PAEDOBAPTISM. Is there a valid reason for doing it? More importantly, is there a valid biblical reason for doing it? See THIS ARTICLE for my thoughts on paedobaptism and the covenant of grace. Over the last few months, a dear brother in the Lord has been sharing what he deems to be “Reasons for Infant Baptism.” Of course, he comes from a Presbyterian perspective, so it only makes sense that he would promote such a position. What I can appreciate is that all of his “reasons” have Scripture attached to them. In fact, many of them are nothing more than a verse or passage left to speak for itself. But just because one can post a verse or passage from the Bible does not mean it is automatically a biblical justification. It is this which I have sought to demonstrate in my responses to him. Those responses make up the underlying structure and content of this article. I will break it down into sections, with each one representing a different reason. As you read, I encourage you to think about how you might have responded to each of these propositions.
“And Peter Said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’” (Acts 2:38-39)
I have heard this verse used by paedobaptists more times than I can possibly count. As with many things in life, this is just another instance where popularity doesn’t necessarily equate to accuracy. Bottom line: These verses have nothing to do with infant baptism. This is a case for the Elect coming from all groups of people. The promise is for everyone who is called by God. If it was for the children of believers, it means all the children would also have to be called. If all the children are called, it stands to reason that all the children would also be predestined, justified, and glorified. Since we know not all children of believers fall into this category, we can also know the passage is not saying all children of believers are called (any more than all who are far off are called). Therefore, to use this verse to justify infant baptism, it must also be used to justify the baptism everybody who is far off. Or we can accept it for what it’s actually saying: God calls His own, and they may come from Israelite parents, their children, or anyone else. Context matters!
“And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” (Genesis 17:7)
Would anyone be shocked that I disagree with this being a reason for infant baptism? Abraham had physical descendants, with Christ being the Seed. Whereas Abraham’s physical descendants partook of the blessings of the covenant, only spiritual descendants are part of the covenant of grace. This is accomplished by being united in Christ through faith. Ephesians 2:12-13 makes it clear that Gentiles were once far off but have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Anybody who believes in limited atonement would have to admit the blood of Christ was only shed for the Elect. Therefore, only the Elect are brought near. Since Christ is the only way into the covenant (i.e. once being far off and now being brought near), only the Elect can possibly be in the covenant of grace. Since baptism is a sign of membership in the covenant of grace, it should only be applied to those who are in it and precaution should be taken against applying it to anyone who does not have faith in the Son. Therefore, this passage, when taken in the full context of the New Testament, would actually have nothing to do with infant baptism.
Oftentimes, a paedobaptist will follow up with an attempt to back the credobaptist in a corner by asking if they have only ever baptized genuine believers, as if mistakenly baptizing a false convert will completely vindicate their system. There are certainly many who go through the motions of baptism when they never should have. This number includes both unbelievers who perhaps exhibited some sign of fruit only to later fall away, as well as infants. But just because there are non-Elect who go through the motion of baptism doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do our due diligence to prevent it from happening as often as we can. Also, I would say the non-Elect are never truly baptized because they lacked an essential part of a valid baptism: faith.
Earlier, I alluded to the covenant of grace. While there are many flavors of paedobaptists (i.e. Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutherans, etc), when it comes to Presbyterians, our differences really do boil down to our system of covenant theology. Regarding baptism, the Presbyterian argument (in a highly summarized nutshell) is that circumcision was a sign of the old covenant and baptism is a sign of the new covenant. In this, it would be safe to say that, in such a view, baptism has taken the place of circumcision. Where I feel this is impossible is in the fact that, while circumcision was the sign of the old covenant, circumcision is still very much the sign of the new covenant. The difference is in who it is applied to as well as the one doing the applying. In both the old and new covenants, circumcision was given to all who were in it. The old covenant was physical in nature. Thus, a physical sign was given from men to men. In the new covenant, it is spiritual in nature. Thus, a spiritual sign is given from God. No longer are we circumcised in the flesh but are circumcised in the heart. This circumcision of heart (a sign of being in the covenant of grace) is only given to believers through faith in Jesus Christ. Circumcision of the flesh was typological of the circumcision of heart. Since circumcision is very much still the sign being applied, to replace it with baptism becomes a dangerous precedent because it replaces that which God has not done away with. Baptism is what believers do out of obedience to God as they profess their faith to other men, but baptism is not the new circumcision nor has it replaced it. Additionally, the verse in Genesis 17 is about the spiritual future of the New Covenant. While it did have a practical application for the people of Israel, hence circumcision being a physical sign, it was another facet of the typological nature of the Abrahamic Covenant and not a matter of substance in the New Covenant.
“In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism…” (Colossians 2:11). The sign given to Abraham when God made a covenant with him was circumcision, given to infants. Baptism is the new sign of the covenant, the new circumcision.
While there is certainly talk of circumcision in the verse above, baptism doesn’t actually circumcise anyone. The circumcision that occurs is circumcision of the heart by the Spirit. It’s the removal of our heart of stone and giving us a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). Baptism is the outward proclamation that the inward reality (circumcision of heart) exists. The external sign should never be worn by one who does not possess the inward reality.
“For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea…” (1 Corinthians 10:1-3). Israel, including children, were baptized in the Old Testament.
Considering paedobaptists attempt to correlate circumcision to baptism, and not the Red Sea to baptism, I truly failed to pick up on this. I just had no idea how it was even being related. The “baptism” into Moses wasn’t a sacrament or a sign of a covenant. It was describing what they went through as they passed through the waters. Through discussion, it was explained to me that just because circumcision is connected to baptism does not mean that there are no other texts of scripture that teach us about it, and that Paul connects what happened to the Israelites in the Exodus account to the life of believers today. Essentially, he was not using the above passage as straight exegesis but rather as inference. But is it proper inference? I dare say not.
Despite the explanation that was offered up, I still failed to see the connection of Paul using the word “baptizo” with the ordinance of baptism in the life of the Church. Again, he was being descriptive of what they went through, with the primary purpose being in running the race and being obedient. It wasn’t a message on baptism, infant or otherwise. Not only is the passage not an explicit text on baptism, it’s not even an implicit text with good and necessary consequence or inference. I can 100% agree with good and necessary consequences. I just don’t agree that this is one of them. I think this is a very far stretch to shoehorn unbiblical tradition into the life of the church (and I mean no offense by that, just stating it as I believe it to be). In this case, my brother felt like Paul using the word baptizo should be enough to mean they were baptized, and that we should take it as a written example for us to follow.
Personally, I don’t take it to mean what he was asserting. If one didn’t believe in infant baptism, I think most would read that verse very differently. It’s neither descriptive nor prescriptive when it comes to the ordinance of baptism as found in the Church. I think this is an instance of grasping at straws and possibly an instance of an equivocation fallacy. There’s literally nothing in it that would lead the reader to think Paul was referring to the ordinance of baptism and relating it to entire families. That’s just a really big stretch. All it says is that they all passed through the sea and were immersed into Moses. The example is not baptism for all but rather to not be disobedient as the followers of Moses were. We are to be immersed in Christ and be obedient in faith. It’s a thought that immediately follows chapter 9 where it speaks of such things. Again, this simply is not an argument for infant baptism and, if anything, is an argument against it since infants cannot run the race and be obedient in faith. They can’t be immersed in Christ. Therefore, they would only end up receiving a hollow version of a sacrament.
“Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” (Psalm 127:3-5a)
At the risk of being overly blunt, this is even more of a stretch than Reason #4. Children are a blessing, but that doesn’t mean all blessings are baptized. Otherwise, I’d have to baptize my house in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. While having absolutely nothing to do with infant baptism, this text fits perfectly with a Baptist worldview. Children are a blessing and, more importantly, it is obedience to the command given in Genesis 1:28. But our children are still under the dominion of Satan unless regenerated by the Spirit. This is why we raise our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord while stressing the need for them to trust in Christ as their Savior, lest they be lost to the pits of Hell without Him.
“Did he (the Lord) not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring…” (Malachi 2:15)
As with all the other reasons given before now, this is also a stretch. This verse has nothing to do with infant baptism nor does it contain an underlying reason to baptize infants. Note the last part of verse 15 (that was conveniently cut off when it was posted):
“So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. “
This verse is speaking about how the priests were unrighteous and sinning against their wives. Notice that verse 3 says their children would be rebuked as a result. We see a similar warning in Leviticus 26:16. The passage isn’t referencing infant baptism. It’s not even about godly parenting. It’s about a covenant between a man and his wife and the consequence that comes with breaking it. I, too, seek godly offspring. This is why I raise them to know they are sinners in need of Jesus instead of telling them they’re part of an unbreakable covenant even if they don’t have faith (which would make them children of Satan).
I was then met with the claim that he was not trying to interpret it as a command to baptize infants but that he was using it as justification for determining what view of baptism allowed for the category of “godly seed”. He said God desires faith and faithfulness in a marriage because of what it produces, and that such logic carries over to the New Testament. While I promote there are only two categories of children in Scripture, children of God or children of Satan, his position is that there are additional categories that must be recognized in order to properly understand how the children of believers are to be dealt with. I can appreciate the desire to do something with these children, but I just do not see the biblical warrant to baptize them.
As for the category of what best describes godly seed, I would say that is going to entirely depend on whether or not God calls the child to Himself, not whether or not a child has been baptized. Certainly, any Reformed person would agree that we are all children of the devil prior to regeneration (John 8:44). So long as one remains in this state, he/she is not godly. The Presbyterian must create a third category, but those are the only two spiritual states laid out in Scripture. There simply is no third option. Anything else would be a purely fabricated category that would have nothing to do with their spiritual status. We are either in Adam or in Christ. That’s it. If we are in Adam, we need Christ and any blessings that might come our way are only because of either God’s common grace or as a byproduct of blessings given to His believing children that have a residual effect. I’m not even sure how one can say there is another category apart from Adam or Christ, Satan or God, unregenerate or regenerate. To say children of believers, so long as they remain in an unregenerate state, are anything other than children of the devil (in a spiritual sense) is to be at odds with Scripture. All humanity, regardless of whether or not their parents are saved, are in dire need of a Savior and are not adopted into the covenant until they enter through faith. The fact that Presbyterians believe in preaching the gospel to their kids only serves as an inconsistency in their view of the covenant of grace. To place them in a third category that merits bearing the sign of the covenant treats kids like they’re in, even though they lack faith and still belong to Satan.
Credobaptism is the clear demonstration from Scripture. I assert infant baptism is purely tradition, be it Presbyterian, Catholic, Lutheran, or other. This is further amplified by the fact that the Presbyterian version of paedobaptism isn’t even the original reason it was performed. Remember, other paedobaptist systems came before them and each had their own separate reasons. Thus, the Presbyterian edition is a revised version that clung to an action of tradition while merely changing its reasoning.
“For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” (1 Corinthians 7:14). The children of at least one believer are considered holy and not unclean like the world.
This is perhaps one of the easiest arguments to defeat. The basis of the argument is that the children of at least one believing parent is considered clean (i.e. holy) and should therefore be baptized. However, the unbelieving husband is also explicitly called holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is explicitly called holy because of her husband. Therefore, if the argument is that since the unbelieving child should be baptized due to being made holy by one believing parent, you would also have to argue that an unbelieving spouse should be baptized due to being made holy by the one believing spouse. If Presbyterians will not advocate for an unbelieving spouse to be baptized, it shows they don’t even really believe their own argument, at least not with any level of consistency. In fact, if one states the unbelieving spouse should abstain from baptism and the Supper, it would only serve to demonstrate why the unbelieving infant should also abstain.
But this goes back to the previous “reason” where the idea was floated that there are other categories apart from elect and reprobate within the Church. I admit there are various other categories (i.e. elder, deacon, sheep, husband, wife, child, etc), but when it comes to spiritual states, I outright deny this. There are only two. If one desires to be consistent, to use 1 Corinthians 7:14 for infant baptism would also be to use it as justification for the baptism of unbelieving spouses so long as one spouse was a believer. Yet, this isn’t pushed for. For any argument that the children are to be treated differently, the same argument must exist that the unbelieving spouse must be treated differently. Since all males who were part of Abraham’s house were to receive the sign of circumcision, it would stand that all (at a minimum, males) who are in the house of a believer would also have to bear the sign. Faith simply would not play a role. If faith does play a role, it must play the same role for all. This would only be further backed by the fact that the verse puts both unbelieving children and the unbelieving parent in the exact same category. Of course, the Presbyterian view begins not with Scripture but with a category of “covenant children” as rooted in tradition. Again, it requires a foundation of tradition before the subject can ever be broached. Since baptism does not regenerate, the paedobaptist must advocate for children of the devil bearing the sign of the covenant of Christ, void of faith and filled with sin.
But if the children of believers are not considered clean or holy, how can it be declared, with any level of confidence, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15)?” Can a house truly serve the Lord if the children within are not clean, holy, and baptized as children of the covenant who have been marked out as members of the visible Church? Is it a valid category? The problem with using a term like “covenant child” is that it isn’t even hinted at in Scripture. Yes, it could have been used of Old Covenant children but not of the New Covenant. People became members of the Old Covenant by nothing more than simply being born. It included believers, unbelievers, children, and servants. It was meant for a nation and all who were part of it. The New Covenant is far more selective in that only those who are in Christ are in the covenant. This limits the members to being only those who possess faith.
I also noticed a repeated theme in these “reasons” being cited. In many of them, it was said the reasoning does not depend on just that one reason but on all of it combined. However, every last one of the reasons has been easily refuted to show why it does not say what is being claimed. This means the reasoning is now built upon at least eight (counting the next one) refuted passages that are taken out of context. Having a plethora of verses taken out of context doesn’t mean a solid foundation exists. If anything, it demonstrates the opposite. A solid foundation would be built upon multiple verses that all say the same thing and can stand on their own merit individually but gain more strength when taken collectively. This is not the case here.
As for the comment about what marks the visible church, I agree this is baptism (though I would also add to that a public and credible profession of faith). However, the visible church should, in as many ways as possible, reflect the invisible church. This is why, when we discover someone who is living in sin, we might cast them out of fellowship and membership. Similarly, it is why we would not baptize an unbeliever who just so happens to come to church every Sunday (for whatever his reasons may be). To apply the sign to some merely because they sit in a pew or have a parent who believes is to misapply the sign. Yes, unbelieving wives and unbelieving children may be in the pew but that does not make them worthy of receiving the sign.
The holiness being spoken of is in the sense of being sanctified as a household. The believing spouse didn’t have to worry about leaving the unbelieving spouse. This is clearly the context of what’s being said in the passage. The same context is to be applied to the children. They didn’t need to be treated like outsider pagans to be rejected. Just as it isn’t saying they are saved, it also isn’t saying they are the recipients of the sign that is to be given to members of the covenant. This sign only belongs to believers who possess faith in Christ and are admitted membership through said faith.
As for Joshua 24:15, if it requires all members to actively serve the Lord in covenant before one can make the statement, it means a household who has one believing parent and one unbelieving parent would not be able to claim it. The children have no bearing on it. If being able to make the claim first requires baptism and entrance into the covenant, you now have to advocate for the unbelieving parent being admitted into the covenant, baptized, treated as a holy covenant member, and admitted to the Table. While some Presbyterians actually do claim this, I know my brother was not about to go that far. In that respect, I am thankful for his inconsistency.
Infants can die apart from conscious sin due to Adam’s federal headship and his imputed sin. Likewise, they can be saved through Christ’s federal headship and His imputed righteousness. Baptism does not force God’s grace, but it does signify it. See Romans 5:12-21.
Anybody whom God has called can (and will be) saved by His grace alone. If we’re not going to baptize all unbelieving adults in order to signify the potential grace that might be shown to them, we shouldn’t do it for infants either. While they may be saved and shown grace, they may not. Notice that both the WCF and 1689 (in 10.3) leave room by saying “Elect infants dying in infancy are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit; who worketh when, and where, and how he pleases; so also are all elect persons, who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.”
To go a bit further, his reasoning deferred to federal headship. While we are all in Adam by physical birth, we are only in Christ by spiritual rebirth. This first requires the Holy Spirit regenerating an individual. Of course, once regenerate, there is no becoming unregenerate. This is the very basis of Preservation of the Saints. Thus, once a person is regenerate, he are now in Christ and become the proper recipient of the sign. However, apart from this, no sign should be administered, for it becomes a sign administered in vain and error.
While there are a great many verses that our Presbyterian brethren will throw out there in an attempt to plead their case, none of them actually support their cause. In fact, when properly exegeted, they will often betray their cause and speak against it. We all come before Scripture with our presuppositions, but we should also always strive to let the Scriptures speak as we pray and meditate upon them. While some of my commentary above may sound harsh at times, it is my hope that you, the reader, will not only see why my brother’s “reasons” are flawed but also see love and grace in my rebuttals.
~ Travis W. Rogers