I want to follow up a comment I made on Facebook where I said, “If you don’t call your baptized infants Christians then you should give up paedobaptism.”
Naturally, for many Baptists, this proves why we shouldn’t baptize babies. But, some of them might say, at least you are being consistent.
The Westminster divines were, I think, also being consistent when they spoke of baptized infants as Christians in the Public Directory for Worship:
“That children, by baptism, are solemnly received into the bosom of the visible church, distinguished from the world, and them that are without, and united with believers; and that all who are baptized in the name of Christ, do renounce, and by their baptism are bound to fight against the devil, the world, and the flesh: That they are Christians, and federally holy before baptism, and therefore are they baptized.”
They are baptized because they are Christians and therefore baptism is to be offered to them to be a sign and seal of the covenant of grace. This is not meant to be controversial for Presbyterians.
There is a lot to say regarding infant baptism and books have been written and will likely continue to be written (if I have my way) defending the God-ordained practice of admitting the children of believers into the church.
I want to look at this issue from the perspective of theological consistency, namely: what does this mean for me as a Presbyterian father? Or, how would I have to be consistent as a Baptist father towards my children who are not baptized.
The children of believers are not pagans but Christians. Baptizing them helps us to make sense of the realities we should ordinarily share in with our children as the mature in their faith.
We are not claiming to infallibly know God’s election. Rather, we baptize based on the promise and divine command (Acts 2:39). With everyone who is in the church, we treat children with the judgment of charity, knowing, of course, that some may not be elect and they may even prove this in their life by willful apostasy from the church. But the question is not whether we can or should infallibly know who is elect. Rather, the question is “How are we to judge them?” Should we say they are pagans, no different than Muslim children, or should we say they are Christians? There is no third category in the Bible, though many Presbyterians seem to wish there was.
If they are pagans, then how do we approach them regarding obedience?
Paul says in Ephesians 6:1, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Is he asking for children to obey according to natural law whereby no covenantal membership is required? Or is Paul, who then quotes the Decalogical form of the fifth commandment immediately thereafter, speaking to children who clearly have a covenantal status and thus obey, in the Lord, because he is treating them as Christians and hopes, as all Presbyterians do, that these children are obeying based upon the indicatives described earlier in the book of Ephesians?
Baptism is prospective, which means it provides the necessary context for raising our children so we can tell them to obey their parents “in the Lord” because they formally belong to the Lord.
Without baptism, a child must be objectively identified as a pagan, notwithstanding whatever private hopes we may have. The obedience one accepts from a pagan cannot therefore be Christian obedience because obedience requires faith and the Holy Spirit for it to be obedience in the Lord and for the Lord.
Baptism also helps us to make sense of “family worship”. I have seen families do worship where the Father reads, prays, and then everyone gets up and leaves. That is not family worship. My children have always prayed from as young as 2-3. Because they are Christians, baptized into the name of the triune God, when they pray “Father” it isn’t nonsensical but consistent with their identity.
It is inconsistent for someone with the public identity as “pagan” to call on God as their heavenly Father. Why do some people allow their children to pray to their Father in heaven but deny them the sign from that same Father that makes sense of the reality of prayer?
Thus, it also helps us to make sense of “corporate family worship.” What are the children actually doing at church? Are they merely false participants or onlookers? Or are they actively engaged in the highest form of Christian experience when they come to church and sing, pray, read, listen?
By letting your children sing from a hymnbook (or Psalter), are you not recognizing they are Christians when they sing the words, “little ones to him belong” or “that thou my God should’st die for me”? There is no consistency for Baptists who deny their children the sign but allow them to hold the hymnal and sing from the heart!
There is also no consistency when little children sin and are told to repent and then pray for forgiveness, but they do so without being called a Christian.
Parent: “Bozo, you sinned against your brother (Anselm) and you need to repent for what you did.”
Bozo: “I am sorry, please forgive me, Anselm.”
Parent: “You also sinned against God”.
Bozo: “Father, please forgive me for stealing my brother’s cookie.”
Now, on what grounds can you assure Bozo that he has been forgiven by God? Does it not only make sense to assure people of forgiveness who belong to the church and are called Christians? It seems inconsistent to me to assure a child of forgiveness from God but still view that child as unregenerate and outside of the kingdom.
Again, this is hugely important for understanding this particular Reformed position: baptism for infants is prospective in nature, like adoption. Based on God’s promises, parents hope (biblical hope) that their child(ren) will grow into the realities of family life both in the home and at church. Baptism helps us to make sense of all these realities. If they are not baptized, it is hard to understand how they can be assured of forgiveness, pray to their father, sing hymns, etc.
Many Baptists, thankfully, don’t quite treat their children with the consistency that their position demands. For that I am thankful. But, if they were to be consistent, they would have to ask themselves how their children can share in the above-mentioned realities, but be pagans in doing so because they have not been publicly admitted to the church of Christ.
Finally, we strongly believe our children need to repent. In fact, because they are baptized, they need to repent and believe every day. That is their obligation to God. To merely presume upon their salvation without applying the word daily in all areas of their lives is actually a denial of infant baptism, not an affirmation.
Because my child is a Christian, they must repent, believe, repent, believe, repent, believe…just as I have to do likewise. Baptism demands nothing less than that.
The Rev. Dr. Mark Jones (PhD, Leiden Universiteit) has been the Minister at Faith Vancouver since 2007. He is also Research Associate in the Faculty of Theology at University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa. Dr. Jones is the author of several books, including his most recent, Knowing Christ.
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