© Dr. Dennis E. Johnson, Professor of Practical Theology, Westminster Seminary in California
In 1994 one of our daughters, while away from home attending college, asked me to explain the rationale I saw in God’s Word for baptizing the infant children of believers. Since I was a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church when she and her siblings were born, they had all been baptized as infants; but now she was interacting with Christian brothers and sisters from other traditions through campus Christian ministry and other friendships, and many of them believed that the baptism of infants is not Christian baptism as it is established by Christ in the New Testament. In a slightly revised form, this is what I wrote to her:
Here at last is my long-overdue letter to explain why I believe it’s consistent with the Bible to baptize the infants and children of believers. I want to let you know what biblical evidence changed my mind from holding a “believers’ baptism” position to the conviction that both those who are converted as adults and the infants and children of believers should be baptized.
You know, of course, that I don’t consider this issue one on which our trust-relationship with Jesus depends. Nor should differences on this issue disrupt our fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ who see things differently. On the other hand, since we all want to show our gratitude for God’s grace by living our lives to please him, and since we learn what pleases him in his Word, we all want to get as clear a picture as we can of what the Word teaches.
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The difference of views on infant baptism unfortunately does affect Christians’ ability to demonstrate in practice our unity as the Body of Christ. “Infant baptizers” can and do recognize the baptism received by “believer baptizers” as genuine Christian baptism (although we may think that it’s administered later than it should be in the case of children of Christian parents). But “believer baptizers” cannot acknowledge that believers who were baptized as infants have been baptized at all. So if “believer baptizers” are right–if people who have received infant baptism have not received biblical baptism at all–then there have been hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Christian believers who have never obeyed the Lord’s command to be baptized in his Name, believers such as Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, J. Gresham Machen, J. I. Packer, John Stott, R. C. Sproul, etc. On the other hand, if “infant baptizers” are right, then it’s sad that the convictions of “believer baptizers” prevent them from recognizing the baptism of so many other members of the Body of Christ. So our difference of understanding on this issue does hinder our putting into practice the unity of the church.
Although this question is not a matter of salvation, it is certainly worth our investing time and thought and study, to see whether we can come to unity as brothers and sisters in Christ.
The following is the general outline of the whole article:
I. Common Assumptions About Baptism
II. The Right Approach to the Baptism Question
C. The Relationship Between Circumcision and Baptism
III. Covenant Membership
IV. What about “Dedication”?
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