Should babies be baptised?

As a church we believe that, yes, the children of believers should be baptised. But why do we believe this?

1. Because the Covenant of Grace extends the sign of blessing to covenant children

Abraham was the first person to receive the sign of the Covenant of Grace and he did so as a believer. He was justified by faith and the outward sign of that was circumcision (Rom 4:11). Paul tells us that this was a sign of cleansing from sin. It was also a sign of union with the Lord (Gen 17:7-8). Nevertheless, God gave promises to Abraham about his children and told him to circumcise them as well. The sign he  received as an adult believer was also given to his eight day old son Isaac - an infant (Gen 21:4).

Perhaps you were baptised as a believer, but have never considered that this sign of cleansing from sin (Acts 22:16; 1 Pt 3:21) and union with the Lord (Rom 6:1-6; Gal 3:27) should be given to your children. Or perhaps you were baptised as an infant and are considering the significance of your baptism. Or perhaps you are a believer thinking about the baptism of your own child. Surely this Old Testament narrative causes us all to pause and ask - “What does this covenant sign of baptism mean to me and my children?”

2. Because the New Testament tells us what God has changed since Old Testament times

God is the only lawgiver and only God can alter His commands. When we move from the Old into the New Testament, nothing changes but what God changes.

The sign of the Covenant of Grace has been changed at God’s command. The sign has changed its form from circumcision to baptism (Col 2:11-13). But its meaning has not changed. The recipients of the sign have been made to include female as well as male (Acts 8:12, 16:15). But otherwise nothing changes. The administration of the sign of cleansing and union with the Lord to the children of believers has not changed.

As we move from the Old Testament to the New Testament, the privileges of God’s people are enriched rather than withdrawn. If believers in the Old Testament had the privilege of seeing their children receive the sign of God’s Covenant promise that He would be a God to them and to their children, shall we have less in the New Testament? God has not spoken to withdraw this blessing from those who love Him!

3. Because the visible Church of God is continuous

Circumcision meant recognition that a person was accepted as part of the congregation of the Lord (Ex 12:47-51). The term congregation - which described Israel in the Old Testament (Ps 22:22) - is the same as church in the New Testament (Acts 7:38; Heb 2:12). Israel was the professing or visible Church of God in the Old Testament even though then (as now) not every member of the visible Church was born again.

In New Testament times those Jews who had rejected Christ also rejected the apostles’ authority together with the New Testament signs of the Covenant of Grace - baptism and the Lord’s Supper. They clung to the redundant signs of circumcision and Passover. Thus, these unbelieving branches were broken off from the Church (Rom 11:17). The believing Jews and their children received the replacement sign of baptism and continued within the visible Church to which the Gentile Christians (along with their children) were in-grafted (Rom 11:19).

We should note that the olive tree in Romans 11 represents the visible professing Church rather than simply the regenerate. This is clear from the warning, addressed to the Gentiles from the example of Israel, “For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee” (v.21). What happened to Israelite branches could also happen to Gentile ones!

Thus there is one professing Church of God on earth beginning in the Old and reaching into the New Testament; and children were included in both. Children were among the saints at Ephesus and Colosse addressed by the Apostle Paul (Eph 1:1; 6:1-3; Col 1:1-2; 3:20).

We reject dispensationalism which teaches that the Church only started at Pentecost. Not only was there a Church in the Old Testament but it had a visible form. Circumcision marked out the congregation of the Lord and to be among the uncircumcised was to be among the open enemies of the Lord (Jud 15:18; 1 Sam 14:6; 17:26). The history of Old Testament Israel is not a type of the Church needing to be spiritualised. It is Church history.

4. Because we believe in Sovereign Grace

Consistent Arminians believe that God is helpless until the human will responds to the truth. The reverse is in fact the case (Romans 9:15 -18). Consequently the Arminian must believe that nothing can happen in the soul of an infant until he grows up. We do not believe that. Of course baptism won’t regenerate him, but we believe that our Sovereign God can regenerate a sinner at any point from conception onwards. We feel no compulsion, therefore, to presume unregeneration until we see signs of grace. We cannot see into an infant’s heart so as to judge its spiritual state. We leave that before God. In the meantime we also look to God’s Word to direct us whether to treat infants as outsiders or members of the visible Church on earth prior to their profession of faith. God told Abraham what to do in this regard. By circumcising Isaac he regarded him as a member of the visible Church.

5. Because family life is the work of the Kingdom

Negligent Christian parents often justify their neglect of family life because they are devoting so much time to “the Lord’s work”. The nurture of children is part of the Lord’s work. Moreover, only the covenant promises bring Christian marriage and procreation (Gen 1:28) into line with Paul’s instruction, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink or whatever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). When Christians have children they are not to assume that their house is divided. Rather, the family is a vital means by which the Lord builds up His kingdom of grace in the world.

6. Because the practice of baptising children from Christian homes only when they profess faith is without Biblical precedent

There are household baptism in Scripture (Acts 16:15,33; 1 Cor 1:16). That there were no infants in Lydia’s household may or may not be true. The point is that the inspired writer felt no need to explain that this was so.

7. Because God knows best

When Abraham gave the sign of cleansing from sin and union with the Lord to his infant son, Isaac, all sorts of arguments could have prevented him from doing so. “He’s too young to understand” or “He can’t profess faith” or “We can’t see any evidence of regeneration” or “There’s a danger of his putting his trust in the sign and his upbringing”.

Abraham did it for one reason only. God told him to. We must do the same. Christ is the Head of the Church and He decides whom we are to treat as covenant children within the visible Church. He has shown His will in such passages as Genesis 17, which teaches that the children of His people are to be included. He has never revoked that word.

Moses failed to give his son the sign of the covenant, but was rebuked when the Lord confronted him in Exodus 4:24-26. Believing parents must do likewise and have their children baptised; challenging them and praying that the Spirit of God will bring them to keep the covenant through faith in Christ. The result is that your God will be their God for ever (Ps 103:17-18; Rev 21:3).

Believers ought not to treat their children as being among the known enemies of the Lord. They ought to see them as a real blessing to be nurtured for Him (Ps 127). Then we will be able to say with new conviction, “as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Jos 24:15).

 

For further reading:

  • The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 28 Of Baptism. Larger Catechism, questions 165-167.  Shorter Catechism, questions 94-95.
  • The Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland, 1990, Chapter 9.
  • Biblical Baptism, 1992, by Frederick S. Leahy.
  • Christian Baptism, 1980, by John Murray.
  • The Meaning and Mode of Baptism, 1975, by Jay E. Adams.
  • Children of the Promise, 1985, by Robert R. Booth.
  • Infant Baptism and the Silence of the New Testament, 2008, by Bryan Holstrom.