Why Children are not in the New Covenant (Because neither are their Christian Parents!)

Christian kids are not in the Covenant, because neither are we; neither are any of us!

In my previous article, Why don't Presbyterians baptise all their kids (automatically and universally)?, I concluded that:
  • Either the "promise" of Acts 2:39 universally applies to any person who is under a Christian's ownership and physical authority (i.e. any permanent resident of his household), regardless of age or faith -- meaning that the common practice of infant or covenant baptism is inconsistent with itself;
  • Or "the promise" of the Abrahamic covenant, which applied to his direct descendants, applied quite differently to Israelites/Jews as does the promise of Acts 2:39 to Gentile believers under Christ's fulfilled Abrahamic covenant - meaning that the sign of that old covenant, circumcision, was quite a different practice with as many differences in applicability to the new sign, baptism, as the New Covenant in Christ is different to that old way, which has now passed away.
In this article I want to explain this last option (in the second dot point above), and how it is the only possibility (the only option that is not inconsistent in practice or with the Scriptures themselves).

And again I want to say that I love by infant and covenant baptist family. As I said in the previous article, I'm a happy member of a Presbyterian church and most of my 'ministry' friends are paedobaptists. I'm not wanting to be divisive; I'm talking about this because we all agree that working out and trying to get at the truth by speaking about it to one another is the only way to true gospel unity. But I want to do that with gentleness and respect. So please know that I do respect all my Presbyterian and Reformed and Anglican friends. Many of my friends have already come to an infant baptist position on this issue, which is like me based on a sincere conviction that the Bible is the authority - they have simply arrived (so far) at a different position based on careful study and reflection. But we also all agree, that none of us has 'arrived'. We need to continually guard against becoming closed to the possibility of changing our minds on a difficult and debated subject like this, no matter how 'far down' the track we are.

So having said this, I want to lovingly ask, have Presbyterians thought enough about the possibility that the New Covenant is so different to the Old Covenant, that circumcision doesn't parallel directly with baptism; just like we don't think of our ministers as the new 'priests', just like we don't think of our church buildings as the new 'temple', and we don't think of our countries as the new 'land'; so too we mustn't think of Christian baptism as the new 'circumcision' (because Christians are not the New Offspring/Seed).

Our biblical theology has trained us to recognise not only the unity but the discontinuity between the old and new covenants, so that we realise that in Jesus the Old Testament does not apply directly to Christians; it applies directly to Jesus.

Covenant theology compares the new covenant to the old covenant and recognises incredible unity between them; but there are some very significant differences that it does not recognise - and one of these differences in enormous. It is a massive difference related to the fact that Israel failed to be an able member of the covenant. That old covenant failed because God's people (Israel) broke the covenant - and in fact could not keep the covenant; so the covenant Law would only bring down God's judgement on them, and they could not obtain God's blessing under it. But actually it didn't fail, because they didn't all fail - actually One did keep it; and when he kept it, he fulfilled it by obtaining the blessing of the Law and the Abrahamic Covenant, while at the same time made a brand New Covenant with the LORD himself, which didn't carry over the same weakness that existed with the first covenant (because the New Covenant was only between the LORD and this One New Man himself, who would live forever in perfect obedience).

So I've already given it away, but in case you're skimming and even missed the title of this article: have you realised that the significant difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant is that your kids are not in it, because not even we are in it: Parents of children are not in the New Covenant, so our children are not either.

I'll now slow down and try to explain this, first by taking a step back to think about circumcision a bit more; in particular, how different it is as far as signs go to baptism, even to what infant baptists practice when they baptise a child.

That circumcision was very different to baptism is seen in the way in which God allowed a newly bought slave to eat the Passover meal as soon as he had been circumcised - without consideration to his faith in the LORD! Would Presbyterians immediately baptise their newly adopted children of primary school age, and them automatically and immediately allow them to partake in the Lord's Supper, regardless of their faith? Would Christians in the early 1800s have intermediately baptised a newly bought slave and then automatically allow them to partake of the Lord's supper without consideration to their faith?

Using circumcision as an analogy in order to determine how to practice baptism is like trying to understand how to drive a car by studying horse riding. It is Reformed Evangelicals who warn against allegorical reading of the Old Testament, but the method of arriving at infant baptism is just as bad - it is an analogical reading of the Old Testament.

That circumcision was only given to males (can only given to males!) should tell us something very different was going on. Circumcision, as an operation on male children, was God cutting a covenant renewal in the flesh and with the blood of each generation of Israelites, making a mark in the flesh of each boy that would grow to be a man, so that each time he became a parent - each time he passed on his seed into a woman - the sign of circumcision in that union would testify to God's promise to Abraham (and David) that from the offspring of his flesh, the seed of his body, would come a Second Adam (cf. Genesis 3:15), who would like Adam be the Son of God: and that the LORD himself would be His God (This is why God calls Israel 'my Son', as he did Adam and David/Solomon and Jesus) (See e.g. Luke 3:38; Hosea 11:1; 2 Samuel 7:14).

Under the Old Testament, each generation that received circumcision did not necessarily grow up knowing the LORD - only the first and second generations under Moses and Joshua who saw all that the LORD did for them so that they might know him, had directly heard God's word and been saved by him:

Judges 2:10 "After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel."
So circumcision was not directly related to their faith in the LORD.

And yet, the covenant of circumcision was God's promise that everyone in that line of election, every physical descendent elected in that line between Abraham and Christ, would be to God his people; he would treat them as his sons, and he would be their God.


In the end this spelt disaster for Israel (Deuteronomy 32), because they were not able to keep the covenant, and in breaking its terms they brought down upon themselves the promised curse from a holy God who was faithful to his word of judgment:

Joshua 24:19: Joshua said to the people, "You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you."

But the promise of blessing in return for obedience still applied and, after Israel's end in judgment, the promise of blessing was fulfilled in a new, faithful and obedient Israel: Jesus, the Seed of Abraham, the Son of David, the Son of God. He is the Physical Descendant - who lives forever - and physical descent stops with him. He is the Circumcision; it was his flesh that was cut off, his body that was marked with death, his blood that was shed to make a New Covenant, which fulfilled permanently and completely all the requirements of obedience and faithfulness to the LORD under the Old Covenant, thus bringing the blessing of Abraham's covenant and forever satisfying and finishing the curse of it. Circumcision stops with him.

And as he rose from the dead when the LORD God exulted him to his own right hand, he became the Lord and Head of a new line of humanity, seeded not by physical descent (Jesus has no biological children!), but by his own Spirit, the promised Spirit of God whom Christ gives to make Gentiles into children; children born not of natural descent (John 1:12), but "born again" to become children and sons of God (John 3:3).

Only in Christ (through faith) we are descendants (i.e. children and sons and heirs), since we have his Spirit. Only in him we are circumcised, since by faith in him we have union to one who died our death, joining us to that act which cut off the word-made-flesh (John 1:14), so that our body of sin was crucified in him, and died and was buried. Only in Christ are we baptised, when the risen Lord pours out on us the Holy Spirit to washed (baptised) us so that we can be forgiven by God and credited with righteousness (like Abraham; cf. Romans 4), just as if we always were faithful to God's covenant law ourselves (justified).

This is exactly what Peter was getting at in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:39): What is the promise in Acts 2:39 that infant baptists point to; what does Peter say is promised to "you and your children and all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God (i.e. Jesus) will call"? Acts 2:38 says that the promise is "forgiveness of sins" and "the gift of the Holy Spirit".

This is how the blessing given to Abraham - to which circumcision pointed - came to us:
Galatians 3:14: He [Christ] redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
Unlike the Abrahamic covenant, which included physical descendants of Abraham (and so circumcision was given to them all), the New Covenant includes only one physical descendent: Jesus the son of David, the son of Abraham, the son of God. No other physical descendants are included. It was a covenant cut in his blood and his flesh alone. This is why the New Covenant is not broken when we sin; because we're not in it; it is not a covenant between God and Jesus and Us. It is between God and Jesus Alone! And that means that the blessings of it can be offered unconditionally to us through faith; because they are not conditional on our obedience, they are conditional only upon Jesus' perfect obedience and perfect sacrifice. And this is why the Abrahamic covenant, which is an unconditional promise that has a blessing which is conditional upon the obedience of Abraham and his descendants after him forever, is now perfectly fulfilled (i.e. promise is obtained) so that the blessing is eternally secure: because Jesus, whose perfect obedience brought the blessing, now lives forever.

In other words, there will always be standing before God the One Jew, Jesus, living as a man, physically descendant from Abraham, born under the law, both circumcised and faithful, who suffered the same punishment of death that we deserved under the curse of the God's law, but who through faith in him has redeemed us forever and given us his blessing of sonship with God and eternal life with him.

As it is written:
Romans 4:16: Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham [i.e. Christians].
Notice, the promise comes by faith. This is "the promise" of Acts 2:39 for all who repent and are baptised "in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins" (Acts 2:38). It is not a promise for the physical descendants of Christians. It is a promise for all those called by the Lord who is alone the physical descendant of Abraham that has become the heir of his blessing - and those he calls are all those who share the faith of Abraham in him, his Promised One, his Seed and Offspring, Christ Jesus.

Now I realise that to most of my dear Presbyterian and Reformed and Anglican friends and mates and extended family, much of this truth is known and cherished when it comes to the actual repentance and faith of those who believe in the gospel within these denominations. But this makes the practice of infant baptism all the more surprising because it appears to be inconsistent and illogical.

Actually, not a few Christians I've spoken to who baptise their infants based upon passages such as Acts 2:28-29 and 1 Corinthians 7:14 agree that these verses themselves don't support the practice directly or indirectly. The entire weight of argument for the practice lies on the comparison or parallelism between baptism and circumcision in view of the relative silence of the New Testament on the practice of infant baptism.

For any plain reading of Acts 2:28-29 will yield that "the promise" spoken of can only refer in the same way to "your children" as it does to "you" and to "all who are far off" - Peter is saying that the promise of forgiveness and the Spirit through repentance and baptism is for you and those near (i.e. Jewish children) and far off (i.e. Gentiles) - that is, everyone who the Lord calls.

And any plain reading of 1 Corinthians 7:14 yields that no special promise of salvation for the children of Christians can be in view, otherwise the unbelieving spouse of a Christian would also be saved. The language of 'sanctified' and made 'holy' with reference to the faith of the Christian is common language for Paul in the New Testament when using Old Testament terminology to describe the way in which Christ has made acceptable in the Christian household many things previously forbidden under the Law - including welcoming in the neighbours (i.e. Gentiles), allowing onto the table certain foods (e.g. food sacrificed to idols), and parenting the children of an unbelieving spouse (i.e. through union with a non Christian). Paul's further teaching in his second letter to the Corinthians makes the relevance of his message here very crucial to his audience. In 2 Corinthians 6:14-17 he will say "do not be yoked with unbelievers," and "touch no unclean thing and I will receive you." It would have been clear enough to the Corinthians, when Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 7 that the "brother [who] has a wife who is not a believer" must not automatically divorce her, that he was not implying some special promise about his children's faith when he said, "they are holy". Rather, like other previously "unclean" practices, now even the marriage union (let alone the children) is sanctified by the faith of the Christian, who knows that in Christ the word of God and prayer consecrate these things to God as good and acceptable ways to service and worship to him within this creation.

As it is written:
1 Timothy 4:4-5: For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
Children are good; parenting is good - as are all things for Christians that God has first created since the beginning, if we receive them and do them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

But the new creation, the second birth, comes through faith in Christ alone. It is special. It is a new beginning. It is not tied to the first creation; it is not passed on by physical birth or descent; it is not received by parenting, no matter how good our parenting is. When Jesus was raised from the dead, he commanded that faith and repentance be preached in his name to all nations, and that "disciples" should baptised them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18); that is, the mark of the new creation to which the water of baptism speaks, and the work of the new creation to which the water of baptism seals, is the relationship to the Name himself, the new relationship that those baptised have with God the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit in us.

That is why in the New Testament (from what we read in Acts) and in the evidence from before the second part of the second century, see don't see baptism, the sign of new creation in Christ, being given to infants. Because unlike circumcision, baptism is the sign and seal of a covenant that is not in our flesh, a covenant that is not between us or our offspring; it is a covenant between God the Father and his New Creation alone: the man Christ Jesus, the first-born over all Creation. Jesus is the New Creation; and only "in him" can we be part of it. Therefore, it is only by being "born again" (including kids of Christian parents!) that through the Son we gain access by faith to the promised Spirit and all the blessings of forgiveness and life in his Name that belong to him. Only the offspring of his Spirit have the right to be called children of God; therefore only those who believe in his name have the right to be baptised in his name, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit:
John 1:12-13; 3: 6-8: 
"...To all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
...Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” 
So this is why in the New Testament we don't see the infant children of Christians being baptised but we do see people being commanded to do it in an informed act of faith and repentance; because unlike circumcision, baptism is the sign and seal of being in Christ, not being in the Covenant. Only Christ is in the Covenant; he is the only descendant left of Abraham who remains under the Old Covenant and in whose physical body was cut the New Covenant.

But through baptism we are adopted in Christ through his Spirit by new birth to become children of God the Father; it is our faith that is seen in baptism that is the sign and seal of our sonship, and it is the mark of the Spirit in us that sets us apart as his people. And that's why baptism, unlike circumcision, is a sign of faith to be given to those who have repented and turned to the Lord (Acts 2:38).

It seems to me that practice of infant baptism is one of those teachings that people don't arrive at from reading and understanding and comprehending the teaching of the Bible itself. I don't mean to sound harsh; please hear me only trying to speak the truth in love. People arrive at this belief from reading Calvin or from going to an Anglican Bible College or from talking to paedobaptists or from studying the denominational codes or the historical debates and positions of our denominations in the past and present, etc. I realise that all beliefs we arrive at are significantly influenced by our culture and context - but it is a worthwhile 'thought experiment' to do: Imagine that it was possible to arrive at a belief only from reading the Bible: now think about whether you can see that anyone would arrive at the infant baptist position only from reading the Bible, in that artificial world. I don't believe anyone would. It's a good test. Infant baptism is just one of many church practices that has evolved out of church history after the Apostles time, and if things happened differently, it may never have emerged. This should be enough to show us that there is a problem with the practice of infant baptism, and a serious one.

That people don't arrive at the infant baptist position from studying the New Testament in light of the Old, or from studying the Old Testament in light of the New - should warn infant baptists that they may have fallen the same trap they know about from watching Pentecostals and others take on particular doctrines and practices, which have been informed by historical developments and can be explained only by considering the influences of developing church culture and our religious context: the practice of infant baptism is no different, as Justin Taylor has shown.

The Westminster Confession of Faith is of course not infallible; far from it - it is a human, man-made denominational creed that, though without doubt it has brought much blessing and unity to the Presbyterian church for hundreds of years now, has also caused great confusion and inconsistency over one of the most central New Testament gospel practices: baptism!

That the Confession states "it is a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance" (Chapter 28, article 5) has probably put the fear of God into many sincere Presbyterian Christians down through the last few centuries when it comes to this practice. But if we really fear God, we will not fear man; actually, we will obey God rather than man. And that is what we must do when it comes to baptism. After all, it is the Apostle's gospel of the New Testament that says to us "Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ...!"




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See also:


Why don't Presbyterians baptise all their kids (automatically and universally)?

Why do Presbyterians only baptise their infant children; why not all their children, such as their older kids? Though a few probably do, it's not common in my circles that when Christians become fully won over to infant baptism that they automatically go ahead and baptise their teen or adult children. It's a bit of a puzzle, because the Bible passages used to support the practice talk about children of believers, without restriction to age and without regard to faith.

Now please don't be offend by my question; that's not my intention! I ask it only because I believe it leads to the root of an issue with the paedobaptist position, which I want infant baptists to consider seriously. But in talking about a topic as potentially divisive as baptism, please know that I completely respect my brothers and sisters in Christ who are infant baptists. Most of my 'ministry' friends are infant baptists and I love them all so dearly. Anyone who knows me will know that I deeply love my Presbyterian family, as with my Anglican and Reformed comrades. So when you read this article image me with a big smile on my face and a gentle tone, even though I'm communicating perplexity in my words. After all, I also need to struggle not to take offence and get defensive with the infant baptist position; the Creeds say some pretty heavy things (e.g. "it is a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance!"). When I read John Calvin or the Westminster Confession of Faith on this particular topic, it is hard not not get edgy myself as I deal with not only the substance of what they're saying, but also the tone of their talk.

But back to my question: I guess we're so used to the practice of infant baptism that it's easy to overlook the fact that the passages that paedobaptists point to don't actually narrow in on infants or restrict our application to babies only. In fact the opposite is the case: the Scriptural basis for the practice focuses on all children (without qualification to age or faith), and in fact includes applicability to all household members belonging to a believer, regardless of age or belief.

I've been a happy member of a Presbyterian church in Hobart for 10 years now, and before that my wife and I were part of Sydney Anglicanism. In all that time I don't recall anyone asking this question at all, though I feel that it's a glaring issue with the traditional practice (based upon its own logic).

I most notice the inconsistency with the common practice when parents in a Presbyterian (or Reformed or Anglican) church who start a family and end up with kids of a range of ages, all before making up their minds about the teaching and practice of 'paedo-baptism' (Greek pais = child); then, since they've already got primary school aged kids, they automatically baptise their babies and really young kids only. I see it when parents converted into Presbyterianism, or Christians newly convinced by the reformed teaching on the practice of paedobaptism don't automatically baptise all their children, but only their infants.

I've been using the phrase "automatically baptise" to imply "independent of the child's faith". Some paedo (or 'covernant') baptists won't necessarily see any inconsistency with newcomers to the infant baptist view also baptising their older kids, because they don't take issue with older children being baptised under an 'covenant' baptist understanding, which is the basis for infant baptism. But not many would do it automatically. If their older child or teenager had confessed defiant unbelief or if this had been expressed through godless behaviour, they would almost appear to become believer/credo-baptists ('credo' = belief) at this point (in practice; apart from a difference in theological basis for our understanding of the new covenant and baptism).

This is a different form of the same inconsistency, since the basis for the infant or covenant baptist practice is passages in both the New Testament and the Old Testament that speak categorically or unconditionally about children and the promise: E.g. all Israelites were circumcised or faced the death penalty according to the Law; it was not dependent on their faith; Acts 2:39 under the infant baptist interpretation says that "the promise" is for "your children"--a promise that would by this logic apply to all Christian kids irrespective of whether they yet have faith (regardless of age), including infants or in later years.

So in principle, paedobaptists may not find it controversial to think about older and even adult children receiving baptism if their believing parents come to a covenant position on this; but in practice they would no longer do it automatically as they do for their infant children: they would instead assume that their children have 'opted out of the covenant' through unbelief, or are confirmed as 'remaining in' the covenant because of their active faith - and so only baptise their older children based upon their faith. But that's not how circumcision worked; that's not how the Old Testament (Abrahamic) covenant worked; and that's not how paedo/covenant baptism would be applied if we take the Scriptural basis and logic of the position literally, to it's end point. If we take it where it ultimately leads, the logical conclusion of the infant baptist basis is that all children of believers should be automatically and unconditionally baptised, just as all the children of Israel were circumcised regardless of age or faith.

In my view, this common inconsistency in practice is very significant, because it calls into question the basis that paedobaptists give for their practice (which are passages that talk about all children of believers even while in practice they restrict the tradition to infant baptism). In other words, when you look at how infant baptists arrive at this belief, their own justification of the practice leads much further than what they actually do; you would expect them to conclude that all children of believers should be baptised. So why don't they follow the theology itself to its actual conclusion?

The quick and easy answer is that Presbyterians base their practice on their denomination's creedal tradition, which relies on the Westminster Confession of Faith:
Article 4 of Chapter 28 of the Westminster Confession states that:
"Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized,"
This Confession of Faith (which had an enormously significant influence on the development of Presbyterianism) was itself influenced by the historical development of the emergence and acceptance of infant baptism as the cultural norm, which was apparently established by the fifth and sixth centuries after Christ (See: Justin Tyler: Frequently Asked Questions on Baptism in the Early Church). The Westminster Confession of Faith, drawn up in 1646, restricts the practice to infants because that was the long established and normative practice already.

But my question here is not with the implications of this influence of culture and historical context on Presbyterianism; my question is with the theological basis used by the Westminster Confession of Faith, which is also shared by other paedobaptists within reformed traditions.

So to pin down the question a bit more precisely, how does the Westminster Confession of Faith justify from the Scriptures its prescribed baptism for "the infants of one, or both, believing parents" (Chapter 28, article 4); how does it avoid implicating all children into the practice - why doesn't it instruct that all kids of believers, regardless of age, are to be automatically baptised?

In support of article 4, the Confession provides the following proof texts: Genesis 17:7; Galatians 3:9; Colossians 2:11; Acts 2:38; Romans 4:11; 1 Corinthians 7:14; Mark 10:13 and Luke 18:15.

And all of these texts make reference to children and/or don't come with any condition dependent on age or faith; that is, each of the passages that the Westminster Confession gives in support of this article either speak unqualified and categorically about children or they talk about the practice of circumcision that applied not only to babies but to all permanent household members, including adults (e.g. slaves), and it was a law that applied automatically:
  • Genesis 17:7, God's covenant with Abraham was not made between God and him alone but also with his Seed (offspring) from each generation after him  (i.e. it is an everlasting covenant); it was God's promise to be not only his God but also the God of his Seed after him. And so they, as well as he, received the sign of circumcision as a testimony to this promise.
  • Galatians 3:9, this blessing of Abraham comes through Christ to us Gentiles too, an entails us receiving the promise of the Holy Spirit through faith
  • Colossians 2:11-12, provides the all Christian are circumcised in/by Christ who cut off the self ruled by the flesh when we were baptised into his death and raised with him through faith.
  • Acts 2:38, Peter commands everyone to repent and be baptised for the forgiveness of sin and in order to receive the promise of the Holy Spirit; and states that this promise is for not only his listeners but also for their children (not just infants), as well as all those far off (whom the Lord will call).
  • Romans 4:11, Abraham had faith before he was circumcised, so is the father both of those who believe and have not been circumcised (i.e. Christian Gentiles) as well as those who have been circumcised but who also have the faith of Abraham (i.e. Christian Jews); we have already noted that for Jews the practice of circumcision applied to all males in the household, not only newly born babies, but adults as well (e.g. newly bought slaves; cf. Exodus 12:44). 
  • 1 Corinthians 7:14, teaches that the unbelieving spouse of a Christian is sanctified through their faith (i.e. sanctified/holy cannot = saved), and that their children (not only infants), are holy (i.e. to be received/acceptable - as in 1 Timothy 4:4-5 - Paul is taking care that they don't conclude from the seemingly 'unholy' union, aka 2 Corinthians 6:14, that the children must be rejected, cf. especially in view of the context of 2 Corinthians 6:17)
  • Mark 10:13 and Luke 18:15; the only verses in this list actually mentioning babies/infants are the gospel narratives describing people bringing babies to Jesus, who blesses them, which doesn't of course directly relate to baptism, much less provide an age restriction for baptising children. 
When Presbyterians work through this list of texts used to support the practice of infant baptism, do they notice that if anything these passages would lead to the practice of automatically baptising all children of believers, not just infants? In fact, they would lead even further still, because these texts don't only include children of believers, but also adult children of believers (as well will see shortly).

This is not just an issue for Presbyterians to do with this particular article in the Westminster Confession of Faith and the particular supporting texts that it provides; all of the arguments that Presbyterians and Reformed and Anglican theologians put forward for the practice of infant baptism should also apply to all children of believers. For example, J. Ligon Duncan, in Baptism and the Lord's Supper, explains the paedobaptist position:
"Paedobaptists ... believe that Christian believers and their children should be baptized. If we had to reduce our biblical argument for paedobaptism to one (albeit complex!) sentence, it would be something like this: God made promises to believers and their children in both the Old and Testaments, attached signs to those promises in both the Old and New Testaments, explicitly required the sign of initiation into his family (circumcision) to be applied to believers and their children in the Old Testament, and implicitly appointed the new-covenant sign of initiation (baptism) to be given to believers and their children in the New Testament."
Here, Duncan has provided the basis for the practice of baptising not only infants, but all children of all believers - even if they are young adults in the household: they should all get an infant-like baptism (a universal, indiscriminate one)!

If Presbyterians compare baptism to circumcision, do they realise that circumcision was not just for infants? Although children were circumcised as infants (on the eighth day = ASAP), adult slaves bought were also to be circumcised ASAP when they joined the Israel household; any child or slave who didn't get circumcised ASAP contrary to this requirement had to be circumcised later regardless of age and without consideration to their faith, or risk being cut off from God's people by sentence of death under the Law. See:
The example of Moses child born in Exodus 2:22 and notice the "long period" of Exodus 2:23 between the birth of the child in 2:22 and his circumcision in 4:25; and  
The example of the circumcision of the entire second generation of adult Israelites under Joshua after the death of Moses, Joshua 5:1-8: "And after the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed" (verse 8). 
Exodus 12:44-45: Any slave you have bought may eat [the Passover meal] after you have circumcised him, but a temporary resident or a hired worker may not eat it.
Did Presbyterians automatically baptise their adult slaves before the abolition of the slave trade in England by William Wilberforce, without first their conversion to faith? If not, why not? They also believed that baptism under the New Covenant is like circumcision under the Old.

If Presbyterians use Israel's covenant practice of circumcising babies as an analogy of what they see in the New Testament as similar but new covenant promises to Christian parents about their children, why stop with baptism of the infants of one or more believing parents, as the Westminster Confession (Chapter 28) does?

The parallel between Old Testament circumcision of Jewish babies and baptism of infants under the New Testament is based on verses such as Acts 2:38-39, which they see as containing similar promises as the Old to God's New people about their children:
Acts 2:38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
We have already made the point that if used consistently this would apply to all children; but doesn't Acts 2:38 also state that the promise is "for all who are far off" too?

If the practice of circumcision is analogous or 'instructive' to our practice of baptism (i.e. can be used to work out the applicability of baptism for children), and if Peter's command to "repent and be baptised every one of you" can be applied to children because the promise is not only "for you" but also "for your children and for all who are far off" - then surely, this would mean that Christians must do more than just baptise their infants; they must also:
  1. Baptise a grandchild for whom they are the guardian, despite the unbelief of the grandchild's parent; that is, their own unbelieving son or daughter (See this article by Gavin Orlund)
  2. Baptise an adult slave of their own household irrespective of their conversion (as per Exodus 12:44) (e.g. in the days prior to the abolition of the trade); and
  3. Baptise an adopted child regardless of how old they are when they receive custody, since unlike a fostered child, an adopted child is not akin to the "temporary" resident restriction on circumcision and the passover meal (See Exodus 12:45). 
  4. Baptise all their older children, despite their age and faith, even if they are adults (and didn't get baptised as babies, for whatever reason).
Just as every male in the household was circumcised, Presbyterians would baptise all of their household, not just their children, as did Abraham:
Genesis 17:27: ...Every male in Abraham’s household, including those born in his household or bought from a foreigner, was circumcised with him.
So therefore:
  • Either the "promise" of Acts 2:39 universally applies to any person who is under a Christian's ownership and physical authority (i.e. any permanent resident of his household), regardless of age or faith -- meaning that the common practice of infant or covenant baptism is inconsistent with itself;
  • Or "the promise" of the Abrahamic covenant, which applied to his direct descendants, applied quite differently to them as does the promise of Acts 2:39 to Gentile believers under Christ's fulfilled Abrahamic covernant - meaning that the sign of that old covenant, circumcision, was quite a different practice with as many differences in applicability to the new sign, baptism, as the New Covenant in Christ is different to that old way which has now passed away.

Can I suggest that this last option (in the second dot point above) is the only possibility (the only option that is not inconsistent in practice with its basis or with the other Scriptures themselves).

This option is the subject of my next article, Why Kids are not in the New Covenant (Because neither are We!).


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Answers to some Frequently Asked Infant Baptism Questions

Justin Taylor has posted this great article, "FAQ on Baptism in the Early Church" on the The Gospel Coalition blog, giving some of the conclusions from Everett Ferguson’s book Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries (Eerdmans, 2009):

"Is there evidence for infant baptism exist before the second part of the second century?

“There is general agreement that there is no firm evidence for infant baptism before the latter part of the second century.” (p. 856)

Does this mean that infant baptism didn’t exist?

“This fact does not mean that it did not occur, but it does mean that supporters of the practice have a considerable chronological gap to account for. Many replace the historical silence by appeal to theological or sociological considerations.” (p. 856)

Why did infant baptism emerge?

“The most plausible explanation for the origin of infant baptism is found in the emergency baptism of sick children expected to die soon so that they would be assured of entrance into the kingdom of heaven.” (p. 856)

When did it catch on and become the dominant understanding of baptism?
“There was a slow extension of baptizing babies as a precautionary measure. It was generally accepted, but questions continued to be raised about its propriety into the fifth century. It became the usual practice in the fifth and sixth centuries.” (p. 857)

What was the mode of baptism in the early church?

“The comprehensive survey of the evidence compiled in this study give a basis for a fresh look at this subject and seeks to give coherence to that evidence while addressing seeming anomalies. The Christian literary sources, backed by secular word usage and Jewish religious immersions, give an overwhelming support for full immersion as the normal action. Exceptions in cases of a lack of water and especially of sickbed baptism were made. Submersion was undoubtedly the case for the fourth and fifth centuries in the Greek East and only slightly less certain for the Latin West.” (p. 857)

Was this a change from an earlier practice, a selection out of options previously available, or a continuation of the practice of the first three centuries?

“It is the contention of this study that the last interpretation best accords with the available facts. Unless one has preconceived ideas about how an immersion would be performed, the literary, art, and archaeological evidence supports this conclusion.” (p. 857)"



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