As our church transitions to have a covenantal view of the church membership which sees the children of believers as part of the church and so receivers of the covenant sign of baptism, I feel that there are some general things that need to be addressed. Though the church has practiced the administration of signs to their children for 3,500 years (before Christ and for 1,500 years after Christ in church history), the practice in our context is not practiced by many and if it is practiced, it is practiced in an unbiblical manner, for example as it is conducted by Roman Catholics. It is important to note however that many Christians all over the world still practice infant baptism in a biblical manner in the Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, and Anglican/Episcopalian denominations. There is much more that can be said on this topic and below you will find twelve helpful points to consider.
Is Pedobaptism (infant baptism) Roman Catholic?
The reformed view of infant baptism is not the Roman Catholic view of infant baptism. This means that we do not baptize our kids to wash away the guilt of original sin, rather we baptize our kids because they are a part of the covenant community and baptism is the sign of entrance into the community. We do not throw out the practice of prayer or the Lord’s table or catechism because the Roman Catholics misuse them. Prayer, infant baptism, and catechism (teaching) does not belong to Roman Catholics, it belongs to God’s people. So, our concern is to do things biblically not throw out things entirely simply because they are misused. Catholics believe that water baptism saves and cleanses from sins, but the reformed do not believe that water baptism saves or cleanses infants from sin. Sola fide (by faith alone) is the only way reformed people believe that people are saved.
Why do something many and most Christians do not do?
Administering signs to children before faith was done for 2,000 years before Christ (Abraham to Christ, Himself) and it was done for 1,500 years in church history being the universal practice of the church by the second century. Though in our time and city most non-Catholic Christians do not practice this, it has both biblical and historical precedent. The first group of people in church history to reject infant baptism where the Anabaptists. They rejected key doctrines of the reformation like, sola scriptura (they believed in secret revelations outside and inconsistent with the bible), being justified by getting credit for Christ sin bearing and active obedience (they believed that justification was a mixture of Christ work and us being made righteous) and the true humanity of Christ (they denied the full humanity of Christ and made it less important than his deity). So, though it is practiced by a false religion wrongly (the Roman Catholics) and not practiced by many Christians in our city, it has been nonetheless a universal practice of God’s orthodox people for thousands of years before Christ and after and still remains to be a practice of many non-Catholic Christians.
Should we baptize infants when people will confuse it and do it for wrong reasons?
People associating infant baptism with Catholicism and or potentially doing this for the wrong reasons is not a reason to not practice this correctly. Many religious groups that claim to be Christian misuse various Christian disciplines and activities in all sorts of wrong ways; however, these are not just reasons to prohibit the practices or activities but rather are reasons for us to qualify them biblically. We do not avoid emphasizing grace in preaching due to people misusing and abusing it, rather we preach and emphasize grace in a biblical manner. Our security as a church is not in avoiding things that people twist and distort, but in bringing the truth of the scriptures into all things. That said confusion is not cause for avoidance but rather cause for biblical clarity and teaching.
Is infant baptism from unchallenged tradition or scripture?
It is a false assumption that the Reformers continued to baptize their children simply because they continued the tradition of Roman Catholics. The reformers made extensive biblical arguments from the scriptures to justify the practice of baptizing infants just as they did for justification by faith and other essential truths. If you take the time to read John Calvin’s writings on the matter in his institutes you will find his arguments laced with scripture not with human logic or church tradition. One of the ways Christians write of the Reformed practice of infant baptism is by assuming it is backed by tradition and not biblical interpretation. This has very little basis when one examines how the reformers argued for infant baptism.
If infant baptism does not save, does it not matter at all?
The reformed view of baptism differs from Roman Catholics in that Catholics think too much of baptism believing that the sign works magically on the person who receives it. However, many Baptists and Independents and Pentecostals think too little of baptism as they believe it does nothing and is secondary to the obedient condition and act of the person over the sign. However, the reformed view of baptism separates the sign from the reality; it does not save. However, simply because it does not save does not mean that it is not important and does not truly represent the gospel of Christ to the church community. That said, baptism not saving a child in the present or in the future does not mean that it does not matter. If administering signs to children did not matter, God would not have commanded it to be administered to children in the believing community.
Is infant baptism an infallible promise of future salvation?
We do not believe that baptizing our children means that they will surely be saved or must be saved. We baptize our children because God views them as a part of the church community and in being a part of the church community, they are able to benefit from the means of grace within the church community. Infant baptism is not a guarantee to salvation in the future it is ritual that is calling the parents and the church community to call children to faith within the covenant community. We baptize because we hope and trust in what God can and must do and often does in the church community but not because of what He surely will do.
Does baptism before faith not demand faith?
Baptizing children does not mean that our baptized kids are not called to exercise personal faith. We call our kids to personal faith because they have been baptized, as infant baptism is calling the child to believe in the reality of the symbol that was administered to him or her. Baptism always demands faith. It demands faith in the adult prior to baptism and it demands faith in the child after baptism. The Baptist’s argument that the reformed baptizing children does not result in calling baptized children to exercise personal faith is a false assumption that creates imaginary issues.
Do churches who baptize infants believe in believer’s baptism?
To baptize infants does not mean that our church no longer believes in believer’s baptism. We believe that the normative mode of baptism is after personal faith has been exercised and still think it is essential to call adults to faith before they are baptized. However, we do not believe that believer’s baptism being biblical means that it is exclusive and that it necessarily excludes infant baptism. Abraham believed and then was circumcised, but he was still called to circumcise those in his house who had yet to believe. So, faith preceding the signs and symbols of faith does not cancel out administering the signs to children before faith. They co-exist and they complement each other—they do not exclude each other. It is also important to note that baptized infants are not re-baptized after they come to faith. Their personal faith validates their baptism in the covenant community rather than demanding another baptism. Since children of believers are already seen as a part of the covenant community in their baptism, they do not need to receive the sign of entrance when faith is exercised.
Does difference on infant baptism divide the membership?
On this particular issue people often think that they must make a decision which includes or excludes them in the church community that practices infant baptism. Though the matter of infant baptism is important, it still remains a secondary issue as it does not pertain to salvation. There will be members of our church who will not accept this position and due to our commonality in the core essentials of the faith will still be no less part of the church community. So, while we believe that this is a biblical issue of importance we in our common identity in grace doctrines of salvation can disagree on this matter and be in real fellowship with each other. This is in contrast with many Baptist churches that will not validate someone who was baptized as a child and demand that they be re-baptized to become members of the church and to partake of the Lord’s table.
Isn’t doing something to children because of the parents’ belief unbiblical?
TOur culture has been influenced heavily by radical individualism. Meaning that personal spirituality in one person has become the most definitive thing. However, the Bible has always emphasized the corporate community that has representative figures. Meaning that God made a covenant with Noah and through Noah his family entered the ark. God made a covenant with Abraham and because of this, his children are called to receive the sign of the covenant made with Abraham. God made a covenant with David and it is through that covenant with David that the nation of Israel benefits in and through David. All that said, the argument that baptizing children because of parents being wrong assumes that personal individualism is the dominant biblical value. Paul clearly tells us in 1 Corinthians 7:14 that children are clean by virtue of their parents having faith in Christ (not clean in a saving sense, but clean in the sense that they are a part and benefit from the covenant community). So, infant baptism being done because of parents and because of the broader church community is biblical and denying the sign to them because of the highest value of the individual is not a biblical argument.
Isn’t full immersion the only way to baptize?
Baptist’s claim that the only way to baptize is by immersion thus making the sprinkling of infants an unbiblical mode of baptism. While immersion has biblical precedence and examples, there are many other images and modes of the Spirit’s baptism in the bible. Ezekiel 36 talks about the Spirit’s baptism in the mode of sprinkling. Acts 2 speaks about the Holy Spirit being poured out on people. So, the reformed believe that children and adults can be baptized in any of these modes due to their existence in multiple places in scripture where baptism is addressed.
Isn’t giving signs to children something that the “works” focused Old Testament believers did?
Another issue of modern culture that effects this conversation is our tendency to elevate ourselves and our spirituality from those who have preceded us. The human heart subtly believes that humans are evolving and so those who have gone before us have a spirituality which was inferior. That said, the Bible does not elevate us from those who have preceded us but rather it unites us with people like Abraham and tells us that Abraham is our father in the faith and prototype for all who would believe. It is because of the commonality that we have with Abraham and the covenant God made with Abraham that we see ourselves not as superior to those before us, but as those who share a common faith. That said, Abraham practicing the giving of covenant signs to his children before they believe is not something that is beneath us due to Abraham’s inferior spirituality and our greater and or different spirituality, rather it is something that is common to us due to our equal spirituality.