The Pieces Fall into Place

(The following is a continuation of my journey from the life as a Southern Baptist pastor to life as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.)

When I last left you, I mentioned that I had taken some time to study with as open a mind as possible, the Biblical arguments for the baptism of the infants of believers. Question 95 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks: “To whom is baptism to be administered?” With the answer being, “Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him; but the infants of such as are members of the visible church are to be baptized.”  To the first part of the equation I quickly agreed, the other took some time, but the Biblical arguments eventually won me over.

After much study I came to the belief that the infants of believers are also to receive the sign and seal of baptism. Why, you may ask? First of all, because of the continuity of the covenant that God made with Abraham. We see the evidence in Galatians 3:7-9, as Paul says, the Scriptures “preached the Gospel to Abraham” that “all the nations would be blessed through him,” and Paul goes so far as to say that “it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” Thus, “Abraham and his seed” under the Old Covenant were to receive the sign and seal of the covenant which was physical circumcision. What did that sign represent? Much more than just many descendents and a “promised land,” for the Scriptures say in Romans 4:11 that Abraham received the sign of circumcision as the “seal of the righteousness that he had by faithafter he had believed. However, he was also to give that same sign to his infant sons on the eighth day after their birth, before they believed. (Gen. 17:9-14)

Under the Abrahamic Covenant the children were always involved in the life of the Old Testament “church.” For example, when Jehoshaphat gathered the people before the Lord the congregation included the wives and “little ones.” (2 Chron. 20:13) When a solemn fast was called in Joel 2:15-16, even the nursing infants were in attendance. Then, when the covenant sign was changed from circumcision to baptism (Math. 28:19-20, Acts 2:38-39, Col. 2:11-12) there was no command to stop giving the covenantal sign to the infants of believers. As a matter of fact, on the Day of Pentecost, Peter’s sermon included the covenant language that the promise was to the believers and “to their children, to as many as the Lord would call.” Of course, not everyone who received the sign in the Old Testament were true sons of Abraham for many did not believe, such as Ishmael and Esau, just as there will be those who receive the New Testament sign of baptism who will not believe. But, if those that have been baptized as infants believe in Christ alone for their salvation, then the promises signified by the sign will be theirs, and they will receive the “righteousness that is [theirs] by faith.” (Rom. 4:11) The Westminster Confession of Faith explains it so well:

 The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in his appointed time. (WCF:XVIII.vi)

Are there other reasons why the infants of believers should be baptized? Absolutely. There is also the probability that the household baptisms in the Book of Acts included infants. In Acts 16:15 Lydia and all her household were baptized (although the Scripture only speaks of her believing), as was the household of the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:33, and the household of Stephanas in 1 Cor. 1:16. We are also told that the “Covenant of Peace” will include the children (Isaiah 54) and in Jeremiah 31:31-34 that the new covenant is promised to those “from the greatest to the least.” Last of all, the entire Book of Hebrews was written to portray the superiority and graciousness of the New Covenant over the Old. Would the New Covenant be more gracious if it refused the covenant sign to the children of believers, while in the Old Covenant it was allowed? Jewish parents would have been horrified to have been told that a practice that had been a part of their lives for over 2000 years (the giving of the covenant sign to their children) had now been rescinded. Even our dear Baptist friends have begun in the last few decades to “dedicate” babies in their worship services (without any real Scriptural warrant, I might add) because they understand that the children of believers receive spiritual benefits that other children do not, such as being raised “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” hearing the Law and Gospel preached, being taught to pray, read the Bible, etc.

I must admit, in this short space I could not delineate all the reasons for the covenantal baptism of the infants of believers (because volumes and volumes have been written on the subject), but at least you have heard from my own lips (okay, word processor) the rationale why. So, yes my journey was long, and I realize there are those out there who still disagree (that’s all right, people have argued over this doctrine for centuries), but I hope you have seen that my journey into Presbyterianism has not been because I love and believe the Bible less…but because I, by His grace, love and believe the Bible (if possible) more. (To be continued…what about the mode of baptism?)

Advertisements

4 Comments

  1. Chuck Brawley said,

    July 29, 2009 at 5:04 PM

    Hi Clifton,
    Sorry I missed the first installment. Just read your second and found the journey to be interesting. I remember some of our talks about the issue of baptism at Morgan Mill. And as “brilliant theologians” as you and I are I’m pretty convinced that we’re not going to settle all the questions either. While I may not agree with you, I have a deep respect for your searching of the Scriptures and a confidence in the Holy Spirt to guide you in the direction He would take you. Thanks for the honest reflection. It helps me in my own journey. Becky and I love you and your family. We treasure the days we spent together in serving our Lord while in Morgan Mill and when you and Dixie came to Faith to lead us in our revival services. God bless.
    Your friend,
    Chuck Brawley

    • cliftonr said,

      July 29, 2009 at 5:20 PM

      I was so much smarter (and holier) back when I was 27 years old [Tongue planted firmly in cheek] at Morgan Mill. I’ve discovered that I am not near as smart as I once was…my only problem is that I don’t know where I am wrong theologically. If I knew, I would repent, and change. So I will just have to do my best to rightly divide the Word of Truth. Those days we spent at Morgan Mill will always be precious to me, and appreciate your friendship and serving with you in the Lord’s work. I am also thrilled that Grayson is doing so well with his implant. We will continue to pray for all of you as you live out your lives to the glory of God.

  2. Amanda Fowle said,

    August 17, 2009 at 6:52 PM

    I read this post with great interest, having grown up, as you know :-), Southern Baptist and now being Episcopalian. I found many of the same scripture and thoughts when I researched having my firstborn baptized as an infant. I do not know the ceremony surrounding Reformed Presbyterian baptism, but, as an adult Christian, I love the reminder of our own Baptismal Covenant at each baptism we witness (similar to receiving Holy Communion weekly, in my opinion) it is a refocusing reminder to us, sort like “rededicating” our lives to Christ, to use the term we would have used in SBC.

    • cliftonr said,

      August 18, 2009 at 12:10 PM

      Our larger catechism speaks to that same thought. It is a little lengthy, but it concerns what we call “improving our baptism:”

      Q. 167. How is our baptism to be improved by us?

      A. The needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others; by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein; by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace; and by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: