Recently, talking to some of our young folk, it appeared to me that they were uncertain on the matter of infant baptism. Many of our best friends are Baptists. If you want a good Reformed and Evangelical church in England you almost always have to go to a Baptist church. Some of them agree with us in just about everything apart from infant baptism. Who is right? Is it the Refomed, Puritan-loving Baptists or ourselves? Why do we baptise children? It is simply because God requires us to do so.
What is baptism?
It is the sacrament of initiation into Christ and admission into the Christian church. It is the token or mark of the covenant of grace. God made two covenants with man – the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. The covenant of works includes all of us and was broken when Adam ate the forbidden fruit. The covenant of grace is God’s way of saving some of those perishing for breaking the covenant of works. Basically there are only these two covenants. Although the covenant of grace was administered in a different way in the Old Testament yet it is the same covenant as in the New Testament. There is essentially only the one way of salvation in both Testaments. There is only one Saviour and in every age people are required to repent and believe in Him to be saved. If salvation could be obtained in Old Testament times by works then there was no need for Christ to come and Paul’s arguments for justification by faith alone in Christ alone, are negated. The sacrifices and types of the Old Testament were aids to faith and pointed forward to Calvary. The trouble with Baptists is that on this issue they ignore the Old Testament and the one covenant of grace.
In the Old Testament there were two sacraments, circumcision and passover, just as in the New there are baptism and communion. God commanded Abraham: “Every man-child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you” (Gen.17:10-11). That command still stands today. Further God added: “The uncircumcised man-child, whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant” (v14). Circumcision was administered to a child before it had reached the age of discernment, actually when only eight days old. Now it is exactly the same covenant of grace which we have in the New Testament age. Why refuse the token of the covenant to children today? Surely if anything there is a far wider application of the covenant in New Testament times. No longer are the blessings restricted to one nation.
But is it right to link baptism and circumcision so closely? Paul does exactly that when he writes: “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” (Col.2:11-12). He is writing to Gentiles who are uncircumcised, but here he describes them as being circumcised because they were circumcised in heart, inwardly and spiritually. That cutting off of the sins of the flesh is equated with burial to the old life of sin in baptism wherein also they are risen to a new life. Baptism and circumcision mean the same thing – a break with the past, a cleansing from sin and a new start. This linking of baptism and circumcision is also made by Peter in the words: “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1Pet.3:21). Circumcision is the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but to do this merely outwardly and as a sign is not enough. You must be baptised and circumcised in heart.
New Testament examples
No hint is given in the New Testament of such a change of administration as that children should now be refused the covenant sign and should be excluded from the covenant community. Rather, to the contrary, there are several passages which indicate that the children fully participated in covenant blessings and were regarded as part of the visible church. When preaching on the day of Pentecost Peter asserts “The promise is unto you and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39). Here it is plain that children were given a special place. Do we have any hint of children being baptised in the New Testament? Yes, there are several household baptisms in the New Testament and it is hard for us to believe that there were no children in these families. Paul makes an interesting statement when he says: “The unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean, but now are they holy” 1Cor.7:14). Surely the children of Christians are special! They are here described as “holy”. God loves us and loves our children.
Christ makes plain the special place children have in His church. He rebukes the disciples for thrusting them away and implying that they had no place in the new order: “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God” (Lk.18:16). The coming of Christ does not exclude or put children further away, but gathers them in. “He took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them” (Mk.10:16).
Why baptise children? As you look at the New Testament superficially it appears to say that you have first to be converted and then you can be baptised. The crowds on the day of Pentecost were baptised when they repented. The Ethiopian eunuch was baptised when he believed. It is still the same in missionary work. Adults profess their conversion in baptism. However when we also consider the Old Testament we see that the token of the covenant was commanded to be administered to children. This still stands because “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2Tim.3:16). When the New Testament is considered in unity with the Old, it in no way opposes infant baptism.
Immerse or sprinkle?
Baptists usually believe that immersion is essential. They argue that the main idea is burial (Rom.6:4) and that the person should be buried in water. But Jesus’ burial was not under water or even under ground, but in a cave. They argue that the Greek word baptizo always means immerse ie bury. However, any good lexicon will show that baptizo has other meanings and indeed that the main idea is to wash. For example this is the word used for the ritual washings before eating and could hardly mean immersion in Luke 11:38. There is not one case in the Bible where we can be sure that the baptised person was immersed. “Divers washings” (baptisms) include “sprinkling the unclean” (Heb.9:10,13). The amount of water is irrelevant because it is symbolic of the application of the blood of Christ to the heart “for the remission (washing away) of sins” (Acts 2:38).