A Brief Defense of Infant Baptism

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  • A Brief Defense of Infant Baptism

    Kevin DeYoung

    It sounds like the beginning of a joke or a support group introduction, but it’s true: some of my best friends are Baptists. I speak at conferences with and to Baptists. I read books by Baptists (both the dead and the living). I love the Baptist brothers I know–near and far–who preach God’s word and minister faithfully in Christ’s church. I went to a Baptist church while in college and know that there are many folks of more credobaptist persuasion in my own church. I imagine the majority of my blog readers are Baptist. You get the picture. I have thousands of reasons to be thankful for my brothers and sisters in Christ who do not believe in baptizing infants.And yet, I do. Gladly. Wholeheartedly. Because of what I see in Scripture.

    One of the best things I get to do as a pastor is to administer the sacrament of infant baptism to the covenant children in my congregation. Before each baptism, I take a few minutes to explain why we practice infant baptism in our church. My explanation always includes some–but rarely is there time for all–of the following:

    It our great privilege this morning to administer that sacrament of baptism to one of our little infants. We do not believe that there is anything magical about the water we apply to the child. The water does not wash away original sin or save the child. We do not presume that this child is regenerate (though he may be), nor do we believe that every child who gets baptized will automatically go to heaven. We baptize infants not out of superstition or tradition or because we like cute babies. We baptize infants because they are covenant children and should receive the sign of the covenant.

    In Genesis 15 God made a covenant with Abraham. This covenant was sealed with the sign of circumcision in Genesis 17. God promised to bless Abraham. For Abraham this meant two things in particular, offspring and land. But at the heart of the covenant was God’s promise that he would be a God to Abraham and his children (Gen. 17:7, 8).

    Circumcision was not just a physical thing, marking out ethnic Jews. Circumcision was full of spiritual meaning. The circumcision of the flesh was always meant to correspond with circumcision of the heart (Rom. 2:25-29). It pointed to humility, new birth, and a new way of life (Lev. 26:40-42; Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Jer. 4:4; 6:10; 9:25). In short, circumcision was a sign of justification. Paul says in Romans 4:11 that Abraham “received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.” God’s own interpretation of circumcision is that it was much more than just a physical sign for national Israel.

    Remarkably, though, this deeply spiritual sign was given to Ishmael as well as Isaac, even though only Isaac was the continuation of the promised line. The spiritual sign was not just for those who already embraced the spiritual reality. It was to be administered to Abraham and his sons. Circumcision was not a simple equation. It didn’t automatically mean the recipient of the sign was in possession of the thing signified. Circumcision, like baptism, also pointed to belonging, discipleship, covenant obligations, and allowed for future faith that would take hold of the realities symbolized. Just as there were some in Paul’s day who were circumcised but not really circumcised (Rom. 2:25-29), some children of Abraham who were not truly children of Abraham (Rom. 9:6-8), so in our day there are some who are baptized who are not truly baptized. Children should be marked as belonging to the covenant, but unless they exercise saving faith, they will not grab hold of the covenant blessings.

    Children today are baptized based on this same covenant with Abraham. Paul makes clear in Galatians 3 what Peter strongly suggests in Acts 2, namely that the Abrahamic covenant has not been annulled. It is still operational. In fact, we see the basic promise of the Abrahamic covenant running throughout the whole Bible, right up to the new heaven and new earth in Revelation 21.

    Because sons were part of the Abrahamic covenant in the Old Testament and were circumcised, we see no reason why children should be excluded in the New Testament sign of baptism. Admittedly, there is no text that says “Hear ye, hear ye, circumcision replaces baptism.” But we know from Colossians 2:11-12 that baptism and circumcision carried the same spiritual import. The transition from one to the other was probably organic. As the Jews practiced proselyte baptism, that sign came to be seen as marking inclusion in the covenant people. For awhile circumcision existed along baptism, but as the early church became more Gentile, many of Jewish rites were rendered unnecessary, and sometimes even detrimental to the faith. Thus, baptism eclipsed circumcision as the sign renewal, rebirth, and covenant membership.

    Although not conclusive all by themselves, there are several other arguments that corroborate a paedobaptist reading of the New Testament.

    One, the burden of proof rests on those who would deny children a sign they had received for thousands of years. If children were suddenly outside the covenant, and were disallowed from receiving any “sacramental” sign, surely such a massive change, and the controversy that would have ensued, would been recorded in the New Testament. Moreover, it would be strange for children to be excluded from the covenant, when everything else moves in the direction of more inclusion from the Old Covenant to the New.

    Two, the existence of household baptisms is evidence that God still deals with households as a unit and welcomes whole families into the church to come under the Lordship of Christ together (Acts 16:13-15; 32-34; 1 Cor. 1:16; cf. Joshua 24:15).

    Three, children are told to obey their parents in the Lord (Eph. 6:1). Children in the church are not treated as little pagans to be evangelized, but members of the covenant who owe their allegiance to Christ.

    Four, within two centuries of the Apostles we have clear evidence that the church was practicing infant baptism. If this had been a change to long-standing tradition, we would have some record of the church arguing over this new practice. It wasn’t until the sixteenth century that Christians began to question the legitimacy of infant baptism.

    So we come to administer the sacrament of baptism to this child today with the weight of church history to encourage us and the example of redemptive history to confirm our practice. We baptize in obedience to Christ’s command. The sacrament we are about to administer is a sign of inclusion in the covenant community as circumcision was, and the water we are about to sprinkle is a sign of cleansing from sin as the sprinkled blood of bulls and goats in the Old Testament was. We pray that this little one will take advantage of all his covenant privileges, acknowledge his Lord all the days of his life, and by faith make these promises his own.

    *****

    I doubt I’ve changed too many minds with this post, but maybe I’ve helped my Baptist friends understand what we mean (and don’t mean) by infant baptism. Maybe I’ve clarified a couple misunderstandings. Maybe I’ve strengthened the convictions of a few paedobaptists who weren’t sure why they believed what they said they believed. No matter where you fall on this issue, I encourage you think through the topic with an open Bible and some good resources in hand.

  • #2
    Much of what is written is circumcision and even in that much is figurative, not literal here. I keep in mind the thief on the cross, who the Bible does not report as having been either. I disagree that these are examples of being baptized or commandments to be baptized as infants. Only believers are to be baptized, and babies are not yet believers! I say these things not as a Baptist, but addressing what has been presented in the Bible. Since we are commanded to be baptized once we become believers, why should we be baptized twice--once as an infant, once as a believer following the Lord's commandment. I was baptized once as an infant in the Methodist church, and once again out of obedience to God when I became a believer. So have a lot of other people. Ooops!:eek:
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    • #3
      Originally posted by Stratcat View Post
      Only believers are to be baptized, and babies are not yet believers! ... why should we be baptized twice--once as an infant, once as a believer following the Lord's commandment.
      Strat,

      As to being baptized again, more than once or many times, amongst the Reformed is a conviction that this a sin against God. If you were baptized as an infant in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit you were legitimately baptized. Again two different arguments, the Op clarified the Sign Seal and Mark of the New Covenant as an extension of Covenant Believers to Children and Households.

      But I acknowledge, you were baptized again of your own free will and of your own profession which you consider the only legitimate means of baptism. Lastly, I agree lots of people have been re-baptized again, demonstrating the lack of faith in the works of God alone, because they were later convinced they first needed to accept the works of Salvation in some church. Perhaps through an altar call or one time prayer they could be equally reassured as an "just to be sure" addition to some dunking.

      God bless,
      William
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      • #4
        I can only assume I was baptized as an infant in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as I was just a baby and incognizant of the goings-on. As an adult, I became a believer in the workplace, confessed with my mouth, believed in my heart in Jesus and that He rose from the dead, then out of obedience, was baptized, cognizant and assured it was in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I personally consider it an act of superstition to baptize babies, thinking that like insurance, whatever happens to the baby, they are saved through infant baptism, which is false doctrine. It is not in the Bible and does more harm than good, IMO. People must be believers to carry out God's commandment of baptism, or they make a mockery out of the sacrament, just as marriage must be between man and woman, per the teachings of the Bible. Baptism is for believers only, and babies if they die, even if not yet born, neither having done any good or evil that the purpose of God according to election might stand. Romans 9:11 KJV
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        • #5
          So, another words, it wasn't until you were aware of your rebelliousness, and having an ability to choose right from wrong that you were considered a believer? This is not a Covenant Baptism. But I acknowledge you believe a child with unquestioning faith being brought up in the precepts of the Lord is lesser or has no place in the New Covenant and likewise receives no blessings.

          Please address 1 Corinthians 7:14. I think you've been dodging that bullet for too long.

          The question I ask you while reading it: Do you think children of believers, despite being given certain blessing by being set apart and being made Holy provides no reason to identify these children with the sign seal and mark of the NT Covenant in the visible church?

          God bless,
          William
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          • #6
            1 Corinthians 7:14 KJV has had me baffled. But I think that is because a tentacle of Arminianism is still in my doctrine and needs to be flushed out. Does this verse tell you that because I am chosen, and am therefore a believer, that my household will in due time receive the Holy Spirit and be saved (those who have not already)? Is this what the Lord teaches? Three out of 4 of us are believers, the 4th refused to be baptized when the rest of us were, and he still refuses to believe and be baptized, now at age 25. Baptism does not cause one to be saved, but apparently, my being saved saves the household, and my son the atheist may become a believer? It looks that way in this verse. I'd like to believe my entire household will be made holy through my belief and that of my wife. I don't know. You bring up a good point in soteriology, but baptism has little to do with it. Still, I want to pursue 1 Corinthians 7:14 KJV and other verses like it further. It does get the support of the doctrine of election, in that God says what shall be, given those circumstances. It is not that I have dodged the bullet, rather I do not fully understand it. It is good you brought it up. Thanks, and I await your reply.
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            • #7
              Originally posted by Stratcat View Post
              1 Corinthians 7:14 KJV has had me baffled. But I think that is because a tentacle of Arminianism is still in my doctrine and needs to be flushed out. Does this verse tell you that because I am chosen, and am therefore a believer, that my household will in due time receive the Holy Spirit and be saved (those who have not already)? Is this what the Lord teaches? Three out of 4 of us are believers, the 4th refused to be baptized when the rest of us were, and he still refuses to believe and be baptized, now at age 25. Baptism does not cause one to be saved, but apparently, my being saved saves the household, and my son the atheist may become a believer? It looks that way in this verse. I'd like to believe my entire household will be made holy through my belief and that of my wife. I don't know. You bring up a good point in soteriology, but baptism has little to do with it. Still, I want to pursue 1 Corinthians 7:14 KJV and other verses like it further. It does get the support of the doctrine of election, in that God says what shall be, given those circumstances. It is not that I have dodged the bullet, rather I do not fully understand it. It is good you brought it up. Thanks, and I await your reply.
              Now we're getting somewhere. Lemme respond to, "Baptism does not cause one to be saved (that's baptismal regeneration and not argued here, I agree with you but I ask you to examine your argument because we could easily misconstrue credo-baptist suggesting that all professing believers are saved), but apparently, my being saved saves the household, and my son the atheist may become a believer?" No, you being saved does not save your household, no more than a child bearing the sign seal and mark of the NT Covenant guarantees them salvation. Sanctification is of no benefit to the unbelieving party; it only serves thus far, that the believing party is not contaminated. Likewise, baptism of "believers only" is not nor can be verified by any church nor does any church endorse any person of being genuinely saved by a profession, otherwise there would never be believers falling away from the faith. Although, with respect to back sliding should doubting or uncertain peoples re-baptize every time dying embers are fanned to flame in faith? No. As to the relation itself between man and woman though the other were a heathen, he is sanctified for the wife's sake. She is sanctified for the husband's sake. Both are one flesh. He is to be reputed clean who is one flesh with her that is holy, and vice versa: To the pure all things are pure, Titus 1:15.

              As to your example of an unbelieving child, if you are holy, the relation is so, the state is so, you may make a holy use even of an unbelieving relative, in conjugal duties, and your seed will be holy too.

              "Paul argues, in his Epistle to the Romans, (Romans 11:16,) that the whole of Abraham’s posterity are holy, because God had made a covenant of life with him — If the root be holy, says he, then the branches are holy also. And God calls all that were descended from Israel his sons’ now that the partition is broken down, the same covenant of salvation that was entered into with the seed of Abraham is communicated to us. But if the children of believers are exempted from the common lot of mankind, so as to be set apart to the Lord, why should we keep them back from the sign? If the Lord admits them into the Church by his word, why should we refuse them the sign? In what respects the offspring of the pious are holy, while many of them become degenerate, you will find explained in Romans 10:1 the Epistle to the Romans." - John Calvin
              Further, I thank you for acknowledging the premise of the OP. This was not a believers "only" confessional baptism thread, but it was a Covenant baptism thread. From two different perspectives, I acknowledge your own responses, thus you responded in obedience to God's gracious offer, or we baptize in the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit without distinction again following the commands of the Lord. This differs, for example, where clearly children are exempt from Communion until they are able to acknowledge through self examination whether they may approach the verbally fenced Table of the Supper of the Lord through 1 Corinthians 11:27–29 in a worthy manner. I do not mean to confuse you or the thread by bringing this up, but this is often a clear example credo-baptist use to justify denying children the sign seal mark of the NT Covenant.

              When you acknowledged Arminianism is in your doctrine, I just bout fell out of the chair Strat. From a Godly perspective we acknowledge Salvation is monergistic. Salvation is by God alone. Can you deny that bringing your child up as commanded in the precepts of the Lord has not benefited them? We hope that God recognizes the sign seal and mark of the child if baptized. Now to clarify, when our church performs an infant baptism, the entire church is being addressed as the initiation takes place into the NT Covenant. We are committed to bringing the child up as well as the parents with regard to the precepts of the Lord. Clearly the Child is being blessed and children of such blessing are set apart from children of the World, and they are given the sign seal and mark of baptism. Again, and again with emphasis, baptism does not guarantee salvation nor cause it. Clarify your argument, because Covenant Baptism does not suggest this, no more than a Credo-Baptist guarantees testimony of professing believers were a saving testimony, genuine and ever lasting.

              Clearly, these are two different arguments and perspectives. Here in the Covenant Theology section you must see through the lens of a Covenantal Relationship.

              God bless,
              William
              Comment>

              • #8
                In the Baptist church, instead of baptizing the infants, there is a dedication whereby the church agrees to help the parents in bringing up the child in spirit and in truth, or as regarding proper indoctrination in Christianity and worship. Pretty much as what your church does following the infant baptism. Arminianism is insidious, and gets found out in my Bible studies at times when I get confused as I did here. Then I see that I was looking at it from an Arminian viewpoint, which means I have to dispatch the Arminian view and reexamine the Scripture. Arminianism, like other false doctrine, is like an octopus, with tentacles of false doctrine of free will clouding up other teachings in the Bible. Since the Bible doesn't teach free will, confusion sets in, whose author is Satan. That is why I said Arminian doctrine was confusing me in 1 Corinthians 7:14 KJV. I know it is by God's sovereign will, and that helps clear things up. Thanks for your help.
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