You and Your Household by Gregg Strawbridge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In a short 30 pages, Strawbridge covers most points of this hot debate.
The issue is whether to baptize the children of new converts to Christ. Appealing to the baptism of the converts is off topic. The Old Testament treated children as included in the covenant of God with His people, given the sign of it, circumcision. Is there a reason to change this? 5 of 9 baptisms mentioned in Acts are household baptisms, and 2 of the other 4 have no household (Paul and the Ethiopian eunuch). The household pattern is strong from Cornelius on, “you and your household” being left out of way too many quotes of the basic salvation verse of Acts 16:31. And these examples do not say that everyone in the house believed (plural), but that the individual believed (jailer, Lydia, etc.), and so the household was baptized. “When the apostles practiced the baptismal mandate, they baptized adults after confession with their households, whenever households were present” (Strawbridge, pg. 15).
One of the strengths of this pamphlet is that it points to the pattern of the whole Bible. Baptism is not new with John the Baptist. Rivers and lavers abound in Genesis, tabernacle, temple, Ezekiel 47 and more. Israel’s Red Sea crossing was a baptism (1 Cor. 10:1). The flood was an anti-baptism (1 Peter 3:21). John’s baptism was not a new individualistic pattern, but a renewal of Israel after exile, at the Jordan river. Jesus is ritually anointed there by Spirit and water as the Christ and priest of Israel. Our baptism is into this Christ.
Circumcision pointed to the work of the Spirit cleansing the heart (Deut. 10:16; 30:6), in the Old Testament, and baptism points to the same work in the New Testament (Mark 1:8; Acts 2:38). So if you’ve been baptized into Christ, you have been circumcised in heart, and the physical process is unnecessary. Colossians 2:11-12 teaches this, even if the circumcision of Christ mentioned there refers to His death on the cross instead of the Old Testament physical process of circumcision. Both circumcision and baptism are “signs of covenant union” (21).
Excluding believers’ children from the covenant, would have been a big change from the Old Testament practice, and would have been a big dispute in the New Testament, but it isn’t mentioned. Instead, the apostles point to our baptism when Judaizers insist on circumcision (Colossians 2:11-12), assuming the same pattern of applying the covenant sign in the Old Testament (circumcision to Isaac, Genesis 17:10-12), continues in the New Testament (Acts 2:39). Since New Testament believers have the reality that the sign of circumcision pointed to, and Jesus gave us a new covenant sign of baptism in the Great Commission, if you are baptized you don’t need to be circumcised. For the apostles to add, “But don’t baptize your children until they are old enough to understand,” would have been a radical departure from Scripture.
Strawbridge knows the objections as a former Baptist himself, and ably and accurately responds.
"Isn’t the new covenant only for the regenerate?"
Actually many Old Testament texts speak of the future covenant as including our children (Deut. 30:6; Jer. 31:17, 36; 32:39-40; Ezekiel 37:24-26). The New Testament applies the covenant promises given to Abraham (which included children) to those in Christ (Acts 2:39; 3:25; Romans 4:13-17). Besides this, Scripture teaches New Covenant believers they can fall away from grace (Hebrews 6:1-4; Galatians 5:4) and that the kingdom of God includes unregenerate people until the consummation (Matthew 8:12; 21:43).
"Doesn’t the great commission teach that we are to baptize disciples, people who have come to Christ?"
No. Disciples isn’t the direct object of the verb baptize, the nations are. And “nations include children” (15). The Great Commission is an extension of the covenant promises to Abraham, which included children. This objection simply assumes the answer, begs the question, that disciples can’t be children who don’t understand yet.
"Don’t you get more hypocrisy in the church, if you baptize babies who aren’t committed to Christ yet? Isn’t it safer to wait?"
It is true that not every baptized person is regenerate. Neither is everyone who professes faith in Christ. I might grant that less people leave the faith who profess faith, than those who are baptized before they profess faith. Maybe. But just as baptism doesn’t guarantee salvation or regeneration, neither does profession of faith. And should we decide who to baptize by the lower probability of apostasy, or by the pattern of Scripture? Jesus teaches us directly not to force an exact match of these two sets of people: the regenerate and the church members (Matthew 13:28-30). The “better safe than sorry” philosophy wrongly assumes that an infant baptism is somehow the cause or at least a factor in the feared later apostasy. “No practitioners of baptism… baptize only regenerate people, for not even the Apostles managed to do that (e.g., Simon the Sorcerer, Acts 8)” (Strawbridge, pg. 23). This objection also winds up objecting to the pattern God set in the Old Testament with circumcision. Finally, the way to deal with hypocrisy in the church is through church discipline, not withholding the covenant from children to whom God has given it, to try to be “safer” than God wants us to be.
"Are you saying baptism saves babies?"
Yes and no. Baptism is part of the beginning of the pattern and behavior of new Christians. Entering into the state of marriage involves a ceremony at the beginning. You can live as though married without a ceremony. And you can have a great ceremony but a lousy marriage that falls apart. But the purpose is to live out your baptism faithfully. Just because there isn’t a yes or no straight answer whether baptism saves babies doesn’t mean we shouldn’t baptize babies. Again, do we go by probabilities of what will more likely save someone, or do we go by the pattern of Scripture?
"Baptism can’t be meaningful if it’s done before the recipient is conscious of its reality."
Yes, it can, when we escape the modern trap of individualism. Anyone can recall their own baptism, which they don’t remember, when they witness another baptism in the church. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). We should also remember that most adult converts baptized are spiritual babes in Christ with a less mature and developed understanding of the Christian life. Should we wait to baptize them until they are more mature, yet?
"What if you have a dramatic conversion, but were baptized as a baby? Shouldn’t you be baptized again?"
No. This assumes an experience of repentance and conversion is necessary to be baptized, and it isn’t for the children of believers. That is certainly the pattern in Acts for adult converts, but their children are only addressed in the household baptism examples.
"Baptism should be by immersion, and you can’t immerse a baby."
Actually, baptism doesn’t need to be by immersion. Israel’s at the Red Sea wasn’t (1 Cor. 10:1-2). Strawbridge makes a good but seldom heard point, that the Lord’s Supper is less than a supper, too, but that doesn’t make it less meaningful. We don’t need a lot of bread and a lot of water. Baptism in the Bible is often spoken of as sprinkling or pouring, instead of immersion (Acts 10:45-47; Hebrews 9:10, 13, 19, 21-22; Ezekiel 36:25).
Even with this long treatment, I haven’t covered nearly everything – pick up this helpful booklet today.
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