Why Do You Baptize Your Babies? (1)

As a minister to many people with little ones, and on a church staff with both paedobaptists (those who baptize their babies) and credobaptists (those who wait until there is a profession of faith from the child), I have had a good bit of opportunity to think about and discuss the issue of infant baptism. The following posts are in reply to the question, Why do you baptize your babies?

To begin I should recognize that this post will not deal directly with baptism, but is more concerned with the background assumptions about the children of Christians. I should also establish at the outset that I DO NOT have my children baptized because I believe the sacrament of baptism saves them. I do not believe, as Catholics do, that baptism erases original sin. I do not believe, as Lutherans do, that baptism brings to new life. Nonetheless, I believe the clear teaching of the Scriptures is that the children of Christians should be baptized before they profess the faith. To think about this, one should start with Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in the New Testament:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Ephesians 6:1-4

Generally, when I talk with my baptist brothers and sisters who disagree with the practice of infant baptism, they seek to argue that the children of believers are not in a covenant relationship with God until they are saved. If I seek to argue (as I would) that the children of God’s people have always been in covenant relationship with God, they would argue that the New Covenant is different… it is a new and better covenant (Hebrews 8:6). I agree that the New Covenant is different and better than the Old (and could argue that if children are now not included with God’s covenant dealings with his people then that is not better), but I also want to point out that there is New Testament evidence that the New Covenant involves the children of believers just like the old.

In the passage above, we ought to first take note that the children are present in the assembled congregation (to whom the letter was addressed and where it was originally read). Additionally, here in this New Covenant document written from God to his people, we see that God addresses the children with covenant language! One could argue at this point that we do not know the age of the children who were addressed, and that is true. That said, there is good reason to believe that this included young children because in v4 there is instruction to fathers about how to bring up their children. The implication is that there are children present who are of the age that they have not yet been brought up, or are in the process of being brought up.

Further, God not only addresses the children with covenant language, but also gives them covenant responsibilities: Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right. Honor your father and mother. And not only have they been given responsibilities, but there is also promised blessing for obedience: that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land. This is significant because it establishes continuity with the function of the Old Covenant. Responsibilities and blessings are marks of covenant relationship with God in the Old and New Covenants. This observation is enhanced when we realize that in v2 Paul is quoting from the 10 commandments – that Old Covenant document given to adults and children at Sinai – which is now being applied to Christians in the New Covenant. The point is that as we read Ephesians 6:1-4, we observe that covenant relationship with God is front and center, and covenant relationship still worksthe way covenant relationship has always worked… God and us and our children.

So to begin to answer the question of why I have my babies baptized, I start by dealing with some of the background questions. Are the children of believers in covenant relationship with God? The Old Covenant answer was yes. And it seems clear that Ephesians 6:1-4 establishes continuity between Old and New Covenants on this issue. The children of Christians are in covenant relationship with God. Therefore, the children of Christians should receive the sign of covenant relationship with God.

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