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    Assistant Pastor, Youth/Families
  • Christine Betts
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Ask a Pastor with Peter Render

Do infants need to be rebaptized once they reach the age of accountability?

This question assumes the beauty and necessity of baptism as a “holy seal and sign of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ, and his benefits; and to confirm our interest in him: as also, to put a visible difference between those that belong to the church, and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to his Word” (WLC, XXVII-I). The Westminster divines do well to show, while saving faith is personal and intimate, Scripture always depicts that independent moment as being a part of a corporate reality.

Gospel community is full of sinners who cannot live apart from each other. Our personal and intimate salvation drives us together as we see the Holy Spirit working in us as individuals and amongst us as a group of believers (1 Cor. 2 esp. vv. 10-16). Whether it be a ‘believer’s’ baptism or an infant baptism, there is a responsibility taken by the body of believers for this person who is coming into communion with them, and a responsibility of that person to the body.

Salvation by articulation is an unfortunate anthropocentric assumption that has become a post-enlightenment, cross-denominational, and uniquely Western thought. Jesus gives us two commands as we fulfill the great commission of Matthew 28; make disciples and baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Paul helps us a bit more in Ephesians when, while discussing unity in the body of believers, he says that, “there is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the hone hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6). Baptism is primarily about God, not man. The Holy Spirit creates disciples, Christians exist as the mature ones striving to bring the immature to maturity in Christ (Col. 1:28-29). Baptism is performed in the name of God, in the three personal ways by which he has revealed himself to man. It is a God thing, not an us thing.

The New Testament shows the link between baptism and circumcision (Gen. 17; Rom. 4). Without considering the nature of a desert baptism (Acts 8) or a middle of the night baptism (Acts 16:33), it seems clear to me from the household baptisms of Acts 16 and 1 Corinthians 1, that infants were included. Baptism in and of itself is not salvific. The application of baptism to an infant does not save them, and there is no clear way to demonstrate from Scripture that it does.

The divines put it this way, “The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised in not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Spirit, to those (whether of age or infants) to whom that grace belongs, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in his appointed time” (WLC, XXVIII-VI). Because baptism is a God thing, when it is administered in the way prescribed and ordained by Jesus—in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—that baptism becomes the “one baptism” for the believer. Should that child become an ideal vision of what a believer looks like, all glory to our Heavenly Father. Should that child seemingly turn his back on the faith, lose his witness, and find himself dragged by the Holy Spirit back into the Kingdom kicking and screaming, all glory to our Heavenly Father. Should that child actually turn his back on the faith, how tragic and sad that he would harden himself to the benefits of his baptism. In each of these cases, the actions of the person are only responses to God’s pursuit of him. The harder truth is that God is glorified in each case.

Since baptism is a God thing and since infant baptism should not be performed outside of the Gospel community, it follows that the miracle of an infant growing into a saving faith is the display of God’s miraculous outpouring of grace. That any of us would yield to God and not to our own sin is, indeed, extraordinary. That God would show this mercy to infants is miraculous.

Peter Render is the Assistant Pastor of Youth & Families. He loves theology, hard questions, and his family - including his fifth child, a daughter (his first) baptized in February!