Why I Baptized My Babies (Part 9)

In these last 8 posts I’ve been telling the story of my move from the Baptist to the paedobaptist position. While I’ve attempted to give a reasoned defense of this position, my posts are as much biographical as they are theological. I’ve only outlined specific aspects of this debate with which I personally wrestled, certainly not every possible angle or every relevant Bible passage.

For this final post, I want to share what difference this change has made in my life.

How I understand baptism

I used to believe baptism was first and foremost saying something about me: I am united with Christ; I am forgiven; I am born again. But now I see baptism as first something about Christ.

Credobaptists and paedobaptists alike agree that the act of baptism symbolizes or demonstrates spiritual realities. But historically there has been a great divergence of opinion over what exactly it symbolized in baptism.

Take, for instance, the language of the Westminster Confession, written by paedobaptists in the 1640s:

Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ. By baptism a person is solemnly admitted into the visible church. Baptism is also a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of the believer’s engrafting into Christ, of rebirth, of remission of sins, and of the believer’s yielding to God through Jesus Christ to walk in newness of life.

Notice both the objective and subjective language of this text. According to the Confession, baptism is not first a sign of what a believer is doing in response to Christ, but rather is a sign of what God has done in Christ. Baptism is a visible sign that God has inaugurated the covenant of grace, and He promises union with Christ, regeneration, forgiveness, and sanctification to all who meet the conditions of that covenant (i.e. belief).

However, both the London and Philadelphia Baptist Confessions, modeled from the Westminster, deliberately strip away this objective language. They both state:

Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life. (italics added)

Notice: baptism here symbolizes something about the specific believer who receives it. It is a sign of his fellowship with Christ, his sins washed away, his surrender to Christ.

Or note this from the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message:

Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. (italics added)

This is often where credobaptists and paedobaptists disagree. Sinclair Ferguson pointedly asks, what does baptism seal? “Is baptism primarily a seal of faith (i.e. of our response to the gospel) or a seal to faith (i.e. of the gospel which elicits our response)?”1

Because I believe baptism is like circumcision, a household rite, I believe it signs to each member of our households the same reality, regardless of age. For the adults converts, there is an immediate subjective element to baptism: it is something they are doing in response to the gospel. But for all members of my household, baptism is a sign and seal of something objective—the gospel itself—the gospel that promises forgiveness and eternal life to those who believe.

How I understand my God

God loves to work through families.

God began an everlasting covenant with Abraham and his family long ago, promising to be God to him and to his offspring after him (Genesis 17:7). God repeats this same refrain in his prophecy of the new covenant: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people…I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them.” (Jeremiah 31:33; 32:39, italics added).

The Lord is a God of steadfast love, not only to me, but to my children. When God proclaimed his name to Moses on Mount Sinai, he said his generational faithful was essential to his very nature: he is slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, and keeping steadfast love for a thousand generations (Exodus 34:6-7). David praises God for this very thing: “But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments” (Psalm 103:17-18, italics added).

How I see my kids

I believe my kids belong to God.

I believe our sovereign God has placed my children in my home, and, like Abraham, He has called me to teach them in righteousness (Genesis 18:19). My home is meant to be a little church where my children are trained for godliness. They are being raised as disciples, and as such are baptized and taught to follow all God commands (Matthew 28:18-20).

I believe, like the parents who brought their children to Jesus, that the Lord has invited me to bring my own children before Him to receive a special blessing (Luke 18:15-16).

I believe my children are in covenant with God, just like the Hebrew children before us. This means they are marked in baptism with both covenant promises and covenant duties.

As far as their covenant promises go, God calls my children saints, set apart to him as holy (1 Corinthians 7:14). They are His own people, sanctified by the blood of the covenant (Hebrews 10:29-30). They are growing up in a home and a church community where they are being enlightened by the gospel, sharing in the Holy Spirit, tasting the heavenly gift, tasting the goodness of the word of God, and tasting the powers of the age to come (Hebrews 6:4-5).

As far as their covenant duties go, they are called to be united by faith with those who obediently listen to God (Hebrews 4:2). Like the Israelites of old, they are promised justification in God’s sight—if they have the same faith our father Abraham had (Galatians 3:9; Romans 4:11).

My children are also sinners, deserving of damnation. They can no more look to their parentage to save them than the Israelites could. (God can raise up children for Abraham from stones, after all.) Christ is their only hope for salvation, just as He is mine.

But I am raising them as disciples of Christ, covenant children, holy and blessed of God—not as pagans. Does this mean I think my children are “believers”? In a sense, yes. Only God knows if they are elect and whether they will persevere to the end. But in our home, faith will be something that germinates in them from the youngest age. God can make children, even the youngest children, into worshipers. As Jesus said, “Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?” (Matthew 21:16).

Afraid of Nominalism?

Back when I took a more baptistic slant on things, I believed infant baptism would only encourage nominalism in the church. If kids are raised to believe that some rite or ceremony “got them in,” won’t this discourage them from desiring a faith of their own?

I’ve since come to believe the opposite. Today, I think a robust covenantal view of the household, combined with obedience to the Lord’s command to make my children his disciples, discourages nominalism.

I will finish with an extended quote from Douglas Wilson on this subject.

We are faced with an inescapable reality. God has placed our children in our presence, and we are in covenant with the God who has done so. We will either treat our children as though they are in this covenant together with us, and teach them the terms of it, or we will treat them as strangers to that covenant, as outsiders. If we treat them as strangers to the covenant, if we say it is not possible for us to disciple our children in evangelical faith, bringing them up in it, then we will live with the unhappy consequences of covenant members training up covenant strangers. This would be hard enough, but if we are training them up as covenant strangers when the promises of God have brought them near, we are not just laboring against Adamic sin in our children (as many parents assume), but we are also swimming again the tide of God’s promises. Too often we assume that things are going badly because our child’s sin is interfering with our parental wisdom. Perhaps we should consider whether our theology is interfering with God’s parental grace. We discipline our children in unbelief—not believing God’s promises and hence not believing indications of his word in our children—and over time, our children finally give up and learn the lessons of our unbelief, which are more conducive to the flesh anyway…

A small girl comes up to her father and says she believes in Jesus. She is four years old. Now, what is the father to do? He must either believe her or disbeliever her? If he disbelieves her, he is teaching her to doubt her profession, just as he doubts it. She thinks she loves Jesus, but her father, an older and wiser Christian, declines to have her baptized or to ask the elders to bring her to the table. She knows that in a certain fundamental sense, she is still considered “out.” She must be outside for a reason. Her belief that she loves Jesus must be erroneous, and she must learn to doubt other similar affections as they arise. “True” faith is always just around the corner, and is something that apparently happens (miraculously) to other people. For many children taught this way, this is the way it remains. They leave the faith, breaking the hearts of those parents who (unwittingly) taught them to do so.

This is nothing other than teaching our little ones to doubt the promises of God. We may say that we are doing it for the sake of maintaining true evangelical zeal, not letting anyone in until they display it, but we are actually killing the heart of true covenant faithfulness over generations. We have made dramatic conversions out of paganism the norm, and then, having placed this expectation on our covenant children, we have slowly driven them into nominalism through the false but very common standard of the “flashy testimony.” But God told Christian parents to bring up their children in such a way that they have a really boring testimony. This is what it means to being children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). Children are to show up in an environment dominated by the word of God, and they are to be a natural and organic part of that environment. We are not to think of the dinner table as surrounded mostly with Israelites, but the newly arrived Amalekite sitting sullenly off to the side in his high chair. Our homes are considered as part of the covenantal olive tree, and this certainly includes the olive shoots around the table (Ps. 128).

When we look for the dramatic “Damascus road conversion experiences” in our children, we are setting up a false standard. We may be doing this in the name of a high view of conversion, but we are actually setting the stage for compromises that have been seen before in the history of the church. And this refusal to think of our children covenantally is at the heart of the church’s current disarray…

Baptists create this alien mentality in children by refusing to baptize them…because they do not have a theology of generations. And, having taught our children to doubt the promises and leave the covenant, we take the fact that they do leave as incontrovertible evidence that we were right in excluding them in the first place. We require children to grow big and strong so that we might give them some food after they have done so. Then, when they starve to death, we take it as proving that we were right in not feeding them. Wisdom is vindicated by her children, but in our case, they don’t stick around.2

. . . .

Read all the posts in this series:

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

. . . .

1 Baptism: Three Views, p.93

2 Gregg Strawbride, The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism, p.298-301

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9 thoughts on “Why I Baptized My Babies (Part 9)

  1. Baptism was never meant to be so deep or philosophical. All it is is a very simple public “announcement”, if you will, that a person has identified themselves with the Christ who suffered to pay for their sin by accepting Him as their Saviour. A baby doesn’t have the understanding to accept Christ, therefore baptizing a baby is nothing more than getting him/her wet. There is no faith on the child’s part at that point. If you are doing it as a symbol of your own faith or for your family, that doesn’t make sense. You should baptize yourself if you are wanting to publicly announce that you have accepted Christ. That is the only purpose of baptism. It’s so simple that children (that are of age of course) can understand it. No one needs a Westminister confession or any other confession to explain it. The Bible has already done that.

    • Hi Roger, thanks for your comment. I completely understand what you are talking about. I used to think the same way.

      I’ve spent the last 9 posts trying to draw out the biblical materials that inform my belief that infants in believers’ homes should be baptized. Is there a particular passage of Scripture or passages that inform you why every baptism needs to be a personal announcement of faith? I recommend you read through this series, especially part 8, and let me know your thoughts on what I’ve said so far. What texts lead you to believe infant baptism is incorrect?

      I really would love to hear back from you. The whole reason I’ve written this series was to get some good discussion going.

      • Thanks. I will find some time and go through your other posts. But a couple thoughts to your response…

        you say: “Is there a particular passage of Scripture or passages that inform you why every baptism needs to be a personal announcement of faith?”

        this is like me asking: “Is there any reason why EVERY marriage needs to be between a male and female?” If two males or two females want to join because the feel it’s okay, why not right?
        We wouldn’t agree with that, would we? Why? Because that is simply (emphasis on simple) the very definition of marriage. The word actually means a union between a male and female. God set that up in the beginning.
        The same applies to your question. Baptism is simply publicly acknowledging your faith in Christ, thus identifying with Him.
        Therefore, because of what the word baptism is, saying “infant baptism” is an oxymoron. If you choose to get your baby wet, that’s one thing, but it is spiritually impossible to “baptize” a baby. They have not identified with Christ through salvation at that point. Once they do, baptism is a wonderful thing and an obedient thing as commanded in Scripture.

        I can’t say I fully understand why this would seem so complicated or complex, but I will do some additional pondering and respond with some Scripture examples.
        Just like God “established” what marriage is at creation, He also established what baptism is through Jesus in the New Testament.

      • Thanks for your prompt reply, Roger.

        I obviously disagree that baptism by definition means publicly acknowledging your faith in Christ. I find no such definition in the Bible. Yes baptism often accompanies a public confession. But the very fact that there were household baptisms in that culture (done by families coming from paganism to Judaism), and that the apostles followed this same pattern of household baptisms, tells us they didn’t see baptism as merely an individualistic decision. It was something whole families did, too (and yes, households in that culture most certainly included babies).

        You equated me asking about baptism to you asking about homosexual marriage. While I get your line of reasoning, I object to it for two reasons. First, as I’ve stated, I don’t think the Bible assumes the definition of baptism to be a personal confession of faith the same it assumes marriage to mean heterosexual marriage. Second, I object to it because when you state it like that, you vilify paedobaptists as people who are looking to merely justify their own stance despite what Scripture says. I’m not sure if that was your intention, but paedobaptists could hardly be lumped into the same category as those who try to use the Bible to justify homosexual marriage.

        As for the paedobaptist conviction seeming “complex” I completely understand where you are coming from. I used to think the same thing. It actually took me a couple years researching this issue before my opinions changed.

        I look forward to more dialogue with you on this!

  2. This has been helpful to me, as I am struggling to understand reformed covenant theology having been a dispensationalist my whole life up to now. The subject of baptism and what it means in the context of the whole Bible, is part of my struggle, but I feel the continuity of scripture via covenant architechure is the best way to understand this, as you have demonstrated.

    I do have a couple of hangups, one being the need to understand how my kids are to be viewed, since God elects those he chooses to save before the foundation of the world, but we dont know who until we see fruit. This is “fruit-free” assumption that they are saved until proven otherwise. I guess I would not raise them different, not knowing this. I would still train them to love God by learning his Word and teaching His ways. There should be another way to say where my kids are at. In covenant? In the visible church? But not part of the “body of Christ”, right? That seems too presumptive. I heard that at an infant baptism I attended with friends at Dave Hatcher’s Trinity church (CREC), a denonimation I have serious concerns about.

    That brings me to my second hangup. Much of who you quoted has ties to the CREC, and I jsut dont trust them, with the federal vision heresy, hyper patriachy, no birth control, others. Hate to throw the baby out with the bath water on this subject, as they appear to have good insigth.

    I’d like to talk to you more about this.

    • Hi Jeff,

      Thanks for your comment! I’ll try to respond to some of your issues.

      Yes, I do believe covenant theology is, in general, the best framework for understanding redemptive history. As far as infant baptism goes, I believe it fits nicely into a covenant theological frame, much more so than a dispensational frame.

      The issue of how to view our kids is a question I’ve wrestled with quite a bit. I believe in Scripture we see two types of election: individual and corporate. God elects specific people to be His for all eternity, but He also elects a body of people through which he will show special mercy and work in the world (i.e. Israel, the church). Many among His corporate elect are themselves elect individuals, but not all are.

      I believe we see this come through in the book of Hebrews most vividly. As far as individual election goes, the author states we have come to share in Christ if we hold to our original confidence firm to the end (i.e. we are truly united to Christ now if we persevere) (Hebrews 3:14). But the whole book is written to a group of people whom the author is concerned about falling away. How does he describe the spiritual experience of these people in the present, even though they are not elect and will fall away eventually?

      Hebrews 6:4-5 – They have been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, shared in the Holy Spirit! Tasted the goodness of the Word of God, and tasted the powers of the age to come.

      Hebrews 10:26-31 – They have received the knowledge of they truth, they were sanctified by the blood of the covenant, and they are called God’s own people.

      This is how I see my kids. These are all good descriptions of their spiritual state. They are among the corporate elect, thereby in the church. I believe this is why Paul can write to the churches of Ephesus and Collosae, calling them all saints, and even address children in these letters. They too are saints. He even calls them “holy” (same word translated “saint”) in 1 Corinthians 7:14.

      I cannot say whether I would say they are in the body of Christ. In some sense they are, because they share in the Holy Spirit (Heb 6), and Christ’s blood has sanctified them (Heb 10). In another sense they are not. I’d have to really look at some of the passages that talk about “the body” and see what they say.

      As ar as the federal vision is concerned, I completely understand your reservations. I’ve quoted many people throughout this nine-part series, and many are not a part of the federal vision, though some are. Douglas Wilson, for instance, is a prominent spokesperson for the federal vision, but not even he agrees with all of his fellow federal vision contemporaries. That movement is fairly diverse.

      Any thoughts on what I’ve said here?

      • Sorry I have not replied. I keep starting to and realize we are far apart on so many issues. As soon as FV and NPP authors are cited in a study, it becomes clear our way of understanding covenant theology and basic doctrines of justification by faith, baptism and assurance of salvation diverge quite a bit.

        I dont see two elect groups in the Church. You’re either elect or you’re not, based on (one example), John’s understanding in I John 2:19 “they left us , but they were never really with us…” They were part of the visible church, but not elect. To have a group of elect that can fall away is to doubt your salvation and always wonder – its an assurance issue. It opens up a can of worms where we say Christs imputed righteousness was not enough – we need to add our works. We need to persevere by our effort. I’m just saying that’s where such thinking takes us.

        Heb 6 is not talking about those who have saving faith – that’s not what “tasted the Holy Spirit” means. These are folks who benefited from the Church by hearing the gospel, but did not become regenerate by God’s sovereign choice – God did not draw them per John 6:44, so faith did not occur for them.

        James tried to explain saving faith vs faith of devils in chapter 2 of his letter, but FV folks tied justifing faith and works together, instead of realizing James point that saving faith produces or is evidenced by works, a key distinction.

        All this to say I’m still not sure how to view my kids before they are regenerate, but included in the church by covenant baptism, a continuation of circumcision’s meaning in the old.

        Luke – I’m glad you took the time to write your study down in this blog. It’s definately helped me to think through this issue even though I dont have a full understanding yet.

        Jeff

      • Hi Jeff,

        I don’t want to be misunderstood. I don’t align myself with the Federal Vision when it comes to many of those doctrines. Merely quoting from an FV spokesperson does not mean I endorse all their views anymore than I would endorse all the views of the Baptist authos I’ve quoted throughout this series.

        I do believe there are different ways the Bible speaks of election. Surely you would understand the nation of Israel to be an elect nation (among the nations of the world). By “elect” we don’t mean “elect for eternal salvation” but “chosen.” Who was a part of this chosen nation? Those whom God sovereignly placed in that nation via their parentage or relationships. Does this mean all of this group are elect for salvation? No. You can be of the elect nation but not be an elect person.

        We see the same thing with the church. There are many who are a part of the church but not eternally elect. As you said, a part of the “visible church.” As you also pointed out, these folks do not have saving faith. I agree. But I would also point out that Hebrews 6 and Hebrews 10 are talking about the same kind of people (i.e. those who fall away), and God clearly labels them “his people” (10:30). He says these people are sanctified by the blood of the covenant (10:29). He says they have once been repentant (6:6) and enlightened (6:4). No, these people do not have saving faith, but they are God’s people all the same (just like an Israelite could be one of God’s people but not elect).

        My point is this: If you want a way to think about those who are a part of the covenant community but who may not be themselves saved (such as our children) then Hebrews supplies you with a wealth of descriptive terms for this group of people.

        Thoughts?

      • Thanks for the clarification. I can agree with you on this. I hesitate to use elect for anything but believers, but I better understand now your use of it as applied to those in the visible church who profess belief. In that sense, they are sanctified by association to the visible church, benefiting from the preaching of the Word of God and witnessing the sacrements, but not saved. For those that are too young or otherwise unable to verbally profess their belief, like our kids, are you saying they are part of the covenant community by promise “…the promise is for you and your children…”, confirming this by baptism, which does not confer salvation, but is a sign and seal to them/us of this promise of God to be our God and we his people upon belief in the gospel, belief that God provides as a gift (Eph 2:8-9)?

        Sorry if this all runs together – I have so many questions, but have trouble writing them out. With our kids, this faith could be earlier than when they comprehend the gospel message right? Could they have faith from God before knowing the gospel? That’s some of the point of all this, that our kids, should they be called to heaven before they can express or profess faith, could be saved? What do we call that? They have faith in God, as God draws them (Jn 6:44) but not the gospel right? Not the normative way to believe and have saving faith, as I think the WCF puts it.

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