On Baptizing Children
If you’re reading this, it’s because of your desire to see your infant, or young child baptized, and brought into covenant fellowship with the Body of Christ, the Church. This is a good a right desire! It’s the intent of this brief letter to lay out some theological and practical points for you to consider as you plan and pray about embracing this sacrament.
At Christ Church Milwaukee, we hold to the ancient Christian practice of paedobaptism, or “infant/child” baptism. This has been a practice for families since the dawn of the church age, over 2,000 years, and while we don’t believe it is the only valid expression of the sacrament of baptism, we do believe it to be the most consistent and faithful expression of what the Holy Scriptures teach regarding the practice and administration of this sacrament.
This is not intended to be a theological treatise on baptism, but only a simple explanation of what baptism is and what parents should believe and understand as they consider this for their children.
Baptism: A Sacrament
The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 92 asks, “What is a sacrament?” and answers thus, “A sacrament is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ; wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the New Covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.” In non-theological terms, that means that a sacrament is a command given by Jesus, in which tangible, physical signs are used to signify and represent the real and true, inner, spiritual realities. In this way, baptism represents the washing away of sin and the old self, and being renewed, restored and resurrected with Christ. Baptism is commanded by Christ (Matt. 28:19), and practiced by all who follow him. It is, in essence, an engagement (betrothal) to belong to the Lord himself.
Why Infants and Children?
The New Testament teaches that baptism corresponds to, and even replaces, circumcision in the Old Testament (Colossians 2:11-12). We know that circumcision was itself a sacrament, marking and setting apart God’s people (albeit, physically speaking, only males), as a part of his covenant family. In keeping with the Old Testament law, the sign of circumcision was applied when the infant boy was 8 days old, long before he had the ability or opportunity to choose the sign (much less God!) for himself. The Apostle Paul goes into great detail about this in Romans 4:9-12. In keeping with this teaching, we apply the New Testament sign of baptism to infants as well, as well as adults who profess faith, marking them out as belonging to the family of God. The Apostles Peter (Acts 2:39) and Paul (Acts 16:31, 33) expressly taught that baptism was not just for those who openly professed faith, but for their families and children as well, all whom the heads of the families would “represent” by faith.
What Does Baptism Do?
Baptism primarily does 3 important things for the one who receives the sign. Again, this applies to infants and children, or those who are “of age”.
First, baptism imparts grace to the one who receives it. As a sacrament of the New Testament people of God – the Church – it is a “means of grace”; i.e. – a way in which grace comes to and is accessed by the people of God.
Second, baptism marks one with the sign and seal of God. Think of baptism as the “signet” that God uses to mark out his people. All who have received this sign, regardless of age, have received the mark of Jesus Christ upon their lives. They are set apart for him. Baptism points more to God’s faithfulness to us in Christ, than it does our faith in, or faithfulness to him.
Third, baptism is an engagement to be the Lord’s. Think of the act of baptism as being similar to the placing of the ring that the beloved receives from her husband-to-be upon her finger. Once that “sign” is given, a new relationship is entered into. Upon receiving the sign, a baptized person has entered into a unique and special relationship with the living God. And yet, they are not yet “married” to the Groom (Christ). That comes when they profess their faith in Christ, at which point, they are then admitted to the Lord’s Table. For some, the engagement and the “marriage” may happen very quickly, one after the other. For others, it may take years! Long engagements can be difficult, but worth the wait.
What Does Baptism Not Do?
While baptism contains a number of special blessings for the one who receives the sign and sacrament, there are a few important things to understand regarding what baptism does not do in the life of the those who receive it.
First, baptism does not save those who receive the sacrament. While it represents what God has done, is doing, and will do in Christ for us (namely, the washing away of our sins and our resurrection into new life with him), the act itself, does not bestow the blessing of salvation upon the recipient. The thing signified is not the thing itself.
Second, baptism does not represent an unbreakable bond between God and his people. While God will forever be faithful to his children, sadly, they will at times fall away from him. A baptized person may choose to walk away from the covenant blessings that come with a relationship with the living God. The book of Hebrews is full of such stories and warnings for those who belong to God.
Baptism is a gift from God that the Lord Jesus Christ instituted for his people to participate in and practice until he should return. It’s a way to mark out the people of God as being set apart for him, engaged to him and his promises, showing their readiness to receive the full consummation that he will bring with him upon his final coming.
By bringing your child for baptism into the Church, you are believing these promises on their behalf, as it were, until they are able to profess their own personal faith in these very promises. Your words that you will state on behalf of your child will testify to your own faith in Christ, that indeed, he is faithful to the end and he will be our God, and we shall be his people!
This short statement is not intended to answer all questions or concerns about baptism. Yet, I hope that it has started the important conversation of knowing what it is that you’re giving your child to, when you plan on bringing him or her forward for baptism. As always, I am available at any time to talk through any further questions you may have on this important topic!
Your Servant for Christ’s Sake,
Rev. Jon Talley
(Updated, Lent 2018)