Baptism is not a human invention or mere initiatory ceremony. It is a divine sacrament, commanded by Christ Himself: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). As the baptism of the Holy Spirit, of which water baptism is the sign, engrafts believers into Christ, so the visible sign of water baptism identifies one as an engrafted member of the visible Church, the body of Christ, the covenant community. Therefore, baptism is a sacrament of the Church, and is thus to be administered by the Church, as a function of its teaching ministry, and not as a private ceremony. As such, baptism represents both the seal and sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit, which is freedom from the dominion of sin, and the blood of Jesus Christ, which takes away all the guilt of sin.
So baptism is the sign and seal of God’s covenantal promise to believers and their children. Throughout the history of redemption, God has bestowed his covenant blessings, not only on individuals, but upon households, so that the sign of the covenant is given to the believers’ family members. This is seen most clearly in God’s covenant with Abraham, which was signified and sealed by circumcision. “You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall My covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant” (Gen. 17:11-13). Likewise, God’s covenant with Noah was with Noah and his posterity. The Lord’s Covenant of Peace with Phinehas was with Phinehas and with his seed after him. The same was understood by David when he responded to the Lord’s covenant, saying, “You have spoken also of Your servant’s house for a great while to come” (2 Sam. 7:19). So we are not surprised when we read in Luke 18 that “they were bringing even infants to Him that He might touch them.” Jesus received those children and blessed them. And the blessing of Jesus is no empty word! Likewise, having seen how God deals covenantally with families, we expect to hear that Paul’s jailer “was baptized at once, he and all his family. . . . And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed” (Acts 16:33-34).
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 7:14 that God regards the children of even one believer as holy. So we do not bring our children to the baptismal font to make them holy. God already regards the children of believers as holy. We bring them because God regards them as holy. When the covenant people sacrificed their children to Molech, the Lord complained that these were children “that you had borne to Me”—they were God’s children, holy to Him. And so are your children, if you believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior.
The grace of baptism does not guarantee a child’s final salvation or regeneration. But it does bind the child to the Lord in covenant. The Lord is always faithful to His covenant. The child must also be taught to live as a covenant child. That is, a child in covenant with the Lord. So Paul, when he addresses children in Ephesians 6, says, “Obey your parents in the Lord.” Theirs is no mere obedience to custom, but a covenantal or relational obedience in the Lord. In Deuteronomy 6, children were to be taught at Passover that “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.” So the children were part of this redeemed people. Because of this, their parents are told, “You shall teach My commandments diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Because our children are in covenant, they must be taught to live in faith and obedience to the Lord of the Covenant. Some have suggested that regarding our children as members of the covenant, and giving them the covenant sign leads to complacency about their spiritual condition. It is, in fact, quite the opposite. How much more diligent are we to be, who esteem the privilege that our children are afforded to be born into the covenant community.
The modern American church has been heavily influenced by our culture’s crass individualism, as well as by the Arminian revivalism that has come to characterize so much of the evangelical church, with its decisional emphasis. This is evidenced most clearly with regard to the Sacraments, and to baptism in particular. We are trained to see baptism as a subjective experience in which the individual believer makes his profession of faith in Christ, his promise to follow Christ, by obediently being baptized. So, it is “my” faith that is on display in baptism. I am convinced from Scripture that this is a terrible abuse of God’s sign. Baptism is not your signet ring that lends weight and authority to God’s covenant. It is God’s sign and seal. It is not your personal testimony. It is God’s objective witness to you and to your children. It is His seal on His covenant. Just as it is not your spirit that seals you to the day of redemption, but the Spirit of the living God who seals to us our inheritance in Christ. Infant baptism reminds us that salvation comes to us from outside of us; that salvation is God’s gracious movement towards us first, before we even desire to move towards Him. We are all as helpless as infants to save ourselves. Our only hope is grace from beginning to end.
It is with this understanding and God’s joyful purpose that these parents bring their children to be baptized.
Exhortations to the Parents:
Parents, your Church rejoices with you in God’s goodness to you in giving these children to you. As the body of Christ we are here for you to encourage and equip you for your walk with Christ and particularly as a Christian family. As your friends we urge you to teach your children to read the Word of God by reading the Word to them daily. Teach them to pray by praying with them. Entrust them to God by praying for them. Teach your children the principles of knowing and loving our God contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, an excellent summary of which we have in the Westminster Confession of Faith, and in the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, which we commend to you as tools for your own instruction as well as theirs. In all things, endeavor to set before them an example of true godliness, depending entirely upon the grace of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.