In Acts 2:39, Peter assures the Jewish people of the unity of the Abrahamic promise and the gospel. With echoes of Genesis 17:7, he declares, “the promise is for you and for your children.” It is no accident that Peter used this phrase, since it shows the cohesiveness and unity of the covenant of grace.
Are you interested in attending a Presbyterian or Reformed church, but you just haven’t been able to be convinced of the validity of infant baptism? If so, this post is especially for you.
The first thing to keep in mind in this: In Reformed theology, our belief in infant baptism doesn’t come from isolated Bible proof texts, but by considering Scripture as an organic whole.
In this post, I’ve tried to refine down the most concise and compelling case for Reformed infant baptism. Many of these ideas are influenced by Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics and Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology.
What is Christian baptism?
First, what is Christian baptism? In paraphrasing the Belgic Confession (Article 29), baptism is a sign that marks us as belonging to God and to His church (compare Exodus 12:48 with 1 Peter 2:9). It serves as His pledge to forever be our God, and the God of our children (Genesis 17:7). It also serves in the place of circumcision as the sign and seal of the righteousness of faith (compare Romans 4:11 and Colossians 2:11).
Baptism signifies that similar to the way water washes and cleans our body from dirt (1 Peter 3:21), the blood of Christ—by the power of the Holy Spirit—also internally cleanses the soul of sin and regenerates us and makes us pure in His sight (Hebrews 9:14). The promise of the gospel, which is sealed by baptism, is for us and our children (Acts 2:39).
Reasons for Infant Baptism
With this understanding of baptism, what is the strongest case for infant baptism? It’s ultimately built on three foundational pillars:
First, the children of believers are members of the covenant of grace.
They are members of the visible covenant community. God promised Abraham that He would be God to us and our children (Genesis 17:7). God’s promise was never cancelled; it was fulfilled in Christ (Galatians 3:16). All those who have faith in Jesus Christ are the true sons of Abraham (Galatians 3:7).
Second, baptism has replaced circumcision as the sign and seal of the covenant.
When Abraham believed God, God gave him the sign of circumcision, as it was “a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith” (Romans 4:14). One must note that it was not related to Abraham being an ethnic Jew since Israel did not yet exist.
This is why Calvin could say, “Christ…accomplishes in us spiritual circumcision, not through means of that ancient sign…but by baptism” (Commentary on Colossians 2:8).
Berkhof also concurred that, “The covenant made with Abraham was primarily a spiritual covenant.”
We can see from these statements that baptism is the Christian equivalent to Jewish circumcision. Paul calls baptism the “circumcision of Christ” (Colossians 2:11). This is why believers are no longer circumcised. Baptism has replaced circumcision as the sign and seal of the covenant of grace.
Thirdly, in the covenant of grace, the Old and New Testaments comprise one organic whole.
The Abrahamic promise (the beginning of the covenant of grace) is described as an “everlasting” covenant (Genesis 17:7). It is distinct from the Mosaic Law, which came 430 years later (Galatians 3:17). It was not annulled but came to fruition in Christ during the New Testament (Galatians 3:14).
Paul even calls the promise of the Abrahamic covenant “the gospel” (Galatians 3:8). He points Christians to Abraham as the paradigm of our faith, saying that Abraham is the father of us all (Romans 4:16).