Why Do Presbyterians Baptize Their Infants?

When Alicia & I started visiting a Presbyterian church a couple of months ago, I knew that there were two areas of theology which I’d have to get used to — those of Covenantalism and infant baptism. I come from a firm dispensational Baptist background, and so have heard infant baptism and Covenantalism derided as heretical untruths.

I still proceed with caution regarding Covenantalism, though I confess that it is making progressively more sense to me; and the more sense it makes, the more fractured the Scriptures look when viewed through my pair of dispensational glasses that I’ve been hanging on to.

However, today was essentially my introduction to infant baptism “from the horse’s mouth,” so to speak. The subject of today’s new member’s class at church was, “What do we believe about baptism?” and a good portion of the class dealt with why Presbyterians baptize babies.

I will say that right now, I’m still clinging ever so cautiously to my Baptist roots in this matter. Perhaps I shouldn’t,:”(Indeed, many such of my Baptist roots have already withered and died: King James Onlyism, the idea that contemporary or rock worship music is sinful, the idea that women must not wear pants, congregationalism, Semipelagianism, and so on…)”: and time will tell that.

I do, however, want to share with you what Pastor Tom briefly covered in the class today. If you continue, please remember that for my part, the issue is between the Baptists’ “believer’s baptism” and the Presbyterians’ view of baptism. The issue has nothing to do with baptism regeneration or other heresies taught by such as the Roman Catholic Church.

Very quickly, if you do not already know what “believer’s baptism” is: Believer’s baptism is the practice of baptizing (typically, or exclusively [as I have been taught], by immersion) only those who have believed in Jesus Christ as their Savior, professing Him to be such before others. In other words, infant baptism is precluded because an infant can neither understand who sin & salvation, let alone exercising a salvific faith in Jesus Christ.

So what of the Presbyterian view of baptism? I’ll go through the outline as objectively as possible, sharing what I learned as I learned it without attempting to persuade you to accept or reject the practice. I’ll be filling in some details that I remember from the class as well as my own understanding of the Bible as well, for completeness’ sake. I’m in complete agreement with the first two points of the outline (“What is a sacrament?” and “What is baptism?”), so I’ll jump in at the third point, “Who should be baptized?” in this first part. Part 2 (and possibly a Part 3) will continue the outline with answers to common objections to infant baptism and “How should baptism be administered?”, respectively.

You are, of course, more than welcome to ask questions or strike up conversation on anything to follow.

If you had a copy of this outline in front of you, you would see that the answer to the question “Who should be baptized?” is a simple one: “Those who profess faith in Christ, and children of those who profess faith in Christ.” So, why is that?

An Infant Baptism

There are a couple of reasons:

(1) Abraham! Remember Genesis 17? The Lord had made a covenant with Abraham, and as an outward sign of that covenant, circumcision was instituted (vv. 12,13). Now, “cut cut, snip snip” might not seem fantastic to our minds — indeed, nowadays it is done mostly for non-religious reasons — but for Abraham and his progeny it was a very significant act, representing a covenant between them & the Creator.

So what does that have to do with infant baptism? Circumcision, as a sign of faith and obedience in the covenant with God, was not just applied to believing adults. It was also applied to their children (typically at 8 days of age) and even to their whole household (servants included).

The closing few verses of Romans 2 make it very clear that the circumcision instituted in Genesis 17 is not what made a person an heir of the promise of Abraham. Indeed, those who were not circumcised outwardly but were inwardly faithful to God were counted as circumcised in His eyes. However, circumcision was such an important sign and was so closely tied to the covenant that we have verses such as Genesis 17:14 which link the two. We find the same kind of strong links in the New Testament between the forgiveness of sins and baptism, actually, which some have wrested into teaching baptismal regeneration.

Anyway, I’m getting off the point here: Abraham applied a sign of faith to his children. This sign did not save them, nor did it profit them anything if they were not faithful to God.

Because of Abraham’s practice, it stands to reason that Christians — which have their roots in the Scriptures, not just the New Testament — may also apply a sign of faith to their children, infants included.

(2) As Christians, that sign of our faith is not circumcision; the practice of baptism has superseded it, as we can see in Colossians 2:9-12:

For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. NASB

I think most Christians would accept that baptism is a sign of our faith easily enough, so I won’t go too much into it here.

(3) The unification of the Testaments. “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” Galatians 3:29, NASB.

Simply put and as the outline states, “The new Testament is the fulfillment of the covenant with Abraham.” Go back and read Genesis 17 to refresh your memory as to what the covenant with Abraham was; note carefully that it was between him and his offspring. Now here we have a verse which states that Christians are Abraham’s offspring? What then? Well…

(4) Christians have the same privilege as Old Testament believers! Putting all of the above together, Christians are free to baptize (baptism having replaced circumcision) their children and infants (indeed, their whole households) because as heirs of the promises made with Abraham, we have the right to apply a sign of faith to them.

This sign of faith is a commitment made by the parents to raise their children in the ways of the Lord, that one day (Lord willing) they would have their knowledge of God endued with faith in Jesus Christ by the grace of God.

I’m still somewhat of a neophyte when it comes to Covenantalism, however it seems that infant baptism has its roots in it, at least according to what we can learn from the above. If “Abraham’s covenant” is separate from “Moses’ covenant” which is separate from the “New Covenant in Christ’s blood,” as Dispensationalism maintains, then one could argue much more easily for believer’s baptism. However, due to the interconnected nature of the Testaments, the fact that the gifts and the callings of God are irrevocable, and that in no uncertain terms Christians are linked with the Abrahamic Covenant, infant baptism seems easily defensible.

Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end of Part 1! I’m sure you have questions or comments, so feel free to leave them. If you object to these teachings, speak up! Let iron sharpen iron, though I do ask that that you not make baptism a matter of division!:”(Unless, of course, you are teaching baptism regeneration, which I believe to be a corruption of the true gospel and thus a grounds for separation.)”:

In Part 2, you’ll find out the Presbyterian answers to some common objections to the practice of baptizing infants. (And, if I feel like going farther, Part 3 will discuss the mode of baptism — dunking, pouring, or sprinkling?)

[Image credit & license. For the appellatively curious readers, the baby’s name is Eamon. No, I do not know how it is pronounced, though Ä?-mun and Ä“-mun come to mind.]

Note: This was originally going to be one monolithic post covering the entire second half of the outline, but realized it’d be too big as I finished up the “reasons why” portion, at which point I went back and added references to a tripartite blog series. In light of that, there may be some portions of this post which still seem as though there should be more to this first part, though I did read through it once to make sure the continuity was okay. If it isn’t, I apologize.

3 thoughts on “Why Do Presbyterians Baptize Their Infants?

  1. Justin says:

    I happen to be split over the issue. I admit, I am a covenantalist, as much as I know of the word (which, mind you, is very little. Hahaha!). But, I affirme believer’s baptism over infant baptism, because, as was mentioned, I think a Christian must be able to recognize their sinful estate and be able to appreciate the meaning of baptism. Infants lack such capacities.

    But, I also find no fault with infant baptism because the Bible is so quiet on it. Sure, we can look at the institution of circumcision, but that doesn’t directly say, “Baptize infants!” So, I believe that this issue is such that it should be decided as the individual and the church, and neither should condemn the other.

  2. Paul Richard Strange, SR. says:

    I am a 53 year-old husband, dad, and grandpa whose believers’ baptism certainties were jolted many years ago by reading a pamphlet written by the late Francis Schaeffer, who I greatly admired! But, as the writers above, I held on to the believers baptism view, as a preference, in spite of not seeing it as a strict conviction. It seemed at this time that something could be said for being aware of the conscious participation of one’s baptism.

    God providentially prevented me from having the influence to make a strong case for the privilege of infant baptism, once I became thoroughly convinced that it has enormously positive benefits for Christian culture over generations!

    The Evangelical Covenant Church is one which treats both views equally, which is very difficult. I commend them!

    Soon, my heart is overwhelmed with joy that my first grandson will be born in October 2007 and baptized as a covenant child in fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. This could help influence my other children, who lean toward covenantalism, to go ahead and accept the logical conclusion of the fact that Christians are Abraham’s kids!

    In the King of kings

    PAUL RICHARD STRANGE, SR.
    119 Marvin Gardens
    Waxahachie Texas 75165

    [email protected]

  3. JonX says:

    King James Only­ism, the idea that con­tem­po­rary or rock wor­ship music is sin­ful, the idea that women must not wear pants, con­gre­ga­tion­al­ism, Semi­pela­gian­ism….

    Obviously, these have nothing to do with the historic Baptist faith. And from my experience, you find as many crackpot Presbys as Baptists. For them, it is mostly extreme views around scripture, divine omnipotence, predestination, atonement, and church and state. The maddening thing is the Presbys think all their views are obvious even though they were unknown on the early church. But that’s the problem with arrogance, it’d a psychological fruit of ignorance that is subconsciously recognized.

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