July 29: Acts 16

Sean Lucas
This is another important chapter for understanding Presbyterian and Reformed practice. What we find here is this basic principle: households are counted among the visible people of God based on the faith of the household head.

The first example of this is Lydia (16:11-15). Paul and his missionary team come to Philippi. On the Sabbath, they go outside the city to the riverside in order to pray and came upon some women "who had come together" (16:13), presumably for worship. They began to speak to these women and one of their number, Lydia, believed in the Gospel, because "the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul" (16:14). Based on her faith, she was baptized. But she was not simply a private individual; she was a businesswoman, "a seller of purple goods" (16:14), the head of a household. She was baptized "and her household as well" (16:15). There is no mention in the text that the household believed; rather, based on the faith of the household head (Lydia), her household was counted among the visible people of God and was baptized.

The second example is the Philippian jailer (16:25-40). Paul and Silas were thrown into jail for preaching the Gospel; at midnight, an earthquake comes to shake the prison and open all the doors (16:25-26). Instead of escaping, Paul convinces all the prisoners to remain. The jailer comes, convinced that this means the end not only of his job but his life; instead, when Paul tells him that everyone remains, the jailer is sobered: "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" The good news: "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household" (16:30-31).

Paul and Silas are brought out of the jail. Paul preaches the Gospel to the jailer and all in his household. The jailer "was baptized at once, he and all his family" (16:33). And he rejoiced "along with his entire household that he had believed in God" (16:34). That is important: the text doesn't say that the entire household believed in God; rather, it says that the household head believed in God and based on his faith, the entire household was accounted part of the visible people of God.

Obviously this principle has important implications for Presbyterian and Reformed people--the practice of infant (or household) baptism; the grounding for childhood catechesis; the recognition that being a household head is a trust given to us by God. And yet as important as this is, we must not miss that it is more deeply rooted in the good news that unlikely people can believe in the Gospel and be saved.