I was recently asked about my theological journey from anti-infant baptism to infant baptism. It was a dark and stormy night. Not really. Actually, It was over the course of study of much larger issues regarding how to interpret the Bible. Not many Christians are in the know, but most theological debates are simply out-workings of the larger themes of the Bible. Big themes like the creator creature distinction between man and the Triune God, the covenants, the kingdom of God, the Gospel, predestination. Infant Baptism is an implication and application of a consistent ystem of looking at the whole of scripture through the lens of these larger issue. For me, affirming it was natural, once these other mighty oaks were felled. What I realized is that Infant baptism is simply the call of the gospel to children.
Unfortunately there are few popular level explanations of the doctrine because one must first see the forest before the trees. If one tries to simply look at the individual texts dealing with the apparent household baptisms in the New Testament, he/she will be at a loss if these issues are not dealt with. So, I am going to do my best to explain the doctrine on a man on the street level. This, as far as I can makes sense is the simple teaching of scripture on the subject based on these larger themes, which must be presupposed, to some extent. Here are the several big picture themes.
First, the distance between the creator and the creature is so great that If God did not reveal himself in the Old and New Covenant, mankind would have no idea about a way of salvation. We cannot know what has not been revealed. That is simple enough. It leads us to the way God revealed himself.
Second big picture theme, God chose a way of revealing himself, covenant. Specifically, God made two covenants with mankind. The first was the covenant with Adam I the Garden of Eden. God was the Lord who made the covenant, Adam was the representative, and all of his children and his bride were his represented body. The covenant consisted of a covenant of life in the Tree of Life, and a covenant of death in the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil. It was as simple as that. The Tree of life held out a deed of grant and gift for life, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil held out the covenant grant and gift to Adam in Genesis 2:17, DEATH!!!!
The second covenant with Christ, the second Adam, the Seed of the Woman (Gen 3:15). He acts as the representative for his people, who are the body of Christ. Yes, we have the same kind of relationship to Adam as we must have to Christ, covenant representative. God in the visible covenant kingdom offers the covenant representative to any individual and their children, received by faith alone (Gen 15:1-6). The second covenant is the person and work of Jesus Christ offered freely to any person to be received upon condition of faith alone.
The third big picture theme is the visible assembly/kingdom. There has always been a public covenant community, an instituted church on earth, which has its main function to offer the covenant of grace in the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, to all of mankind. People must enter by faith and by taking on them the sign of baptism. The Holy Spirit uses the free offer of the covenant grant of Christ freely offered actually as the means of applying Christ. Notice the words “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved” have both the condition of the covenant of Grace and the promise. God has always communicated this covenant grant of deed and gift in the context of a covenant community, a visible church if you will. Now, this church took on different forms throughout history as Jesus was not incarnate until epochs of human history had already passed, yet the gracious covenant offer was the same. Faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone is the result.
Condition: believe in the Lord Jesus Christ
Promise: You shall be saved.
The fourth big picture item is that in the visible community there are both elect and non-elect. Think of Esau and Jacob, about whom Malachi stated God’s prophetic decree “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”(see Mal 1:1-3). Both Jacob and Esau were in the visible church/covenant community, both had the gospel offered to them, both had the same warrant to believe, but only Jacob responded. Why? Because Jacob was elect. So, the visible assembly/covenant community, though it is the normative place for people to be saved, because that is where God has ordained to offer the covenant, being born in the covenant community is not guarantee of election. There will always be wheat among the tares.
Firth, the visible covenant-community always evangelized the children of believers by offering them the covenant. First, the sacrament of circumcision was applied to the boys. This was “the covenant” of Genesis 17. Now remember the terminology. The covenant means the Gospel. So when Abram held up the flint knife in Genesis 17 to all of the men in his house and said “this is the covenant” they understood the meaning to be a symbolic token (sign and seal, as Moses would call it, or a certification of membership authenticity) of the gospel offer. Abram already had the gospel offered to him in Genesis 12:1-3 and had responded to it by faith finally in 15:1-6 (harkening back to the seed of the woman covenant in Gen 3:15). Now he had left Ur of the Chaldeans and several hundred men and families followed him as the leader of this religion with whom God established the visible covenant community. Now, he holds up this knife and says, “Here is the coveant.” What they understand there is that the sign and seal they would take on their bodies would confirm to them membership in this covenant community, and would simultaneously proclaim assurance of the Gospel to them.
Finally, in the visible community of the covenant children received the sign of circumcision at eight days old. The result was that they were entered into the visible covenant community, and they had proclaimed to them the covenant deed of grant of gift. The sign of circumcision then must be responded to in order to be circumcised of the heart (But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. Rom 2:29).
So then, in Acts 2, after the descent of the Spirit upon the church, in what one would call the era of the New Covenant era, the new way of administering the covenant is by baptism. Peter called all the people who heard him to be baptized. They were devout Jews; they were there in Jerusalem for the feast; further, they had been circumcised on the eighth day as Moses taught. Now they were called to received water baptism by Peter. But that is not all he said. In fact he alluded to the language of Genesis 17 on the covenant promise. Notice the similarities.
38 Peter said to them, “aRepent, and each of you be bbaptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 “For athe promise is for you and your children and for all who are bfar off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” (Act 2:38-39 NAU)
I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your 1descendants after you throughout their generations for an aeverlasting covenant, bto be God to you and cto your 1descendants after you. (Gen 17:7 NAU)
The covenant call of the gospel free offering Christ as a deed of grant and gift from the covenant Lord included not only the call to faith and repentance by the Apostles, but also the sacrament of baptism.
Here is the truth of these things: God relates to us by way of covenant, which shapes the way we communicate the gospel to our children. Baptizing infant is not a way of necessarily instantly regenerating them, but rather it is a God appointed means of offering them the Gospel. We must then see baptism as the entrance sign into the visible covenant community, and as the means of preaching the gospel to our children.
The question still remains: where in the New Testament does it say to baptize infants? It does not. But it also does not command to baptize women. We infer that we must baptize women 1)because there are examples of women being baptized, and 2) because the New Covenant era is wider in its visible signing and sealing than the Mosaic, and 3) because water can be applied to both gender, whereas the Bible frowns on mutilation of women through circumcision. In fact circumcision is a sign of death. Why kids though? Similar reasons apply. First, there are examples of whole households being baptized, even if they only had one believing parent (1Cor 1:16, 7:14, et al). Second, the children of believers were in the visible community under Abraham’s visible community, thus as the Christian era dawned it would at least be plausible for the children of believers to be included in the covenant community. Third, baptism and circumcision are both entrance signs in the covenant, and both point to the body and blood of Christ offered to sinners (Colossians 2:11-12). Third, the New covenant being wider in its visible inclusion than the old to include women in the sign and seal, it would not make sense to make it more restrictive to kids of believers.
There is more to say, but there are many good resources on the subject of baptism of infants and the particular exegetical citations. My point here is simply to show how the big picture works. Baptism is a means of entering children in the visible community and evangelizing them.