Sections: Three Baptisms | Water | Spirit | Fire | Dip or Dye | Initiation | Spiritual Reality | Covenantal Responsibility| Baptize Who? | Adults | Infants | Baptismal Renewal | Baptismal Parallels
Christian Baptism Is trinitarian. Christian baptism (Covenant baptism) is “one” in the same sense that the “Lord” and the “faith” are one. The unity of the Lord is not something that is built by human hands, or human understanding. It is not something that is decreed by human institutions, nor a function of human institutions. The unity of “one Lord, one faith, and one baptism” is given by God, not built or established by man. The unity of such oneness is established by God in eternity. But what kind of unity does this biblical, trinitarian understanding of God describe?
Clearly, God’s unity lies in the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — three, yet one; one, yet three. Christian unity is a unique unity that is found in the character of God and is reflected in God’s creation. And because Christian baptism touches the leading edge of God’s character in the reflected character of man, who was created in God’s image, the unity of baptism follows the pattern of God’s unity, which is trinitarian.
The unity of baptism is found in the wholeness of its three constituent parts: 1) initiation, 2) spiritual reality, and 3) covenant responsibility. As God is one, yet three, so baptism into His church is similarly one, yet three — one in essence, three in manifestation. The elements of baptism are unified in Jesus Christ, who brings salvation, judgment and the incarnation of the Holy Spirit.
I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matthew 3:11).
The three baptisms of Christ are analogous to the Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — three, yet one. These three baptisms are listed in Matthew 3:11. They are 1) John’s water baptism of repentance, 2) the baptism of the Holy Spirit and 3) Jesus’ baptism of fire. Like the Trinity, they are one, yet three. They are different in manifestation but one in purpose.
1) Water Baptism
An interesting thing has happened over the long course of history: baptism has almost always been associated with water. It is perhaps because the ceremony of the church has focused on water baptism, and the church has emphasized its ceremonies. Nonetheless, only one of these three baptisms has anything to do with water.
Scripture speaks often of water baptism. The illustrations are too numerous to list. But take Jesus’ own baptism as an example.
And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him (Matthew 3:16).
The first thing to notice is that when Jesus was baptized by John He was in water, in the Jordan River, where John baptized many.
People assume that this means that He had been immersed. But the record doesn’t say that. It only says that “immediately he went up from the water.” Granted it could mean that He came up from having been immersed, but it could just as well mean that He came up to the shore after standing in the river to be baptized by sprinkling or pouring.
Only John’s baptism employs water. The traditional baptismal ceremony reproduces John’s baptism, however much water you understand to have been used. It is a ceremonial baptism performed by men in the presence of witnesses. This baptism is like a wedding ceremony. The ceremony is not the love, nor the marriage, only a symbol.
2) Fire Baptism
The baptism least like water baptism is fire baptism. Fire baptism and water baptism are mutually exclusive. Fire and water cannot coexist. Unlike John’s water baptism which is for believers, Jesus’ baptism with fire is for unbelievers. In water baptism believers confess Jesus to be the Christ. In fire baptism unbelievers deny Jesus to be the Christ. The core of water baptism is the confession of the believer. The core of fire baptism is the rejection of the unbeliever.
Fire baptism is not only distinguished from water baptism, but is also distinguished from the baptism of the Holy Spirit. When John said that Jesus would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire,” he didn’t mean that baptism with fire was another way to describe the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Rather, the Bible teaches that there is a different baptism for unbelievers. The saved and the damned do not undergo the same change of character that is signified by baptism.
Michael Horton opened up this understanding of fire baptism for me. Horton writes “God himself appears as a fire throughout biblical revelation, and is even self-described as ‘a consuming fire’ (Hebrews 12:29). But we automatically assume that this is a good thing — this business about being consumed by heavenly fire, set aflame by divine conflagration within the spirit. Some even want to be ‘baptized’ with the Holy Spirit and fire, not realizing the context.”
The context, of course, is
Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:10-12).
This baptism by fire is a baptism into destruction, into death and damnation, and is reserved for those who refuse Christ’s salvation. Where water baptism is a baptism into Christ’s Church, fire baptism is a baptism apart from Christ’s Church. The symbolism of water baptism evokes regeneration by the Holy Spirit, but fire baptism is an unceremonious degeneration into eternal damnation apart from the Holy Spirit.
This insight is based upon two beliefs. First, when Jesus returns He will separate mankind into two groups, the saved “to the resurrection of life,” and the damned “to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28-29). Believers will be separated from those who don’t believe.
The second belief upon which this insight is based involves the nature of baptism itself. What is baptism? What does the word actually mean? When we read the word baptism in our Bibles we are not reading an English translation of a Greek word. Sure, the Greek word is baptizo. However, the English rendering is not a translation, but a transliteration. That means that the word was simply incorporated into the English language without translation.
Early on, people associated baptism with a water ceremony. But to understand the three baptisms of Christ we must not limit our understanding of baptism to human ceremonies. Rather, we must discover the richer meaning and reality of baptism. It is a spiritual reality, as well as a sign that points to a spiritual reality.
The spiritual meaning of baptism is associated with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Again, our understanding of the baptism of the Holy Spirit has been colored by the modern argument that it means speaking in tongues. There are modern denominations that base church membership upon this understanding and its manifestation. But this modern phenomenon is an aberration, a departure from the ancient understanding of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
3) Spirit Baptism
The involvement of the Holy Spirit in baptism can be traced to Acts 2:38, where Peter preached
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The gift is not speaking in tongues, but is the Holy Spirit Himself, who then produces the fruit of the Spirit and the various gifts of the spirit in His people. The baptism of the Holy Spirit means receiving the Holy Spirit.
This broader understanding of baptism is shown in 1 Corinthians 10:2, where Paul, describing some events of the Old Testament, said that the ancient Jews “were baptized into Moses.” But what does it mean to be “baptized into Moses”?
Dip or Dye
The Greek baptizo literally means to dip or dye, as in the dyeing or bleaching of cloth. But the passion to defend immersion as a the only legitimate baptismal practice has shifted the attention of well-meaning scholars from the purpose — dyeing, to the process — dipping. People have latched onto the process of baptizo — to dip, and ignored the purpose — to dye.
The process may involve dipping, but the purpose of dyeing material is to permanently change the color or character of the cloth. The process is important, but there are many possible dyeing processes. However, the purpose of dyeing is essential to the process. Purpose is always a primary concern of God. Therefore, because the ceremony of baptism does not cause the requisite change of character, we know that God is not limited to dipping (or pouring or sprinkling). God’s greater concern is the end product, His purpose for changing people in the first place.
The question about being baptized into Moses must be divided into questions about the process and the purpose of such baptism. The purpose determines the process, so to rightly understand the process we must first understand the purpose. What was the purpose or result of being baptized into Moses?
The result was that Israel followed the covenant administration given to Moses. The people followed him out of Egypt. Moses, of course, lead according to the covenant that God had given him. The people of God were being changed into the likeness, not of Moses, but of the covenanting God who Himself led Moses.
God has always been out to change the character of His people, to dye them, if you will, in various stages (covenant administrations) or baptisms, to bring them ultimately “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). Yet, God is working to produce only one change, one baptism. Consequently, all this history, all these covenant administrations serve the same purpose, God’s one true baptism, a change of heart that will affect a change in history.
The fact that God’s eternal covenant — Adam’s covenant, Noah’s covenant, Abraham’s covenant, Moses’ covenant, David’s covenant — has come to Christians through Jesus Christ is shown in Galatians 3:14,
so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
God’s covenant of grace, given to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David (and others) has, through Jesus Christ, been given to the Gentiles.
How has it been given? Always by the power of the Holy Spirit. How has it been received? Always by faith in Christ, the Messiah. The Holy Spirit falls upon His people, brings them to faith through a change of heart, thus fulfilling God’s covenant of grace, so that they may fulfill God’s covenant by faith in Christ.
The real issue of baptism is not sprinkling, pouring, or immersion — but being permanently changed (dyed) by the power of the Holy Spirit. Surely, God is more concerned about purpose than process. And even when the process plays a role, we know that God’s power is not mediated by the ceremony of baptism, however we do it! The power is not in the ceremony, but in God’s word. Nor is the result some outer affect, but a changed heart.
Surely, God can bring about the requisite change of heart, whether people are sprinkled, poured, immersed or none of the above. The real concern of baptism is the dyeing, the bleaching, the purification, the changing of one’s character, the rebirth, the regeneration, the new life.
God is always after this one thing!
Christ’s trinitarian nature has produced three baptisms: 1) the baptism of repentance by water, 2) the baptism of regeneration by the Holy Spirit, or 3) the baptism of degeneration by fire. But these three baptisms, while different, are one in purpose. They each and all serve God’s covenant. Their purpose is the changing of human character to the glory of God. The one overriding purpose of baptism is the changing of one’s character into the likeness of Christ — and that involves more than getting wet.
When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations — I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken (Isaiah 1:12-20).
Covenant baptism is required in order to draw near to the Lord, because He is Holy. God cannot tolerate the impurity of sin in His presence. And because we are not able to make ourselves pure and holy, He washes His people in the waters of baptism. The reality of Christian baptism that is pointed to in the symbolic ceremony of baptism is the fact that baptism is God’s doing. He initiates it. He accomplishes it.
Consequently, the initiating aspect of covenant baptism pertains to God the Father in heaven. It corresponds to God as Father in the trinitarian conception of the Godhead, and can be symbolized by sprinkling. Sprinkling was used in the Old Testament as a kind of purification (see Exodus 29:21, etc.). The word and ceremony of sprinkling in the Bible suggests both an initiation and a purification rite. God does much with little, like the parable of the Mustard Seed teaches (Matthew 13:31-32).
The spiritual reality of covenant baptism is best demonstrated by the reality of the Holy Spirit, which was made most perfectly manifest in and through Jesus Christ. The birth of Christ in human history is the perfect manifestation of the reality of God and His Spirit. God was shown to be real because Christ was born a man. Christ took on the reality of human flesh.
John 17:3: And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
John 20:31: But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Romans 6:4: We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Christian baptism is both a literal and a symbolic pouring out of God’s holy Spirit.
Isaiah 44:3: For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.
Joel 2:28: And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.
Acts 10:45: And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.
In Christian baptism we find God’s giving and our receiving of His covenant responsibilities. In baptism God’s people are engrafted into the Body of Christ, not by the symbolism of the ceremony but by the reality of the Holy Spirit. Participation in the body of Christ, then, necessarily entails covenant responsibilities. There is some common understanding of this aspect of baptism among the various traditions when it is applied to confessing adults. But a great deal of misunderstanding has arisen regarding its application to the children of believers. How can a child, much less an infant, assume any covenant responsibilities?
Clearly, children and infants are not able to do so to a significant degree. But that does not exclude them from the promises of God. As clearly as children are not able to assume covenant responsibilities, the Bible clearly teaches that the children of believers are recipients of God’s promises, covenant, and blessings.
Deuteronomy 12:28: Be careful to obey all these words that I command you, that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God.
Acts 16:31: And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
These and many other Scriptures confirm that the children of believers are recipients of God’s covenant from birth.
Yet, they are not able assume their covenant responsibilities. Therefore, the covenant responsibilities that will belong to them in their adulthood, must be assumed by those who have authority over them in their childhood — their parents, and in particular, their fathers. Fathers and parents are responsible for their children. The responsibilities that the children will take as adults are assumed by the parents for their children. The parents are the temporary custodians of their children’s adult responsibilities. The same is true with regard to their covenant responsibilities.
God’s covenant is a covenant of grace and obedience. God established the covenant, and has laid out its responsibilities. In Deuteronomy 28 we learn that if people obey God’s covenant they will be blessed, and if they don’t, they will be cursed. Thus, God’s covenant brings necessary consequences for faithfulness and for unfaithfulness.
Regarding the baptism of children, God’s covenant responsibilities do not change, but are applied to whoever assumes authority for the baptized child. If the baptized child assumes God’s covenant responsibilities for himself as he grows, and makes an appropriate confession of Christ, and faithfully participates in the fellowship of the redeemed, then he and his parents receive and enjoy the promised blessings.
But if the child does not assume God’s covenant responsibilities for himself, and does not make a confession of Christ, then he and his parents are liable to God’s promised curses. However, because the parents of the child assumed the child’s covenant responsibilities and the child rejected them, then the child must be formally disciplined by the church at an appropriate time. Because the child has not fulfilled his covenant responsibilities that were given by grace and taken on his behalf, those in authority over the child, those who took upon themselves the covenant responsibilities for the child, must bring formal charges against the irresponsible child that will result church discipline, to include formal censure from communion. The child must be formally disciplined because he was formally baptized to the Lord.
From infant or household baptism necessarily flows either the child’s affirmation of the covenant made on his behalf, or his rejection of it, and the church’s consequent discipline. Thus, there is an awesome responsibility attached to infant baptism.
The reason that this awesome responsibility is placed upon the parents of the baptized or dedicated child is to insure that the parents will take their responsibility for the Christian education of the child seriously. Baptism of children carries with it the potential joy of confirming them into the faith, or the potential sorrow of formally disciplining them.
Matthew 20:23: He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
Matthew 21:25: The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?
Romans 6:4: We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
1 Peter 3:21: Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
We have briefly discussed the three baptisms of Christ. The most important being the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which is a movement of God in the soul of believers. Water baptism is a ceremonial initiation into the fellowship of the church, and fire baptism is a hardening of the heart that rejects Christ. We learned that Scripture alludes to the heart or purpose of baptize, which is to dye, to cause a permanent change of heart or character. Of the three, only the ceremony of water baptism is under human control. The others are movements of God’s Spirit.
Let’s now look at who should be ceremonially baptized by the church. This concern is generally known in history as the controversy between infant baptism (paedo baptism) and believers baptism (credo baptism). We will discuss the importance of the dynamic and creative relationship between infant and believer’s baptism, and their mutual dependence upon one another, both symbolically and for genuine, spiritual growth in grace. These differing baptismal ceremonies symbolize equally legitimate but different symbolic understandings of Christian faith.
There has never been any dispute about baptizing believers. Those who confess the faith before God’s people are to be water baptized. The ceremony of baptism symbolizes reception into Christ’s eternal Church.
The traditional understanding is that baptism follows a legitimate confession of faith. Believer’s baptism symbolizes the human response or decision for Christ.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3:16-17).
Salvation always involves a response to or decision for Christ. Believer’s baptism highlights the believer’s necessary response to Christ, which is confession of faith and personal repentance.
The issue of infant baptism gets stuck on this particular point. Infants are unable to repent or confess their faith. So,how can the church baptize someone who has not yet responded to Christ’s salvation?
Those who practice infant baptism have an entirely different concern. Infant baptism does not emphasize or symbolize the human response, but emphasizes and symbolizes God’s unmerited gift of grace. Paul writes that
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8, emphasis added).
Before any response or decision is made, Christ has already acted for those who will someday confess their faith in repentance. God’s gift was given before time itself. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 1:4-6 that God
chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
Infant baptism looks forward to the fulfillment of God’s promise in Christ in the life of an individual, called from time eternal. And believer’s baptism looks back upon the fulfillment of God’s promise in the life of an individual, God’s movement in a particular soul. One celebrates God’s ability to fulfill His promises, the other celebrates the awareness of the fulfillment of God’s promises, God’s presence in the life of an individual. On the one hand, Christians anticipate the accomplishment of God’s promise, proclaiming the future fulfillment of promises not yet complete. And on the other, Christians celebrate God’s past action, proclaiming the power of God’s already accomplished promise in the cross and in the lives of believers.
The difficulty with this controversy as it has been historically discussed is that it forces people to choose between the promise of God’s future hope and the actual fulfillment of God’s past promises. It promotes a false dilemma and a false choice. Rather, faithful Christians must proclaim in worship and its symbolism both God’s promise and His fulfillment, not wavering between them as if unable make up their minds but boldly claiming and proclaiming both for the integrity of the faith. Christianity is a two-handed faith, proclaiming both God’s past action and God’s future hope.
Infant baptism reminds God’s people that, as important as our human response or decision for Christ is, it is not our decision that saves us. We are saved only by the unmerited grace of god, not by anything that we have done or can do but only by what Christ has already done on the cross and will do in the lives of believers. That is the symbolism conveyed by infant baptism. The infant is completely passive in the face of the promise and power of God.
But this doesn’t mean that every baptized infant will make the necessary decision or response to Christ. It does not mean that all baptized people are eventually saved. Rather, infant baptism serves as a reminder that God’s eternal covenant applies to all human beings. God’s eternal covenant is provided in Deuteronomy 28 and essentially says, “Do this and be blessed, but do this and be cursed.” It was extended to all humanity through the Jews. But the Jews to failed to extend it to all humanity in order that He could reveal Himself in Christ as trinitarian and prove that we must depend upon His Holy Spirit through regeneration for the accomplishment of God’s plan.
Infant baptism celebrates the tremendous influence and responsibility that Christian parents and churches have for their children. Christian children have a extraordinary advantage over children whose parents are not Christian. Christian parents have the God-given responsibility to provide a biblical and moral education for their children, whether or not those children ever decide or respond to Christ.
Christian parents who baptize their children are trusting in the fullness of God’s promise. And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:38-39).
Just as Christians trust the Lord for their own salvation, Christian parents trust the Lord for the salvation of their children. Infant baptism requires that Christians clearly understand that the ceremony of baptism does not save anyone, nor does it empower the parents to save their children by right teaching. We are not saved by proper education, but by grace alone. But neither does God’s grace annul the value of an orthodox Christian education. Infant baptism simply allows parents to teach their children that God has already called them — and further, that the failure of the child to respond or receive Christ will result in Christ’s fire baptism of destruction and damnation.
The child is to be presented with a choice — salvation or damnation — by the parents. Making sure that their children are presented at an appropriate time with this choice is the parents’ baptismal responsibility. When the parents do this the child can see that his parents sincerely believe that God has already acted in his behalf by baptizing him or her. The parents teach the child that God’s grace has already been extended to him or her through the authority of the Christian household. And indeed it is given to all who believe through the ordinary means of grace. Such a teaching is for the encouragement of the child to decide for Christ and make his own confession of faith at an appropriate time.
The faith of the child must still be confirmed by the child’s own confession of faith. If a child was sprinkled as an infant, I see no problem with immersion after his confession or to have no additional ceremony. Should an additional ceremony be chosen, I am not advocating two different baptisms or re-baptism, but rather baptismal renewal. Just as married couples may renew their wedding vows after 10, 25, or 50 years, so a person may renew his baptismal vows at appropriate times. Such a ceremony is not another baptism, but merely a renewal of baptism. Just as the ceremony is not a guarantee of salvation for infant baptism, it is not a guarantee for salvation for believer’s baptism either. God’s grace is not mediated by the ceremony, but by God’s Word. Consequently, there is no harm in repeating the ceremony under the right circumstances.
The biblical warrant I would cite for such a service of renewal is 2 Timothy 1:6-7:
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
Paul had already laid hands on Timothy, we assume in a service or ceremony. While the stirring up of Timothy’s gift does not necessarily refer to a renewal ceremony, it may well have given rise to a commissioning service of some kind. Be that as it may (or may not) be, Paul goes on to say, “Do not quench the Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). If such a renewal service would provide additional meaning in a Christian’s life, it ought not be forbidden. Renewal is a significant theme of Scripture and must be allowed for liturgically.
Again, the significance of baptism is not the ceremony, nor the amount of water used, but the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit is not limited to the moment of the baptismal ceremony. In reality, the Holy Spirit seeks, saves, and preserves the believer all his life. Baptism is the miraculous process of character change, initiated in an instant but lasting a lifetime.
The presence of the Holy Spirit always precedes the individual decision or response to Christ. If we do not clearly understand that God acts upon His people before they decide or respond to His call, we may be tempted to believe that people are saved by their own decision or response, that people save themselves by “deciding for Christ.” But if we are saved by our own decision, we are not saved by God’s grace.
Anabaptists, those who forbid infant baptism, claim that nowhere in Scripture does God specifically call for infant baptism. That’s true. Scripture never specifically mentions any case of infant baptism. It implies it but does not specifically forbid it. We find allusions to baptizing entire households and references to the fact that children are covenant members. We know that God’s covenant promise was given to the faithful and to their children, and that the sign of the covenant in the Old Testament — circumcision — was given to infants and adults alike. We find every indication that the New Testament sign follows the same guidelines as the Old.
“But,” the credo (believers baptism) Baptist’s say, “you follow the teaching and traditions of men and not of Scripture.” To which the paedo (infant baptism) Baptist’s respond, “Not at all. Infant baptism, while not being specified in Scripture, is inferred, just as the doctrine of the Trinity is not specified, but inferred.” It is the logical conclusion of biblical fidelity and the wholeness of Christian doctrine.
Is baptism a sign, foreshadowing God’s movement? Or a seal, confirming God’s movement? It is both. So, who should be baptized? Believers should be baptized after they have made a legitimate confession of faith, and their children if they so choose to do so. The reason that children are included is that Christian household or headship authority is real. That is, believing parent(s) may have their children ceremonially baptized after the parents have ceremonially reaffirmed their own faith on behalf of the baptized child, to the glory of God.
The real reason there is so much difficulty and resistance regarding the baptism of infants is that Christian parents have not taken seriously their responsibility to raise their children in a Christian home. Nor have churches fulfilled their responsibility to baptize only the children of believing parents. Parents must provide a Christian education for their children, and that means more than bringing them to Sunday School for an hour a week.
There is no higher calling than Christian parenting, no more difficult task, no greater responsibility, nor any greater joy. Christian trinitarian baptism provides a structure for parental hope in Christ.
What has been traditionally and liturgically known as Confirmation is a kind of ceremonial baptismal renewal. The service of Confirmation developed out of the Jewish practice of bar mitzvah. Bar mitzvah involves a period of study and a celebration of the personal reception of covenantal responsibilities by young men who were circumcised in infancy. So, Confirmation was developed as a period of study and a celebration of one’s Christian covenant responsibilities by those baptized or dedicated in infancy or childhood.
As part of that celebration, there is no compelling reason to forbid the reapplication of water in the service of baptismal renewal. A baptismal renewal does not amount to another baptism, just as a marriage renewal ceremony is not another marriage. Nonetheless, such renewal celebrations may be beneficial to those involved for a variety of reasons. However, this does not change the fact that such a renewal ceremony is not necessary, not required. And is more a sign of immaturity in the faith. But neither are we to eschew or chastise the immature. Rather, we are to trust that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6) with or without such a ceremony.
Far be it for God’s churches to forbid the working of God’s holy Spirit in the lives of His people. Rightly administered, however, baptism is an ordinary means of grace provided through the ministry of the church.