In my last post, I tried to clear away some arguments that clutter the discussion on whether Christians should baptize their infants. One could walk way from that post thinking that I endorse infant baptism. But I don’t. At least, I think that the case for believer’s baptism has more scriptural support, even though I think there is some support for infant baptism.
Now, I must say that I have not studied this issue in depth. I’ve never read any books on the subject, nor have I worked through all the important passages in detail. I’m sort of thinking out loud in this post as I’ve thought about this issue on an informal level. I’d love to see if I’m missing something in my reasoning.
So, here are my “working thoughts” on why I still believe in believer’s baptism.
First, I mentioned in the last post that the correlation between circumcision in the Old Covenant and baptism in the New Covenant has been used to justify infant baptism. The main problem I have with this is that the most pervasive sign of the New Covenant is not baptism but faith. Read Romans 4:9-16, Galatians 3:6-9, and 5:2-5 and notice that circumcision has been superseded by faith, not water baptism. And faith, here, refers to a confession that Jesus is Lord, that He has been raised from the dead, not the general “faith” that pervades a believing household. Therefore, there seems to be discontinuity between the sign of the Old Covenant (circumcision of an infant) and the sign of the New Covenant (faith in the risen Lord).
Second, and this one is perhaps the most important, there is discontinuity between Old and New Covenants in terms of covenant membership. This is a bit complex, so let me explain. In the Old Covenant, one could be a “member” but not “saved” or right with God. As stated in the last post, plenty of wicked kings of Israel were wicked (i.e. they weren’t saved) even though they lived under the banner of the Covenant.
But not so in the New. Notice that Jeremiah says that the New Covenant will not be like the Old (31:32). In the Old Covenant, there was an external law to obey and members of the Covenant had to be taught it. As circumcised infants would grow up, some would obey and learn the law while others (Ahab, Manasseh, etc.) would not. But the New Covenant will be different. “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts,” God tells Jeremiah. “And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (31:33-34).
Follow me here. Whereas in the Old Covenant, you had members of the covenant who were circumcised as infants who may or may not follow the LORD later on, it will be different in the New. In the New Covenant, every member will be “saved”—they will have the law written on their heart. They will not need to be taught it, not in a general sense of learning the Bible, but in a salvific sense of “knowing” God. Unlike the Old Covenant, members of the New Covenant would become covenant members when they confess faith and are therefore saved.
Now, these two arguments don’t quite settle the debate, but they do seem to give believer’s baptism some scriptural momentum, as we look at those tough “household baptism” passages in Acts (e.g. 16:15, 33-34).
When you read these passages, it seems very well possible that Lydia and the Philippian jailor baptized their children. After all, when the jailor was converted, “he was baptized at once, he and all his family” (16:33).
This is one of the strongest cases for infant baptism. However, notice that the previous verse says that Paul and Silas “spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house” (16:32). The verse after says that the jailor “rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God” (16:34). Indeed, it’s not entirely clear whether his kids (if he had any) were baptized. But Acts seems to say that everyone in his household who was baptized were the same people who listened to Paul speak and rejoiced when they heard the message.
In all the other household baptism passages, never are infants or children specified. And the case of the jailor seems to suggest that those who were baptized were old enough to respond to and rejoice over the message.
Again, this passage—or any single passage—doesn’t settle the issue. But together with the ideas that faith, not baptism, is a sign of covenant membership and that there’s discontinuity between the covenants, I lean toward believer’s baptism.