Compared with Hymns and Creeds, Infant Baptism is more challenging to accept as we transfer to ZCRC Imus
I had a very shallow understanding of it back then. But I simply thought, “There’s a biblical basis for it, just like dedication.” And I only got a clearer grasp of it as I learned more about covenant theology.
Throughout the process, however, I realized how controversial it is among Christians. To the point that some even consider it as “unbiblical” or “heretic” to baptize infants.
It is often associated with Roman Catholic infant baptism (I myself have that thought before). But to deal with it right away, our understanding of infant baptism is not the same as the RC. Although same form and Trinitarian formula, we don’t baptize any children—but only the children of professing believers. And we don’t believe that baptism itself produces regeneration.
- What are our children? Mere attendees or members?
- And why do we baptize infants anyway?
- Is it even biblical?
- On what basis do we baptize our kids?
- And what is its significance?
- The Basis for Infant Baptism
- The Significance of Infant Baptism
Subpoint 1: The Basis for Infant Baptism
Those who hold on to “believers” or “adult” baptism (credo-baptism) argue that there is no explicit command in the Bible that infants should be baptized. That’s true. At the same time, however, there is no explicit prohibition in the Bible against baptizing infants.
And like other truths of the Bible, infant baptism is not based on a single text or passage of Scripture, but on a larger context of Scriptures and a series of considerations. (Hence, we’ll be looking at multiple texts this afternoon).
- Scripture text: Acts 2:38-39
Focusing on verse 39, we see the “generational” nature of God’s promise. The promise is declared and given not only for believers, but also extended to their children.
This is how God establishes and administers his covenant promises throughout Scriptures: Always involving “offspring” / children.
- Covenant with Adam — Applied to Adam and his offspring. As explained by Paul, “In Adam all die…” (i.e., all his offspring after him)(1 Cor. 15:22)
- Covenant with Noah — “…with you and your offspring after you.” (Gen. 9:9)
- Covenant with Abraham — “… covenant between me and you and your offspring” (Gen. 17:7)
- Covenant with David — “… to David and his offspring” (2 Samuel 22:51; 23:5)
Now, what we need to consider in particular for our discussion is God’s covenant of Abraham and the sign of circumcision. In Genesis 17:7 (Read), God declares his promise to be the God of Abraham and his offspring. And in verse 9-14, God institutes the sign of that covenant promise—circumcision. It is applied to the visible community of God’s people—both the parents and the children.
Now, let us go to Galatians 3:8-9. Paul argues that the salvation of the Gentiles in the New Testament has always been part of God’s covenant to Abraham. Hence, the same covenant of grace to Abraham is still in force to God’s people in the New Testament. There is the continuity of the covenant of grace from OT to NT.
So, here’s what we deduce and consider here: OT Covenant + Sacrament → Believers and children = NT Covenant + Sacrament → Believers and children
If that covenant to Abraham was promised to him and his offspring, then the same applies to the New Testament church. Peter affirmed that: “The promise is for you and your children…” (Acts 2:39).
And if the sign of the covenant in OT was given to children, then it follows that the sign of the covenant in NT should also be given to children. Why exclude them now?
According to Hebrews 7-8, Christ established a “better” and “more excellent” covenant. If we are living in a “better” and “excellent” administration of God’s covenant, why exclude the children when they were included before?
Some would argue, “We still incorporate them into the church through ‘child dedication.’” (No time to look at true context of dedication in OT). Well, if we look at Scriptures, there is no hint that the New Testament church—Jews and Gentiles—practiced child dedication.
In Acts 16:15 and 16:, when Paul baptized the household of Lydia or the jailer in Philippi, it was them and their “household.” And the way the word (oikos) is used there is not referring to a “house structure,” but to one’s spouse and children, particularly young children.
We can’t assume that when Paul baptized the parents, they had to bring their children to the temple in order to be dedicated.
In the New Testament, the sign and seal of God’s promise and the entrance to the covenant community is clearly baptism. Hence, we don’t create a separate sacrament for parents and another for children.
Summary of subpoint 1:
So going back to the question, “What is the basis for infant baptism?”—the answer is the covenant of God. Our young children are to baptized on the ground of the all-comprehensive covenant promise of God. Because God promised his saving work to his people and their offspring, we also give our children the sign of that promise.
- What does it imply if we baptize children?
- If we baptize children, are we saying that they are already converted?
Subpoint 2: Significance of Infant Baptism
Perhaps, one major challenge in understanding infant baptism is its function as a means of grace. As explained in previous sermons:
- Sacraments are efficient only when there is faith
- The Word produces faith, while the Sacraments strengthen that faith (making the truths of the Word more clear, hence through the Spirit’s indwelling work, establishes and confirms existing faith)
Christ said in Mark 16:16, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.”
Now the objection is: “Why give the Sacrament to infants or young children when they cannot yet fully understand the Word leading to faith?”
Louis Berkhof puts it well:
“If the question is raised, how infant baptism can function as a means of grace to strengthen spiritual life, the answer is that it can at the very moment of its administration strengthen the regenerate life—if already present in the child, and can strengthen faith later on when the significance of baptism is more clearly understood.”
- A child of a believer may be regenerated already by the Spirit (though not yet converted to repentance and faith)
- Example: Samuel or John the Baptist (i.e., God can fulfill his purposes for an individual even since birth)
- Example: Samuel or John the Baptist (i.e., God can fulfill his purposes for an individual even since birth)
- We still call them to repentance and faith later on, and their baptism reminds them that God has been faithful in his covenant promise to them.
A follow-up objection will be: “What if the child doesn’t grow up to be a Christian? Isn’t it safer to give it to them once they can profess faith?”
Our answer would be, “In the same way, what assurance do we have with adults being baptized that they are truly believers? How about those adults who professed faith and were baptized, and still went out of the Christian church?”
This objection comes from the mindset that the Sacrament of baptism is primarily a badge of our act of faith, hence children cannot have that badge yet. But as we explained before, the sacraments are primarily signs and seals that we receive from God.
Though it also serves as a badge of our identity (i.e., distinguishing the church from the rest of the world), it is a sign of God’s covenant and commitment to us more than our commitment and allegiance to him.
In discussing the efficacy of infant baptism, James Bannerman offers one important proposition:
“It is abundantly obvious that adult baptism is the rule, and infant baptism the exceptional case; and we must take our idea of the [sacrament] in its nature and effects not from the exception, but from the rule.”
Christ’s statement in Mark 16:16 stands, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” That is the rule, which is demonstrated when we baptize adults. Perhaps, one reason we hardly realize this is because we see less adults being converted to faith and baptized (maybe it has do with the church’s evangelism).
Nevertheless, going back, because God said that his covenant promise is for his people and their children, we also give the sign of that promise to our children. And this means that they become part of the visible church and enjoy the privileges of receiving God’s means of grace.
Let us consider more Scripture texts about this.
- Scripture text: Romans 3:1-2
- Paul previously argues that physical circumcision itself does not lead to salvation
- Nevertheless, being a Jew—circumcised and part of the visible church—gives them the great privilege of receiving the divine revelation of God
This is made more clear in…
- Scripture text: 1 Corinthians 10:1-5
- Baptizo – To have an extraordinary experience similar to the water rite. (They had that extraordinary experience of witnessing God’s work under the leadership of Moses)
- “All” — this includes children.
- Vv. 5 — Again, being part of the visible covenant community does not guarantee salvation. Just like being baptized does not effect salvation. Nevertheless, as part of the covenant community, all of them experienced all the means of grace that points to Jesus Christ.
These passages imply that although we have no assurance of our children’s regeneration, they nevertheless receive the sign of God’s promise, and they are joined with the covenant community to receive the privileges of God’s outward means of grace—through which the Holy Spirit applies salvation to us.
Hence, instead of having a separate “children’s church,” we keep them here with us. They also join us as we hear God’s call to worship, his law and gospel, as we pray and receive God’s declaration of promise.
And though these privileges remain as outward privileges until they possess faith—it is not to be undervalued. James Bannerman puts it well again:
“Having a right to the enjoyment of the privileges which God has given to the church and not to the world is of itself no small privilege, outward and temporal it may be, and not inward and spiritual. That outward provision of the means of grace, given for the benefit and establishment of the church, is always represented in Scripture as a gift of Christ to His people, not be undervalued or despised because it comes short of a saving blessing, but rather to be accounted exceedingly great and precious.”
So once again, our children are baptized and incorporated into the church to receive this privilege of enjoying God’s means of grace unto salvation.
- What do all these mean to us?
Final Implication and Application
Let me exhort our children (covenant children including those who will soon be baptized as members of the church):
- It is a blessing from God that you are here. It is a great privilege that you were born and part of a family who believes and worships God.
- As members of this church, you also hear the Word of God telling you that you are a sinner. As you grow up, you will see your sinfulness (when you grumble against your parents, when you fight your siblings, when you complain about things in life). All of this comes from your sinful heart. And God will always punish sin.
- But you also hear the Word of God here telling you that there is salvation in Jesus Christ. That instead of you receiving God’s wrath, Christ died to pay for your sins and give you eternal life.
- And that baptism you received is the promise of God that because of Jesus Christ, he will cleanse your sins, that he will forgive you, and that his Spirit will dwell in you to teach you, guide you, and help you live for him.
- So repent, confess your sins to God, and believe in Jesus Christ. Do not be unbelieving, but believing. Keep growing in the church; observe your parents and other adults worshipping God. Make most of the privilege of singing to God and listening to his Word. When you have questions, ask Dad and Mom.
- You may not yet understand everything clearly. But trust God, that as you continue growing in this church, he will fulfill his saving promise to you and strengthen your faith.
And let me now exhort parents. (I myself am not yet a parent, but I can reflect on parenting as a child, or as I relate to other children, and as I observe other parents. And ultimately, we receive instruction not from the authority of man, but from God.)
- God’s covenant promise is to us believers and to our children. And this promise is the basis of our duty to our children. Because God promised to fulfill his saving work to our children, let us be careful that we don’t go against it. How?
- In Luke 18:15-16, people were bringing “infants” to Christ. And he said in verse 16: “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them…” We may not directly tell our children, “Don’t go to church or don’t read the Bible,” but we may be withholding from them the promise of God by not intentionally and actively leading them to Christ.
- “Train up a child…” It speaks of active, intentional, and laborious way of teaching our children the words and ways of God. Are we training them up and leading them to Christ?
- For instance, how’s our family worship? We might say we lack time. But how much time do we dedicate to overtime work, Netflix, and other things, while we neglect even a short time to read the Bible, pray, and sing hymns with our kids?
- How do we train and encourage them during Lord’s Day service? Depending on age and the way you bring them up at home, children’s attention will really be limited. And there are some instances when they will need to have drawing activities to keep them settled during services. But are we training them to be more and more attentive to God’s means of grace? (e.g., Bible activities instead of Candy Crush or Peppa Pig)
- As parents, we desire the best for our children. We tend to wish that they will not experience all the hardships we experienced, and that they will enjoy the things we wished we enjoy. (And it is indeed our duty to seek their physical needs). But friends, no matter how much you prepare for the future, none of us will escape the fallenness and adversities of this dying world.
- Far be it that our children will be coming up on stage, receiving all the medals and rewards in the sight of men yet be rejected by God on the judgment day and their bodies and souls burning in hell.
- The most loving act, the best gift, the best inheritance, that you can ever leave for your children is not toys, wealth, or the best education and best vacation experience, but the gospel—the knowledge of Jesus Christ that leads to salvation.
- There are many other practical things on how to teach our children (you can ask those who have many experience). But let me say this: Though our children cannot understand everything yet, every small way we lead them to God is significant. (e.g., conversation while in bed, play, kitchen, etc.)
- Example: Dad and Mom (far from perfect as parents), yet there are those simple things I carry until now.
- Dad always encouraging us to read Christian books
- Mom telling me (while walking from Perpetual 7), “Wag kang umasa sa mga kuya mo. Umasa ka sa Diyos.” (And as I grow up, I understood more and more to trust God rather than men).
- Lastly, keep in mind that you will never ever be perfect as parents. You will make wrong decisions, and even mistakes to your children.
- That’s why it’s also a blessing when we parents know how to confess our sins to our children. Some parents are afraid to say sorry assuming that it makes them look weak and may lead the child to usurp their authority. Not at all. If we explain it well, it actually demonstrates to them the reality that we are all sinners and are fully dependent upon the grace and forgiveness of God in Christ.
- That’s why we pray for ourselves and our children. At the end of the day, you won’t be able to protect and guide your children 24/7. Even if you do, you can’t do it perfectly. Especially as they grow up, you’ll have less opportunities to teach them than when they are young.
- [Example:] People who know our family (6 children, 5 boys) assume that Dad and Mom are almost-perfect parents to be able to bring us up this way (hindi pariwara, mostly church-goers). They often answer: “We just keep on praying for them.” And if we look at us their children, it is ultimately not what they did, but what God did.
- That is the encouragement for all believing parents. Parenting our children is definitely hard and exhausting until we die. But the hope of our children’s future rests not in our efforts, but in the work of God. God promised that as surely as water was poured out upon our sons and daughters, God will also cleanse their sins and dwell within them through his Spirit. Let that be your source of encourage to keep teaching them and leading them to Christ. Your labor is not in vain, for he who promised is faithful.
Let me end this by exhorting all of us in this church, both parents and not. In Psalm 78, the psalmist desires to declare the works of God to their children, that they may know God and declare it also to their children yet to be born. Is that our desire?
Brother and sisters, God promised that his Spirit and Word will continue from generation to generation of his people. Who will pastor our children and their children? Who will be the their elders, deacons, teachers. We are not here living and enjoying God’s means of grace for ourselves.
Let this be an encouragement for us, especially the men, to step up for the sake of the next generation. Let us not live for ourselves or this world, but let us grow in the grace and knowledge of God. Let us continue to serve one another, and do everything for the Gospel—that we, and our children, and our children’s children shall continue to know the Lord, to worship our God and King, and to glorify and enjoy him forever.
Reuel Dawal is the Minister of the Word and Sacraments at ZCRC. He was an intern prior to being ordained and installed as the church's new pastor. He is currently finishing his Biblical and Theological Studies at the Miami International Seminary (MINTS) online. He and his wife Yeng are married since 2017 and lives in Imus, Cavite.