A Case for Infant Baptism
What are the reasons why the infants of at least one Christian parent should be baptized? Some important reasons for baptizing the infant seed of believers include the following.
1. God has always included the infant children of believers in the administration of His covenant of grace.
Not only in Old Testament times, but also in New Testament times God has included the infant seed of professing believers in His covenantal dealings with mankind.
“And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” (Genesis 17:7, ESV, emphasis added) God made this promise to Abraham, the “father” of the faithful and paradigm of the true believer (see Romans 4:11-12).
“Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away.” (Matthew 19:13-15, ESV) If the kingdom of heaven belongs to the little children of Jesus’ professed disciples, and if Jesus welcomes these little children to be brought to Him, then why would the church want to bar the children of believers from being brought to Jesus in the waters of baptism? If Jesus rebuked His disciples for refusing to let the little children come to Him (which He did), then would He not also rebuke churches today which refuse to allow the children of believers to be brought to Him in the waters of baptism? (Please note: We believe it is a serious sin for a professing church of our Lord Jesus Christ to refuse the covenant sign to the infant seed of believers.)
“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, ESV, emphasis added) The Apostle Peter, preaching the gospel on the Day of Pentecost to an audience of mostly Jews, affirms that the promise of salvation is not only for those adults in the audience who consciously repent and for “all who are far off” (that would be Gentiles) whom God will savingly call to Himself through the missionary labors of the church, but also “for your children” (i.e., the children of believers who are savingly called in God’s good time). If the promise is for the children of believers, then on what basis can the church refuse to them the sign and seal of the promise (baptism)?
“For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” (First Corinthians 7:14, ESV, emphasis added) Paul uses the Old Testament ceremonial language of “unclean” (as in ceremonially “unclean” versus ceremonially “clean”) to stress that the children of even one believing parent (as in the case of a mixed marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian) are covenantally “holy” (set apart) unto the Lord. If the children of Christian parents are covenantally “holy,” then should they not receive the sign and seal of their holy status (baptism)?
2. Nowhere in the New Testament does God explicitly or clearly rescind the practice of including the children of believers in the covenant of grace.
Our Baptist friends ask us, “Where in the New Testament does God command believers to baptize their babies?” To which we reply, “Where in the New Testament does God command His church to cease from applying the sign of the covenant to the children of believers? Has God become less gracious in the New Testament age? Under the old covenant God included the children of the faithful as part of His covenant people. Are we to believe that with the coming of Christ and the fullness of this new covenant age, God has become more restrictive by now excluding the children of His children from membership in His visible church?”
Of course, in the New Testament Book of Acts we often read about people who are baptized after they profess their repentance and faith in Christ. But these involve missionary situations, where people are converting to Christ from either a Jewish or pagan background. And, of course, we agree with our Baptist friends that if someone has grown up outside of the church and has never before been baptized, she should be required to profess her faith and repentance before receiving the sacrament of baptism (just as Gentiles in Old Testament times who came to adopt the faith of Israel had to believe and repent of their pagan ways before they could be circumcised and become full members in the covenant community of Israel). But when we are not dealing with a missionary context, such as in the case of a Christian family within the visible church, the children of believers should receive the covenant sign of baptism. (And even in missionary situations recorded for us in the Book of Acts we read of whole households being baptized.)
3. In the “Great Commission” of our Lord Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus commands His church to make disciples of “all nations” (v. 19) by baptizing and teaching them. Clearly “all nations” includes not only adults, but also children.
A “disciple” is a learner and a follower. Disciples of Jesus learn from Him in the Word so that they might follow Him. Baptism initiates us into a disciple-teacher relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, under the sovereign authority of the Triune God (which is why we are baptized into the Name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit). The covenant children of believers are to be baptized into the Christian Faith and brought up by faithful parents “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” They are to be brought up in the environment of a Christian home where they are taught from their youngest years to repent of sin, trust in Christ alone for salvation, and walk after a new obedience in gratitude for God’s gift of salvation in Jesus. (This, by the way, is what it means to raise our covenant children in the light of their baptism.) The goal of the “Great Commission” involves not merely getting “decisions” for Christ, but making “disciples” for Christ. Baptism and teaching are essential parts of that disciple-making process, and this discipleship process is to be brought to “all nations.” Since the infant seed of the church are included among “all nations,” our covenant children are to be initiated into the Faith by baptism and catechized (taught) in the Faith.
4. The Christian Church throughout most of its history has practiced infant baptism.
Arguments from church history are obviously secondary in comparison to arguments from Scripture. So, just because “we’ve always done it this way” doesn’t, of itself, mean that the way we’ve always done it is the correct way to do it. However, the practice of infant baptism shows up very early in church history. It is hard to believe that if the apostles had instructed the church to apply the covenant sign of baptism only to those who were old enough to consciously understand the gospel and publicly profess their faith and repentance, the post-apostolic church would have so quickly forgotten this apostolic instruction. As the great Reformer, Martin Luther, wrote:
“If the first, or child, baptism were not right it would follow that for more than a thousand years there was no baptism or any Christendom, which is impossible. For in that case the article of the creed, I believe in one holy Christian church, would be false. For over a thousand years there were hardly any other but child baptisms. If this baptism is wrong then for that long period Christendom would have been without baptism, and if it were without baptism it would not be Christendom.” (From Luther’s Works 40.255-57, quoted in Word, Water and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism by J.V. Fesko (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Reformation Heritage Books), p. 49)
Other arguments could be brought forward in making the case for infant baptism, but I hope the above arguments will convince the reader that there are good biblical and historical reasons for the practice of infant baptism in the Christian Church.