There is a strong Baptist notion of individual salvation in many American churches (and the Baptist movement is surprisingly (or not surprisingly?) American, and relatively new in church history). This notion of individual salvation is interesting, because it is not a predominate theme in Scripture. It is not the primary means by which God brings His salvation to the world. I do not mean to say that God does not save individuals, He certainly can and He certainly does. However, God’s primary mode of operation, if you will, is through the family. This is one of the reasons we baptize children.
Don’t get me wrong now. I love my baptist brethren. And I know that many of them are seeking to honor Christ and glorify His name among the nations, but this does not mean we can’t talk about what divides us. Hopefully it makes us better Christians with deeper understanding of God’s Word. So, I carry on.
God is not just the God of Abraham. He is the God of Abraham’s sons and these sons are not random individuals, they are biological sons. He is their God because He is Abraham’s God. God made covenant with Abraham and all of Abraham’s descendants are incorporated into that covenant (Genesis 17). This covenant with Abraham is the same covenant we have through Jesus Christ (Galatians 3) a true, biological son of Abraham (Matthew 1).
It was Abraham’s faith that was counted as righteousness, and through his faith as head of his family, his family is welcomed into the covenant and they are given the covenant sign. The same is true in the New Testament, after all we do not have two Bibles with two separate covenants (or 7!) but we have one Bible and our God is not a God of confusion. When the heads of homes are counted righteous by their faith in Christ (like Abraham was) their families come with (Acts 10; 16:15, 33; 1 Corinthians 1:16). I would like to interject a side note here: if Baptists want to be biblical in their administration of baptism, where have all the household baptisms gone? One more side note: Abraham is a Christian (John 8:56; Galatians 3:8).
It is true individuals are baptized and that should not be surprising (Acts 8:26-40). We ought to rejoice and praise God that He is adding to His family! I want to look at one instance in the book of Acts where individuals are baptized. At Pentecost, when three thousand men are baptized at the Temple we are told that these men are faithful and devout Jews (Acts 2). These men are included in the covenant, their foreskins had been removed. These Jews, upon hearing that the Messiah had come and accomplished what God had promised in the Law and Prophets believed and they were given the covenant sign of baptism in the Triune God. Now, what do you think these men did when they got home? Did they try to shake conversion experiences out of their five-year old girls, repent, and ask Jesus into their hearts!?
If we follow biblical, covenant theology, these men most likely went home and brought their families to the church (the gathered body of saints) to be baptized and they included them in the fellowship and breaking of bread (Acts 2:42-47). “Kids! The time has come, the Messiah was raised from the dead! His name is Jesus the Christ, and we are Christians! God has done what He promised!” Is that odd to say? How do you think those three thousand Jewish men would have understood Peter when he said this, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself” (Acts 2:38-39)? They just had about 4,000 years of history where their children were included in the covenant with God and then Peter says, “the promise is for you and your children” and now all of sudden that means that children are excluded from the promises made in the Old Testament? Excluding children sounds odd when you read the Scriptures.
Listen here, “Mom and Dad are Christians because we committed to the Lord, but our babies are pagans. When they come of age they can be baptized and take communion (which don’t really do anything anyway). Until then, they will sit in God’s house, with God’s people, hearing God’s Word, but under no circumstances can we call them God’s people until they are regenerate (which we can’t prove because only God knows the heart).”
God promises His grace to a thousand generations. God builds His covenant on families. Our God is the God of Abraham (father), Isaac (son), and Jacob (grandson). He was their God even before they came out of the womb (Romans 9:10-12). Out of the mouth of babes His glory is confirmed (Psalm 8:2; Matthew 11:25; 21:16). And before we get all up tight about what God can and can’t do, remember that John the Baptizer had faith while he was yet in Elizabeth’s womb (Luke 1:41-45).
Here is what David has to say about it:
“Yet You are He who brought me forth from the womb;
You made me trust when upon my mother’s breasts.
Upon You I was cast from birth;
You have been my God from my mother’s womb” Psalm 22:9-10.