baby dedication ceremony. 😊 They misuse an OT text, I Samuel 1:11.
God reveals His truth in His word in two ways. Expressly stated. And logically and necessarily deduced. Both expressions of divine truth are equally true and binding. (WCF 1.6)
Take for an example the truth of the Holy Trinity. There is no explicit statement in the Bible on the Trinity. However, the Bible does teach by necessary consequence the truth of the Trinity. The Bible teaches the divine names, divine nature, divine works, and divine worship of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we rightly deduce the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God – one God. And this is true.
Herein lies the crux of the difference between credo-baptists and covenant or paedobaptists. They say we are required to have an explicit NT command to baptize our children. We say that the entire Bible, OT and NT logically requires us to baptize our children, logically inferred or deduced from Scripture. This is the main difference.
If you believe the entire Bible treats children of Believers as belonging to His household of faith, necessarily inferred from the Bible – then you will baptize your infants according to God’s word. If you require a NT command to baptize your infants – then you will not.
As Believers in Christ we baptize our infants because we believe that God has placed us into a saving covenant or a bond. This covenant relationship is a gift of God. Therefore we refer to it as the covenant of grace. God Himself has established this covenant of grace where He promises to be a God to us and to our children in His Redeemer Christ. (WCF 7.1-6)
Genesis 6:18 But I will establish MY covenant with you; and you shall enter the ark– you and your sons and your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.
Exodus 6:4. I also established MY covenant with them…7 ‘Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.
The essence of God’s covenant is captured in the summary promise. The Puritan Christopher Love calls this covenant a ‘bundle of (divine) promises.’
The OT epoch opens with this promise.
Genesis 17:7 I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. (Exod.6:6-7)
The NT epoch opens with this promise.
Acts 2:38. Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” (2 Cor.6:16-18)
The eternal epoch opens with this promise.
Revelation 21:2. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them,
The covenant of grace is the administration of the gospel of grace.
In the OT the covenant of grace or the gospel was administered in types and shadows of Christ. In the NT with the incarnation of Christ, The Anti-type, the shadows are gone the Substance has come. But it is the same covenant and the same gospel. It includes believers in Christ along with our children.
Louis Berkhof writes, The Bible teaches that there is but a single gospel by which men can be saved. And because the gospel is nothing but the revelation of the covenant of grace, it follows that there is also but one covenant. The gospel was already heard in the maternal promise, Gen. 3:15, was preached unto Abraham, Gal.3:8, and may not be supplanted by any Judaic gospel, Gal.1:8-9. (Berkhof. Systematic Theology, 279)
AA Hodge on WCF 28.1 on baptism says, the covenant made with Abraham (Gen.17:7) Paul says, is the gospel (Gal.3:8). (Hodge. WCF Commentary, p.346)
Herman Bavinck states, for the gospel is the proclamation of the covenant of grace. (Bavinck. Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 3, p.229)
The children in the covenant.
God’s covenant of grace includes the successive generations of the person with whom He joins Himself in covenant.
In other words, God sends His gospel into His visible household of faith – the church. And God says, believe in My Son Christ and you shall be saved. God makes that very same promise to the infants of those adults that believe in Jesus for their salvation. Our infants have that tangible promise applied to them in baptism. And then they grow up hearing, believe in Christ and you shall be saved. And from our children God saves His (elect) children. (Rom.9:4-18)
God’s covenant of grace, His promise of salvation in Christ, always includes Believers and their children. God does not treat children of Believers as heathens belonging to the heathens. God promises to be a God to us and to our children. God calls our children ‘His” children, holy children, holy seed, holy race. (Ezra 9:2, Ezek.16:21, Mal. 2:15, I Cor.7:14)
Adam and his seed. (Gen.1:27-28, 3:15, Hos.6:7, Rom.5:12-18, I Cor.15:22)
Noah and his seed. (Gen.6:18, 9:9)
Abraham and his seed. (Gen. 17:7)
Genesis 17:7. I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you.
Moses and his seed. (Exod.20:4-12, 31:16)
Aaron and his seed. (Lev.24:8-9)
Phinehas and his seed. (Num.25:13)
David and his seed. (2 Chron.13:5, 21:7, Jer.33:19-22)
The people of the new covenant and their seed. (Isa.59:21)
Acts 2:38. Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”
Please consider the following Biblical data.
Children of believers are expressly included in the prophecies of the coming NT administration of the covenant of grace or the gospel.
Jeremiah 32:38. They shall be My people, and I will be their God; 39. and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me always, for their own good and for the good of their children after them. 40. I will make an everlasting covenant with them. (Acts 2: 39, Isa.59:21, Ezek.37:23-27, Ps.103: 17-18)
Mary, in her NT song, praises God that His covenant promise includes children.
Luke 1:50 And His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him.
The apostle Peter includes children of believers in the administration of the covenant of grace.
Acts 2:39. For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.
Paul calls the entire church saints, including the children of believers. (Eph.6:1-4, Col. 3:20-22)
I believe the NT Jewish converts to Christ would have considered it incomprehensible if now in the administration of the covenant of grace their children were excluded from the promises of God. If this were true, then I believe this would require an explicit NT command ‘do not baptize your infants’ as members of God’s visible family. For the believing Jew, the debate was over to circumcise or to baptize their children, not to exclude or include them in the administration of the gospel. (Acts 15:1)
God often advances His covenant promise of salvation or the gospel of Christ in and through families. Think of the Biblical examples of the faith of the one and God’s treatment of the whole family.
OT. Noah was a righteous man and believed God, and God saved his whole family. (Gen.6:8, 2 Pt.2:5) Rahab believed in the Lord, and the Lord was kind to her entire family. (Josh.6:17) Phinehas was zealous for the Lord and God blessed his entire family. (Num.25:12-13) (Gen.17:12027, Gen.19:16, 20:17-18, 34:30, Exod.12:27, Num.3:15, Josh.24:15, I Sam.3:12-14, 2 Sam.12:10. Negatively: Josh.7:15-25, Exod.34:7.
NT. Christ healed the daughter of Jairus, not because of her faith, but because of her father’s faith. (Mt.9:18-26, Mk.5:22, Lk.8:41) We find the same thing: Mt.17:14-18, Lk.7:11-17, Jn.4:46-54, I Tim.3:4, I Tim.3:12, Titus 1:6, Phil.4:22, Mt.8:5-13, Acts 3:38-39.
Believing mothers brought their infants to Christ to bless.
Matthew 19:13. Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Christ has a relationship with the children of Believers that He does not have with the children of unbelievers. He gives them His word and His sacraments. His promises. (Mt.19:14, Mk.10:14, Lk.18:15-16)
The covenant sacrament.
Thus far what we have seen is that God makes a promise to save a people in this covenant or by this gospel with words. Next we are going to see that God confirms or restates that verbal promise of the covenant or gospel of grace with physical signs or physical sacraments.
Think this way. God’s promise in words: I will save a people in Christ and I promise that I will also save (elect) children of believers in Christ. Words. Sacraments are God’s promise in physical sign, I will save a people in Christ and I promise that I will also save (elect) children of believers in Christ. Signs.
Our Westminster Shorter Catechism #92 summarizes what we believe the Bible teaches on a sacrament.
A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ, wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers. (Gen. 17:7,10; Exod. 12:throughout; 1 Cor. 11:23-26)
Here is our summary of what we believe the Bible teaches on baptism.
Shorter Catechism #94. A. Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,(1) does signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.(2) (1) Matt. 28:19 (2) Rom. 6:4; Gal. 3:27, see: Mt.28:18-20, Col. 2:11-12, Titus 3:5
Summary. Baptism then is a visible sign of God’s objective salvation in Christ. Baptism is not fundamentally “our” response or faith in that Gospel promise. Herein, lies much of the misunderstanding between the credo-baptist and the covenant or paedo-baptist. The credo-baptist says baptism is my public profession of faith in Christ. The covenant-baptist says baptism is God’s public and tangible promise to us that salvation is in Christ.
Summary. Baptism is the distinguishing mark of those who are within the visible church versus those who are outside of the visible church. Baptism, in the NT in this way is like circumcision in the OT. In the OT circumcision is the initiatory rite of entrance into the visible community of God. (Gen.17:1-14, WLC 165, WCF 7.4-6)
The change in the covenant sacrament.
We believe that in the NT epoch baptism replaces the OT sign-sacrament of circumcision. (Col.2:10-13, Gal. 5:1-6)
Circumcision and baptism point to the same spiritual realities. Circumcision signifies regeneration. (Rom.2:28-29) Baptism signifies regeneration. (Titus 3:5). Circumcision signifies justification by faith (Rom.4:11-12) Baptism signifies justification by faith (Mk.16:16)
Since God in the OT required the sacrament of circumcision for (male) infants of Believers then infants of Believers in the NT cannot be forbidden the new sacrament of baptism on the grounds that they are infants and incapable of faith.
Remember, God told Abraham to apply the sign, which is a sign God’s promise of salvation in His Redeemer to the infants of his house. (Gen.17:12, Rom.4:11) Think. The OT sign of God’s covenant promise to save by the gospel of Christ was applied to the infants who had not yet believed.
The adult heathen Abram believed and thus was saved (Josh.24:2) and then later he was circumcised (baptized). (Rom.4:1-13) His son Isaac was not raised a heathen (he was born to believing parents, into the church), he was first circumcised (baptized) and then he believed.
In exactly the same way, we baptize our infants with that tangible promise of salvation in Christ even before they believe; trusting that God will make His promise effectual in the life of our child in His due time.
Adult heathen converts to Christ are baptized based on a credible profession of faith in Christ.
Infants of believers are baptized based on their status of being born to believing parents, into the visible household of faith. That is why in the book of Acts five or six of the eleven baptisms are household baptisms. The parent believes in Christ, then the entire household is baptized. God promises to be a God to us and to our children. (Acts 16:15, 33, 34, 10:47, 48, 11:14, I Cor.1:16)
We baptize infants of Believers because: God’s covenant promise includes children in the OT and NT (Gen.17:1-7, Acts 2:39). God calls the children of the church His holy seed in the OT and NT. (Ezra 9:2, Ezek.16:21, Mal. 2:15, I Cor.7:14) Christ calls our children members of the kingdom. God treats our children as saints obligated to obey His precepts in OT and NT. (Dt.5:16, Eph.6:1-3)
We baptize the children of Believers because: