One of the distinguishing marks of the Reformed tradition is that we believe baptism, which is the sign of entrance into the covenant community (i.e. church), should be administered to infants as well as new converts to Christianity. For some of you, this may be a puzzling claim. This was the case for me for a number of years. Seeing that we are all at different points in our journey of faith, perhaps the following essay on infant baptism will be helpful to you. It is written by a former seminary Professor of mine, Dennis Johnson. In fact, it was originally a letter written to one of his children who had questions on this complex and at times controversial subject.
Infant baptism: how my mind has changed ~
In 1994 one of our daughters, while away from home attending college, asked me to explain the rationale I saw in God’s Word for baptizing the infant children of believers. Since I was a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church when she and her siblings were born, they had all been baptized as infants; but now she was interacting with Christian brothers and sisters from other traditions through campus Christian ministry and other friendships, and many of them believed that the baptism of infants is not Christian baptism as it is established by Christ in the New Testament. In a slightly revised form, this is what I wrote to her:
Here at last is my long-overdue letter to explain why I believe it’s consistent with the Bible to baptize the infants and children of believers. I want to let you know what biblical evidence changed my mind from holding a “believers’ baptism” position to the conviction that both those who are converted as adults and the infants and children of believers should be baptized.
You know, of course, that I don’t consider this issue one on which our trust-relationship with Jesus depends. Nor should differences on this issue disrupt our fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ who see things differently. On the other hand, since we all want to show our gratitude for God’s grace by living our lives to please him, and since we learn what pleases him in his Word, we all want to get as clear a picture as we can of what the Word teaches.
The difference of views on infant baptism unfortunately does affect Christians’ ability to demonstrate in practice our unity as the Body of Christ. “Infant baptizers” can and do recognize the baptism received by “believer baptizers” as genuine Christian baptism (although we may think that it’s administered later than it should be in the case of children of Christian parents). But “believer baptizers” cannot acknowledge that believers who were baptized as infants have been baptized at all. So if “believer baptizers” are right–if people who have received infant baptism have not received biblical baptism at all–then there have been hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Christian believers who have never obeyed the Lord’s command to be baptized in his Name, believers such as Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, J. Gresham Machen, J. I. Packer, John Stott, R. C. Sproul, etc. On the other hand, if “infant baptizers” are right, then it’s sad that the convictions of “believer baptizers” prevent them from recognizing the baptism of so many other members of the Body of Christ. So our difference of understanding on this issue does hinder our putting into practice the unity of the church.
Although this question is not a matter of salvation, it is certainly worth our investing time and thought and study, to see whether we can come to unity as brothers and sisters in Christ…
You can read the rest of the essay here.
In Heidelberg Catechism Question and Answer 74, we confess:
74. Are infants also to be baptized?
Yes, for since they, as well as their parents, belong to the covenant and people of God,1 and through the blood of Christ2 both redemption from sin and the Holy Spirit, who works faith, are promised to them no less than to their parents,3 they are also by Baptism, as a sign of the covenant, to be ingrafted into the Christian Church, and distinguished from the children of unbelievers,4 as was done in the Old Testament by circumcision,5 in place of which in the New Testament Baptism is appointed.6
1 Gen 17:7; 2 Mt 19:14; 3 Ps 22:10; Isa 44:1-3; Lk 1:14-15; Acts 2:38-39, 16:31; 4 Acts 10:47; 1 Cor 7:14; 5 Gen 17:9-14; 6 Col 2:11-13
If you are interested in a recent popular-level book on the subject of baptism, I highly recommend Word, Water and Spirit by John Fesko. For the those more theologically astute, you will benefit greatly from Meredith Kline’s By Oath Consigned.