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Should Infants Be Baptized {Lord’s Day 27}

This article is part of our weekly series, “Our Life’s Comfort: One Year of Being Shaped by the Scriptures.” Read more from the series here.

(72) Q. Does this outward washing with water itself wash away sins?
A. No, only Jesus Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sins.

(73) Q. Why then does the Holy Spirit call baptism the water of rebirth and the washing away of sins?
A. God has good reason for these words. To begin with, he wants to teach us that the blood and Spirit of Christ take away our sins just as water removes dirt from the body. But more importantly, he wants to assure us, by this divine pledge and sign, that we are as truly washed of our sins spiritually as our bodies are washed with water physically.

(74) Q. Should infants also be baptized?
A. Yes. Infants as well as adults are included in God’s covenant and people,and they, no less than adults, are promised deliverance from sin through Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit who works faith.Therefore, by baptism, the sign of the covenant, they too should be incorporated into the Christian church and distinguished from the children of unbelievers.This was done in the Old Testament by circumcision, which was replaced in the New Testament by baptism.

Is infant baptism—even when practiced in evangelical churches—an unfortunate leftover from medieval theology? The Catholic Encyclopedia defines baptism as “the sacrament by which we are born again of water and the Holy Ghost … by which we receive in a new and spiritual life, the dignity of adoption as sons of God and heirs of God’s kingdom.” The Roman Catholic Church teaches that in baptism “the guilt of original sin is remitted.”[i]

So the question is important: “Does this outward washing with water itself wash away sins?” Is this why many Christian churches baptize infants? In truth, baptism is called “the washing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5) and the “washing away of sins” (Acts 22:16) not because it does those things but because it signifies and seals God’s gracious promises. “Preaching and sacraments are neither mere witnesses to grace nor causes of grace, but means of grace inasmuch as they ratify the promise and thereby strengthen our faith in the one who promises.”[ii]

While distinguishing reformed and Roman Catholic baptismal theology, the catechism gives four arguments for infant baptism.

Children of Believers Are Members of God’s Covenant

John the Baptist’s father Zechariah said that in Christ’s coming God remembered “his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham” (Luke 1:72–73). God told Abraham, “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” That divine promise, like the rest, finds its Yes in Jesus (2 Cor. 1:20).

God has made one covenant of grace, a religious bond between God and his people by which they receive life and blessing.[iii] God gives these gifts to the elect whom he enables to trust his promises. But he is pleased to communicate covenant promises to the church; the community of believers and their children.

It is still true that “infants as well as adults are included in God’s covenant and people.” Therefore, children of believers “ought to be baptized and sealed with the sign of the covenant, as the children in Israel formerly were circumcised upon the same promises which are made unto our children.”[iv]

Children of Believers Have Precious Promises from God

God promises to believers and their children, “deliverance from sin through Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit who works faith.” The New Testament doesn’t strip God’s promises from covenant children; it specifically applies God’s promises to them. Baptism seals God’s commitment—for believers and their children—to forgive sins and give the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38–39). Truly “Christ shed His blood no less for the washing of the children of the faithful than for adult persons; and therefore they ought to receive the sign and sacrament of that which Christ hath done for them.[v] Infants are not yet able to affirm God’s promises. But they should not, therefore, be denied the sign and seal of the promise.

Nor does the sign and seal minimize the need for conversion. Covenant children must repent and believe. But baptism should not discourage them from doing so. In fact, the catechism’s author believed that “denying baptism to the children of the church … weaken[s] in parents and children … the desire which they should have to perform their obligations to God.”[vi] “Through baptism, God calls us and places us under obligation to live in new obedience to Him,”[vii] trusting in, loving, and obeying Jesus.

Children of Believers Must Be Distinguished from Unbelievers

God is growing a community of disciples whom he marks out by baptizing them in the name of the “Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). Children of believers too are disciples; in baptism their parents vow to diligently teach them to love the Lord (Deut. 6:4–9). As a master marked his servants by piercing their ears (Exod. 21:6), so with visible signs the church of God must be “separated from all other people and strange religions.”[viii] Children with even one believing parent are not “unclean” but “holy” (1 Cor. 7:14).

Baptism, however, distinguishes tentatively not ultimately. Children of believers are clearly “in the sphere in which the Spirit is at work visibly.”[ix] But “grace and salvation are not so inseparably” added to baptism “that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated;”[x] “for not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (Rom. 9:6). Baptism is rather a “judgment of charity” [xi] toward covenant members too young to demonstrate active faith; a judgment that can train them to believe that they belong to God.

Children of Believers Were Formerly Circumcised

In the Old Testament the sign of the covenant was, suitably, bloody. “And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Heb. 9:22). The sign was given only to males who represented the entire people as set apart to God, and who sacrificially received the painful covenant sign.

Of course, circumcision may not seal the new covenant. The blood of Christ has made the blood of circumcision obsolete. Christ is the end of the law (Rom. 10:4), including the law of circumcision. On the cross, Christ made an end of all bloody atonement by bleeding for us. So baptism—the circumcision made without hands (Col. 2:11–12)—becomes our trustworthy testimony that we have an eternal covenant with God.

Covenantal baptism can be a great comfort. “Godly parents have no reason to doubt of the election and salvation” of their infant children.[xii] We are prone to doubt. But God’s promise and sacrament are meant to overcome our doubts, and lead us to trust God to bless his children with saving faith. We hope not in the sign and seal but in God’s promise. And, with the help of baptism, we teach our children to do the same.

[i] Decrees of Trent, Session 5, Canon 5.

[ii] Michael Horton, The Christian Faith, 791.

[iii] J.G. Vos, Genesis (Pittsburg: Crown & Covenant, 2006), 161.

[iv] Belgic Confession, 34.

[v] Belgic Confession, 34.

[vi] Ursinus, Commentary, 367–368.

[vii] “Baptism of Infants—Form 1”,

[viii] Belgic Confession, 34.

[ix] Horton, The Christian Faith, 791.

[x] Westminster Confession of Faith, 28.5.

[xi] Conclusions of Utrecht, point 4.

[xii] Canons of Dort, 1.17.

Photo of William Boekestein
William Boekestein

William Boekestein is the pastor of Immanuel Fellowship Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He has written several books and numerous articles. He and his wife, Amy, have four children.