So, I was listening to a podcast, from an apologist I greatly respect, and he and I differ on baptism. He is a Reformed Baptist, and I am just plain ol’ Reformed. He made a comment about Presbyterian baptism, which I am just going to label paedobaptism throughout the rest of this. He wished not to engage in a debate about, so that is why I am not putting his name in here. What I desire, is not to spark a debate, but to clarify a position.
To summarize his understanding of paedobaptism: baptism of infants is a sign of a future hope. We baptize babies hoping in the future that baby will grow up and have faith in Jesus, essentially it is an empty sign, as he says. This is contrasted with his view of baptism, namely, that only those who exhibit faith are baptized (children and adults, but not infants).
I want to argue that his understanding of paedobaptism (what he referenced as Presbyterian baptism) is wrong. That is not the understanding of paedobatism from this plain ‘ol Reformed guy.
Here is my thesis: Reformed/Presbyterian folk baptize infants of the church because we believe that infants have faith. We never baptize anyone who does not trust Jesus.
Now, let me support my thesis with Scripture.
In 1 Corinthians 7:14, Paul informs us that children of even one believing parents is hagios, holy. The same word used for “saint” elsewhere in the New Testament. Paul says a child (which would undoubtedly include infants!) are saints, even if only one parent is a saint. Why is this? Is the infant covered by the faith of his mother? Or, is the infant a saint because he has his own faith? Another point to remember about this is covenant. The mother is a Christian, and covenantally her children belong to the church. This infant is a saint because of his faith and membership in the church.
How can an infant have faith? Well, that depends on how you define faith. For example, a Reformed Baptist would probably define faith as an intellectual assent to propositional truths. Like this, Propositional Truth: Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead to forgive your sins and grant you new life. Now, do you intellectually assent (agree and believe) that Truth? If yes, then welcome saint and be baptized. If no, then you’re still a pagan.
Now, I would like to offer a simpler definition of faith: trust. Faith is trust. Can an infant trust? Now, this question implies certain things. For example, this question implies that an infant can have a relationship. Well, can they? Does an infant trust his mother? Is there a relationship between a mother and child, or does that child have to grow up a bit more and intellectually assent to the propositional truth that his mother loves him? Well, most certainly not. Infants are relational beings, after all they are made in the image of the Triune God. Infants are capable of trust because they are persons.
So, back to the question: can infants trust God?
Well, what does the Bible say?
The covenant with Abraham, which is fulfilled in Jesus, is said to be given to children. Genesis 17:7 reads, “And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.” God’s promise is rather plain. He promises to make covenant with Abraham and Abraham’s children, see Acts 2:38-39.
So, then what do the children of Abraham, covenant children, say?
Psalm 22:9-10 informs us, ” But You are He who took Me out of the womb; You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts. I was cast upon You from birth. From My mother’s womb You have been My God.”
Which we must remember would be sung by all the people of Israel in the Temple, not just adults. Infants would have grown up listening to this song and singing it with their parents. This infant faith is seen as normative in the Bible, as seen throughout the songbook of the church. The children of Israel would have thought Amazing Grace sounded odd, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found. Was blind but now I see.”
They would say like David, “I’ve always been with my God because He has always been with me.”
Then there is Psalm 71:5-6, “For You are my hope, O Lord GOD; You are my trust from my youth. By You I have been upheld from birth; You are He who took me out of my mother’s womb. My praise shall be continually of You.”
Within the covenant people of God, it would begin to seem that infant faith is normative, not exceptional. In other words, it would be common to hear this testimony in the church, “Well, I have always been a Christian.” And we would all praise God for that most glorious grace.
And Psalm 139:14-15 says this, ” I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.”
This is covenantal language. C. John Collins suggests translating these verses like this would be better, “I praise You for the fact that I have been awesomely distinguished [that is, as a member of Your covenant people]; You works are wonderful, and my soul knows it well.” For God to distinguish someone or something is to covenantally set them apart (see Exodus 9:4). The Psalmist is certainly praising God for forming him in his mother’s womb, but also giving praise for the fact that he has always been a member of God’s covenant of salvation (See, C. John Collins, “Psalm 139:14 ‘Fearfully and Wonderfully Made?'”).
And in Psalm 8:2 we read this, ” Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength, Because of Your enemies, That You may silence the enemy and the avenger.”
This only makes sense if the babes in question have faith. What would God receive from an infant that was faithless? After all, whatever does not come from faith is sin (Romans 14:23). God receives the praises of covenant infant noises because they are saints, holy to the Lord, because they trust Him.
And don’t forget Psalm 127 (would faithless children be a gift or a reward?), Psalm 128 (would faithless children be olive plants of peace around the table of Christian parents?), and what Jesus has to say about children and infants in the Gospels, for example Matthew 18:1-14 and 19:13-15.
It would seem to be clear that from the biblical testimony of covenant infants, babies born in the church, that they do indeed have faith. This is why we baptize them, we believe what God says about them.
We do not practice infant baptism because we hope that one day they will have faith, rather we baptism them because we believe what God says about them, namely that they already have faith.
**After posting this blog it came to my attention that I should attribute the formulation of my thought pattern here to whom I owe much. If you would like to read a more robust exposition of children and faith, go and grab Rich Lusk’s book, Paedofaith. He has greatly helped me in this, and I owe much to his work.**