OUR POSITION ON BAPTISM
We believe baptism signals and seals not salvation, but entrance into the covenant community. We are agreed with our Baptist brothers: baptism is not salvific! However, because we believe baptism signals covenant community entrance, at Sojourn Galleria, we believe baptism, like its Old Testament counterpart circumcision, is for believers and their children. We like to call them covenant children, not unbelievers, and to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, praying and living such that we see them place their faith in Jesus Christ from an early age. There is a distinction between children of believers and children of unbelievers (1 Corinthians 7). That much is clear. Circumcision marked that under the old covenant. Baptism marks it under the New (Colossians 2:11-12).
Among our family of Sojourn Churches, and because we see this as an important but secondary or “open-handed” issue (among which Bible-believing, faithful Christians disagree), this works out to look like some of our churches baptizing believers and their children and some baptizing professing believers only. For example, Sojourn Heights is a credo-baptist only congregation. But some of their members have children and are paedo-baptist. They are free to worship with us on a baptism Sunday and ahve us baptize their children, with all the attendant vows to both parties. Some members have done this. Some elders have done this. We can because we are a family of churches. Our family can make vows for the larger Sojourn Houston family. Beautiful really.
We also dedicate children of believers who are members and are not convinced by the paedo-baptist position. We are glad to do this because it is an open-handed issue. We would different from a denominationally Presbyterian church in this way.
READ HERE For sermon NOTES PREPARED by Pastor TAYLOR Ince
We want to be a church that unites rather than divides on this issue.
- It’s not clear in Scripture. Both sides (Paedo-baptist, "paedo" meaning child in Latin, who baptize babies of believing parents and belivers, and credo-baptist, "credo" meaning believe in Latin, who baptize believers only) think their positional Scriptural. Without having to agree with the other position, we need to respect the fact that folks hold to it not because they blindly follow their church tradition (some do) but because they are convinced by Scripture of that position.
- While very important, this is not a hill to die on. We should be willing to die for other issues: God as Trinity, the full divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ, his fully atoning sacrifice for our sins on the cross, his physical resurrection from the dead, the perfection, purity, and divine authority of the Scriptures, and so on, but not whether infants of believing parents may be baptized. I’m 70/30 here, maybe 80/20. If I get to heaven and God tells me I was wrong here, I won’t be "gobsmacked.” If he tells me I was wrong on who Jesus is and what he came to do, I’ll say “Okay Satan, out of the way. Where’s my Father?” Let’s have some humility here.
What baptism is and what it is not:
- Baptism is not salvific. John Sartelle: “Baptism does not save the child any more than it does the adult” (23).
- Baptism is a sign and seal of salvation, the salvation once for all accomplished by Christ and enjoyed by believers and their children. To use a metaphor, children of believers are brought into the penumbra of the salvation wrought by Christ and enjoy many of the benefits therein, being drawn by the grace of God in Christ through the presence of His body, the Church, into that salvation in which we stand. We who are saved and are being saved hope, pray, and work toward this with confidence in God’s grace and the power of His Holy Spirit to move our children from the death of sinners to the life of saints in Christ.
- Baptism symbolizes purification from sin. Most of all, an identification or union with the Life of God through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is union with God in Christ, therefore, that is the focus of baptism, not merely a washing away of sins, important and essential as that is.
I will lay out both cases, the paedo-baptist position and the credo-baptist position. These are by no means exhaustive.
Credo-baptism (or baptizing believers only) I don’t hold to this position and we are not in a land where this needs to be argued; so I’ll be extra brief here.
It seems to be the clear command of Scripture and of our Lord Himself. It was the last thing he said to his disciples before his ascension: " And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit... (Matthew 28:18-19)” Note the order: (1) make disciples (2) baptizing them. The implication here is that only disciples are baptized. That is, first someone is made a disciple of Jesus. He or she is then baptized in the name of the Triune God as a sign of that discipleship, that new life. To put it negatively, you don’t baptize then disciple. You disciple then baptize.
Water and mode of baptism usually figure into this argument. John baptized in the Jordan River. So did Jesus. Jesus Himself was baptized in the Jordan River. They went down into the water and came up out of it. In the Old Testament Namaan the Syrian was cleansed of his leprosy in the same way. This is “adult only” activity. At least, it does not seem fit for infants. Grown (and believing) children, teenagers, and adults can easily follow this example and get fully submerged into water and drawn out of it. Infants really cannot. This seems to confirm the clear command of Jesus to baptize disciples, not babies of believers. And it seems to confirm the clear meaning of the Greek word for baptize, “baptizo”. It means to immerse or submerge, not dip or sprinkle. (This is heavily contested. It is argued on many sides that baptizo and related words (bapto) can mean anything from submerge to dip to sprinkle).
Related to the water point above, it seems like total immersion as as symbol better represents the reality it stands for: buried with Christ in baptism (down in the water), raised to walk in newness of life (raised out of the water, of death).
Finally, to prove to you that I am not trying to set up a straw man, and for a bit of levity before the infant-baptist “plunge” (pun intended), let me read to you the TOC of a book I have entitled “Should Infants Be Baptized?”, original title “Baptism Not for Infants”: Chapter 1: Did the Jews baptize infants? (the implied answer to this and all other “question” titles is a manifest “no”). Chapter 2: Did John baptize infants? (No.) 3: Did Christ baptize infants? 4: Did Christ order the baptism of infants? 5: Did the Apostles baptize infants? [skip a few chapters] Second to last chapter: Infant baptism is retrogression. Last chapter: The evils of infant baptism.” Strenuous arguments against infant baptism as right Christian practice exist aplenty! And well they should, if indeed the arguer believes the practice cuts against the clear dictates of Scripture. I do not believe this, as I will now make clear.
Paedo-baptism (or baptizing believers as well as the infants of believers) I do hold to this position and it is much less understood and under greater fire “in these parts”; so I’ll trot through a few more reasons than with the credo-baptist case.
The covenant. Bill Clinton had a famous phrase “It’s the economy stupid!” Let me tweak (and sanitize) that for my purposes and say “It’s the covenant silly!” The first and strongest, most over-arching reason for paedo-baptism is covenant, the word God has given to His people to make them a people and keep them for Himself at ultimate cost to Himself.
Protestants hold to two sacraments (compared to Roman Catholics who have 7) - baptism and communion. The first is once for all, the second is continual. Both are new expressions of Old (Testament) events. Communion is the new covenant fulfillment of Hebrew Passover, where the innocent lamb is slaughtered and consumed by fire so we can live. That lamb pointed to Jesus. Baptism is the new covenant fulfillment of circumcision, where life comes from a place of death. Under the Old Covenant, circumcision was the expression God told his people to embody to convey this truth: they were a people God made to live at the place of death, of cutting, of blood, of casting away. This too pointed to Jesus. Under the New Covenant, whereby Christ fulfills the Old (rather than abolishing it), baptism is the expression God told his people to embody to convey this truth: they are a people God made to live at the place of death, of cutting, of blood, of casting away, and now too of being submerged under the curse of death: all this points to our life through death at the cross of Christ. Crucified with Him, we rise to a new kind of life. Paul makes this connection explicit in Colossians 2: 11-12 and even equates circumcision and baptism: In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
John Murray: Two Old Testament covenant ordinances to be regularly practiced by the people of God: Passover and circumcision. Two New Testament covenant ordinances to be regularly practiced by the people of God: the Lord’s Supper and baptism. It is easy to see how these are not so much a replacement or abolishment but a fulfillment of God’s old covenant signs and seals. As Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law and the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill them.” With characteristic brevity, the 16th c. Reformer John Calvin said, “The covenant is common, the reason for confirming it is common. Only the mode of confirmation is different; for to them it was confirmed by circumcision, which among us is succeeded by baptism” (Murray 49 n.28).
God shows special favor to children of believers. Under the Old Covenant he expressed this through the covenant of circumcision, under the New, baptism. Sartelle: “In Genesis 17:7, God made a covenant of salvation with Abraham. He told Abraham that the covenant was not only for him, but for his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on. Be sure you understand this. These children had not been born and had expressed no faith; yet God was promising to deal in a special way with them. God was not simply foretelling the future. This was not a predicting prophecy — this was a covenant. Did God deal merely with Abraham as an individual? No, He entered into a covenant with Abraham’s family.”
Sartelle (4-5): In the Old Testament, Abram, the father of the faith and so of us all, was saved not by works but by faith. This is the way everyone in history has been saved, and the only way any will be saved. Genesis 15.6: “And [Abraham] believed the LORD and he counted it to him as righteousness.” God then commanded him to be circumcised, not so he might be saved but because he was saved, in other words, as a sign of his salvation through faith in God’s word. So what you say? Well, God commanded not only Abram to be circumcised but every male in his household (and he had 318 men of fighting age alone in his household!), including infants. Ishmael was circumcised. When born, so was Isaac. Sartelle sums it up with 3 short points: Abraham was a sinner saved by grace through faith, God made circumcision a sign of salvation, and the sign of salvation was to be given to infants of believing parents.
Consider Sartelle’s 3 questions where he parallels circumcision and baptism (10). “It is not strange that baptism fulfills circumcision. Every doctrine taught in the New Testament has its roots in the Old” (11).
Objection: You may say, “Yes, but Jews were saved by works, we Christians by faith.” I hope you do not say that. But in case you do, first, please go read the books of Galatians, then Romans. Two, let me read Francis Schaeffer’s words to you. Schaeffer: "First of all, a Jew saved in the early Christian era would realize that even as he had been justified by faith alone, so also Abraham had been justified by faith alone two thousand years before. Romans 4:1-a makes this abundantly clear: "What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory'; but not before God. For what saith the scriptures? Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him for righteousness." Galatians 3.6 is just as definite: "Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” The fact is that the Bible carefully emphasizes that Abraham was justified by faith and that only, just as we are. It is a serious mistake to believe that anyone in any dispensation, has been or can be saved in any other manner than by faith plus nothing. Religious or moral obedience has no place as far as personal salvation is concerned in any dispensation. Notice that it is Paul's writings that stress this fact so clearly.”
Jews made up most early believers. They had been circumcising their children for centuries as a sign of his grace and favor on them — all undeserved. ircumcision ceased to be a sign required of the people of God. Baptism took its place. Males 8 days old were to be circumcised. With baptism taking its place among the people of God, mainly Jews in the early days, surely their would have been clear directives NOT to baptize infants but only those old enough to believe on Christ for themselves. There is not. Not a single such directive exists. Not only is there no directive NOT to baptize infants of believing parents, there is evidence that it happened regularly and, being carried over from circumcision as the New Covenant sign, was standard practice, just as circumcision had been. In Acts, every time we have a fully described adult baptism, person's entire household (servants, wife, children, extended family living in house) is also baptized. One exception. The only instance where this does not happen is in the case of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. In this case children were obviously not in the picture! So this argument about the New Testament never explicitly endorsing infant baptism actually seems to work as an argument for infant baptism: with centuries of practice placing the sign of the covenant on children in believing households, the silence of the NT authors re: any sort of prohibition on placing the sign of the new covenant of baptism on children is a strong argument, to my mind anyway, against the believers-only baptism position.
Francis Schaeffer: New Testament Practice
These questions would be further aggravated by what this saved Jew himself would have heard taught in the New Testament time. For example, he would have heard Peter in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, Acts 2:38-39: Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." Remember, Peter said this to Jews, Jews who were used to having the outward sign of their faith applied to their children.
With all these things in his mind, he would expect his child to be baptized. If it were refused, what would you have done in his place? You would have asked the Apostles the reason why, so would the thousands of Christian Jews in that day. The question would have been asked in a hundred meetings; and Peter, John. Paul, and the others would have sat down and written in their Epistles to clear up the matter, just as they answered other questions that arose. The New Testament would have contained the clear answer as to why in the Old Testament, the Covenant sign was applied to the infants of believers, but in the New Testament it was to be withheld from them.
The only reason possible for the New Testament not dealing with this problem is that the problem did not exist. The only possible reason that there was no problem in the Jews' minds was that the believing Jews did apply the covenant sign to their children. They baptized their babies as they had circumcised them in the Old Testament dispensation.
In the light of the teaching of the whole Bible, for us not to baptize babies there would have to be a clear command in Scripture not to do so. Instead of that, the emphasis is all the other way. Of the seven cases of water baptism mentioned in the New Testament, three were of families. Someone may say, "But it does not say that them were infants involved." I would point out to you that in the light of the natural expectancy of the saved Jew, if babies were not baptized, the Scripture would have made it clear that such was the case. God deals with families in the Old Testament and in the Neew Testment too. The promise made to the Philippian jailer, Acts 16:31b, "And thou shalt be saved, and thy house," adequately shows this. No matter what interpretation we, individually, may hold concerning this passage, certainly God here does show that He deals with families not only in the Old Testament but in the New Testament as well.
This is because covenant, and salvation, is representational. In birth, Adam represents us. In new birth, Christ. Father represents children. Husband, wife. This is why when Abraham believed he was told to circumcise himself and all he represented (or covered) in his house: servants (he had over 300 men of fighting age and capacity), etc.
Expresses the priority of grace to faith. That is, grace (the work of God on our behalf through no good of our own but for our good) precedes faith. Graces supplies faith. Grace is the ground of faith, the soil in which it grows. Infant baptism expresses that. We are saved with no help from our understanding or will. Infant baptism is a beautiful picture of that. This child does not deserve the benefits this sacrament confers or the salvation we hope it points to.
From Old Testament to New Testament, grace always expands, never contracts. God’s grace and the sign and seals conveying it, never constrict but always enlarge. To quote mid-20th c. Scottish-American theologian John Murray, “We cannot believe that the New Testament economy is less beneficent than was the Old. It is rather the case that the Old Testament gives more abundant scope to the blessing of God’s covenant. We are not therefore led to expect retraction; we are led to expect expansion and extension.” Ex. Approaching God. In the Old Testament, God made himself available to His people. “Walked" with them in the wilderness for 40 years by pillar of cloud and fire. Ex 3-4: I AM, or I Will Be. I am with you. I will be with you. And he was. But he was very hard to approach. Very hard. New Testament: Infinitely easier to approach. All because His death on the cross tore the veil from top to bottom which separated sinful man from God. Now, anyone can approach but in one way only: through the torn flesh and spilled blood of Jesus Christ. Believe on Him and come to God fully clean. What does this have to do with infant baptism? So glad you asked. This illustrates the point that the New Testament really never constricts God’s grace but rather expands and unleashes it. The Old Testament shakes the can of grace. The New pops the top. Along this line, does it seem consistent that as the New Testament form of circumcision, which was for infants of believers and believers alike, baptism would suddenly say “no more infants of believers. Believers only”? Or does it make more sense that this would carry over and EXPAND, that is, that the sign that admitted only infant males would expand to include ALL infants of believers, male and female? Baptism does this. All are welcome to Christ. Believers and their children. This is the sign of the covenant. Jesus loves little children. Bring them to him, place his covenant of grace upon them, and bring them up to love and adore Him, in the “nurture and admonition of the LORD.”
This from Francis Schaeffer: The Jew living in the early New Testament days would know something further. He would know that in the Old Testament there were two great ordinances the Passover and Circumcision. I Corinthians 5:7, 8, as well as the fact that Christ instituted the Lord's Supper at the time of the Passover meal, makes it plain that the Lord's Supper took the place of the Passover. Colossians 2:11, 12 and the other facts which we have considered make it evident that baptism took the place of circumcision.
These things all being so, it would be impossible for the saved Jew not to expect that, as in the Old Testament the Covenant sign was applied to the believer's child, so also the sign of his faith, baptism, should likewise be applied to his child. Why should he expect less in this dispensation of fullness than he would have possessed in the Old Testament era?
God blesses families, not just individuals. Promise to Abraham, the father of faith, the father of us all: “In you all the individuals of the earth will be blessed.” No. Rather, "In you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” Genesis 12:3. Many of us are Americans, and Americans are very individualistic. God saves individuals — each must believer on Christ for himself or herself — but through individuals he blesses, and saves, families. So Peter in his Pentecost sermon. Acts 2.38-9: "And Peter said to them, “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.”
Church history seems to endorse it. Schaeffer: "Church history continues with the same lesson concerning infant baptism. Origen was born about 180 A.D. and he was baptized as an infant, Remember, this was eighty years or less after the death of the Apostle John. There are still earlier references which seem to speak of infant baptism, but there is no question in the case of Origen. The first ones who argued against infant baptism, for example Tertullian, did not do so as though it were a new practice being brought in, but did so because they had come to the un-Biblical position that one should wait until just before death to be baptized. Their arguments are therefore an incidental proof that the Church baptized infants from the beginning, for, if it were an innovation, these men who were against it because of their un-Biblical views would have delighted to have pointed out that infant baptism was not an Apostolic practice. Saint Augustine, writing concerning infant baptism, said, "This doctrine is held by the whole church, not instituted by councils, but always retained." Those who would teach that the practice of the early Church was not infant baptism should be able to show in Church History when it started. There is no such break recorded.
In the light of this, the claim that infant baptism is a product of the Roman Catholic Church is totally mistaken. Therefore, for now almost four thousand years, since the day of Abraham, those who have been saved by faith have been marked at the command of God by an external sign, and this external sign has, without a break, been applied not only to them but to their children.
We believe in infant baptism because of the unity of the spiritual promises in all dispensations. The national promises are for the Jews alone, but there is a unity of the spiritual promises throughout the whole Word of God. The basis of this unity is the great central fact of Scripture that all men of all eras are saved on the basis of the finished work of Christ through faith in Him, plus nothing, or they are not saved at all. This spiritual unity does not disturb the fact of the differences between the different eras, nor does it disturb our peculiar privileges as those saved and living in this age.
Jesus loves little children (a variation of the above “God shows special favor to children of believers”). Brought them into his lap. Blessed them. Told us to be like them in matters of faith. Went farther and said if we are not like them in faith we cannot come into God’s kingdom. He never barred children from them but commanded, “Let the little children come to me”, and yet we want to stand with the disciples and bar them from him and this precious sign of his gracious covenant? Not even the Old Covenant did this? Why should we under the New?!
Reformers didn't change it. We should ask why. They weren't afraid of changing things; we know that. Their main concern was reforming the Church around the Scriptures alone, not tradition. So their unified position on the retention of baptism for believing adults and their children was one they argued sola Scriptura, from the Scriptures alone. Those who went about changing it came later. They were called Anabaptists. They may alone have been right about the Scriptural position on baptism, but they stood against the 1500 year witness of the historic Church.
What neither position is:
- Salvific. Neither position says, “Baptism saves.” Not even most Baptists say that (Campbellite Baptists do). They say, “Baptism is a sign someone is saved.” But that person may not be. It may be a false profession. his probably happens every Sunday in dozens if not hundreds of cases around the world. So baptism does not save. For the credo-baptist, it is a sign that someone is saved, and perhaps a pledge that they will live as a saved person should, as a disciple of Jesus Christ by faith in His person and work for them, in their place. But neither do paedo baptists believe baptism saves, either of the infant or the believer. In the case of the infant it points to a hoped for, prayed for, and expected future salvation and brings real benefits to bear on that child through the faith of their parents and the believing community they are brought into, it conveys those benefits through no good of their own. That is, it conveys them by grace, through the faith of others standing in for them.
Something about baby dedication (be lighthearted but straight and true): what is dedication?
I think it is essentially a recognition of much of what I said, without the sign of the covenant applied to the child, because the parents are not ready to take this step. And that is okay. I would prefer we baptized our children in faith and obedience, but dedication is certainly a good thing too. We will pray for, love, and direct our dedicated children to Jesus and saving faith in him just as we do any other child in our care. And whereas we will NOT rebaptize infants we baptize once they come to faith, we will baptize those we dedicate. And we will rejoice if and when that time comes.
From blog post by Tim Challies: "Several years ago Tom Bisset carried out a study of people who had left the faith. Wanting this to be more than a statistical analysis, he actually sat down with people to interview them and ask for detailed information on when, why, and how they abandoned their faith. As he compiled his research he arrived at the four most prominent reasons that people raised in Christian homes eventually leave Christianity behind.
- 4th reason: "They leave because they never personally owned their faith. Sure, these people grew up going to church and they went through all the motions of personal commitments and youth groups and personal devotions. They did it all. They played the part. They convinced others and perhaps even convinced themselves. But all the while, whether they knew it or not, they were merely conforming to the desires or expectations of other people, of parents, peers, or pastors. They had never personally put their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. When they grew sufficiently independent to make their own way in life, they gladly—or perhaps reluctantly—left Christianity behind. They left it behind because they had never personally owned it to begin with.
- (A solution here is to continually preach the gospel to our children and never to assume they are saved simply because they are in a Christian home. As parents we need to regularly ask our children if they believe, to express joy when we see evidences of God’s saving grace, and to express concern when we see disobedience that may contradict their profession.) *The church has 2 evangelistic thrusts: outsiders and our children. R. L. Dabney: “The Education of children for God is the most important business done on earth. It is the one business for which the earth exists. To it all politics, all war, all literature, all moneymaking, ought to be subordinated; and every parent especially ought to feel, every hour of the day, that, next to making his own calling and election sure, this is the task for which he is kept malive by God―this is his task on earth.” -Frontspiece, On Secular Education
Now, let’s dedicate, then baptize these precious babies.
- Q. Should infants, too, be baptized? A. Yes. Infants as well as adults belong to God’s covenant and congregation. Through Christ’s blood the redemption from sin and the Holy Spirit, who works faith, are promised to them no less than to adults. Therefore, by baptism, as sign of the covenant, they must be incorporated into the Christian church and distinguished from the children of unbelievers. This was done in the old covenant by circumcision, in place of which baptism was instituted in the new covenant. Questions Asked Publicly of Parents Before Infant is Baptized
- Do you yourselves know that you are saved through faith in Christ, not through anything you have done or ever will do, but simply through your faith in Christ's finished work on Calvary's cross - as He died in space and time, in history?
- Do you realize that this is not a saving ordinance and that this child will have to accept Christ as his own Saviour when he comes to the age of accountability?
- Have you covenanted with God to give back this child to Him, so that, if He sees fit in His providence to call this child home to Himself, you will not complain against Him, or if the child grows to adulthood and is called to some form of special Christian service, you will not stand in his way but rather encourage him?
- Do you realize that this sacrament is not a matter of magic, but that in it you covenant with God to raise this child in the fear and admonition of the Lord, to pray for and with him, to keep him in the house of God and with God's people, to be faithful in your home life for Christ as you live it before him, and to do your utmost personally to lead him to a saving knowledge of Christ at an early age?