The problem with some of the big arguments for infant baptism

Over the years, I’ve consistently heard three main arguments for infant baptism. These are:

  1. That when preaching, the apostles announced that the promise was for “you and your children.” Therefore, Christians can confidently expect their children to be within the new covenant promise.
  2. That baptism is the New Covenant equivalent of circumcision, that circumcision was always expected to be offered as a sign to children.
  3. That infant baptism acts as a reminder that God is sovereign and salvation is an act of grace from him because the child is helpless and cannot bring themselves to the waters of baptism.

Readers of Faithroots will know that I believe in believers’ or credo-baptism.  I believe that baptism accompanies repentance and is through immersion on profession of faith.  So, in this article, I wanted to briefly explain why the arguments above are not the slam dunk winning arguments that paedo-baptists assume

For your children

Peter at Pentecost says

“ For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”[1]

It is worth noting two things here. First of all, the context going back is that Peter has preached, he has announced that the Holy Spirit has come as promised and that the right response to the coming of the promise is to repent and be baptised. This is the context for Peter then declaring that this promise is for “you and your children.”  Notice that repentance and baptism are closely interlinked (v38).  There are therefore two specific things to be done together in order to respond to the promise. Indeed, baptism might be seen here as the visible means by which people publicly show their repentance, turning around and leaving their old life behind.

Secondly, whilst supporters of infant/paedobaptism quote “for you and your children” this is not the whole quote, the whole quote tells us that the promise is for “those who are far off”” as well, furthermore, the emphasis is on “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”  So, the promise is for those chosen by God and they are the ones who will be marked out by repentance and baptism.  The point of the verse is not to guarantee salvation to babies of believers but to show the generational and geographical extent of the Gospel promise.  Therefore, it is not an encouragement to baptise our children, though hopefully we will get to do this if they respond  in repentance to the Gospel, rather, it is an encouragement to keep sharing the good news of the Gospel far and wide.

Baptism and Circumcision

The main problem with the argument that baptism replaces circumcision is found in Colossians 2:9-12. Here a list of things that have happened to us in Christ have been set out. We have been:

  • Filled
  • Circumcised
  • Baptised

Notice that baptism is not the new covenant fulfilment  of circumcision, it has not replaced it, we still have to be baptised as well as circumcised. Physical circumcision has instead been replaced by spiritual circumcision. The removal of the foreskin has been replaced by the removal of the sinful nature. This point should of course be obvious, it was circumcised people who had to receive baptism, they did not claim that they had already received a covnant sign. So, baptism rather thn replacing circumcision has its own independent function which is to show that we have died to our old selves and are raised to new life in and with Christ.

Helpless babies and the Sovereign God

It is true that God is sovereign and that the Gospel is an act of grace alone to us at his initiative.  However, infant baptism no more shows the helpless dependency of the recipient than does the act of putting yourself into the hands of the person who will baptise you through immersion. Indeed, it seems to point in the wrong direction. Yes, the child is dependent, yes, they have no active will in the matter but notice who is active and who they are dependent upon. It is the priest/presbyter and the child’s parents.  Paedo-baptism points not towards dependence on God’s sovereignty, initiative and grace but towards the sovereignty, initiative and agency of other human beings.

Conclusion

These arguments simply do not provide the clinching evidence for paedobaptism that seems to be assumed.  In the absence of better evidence, it seems advisable to me that we continue the practice that Scripture points towards of calling people to repent and be baptised as beievers.


[1] Acts 2:39.