The below is a list of objections to the practice of covenant infant baptism followed by a response. Most of these objections are my own, objections that kept me from the practice for a time. The list was originally created as an outline of questions to help me think through the issue. As I worked through the issues overtime I answered my own questions. I hope it is of some benefit to you. As one last note, I’d like to thank a friend of mine, Chris Lee, for looking over everything and adding his own insights.
First, one quick foundation issue. There is a real psychological problem that comes with those who have grown up in congregations that only baptize adults. When someone has never seen water sprinkled or poured over the head of a newborn, a major psychological roadblock occurs. At first, this was actually an issue my wife had at first. Not only this, but I have actually heard many mature baptists say to me “all I have ever known is adult baptism, to baptize a baby just seems crazy.” With all that said, when we come to the Scriptures we need to lay aside all roadblocks and presuppositions that may keep us from embracing what the Scriptures teach.
Aren’t circumcision and baptism different?
- No – they sign and seal many of the same realities (justification by faith, regeneration, covenant membership, etc.) and are given to both professing believers and their households (see the book of Acts). Paul assured the Colossians that they need not be circumcised since they were all baptized (Col 2:9-12). His language emphasizes the spiritual connection between the sign (circumcision/baptism) and the thing signified (regeneration/regeneration) – the same way Peter does in his first epistle (1 Peter 3:19-22). Paul’s point is that they need not be circumcised because they have received both the new sign and its reality. If we make this text to be only spiritual than Paul’s point becomes null – why even mention baptism? Why not just say something along the lines of “you were circumcised when you were regenerated?” Well, he does say that. But he explicitly shows how they are counted as spiritually and physically circumcised in their spiritual and physical baptism.
- Yes – baptism is a better sign in that it is bloodless, administered to females, and shows forth Christ in more fullness. They both have typological functions that are appropriate to their eschatological position and may be said to differ in these ways (circumcision pointing to the lineage that Christ would come through, baptism pointing to the resurrection of Christ and our own resurrection with him).
Does the inclusion of children of believers continue in the NT?
- The testimony of OT prophecies and promises concerning the NC say yes.
- The way the Jews reacted to the retraction of circumcision, sacrifices, and other explicit changes in the NT would have been matched if not exceeded had they been told that their children were no longer included in the New Covenant and would no longer receive the covenant sign. Further, the early church often met in synagogues (James 2:2) and excluding children from membership would have required removing those already considered a part of that community. If there was a change in this principle we would expect Jesus or the Apostles to say so. In fact, the NT assumes the same as the OT, which shall be shown later.
- The NT uses as its foundation the covenant given to Abraham which included children and blessings to whole families in the earth. (i.e. Galatians 3:8,9)
- Upon reading the bible from front to back for the first time, a new Christian would come to the NT with a healthy OT assumption that children would still be counted among the covenant people of God and receive the sign of that covenant.
- Disciples are told to have the faith of a child in order to enter the Kingdom. (Matt 18:3)
- Jesus rebukes those who would withhold small children (possibly infants in the stories) from coming to him. (Matt 19:14)
- The majority of NT baptisms that we have in Scripture were administered to households. This relation with the way Abraham was told to administer circumcision is overwhelmingly obvious. Abraham, was an unbeliever (gentile) who very likely worshipped false gods before meeting the God of Israel. He was given the Gospel, believed it, and was circumcised along with his whole household (Get 17). This is the same pattern we see in the NT, a pattern that would have been obvious to first century Jews.
- Likewise, to assume that these households did not consist of infants (or at least small children who could not provide their own testimony) is untenable in a time where families consisted of multitudes of children. Most of examples of baptisms where households are not mentioned are individuals who explicitly lacked children. (i.e. Paul and the Ethiopian)
- The NT epistles address children in the church directly and without distinguishing between those who had been baptized on their own profession. They also utilize OT commands concerning duties owed to their parents, along with the promised reward applied to the NC and the command to obey them in the LORD (i.e. Eph 6:1). Paul assumes continuity between Old and New Covenants in this area of covenant succession as he applies the 5th commandment to a NC child.
- As previously mentioned, 1 Corinthians 7 explicitly refers to the children of one believer as saints (Greek: haggios, the same term used to address the whole church at the start of the epistle) and their relation to their believing parents make them such. This is contrasted with the fact that, had they not been covenantally represented by their parents, they would be unclean – outside the covenant people and in need of washing! Recall that whenever an Israelite was ceremonially unclean (touching a dead body, women’s menstrual cycle, etc.) and were unable to commune with the rest of covenant people. In order to return to the congregation they had to be made ceremonially clean by washing. Paul’s language of being haggios and unclean have obvious OT connections that are being applied to this NT child.
- The burden of proof falls on the Baptist to show from the NT that there has been a change in this principle of covenant inclusion. God uses means, and the covenant family is one of the principle means by which God brings us to himself.
Isn’t the seed promise given to Abraham fulfilled typologically in Christ?
Yes and no. In Galatians 3:16, Paul recognizes Christ as being the fulfillment of the seed (singular, Christ) promise given to Abraham. He also, however, recognizes that gentiles (and Jews) are the offspring (plural) of Abraham by faith (3:29). Furthermore, the Gospel given to Abraham was that his seed (Christ) would bring blessings to all the families of the earth – not just individuals (3:8). The rest of the New Testament account explicitly and implicitly validates the continuation of this principle of covenant inclusion, as shown above.
Can infants be saved – regenerated and have faith?
This is a debated topic within paedobaptist circles. (1) While this question is of immense practical and theological importance, it should be noted that the salvation of our children has no bearing on whether the covenant sign should be applied to them or not. We give the sign to our children because God commands it of us – not because we infallibly know that our children are elect. Election is left to God’s knowledge. God, however, has given us the covenant as a means by which we may have confidence in his promises. He has also given it to us as a means by which we may understand our responsibilities as disciples and parents. Even in adult baptism, the rite is not administered on the basis of the fact that we know that “this one is elect.” We don’t. Baptism is administered because it is a command of God – as well as a gift. With all of that said, however, regarding the salvation (regeneration, faith, etc.) of infants, a few things are clear:
- As monergists, we know that regeneration proceeds faith and faith itself is a gift of God. Is God not able to give this gift to an infant from the moment of conception?
- David confessed that YHWH was his God from the womb. This truth was further confessed by the entire nation of Israel as they sang the Psalms. (Psalm 22:9-10)
- The Psalms tell us that God uses the mouths of infants to silence his foes. (Psalm 8:2)
- David was told that he would one day meet with his son who had died in infancy. (2 Samuel 12)
- John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit from the womb (Luke 1:15)
- Denying the ability for an infant to have faith from conception would necessitate a denial of Christ’s perfect faith driven obedience to God and his Law from the moment he was conceived. Christ was fully God and fully man. If our children cannot have faith from conception, neither could Christ.
Isn’t Christ the mediator of a new and better covenant, a covenant that cannot be broken and includes only the elect?
Yes, Christ is the mediator of a new and better covenant. In one sense, this covenant cannot be broken, in another sense it can.
- The NC is new and better in many ways that would require great length to describe. Put simply, we are not under the Old Covenant and we see Christ with much greater fullness with the filling of the Spirit – not by the numerous shadows and types of the ceremonial law. In another sense, however, we are not strictly separated from the Old Covenant and the rest of redemptive history. Christ has one plan on salvation – one covenant of grace. The Greek term used to describe the new testament can also be translated as renewed. The testimony of the Scripture favors the idea that this is not an entirely new covenant, separated from the rest of redemptive history, but a new covenant that continues God’s providential plan to fix the fall.
- In another sense, the New Covenant cannot be broken – but this is no different from the Old. Those who were truly Israel in the OT could not break the covenant. God doesn’t lose those he elects and regenerates. The substance of the covenant could not be broken the same way it cannot be broken today. The elect cannot break the covenant. The distinction between administration/substance & visible/invisible is helpful here. In another sense, however, the covenant can be broken. NT writers, including Christ himself, frequently use OT accounts of faithlessness to warn NT believers of breaking the covenant (see especially the book of Hebrews & 1 Corinthians).
- The contrast between the Old and New Covenants in Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 8 has to do with the way the covenant was administered in the OT & NT – priests, sacrifices, types, shadows, etc. But it also, in the context of Jeremiah, deals with the eschatological destination of OT Israel and the NT Church, not with whether or not the covenant can be broken by individuals in those visible institutions. Hebrews makes clear that this NC could be broken, and that there was a much more severe punishment was for those who broke it than there was for those who broke the Old. But the eschatological contrast is this: God will ensure that the Church will fulfill the Great Commission by discipling all nations into faith driven obedience to King Jesus – this task will not fail the same way that Israel failed to keep the land of Palestine (which was likewise a part of God’s plan that was revealed from the start). It will be a result of regeneration and the Law of God being written on the people’s hearts so that all in the earth know the LORD – from the least to the greatest. This is the contrast between the covenants: between the eschatological goal of the covenants, not between whether or not someone can enter covenant and than apostatize due to a lack of faith in the first place. The contrast between the OC and the NC will be so great that it leads to the type of language in which the NC is considered far superior to the OC. The New Covenant is greater because Christ has come, planted his Kingdom on the earth, paid for sins, conquered death, ascended into heaven, sat down at the right of God from which he reigns, poured out his Spirit, sent out his Church, and is setting all things right by savings individuals, families, and whole nations.
Is Christ a mediator to those who are non-elect but are baptized into the visible Church?
- In one sense, yes, Christ is a ‘mediator’ to all of those in the visible Church. Baptism brings us into a real covenant relationship with the Lord, in this sense we might say that God becomes their God by means of the covenant and baptism. This is true whether you have been baptized as an infant by succession or as an adult by profession. Regardless of when it occurred, if we despise our baptism and don’t exercise faith in Christ we bring greater condemnation on ourselves than those outside the covenant.
- In another sense, Christ is not a mediator to those who have been baptized but are reprobate (lack faith and are not elect). If by mediator we mean that Christ is standing before the Father pleading their case with his blood, than no, any reprobate person who is baptized cannot be said to have Christ as their mediator in this sense.
- While this question is an important theological question and answering wrongly could put one in serious error, two important notes must be mentioned here as applies to practicality. First, we must take into account the distinctions between the Church visible and invisible, and the administration and substance of covenants. Second, we must remember that perfect knowledge of the elect/reprobate is not in our power, nor is it to be sought after, that prerogative belongs to God alone.
- This doesn’t mean that we should be flippant with the way we administer baptism and view membership in the Church. But it does mean that we should view and treat our children and professing believers the way that God commands us to and not withhold our confidence in their salvation out of fear that they may not have been elect unto salvation from before all time. Duty is ours, results belong to God. Abraham circumcised his offspring, giving them the promises of God, knowing that they are not all “true Jews,” and Peter baptized Simon knowing the same and seeing Simon despise his baptism later on.
Won’t all those in the New Covenant “know the Lord?”
See the answer to the previous questions. One must take into account the administration/substance visible/invisible distinctions. Baptists have the same problem as paedobaptists. Baptists bring individuals into the covenant through baptism that do not really know the Lord and who will eventually reveal that fact before God or man. Likewise, this is not a full understanding of Jeremiah’s prophecy.
Weren’t the Old Covenants (Abrahamic, Mosaic, etc.) covenants of works and the flesh (“do this and live”) whereas the New Covenant is a spiritual covenant of grace and regeneration?
- Like the OC, the NC also holds forth the Law (do this and live) in all of its condemning power, but this does not make the NC a works based covenant (see, i.e., the rich young ruler). The presence of the Law and its commands do not do away with the way in which God interacts with his people – by faith. As another example, compare the OT Law with Christ’s sermon on the mount.
- We know that, because of sin, God only communes with those he saves (regeneration, justification, etc.). Abraham, Moses, and the Israelites, could only be God’s people by faith – the same way we are. If it were otherwise, he could not be called their God.
- All major OT covenants (Abraham, Moses, David), with the exception of the covenant with Adam, are gracious covenants and thus part of God’s one plan of redemption (the covenant of grace). Even with the Adamic covenant of works, if we recognize that it was Adam’s obedience that enabled him to attain eternal life, we would need to understand that it was God who enabled him to obey. So, even in that sense, the Adamic covenant is gracious, though differing from covenants after the fall.
- Furthermore, the NT uses the OT saints as the example of salvation and emphasizes the way in which they looked to Christ in various places. (i.e. Hebrews 11)
Isn’t the New Covenant “in Christ’s blood?”
See again the distinction between visible/invisible, substance/administration. This also assumes that God cannot regenerate an infant, give them faith, and save them by Christ’s atonement – though election is, again, not the basis for our baptism.
Does God make promises that he does not keep?
Let Paul answer that question:
“What advantage has the Jew (covenant child)? Or what is the benefit of circumcision (baptism)? Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written,
“That You may be justified in Your words,
And prevail when You are judged.”
If we question the faithfulness of God’s promises in regards to the faith of NT children, why not do so for OT children (Israel)? Was God lying when he promised Abraham to be a God to him and his children, and many turned out to be reprobate? No, for not all of Israel is Israel. (Rom 9:6) Does that mean that covenant succession does not matter? No! It means that we should not presume upon out covenant promises and become puffed up about them (as the Jews did), but we should hold fast to them in humble and obedient faith.
How can I give a sign that represents salvation to those who I don’t know are saved?
Because Abraham did (Romans 4:11), because infants can be saved (see above), and because it is not our prerogative to know who is truly elect but to baptize on the basis of covenant and God’s command. Even baptists do not baptize on the basis of election but on covenant standing.
Wasn’t circumcision a fleshly sign of national and genealogical identity whereas baptism is a spiritual sign of the Church and spiritual identity?
This wrongly assumes a various things:
- It assumes that circumcision did not have spiritual significance.
- That the nation of Israel was not supposed to be a “spiritual” (holy) nation that placed its faith in God.
- That God did not interact with his OT people by means of regeneration and faith.
- That OT Israel and the NT Church are strictly separate.
- That God did not bring gentiles into the Old Covenant and give them the sign.
- That the NC is only concerned with the spiritual and not the physical (Gnosticism).
- That baptism is not longer a national sign, in the sense that God does not call all nations to repent and be baptized. This is, however, at the very heart of the New Covenant and the Great Commission – as the Church is to disciple and baptize all nations.
Isn’t baptism a testimony of our regeneration and faith? If a infant can’t give a testimony why should they be baptized?
- Unless we deny monergism, we know that salvation is “of the LORD.” Baptism is not a testimony or sign of anything we have done, chosen to do, or accomplished. It is a sign of what God has done.
- Being a sign and seal of Christ’s righteousness received by faith (Rom 4:11) did not stop Abraham from circumcising his household – quite the opposite.
- This also, again, denies that infants can be regenerated, have faith, and be saved.
Isn’t circumcision replaced by regeneration, not baptism?
- OT saints were regenerated, otherwise they could not commune with God.
- Regeneration is not exclusive to the NT.
- Both circumcision and baptism point to regeneration.
- Circumcision is realized in regeneration – as is baptism – but it is not replaced as a visible sign and seal of the covenant by regeneration. This could not be more plain.
Shouldn’t baptism only be given to disciples of Christ?
- Jesus commanded his Church to make disciples by means of baptizing them and teaching them. This is exactly what we are to do with our children. We teach and disciple them.
If an infant is baptized and brought into the Church, aren’t they than proper recipients of Church discipline?
See my post here.
How can children uphold the duties of a church member?
There are various roles in the church that come with particular duties (husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, children, elders, deacons, widows, etc.) Likewise, there are various levels of maturity in the church, and with more maturity comes greater duty. This is obvious from the way Paul addresses these roles in his epistles. I do not expect a new 60yo convert to be able to “protect the purity of the doctrine of the Church” the same way that I would expect that from a 60yo who has been a Christian her whole life. Children are given duties within the church suitable to their age. This should not keep them from being counted in the Church.
(1) I am of the opinion that parents can have unshaken confidence in the election, faith, and salvation of their covenant children – even from the moment of conception. Notice, however, that I have used the term confidence. As with adults, only God infallibly knows his decrees, and only God knows who is truly elect. However, one purpose of the covenant and its sacraments is to give us assurance and to strengthen our faith – that we are truly united to Christ and share in all his benefits. Thus, I believe that I can say with confidence that my 19 months old daughter and soon be to be born son are Christians in the truest sense. As with adults, as time goes on and a person shows forth fruit, maturity, and love for Christ, all creating a great assurance in the faith of the person, which is a gift of God. For a short defense of faith in infants see this article from Francis Nigel Lee.