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............."Oh, the gallant fisher's life, It is the best of any 'Tis full of pleasure, void of strife, And 'tis beloved of many." ..........[Piscator's Song, "The Compleat Angler" by Izaak Walton] "The fishers also shall mourn,and all they that cast angle into the brooks shall lament, and they that spread nets upon the waters shall languish." [Isaiah XIX:8]

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Of the Waters of Infant Baptism: A Follow-Up

Infant baptism continues to perplex many. An unpersuaded inquirer offered the following follow-up question/comment:

I was baptized as an infant, and I came to understand that I was completely unable to change my attitude towards God (much less His creation) until He graciously intervened and brought me out of the darkness. So I wonder, is it because of some "Covenant" that God made with Abraham, or was it the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit that ultimately brings us to the real kingdom of God? Also, I still cannot find any biblical testimony which would lead me to the conclusion that infant baptism is a necessity, much less an inference. I reread Galatians and the Apostle Paul repeatedly restates that it is not "circumcision" which counts but a renewed and changed heart/life in Christ!

This is worthy a response. So here goes:

First of all, is baptism a necessity? Clearly, Jesus commanded His church to go into all the world and baptize (Matthew 28:18-20). Is obedience to a command of Jesus a 'necessity'? I think so. So the question is really whether infant baptism is included in the command.

To put it another way, however, we might ask whether water baptism is a necessity for salvation. Here we would reply that the sacrament itself saves no one, neither adult nor infant. It is the reality of the cleansing that comes in being joined to Jesus Christ that saves. Thus, we would affirm that not the sacrament of baptism but the baptism in the Holy Spirit is absolutely necessary for salvation for all who would be saved.

It only by grace through faith that we are saved, because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. By the original covenant God made with Adam, when he sinned, all his descendants (the whole human race) fell into sin and under condemnation. Infants are children of Adam; they are sinners from the womb. They need salvation like the rest.

Baptism does not save them, but baptism is a sign. This means it signifies something. It signifies cleansing. It signifies the outpouring of the Spirit from heaven. It signifies being joined with Christ.

Baptism is also a seal. This means it confirms something, like a seal placed on a document by a notary public. Baptism confirms the truthfulness of God's promise and the obligation placed upon the members of the church. Church membership saves no one. Water baptism saves no one, neither infants nor adults. But when the members are received into the visible church, they are to be baptized into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Their baptism is the rite of initiation which confirms them as members of the church and obliged to obey all that Christ has commanded us, including the commands to repent and believe. Children in the church are to be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. They are to taught to obey the commandments of Christ. They are to be called to repent and believe. Again, their baptism does not save them, but they are to be pointed to their baptism (infants don't remember the day of their baptism, but they can be reminded of the MEANING of baptism.) They can be reminded that God graciously allowed them to be born of Christian parents, in a Christian home, and to be baptized into a Christian church. Those are great privileges; and they place great responsibility on the child to heed and obey the gospel they are hearing.

So we say again, water baptism does not save anyone, but baptism means something, and it confirms something.

The Reformed faith affirms the continuity of the Old Testament (Old Covenant) and the New Testament (New Covenant). There is only one way of salvation, through faith in Jesus Christ. The old covenant pointed to Christ; the new covenant is the fulfillment of the salvation by Christ. There is a continuity and a fulfillment. The promises made to Abraham are fulfilled in Jesus Christ (specifically, the promised Seed of Abraham would bring blessing to all the nations: see Genesis 12:1-3, 15:5, and chapter 17.). Baptism in the new covenant corresponds to circumcision in the old. The old was a bloody ritual; Jesus' once for all death was the once for all end and fulfillment of the blood sacrifice. The blood of circumcision has given way to the water of baptism, but they mean the same--cleansing; and the true cleansing they represent (signify) is to be found only in the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ and the outpouring of His Spirit.

To close, here is a quote from the instruction we give from the OPC Directory for the Public Worship of God as it relates to infant baptism:
Although our young children do not yet understand these things, they are nevertheless to be baptized. For the promise of the covenant is made to believers and to their seed, as God declared unto Abraham: "And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee." In the new dispensation no less than in the old, the seed of the faithful, born within the church, have, by virtue of their birth, interest in the covenant and right to the seal of it and to the outward privileges of the church. For the covenant of grace is the same in substance under both dispensations, and the grace of God for the consolation of believers is even more fully manifested in the new dispensation. Moreover, our Saviour admitted little children into his presence, embracing and blessing them, and saying, "Of such is the kingdom of God." So the children of the covenant are by baptism distinguished from the world and solemnly received into the visible church.

You are absolutely right in saying, "I was completely unable to change my attitude towards God (much less His creation) until He graciously intervened and brought me out of the darkness." And that is precisely what baptism says, "Unless you are cleansed from above by the GRACE of JESUS and by the HOLY SPIRIT you remain in your uncleanness." That is what baptism says to us and to our children, and that is very biblical!

Yours in Christ,
Dan Knox


  1. Pastor Knox,

    I found your reflections upon baptism encouraging and challenging. Thank you for sharing this exposition.

    In Christ,
    Shane Sapp

  2. I don't understand man's reliance upon men, man-made Catechisms and man-made Confessions of Faith. The Bible is clear on this point.

    Jesus said, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." Mark 16:15-16. Peter wrote, "baptism now saves you-- not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience--through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God." 1 Peter 3:21-22. Baptism is for the forgiveness of sins. Acts 2:38; Luke 24:46-47. It is the point when we move from being sinners "out of Christ" to being "in Christ." Rom. 6:1-17.

    Sin is what separates us from God. Is. 59:2. Why would men immerse someone who has no sin and is not separate from God? Why would a child need to be reconciled to God since he has never been separated from God by sin? How would an infant be able to have faith since he can't speak and understand the gospel? That is why there is not a single example in the Bible of an infant or child obeying the gospel and being baptized into Christ. Jesus said we have to become like them (innocent - not sinful) Matt.18:2.

    Man's reasons for immersing children are irrelevant -- they don't have a say in the matter.

    May the Lord bless the hearing of his word,
    Mike Moore

  3. Mike,

    Thanks for reading and for your comment.

    Having written a very lengthy response earlier this morning, I am regretful to say that the post comment tab swallowed my whole piece without posting it and it was lost. Sigh!!

    Thus, for now I will attempt to re-write a short version in two parts.

    1. The Scriptures alone are inspired and infallible. Even so, a biblical case can be made for teaching sound doctrine, which is what a confession of faith or catechism ought to be: a summary of the Bible's teaching, not the inventions of men. And we are to confess Christ and what we believe as Christians before men.

    The word catechism simply means "teaching", from the Greek biblical word ‘katecheo’ meaning 'to teach'. A catechism then is meant to be a summary of what the Scriptures teach.

    2. Children are not innocent, and that is not what Matthew 18:2ff. teaches. Rather in that context Jesus is dealing with the themes of humility and greatness and not putting stumbling blocks in the way of His "little ones." Jesus says, “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (v.4)

    The wages of sin is death. Infants die. Children are the descendants of Adam, and in Adam all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Children, too, need a Savior.

    According to the Scripture, there is a correlation between baptism and circumcision (Colossians 2:11-13). Baptism signifies the newness of life in dying with Christ and being raised with Him. Circumcision signifies the cutting away of "the flesh", that is, the removal of the fleshly sin-nature. Both baptism and circumcision refer to cleansing and being granted newness of life from God, whereas one is a water ritual and the other a bloody ritual.

    Infants were circumcised, as an indication that they were conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5), and were in need of being made clean. Would a son of Israel remember the day when he was circumcised? Not likely, considering the fact that he was 8 days old at the time. But what it meant to be a child of the covenant made with Abraham could be taught to him all through his youth. Thus, his circumcision signified something to him. We believe that there is a parallel here with baptism. Circumcision and baptisms in their respective Old/New Testaments contexts are signs of “the promise [which] is “for you and your children” (Acts 2:39). The spiritual reality that God performs is circumcision of the heart and the washing of the soul (new birth and sanctification) which circumcision and baptism signify.

  4. Continued

    3. Baptism does not equal 'immersion'. It symbolizes the "outpouring of the Holy Spirit," (Joel 3:28; Acts 2), the sprinkling of clean water upon the people of God which the Lord prophesies will come to pass (Isaiah 52:15, Ezekiel 36:24-27). Baptism symbolizes that washing, that cleansing and thus immersion is not necessary, but, according to the Biblical meaning, baptism is properly administered by sprinkling or pouring.

    4. Baptism by water is a command in the New Testament, but it is not water baptism that saves us any more than circumcision saved Abraham in the Old Testament times. The sign of circumcision was applied to him as a sign of the righteousness by faith that was already his BEFORE he was circumcised. Of Abraham Scripture says, “Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3).

    On the other hand, we can biblically say that baptism saves us. By that we mean, unless God washes us clean by his Holy Spirit, unless we are born again, we cannot see the kingdom of God. His baptism saves us; Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

    Well, that is all for now.

    Again, Mike, thanks for writing. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:16-17).