Thursday, June 11, 2009

Question and Answers about Baptizing Babies

A friend left the following comment on my earlier post about baptizing babies.

Robin, you said, "presumption can be made on the basis of the parents’ faith because of the myriad promises God has given to believing parents concerning the status of their children." What are these promises of which you speak? Are they truly promises of God that a believer's children will not fall away? If so, then is it really presumption? Is it not simply faith in the word of God? If not, then are they promises at all? And if not promises, then there is no basis for this presumption in the first place, as would be present in the case of a professing believer.

I am replying to Wayne's questions here because my response had too many characters to publish as another comment.

Great questions Wayne. The promises God has given to Christian parents which provide them with confidence that their children are part of the visible covenant and are presumptively part of the invisible covenant are manifold. After articulating the glories of the new covenant in his wonderful sermon in Acts 3, Peter ends by declaring, “The promise is to you and to your children.” (Acts 3:39) In his epistle to the Corinthians Paul makes the point that if even one of the parents is a believer then the children are sanctified (1 Corinthians 7:14). Speaking of small children Jesus Himself declares that “of such is the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:16). Then there are all the wonderful promises given to the descendents of Abraham which are addressed “to you and your children” and these can be applied to Gentiles because Gentile believers have now been grafted in to God’s covenant family by faith (Rom. 11:17). The result of Gentiles coming into the covenant is that they are heirs of the covenantal laws and promises of the Old Covenant, including the Abrahamic blessing which always included the children born into covenant families. Paul seems to assume this by quoting promises from the Sinai law and applying them to Gentile children in his letter to the Ephesians (6:1-3). And then, finally, there are the great promises of the Psalms that faithful covenantal parenting will result in faithful children. See Psalm 128, for example, where we are told that he who fears the Lord and walks in His ways will be blessed and that this blessing will extend to his children.

So those are some of the promises of which I speak. These promises do not guarantee that a believer’s children will not fall away, just as the promises of salvation given to individuals do not guarantee that an individual will not fall away. Rather, these promises assume that one is taking and applying these promises by faith, which means faithful covenantal parenting, just as the promises of salvation assume that one is applying and appropriating scripture’s promises by faith which means faithful living. Of course, believing parents can fail to pass on the covenantal blessings, like the generation that followed Joshua (Judges 2:10), and they can raise their children to worship idols (Ezekiel 16:20), but the normal pattern that scripture assumes is that believing parents will be faithful in parenting, which is why Paul makes faithful children a qualification for church leadership (1 Timothy 3:4-5).

So God’s normal instrumental means for bringing children to himself is faithful parenting, which is why it is so unhelpful to expect children of believers to have a conversion experience which is essentially to take a conversion model which applies to those who are not God’s people and apply it to those who are. A baby from a Christian home belongs to God from the moment he or she is born, and if the parents raise the child faithfully (rather than sending them off to be educated by Amorites and Moabites), that child will never be able to remember a time when they didn’t know the Lord. The idea that children of believers have to have a conversion experience is objectionable to me, because it sets the children up for a lifetime of doubt. Of course, they’re going to struggle with doubting their salvation if during the formative years of their life their parents have addressed them as unbelievers, essentially saying, “The verdict is still out on you until you are old enough to decide for yourself.” I have witnessed this in Baptist families and sometimes teenagers feel they need to continually repeat their salvation experience because it wasn’t good enough. Is it really surprising that they doubt their salvation throughout the rest of their life when their parents doubted their salvation for the first 5 or 6 years of their life?

So it is really presumptive, to answer your question. Just as baptize faith-professing adults on the assumption that they will continue faithful and not apostatize, so when we baptize babies we do so on the assumption that their parents will shepherd them faithfully with the consequence that those children will not fall away when older. The promises are not static predictions that can be detached from the presumed life of faith and faithfulness. You are quite right to suggest that it involves “simply faith in the word of God.”
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