Why Do Reformed Churches Baptize Infants? (Horton)

The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way by [Horton, Michael] There are several different biblical reasons why Reformed churches baptize both infants and adults.  Louis Berkhof, Francis Turretin, Charles Hodge, John Calvin, and others have pointed out the various biblical reasons why Reformed churches baptize infants as well as adults.  There’s obviously more to the discussion, but I appreciate how Michael Horton put it:

From a covenantal perspective, it is impossible to separate the claim that the children of believers are holy (1 Cor 7:14) from the sign and seal of the covenant.  According to the traditional Anabaptist/Baptist view, the children are not regarded as holy until they personally repent and believe.  However, the New Testament preserves the clean/unclean distinction, only now it pertains not to Jew and Gentile, circumcised and uncircumcised, but to believing and unbelieving families, with baptism as the covenant’s ratification.  In fact, Paul especially labors the point that all, Jew and Gentile, circumcised and uncircumcised, are Abraham’s children and heirs of the Abrahamic covenant through faith alone, just like Abraham (Rom 4:3 with Gen. 15:6, Gal. 3-4).  The church, in its unity of Jew and Gentile in Christ, is understood as the fulfillment of Israel’s existence (Mt 21:43; Rom 9:25-26, 2 Cor 6:16, Titus 2:14; 1 Pet 2:9, Gal 6:16; Rev. 5:9).  Everything turns on whether we assume continuity or discontinuity as most fundamental to interpreting the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. Given the way that the New Testament itself interprets the Old, we should privilege continuity.

If this is the case, then the burden of proof shifts from the paedobaptists (i.e., infant baptizers) to Baptists.  Given the Jewish background of the first Christians, it would not be the command to administer the sign and seal of the covenant to their children that would have been surprising, but the command to cease administering it to them.  However, we are not left to an argument from silence.  This promise for believers and their children is exhibited in the conversion and baptism of Lydia.  After she believed the gospel, ‘she was baptized, and her household as well’ (Acts 16:15).  Later in the same chapter, we read of the conversion of the Philippian jailer.  He too is told, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household…and he was baptized at once, he and all his family’ (vv 31, 33).  Paul recalls having baptized the household of Stephanas (1 Cor. 1:16).  If children are included in the covenant of grace under its Old Testament administration, surely they are not excluded in the new covenant administration, which the writer to the Hebrews calls ‘better’ than the old (Heb. 7:22).

Again, there’s more to the discussion, but I appreciate Horton’s words on the continuity between the Old and New Covenants.  It’s also helpful to realize that infants had been included in the covenant for around twenty centuries before the apostles’ lived.  If infants are no longer part of the covenant community in the New Testament era, one would expect a very clear command to now exclude children of believers.  Instead, in the New Testament we’re told that children of believers are “holy” (set apart) and that the promise belongs to them as well as their parents (1 Cor 7:14; Acts 2:39).  Paul tells children to obey their parents in the Lord (Eph. 6:1).  Jesus himself welcomed little children, blessed them, prayed over them, and said, the kingdom of God belongs to such as these (Lk. 18:16 NASB).  Therefore, “why should the church refuse to welcome into her arms those whom Christ received into his?” (Francis Turretin).

The above quotes are found in Michael Horton, Christian Theology, p. 795-6.  Emphasis his.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

6 thoughts on “Why Do Reformed Churches Baptize Infants? (Horton)”

  1. I appreciate the article. However, my question would be: if we take 1 Corinthians 7:14 or the household verses mentioned) as a reason to baptize infants, ought we not also seek to baptize unbelieving spouses since they too are made holy?

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    1. That’s a fair question, Chris.

      We shouldn’t baptize an adult who doesn’t repent and believe in Christ. Why? Because for adults, the Bible teaches that faith and repentance precede baptism. At the same time, based on 1 Cor. 7, I’d say that the household with even one believing spouse is different than a household with no believers. There’s more to it, but those are two things that first came to mind.

      I don’t have tons of time right now, but as I study if I find more on this I’ll post it! Thanks again for the questions, and blessings! Feel free to email if you wish to follow up.

      In Christ,
      Shane

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      1. I agree that the Bible teaches that adults must have faith and repentance before baptism. But it never teaches otherwise about children. The Greek if 1 Cor. 7:14 states that the spouse is “made holy” versus the child “is now holy,” but I struggle to differentiate any true distinctions. One assumes that Cornelius, the Philippian jailer, or Lydia had children. It only says family or household (if memory serves me correctly). These people could have been older with grown children and no infants. It is just as possible as it is if they had infants.
        At any rate, I do appreciate the article and I am not seeking an argument. I suppose I am saying that the defense for paedo-baptism, while logical, is not identifiable in Scripture. There are simply too many leaps that must be made and too much reading between the lines for me.
        Grace and peace, my brother! In Christ, Chris

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        1. Chris: I appreciate the kind tone – thanks for that! I had a reply written up but wasn’t sure if you necessarily wanted a reply. Let me know your thoughts on that. Also, may the Lord bless you as you serve him today!
          Your brother in him,
          Shane

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        2. (Here’s what I wrote yesterday)
          —-
          Chris, I very much appreciate the gentle tone and not wanting to start an argument. Thanks for your kindness! I wrestled with how to reply; I wrote, deleted, wrote again, and finally decided to note a few things below…but not in an argumentative tone!

          One thing I found helpful is a note made by a few older Reformed theologians (my paraphrase): “We baptize primarily because of Christ’s command, not primarily because of a person’s faith.” If we baptized primarily based on faith, we couldn’t baptize anyone because we can’t be 100% sure that person has true, saving faith. So we baptize those who come into the visible church primarily based on Christ’s command.

          I guess I also did want to say that children had been included in the visible covenant community of God’s people for around 2k years before NT times. There is no command in the NT to stop including children in the visible covenant community. Therefore, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that kids would be included when a believing parent joins the visible church, the covenant community. One thing that is very convincing to me is that the argument of silence in the NT (concerning infant baptism) isn’t against infant baptism. It helps prove it since there is no command to stop including kids in the NT (The Jewish Christians would’ve simply assumed the promise was to them and their children). I would be convinced to not include children in the visible community and not baptize them if there was a clear command in the NT to start exclude them. Hope this makes some sense!

          Anyway, thanks for the discussion, brother. Feel free to reply here or via email. Blessings in your labors today as you serve our gracious Lord. In him,
          Shane

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