“You baptize babies? Isn’t that a left-over tradition from Rome?” Most Presbyterian & Reformed pastors have heard something similar. Even from folks who attend and appreciate their Reformed worship service. They appreciate the Christ-centered preaching, the honesty about our sin and the wonder of God’s grace, the order of worship, the riches of Reformed theology. But this paedo-baptism thing? Presenting my little ones for this “sacrament”? Not so sure about that.
How does a pastor respond? In the past, this pastor responded, I think, like many P&R pastors do: with (at least!) a 20-30 minute discourse on systematics, biblical theology, and church history. We lay the groundwork by explaining covenant theology, by highlighting the redemptive-historical sweep of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation, by citing the nearly universal practice of church history (“not authoritative, of course, but instructive” and all that), etc., etc., etc.
And then I would notice the glazed eyes. So I would assure my beloved inquirer to just give it a little more time. Often, paedo-baptism is the last domino to fall for folks. From monergism to infant baptism, in just three to five short years (!). And from time to time, I would check in, repeat the discourse, and eventually wear them down. Of course, the exegetical and theological basis of infant baptism must be explained. Church history is a good and helpful witness. But I began to realize that my approach actually missed the main point: the Gospel point, the pastoral point of infant baptism.
Now I start with two simple questions: 1) “Is your baby a sinner?” 2) “As a sinner, does your baby need Jesus and the benefits of His Gospel?” I also instruct as before, answer questions, provide reading material, etc. But no longer at the expense of the biblical bottom line. Our children are born sinners. They need Jesus. That’s why we present them for baptism. The promise of the Gospel is for us, and for them (Acts 2:42). That’s the wonder of the covenant of grace.
I’ve heard some presentations of infant baptism which are more an apology for it, than an apology of it – if you get my drift. I’ve heard some so disavow the sacramental nature of baptism that they practically present it as an infant dedication – plus water. A wet baby dedication, if you will. That is not Reformed. Many emphasize the covenant community aspect – that by this sacrament, the infant is made part of the visible church. That’s true enough – and part of our biblical confession – so it ought to be explained. But that’s not a sufficient explanation.
Baptism is a means of grace. Baptism has efficacy. The Westminster Confession of Faith says so, because the Bible says so. Check the Scripture proofs. WCF 28.6 speaks of the “efficacy of baptism.” Admittedly, the context for that phrase is one of qualifications. No, baptism isn’t necessarily efficacious at the moment of the administration. No, not everyone baptized receives the promised Gospel benefits. Only the elect do. Yes, (God-given) faith is necessary for the sacraments to become effectual means of salvation (see WSC 91-92). But WCF 28.6 continues “…yet, notwithstanding [these qualifications!], by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in his appointed time.”
Sometimes we are so focused on what we AREN’T saying when we confess baptism’s efficacy. As a result, the Gospel promise of covenant baptism dies the death of a thousand qualifications. We end up unintentionally instilling doubt (“What is God’s hidden decree regarding my children?”) rather than faith (“What is the promise of the incarnate, crucified, risen Jesus TO my children?”).
Is your baby a born sinner? Does your baby need Jesus? Does your baby need His forgiveness & perfect righteousness, cleansing from sin, regeneration, the gift of the Holy Spirit, adoption as a child of God, and the promise of the resurrection? Then bring your baby to Jesus, by way of the means of grace. Bring them to the font. Because these precious promises of the Gospel are for you – and for your children.