Scripture Readings: Matt. 19:13-15, Acts 2:37-41, Gen. 17:7-14; Catechism reading: LD 27 (Q&A 74);
Congregation of Jesus Christ. I want to begin with a song from a French Reformed Liturgy: “For you, little child, Jesus Christ has come, he has fought, he has suffered. For you he entered the shadow of Gethsemane and the horror of Calvary. For you he uttered the cry, ‘It is finished!’ For you he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven and there he intercedes — for you, little child, even though you do not know it. But in this way the word of the Gospel becomes true. ‘We love him, because he first loved us.’”
So why would you baptize your children? I can think of many reasons not to that I have heard from Baptist brothers and sisters. Notice that we recognize Baptists as brothers and sisters when there is a love for Christ and His Word and because of what Christ has objectively signed and sealed to them in their baptism. But I can think of a couple questions of concern from our Christian family in other congregations. What if the children turn away from the Lord when they grow up? Shouldn’t they make a decision for themselves? Isn’t the covenant in the New Testament only applied to adults? Why do we see no explicit reference to baby baptism in the New Testament?
I will answer these questions from the Word of God as we look at the teaching of Q&A 74. The authors of the Heidelberg Catechism respond to similar questions at the time of the Reformation. Many Protestants ran so far away from the Roman Catholic Church that they also rejected infant baptism along with real errors. As with every other doctrine, you are called to go back to the Word of God and look at the teaching in the Holy Bible.
Hear the teaching of the Word of God, summarized under this theme: The children of believers should also be baptized.
- As members in the congregation (Q&A 74a, Matt. 19:13-15)
- As recipients of the promise (Q&A 74b, Acts 2:37-41, Gen. 17:9-14)
- As marked by the covenant sign (Q&A 74b, Acts 2:37-41, Gen. 17:9-14)
- As members of the congregation (Q&A 74a, Matt. 19:13-15)
We first read: “Infants as well as adults belong to God’s covenant and congregation.” I will focus more on this concept of covenant in the 3rd point. For now, remember that God promised Abraham all the way back in Genesis 17:7 that He would make a covenant with Abraham and his children. This covenant is not cancelled in the New Testament. In fact. In Acts 2:38-39 the Apostle Peter applies the covenant promise to you and to your children. But what does it mean that infants are part of God’s congregation?
The congregation is a New Testament word that refers to the assembly of the believers in a given location. A congregation is simply those who are gathered together to worship God and to fellowship together as the Body of Christ. In Joel 2:15-16 when the prophet Joel calls on the people of God to gather for a solemn assembly, he includes the nursing infant in this assembly. When the Apostle Paul writes a letter to the congregation in Ephesus, he addresses the children along with the rest of the congregation in Ephesians 6:1. He does not address the children as unbelievers, but calls on them to obey their parents in the Lord. Your children receive the same comforts and warnings as you do. The entire congregation is called away from an inclination to unbelief towards a love and delight in the promises that are found in Jesus Christ.
In Matthew 19:13-15, a number of children are brought to Jesus. This is a passive verb. This means that these children did not necessarily come out of their own desire. They were brought. The disciples thought that Jesus should only hang out with and minister to adults. But Jesus commanded them to let the little children come. In other passages we read that Jesus rebuked the disciples. But what is His reason for letting them come? There is a recognition that even adults have much to learn from the faith of little children. Parents, you have much to learn from the faith of the little ones. I have much to learn as well. To separate the children from the congregation then is opposed to the witness of the Bible.
Children. This is a high privilege and honor for you. Jesus does not withhold His blessing and His love from you just because you haven’t gone through senior catechism class. Yes. You must keep on learning and growing. The Christian life is one of growth in heart, soul, mind, and strength as you strive to love God. When you come to church with your parents on Sunday, Jesus also comes to you in His love and with His blessing. He calls you to repent of your sins and to trust in Him for the forgiveness of your sins. You have a high privilege and standing within this congregation of the United Reformed Church of PEI.
And so we see that the children of believers should also be baptized:
- As recipients of the promise (Q&A 74b, Acts 2:37-41, Gen. 17:7)
“Through Christ’s blood the redemption from sin and the Holy Spirit, who works faith, are promised to them no less than to adults.” What is this promise? In the Old Testament this promise is made with Abraham in Gen. 17:7: “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” In the New Testament this promise is clearly revealed that God binds Himself to you His people in Jesus Christ. If you reject this promise there is punishment. If you receive this promise by faith in Jesus Christ, there is joy and peace. Jesus Himself is the source of life. He is the source of new life. Children, know that Jesus comes to you with this new life! You also must believe that this promise is truly yours!
You may know that excitement when your parents give you a gift on your birthday or at Christmas time. How much greater is the gift of the promise that you are given in your baptism! What an excellent gift to receive redemption from sin and the Holy Spirit. Faith is impossible in and of yourselves and so you need the Holy Spirit! What an excellent promise that even the tiny infant, the 3 year old girl, the 6 year old boy, the 27 year old pastor, the 50 year old mother, the 80 year old grandfather can know this free gift of grace at the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ! It is this joy in Christ and love for Christ that I desire to see as your pastor. There is no greater gift for any pastor or elder or parent than seeing that love for Jesus Christ. There is no other way to experience that than through the power of the Holy Spirit in your lives.
The Apostle Peter calls out to the crowds in Acts 2:37-41 to repent and be baptized. He follows this by saying that the promise is to you and to your children. There is no fundamental divide or change between the way that God works through families in the Old Testament as compared to the New Testament. No, there is no longer blood sacrifice, or the cutting away of the foreskin. Christ has put away the spiritual training wheels that you see in the Old Testament. The scaffolding has been pulled away. God continues to communicate the good news from generation to generation just as He continues to communicate this good news through the church to those who still remain outside the congregation, living in unbelief. The Church is always sharing the gospel with those outside and passing on the gospel to the next generation.
- As marked by the covenant sign (Q&A 74b, Acts 2:37-41, Gen. 17:9-14)
“Therefore, by baptism, as sign of the covenant, they must be incorporated into the Christian church and distinguished from the children of unbelievers. This was done in the old covenant by circumcision, in place of which baptism was instituted in the new covenant.”
In the Old Testament, the male sons of believers would have their foreskins removed on the 8th day after birth as a sign of God’s covenant. In the New Testament, even though that practice may have continued in Jewish communities or for medical reasons, it is no longer required as a religious symbol. Instead, baptism is the sign and seal of those who had been incorporated into God’s covenant and congregation. This is why you see the command to be baptized. This is why the Apostle Paul replaces the sign of circumcision with the sign of baptism in Colossians 2.
Have you ever found it strange that when the Apostles went around preaching and teaching and someone believed, the entire family would then be baptized? While there are other examples, I am thinking in particular of the Philippian Jailer in Acts 16:25-40. A massive earthquake hits the prison, opening the cells. All the prisoners and Paul and Silas remain in the prison. When the jailer takes the sword to kill himself, Paul calls out to stop him. Paul and Silas are still in the prison cell waiting for him when he runs in, brings them out and asks what he must do to be saved. They respond and say: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” He teaches them and then baptizes the entire family. The Philippian Jailer believes and then God makes a covenant with his family. That sounds a lot like the history of Abraham, right? Abraham believes and then God makes a covenant with his entire family.
I have witnessed a number of family baptisms. It might be a mother and her children. It might be a husband and wife and their children. It might be a Christian couple who realize later in life that God’s covenant sign should also be applied to their children. Abraham believed and his children were circumcised. The Philippian Jailer believed and his family was baptized.
What if a child rejects the gospel later in life? Regardless of what position a congregation has on the baptism of infants, every church has members that walk away from the Lord and reject the promises that are signed and sealed in their baptism. Baptism comes with great warnings. Pastors must preach these warnings in baptism along with the comforts. These warnings accompany a call to return to the peace and joy that can be found in repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
Congregation (and this address includes the little children), God teaches you by your baptism that the blood and Spirit of Christ wash away your sins just as water removes dirt from the body. God assures you by this divine pledge and sign that you are truly washed of your sins spiritually as your bodies are washed with water physically. You need both Christ’s blood and Spirit. You need Christ’s blood to be forgiven of your sins. You need the Holy Spirit to fight sin until you die and you go to be with the Lord. Look to Jesus Christ and His Spirit. This is where your baptism is pointing you.
You may run into someone who asks you why this congregation baptizes babies. You may wonder yourself. It can be good and healthy to analyze teachings and ask questions. There are three main reasons. (1) infants as well as their parents are part of God’s covenant and congregation; (2) they also receive the promise of the Christ’s blood and Spirit; (3) This was signed in the OT by circumcision and by baptism in the NT. I have always found Jesus’ love for the little children as such an exquisite expression of His love for me! He even takes the little children into His arms and blesses them. And so children remember this. Your baptism is a sign of God’s love for you in Jesus. Your baptism is a sign of God’s loving power. Even though you are so helpless, even though you are unable to deliver yourself, yet He can deliver you from your sins. You are called to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.