This is a meditation on some baptisms from this past summer:
Not ten years ago I would have recoiled from that which I rejoice to do in just a few minutes – baptize some babies. And I know that for many of you this practice will seem, at the least, questionable, if not positively absurd, or radically unbiblical. Since this is the first infant baptism we have had as a congregation in a while, I thought it fitting to explain briefly why we baptize babies.
In Ephesians 2 Paul writes to the Gentiles declaring that though at one time they were strangers and aliens from the covenants of promise, they have now been brought near by the blood of Christ. Jew and Gentile alike, in Christ, are heirs of the covenants that God has made throughout history. So, for instance, we who are members of the Church are called “sons of Abraham” because we are the heirs of the Abrahamic covenant; we are called a “royal priesthood, a holy nation” because we are the heirs of the Mosaic covenant; we are called “kings and priests to God” because we are the heirs of the Davidic covenant. We are no longer strangers and aliens but are the rightful heirs of all God’s covenantal promises throughout redemptive history.
So what does all this have to do with infant baptism? Exactly this – in every one of these covenants that God made with our fathers, He promised to be a God not only to our fathers – not only to Abraham, not only to the twelve tribes in Moses’ day, not only to David – but to their children and their children’s children. In every single instance the covenants included both believers and their children.
In the Abrahamic covenant, for example, God speaks of His calling of Abraham this way: “For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice.” God established his covenant with Abraham that Abraham might disciple his household, might bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and pass on to them the faith that had been entrusted to him. Consequently, the sign of the covenant with Abraham – the rite of circumcision – was applied not only to Abraham but to the members of his household, including infants. Circumcision declared to Abraham and to these children – I am the Lord and you are my people, so love Me, fear Me, serve Me, and worship Me all your days.
In the New Testament, this emphasis upon household identity continues with the children of believers being accepted, blessed, and brought into the community of God’s people along with adults. When Paul writes to the Ephesians and Colossians, for example, he addresses his exhortations to the households in the congregation – to husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and slaves. And in these exhortations he freely applies the promises of the covenant made with Moses to the children of believers – Honor your father and mother that it may go well with you and that you may live long on the earth. God continues to act not only with believers but with believers and their children.
Why does God act this way? Because it is a reflection of His own nature. God works from generation to generation among His covenant people. When God passed in front of Moses and revealed His Name to him, this is what the Lord declared:
And the Lord passed before [Moses] and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” (Ex 34:6-7a)
God declares that it is His nature to keep mercy for thousands – and our question is this, “Thousands of what?” The answer is thousands of generations. As Moses declares later in Deuteronomy: “Therefore, know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments” (Dt 7:9).
So why do we baptize infants? Because God has promised to be a God not only to us but to our children and our children’s children. So our calling is to believe Him, to trust His Word, and to bring our children before Him. For these are His children not ours, given to us in trust, to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. God has revealed Himself to us “in order that [we] may command [our] children and [our] household after [us], that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice.”