The title of this article comes by way of a question I often am often asked - sometimes by those with shocked expressions on their faces.
“Wait a second!” they say. “You really practice infant baptism? Why?!?!?”
It’s a good question and it deserves a good answer...
Misunderstandings promote division and there are many misunderstandings about infant baptism. It is important for us to point out that just because a church practices infant baptism does not mean that it refuses to baptize adults as well. In my initial pastoral experience as a minister in Scotland I discovered that this was a very common misunderstanding among Credobaptists (those who exclusively practice believer’s baptism.) The assumption seemed to be that Paedobaptists (those who practice infant baptism) deny the sacrament to adults. This assumption is false. All Paedobaptists (to my knowledge at least) believe that adult converts from non-Christian backgrounds are to be baptized according to the clear example set forth in the New Testament.
2. Cultural Norms
We have to acknowledge a particular cultural difficulty in addressing the issue of Paedobaptism. We are Americans and the fact is that most American evangelicals do not practice infant baptism. Instead they prefer to baptize only those who have verbally professed faith in Christ. But it is important for American evangelicals to understand that though their baptismal practice is the majority position in America evangelical churches it is the minority position throughout the rest of the world and throughout the history of the Church.
3. Textual Difficulties
It is proper to acknowledge the textual challenges that exist for anyone attempting to define and defend their baptismal practice regardless of what that practice might be. For we Paedobaptists this means we must honestly admit that there is no passage in the New Testament explicitly commanding us to baptize infants. However, those who oppose Paedobaptism must also acknowledge that there is no passage explicitly forbidding the baptism of infants, let alone affirming the baptism of only those capable of verbally professing their faith.
With these preliminary considerations out of the way I think that we can now make a brief case for infant baptism by offering a threefold answer to the question that entitles this article.
Question: Why do we baptize infants?
Answer #2: We believe that the new covenant was foreshadowed by the old covenant and many of the principles of the old covenant still apply to the new. One of these principles embraced by Paedobaptists concerns the fact that in the old covenant era God’s promises were given not just to adults but also to their children. This reality was powerfully depicted in the Old Testament sacrament of circumcision. Paedobaptists argue that it is hard to imagine that the far greater new covenant promises that we enjoy today in Christ should not also be given to the infant children of believing adults. Such a diminishing of promised blessing seems even harder to imagine when one reads the Apostle Peter telling his audience on the day of Pentecost that the new covenant promises, like the old, are gifts for both believers and their children. (Acts 2:38–39). Also there’s the odd fact that over a quarter of all baptisms recorded in the New Testament are of entire households. Though it is admittedly an argument from silence can we reasonably assume that not one of these entire households had infants and/or small children in them? Paedobaptists believe that such an assumption would be unreasonable.
Answer #3: We Paedobaptists take seriously the New Testament’s clear teaching that the children of believing parents are set apart unto God (1 Cor. 7:12–14). Under the old covenant it was circumcision that visibly set the children of believers apart from the rest of the world. Paedobaptists believe that God, in the new covenant, still sets the children of believing parents apart from the rest of the world, marking them out as part of the visible community of God’s people through the waters of baptism. Now it may be that my Credobaptists friends would object to this by pointing out that baptizing infants who lack personal faith in Christ is a worthless enterprise, but Paedobaptists would argue otherwise. On the one hand it is very true that ultimately baptism without personal faith avails nothing. But on the other hand, the baptism of infants is far from worthless. By the grace of God baptism marks out the children of believing parents as being really and truly part of the visible church, as heirs to all of the promises of God in Christ, and therefore responsible to embrace those promises by laying hold of Christ by faith as they grow in years and understanding.
In conclusion, “why do you baptize infants?” Here’s why. We believe that Paedobaptism is a beautiful and biblically defensible practice. We also believe that the children of Christian parents have a particular relationship to the Lord that the children of unbelievers do not possess (1 Corinthians 7:12–14). Furthermore, we believe that the children of believing parents have been sovereignly brought into the visible church by virtue of their natural birth and that unlike other children they will grow-up surrounded by the means of grace and fed upon the Word of God.
To state it as simply as possible we baptize infants because we believe that they are part of God’s Kingdom too.
Acts 16:11–15, 25–34