There are a lot of people that think it awful strange that in addition to baptizing adults who have never been baptized, we also baptize the infants of believing families in our church. I certainly understand the feeling. Try growing up Southern Baptist watching dunk after dunk and thinking one day the church spring for some duck-waders and a robe just your size, only to end up with a bowl and a mere handful of water.
I often tell people when they ask about baptism that my love for believers baptism has not diminished, rather, my passion for covenant baptize has grown to govern my beliefs and actions as a pastor in Christ's church. That said, I'd like to share what we are saying when we baptize our little ones as well as dispel a few rumors I've come across.
When we consider our own stories of redemption, we often focus primarily on trying to "place the star" when and where we "got saved." What has grown my deep and abiding love for *covenant theology is the understanding that my story of redemption doesn't start with my arrival on the earth. Ephesians 1:4 tell us that "before the foundations of the earth" God destined us (His elect) for adoption! Using the example of marriage, I'm quite sure I didn't fall in love with my wife on the altar at our wedding date. That's not to say it isn't possible, but more than likely my love for her already existed and therefore lead me to make that commitment at that particular time. When I try and consider when the love actually began, I find myself continuing further back into our history to find what might be consider the infancy of our love for one another. Likewise, in our story of redemption, we might find it a fun exercise to consider the events that lead up to our "star moment."
As we discuss marking the children of believers we are first and foremost acknowledging the primary function God has in our salvation and how that plan extends beyond life's borders.
Where we are coming from in scripture It all starts with God who is a promise making, promise keeping God. There are notable promises made by God throughout scripture and there are known that He fails to keep to this day. In fact, the very "good news" of the gospel of Jesus is that when we fail to keep our end of the covenant, God in His Son satisfies both parts. Since the beginning of the people of God, the promise God makes with Abraham to make Him a great nation in Gen 17, was for him as well as his children. The sign of that covenant promise was circumcision. It wasn’t optional. Moses in Exodus 4 is nearly put to death for not circumcising his son. God demanded the children of promise be marked with circumcision and set apart. This was done once, as a sign and seal of membership in the family of God, but it was not a saving act.
In the New Testament, with the life and death of Christ, we as God's people are not bound by the ceremonial laws once mandated to Israel. No more sacrifice, no more shedding of blood, no more circumcision, but at no time are we to assume that God vacates His promise to Abraham or his instructions to His people to stop marking to the children of the promise. Many note the lack of clear scriptural evidence for infant baptism in the New Testament church. This has lead to quite a bit of scholarly debate with Godly individuals standing on different sides of biblical interpretation. Perhaps the lack of evidence in scripture coupled with the lack of historical controversy could be stronger evidence "for" this practice than "against."
There is no clear command to "dedicate" the infants of believers, a common practice in some Baptistic denominations. This is done for much of the same reason we baptize. We are acknowledging the parent's primary calling to raise their children to know and understand the things of God. As Francis Schaffer says, "They are not wrong in this - their only mistake is that they do not go far enough. Let us not stop short of all that God means us to do and to have as Christian parents. If you are a Christian, your child is a child of the Covenant, and God means him to have the engagement sign of the Covenant. As a born-again parent, it is your privilege to apply it to him."
The historic New Testament bridge from circumcision to baptism involves several texts.
In Galatians 3 and Romans 4 we see that the promise of God made to Abraham was also applied to Gentile believers.
In Colossians 2 we see that circumcision and baptism both serve as a sign and seal of our membership into the family of God.
In Acts 2:39, we hear a familiar phrase to the a people at Pentacost, “this promise is for you and your children.”
We as a church believe this to be a command of God that begins in the Genesis and continues to this day. So we therefore continue to mark the children of believers.
Let me emphasize what we ARE NOT saying, and what we ARE saying.
We ARE NOT saying:
We are not saying that baptism or the faith of the parents in any way secures salvation for the child.
We are not saying that baptism or the faith of the parents is in any way a guarantee of a future salvation for the child.
We ARE saying:
We are saying that salvation is by faith in Christ alone, which is a work of God’s Spirit, when and if He decides to call the child to Himself. (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 9:11, 2 Timothy 1:9)
We are saying that we want to continually be obedient to scripture and not cease a practice instituted by God for His people and their children.
We are saying that by marking the children of the promise, as it was down through circumcision in the OT, that we are acknowledging that God is already working in and around the child because she has been born into a family and community of believer’s in Christ.
Our hope as a church It is our hope as a church that we are setting an example of the gospel before our covenant children in such a way that they never know a time where they did not know who Christ was and what He did on their behalf. That they regularly see the love of Christ and repentance from sin at work in and around the body of Christ.
It is also our hope that those who partner with us, visit, and even join the family of Christ Redeemer will share our heart to be as faithful to study and apply scripture, but hold what we have come share as a "minor family distinctive" humbly, believing that it's possible that we could be wrong.
The greater invisible church, compiled of many denominations, must learn to "major on the major" aspects of the gospel and "minor on the minors." Our distinctives can be engaged, but lovingly and humbly so. Our Lord and Savior as well as a watching world in need of the gospel demands it.
*Covenant Theology is the belief that the covenant promises made to the people of the Old Testament remain to this day.
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