Unbaptized Children And New-Covenant Promises?

Topic: Baptism & Church Membership: How Do My Unbaptized Children Relate to the New-Covenant Promises?

Interview by John Piper

Audio Transcript

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?”

Piper11Before 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.

Five Truths About Water Baptism

1. Baptism identifies us with Christ.
2. Baptism doesn’t save; it announces salvation.
3. Baptism is an individual announcement.
4. Baptism is also a church announcement.
5. Baptism follows belief.

baptism publicly identifies Christians with their Lord and one another. Especially in Paul, baptism is appealed to as a means of unity in the church. Those who have died and risen again with Christ are known by their common baptism (Romans 6:3–6). As Paul says in Galatians 3:25–29, all those who are “one in Christ Jesus” have been “baptized into Christ.” Baptism, therefore, is a means of identifying those who are one in Christ.

This unifying purpose of baptism explains why Paul is emphatic about baptism in 1 Corinthians 1. Instead of unifying the church in Corinth, it was dividing it. In response to the news that the church was fractured by personality cults (“I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas, I am of Christ,” v. 12), Paul reminds the Corinthians of their unity in the gospel (see 1:17–2:16). He reproves them for the way baptism was playing a part in dividing them, and in the process Paul presents five truths about baptism.


1. Baptism identifies us with Christ.

The Corinthians had made the mistake of identifying their baptism with the person who baptized them. Or at least, that’s what Paul’s rhetorical question overturns in verse 13: “Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” Absolutely not!

Baptism doesn’t connect us to the individual who immerses us; it identifies us with the king represented by that individual. Even if that person later disqualifies themselves from ministry or leaves the faith, the baptism remains valid. Baptism symbolizes Christ’s work of grace; it doesn’t confer grace in itself. Continue reading

The Reformed Baptist View of Baptism

Here is a short article that answers several of the common objections against Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology.

Stanley J. Reeves

Q. What books present the Reformed Baptist view of baptism?
A. The most important book in print is: The Baptism of Disciples Alone by Fred Malone, Founders Press, 2003.

This is an excellent, up-to-date treatment of the subject that interacts with the standard arguments as well as recent developments in paedobaptist thought. The author is a former paedobaptist. The book can be obtained from Founders Press.
Regrettably, some of the best books are out of print, but a few have been reprinted:

Infant Baptism & the Covenant of Grace by Paul K. Jewett, Eerdman’s, 1977.

This book is a definitive treatment of the subject, interacting both with older sources such as Calvin and Baxter, as well as with more modern advocates of infant baptism. The book is out of print but may be ordered from

Grace & Truth Books
3406 Summit Boulevard
Sand Springs, Oklahoma 74063
Phone: 918 245 1500

Jewett’s writing is at the same time lively and charitable.

Children of Abraham by David Kingdon, 1975.
This is an eminently readable book that makes many of the same arguments as Jewett. According to the Reformed Baptist grapevine, Kingdon wants to update the work in the near future. However, I have been hearing this for a long time, so don’t hold your breath.
In the meantime, you can get an authorized spiral-bound copy from James Drummond Christian Used & New Books.

Manual of Church Order by John L. Dagg, 1850. Reprinted by Sprinkle Publications.

Dagg deals with the subject in the general framework of ecclesiology. He addresses 1) arguments for infant church membership and 2) direct arguments for infant baptism. Dagg has a special ability to take arguments apart and address the root of the matter. He also has a chapter on the meaning of baptizo, which is the best thing I have ever seen on the subject. This chapter addresses the best arguments put forth by writers such as J. W. Dale, whose work on this subject has been reprinted recently. Dagg’s Manual is available on the web at the Founders Ministries site.

Should Babies Be Baptized? by T. E. Watson, Evangelical Press.
This book uses quotes from paedobaptists to allow them to refute themselves. He shows that there is a great deal of contradiction in the way paedobaptists go about establishing their case.
Dagg and Watson can be ordered from Cumberland Valley Bible Book Service.

Q. What readily available short works present the Reformed Baptist view of baptism?
A. There are quite a few good short works. One of the best available is A Critical Evaluation of Paedobaptism by Greg Welty, which is available on the web at the Founders Ministries site. The author is a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary in California. He presents a convincing rebuttal to all the standard paedobaptist arguments and criticisms of the Baptist view. It is available in print form from Reformed Baptist Press.

A String of Pearls Unstrung: A Theological Journal into Believers’ Baptism by Fred Malone is also available at the Founders Ministries web site. This pamphlet describes Fred Malone’s theological pilgrimage from a convinced paedobaptist and Presbyterian pastor to a convinced Baptist. This is a clear, easily read study of the subjects of baptism that interacts with all the major issues. It is available in print form from Founders Press.

Another useful resource on the web is A Short Catechism about Baptism by John Tombes. This is a very clear, succinct statement of the Reformed Baptist view from an early proponent (1659).

Babies, Believers, and Baptism by J. K. Davies, Grace Publications, 1983, 23pp, closely follows the arguments of Kingdon’s book Children of Abraham. This is a good, readable summary of the Reformed Baptist view of covenant theology and of children in the Old and New Testaments, but it will leave you wishing for more detail.

Q. Considering that Old Testament believers were commanded to place the sign of the covenant upon their infant children, why do we not have clear explanations in the New Testament that this pattern of infant inclusion has been abrogated?
A. The question itself makes an unwarranted leap. Old Testament believers were not commanded to circumcise their infant children as children of believers but as the offspring of Abraham (Gen. 17:9). This is further seen in the fact that the practice was to be continued through succeeding generations with no reference to the personal faith of the parents but rather to the child’s connection to Abraham (vv. 7,9). The blessings of the Abrahamic covenant had special reference to Abraham’s offspring, with blessings of fruitfulness and many nations from Abraham (v. 6), of possession of the land through Abraham’s descendents (v. 8), and of blessing to all families of the earth through Abraham’s descendents (12:3). These are the blessings that circumcision signified and sealed to Abraham.

The New Testament confirms this view of the Abrahamic covenant. Even the Pharisees understood that covenant blessings were for the offspring of Abraham. When the Pharisees came to John the Baptist for baptism, they didn’t come because their parents were in covenant but because they thought they were children of Abraham. The discussions between Jesus and the Pharisees assume that the real question of heart religion was whether they were children of Abraham. Paul makes this explicit in Galatians 3:29 and other places. The only claim that a believer has for being an heir of the promises of the Abrahamic covenant is that s/he is a child of Abraham. Of course, the New Testament lifts the promises of the Abrahamic covenant out of the shadows of the Old Testament, but the essential terms of the covenant are still the same. The sign of the Abrahamic covenant is for the seed of Abraham.

Some have objected to this reasoning by saying that it has always been the case that only those of faith are children of Abraham (Gal. 3:29) and that children were given the sign of the covenant in spite of this reality. This is a major part of Hanko’s argument in We & Our Children. But this objection ignores the progress of revelation and of redemptive history. The Abrahamic covenant did refer to those who have the faith of Abraham but only under the shadow of the more literal concept of the seed of Abraham. When Abraham was told to circumcise his offspring, he understood it to mean his physical descendents. Clearly, however, this meaning no longer has significance for those under the new covenant.

The proper question, therefore, is whether we find clear New Testament explanations of the abrogation of the shadow (the physical significance of the seed) and emphasis on the reality (the spiritual significance). Interestingly enough, we find many passages that explain and emphasize this change of focus (cf. Matt. 3:9, John 8:32-40, Gal. 3:7,9,18,29,4:28). This observation confirms that this is the proper question.

Q. Doesn’t Acts 2:39 indicate a continuation of the principle of including children under the new covenant?
A. In his Pentecost sermon Peter states, “Repent, and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.” The passage places two very clear conditions on all recipients of the promise — one from man’s perspective and one from God’s. From man’s perspective, the promise is to those who repent. From God’s perspective, the promise is to those whom God calls. Taken in its plain meaning, these conditions apply to all parties: “you, your children, and those who are far off.”

The paedobaptist response to this is that it doesn’t explain why Peter would’ve chosen the wording “you and your children”. Note first that the term for children here simply means progeny. It does not necessarily refer to infants. Peter’s choice of wording is quite natural to expect, as much from a baptist perspective as a paedobaptist one. First, the most immediate concern Peter is addressing is the fact that the Jews were responsible for the crucifixion of the Messiah. Just a few weeks earlier, many of these same Jews had accepted responsibility for Christ’s blood to “be upon us and our children”. They would naturally have been concerned as to whether they and their children could be forgiven (vv. 36-37). Peter’s statement is quite natural considering this context.

Apart from this is the more general recognition that God generally dealt with the Jews in solidarity with their children and did not distinguish outwardly between those whose hearts were circumcised and those whose hearts were not. They were quite accustomed to the outward covenant privileges enjoyed by themselves and their children. Peter, knowing this mindset, assured them that the promises were applicable to their children as well as to them. However, he also knew that the Jews had tended toward presumption in their relation to God because of their familial connection to Abraham. The Pharisees believed that their birth privileges were sufficient to qualify them for the preparatory rite of the new covenant (Matt. 3:7-10). The prophets had to continually emphasize the necessity of circumcision of the heart because the Jews so easily rested on mere outward circumcision. Peter clearly denounced this mindset in his statement. The promises are offered to your children, but they are offered on the same basis as they are to you and to everyone else — repentance on their part, God’s calling on His part.

Finally, the inclusion of the phrase “and to those who are far off” would have been completely unexpected by Peter’s Jewish audience. It immediately put them on notice that these promises would not operate in the old shadowy way of the OT promises to Israel. The Jews were no longer the special custodians of the promises (Rom. 3:2, 9:4). Instead, the promise was being sent forth conditionally to all who would repent and believe (Acts 17:30).

We have offered a very natural explanation for Peter’s inclusion of the phrase “and your children” without resorting to a paedobaptist viewpoint. Thus, Acts 2:39 furnishes no evidence for the paedobaptist claim that all children of new covenant believers continue to be included automatically in God’s covenant dealings the way they were in the Old Testament. In fact, it underscores the fact that the promise is given only to those who demonstrate God’s call by repenting of their sin.

Our view is confirmed by v. 41: “Those who received his word were baptized”. The most natural reading of this statement is that believers only were baptized.

Q. Does the Reformed Baptist view prevent us from embracing God’s promise to be a God to our children?
A. This is a difficult issue, both emotionally and exegetically. However, there are several things that can be said with confidence:

Whatever these passages mean, they can’t be an absolute guarantee of the salvation of our children. Therefore, we must all understand these promises in a qualified sense.
The sense given by Doug Wilson, Edward Gross, and others that it is conditional upon the faithfulness of the parents simply doesn’t fit the evidence. Isn’t Abraham presented to us in Scripture as the father and the example of faithfulness? Yet he was explicitly told that one of his children was not the child of promise. Frankly, if Abraham wasn’t “faithful” in the Doug Wilson sense, I don’t see how that provides a lot of confidence for most of us ordinary believers.

God clearly works through families, a fact that can be learned both from the experience of believers throughout the ages and from Scripture as well. Both blessings and curses tend to flow along family lines — read the 2nd Commandment! The very fact that God chose to work through the physical descendants of Abraham is an indication of God’s usual ways in this regard. However, God is still sovereign and is under no obligation to show mercy to any individual in particular, in spite of his ordinary pattern.

Benefits ordinarily flow to children of believers as part of the blessings of the covenant to believers, but that’s not the same as covenant membership of the children themselves. Granted that God deals in a special way with children of believers, this is not a ground for baptizing infants. It is simply a statement of what God has promised to do ordinarily (God’s decretive will), but it doesn’t say a thing about what we should do (God’s revealed will).

There are grounds for being hopeful, more so than for the children of unbelievers. In Proverbs we find many of God’s “general operating principles” (rather than absolute promises). In fact, there’s one that bears directly on this issue: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and in the end he will not depart from it.” This is a proverb, not a promise, so it does not give a 100% guarantee in this. However, it does provide great encouragement that God ordinarily works through the means of faithful parents to bring his grace to bear on their children. We have no guarantees, but we do have tremendous encouragement.

The only biblical evidence that your children are in a state of grace is that they repent of their sins, embrace Christ in faith, and demonstrate the fruit of repentance in their lives. The Pharisees were rebuked specifically for thinking that they could presume upon their lineage in their standing with God (Matt. 3:7-10).

Q. Is the sacrament of baptism a means of grace according to Reformed Baptist theology?
A. Some Reformed Baptists prefer not to use the term “sacrament” due to some negative historical associations. However, Reformed Baptists fully affirm a Reformed view of the sacraments as a means of grace.

The 1689 Confession is admittedly not as clear on this point as it could be. But Keach’s Catechism, which was written to clarify the theology of the Confession, makes it pretty clear:

Q. 95. What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?
A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are His ordinances, especially the Word, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper and Prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation. (Rom. 10:17; James 1:18; 1 Cor. 3:5; Acts 14:1; 2:41,42)

Q. 98. How do Baptism and the Lord’s Supper become effectual means of salvation?

A. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them or in him that administers them, but only by the blessing of Christ and the working of His Spirit in them that by faith receive them. (1 Peter 3:21; 1 Cor. 3:6,7; 1 Cor. 12:13)

Q. 99. Wherein do Baptism and the Lord’s Supper differ from the other ordinances of God?

A. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper differ from the other ordinances of God in that they were specially instituted by Christ to represent and apply to believers the benefits of the new covenant by visible and outward signs. (Matt. 28:19; Acts 22:16; Matt. 26:26-28; Rom. 6:4)

Therefore, baptism is a means of grace in Reformed Baptist theology.

Q. How can baptism be a means of grace in Baptist theology when Baptists assert that a person must already be saved to be eligible for baptism?
A. It is too narrow a reading of the terms “means of grace” and “effectual to salvation” to limit them to the moment of conversion. Christ “communicates to us the benefits of redemption” in an ongoing way not only to regenerate and justify us initially but also to sanctify and preserve us throughout our Christian lives. When the Shorter Catechism (Q. 89) and Keach’s Catechism (Q. 96) ask “How is the Word made effectual to salvation?”, they do not limit the effect of the Word in salvation to the moment of conversion. In fact, they explicitly affirm in the answer that the Word is effectual to salvation both in conversion and in continuing the Christian life:

A. The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith unto salvation.
The two catechisms have identical answers to this question.
Some Reformed Baptists may be uncomfortable with this second response, but I’ll state it anyway. Baptists have historically seen baptism as the culmination of the conversion experience. Among other things, it seals and confirms, both to the party being baptized and to others, that the party has engaged to be the Lord’s and is now united with Him. Although no warrant is given to baptize someone with the goal of converting him, in many cases the person may exercise faith in Christ through the means either of contemplating or participating in baptism. Beasley-Murray in Baptism in the New Testament makes a very strong case that the conversion experience and the act of baptism need not be separated in our conception of the two, since the NT so often speaks of them in an interchangeable manner. This is true, in spite of the fact that the two can be separated for study or in one’s experience. From the believer’s perspective, baptism can be viewed as a visible prayer in which the believer “signifies [his] ingrafting into Christ and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and [his] engagement to be the Lord’s.”

One could also theoretically benefit from a sacrament as a means of grace before being converted, as paedobaptists argue that infants do in baptism. The objection to infant baptism in this respect is twofold. First, infants are not eligible for baptism and thus have no divine warrant to participate in a means of grace that is not designed for them. Second, baptism is a means of grace at the moment of participation (as well as before and after) that requires the awareness and voluntary participation of the party baptized. If God chose to design a means of grace to be applied to the unconverted and/or to those who can’t voluntarily participate, then we should have no problem imagining how they might benefit from it. But if the design includes the awareness and voluntary participation of the party baptized, then it is a perversion and a truncation of the sacrament to admit anyone else.

Q. Doesn’t I Cor. 7:14 teach that children of believers are covenantally set apart and thus eligible for baptism?

A. No. The term “sanctified” that describes an unbelieving spouse of a believer and the term “holy” that describes the children of believers are based on the same root word in Greek. Therefore, whatever holiness the children have is also shared by an unbelieving spouse. Since an unbelieving spouse is not in the covenant, one cannot use this passage to establish that the children are. Paul’s whole argument is grounded in the similarity of the two cases. If unbelieving spouses and children of believers do not share the same type of holiness, the difference between the two cases invalidates Paul’s entire argument from the holiness of the children to the holiness of the unbelieving spouse. In fact, Paul’s argument actually implies an argument against infant baptism. If the children in Corinth were baptized but unbelieving spouses were not, then the Corinthians would never have accepted Paul’s argument that the holiness of the children implied the holiness of unbelieving spouses.

I have elaborated on this argument in a separate article on I Cor. 7:14.

Baptism – The Testimony of the Early Church

J.Ryan Davidson, in an article entitled “Reflections on Baptism and the Early Church” baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whoever else can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before.” – Didache 7

The sentence in bold above is from the non-canonical early church writing called the Didache (“teaching”). There is much that could be said here on this quote, and of course, given its non-canonical nature, it is not binding on the church of Jesus Christ. However, the document’s value lies in its ability to give us a picture of what the very early church looked like, specifically, that the first generation after the Apostles (depending on which scholarly dating is accepted-likely late 1st/early 2nd century) utilized this document as a book of church order in a manner of speaking. A few quick observations/reflections from this text:

a). Baptism was taken seriously, and was accompanied by fasting. Not that we must mandate fasting, but do we take the sign of the covenant…the profession of faith made in the waters of baptism as seriously in our worship? Christ himself told us he would be with us as we baptize (Matthew 28:18-20), is this not a serious endeavor? Our day is full of quick baptisms, with all sorts of irreverent schemes. Ought we not to consider the gravity of this endeavor?

b). This implies that the persons baptized were old enough to fast. An argument could be made here for credobaptism. In fact, most will agree that the first reference (credible and rightly interpreted in context) to infant baptism found in any of the early church documents was not until the 200’s A.D. Why no instruction before that if paedobaptism was the/a standard practice? This brief post in no ways discusses all of the issue in this debate, however, this is just a simple observation.

c). Baptism was accompanied by an intensity in reflection on the part of the person baptize, the baptizer and the church (“and whoever else can”). We would do well to reflect on this example. It may be an anachronistic interpretation, but if we assume that baptism is a “means of grace”, then isn’t there benefit in taking the baptism of others seriously, for we too, as observers, are spiritually nourished as Christ is present among His people and the waters of baptism are stirred?

d). We notice that the baptism formula was the Triune name and that immersion was a regular, if not the regular mode (“living water”=stream, river, etc. and notice that going into this water is later contrasted with pouring as a mode, so it clearly means immersion here). I fall in the camp that says that immersion is the preferred mode, but I am not convinced that the mode validates or invalidates a baptism. However, these sentences show us some cohesion with the New Testament record. To be clear, the New Testament is all we need, but as a historian, it is beautiful to see historical documents reflecting biblical practice.

Most people may not even know about the document called the “Didache”. For me, while not inerrant, inspired, infallible Word, it is a wonderful historical window into our early forebears. May we take the sacrament of baptism as seriously in our day.

“Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit…and I am with you to the end of the age…”-Jesus, Matthew 28

A Case for Believer’s Baptism

baptism-June8-2014Dr. Sam Storms, A Brief Defense of Infant Baptism. I thought it might help everyone to hear a brief defense of believer’s baptism, or what we typically refer to as credo baptism. What follows is not a response to Kevin’s arguments, but simply an outline of the reasons why I remain a credo-baptist.

Why do I believe that only believers should be baptized in water? Why am I a “credo-baptist” rather than a “paedo-baptist” (the term “credo” comes from the Latin which means “I believe,” hence baptism for believers only; the term “paedo” comes from the Greek word for infant).

Before I answer that question, it may be helpful to briefly explain why some Christians baptize their infants. The primary reason comes from their understanding of the relationship between Old Testament circumcision and New Testament baptism.

In the Old Testament, male infants were circumcised as the outward sign of entrance into the covenant community of Israel. This did not guarantee their salvation, but marked them out as recipients of the external blessings of a national covenant into which they were introduced by physical birth.

Christian baptism, so goes the paedo-baptist argument, is the New Testament counterpart to Old Testament circumcision. It does not guarantee the salvation of the infant, but sets them apart as children of covenant parents who are thus included in the external blessings and responsibilities of the people of God. Baptized infants are thus “under the umbrella,” so to speak, of God’s new covenant blessings. Parents of the infant pray that he/she will personally receive the blessings of salvation in Christ which baptism signifies. They hope and trust that baptism is the foreshadowing of what will take place when their child personally embraces Jesus as savior. This is closely related to the idea that God deals not merely with individuals based on personal faith but with corporate entities based on covenant promise.

Paedo-baptists also appeal to what they call “household” baptisms in the New Testament (see Acts 16:15,33; and 1 Cor. 1:16). Surely, they contend, there must have been infants in these households. Infants of Christian parents, therefore, were made recipients of water baptism.

Why am I not convinced by this? Very briefly, for these reasons.

First, the narrative examples in the New Testament portray baptism as being administered only to believers. See Acts 2:41; 8:12; 10:44-48; etc.

Second, baptism is portrayed in the New Testament as a symbol of the beginning of spiritual life (Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:3-4; Col. 2:12), as well as “an appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:21). Unless one is prepared to predicate salvation and spiritual life of unbelieving infants, or suggest that they are capable of making a conscious appeal to God for a good conscience, it would appear that baptism is restricted to those who consciously trust Christ.

Third, baptism is consistently portrayed as inextricably tied up with (conscious) faith and repentance (e.g., Acts 2:38,41; 8:12-13,36; 10:47-48). This is especially the case with Colossians 2:12, which I’ll deal with below.

Fourth, in all examples of so-called “household” baptisms the broader contexts make clear that only “believers” were baptized. As for Acts 16:15 and 16:33, members of the “household” were old enough to hear and understand “the word of the Lord” spoken to them (Acts 16:32; thereby excluding infants) and old enough to understand what it meant for a person to believe in God and thus have reason to rejoice because of it (Acts 16:34; thereby again excluding infants; see also John 4:53).

As for 1 Corinthians 1:16, we see in 1 Corinthians 16:15 that the “household” of Stephanas, whom Paul baptized, “were the first converts in Achaia” who “devoted themselves to the service of the saints.” As for the “children” in Acts 2:39, they are at least old enough to be “called” by the Lord (v. 39). And then, as if to confirm it, Luke records that “those who received his word were baptized” (Acts 2:41). There is no indication that those who were too young to respond to the “call” of God and too young to “receive” God’s word were baptized.

Fifth, we must take into account the nature of the New Covenant inaugurated by the death and resurrection of Jesus and one way (although there are many) in which it differs from the covenant God made with Abraham.

We read in Hebrews 8:11 of one of the chief characteristics of the New Covenant and those who are members of it – “And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (Heb. 8:11).

During the time of the Old Testament, the people of God were a mixed community. That is to say, Israel was composed of both believers and non-believers. Not everyone who was circumcised in his flesh was circumcised in his heart. Again, this simply means that not everyone who received the physical sign of the old covenant was born again or regenerate.

This is why members of the nation Israel had to be exhorted to “know” the Lord. But under the New Covenant we encounter an entirely different situation. Every member of the New Covenant is a believer. Every member of the New Covenant has been born again. Notice what our author says: “they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (8:11).

This promise that every member of the new covenant will experience personal and first-hand intimate saving knowledge of God is one of the main reasons I don’t baptize infants at Bridgeway Church.

We must remember that God’s covenant with Israel was theocratic in nature. Israel was not only the people of God; Israel was also a political entity. Therefore, all those who were circumcised physically were members of the covenant community whether they ever came to saving faith or not. That’s not true in the New Covenant. Only those who come to saving faith are members of the new covenant community.

To say that every member of the New Covenant knows the Lord doesn’t mean that there aren’t in our midst people who claim to know Christ but don’t. But those who are genuinely saved and genuinely members of the New Covenant are all born again and justified by faith in Jesus.

As noted above, paedo-baptists say that since in Old Testament times circumcision, as the sign of the covenant, was applied to all, even though many never came to saving faith, baptism, as the sign of the New Covenant, should be applied to all, even though many who are baptized will never come to saving faith.

But the New Covenant differs significantly from every biblical covenant that preceded it and thus the analogy breaks down. Unlike in the OT, everywhere in the NT we read that members of the New Covenant are born-again, justified believers in Jesus. Therefore it is only to them that the ordinance of baptism is applied. Members of the New Covenant are those who have the law of God written on their hearts; they are those who belong to God in a relationship of personal intimacy; they are those know God; they are those whose sins have been forgiven. That is why we do not baptize infants at Bridgeway. Infants who have not as yet trusted Christ for salvation are not members of the New Covenant.

Sixth, I can’t help but notice the absence in the New Testament of any explicit portrayal of an infant ever being baptized.

But let’s look more closely at Colossians 2:11-12, where Paul writes, “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”

Contrary to the paedo-baptist argument, the New Testament counterpart to Old Testament circumcision isn’t baptism; it’s regeneration or the new birth. Or again, it is spiritual circumcision of the heart, not water baptism, that corresponds in the New Covenant to Old Covenant physical circumcision of the flesh. [By the way, even if one were to concede that water baptism is the New Covenant counterpart to Old Covenant circumcision, the former is consistently predicated on the faith of the individual, unlike the latter. Indeed, this is the very point of Colossians 2:12, as I’ll note below.]

Water baptism is a sign of the circumcision of the heart and the new life and cleansing from sin that it brings. The sign of the New Covenant isn’t baptism, but spiritual circumcision or regeneration or the “cutting away” of the heart of flesh, of which water baptism is an outward, symbolic expression.

But more important still is Paul’s reference to “faith” in v. 12. John Piper has summarized this better than anyone I’ve read, so let me close by quoting his words:

“If baptism were merely a parallel of the Old Testament rite of circumcision it would not have to happen ‘through faith’ since infants did not take on circumcision ‘through faith.’ The reason the New Testament ordinance of baptism must be ‘through faith’ is that it represents not the Old Testament external ritual, but the New Testament, internal, spiritual experience of circumcision ‘without hands.’

Those two words, ‘through faith,’ in verse 12 are the decisive, defining explanation of how we were buried with Christ in baptism and how we were raised with him in baptism: it was ‘through faith.’ And this is not something infants experience. Faith is a conscious experience of the heart yielding to the work of God. Infants are not capable of this, and therefore infants are not fit subjects of baptism, which is ‘through faith'” (“Buried and Raised in Baptism through Faith,” a sermon on Colossians 2:8-15, May 11, 1997; www.desiringgod.org).

I love my paedo-baptist friends and rejoice in their love for God. But I remain unconvinced by their arguments. Needless to say, this is a subject deserving of book-length treatment, but I hope my brief comments here are of help as you seek to obey Scripture with regard to this precious ordinance of God.

A Closer Look – Circumcision, Baptism and Col. 2:11,12

baptismFrom Recovering a Covenantal Heritage: Essays in Baptist Covenant Theology, CHAPTER 15, “An Exegetical Appraisal of Colossians 2:11-12,” Richard C. Barcellos, Ph.D.

Baptism does not replace circumcision as the sign and seal of the covenant of grace. We have seen clearly that spiritual circumcision, not baptism, replaces (better, fulfills) physical circumcision. Baptism in Colossians 2:12 (i.e., vital union with Christ) is a result of spiritual circumcision. Burial and resurrection with Christ is not equivalent to but causally subsequent to spiritual circumcision. Physical circumcision has been replaced or fulfilled by spiritual circumcision under the New Covenant. The correspondence between the two, however, is not one-to-one. Paul tells us this by saying that New Covenant circumcision is “a circumcision made without hands.” Though physical circumcision and spiritual circumcision are related they are not equivalent. One is physical and does not affect the heart; the other is spiritual and does not affect the body (at least not initially). Both are indications of covenant membership, though not necessarily of the same covenant. But only the circumcision of the heart guarantees one’s eternal destiny, for all the regenerate express faith and “are protected by the power of God through faith” (1 Pet. 1:5).

We must take issue with those who argue from this text that baptism replaces circumcision. The Lutheran scholar Eduard Lohse asserts, “Baptism is called circumcision here… The circumcision of Christ which every member of the community has experienced is nothing other than being baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ.”[1] We have seen, however, that the only “replacement” motif in this text is between physical circumcision and spiritual circumcision. Spiritual circumcision is not equivalent to baptism. Baptism (i.e., union with Christ) is the sphere in which burial and resurrection with Christ occurs, which is effected through faith, and a result of spiritual circumcision.

The Reformed commentator William Hendriksen says:

Evidently Paul in this entire paragraph magnifies Christian baptism as much as he, by clear implication, disapproves of the continuation of the rite of circumcision if viewed as having anything to do with salvation. The definite implication, therefore, is that baptism has taken the place of circumcision. Hence, what is said with reference to circumcision in Rom. 4:11, as being a sign and a seal, holds also for baptism. In the Colossian context baptism is specifically a sign and seal of having been buried with Christ and of having been raised with him [emphasis Hendriksen’s].[2]

We take issue with Hendriksen’s view on several fronts. First, Paul is not magnifying Christian baptism in this text. He is magnifying Christian circumcision. This is evident by the fact that “you were also circumcised” is the regulating verb to which the rest of verses 11 and 12 are subordinate. Second, there is not a “definite implication …that baptism has taken the place of circumcision.” Our exegesis has shown this to us clearly. Third, it is not true that “what is said with reference to circumcision in Rom. 4:11, as being a sign and a seal, holds also for baptism.” This is so because Paul is not arguing for a replacement theology between physical circumcision and water baptism and because the seal of the New Covenant is the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13; 4:30). Fourth, Paul says nothing in Colossians 2:11-12 about baptism being “a sign and seal of having been buried with Christ and of having been raised with him.” He does say, though in other words, that the subsequent, spiritual concomitant of spiritual circumcision is spiritual burial and resurrection with Christ in baptism effected through faith. There is no hint of baptism being a sign and seal as argued by Hendriksen. It is of interest to note one of Hendriksen’s footnotes to these statements. Notice the concession he makes.

I am speaking here about a clear implication. The surface contrast is that between literal circumcision and circumcision without hands, namely, the circumcision of the heart, as explained. But the implication also is clear. Hence, the following statement is correct: “Since, then, baptism has come in the place of circumcision (Col. 2:11-13), the children should be baptized as heirs of the kingdom of God and of his covenant” (Form for the Baptism of Infants in Psalter Hymnal of the Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1959, p. 86). When God made his covenant with Abraham the children were included (Gen. 17:1-14). This covenant, in its spiritual aspects, was continued in the present dispensation (Acts 2:38, 29; Rom. 4:9-12; Gal. 3:7, 8, 29). Therefore the children are still included and should still receive the sign, which in the present dispensation, as Paul makes clear in Col. 2:11, 12, is baptism [emphases Hendriksen’s].[3]

Hendriksen’s concession that “The surface contrast is that between literal circumcision and circumcision without hands” surely sheds doubt over his initial claim of “speaking here about a clear implication.” Again, we have seen that Paul is not arguing that water baptism replaces physical circumcision as a sign and seal of the covenant. It does not follow, then, that “the children should be baptized as heirs of the kingdom of God and of his covenant.” Paul does not say or imply that the sign and seal of the covenant is baptism. If there is a sign of the covenant in this text it is regeneration. All who are spiritually circumcised are buried and raised with Christ in baptism, effected through faith. Colossians 2:11-12 is about the application of redemption to elect souls and does not imply infant baptism, some of which are not elect. If it implies anything about water baptism, it implies that it ought to be administered to those who have been circumcised of heart and vitally united to Christ through faith as a sign of these spiritual blessings.

All who are circumcised of heart are buried and raised with Christ through faith logically subsequent to their heart circumcision. Regeneration cannot be abstracted from its immediate fruits. All regenerate souls are untied to Christ through faith. This is what Colossians 2:11-12 clearly teaches. Our exegesis argues for an ordo salutis as follows: regeneration, then union with Christ through faith. And this experience is that of all the regenerate and has nothing to do with the act of water baptism in itself.

This text neither teaches baptismal regeneration nor implies infant baptism. In context, it is displaying the completeness believers have in Christ. It does not apply to unbelievers or to all who are baptized by any mode and/or by properly recognized ecclesiastical administrators. It has to do with the spiritual realities that come to souls who are Christ’s sheep. It has to do with the application of redemption to elect sinners. It has to do with regeneration, faith, and experiential union with Christ. These are the aspects of completeness in Christ Paul highlights here. We should gain much encouragement from these things. They were revealed to fortify believers against error. They were written to strengthen saints, those already in Christ. They were not revealed as proof for the subjects of baptism. They were not revealed to teach us that water baptism replaces physical circumcision as the sign and seal of the covenant of grace. God gave us Colossians 2:11-12 to display this fact: When you have Christ, you have all you need.

[1] Eduard Lohse, Colossians and Philemon (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971), 101-02.

[2] William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon (reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995), 116.

[3] Hendriksen, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon, 116, n. 86.

Baptism – A Means of Grace

In an article entitled “Wash in the waters again” David Mathis touching, smelling, and tasting. Alongside preaching, they reveal to us again and again the very heart of the gospel we profess and aim to echo. They are enacted “signs,” pointing to realities beyond themselves.

But these ordinances are not just signs, but “seals.” They confirm to us not just that God has done something salvific for mankind, but that it applies to me in particular. The gospel is not only true in general, but specifically for me. And when a Bible-believing, gospel-cherishing church applies the seal to me, it can be a great grounds of assurance that I myself am included in the rescued people of Christ.

In this way, baptism and the Lord’s Supper serve to mark us out as the church, distinct from the world, and are part of what it means for the new covenant to be a covenant — with acts of both initiation and ongoing fellowship, both inauguration and renewal. Continue reading