The title of this article reflects a system of data points and arguments that led to a practice of which I am no longer persuaded–however, I still wish to present the data and the arguments sympathetically, and according to the way they first worked on me: persuasively.
For over a decade, the Baptist way of reading the bible was all I knew. I wasn’t a bible expert, but I did attend church and Sunday school faithfully, and I attended a Baptist university and rarely missed Wednesday or Sunday night services. In all of that, I never heard about covenant theology. The theology that undergirds infant baptism (among those Evangelical Christians who practice it) is covenant theology, and as much as infant baptism was news to me, so was this theology.
Covenants are like contracts, and ancient covenants (those from two to three thousand years ago) were formal agreements between two parties. In the bible, covenants defined the relationship that God had with his people. However, these agreements were more than business-like arrangements. God was related to his people according to a family structure, or a marriage covenant. The study of these covenants and the conviction that correct biblical thinking is rooted in covenants is what we call covenant theology.
The sign of a modern marriage covenant is a ring. Covenants have signs. The sign of God’s ancient covenant with Israel was circumcision. The sign of his covenantal relationship with his bride, the Church, is baptism. And this observation is the critical step in applying the sign of baptism to infants. Circumcision was applied to children of the Old Covenant, and so children should receive the sign of the New Covenant. This line of reasoning has a lot of plausibility, and having never heard it, I couldn’t see any weakness in it.
Sure, the New Testament does not tell us to baptize babies, but children had always been included with their parents in the covenants throughout the bible. If the followers of Jesus who wrote the New Testament knew that babies are no longer part of the covenant people, then they would have told us. The fact that they never wrote that children are excluded from the New Covenant strongly implies that this principle continues: Children of believers are members of the covenant and ought to be baptized.
When I started to think this way, I was only 60% convinced. I had to wear the idea for a while. I knew that it was an argument from silence (a form of fallacy). I knew that I was making a positive case for infant baptism based on the silence of the New Testament, but the silence seemed deafening to me. So I grew to being 80% convinced.
I was never 100% sure that I was right, but the relationship of baptism to circumcision was secure in my mind–and just as a child who was circumcised under the Old Covenant was not saved by his circumcision, so I learned that infant baptism (of the Evangelical sort) was not about a child’s personal salvation. The validity of circumcision did not rest upon the final and future destination of the baby who had been circumcised. That is, finally damned or finally saved (whichever the case), a circumcised child under the Old Covenant was validly circumcised. By extension, I was taught to apply this to infant baptism.
A child who was circumcised in the Old Covenant could not nullify his circumcision by failing to unite it with faith. In fact, if he later defected from the covenant community, he could not escape the sign that was in his flesh. He was still circumcised. In the case where he proved to be an unbeliever, his circumcision would testify against him (the sign would remain valid, but in a condemning way).
Likewise, a baby who is baptized has a valid baptism because baptism is the sign of the covenant between God and his people. Even disbelief cannot undo the meaning of baptism. Baptism, then, signifies what God has done for his people. Unbelief does not nullify what God has done, nor does it nullify the sign. How this can be true is the subject of the next installment in this series.
This is part four of a six-part series on infant baptism. This series chronicles my own thinking and research as I went from being a Baptist to being a Presbyterian. However, in the sixth installment, I will show how my thinking took another reverse when I reconsidered a critical piece of data.
This is part four of a six part series published in the Miami County Republic, April, 2011. Continue reading part five