Infant baptism - 12 biblical reasons for it

1. The New Testament no-where explicitly challenges the expectation which had prevailed since Abraham that the sign of God’s promises was to be applied to the children of believers. If it had we would expect much controversy as this would suggest that children were better off under the earlier form of God’s covenant (agreement) with his people. Children were circumcised on the assumption that they were members of the covenant community. Yet those who want to hold baptism back from children argue this by saying you can only be counted a member of the new covenant community if you can consciously display repentance and faith. This is hugely significant, as it would have meant that in converting to Christianity Jewish parents would be removing their children from being true members of God's people. They were "in" before as children of Jews, but must be "out" now as children of Christians. If this was the case it would have caused an absolute furore. But we have no sign in the New Testament of that. Instead, circumcision and baptism are portrayed as parallel signs pointing to the same gospel realities - forgiveness and renewal - but from the different perspectives of BC and AD. As Paul writes, circumcision was a "seal of the righteousness Abraham had by faith." Baptism should therefore be applied in similar manner – to those who profess faith and to their children. The problem of children being unable to express faith stood for circumcision just as it does for baptism. Yet God instituted both for children nevertheless. We must be clear, the difference between the covenants is not that the new is defined by faith and the Holy Spirit, meaning that its sign should only be given to those who profess faith. No, the old was to be defined by faith for which the work of the Spirit was necessary too. The difference is rather that the old was expressed nationally, and the new is expressed internationally through congregations, and the old experience of the Spirit was embryonic, whereas the new is fully fledged. For both however, God's intent to work through the children of believers remains. (read Genesis 17:7-14, 18:19, Exodus 12:48, Romans 2:28-29, 4v11-25, Mark 1:1-8, Acts 2:38-39, Colossians 2:11-15).

2. It is no surprise then that the New Testament understanding of believing households remains the same as the Old: To simply state that the household baptisms in Acts do not specify that children were included misses the point to an extent. The fact is that when the language of household is being used to the early, predominantly Jewish church, it implied the Old Testament understanding of the household as a unit in which children – until reaching an unspecified age of discretion - are represented before God by their parents. If a parent failed to circumcise their child, it was therefore the child who was said to have sinned. Likewise, those being brought up in the faith of their parents are to be treated as if they hold the faith of their parents until such time as they prove otherwise. For this reason the NT letters address children as church members and so as Christians; and we make the same assumption of our own children today. Such children should therefore be entitled to baptism as the badge of being one of God’s people. Indeed, not to grant this displays to our children an inconsistency in how we regard their place before the Lord (read Genesis 17:7-14, 18:19, Deuteronomy 7:9-11, Joshua 24:15, Malachi 2:14-15, 1 Peter 2:9 and 1 Corinthians 7:14, Ephesians 6:1-4, Colossians 3:20-21).

3. This all reflects God promises to show love to “a thousand generations” of those who love him, but punish children for the sin of their Fathers to the third and fourth generation. These principles have no-where been abrogated, and so the children of believers start life in a position of covenant love until such time as they may forfeit it through conscious unbelief. The things baptism signifies are therefore the particular heritage of children with believing parents, and on this ground they should be baptised. We might consider a women who already has children marrying. Her new husband covenants to loving and caring for her children on the basis of the mother's covenant commitment and love for him, not the children's. He is for the children because he is for the mother and she comes with them. However, when the children grow to adulthood, they may either share their mother's commitment and love to her husband or turn from him. Similarly, God makes covenant commitments to our children not because they believe, but because we do and we come with them. The key is that they then believe as we do when they grow up (read Deuteronomy 5:9-10, Acts 2:38-39).

4. Indeed, every other covenant God made with humanity engaged the children as well as the parents, suggesting the likelihood of the new covenant and its sign following suit (read Genesis 3:14-19, 6:18, 7:7-14, Deuteronomy 29:9-15, 2 Samuel 7:12-16).

5. Moreover, the Old Testament speaks of the Christian era with the assumption that then too God’s covenant would engage children as well as their parents. This proves God's continual disposition to bring the children of believers to faith, and to assuming on balance that they will believe rather than that they won't. (read Isaiah 59:21, 61:9, 65:23, Ezekial 37:25).

6. Here John’s baptism provides a helpful case study because it bridges the Old and New Testaments: By it people were being baptised with respect to the old order and – under the household principle – would therefore have brought their children for baptism too. Yet John’s baptism also develops into Christian baptism, strongly suggesting that this would have been applied in the same way (read Joshua 24:15, Luke 1:16-17, John 3:25-30, Acts 19:1-7).

7. Peter confirms this continuity by alluding to the wording of Genesis 17:7 when calling people to be baptised in Acts 2:38-39. This is striking. Peter's hearers were Jewish household heads with the understanding we have outlined above. They would have therefore heard Peter to be urging them not only to repent and be baptised, but to bring their children for baptism on the grounds of their repentance as parents. (read Genesis 17:7, Acts 2:14, 22, 38-39).

8. In every circumstance we read of faith in the context of a household, we therefore read of the whole household being baptised. And when one considers the size and breadth of 1st century households, it is hard to imagine that there were no chidlren included who were not yet of responsible age (read Acts 10:2,44-48, 16:14-15, 30-34, 18:8, 1 Corinthians 1:14-16).

9. The New Testament also portrays the church as the true Israel, suggesting that the place of the family before God remains the same as it had previously done for Israel. It just will not do to state that the New Israel is the remnant comprising those of true faith. It certainly will be when Christ returns, but Paul deals with the fact that its present expression in the church is mixed. In this age, those who are baptised are therefore those who are counted as believers, just as was the case for Israel. Indeed, the church comprises those grafted into the Old Testament concept of Israel. Non-Jewish Christians who are “grafted” in and so become “Abraham’s seed by faith” therefore do so representing their children, even though those children may themselves later be “broken off through unbelief” when reaching the age of discretion. (read Romans 11:11-36, Galatians 3:29, Ephesians 2:12-22, Exodus 19:6 and 1 Peter 2:9).

10. Elsewhere Paul explicitly describes children of a believing parent as “holy” rather than “unclean,” suggesting that God sees them as distinct from other children because of their parent’s faith. He speaks of an unbelieving spouse this way too, but only to affirm this special status of the child. It is difficult to know what Paul means by this if not the covenant privileges outlined above, which make the baptism of such children valid (read 1 Corinthians 7:14).

11. It is true that the Old Testament prophets speak of the New Covenant referring to those who truly know the Lord. Some therefore argue that its sign should only be applied to those who are definitely saved. Yet only God knows the heart. To deny baptism on the grounds that we are not sure that the candidate is a true Christian would mean no-one, child or adult, ever being baptised. Instead, it must be recognised that the prophets primarily looks forward to the new creation, where without doubt, everyone will know the Lord. However, this side of Jesus’ return the New Testament requires only an appearance not a certainty of being one of this number in order to treat someone as a member of the church. The boundary of those who are now treated as God’s people is therefore wider than those who actually are. And as children show an appearance of faith from the earliest days we raise them as Christians they should be baptised. If they later show they never truly believed, they are in no different a position than those baptised as adults who do the same. They would then need to repent, believe, and so make their baptism their own by properly taking hold of its promises (read Ezekial 36:22-38, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Matthew 7:21-23, 13:36-43, Romans 11:11-36, 1 Corinthians 7:14, Hebrews 6:4-8, 10:26-31, Revelation 3:1-6).

12. It must not be forgotten that the first Christians would have understood the gospel against the 2000 year backdrop of the Old Testament and its teaching about God’s covenant love, the nature of the household, and the application of covenant signs. It is the flow of bible history and the context in which the New Testament was written that therefore gives greatest weight to the baptism of children. For the apostles to limit the application of the sign of the new covenant to adults alone would have meant a paradigm shift in thinking which would have caused uproar in the church necessitating explicit clarification and commands. Yet evidence of these things is quite simply absent. The onus is therefore very much on the one who questions infant baptism to show that the covenant principles have been abrogated, rather than vice-versa.

Church history

Finally, it needs to be recognised that the testimony of early church history strongly suggests that children were baptised in the time of the apostles. The idea that baptism is for adults only is relatively new, dating from the Anabaptists in Germany around 1637 AD. Before then the Roman Catholic Church had certainly distorted baptism – as it still does today, but this should not make us suspicious of any conviction that it should be applied to children. When rejecting so much else of Roman Catholicism in the sixteenth century, the reformers affirmed the validity of infant baptism not because they were swayed by tradition, but because they saw it as biblical.

So why bring a child for baptism?

Some may still ask why bother getting a child baptised rather than wait until they are adults? At one level, the answer is simply because God instructs us to do so with the entire sweep of scripture. However at another, we would do well to recognise that the baptism of children is hugely significant in ways that adult baptism isn’t.

1. Infant baptism marks out children as true members of God’s covenant community: So often we treat our children as believers by teaching them to pray and seek God’s forgiveness, yet by keeping them from baptism suggest that they are not genuinely converted until of sufficient age. It is far better, and more scriptural, for children to see themselves as the Lord’s from the earliest age - through their parents. This gives them a much needed sense of identity and responsibility as they increasingly struggle with pressure to confirm to the world. It also builds a greater thankfulness to God for Christian parents. Of course, as the child grows up it may show evidence of not having genuinely believed. In such a situation, the child would be encouraged to do so, just as a lapsing adult Christian would.

2. Infant baptism moves children to take hold of their parent’s repentance and faith: At every subsequent baptism the child witnesses, their own holds out to them the promises of God’s cleansing if only they continue in the faith in which they have been raised. Baptism is therefore a constant pledge to them of what is their heritage, and a reminder to them of the incredible covenant privileges – and obligations – that are theirs because God chose that they be born to their particular parents.

3. In a culture dominated by individualism and family breakdown, infant baptism reminds parents of the immense responsibility they have to raise their children as believers and of the covenant privileges God has blessed their children with. These privileges include the example of godliness and access to God’s truth the child will receive through its parents and their church, the prayer and superior care both parents and church can give as those indwelt by the Spirit, the peace, order, support, and wisdom that God grants a Christian household, and above all, the greater opportunity the child will therefore have to embrace the Lord Jesus for themselves, and the eternal security it will meanwhile enjoy until reaching an age of accountability. It is by these means that the Lord “shows love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.”