Sunday, July 10, 2011

Infant Baptism and the Great Commission

Some supporters of paedobaptism argue that the New Testament is silent on the issue of whether or not infants should be baptized. As a result, they turn to Covenant Theology to argue for the practice of paedobaptism. The issue of the veracity of Covenant Theology aside, the New Testament is not silent on the issue of whether or not infants should be baptized. While it is true that the NT does not address the issue directly, the issue is addressed indirectly, in the Great Commission, where one can only conclude that baptism is to be given to professing believers only.

The Great Commission

In the Great Commission, we have Jesus' commands to His disciples regarding how they were to take the Gospel to the nations of the World:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matt. 28:18-20)

Though the Great Commission was given initially to Jesus' disciples, it applies to us today as well. Verses 19-20 contain Christ's command concerning the disciple-making process, including the directive to teach new disciples to obey the commands that Christ has given. Ergo, the Great Commission applies to us, and we are to teach those we disciple to obey it as well.

The Great Commission is the defining mission statement for what we are to be about doing in the work of advancing the Kingdom of God through the proclamation of the Gospel. There are three parts to the command of the commission:
  1. The nations are to be made Christ's disciples,
  2. Those that are so discipled are to be baptized, and
  3. Those that are so discipled and baptized are to be taught to obey everything that Christ has commanded.

This progression makes natural sense. A disciple is a student, one who would follow a teacher, learn his teaching, and put it into practice. Being a disciple is fundamentally possessing the mindset of following the teacher. A new disciple may know very little of the teacher's teaching, but by virtue of the fact that he is a disciple, he will seek to learn the teaching by following the teacher. So it is with evangelism - before one can follow Christ and learn to obey all that He has commanded, one must first repent of one's sins, and in faith turn unto Christ as Savior and Lord. The act of submitting to Christ as Lord is the essence of becoming a disciple - devoting oneself to Christ, in order to learn from Him and live as He directs.

All who become such disciples are to be baptized. This also makes sense, as the newfound disciple, through baptism, is publicly identifying with his Teacher, his Lord. After becoming a disciple of Christ, one is to be publicly identified as a disciple of Christ.

After being baptized, the new disciple is then to be taught to obey all that Christ has commanded. By learning to obey Christ's commands, the disciple becomes in practice what he is to begin with in principle: one who follows and seeks to obey the Lord Jesus Christ.

Finally, after becoming a disciple, being publicly identified as a disciple, and learning how to live as a disciple, the disciple then obeys a command he has learned, the Great Commission, and becomes himself a maker of disciples. That is the genius of the Great Commission, of God's plan and purpose to advance His Kingdom on earth through the proclamation of the Gospel.

Baptism for Disciples

The Great Commission is the only passage in Scripture where we, as followers of Christ in this present age, are given a command regarding baptism. And what is the command given here? Baptize one's children so that they may possess the covenant sign? Baptize one's children so that in this they might be saved? Not at all! Rather, the only command given to the Church concerning baptism commands us to baptize those that have become disciples of Christ. That is the totality of Christ's instruction to the Church concerning baptism - we are to baptize those that repent of their sins and turn in faith to follow Christ.

Now, can an infant be a disciple of Christ? Given that a disciple is one who learns from another, an essential requirement of a disciple of Christ is the ability to learn Christ's teachings. But the mind of an infant is undeveloped, and incapable of learning the teachings of Christ. Therefore, an infant cannot be a disciple of Christ. As we are only to baptize disciples of Christ, infants are not to be baptized.


If we read Scripture for what it says, and not for what it is made to say upon the imposition of alien presuppositions, we will find that Scripture does indeed address the topic of who is to be baptized, and that infants, whose minds are so undeveloped that they cannot be disciples of Christ, are not appropriate subjects of the ordinance of baptism. May we ever seek to follow Christ and understand His Word, so that we may be ever more faithful disciples of Him.

Soli Deo Gloria!

1 comment:

Rhology said...

Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptising them and also the spiritually dead (if they're young enough)....