Infant Baptism Reloaded

Why baptize babies?

Of course, we all know that there is one category for church members (saved) and one category for others (lost). Understand that this categorization is based on God’s membership roles, and we don’t have access to them (other than local church elders exercising fruit inspection). Being a member of God’s church is essential, while being a member of a human church organization is merely but highly  recommended.

Paul wrote of  one body, one baptism (Ephesians 4:4-5), but what exactly is that? This is not a trick question, but takes into consideration the fact that Paul spoke of the body of Christ in several ways — the physical body of Jesus, the gathered assembly of believers and the spiritual body of believers that transcends space and time. These three are one in the same way that God is one, yet three. There is nothing confusing about this, except perhaps that people are not used to taking the doctrine of the Trinity seriously (which is why I wrote Colossians–Christos Singularis).

So, people get baptized because they believe, and they baptize their kids because they believe. Everyone is baptized on the same basis — belief. In my case, I have confessed it. In the case of my children, I am trusting that God will do what He has said He would do — be faithful for all time unto all believers and their offspring (Deuteronomy 12:28, Acts 16:31). I baptize my children, not because of their faithfulness, nor because of mine, but because of God’s.

Baptizing children does not save them, nor does it put them under the covenant. God alone does these things. But because baptism is a public act of testimony, it makes public the fact that I and my family consider ourselves to be under God’s covenant. It stands as a witness to God’s faithfulness. Those who are baptized are saying publicly to the world that they are submitting themselves to God’s blessings through their obedience, or to God’s cursings through their disobedience. Either way, God remains faithful to His covenant by exercising grace to the faithful and judgment to the unfaithful.

But more than this, the baptized are saying that by confessing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, they publicly submit themselves to God’s authorities: conscience, family headship, church authorities and civil authorities. Baptism signifies entry into the communion of God’s people. It is not simply about me and Jesus, but is about God and His people in Christ.

Reality is more complex than many people are comfortable with. The oneness of God includes Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is a complex oneness. And Christ’s church is also one in a similar kind of complex way. However, the complexity of reality does not make Christians nominal — laziness does that!

Being a baptized child of the covenant provides a decided advantage because of the likelihood of hearing the gospel from a family member, and having the advantages of faithful Christian teaching and discipline by a faithful father. It’s kind of like the advantage of going to the “right” schools and meeting (fellowshiping with) the “right” people, or of being trained for a particular profession from a young age by an expert.

And more than this, being a baptized child of the covenant before I have confessed my own faith in Jesus Christ, causes my parents and family to impose the expectations of faithfulness upon me. They treat me as if I actually do belong to God’s faithful people, and that treatment then provides a kind of encouragement for me to live up to their expectations. It makes me feel like I belong, and when I feel like I belong I find myself acting like I belong. It helps me understand that I am not alone, but that I have the support of a community that trusts God so much that they give their children to Him.

1 comment for “Infant Baptism Reloaded

  1. July 9, 2010 at 7:39 am


    Please understand that I am not defending paedo baptism nor attacking credo baptism. I am attempting to clarify biblical baptism. The adjectives paedo and credo serve to limit baptism in ways that Scripture does not. What is at issue is, I believe, the biblical sign and/or symbol of the covenant. We agree that neither the sign nor the symbol are the covenant, nor do they transfer the covenant. And yet they do communicate the covenant in the sense that both sign and symbol are forms of communication. They point to God’s covenant. The sign/symbol of the Old Covenant was circumcision, and the sign/symbol of the New Covenant is baptism.

    And who are the recipients of the sign/symbol? In all cases believers are the proper recipients, believers and their children. Why are the children of believers included? Because the Bible includes them. Consider father Abraham: Genesis 17:9 – “And God said to Abraham, And you shall keep My covenant, you and your seed after you in their generations.” Was Abraham circumcised? Genesis 17:11 – “And you shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin. And it shall be a token of the covenant between Me and you.” Abraham believed and then was circumcised. Thus, there is at least one “case of circumcision following repentance and belief.” And being the first case of circumcision, it is particularly significant. Other OT saints who were converted were circumcised (Exodus 12:48, Joshua 5:2-8).

    And the OT sign of the covenant was not an indicator of who was saved and who was not. The issue in the OT was not merely circumcision as a sign, but the circumcision of the heart as the reality (Deuteronomy 10:6). People were not circumcised because they were saved. Rather the practice of circumcision served as a sign and symbol that was educational. All Israel was not God’s Israel (Romans 9:6). Circumcision provided an object lesson about God’s people. It did not cause people to become God’s people. Nor was it a sign that was to be administered exclusively to “real” Israelites.

    Matthew 19:13-14 describes Jesus laying hands on little children and the disciples not liking it. Nonetheless, Jesus rebuked them. They thought that the gospel was just for adult believers. Jesus said differently. Of course, this was not baptism — at least not as we know it today (with the water). Could it have been a baptism of the Holy Spirit (not tongues and all that, but a real dispensation of the Spirit upon the children through the hands of Jesus). Remember that John baptized with water, but Jesus would baptize with the Spirit and fire (Matthew 3:11). Does this discussion about baptism include Spirit baptism and fire baptism? Historically, the baptism discussion is only about water baptism, probably because that is what we do. Jesus does the others. And yet what Jesus does is real baptism, while what we do are only signs and symbols that point to the real thing.

    We must look at baptism holistically, look at it all and not pick and choose this or that element to champion. Do credo baptists do infant dedications? My experience is that they do. See:

    Act 2:39 – “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all those afar off, as many as the Lord our God shall call.” This, of course, does not stipulate that infants are to be baptized. But it does suggest that the New Covenant includes them. (And the argument that we cannot reason beyond what Scripture literally says would preclude the central doctrine of the Trinity, which is a kind of nonsense that all Christians must eschew. God has given us brains and He expects us to use them — to His glory alone, of course.)

    Bill said, “If everyone who was baptized in the NT was a professing believer and was clearly immersed, then why are we even having this discussion?” This is eisogesis. Acts 16:15 speaks of Lydia’s baptism — she and her household. Scripture does not say whether that included children or infants, nor whether they all actually believed. Scripture just doesn’t clarify, and because it doesn’t we cannot say that “everyone who was baptized in the NT was a professing believer.” That conclusion is beyond what Scripture provides.

    But neither was every baptism clearly an immersion. We can read immersion into it, but must acknowledge that we are doing so. Water baptism was modeled on John’s baptism. Scripture does not say what baptismal mode John used, whether sprinkling, pouring or immersion. The classic credo verse is Matthew 3:16/Mark 1:10, where Jesus came up out of the water. We have been indoctrinated by the Sunday School pictures of this event and are reading those pictures back into Scripture. Could it have been that Jesus waded out into the Jordan river with John and received pouring. And then, as He walked out of the river the heavens opened and John saw the Spirit descend upon Him? The critical word here is G575 apo, and Strong’s says of it: “A primary particle; ‘off,’ that is, away (from something near), in various senses (of place, time, or relation; literally or figuratively).” He walked “away from” (out of) the river. The clarity that Bill wants is just not there.

    The dismissal of baptizo in 1 Corinthians 10:2 cannot be so easily disposed of. Elnwood says that “It has the same symbolism, but that doesn’t carry across into application.” But saying that it doesn’t have the same application does not make it so. It does indeed have the same application. But Paul was not talking about water baptism. He was talking about the real thing — Spirit baptism. Earlier Paul had said that water baptism was not important to him (1 Corinthians 1:17). Paul couldn’t remember who he had baptized or whether he had baptized them. So, why is it so important to us? (I’m not suggesting that baptism is not the first act of obedience for the unbaptized.) Paul goes on to say in 1 Corinthians 12:13 that the unity of baptism comes through the Spirit, not the water. So, why are we looking for it in the water?

    Again, the opposition between credo and paedo baptism is unbiblical. We can remain in our various camps and believe whatever we want because Scripture has not given us the details we need to make anathemas against one antoher. Why did Scripture not clarify these things to the degree that we want? I don’t know, but we must assume that God had a purpose in it. Perhaps it was so that we could have these kinds of conversations without breaking fellowship over them. Or to show us how little we actually know. Besides, Paul said that we should focus on the Spirit not the water.

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