Why Do We Baptize Babies (Redux)?
It had always been God's intention that the church would be made up of people from all nations. Although this was clearly stated in the Hebrew Bible (Isaiah 2:2-4, 11:9-10, 49:6-7 and so on) it remained an obstacle to the early church. We tend to overlook the fact that the church was initially made up of Jews who believed they had found their long-awaited Messiah in Jesus of Nazareth. Indeed,
The early Christians did not believe that they were following a new religion. They were Jews... Therefore the Christian message to the Jews was not that they should abandon their Jewishness. On the contrary, now that the messianic age had begun they were to be better Jews. Likewise, the early proclamation to the Gentiles was not an invitation to accept a newly born religion but rather to become participants of the promises made to Abraham and his descendants.1
Thus, a crucial issue facing the early church was not a question of "Jewish or not Jewish" but "how Jewish?"
A large portion of the book of Acts is a narrative concerning the supernatural intervention of God in bringing Jewish believers to accept the fact that Gentiles were included in the covenant family without first becoming Jews. Even after Peter blazed the trail, and the Jerusalem Council acknowledged that Gentile inclusion was the will of God, the problem of the "circumcision party" continued. Over and over in his epistles Paul reminded his readers that inclusion in the covenant family was a matter of faith in Jesus Christ rather than a matter of becoming a Jew. In fact, Paul says very clearly that the true Jew is one who is a Jew inwardly (by faith).
Clearly the character of the first century church would have been very different if the writers of the New Testament had not included this information in their narratives and letters. Rather then developing into a multinational, pan-ethnic body of Christ it would have remained a sect of Judaism. It was crucial for the godly development of the church to include the record of the titanic struggle against the Judaizers. If all of that information had been omitted from the New Testament, it would have been taken for granted that the only people who could be part of the covenant family were Jews. Thus, any Gentile who hoped to be in the family of God would first need to be a Jew. This is exactly the problem that confronted Paul in the Galatian church.
It is vital for us to understand the critical necessity of including detailed narrative and carefully argued doctrine in the New Testament to insure the inclusion in the covenant family of a previously excluded class of people. In other words, it was not taken for granted that the early church would simply somehow know this truth. Therefore, it is logical to think that if a previously included class of people were to be excluded in the New Covenant era there would be an equal emphasis concerning this in the narrative and letters of the New Testament.
We need to keep this in mind when we consider the place of children and infants in the New Covenant. Without detailed instructions to the contrary, first century Jews would have naturally assumed their children continued to be members of the covenant family in the New Covenant age. For God had said, "I will confirm my covenant with you and your descendants after you, from generation to generation. This is the everlasting covenant: I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you" (Genesis 17:7). Then, in the sermon that launched the New Covenant church, Peter affirmed,"Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away - all who have been called by the Lord our God" (Acts 2:38-39, italics added).
According to the Bible, the New Covenant is "better" with "better promises" (Hebrews 8:6). It would have required a detailed, determined and sustained argument to convince first century Believers that a better covenant with better promises eliminated a whole class of people from blessings they previously enjoyed. How is a reduction in grace a better covenant? How is it better to cut off children from the covenant headship and covering of their parents? Indeed, the introduction of the Gospel in Luke's account proclaims that one of the better aspects of the new covenant would be a strengthening of the relationship between parents and their children
Now, this is a crucial point; if the children of believers are excluded from the covenant, we should expect the New Testament to contain a powerful argument stating that position. This would be analogous to the emphatic argument pervasive in the Acts and the Epistles that Gentiles are included in the covenant. The idea of Gentile inclusion was foreign to the worldview of first century Jews and so it required supernatural intervention and tremendous effort on the part of the apostles to convince the first followers of Christ it was so. The fact there is nothing like this in the New Testament concerning the exclusion of Believer's children from the covenant is overwhelming evidence it was never meant to be. Recall, Peter affirmed to his Pentecost audience that the promise was to them and to their children. He said nothing to indicate there was a fundamental change in the participants of the covenant. Such a change would have been foreign to the worldview of the original audience. To convince them otherwise would have required supernatural intervention and tremendous effort on the part of the apostles. Yet, there is absolutely nothing in the New Testament suggesting children of Believers are excluded from the covenant relationship. Instead, the New Testament affirms that the covenant promises of Abraham remain unharmed and are in fact expanded, not reduced. Thus, anyone who believes the children of Believers are excluded from the covenant and therefore should not receive the sacrament of baptism must explain this anomaly.
Thus, there is no biblical reason to exclude the children of Believers from the sign of covenant inclusion. In short, children of Believers are members of the covenant family and are required to receive the covenant sign of baptism.
1. Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story Of Christianity: The Early Church To The Present Day, One Volume Edition, (1984; Peabody: Prince Press, 2008), 1:31.
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