Speaking to the Most Common Objection to Infant Baptism
Although it has undeniably been the predominant practice of the Church since the time of the apostles, our practice of infant baptism can seem a bit strange to our current context. If baptism is a sign of repentance and faith, then why would we apply it to those who cannot yet express repentance and faith? In my experience as a Presbyterian minister, this is the most common objection to our practice. For many Christians, baptism is so closely associated with conversion that they don’t have a category for baptizing an infant who clearly cannot demonstrate conversion. So let me offer a brief response…
In defending our practice, most people are surprised that I do not try to make baptism mean something different. I am comfortable with it remaining the sign of repentance and faith, because it is in fact the sign of repentance and faith. To be more precise, baptism is the sign and seal of God’s work which is made effectual by faith. In other words, baptism is not our declaration; it is God’s declaration. Nevertheless, there is clearly an inextricable union between faith and baptism in the New Testament, and this is why so many get hung up with the baptism of infants.
So perhaps it is not nuanced enough, but I’m comfortable saying baptism is a sign of repentance and faith. Therefore the practice of TCPC is to knowingly apply the sign of repentance and faith to infants who are not yet able to demonstrate either. That is the problem for a lot of people. If I could resolve this one apparent contradiction, then I think many more would embrace our practice.
Well what if I was to prove that God has no problem with the sign of repentance and faith being applied to infants? If God is comfortable with it, then surely we should be. So let me demonstrate, beyond a shadow of doubt, that God is completely comfortable with the sign of faith being given to those who cannot yet express faith.
It’s really simple … what was the sign of repentance and faith in the Old Testament? Here there is zero debate. All agree it was circumcision.
There are many verses to point to, but Romans 4:11 is particularly compelling. “Abraham received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness He had by faith while He was uncircumcised.” You know what that sounds like to me? Baptism. Just replace the word “circumcision” with the word “baptism” and the verse perfectly articulates how most people in modern Evangelicalism view baptism. A new believer, “receives the sign of baptism as a seal of the righteousness He had by faith while He was un-baptized.” That’s how most Christians view baptism. You are un-baptized, you believe, that faith is credited to you as righteousness, and then you are baptized as a sign of that faith. And I’m comfortable with this understanding of Baptism. It’s not only that, but it is that.
Now this is crucial. After Abraham had faith and received the sign of faith, He was commanded to give that same sign of faith to his infant son who could not yet express faith. And this, of course, became the enduring practice of all God’s people—the sign of faith given to children before they could demonstrate faith.
Here is the point. I have just removed the most significant stumbling block to our baptism practices. You are not allowed to say, “I don’t believe it is right to baptize children because baptism is a sign of faith and they cannot declare their faith.” That may appear to you as an irreconcilable contradiction, but clearly God is comfortable with it.
I believe that baptism is a sign of repentance and faith. In fact, I’ll make it more problematic for my case. I’m comfortable saying baptism is the New Testament sign of conversion. And yet I baptize babies who are clearly incapable of walking an aisle and saying a prayer. Why? Well what is the Old Testament sign of conversion? Romans 4:11 speaks of Abraham’s conversion and the sign of his conversion. And God did indeed command Abraham to give the sign of His conversion to His children.
With that said, you can try to make the case that God is now uncomfortable with the sign of faith being given to infants. Granted, that would be a major shift, and you are going to have to show me clearly from Scripture where God changed His mind, but you can make that argument nonetheless. But you cannot say that it is categorically impossible for God to want the sign of conversion given to the children of the converted.
It may not make sense to you, but it makes perfect sense to God.