Saturday, July 11, 2009

Psalms, the Covenant, Baptism, and the Visible Church

"The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you."
- Psalm 102:28

One of the most-misrepresented practices of Presbyterians is the baptism of the infant children of believers. Westminster Confession XXVII:6, "Not only those that do actually profess faith in, and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one or both believing parents, are to be baptized." Why? WCF XXV:2, "The visible church... under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before, under the Law) consists of all those, throughout the world, that profess the true religion, and of their children..." Also Larger Catechism 62, "What is the visible church? The visible church is a society made up of all such as in all ages and places of the world do profess the true religion, and of their children."

The misrepresentation is that Presbyterians believe that our children are automatically saved, or that baptism makes them saved, as is taught in the Catholic Church. As can be seen in the constitutional remarks above, that is a misrepresentation. We believe that the children of believers (only, as we are told nothing about the children of unbelievers) are members of the visible church, i. e., the professing church, but not necessarily of the invisible church. That is, that they aren't believers or regenerate, necessarily, but are set apart from the world. This is a confessional expression of what the Apostle Paul teaches in I Corinthians 7:14, "For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy." Just as neither the unbelieving husband nor the unbelieving wife is regenerate-by-proxy, neither are their children. However, they are set apart from the world, not counted as Pagans, and therefore have a right to the mark of the covenant, i.e., baptism.

To return to Psalms, this time to Ps. 103:17-18, "The steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and his righteousness to children's children, to those who keep His covenant and remember to do His commandments." The children of believers are the subjects of special promises from God, which is a great comfort to Christian parents. But if those baptized children break that covenant, if they are unfaithful - since God can never be unfaithful - then they repudiate those benefits signified by their baptisms.

So the question goes back to our Baptist critics: do you seriously expect us to believe that you really think of your children as mere miniature Pagans?


Jonathan Cardwell said...

For most Christians, baptizing babies is a complete waste of time. If they get to be old enough to make their own decisions, they could very well become outspoken atheists for all anybody knows. Babies don't have a religion or a faith. They have not chosen anything. God put Satan on the planet to give people a choice. Babies who are in the process of learning scripture have not made a choice. They may be able to partially digest what you're saying when you read to them, but they do not have the ability to choose. Babies bask in knowledge. If you lie to them fully believing what you're saying, they will take that in as if it were the truth. How do you think people learn how to talk? Most people get enough English down pat that they can talk in full sentences before their 2 years old! And they spend another 5+ years learning the language they already speak! In Missouri at least, English becomes an elective after grade 8 I think...I don't know if they start learning it in 1st grade or what...but it's safe to say that it takes far longer to learn the older one gets. Babies raised in strict and isolated Christian households may have the knowledge, but they have not made a choice. Baptizing them means nothing to anyone except the parents.

Chris Cole said...

You say, "Babies don't have a religion or a faith." On what basis do you assert that? You don't mention any Scripture. Are you referring to psychology? The comment certainly isn't biblical. David refers to his spiritual condition in utero in Psalm 51:5. And John the Baptist was regenerate in the womb (Luke 1:41). Even in psychology, we are learning more and more about the child in utero, such as recognizing people whose voices were around during the time in the womb.

You also say, "Baptizing them means nothing to anyone except the parents." That may be true, but it isn't the failure of the sacrament, but rather of our churches. If we took baptism as seriously as the Puritans did, for example, then we would be pressing the claims of the covenant on our children. The rite should bring to mind the washing in the blood of Christ that he needs for his sins, as well as to warn him that God has a special wrath for covenant-breakers. And to his parents, his baptism should press upon them their responsibility in raising a covenant child. If they are lax in raising him in the admonition of the Lord, then they bring upon themselves a judgment for their own breaking of the covenant. That is why Paul reminds Christian parents that the children God places in their care actually belong to HIM (see for example, Genesis 33:5), and He holds them accountable for their care of those children (see, for example, Isaiah 29:23).

Chris Cole said...

It is interesting that the morning after this exchange, an article was posted on another blog that addresses the question of the benefits of baptism to the covenant child.