It should be clear by now that the conflict over infant baptism is a serious matter. We cannot isolate infant baptism and reject it while leaving the rest of Scripture untouched. Infant baptism forms an integral part of the totality of Scripture. Those who reject this doctrine will usually hold to erroneous views on other truths of God's Word as well. I will mention just a few.
The principal error here is that the unity of the Old and New Testaments is broken. We confess that we have one Bible. The Old and New Testament may be distinguished from each other but not separated. They constitute parts of the one testament of God. There is only one covenant in which we see the unfolding acts of God. He goes from the old to the new and from the lesser to the greater, but the essence of His saving dealings with man remains the same. Salvation and the way in which we become partakers of it does not change.
The Old Testament saints were saved the same way we are. Therefore we do not believe as the opponents of infant baptism do, that in the New Testament God deals with His people in a different way. For us the line of God's covenantal dealings runs right through both Testaments. Baptism has replaced circumcision.
To say, "the New Testament nowhere mentions a command to baptize infants," does not impress us. If the Lord had wanted to exclude children from His covenant of grace and the fellowship of His church, one would expect to find a clear prohibition in the New Testament to baptize children of believers. Since such a prohibition is lacking, we also lack the courage to discontinue the Old Testament practice of including children.
For the opponents of infant baptism the Old Testament is fundamentally different from the New. They reject the idea of a basic continuity between the two and believe instead that with the New Testament God makes a new start. That's why they look for a command to baptize infants. Since the New Testament does not mention such a command, they conclude it is forbidden.
This splitting up of the Bible into two separate parts is a serious error which must lead to harmful consequences. One's entire spiritual life will be influenced by it and take on a character that can no longer be called Biblical. Let us recognize this error for what it is and continue to confess as well as experience the unbroken unity of Scripture as the divinely intended progression from the Old to the New.
But there is more. The opponents of infant baptism tend to be individualistic in their thinking. They do not see that God has a people on earth, a people built from families and ruled by a King! They think in terms of individuals who live more or less isolated from others, severed from their natural relations and connections. Their "church-life," such as it is--actually one cannot really speak of church-life here--is organized along very different lines. The congregation is viewed differently, and so are the offices in the church. Everything is seen from an individualistic rather than a covenantal perspective. Scripture teaches us that God deals with us as a people which includes children and that He works with His grace and Spirit in the line of continuing generations.
Contributing Factors to Opposition to Infant Baptism
While it is true that those who reject infant baptism do so for theological reasons, there are also other factors which contribute to this rejection. I am thinking here of the unscriptural views many people in Reformed churches have of this doctrine and the low value they attach to it. In all too many cases the baptism of infants has become a meaningless ceremony. In our first instalment mention was made of the connection between the sacrament of baptism and faith. We may never sever that connection, whether it concerns the baptism of adults or of children. If infant baptism is not supported by truly believing parents who fear the Lord, this sacrament must devaluate. We know of situations where parents come to church to have their child baptized only to disappear again after the service! This can only confirm critics in their rejection of infant baptism.
The Church, therefore, must see to it that the observance of this sacrament be kept pure and that what is sacred be not profaned. There are church members who would not think of celebrating the Lord's Supper but who in an almost casual manner approach the baptismal font with their children. Is only the Lord's Supper instituted for believers and the sacrament of baptism for children of unbelievers? That sacrament too, is administered properly only where believers ask: "Lord, be pleased to be a God unto me and to my children!"
This is what the churches of the Reformation have always maintained, even though they have not always practised what they preached in this respect.
It is significant that the heading of the original form for infant baptism reads: "Form for the Administration of Baptism to the Little Children of Believers." The parents who request this sacrament for their children are asked the baptismal questions and confess their faith before the sacrament is administered. When the parents fall into sin and become objects of church discipline they are denied access, not only to the Lord's table, but also to the baptismal font. This shows there is an inseparable connection between baptism and faith. The church cannot neglect this connection with impunity. If it does, one need not be surprised that the church has no defense against the attacks made on infant baptism. True, the assault is usually aimed at a caricature of infant baptism, rather than on this sacrament itself. But to the extent that the church itself has contributed to the creation of this caricature, it needs to ask itself where it has gone wrong. We have to admit that there is among us a tendency to separate the sacrament of infant baptism from the faith of the parents. While much has been written on the baptism of children, not enough attention has been paid to the parents' motives for requesting this sacrament for their children.
Parents and the Baptism of their Children
In his Institutes, IV, 16, John Calvin writes this about the meaning of baptism:
These sentences deserve to be read ten times and to be memorized. This is truly the Scriptural way of speaking about infant baptism! Here we see parents standing with their little ones before the face of the Lord as they desire the sacrament of baptism for their seed. Their request is granted, in order that this sacrament may help them believe that God's mercy extends also to their child.
Who still dares to say that there is no connection between sacrament and faith and that therefore the baptism of infants is meaningless? Parents, you and your children live in a sinful world, full of spiritual dangers. But thanks be to God, we and our children belong to a fellowship of which the Lord Jesus is Prophet, Priest and King. We may live under His gracious care and we may hide under His wings together with our children.
Children and their Baptism
Baptism is also meaningful for the children themselves. As Calvin continues:
Calvin does not mean that all baptized children are regenerated. He knows better. In our Baptismal Form we have a similar statement, namely that "God the Father witnesses and seals to us that he makes an eternal covenant of grace with us and adopts us for his children and heirs." Here the reference is to our being adopted into the fellowship of the people of God so as to be placed under the official care of the Lord Jesus Christ. All baptized children share this privilege; they are members of the household of God.
While this dispensation lasts, God's household comprises two kinds of sons: those who have the heart of a child and those who lack such a heart. To be a child of God by virtue of membership in the covenant of grace is not the same thing as being a child of God by virtue of the new birth. We generally limit the expression "child of God" to those are truly born again and converted. The Bible does not do this, however. Scripture also speaks of lost or prodigal sons.
This does not take anything away from the fact that baptism is of great significance for our children. They have been taken up into the fellowship of the people of God. They have received a Saviour in whom they possess (in the promise) everything they need for salvation. They have been marked with the sign of God's mercy. Should we then think lightly of this? It is our calling to help our children understand these things. They must know what it means to belong to the people whose God is the Lord! They must see what prospects this implies for them, but also what responsibilities flow from their privileged position. Again, the baptism of our children does not presuppose their regeneration; rather it calls for the new birth. Without a new heart they will remain prodigal sons and daughters.
This they need to understand clearly. They will become aware of the tendency to turn their backs on the Lord and serve the world. There will be times when they wish they had been born in the world instead of the church. We should not react to this with shock and surprise. Rather, we should be honest with our children and tell them that we all are like that by nature and that we all need the grace of God to make us willing to surrender to the Lord and to seek our salvation in Him.
We should also tell them that in the sacrament of baptism the grace of regeneration and faith is promised to them. The Spirit is willing to apply everything they have in Christ to their hearts and lives. Let us teach our children to plead these firm and unshakable promises. Those who by faith cling to these promises may be sure that they will be fulfilled. As certainly as those who despise the Lord will be cast out, so certain it is that those who learn to honour and serve Him will be saved.
We have seen how important a right understanding of infant baptism is. If we go wrong here there is no telling where we will end up. But if we get a firm grasp of what Scripture teaches on this subject we penetrate to the heart of the Gospel. Then we are built up in the most holy faith and we will know what it means to belong to the church and people of God!