Infant Baptism: Is It Scriptural?
Can you point me to a text in the Bible where it says that children should be baptized? We often are confronted with this question by people from Baptist circles. Increasingly, this question is also asked by people in our own circles. You did not expect it, but suddenly someone from your own congregation asks you this question.
You can of course immediately ask: name me a text in the Bible where it says that children should not be baptized. At least now you have to deal with two questions.
However, more needs to be said in order to more thoroughly investigate what God’s Word says about infant baptism.
Whosoever believes and is baptized…
In particular, the Pentecostal movement asserts with much conviction that you first need to believe and only then can be baptized. They point to the closing words of the Gospel of Mark where Jesus teaches this. Indeed, he sends his apostles into the world to preach the gospel, as this is more fully explained in the closing words of Matthew 28. Those who come to faith must also be baptized into the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And then these believers still have a lot to learn. To walk in the ways of the Lord and to do what he says.
First come to faith and then be baptized: that is the biblical sequence for anyone who may enter the kingdom of God from the world.
But must their children, if they have them, stay behind in the world? Do you have to wait until they themselves come to faith? And do they then have to “decide,” as it is called?
In the Word of God we read that when the Holy Spirit opens Lydia’s heart, she and her house are baptized. In the same chapter in the book of Acts we read about the jailer that he is suddenly converted and believes in the Lord Jesus. He too is baptized along with his family.
Did Paul and Silas err when they did this? Did Paul not write to the Christians in Corinth that when a father or mother of a family comes to faith, the children will be holy too? (1 Cor 7). That does not mean that they all are converted. But that they are set apart, as Israel is called holy in the Old Testament.
We could present so many more passages like this out of the Bible.
Will Children Be Condemned?
When Mark 16:16 is quoted in order to prove that you first have to believe and only then can be baptized, you have to read this text to the end. For in the second part of this text the Lord Jesus says that whoever does not believe shall be condemned. Little children are not yet able to believe, they say. So they cannot be baptized. People who on the basis of this text claim that you must first believe before you can be baptized will have to be consequent and continue by saying that every young child that dies will be condemned. For, according to them, they cannot yet believe, and therefore they may not be baptized.
The Old Testament would thus be much richer than the New Testament, because then there was hope for the children who had been circumcised. They at least had received the sign of the covenant from God. We would have become much poorer in the New Testament!
Do people from the Pentecostal movement truly believe that all children will be condemned?
Precisely at the baptism of infants we confess that they are children of wrath and that they cannot enter the kingdom of God unless they are born again. At the same time we confess that the Lord promises he will work this new life also in children. The Holy Spirit can also give children a new heart. That is why we have already learned to pray at a young age for a new heart. Children may also pray for the fulfillment of the promises of God.
In Psalm 8 we hear that also praises are coming from the mouth of infants. How can this be if God does not work this in them?
Circumcision and Baptism
If you want to think about infant baptism biblically and as a spiritual experience, then it is important to pay attention to the connection between circumcision in the Old and baptism in the New Testament. Both are a sign and seal of God’s promise.
It is not in accordance with the Word of God to claim that baptism is a sign and seal of your conversion but a sign and seal of God’s covenant.
When you are baptized you do not receive a stamp that says: your faith is real. But: God’s promise is real.
For what should one think of the many people who have been baptized (also in Baptist circles) and who later on in life turn their back on the Lord? We must not presuppose faith at baptism, but we should point to what the Lord promises. In connection with that it is fruitful to read once again what is written in the Form for the Administration of Infant Baptism. This is where we read the thoroughly Reformed confession regarding the promise of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. What the triune God wants to work in us.
Even if you have not yet come to faith, you may pray fervently for the fulfillment of the wondrous promises from God. Even though you are not at all worthy, because you are a great sinner, you still can pray earnestly that you may be cleansed from all your sins by the blood of the Lord Jesus. Lord, have you not promised?
The Canaanite woman did not have such a promise. She was a pagan woman. Still she prayed, “Lord help me. Give me a crumb of bread.” And the Lord heard her prayer. Would he not hear those to whom he has promised so much more?
This article was translated by Tineke DeVries.