Covenantal Succession … Covenantal Nurture

It is the assumption of Scripture that infants are genuine members of the covenant.  That is the reason why in the text before us this morning parents are commanded to nurture their children in terms of Christian covenantal thinking.

There is no debate on that point when we consider the Old Testament. All concede that Circumcision was the sign and seal that indicated membership in the Covenant. It is only in the New Testament where we begin to find widespread and sometimes heated disagreement that NT infants, just as their OT counterparts, are to be branded with a brand that indicates that they are genuine members of the covenant. In the NT, so the reasoning goes of those who go their own way on this matter, infants are not members upon birth, of the covenant.

Of course, if those who demur with us on this point are correct this means that one of the purposes of Jesus death and resurrection was to the end that infants of covenant parents would be expelled from a covenant in which they had previously been a party too before the death and resurrection of our Lord Christ.  This is an odd way to think about a “New and Better” covenant.

Covenant succession merely holds that God’s general way of collecting the Church is via His gathering into the Church the children of His children.

Causes of the decline of Covenant succession

1.) Social Contract theory as applied to the Church

According to this understanding of social order theory long established in the Enlightenment West, each person is by nature an independent locale of sovereign self-authority,  having full legal capacity to act on their own behalf and so not subject to the authority of another. In this theory, each atomized individual is absolutely equal to every other atomized individual and so by sovereign “right” authorized to act upon his own determination.

With this theory, man’s natural liberty was held as being the privilege to do whatever he wanted to do.  In this theory man himself determines what shall be given up in order to live in civil society. Man, as the individual sovereign is everywhere supreme.

Well, you can see how this social contract theory, when adopted by the Church would lead to the idea that it is the individual man himself who does or does not consent to belong to this community of faith.

Whether as pertaining to a broader social order or as pertaining to the Church an objection must be raised to this theory that we believe has had such a baleful influence upon both the social orders of men and upon the Church of Jesus Christ.  Men have never existed as sovereign atomized individuals using their own sovereign free will to determine whether they will or will not be a party to a social contract or to being claimed by God in Baptism. Instead, men are born as members of peoples, as well as Churches as ordained by Him. So, just as men do not choose their own civic obligation but are born to it so men who are born to believing parents do not choose their belonging to the Church but are ordained by God to that end.

2.) Revivalistic Assumptions vs. Scriptural Assumptions

With the first great awakening as followed by the 2nd great awakening, the emphasis as it relates to speaking about conversion moved from the covenantal nurture of children in the covenant to having a dramatic personal emotional experiential encounter with Jesus.

Louis Bevins Schenk in his book on “The Presbyterian Doctrine of Covenant Succession writes,

“The presumption of regeneration in the case of children of the covenant, based upon the covenant promises, was largely displaced by the Church’s practice of recognizing as Christians only those who gave ‘credible evidence,” satisfactory to themselves of regeneration.”

This is the conversion mindset in which most of our churches think today. From evangelism programs like “Romans Road,” “Evangelism Explosion,” or the “Four Spiritual laws,” this is the contemporary Church’s understanding of how conversion occurs. Before this time the whole idea of “altar calls” that have become famous with Charles Finney, D. L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham would have been a curious phenomenon.

However, while never denying that God deals with some people like this — particularly those who come to Christ as adults — this isn’t the model that we find emphasized in Scripture as it pertains to covenant children. In Scripture, the parents are to lay hold of God’s promises that God will be God to us and to our children for a thousand generations and then are to train their children up in the faith in light of God’s promises. In this model, the whole idea of a dramatic conversion experience slips away in favor of covenantal nurture.

3.) Datable Conversionism vs. Covenant Succession Conversionism

Consistent with what was just mentioned the whole ascendancy of a datable conversion became the be all end all for much of the Church. The idea is that “every Christian knows the day they were ‘born again.'” This stands in contrast to the idea of covenantal succession where God

4.) The failure of Covenantal Nurture

And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:

And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.

Too often the cash value of baptism to many who are party to the contemporary Church is that they have kept their religious responsibility to their children. They have had them Baptized.

This is why the form distinctly says, in the charge we just read that parents

“must, therefore, use the sacrament for the purpose that God intended and not out of custom or superstition.”

While we are of the persuasion that in Baptism God has placed His claim upon us we are not of the persuasion that Baptism entered into apart from covenantal nurturing laid upon us as parents guarantee our child is right with God.

Listen to the 19th century Southern Theologian R. L. Dabney on this point,

The instrumentalities of the family are chosen and ordained of God as the most efficient of all means of grace—more truly and efficaciously means of saving grace than all the other ordinances of the church. To family piety are given the best promises of the gospel,.. How, then, should a wise God do otherwise than consecrate the Christian family, and ordain that the believing parents shall sanctify the children? Hence, the very foundation of all parental fidelity to children’s souls is to be laid in the conscientious, solemn, and hearty adoption of the very duties and promises which God seals in the covenant of infant baptism. It is pleasing to think that many Christians who refuse the sacrament do, with a happy inconsistency, embrace the duties and seek the blessing. But God gives all his people the truths and promises, along with the edifying seal. Let us hold fast to both.

~ R.L. Dabney

So, if we are to return to a time where covenantal succession is again the norm in our families and in our churches and among our people we must once again practice covenantal nurture. We must teach our children the Scriptures. We must catechize our children. We must anticipate and answer their objections before they have those objections that we know will arise. As we are teaching our children God’s judgments, statutes, and laws we must point out to them how the culture and too often the visible Church wars against those judgments, statutes, and laws. We must introduce our children to systematic thinking because there is nothing non-systemic and non-systematic in the thinking of God. We must dip and saturate our children in a Christian Worldview that they will see non-Christian worldviews as strange, exotic and ugly.  As parents, we must love them, and not provoke them. We must live out before them the majesty of God’s grace that has redeemed us for the sake of the finished work of Christ alone.

Some areas to keep an eye on in order to practice covenantal nurture,

a.) Protect your children from the culture,


The media is a messaging machine and that messaging is seldom based on a Christian world and life view. As such children need not be exposed to Media until they are far far older and have the ability, as coming from covenantal nurturing, to identify and sniff out the false theology behind the false messaging.

Neil Postman in his now classic work warning against the danger of modern Media wrote,

“But it is much later in the game now, and ignorance of the score is inexcusable. To be unaware that a technology comes equipped with a program for social change, to maintain that technology is neutral, to make the assumption that technology is always a friend to culture is, at this late hour, stupidity plain and simple.”

If we are going to practice covenantal nurture in hope of covenantal succession we must understand that technology is, as a rule, no friend of Covenantal succession.

Public Schools

“I am afraid that the schools will prove the very gates of hell unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures and engraving them in the heart of the youth.” ― Martin Luther

I am as sure as I am of the fact of Christ’s reign that a comprehensive and centralized system of national education separated from religion, as is now commonly proposed, will prove the most appalling enginery for the propagation of anti-Christian and atheistic unbelief, and of anti-social, nihilistic 4. ethics, individual, social, and political, which this sin-rent world has ever seen.

Dr. A.A. Hodge

b.) Protect your children from unexamined friendships

From the youngest of ages, it is your role to be the portal that all must pass through in order to get to your children.  You must be aware that other children of other families may not share the same Christian confession that you own. This means you must be sharp to watch out that friendships are not cemented with those who will, perhaps quite apart from malicious intent, challenge the truths that you are seeking to instill within your children from Scripture. You are seeking to nurture and disciple your children in the Christian faith. If you allow your children large swaths of “playtime” with other children — even other children from Christian homes of a different confessional stripe — you are courting a bad result in your efforts of covenantal nurture.

The Message of Covenantal nurturing

The message to our children that we must start with in terms of covenantal nurturing is that God provided Christ as the one who would fulfill all the law’s obligations as laid upon the sinful children of Adam and who would give to those same children the righteousness of Jesus Christ to those who would in faith rest in Christ’s righteousness alone as their acceptability to God.

The covenantal nurturing message to our children is that God is at war with unbelieving man and has reconciled Himself to unbelieving man by the finished work of Jesus Christ. It is only by the reconciling work of Jesus Christ in His work on the Cross whereby we and they can have peace and blessing with and from God.

We must nurture our children in the way of a faith that rests in Christ’s work alone in Justification but then also teaches them that in Sanctification their faith is to work as they turn to the law and to the testimonies for God’s word on how they shall live as Christians.

We must remind our baptized children that God’s claim is upon them and so they are to grow in the Christian faith. Our challenge is not that they might decide to become Christian but that they would know God’s eternal claim upon them and become what they have already been freely declared to be in Baptism.

We must nurture them to learning of God’s character. His Sovereignty, His Justice, His Wisdom, His Holiness, His Goodness, His Mercy, and His Grace.

We must nurture them to trust in God’s Word and God’s promises as opposed to their experiences, emotions, and mystical revelations. We must nurture them what it means to be a kind and caring people while at the same time warning them against the dangers of a suicidal altruism.

We must nurture them in the ways of taking godly dominion to every area the sovereign God calls them and of the great truth of our postmillennial hope.

We must nurture them in the truth that repentance is a life long project. But then that even our repentance needs repenting over. We must model before them a humility that seeks to shed every ounce of that ugly sin of self-righteousness. We must demonstrate to them what it means to not think more highly of ourselves than we ought and to consider not only our needs but the needs of others. We must pray that they will see us on our knees praying for Wisdom and that they will hear us honestly attest ourselves to as being not yet wise.

God grants us His grace for what parent could possibly think themselves sufficient unto such a calling?

But God is Faithful and being faithful we anticipate that even in all our failures with our children He will be to our seed and their seed the God who calls them to Himself.

Baptism Charge … Psalm 22:9-10

Psalm 22:8″Commit yourself to the LORD; let Him deliver him; Let Him rescue him, because He delights in him.” 9Yet You are He who brought me forth from the womb; You made me trust when upon my mother’s breasts. 10Upon You I was cast from birth; You have been my God from my mother’s womb.…

First, note here that the Psalmist emphasizes that the relationship between himself as an infant and His God was a relationship totally established by God.

“You made me trust when upon my mother’s breasts”

The Psalmist had a redemptive relationship with God from the time he was in the womb. And this was so because God made it so.

When we baptize infants it is not primarily about what the infant has done. In Baptism we are merely echoing the Psalmist that God owns our children from birth.

Some would contend that Baptism should not be done since babies cannot have faith and yet we find here the Psalmist saying that He was made to trust when upon His mother’s breast. Clearly, if God’s revelation says that the child upon His mother’s breast trusted God, then who are we to say that such an infant trust is impossible?

But the idea of infant trust or faith is not as ridiculous as Baptists and others like to make it sound. The reasoning goes that since infants can’t trust … can’t “have faith” therefore infants should not be baptized until they can trust and can have faith.

Before unraveling this line of thought do keep in mind again that Baptism is not primarily about our actions. Baptism is about God’s actions and God’s claim upon us and our children. To argue that we should not Baptize our children because they don’t understand is like arguing that we should not give our children’s names because they don’t understand.

Having said that, we would contend however that children can have faith, can trust, and do understand. Observe the newborn who knows his mother’s voice. If an infant knows and trusts the voice of His parents and finds security in that voice and in that presence why would we think it impossible that an infant knows and trusts His covenant King?

Now, as that child grows their trust will increase as they get to know the parents but what grows must first exist in seed form. It is just so with a child’s trust in God. The child who was made to trust God upon His mother’s breast will grow in that trust of God as the years fall away.

Baptism of infants merely recognizes this reality. Baptism demonstrates that God’s claim on us is always prior to our claim on Him. Further, infant baptism does no violence to the idea that salvation is by faith alone. The God who makes us to trust upon our Mother’s breast is the God who works in infants that very real trust. God doesn’t need our expanded capacities of understanding in order to work “trust” in us. God doesn’t need for us to be older in order to be saved by faith alone. All of our experience should teach us that the passage of years most certainly does not automatically make one a riper candidate to put faith in God. Indeed, as Trust in God only happens in people who are resurrected from being cognitively and spiritually dead in their sins it seems altogether appropriate to say that Babies are prime candidates to be made to put their Trust in God from their mother’s womb and so be Baptized.

Let’s look at this infant Baptism from another angle. Nobody, I know of, argues that since infants cannot understand their parents therefore, their parents should not speak to them. When the baby is fussy, the mother will make a promise saying, “I’ll be there in just a second honey.” The mother understands that at some level her child intuitively understands. Well, in Baptism God is speaking to His and Our babies.

We might speak promises to our babies such as,

“Mommy will be there to change your diaper in a second,” or,
“Just be patient a second, and I will feed you,” or,
“I know, you’re so tired, I will put you down for a nap in just a second.”

In the Waters of Baptism God is similarly speaking His promises to His covenant seed,

“I shall be your God…”
“Lo, I am with you always,”
“I will never leave you nor forsake you,”
“Nothing shall separate you from the Love of God.”

Would any of us dare tell either a Mother or God that she or He is silly for talking to babies who don’t understand? Of course we wouldn’t and yet that is precisely what those who deny God’s sign of the covenant to His and Our babies are saying at some level.

“Those babies can’t understand, so why bother giving them the sign of the covenant?”

And yet the Psalmist contradicts such people by saying,

“You made me trust when upon my mother’s breasts. 10Upon You I was cast from birth; You have been my God from my mother’s womb.…”

And one wonderful thing about a Baptism service is that we hear again God lisping to us as Adults those same fundamental truths that He coo-cooed to us when we were babies. Though now we are advanced in years, and perhaps a little beaten up by the wear and tear of life, we hear again those delightful and soul-stirring promises as they are spoken to another generation….

“Fear not, for I am with you little flock.”

Of course, this is only the beginning of the Baptismal journey. As the years pass the children are to be spoken to repeatedly throughout their lives of God’s promises. These promises are to be spoken to them by their parents at every turn, and they are to be spoken to them by Word and Sacrament Lord’s Day by Lord’s Day. They are to be trained to continue to Trust in the God who made them to Trust Him. Baptism is not a magical talisman that relieves us from attending to a diligent usage of God’s means of Grace. Baptism is that first Grace that anticipates all future grace.

For those who deny infant Baptism, if I could I would awaken in you how backward a Christian faith it is that insists that a man must be old enough to appeal to God before God can claim a man in Baptism I would. But, alas, I do not have that capability. Only God can teach you that.

A Small Case For Infant Baptism

As we consider Baptism we are reminded that the Church does not extend Baptism on the basis of our ability to see with certainty that all who receive the sign of Baptism receive the thing signified. With adults whom we baptize we have no certainty that their confession is legitimate … still we baptize adults on the basis of God’s command and promise. Those who want absolute certainty can never dispense any sacrament to anybody. We likewise baptize our children on the basis of God’s command and promise and not on the basis of our ability to do what only God can do and that is to know with certainty the elect vs. unelect status of the one coming for Baptism.

Still, having said that we are likewise confident that those who receive the sign of Baptism and never repudiate, by word or action in a sustained direction, God’s covenantal seal, are saved because of God’s faithfulness to His covenant.

Having said that by way of introductory comments let us examine some of what the Scripture teaches on Baptism.

1.) First of all, we need to overcome our astonishment over the fact that the New Testament nowhere explicitly mentions infant baptism. In point of fact it would be unusual if infant baptism would have been explicitly mentioned in the NT since the ancient frame of mind was covenantal. People seldom make a point of droning on and on about that which is obvious and which everyone knows and in the ancient world everyone knew that God dealt with families covenantally — God’s household had always included children. The astonishment does not lie in the fact that the NT nowhere explicitly mentions infant baptism. The astonishment should lie in the fact that the NT nowhere explicitly mentions that the children are no longer partakers of the covenant and recipients of God’s promises until reaching some magic but undetermined age of discretion.

Another reality we must take into consideration here is that with the NT we have the age of the collection and expansion of the Church come of age. Jesus told his disciples to disciple the Nations and we would expect to find that in that first generation those who would be first discipled and Baptized would be adults, and so of course it is adults that we find first mentioned as Baptized, yet still with hints about the inclusion of children.

There is another astonishment factor here and that is if the current popular view is correct we should be astonished that there is no record in the NT of adult children of previously baptized adults being Baptized.

2.) In the OT the sign of the covenant was circumcision. According to Colossians 2:11-13 this circumcision, having fulfilled its function as a bloody rite that was indicative of Christ’s bloody sacrifice, gives way to Baptism as the non bloody sign of the covenant. In Colossians 2 St. Paul is not mixing his metaphors when he seamlessly glides between circumcision and Baptism.

11 In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:12 Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;

St. Paul seamlessly glides between these two because he understands that there is a relation between the two of them as there is a relation between shadow and fulfillment. Circumcision was the shadow covenant sign that, with its bloody rite, pointed towards Christ but Christ having come, the bloody rite gives way to a water rite that points back to the cleansing Christ accomplished via the spilling of His blood. It was the Lord Christ Himself who ordained Baptism as the covenantal rite of membership.

Because of St. Pauls language here, as well as the way the rest of the NT speaks, we see it as legitimate to speak of Baptism as God’s means by which He cures us of sin. Men are born sinners, bent on insisting that he is the creator of meaning and that all reality must orbit with him as the center. Men, apart from Christ, are bent. They are rebellious and selfish. God offers Baptism as the cure to this wound in man that will bring man back to his senses. Such a statement is not meant to diminish the importance of regeneration, faith, and conversion, it is merely to note the Baptism is the objective marker which proclaims these elements of the ordo salutis. When we Baptize our children we are proclaiming that we agree with God that they are sinners. When we baptize our children we are agreeing with God that our children can only find the cure for sin in God’s provision.

3.) Note in the Colossians passage that there is an objective subjective nexus which we often speak of here. Objectively the cure for our sins is the cutting off (Circumcision) of Christ. When Christ was cut off God’s elect were saved. However, that salvation was made existential to them when they were baptized and so that salvation provided for them, in the death of Christ, is applied to them in Baptism and so they are saved. It is fascinating that here the “forgiveness of sins” is connected both to Christ’s Objective work on the Cross AND to a Baptism conveyed in space and time to each one of the saints. Because this is true, for the rest of our lives, we look back through our Baptism in order to see our death and resurrection with Christ. When we are beset with temptation we remember our Baptism. When we desire to grow in Christlikeness we talk about “improving our Baptism.” When we attend a Baptism service we are reminded again that we have been marked as the people of God eager for good works. When we see the consecrated water we are reminded that we were regenerated by the washing of the Word.

Baptism communicates Christ. It is not merely so much water and a mental recalling of what Christ has done. It is, in God’s ineffable ordination, the work of Christ come to us for the washing away of sin.

4.) Because in the Colossians passage there is such a seamless gliding between OT circumcision and NT Baptism we become convinced that those who received the sign of the covenant in the OT ought to be the same who receive the sign of the covenant in the NT. In the OT children were recipients of the sign of the covenant — circumcision. In the NT likewise it should be the case that children are included in the household of God.

Paul uses this phrase, “The Household of God” in Ephesians and we would only note that God’s household in the OT was always busy with children and there is nothing that would indicate that God’s household in the NT is now bereft of children.

5.) We would note there that the seamlessness between circumcision and Baptism is not the only indicator that children as members of the covenant should be given the sign of the covenant. We need to remember that the covenant is the means by which God in space and time connects the invisible elect to the visible Church. The covenant has always been the means by which God collects His elect into the Church and God does so in a very concrete and organic way. This covenant that God has ordained to be the means by which the elect are gathered into the visible Church has never been established by means of collecting a set of abstracted individuals. Throughout time God has collected His Church through the channels of family. As the family belonged to God, so the children of that family belonged to God. The covenant embraced children not just for the sake of their person as isolated, but instead as connected to their families as considered historically as “the people of God.” When we delimit Baptism as belonging only to atomistic individuals we delimit the organic interconnectedness of the one people of God in their generations throughout time and space. When we delimit Baptism as belonging only to atomistic individuals we testify against the faithfulness of God to a thousand generations.

On this score Dutch theologian Bavinck could offer,

“Specifically the children are regarded in their connection with their larger family. There is a kind of communion of parents and children in sin and misery. But over against this, God has also established a communion of parents and children in grace and blessing. Children are a blessing and heritage from the Lord (Ps. 127:3). They are always counted along with their parents and included with them. Together they prosper (Exod. 20:6; Deut. 1:36, 39; 4:40; 5:29; 12:25, 28). Together they serve the Lord (Deut. 6:2; 30:2; 31:12–13; Josh. 24:15; Jer. 32:39; Ezek. 37:25; Zech. 10:9). The parents must pass on to the children the acts and ordinances of God (Exod. 10:2; 12:24, 26; Deut. 4:9–10, 40; 6:7; 11:19; 29:29; Josh. 4:6, 21; 22:24–27). The covenant of God with its benefits and blessings perpetuates itself from child to child and from generation to generation (Gen. 9:12; 17:7, 9; Exod. 3:15; 12:17; 16:32; Deut. 7:9; Ps. 105:8; and so forth). While grace is not automatically inherited, as a rule it is bestowed along the line of generations. “For the infants of believers their first and foremost access of salvation is the very fact of their being born of believing parents.”

6.) The idea of Baptism for children is given credence by the way that Jesus speaks of and interacts with children. Despite the fact that Israel is rejecting Christ, the Lord Christ continues to speak of the children of the children of Israel as belonging to the covenant (Matt. 18:2ff.; 19:13ff.; 21:15–16.; Mark 10:13ff.; Luke 9:48; 18:15ff.). The Lord Christ calls the children to himself, embraces them, blesses them, lays hands on them, tells them that theirs is the Kingdom of heaven, insists that adults must become like children to enter into the Kingdom, warns adults of the consequences of offending his little children, tells us that their angels watch over them, and receives the Hosannas of the Herald children as fulfillment of prophecy. The Lord Christ connects children to the covenant in all of this and yet we are to believe that children should be abused by not giving them the sign of the covenant?

Now couple that observation with the observation that in the book of Acts the Jews complain bitterly about Gentiles coming into the Kingdom without Circumcision and yet we hear not a peep in the book of Acts from anybody complaining about the idea that their children, who for generations received the sign of the covenant and so were members of the covenant, are no longer to be regarded as members of the community of God. Never has a argument from silence screamed so loudly.

7.) Reading the NT corpus we understand that the covenant of Grace established with Israel remains in essence the same though its outworking is altered slightly with the reality come in Christ. The Church has superseded Israel as the people of God with God as their Father. Here we find the theme of organism again. The Church is Temple, it is a body, it is a household. And here we pause briefly at the idea of household.

Repeatedly in the NT we find the fact that Households were baptized (There are specific references to household baptisms in the New Testament. See Acts 10; 16:15, 33; 1 Cor. 1:16). We readily concede that children are NOT specifically mentioned in those Baptisms, but even in the light of that concession we still glow about how the household Baptisms scream for inclusion of God’s children. As long as household baptisms were pursued it really is irrelevant whether or not children were present in those Baptisms since what Household Baptisms communicates is that on the principle of household Baptism if children had been present they would certainly have been concluded. Even with the Lord Christ we find Zacchaeus believing and our Lord saying, “that salvation has come to his house (Luke 19:9).” Note … not just to Zacchaeus but to his house.

When we consider all this we now can hear Acts 2:39 with different ears. “The promise is to you and to your children and to all who are afar off whom the Lord our God shall call.”

Recapitulation In Matthew & Baptism Insights

The Gospel of Matthew gives us a great deal of recapitulation of the OT wherein Jesus is the Faithful Israel that answers to unfaithful OT Israel. One such example is the Baptism of our Lord Christ.

Just as Israel was led by Moses and had to go through the water at the Exodus to enter the the promised land, and just as the second generation had to do the same thing at the Jordan River under Joshua’s leadership, as a miniature second exodus, so again, now that Israel’s restoration is imminent, as led by one who is greater than both Moses and Joshua, true Israelites must again identify with the water and their anti-type prophetic leader in order to begin to experience true restoration and entry into the new creation.

And so, like Moses and Joshua, Jesus and His people are Baptized as on the cusp of entry into a new Kingdom.

Of course this has implications for the Church. Clearly Moses and Joshua and God’s people with them, were not immersed in their Baptism but rather they went through the water without going under the water. This would give strong circumstantial evidence that Jesus Himself was not immersed but as a true Israel passing through the Red Sea and later the Jordan was sprinkled. If this continuity holds this means that immersion is not Biblical as a mode of Baptism.

Another implication, if this observation about recapitulation is true, would be that Adult only Baptism (as practiced by Anabaptists) is also not Biblical. As infants and children were participants in those OT Baptisms of Moses and Joshua, together with all of God’s people, so this would mean that infants and children today should be identified with the Baptism of Christ just by virtue of belonging to covenant member parents.

A Short Rational For Infant Baptism

We baptize our children in obedience to the great Commission.

In Matthew 28:18-20 Christ commands us to Baptize the nations (the Greek word is ethnos Literally peoples). He who commands all Peoples to be baptized also commands infants to be Baptized; for a command concerning a group includes all those who fall in that group (genus – species). The design of Christ in the Great Commission is to teach the manner of collecting and conserving the Church in the World until the end of time and to prescribe that manner to the apostles and their successors. Now as the Church that the Apostles are being called to collect and conserve consists of infants as well as adults (that is the way it had always consisted and there is absolutely nothing anywhere in any text that reverses this paradigm) so that manner that Christ is teaching them in building the Church has reference to both adults and children, but according to the condition of each: that adults newly entering into the Covenant should be taught before they are Baptized, while infants should be Baptized as covenanted and Christian, and afterwards be taught in their own time.

If an objection is placed here that discipling of the Peoples precedes the Baptizing of Peoples we would observe that Christ speaks of discipling and teaching here first since a primeval Church among Gentiles would by necessity be first a collection of adults, therefore naturally discipling and teaching precedes baptizing, just as those strangers and aliens coming into the Covenant Community in the Old Testament would have been discipled and taught before they were circumcised. The goal then of the Gentiles entering into the Covenant as Covenanted parents wasn’t to get their seed to accept Christianity, rather their goal was to teach their children that they were Christian that they might not reject their covenant identity, conceding that if they fully and finally reject Christianity (a thing that by all rights should be uncommon among those trained in the Covenant) then their children were Gentile seed but not God’s seed (consider Esau).

The distinction and concession underscores the reality that Salvation is always by Grace and not Race while at the same time maintaining that because of Grace, Grace often runs in familial lines (Deuteronomy 7:9).

We believe that in the Great Commission passage when Christ lays the emphasis on All Nations He is doing so to firmly implant in Jewish thinking that the Gospel is not solely a Jewish concern. In this way our Lord makes clear that the Gospel is no longer provincial and in issuing the order unto Baptism we see a new sacramental sign given by our Lord Christ to replace the Old Covenant sign of Circumcision, just as He earlier gave His table as a sign of the New Covenant to replace and fulfill the old covenant sign of the Passover. The Great Commission underscores that the Church is no longer primarily Jewish. This New thing is given a new sacramental sign to replace and fulfill circumcision (a new sign for a new covenant). But the Church is not told to exclude its children and here in Matthew 28 is the place where by all rights that should have been said if it was going to be said.

We notice also in the Great Commission that Jesus, having now all authority in heaven and on earth, institutes a new covenant sign. Jesus commands that Baptism would be the new sign of the covenant. The former sign had been the blood rite of circumcision but now with the shedding of Jesus blood, all blood rites of the old covenant had been fulfilled and the new covenant would be marked by a bloodless rite that pointed to washing away of sins that only the blood of Jesus could effect. Note the continuity between the signs though. Both covenantal signs pointed and point to the establishment of a proper legal standing and relationship with God where sins have been removed and peace has been promised. In the old covenant if you were circumcised you were marked out as belonging to God. In the new covenant if you are Baptized you are marked out as belonging to God. However there are some other continuities we should note here. In the old covenant the sign of the covenant was to be placed upon the infants of the parents who belonged to the covenant.

Genesis 17:7 I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your [f]descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your [g]descendants after you. 8 I will give to you and to your [h]descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”

9 God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your [i]descendants after you throughout their generations. 10 This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your [j]descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your [k]descendants. 13 A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”

This requirement that the covenantal sign was to be placed upon the infants of God’s people was never rescinded when we get to the New Testament. In light of the New Covenant we have an alteration of the sign by the one who has all authority in heaven and earth but we do not have a alteration of who are members of the covenant. We do not have an exclusion of infants from the covenant.

In point of fact the circumstantial evidence from the NT points in favor of infant Baptism. Throughout the NT we have repeated references to Household Baptisms.

There are five household (oikos) baptisms in the New Testament(Cornelius’, Acts 10:48; Lydia’s, Acts 16:15; the Philippian jailer’s, Acts 16:31; Crispus’, Acts 18:8; and Stephanus’, 1 Cor. 1:16). These five household baptisms illustrate a principle seen throughout Scripture that, the blessings of Salvation fall upon the entire household when the blessings fall upon the head of the household. This is due to covenantal inclusiveness, a principle that we find throughout Scripture. This principle teaches that the children go with the parents.

Now, it is true that in none of the household Baptisms of the NT do we find an explicit mentioning of infants being baptized. This can not be denied. However, even if we were to concede that no infants were involved in these household Baptisms it would make little difference to the support that Household Baptisms in the NT give to infant Baptism the credibility as that which is consistent with the mind and revelation of God since the Household Baptisms of the NT teach us that if there had been infants in those households they would have been baptized along with all the other members of the household. The Household Baptisms, by definition, were inclusive of all who made up the Household and even if their were no infants in the NT Household Baptism examples, if there had been infants, they would have been baptized as part of the Household.

This idea that in Christianity the children go with the parents brings us to another reason why we Baptize our children.

We have to understand that in a Biblical approach to Christianity God calls and claims not only individuals but families. We believe that Baptism clearly communicates the Scripture’s teaching that our children are born sinners and that they need the promise that Baptism signifies and seals, to wit, the cleansing of sin. We believe that to suggest that our children, only when they become “age accountable sinners” should be baptized is akin to saying that in the OT only alien and strangers could become part of the Covenant community and not the children themselves until they were old enough to think of themselves as being aliens and strangers.

And so we believe with Scripture that whenever God made covenant with man He always included the children of whom He made covenant with in that covenantal arrangement.

We see this in the Great Commission text where the Disciples are told to

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you [f]always, even to the end of the age.”

We, as Americans, tend to think more in terms of the individual and not the family. But God’s word teaches us to think in terms of families of men. We see this in our evangelism. There was a time when Evangelism sought to convert people group by people group. When Missionaries would go to make disciples of all nations they would seek to gain an audience with a tribal chieftain or a Person of influence and standing. If that person converted then the whole people group would convert. Today, we no longer think that way. We think in terms of the individual and so thinking in terms of the individual we focus on getting individuals saved. We have forgotten that while God does deal with the individual (in the NT account we have two examples of individuals alone be baptized — the Ethiopian eunuch and Saul of Tarsus. ) He also deals with families.

God’s claim is on family units. God is so gracious that He saves us with our children and their children and their children’s children to a thousand generations. And the fact that we actually see so little of that in our families today does not call into question God’s faithfulness to His promises so much as it raises other uncomfortable questions.

God’s claim is on family wholes. The devil, being a pretty good theologian himself and knowing this, attacks the family unit as an assault on God and His truth and His people. Destroy the family, and you will weaken the Christian faith. Destroy the Christian faith and you will weaken the family. One way to do both is to deny the waters of Baptism to children born to Christian parents.

Finally, for this morning’s purpose we would say that God has us Baptize our children for the same reason that we name our children. When we name our children we don’t reason,

“Well, they ought to have some input on what they will be named. After all, they are going to carry this name with them forever. Therefore, we will not name this child until the child reaches an age of name ability and then can agree or disagree to their name.”

No, these children belong to us and so we name them.

In the same way God names us in Baptism and doesn’t wait for us to reach a certain age in order to agree or disagree. This naming that happens in Baptism is God’s work and not ours. In Baptism He marks and names us as His own and He does so with infants because He has somewhere marked and named a whole family line as His own.

He’s God … it is one of the perks of being divine.