A Brief for Infant Baptism

A summary of Scripture, arguing for believers to baptize their children.

Covenant promise, and sign
1. God established a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17:7, to be God to him and to his children.
2. The sign of the covenant was circumcision, given to Abraham, and his descendants (Genesis 17:10-11).
3. This sign was according to God’s promise, not the Mosaic law, and so was not done away with as the OT ceremonial law was, in Christ (Galatians 3:17).
4. Blood was a sign of this covenant from the beginning, in circumcision and later in the sacrifices, and it is the blood of Christ that actually saves us, in this covenant (Zechariah 9:11; Hebrews 13:20).

Same covenant promise, from Old to New
1. God is building one house. Moses was a faithful servant, helping erect some scaffolding while also building the house; Christ was the faithful Son who completes the foundation (apostles) and removes the need for scaffolding. (Hebrews 3:5-6)
2. But the promise of salvation – re-entering covenant relationship with God’s favor – remains the same (Galatians 3:9).
3. Israel was baptized into Moses, and ate and drank of Christ in the manna and rock in the desert (1 Corinthians 10:1-4). Paul compares the Church to Israel, saying the same danger is true of us. Don’t eat and drink in communion and still fall away (1 Cor 10:14ff).
4. We assume that the New Covenant did not remove everything found in the Old Covenant unless otherwise stated; rather, since our salvation in Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant, into which we are ingrafted (Romans 11:17-18), we assume that the Old Covenant signs are in force, unless the New gives us a change, as it often does (Mark 7:19; Heb 10:1-10). But no change is given for the pattern of applying the sign of the covenant (see below “no change”).

Hypocrisy not an argument against infant baptism
1. Unbelieving Jews believed they were all right just because they were circumcised (John 8:33), but God can raise up covenant children from rocks (Matthew 3:9). The point is that you must have faith, be born again, even if you are a Jew (John 3:3ff).
2. God’s answer to this hypocrisy is not to withhold the signs of the covenant until we can be sure they believe, but to cut unbelievers out of the covenant, in His time and way (Romans 11:17, 20).

Same reality signified in circ. and baptism
1. What counted an Israelite a member of God’s Old Covenant was circumcision (Gen 17:10-14).
2. What counts a Christian a member of God’s New Covenant is baptism, whether Jew or Greek.
- We are baptized into one Body (made a member of God’s New Covenant) (1 Cor 12:13).
- If you are baptized into Christ, you have put Him on (Gal 3:27-28), and are an heir of the promise made to Abraham (Gal 3:29), which was signified by circumcision (Gen 17:10).
3. The initiatory rite of the Church was baptism from the beginning, for Jews and Gentiles (Acts 2:41). This conflicts with the initiatory rite of Israel – circumcision. So everyone in the early church was asking “What gives? Do the Gentiles have to become Jews?” God’s answer is in Acts 15 and Colossians 2:11-12, which I quote:

“In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.”

4. To paraphrase: Gentiles, you don’t have to get circumcised like some Jewish believers are saying you should. Your baptism counts as your circumcision.
5. Circumcision and baptism are two signs of the exact same spiritual reality – being set apart for God, having your sin removed from you, cleansed in the righteousness of Christ, etc. So if God gives the first sign to infants, we have no argument to take the second sign from infants.

No change in including children in covenant
But one thing the NT does NOT change is the inclusion of children of believers in the covenant. Just as the inclusion of Gentiles without circumcision was controversial, so beginning to exclude children from the covenant would have been a MAJOR change. But the NT says nothing about it. In fact it confirms the opposite.

1. Peter says at Pentecost that the promise of salvation through Christ is to those present, and to their children (Acts 2:39), and they were faithful enough Jews to know he was hinting back to God’s promise to Abraham and his children. This is new, but not new.
2. God applies an Israelite covenant promise to Gentile children (Ephesians 6:1-3).

Sacraments given ahead of time; point outward to Christ, not only inward to faith
The sacraments signify a spiritual reality outside of us. Purity in baptism, washing of sin in Christ’s blood. They do not merely signify a spiritual reality at work IN us. An example of this is Passover. Israel eats and drinks of a Lamb, the means of their being spared, before they are redeemed from Egypt. Another would be the Sabbath, which is a secondary sign of the covenant in the OT. We have this sign, before we have the reality (Ezekiel 20:12; Hebrews 4). If circumcision/baptism only points inward to the person’s faith, then God should not have given circumcision to infants. But if the sacraments point to an outward reality into which we are brought (Sabbath, redemption, cleansing), then there is not a problem with applying the sign before the reality is there. This is one way God engenders faith in His people. The NT does not address or change this, and so we assume the pattern of infant circumcision carries over to baptism.

NT need not be explicit on a doctrine for it to be true
Remember that the NT is not a systematic theology; other key doctrines like the Trinity are also not explicitly taught in it, yet are true.

Poem of the Day

Best to keep this one in the bonds of matrimony, and notice the tight meter and rhyme, as you go...

Where Be Ye Going, You Devon Maid?
by John Keats

Where be ye going, you Devon maid?
And what have ye there i' the basket?
Ye tight little fairy, just fresh from the dairy,
Will ye give me some cream if I ask it?

I love your meads, and I love your flowers,
And I love your junkets mainly,
But 'hind the door, I love kissing more,
O look not so disdainly!

I love your hills, and I love your dales,
And I love your flocks a-bleating;
But O, on the heather to lie together,
With both our hearts a-beating!

I'll put your basket all safe in a nook,
Your shawl I'll hang up on this willow,
And we will sigh in the daisy's eye,
And kiss on a grass-green pillow.


Ephesians 4:32

This week's memory verse, illustrated by Grace
(watering flowers and mowing lawn for a family on vacation)


Some Right Wright

"It is quite an illegitimate use of all this to see 'experience' as a separate source of authority to be played off against scripture itself, though this move is now frequent, almost routine, in many theological circles ('Scripture says... tradition says... reason says... but experience says... and so that's what we go with").... (pg 101)

To speak of 'experience' as an authority, then, is to admit that the word 'authority' itself is being dismantled.... If 'experience' is itself a source of authroity, we can no longer be addressed by a word which comes from beyond ourselves. At this point, theology and Christn living cease to be rooted in God himself, and are rooted instead in our own selves; in other words, they become a form of idolatry in which we exchange the truth about God for a human-made lie...." (pg 101, 103).

"We could put it like this. 'Experience' is what grows by itself in the garden. 'Authority' is what happens whne the gardener wants to affirm the goodness of the genuine flowers and vegetables by uprooting the weeds in order to let beauty and fruitfulness triumph over chaos, thorns and thistles. An over-authoritarian church, paying no attention to experience, solves the problem by paving the garden with concrete. An over-experiential church solves the (real or imagined) problem of concrete (rigid and 'judgmental' forms of faith) by letting anything and everything grow unchecked, sometimes labeling concrete as 'law' and so celebrating any and every weed as 'grace.'" (pg 104)


The Spirit baptizes us into His own fruit

Following my sermon on baptism today, here is a good follow-up, just-to-make-sure-I'm-still-orthodox kind of thing. Wilson is explaining Galatians 5:18-26:

"Those who are baptized have been baptized into Christ, which means they have been baptized "into" the second list [the fruit of the Spirit]. But what if their life still matches the first list [of sinful living]? What does that mean? It means that, apart from repentance, they will not inherit the kingdom of God. Their baptism obligates them covenantally to be characterized by the second list, not the first. But unbelief within the covenant makes disobedience within the covenant possible. Baptism puts a man under the obligations of the covenant; it does not substitute for a life of obedience based on faith in Christ alone."

On turning the hearts of fathers

"We are prone to interpret the phrase 'turn the hearts of the fathers to the children' in various incorrect or incomplete ways. Some define this by coming home - leaving the corporate world to provide for the family in some home-based enterprise.....

Others define this as implementing strict obedience training modes in the home, with severe consequences for disobedience....

Others define this by adopting the 'patriarch' label, with little or no understanding of what that actually means. Some foolishly view this as bossing the wife and children around, in order to remind them who is in charge. Others take this stance solely as implementing and reinforcing strict gender differences in the household. While I heartily embrace unique gender roles in all areas of life, this doesn't get at the root of biblical patriarchy and it doesn't get anywhere near to fulfilling the prophecy in Malachi.

What is missing from the three scenarios I have briefly and roughly summarized above is the difficult work of pursuing the heart of our children.... seeking to tie strings of fellowship with his children, truly enjoying their presence, and letting his children know that he enjoys their presence.... [Our heavenly Father] loves to spend time in fellowship with us, to commune with us. When we understand the Lord's Supper properly, we see that He is tying the same strings of fellowship with us that we need to be tying with those under our care, and as His heart is turned to us, our hearts are turned to Him."

Jay Barfield
in Every Thought Captive, Sept/Oct 2007


Not the last word?

No, I don't agree with everything NT Wright says. Let's get that out of the way. Are some things helpful, though? Yes. Here is a sampling:

On the coherence of Scripture, contra rationalists and the overly-systemazing:
"Many of the accusations [from academia]... of flat contradiction [within Scripture] arise not from historical study proper but from the imposition on the texts of categories from much later Western thought (from, for instance, the sixteenth or the nineteenth century). Obvious examples include the idea that a book which teaches 'justification by faith' cannot also teach 'final judgment according to works,'... or that the proclamation of Jesus as 'Messiah' (a Jewish category) is somehow in tension with announcing him as 'Lord' (a Gentile category, supposedly)..... Just because some Western theologians cannot see how certain categories fit coherently together, that doesn't mean that those categories didn't fit in the first century." (pg 52).

This addresses the tendency of some to read too quickly and easily their doctrinal assumptions into texts. "We know it can't mean what it looks like, because that would mean..."

On the relationship between Old and New Covenants in Scripture:
"Heavy-handed schemes such as those of Marcion (the God of the Old Testament is a different God to that of the New) and the theologically cognate ones of some Reformers (a strict antithesis between law and gospel pressed into meaning that, as Luther once said despite his general awareness that things were not quite so simple, 'Moses knows nothing of Christ') do no justice to the sophisticated early Christian sense of continuing to live under the wholescripture, albeit in this multi-layered manner." (pg 57)

Here my point, with Wright, is that there is grace in the OT and law in the NT. The Law/Gospel divide is helpful at certain points of doctrine and/or, but messes you up if you make it an over-arching grid.

But Wright's main point is that Scripture's authority is the authority of God through Scripture. Here he gives away too much:
"Rather than moving toward something like the dynamic concept we are expounding, both the Reformers and their opponents were understanding 'authority' primarily in terms of 'the place where you could go to find an authoritative ruling.' This was quite natural, seeing that this was one of the main menaings of 'authority' at that time. But it does not help us very much in addressing the questions we have raised in this book, which have to do with the way in which scripture carries the dynamic, saving power of God." (pg 75)

This is just a nice, academic way of saying that the pre-modern idea of authority is nonsense and doesn't even deserve rebuttal - we all know it's crazy, so just forget it.

But I still believe it. Wright cannot just wave his hand dismissively at this idea, that the Bible is the final court of appeal for any dispute among Christians. The Spirit and the community interpret, yes, but the Spirit will not and the Church may not contradict Scripture. Wright leaves the door open for that to happen.

In some ways like Karl Barth, NT Wright rejects the liberal view in its outright rejection of authority, but doesn't get close of enough to an "under Scripture" for my comfort. Still, his ideas on the full-orbed Gospel as God's Kingdom are very helpful...


Poem of the day

When I Have Fears
by John Keats

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love;--then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.


Poem of the day

What Man May Learn, What Man May Do
by Robert Louis Stevenson.

What man may learn, what man may do,
Of right or wrong of false or true,
While, skipper-like, his course he steers
Through nine and twenty mingled years,
Half misconceived and half forgot,
So much I know and practise not.

Old are the words of wisdom, old
The counsels of the wise and bold:
To close the ears, to check the tongue,
To keep the pining spirit young;
To act the right, to say the true,
And to be kind whate'er you do.

Thus we across the modern stage
Follow the wise of every age;
And, as oaks grow and rivers run
Unchanged in the unchanging sun,
So the eternal march of man
Goes forth on an eternal plan.


Faith and works

This article, from En-Gedi, is the sort that gets you in trouble with the TR crowd(Truly Reformed - those who try to outdo each other in how Reformed and confessional they are) - I think it is right on, though, in pointing us to James (2:14-26) to see what kind of faith it is that alone justifies us.

Faith and Faithfulness

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. Gen 15:6

One of the most quoted verses about Abraham is Genesis 15:6. This is a key verse that is used in the discussion about being saved by faith apart from works — the central point of the Protestant Reformation. It was Abram's "believing" that gave him righteousness in God's sight. From this verse, Christians historically have emphasized the importance of believing God's promises, instead of working to earn our salvation.

But it is important to understand that the key word, emunah, which we translate "believe," has a different emphasis in Hebrew than we tend to hear. In English and in Greek (pistis), its primary meaning is to assent to a factual statement, to agree with the truth of certain ideas.

The word emunah does mean “to have faith,” but it has a broader meaning that has implications for what God calls us to as people of faith. It also contains the idea of steadfastness or persistence. Exodus 17 tells us that Moses raised his hands all day long until the Israelites won a key battle. It says that his hands remained steady (emunah) until sunset. In this sense the word means “steadfast.”

The word emunah is also used to describe God’s faithfulness:

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful (emunah) God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands. (Deuteronomy 7:9)

If we look back at the verse about Abraham's emunah, it should tell us that Abraham believed God's promises and had a persistent commitment to God, which was displayed in his faithful life — waiting 25 years for a son, and then offering him back to God when he was asked to do so.

This has implications about what it means to be a Christian. I used to wonder why God saved certain people just because they decided to adopt one particular set of beliefs over another. But as James pointed out, Satan himself believes the truth about God and Jesus (James 2:19); and just knowing that doesn't redeem him! But while Satan may have the right beliefs, he cannot say that he has emunah — a committed faithfulness to the Lord. What God asks for goes beyond an academic decision to believe that a certain set of facts are true. He wants faith in his promises that results in steadfast faithfulness to him.

by Lois Tverberg

The basis of law

One of Douglas Phillip's latest essays on materialist assumptions behind modern law was very good. A quote:

"While many Christians resist formal acceptance of the evolutionary hypothesis, they have implicitly accepted the assumptions on which the theory rests.... For evil to triumph in the cultural battle, it is not necessary that the theory of evolution gain wide-spread acceptance, only that the assumptions behind the theory do."

I'll let him spell out those changed assumptions here.


Responses to a Federal Vision skeptic

Justification is God's reckoning one righteous, based on the obedience of Christ. His obedience is imputed to us when we believe in His saving work on the cross. The Father was well pleased with His Son, and places us in union with His Son, so He is also well-pleased with us. The faith we have is given to us by God - we could not believe on our own, being totally depraved. We are saved by God's grace alone, through faith alone.

Baptism is a sign and seal of our salvation, and admits us to the visible church. I'm probably most FV on baptism. Besides being a picture of the washing of regeneration, an assurance to the one baptized of all it signifies happening to him, it also ex opere operato places one in covenant and union of a sort with Christ. Joining the visible church, we are joined with Christ's Body in the John 15 sort of way. This union may not be a saving union, as Christ speaks of some branches being cut off, and we know that once regenerated and saved, one cannot lose that. This fits with the wheat and tares parable as well. In the church are some of each, but the church is defined by the baptized. So baptism places one in covenant with God, in which greater obligations, rewards and curses are promised (Heb 10:28-29).

There are instances in NT of delay b/t water and Spirit baptism, but I don't see this as normative today.

1 Pet 3: to continue the Scriptural picture, one could say Noah was saved from the flood, but still had to be faithful to God afterward (which faithfulness would have been a complete gift, not earning to keep your inheritance). It was not a final and ultimate salvation. Similarly infants baptized are saved from the flood of guilt of sin, too. Yet if faith is not evident later on, it becomes clear that the union with Christ was only formal and never saving. Objections to this to preserve the doctrine of the preservation of saints are also objecting to John 15:1-6; Hebrews 6:4-6; Hebrews 10:28; etc. A proper FV and Westminster understanding deals honestly with these texts without giving up anything in the doctrines of grace. Scripture often uses the words save, deliver, rescue in a non-ultimate sense (Judges saving Israel, e.g.)

Scripture also qualifies in 1 Pet 3 that salvation is not by the outward sign of baptism but by what it signifies: Christ's resurrection.

I follow the classic three-part def'n of faith: knowledge assent and trust. The object of one's faith must be Christ alone, believing He is who He says He is, that His work pleases the Father on our behalf. Faith is the sole instrument of our justification, but that faith must be a living faith (James 2:17), not a bare profession. Faith unaccompanied by works won't save, because it isn't true faith. This does not make works an instrument of justification, but only defines the faith that pleases God and justifies the believer. Faith alone justifies, but not a faith that is alone. We must be careful not to let the object of faith slip from Christ and His work alone to exhaustive or proper understandings of Him or His work. We are not justified by understanding justification by faith alone. That one doctrine is not the whole Gospel, though it is a key element of it.

I would encourage you to read for yourself some of the principals' own ecclesiastically accountable responses to the controversy before pre-judging. One example can be found here.

Please do not defame, remove fellowship from, or bear false witness against your fellow brothers in the Lord before doing so.