One question often asked by Christian parents concerns the baptism of their new-born child – should they offer their child for infant baptism or should they wait till the child can fully understand the meaning of this sacrament before undergoing baptism?
Baptism as a sacrament is both a sign and seal of our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Some believe that only those who are capable of professing faith in Christ as their Saviour are to be baptised. Since newborn babies or young children are unable to do so, they should be excluded from this sacrament. So should we, or should we not baptise infants?
According to the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF):
“Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptised into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world” (WCF Chapter 18 Section 1).
“Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptised” (WCF Chapter 18 Section 4).
It must be said at the outset that there is no explicit command in the Bible for infant baptism. But this does not necessarily mean that infant baptism is not Scriptural. To understand the doctrine of infant baptism, we must go back to the time of the patriarch Abraham.
- God’s Covenant with Abraham
The patriarch and his descendants were the chosen people of God: “For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. God made a covenant with Abraham and with his seed, the people of Israel” (Deut. 7: 6).
In Genesis 17, God sealed His covenant with Abraham – that Abraham would be “a father of many nations” (vv. 4-5). To set them apart from the heathen nations around them, God also gave His chosen people a distinctive mark – the rite of circumcision for all male children when they were eight days old: “And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant, which ye shall ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 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” (Gen. 17: 9-14).
How does this covenant of circumcision apply to us and our children? In his epistle to the Galatians, the apostle Paul asserted that all who are in Christ are the spiritual descendants of Abraham: “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3: 29). This truth is reiterated in Romans 4: 11: “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”. As such, present-day believers enjoy the benefits of that Abrahamic covenant of old.
“Learn hence, that all sincere and serious Christians are Abraham’s spiritual seed, children of his faith, though not of his flesh; and being the children of his faith, are heirs together with him of the same promises. If ye be Christ’s, that is, sincere and serious Christians, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (William Burkitt’s Expository Notes).
- Circumcision and Baptism
The rite of circumcision signifies the inward cleansing of the heart (Rom. 2: 28-29) which God required of the patriarch and all his believing descendants. As Abraham’s seed, those who are in Christ must therefore resolve in their hearts to “put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts …” and “put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4: 22, 24). Baptism, which replaces circumcision, is a sign and seal of this inward faith.
“Circumcision was a bloody ordinance; for all things by the law were purged with blood (Heb. 9: 22; Ex. 24: 8). But, the blood of Christ being shed, all bloody ordinances are now abolished; circumcision therefore gives way to baptism” (Matthew Henry).
In his message on the day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter assured all who believed that God’s promise was unto them and their children: “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptised 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. 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” (Acts 2: 38-39). Peter’s invitation was based upon the promise given in connection with the covenant of circumcision.
By God’s gracious appointment, children born into a Christian home share the benefits of the Abrahamic covenant, and therefore receive baptism as a sign and seal. It is therefore clear that children, as recipients of the promise, are to be baptised. (… to be continued)