A New Testament Appraisal of the Baptism of Infants

    Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" [38] And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. [39] For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." 

Acts 2:37-39 (ESV)


A Mutual Excommunication Society

    The candidate for ministry stands before a presbytery to be examined in his understanding of the faith. The questioner asks him, "Do you believe it is sin for a believing husband and wife to withhold water baptism for their infant offspring? In a Baptist congregation down the street the evangelist is crying out, "Away with popish ceremony that has no basis in spiritual reality! God has no grandchildren! You must be born again!" Both parties will quote Acts 2:39 to support their position--the presbyter emphasizing the promise that applies to the believer's offspring within the context of baptism, the evangelist noting the connection between baptism and repentance.

    You are going to be condemned by somebody on this issue-either the presbytery (or the pope) on the one hand, or the Baptists on the other. Either you are condemned by the Baptists because of the association of infant baptism with Rome, or condemned by others because of your rejection of the practice. Either you are condemned for departing from the standard "perpetual ordinance" of the Abrahamic covenant whereby the covenant sign was applied to the infant sons on the eighth day, or condemned because you practice it but cannot find a single New Testament verse that either commands the practice or specifically records it. Elements in Christendom have lent themselves unwittingly to a mutual excommunication society when it comes to the baptism of infants! Caught in the middle of such a dilemma, We might be tempted to echo the apostle's cry, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24-25)

    What do we do? How are we to understand Acts 2:39? Does the inclusion of the word "repent" rule out the baptism of infants? Or does the inclusion of the words "and to your children" to describe the subjects of the promise rule them in? Can these two theological positions be reconciled?

    The problem for the presbyter is, if the New Testament is to be our standard, that baptism in the New Testament always seems to be linked to faith and repentance. Since there is no salvation on the basis of ceremony or genealogical connection, the presbyter is hard put to press his case unless he can resort to the ceremony associated with the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 17. Furthermore, the promised "seed" of Genesis 17:7 on which he bases his argument takes on a spiritual meaning, rather than a biological meaning, within the New Testament--referring not to the believer's physical offspring but primarily to Christ, and secondarily to those who believe in Christ (Gal. 3:16, 24-29; Rom. 4:13-17).

    The problem for the Baptist evangelist is that he must account for Peter's inclusion of the words "and to your children." Why was it necessary for Peter to state such a thing if New Covenant baptism is a "one-size-fits-all-ages" token, i.e., that "repentance" must be discernible in all candidates at the point of its application?  And why would Peter refer to "your children" if he did not mean all children including infants?  The Baptist's egalitarian approach to baptism is thrown out of kilter by those words if he really thinks about them against the background of the Old Testament, and he dare not ignore the matter for the people to whom Peter was preaching were not Americans but Jews, i.e., they were a people whose thinking and lives had been molded by the Old Testament.  The infant offspring of the Jews were commanded to be present for Israel's national assemblies during times of public fasting and repentance (Joel 2:15-16; 2 Chron. 20:13).

    To be sure, the infant sons of Abraham, by God's command, received the rite of circumcision on the 8th day of their lives. To complicate matters, the Baptist evangelist also knows that, while the circumcision rite has been spiritually fulfilled under the New Covenant, another outward token has supplanted circumcision (Col. 2:11-12).  When faced with what is all too logical for the presbyter, namely that infants should receive this token, the Baptist, limits himself to the New Testament, viewing the New as the covenant of fulfillment, and maintains that infants under the Abrahamic covenant simply foreshadowed young Christians under the New.   The unfolding of the biblical covenants is a progressive revelation culminating in the New Covenant.  "Now that faith has come" (Gal. 3:25), and "having died to that which held us captive" (Rom. 7:6), we simply dismantle the trappings of the Old like scaffolding since God's new building is complete (John 3:18-21; Heb. 3:1-6; Ephes. 2: 21-22;1 Pet. 2:1-5).  It is at least noteworthy, however, that Cyprian, the bishop of North Africa in the third century, disavowed a mere one-for-one exchange of the covenant sign when he insisted that it was not necessary to wait until the eighth day to administer baptism to infants anymore than it was necessary to continue to observe the Jewish seventh-day sabbath since Christ rose on the first day of the week fulfilling the type.  The Baptist, nevertheless, views infant baptism like he views the Sabbath observance under the Puritan theocracy--the application of a legal observance simply transferred to another day.

 

Household Baptisms & Covenant Compliance

    From a New Testament perspective, when the head of the house came to Christ in faith and repentance, salvation was said to have come to that household.  Such was the case of Zaccheaus who stood and said to the Lord,

 
"Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold." [9] And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. [10] For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:8-10 ESV).

The presence of household baptisms in the New Testament reflects the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant in the New Covenant. Both the presbyter and the Baptist evangelist can agree, when they really think about it, that the New Testament does not overthrow the structure of the family that was so important to Jewish culture. And both must agree that the New Covenant standard for salvation is repentance and faith. Further, the covenant compliance necessary for the baptism of an entire household would have to be confessional compliance if Romans 10:8-10 be considered:

    But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); [9] because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. [10] For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved (Romans 10:8-10 ESV).

        Confessional compliance was evident in Corinth as indicated by Acts 18:8: "Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household."  For how would Luke have known that they believed had there been no confession?  

        Both sides would have to agree that if baptism could be in any sense said to save, or be regenerative, it would have to be according to the standard set forth by Peter:

    Baptism, which corresponds to this [the saving of Noah and his family through water], now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, [22] who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him (1 Peter 3:21-22 ESV).

    Everyone in the house would have to comply with the new reality of Christ's Kingdom  confessionally and credibly to qualify for baptism (Acts 2:36; Matt. 28:18).  The head of the household would have to meet that confessional standard, and the others would have to comply in some sense--if only submitting to the judgment of the head of the house.  If a teen-age son or a wife stood obstinately opposed to the new faith of the Philippian jailer, for example, that would surely have been discerned by Paul and Silas, and baptism would have been administered in a more limited fashion out of regard for another Kingdom reality, namely that Jesus did not come to bring peace but a sword, and that a man's foes are often those within his immediate family (Matt. 10:34-36). If the father could not have said with confidence and with a credibility obvious to the apostles, "As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" (Joshua 24:15), it is highly unlikely, if not inconceivable, that Paul and Silas would have ordered baptism for the entire household. This is evident from those New Testament commands directed to fathers and children (Ephes. 6:1-4). It was axiomatic for the apostles that the Fatherhood of God be reflected in the Christian home (Eph. 3:14-15), and this was only consistent with the Abrahamic covenant.

For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him." Genesis 18:19 (ESV).

    In the case of Cornelius and his household, the obvious manifestation of the Holy Spirit upon the members of the household evoked Peter's rhetorical question: "Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" (Acts 10: 47)

    The case of Lydia is also significant, for here, for the first time, we have a woman as the head of a household which is baptized by the apostles.

One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. [15] And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us (Acts 16:14-15 ESV).

Lydia's readiness for spiritual management of her home was immediately obvious to Paul and Silas. Their acceptance of her offer of hospitality reflected the apostolic principle of evangelism set forth by our Lord:

    And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. [12] As you enter the house, greet it. [13] And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. [14] And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town (Matthew 10:11-14 ESV).

    The importance of this standard for the baptism of a household can be seen in the fact that churches commonly met in homes, as evident in several of Paul's letters in which he sent greetings to and from these house churches.  His letter to the Romans was written from the home of Gaius, one of the few he had baptized in Corinth and who also hosted the church meetings in Corinth (Rom. 16:23; cf. 1 Cor. 1:14).

    Under the terms of the Old Covenant, a child who was circumcised and then as a teen-ager became incorrigible or blasphemous, was subject to the law of Moses which stipulated that the head of the household call for the assistance of the church elders who would put the incorrigible son to death by stoning (Deut. 21:18-21). But that was a theocracy where church and state were one. Within the congregational framework of the church in the New Testament, church discipline would be brought to bear in keeping with the principles of Matthew 18:15-20.  Or it could be that the elders would simply instruct and support the father or mother in parental duty.  If unresponsive to the counsel of the elders, an incorrigible one would, all else failing, be excommunicated from the church. 

 

How Infants Comply

    But if covenant compliance means credible confessional compliance, what becomes of infants and little children incapable of understanding the gospel, making public confession of their faith, or even of expressing their compliance with the new faith of the head of the household?  In their case, it is necessary for us to consult the Mediator of the New Covenant on their behalf.  He can settle the issue for us.  When the disciples tried to prevent believing parents from bringing their infant children to Jesus, Jesus firmly rebuked those disciples and said, "Let the children come to be, and do not hinder them, to such belongs the kingdom of God." Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter (Luke 18:16-17). We are most fortunate that Luke, who recorded for the posterity of the church Peter's words in Acts 2:39, also recorded this incident and others like it, that the matter may be laid to rest as to the place of infants in the church and their baptism.

        It seems that the problem, as Jesus perceived it, was not to get the little children to receive the kingdom like an adult, but rather the reverse was true. Of course, we know from the parallel passage in Mark 10:13-16, that Jesus actually took these children in his arms and blessed them. We can promptly see that there is therefore now no condemnation, as far as Jesus is concerned, for those parents who would present their children for baptism.  This can be readily demonstrated by posing a couple of questions: (1) What was the blessing which Jesus bestowed upon the infants and toddlers?; and (2) How is that blessing replicated today within the context of the church? Once we have an answer to the first question the second will follow.

    We know from Galatians chapter three that Jesus was the Seed of Abraham. The obvious question is whether what Jesus bestowed was the blessing of Abraham which Paul identified with the promised Holy Spirit (Gal. 3:14). Some might protest the anachronism of suggesting that the Spirit was poured put upon these infants since Jesus had not yet been glorified at the time he administered the blessing (John 7:37-39).

    Suppose, however, that we grant (I am speaking with tongue in cheek!) that Jesus' blessing would be equivalent to that given by Aaron and his sons who were Israel's priests under the Old Covenant. To deny the Savior this minimal prerogative would seem to suggest that Jesus was simply religious play-acting. But that would be to suggest the unthinkable. For if there was anything that Jesus was not, it was disingenuous! Even if Jesus were illustrating a principle of the Kingdom, he would certainly not have misled the parents of these particular infants--as though he merely pretended to give a blessing that amounted to nothing more than a playful or perfunctory exercise. Jesus' anger at His disciples' obstructionism recorded in Mark's account of this event rules out play-acting (Mark 10:14).

    The threefold Aaronic blessing represented the placing of the LORD's name upon the people of Israel: 

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, [23] "Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, 
[24] The Lord bless you and keep you; 
[25] the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; 
[26] the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. 
[27] "So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them." (Numbers 6:22-27 ESV) 

If Jesus' blessing of the infants and toddlers is to be identified with the Aaronic benediction, how is that blessing conveyed within a New Testament context?  To answer that question, we need only observe the remarkable correspondence between the threefold Aaronic blessing and Christian baptism into the  triune name as our Lord defined it in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20:

    And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. [19] Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, [20] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

Just as the Aaronic triune benediction confirmed Israel's status as a covenant community entitled to worship in the temple that bore the LORD's Name (2 Chron. 20:8), so New Covenant baptism, by way of introduction into God's triune Name, constitutes a person a member of the church which is the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). 

        If identifying the blessing of Christ with the blessing of the Old Testament Aaronic priesthood can yield such New Covenant results, the unity of the covenants is thereby affirmed.  It is this covenantal unity that underlies the thinking of those who baptize infants simply because God commanded Abraham to apply the outward sign of circumcision to his infant sons (Gen. 17:9-14).  Those who prefer biblical theology to systematic theology, however, lay greater emphasis on the discontinuity between the Old and the New Covenants focusing on the Old as preparatory and the New as the covenant of fulfillment.  Acknowledging that they have a legitimate hermeneutical concern, let us lay aside the tongue-in-cheek identification of Christ's blessing with that of Aaron and his sons, and attempt to approach the subject of Jesus' blessing of the infants from a strictly New Covenant basis.  

        The New Testament Gospels make it clear that Jesus began his public ministry with the announcement: "The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15).  It was this kingdom to which Jesus referred on the occasion of his blessing of the infants and little children: "Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.  Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it" (Luke 18:16-17).  Clearly here the problem of receiving the kingdom was not so much a pediatric problem as an adult problem!  In fact, little children were the model of kingdom reception.  If water is the outward token of receiving the kingdom (Luke 3:16; John 3:5), therefore, our greater concern, so it would seem, ought to be its application to adults.  This is particularly the case when we consider Jesus' remarkable statement in Matthew 11:25 which provides further amplification of this truth that children are models of kingdom reception: "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will."  

        Given the kingdom context of Jesus' entire teaching, it is fair to say that the very kingdom which remained hidden from the Nicodemuses of Israel's higher education establishment (John 3:9-10) was revealed to the pediatric ward.  What was not evident to the spiritual eyes of Nicodemus was clearly made visible to the infants.  Time and again we see that in Jesus' ministry.  The children who sounded their hosannas hailing Jesus as King during his triumphal entry into Jerusalem might well have been those whom Jesus had personally bestowed the blessing.  Acknowledging their accolades in the face of the indignant scribes and chief priests, Jesus appealed to the Old Testament: "Yes, have you never read, 'Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise'?" To get to the heart of the matter regarding the nature of Jesus' blessing upon the children, therefore, it would follow that the blessing was in some way a revelation of the kingdom of God which Jesus had just indicated belonged to such children. 

        But what blessing could open their spiritual eyes to the kingdom reality?  The only blessing that could open their spiritual eyes was the one of which Nicodemus stood in such dire need when he came to Jesus by night.  "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).  When the matter is considered from a strictly New Testament perspective, therefore, the blessing of Jesus upon the infants and children was the kingdom blessing--the blessing of regeneration.  Jesus must surely have given those little ones a taste of the  "heavenly gift," a share in the Holy Spirit, and a taste of the word of God and "the power of the age to come"--those things which are properly associated with divine blessing (Heb. 6:4-5, 7).

    Jesus' words in Matthew 11:26 "Yes, Father, for such was your gracious will" (ESV) makes it apparent that the Father takes special delight in revealing the kingdom to the little ones,  A more literal rendering would read "for this was your good pleasure" (NIV).  Clearly the little ones are not placed in "Never-Never Land" but in "Graceland."  God is not neutrally disposed towards them but graciously disposed towards them.  Paul regarded them as "holy" being set apart by the faith of the believing parent (1 Cor. 7:14).  Does that mean that their eternal destiny is automatically assured?  Provided they continue in the grace that God has bestowed upon them, and do not erect a wall against it.  

For the land that has drunk the rain that often falls upon it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God.  But if it bears thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned (Heb. 6:7-8 ESV).         

Scripture gives no ground for anyone, child or adult, to presume upon the grace of God but rather exhorts us to continue in the faith.  "Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more" (Luke 12:48 ESV).

Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away (Luke 8:18 ESV).

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries (Heb. 10:26-27 ESV).

    It is noteworthy that these words of warning were directed to those who had been baptized (Heb. 10:22 ESV).  The fact that there is no specific command in the New Testament to baptize infants, therefore, or that there is no specific mention of one undergoing water baptism, pales into insignificance before Jesus' blessing of the children.  That the Incarnate Word introduces them to the blessing associated with baptism represents a far more positive statement and an infinitely greater instance, then if the New Testament had declared it a sin not to baptize infants in water and recorded many specific examples of this happening.  That He does it without requiring a confession at the moment He does it is His prerogative; for He is no more bound by the law of confession in this instance than a bull in a field of cows is bound by the law of adultery, or than God Himself is bound by the commandment "Thou shalt not kill."  

    But some will insist that since Jesus did not baptize the infants, we dare not. To be sure, Jesus did not baptize anyone with water (John 4:2), and if his disciples were not about to allow these infants into the presence of the Head of the Church, we could hardly expect them to have applied baptismal water to these little ones. Perhaps the disciples had read too much into the words of John the Baptizer when he rebuked the Pharisees for trusting in the mere fact that Abraham was their biological ancestor (Matt. 3:9). They may have jumped to the erroneous conclusion that a believer's infant offspring was of little account in the Kingdom economy. The King and Mediator of the New Covenant ruled otherwise.  So if they had been under the illusion that the friend of the Bridegroom had cut off infants, the Bridegroom's welcoming infants set them straight on the matter.

    If the blessing Jesus gave the infants was the blessing later associated with New Covenant baptism, why should we deny them that baptism?  Which is greater--the blessing or the outward sign?  Having been assured of the greater by the Savior and Head of the Church on behalf of our infants, why should we fear the lesser?  Why are we so concerned about profaning the lesser but not about profaning the greater? What ought to concern us is the spurning of the Son of God, the profanation of the blood of the covenant by which we are sanctified, and the outraging of the Spirit of grace (Heb. 10:29)--not the profanation of the outward sign. But to express that greater concern with regard to the subject of the infants, we find ourselves opposing the Mediator of the New Covenant! Our aversion to profaning the sign only reveals our carnality--a fixation upon external ceremony which blinds us to the reality behind the ceremony. Let Jesus who bestowed the blessing worry about the possible profanation of the sign where infants are concerned.

    It may be that the antipedobaptist mind cannot grasp this simple idea because it does not believe that Jesus is, in any sufficient sense, present in the church to bless the infants today.  But if He was present in the church of Corinth, as Paul said that He was, for the purpose of applying ecclesiastical discipline in the case of the offender (1 Cor. 5:4-5), we can certainly rely on His powerful presence in the person of the Holy Spirit to bless the infants brought  before the assembled church for baptism.

    In the New Testament, the outward visible sign does not assume the importance it had under the Old Covenant of types and shadows. In fact, Paul on one occasion exclaimed to the Corinthians church, " I thank my God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that none of you may say that you were baptized in my name. . . for Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel. . . " (1 Cor. 1:14, 17). Yet who can deny that the sign was consistently applied as the engaging covenant act on the part of the new believer (Acts 8:36-38; 22:16)?  Of course, in the case of infants, the parents and the congregation engage in that holy covenant with Jesus Christ the Head of the Church on the child's behalf.  God's promise of blessing upon the believer's offspring is conditional upon this covenanting action on the part of the parents and would be unthinkable without it.

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 ESV).

    If the Mediator of the New Covenant gave them His blessing, who are we to think we can deny the sign? If the Mediator of the New Covenant bestowed the blessing of the New Covenant, what right have we to insist that He was not complying with the terms of the covenant in that He did not wait for the children to publicly repent and confess His name before bestowing the blessing. If we insist that the New Covenant dispensed with the promised blessing upon the offspring of believers, we are suggesting  to that degree that the New Covenant is inferior to the Old--an unthinkable idea!  The regeneration model of the infant John the Baptist, who was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother's womb, would cry out against such an idea! (Luke 1:15)  

The Triumph of the Seed of the Woman

    The apocalyptic imagery of Revelation 12:1-5 in proclaiming the triumph of the woman's seed (Gen. 3:15), underscores the importance of bringing our infant offspring to Jesus and sealing them with the triune name in the baptism associated with His Kingdom. The serpent tried to devour the infant child "the moment it was born," and the Manchild was caught up to heaven. We are facing spiritual warfare. When we place our helpless infants in the arms of the King of Kings, that Shepherd who carries the lambs in His bosom, we are at the pinnacle of grace ministering to the depth of human weakness. In a very biblical sense we are affirming His victory over our unrighteous seed: "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Psalm 51:5).

    So insidious is our sin that our offspring stand in immediate need of cleansing from it at birth: "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean, wash me and I will be whiter than snow" (Psalm 51: 7).

    Even in infancy we stand in need of having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. The only problem is that we are incapable of drawing near with a true heart in full assurance of faith or holding fast our confession (Heb. 10:22-23). Believing parents must be ready to do what those parents did for the infants whom Jesus blessed, and bring them to the place where the triune Name may be placed upon them, where kings can be their foster fathers and queens their nursing mothers. The church is that place of nurture and spiritual support that will stand them well in the face of a world at odds with its Maker (Isaiah 49:22-23). It is the body of Christ and Christ rules and dwells in the midst. Whatever faith is lacking in infants, He is its author and finisher. He has absolute trust in His Father from whose hands no man can snatch the sheep (John 10:29).

    "All that the Father gives to me will come to me," Jesus said (John 6:37), and their coming in the arms of their parents was an acceptable coming. For Jesus said, "Let the little children come and do not hinder them." Later a North African church leader named Tertullian would say, "Let them come when they are older," and Baptists cheer him when they read that, overlooking the fact that he was adding to the Savior's words.

    Where there is covenant compliance on the part of a parent, there is faith on the part of the head of the household, and where there is faith on the part of the parent, the children are holy, not unclean (1 Cor. 7:14). They are kosher and belong in God's temple being sanctified by the faith of the parent. Timothy is a good example of one who came to Christ in a Christian home illustrating the consistency between household baptisms, even involving infants, and the gospel "faith to faith" (Rom. 1:17) principle:

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. [6] For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, [7] for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Tim. 1:5-7 ESV).

Election and Infant Baptism

    We have already noted that God's electing grace is not something to be presumed upon by either parent or child.  Scripture admonishes us "to be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure" (2 Pet. 1:10).        

    When we consider the matter of election, we ought to give highest priority to contemplating, not our own election, or the election of our offspring, but the election of the Son.  God spoke the following words audibly at the moment of Jesus' transfiguration: "This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!" (Luke 9:35)  So whether parents are wondering about their own election, or that of their infant offspring, in either case, if they were chosen, then they were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world (Ephes. 1:4).  It would make sense then, as a matter of practical concern, to present themselves, as well as their infants, to Christ.  The same God who elects infants has chosen the Son as the way they should come to the Father.  


At that time Jesus declared, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; [26] yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. [27] All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him (Matthew 11:25-27 ESV italics mine). 

And if we are to listen to the Son, as the Father has commanded, then we ought to note His approval of the way infants were coming to Him, and not try to second guess the method of their coming to Christ in the arms of a believing parent!

    Further, the God who elects some to eternal life has chosen the means by which they would attain it, namely, by His Word and Spirit.  From that perspective, the following promise spoken by the prophet Isaiah, as he had a glimpse of New Covenant reality, makes sense:

"And a Redeemer will come to Zion,
to those in Jacob who turn from transgression," declares the Lord.

[21] "And as for me, this is my covenant with them," says the Lord: "My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children's offspring," says the Lord, "from this time forth and forevermore." (
Isaiah 59:20-21 ESV).

This passage is especially noteworthy as it seems to be an expansion upon Genesis 17:7 which formed the basis for God's institution of the rite of circumcision and the application of that rite to Israel's infant offspring.  But if it is an expansion of Genesis 17:7, it is a New Covenant expansion, and one that beautifully blends the concerns of our radical reforming brethren regarding the word "repent" in Acts 2:38 with the promise applying "to your children" in Acts 2:39.  It is the covenant that God makes with an adult who repents.  This is the word of the LORD--a powerful incentive for parents to persevere in the awesome assignment which God has given them.  

    As the disciples discussed who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus took a child and put him in the midst of them.  Among other things that Jesus said on that occasion, including something about a millstone, were the following words:

"See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. 
[11] [12] What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? [13] And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. [14] So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish (Matthew 18:10-14 ESV).

 

New Covenant Addendum

    It could be equally argued, however, that even if Jesus really did bestow the blessing associated with baptism in Matthew 28:19 upon those particular infants (as we have argued), that prudence on the part of those who administer the water should be exercised.  The blessing of Jesus could simply be sought for the infants in a waterless act of blessing by the elders with the laying on of hands in the presence of a praying congregation.  This would not diminish the ministry of Christ, or Christian baptism, but would simply recognize that many are called but few are chosen (Matt. 22:14), and that a blessing given will not not necessarily be immediately manifest.  At the point the blessing is manifest to human eyes and ears, the water would be applied.

   And Christians ought to allow parents this privilege in view of the fact that the New Testament gives no specific command to apply the water in such cases.  The child may well be justified by a faith that is unseen (Psalm 22:9-10; 71:5-6), but he is not saved by a faith that is not confessed (Rom. 10:10; Matt. 10:32-33; Heb. 3:1; 10:23; 13:15).  This prudent delay in administering the water might even more perfectly cohere with Luke's report that "the Lord added to their number day be day those were being saved" (Acts 2:47).  And it does no violence to the fact that Abraham was commanded to circumcise his infant sons, if the eighth day when their circumcision was to be performed be viewed as foreshadowing the circumcision of the heart--spiritual regeneration accomplished by Christ on Resurrection Day (John 20:22; 1 Pet. 1:3; Phil. 3:2; Col. 2:11-12).  "For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor. 3:6). 
   
    It should be observed, however, that those who baptize minority children upon confession of their faith themselves practice pedobaptism.  For how can they be sure that the children are not making such a public commitment out of peer pressure, or merely to please their parents?  And how can they entrust such a decision with such infinite consequences to those whom they would not trust with a decision of far lighter consequences?  

    Would it not be far better to baptize them as infants and to recognize the example of Jesus who at the age of twelve affirmed His unique relationship to His heavenly Father and to His Father's house in the face of his concerned parents (Luke 2:49)--notwithstanding the fact that He was the eternal Son of God by virtue of His conception by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35)? Clearly the New Testament reveals the concept of a youth coming "of age" and being regarded by his parents and others as capable of speaking on his own regarding religious issues.  Such was the man born blind whom Jesus healed (John 9:23).  Just as the Jewish synagogue afforded an example of church government by elected ruling elders which itself was rooted in the Old Testament (Deut. 1:13), and this model was adopted by the early church, so the Jewish bar mitzvah may serve as a better model of recognizing among the covenant sons and daughters maturer judgment and confessional readiness for the responsibilities associated with the Lord's Table (1 Cor. 11:28-29).  
   
    The tendency of those who desire to return to the simplicity of the New Covenant church is frequently to make things more complicated for themselves.  There are two reasons for this (1) the New Covenant church was very much related to the Scriptures of the Old Testament, as well as to the teachings of the apostles (Matt. 5:17-19; 1 Cor. 10:11; 2 Tim. 3:16); and (2) Even the New Covenant prior to the second coming of Christ is a not a perfect church (1 Cor. 13:9-12; 1 John 3:2-3; Jude 4; 1 Cor. 3:1-4).  There is, therefore, no need to recoil from the teaching of the Old Testament, so long as we view it in such a way as is consistent with the New Testament.

Conclusion

       From a New Testament perspective, one thing seems clear--we need to be careful in our rhetoric and our demands upon candidates for ordination to the gospel ministry.  The question, "Do parents sin who withhold baptism from their infant offspring?", strictly speaking, is not a New Testament question.  Infant baptism may be a gospel privilege, but it ought not to be regarded as a universal law binding upon the Christian conscience--though the covenanting engagement of believing parents on their children's behalf can be nothing short of that.  The categorical pronouncement that infant baptism has no basis in spiritual reality is certainly not a univocal New Testament idea, for if faith is in the heart of the parent, the child is in some sense "holy" (1 Cor. 7:14). 

        We do not have a single New Testament record of an infant being baptized; nor do we have a single record of baptism being refused to the infant offspring of a New Testament believer.  The argument can be made that since circumcision was instituted under the Abrahamic covenant, the principle of applying the sign to the infants carries over into the New Testament.  Dogmatism in the matter, however, has to be restrained by the fact that circumcision was imposed by the Judaizers on the basis of its association with the law of Moses (Acts 15:5), and that the 8th day application of the sign may be understood simply as the foreshadowing of the circumcision of the heart of the disciples on that first Resurrection Day, the day after the Sabbath (John 20:19, 22).        

     It just may be that Christians should regard the issue of infant baptism as they do the issue of the Sabbath.  After observing the freedom with which Jesus observed the Sabbath with his disciples, who could ever again view the fourth commandment in a legalistic manner?  Since the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28), we are to let no man judge us with respect to the fine points of Sabbath observance (Rom. 14:5; Col. 2:16). The believing parent who presents his infant offspring to the Lord in Christian baptism does not sin; neither should the believing parent who is not so persuaded and withholds the water until the time of confession be condemned--provided he faithfully bring up his children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. 

        The Lord Jesus, as the Seed of Abraham and our Great High Priest, blessed Israel's infant offspring.  As the Great Shepherd of the sheep he carries the lambs in his bosom.  As our Great Prophet, he announced their unique standing in the Kingdom and held them up as examples of the way of Kingdom entrance.  He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit never baptized with water, but left that task to mere mortals whose natural human tendency in the history of Christendom has been to make more of their own ceremonial task than they do of Christian parenting and of the ministry of the Spirit.  But man's natural gravitation toward ceremony is no argument for withholding the covenantal sign of water baptism to infants, unless we deny the parental/familial aspect of the covenant, than it is for withholding it from adults whose salvation, in the final analysis, is known only to God (1 Cor. 4:5).