Baptism / Covenant Theology
Questions and Answers 3 – Pipestone CRC
From the Pastor’s Desk
Why do you baptize babies? (OR) What is Covenant theology?
It seems really strange that a church would baptize babies. After all, these little ones do not even know the basics of the Christian religion. Babies cannot tell the difference between right and wrong. They cannot confess faith in Jesus. And we would say: exactly! We baptize babies because, in reformed (and biblical) theology, God is sovereign in our salvation! The only reason we love Jesus is because Jesus has first loved us. So when believing parents bring their babies to be baptized, the covenant promises of God also extend to their children. Salvation is not a personal choice of the person but a gift of God in Jesus Christ. While we would not say that baptism “saves” the child at that precise moment in time, it does signify that the child belongs to Jesus and all God’s promises are for the child. This ties us to an aspect of reformed theology that we call “covenant theology.”
Let’s go a little deeper. God appears to Abraham when he is 99 years old in Genesis 17. If you read this chapter the word “covenant” appears repeatedly. God promises to be the God of Abraham and the God of all his descendants. And then God tells Abraham, "you must keep my covenant" and then institutes circumcision as a requirement for Abraham and his descendants. Every male is to be circumcised as a sign of the covenant, and those who are not circumcised will be cut off because they have broken the covenant. This includes, as the Lord tells Moses, his entire household, his servants and their families and so forth. In our reformed tradition we would say that the theology of covenant, of belonging to the family of God, runs throughout the entirety of scripture and in the New Testament the sign and seal changes from circumcision to baptism – that is, unless you want to say that circumcision in the Old Testament was meaningless! We don’t believe it is, but rather, it ties in closely with new Testament baptism. In the New Testament entire households were baptized, including young children.
In many church traditions today infants are not baptized because they cannot chose Jesus. But this is more symptomatic of the disease of American individualism and the idolatry of freedom of choice than it is biblical theology. Some churches invent a ritual called “dedication” which is nowhere to be found in the Bible and offers parents of children no comfort. We call our children covenant children because they are born into the family of God, the family of Abraham, and then we teach them and persuade them of this reality as they grow up until they embrace it as their own. And when our children struggle with their faith, and when we struggle in our faith, we can always remember our baptism, the proof that all of God’s promises belong to us. The Westminster Confession of Faith warns that believing adults who fail to baptize their young children are guilty of sin! Why would you deny your children membership in the kingdom from the time they are infants? God is sovereign in salvation. Salvation is not a personal choice, but a gift of God!