10 Theses on Baby Baptism: also on the Need to Sprinkle Hearts and not Just Foreheads

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John Piper’s writings have shaped my theology. I love his commitment to the gospel, to delighting in God, and his shift away from rule-based Christianity to delight-based obedience. My departure comes where I believe that his theology and most importantly Scripture require that babies of believers as well as new believers be baptized. And I believe that we can delight in this form of obedience as well.

Now, we all love disclaimers. I have a number of Reformed friends who have been re-baptized. I have a number Baptist friends who have become Reformed and baptized their babies. I know individuals as well as families who have been baptized into baby-baptizing churches. Also, I read both Baptist and Reformed theologians. And of course, Lutheran and Anglican and Presbyterian theologians. And sometimes the odd Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox theologian. That being said, people move back and forth across the spectrum for more than just theological reasons or just the issue of infant baptism. The issues for church movement are often messy, and I maintain that one of God’s attributes is ‘mercy’. It is His grace that we rely on as we seek the truth in love.

In the meantime I have a number of theses I want to present on this issue. In these theses I rely on the assumption that the Church is being built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets (Eph. 2:20). This means that the Old Testament is authoritative and the New Testament is as authoritative. In fact, we are called to build on both. Hopefully these theses come out in a somewhat systematic order. I’m open to aspects being challenged and/or refined:

  1. There is a correlation between circumcision and baptism (Col. 2:11-12). It makes as much sense to be re-baptized as to be re-circumcised. I might even propose that it makes less sense to be re-baptized than to be re-circumcised.
  2. Some of those who were circumcised were not saved. They needed their hearts circumcised and not just their foreskins (Deut. 10:16). Some of those who are baptized are not saved. The call of the gospel is that you need your heart washed and not just your forehead (Rom. 6: 1-4).
  3. Like Circumcision in Genesis 17, baptism is a sign and seal of a promise (Acts 2:37-39)
  4. Baptism and election are treated separately in the NT (election is treated primarily in Ephesians 1). Baptism does not = election. Not all who are elect end up baptized and not all who are baptized are elect. Baptism is about God’s covenant, election is about God’s eternal decrees. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, but they aren’t the same.
  5. New believers are baptized after repentance and faith (Acts 2:37-39), but being baptized doesn’t mean that you are exempt from the call to repentance and faith (Hebrews 10:26-31).
  6. Similarly, being circumcised didn’t mean that you were excluded from the call to repentance and faith. Read the Law and the Prophets.
  7. When the Apostles baptized a person, they also baptized the household. This might remind you of Genesis 12 and 17. When God called Abraham and then gave him the sign and seal of the covenant, He also called His household and then gave them the sign and seal of the covenant.
  8. When Moses didn’t circumcise his son, God came to kill Moses. His wife Zipporah grabbed a sharp rock to cut off the foreskin of their son and then threw it at his feet calling him a ‘husband of blood’ (Exodus 4). Christ’s sacrifice put away the shedding of blood, and now baptism is the sign and seal of Christ’s sacrifice. Woe to the one who tramples the blood of Christ underfoot (Heb. 10:26-31).
  9. Baptizing the babies of believers is inherently missional. The call of the gospel goes out not only to individuals, but to families and nations. Those who are far off are being brought near through the blood of Christ (see Acts 2:37-39 and Ephesians 2:11-22). Believer’s baptism is the first step to baby baptism as God establishes His covenant with more families.
  10. Like circumcision (Gen. 17), baptism is a mark of holiness (2 Cor. 7:14, I Peter 2). The children of believers are holy and should not be taught to doubt their salvation, nor to look to themselves for their salvation, or to their baptism for their salvation. Rather, baptism teaches children and adults alike to look to Christ for salvation.

Christ is the subject and the object of baptism. Salvation is found in Him alone. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29b

6 thoughts on “10 Theses on Baby Baptism: also on the Need to Sprinkle Hearts and not Just Foreheads

  1. I stumbled across this blog and as a fairly recent Can Ref turned Baptist, I felt I had to comment. I don’t mean to start a debate but to simply challenge you (as you say you are open to) by offering a Baptist perspective. I’ll try to keep this as short as I can and still address all the points. Firstly, I find it curious that your biggest contention with Piper is his view on baptism, given that there are more serious problems that have been recently arising from Piper’s theology; but that’s a whole other issue. Here’s my response to your 10 theses.

    1. There is no correlation between circumcision and baptism beyond the fact that they are outward signs. Paul states 3 times in the NT that “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision count for anything but…” and in all instances he never mentions baptism. Rather the New Covenant fulfillment of circumcision is that all covenant members have a circumcised heart or “a circumcision MADE WITHOUT HANDS” as Colossians 2 calls it. Col 2 is not speaking of Jewish circumcision. The passage is stating the sufficiency of Christ one receives from being “raised with him THROUGH FAITH” (v. 12). I agree that re-baptisms are often unhelpful, but if the prerequisites have not been met, previous “baptisms” may not really be valid.

    2. I would correct this statement to say that “MOST of those who were circumcised were not saved”. There is simply way too much material in the OT and NT to point to for this. Salvation was not a benefit of the Mosaic Covenant as proved by Romans 9:1-5. Circumcision pointed forward to the need for a circumcised heart, baptism points back to the putting to death of the flesh and being raised to new life (Rom 6:1-4), something which is actually realized by faith.

    3. Circumcision is stated as a seal strictly for Abraham, based on the promises God gave to him personally. Baptism is obviously a sign in that it points to something greater, but it is never said to be a seal. The only New Covenant seal is the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13, Eph 4:30). The promise in Acts 2 is “If you repent and are baptized (ie. make a public profession of faith), you will receive the forgiveness of sins and Holy Spirit.” Baptism doesn’t seal the promise, especially not without the presence of repentance.

    4. Your point is obvious, but I guess it needs to be stated since I’ve had a number of conversations with those who think that a Dutch Reformed infant baptism = eternal election. There are over 2 billion “baptized Christians” in the world, most of which were “trinitarian” and therefore acceptable to a Reformed Church. “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are FEW” (Matt 7:13). Study a nation like Norway. Over 70% of the population are baptized into the Lutheran church, only 20% believe in God, only 3% go to church weekly. The nation may be Lutheran, but it’s definitely not Christian.

    5. All examples and doctrine in the NT shows baptism taking place AFTER repentance and faith. Hebrews 10:26-31 is a passage whose translation has been in contention since the Reformation and some interpretations in the Reformed community end up actually undermining the Reformed view of justification.

    6. Agreed. Because all humans are born “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1), “foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3) until conversion or regeneration.

    7. Abraham’s household was circumcised because he was promised to be a great nation. For natural reasons one man cannot become a nation on his own. It must be accomplished through a family. Christians are not given the promise to be nations. Read each household baptism carefully. All instances state that only those who “believed”, “rejoiced”, “continued in ministry”, or “received the Holy Spirit” were baptized. In order for an infant to be baptized it must first be inserted there by the reader.

    8. This has probably been addressed by point number 1.

    9. Baptism is not missional. Paul basically says exactly that in 1 Cor 1:17. In the sense that individuals are members of families and nations, then yes, the gospel does go out to families and nations. But it is only received by those “whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39) which Romans 9 reminds us does not respect family lines. Jesus teaches in Luke 12:51-53 His household formula: “For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three…”

    10. Circumcision and baptism are marks of being set apart by God in their own purpose, if that’s what’s meant by holiness. 1 Cor 7:14 does not speak of a salvific holiness or else unbelieving spouses can also be assured of their salvation. We should look to Christ alone for our salvation. But this includes looking at the teachings of Christ, and the work of Him in our hearts and lives in order to be assured of our salvation. Paul states in 1 Cor 13:5 to “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” Children should never assume salvation based on their family tree. This is one of the few teachings the Holy Spirit decided to give us from John the Baptist. Children that are not properly taught the Gospel and the signs of conversion will turn into self-deceived adults. Churches are now filled with that and infant baptism only contributes to the problem. Doubting salvation is the essential condition that is necessary for anyone to experience true repentance, whether one was raised in the world or the church.

    Sorry, I wish I could have made this shorter. I hope this gives something to think about. God bless.

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    • Thanks for the reply Joel!

      I understand your desire not to get into an internet debate. Debates are for a coffee-shop between friends 🙂 Of course, a blog response can be friendly too! I do want to state three quick question/points (with some long quotes):

      1. What is your understanding of the OT-NT connection? I start with Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” And I start with Luke 24:27 “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” All the Apostles quote a plethora of OT passages in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I find the gospel among the shadows of the OT and the blossoming of the gospel in the NT.

      2. You probably have seen baptized kids live wicked lives when they grow up. So your reaction isn’t unfounded. To that my response comes from Hebrews 10:26-31, since I don’t believe that baptism is a free ticket into heaven. Confusion is one problem, disobedience is another: “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Also, there is excommunication.

      3. I have to add this since the grace of Jesus is what this post was all about. The assurance of baptism is Christ, not the baptism. So a covenant kid should know that in Christ alone there is repentance and forgiveness of sins and new life. Baptism is a tutor, a sign and seal, to point the recipient to Christ: “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10: 19-25)

      I’m a member of the URC who is really enjoying the CanRef seminary. I can see in your answer that you want to go back to the Scriptures and seek the truth. Hope that this has made the issue a little more clear! If not, I’m working on it 🙂 I have seen the blessings of this explanation of Scripture. Many blessings to you as well!

      In Christ,
      Nathan Zekveld

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      • Hi Nathan, thanks for taking my reply in good spirits as I know that this topic has a tendency to strike a nerve 🙂 . I’d be happy to address your questions/points.

        1. I don’t disagree with anything you wrote here. I agree that Christ has fulfilled the Law and the Prophets, also that “all the promises of God find their Yes in Him” (2 Cor 1:20). Our differences probably emerge when we dig a little deeper. For example, I don’t believe that the church is a replacement of Israel. I know some Reformed people hate using the word “replace” but they essentially view the Church and Israel as a 1 for 1. However, I believe there is a theme in Scripture that shows that Christ is the fulfillment of the nation Israel, and of course one is only truly a member of this “nation” by faith. This would disallow for the presumed inclusion of children. Also, since you mentioned that the NT writers quote the OT by Holy Spirit inspiration, I would also add that they give Holy Spirit inspired interpretation. For example, an interpretation of the Abrahamic covenant from Gal 3:16 that the promise to Abraham’s offspring finds its fulfillment in Christ. We become spiritual children of Abraham when we (more theologically accurate: God in us) exercises faith in Christ. To say that covenant children are so because they are physical children of spiritual children of Abraham mixes categories that shouldn’t be mixed.

        2. To be fair, I also believe there are many people baptized as adults that continue on to live wicked lives. This is not a problem only to paedo-baptizing churches. In those cases, I wouldn’t say that such a person has profaned or broken the covenant. I would just say they were a false-professor and a hypocrite. Hebrews 7 states that Christ can save perfectly those who draw near to God, that He always is making intercession. Hebrews 8 states that the New Covenant is better than the Old because it cannot be broken. Hebrews 9 tells us that Christ has secured an eternal redemption. So I have a hard time with the interpretation that the wicked person of Hebrews 10:26-31 is breaking the covenant. I think such a person is profaning the blood by their false profession of faith, but the “he” in “he was sanctified” is referring to the Son of God just mentioned. This is an interpretation John Owen took.

        3. I agree that baptism is a sign that points us to Christ. I just happen to think that believer’s baptism does a better job of that then infant’s 🙂 . Don’t mean to be rude, just expressing my conviction.

        I’m glad that you’re enjoying your time in seminary. It’s an awesome thing to be able to spend your day studying the Word, I’m a little jealous for that myself.

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  2. Hey Joel,

    1) Yeah, the topic of hermeneutics is massive, and ultimately the debate is about hermeneutics. The debate is too big for a blog post, so I’ll reign it in to as small a comment as possible… 🙂 I think it might be more representative of Reformed doctrine to talk about Israel as a 2 for 1. The Church is not a replacement of Israel, but a fulfillment of Israel. It is the blossoming of the promises to Israel (as you mention from Hebrews). Which means that there isn’t a radical break between Old and New Testaments and at the same time we are no longer bound by a number of their laws. That’s why Paul rebukes the Judaizing faction in Galatia. 2.) The baptism is sign of washing. Those who live wicked lives trample on the blood of Jesus whether infant or adult. 3.) I want to point infants to Christ, since Jesus also took them up in His arms.

    If you get the chance you should give it a try! Either way, seminarians need people without seminary degrees to learn from… 🙂

    N.Z.

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