September 2019 - Why do we baptise babies
Why baptise infants?
Why do you baptise babies?
That is a good question. It is also a relevant question given, that we have celebrated three infant baptisms this year: those of the three latest additions to our fellowship: Matthew, Cameron and Olivia.

Why do you baptise babies?
It was a question I was asked whilst on holiday in Cambridge. I was invited to help a member of staff at Eden Chapel prepare for their weekly ‘theology breakfast’. Around 25-30 students come every Wednesday, during term-time, to share breakfast and then, after a presentation, engage in discussion. Baptism was the topic to hand and, since their tradition restricts baptism to adults on profession of faith, their church worker, Mark, met with me over coffee, asking me to explain why I baptise infants. Many of you will have guessed that he was sent in my direction by our daughter-in-law, Naushin, who is also on the staff at Eden. That was the question: why do you baptise infants?

It is a challenging question to face when you are expecting to spend your time on holiday with your feet up, reading a good novel, or splashing about on the river Cam. Last time I checked, our folding Camper has a rather thin theological library and so my preparation for this encounter was minimal, but that in itself probably helped me to keep things relatively simple. I was asked to explain my understanding of baptism and then Mark duly interrogated me.

So why do we baptise babies? To be clear, we also baptise adults upon their profession of faith, if they have never previously been baptised. The question to hand, however, is why we have baptisms for infants, who are too young to understand what is happening. Let me try to give some pointers:

Throughout the Bible we find that God makes promises to His people and then He binds His purposes to those promises. We often refer to these promises as covenants. At the heart of the Bible story is how God gives and keeps promises, and how His unfolding plans are always in keeping with those promises. That is why it is good to learn to frame our prayers in such a way as to be consistent with those promises - reminding Him, or perhaps more by way of a reminder to ourselves (‘Lord you promised that you would build your church………’  ‘Lord you promised you would be a shepherd to us…..’)

At the heart of God’s promises to His people is that He will be their God and they will be His people. It is the breaking of this relationship that is described in the early chapters of Genesis, and it is God’s plan and purpose to remake it. We know His promise centres on the Lord Jesus, who came to live the perfect human life for us and then die and rise, that we might be restored to God. This, essentially, is the plot line of the Bible.

2. God’s promises were often associated with special signs or sacraments. For example, God called Abraham into this special relationship whereby God would be His God and then promised Abraham that he would miraculously become a father in his old age, and through this child of promise a great nation would come. This would, in turn, bring blessing to all the peoples of the earth. (We know that from Abraham’s descendants Jesus would be born). Associated with this promise to Abraham was the sign of circumcision. Abraham was, as the recipient of these promises, to be ‘cut off’ from the world and committed to God. God was Abraham’s God, but Abraham was also to be God’s man, cut off for Him, living differently as God’s man. They were in special relationship, and circumcision was a sign of that relationship.

Later in biblical history, God intervened when His people were enslaved in Egypt, revealing Himself to be a redeemer God to His people. That great liberation is associated with the other great sign of the Passover Meal. God would be the God of His people and liberate them from slavery to be His people, who in turn were called to live for Him as His redeemed people. The people remembered how God saved them in the annual celebration of Passover. In addition, after the exodus took place they were given the Law through Moses which shaped what their new life should look like as God’s people. God was their God; they were His people.

The sacraments of circumcision and Passover are the signs for God’s Old Testament people. They signalled how they were the recipients of God’s promises and how, in His grace, He was their God and they were now His people, with all that such a calling meant for their lives.

3. There is continuity between the old covenant and the new covenant. They flow into one another in the way that a promise reaches fulfilment. For that reason the special signs in the Old Testament, circumcision and Passover, become the New Testament signs of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (or communion). Just as the Passover becomes the Lord’s Supper (Christ is our ‘passover lamb’ - 1 Corinthians 5:7) so circumcision becomes baptism (Colossians 2)

4. Just as, under the old covenant, the children of believers were incorporated as part of the people of God, signalled by the circumcision of male children at the age of 8 days, so it is appropriate for the children of believers to be baptised. In fact, not to so would imply that the new covenant is more restrictive and narrower than the old covenant, which surely cannot be right.

Believers bring their infants for baptism, declaring their faith, and promising to bring their children up as part of the people of God. God has a great plan and purpose to bring into being, through the Lord Jesus, a new people. That new people is His church, the worldwide family of believers. For a child to be born into a family of believers is a profound blessing, and a signal of God’s grace in their lives. Their parents are then called to play their part in bringing these children up to fulfil their destiny and take their place as adults among the people of God. God is their God and they are His children.

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