Lately, I have been studying the issue of baptism in the church. Do we baptize believers only, or do we baptize believers and their children? I’ve actually been raised in both circumstances. I was baptized as an infant in the Presbyterian Church and actually raised in that denomination. However when I was ten, my family started going to a Baptist church and I was baptized by immersion two years ago.
I never took the time to actually study the issue of baptism in the Bible. As I was studying, I came extremely close to accepting infant baptism if it were not for what I see as inconsistencies in the Scriptures. I have compiled a list of ten reason why I reject infant baptism and support believers only baptism.
1. Infant Baptism is not in the Scriptures
Now I know that this may not be the most compelling argument to my Paedobaptist friends because they truly believe that infant baptism is in the Scriptures. However, if we really look at every baptism recorded in the Bible, there are no instances where we actually see that children who were incapable of repenting and believing were baptized. In every instance of baptism in the Bible, there was a profession of faith and repentance.
2. Nowhere are we commanded to baptize our babies.
Now it’s interesting that the Westminster Confession of Faith used by most Presbyterians says that it is “a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance” of infant baptism. I think this is a problem. If the Bible does not command us to baptize infants, then how could it be a sin not to? If it was so important of an issue, you’d think that the Holy Spirit would inspire the writers of the New Testament to include commands to baptize infants in the Bible.
I go back to the regulative reformed principle which says that if it isn’t commanded, then you can’t do it. I’ve had Pentecostal friends tell me to seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which also isn’t commanded in the Bible. In that case I also don’t do that, because it isn’t commanded in Scripture.
Many have also made the argument that it is okay to practice infant baptism because it isn’t explicitly forbidden in Scripture which really isn’t a great argument. You can’t imprint with divine authority a command on the basis that it isn’t forbidden in Scripture. If Scripture doesn’t command it, you can’t do it.
3. Repentance is a requirement for baptism.
I think that one of the greatest arguments in support of believers only baptism is that repentance is always the requirement to be baptized. This is why Peter said “Repent and be baptized,” (Acts 2:38) and that “those who had received his word were baptized” (Acts 2:41). They only people who were baptized on this day at Pentecost were those who heard the word and believed. There was no exception to this in the New Testament church.
Although many Paedobaptists will object to the book of Acts and the household baptisms, this is not a valid argument. First there are only three examples of household baptisms in the book of Acts and here are what happened:
House of Cornelius
“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, ‘Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?’ And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” (Acts 10:44-48, italics emphasized)
This text is extremely clear. The Holy Spirit fell upon all, all believed, and all were baptized. Those who were baptized were those who received the Holy Spirit.
Household of Lydia
“A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshipper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.’” (Acts 16:14-15)
You must notice first of all, that nowhere in this text does it mention the baptism of infants. It is most likely that all believed in her house and that is why all were baptized. Because of her conversion she must have brought the gospel to her family and all must have believed.
Household of the Philippian Jailer
“They said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.” (Acts 16:31-34)
This instance is also very clear. Why was he rejoicing? Because his entire household believed. That’s what was so wonderful about it. We can’t take a few examples of these and make it a normative. That is like saying that people spoke in tongues in Acts so that means everyone needs to speak in tongues. The reason these household baptisms were so wonderful are because it was not the normative of the early church for everyone in the household to believe in God. This was not the normative.
Another text the Paedobaptist will mention is 1 Corinthians 7:14, “For if the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.”
First of all, I don’t see anything about baptism here. The argument is that children are set apart by virtue of being in one’s family, but so is the unbelieving spouse. With this argument, if one has an unbelieving wife, she needs to be baptized too, even if she doesn’t profess faith. All Paul was saying here is that if someone becomes a believer and their spouse is not a believer, there is no reason to get a divorce. That was the context. There is too much being read into the text here.
Also, there are a couple more Scriptures about God’s care of children that the Paedobaptist appeals to.
“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3-4)
I’m going to have quote Charles Spurgeon on this text: “What on earth does
this have to do with baptism?” This text is simply saying that child-like faith is necessary to enter the kingdom.
Another example of paedobaptist defense:
“And they were bringing children to him so that he might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Permit the children to come to me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.’ And he took them in his arms and began blessing them, laying his hands on them.” (Mark 10:13-16)
Once again, I don’t see anything about baptism here. This is simply saying that our Lord has a special care for children.
The last Scripture our Paedobaptist friends will appeal to is Acts 2:39, “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.” (Acts 2:38)
There are two things wrong with appealing to this text for support of infant baptism. First, the promise is not baptism or external membership in the church. The promise is the Holy Spirit for those who repent. And second, the verse even defines who this promise is for: “as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.” In other words, this promise is for the elect of God.
4. The only mode acceptable for baptism is by immersion.
The word for baptize which is baptizo in the Greek language literally means to immerse. That is clear by the meaning of the word in the Greek Septuagint. However, if it isn’t clear, we can just look at the example of when John the Baptist baptized:
“And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.” (Mark 1:5)
We actually see first of all here that all who were being baptized were confessing their sins, which means no infants could have been baptized. But also they were being baptized in the Jordan River, which seems to say that they went under the water for baptism.
However, if it still isn’t clear, then we can look at the baptism of Jesus:
“Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him…After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water.” (Matthew 3:13, 16)
I think this is very clear. Even in the baptism of Jesus, he went under the water and came back up. This means that the only acceptable mode of baptism is by immersion.
Now some have tried to argue that baptism can be administered by sprinkling or pouring water on a person and they do so by saying that there are uses of the word in the Greek Septuagint that do not refer to immersion. However, the word being used this case is not baptizo which is the word always used for baptism in the New Testament, but the word bapto, which is a different word. There is a perfectly good word for sprinkling in the New Testament. It is the word rhantizo. I think that if baptism were by sprinkling, that this would be the word the New Testament authors would use.
5. Baptism is a symbol of death, burial, and resurrection with Jesus Christ.
Some Paedobaptists have held on to the mode of sprinkling for baptism on the basis that baptism is a sign of washing away of sin because of Acts 22:16: “be baptized, and wash away your sins.” Although baptism does signify cleansing, this does not represent the New Testament meaning. We have a clear teaching from Paul in the book of Romans that baptism represents a believers union with Jesus Christ:
“Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)
This is the reason why baptism must also be administered by immersion, because it symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection of a believer just like Christ. Baptism is the sign of a sinner being united with Jesus Christ in his death.
6. Baptism is not the replacement sign of circumcision.
It is argued by our Presbyterian brothers and sisters that just as believers and their children were circumcised in the Old Covenant, so also believers and the children are baptized in the New Covenant. However this is a faulty argument. Nowhere in the Bible does it compare circumcision to baptism except in one verse:
“In him you were 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.” (Colossians 2:11-12)
Notice how in this text, it does not say that baptism is the equivalent to circumcision but rather that baptism is pointing to the circumcision of the heart. It is not the physical act of circumcision that matters but the spiritual act of circumcision. Whereas circumcision demanded a new heart but did not profess it, baptism professes a new heart. Baptism is the fulfillment of Old Testament circumcision, but the two are not identical.
7. The Old Covenant was ethnic in nature while the New Covenant is spiritual in nature.
Again it is argued that since Abraham and his descendants were circumcised in the Old Testament so also believers and their children are baptized in the New Testament. But this misunderstands the nature of the New Covenant. The Old Covenant included land promises with circumcision for ethic Israel, whereas the New Covenant is made with spiritual Israel. It is not the physical descendants of Abraham who are baptized in the New Covenant but the spiritual descendants of Abraham:
“Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham…So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.” (Galatians 3:7, 9)
The true sons of Abraham are those who are believers, which means only they should receive the sign. What is extremely interesting about this hermeneutic that Paedobaptists use in their covenant theology is that it is very similar to how dispensationalists argue. Dispensationalists argue for a literalist hermeneutic, so they look at Old Testament promises and believe they literally have to be fulfilled in the New Testament. However, a consistent reformed hermeneutic would lead one to allow the New Testament to define how the Old Testament promises are fulfilled rather than taking a presupposition in the Old Testament and reading it into the New Testament text. In making this error, both the dispensationalists and the Paedobaptists have two people of God, rather than one. The dispensationalists argue that God deals with ethnic Israel one way and the Church a different way. The Paedobaptist argues that God deals with the elect one way and their children in another way. The reformed, covenantal Baptist believes that there are only one people of God, which is the elect.
8. Whereas the Old Covenant was comprised of elect and reprobates, the New Covenant is comprised of only the elect.
It is because of this point that I see much discontinuity between the two
covenants. If I could just quote from James White here: “The essence of the New Covenant is not excluding children. The essence of the New Covenant is the perfection of its members whereas the Old Covenant did not perfect anyone. That’s the difference between the two and that’s why the sign is different. In the Old Covenant you gave the sign to wretched reprobates and you did it purposefully, and you had to in order to keep the land promises in order, but that does not carry over into the New Covenant.” As a matter of fact, we have an explicit teaching from the prophecy of Jeremiah, that the New Covenant, was first of all, not breakable, and second of all, only made with God’s redeemed:
“‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,’ declares the Lord. ‘But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will put my law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.’” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
I don’t know how much clearer Jeremiah could have made it. Whereas the Old Covenant was an Ethnic Covenant, the New Covenant is a spiritual covenant. Whereas the Old Covenant could be broken, the New Covenant is not breakable. Whereas the Old Covenant had reprobates in them, the New Covenant includes only the elect. This is what makes the New Covenant so wonderful.
9. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper go together.
Most Padedobaptists recognize that as baptism replaces circumcision, the Lord’s Supper replaces Passover. However they also recognize that the only one’s able to participate in the Lord’s Supper are those who can examine themselves: “Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly” (1 Corinthians 10:27-29).
However, Paedobaptists are inconsistent in giving the ordinance of baptism to infants but not allowing them to take part in the Lord’s Supper. Both are ordinances of the New Covenant. If you receive baptism, you must also be allowed to eat at the table.
10. Infant Baptism denies the Calvinist doctrine of Limited Atonement.
In the Gospel of Matthew and Luke when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper he said some very important things relating to the New Covenant:
“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:28)
“This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:20)
It is very clear that those who are in the New Covenant are those to whom the blood of the Lamb is applied to. Why would you give the New Covenant sign to someone who Jesus did not atone for? That makes no sense. We have enough evidence in the book of Hebrews that the New Covenant is comprised of only those for whom Jesus died for:
“Therefore he is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25)
“For this reason, he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it.” (Hebrews 9:15-16(
“By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all…For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:10, 14)
Those who are in the New Covenant are those who Jesus paid the price of redemption for. Since Jesus did not do that for everyone, only the elect are in the New Covenant. We do not give a sign of the New Covenant to someone who will never experience the grace of God in their lives. The sign of baptism is not given as a hope that someday it may be fulfilled. Rather baptism is given as a sign that what it signifies has already happened. The New Covenant is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant, and it is not the same.
I hope this has been helpful to show that baptism is a sign of the New Covenant in Christ, and that those who receive it are those who confess that they have been united with Christ in His death.