Though Jesus gave His church two sacraments to unite us around His truth, there has actually been nothing more divisive within the church than baptism and the Lord’s Supper! Some might think that a smart pastor would, therefore, stay away from such a hot topic as infant baptism. I am NOT that smart pastor (!), and I suggest that many of our sacramental battles have to do with ungrounded assumptions about why some churches do what they do concerning the sacraments. As a matter of fact, I am as opposed as anyone to the grounds for some infant baptisms. So please, “hear” me out:
Our View of Infant Baptism (why we do it, what it means, what it does not mean)
One caveat: Though “to baptize or not to baptize” an infant may seem like a simple and clear choice or decision, it touches on many deep principles about the way we see the Bible, how the testaments fit together, how God works in salvation and in families, etc. I am saying: This discussion could take thirty hours, or thirty minutes! I will do my best under present limitations, while I always hope for more time later.
Rumors out there (most of them very bad, inaccurate, and unbiblical):
1. Infant baptism guarantees the salvation of the individual, no matter what.
2. Infant baptism removes the problem of original sin. Conscious sinful choices which your child makes from now on will be the problem to be resolved (through faith, etc.).
3. Infant baptism guarantees that God will save (or the ceremony obligates God to save) your child sometime in the future, through saving faith which God must send.
4. Infant baptism being practiced in some Protestant churches today is just a sad leftover from our days of being attached to the Roman Catholic Church; we did not reform enough.
5. Infant baptism guarantees that, if the child dies before he reaches the age of accountability, he will surely go to Heaven on the basis of our church’s symbolic actions.
6. Infant baptism is not really baptism; it is just our term for Baby Dedication.
7. Adults who were baptized as infants should get baptized again after their conversion.
So first … why we baptize infants:
- God has always shown Himself willing and able to work in and through families and communities.
- God’s covenants of old (with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, …) included the children of adults who were able to understand and agree to the covenants (for you AND for your children).
- So the symbols of the covenants (like the rainbow, Passover, the Law, the Davidic throne) involved the children.
- Example: Circumcise ALL males, eight days and older. Ishmael, Isaac, Jesus, and millions more were circumcised covenantally.
- So in Old Testament times, family inclusion in the covenants and in the covenant signs was the clear expectation. Children of Jews were treated differently than the neighbor children of pagans. They were “special.”
- This covenantal assumption was so strong in the ancient people of God that if He had a different expectation for His people in New Testament times, He would have had to make that change very clear.
- Quite the opposite, God confirmed / reaffirmed this policy of family/household inclusion: Jesus’ invitation concerning the children (to be brought to Me; My Kingdom is made of such as these). The Pentecost sermon (by Peter in Acts 2) = This promise is for you and for your children and etc. References to families/households baptized upon the conversion of a parent, inActs and other New Testament passages: Lydia (Acts 16:14-15), the Philippian jailor (16:32-34), Stephanas (1 Corinthians 1:16); John 4:53; Acts 10:2; 11:14;18:8; 2 Timothy 4:19. God’s continuing concern for the oikos (= household) is most clear. Especially of note is the label sanctified/holy concerning the children of even one believer (1 Corinthians 7:14).
- There is NO account in the New Testament about the children of a convert being instructed to wait for their own baptisms until some later time. Notice that baptism episodes in the New Testament record are of new converts and their children. There are no examples of “church kids” getting baptized upon their own later profession of faith, or at the age of twelve, or even later as adults.
- In a profound way, the infant baptism is an opportunity for parents to (re-) covenant with God: You are our God; we belong to You; we are a Christian family. The Christian way, faith, and life is not just for individuals in theirprivate lives, but for Christians in all of their relationships (at least in the family, church, and state).
- Those churches which claim to want to obey the Bible strictly or literally … then do not find an explicit command in the New Testament for Christians to have their infants baptized … then do not baptize their infants … STILL have this sense that their babies are special/holy (different from babies in the pagan world) … so they invent a rite/ceremony called Baby Dedication (even though the New Testament commands no such thing).
When we baptize an infant in this church, we do not mean: … that his sin (sin nature) is being washed away (so that he is saved). … that God will surely save this baby through a future conversion. … that there is nothing further expected, to pray about, to work toward.
When we baptize an infant in this church, we do mean: … to symbolize the gospel, that God will surely save all of His people, cleansing them through the redemption in Jesus Christ (so the occasion of a covenant child’s baptism is his first opportunity to proclaim the good news). … that this infant of believer(s) is ALREADYa covenant child in the eyes of our Lord (so that is why we are putting the sign on him; this ceremony will not make him a covenant child; he is a covenant child, and so we give him the sign). … that this baby occupies a privileged place (in that he will be surrounded during his upbringing by the truths, people, and blessings of the Lord). … that the parent(s) commit to faithfully raise this child in the fear and admonition of God, according to Biblical patterns (see the specific vows we ask parents to take, below). … that the members of this congregation promise to support and help the parents in all of these good endeavors.
My assumptions going into the infant baptism; will you parents assent to these?
1. You are resting in the Lord Jesus alone for your salvation … not on anything you have done, are doing, or will do in the future.
2. Yet it is also your desire and commitment to be a family for God, living for Him, in faith, repentance, and obedience. We recognize that this godly desire, too, is God’s good gift.
3. You recognize that God works in families. Your child already has a special connection to God by virtue of the fact that he “belongs” to you, and you belong to God. Your child is set apart.
4. Your child’s relationship with God today is not the same as his having saving faith, which we pray that he will know and enjoy in the future.
5. Because of your child’s position in the covenant, you should give to him the covenant sign. Now (in the New Testament times) that sign is water baptism, in God’s Triune Name, with understanding.
6. You parents are communicant member of this church; that is the basis for having your child baptized in Christ and into this congregation. Part of the infant baptism sacrament will involve you parents renewing your own Covenant of Church Membership.
So now, for the parents, do you reaffirm your own membership vows before God and these witnesses? [YES]. Now, if it is your hearts’ resolve, respond to these covenant questions for your child:
RPCNA Constitution: The Covenant of Baptism
1. Do you believe this child is a possession of God entrusted to your care?
2. In this light, do you promise to provide for his temporal well-being, to teach him to love God and His word, the Bible, and to provide him with a God-centered education?
3. Do you promise to teach him of his sinful nature, of the plan of salvation which centers in Jesus Christ, and of his own personal need of a relationship with Christ?
4. To the end that he may grow in the Christian life, do you promise to pray for him, to train him to read the Bible, to pray, to keep the Lord’s Day, and to understand the nature of the Church, the value of its worship and fellowship, and his need to seek communicant membership in the church?
5. Do you promise to lead him (by your example and parental discipline exercised in love) to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness in all the relationships of life?
6. Do you make these promises in the presence of God, in humble reliance upon His grace, as you desire to give your account with joy at the Last Great Day?
Do you, the members of this child’s congregation, receive him into your fellowship, and promise to pray for him, and to help his parents as they bring up their children in the Christian way of life?