It is the belief of the Presbyterian Church throughout history and of City Church of East Nashville 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 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).
In the New Testament, baptism replaces circumcision as the sign of the covenant.
- Colossians 2:11-12 teaches that baptism is the full expression of circumcision. The covenant of circumcision required that infant males be circumcised as a newborn infants (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 Physical circumcision is clearly no longer in effect (Galatians 6:11-18), but the covenant it represents is still in effect (Romans 2:29).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). Therefore, we believe it follows that baptism is to be administered to the children of believing parents.
- Acts 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.
- As circumcision was a requirement for the Old Testament household (Genesis17:10, 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.
- There is no biblical command given for believers to cease the application of the covenant sign with their children.
- In the New Testament, believers’ children were regarded as members of the covenant community.
- In Luke 18:15-17, Jesus said that God’s Kingdom belongs to little children (from the Greek brephe, which literally means “baby” or “infant”).
- In 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.
- In 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.
- In 2 Timothy 3:15, Timothy is said to have known the Scriptures from infancy (brephe).
- In Luke 1:15, John the Baptist is said to have been filled with the Spirit, “even from his mother’s womb.”
- The 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.
Our position on infant 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 Savior 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.”