Here are some current, widely-read theologians on infant baptism.
Michael Horton (source: God’s Grandchildren: The Biblical Basis for Infant Baptism)
In Genesis 17, God changes Abram’s name and institutes the sacrament of circumcision. “This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you” (Gen 17:9-11). Someone might say, But Abraham was circumcised after he believed, a point that Paul is anxious to affirm in Romans 4, and that is correct. Paul underscores the fact that Abraham was justified by grace alone through faith alone, not by circumcision. And yet, what did Abraham do with his children? They were circumcised on the eighth day. Why? Because they were heirs of the promise, children of the covenant.
Here Horton clearly links (theologically) circumcision and baptism. He also clearly has children of believers as the heirs of the Abrahamic covenant (which is subsumed under the reformed Covenant of Grace idea). It *seems* that Horton is saying that children of believers are believers because they are elect (they’ll exercise faith later, but are certainly believers because of this covenant — and baptism marks that fact). If this comment of mine seems unwarranted, Horton says just this below.
Are there any further discontinuities between circumcision and baptism? It does not seem so.
You can’t get much more categorical than that — and that’s fine, since I’m going to ask Dr. Horton and others who’d agree with his position where one finds that physical circumcision marked believers or guaranteed that recipients would ultimately turn out to be believers. Again, he says this below. I think he’s blinded by his covenant theology here and is filtering the biblical text through his theology, as opposed to getting his theology FROM the text.
In fact, Paul states, “In him [Christ] you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature [NOTE: the Greek text does not have “sinful nature” here; it has “body of the flesh”; I mention this in the wake of our Romans 5:12 discussion; “sinful nature” is a gratuitously interpretive translation], not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col 2:11 12). Throughout church history, “baptism” has always meant one and the same thing: The sign (water) and the thing signified (regeneration by the Holy Spirit).
Few would argue with this; even Baptists say baptism = an outward sign of inward conversion. I think the language is fine with respect to adult baptism. I don’t like it with respect to infant baptism. When I get to laying out my view of this, you’ll see that.
But in our day, many who otherwise insist on taking the Scriptures literally and “at face value” will argue that passages such as this one and others, like Titus 3:5 (“He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously . . .”), refer merely to a spiritual baptism and not to water baptism.
* uh, pardon me, but the words “water” and “baptism” aren’t present in Titus 3:5. Are we to think of baptism every time we see the word “wash” or “washing”? I guess he thinks so – look at what he says next.
One must beware of a gnostic dualism that separates spirit from matter, as if it is somehow less than spiritual for God to bring people into his family through a common, everyday liquid.
Oh, so if we don’t see water baptism in Titus 3:5 we’re Gnostic dualists? Good grief.
To be sure, there is a danger is attaching superstition to rituals and material signs, but God reveals himself and saves us through matter, not in spite of it. God “became flesh,” wrote a book with ink and paper, and confirms it with water, bread, and wine. He does communicate his heavenly grace through the earthly creations that he sets aside by Word and Spirit for sacred use.
He misses the point of the objection, or ignores it. It isn’t a love for Gnostic dualism; it’s about reading baptism into a verse that doesn’t have the word “baptism” in it, and thinking “baptism” when we see the word “washing.” How is this exegetical?
But still the most convincing evidence comes from the biblical text itself. The Old Testament warns, “The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked . . . but those who are righteous will go free” (Prov 3:33;11:21). The children of believers were not considered unregenerate pagans, “for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them” (Is 65:23).
This reminds me of the old Spurgeon tale, where Spurgeon was debating someone who believed in infant baptism (Spurgeon was a Baptist). After his opponent started with the verse “suffer the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven” Spurgeon’s first verse was “There was a man in the land of Uz named Job” When asked what his verse had to do with baptism, Spurgeon retorted: “Nothing – about the same as your verse.” Horton’s quotations have nothing to do with baptism. I just cringe when I see proof-texting like this. I think of all the times I’ve had professors (or have told my own classes) about the importance of interpreting Scripture in its original context. This violates that simple hermeneutical concept to the core. Would Israelites who read these verses really think of their circumcision. How many (millions?) Israelites who WERE circumcised think that their circumcision guaranteed them blessing? I doubt if the exiles sitting with Ezekiel by the River Chebar were thankful for their circumcision. I think instead of “I’m circumcised, guaranteed God’s blessing” being in their minds they would have had thoughts like “what are we doing HERE?” “Why did God abandon us?” – or like Psalm 89 tells us, “but now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed; you have renounced the covenant with your servant.” So much for election=circumcision with the many who apostasized and died at the hands of Babylon. Or maybe they were all really believers anyway because of their circumcision (see Horton below).
But the New Testament has the same message. Paul assured the Corinthians that one believing parent sanctified the children: “Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy” (1 Cor 7:14).
So now when we see the word “sanctified” it *must* mean salvation. Huh? Your parent(s)’ salvation guarantees yours via election/baptism? There’s a much easier answer to this, and many commentators would disagree with Horton here.
Like the covenant itself, baptism implies blessings and curses. For those covenant children who combine the hearing of the Gospel with faith (see Heb 4:2), baptism is a great comfort in times of doubt and fear. Calvin warns us against depriving ourselves of “the singular fruit of assurance and spiritual joy which is to be gathered from it [baptism] . . . For how sweet it is to godly minds to be assured, not only by word, but by sight, that they obtain so much favor with the Heavenly Father that their offspring are within his care?”
We have assurance because we’re baptized? Maybe this can work with people who think only of baptism as a reminder that they did grow up in the church, hear the gospel, and BELIEVE. I can grant that. For many who are theologically less astute, wordings like this sounds like baptismal regeneration.
Like the rainbow, this sacrament takes the general promise and particularizes it. Not only does God save sinners, he saves me, and baptism is God’s testimony to that fact, not mine.
I wonder how many people might think, “hey, I was baptized, and so God has saved me; I’m in an elect family, a family under the covenant; I guess I can do what I want. I’m in.” Clear biblical theology should not create loopholes for worldliness; it should close them.
To be sure, many covenant children wander in the wilderness and often the seed does not send out its first blade for some time.
Ah – here he acknowledges that there are baptized people who go astray. Good.
It is possible, as Calvin argued, for God to regenerate infants as well as adults, but whatever the case, “God keeps his own timetable of regeneration.”
How comforting. Here Horton asserts that the apostate-but-baptized are still regenerate “in God’s timetable” – i.e., he is arguing that they will all come back since they are elect. I wonder why the writer of Hebrews was so concerned then about those who fall away to unbelief? I wonder how Paul could say anyone shipwrecked their faith when they were going to wind up in heaven anyway. Folks, Horton says this because HE MUST to retain his system. He can find no other way to reconcile infant baptism and its sign of being elect (and thus regenerated) and a lack of perseverance of people that all of us see regularly in real life. “They’ll come back to God because they are the baptized elect” is his only answer. Simple questions now: (a) where does the Bible say this of the apostate? (b) how does Horton know? This is GUESSING with the goal of explicating a man-made system of theology. It isn’t exegesis.
R. C. Sproul (Essential Truths of the Christian Faith (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1996, c1992)
Baptism is the sacramental sign of the New Covenant. It is a sign by which God seals His pledge to the elect that they are included in the covenant of grace.
Pretty clear; if you are baptized, you are one of the elect. What a trap. How could Sproul come back to me and say, “no, some non-elect can get baptized”? Is it on purpose? No, Sproul would say it just happens by accident. How does someone who believes everything that happens is pre-ordained by God say that some non-elect are baptized by accident? There are no accidents in this view (and Horton would agree). So, if it isn’t by accident, then God ordained some non-elect to be baptized. Huh? Non-elect get the sign of the covenant? Did God just do that so Sproul, Horton, and others would have a way to get out of their baptism-perseverance problem? (And where did God tell us that anyway?). I hope readers can see why I said what I said in my first post on this topic. You’ll look very hard to find more muddled thinking on a doctrine than this one.
Baptism signifies several things. In the first instance, it is a sign of cleansing and the remission of our sins. It also signifies being regenerated by the Holy Spirit, being buried and raised together with Christ, being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, being adopted into the family of God, and being sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
Same problems here as before; just note that Sproul doesn’t have anything different to say that helps.
Baptism was instituted by Christ and is to be administered in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The outward sign does not automatically or magically convey the realities that are signified. For example, though baptism signifies regeneration, or rebirth, it does not automatically convey rebirth. The power of baptism is not in the water but in the power of God.
Good — but then why link it to election via the Abrahamic covenant? Sure, we can *say* that baptism just is a sign of God’s elective decision, but by virtue of saying that, we create the conundrum of why many baptized go astray. If the answer is “they weren’t really elect then,” why God would predestine some non-elect to be baptized? You can’t say “stuff happens” when you’re a high calvinistic pedobaptist that believes everything that happens comes to pass by fore-ordination. It makes no sense, but it is the only retreat. I’m going to argue that all this can be avoided and still retain infant baptism (if that is your position). It’s actually very simple. I just don’t happen to be entrapped by a theological system I have to defend.
The reality to which sacrament points may be present before or after the sign of baptism is given. In the Old Testament the sign of the covenant was circumcision. Circumcision was, among other things, a sign of faith.
Really? Where are we told that the servants in Abraham’s household had faith or believed in anything? Abraham even had foreigners in his household – see Gen 17:9-14). I hope R. C. clarifies.
In the case of adults, such as Abraham, faith came prior to the sign of circumcision. With the children of believers, however, the sign of circumcision was given prior to their possession of faith, as was the case with Isaac. Likewise, in the New Covenant, Reformed theology requires adult converts to be baptized after making a profession of faith, while their children receive baptism before they profess faith.
Actually, he didn’t answer my question, since he zeroed in on the children of Abraham. Note how he presumes their elect status. No word on the servants!
Baptism signifies a washing with water. The command to baptize may be fulfilled by immersion, dipping, or sprinkling. The Greek word to baptize includes all three possibilities.
I actually agree with his comment on mode here.
The validity of baptism does not rest upon the character of the minister who performs it or the character of the person who receives it. Baptism is a sign of the promise of God of salvation to all who believe in Christ.
Here one could say, “See, Mike – it’s just a visible reminder that God has promised to save people! Quit picking on these theologians!” If you’ve read the material at all you know that the creeds and these folks are claiming more than that. But let’s run with that thought anyway. Baptism is just to say to whomever is watching “hey, look, we’re baptizing this infant to remind all of you that Jesus came to save people.” Do you think a conversation like this might follow:
Parents: “Well, is my child in the covenant now or not — or is this just to remind everyone here that there’s an offer of salvation from God?”
Minister: “Yes, your child is part of God’s covenant now”
Parents: “Whew; I’m glad. For a minute there I thought it really didn’t matter if my infant was baptized. After all, if it’s just to remind us that God has offered salvation, we could wait until our baby grew up a bit and believed. We have some wacky Baptist neighbors who say that.”
Minister: “Well, I wouldn’t call them wacky. If their kids believe the gospel they’ll be with Jesus, too.”
Parents: “Really? But how did their kids get into the covenant if they weren’t baptized?”
Minister: “God decides who’s in the covenant.”
Parents: “So, why do we baptize our infants again? If they’re in the covenant by election, it seems infant baptism isn’t necessary.”
Minister: “It’s not necessary for entry into the covenant; it just marks those who are in the covenant.”
Parents: “So our neighbors kids are in if they believe, they’re just unmarked.”
Parents: “So why is this called a sacrament then? Where’s the grace? What does the grace do — just “mark” people in God’s eyes?”
Parents: “But you just said God already knows who the elect are. It doesn’t seem he needs anyone marked then.”
Minister: “I see what you mean. Well, I guess it’s more accurate to say that it marks the infant so the people here know the infant is marked and now in the covenant.”
Parents: “So . . . then baptism isn’t just a reminder that salvation is offered . . . it marks the elect, at least the elect whose parents do this sort of thing.”
Minister: “Well . . . sure.”
Parents: “Just out of curiousity, what happens to my infant if he grows up and doesn’t believe?”
Minister: “He will believe’ he’s elect.”
Parents: “How do we know he’s elect?”
Minister: “I just baptized him.”
Minister: “And if makes profession of faith and goes astray, don’t worry. Even though that would be heartbreaking, he’ll come back to God.”
Parents: “How can you be sure?”
Minister: “He’s elect.”
Parents: “How do we know he’s elect?”
Minister: “I just baptized him.”
Parents: “Oh . . . right . . . but I know people who who made profession of faith after their baptism and now they don’t follow Christ at all. Are they still elect?”
Minister: “Of course; they’ll come back to God.”
Parents: “How can you be sure?”
Minister: “They’re elect.”
….. and on it goes
Since it is Gods promise, the validity of the promise rests on the trustworthiness of the character of God.
Because baptism is the sign of Gods promise, it is not to be administered to a person more than once. To be baptized more than once is to cast a shadow of doubt on the integrity and sincerity of Gods promise. Surely those who have been baptized two or more times do not intend to cast doubt on Gods integrity, but the action, if properly understood, would communicate such doubt. It is every Christians duty, however, to be baptized. It is not an empty ritual, but a sacrament commanded by our Lord.
81. Infant Baptism
Though infant baptism has been the majority practice of historic Christianity, its propriety has been solemnly challenged by godly Christians of various denominations. The question surrounding infant baptism rests upon several concerns. The New Testament neither explicitly commands infants to be baptized nor explicitly prohibits them from being baptized. The debate centers on questions surrounding the meaning of baptism and the degree of continuity between the Old Covenant and New Covenant.
The most crucial objection from those who oppose infant baptism is that the sacrament of baptism belongs to members of the church and the church is a company of believers. Since infants are incapable of exercising faith, they ought not to be baptized.
This is a common Baptist objection; it’s FAR from being “the most crucial” objection.
It is also stressed that of the baptisms recorded in the New Testament there are no specific references to infants. A further objection is that the Old Covenant, though not conveying salvation via biological blood lines, nevertheless did involve an ethnic emphasis on the nation of Israel. The covenant was passed through family and national ties. In the New Testament the covenant is more inclusive, allowing Gentiles into the community of faith. This point of discontinuity makes a difference between circumcision and baptism.
On the other hand, those who favor infant baptism stress its parallels with circumcision. Though baptism and circumcision are not identical, they have crucial points in common. Both are signs of the covenant, and both are signs of faith. In the case of Abraham, he came to faith as an adult. He made a profession of faith before he was circumcised. He had faith before he received the sign of that faith. Abrahams son Isaac, on the other hand, received the sign of his faith before he had the faith that the sign signified (as was the case with all future children of the covenant).
The crucial point is that in the Old Testament, God ordered that a sign of faith be given before faith was present. Since that was clearly the case, it is erroneous to argue in principle that it is wrong to administer a sign of faith before faith is present.
It is also important to notice that the narrative record of baptisms in the New Testament are of adults who were previously unbelievers. They were first generation Christians. Again, it has always been the rule that adult converts (who were not children of believers at the time of their infancy) must first make a profession of faith before receiving baptism, which is the sign of their faith.
About one fourth of the baptisms mentioned in the New Testament indicate that entire households were baptized. This strongly suggests, though it does not prove, that infants were included among those baptized. Since the New Testament does not explicitly exclude infants from the covenant sign (and they had been included for thousands of years while the covenant sign was circumcision), it would naturally be assumed in the early church that infants were to be given the sign of the covenant.
History bears witness to this assumption. The first direct mention of infant baptism is around the middle of the second century a.d. What is noteworthy about this reference is that it assumes infant baptism to be the universal practice of the church. If infant baptism were not the practice of the first-century church, how and why did this departure from orthodoxy happen so fast and so pervasively? Not only was the spread rapid and universal, the extant literature from that time does not reflect any controversy concerning the issue.
In general, the New Covenant is more inclusive than the Old Covenant. Yet those who dispute the validity of infant baptism make it less inclusive with respect to children, despite the absence of any biblical prohibition against infant baptism.
The rest of this was pretty standard.
End of Sproul’s material.
Next post (finally) – a better way to parse all this. I’ll be arguing FOR infant baptism in the next post, toward a view that is devoid of all these problems and their (frankly) unworkably convoluted answers. After that the discussion will move to other issues for baptism (like mode, the “household” baptism passages, etc.).