For three consecutive years now I’ve been in conversation with those who practice infant baptism. I must admit that at first I didn’t really understand the practice until a former Methodist pastor, who still practices it in his nondenominational church, explained it to me.
1. The Continuity of the Covenant of Grace. Since then I’ve read Calvin, Berkhof, Packer, Wright, Stott, Horton and a few others on the practice of infant baptism. I understand much of their arguments. For example, J.I. Packer sums up the practice thus:
Infants were therefore to be baptized, as Jewish male infants had previously been circumcised, not to confer on them covenant status, but to attest the covenant status that by God’s sovereign appointment their parentage had already given them. (Concise Theology, p. 214).
But this is only true if Christian baptism has the same function as the OT practice of circumcision. This, however, is yet to find New Testament attestation. In his classic Systematic Theology, Berkhof concedes, “It may be said at the outset that there is no explicit command in the Bible to baptize children, and that there is not a single instance in which we are plainly told that children were baptized” (p. 632). Berkhof would however go on to offer six reasons why infant baptism should not be considered unbiblical. I find this strange.
In his recent work, The Christian Faith, we find Reformed theologian Michael S. Horton arguing that the continuity of the covenant of grace in the New Testament is sufficient evidence to refute the objections of Anabaptists and Baptists who have historically objected to the practice of infant baptism (p. 794). Horton goes a step further,
Everything turns on whether we assume continuity or discontinuity as most fundamental to interpreting the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. Given the what that the New Testament itself interprets the Old, we should privilege continuity. (p. 795).
But professor Horton must let the New Testament writers provide the data to substantiate the practice of infant baptism. Simply arguing for the continuity of the covenant of grace without establishing that Christian baptism functions the same as the OT practice of circumcision will not cut it. The burden of proof is on Horton and other paedobaptists at this point.
2. Those Household Baptisms. After making reference to Lydia and her household (Acts 16:15), the Jailer and his household (Acts 16:31, 33), and the household of Stephanas (1 Cor. 1:16), Horton argues,
If children are included in the covenant of grace under its Old Testament administration, surely they are not excluded in the new covenant administration, which the writer to the Hebrews calls “better” than the old (Heb 7:22).
Now wait a minute! Let’s look at the evidence. Does household mean that infants were and therefore proper subjects of baptism? Not necessarily. As a business woman, with no mention of a husband, Lydia’s household could have included a few associates and slaves. Both Horton and I are working from the same evidence here.
I’m surprised that Horton and others continue to use Acts 16:31, 33. But I noticed Horton skipped verse 32, which reads, “And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house” (ESV). I believe it’s a fair conclusion to draw that not only the Jailer but the others in his household were capable of hearing the word of the Lord and responding appropriately, which is “Believe in the Lord Jesus…” (v. 31).
Now if Horton and others want to claim the presence of infants and the covenant status of their parents extending to the infants, why not also claim proxy salvation by virtue of verse 31, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
No one else has to believe in the Lord Jesus to be saved, the Jailer himself can do that for everyone else in the household–but this is if Horton’s point holds up.
As I told a Presbyterian brother in the Lord recently, “There is a joy, a celebration, a meaning to rising from the water to walk in newness of life with the Lord that an infant will never experience, will never know.”