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Why Do We Baptize Infants?

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Why Do We Baptize Infants?

26 May 2016

Dear saints,
This Lord’s Day morning, we will have the privilege of witnessing the baptism of Nona Frances Walton, daughter of Richard and Dana Walton. One of my sweetest joys is to participate in the baptism of covenant children. Married in July 2010, Mr. and Mrs. Walton were the first Redeemer wedding, and Nona will be their second baptized child of the covenant.

As Presbyterians, our convictions regarding baptism are timelessly articulated in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. Chapter 28, section four of the Westminster Confession states: “Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one or both believing parents, are to be baptized.” Westminster Shorter Catechism 95 expresses it this way: “Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him; but the infants of such as are members of the visible church are to be baptized.” In other words, when someone comes to faith in Christ, they are to be baptized. At this point, he or she becomes a member of the visible church. Furthermore, the children of these members, according to our doctrinal standards, are also to be baptized.
The question is, “Why should the children of believers be baptized before they can even walk and talk?” This is a fair question. Here are a few thoughts that help form our convictions.

First, we seek to obey Christ’s Great Commission. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19). Classic Presbyterians are anchored in the conviction that “What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.” We baptize infants because we believe God commands us to do so. Furthermore, baptism is at the heart of our missionary zeal! We disciple the nations by teaching the Word and administering the sacraments.

Second, we are people of one Book. We are not just “New Testament Christians.” We are Bible Christians. The Old Testament is Christian Scripture. What does the whole Bible teach regarding children and their relationship to the Church? The Bible teaches that believers’ children are part of the covenant community. Hear what the God of the covenants says to Abraham: “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” (Genesis 17:7) He declares through the prophet Isaiah: “For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring” (Isaiah 44:3) “As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever.” (Isaiah 59:21) These are just three examples. Children were included in God’s promises, and were therefore numbered with Israel’s Church.

When we come to the New Testament, children are still embraced as part of the covenant community. When the Apostle Paul composed his letter to the Ephesians, he addressed it “to the saints.” (Ephesians 1:1) Part of his instructions to these “saints” is to the children: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.” (Ephesians 6:1-3) This embrace of children as part of the church is precisely what we would expect under the Abrahamic covenant. This covenant, which sheltered children under the wings of the promise, remains in force today. Listen to Paul’s statements: “Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham… And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:7-9, 29) So then, God remains a covenant-making and covenant-keeping God. He forged His people around an ancient promise, and that promise is still in effect: “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (2 Corinthians 6:16)

Third, the sign of the covenant has changed. In other words, the visible token of God’s promise has been replaced. What is the picture of God’s grace to believers? Baptism. Under the Abrahamic covenant (which is still in force), circumcision served as the physical sign of God’s promise, applied to the children of believers (Genesis 17:7-10). This side of Christ’s resurrection, baptism is now the simple yet elegant sign of the pardoning, cleansing, purifying blood of Jesus. Listen to Paul’s assertion about circumcision’s relation to baptism: “In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:11-12)

So, why do we baptize infants? We apply this sign of the covenant to children of believers out of obedience to the Great Commission. We are people of one Book, thus children continue to receive the sign of the covenant. We now apply the waters of baptism, the new sign of the covenant, to the children of believers.

At the end of the day, baptism is more than a personal statement of faith (although it certainly is that for an adult previously unbaptized). This ordinance is a symbol of what God does in the saving of the sinner. When a child is baptized, everyone present sees and hears the promise of a God who is rich in mercy, and delights to renew and sanctify sinners. Believers witnessing a covenant baptism will plead that the grace signified by the washing with water will one day become a personal, owned reality for that child. Covenant baptism paints, in the richest watercolor, the beauty of the Church, the truth of the Gospel, and the goodness of our King.

Yours in Christ,