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Infant baptism is a long-held practice in the Reformed tradition. The Reformers were blessed by the beauty of infant baptism as it was practiced in the church from ancient times. They sought to be faithful to the practice that was given to them by the church fathers in keeping with the Holy Scriptures. We are blessed by the beauty of the Reformed teachings that shape our practice to this day.
The use of the rite was, and is, based upon the connection made between the sign of the Old Covenant that was placed upon infants under the law, and the sign of the New Covenant under the gospel proclaimed in the New Testament. Therefore, the infant is seen as a “child of God” in the sense that he or she has received baptism as a sign of belonging given under covenantal terms. Central to the understanding of both the Old and New Covenants are the promises of God made to Abraham in Genesis 15, and God’s expectation of response to those promises by the people of Abraham in Genesis 17. Paul speaks to the “circumcision of Christ” that is represented in baptism (Colossians 2:11-12).
The Promise of the Holy Spirit
In his Pentecost sermon, Peter speaks to the promise of the Holy Spirit, the connection of the promise to baptism, and applies the promise to those who would believe on that day and their children (Acts 2:39). Acts 16:30-34 provides a beautiful picture of how the sign of baptism was applied not only to the Philippian jailer, but was given to his entire family. Finally, we cannot overlook the beautiful scene of Jesus taking children in his arms and blessing them, as well as the caution to the church “not to hinder them” (10:13-16), especially when we view his teaching within the context of covenant that he lived in and conducted his earthly ministry.
Infant baptism is not just a sign of belonging, as beauty is found in the working of the Holy Spirit through it as well.
Once again in looking back on the teaching of the Reformers, there is an acknowledgement that the Holy Spirit is at work in applying the benefits of Christ’s redemption from the very beginning of life. They offered Jeremiah 1:5, Luke 1:41 and 1 Corinthians 7:14 to support this position. Calvin taught that regeneration included manifestations of rebirth that occurred throughout the life of the individual. Baptism marked the child’s entrance into the church through the status of believing parents. Children were considered to be part of the church because they were joined to its members before birth. The regenerative work of the Holy Spirit is active throughout life where the child may grow into a personal profession of faith and an understanding of its baptism.
So today, as parents bring their child to be baptized, they are offering the child up to God and promising before the church to raise the child in the Christian faith. As the child of Christian parents, the infant is considered to be a part of the covenant community of God’s people. The congregation stands with the parents in raising the child up in the faith. As the water is placed upon the child, the sign of the Christian faith is received, the work of the Holy Spirit is celebrated, and the child’s personal faith commitment is prayerfully anticipated.
As I reflect on my own faith journey, I praise God that I had received baptism as an infant. I am thankful that I was brought into the church on that day. As the minister baptized me in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the triune God marked me as his own. My parents, grandparents, and the entire congregation of God promised to raise me to believe in Christ, and God himself faithfully stepped in when those who made such promises faltered. During times when I was distant from his people, God sent others into my life to minister to me as the Holy Spirit was with me in wilderness places. It was 25 years after my baptism that the work of the Spirit produced saving faith in me. So, my faith journey continues today at the age of 56, and God continues to reveal to me that he remains faithful to the baptismal covenant, and that I belong to him.
Praise be to God for the beautiful blessing of infant baptism!