Text: Genesis 17:1-14, Acts 2:36-41 Theme: There is a triple biblical basis for infant baptism: God's leading role in our salvation, the scope of God's covenant, and the precedent of circumcision.
In the mid-1800’s Charles Haddon Spurgeon was considered the prince of preachers. He was a gifted evangelist, like Billy Graham, only the crowds came to him. His Metropolitan Temple in London was really the first mega-church. His sermons were printed and sent around the world. During the California gold rush, prospectors read his stuff around the campfire.
One sermon began: The outward ordinances of the Christian religion are but two-baptism and the Lord’s Supper- yet neither of them has escaped human alteration; and much of precious teaching has been sacrificed by these miserable perversions. For instance, ...men… exchange immersion for sprinkling, and the intelligent believer for an unconscious child, and so the ordinance is slain.
Today we baptize Avery Chao. She will be sprinkled with water, not immersed. She is still a baby- entirely unaware of the significance of this sacrament. I this a miserable perversion? A slaughter of the sacrament? What do we make of Spurgeon’s scathing critique?
For starters, it’s not surprising that there are differing views on infant baptism. Nowhere does the Bible specifically command or forbid infant baptism. No single Bible text settles the matter one way or the other. Rather, the practice arises from broader biblical themes and principles.
Of course, this involves interpretation. It’s not a matter of being sincere in our faith. It’s not a matter of being intelligent. It’s not a matter of who believes the Bible as God’s inspired Word. It’s a matter of believers simply coming to differing conclusions. So this doctrine should not separate God’s people- in their fellowship or ministry.
Having said that, the historic Christian church has long baptized newborn babies. Why? What is the biblical basis for infant baptism? We’ll consider three main points. First, in the drama of salvation God is the leading actor- God is the star.
Some years ago a mine in Chili suffered a massive cave-in. Thirty-three miners were trapped deep underground. They were three miles from the mine entrance + nearly a half mile beneath the surface. The ground along the shafts was so unstable any rescue that way was impossible. The only hope was to drill a new shaft all the way down from the surface above.
But that involved all kinds of technical challenges. It required pinpoint placement. It required a powerful bit that could drill through solid rock. It required avoiding moisture and seeping water that would blunt the drill. To meet the challenge, the planet’s most powerful machines and drills were flown in.
Then the drilling began. Day after day. Foot after foot. Deeper and deeper. Finally, after 69 days, the breakthrough: the shaft reached the pocket of the miners. Every last one of the 33 miners was lifted out and rescued. Multitudes around the world watched it on live television. Imagine the rejoicing!
That rescue provides a good picture of our salvation. Sin causes our lives to cave in. We get trapped: stuck in bad attitudes and harmful habits and cut off God. In our sin, we’re helpless. Left to ourselves we would face a slow death.
But then God sends Jesus to rescue us. By his life and death + resurrection Jesus cuts through all the layers of sin that trap us. Jesus opens a way out. Jesus reaches down + pulls us out. Multitudes in heaven rejoice!
Now let me ask this: who was responsible for the miners’ rescue? The miners themselves? No. They were helpless. Left to themselves they would have perished. Yes; they eagerly squeezed into the steel capsule when it came time to be lifted out. They certainly cooperated. But their only role was to receive the rescue.
So, who was responsible for the rescue? The team that designed the rescue operation. The team that calculated where to drill down. The team that guided the actual drilling. The team that lifted the miners out.
Who is responsible for our rescue from sin? Us? Hardly. We can’t cut through the layers of our sin. We can’t blast a way out. We can’t lift ourselves up. In our sin we’re as helpless as miners trapped underground.
Who is responsible for our rescue? God: the team of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father initiates our rescue. Jesus provides the rescue- by laying down his life. The Spirit moves us to receive God’s rescue from sin and death. Now think of baptism. Is the washing with water a sign of something we do? Certainly not. We are washed clean by God. Baptism is a sign of God's saving work. The sign of baptism doesn’t first reflect our faith or awareness or intelligence . It’s a sign of God’s saving grace which we simply receive. That’s the first main point.
A second biblical theme that supports infant baptism: children of believing parents are part of God’s family and covenant from the start. You see, in God’s plan we are not just saved from something. We are also brought into something. We are saved from sin and brought into God’s family.
The word covenant isn't that common anymore. Most familiar is the covenant of marriage. On their wedding day, a man and woman make solemn promises to each other. They enter into a marriage covenant. A wedding ring is the symbol. So too God pledges himself to us; he hitches himself to us. Leviticus 26:12: I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.
And God’s Word teaches that there are two ways to enter God's covenant family. The first way is to come in through faith in Christ. The second way is to be born to a believing parent. In Genesis 17:7 God says: I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you.
It’s like American citizenship: there are two ways to be an American citizen. You become one thru classes that lead to a pledge of allegiance or you’re born one. My Grampa Ribbens was born in the Netherlands. He became an American citizen. But I’m an American, because I was born to American parents. So too we maintain God intended believers and their children to be part of his covenant.
Now we move to a third main ground for infant baptism: circumcision. Of course, some Christians disagree on the prior point. They say God’s covenant promises apply to Abraham’s descendants, but not from birth. They say God's promises were meant for his son Isaac, if he comes to trust and obey God. Then, by faith, Isaac and would become a part of God’s covenant family.
But this interpretation is not backed by Genesis 17. Right after his promise to Abraham, God establishes a sign that seals the covenant. What was the sign? Circumcision. Who was to be circumcised? Abraham and the men of his household. And every male who is eight days old. So, little tykes are included in the deal.
That was the Old Testament, the old covenant arrangement. Today, God still welcomes people into his new covenant family- by the blood of Jesus. And his church is still made up of believers and their children. And so at Pentecost the Apostle Peter declares: The promise is for you + your children.
The new covenant in Christ comes with a new sign: baptism. Baptism, like circumcision, is a sign/seal of initiation into the people of God by God’s grace. Paul makes this connection in Colossians 2; he says: baptism is a circumcision in Christ.
I’ll add this theological point: in Christ the reach of the gospel expands- to all nations. The gospel goes out to all people: not just to Jews, but also to Gentiles. The scope of the sign expands too: now male and female are baptized in Christ. All this expansion in Christ! So why would the new sign of the covenant in Christ contract- no longer including infants?
Three great biblical themes: baptism points to what God has done- to rescue us; God’s covenant includes believers and their children; and the precedent of circumcision. That’s why we baptize babies. Baptism is God's way of saying: Welcome to the family!
I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you. In closing I’ll highlight three implications of this teaching. First, if you wonder whether to have your child baptized, here is good reason. There is ample biblical support for infant baptism.
Second, there is the comfort of God's covenant. Citizenship offers many benefits. So too, being in God’s covenant family and kingdom has all kinds of benefits. From earliest age you get to hear about Jesus; you are taught God’s promises; you experience his love through his people; you observe the faith of sturdy saints. Being in the covenant has its benefits.
Third, God’s promise to us in baptism comes with responsibility. We are saved by faith alone in Christ alone. Baptism doesn’t guarantee salvation. Rather we have every hope of covenant children remaining in Christ, because of God’s grace and because they are nourished in the community of Christ.
So parents, you are responsible to stay fully connected to the church, the body of Christ. Parents, you’re responsible for conveying the love and goodness and promises of Jesus! In turn young people, you are responsible to embrace your baptism + look to Christ. You are responsible to trust Jesus as your Savior and obey him as Lord.