God Did What…?!: What To Do With Infants and Baptism

A month and a half ago many of you had the opportunity to be a part of our second night of equipping and training where we talked about “God Did What…?!” During that evening we discussed why some of the bizarre stories in the Old Testament matter and how they also point to the major covenants found throughout the Old Testament. If you did not get a chance to be a part of that evening we have the podcast, notes, and hand out online for you to check out. You can find the resources HERE. As I prepared for the evening I knew I would not be able to answer all of your questions; however, I wanted you still to have an opportunity to ask your questions and get some answers. So everyone that night received an index card where they could write their questions. I’ve selected six questions, some wacky and some serious, to answer for you.

This week we are going to tackle a question many of you asked. As we discussed the covenants in the Old Testament, particularly the Abrahamic covenant, we mentioned how circumcision was a sign of entrance into the covenant with God. So many of you asked a question similar to this: “if entrance into the old covenant came through circumcision, why does entrance into the new covenant not include infant baptism?” This question ultimately has implications for salvation (soteriology) and the church (ecclesiology). This question is also very significant for Vintage’s context since we live and minister in a city that is primarily Catholic or at least Catholic-influenced.

Many denominations and churches baptize infants. They include Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and others. They baptize infants for a variety of different reasons. Catholics actually baptize infants because they see the act of baptism as sacramental or bestowing grace. Therefore when an infant is baptized, their baptism actually washes away their original sin and thus after baptism they are actually free of sin until they willfully commit sin. Presbyterians baptize infants for a different reason. They actually link baptism in the New Testament to circumcision in the Old Testament. They hold that while circumcision and baptism are both visible acts, they represent the spiritual act of forgiveness of sins. Presbyterians hold that just as the old covenant had a physical sign (i.e. circumcision), so must the new covenant (baptism). Baptism for infants then becomes a “sign and seal.” Does this mean that baptism brings salvationor some salvific element as Catholics believe? Presbyterians and other paedobaptists (i.e. those who believe in infant baptism) would say no. Rather, what they hold to is that infant baptism includes children in the covenant family and that in time because they have received the sign and seal of the new covenant, they too will place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation.

While we still haven’t answered the question of whether or not infant baptism replaces circumcision, we need to briefly discuss why others would hold to infant baptism. There are three primary reasons: biblical, historical, and theological reasons. First paedobaptists will often refer to Scripture for support. In the Gospels Jesus was adamant of allowing the children to come to him (Matthew 19:14). Supporters of infant baptism also include passages in Acts where the text states that an entire household will come to faith in Jesus and be baptized (Acts 10:44-48; 16:30-34). Acts 16:33 states “he was baptized at once, he and all his family.” While paedobaptists themselves will say that these passages do not provide an explicit command in the Bible for infant baptism, they also say that the practice is not unbiblical. They also hold that infant baptism is a historical practice of the church. Within 200 to 300 years after Jesus, the church held to believer’s baptism, where only those who have placed their faith and trust in Jesus should be baptized. By the third and fourth centuries, Christian writings show that differing opinions were beginning to surface regarding whether or not infants should be baptized. What seems to have happened in the history of the church is that with the development of and understanding of original sin, infant baptism arose to remove original sin to allow infants to be pure before God (since many children died early in life before they could repent of sin and trust in Jesus). Finally, many paedobaptists hold to infant baptism for theological reasons. Their reasoning for this comes from “Covenant Theology” and their view of the “covenant of grace” (To read more about Covenant Theology click HERE). They basically hold that God is working redemption through his one covenant of grace throughout both the Old and New Testament. Because of this, a continuity must exist between the old and new covenants. Therefore just as circumcision was a sign of the old covenant so baptism must be a sign of the new covenant.

With this information in mind we can now answer our question of whether the old covenant’s circumcision should naturally lead to infant baptism in the new covenant. If you’ve been around Vintage Church for any short period you have quickly realized we do not baptize infants. So why do we not believe that infant baptism logically follows from circumcision? The answer primarily is from Scripture. First, Scripture is clear that baptism has no salvific element. Rather, salvation only comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 10:9; Ephesians 2:8-9). Secondly, Scripture no where explicitly states that infants should be baptized. Rather, Scripture is clear that once someone repents of their sin and trusts Christ as their savior they are to be baptized as a testimony to the world of Christ’s salvific work in their life (Matthew 28:19-20; Romans 6:1-14).  In regards to the theological discussion on the relationship between circumcision and infant baptism it is important to note a few things. First circumcision in the Old Testament set apart a physical people and nation. Secondly, it served as a “type,” anticipating the spiritual circumcision which would come with Jesus (Colossians 2:11-13). So if Jesus came and fulfilled circumcision, a new covenant replacement for it is not necessary. Rather, now baptism is a physical act of a spiritual reality. It points to the fact that by grace through faith in Jesus Christ God has saved and made new the person being baptized. Therefore infant baptism isn’t necessary. Rather we teach and share Jesus with our children, praying that God will save them and they will repent of their sin and trust in Jesus. Then we celebrate God’s work through their baptism.

For more info on baptism check out these resources:

John Piper, “Lutheran, Episcopal and Catholic Views of Infant Baptism
The Gospel Coalition, “Should We Baptize Infants
Thomas Schreiner & Shawn D. Wright, Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, Purchase on Amazon