Introductory Text: Leviticus 10:1-3
1 And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not. 2 And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. 3 Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the LORD spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.
Some of the best Christians, preachers and theologians I have known are Baptists or sympathetic to Baptist theology. In fact, I have personally benefited much from the teachings of Baptist ministers, such as Dr Peter Masters, Dr Albert N. Martin, Mr Ian Murray, Dr William R. Downing etc. I believe that the Lord has endowed them with exception gifts, and that their work for the Lord, have redound unto His own glory, and have no doubt far exceed in relative value the work of many Presbyterian and Reformed minister. I have no doubt in my heart that one day when we gather before the throne of God I shall not see them there for they shall be so close to the Lord, but I shall be in the outer fringe. However, having said so, I must confess that while I have great respect for these my teachers, I have found it difficult to accept some of their views concerning the doctrines taught in the Scriptures. In particular I have problem with their teaching on the doctrine of Infant Baptism and the doctrines related to it.
Now, it is possible that some Baptists will not baptise their infants either because their church do not practice it, or because it is just not practical to immerse an infant. However, I believe that among the Calvinistic and Reformed Baptists, their reason for not practising and indeed teaching against infant baptism is theological and based on their understanding of the Scripture. They do not practice infant baptism because they believe that the Scripture does not warrant the practice, and therefore doing so would be acting against the revealed will of God. Their principle of faith, worship and practice is: "Only what is sanctioned/commanded by the Lord is allowed" versus the more common "What is not forbidden is allowed." This is a noble and correct principle of the Christian life and we do greatly respect them for their stand based on this principle. However, I do sincerely believe that they are probably sincerely wrong in their understanding of infant baptism.
Why do I believe in Infant Baptism? I believe the doctrine is supported by 3 Biblical and theological pillars (1) The Continuity of the Covenant of Grace; (2) Continuity of the Covenant Sign; (3) Continuity of the Covenant Family. Now in view of the fact that many of us in LBC are familiar with the arguments of Baptists against Infant Baptism, I would like to approach the subject in somewhat greater detail than what I would normally do in a message like this. I would like to anticipate and answer some questions as we go along.
(1) The Continuity of the Covenant of Grace;
The Bible is essentially soteriological i.e. it has to do with the salvation of fallen man.
The WCF, summarises this fact very clearly in Chapter VII:
I. The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him, as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God's part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.
II. The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.
III. Man by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace: wherein he freely offered unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.
V. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore-signifying Christ to come, which were for that time sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation, and is called the Old Testament.
Biblically, we can see the development and the unity of the covenant of Grace from the inaugural Adamic Covenant (Gen 3:15); to the Noahic (Gen 9), Abrahamic (Gen 12,15), Mosaic (Ex 19), Davidic (2Sam 7), New (Jer 31). We can see the unity of the covenants (or rather subordinate covenants) by observing that each one of them carries the same theme, namely "You shall be my people, I shall be your God." Check: Gen 3:15; Gen 9:9,11; Gen 17:7; Ex 6:7; 2Sam 7:24; Jer 31:33; 2Cor 6:16. The unity, gracious character, and development of the Covenant of Grace could constitute an interesting study by itself.
But what is more important for us to understand in the study of Infant Baptism is (1) the unity of the old and the new covenant and (2) the continuity of the Abrahamic covenant.
a. Unity between the Old and the New Covenant.
The second indication of the unity between the Old and the New Covenant is found in Jer 31:32, "Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD"
By "the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt" Jeremiah was probably referring to the Mosaic Covenant. Day need not be taken literally as the one day but to the entire episode of their being led out of Egypt, during which, at Mt Sinai, the Mosaic Covenant was inaugurated. Of course the Mosaic Covenant is structurally and thematically related to the Abrahamic Covenant. But in contrasting the New Covenant with the Mosaic Covenant 2 things ought to be understood:
ii. The inauguration of the New Covenant does not imply the end of the substance and emphasis of the Abrahamic Covenant. Yes, the New Covenant meant the end of the Mosaic economy in so far as the external ceremonies are concerned, worshipper will need no more to offer animal sacrifices. But in what sense is the Abrahamic Covenant still in force?
b. Continuity of the Abrahamic Covenant.
This was expressed concretely after God confirmed the covenant by an oath.
From all these verses it does appear as if the Abrahamic Covenant is about land promises, and so has nothing really to do with us who are gentiles. But what does the New Testament say? You be surprise to realise that when the Abrahamic Covenant is mentioned in the New Testament, no mention of the land is made whatsoever.
On the contrary whenever the New Testament writers (e.g. Paul) speak about the Abrahamic Covenant, they speak of it in the context of salvation:
The author of Hebrews also confirms:
In Genesis 15, God cut the covenant with Abraham, but only God pass through the pieces of the animals. It is a unilateral covenant. It is a covenant that cannot be broken. It is a spiritual¾ salvific covenant where the beneficiaries are the elect. And we are included. God condescent to cut the covenant that we may be greatly assured beyond doubt that our salvation and eternal estate is secure in Christ.
Yes, the Old Testament does emphasise the land, and in fact, land promise is fulfilled in Solomon�s reign (1Kgs 4:4), but what about the New Testament? What is emphasised in the New Testament? Not the land, but faith and salvation. In a sense the land promises are given as a type of our promise of salvation in Christ. Thus the author of Hebrew tells us that when Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees, it was not so much to seek for a physical land, but "a better country", "a city which hath foundations whose builder and maker is God" (Heb 11:8-16).
Let�s take stock:
- Covenant of Grace extends from Gen 3:15 to the New Testament.
- There is no essential difference between the old and the new.
- The Abrahamic Covenant is salvific,
- Believers are included in the beneficiaries of the Abrahamic Covenant too.
(2) Continuity of the Sign of the Covenant;
Now, if the Abrahamic Covenant is salvific, fine and good, but what about circumcision? Surely it has to do with marking out a physical nation and distinguishingJews as Jews? No, circumcision is the sign and seal of the Abrahamic Covenant: "This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised" (Genesis 17:10). And the Abrahamic Covenant is part of the Covenant of grace, so circumcision is a sign and seal of the Covenant of Grace, it is a sign and seal of the righteousness of faith:
And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: 12 And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.
What Paul is saying is very clear. Circumcision is not a sign to distinguish the Jew as a Jew (so that the people who dwell in the promise land may be distinguished from other people). The Jews have indeed misunderstood the function of circumcision, that it marks them out as a special people. Paul corrects this error: "But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God." (Rom 2:28-29). Circumcision is a spiritual exercise, it is an external sign and seal of the covenant of grace. It signifies inward grace. It signifies the covenant relationship between believers and God.
In the Old Testament, when a gentile believes in Jehovah and wants to be part of the covenant community to worship with the Jews, he has to be circumcised. This is clearly taught in the Passover restrictions:
If circumcision is a sign of salvation, (i) Why does God instruct Abraham to circumcise every man (i.e. adults) that is bought with money)? (Gen 17:10); After all it is unlikely that every slave of Abraham was a believer. (ii) Why does God instruct Abraham to circumcise every infant born in the house? (Gen 17:12). After all, not only could infants not understand and believe, but many of them would also be reprobate as with Esau.
The answer is found in 2 facts: Firstly, circumcision is not only a sign of inward grace, but also a rite of inclusion or membership into the covenant community. We see this in Gen 17:14, "And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant." The word cut-off has to do with some form of ex-communication akin to what we know of excommunication today. Secondly, God is concerned not only with the believer but with his family too. This has always been the way God dealt with man since the beginning. We see for example how God save Noah and his family although only Noah is said to have found grace with the Lord. We see it in God�s dealing with Abraham, we see it in God�s blessing of Judah for the faith of David (cf. 1 Kgs 11:11-12).
Thus, (i) The slaves who were bought with money were circumcise since they were considered part of the family, but because in the culture of those days, slaves were automatically required to worship the same God as the master. In a sense they did not have freedom of religion. But what is freedom as compared to the privilege of being allowed into the covenant community.
(ii) Infants were circumcised, not only because they are part of the family, but because they are automatically part of the covenant commuity. God is interested not only in the believer but in his family too, and so he instructs the believer to include his children into the visible covenant community by way of circumcision. And in doing so, the parents also covenant before God to bring the child up in the fear and knowledge of Him. (We may illustrate the situation of the baptised child with the A.B.D designation¾ "all but dissertation." The person holding this is sometimes allowed to take a job that requires a PhD, and have the privileges of a PhD, but he something lacking, he has not passed, and he could fail." Of course here it depends on his effort, in the child it depends on God.)
But what does that make of circumcision as the sign and seal of inward grace? We may not have all the answers, but the point is that the circumcision is not efficacious until the Lord circumcises the child�s heart. But until then, he is considered part of the covenant community, externally, and he s to receive the benefits of being part of the community, such as being instructed and taught the way of the Lord, and later under the Mosaic covenant, of being allowed to worship at the tabernacle.
What has this to do with infant baptism? Because under the new covenant, baptism has replaced circumcision but continues to have the same significance as circumcision. Only that it is bloodless just as the Lord�s Supper is also the bloodless antitype of the passover. This is possible because the New Covenant and the Old Covenant is essentially one under the Covenant of Grace.
We can see this relationship between circumcision and baptism by looking at the following table:
Sign of righteousness of faith, symbolising a clean heart.
The Lord said to Paul: "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." (Acts 22:16)
Rite of entrance into the covenant community.
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:41)
Paul confirms this intimate relationship between circumcision and baptism:
11In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: 12 Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.
In the letter to the Colossians, Paul was correcting the errors of those who emphasises externalism, including circumcision. And so he assures the Colossian Christians that they do not need to be circumcised physically, because they have been circumcised spiritually. But when did that happen? Paul says "[being] buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead." In a sense Paul is saying, "Don�t you see, physical circumcision does not save, it is a sign of the circumcision of the heart, and when you were baptised, it was a sign of your heart circumcision. Baptism has replaced circumcision."
Question: How can we say that baptism and circumcision be equivalent since in the Old Testament circumcision is administered only to males whereas in the New Covenant, females are included?
Answer: Interestingly, the New Testament does provide an answer:
26For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
Quite apart from the impossibility of applying circumcision to females, the Paul tells us that the New Testament is a far better and richer economy. And one of its �improvement� over the economy is that there will be no distinction between Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. Anyone can be included under the Abrahamic Covenant without the restrictions experienced under the Old Covenant; and without circumcision.
Baptism does indeed replace circumcision, but in accord with the richer economy, its administration is also more richly extended.
Now, what has this to do with infant baptism?
If under the Old Covenant, children wee circumcised, should not the children also be baptised with the same significance under the New Covenant? We must answer "Yes" unless, the covenant family concept is revoked with the New Covenant.
(3) Continuity of the Principle of Family Solidarity
Has the covenant family concept been revoked in the New Covenant? The answer is already hinted when we considered Jeremiah�s proclamation of the New Covenant: "Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt" (Jer 31:31-2). The spiritual principles and concepts taught in the Abrahamic Covenant continues to be applicable today.
Peter in his Pentecostal sermon also suggests that when believers are engrafted into Christ, their children are subject to God�s covenantal promises:
38Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
This principle is also confirmed in 1 Corinthians 7:14 where Paul argues that even the children of a family which has only one believing parent are relationally and covenantally holy, i.e. set apart to God together with the believing parent:
1 Corinthians 7:14
For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.
Therefore, it does appear that the covenant family concept continues to be applicable in the New Covenant. God continues to be concerned not only for his family but for his family. We see this over and over again in the Gospel account: Jesus raised Jairus� daughter on account of his faith; He raised the widow�s dead son out if compassion for her; He heal the epileptic boy because of his father�s faith; He heal of the son of an official of the city of Capernaum account of his faith; and when Jesus came to stay with Zacchaeus, why did he say "This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham" (Lk 19:9). Why? Because God is not only interested in us as individuals, He is interested in our families too.
Question: Now, coming back to 1 Cor 7:14, we say, yes, we can see that the family concept does seem to still apply, and if so then based on (1) the continuity of the Covenant of Grace; (2) the continuity of the sign of the covenant of grace; then we must say that infants of believers ought also to be baptised. But there is a problem. 1Cor 7:14 indicates that the unbelieving spouse is also covenantally holy is it not? To be fair n our interpretation, should we not also baptise the unbelieving spouse?
Answer: No, as an adult the wife is responsible for her own profession of faith, but the child who has not reach an age of understanding stands under the father�s faith, and may be baptised and recognised as a member of the covenant community. The fact that children are to be treated differently, although they are also sinners in Adam as are the adults, may be seen in Jesus special treatment of children (recorded in all 3 synoptic Gospels):
Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven./DIR>
There is no such thing as an age of accountability, if you mean by it as what Charles Finney would mean, namely that a child dies before the accountability, he would ot be held responsible for his sin. Every child born into this world is born in sin, and are in Adam condemn, and if any child dies in infancy, he will be condemned for the Original Sin unless he is elect of God. However, i believe there is such a thing as an age of understanding, before which they may receive certain special favour of God, one of which being their inclusion into the covenant community based on their parent�s faith.
The New Testament also records numerous instances of household baptism: the family of Lydia (Acts 16:15); the family of the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:33); the family of Stephenus (1Cor 1:16); almost certainly the household of Cornelius (Acts 10); and most likely the household of Crispus. Now, this does not prove anything because no infants are mentioned in any of this households. But consider how many people were mentioned by name who were baptised (after Pentecost)? In addition to the 5 mentioned, we have another 4: (1) Saul, (2) Ethiopian Eunuch; (3) Simon Magus (Act 8:12); and (4) Gaius (1Cor 1:14). Is it not interesting to note that out of 9 baptism mentioned by name, 5 were household baptisms. And if you consider these 5 together with the thousands of families in the Mediterranean area that were baptised in these early days, it would be kind of bias to suggest that there were no children. And if there were, were they not also included when the household were baptised. In the first century, where the head of the household has a very important place in the family and the society, it would have been an exception rather than the rule for anyone in a household to disagree with the head of the house. True, every adult will be responsible to repent and believe individually, but the family solidarity is so strong in those days that if you read Acts alone (e.g. the account of the Philippian jailer), you may get the impression that the whole household was baptise solely on account of the faith of the head of the household. If that is the case then, it would have been odd if the whole family were baptised and included into the covenant community, but the children were forbidden. It is no wonder that Origen believe that doctrine of Infant Baptism were passed down from the apostles. Origen himself was baptised as an infant in 185 A.D.
If Infant baptism is so obscurely taught in the Scriptures, could it be an indication that it is a humanly contrived doctrine?
I don�t think so. The first century Christians probably did not have th same problem of understanding that we may have. Having their infants baptised was probably understood as a natural extension to the Abrahamic covenant (especially for the Jews), or simply practiced without question in view of the the strong family solidarity of the age. In fact, to deny baptism for the children would probably have been more awkward for the first century believer than to include them. If infant baptism is forbidden, or unbiblical, the apostles would probably have written against it. Thus their relative silence speaks more loudly for the doctrine than against the doctrine.
What is the significance of infant baptism?
Infant baptism does not save. But it is commanded as a sign to declare the Lord�s covenantal relationship to the family of believers, and it is also a token of the parent vow before God to bring the child the nurture and instruction of the Lord. Such a baptism is also a call to the child to confess Christ at the earliest possible age. And yes, if Crist invites the little children to come to Him, will you not also bring your children to Him to be blessed by Him?
If you have brought your children to be baptised, have you kept your vows, if you have not brought your children to be baptised, will you do so at the earliest possible time? Let us not withhold the Lord�s blessing on our children and on ourselves by neglecting this sacred duty that God has enjoined us.