So we’ve talked about baptism in general by defining it. We’ve talked about baptism in the Old Testament period. We’ve also talked about John’s baptism and why Jesus was baptized. The topic I’d like to delve into in this post is baptism in the New Testament. I probably won’t have time to give it the full treatment I would like but here’s where we‘re going. First, I want to address how baptism relates to circumcision. There are multiple texts addressing this but we’re going to look specifically at three of them. Then we’ll talk about the Gentile baptisms we see in the early church that have been recorded in the book of Acts. If there is space left, I may briefly talk about mode. Cool? Let’s jump in.
The first text I want us to look at is found in Mark 10:13-16. Again, I’m not going to quote the whole passage at length. Rather, I’ll leave it up to you to read this with your Bible open. So there are some important things here. First, the word for children used here is literally “infants.” And we can see from the text that they were young enough to have to be brought by their parents. I don’t know about you but my 3-year-old doesn’t want to be brought anywhere by me and certainly doesn’t want me to carry her!
There are two specific things I’d like to consider in this text. The first we find in verse 14 where Jesus says, “do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” Now we could certainly read this allegorically and say that Jesus is making some sort of statement about how their innocence means they belong in the kingdom. What I think is important, as we consider this in the light of covenant solidarity, is the language Jesus uses. He is expressing the very idea and notion of OT covenant solidarity. The children belong in the kingdom is what He’s saying. Why? Certainly not because of their faith initially but because of the faith of their parents. I think we can also see that they are showing what true believers know; we have nothing to bring to God and everything to receive.
Then in verse 16 of this text, we see something else very important. Jesus takes the children in His arms, lays His hands on them and blesses them. To receive God’s blessings, at least in the OT, means to be called by His name (see Gen. 48:16 and Num. 6:22-27). To receive God’s blessings and be called by His name also includes you in the blessings and promises of the covenant (see Gen. 22:16-18 and Deut. 7:13).
Let me say that again. To receive God’s blessings, in the OT, meant to be called by His name and to be included in the blessings and promises of the covenant. That does not mean that the children had faith. Don’t hear me saying they were “saved” but rather that they were included in the covenant promises. This is a crucial difference to understand when it comes to baptism.
The next text I’d like to consider is 1 Corinthians 7:14. Take a moment to read that. I don’t know if you’re not a covenant theology person, how you get around this text without acknowledging that at least Paul believed that there was some correlation between the faith of the parents and the covenant standing of their children. Made holy here speaks to the nature of the home where at least one parent is a believer. In the OT, the whole family was in a covenantal relationship with God. We can also see this in Acts 2:39, 16:15 and 16:33-34. We’ll get to these texts later.
The last text I’d like to consider is Colossians 2:11-12. Again, take a moment to read that text. The correlation between baptism and circumcision is quite clear here. In fact, I don’t see a way around the correlation. So, if baptism and circumcision are related as far as signs of the covenant, then now the children of believers must receive the sign, just as children of Israel were to be circumcised with or without “saving faith” in Christ. Again, if we understand what the signs are and are not, according to the covenant, this all becomes quite clear.
Let’s turn to the book of Acts to look at the record of baptism during the birth of the early Christian Church. I want to jump right in at the beginning at Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. Acts 2 records Peter’s sermon for us. Notice, if you will, verse 39. Peter again echoes the OT covenantal notion of the inclusion of the children of believers when he says, “the promise is for you (who have just heard the gospel preached and have believed) and for your children and for all who are far off…” Did you see that?
Peter preaches to what apparently is a crowd of men. When they heard the gospel, they ask what they should do. Peter tells them to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins then tells them that the gift of salvation is not just for them but for their children. Peter is simply affirming the covenantal understanding of the OT by saying that God has included their children in His promises.
Let’s turn to the Gentile conversions we see in Acts. Let’s start in chapter 10 of Acts. We see the conversion of Cornelius. At the beginning of the chapter, in verse 2, the text states quite clearly that Cornelius feared God “and all his household” and in verse 24 we see Cornelius calling together his “relatives and close friends.” These are members of his household and I think it is very safe to say that this included children. At the end of chapter 10 we see Cornelius and others receive the gospel and the Holy Spirit and what does Peter say? Baptize them.
In Acts 16 we see the conversion and baptism of Lydia and the Philippian jailer. Take the time now to read these texts if you will. What does verse 15 say? Lydia was baptized and her household as well. Then, in the same chapter verses 25-34, we have the account of the jailer. Look at what verse 31 says. Did you see that? Paul says to the jailer that his belief could save his entire household! Then verse 33 explicitly says that the jailer and all his family were baptized.
Now I’m not the brightest guy around. But I can read. So can you. What does the text say?! It expressly says that those who believed were baptized…and their families. I really don’t see how anyone could read this any other way. If the apostles themselves were baptizing whole families because of the faith of one of the parents, why aren’t we?! These are the apostles, ya’ll. Not some JV team. These were the men who walked with and learned from Jesus Himself and they clearly understood the outworking of the covenant to include children…even under the New Covenant.
Ok, I’ve beat that horse enough for now and it seems pretty clear to me. A quick word about mode. I know all my Baptist brothers get really wrapped around the axle about immersion. And that’s fine. I’m a fan of immersion. But I’m not going to dunk my baby under the water or a little old lady who’s wheelchair bound and hooked up to oxygen or something like that. I think pouring or sprinkling would be just fine in some cases.
What if you lived in a desert climate where there is no water? Could you use sand or something else to baptize? Just a little food for thought there.
I think the important thing here is that we can all agree that baptism is important and commanded in Scripture. Can we also all agree that we have differences of opinion and still love each other? We are, after all, brothers and sisters in Christ and should disagree without disunity.
Ok, for our last post on baptism, we’ll be looking at the covenant with Abraham and how it still stands today and how that affects what we believe and practice in baptism.