Covenantal Baptism

It is the teaching of our church that children of believing parents are to be baptized. This is rightly called Covenantal Baptism, but since everyone knows it as Infant Baptism we will keep it at that. 

Before we get into the weeds of it, you should know that we do not require families to follow this practice. If parents prefer us to wait until their child professes faith, then we wait. The actual practice of baptism is fuzzy in Scripture even though the command is clear, so we respond to that by having open minds towards those things that are not clearly described in Scripture. 

We only ask parents to consider this question. It is our job to help parents arrive at a practice that best expresses their beliefs. As part of that, here is our understanding of the issue and background behind our practice.

The command to be baptized…

The teaching of the Bible is that someone is baptized when they come into the community of faith. From Jesus to Peter to Paul, baptism plays a central role to faith, obedience, and union with Christ and his body.

Though baptism is taught in the New Testament as a part of the salvation experience, baptism itself does not save.  The only ground for our salvation is Jesus Christ and his grace.  In the debate about baptism, it must remain foremost in our minds that it is God and God alone who has the power to save. What we are discussing here is the visible symbol of something far greater. It is God's baptizing (not ours) that has the power to wash us, raise us, and renew us.

Baptism: the EARTHLY one… 

Baptism signifies belonging. All over the world, whether religious or not, communities have rites of passage. From induction ceremonies to weddings, we celebrate the initiation into a group. In an earthly sense, baptism is the initiation of someone into a local church. It is the declaration that a person belongs to a body that he/she had not belonged to before. 

In believer's baptism, the initiation happens when the person is old enough to decide for themselves. Baptism signifies that moment when a person professes their faith in Jesus, becomes a Christian, or has been born again. This new Christian also has all the rights of membership like: voting, taking communion, and serving in the church, etc.

In infant baptism, the initiation happens when the head of the household joins the church or becomes a Christian. It also means that when a baby is born to church members we baptize the child while they are still a baby. The result is that we end up with a peculiar group in our church: kids that have been initiated into the church, but don’t have the full rights of membership (like taking communion). Those same kids will have to come to a point where they profess faith and take up the rest of their rights as members.

Either way, the earthly aspect of baptism is saying the same thing. In any church, it is a symbol of joining the body. The difference is that we place that initiation ceremony at different points in a person’s life.

Baptism, however, is not simply an earthly ceremony. It is a sacrament of the church. A sacrament can be understood as an earthly symbol of a heavenly reality. Here is where believer's baptism and infant baptism seem to diverge.

Baptism: the HEAVENLY one… 

Baptism signifies joining the most sacred and mystical family ever imagined. We believe the gospel is best described in these family terms: God the Son (Jesus) has shared his Father with us. In becoming a Christian, we become partakers of God the Father and God the Son’s relationship. It is truly the greatest news possible.

In his good grace, God gives us new ears to hear his voice and a new will that can respond to his call. Believer’s baptism marks the hearing and the obeying. This is a biblical idea, biblical enough that we are happy to wait for a child to hear God’s call and respond to his voice. We allow for believer’s baptisms in our church because it does give us a picture of what is going on in that heavenly reality. 

Our hesitancy with believer’s baptism is that it can emphasize two things: 1) the person’s faith and experience instead of God’s eternal work and 2) the person becoming a contributing member of the church. In other words, believer’s baptism can inadvertently promote the individualism that is ravaging the American church. This doesn’t make it wrong, it just needs some nuance.

Infant baptism is the best picture of how we join the heavenly family — we are adopted. No family adopts a child and then waits to celebrate it when the child can choose for himself or do the dishes! Just like earthly adoption, we were adopted by the Father before we ever knew what hit us. Our faith and our obedience is the fruit of that adoption, not the cause of it. 

We unapologetically celebrate God’s work before the child can respond because we have hope in the Lord’s promises not our children’s understanding, we have hope in our God’s grip not our child’s. We do not baptize an infant thinking it will save them, we baptize them because the promise has and always will be “to you and to your offspring” (Genesis 17:7). 

It is true that some who are baptized as infants will reject the faith and choose to follow this world and its saviors. But that is as true for believer’s baptism as it is for infant baptism. As mentioned, baptism is an earthly sign. The real baptism is done by the Spirit, not by water. This spiritual baptism cannot be seen or controlled and so many who are baptized with water are not baptized by the Spirit, regardless of the method.

This invisible, heavenly baptism is where we always point. It is where we take our cue. Numerous people come to our church and request to be re-baptized, something we don’t typically do. The reason is because the person might be spending too much time thinking of what was done with human hands instead of what was done with heavenly ones. Were you baptized into a church that didn’t understand the gospel? Your Lord baptized you into the Family that produced the gospel! Did you get baptized before you really meant it? Your baptism wasn’t about what you were doing, it was about what God was doing — and thanks be to God that he meant it!

Extra food for thought… 

Further study can be done on the Book of Acts, when entire households were baptized when at least one person believed (Acts 10:47-48; 11:14; 16:15; 16:33-34). Another important consideration is how circumcision was called a sign and seal of the faith (Romans 4:11), and how baptism seems like the New Testament equivalent (Colossians 2:11-12). 

None of these more technical arguments are as compelling (or as important) as our practice of using baptism to point to the work of God instead of the work of man. That can be done through both believer’s and infant baptism, and it can be misunderstood in both versions as well. Our continual hope is that God loves us because of his grace and not simply because of our perfect conformity of all the religious symbols.