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April 2019 Blog – Why do we baptize infants?

Categories: Misc

If you’ve spent any length of time in a PCA church…including this one…you’ve no doubt had multiple opportunities to observe an infant baptism, to see the joy in parents’ eyes as they watch the pastor explain the meaning behind the sacrament, exhort them to raise the child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and encourage the congregation to assist the parents in that great responsibility.  The pastor then baptizes that child in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit…fulfilling the command given by Jesus in the Great Commission.  It’s a beautiful and meaningful thing to behold!  Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the only sacraments recognized by the reformed church as they are the only two that were instituted by Christ. 
All true churches recognize and carry out the command to baptize, yet there remains disagreement between faithful believers over the mode of baptism (i.e. immersion, sprinkling, pouring) and the individuals that should properly receive it (covenant children or professing youth/adults only).  If you have a faith background that contains time in a Baptist or broadly evangelical church, you may have been confused or even a little vexed when you first saw the practice of infant baptism (which you may see referred to as paedobaptism, as opposed to credobaptism, which is a fancy term for believer baptism).  Or perhaps you’ve always attended a PCA church, but you’ve never given much thought to why infant baptism is the accepted practice.  (Side note:  PCA churches do not shy away from baptizing older, professing believers.  This too is a precious thing to behold and we should all pray for and actively endeavor to bring non-believers and new believers into the church so this may ultimately occur!) 
Much has been written about this topic by folks significantly more knowledgeable than I am.  That said, in this blog I will attempt to briefly highlight some of the key reasons for the practice and also provide some resources for further study.  I’ll focus on the subjects to whom baptism is administered rather than on an argument for a particular mode(s), as the debate over recipients is usually what causes more consternation. 
Key to this discussion is the idea of Covenant Theology, which is where infant baptism is firmly rooted.  While an exhaustive treatment of Covenant Theology is beyond the scope of this blog, I would highly encourage its further study.  The framework of Covenant Theology expresses God’s relation to His creation as fitting in to two main covenants.  The Covenant of Works in Adam and the Covenant of Grace in Christ.  There are other covenants you will read of in Scripture like the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, etc., but these are typically looked at as “sub-covenants” that serve to further reveal the nature of the overall Covenant of Grace that was established.  You’ve likely heard it said that the Old Testament saints were saved by their faith in the promised Messiah.  This promise was first revealed in Genesis 3:15 when God revealed that the seed of the woman (Christ) would crush the head of the serpent (Satan).  This is the first mention of the Gospel in Scripture, it’s often referred to as the protoevangelium or protoevangelion…if this is ever a question on Jeopardy, you’re good to go!  Faith in the promise of the coming Messiah is what gave hope to believers that we read about from Genesis to Malachi. 
The Covenant of Grace is also understood in two dispensations.  These dispensations are referred to as the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, but they are both expressions of the same Covenant of Grace.  You may have also heard a rite described as a sign and seal of the covenant.  Which is to say that a particular thing is a sign in that the action is pointing to something else and a seal in that it’s a visible mark indicating a distinction drawn between those who do and do not have the seal.  Circumcision was given as the sign and seal of the Old Covenant.  Given to males only, eight days after birth.  It was a bloody right that served as an indication, among other things, that blood must be shed for the remission of sins.  It served as a clear mark of distinction between those who were in the community of God’s people and those who were not.  Paul refers to this in Romans 4.  Likewise, baptism is viewed as the sign and seal of the New Covenant.  This connection is brought up in Colossians 2:8-15.  No longer was this restricted to males, but females were to receive the seal marking their entrance into the covenant family.  See also 1 Corinthians 12:13. 
Romans 9:6 tells us that not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.  As we know, neither circumcision nor baptism confer salvation on an individual.  One need only look to the Pharisees or Judas Iscariot to see that an individual might receive the sign of the covenant and experience many blessings of the covenant community, yet remain unregenerate.  Likewise there are those who receive baptism and partake in the blessings of the covenant community…both infants and adults…who do not truly belong to the Lord.  It’s here that the distinction between what is referred to as the visible and the invisible church is helpful.  Chapter 25 of the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) explains it this way:
1. The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of Him that fills all in all.
2. The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation
Baptism is a declaration of entry into the visible church.  Opponents of paedobaptism would contend that the Bible does not overtly command that infants be baptized…and they would be correct in this contention…but it is certainly not forbidden either.  Even though Scripture may not explicitly address every nuance of every issue a believer may encounter, a proper application of the wisdom contained therein is a sufficient guide. 
WCF 1.6 includes the following:
The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture…
It’s the good and necessary consequence portion that comes into play for a myriad of situations we will encounter both within the church and as we interact with the world around us.  With respect to the issue at hand, I will bring up just a few passages. 
Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 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 2:37-39
Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God. Acts 16:30-34
The first passage is a partial account of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, the second contains Paul’s exchange with the Philippian jailer.  In both, we are reminded that God’s blessings and promises extend to families of believers.  In the case of the jailer, he was the initial recipient of forgiveness and grace, yet he led his whole household to take part in receiving the sign and seal of the covenant.  This is a good reminder of the role of parents in the spiritual formation of their children. 
It’s also worth noting that infant baptism was historically the norm for churches until the Anabaptist movement in the 16th century.  While we certainly cannot and should not make the mistake of elevating tradition to be on equal footing with the inspired word of God, it’s worthwhile to consider the practices of our forefathers in the faith.  To that end, I’ll include here the questions from the Westminster Larger Catechism pertaining to baptism.
Q. 165. What is baptism?
A. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein Christ hath ordained the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, to be a sign and seal of ingrafting into Himself, of remission of sins by His blood, and regeneration by His Spirit; of adoption, and resurrection unto everlasting life; and whereby the parties baptized are solemnly admitted into the visible church, and enter into an open and professed engagement to be wholly and only the Lord’s.
Q. 166. Unto whom is baptism to be administered?
A. Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, and so strangers from the covenant of promise, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to Him, but infants descending from parents, either both, or but one of them, professing faith in Christ, and obedience to Him, are in that respect within the covenant, and to be baptized.
Q. 167. How is our baptism to be improved by us?
A. The needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others; by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein; by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace; and by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.
Here also is Question 74 form the Heidelberg Catechism.
Q: Are infants also to be baptized?
A: Yes, for since they, as well as adults, are included in the covenant and church of God; and since redemption from sin by the blood of Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult; they must therefore by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, be also admitted into the Christian church, and be distinguished from the children of unbelievers as was done in the old covenants or testament by circumcision, instead of which baptism is instituted in the new covenant.
Since I’ve already been quite longwinded in this post, I’ll attempt to wrap up here.  As I said from the outset, faithful believers do disagree about this issue.  While there are no unimportant doctrines, one’s view on baptism or various other secondary issues is not a dividing line between Christians and Non-Christians.  We have wonderful brothers and sisters at LRPC that come down on both sides of this matter.  Although these are important matters to discuss and work through, we must always be careful to do so with a spirit of love and charity towards those with whom we may disagree.  My hope is that regardless of where you are on this issue, you would prayerfully consider what I’ve written above and don’t shy away from having conversations and asking questions.  We are all in this together as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling. 
Of great importance to keep in mind, is that the sacraments are a way in which God displays His grace to us.  They are not about what we do or a decision we make for ourselves or our children.  They are not about something that we offer up to Him, they are about something that He does to and for us.  The efficacy of baptism isn’t contingent upon the time and place it occurs, or by the piety of the performing pastor.  Rather it rests solely on the grace conferred by the Holy Spirit, and that is something we can all be thankful for.  
Soli Deo Gloria!
Brian Duty
For further study, see the following.

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