Why Infant Baptism?

This Sunday, we have the privilege in the church I pastor of administering the sacrament of baptism to one of our littlest members. It is a topic I often get questions about. Discussions of infant baptism can get complicated, which is fine, but that makes it hard for many people to follow. I always use some version of the following to explain it to our congregation, and I thought I'd post it here.

Why do we baptize our children?

There is always a part of me that is tempted to say, “Because we follow Scripture rather than the spirit of the age,” and then leave it there with a mischievous smile. Of course that isn’t a fair answer, although it is a true one.

Obviously, Christians disagree about Scripture on this point. This is a debated issue. However, what we should stress is that everyone should be trying to follow the Bible. Too often, people object to infant baptism on the grounds of preference. “I really want my kids to remember this. I want it to be a certain sort of experience for them.” Those are true feelings, but they are not biblical arguments.

So, three things Scripture teaches us about baptism.

One: baptism does not save us by itself. We are justified by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Baptism does not magically make a baby a Christian; neither is some other approach to baptism essential for salvation. That said, we are commanded to practice the sacrament of baptism in Scripture and should not neglect that, while not saving, it is good and important.

Two: baptism represents God’s promises. That is the single biggest thing people misunderstand. I often hear people say that baptism is “a sign of my faith.” I was at a church a few months ago where that was literally how it was stated: baptism is a mark of faith.

Nowhere is that what Scripture teaches. In every instance in the Bible, when the meaning of baptism is discussed, it is as a sign of God’s work in Jesus Christ. Baptism represents the washing of our sins, the purifying of our old humanity and the new birth and new life we are given in Jesus. Baptism is not a statement by the one being baptized that they believe; it is a statement by God of what happens when we believe in Jesus.

Which is part of why we baptize children: because God’s promises are for them too. It is what Peter says in Acts 2: “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. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” In baptism, we are marking our little ones with the promises of God and publicly declaring our hope that they will receive the benefits of these promises for themselves.

Third: baptism is a mark of the visible people of God. It is the new covenant fulfillment of Old Testament circumcision, as Paul tells us in Colossians 2. In the Old Testament, God gave that mark to Israel to say, “Here are my people.” That mark was then meant to call them to trust in God’s sacrifice and live as God’s people. In the same way, baptizing our children should call all of us to trust in God’s sacrifice in Jesus and live as God’s people.

This means that, in this baptism, we are all being called to do something regarding this child. We are committing ourselves to be the people of God to them, loving and supporting them, praying for them and teaching them what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

It also means that, in this baptism, we are being called to remember our own baptisms and to build upon them. These are God’s promises to us as well, and we are called to believe and claim them for ourselves.