Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

Why Baptize Infants? (2)

Written by Rev. P. Op den Velde
Editor's Note: What follows is the second instalment of a translated brochure by the late Rev. P. Op den Velde, entitled "Why Baptize Infants?" Having explained that when Gentiles come to faith in Christ they are grafted into the original Jewish Church (the good olive tree, Romans 11:17ff.), and become members of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19), he goes on to show that the Old Testament sacrament of circumcision has essentially the same meaning as its New Testament counterpart, baptism.
Circumcision and Baptism Have the Same Meaning
Under the Old Covenant the sign of belonging to the people of God was circumcision. It was a meaningful sign, for it pictured the cleansing of sins which God had promised to give to His people through the shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ. At the same time, circumcision sealed and confirmed this promise. For that reason circumcision was called "the covenant in your flesh" (Gen.17:13). Circumcision was the ordinance by which God granted His promise and covenant or testament to Israel. This promise could be received in no other way than by faith. Also in the Old Testament the law of the kingdom of God is: believe in the (coming) Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.

To believe is to bow before and entrust oneself to the Lord, the King of Israel. This is God's summons to every Israelite. No one may remain disobedient to Israel's lawful King. He who refuses to submit to the Lord through unbelief is a rebel and will be cast out even though he is a child of the kingdom (Matt.8:12). Branches in the Vine that remain unfruitful are cut off and thrown into the fire (Jn.15:1-8).

In the New Testament, baptism has replaced circumcision. Colossians 2:11-12 tells us that the New Testament believers were circumcised when they were baptized, that is to say, baptism conveyed to them the same blessings believers and their children received from circumcision in the old dispensation.

Baptism is the sacrament of the New Covenant. Circumcision pointed forward to the shedding of blood which would some day take place at Calvary. The sprinkling with water at baptism points back to that bloodshedding. Whereas circumcision was restricted to males, baptism is administered to both sexes (e.g. Lydia, Acts 16:15).

Yet the essential meaning of baptism remains the same as that of circumcision. It is the sign of belonging to a people with whom God has made His covenant. Both sacraments depict the cleansing of sin which God offers to sinners, and both confirm the promise of forgiveness to everyone who believes.

Picture this scene: here is a Gentile coming out of the darkness of paganism into the light of the Gospel. He kneels down before the Lord and asks if he may share in the salvation of His people. This is in effect what the Syro-Phoenician woman did. "Lord, help me," she cried. We all know the Lord's answer: "It is not meet [or right] to take the children's bread and to cast it to dogs." But when she insisted and persevered, this "dog" did receive some crumbs of that bread (Matt.15:25-27). This was a foreshadowing of what was to happen soon.

Since Pentecost the Gentiles receive not just some crumbs of the bread belonging to Israel's children, but they are adopted into the family of God! As foretold in Psalm 87:6, the Lord Himself enters their names into the record book of the New Jerusalem and gives them the right to bear the name of Zion's children. This is a special privilege, almost too wonderful to believe for all who realize how unworthy they are of the least of God's mercies. The Lord knows how to deal with the weakness of our faith. To the solemn declarations of the Gospel He adds the sacrament of baptism, whereby He assures us that He reckons us among His people.

Thus baptism becomes the outward sign of belonging to the people of God and of being included in His covenant and congregation. What makes this so indescribably rich is that to that people and congregation God has given the Lord Jesus as a Prophet, Priest and King. In Him covenant children possess a complete salvation and they will surely be saved unless they refuse to humbly and sincerely entrust themselves to the care of the Lord.

Sad to say, this does happen in the Church of God. Besides loyal subjects there are also revolutionaries who reject their lawful King. They will not be saved; on the contrary, such children of the kingdom will be cast out. We cannot and may not say that everyone who is baptized will be saved, but we may say and must say that all who are baptized receive a place in the Church of God and come under the official care and supervision of the Saviour.

We see then, that baptism is a sign of the incorporation into the people of God. As our Confession states in Article 34:

Jesus Christ ... having abolished circumcision, which was done
with blood, has instituted the sacrament of baptism instead
thereof; by which we are received into the Church of God and
separated from all other people and strange religions, that we
may wholly belong to Him, whose ensign and banner we bear, and
which serves as a testimony to us that He will forever be our
gracious God and Father.

Would that all baptized church members would "acknowledge this Fatherly goodness and mercy of God and live in all righteousness under our only Teacher, King and High Priest, Jesus Christ!" (Baptismal Form).

Sad to say, there are many among Zion's children who do not do this. They are the unconverted children of the kingdom, the eldest sons of the parable of Luke 15. But this does not take anything away from the meaning of baptism. The testimony of this sacrament remains the same and for all who learn to honour the Lord in sincerity and truth, baptism will always be a rich fountain of strength and consolation.

What About the Children of Believers?
In light of the above considerations, how should we view the baptism of infants? What is the basic question at issue here? I believe it is this: when a father and mother are drawn out of the world, come to faith in Christ and are taken into the fellowship of the Church, what happens to their children? That is the crucial question. It is only in this context that we can rightly discuss infant baptism. We need to answer the question: should the children of believers stay behind in the world or should they also be assigned a place in the Church of the Lord? Are there only adults in the Church of God and are children excluded? These are important questions, don't you think? Becoming a Christian is like moving from one place to another. When parents come to faith they move out of the world of paganism and darkness into the City of Light. But what about their little ones? Should they be left behind in the world?

Throughout the ages the Church has emphatically said: parents, when you believe in Christ and come to us and desire to live with us under His wings, you may bring your children with you. They don't have to stay behind in the world. Like you, they are incorporated into the congregation of the Lord and come with you under His gracious dominion. Why then would we keep the sacrament of baptism from our children? Do they not rightfully belong to the Lord, just as we, their parents, do? Those who reject infant baptism attack the basic structure of the congregation of the Lord!

Is all this in accordance with what Scripture teaches? We firmly believe it is. The Bible nowhere views parents as individual and distinct persons, but always as parents in whom their children are included. There is an inseparable oneness between parents and children in Scripture. If the parents are branches in the Vine, their children are seen as offshoots (tiny plants: cf. Psalm 128:3). True, many people today no longer experience this union as in Bible times, but we trust that among Christians this closeness between parents and children is still very real. Are our children not our very own flesh and blood? And do we not experience the loss of a child as the tearing away of a part of our own life?

It should not surprise us therefore, that the Lord always deals with families. Certainly, He is concerned with individuals too, but not in isolation. Israel is the people of the Lord, not an collection of individuals who stand like bowling pins next to each other. It is a people organically grown out of families with children. Thus we read that in the Old Testament not only adults, but children as well, were circumcised (Gen.17). The New Testament tells us that entire households were baptized. When Zacchaeus is converted, Jesus says, "this day is salvation come to this house" (Lk.19:9). When Lydia comes to faith she is baptized along with her house (Acts 16:15). Paul also baptized the household of Stephanas (I Cor.1:16).

We don't need to be surprised at this. God deals with believers and their children. Parents don't leave their flesh and blood in the world when they come to Christ and enter His Church and Covenant. Therefore, children of believers may and must be baptized. This becomes very clear from I Corinthians 7:14, where Paul says that "the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy." Paul did not need to teach the Corinthians that the children of a believing husband or wife were holy; they knew that very well. But that an unbelieving husband or wife is sanctified by his or her spouse was not so clear to them, apparently. Also here we see that when the Lord brings one of the marriage partners to faith, He lays His hand upon the entire household, on the unbelieving man or woman and on the children. Of course, the unbelieving adult cannot be baptized if he withdraws himself from the congregation of the Lord in unbelief, but infants cannot do this (yet). They are included with the believing father or mother in the congregation and therefore ought to be baptized.

The New Testament is richer than the Old Testament. The sacrament does not point forward to a Saviour who is still to come, but it points back to Him Who has come and Who has shed His blood to cleanse us from our sins. The sacrament is no longer restricted to male members of the congregation, but reaches out to all the members of Christ's Church, whether male or female or children. If under the Old Testament covenant children were admitted to the sacrament of circumcision, would children of the New Covenant be excluded from its counterpart, baptism? We believe with the heart and confess with the mouth that the young children of believers ought to be baptized, for Christ shed His blood no less for the washing of the children of the faithful than for the adult persons (Confession of Faith, Art. 34).

By baptizing our little ones we honour the goodness of God. Again, picture this scene: here are Gentile parents coming out of the world to the Lord and they ask, Lord may we belong to Thee and Thy people? The answer is: yes! The Lord then confirms this divine yes by baptism, but the parents asks for more. They ask if they may also bring their children with them. They cannot be happy until their little ones also receive a place among the people of God. Again the answer is, yes! To strengthen their faith in this promise of God, their children also receive the sign and seal of His gracious covenant. What tremendous comfort this gives the parents! What a privilege this means for the children!

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