Theology Thursday – Infants Must be Baptized!

Should infants be baptized? William Shedd thought so. Here, in this excerpt from his text Dogmatic Theology, he explains why:1

Baptism, being the initiatory sacrament, is administered only once. While symbolical only of regeneration, it yet has a connection with sanctification. Being a divinely appointed sign, seal, and pledge of the new birth, it promotes the believer’s growth in holiness by encouragement and stimulus. It is like the official seal on a legal document. The presence of the seal inspires confidence in the genuineness of the title deed; the absence of the seal awakens doubts and fears. Nevertheless, it is the title deed, not the seal, that conveys the title.

Baptism is to be administered to believers and their children:

  • “The promise [of the gift of the Holy Spirit; v. 38] is unto you and your children” (Acts 2:38–39);
  • “if the root be holy, so are the branches” (Rom. 11:16);
  • “the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean: but now are they holy” (1 Cor. 7:14);
  • “go teach [disciple] all nations, baptizing them” (Matt. 28:19). If the command had been “go teach all nations, circumcising them,” no one would have denied that infants were included in the command.
  • Infants are called disciples in Acts 15:10: “Why tempt God to put a yoke [namely, circumcision] upon the neck of the disciples?”

Accordingly, Westminster Confession 28.4 affirms that “the infants of one or both believing parents are to be baptized.”

The baptism of the infant of a believer supposes the actual or prospective operation of the regenerating Spirit, in order to the efficacy of the rite. Infant baptism does not confer the regenerating Spirit, but is a sign that he either has been or will be conferred in accordance with the divine promise in the covenant of grace. The actual conferring of the Holy Spirit may be prior to baptism or in the act itself or subsequent to it. Hence baptism is the sign and seal of regeneration either in the past, in the present, or in the future.

Westminster Confession 38.6 teaches that “the efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered”; in other words, the regenerating grace of the Spirit, signified and sealed by the rite, may be imparted when the infant is baptized or previously or at a future time. The baptism is administered in this reference and with this expectation: “Baptism is to be administered, to be a sign and seal of regeneration and engrafting into Christ, and that even to infants” (Westminster Larger Catechism 177).

Under the old dispensation, the circumcision of the flesh was a sign and seal of the circumcision of the heart (Deut. 10:16; 30:6). “God,” says Calvin (4.16.5), “did not favor infants with circumcision without making them partakers of all those things which were then signified by circumcision.” Similarly, under the new dispensation, the baptism of the body of the infant is the sign and seal of the baptism of the soul by the Holy Spirit.

The infant of the believer receives the Holy Spirit as a regenerating Spirit, by virtue of the covenant between God and his people:

  • “I will establish my covenant between me and you and your seed after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto you and to your seed after you” (Gen. 17:7);
  • “the promise [of the gift of the Holy Spirit; v. 38] is unto you and your children” (Acts 2:39).

The infant of the believer, consequently, obtains the regenerating grace by virtue of his birth and descent from a believer in covenant with God and not by virtue of his baptism. God has promised the blessing of the Holy Spirit to those who are born of his people. The infant of a believer, by this promise, is born into the church, as the infant of a citizen is born into the state: “Children born within the pale of the visible church and dedicated to God in baptism are under the inspection and government of the church” (Directory for Worship, 9).

They are church members by reason of their birth from believing parents; and it has been truly said that the question that confronts them at the period of discretion is not “will you join the visible church?” but “will you go out of it?” Church membership by birth from believers is an appointment of God under both the old and the new economies, in the Jewish and the Christian church.

Baptism is the infallible sign of regeneration when the infant dies in infancy. All baptized infants dying before the age of self-consciousness are regenerated without exception. Baptism is the probable sign of regeneration, when the infant lives to years of discretion. It is possible that the baptized child of believing parents may prove, in the day of judgment, not to have been regenerated, but not probable. The history of the church and daily observation show it to be the general fact that infant church members become adult church members. Yet exceptions are possible.

A baptized infant on reaching years of discretion may to human view appear not to have been regenerated, as a baptized convert may. The fact of unregeneracy, however, must be proved before it can be acted upon. A citizen of the state must be presumed to be such until the contrary appears by his renunciation of citizenship and self-expatriation. Until he takes this course, he must be regarded as a citizen. So a baptized child, in adult years, may renounce his baptism and church membership, become an infidel, and join the synagogue of Satan; but until he does this, he must be regarded as a member of the church of Christ. Such instances are exceedingly rare, both in church and state.

The possible exceptions to the general fact that baptism is the sign of regeneration are not more numerous in the case of baptized infants than of baptized converts. Says Hodge (Theology 3.590):

It is not every baptized child who is saved; nor are all those who are baptized in infancy made partakers of salvation. But baptism signs, seals, and actually conveys its benefits to all its subjects, whether infants or adults, who keep the covenant of which it is a sign. It does not follow that the benefits of redemption may not be conferred on infants at the time of their baptism. That is in the hands of God.

What is to hinder the imputation to them of the righteousness of Christ or their receiving the renewing of the Holy Spirit, so that their whole nature may be developed in a state of reconciliation with God. Doubtless this often occurs; but whether it does or not, their baptism stands good; it assures them of salvation if they do not renounce their baptismal covenant.

The reason why there is not an infallible connection between infant baptism and regeneration, when the infant lives to years of discretion, so that all baptized children of true believers are regenerated without a single exception, is the fact that the covenant is not observed on the human side with absolute perfection.

Should the believer keep the promise on his part with entire completeness, God would be bound to fulfill the promise on his part. But the believer’s fulfillment of the terms of the covenant, in respect to faith in God’s promise, to prayer, to the nurture and education of the child, though filial and spiritual, is yet imperfect. God is, therefore, not absolutely indebted to the believer, by reason of the believer’s action, in respect to the regeneration of the child. Consequently, he may exercise a sovereignty, if he so please, in the bestowment of regenerating grace, even in the case of a believer’s child.

We have seen (p. 776) that the regeneration of an unbaptized adult, depending as it does upon election, cannot be made infallibly certain by the use of common grace, though it may be made highly probable by it. In like manner, the regeneration of a baptized child, depending also upon election, may be made highly probable by the imperfect faith and fidelity of the parents, yet not infallibly and necessarily certain.

Notes

[1] William Greenough Thayer Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, ed. Alan W. Gomes, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2003), 817–819.

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JNoël's picture

[posting in order to receive notifications of comments]

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

Andrew K's picture

Should the believer keep the promise on his part with entire completeness, God would be bound to fulfill the promise on his part. But the believer’s fulfillment of the terms of the covenant, in respect to faith in God’s promise, to prayer, to the nurture and education of the child, though filial and spiritual, is yet imperfect. God is, therefore, not absolutely indebted to the believer, by reason of the believer’s action, in respect to the regeneration of the child. Consequently, he may exercise a sovereignty, if he so please, in the bestowment of regenerating grace, even in the case of a believer’s child.

I'd want to check, but I think most Presbyterians I know would be unwilling to affirm this statement today.

Bert Perry's picture

This statement really sums it up for me as the root of the disagreement: 

The fact of unregeneracy, however, must be proved before it can be acted upon. 

Chew on that for a while.  More or less, the Presbyterian says to baptize (or sprinkle, or affuse)  and then sort out whether there is any faith.   The Baptist says to establish reasonable evidence of faith, then baptize.  The Presbyterian assumes that the promise that this is for the children means that they ought to be sprinkled; the Baptist points to the fact that repentance preceeds baptism in Acts 2. 

TylerR's picture

Briefly, it's always astounded me how Presbyterians don't see the distinction in membership between the Old and New Covenants. That's the heart of this presuppositional divide.

  • The Old Covenant was two-tiered, and had a mixed membership. The entry tier was for all Israelites (i.e. they're born into the covenant). You don't have to be a believer to be in that tier. The second tier (the only one that matters for eternity) was for believing Israelites and Gentiles who'd joined the community.
  • The New Covenant is only composed of regenerate individuals. This a major presuppositional reason why Baptists cannot and will not baptize infants. There is no Covenant membership for unregenerate individuals. Thus, infants cannot be baptized.

This is the issue. Presbyterians see a two-tiered parallel between the Old and New Covenants. I don't think you can show that this parallel exists.

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

JNoël's picture

TylerR wrote:

This is the issue. Presbyterians see a two-tiered parallel between the Old and New Covenants. I don't think you can show that this parallel exists.

Is this a potential pitfall of the interpretational methodology of covenantists?

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

G. N. Barkman's picture

Tyler, you have nailed it. 

Joe, please understand that there are many Baptists who hold similar views to Presbyterians in regard to Covenant Theology.  However, the baptism issue reveals the weaknesses in the pedo-baptist understanding, which weakness is addressed in the Baptist perspective.  (In my opinion.)  Much of the criticism of Covenant Theology on SI is criticism of pedo-baptist covenant theology, and doesn't necessarily apply to credo-baptist covenant theology.  It gets pretty complicated, but try to keep this distinction in mind.

G. N. Barkman

JNoël's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

Much of the criticism of Covenant Theology on SI is criticism of pedo-baptist covenant theology, and doesn't necessarily apply to credo-baptist covenant theology.

I meant no disrespect to any covenantist brother. It was just a comment regarding the manner in which a covenantist must interpret scripture to come to his conclusions that could lend itself to coming to paedobaptist conclusions as well. In other words, I'm asking if paedobaptists may be more likely to agree with a covenantist than with a non-covenantist, that's all.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

TylerR's picture

JNoel:

Just a note - I'm not at all certain a typical dispensationalist would argue the way I did. He'd be cagey about whether the New Covenant is here and now, and he'd argue on the basis of the Dispensation of the Church.

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

G. N. Barkman's picture

Jason,  I apologize for calling you "Joe."  I'm not sure why I thought your "J" was Joe.  I'm not aware of anyone today who goes by the term "covenantist," though I assume you are referring to those who hold to Covenant Theology.  (CT)  (After miss-using your name, I'd better not make too many more assumptions Smile

But yes, those who hold to CT usually also believe in infant baptism.  (pedo-baptism)  This doctrine is based almost entirely on CT.  In fact, many Presbyterians call it "Covenant baptism."  It equates circumcision, the sign of the Mosaic Covenant (Old Covenant) with New Covenant baptism.  Since circumcision was applied to infants to place them into the Old Covenant, they conclude that infants should now be baptized to place them into the New Covenant.  Tyler's first comment in this thread explains it well.

G. N. Barkman

John E.'s picture

As a reformed Baptist who is a covenantist (I've never heard that term either, but I'll own it), I encourage those who are interested in the differences between paedobaptist covenant theology and credobaptist covenant theology to start with David Kingdon's book Children of Abraham

JNoël's picture

I've read the word covenantist on various blogs and articles; I didn't coin the term, and it isn't mean to be disparaging. Just a convenient shortening of "covenant theologian," that's all.

Seems to make sense, anyway, since dispensationalists generally conflict with covenantists and the former have a name, so why not the latter?  Wink

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

John E.'s picture

I didn't take it as disparaging, just never heard it before. The word makes sense, though.

Andrew K's picture

A few things worth noting:

First, the article is arguing for a Presby/Reformed view of infant baptism. Keep in mind that there are actually a number of different theologies for the practice which are quite distinct: e.g., the Lutheran view approaching baptismal generation and RCC view of exorcising original sin. The lack of pedigree to P&R paedo theology is actually a well-known weakness to their arguments. (To be fair, one must mention that the near universal acceptance of paedobaptism from just after the apostolic era to at least 1100 AD is the Baptist embarrassment.)

Secondly, the early Baptists were not dispensationalists. They arrived at their conclusions via on a variant branch of Reformed Covenant Theology, the implications of which to them invalidated the practice. So it seems to me that if you draw too tight a connection between CT and paedobaptism, you (a Baptist?) are siding with the Westminster crowd against the original Baptists. You may be right, I'm not arguing that point at the moment. It's just kind of ironic.

TylerR's picture

Who needs historical theology when the New Testament is on our side!? Ha, ha ...

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Jim's picture

Three non-theological reasons against infant baptism [I was infant baptized]:

  • Anecdotally, I have met hundreds of people who were infant baptized and either:

    • Are outright vocally unbelievers OR
    • Are basing their salvation either in part or in whole on their baptism
  • Infant baptism is a choice made by another 
  • Adults have no memory of the event 

In contrast:

  • I have know hundreds of adults who were baptized [by immersion] as adults. I have never known one who bases his salvation (in whole or in part) on being baptized
  • In my own case, baptized by immersion, at the age of 20, it was a choice (that I agonized over for months) which I made
  • My memory of the event is very strong and significant!

I am generally opposed to child baptisms! This: http://www.capitolhillbaptist.org/ministries/children/baptism-of-children/

We believe that the normal age of baptism should be when the credibility of one’s conversion becomes naturally evident to the church community. This would normally be when the child has matured, and is beginning to live more self-consciously as an individual, making their own choices, having left the God-given, intended child-like dependence on their parents for the God-given, intended mature wisdom which marks one who has felt the tug of the world, the flesh and the devil, but has decided, despite these allurements, to follow Christ. While it is difficult to set a certain number of years which are required for baptism, it is appropriate to consider the candidate’s maturity. The kind of maturity that we feel it is wise to expect is the maturity which would allow that son or daughter to deal directly with the church as a whole, and not, fundamentally, to be under their parents’ authority. As they assume adult responsibilities (sometime in late high school with driving, employment, non-Christian friends, voting, legality of marriage), then part of this, we would think, would be to declare publicly their allegiance to Christ by baptism.

Bert Perry's picture

TylerR wrote:

Who needs historical theology when the New Testament is on our side!? Ha, ha ...

Or, given that I've heard a lot of paedo-baptist arguments making a parallel with circumcision, the Old Testament as well?  Or, perhaps the Old Testament more significantly than the new?  (would we then baptize only boys, and let girls do believer's baptism since they cannot be circumcised in the Mosaic way?)

CAWatson's picture

I'm a staunch, old-school Grace style dispensationalist and Baptist who doesn't use dispensationalism to argue for believers baptism. 

1. In the New Testament, baptism always followed belief. Baptism never preceded belief. 

2. For those arguing that baptism and circumcision are comparable, then I point to Romans 4:9-12. Abraham's circumcision occurred after, not before his faith. For Israel, circumcision was simply a sign of the Abrahamic covenant - an ethnic group. 

There are other arguments, but those two usually suffice. 

 

TylerR's picture

That's certainly a good way to proceed! My point (somewhere above) is that not all dispensationalists would use the Old Covenant membership vs. New Covenant membership angle to address the issue.

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

CAWatson's picture

Note:

I never used OC vs NC membership - I simply used the analogy. I don't have to make an argument for baptism being related to the NC. The New Testament never uses baptism language (which is possible without using the term "baptizo" or its permutations) in relation to the New Covenant (unless you try to redefine "baptism" with "rhontism"). 

G. N. Barkman's picture

Bert Perry pointed out that CT leans more heavily on the OT than the NT to support infant baptism.  If they would give the NT its intended superiority to inform New Covenant believers, infant baptism would wither.  But that points to another problem.  Dispensationalists also lean more heavily on the OT than the NT to support their theology.  If they would give the NT its intended superiority in informing New Covenant believers, much DT would also wither.  Just saying.

G. N. Barkman

TylerR's picture

Understood

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Bert Perry's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

Bert Perry pointed out that CT leans more heavily on the OT than the NT to support infant baptism.  If they would give the NT its intended superiority to inform New Covenant believers, infant baptism would wither.  But that points to another problem.  Dispensationalists also lean more heavily on the OT than the NT to support their theology.  If they would give the NT its intended superiority in informing New Covenant believers, much DT would also wither.  Just saying.

I was actually being lighthearted, but sounds like you've got more to say on this topic, perhaps in its own thread.  I'd like to read it at some point when you get a chance.  

(just sayin')  :^)

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