This was my sermon manuscript that was preached @ Grace URC, but I have adapted it for this blog.
In this blog post we will be looking at the issue of Covenant Infant Baptism. I say Covenant Infant baptism because I will be arguing for the Reformed understanding of Infant Baptism which says that we do not baptize infants because they are regenerate nor do we baptize infants to make them regenerate rather we baptize infants because God commands us in his word that we ought to administer the visible sign of the covenant (in the New Covenant Baptism) on the covenant members which include children. This view is contrasted from believers or professors baptism which says we only are to baptize persons who profess faith in Jesus Christ. But the classical Reformed Infant baptism position says that if a person were not baptized as a infant and became a Christian latter on in life then that person should be baptized when he is a professing believer. It would make very little sense for Reformed people to go around baptizing people who do not want to be in the Christian church. My basic contention is that there are good reasons to believe in covenant infant baptism and that there are no good reasons for thinking that believer's baptism is true. The first part of this series will look at the good reasons in favor of covenant baptism and the second part I will demonstrate that none of the believer's baptism arguments are successful.
Argument 1: Covenant Continuity
The first argument we will look at is the argument from presumed continuity of the covenants and the commandments of God. This argument relies on a very reasonable philosophical and theological principle which is this: If God commands or reveals a way of functioning in His word we ought to follow it unless God gives us a implicit or explicit indication that a commandment is no longer ethically binding or a indication that God is no longer functioning that way. I am going to support this principle both philosophically and theologically but first I need to tell you why this principles supports infant baptism. This principle supports infant baptism because God in his word clearly commands that Infants of believer's are in the covenant community and that male infants are to have the sign of the covenant which is circumcision. This is taught explicitly in Genesis 17:1-14 which reads: When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, "I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. 2 I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers." 3 Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4 "As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5 No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 6 I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. 8 The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God." 9 Then God said to Abraham, "As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. 10 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner-- those who are not your offspring. 13 Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant." In this passage we have the sign of the covenant administered to infant boys, so if my principle of continuity were true then it would follow that the sign of the covenant (baptism) would be administered to male infants in the New covenant. The reason why this principle would follow is because there is no verse in the New Testament were God implicitly or explicitly abrogates this commandment or the Abrahamic covenant in general. But what we do find are alterations and additions to the commandment to put the covenant sign on infant males who are in the covenant. For example we see that the covenant sign is added on to so that it includes women (Acts 8:12) and that the covenant sign is altered to baptism (Col. 2:11-12). So we see that the principle I discussed earlier gives warrant to infant baptist position. It is appropriate that I give philosophical and theological arguments in favor of the principle I developed earlier, let us call this principle “the principle of presumed continuity”. The philosophical reason for holding to this principle is that if one did not hold to it then consistency would then allow for the possibility that when God gives you a commandment you could just presume that it no longer applies to you. But surely this is not right because we could use this to rationalize away commandments like “you shall not murder” or “you shall not commit adultery”. The rationalization for no longer following the commandments not to murder and not commit adultery could go something like this: “well God has not told to me that I should stop following it, but he has not commanded this in awhile so I am not longer obligation to follow these commandments”. Because rejecting the principle of presumed continuity has ethically disastrous results then we are rational in affirming the principle to avoid these absurd results. Not only is this principle reasonable but the scriptures teach it. We see an example of this principle being carried out in Paul's theological reasoning in Galatians 3:15-18 which reads “15 Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. 16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say "and to seeds," meaning many people, but "and to your seed," meaning one person, who is Christ. 17 What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. 18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.” Paul is saying that when the Mosaic covenant came to be it did not abolish nor do away with the Abrahamic Covenant. But the Mosaic covenant did add and qualify the Abrahamic covenant by giving different Laws and regulations. So Paul's principle in this verse is that we are to assume covenant continuity even if a additional covenants comes about. Lastly, this verse connects the Abrahamic covenant to the Mediator of the New Covenant Jesus Christ. Therefore, we see that in the same text that teaches the principle of presumed continuity it also implicitly connects the New Covenant with the Abrahamic covenant. Therefore, we have strong reason for thinking that the principle of continuity is true and that the Bible even implicitly teaches that the Abrahamic covenant is connected to the New Covenant. The natural inference from this data is that because there is no hint of abrogation of the Abrahamic covenant and because the Word of God connects to the Abrahamic covenant to the New Covenant then we ought to give the covenant sign to covenant children by virtue of it being commanded in the Abrahamic covenant.
Argument 2: Baptism Replaces Circumcision
The second argument for infant baptism is that circumcision is connected to and is replaced by baptism so we should assume that the replacement functions the same unless there is a sufficient reason to doubt it. Now let us look at the various ways circumcision and baptism connect and parallel. We see in Colossians 2:11-12 that both circumcision and baptism points to our salvation and the death of Christ, Colossians 2:11-12 which reads 11 In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. In this case circumcision points to the death of Christ and Baptism points back to the death of Christ. Ultimately circumcision and baptism are related in that they both are connected in Jesus Christ and his death. We also see that circumcision and baptism are connected by external visual symbols of the representations of the inward realities of our salvation in Christ Jesus. We are circumcised by Jesus cutting off our sinful flesh and this is done by being buried with him in baptism. In Paul's mind baptism and circumcision were so linked and connected that he could use them as overlapping imagery to point to Christ's death and to describe our inward regeneration. The implications of this text for infant baptism is 1) that baptism and circumcision both point to regeneration and 2) that those who are regenerated have a circumcision of the heart by having been baptized by the Holy Spirit. Paul does not use this visual salvation language for no reason, but rather he uses this imagery to show the truth that we have the equivalence of the sign physical circumcision having been baptized physically. This interpretation can make sense of the context and concerns of the book of Colossians because Paul is dealing with Jewish mystical moralist who wants to follow the Jewish Laws (which circumcision was one of them) in this letter (Col. 2:16-23). The way Paul deals with this moralist that want to follow the Old Testament Laws is that he uses this new regeneration by Jesus and his death by using physical signs that point to the death of Christ. Paul shows in the same statement that we need not follow the system of the circumcision anymore because we have that and more in our baptism. Now if circumcision is equivalent to baptism in the sense that baptism now functions in the place of circumcision. Therefore, we ought to assume they function the same unless we have reason to doubt it. My contention is that we have no reason to doubt that baptism should be also applied to covenant children as circumcision was. This is then my second argument for infant baptism, so with that in mind let us move to my third argument for infant baptism.
Argument 3: Children in the Covenant
My third argument for Infant baptism is that 1) if children are in the covenant community we ought to give them the sign of the covenant which is baptism. 2) Children are in the covenant community, 3) therefore, we should baptize them. The text I am going to be using to justify this argument is Matthew 19:13-14 which reads 13 Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. 14 Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." There are a few things I want to point out before I give my support for the infant baptism argument from this text. My contention in this text is that kingdom of heaven means the new covenant. Now you might ask: How do you know this text is referring to the new covenant? Well by eliminating all the other plausible meanings of the phrase “kingdom of heaven” and this process of elimination shows that in this specific text the most plausible meaning of the phrase kingdom of heaven is the new covenant. There are three plausible meanings of the phrase kingdom of heaven: 1) The entire world, 2) the regenerate, or 3) the new covenant (Matt. 16:19) It cannot be the entire world because that would make the words of Jesus trivial and insignificant. If this were the meaning why would Jesus even need to mention it? Jesus would be in effect saying, “hey you have the same status as every person in the world so that justifies you coming to me” The reason I put it like this is because if all people are in the kingdom of heaven why would this justify Jesus' actions of blessing them and allowing others to bring children to Jesus? This would make Jesus' reasoning absurd because even his unbelieving enemies like the Pharisees were in the kingdom of heaven on this understanding. This understanding of the kingdom of heaven is inappropriate in immediate context and it makes Jesus' reasoning trivial therefore this cannot be plausibly the meaning of “kingdom of heaven” in this text. The second meaning of kingdom of heaven is that it refers to those who are regenerate. This is even more absurd because this would suggest that all of the children of believers are regenerate, but we know that children of believers can later become unbelievers. So in order to hold to this meaning of kingdom of heaven one would have to reject the doctrine that once someone is truly justified they cannot lose their justification (perseverance of the saints), but the bible clearly teaches perseverance of the saints or that once one is truly justified they cannot lose their justification. Therefore, the kingdom of heaven cannot refer to those who are regenerate in this context. The only plausible option that remains is that kingdom of God is referring to the New Covenant and that according to Jesus children are in the New covenant. Therefore, it follows that children are in the new covenant, the kingdom of heaven, and it is plausible that we should baptized those who kingdom/covenant members.
I have established that there is good reason to believe that children are to be given the sign of the New Covenant which is baptism. There are many baptist objections to infant baptism and in the next week I shall argue that all objections are insufficient to defeat the arguments that I have given. When we give covenant children the sign of baptism we are doing what Abraham did with his sons and this shows God's consistency in working with his church throughout the ages.