July 26, 2013
iv. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but alsot he infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized.
The fourth topic treated by the Westminster Confession's teaching on baptism pertains to its recipients. Who is to be baptized? The answer is unequivocal: believers and their children are to be baptized. Here we see a plain statement in favor of infant or (as I prefer to call it) covenant baptism.
There are a number of good books or booklets that present the overwhelming biblical case for covenant baptism; that is, the practice of administering baptism to the covenant children of believers. I would especially recommend: John Murray, Christian Baptism, Bryan Chapell, "Why Do We Baptize Infants?" and John Sartelle's, "What Christian Parents Should Know about Infant Baptism." It is interesting, however, to peruse the proof-texts to the Confession on this subject as a way of unfolding their thoughts. From the proof-texts, here is the main argument in favor of infant/covenant baptism:
1. God's covenant promise, which includes believers' offspring:
"And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you" (Gen. 17:7).
2. The essential continuity between circumcision in the old covenant and baptism in the new covenant, both of which are applied to believers' children:
"In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead" (Col. 2:11-12; this is also suggested in Gal. 3:9, 14 and Rom. 4:11-12).
3. Peter's Pentecost promise, which includes children among those to be baptized:
"For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself" (Acts 2:39).
4. Christ's known zeal for receiving covenant children to himself:
"Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:14).
5. The New Testament's teaching of covenant headship, by which the children of believers are considered holy:
"For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy" (1 Cor. 7:14).
In addition to this compelling case, we might add two more factors that are not emphasized in the Confession's proof-texts:
6. The many examples of household baptisms in the New Testament (3 out of 12 overall baptisms recorded). In these three cases, the believer's households are also baptized, without our being told that they first believed:
"She was baptized, and her household as well" (Acts 16:15).
7. The continuity between the Old Testament practice of presenting children for circumcision and the New Testament practice of presenting children for baptism. The New Testament is clear when abrogating Old Testament practices (see Acts 10:20-26). The most natural thing for believing parents to do in the new covenant is present their children to the church for formal inclusion into the covenant community.
Rev. Richard D. Phillips is the senior minister of Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC and the chairman of the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology.