By Scott Sauls,
is the regular practice at Greentree Webster to baptize two groups of
people. The first group consists of men, women, and children who
demonstrate both a genuine faith in Jesus Christ and a desire to join
the Greentree church family (i.e., "believer's baptism"). The
second group consists of the infants and children of our church members.
Perhaps one of the most common questions asked of us is, "Why do
you baptize infants and children who have not yet made a public
profession of faith in Christ?" The simple answer to this question
is that (1) while we firmly believe this is not an issue over which
Christians should divide, yet (2) we are convinced that both the Bible
and early church history support the practice of household baptism,
which includes infants and young children. Following are some of the
factors that have led us to this conclusion.
is the belief of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) and of
Greentree Webster that God's covenant of grace (His promise to be our
God and have us as His people), in a mysterious way that we cannot quite
grasp, extends to the children, "offspring," or
"seed" of believers. Such children, we believe, therefore have
a right to the covenant sign, which in the New Testament is baptism (in
the Old Testament the sign was circumcision). Following is a detailed
reasoning of why we, at the request of those who share our beliefs on
this matter, will baptize infants, as well as other children in a
believing household who have not yet made a profession of faith.
the New Testament, baptism replaces circumcision as the sign of the
2:11-12 teaches that baptism is the full expression of circumcision The
covenant of circumcision required that the infant male be circumcised as
a newborn infant (Genesis 17 12), and this covenant was to be an
everlasting covenant (Genesis 17 13) Physical circumcision is clearly no
longer in effect (Galatians 6.11-18), but the covenant it represents is
still in effect (Romans 2 29), The new outward sign of this
"everlasting" covenant with believers and their children is
baptism (Colossians 2 11-12) T
2:38-39 describes baptism with virtually the same language and terms
with which Genesis 17:9-14 describes circumcision. The promise connected
with baptism in Acts 2:38-39 explicitly includes the children of
believers, as did the promise connected with circumcision in Genesis 17
9-14. No mention of a required age or profession of faith is made with
respect to such children
circumcision was a requirement for the Old Testament household (Genesis
17 10, 12-13), so we believe, was baptism for the New Testament
household (Acts 16:15, 31-33, 1 Corinthians 1:16). Never once are
children said to be excluded from a household baptism, except in the
case of the Ethiopian eunuch, who obviously had no children.
is no biblical command given for believers to cease the application of
the covenant sign with their children.
the New Testament, believers' children were regarded as members of the
Luke 18:15-17, Jesus said that God's Kingdom belongs to little children
(from the Greek brephe, which literally means "baby" or
Ephesians 6:1-4 and Colossians 3:20-21 Paul addresses children (from the
Greek tekna, meaning "child") as believers in Christ. He
speaks to them as he would any saint, regardless of age.
1 Corinthians 7:14 Paul refers to the children (tekna) of believers as
"holy" (meaning set apart for God). The word translated
"holy" (hagia) is the exact same word used elsewhere by the
apostles in reference to believers (translated "saints" –
see Ephesians 1 1 . for example) The New Testament assumption. then, is
that children of believers should be regarded and treated as believers
unless or until they prove themselves to be covenant breakers.
2 Timothy 3 15, Timothy is said to have known the Scriptures from
Luke 1 15. John the Baptist is said to have been filled with the Spirit.
'even from his mother's womb".
New Testament suggests nowhere that the sign of the covenant (previously
circumcision now baptism) is to be withheld from the children of
believers until they make an informed profession of faith in Christ.
position on household baptism does not reflect a belief that baptism
itself saves a child. In order to be saved, a child must possess his /
her own personal faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord. The initial seeds
of faith may or may not be in chronological union with the time of
baptism. When a child professes faith at some point after baptism, that
is the time in which the baptism and all that it signifies takes full
effect. Until that time, the child's baptism is regarded as the sign of
the child's inclusion in the church community (and all its benefits,
except the Lord's Supper) by virtue of his / her parents' faith and the
promise of God to be "their God and the God of their children.”
is a well-attested fact that household / infant baptism was the
universal practice of the early church. No reputable biblical historian
or scholar, whether Presbyterian or Baptist or otherwise. will dispute
(a disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of the apostle John) speaks
of infant baptism as a universal practice in the early church.
(end of 2nd
century) acknowledged the universal practice of infant baptism
(2nd and 3rd centuries) spoke of infant baptism as
the common practice of the early church.
things being the case, were household (and consequently infant) baptism not
the New Testament church practice, then the conclusion must be made that
a full reversal of the early church’s practice occurred immediately
following the death of the last apostle.
Because there is neither biblical not extra-biblical evidence
indicating so much as a debate about this issue in the first or second
centuries, such a reversal is extremely unlikely.
We conclude this in a large part because there is a wealth of
documentation about virtually every other theological debate and/or
alleged “heresy” in the early church.
Webster’s Attitude about Household Baptism
encourage household baptism at Greentree, but do not require it
of those who cannot accept it.
To us the biblical and supporting historical teaching seems
clear, so we encourage Greentree parents to have their children
However, parents who are not convinced of our position are not
required to have their children baptized in order to be active and
foully received church members, and will not in any way be pressured to
do so. This
is an issue about which we are happy to disagree without it being any
hindrance at all to full Christian fellowship. (Editor's emphasis)
BI Member Canon Walter Goundry takes a saddened view of household
baptism within our coalition!
did the Church decide to baptise infants? We cannot rewrite the past,
but also we cannot write it in stone.
If the interpretation of ‘whole households’ excludes
children, children being no different from servants (Gal. 4.1), and
history tells us it was later, what pushed the Church this way? We know
Tertullian wrote against it.
it was theological, what was the theology? Was the belief that as a
result of the Fall everything and everybody was condemned? The
conclusion in that case is that the sooner we get out of this position
the better. Until recently ‘limbo’ suggested this. Was baptism seen
to be the equivalent of circumcision? Were the pressures also
socio-cultural? Whatever the reasons for the introduction of infant
baptism, the baby seems to have gone down the plug hole with the bath
one sense then this is an ideal opportunity to change our practice. Many
parents want to mark a birth but do not want to make promises which they
know they can’t and won’t keep. At this level the Service of
Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child fits the bill exactly. I also
believe it is theologically sound!It took the Church almost four
centuries of discussion, some of it bloody, to produce a story, a
meta-narrative, a big picture, an understanding of God, Creation and
human beings. That story united a very disparate and disorderly world,
more in the west than in the east. That story provided foundation stones
for 2000 years of western life. That is a remarkable achievement. That
story has been unravelling and not without some good reasons for more
than a century. The chaos of western life consequently is all too
apparent. Bishop Nazir Ali recently called for a shared story to do the
same for our world now.
fact slowly but surely it is taking place. Theologians and scientists
who are Christians are producing a new story. I am not sure that all
theologians or scientists, and certainly not the Church at large, are
aware of the challenge which this new story puts to our current belief
is not the place to go into all the details of this new story but
briefly it looks a bit like this. Evolution suggests that the theology
of the Fall is not a true account of the spiritual state of creation and
human nature, if evolution suggests the restoration of nature and
natural theology, (the way God works) if evolution suggests a
progressive revelation of God by himself and of himself to humans in
their development being progressively more able to receive and interpret
it, culminating in our Lord and the promise in the Spirit of more to
come. In practical terms we as humans stand where Adam stood, at the
beginning, through being created with unlimited potential.
thanksgiving for birth, a thanksgiving for creation, a new life is
exactly right, theologically right
and sound, leaving the door open as Jesus did for growth, an
acknowledgement of our commonness, created by God. We have to overcome
the desire to be wanted and loved, valued in a small community (which is
right) but that makes us define ourselves by those we exclude and
destroy. If we are to identify ourselves by our differences then we need
to be careful how we do it. Jesus, against his culture, talked to women,
to Samaritans and a Syro-Phoenician woman and rewrote some laws,
including the Sabbath.
K Chesterton was especially scathing of those who downplayed the human
and common:- “human was human before it was Christian”, “no Church
manufactured legs by which men walked or danced, either in pilgrimage or
ballet”, “once men sang round a table in chorus, now one man sings
alone because he can sing better”, before long “only one man can
laugh because he can laugh better than the rest.”
“There is no innate contradiction between our earthly natural
lives and our supernatural destiny.
mere existence reduced to it primary limits was extraordinary enough to
be exciting. I am ordinary in the correct sense of that term, which
means an acceptance of order, a Creator and Creation, the common sense
of gratitude for creation, life and love as gifts permanently good.”
Drane: “An easy assumption is that there is an easy divide between
what is secular and sacred”. “Christians operate with an unhealthy
and certainly unbiblical mindset which places God in opposition to his
have quoted these at length. There are of course others , because they
make further sense for Christians who believe in evolution. Further,
they give us the beginnings of a theology of thanksgiving for all
without distinction and leave baptism for those of Christian faith
appraisal of our theology makes us ask questions too about the Eucharist
and the atonement (the meaning of the cross). Just as it is possible to
have different theologies of atonement, exemplarist and penal,, so it is
with other doctrines, and still remain faithful to scripture. My
favourite Psalm is 139:- “I praise you, for I am fearfully and
wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works, that I know very well…”
national/international Church needs a common practice. A common practice
will only come from a common theology. With regard to baptism, many
clergy do their best in difficult circumstances with more or less
success, but if what works in one place for whatever reason, is not
acceptable universally, then such practice would not do. For example,
what seems to succeed in the “Sssh Free” Church (cf, Update 60)
would not be good enough. Specifically in that account it looks as
though children are admitted to communion because we read: “devise a
service that is radically inclusive of children on the basis of their
full membership of the Church through baptism”. Full membership of the
church means the right to receive communion.
am not against children being admitted to communion, or indeed anyone
else for that matter, for I think our vision of God in the Eucharist is
too small and too narrow. Cathy Ross in ‘Creating Space, Hospitality
as a Metaphor for
’ writes that hospitality is important. The gospels have much to teach
us about meals. But that is another story!
to look at our web site for wisdom !
we want to reiterate that BI respects differing views relating to
infant baptism and indeed to the attestation from the early
historical writings (“Patristic Evidence”)
The following link from our web site was written many years ago
by Bishop Colin Buchanan. Here we have both scriptural and
historical argument in favour of infant baptism.
should use the following link to view :
some doubt there were ANY infant baptisms....
to challenge an assumption
assumption of the general practice of infant baptism [from New Testament
times] has obscured the significance of the fact that, although we know
the names of many children of Christian parents in the fourth century
not baptised until their teens or later, explicit testimony is lacking
that would permit us to name the first Christian baptised as an infant
whose baptism was not a case of clinical baptism.” Ferguson , Baptism in the
early Church (2009) p. 626
the phrase “explicit testimony is lacking”. Perhaps we should start
from the contrary assumption that baptism was from the very beginning a
rite for adults or, in Jewish terms, for those who were beyond the age
of bar mitzvah and now responsible for their actions.
we assume there was no baptism of infants, there is nothing in the New
Testament to conflict with that assumption and everything to support it.
Consider just the following:
the Baptist’s baptism of repentance was aimed at those of adult
status. John and the crowds around him would have found inconceivable
the idea that infants and young children should undergo a baptism of
was baptised by John as a 30 year old.
blessed the little children; he did not ask them to be disciples.
disciples (the Twelve and the Seventy) were adults and it is the
continuity of that group which evolves into Followers of the Way and
into Christian fellowships dotted around the ancient world.
four considerations create a presumption that Christian baptism would be
for those old enough to be responsible for their actions.
also the unsuitability of infants as candidates for baptism, John the
Baptist was beheaded, Jesus was crucified and Stephen was stoned.
Jewish-Christian antagonism was there from the start.
Could the first Christian congregations really have thrust
baptism upon babies and young children? With the threat of persecution
hanging over them they would surely have kept them out of the firing
line, hopefully bringing them up to seek baptism when mature enough to
accept the daunting implications of confessing Christ in a hostile
8.12 tells us explicitly that “men and women were baptised” – no
mention of babes or children and Acts 9 records that Saul went to
Damascus to arrest “both men and women”.
This contradicts the
notion that “household” baptisms did include babies, which is
a hypothesis with no supporting evidence.
a Christian was a grown up activity that was entered into through
responding to the Gospel, e.g. Rom. 10.10 “For it is with your heart
that you believe and are justified and it is with your mouth that you
confess and are saved.” This all presupposes a process of evangelism
and catechesis prior to baptism.
first Christians were already circumcised. John the Baptist baptised
circumcised Jews. The direct link between John’s baptism and
that of the infant Church cannot be over emphasised. When asked by what
authority he operated, Jesus replied “The ministry of John the
Baptist, was it of God or man?” John the Baptist shows no interest in
circumcision and warns his hearers not to say “We have Abraham for our
father”.. The word circumcision never crosses Jesus’ lips except as
part of an argument over the Sabbath in John 7.22. St Paul says bluntly
“neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avail anything but a new
creature”. To say that baptism is the Christian version of Jewish
circumcision is as unreasonable as saying “football is the new
following is an edited extract form an admirable policy statement by
we are objective and impartial it seems that the Bible is not
clear enough on this issue to be categoric about 'right' and 'wrong'
is no proof text which shows Jesus or the disciples either baptizing
infants nor excluding them
is nowhere in the Bible which clearly teaches that babies should
or should not be baptized
early church history is too scan to be conclusive.
the Lord wanted to make sure we got it 'right' and the timing of baptism
meant as much to him as it does to some of us, he would surely have made
are encouraged to explore all the links at the top left hand margin.