On Sunday we had the privilege of baptizing the small baby of Christian parents at our church service. I suppose many Baptists (who hold to only believers’ baptism) would cry “heresy!” or mumble a something about the influence of Roman Catholicism under their breath. Why did we baptise that young child?
Baptism is the sign of the new covenant in Jesus, just as circumcision was the sign of the old covenant with Abraham (Romans 4:11). All New Testament doctrine and practise have their beginnings in the Old Testament; baptism is no different.
Circumcision never saved anyone. Abraham and all God’s people under the Old Covenant were saved by grace through faith. The circumcision of Abraham and his male family members and future male children (of believing parents) was the sign of that salvation promise (Genesis 17:10). The sign did not save the children, it was a picture, a reminder, a symbol, of the promise.
Baptism now is the new sign (Matthew 28:19). Baptism by water is a great sign as it pictures the removal of sin as water is and always has been a cleansing agent. The new sign no longer requires the shedding of blood because the blood has been shed once for all on the cross. And so we can surely say that baptism is the visible sign of God’s invisible work in us, bringing us to faith in Jesus.
Zacchaeus, the tax-collector, was saved, Jesus said, “today salvation has come to this house.” (Luke 19) When Peter on the day of Pentecost preached the first Christian sermon he said, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 3:39)
The apostle Paul said “…the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” (1 Corinthians 7:14) The unbelieving spouse is “sanctified” by the believing spouse. This does not mean he or she is saved. The Greek word for “sanctified” means “set apart”. In some parts of the New Testament is translated “holy”. Paul says that the unbelieving partner is set apart – viewed in a special way – by God. Why? Because the believing partner is one of God’s people. The same principle applies to their children: the young child stands in his parents’ faith, unable to make his own profession, but bearing the mark of his father’s/ mother’s/ parents’ faith upon him or her*.
Taking further this principle that God blesses the children of believing parent/s, we find other references in the New Testament to families being baptised. Lydia, a business women, believed the gospel and Paul baptised her and her household. (Acts 16:15). An unnamed Philippian jailer believes and he and his entire household are baptised (Acts 16:33-34). Paul no doubt baptised adults in Corinth as they put their faith in Jesus; but he also writes that he baptised the household of Stephanas. (1 Corinthians 1:16)
As the gospel of Jesus began to pervade the world, its message was no less gracious and encompassing than the message of salvation to Abraham. Baptism was the new sign, but believing parents had the same responsibility as Abraham and applied the sign of the promise to their children*.
Sacrament vs Ordinance
A sacrament is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace” (Book of Common Prayer). A sacrament points to a greater reality; it is not that reality itself. When the infant is baptised the baptism points us to and reminds us of the gospel promise. We pray that the sacrament would become a reality in the child’s life as they come to saving faith in Jesus. Adult believers are baptised to publically acknowledge that they have experienced God’s inward and spiritual grace.
An ordinance, on the other hand, is a decree or a command to be obeyed. Baptists would hold to this view of baptism and since the infant is unable to obey the command, they should not be baptised. I, and others of a reformed** persuasion, would argue that baptism is more of sacrament and less of an ordinance (although there are elements of both).
Believers’ and infant’ baptism are good and godly practises for the Christian church and both have scriptural warrant.
Read a similar post here.
* Thanks to John P. Sartelle for these insights in his booklet, “What Christian parents should know about Infant Baptism”. This booklet is available at Christian Book Discounters and is endorsed by J.I. Packer.
** By “reformed” I mean holding to the understanding of the Christian faith as exposed by the protestant reformers, particularly John Calvin.