24 August 2014

Friends, it seems today that many people attend churches in denominations like ours (or the Presbyterians), which practise infant baptism, but do not understand why we do it.

Now Paul says he wasn’t sent to baptize, but to preach the gospel (1 Cor 1:17). So whether to baptize infants is a secondary matter – it doesn’t affect our salvation. Yet Jesus did command us – in his ‘Great Commission’ no less (Matt 28:19) – to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.

The early church situation recorded in Acts tells us what happened in first generation of Christians. Adults got baptised when they converted to Christ. But we want our children to enter into discipleship with Jesus from the start of their lives. So what to do with the outward sign and symbol of beginning with Christ for our kids!?

The New Testament several times mentions that when the head of a home believed, the whole household was baptised. For example, take Acts 16. When Lydia and the Philippian jailer were converted, it says not only they, but also their households were baptised, though only the faith of the household head is mentioned. Of course, this does not prove children or infants were present, but it’s likely, since childless households were so uncommon back then. The inference is that we may baptise the children of believers.

Indeed, in the Bible, baptism is mainly a sign not of what we do in professing our faith, but of what God does, through uniting us with Christ, especially in washing us clean from sin. And God can be at work in our children, before they are able to express faith themselves.

For example, remember when the disciples tried to turn the children away from Jesus like over-eager political minders! Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” And Jesus put his hands on them and blessed them. This plainly states that even babies are capable of receiving some benefit from the Lord Jesus, though they were too young to understand it.

In the Old Testament, children were welcomed into God’s covenant of grace by a ceremony. In that case, it was circumcision – for the boys, normally on the 8th day of life – clearly before they were capable of believing themselves, but because of the faith of their parents, who then taught them the contents of their faith as the children grew. In the same way, in the New Testament, in 1 Corinthians 7:14, a child with even just one believer is counted as ‘holy’, that is, set apart as special to God, by that one parent’s faith. Of course children can reject that ‘default setting’. But in the Baptism Service, parents, godparents and the whole church pray that the Holy Spirit will be at work in the children; that they might grow up as followers of Jesus, to live out the blessings symbolised in baptism.

Article 27 (of the Anglican 39 Articles) finishes by saying that, “The baptism of young children is … to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.” How carefully it puts it! It does not say infant baptism is taught by the Bible. It says it is consistent with the Bible. Believers, I encourage you to consider it for your children!

Warmly in Christ,
Sandy Grant

P.S. Of course, Anglican Ministers ought not to force someone to baptize their infant if that went against their conscience. But we then ought to encourage such parents to organize for their children to be baptized as soon as they make an informed expression of faith in Christ appropriate to their age. (Child-like faith appears very praiseworthy in Scripture!)