Having dealt with one controversy, I should like to plunge into another, namely, infant baptism. My denomination baptizes believers’ children in addition to new converts, and I shall make the case that that is the proper way to do things.
First of all, though, I should like to say that I don’t think this is an issue worth splitting churches or denominations over. Given that Christ had Christian unity most on His heart before His death in the High Priestly Prayer, I think it’s arrogant, even sinful, how fractious the Christian Church has become. Churches, or at any rate denominations, should only be split when the current church is unrepentantly practicing something evil and dangerous. Thus, when the Catholic Church made a thorough practice of substituting or adding all kinds of things to salvation besides faith, grace, Scripture, and Christ, there was clear Scriptural warrant for the Protestants to break off. The Protestants then took to splitting off from each other in a quarrelsome spirit that is, frankly, disreputable to the Church. Growing up, I had a Muslim friend who thought one of the reasons Islam was more correct was how Christians couldn’t agree on their doctrine among all those denominations when Islam has only two branches whose differences he didn’t think were doctrinal but merely political. (The fact that those two branches were slaughtering each other in Iraq at the time didn’t seem to have much weight with him). Anyway, if it were truly evil to baptize infants or not baptize them, I think we’d have a bold print verse saying, “Thou shalt/shalt not baptize infants.” As it is, we have to go with clues from Scripture as to which way God prefers it, and I think the odds are on the side of the infant baptizers.
I live in a predominantly Baptist part of the country, so I heard their arguments in my theology class. They liked to say how the baptisms in the New Testament are all adult baptisms. “Repent and be baptized, it says, so you have to repent before you’re baptized.” “Well, hold on,” we infant baptizers say, “What about all the household baptisms in Acts?” There are four, and presumably the Apostles abided by this practice in many other instances as well. A household in those days consisted of immediate family, extended family, servants, etc.- the people under the paterfamilias’s protection and authority. What are the odds all of those households had no children whatsoever? John Piper counters that off the top of his head he can name four households in his congregation with no children, but there’s no escaping the fact that the most basic and most typical household consists of parents and children. That being the case, presumably the Holy Spirit would have clarified that the commonest conception of a household was not what He had in mind, especially if not doing so would lead most of the Church to do something wrong. It’s not hard to write, “along with all the adults of his/her household,” or, “along with his/her household, who were all believing adults.”
The clear implication of Colossians 2:11-12 is that circumcision has replaced baptism as the sign of covenant membership. Paul contrasts circumcision made with hands with a spiritual circumcision that comes from Christ and links that spiritual circumcision with baptism. It’s not something you do to announce your allegiance to God; it’s something He does to mark you out as a member of the covenant community. The Bible is clear that children are part of the covenant community. Jesus welcomed children and blessed them, and is there any other way to read Paul’s statement in I Corinthians 7:14 that the children of at least one believing parent are “holy”? Paul cannot be saying that having an unbelieving spouse is a magic formula for ensuring regenerate children since history has shown that to not be the case. Instead, he’s saying that children under the authority of a believing parent are, for that time at least, part of the covenant community, and if they are, why withhold from them the mark of admission to that community?
Baptists are apparently terrified and/or indignant that we would put a mark of covenant membership on an infant who may very well grow up to be a nonbeliever. Apparently, God doesn’t share that concern. He explicitly required circumcision of all male infants in Israel as a mark of His covenant with Abraham, and we know from the Old Testament that most of them wound up faithless and perverse. Nevertheless, God said that if they weren’t circumcised, they would be cut off from the covenant community. Given that baptism has replaced circumcision as the covenant sign, that’s about as close to an explicit command one way or the other where infants are concerned, and in this case it’s clearly a mandate to mark the covenant children.
Or perhaps you still don’t believe baptism has replaced circumcision. Here’s another question of probability. After countless generations of mandatory marking of their male children, Jewish Christians were suddenly told, “Neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision.” If baptism didn’t replace circumcision as the sign of covenant membership, or if it wasn’t to be applied to infants, what are the odds that Jewish Christians didn’t ask, and Paul didn’t have to explicitly write a negative answer to, “Well, what do we mark our children with?” Or, put another way, circumcision was explicitly the sign and symbol of belonging to the Old Covenant, and what else is Baptism but the sign and symbol of belonging to the New Covenant?
Now, I will admit, I got a little uneasy with infant baptism when I read the Westminster Catechism say that in baptism a “solemn vow [is] made,” which “obliges” us to obedience. For the longest time, I thought, “Wow. That’s the worst thing you can do to a child who turns out an unbeliever to oblige them to obedience with a solemn vow that they can do nothing but break.” In fact, that was the reasoning of Tertullian, the first recorded critic of infant baptism. Well, besides God not having a problem with doing that to unbelieving Israelites, recently I had the “duh” moment that, “Everyone’s already obliged to obey God anyway, baptism or no!” So, no, I don’t think baptizing an infant who turns out an unbeliever increases their punishment any more than it would be already for rebelling against godly parents’ admonitions.
So, from the clues we have from Scripture, it seems more likely than not that the Apostolic Church baptized infants and that we should too. That is certainly the plain reading of the texts. That said, I don’t think we should split the Reformed camp into Baptists and Presbyterians over it. Y’all should just come over to the Presbyterian camp! 😉