Why Baptize Infants?
by Pastor Larry Edison ©1994
Psalm 22:9-10 Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother's breast.  From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother's womb you have been my God."
What does God say about children? Too many times we are concerned with what other people say, what churches say, or what tradition has said. The ultimate issue has to do with what God says about children, and how God wants children to be treated in the church.
The Bible rings with the theme of family all throughout its pages. God has a pattern of operating with and working through families. The Bible presents a picture of two types of families; those who belong to Him, and those who are part of the world. From these two categories of families, which are those who are His? Are they just the adults? Are they just those who are old enough to profess faith in Christ? Of course not. His people have always included parents (adults) together with their children. His people have always included singles, babies, grandparents... all who have joined themselves to the Lord's visible community or are children of those who are part of His family. His family refers to those who are part of the nation of Israel or part of the church.
This family theme has never changed since the dawn of history. But, what does it mean? Well, let's take a look. It means the God's blessing is given to adults who believe, together with their children. This is the way God has always acted in the world - parents together with their children, either in blessing or in judgment. Let's look at the way this pattern works.
Parents Together With Their Children: Judgment
According To Families
Consider the Garden of Eden at the dawn of history. Adam and Eve sinned against God and were punished for their rebellion. They were exiled from the garden (Gn.3:21). But what about their children? If God treated every person simply in accordance with what they had or had not done, then where would we expect the children to be raised? Certainly, it seems the children were innocent or, at least, not accountable for sin. Yet they were all raised outside the garden. The children felt the consequences of their parents' sin. The children, we might say, were punished not for what they had done, but for what their parents had done! Is this fair? Yes, when you consider the God always deals with parents together with their children.
What about Sodom and Gomorrah (Gn.19)? It was the adults who were committing such gross sin. Yet, when God rained down fire from the heavens, it was the entire city (families; parents together with their children) who suffered the consequences.
When God was battling the false gods of Egypt with the ten plagues (Ex. 7-11), it was all the Egyptians who suffered, even to the loss of their first born children. It was not just those of the age of accountability, or those who had sinned, who were punished. Every family in Egypt, except for the people of God, felt the death of their firstborn.
When God rained a flood of judgment on creation (Gn. 6-9), it was not just the immoral who suffered and were drowned. It was parents, grandparents, children, and yes, even infants, who faced the judgment and wrath of God. Why? Because God dealt according to His principle: parents together with their children or households.
We conclude, therefore, that God generally deals with families as a whole. This isn't too unusual. Where do we get our values? Where do we get our basic training? Where do we learn about basic relationships? Growing up in a family, of course.
Parents Together With Their Children: Blessing According To Families
The Bible clearly says that Noah was a righteous man (Gn.6:9). Yet it is Noah and his entire family who were saved from destruction at the time of the flood.
Certainly the people of Israel were not a model of virtue or faith at the time of the Exodus. But God saved parents together with their children as they crossed through the Red Sea and were fed manna and quail by the grace of God.
This picture of God bringing His People (parents, children, grandparents, healthy, unhealthy, etc.) through the Red Sea is picked up by Paul (I Cor. 10) as a picture of redemption. Notice the analogy Paul makes. He says that the people who came through the Red Sea were baptized into Moses. In other words, they were glued to Moses, and as long as they stuck with Moses they were safe. If they abandoned Moses, then they were doomed. This experience, being called a baptism, is comparable to baptism into Christ. In baptism we are treated as disciples. As long as we stick with Christ, like glue, we are safe. If we abandon Christ, we are doomed. Now, think who are baptized into Moses - it was parents together with their children. It was parents and their little children who were carried across to freedom. The same pattern can continue today. Children of believers are baptized, and as they stick with Christ, they continue to be blessed. But if they (or we adults) abandon Christ, they will be doomed.
The Holy Spirit Can Break The Cycle Of Parents Together With Their
It is important to understand that God is calling people from the world to Himself. Therefore, it is the Spirit Himself who, many times, breaks this cycle of parents together with their children. For example, there are many people who have been raised apart from Christ but later have come to trust Christ as Lord and Savior. This is why we do evangelism. This is why the Holy Spirit has come (Acts 2) as a missionary Spirit. He causes people to defect from the world and to come to Christ... even people who were not raised in Christian homes. It is these people who we would baptize as adults.
Yet, if this family pattern is the way God generally works, If God calls both parents together with their children to Himself, how can we deny these children of believers the sign of God's promise - the sign that they are to be counted and treated as part of God's covenant family?
The Sign Of God's Ownership God's Claim Branded On His People
Let's go back and look at the way God claimed ownership of adults as well as their children. Abraham is the classic example (as well as the beginning) of God's move to gather together an entire nation of people.
God calls Abraham to Himself in Genesis 12. Abraham's response is one of trust and obedience. Abraham believes God and follows His commands. In that chapter as well as Genesis 15, God promises Abraham three things:
- He will become a great nation (in other words, Abraham will have plenty of descendants).
- This great nation would have a land where they will live.
- The people of Abraham (the people of God) living in the land would be means of blessing to all the nations of the earth. In other words, God was calling Abraham to Himself and in so doing would ultimately achieve His goal of blessing people from all nations (Gn.12:1-3 and 15:12-17).
Quite interesting is the statement (Gn 17:14) that if there was any uncircumcised male, that person was to be kicked out of the covenant community (the church of the Old Testament). No one had this idea that children were to be brought up neutrally. Everyone understood that children were to be brought up in the instruction and discipline of the Lord (see Deuteronomy 4:9 and 11:19-21). Why? Children of believers belonged to God as much as the parents belonged to God. These little children were God's. Therefore, they were to be treated as disciples who needed to grow up learning about the Lord and learning to properly respond in faith to His work of grace.
Notice what Malachi (2:15) says about these children. They are called holy because God wants godly offspring. The children of believers (even one believer according to I Cor. 7:14) are claimed by God and therefore are designated as holy. Holy means that they are separated for a special purpose, and they are on God's side. They are NOT:
- Neutral or unaccountable until a certain age.
- Heathens or part of the world.
Consider how God worked with Abraham. The insight we gain in Romans (4:11) is fascinating. The text says, much like the Baptist view of believer's baptism, that Abraham received:
Romans 4:11 "...the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them."
Abraham first believed and then was circumcised. This is the pattern of Baptist churches which is believe and then be baptized. Seems like this circumcision was only proper after Abraham believed. But remember Genesis 17? This same circumcision, which for Abraham was appropriate only after he believed, was also a sign for his children, and for all who came after, at eight days old... before they believed! You see the pattern here; parents together with their children. The circumcision never represented Abraham's faith any more than baptism represents the faith of an individual. Circumcision represented the seal of righteousness God credits to those who belong to Him. In the same way baptism represents the work of Christ credited in our behalf. Both are appropriate for adults as well as our children.
Look at another similarity between baptism and circumcision (in case you think I am picking this idea out of thin air). In Colossians 2:11, Paul addresses gentile believers;
"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 circumcision done by Christ..."
Paul reminds these Christians that they have been circumcised. Well, that's right. He goes on to say it was a circumcision which was not done by men but by Christ. There are two problems here:
- How can a person be circumcised if not by the hands of another person?
- How could Christ circumcise anyone at this point in time? He has ascended to the throne of heaven and physically circumcises no one?
Col. 2:12 "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."
Those who have been baptized are, from an Old Covenant perspective, those who are circumcised. Both of these signs are the seal and sign of God's ownership. The meaning of baptism and circumcision are virtually the same. Both are signs of God's promise, and both are signs designating who should be treated as part of the family of God.
Certainly there is a difference. Circumcision was a bloody sign looking forward to the coming of Christ. Baptism uses water to picture what Christ has done on the cross and what He does by His Spirit. But both circumcision and baptism were used as a sign to separate the people of the world from the people of God... externally though, because no one can read the heart.
Clearly then, the sign of membership in the earthly family of God was to placed on infants. Christ Himself was circumcised on the eighth day. We'll talk more about this under the objections section. Where in the New Testament has any of this changed (parents together with their children)? It is just the opposite. The pages of the New Testament are replete with these same ideas of parents together with their children and with the idea that children of believers are included in the church. Let me give a few examples. I'll discuss the idea of household (parents together with their children), then examples of Christ and infants, and finally a concluding passage which addresses the place of children.
Looking At Relevant Passages
The Household Mentality Continues Throughout The New Testament
Look at the explanation of the events which occurred on the Day of Pentecost. Peter tells the crowd that the promise is for "you and your children". This is a household mentality, or a family perspective. The same language is used by Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians (1:16) where Paul refers to baptizing the household of Stephanus. This household language is also used twice in Acts 16 (vss.15,31) in reference to families coming to Christ and being baptized. Now, what's the point? Is it that there must have been infants in the homes? No, that's not the point. The point is from Acts 2 and throughout the book of Acts, the household language and mentality continues. God has not stopped operating on the basis of parents together with their children.
Even in reference to the conversion and training of Timothy, we are reminded that his faith first lived in his grandmother and then his mother (2Tim 1:5). God blessed this household so Timothy continued in this way of parents together with their children.
Notice The Way Infants And Children Of Believers Are Treated
Fascinating that in Ephesians 6, Paul addresses the children. The children are considered as part of the church, God's covenant family. The Bible does not only address adults, but also children as well. Why? Because as disciples, they must grow up walking with Christ (even as their parents).
Luke 18:16 records the blessing of Christ given to the children. Notice the text says that parents were bringing their infants ( the word brephe is not simply child, but breastfeeding infant). It says of these children that they are a part of the kingdom of heaven. There are people who would argue that not the children, but only the adults who respond to Christ as a child are part of the kingdom. How silly of Christ to say that NOT these children, just their parents, if they receive the kingdom as a child, will be counted a kingdom citizens. Of course, this is not the case. Jesus is saying that both adults who believe, and their children, have a part in the kingdom. These were the children of believers who are blessed by Christ. What other type of person would ask Jesus to bless their children in the first century?
Children Of Believers: God's From Conception
A fascinating passage from the Psalms puts all of this together in regard to out understanding of what God says about our children.
Psalm 22:9-10 "Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother's breast.  From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother's womb you have been my God."
When does this baby become God's child? From the time of conception God has claimed this child as one of His own. Who is this child? It is the child of a believer. Does that mean this child does not have to grow up believing? Of course not. It means just the opposite. As a covenant child, this infant must be taught about the Lord so as the child grows, he/she will know nothing but faith in Christ. This pattern is only logical. Think of the way a child is raised. Does the child have to grow up and, for the first time, decide he/she loves his/her parents? of course not. Now, as the child grows, that child will have a variety of emotions and, along the way, make constant decisions about the way he/she will deal with his/her parents. But no parent looks for a first time commitment out of that child to love, honor and respect their parents. The attitude is nurtured and fostered all throughout childhood. The same pattern holds true in our relationship with God. There is a fostering and nurturing of the childlike faith through covenant training.
Why then do we baptize the children of believers? We baptize them for these reasons:
- They are already claimed by God as belonging to Him. Those who belong to Him should be baptized.
- They are considered as holy and part of God's church. Those who are part of His church should be baptized.
- These children are counted as disciples, and the disciples of Christ ought to be baptized.
Common Questions, Objections, And Answers
Is Baptism A Guarantee Of Salvation?
Apart from Christ, there is no guarantee of salvation. The only way to have assurance of salvation is to be in Christ. Neither water baptism nor church membership guarantees a place with Christ for all eternity. Salvation is accomplished by the work of the Spirit, and this is symbolized in baptism but not accomplished by baptism. We cannot read what is in the heart of others. We do not know what God has done or will do in someone's heart. We can't tell if a child or an adult is elect or born again. If we try, that is treading on territory reserved for God alone. On the other hand, we operate on the basis of what God says. This means counting or treating our little ones as part of the church.
Baptism is a sign of what God says about the way we are to treat our children. We have said all along that baptism is a picture of the way we are to treat people. A wedding ring does not make someone married; it is a picture or sign of an already existing marriage relationship. In the same way, baptism does not make someone a Christian nor is it intended to show what is happening in someone's heart. Baptism is a picture of what God says about the baptized person. In line with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19ff), those who are baptized are counted and treated as disciples. Nothing more and nothing less.
Are There Other Options For Salvation?
There are plenty of people who believe that children and infants are not accountable to God for their sin until the age of accountability. The fact that this phrase is not in the Bible does not bother these people (even though they would use this line of reasoning against the infant baptism position). We do not believe in salvation by innocence. We believe salvation is only by the grace of God in Christ. We believe that all people are sinners -- even children. All are sinful from birth (Ps. 51:5) and certainly are accountable to God fro sin.
What is the only reason people die? Romans 6:23 tells us it is because death is the wages of sin. Why then are children allowed to die? From God's perspective it is because there are none who are innocent. All people are born sinners and, therefore, all suffer the consequences for sin. This is why little children grow up to be big sinners. Adults just act out what they are in their hearts, and what is in the hearts of all people from birth.
This is why Jesus had to be conceived by the Holy Spirit -- otherwise, like the rest of us, He would have been conceived in sin. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and not in the normal human fashion. All people ordinarily conceived are conceived in sin. If Christ would have been conceived in this way, He could not have been qualified to be our Redeemer. So He was conceived miraculously in order to be that sinless Substitute-Redeemer.
We cannot believe in salvation by infancy as though infants, if they die, go to heaven because they are innocent. If this were the case, the best evangelical tool would be to kill all infant to insure they will go to heaven. Otherwise, they might grow up, and being another religion, die eternally for their sin. We would never want to say that infants are saved because they are infants. Salvation is only in Christ, not because of age.
How can we believe children are not accountable to a perfect and holy God? We must believe that all people are accountable to God at all times. It is for this reason the Christ died for adults and also for our infants. The blessing He gives is gracious; God will be merciful to us and to our children as well.
The Idea Of Believer's Baptism
Is there really such a thing as believer's baptism? Can anyone really practice believer's baptism? I don't think so. No human being can ever tell if someone else is born again. None of us can tell if another person is genuinely converted. We can only see or not see evidence. We might be able to see or not see fruit, but we can make no certain judgments. Therefore we treat adults on the basis of their profession of faith. We don't baptize on the basis of what is happening in the heart. We baptize because of what is said from their lips. We baptize if someone had a credible profession of faith, not because someone is a believer. No one can truly practice believer's baptism because we have no access to someone else's mind and heart. As a result, we should quit talking about "believer's baptism " as though the church can baptize because they know whether one in converted or not. We let our assumptions about believer's baptism cause us to think that those we baptize really have been converted and therefore ought to properly receive the sign of baptism. We are mistaken in thinking that adult baptism guarantees baptizing only those who are truly converted. We should talk about how God wants to deal with people ... especially our smallest people, our children.
Remember in Acts 8 (vers13, 23) the baptism of Simon? Here is a man baptized as an adult, on the basis of his profession of faith. Yet, from the warning and admonition of the apostles, it seems as though this man's heart was never right with God. No one can ever be sure if the one being baptized is a Christian. The only important fact is what God says we should do. We then baptize adults on the basis of what they say, and we baptize children on the basis of what God says about them.
"Repent ... (Then) Be Baptized"
As with Abraham who had to believe and then was circumcised, this is the proper model for an adult conversion. But again, as with Abraham, his children were circumcised, and so also can our children be baptized.
We must realize that, for the most part, the sermons in the book of Acts are addressed to the adults who were listening. The very context is an address to adults, and is not a universal statement about how all people always are redeemed. If this were the case, then those who can not repent and then believe would be condemned to an eternity in hell. This would include not only infants, but those who are mentally impaired as well (whether from birth or from an accident). Keep in mind that the New Testament was written at a time when there was a earthshaking change regarding the transition from the Old to the New Covenant. All believers in Christ were basically first generation believers. It is to these first generation believers that most of the New Testament was written. Therefore, we would expect most of the language to be addressed not only to adults but to first generation believing adults. The model for a first generation Christian is repentance and then faith, rather than being nurtured in the faith from childhood.
The Great Commission is a perfect non-adult model. According to the text, we are called to make disciples. This is a two step process in which we are to :baptize them ... teach them." We can baptize our children and then teach them all the Lord has commanded. So we start reading Bible stories to them when they are small. We pray with them and teach them how to pray. We are to have devotions so they learn how to worship. I could continue, but enough is said in showing how we treat our children as disciples who are also in training.
Christ Was Baptized When He Was 30 Years Old. Doesn't That Prove Adult
If the Baptists use this argument, then they prove too much. It this really were the pattern for baptism, then no one should be baptized until at least age 30. At the same time, are people really saying that Christ was not converted until He was older? Of course not. Jesus was circumcised at eight days old, attended the Passover regularly as a covenant child, and baptized at age 30 according to the pattern of all the priests of the Old Testament who were entering the public priesthood (see Numbers 4:3, 23, 30,43).
This baptism at age 30 was not a Christian baptism. Christian baptism had not even been instituted, and Christ had not completed His work. This is a pre-Christian baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (see Mark 1:4).
How Do You Explain Apostasy?
To phrase the problem another way, some people object saying, "We can't baptize an infant because they might grow up and abandon the Lord." In one sense there is no explanation for how one can turn their back on Christ. This is no different than the enigma of Adam and Eve's sin. How can anyone who knows God turn their back on Him? There are explanations, and certainly there are passages which explain this phenomenon (I John 2:18-19; Mt.13:18ff; Mt 7:22-23). But this is not an issue about infant baptism. There are adults who abandon the Lord, and there are children who grow up in the church and, by all appearance, abandon the Lord. This raises no more difficulty for the infant baptism position than for the adult only baptism position.
To withhold baptism from infants because of what might happen is like saying parents should withhold gifts to their children because their children might grow up and squander those gifts. We are to treat these children of believers as disciples, not treat them in accord with our worst fears.
Do You Only Baptize Children?
No, we also baptize those adults who have never been baptized, and who articulate a profession of faith in Christ. Adults who have not been brought up in the way of the Lord are baptized when they profess Christ as Lord and Savior and join the church.
When we come to Christ, we give ourselves wholly to the Lord. We offer God our mind, our heart, our job, our possessions; all we have and all we are. In the same way, we are not to withhold our own flesh and blood. We offer our children to the Lord. Why? Because God wants us to dedicate them to Him? No, that is not the case. They already belong to Him. We offer God our children because the children of believers are already claimed by God.
They are to grow up as disciples. If we treat them as heathen, they will probably live up to that expectation. If we treat them as disciples, and see our task as nourishing, training, and loving them, then we can expect them to continue in the things they have learned.
Whose children do we baptize? We baptize the children of those who have professed faith in Christ and are member in good standing of the church.
Larry Edison, the Senior Pastor of Covenant Life Presbyterian Church in Sarasota, Florida. where he has been since its inception in 1981, is a graduate of Covenant College, Westminster Theological Seminary (M.Div.), and Covenant Seminary (D.Min.) in St. Louis, Missouri. He is married to Jeanne (Reitsma) and has two grown children; a daughter Lorin and a son Nathaniel