Catechism lesson 27: Infant baptism (LD 27b)

Because children of believers also belong to God’s covenant, they should be baptized.

LD 27 q&a 74.

Should infants, too, be baptized?

Yes.

Infants as well as adults
belong to God’s covenant and congregation.

Through Christ’s blood
the redemption from sin
and the Holy Spirit, who works faith
are promised to them
no less than to adults.

Therefore, by baptism, as sign of the covenant,
they must be incorporated into the Christian church
and distinguished from the children of unbelievers.

This was done in the old covenant by circumcision,
in place of which baptism was instituted
in the new covenant.

Most baptisms in our church involve babies. The baptism of babies is called infant baptism or paedobaptism. It is an old practice of the church. But many Protestant Christians believe it is wrong; we call them Baptists. They believe that baptism may only be administered to people who make a conscious profession of faith.

This discussion was alive and well when the Heidelberg Catechism was written. The Anabaptists said that only believers could belong to the church. They re-baptized people who joined their group. But in q&a 74, the catechism explains that babies of believers should also be baptized.

According to q&a 74, what is true for babies of believing parents?

In the New Testament, there is no clear instance of infant baptism. The focus is on people who, as an adult, became believers and then were baptized. But it is remarkable that they were baptized together with their households—husband and wife, their live-in servants, but no doubt also children. Thus, these household baptisms are an indication that children were baptized from the start.

But a more important reason for baptizing children comes from the way God’s covenant works.

From Old to New Testament

In the Old Testament, God made his covenant with Abraham and his children. The promises of God to him were also true for his children, grandchildren, and so on. The sign of this promise was the circumcision of the boys. From the very beginning of their lives, they belonged to God’s covenant. We baptize babies for the same reason. If the parents are disciples of Jesus, then the child is also enrolled in the school of Jesus Christ. He or she also belongs to him.

In Col. 2:11-12, Paul wrote:

In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Here he explains, first of all, that the “circumcision” we really need is not an operation on our body, but a complete change of heart. Next, he says that believers receive this change of heart when they are symbolically “buried” and “raised” in the water of baptism. Both circumcision and baptism are therefore signs of the life of faith in God’s covenant. This is why we say: Baptism came in the place of circumcision. They are an old and a new sacrament with the same meaning: you belong to God’s covenant.

But be careful! Being baptized does not mean that you are automatically saved. You must be united to Jesus Christ through faith. If you refuse to believe and to follow Jesus, it won’t do you any good to be a member of the church, or to have been baptized.

Can you think of examples in the Bible (Old and New Testament) of people who belonged to the covenant community, but were not saved because of unbelief?

Discussion

  1. When discussing infant baptism, we often quote Acts 2:39. What does that verse show?
  2. Look up what Canons of Dort I.17 says about children of believers.
  3. Do you think babies should be baptized as soon as possible? Or is it okay to wait a few weeks, so that the mother can recover from giving birth, or so that the family can come and attend the service?
  4. If someone was baptized as a baby but rejects the Lord and ends his life as an unbeliever, was that baptism real and meaningful?
  5. What responsibility does infant baptism give to the parents? (See e.g. the Form for Baptism.)
  6. Baptists often say: “You guys baptize children who will never be believers. But isn’t the church for believers only?” What is your response? Do you think that “believers baptism” helps to keep unbelievers out of the church?

Homework

Memorize q&a 74.

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