More Questions on Infant Baptism

Rev. Steve Schlissel - August 21, 2002

The Question…

Dear Rev. Schlissel,

I have a few questions about infant baptism. I was raised up as a Pentecostal and now I am Christian Reformed. I have difficulties understanding a few areas.

In Acts 2:38-39, it says, Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off- for all whom the Lord our God will call.

1) How do children repent first and then get baptized when children cannot speak.

2) If baptism replaces circumcision, what about the females? They were not circumcised, so where do they fit in?

3) Also, in Acts 16:31 it says, Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved- you and your household…then immediately he and all his family were baptized. How can infants believe if they do not understand what it means?

Rieka Middel
Port Colborne, ON

The Answer…

Dear Rieka,

I thank God that He brought you out of the Pentecostal movement and into the Reformed, Biblical faith. We have several former Pentecostals in Messiah’s Congregation. They are zealous for the truth, as I trust you are and will continue to be.

It seems to me that the Reformed faith has been the most faithful of all traditions in fairly treating all of what the Scripture has to say on the subject of baptism. On one side stands the Roman Catholic church which believes that the sacrament is efficacious in itself, conferring the grace of salvation, the subjects being reborn by means of it. On the other side we find our Baptistic friends who believe that baptism is to be administered only after a credible profession of faith. Often unnoticed by people examining this question is the fact that Romanists and Baptists share an error in common: both assume the necessity of a one for one correspondence between the number of persons baptized and the number regenerated. The Baptists try to insure this correspondence by requiring regeneration prior to administration, Catholics by imagining that regeneration occurs during administration.

According to the Reformed view, however, the efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered. (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXIX, paragraph VI) Moreover (and this is vital), the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Spirit to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time. (ibid)

Thus, our concern in the administration of baptism is not to ascertain the regenerated status of the candidate, but simply to ascertain if, according to Scripture, he is lawfully to be regarded as a member of the covenant which baptism signifies and seals.

The Scriptures indicate that those of age from non-covenanted backgrounds join the covenant people when they embrace the Christ of the gospel and acknowledge Him as Lord. This was the same standard as found for inclusion in the Older Testament community of faith (though the sign was circumcision). Abraham believed first and was then circumcised. Isaac (as far as we know) was first circumcised and later believed. Once in the covenant, our children come with us. On this point see 1 Corinthians 7:14: The unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. Since the children of one or two believing parents are holy, that is, set apart from the world unto God, they are entitled to the sign and seal of the covenant in terms of which that set-apartness has taken place. The hearts of Baptists are more covenantally oriented than their doctrine at this point. They cannot suppress the desire to bring their children to their God to receive covenant reassurance, but, since they deny the sacrament in principle to their children, they have invented the altogether unbiblical idea of infant dedication. The closest Scripture comes to such dedication is in the case of Hannah and Samuel. If Baptists would be consistent with that model, they should leave their children at the church after the ceremony when they go home.

Thus, we baptize infants, not because they have repented and believed, as is required of those of age, but simply because God commands us to administer the covenant sign and seal to our own. If the sheep are His, my friend, so are the lambs. Baptism means, You belong to God. I belong to God. My children belong to me. Therefore, my children belong to God. The family, not the individual, is the basic covenant unit. This cannot be emphasized too strongly. The powerful influence of Baptistic theology in North America has played no small part in fostering the terribly unbiblical individualism that characterizes our continent. It is this individualism that makes family baptism so offensive or, at best, puzzling to non-Reformed folk. But seeing that the promise is to us and our children, it is the most natural thing in the world for us. Remember that wicked Ham, solely in virtue of his relation to Noah, was taken on board the ark. Examples could easily be multiplied demonstrating the covenant status of children. That is why the household baptisms in the New Testament are just what we’d expect to find, on covenant principles.

I would remind you that baptism, being a covenant sign and seal, can just as well serve as a sacrament of the covenant curse as the covenant blessing. To those who were brought up in covenant homes, but who refuse to believe and obey, their baptism will be an eternal witness against them, as they will be judged in terms of it and what it suggests. Therefore, we do not raise our children in terms of presumptuousness, but rather to an organic covenant obedience. We urge them not to repent once, believe once, obey once, but to repent always, believe always, obey always. Thus they are taught to look always to God, whereas our Baptist friends not infrequently tend to comfort themselves in terms of their decision for Christ, which, sadly, often leaves them looking comfortlessly to themselves.

Females are baptized, again, because the Scriptures teach this to be God’s will. Clear apostolic example is authoritative and normative for the church. The very nature of the sacrament in its Old Testament form precluded females from receiving it. God was showing that salvation required the putting away of the flesh. He also showed through circumcision that we are polluted at the very source of our natural lives, that there is no hope of salvation in natural generation (compare Jesus’ question to Nicodemus in its context and against this background- John 3:10). Furthermore, circumcision was a blood-letting sign, thus teaching that God requires the death of the sinner, thereby increasing the longing of the righteous for the One who would die in their place, bringing eternal salvation. Of course, women were always included in the covenant. Now that Christ’s blood has been shed and the sign has been changed, they receive the sign and seal.

I would just add one more section from the Westminster Confession for your information. Although it be a great sin to condemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed to it, as that no person can be regenerated or saved without it, or that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.

I might also recommend John Murray’s book, Baptism. Herman Hoeksema’s Believers and their Seed contains worthwhile perspectives, as well. The best book on the subject might be “Children of the Promise” by Rev. Robert R. Booth.

I hope this proved helpful to you. If you have more questions, write again.


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