Why I Baptized My Babies (Part 2)

In my journey towards the paedobaptist position (i.e. infant baptism), I did not go very willingly. Every baptism I had ever seen was part of someone’s individual expression of personal faith in Christ. Infant baptism seemed like it was breaking the mold.

I knew a handful people in college who were baptized as babies, but most of them later decided to be baptized again. Whatever their parents meant by having them baptized as babies, my peers were not embracing as adults. They wanted to experience and remember the feeling of the baptismal waters dripping from their faces. They wanted baptism to be their choice, not the choice of their parents.

My World vs. the Bible World

One of the hard lessons I’ve had to learn (and am still learning) is that my own breed of Western individualism is not the way it has always been. Ancient cultures, including the Mediterranean world of the Scriptures, were far more community-centered than our own. In the world of the Bible, the group took priority over the individual, and a person’s most important group was his blood family.

From cover to cover, the Bible reflects this ancient value system. The world of the Old and New Testaments was patrilineal: the father was the patriarch who represented his entire household. This is difficult to miss as we read through the pages of the Bible: the tribal family structure was the foundation of society in the Mediterranean world.1

This is more than just an interesting cultural observation: God Himself established his most important covenants not merely with individuals but with heads of houses,2 and these covenants have a lasting impact on all the members of those families. Men like Adam, Noah, Abraham, and David were more than just special men who walked with God: they were patriarchs whom God treated as representatives of their houses.3 For God to deal with the patriarch was for Him to deal with the whole house.

My Home is a Little Church

One of the first things that drew me to paedobaptism was not a list of intellectual arguments—in fact, I found their arguments to be very weak at first. Rather, what drew me was a community culture that I saw in paedobaptist circles. There I saw the importance of family elevated to a level I had never seen before.

It was in paedobaptist circles that I started seeing the family unit as more than just individuals God had providentially corralled under the same roof, but as the Puritans saw it: a little church in itself. Puritan preacher Thomas Manton said the family “is the seminary of the church and state,” the place where the next generation was trained for godliness.4 As a father, I was personally challenged by the idea of the husband and father as the spiritual instructor to the household.

“I will be the God of your offspring”

Now, of course I didn’t see this as an argument for infant baptism. After all, I could be a good father without having my children baptized.

But there was a theological core that held paedobaptist homes together: the covenant. When these parents looked at their children, they heard echoing in their ears the promise God gave to Abraham: “I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you” (Genesis 17:7). God promised to be the God of Abraham’s children. This applied as much to the slave’s son Ishmael as it did to the promised son Isaac: both received the sign of the covenant, circumcision (Genesis 17:26; 21:4).

When a paedobaptist looks upon his own children, he believes God has promised to be their God.

What does this mean? Does this mean by baptizing my baby I believe he will be saved? No. To have a place in the covenant does not mean that one partakes in all the blessings of the covenant. Faith and repentance are still required for that. Just like the Hebrew children of old, because the Lord was their God, those in the household of Abraham did inherit real and tangible blessings. As Abraham’s children they were “entrusted with the oracles of God” through the giving of the Law and prophecies (Romans 3:1; 9:4). Among them God ratified many covenants and promises (Romans 9:4). They partook of the temple worship and sacrifices (Romans 9:4). It was to them the gospel was delivered first (Romans 1:16). And of all peoples in the world, they share a common bloodline with the Messiah (Romans 9:5). This is just a taste of the blessings.

In other words, a paedobaptist firmly believes, in a very real sense, his children are “holy,” just as Paul says they are in 1 Corinthians 7:14. This word translated “holy” is the same word we translate “saint.” The children of saints are saints.

Grappling with this truth for the first time I had many questions. Just how do my children fit into God’s covenant? How does God see them? And what does this mean for the subject of baptism?

. . . .

Read all the posts in this series:

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9

. . . .

1 Joseph H. Hellerman, When the Church Was a Family, p.50
2 This is known as the principle of “federalism.” The term federalism comes from the Latin foedus, an Roman word for a covenant or a treaty.
3 For example, after the flood, Noah restarted the human race on the earth. In this way, he is the patriarch of us all. God established a covenant with Noah not just as an individual but as the head of a family. Through that covenant not only was his immediate family saved from the great flood (Gen. 6:18), but we today also inherit the promises of global protection (Gen. 9:8-17).
God made an everlasting covenant with David (2 Sam. 7:8-16), a covenant that impacted his whole house for generations (2 Sam. 23:5), and would eventually lead to the Messiah coming from David’s line (Romans 1:1-4).
Our solidarity with Adam is another place where this headship is seen (Romans 5). “Families fell in Adam,” says Randy Booth, “and it is families that God will redeem from the fall” (The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism, p.184).
4 J.I. Packer, The Quest for Godliness, p.270
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