Baptism has been a hot topic these (most) days, especially within the Reformed communities who have nothing else to argue about. The Particular Baptists have rediscovered their roots against infant baptism and have shown much fervor in the debate. In light of this, the discussions have changed a bit (from my perspective, late to the game) by an understanding of the major covenantal differences between us. Those who affirm infant baptism must match our PB brothers in effort if we are to answer their sound arguments. I am by no means the expert on the complexities of the sacraments, especially baptism, but having read some of the scholarly work of those who are more well studied than I am, I hope to present an understanding of why we should baptize babies.
“What the universal Church holds, not as instituted by councils but as something always held, is most correctly believed to have been handed down by apostolic authority. Since others respond for children, so that the celebration of the sacrament may be complete for them, it is certainly availing to them for their consecration, because they themselves are not able to respond.” – Augustine
As determined by Augustine in response to the Donatists, the Christian community can be divided into two parts: the visible church, and the invisible church. The true Church of Christ is the invisible church and consists of the whole body of the effectually called. Those who are His adopted, from the foundation of the world, regardless of which visible denominate (Presby4Life) church God has placed them in. (Matthew 13:24-30)
The visible church consists of those who make a credible profession (determined by fallible but authoritative men) of the true religion, together with their children, as members of the covenant promise. This church can be traced back to the family of Abraham (and eventually to Adam), where it was organized by God’s own authority on a gospel and ecclesiastical covenant. It is within this visible church that the responsibilities of the sacred rites, badges of membership and sealing ordinances, are held. These sacraments represent, apply, and seal the chief truths of a temporal and a eternal redemption demonstrated in God’s grace. One of these sacraments being circumcision, the initiatory rite into the visible church of the OT.
“Q. Should infants, too, be baptized?”
“A. Yes. Infants as well as adults belong to God’s covenant and congregation…baptism, as sign of the covenant, they must be incorporated into the Christian church and distinguished from the children of unbelievers. This was done in the old covenant by circumcision,..”
– Heidelberg Catechism Q#74
Since baptism is the initiatory rite into the visible church of the NT, it is to be administered to all whom the Scripture describes as belonging to it. Though the New Testament is fairly silent on baptizing babies, it was widely held in the early church as proper practice for them to receive it, even as late as the Reformation period. John Calvin said “I maintain, therefore, that is is not rash to administer baptism to infants, to which God invites them, when He promises that He will be their God.” (Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelicals, vol. 33 pg. 386)
If we can demonstrate that children of believers are rightly counted as members of the visible church, and baptism belongs to all of its members, then we can conclude that they should be baptized. The key must be, from our perspective, in demonstrating that the OT church and the NT church, while they are distinct from on another, are not to be totally separated as the visible church. Paul gives us a strong case for the argument in Galatians 3.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith…And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:13-14, 29)
We may understand that through Christ the visible church is associated with Abraham who links us back to Noah who then brings us to the very beginning in God’s post-fall covenant (Luke 3:23-38). While there is distinction in God’s dealings with each of the generations, the peoples, and the progression of God’s work; it points back to the same covenant God had established with Adam (Genesis 3:15). Israel, a body of both believers and unbelievers, is the representations of the OT visible church.
We believe that the visible church today, as founded by Christ and the Apostles, is substantially the same church of the Old Testament. The change in the new dispensation is the change of outward form, but not in its substance or nature. The Apostles recognized the existence of the church, which they did not call to abolish but to reform and increase. The NT Church would now include those members of the OT Jewish Church and the grafted-in Gentiles.
“But in respect of the case of the infants, which you say ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, and that the law of ancient circumcision should be regarded, so that you think that one who is just born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day, we all thought very differently in our council.” – Cyprian
Some may argue in favor of paedobaptism by referencing household baptism. Of the twelve or so cases of baptism referred to, three of them were a case of the whole house being baptized, one being a Gentile family. If we might assume that the Jews at Pentecost considered the words of Peter (Acts 2:39) as continuing their former privileges given through Abraham, we have some inferred evidence in that the Gentiles and their children may now participate in these same blessings.
Under the Jewish church, children of a mixed marriage and Gentile converts were not members until they were proselytized. Much the same as we would treat adults of non-believing parents who confess faith later in life. This in contrast to covenant children who were given rights to membership at birth. That sign and seal of the OT church made evident in the circumcision of infant males. The sign of baptism has come in the place of the sign of circumcision in the new dispensation. Both being the sign and seal representing a faith in God’s promise to remove the death of sin, and bring new life in Christ.
In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11-12)
Infants are capable of redemption, even some opposition to infant baptism agree. The adoption of those in Christ, at the preordained moment, is accomplished by the Holy Ghost bringing them into the invisible Church. Water baptism signifies God’s covenant with the individual and the individual’s covenant with Him, just as circumcision did. If the infant Jew did not nullify the covenant in circumcision, how does the Christian infant nullify the pledge of God’s covenant favor simply because they are not yet able to apprehend it? To what value does the circumcision/baptism have for an unbeliever?
Parents are, and the efficacy of the parental relation, properly sanctified to justify the application of baptism to their child. These are terms and conditions that Jewish families were already familiar with, when the Apostles began to establish the new methods. In fact, the silence of the NT regarding the baptism of children would work in favor of infant baptism, if it was understood this way. It would seem that if children were now to be invalid members of the covenant under the newer system, it would have been demonstrated as such so there would be no doubts.
In considering both circumcision and baptism, we may understand that the infant is not the only party involved in the man’s side of responsibility to the sacrament. The baptism of the infant is a sacrament to the believing parent as well, being both part of the everlasting covenant (Genesis 17:7). Both Isaac and Ishmael were baptized, given Abraham’s faith. Baptism is the proper rite by which to recognize membership in the visible church. Infants of believing parents, made holy (set apart) by consecration in relation are members, thus proper subjects of baptism.
“..infant baptism is not a recent introduction, nor are its origins traceable to the papal church. For I say that it has always been a holy ordinance observed in the Christian church. There is no doctor, however ancient, who does not attest that it has always been observed since the time of the apostles.” – Calvin
In conclusion, I believe that the children of those who are in Christ, have by their birth a right to the membership of the visible church and seal of the covenant, no less than the children in the time of the OT. The children of believers, by way of baptism, are to be received into the visible church, being distinguished from the world, and thus united in church fellowship. It is understood that there is no inherent blessing in it and does not necessarily possess the actual grace signified by it. The administration of this sacrament is not based on a supposed knowledge of the faith of the individual, but based solely on the righteous command of God for the Church to baptize it’s people into the membership of covenant community.