Covenant/Infant Baptism

I promised a post defending infant baptism, so here it is (notice I say defending it; not trying to push it upon anyone else who doesn’t hold the same convictions I do). Interestingly, though I embrace infant baptism fully, none of my children were baptized as infants. There’s several reasons for that, chief among them being that I was still in transition (ten years ago I was a Calvinist, but not really “Reformed” and had only the begun to explore ‘covenant theology’). The other big reason is that I was on staff at a Baptist church when my first two children were born, and they just don’t do that.

To begin, let me say that I believe an adult convert who has never been baptized should be. There is a misconception that those who advocating infant baptism wouldn’t baptize adult converts. I would. I have. I will. Though, if they had been baptized as an infant I would discourage it.

The first reason that I’ve come to embrace infant baptism is really a hermeneutical one. I see the continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament much more profoundly now than I used to. I used to see the discontinuity more prominently. Both continuity and discontinuity are there, it’s a matter of priority. As I’ve studied the development of the covenants, I have come to appreciate the continuity between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, without discounting the discontinuity. Both the Old Covenant (Mosaic Covenant) and the New Covenant are administrations (or arrangements or dispensations) of the Covenant of Grace, a covenant the has been in operation since Adam’s sin and Abraham’s call.

Second, seeing the continuity between the Old Covenant and the New, I appreciate now the continuity between the Old Testament practice of circumcision and the New Testament practice of baptism (and the continuity between the Passover and the Lord’s Supper). These sacraments were/are signs of the covenant that exists between God and his people. Colossians 2:11-12 make the connection between circumcision and baptism explicit. R. Scott Clark summarizes the connection, “For Paul, in the New covenant, our union with Christ is our circumcision. In baptism, we are identified with Christ’s baptism/circumcision, as it were, on the cross. Neither baptism nor circumcision effects this union (ex opere operato), rather God the Spirit unites us to Christ, makes us alive and gives us faith. The point not to be missed is that, in Paul’s mind, baptism and circumcision are both signs and seals of Christ’s baptism/circumcision on the cross for us.”

Beyond this, I believe it is likely that infants were among those ‘households’ that were baptized by the apostles (cf. Acts 16, Acts 18, 1 Cor 1:16). Moreover, Peter preaches that “the promise is for you and for your children” (Acts 2:39). In addition, because I believe the stress should be on the continuity between the Old and New Covenants, we should expect that the signs of the covenant would continue to be offered to children. It was offered to them in the Old as a sign of inclusion in the covenant community, it should be in the New also. If not, we would expect clear instruction to the contrary.

Let me clarify something here – being a part of the covenant community doesn’t necessarily imply that the member will experience God’s salvation. Many circumcised Jews did not. Many baptized Christians will not (even the faith of those baptized as adults may prove spurious). If it doesn’t prove salvific, why do it? Again, it is a sign of their inclusion to the blessing of the covenant community. I believe, as a visible sermon, it is yet another tool in the hand of God that he uses to elicit faith. In the act of baptism God says, “You are mine.” The child will one day need to respond, “Lord I am yours. I offer myself to you in faith and obedience.”

Lastly, the testimony from church history is that the church practiced infant baptism at a very early stage in it’s history. Origin was certainly baptized, according to the historical accounts, as an infant in 180AD, only 80 years after the last apostle had died. Was it controversial? There is no indication that infant baptism was controversial, appearing instead to have been the common, accepted practice in the church. As Schaeffer points out, “Those who would teach that the practice of the early Church was not infant baptism should be able to show in Church History when it started. There is no such break recorded.” The assumption in some circles that infant baptism began in the Roman Catholic Church is clearly incorrect.

Those are some of the arguments that pushed me over the line. I understand the baptism debate can be divisive and love the position of ECC, leaving it to the conscience of the parents whether they will baptize or dedicate their children.

Here’s a few of good links:

ThirdMill Ministries Q&A about infant baptism.

A Contemporary Reformed Defense of Infant Baptism, R. Scott Clark

Why Does the OPC Baptize Infants, Larry Wilson

Baptism, by Francis Schaeffer