Recently, I was talking to a friend of mine from college who, like me, grew up as a Baptist. I was sharing with her that I am now an Anglican. She, as well as many of my friends have, asked me what are some of the differences between Anglicanism and Baptist teaching. While I want to continue to talk about the characteristics of Anglicanism in future blog posts, today I want to talk about infant baptism as a major practice. While I know for sure that not all my readers adhere to this teaching, I hope this blog post will shed some light on the subject so that even my readers who may disagree will have a better understanding of the reasoning for infant baptism.
There are no verses that explicitly say we are to baptize our babies. On the other hand, there are no verses that say that an individual who has grown up in a Christian home is to wait until a certain age to be baptized. So there is some omission on both sides. Infant baptism makes sense when we think in terms of covenants. Reading Romans 4 is important in understanding this issue. When God created the Abrahamic covenant, God established the practice of circumcision as a “seal” and “sign” of the righteousness credited to Abraham by his faith (Rom. 4:11). Scripture makes it clear that it was not the circumcision that saved Abraham, but rather his faith. However, this sign of faith was then performed on infant males to signify their being part of that covenant and of the people of God. If it was faith that saved Old Testament believers, why didn’t a boy have to wait until he expressed faith before receiving the sign? Bryan Chapell in his book “Why Do We Baptize Infants?” explains that the word “seal” in Romans 4 refers to the image of an author closing his documents with a seal to indicate the validity of what he had written. He says, “Just as a seal is the pledge of its author that he will uphold his promises when described conditions are met, so circumcision was God’s pledge to provide all the blessings of his covenant when the condition of faith was met.” When I was first reading about infant baptism, I thought, “What in the world does circumcision have to do with baptism?” I’ll explain. Scripture calls the Abrahamic covenant an “everlasting covenant” (Gen. 17:7), and Galatians 3 explains how we are the children of Abraham. Therefore, we today as Christians are part of the fulfilled Abrahamic covenant. The sign of the covenant, however, has changed. Circumcision required the shedding of blood, as many practices before Christ did. But Christ has shed His blood once and for all. He established the New Covenant, but Scripture teaches that the New Covenant does not do away with the Abrahamic covenant as it did with the old Mosaic covenant. In the New Testament, we receive the command to be baptized. Baptism has the same function as circumcision. Baptism is the sign of faith and as belonging to God. Yet with the all-fulfilling work of Christ, now all believers, not just males, could participate in the new sign, as we see women being baptized (Acts 16:15, 8:12).
With the changing of the sign, believers would naturally have wanted their children to receive that blessing as well. To go from commanding that infant males receive the sign to then forbidding children to receive the sign of the covenant would have been a radical change that most likely would have elicited much discussion and debate. Much of the epistles are devoted to refuting false teaching. Yet nowhere does Paul tell believers not to apply the sign of the covenant to their children. In addition, we see several examples of leaders of homes converting to the faith, then the members of their households receiving baptism as well (Acts 16:15 & 30-34, 18:8). In none of these instances is there a mention of babies being excluded.
Another example that, I believe, strengthens the argument for infant baptism is the beautiful picture we have of Jesus blessing the little children in Luke 18:15-17: “And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” Taking the words of Jesus here literally, it is hard to believe that He would forbid these “infants” from receiving the sign of the covenant.
As a final point, I think we should consider that the church has been practicing infant baptism for centuries. Recorded examples can be found as early as the second century. Believers baptism started to show up in the early stages of the Protestant Reformation, but those who practiced it were still in the minority. It was the Anabaptists in 1527, the predecessors of Baptists, who started to make believers baptism popular. Though the church has not been right about everything, longevity in the span of history should make us stop and consider the validity of a practice.
I never expected to change my firm belief that believers’ baptism was the only Biblical model for baptism, but the verses and arguments I have discussed in this post were strongly persuasive to me. However, I certainly understand the reasons for the position that does not adhere to this practice. I am thankful, that no matter which position a Christian may hold, we can still enjoy loving fellowship and unity within the body of Christ.