Our congregation celebrates an ancient Christian practice called paedobaptism or in non-technical terms infant baptism. A majority of Christians around the world practice infant baptism. Some churches teach that this practice of infant baptism saves a child by removing the original sin that is passed down to every human through the fall of Adam. To these churches infants begin one of the many steps to salvation through baptism.
As a reformed protestant and evangelical congregation we believe that justification or union with God comes by faith alone. So we do not believe that baptism has any saving power. It conveys or communicates grace but baptism does not contain grace. Baptism is a means by which God personally and mysteriously communicates his grace to his church. Our belief that a person is made right with God by faith alone sets our practice of infant baptism apart from other churches that practice infant baptism. There is more to infant baptism than what some critics might think at first glance.
Though the congregation I minister to also baptizes adults upon their profession of faith my purpose in writing this article is to focus on infant baptism. Here are four simple reasons why we practice infant baptism as an evangelical congregation.
WE BELIEVE BAPTISM BEGINS THE DISCIPLING PROCESS.
If a husband and a wife are both disciples of Christ themselves then Ephesians 6:1-4 makes it clear that those parents should commit themselves to the discipleship of their children. Jesus commanded in Matthew 28:29-20 that Christ followers are to make disciples of all nations baptizing them and teaching them. We want the children in our church to be participants in the life of the local church, covenant members in training and that necessitates baptism in our view. So we believe that the first step of participation into the life of a disciple is baptism as they are discipled under the nurture of a Christ centered home and Church they move closer to something we call confirmation. For our evangelical congregation confirmation marks the point in the Christian journey at which the youth affirm for themselves the faith into which you have been baptized and their intention to live a life of committed discipleship.
WE BELIEVE THAT LIFELONG DISCIPLESHIP IS A BETTER EXPRESSION OF COVENANT AND WHAT IT MEANS TO BE SAVED THAN MAKING A ONETIME DECISION.
For some folks their justification by faith process was something like a light switch. These people experience a dramatic conversion. But it is not this way for most people. Those born into a Christian home are learning the rhythm of what it means to have faith in God and follow him during their whole upbringing from mom and dad as well as their local church. For an evangelical paedobaptist the Gospel is not simply a one time event or encounter in for a person to accept but rather a past, present and future experience everyday. The Gospel is a covenant promise from God that takes a lifetime to learn, understand and be changed by. The message of the cross is “saving” us (1 Cor 1:18).
WE BELIEVE THAT BAPTISM IS AN OUTWARD NEW COVENANT SIGN THAT POINTS TO THE GRACIOUS COVENANT GOD HAS MADE WITH US IN CHRIST .
We believe that there is a correspondence or relationship between the Old Covenant sign of circumcision and Baptism (Colossians 2:11-12). Baptism is the New Covenant sign. Just as circumcision in the Old Testament under the old covenant pointed to the covenant promises of God for Israel as a sign so it is with Baptism. As a sign, baptism points to the covenant promises of God for those in Christ. It points to the Gospel. In the New Testament whole households would be baptized (Acts 16:15, 18:8 and 1 Corinthians 1:16). This is because the house as a whole was under Gods covenant and was expected to learn the faith together as disciples.
WE BELIEVE THAT THE HEART IS THE TARGET OF THIS SIGN.
In both cases of circumcision and baptism the heart is the ultimate target. Signs only point. Signs cannot save. Some hearts obviously will reject this covenant extended to them by God. So a young family member baptized into the Christian faith in a Christian home could ultimately walk away from this covenant and leave the faith he or she is baptized into. Perhaps a person is baptized into the covenant community of the visible church but is not a true member (Romans 9:6).
The heart was the target of circumcision. The target was not the religious rite or ritual in and of itself. In the Old Testament Moses pleads with God’s covenant people in Deuteronomy 10:16 “Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer.” (see also Romans 2:29). Not everyone under the old covenant (Jewish people) belonged to God even though they were circumcised. Just as Moses takes circumcision to a deeper level so does the Apostle Paul in Colossians 2:11-12 with regard to Baptism as he relates it to circumcision.
Eugene Peterson translates Colossians 2:11-12 beautifully and in doing so helps us see how baptism is more than just an empty religious observance.
“Entering into this fullness is not something you figure out or achieve. It’s not a matter of being circumcised or keeping a long list of laws. No, you’re already in—insiders—not through some secretive initiation rite but rather through what Christ has already gone through for you, destroying the power of sin. If it’s an initiation ritual you’re after, you’ve already been through it by submitting to baptism. Going under the water was a burial of your old life; coming up out of it was a resurrection, God raising you from the dead as he did Christ. “
So in conclusion infant Baptism is a wonderful opportunity to expect faith in your child. There is a great deal of optimism in infant Baptism trusting in Gods loving kindness and election.
The family seeking baptism for their infant is saying we will train our child up in Christ. Our child will be a disciple in our home. We will commit to seeing that he learns about what this baptism sign means. We will trust the God who saves. This is an awesome responsibility for the parents of the infant being baptized.
By way of illustration, I remember when I used to run crane truck for a foundation company. There was a plumber I would bump into occasionally. He was a pretty regular guy. At 44 years old he drove an old beat up truck, had a pot belly, old coke bottle glasses way to big for his face, messy hair, and saggy pants the whole works. He fit the plumber’s mold. The only difference between this plumber and the rest of the plumbers I met every day? Upon his 45th Birthday he would receive several million dollars of inheritance from his grandfather. His grandfather was a very wealthy man who had passed long ago. He wanted his grandchildren to learn the value of a dollar before they received their inheritance. So he set it up that each one of his grandchildren would receive a check on their 45th birthday.
In order for the 45 year old plumber to transfer the amount given him a long time ago by his grandfather the grandson had to take that check (a promise to pay) on his 45th birthday and endorse it with his own signature. Before he could draw from his account he needed to make it his own before the bank could do anything with it.
When a family in our congregation brings their baby to be baptized the child is receiving a great promise. The promise poured over the baby’s little head by the pastor in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit will not be personally understood by the infant at the time of the baptism. The sign and it’s promise is entrusted to the parents and congregation for safekeeping. The infant will grow in grace as the parents train him or her up as a Christian in their home and within the care of the local Church. Upon confirmation this promised gift given to them at their Baptism is handed to them to endorse for themselves and cash.
For a little more theological depth on the subject here is a great video.