The Question Box

A Michigan reader reports that in a discussion group, the subject of infant baptism came up because they had just witnessed that sacrament in their church. Some wondered whether the wording of the form was too strong, since it seems to “imply that baptized children are saved at any age, since God does not negate His promises.” And because there are children of believing parents who have been baptized, but who do not walk in the way of the Lord when they are adults, should we not wait until they are adults to administer the sacrament?

It is important to remember when talking about the subject of baptism that we are dealing with a “sacrament.” And a “sacrament” is a sign and seal, a “sign,” because it “points to” something, and a “seal” because it “makes authentic.” As a sign, baptism points to the promise of God that affirms the washing away of sins through Jesus Christ, and as a seal, assures us that His promise is authentic. But the sacrament itself does not wash away sins. God lets us see in the sacrament what He lets us hear in His Word, and the purpose of that sacrament is to help us visualize through the use of water what God promises to us in His Word about the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Now what does God promise to us in His Word? The promise is spoken to Abraham as recorded in Genesis 17:7, “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee.” And then we read about the sacrament that was to accompany that promise, or to serve as a sign or token of it in verses 10 and 11, “This is my covenant which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee: every male among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of a covenant between me and you.And verse 12 indicates that the covenant promise extended even to the children, for God said: “And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every male throughout your generations . . . .”

It is evident from Scripture that God intended His covenant promise to be primarily a family promise. But that is not to say that every covenant-family member automatically is guaranteed salvation. The sacrament is not the “instrument” of salvation, but Jesus Christ is. It is through His sacrifice on the cross, His substitutionary atonement, that we have salvation. The sacrament is a sign which points to the promise of salvation which is the possession of all who believe in the Lord Jesus. We do not baptize anyone, infant or adult, as a “means” to salvation, but as a sign and seal of the promise that God made to those who are in His covenant.

To say that infant baptism should be rejected because there are examples of baptized children who have grown up never to walk in the way of the Lord, is hardly valid. Are there no examples of those who have been baptized as adults, who have later turned from walking in the way of the Lord? Surely there are; but we do not refuse to baptize any professing adults because of instances such as that.

Perhaps we get into trouble in our thinking about infant baptism because we sometimes read more into the sacrament than God intended. We identify it with salvation. And that is to make more of it than is in it.

God promises to be a God to us and our children after us, throughout our generations. That is a source of tremendous comfort and joy to believing parents, but also a tremendous responsibility. It means that we see our children as belonging to God, and that we deal with them as His, providing a covenant atmosphere for their nurture and development in home, church and school.

Oh yes, these covenant children must also acknowledge and accept these wonderful promises when they grow up, lest they become covenant breakers. That’s why a public profession of faith is required for communicant membership. But if on the basis of an anticipation of that not happening, we were to deny our children the sign and seal of covenant membership, we would be denying them something to which God says they have a right by birth. We ought to thank God for His gracious covenant, and pray for wisdom and strength to be able to carry out its accompanying responsibilities for ourselves and to our children.