Baptism, especially for we who are Baptists, seems like a topic so elementary that it is barely worth looking into. Sometimes it seems like a smaller matter that, since it is not essential for salvation, is somehow unimportant. But the Bible says that baptism is important and given to us from the Lord Jesus Himself. We do well to soberly consider what our King has commanded His blood-bought brothers to do.
So what is baptism? Who should be baptized? What does this have to do with church membership and the Lord’s Supper?
Baptism is the “oath-sign” of the new covenant. Circumcision marked out the people of God under the Old Covenant and baptism is the sign of the New Covenant. However, baptism is the sign of the New Covenant. Baptism differs from circumcision in that baptism signifies the inward changed of the Holy Spirit. Baptism signifies that one has been born again of the Spirit and transferred from darkness and into marvelous light. That is why the image of life and death is used in passages like Romans 6:1-3. We were crucified together with Christ when we were dead in sin and the Spirit applied Christ’s work to us, making us alive in Christ’s resurrection. Baptism is given to those who have repented and believed the gospel. It is not wonder that many NT authors equate baptism with conversion. It is not as though baptism was necessary for salvation but the Bible knows nothing of a baptism that was not associated with when one was saved by grace through faith in Christ alone.
For this reason, infants may not be baptized. Unless one was to say that their infant was a regenerate, sin-hating, Christ-enjoying believer in Christ then there is no way to equate what the New Testament says baptism is with so-called “infant baptism.” The New Covenant community is not mixed like Israel of old. We must allow, as D.A. Carson puts it, for the New Covenant to be genuinely new. Sometimes even we who eschew infant baptism can be less than careful about guarding the purity of the church when we baptize children only slightly older than infants. As I hope to show later, we should not baptize anyone who cannot give a credible profession of faith and this may very well include young children who are unable to show that they belong to Christ and against the world.
The individual’s baptism is an individuals “going public” of their faith in Christ. It is not walking an aisle or signing a card, but baptism that is the God-ordained way to make it known that you no longer follow the world but instead have come to know Christ as Lord, Savior and Supreme Treasure. We see this in Acts 2. After Peter’s Pentecost sermon the people are cut to the heart by the Holy Spirit, given sight and cry out to know what they must do to be saved. Peter’s answer is to repent and be baptized. So baptism is what signified that a person had been saved and was coming out of the world. Going back to the issue of infant baptism, there is no way that this could be applied to an infant given this definition. Even if you said that your infant had become a Christian (which is very, very, very, very unlikely), they would have to “come out of the world” as new believers. There is simply no way to show that a infant has forsaken the world for Christ, the very thing that baptism is meant to signify.
Finally, but most overlooked, the church speaks in baptism. The local church alone has the authority to baptize, as it pertains to their peculiar authority to exercise the keys of the kingdom. The person speaks but the church speaks too! Baptism, for it to be regular, is to be done in the context of a local church and into church membership. Baptism is the way that the one is brought into the many. It is the initiating “oath-sign” of the New Covenant, the front door into the family meal. By baptizing someone, the church is affirming their profession of faith and giving them the Jesus jersey. Any candidate for baptism must be someone that is given the right to represent Jesus on earth as a part of the visible, local assembly. Baptized people should be afforded full membership privileges immediately- including voting and taking the Lord’s Supper. Those who would practice infant baptism necessarily separate the ordinances from one another, severing the two things that the local church uses to wield their God-given authority. There is no way to give this designation to infants. It would be unthinkable to say that the world should look to that infant to know what God is like. There is no way to affirm their profession of faith, no way to say that they can stand on their own two feet as someone who knows and can help to protect the gospel what and the gospel who. They don’t even know the gospel what or who!
The nature of baptism, what it says and how it functions in conjunction with membership and the rest of church life makes it impossible for an infant to be the rightful subject of baptism. While I would never question the motives of our brothers who do baptize infants, they are setting their churches up to be weakened by the perennial threat of nominalism and hypocrisy. They unknowingly propagate church unhealthy by their polity. There is simply too much at stake to disregard a biblical practice of baptism. We do so in love for a paedobaptist brothers and out of love for the glory of Christ among us.