Infant Baptism

The following is an excerpt from something I wrote to a friend who was asking questions about the matter of infant baptism:

Every covenant God makes He makes with believers and their children together. God promises Abraham this, that He will bless him and his children with him (Gen. 17:7-9); this promise is reiterated in every other covenant (Isa. 65:23; 59:21; Ezek. 37:24-26; Mal. 2:15; Psa 102:25-28; Deut. 5:9-10; Psa. 103:17-18; Luke 1:48-50; Acts 2:37-39). Look those passages up and notice in all of them how God promises to love their children, offspring, seed, as well as them. Mary assumes this is the case when she sings the Magnificat, when she says “His mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation,” (Luke 1:50). Peter preaches the gospel in Acts 2, then declares salvation is by baptism (Acts 2:38), then says, “For the promise [of salvation] is to you and your children,” (Acts 2:39). This is why every baptism from this point on in the Scriptures is household baptism. Salvation is promised to the entire household (Acts 11:14). The woman Lydia came to believe and “she was baptized, and her household as well,” (Acts 16:15). Paul says this, “I did baptize also the household of Stephanas,” (1 Cor. 1:16). The author of Hebrews tells us that Noah built an ark “for the saving of his household,” (Heb. 11:7); and Paul tells us that “the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you,” (1 Pet. 3:20-21). Thus, the saving of Noah’s household was by baptism. So it isn’t so much about infants or not infants, but about children, whatever the age they are. Salvation is for you and your house, however many there are, and however old they are. Your children get baptized. Paul tells us that children of believers are holy (1 Cor. 7:14); that is, set apart, in the covenant. Jesus tells us that infants have real faith: “whoever causes one of these little ones *who believe in me* to sin,” (Matt. 18:6). The word for “little one” here means “suckling baby.” Jesus also declares “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God,” (Luke 18:16); the Kingdom of God belongs to little children, that is, infants. If they possess the Kingdom and believe in Jesus, they can be baptized.

If you’re looking for a single text that teaches children are baptized, Paul speaks of the Exodus crossing of the red sea by saying, “our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ,” (1 Cor. 10:2-4). What Paul is saying is that all of Israel, everyone who went through the Red Sea, was baptized, every last one. Out of two million Jews, all raising families, do we imagine there wasn’t a single child present? In fact, children are mentioned in Exodus as part of the group; those who departed Egypt were “about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children,” (Ex. 12:37).

Baptism *is* the New Testament circumcision, as Colossians explicitly states: “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,” (Col. 2:11-12). Here baptism is identified with circumcision.

Almost every time the NT speaks of baptism, it speaks of it being the point of entry into the New Covenant, and as the rite which gives you full membership and participation in the blessings of the New Covenant. Jesus himself says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God,” (John 3:5). Water and the Spirit together, united. Peter clearly states “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,” (Acts 2:38). The two things offered here by the Apostle as the blessings of baptism are forgiveness and receiving the Holy Spirit. In baptism we are forgiven (Acts 22:16); we are cleansed (Eph. 5:26); we are regenerated and renewed (Titus 3:5); buried and raised with Christ (Rom. 6; Col. 2:11-12); we are circumcised in our hearts (Col. 2:11-12); we are joined to the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13); we are clothed with Christ (Gal. 3:27); we are justified and sanctified (1 Cor. 6:11); we are saved (1 Pet. 3:21); we are ordained as high priests with Christ in the heavenly sanctuary (Heb. 10:19-22). Of course, you can choose to reject this identity (Rom. 11).

The covenant is for households, for “you and your children with you,” as I noted above. These children were not asked for permission before being baptized. The children crossing the Red Sea were not asked for a profession of faith before being allowed across. God simply saved them, delivered them from slaughter, and expected them to be taught to grow into their new identity as His people. So for those of a self-conscious age, yes, baptism takes place after faith. But for the infants, for those of the household, those Jesus said really did believe in Him (though in an immature, child-like way), baptism precedes conscious, full faith. Infant baptism is a profound illustration of our salvation, since we cannot save ourselves and God must do everything for us, just as with a parent to her child. Consider too the other implications of “conscious faith only” teaching. What about mentally handicapped who are unable to profess such faith? Do they go to hell because they can’t “understand enough?” to make a profession? What about folks with Alzheimers, who once could profess but now cannot? What sort of God do we worship; a God who extends much grace and mercy to those who cannot understand as much as we, or a God who punishes those who cannot understand enough? Does that sound like a God of grace or a God of works to you? Does God hold the innocent and helpless at arm’s length or does He draw them near and embrace them as his own, along with their parents? “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God,” (Luke 18:16).

One final issue. The word baptizo does not mean “submersion in water.” Some have thought it refers to dipping in water, but even this is not total submersion. “Baptizo” is used in the Greek LXX translation of the Old Testament to refer to the Temple purification washings, all of which were sprinkled or poured, not immersion, rites. John’s baptisms were not immersions, because they were the OT purification rites (sprinkled or poured), and Jesus was not immersed either. I don’t see anything wrong with immersion, but in Scripture, ground water is stagnant water, water that symbolizes the primordial chaos and the great dark deep. Sprinkling or pouring, on the other hand, symbolizes heavenly rain, clean water poured out from the heavenly sea above the firmament that stands in front of God’s throne (Rev. 4:6, etc.).

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