Topic: Baptism & Church Membership: How Do My Unbaptized Children Relate to the New-Covenant Promises?
Interview by John Piper
Ian in Greensboro, as I have explored Reformed theology over the past couple of years, I have learned quite a bit more about the practices of infant baptism and believer’s baptism and why genuine Christians differ theologically. While I am an advocate of believer’s baptism, one accusation I have found troubling is that because we Baptists don’t consider our unconverted children as official participants in the new covenant, we are therefore treating them like pagan children, excluded from the covenant community. As a Baptist, how do you respond to this charge? And further, how should (yet) unsaved children of believers be viewed by the church?”
Before I say something positive about the way we should view our children — “we” meaning we Baptists — let’s make sure that we realize that both Baptists and Reformed paedobaptists — and I am not talking here about those who believe in baptismal regeneration, but just those who are Reformed paedobaptists or others who don’t believe in baptismal new birth — we all have the same basic problem in how to think about our children. And the difference lies in terminology.
They may not like it when I say this, but I’ll say it anyway. In order for Reformed paedobaptists — those who baptize babies — to say that children are members of the covenant community, they must define covenant community so as not to necessarily mean only the elect, called, regenerate, heaven-bound saints. They have to define covenant community so as to allow for the possibility in that covenant community members who are not elect, not born again.
Now, it is just as impossible, therefore, for a paedobaptist parent to be sure that his child is elect as it is for a Baptist parent. Paedobaptists may feel better about themselves by labeling the child a covenant member, but those children have no better standing before God than the children of Baptists, which brings me now to say something positive about what really does make a difference, not labels, but does make a difference in how children stand before God in both groups.
I can imagine a paedobaptist parent feeling good that his child is a member of the covenant with God, but at the same time neglecting to pray for the child, neglecting to feed the child morning, noon, and night on the Word of God, neglecting to model before the child the joy of the Lord. In other words, there is no necessary correlation between calling a child a covenant member and giving a child what the child needs to become a covenant member, a true covenant member, to be born again. And I can imagine a Baptist parent who does not see his child as a covenant member, but pours out his heart to God every day for his child, pours into the child — morning, noon, and night — the Word of God, exults with joy in the Lord before the child and, thus, the Baptist provides gloriously for what the child really needs in order to become a true covenant member.
So, how do we Baptists really think about our children? That is the basic question. Let me make two negative statements that we use about our children and then five positive ones of which we need feel no shame. First, the negative ones:
1) We do not assume that our children are born again until they make a credible profession of faith. We base that on 1 Peter 1:23, that the new birth is through the Word of God.
2) We do not formalize their union with Christ and his people by membership in the church until that credible profession of faith is publicly signified by baptism.
So those are the two “We do not’s,” the negatives.
Here are the five positive statements.
1) We view them as gifts of God, blessings of God, to be loved and served (Psalm 127:3).
2) We view them as responsibilities that we have been given by God to bring up in the teaching and discipline of the Lord. That is, we are to lavish them with the Word of God and with love and with wisdom morning, noon, and night.
3) We view them as objects of daily mercies in prayer in the hope that God would exercise his saving sovereign grace in their lives.
4) We view them as little ones before whom God has charged us to rejoice so that they can see what it is like to taste that the Lord is good.
5) Finally, we view them as little pilgrims in hope on the way to faith, woven into the fabric of relationships in the family and the church. And we have nothing to be ashamed of in this relationship with our children. It is every bit as hopeful for a good outcome of eternal covenant membership as any other way of viewing children.