Covenant baptism of infants (and others)

One of the key practices distinguishing reformed churches from other Protestant churches is the practice of baptizing infants. This practice flows from a solid understanding of God and His Word. This article provides an introduction to the scriptural underpinnings of infant baptism.

We begin with the fundamental nature of God held by all Christian churches: there is one God in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The three persons of the Trinity exist in such complete unity and harmony that the Old Testament (OT) speaks of the One True God. Their oneness defines them. As we come to the New Testament (NT), it describes God’s Trinitarian nature in great detail through numerous stories and examples. Heresy is teaching about God that departs from this Trinitarian understanding.

The nature of God bears directly on our approach to and understanding of the Old Testament. God reveals His nature, His relationship to mankind, and nearly every important doctrine through the Law and the other books of the Old Testament. At the same time, the OT lays the foundations for the NT. For the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms speak about Jesus and His work (Luke 24:44). The God of the OT is the identical same God of the NT. Fundamental principles and teachings of the OT describe the nature and character and teaching of Jesus. He is the Word of God become flesh. Thus, to understand the NT, one must first understand the OT.

From the OT we learn that God deals with men through covenants, and that covenants have signs. Of particular interest to us here is circumcision, the sign of the Abrahamic covenant. Now Abraham was declared righteous because he believed (Rom 4:3, 9, 13; Gal 3:6; Jam 2:23), just the same as for us. Yet God commanded Abraham to circumcise the males of his household, including all newborn males of his household at 8 days of age (Gen 17:9-14). Now why would he do that? Did the children understand? Could they make a confession of faith? No and No! God did so because He calls families into covenant with him, literally households – all those under the authority of the head of the household). He brings the children of the house into the covenant. They are to be brought up as members of the covenant. They are included in the Passover (Ex 12:26-27). The covenant promises are to you and your children (Deut 1:40; 30:1-3). And they are to be taught as members of the covenant (Deut 4:9-10; 6:7; 31:12). Why is all of this so? Because the very purpose of marriage is godly offspring (Mal 2:14-15). In short, God loves families that love and honor him, from the time of birth to the time of death.

Now circumcision symbolizes a number of things:

  • circumcision of the heart (2:29)
  • the repentance of a stubborn heart (Deut 10:16)
  • a turning towards God (Deut 30:6)
  • a cleansing of evil hearts (Jer 4:4)
  • sin must be cut off
  • bloodshed is the price of sin
  • God is in the midst of the most intimate affairs of men
  • God looks forward to the redeemer, Jesus, the promised seed
  • Christ will rise from the dead on the 8th day

Circumcision clearly represents the cleansing work of God, a work that only He can accomplish. Circumcision of an infant points to God, that His grace is poured out on the child by being born into a family of believers, that He stands in line to inherit the promises of God.

Now baptism is the sign of the New Covenant, replacing circumcision in the Old Covenant. It is a cleansing work of God. Circumcision and baptism are connected (Col 2:11-15). God has not changed His mind about families. As boys were circumcised in the Old Covenant, now boys and girls are baptized in the New Covenant. The profound change in the signs is not from children to adults, but boys to all children.

Now baptism symbolizes a number of things as well:

  • repentance (Mk 1:4; Luk 3:3)
  • trials (Mk 10:38-39)
  • death to sinful self (Luk 12:50)
  • oneness with Jesus (Acts 19:5)
  • death and burial in Christ (Rom 6:2-5; Col 2:12)
  • salvation, appeal for a good conscience (1 Pet 3:21)

Notice the similarity between the symbolisms of circumcision and baptism: repentance, new life, removal of sin, salvation.

Why are NT examples mostly of adults (believers baptisms), because the practice of the new sign required instruction, understanding and obedience. Thus Jesus spoke to those who could understand and obey. But nowhere does God say that the sign of baptism is only for adults. All to whom He spoke understood the nature of family covenant with God, and the attendant sign of circumcision. There was no need to address the issue. Silence must not be used as an argument against infant baptism. Further, there are a few NT passages addressing salvation of households (1 Co 1:16; Acts 16:31).

In conclusion, God calls families into covenant with Him, and extends the covenant sign of baptism to all members of the household, even to the newborn children. And as such, He expects that children should be reared in the faith as suitable for the godly offspring of godly parents.

Posted in Doctrinal