Who Do We Baptize?

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Devotional Word for Friday, June 18, 2021

As we have been working through the Heidelberg Catechism (particularly as it relates to baptism), there is one question left.  There may be many questions in your mind about baptism, but the catechism only asks one more.  So that we all have reasonable expectations of the next few minutes, please recognize that this question has separated parts of the church for centuries.  The final question and answer basically asks who should be baptized.  Listen to question 74 in its own words. “Are infants also to be baptized?”

Answer 74 responds, “Yes, because they as well as their parents, are included in the covenant and belong to the people of God.  Since both redemption from sin through the blood of Christ and gift of faith from the Holy Spirit are promised to these children no less than to their parents, infants are also by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, to be incorporated into the Christian church and distinguished from the children of unbelievers.  This was done in the Old Covenant by circumcision.  In the New Covenant baptism has been instituted to take its place.”

This is a mouthful, and it needs to be carefully thought about.  The Catechism advocates for the baptizing of infants because baptism is the sign of God’s covenant with His people and God’s covenant extends from parents to their children.  Before we go any further, I want to point out that many Bible believing Christians reject some or all of this logic.  If we are to have confidence in our position, whether for or against infant baptism, we should think about how the Scriptures define baptism as a sign of the covenant and how children are to be included in that covenant.

Consider Colossians 2:11. There Paul writes, “And in Him you were also circumcised with a removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ.”  Here, Paul is not addressing a physical circumcision.  He describes this in Romans 2:29 saying, “But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter….”  In short, Paul is describing a circumcision of the heart which is done by the Spirit.  Paul goes on to describe the circumcision in Colossians 2:12 saying, “have been buried with Him in baptism…” In Paul’s thinking, the circumcision of the heart which corresponds to the baptism of the Spirit incidentally is marked by a physical sign.  That sign is no longer circumcision.  Otherwise, Paul would have said as much in Colossians 2:12.  Instead, he connects the sign of the Holy Spirit’s circumcision of our hearts to water baptism.  Just as circumcision was a sign of God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants, so now baptism is a sign for all those who are in Christ.

Genesis 17:9-14 contains God’s instructions to Abraham concerning circumcision.  Let’s take a look at how this is worded.  Note that circumcision serves as a sign of God’s covenant with Abraham, and it is to be for Abraham and his descendants after him.  We might say, “Fair enough, couldn’t that sign have just been applied when the child or young man made his profession of faith?”  Well, Genesis 17:12 answers that by saying, “And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations…” In short, no.  Circumcision, the sign of God’s covenant with His people was applied to boys 8 days old.  Insofar as baptism is the new circumcision, it too should be applied to the children of believing parents. 

I would like to conclude this devotional time by asking that we deal charitably with one another in this matter.  There are a variety of positions with the Church.  As maturing Christians we need to evaluate such positions based upon their understanding and use of Scripture.  We need to use this as an opportunity to be gentle and loving toward others.  Here at Immanuel Leidy’s Church, we are convinced that baptism is the sign of God’s covenant, but we have some flexibility in the way that it is carried out.  This means that we have a baptismal font for sprinkling infants as well as a baptistry for dunking older confessing believers.  We ask that our people show love and deference to those even within our midst who belong to the other side of the argument.