Exploring the Covenant Act of Infant Baptism

Baptism in Russian Orthodox Church (St.Petersb...
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A few months ago the topic of infant baptism sprang up on the theoblogosphere and quickly died. I was able to save a few of the posts that I saw in order to return to them later, but with it being so busy this past month or so, I simply didn’t have the time. Now, this subject has come up in our personal life for various reasons, so this week, I will examine the subject lightly and would ask for your input as you see fit. This belief system is not new, and is not only practices by Catholics. It is historic, and more historic than some of the other doctrines espoused as orthodox by many Christians.

The post which started it (as far as I can tell) is one by a former Baptist turned Reformed Christian. It is on the occasion of the baptism of his daughter. Forgoing his own doctrinal explanation, he writes,

Rather than try to explain to all my Baptist friends something that is quite honestly difficult to understand from within a Baptist framework and worldview, let me offer Richard Pratt’s excellent explanation.

Pratt’s view is a covenantal view, as is most paedobaptists as far as I can tell. If they aren’t, then at the very least the doctrine is.

In the end, for many, it comes down to seeing baptism as the sign and seal of the New Covenant mirroring circumcision as found in the Old. Further, they point to the jailer and his family in the book of Acts. Just as in the Old when the Covenant could be extend through the male to the household (and in Abraham’s case, it included slaves) so too can the covenant of the parents be extended to the children. Or, something like that.

Contrary to some, I believe that Baptism is a primary doctrine, since it is a central act for the Christian community (Romans 6), along with the Eucharist. By clicking the Baptism category below, you can get a better sense of my views here, and although those views might have been tweaked, I do hold Baptism in a central light.

R.C. Sproul, in this link, lays out the case for infant baptism which is challenged by MacArthur who takes the common Baptist position. I am no Baptist. Tim has a case for infant baptism in Galatians 3.

This week, I will be posting several items on this subject. This is meant for discussion, of course. This is the machine gun topic of the week.

As always, please feel free to correct my views here, or aid me in understanding where you are at.

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12 Replies to “Exploring the Covenant Act of Infant Baptism”

  1. I clearly fall on the side of infant baptism, but that doesn’t mean that I rule out the necessity of adult baptisms.

    The Biblical mandate is to baptize and teach. Outside of that, I think there’s a lot of room for interpretation.

    In all my conversations, I hear the same thing over and over: That you must profess your faith prior to baptism. Too often we treat faith as some cognitive function, that you must say the right things. In this case, faith would make the baptism.

    Luther said it is faith that receives baptism and baptism isn’t even bound to faith. Rather, baptism is bound to the Word.

  2. One of the common arguments I hear against infant baptism is that there is no clear evidence in the NT (the jailer’s family is only assumed to include infants), so infant baptism is a later innovation. Nobody has yet been able to offer any evidence for the innovation. Given the propensity for controversy and mutual excommunication in the Early Church, over the slightest of issues, I would expect some evidence to survive of the almighty row that would have erupted when someone first suggested baptising infants. The fact that no such controversy seems to have happened suggest to me that there was no such innovation, that paedobaptism does date back to the earliest days, that it worked by analogy with circumcision, and that the jailer did have his kiddies baptised.

    My only problem is the theologies that were later read into the act, such as baptismal regeneration and stuff. No. It isn’t so much about what the act does, as what it says. My wedding ring doesn’t make me my wife’s husband, but putting it on said that I am. Exchanging rings was he non-verbal acted parable of our commitment. Baptism works the same way, at whatever age in however much water.

    1. Yes, you can. You just do the baptism first, then teaching as appropriate as the infant grows.

      If you’re suggesting someone can’t be baptised until they’ve been adequately taught, that sort of makes it justification by works, yes?

      1. Pastor Tony, what are your thoughts about an adult coming to faith from outside the covenant community? Shouldn’t he be baptized only after he’s been adequately taught? That wouldn’t imply an violence to the doctrine of justification, would it?

        Covenant children are one thing, but outsiders coming in another. It was always that way in Israel and continues to be so.

        1. Well, it all depends on what is being expected. If a candidate for baptism has got to ‘tick all the right boxes’ theologically or doctrinally, then baptism essentially becomes a test to be passed. Who defines “adequate”? As I read the NT, the earliest creed was “Jesus is Lord” – that would be the statement of faith required for baptismal candidates and converts. Now, I expect there would be a certain amount of understanding contained with in that, but whatever level of teaching was given before baptism, there would and will be always a lot more afterwards. I’ve been a Christian nearly 40 years, baptised, confirmed, ordained, and I’m still learning. So, who decides the level which has to be there before baptism is allowed?

          There is also the point that paedobaptism alone isn’t the whole thing – it assumes some form of confirmation or reception into church membership in adulthood. I deal with it as parts 1 & 2 of the initiation, but the important thing is the faith of the believer. Hence my comment above about baptism being like the wedding ring: – to be more precise, I see infant baptism as the engagement ring, confirmation/church membership as the wedding ring, but the real thing is the relationship between the believer and Christ.

  3. Jim, Mt 28 tells us that we teach (in part) by baptism (examine the grammar), so we teach infants through baptism. Further, the Apostles are directed to baptize *the nations,* which would certainly include infants!

    Infant baptism is not the sort of doctrine that is derived from a single text or two. It’s a thorough-going theological concept derived from the solid exegesis of and sound reasoning from many passages. It takes great patience for a Baptists even correctly to understand a covenantal concept of the Bible, on which infant baptism is based. Thus, Brother, we’ll give you time. 🙂

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