Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Letter on Infant Baptism

I've received numerous questions about infant baptism of late - here is one (inadequate!) response I wrote.

Dear ________,

Great question! Below I’ve appended an account of infant baptism that I sent to another fellow who asked about it. It summarizes why I changed my position from believer baptism to infant baptism.

A brief biographical background: I grew up United Methodist – but was merely a nominal believer. God grabbed hold of me in college and I joined a non-denominational church. I became convinced that infant baptism was unbiblical and led to presumption – assuming one was saved when one actually wasn’t. I maintained this position throughout college and seminary despite attending a school that officially taught infant baptism. It was less than 10 years ago that I finally “took the plunge” as it were and became convinced that infant baptism was not only acceptable but biblical.

Infant baptism is no “guarantee” of personal salvation any more than adult baptism is. Baptism is a covenant rite that identifies us as the people of God. The question is – are only adults counted among the people of God or are the children of believers likewise included in that number? I gradually became convinced that the children of believers are included in that number. So why the change? A couple books were helpful. Doug Wilson’s book To a Thousand Generations was helpful to me as I worked through these issues. Also helpful was John Murray’s Christian Baptism. Most helpful was my own reading and study of the Word of God. It took an immense amount of time for me to work through this issue – some find it easier. But for me it was very challenging. I was a convinced Baptist.

There are a number of links in the chain that led me to conclude that infant baptism is biblical:

1. Notice the way in which God introduces Himself to Moses. “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation.” (Ex 34:6-7). The meaning of mercy for thousands is clarified later in Moses’ words to our fathers, “Therefore know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments; and He repay those who hate Him to their face, to destroy them.” (Dt 7:9-10) God introduces Himself here as a God who deals with generations of men – not simply with fathers but with their children and children’s children. And note that since this is the character of God, we have to ask, “Does God change?” And the Scriptural answer is no – God is the same today that He was then. He is still a God who delights to bless generation upon generation of those who love Him.

2. Given that this is the character of God, it is no surprise, therefore, that every covenant God makes with His people involves not only them but their children with them. In the covenant with Noah both Noah and his family are rescued from destruction. In the covenant with Abraham, God commands Abraham to bring up his children in the fear of the Lord so that they will serve Him and love Him. God establishes His covenant with Abraham for the express purpose of blessing “all the families of the earth” in him – so he must be one who blesses his own family (see Gen 18:17-19). In God’s covenant with Israel under Moses, on the night of Passover, God does not simply pass over the adults but the children of His people. He rescues entire households – and indeed gives a very clear definition of a household in His words to Moses about the Passover. A household includes the parents, children, and slaves – hired servants are excluded as are visitors to the house (cf. Ex 12:24, 43ff). If foreigners wanted to partake of the Passover then they had to be converted, joined to the people of God by circumcision. Finally, in God’s covenant with David, He makes promises not only to David but also to his children (2 Sam 7:12-16).

3. Consequently, God lays claim to the children of believers. They are His children (cf. Ez 16:20,21; 23:37).

4. Is this true in the New Covenant, the Covenant with Christ? A number of things indicate that the New Covenant includes not only believers but their children:
a. The prophecies of the OT speaking of the New Covenant anticipate God’s blessings flowing not only to believers but to their children (e.g., Is 59:21; Ez 37:24-28).
b. When Jesus ministers, He gives explicit attention to the children of His disciples. His ministry is not simply to the adults in Israel but to the children; according to Luke, to the infants (cf. Lk 18:15-17). Jesus insists that infants are integral members of His kingdom, there to teach the rest of God’s people important lessons.
c. When Peter preaches the first sermon at Pentecost he insists that the promise is “for you, and for your children, and for those who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself” (Acts 2:39).
d. When the disciples baptize folks in the book of Acts, the baptisms frequently describe entire households being baptized. While no infants are explicitly mentioned, the definition of household offered in Exodus 12 continued to be operative in Jewish society and was identical in the broader Roman society. Infants and children, had they been in the household, would have been included (cf. Acts 10:2; 16:31-34; 1 Cor 1:16).
e. The fact that this is the definition of household which the apostles themselves held is revealed in Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and Colossians. To whom does he address his exhortations? To husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and slaves – in other words, to households.
f. Further, God continues to hold out promises to the children of believers. In Eph 6:1ff Paul takes an OT promise and applies it to the children of believers. Further, in 1 Cor 7:14 Paul distinguishes the children of believers from the children of unbelievers as “holy” – that is, set apart, members of the covenant community. God lays claim on our children – they are His children and every Christian parent will answer for the manner in which he shepherded them.
5. It would appear, therefore, that the children of believers are members of the New Covenant – received by God into the Church and numbered among His people. They are given precious promises and held accountable to the terms of the covenant they have entered. The terms of the covenant are the obligations to believe in the Lord, to love Him, to cherish His commandments, etc. Hence, as I raise my children I speak to them as believers, call them to believe in the Lord, to serve Him, to delight in Him, to love His law, to cherish His ways. But I never treat them as though they are “out there” – I don’t give them the option to “not believe” any more than I would give them the option to take drugs. I consistently call them to faith, I bring them up in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph 6:4), the very thing that my father Abraham was commanded to do with his children thousands of years ago.

6. This means that merely being baptized is no substitute for faith; rather, baptism is a call to faith, a summons to belief and obedience. All those who are baptized into Christ Jesus are called to love Him and serve Him. In the same way that there were circumcised Israelites who were nevertheless “uncircumcised’ (Rom 2:28-29), so there are baptized Christians who are nevertheless “unbaptized” (e.g., Acts 8:13, 20-23). Unless baptism is joined with faith, it is a curse upon the one baptized rather than a blessing for it brings greater responsibility (Mk 16:16; Lk 12:47-48).

7. Baptism is a covenant rite – it brings us into a binding relationship with God, it makes us members of the New Covenant. However, from the Reformed view – which we think is biblical – being a member of the covenant is not synonymous with being “saved.” One can be a member of the covenant community and fail to lay hold of the promises that God holds out to His people (Heb 6:1ff). Hence, we must constantly call not only our children but one another to faith – “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God, but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb 3:12-14). Notice that Hebrews calls these folks “brethren” – they are members of the covenant community – and yet warns them lest they depart from Christ. Why is this? Because we can never know the heart condition of others; so we constantly remind one another to trust in the Lord and to cling to Him.

This is probably a bit more than you asked for – but thought it might be helpful. If you have any other questions feel free to ask.

Blessings,

1 comments:

Gary said...

Something for Baptists and evangelicals to think about: the Baptist doctrine of the "Age of Accountability" is nowhere to be found in the New Testament.

Isn't it strange that God provided a means for the children of his chosen people in the Old Testament to be part of his Covenant promises but is completely silent about the issue in the New Testament?

Jesus seemed to really love the little children but then turns around and never mentions how a Christian parent can be assured that if something dreadful happens to their child, that they will see that child again in heaven.

If the Baptist doctrine of adult-only salvation is correct...that means that God left our children in spiritual limbo. One must pray to God that little Johnnie accepts Christ the very minute he reaches the Age of Accountability, because if something were to happen to him, he would be lost and doomed to hell.

Do you really think that our loving Lord and Savior would do that to Christian parents??

Dear Christian parents: bring your little children to Jesus! He wants to save them just as much as he wants to save adults! Bring your little children and babies to the waters of Holy Baptism and let Jesus SAVE them!

The unscriptural "Age of Accountability" is the desperate attempt to plug the big "hole" in the Baptist doctrine of Adult-only Salvation/Justification: how does
Jesus save our babies and toddlers?

Gary
http://www.lutherwasnotbornagain.com