Why I baptized my children, and why I will baptize yours if you let me...
Several years ago I had the great privilege of baptizing my daughter Tenley when she was just a few months old. Before the baptism, Lindsay and I sent a letter to our family and friends, many of whom were completely unfamiliar (and some, suspicious) with the practice of infant baptism.
In light of the upcoming baptisms this weekend, I have posted the letter in its entirety below along with a list of resources on this topic for futher reading.
Dearest Family and Friends,
On January 15th, 2012, we will be presenting our daughter, Tenley Sophia Korljan, for baptism. In fact, as a newly ordained PCA pastor, Scott will have the privilege of performing the baptism himself. While this is a day of joy for us, we recognize that infant baptism is an issue that generates substantial disagreement among sincere Christians and a practice that some of our family and friends do not support. Further complicating the issue is the fact that many churches offer inadequate (and in some cases, unbiblical) reasons for baptizing their children.
In light of this we offer this letter as a brief explanation of why we are baptizing Tenley. Our hope is that as a result of this letter, whether you agree with the practice of infant baptism or not, you will understand that our decision to baptize Tenley is a result of our desire to be faithful to what we believe God’s Word teaches on this issue. Although baptizing Tenley will bring joy to us as parents, and the practice of infant baptism has a rich history in the church, neither sentiment nor tradition can stand as the basis for this practice. The only legitimate basis for infant baptism is that God commands it in the Bible, and this is what we believe.
Throughout the history of the Bible, God has entered into relationship and promised to bless his people in the form of a covenant. The Old Testament records God entering into covenant with Noah, Abraham, Moses and Israel, and David. What is important about these covenantal relationships is that God always included the children of these believers in his covenant promises. He said to Abraham, “I will be a God to you and to your offspring after you” (Gen 17:7. For the other covenants, see Gen 9:9-10; Ex 2:24; Deut 29:9-14; Psalm 89:3-4; etc). Because Abraham’s offspring were included in this promise of God, Abraham was commanded by God to give the covenant sign of circumcision to his children, including infants (Gen 17:10-14). This sign of circumcision was not given to infants because they personally understood and believed God’s promise (which of course they could not), but because circumcision was a pledge (or seal) given by God that he would honor his promise to all who, like Abraham, put their faith in him (Rom 4:11).
In the New Testament, the Apostle Peter, preaching on the day of Pentecost, emphasized the principle that the covenant promise is still for believers and their children just as it was in the Old Testament. He said in Acts 2:38-39 “Repent and be baptized, every one of you for the forgiveness of your sins…the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, for all whom the Lord our God will call.” While the promise to bless through faith in God’s grace continued to be for believers and their children, the apostle Paul told the Colossian believers that the sign of the covenant had changed from circumcision to baptism (Col 2:11-12). No longer foreshadowing the shedding of Christ’s blood, the New Testament sacrament of baptism is a sign of what Christ’s blood accomplishes: the washing away of sin and our union with him. The water does not itself wash away sin, rather, the sacrament of baptism acts as a seal - a visible pledge by God given to the church - whereby he guarantees to us that when such children express faith in Christ, all the promises of his covenant of grace will apply to them.
Although there is no specific command to baptize infants, Lindsay and I believe the New Testament supports the practice of infant baptism for the children of believers. One reason is the fact that giving the covenant sign to infants was commanded by God and the practice of God’s people for thousands of years up to the time of the Apostles. If New Testament believers were no longer to give their children the covenant sign, this would have been a major change in God’s dealings with his people. We would expect that such a major change, like all of the other major changes between old and new testament believers (i.e. the removal of ceremonial laws, Jew/Gentile distinctions, and sacrificial system), would be clearly attested in the New Testament either by express command or example - but there is no such command or example. A second reason is the example of household baptisms in the book of Acts. In Acts, every person identified as having a household present at his or her conversion also had the whole household baptized (Acts 16:15, 33; etc). While this is not indisputable evidence that an infant was in fact baptized, it does indicate that the household principal which began with Abraham still applies to New Testament believers. A final reason is the nature of the new covenant itself. God promised that the new covenant under which we now live as New Testament believers would be a much better, more gracious, and more inclusive covenant than the old covenant which governed the Israelites. We find it difficult to believe that a more gracious and inclusive covenant would exclude a group of people (the children of believers) who had always been included as part of God’s community of people.
In summary, we are not baptizing Tenley because we believe that baptism has any magical power to save in and of itself, or for the sake of the tradition of our church, or because it makes us feel good as parents. We baptize her because she is part of God’s covenant people and God’s promise that he will save those who have faith in Him is for Lindsay and I, and for our children (Acts 2:38). It is appropriate to apply the sign of baptism to her as an infant because the primary function of baptism is not to symbolize a personal faith decision for Christ, but to be a sign and a seal (pledge) of God’s unshakable promise that all who trust in Christ will have their sins washed away.
Tenley still has the responsibility to embrace the promises contained in her baptism by trusting Christ, and our prayer for her is that as a child born into Christian family she will grow up never knowing a day when she did not trust in Jesus for her salvation. Both of us are happy to discuss this issue in greater detail for any who may have follow up questions or concerns. Below is a list of articles and small booklets that give a more detailed explanation of infant baptism then we were able to give in this short letter. Thank you for being in our life and now in the life of our daughter, we love you and look forward to seeing you all soon.
Scott and Lindsay
“Why do we Baptize Infants?” booklet by Bryan Chappell (I relied a lot on this booklet in writing this letter).
Sinclair Ferguson’s chapter in “Baptism: Three Views”
Gregg Strawbridge (editor) “The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism”