SERMON: “Why Baptize Infants?” 「なぜ幼児に洗礼を授けるか」
TEXT: Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:36-42
The question of whether or not it is proper to baptize infants may seem like a very minor and unimportant issue. For many people, it seems like a trivial matter that is not worth even discussing, let alone arguing about! Yet the question has divided the Christian Church and caused much damage to the public witness of the Church for several hundred years. Today we have the opportunity to receive by baptism a new member of the Kasumigaoka congregation, so it is a good time to think about this particular question. Why are we performing this baptism ceremony today? What does it mean?
II. A Brief Explanation of Baptism in the Bible
Let’s begin with a very brief explanation of why churches have this ceremony called “baptism.” The two Bible passages we read this morning provide the grounds for our practice of baptism. First, we baptize people who want to become “disciples” of Jesus Christ. We do this because Jesus commanded the leaders of His Church to do so in Matthew 28:18-20. A disciple is one who follows and learns from a teacher. Long ago, a disciple learned by both listening to and copying the life of one’s teacher. A pupil learned by being with his teacher. A disciple was invited by his teacher into a special kind of relationship. Today, students go to schools, listen to lectures, and read books to learn. But we rarely see pupils who learn the same way that Jesus’ disciples learned from their Teacher. Disciples of Jesus learned as they lived with Jesus each day. Jesus told His disciples to “go and make disciples from all the nations by baptizing them and teaching them.” Baptism marked the beginning of a disciple’s training. It was the starting point of a lifelong journey with Christ, learning to do all that He has commanded. Baptism was the “entrance ceremony” into the school of Jesus Christ.
Jesus said, a disciple should be baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This is one of the Bible passages that the doctrine of the Trinity rests upon. That is because the word “name” is singular, while there are three “Persons” mentioned, who each bear this one “name.” So, the “name of the Father” is also “the name of the Son” and “the name of the Holy Spirit.” Among the Jews, a name expressed something about the character of the person who was given the name. God’s name expressed the fullness of His divine character. The Bible explains that three Persons share this one, unique “name of God.” A person baptized in this “name” of the Triune God is received into God’s “family.” Like an adopted child, a baptized disciple of Christ is also given a new “name” and a new character. He now bears the “name” of Christ and he will always try to live in a way that honors His name.
The second Bible passage–Acts 2:38—show us how the leaders of Christ’s church obeyed Jesus’ command to baptize new disciples. When a group of Jews heard Peter preach to them about Jesus’ life, His death on a cross, and His resurrection, “they were cut to the heart,” and said, “What shall we do?” Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” Peter tells them that they should be baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ” so that their sins may be forgiven. So Peter, like Jesus, says that baptism is a sign of becoming a disciple of Jesus. But Peter adds something very important. He says that by being baptized as disciples of Jesus their sins will be forgiven. He also says that they must first “repent”—that is, regret, confess, and turn away from their sins. They must begin a new life of righteousness, as they become disciples and follow Jesus. These new disciples “will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” who will guide them and help them to live holy lives. It is not just because they have repented, but because they have repented and been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ that their sins will be forgiven, Peter says. The main point Peter is making is that by living in a close, personal fellowship with Jesus Christ, with the gift of God’s Holy Spirit within them, Jesus’ disciples will be forgiven of their sins—for Jesus’ sake.
Unfortunately, early in the history of the Church, some people misunderstood the connection between baptism and forgiveness. They thought that the “holy water” of baptism had some special power to wash away a person’s sins. Some began to teach “baptismal regeneration.” For that reason, some church leaders (e.g., Tertullian, born c. 150 AD) argued that it was wise to put off baptism until later in life. Because sins committed after baptism could not be forgiven! For that reason Tertullian argued against baptizing infants. But the common practice of the Church in the 2nd C. was to baptize believers together with their children. Of course, the forgiveness of sins depends on our faith relationship to Christ, not upon being baptized with water!
In v. 41, it says, “Those who accepted this message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” Those three thousand people were added by baptism into the number of the disciples. The church “family” in Jerusalem suddenly grew from about 120 members (according to Acts 1:15) to over three thousand members when they were baptized! And by the help of the Holy Spirit they lived as the first disciples of Jesus had lived. Verses 42-47 give a beautiful picture of the church in Jerusalem as a community of Jesus’ disciples. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Verse 44 says, “All the believers were together and had everything in common.” They lived like a family, regularly meeting together, caring for one another, and learning to do what Jesus had taught His disciples. Can we imagine there were no children in that Church “family”?
But none of those who heard Peter’s preaching about Jesus, who repented and became disciples of Jesus were little children, were they? And, even if young children were present, could they have understood Peter’s sermon about Jesus? Could a baby repent of his sins? How could a baby say, “I want to be a disciple of Jesus”? So what does baptism have to do with little children? Look again at verse 39. Peter says to those who did repent and wanted to follow Jesus, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” The promise of God—the gift of the Spirit, the forgiveness of sins, and the new life of a disciple baptized into the name of Jesus—is for all whom the Lord God calls. The emphasis is not on the will of man who chooses to follow God, but on God who calls people to follow Christ. As we read the Bible from beginning to end, we find that God calls people to follow Him as families. And if families are called to follow Christ, then surely children are not excluded from God’s call. Remember that Jesus Himself said to His disciples (Luke 18:16), “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” When God calls parents to follow Jesus, He expects them to bring their children with them! Let’s consider some of the evidence for this, first in the Old Testament, and then in the New.
III. Baptism and God’s Covenant
The earliest evidence in the Bible that God deals with human beings as families, and not just as individuals, comes from the early chapters of Genesis. It was God who created the family, telling Adam and Eve to “Be fruitful and multiply.” When Adam and Eve sinned against God, the results of their sin were passed down to their children after them. In Romans 5:19 Paul is talking about the effects of Adam’s “original sin” when says, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man [Adam], the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man [Jesus], the many will be made righteous.” God deals with the children of Adam and Eve as sinners, because the effects of their parents’ sin appear in their children. This is the negative side of how sin develops in families, and shows how God’s judgment falls on the children of sinful parents. But there is a positive side to family relationships, too.
Positive results can also flow through family relationships. We can see this clearly in the “covenant of grace,” which God established when He called Abraham to follow Him. Please turn to Genesis 17:7-11. God said to Abraham, “I will establish My covenant as an everlasting covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” God called Abraham and his descendants to be His disciples! Then God gave Abraham a “sign” of his new relationship to God. Read v. 10-11. “This is My covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between Me and you.” Not only Abraham, but also his sons after him, and all the male members of his household, were to be circumcised. And they were to be circumcised when they were only 8 days old (v. 12)! The sign of circumcision showed that they now belonged to God, and that they would share in the covenant blessings that God had promised to Abraham.
Now, let’s look at some of the evidence in the New Testament that God deals with people as families, including children in the blessings of the covenant family. We have already noticed one piece of evidence. The apostle Peter said to the Jews who were called to be disciples of Jesus, “the promise is for you and your children” (Acts 2:39). That was not a surprise to Jews, since they knew that God’s gracious covenant had included Abraham’s children.
But there is more evidence that God calls people as families to follow Christ. When the apostle Paul traveled to Philippi in Macedonia, a woman named Lydia heard him preach the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. Acts 16:14 says, “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” As a result, v. 15 says, “she and her household were baptized.” In other words, all the members of her family, and even her servants were baptized because Lydia became a disciple of Jesus. Again, in the same city of Philippi, Paul and Silas were miraculously released from prison when God sent an earthquake to open the prison doors. The jailer said to Paul and Silas (Acts 16: 30), “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” and they replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household” (v. 31). Then Paul and Silas spoke the word of the Lord to the jailer and to others in his house. “Then immediately he and all his household were baptized” (v. 33). Paul also wrote to the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:16), “Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.” So, why did Paul baptize these “households”? It seems to be because God called the head of the family to follow Him, just as He had called Abraham, and He did not leave the rest of the family behind. God still deals with us as families, including our children.
One more evidence of this truth may be seen in 1 Corinthians 7:13-14. Paul writes about the importance of keeping families together, even when one parent is a Christian and the other is not. “And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” The last words are particularly important for us to understand, as we think about baptizing children. Paul says that the children of even one believing parent are regarded as “holy”; that means holy to the Lord, or belonging to the Lord. The children are set apart as holy to God—and God accepts them as holy—because of the care of one faithful parent. But if the marriage is broken and the children are raised by the unbelieving spouse, they are not set apart as “holy” to the Lord.
One further piece of evidence is found in Colossians 2:11-12. One of the disputes that occurred in the early NT church concerned the question of circumcision. Some Jewish followers of Jesus argued that a Gentile must first convert to Judaism and receive the covenant sign of circumcision in order to be a disciple of Christ. But at the council held by church leaders in Jerusalem in about 50 A.D., it was determined that circumcision was not necessary. Baptism was sufficient to identify a person as a disciple of Christ and a member of God’s New Covenant Church. Accordingly, the apostle Paul wrote the following words to the church in Colossae. (Col. 2:11-12) “In Christ 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.” Paul is saying that the Gentiles, when they were baptized in Christ’s name, received Christ’s “circumcision,” not performed surgically by human hands, but by the Holy Spirit of God working in their hearts. A Gentile’s baptism, then, was the sign of his reception by Christ’s church, just as circumcision was the Old Covenant sign of reception into God’s covenant people. Like circumcision in the OT, baptism in the NT was performed on the believer together with his or her household.
There is no commandment in the NT that children must be baptized. However, children of believers were given the sign of God’s covenant in the OT. There is no indication that the new covenant in Jesus Christ is more restrictive than God’s covenant with Abraham in the OT. The weight of the evidence supports the claim that the sign of baptism should be given to the disciples of Jesus and their children. Just as the sign of God’s covenant was given to children of Abraham in the OT, so it should be given to the children of believers in the NT. As we read in Galatians 3:27, 29, “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” … “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” As God established His covenant with Abraham and his children, so He does with the new covenant in Jesus Christ. Children are not excluded from the covenant blessings, but are raised from childhood as baptized members of the church, and as disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. That was the overwhelming opinion and the practice of the Christian Church from the beginning. To quote the great Presbyterian theologian Benjamin B. Warfield, “God established His church in the days of Abraham and put children into it. They must remain there until He puts them out. He has nowhere put them out. They are still then members of His church and as such entitled to its ordinances.” (Studies in Theology, p.408). Baptism, and its covenant promise, are “for you and your children, . . for all whom the Lord our God will call.”