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If you are not from a church background where infant baptism was practiced, it may seem strange to you to see a little baby sprinkled with water after his/her parents take vows. Of course, down through history the vast majority of Christian churches have practiced infant baptism, but many who visit our church wonder why we baptize before a person has made a reasonable profession of faith. The purpose of this article is to give a brief explanation of what we’re doing when we baptize a little child.
The first thing to say is that we believe God has commanded us in the Bible to baptize our infant children. We do not do this because of tradition but because of Biblical conviction. Like many important Bible doctrines, the doctrine of infant baptism is not based on any one passage but on a number of passages and Bible principles.
The next thing that must be understood is that we believe that our relationship with God functions on two different levels: the personal/intimate level and the official/covenantal level. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is with the marriage relationship. When a man and a woman are married, they have a personal/intimate relationship and also an official/covenantal relationship. Though the two levels of relationship are designed by God to go together, we know that there are times when a couple has a personal/intimate relationship without an official/covenantal relationship. We also know that there are times when a couple has an official/covenantal relationship even though there is not much of a personal/intimate relationship. But neither of these is the way it is designed to work. The personal/intimate level of relationship and the official/covenantal level of relationship are distinct from one another but they are supposed to coincide with one another.
We believe that the same holds true in our relationship with God. We are supposed to have both a personal/intimate relationship with God (what we call faith), and also an official/covenantal relationship with God (which, we believe, is effected by baptism). However, we know that there are some who have an official/covenantal relationship with God who have no real personal/intimate relationship with God in their hearts. They are members of the church but have no genuine love for Christ in their souls. We also know that there are some who have a personal/intimate relationship with God but have not yet made it official/covenantal through baptism/church membership.
When we baptize an infant we believe this represents the baby’s covenant relationship with God, just as the Israelites did through circumcision. It does not mean necessarily that they have faith in their hearts (though we believe it is possible for an infant to have real faith – John the baptist seemed to when he leapt for joy in his mother’s womb at the presence of Jesus). And unless that covenant child comes to personal faith in Christ he will perish like all other non-believers.
Why is infant baptism so important? Perhaps an analogy about trees will be helpful. God can make a tree grow anywhere. All of us have been shocked at times to see a tree growing out of the side of a cliff or through a crack in the sidewalk. And no matter how perfect the environment, God can make a tree die. And yet, if we want a tree to thrive, we still plant it in a place with good soil, sunlight, water, etc., knowing that ultimately the welfare of the tree is in the hands of God. In addition to the command of God, we believe this is why we baptize our infant children. Baptism acknowledges that as children of believers they are in covenant relationship with God and with His people, which is the richest possible environment for the growth of saving faith. However, we know that ultimately the salvation of our children is in the hands of God.
If you are interested in hearing a more detailed explanation of infant baptism from the Scriptures, you might want to read my longer Bible Study on the subject.