There is an inescapable irony to tell people that grace is irresistible and unconditional only to tell people that infants can’t be baptized because they aren’t old enough to meet the condition of showing that irresistible grace wasn’t resisted.
We see in this passage in Genesis 17:7 that God has always required the sign of the covenant to be placed upon those who dwell in the Household of God. In the Old Covenant, that sign … that mark … was circumcision. A bloody cutting of that agency which produces life. In the New Covenant, with all bloodletting being fulfilled by Jesus Christ, who was bloodily cut off as God’s agency which produces life, the sign of the covenant is now water which throughout Scripture speaks of life and purification.
An example of Baptist reasoning touching infant Baptism
A man who belongs to Christ
Charles Church objects.
The children of Reformed parents are Baptized with the presumption of charity as to their redemptive identity. This presumption of charity as to their redemptive identity is valid because God Himself has been pleased to open the womb of His redemptive people and provide a covenant seed for Himself. Thus children of Reformed parents are Baptized with the presumption of charity as to their redemptive identity. Reformed people Baptize their babies, not because they know that the babies are regenerate but rather on the basis of God’s command and promise. God’s promises are to us AND TO OUR CHILDREN, (Acts 2;39) and Christ commands for the Nations to be Baptized (Matthew 28) and as children are part of those Nations to be Baptized they are to be Baptized.
There is a key difference seen here Charles. Baptists do not baptize their children because they are operating with the presumption that their children are damned until those children are old enough to;
A.) Be old enough to not be presumed damned
B.) By offering up their ability to agree to God’s claim upon them from conception in exchange for God’s mark of ownership seen in baptism.Third, unlike Baptists, Covenantal Reformed do NOT hold to the doctrine of every member of a visible Church is automatically regenerate simply because they are members of the Church. We concede that there are within the visible Church those who are only administratively attached to the visible Church while others have the essence of what is promised by being marked by baptism into Christ’s and His body. As such, there is no claim on our part (unlike Lutherans) that Baptism itself brings regeneration.
Baptism is God’s claim of ownership wherein the expectation is found that said Baptized child will grow up yielding to love and commands of He who has claimed Him. However, just as all of Israel was not of Israel in the Old Covenant (Romans 9:6-7), so today not all of grown up Israel (the Church) is of grown-up Israel. Just as then some who would fail were rightly marked with the sign of the covenant so today some who will fail are rightly marked with the new covenant sign.Baptists presume that the babies born of Christians are born as belonging to Lucifer AND as God having to wait on their decision to claim Him before God can make a valid claim upon them without their consent.It really is a matter of priority. Baptists believe that the priority of claim of ownership moves from divine to human before the claim of Divine ownership upon man, as communicated in Baptism, can be allowed.Baptists are latent Arminians because they are requiring that their babies are able to bring something they can’t as babies bring (their verbal testimony of conversion) to Baptism in exchange for the sign of the covenant that age-accountable people can bring.
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
6 And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
7 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.
“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.
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.