The Meaning of Baptism
“For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13).
The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 4:11 that circumcision, and therefore baptism (Col. 2:8–15), is a sign. Now signs as the Bible explains it, point beyond themselves to signify something else, but they are not in themselves that which they signify. For example, a sign on a highway reading “Washington D.C., 23 miles” points to a city 23 miles away, but the sign is not the city of Washington. Likewise, baptism signifies something beyond itself but in itself is not the thing that is signified.
1 Cor. 12:13 alludes to some of the realities to which baptism points. First is our ingrafting into Christ and His body. In John 15:1–17, Jesus describes Himself as the vine in whom we the branches must abide. We must be ingrafted into this vine by faith — we must enter into a living, vital, and saving relationship with Him. This idea is prevalent in the New Testament where to believe in the Lord is to believe “into” Christ. Moreover, when we trust in Jesus we are not alone. The Christian community enters into union with the Savior by believing in His name. If I am in Christ and my friend is in Christ, we experience union with each other in some sense. We all become part of the “one body.” Paul also describes this union with other Christians in Romans 11:11–24, where believing Gentiles become one with faithful Israelites.
Baptism also signifies regeneration and the remission of sins (John 3:5; Acts 2:38). Apart from the direct work of the Holy Spirit, we are dead in sin and cannot trust in Jesus. He alone can renew our hearts and create a disposition inclined toward God and His Messiah (Eph. 2:1–10). The sacrament of baptism signifies that the Lord has done this for His people — He has regenerated our hearts. Water symbolizes the new life the Spirit brings, and its washing effect points to the cleansing from sin that results from faith in Christ.
Finally, having the sign does not necessarily mean we have the reality. We can trust in the rite of baptism without having faith, and if so, neither ingrafting, regeneration, nor remission has happened. But for those of faith, the Holy Spirit works through baptism to remind them of His work and, consequently, to strengthen faith.
Baptism of Infants and Children
“For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39).
The New Testament nowhere commands us to baptize infants, but neither does it anywhere forbid it. Recognizing this fact, we will offer a brief case for infant baptism in the hopes of understanding why we practice it in All Souls Anglican Church.
First, in the Old Testament, there is no standard chronology for faith and circumcision. Abraham was circumcised after professing faith (Gen. 17:22–27), but Isaac was circumcised before his confession (21:4). Faith in the Lord was necessary in both cases to appropriate all the benefits that circumcision promises, but the administration of the sign and seal was not tied to the timing of their faith. Circumcision and baptism are linked (Col. 2:8–15), and so baptism, like circumcision, need not be tied to the moment of profession.
Second, the old covenant promises were given to adults and their children, and this was depicted in circumcision. Thus, it is hard to imagine that the greater new covenant promises and signs should not also be given to the infant children of believing adults. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter actually tells us the new covenant promises are gifts for the children of believers (Acts 2:38–39). Twenty-five percent of the baptisms found in the New Testament are of entire households, and these homes likely included children.
Finally, Paul says the children of a Christian parent are set apart to God (1 Cor. 7:12–14). Circumcision visibly set a child of believers apart under the old covenant, and so it would be hard for Jewish converts to believe the Lord would not include new covenant children in the seal that sets people apart as part of the visible community. Like circumcision, baptism without personal faith avails nothing. But baptism does mark the child as part of the visible church and liable to stricter judgment if the recipient never trusts God (Luke 12:41–48).
Whether or not we baptize infants, 1 Corinthians 7:12–14 reveals that children of believers have a relationship to the Lord that the offspring of non-believers do not share. They are in the visible church where they enjoy hearing the preached Word of God. But while the church does play a part in teaching children about Christ, the church is not to do all the work. We as parents, family, and friends must impress the teachings of Jesus upon the children we know.