Why do we baptism Infants at City Church?

The simple answer to this question is that while we firmly believe this is not an issue over which Christians should divide, we are convinced that both the Bible and early church history support the practice of household baptism, which includes infants and young children.

Biblical Rationale

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 Physical circumcision is clearly no longer in effect (Galatians 6:11-18), but the covenant it represents is still in effect (Romans 2:29).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.”

Historical Rationale

While the Scripture does not speak specifically to the baptism of infants in the early church, there is Biblical suggestion as well as historical evidence that household baptism was practiced at that time.

  • Irenaeus (adisciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of the apostle John) speaks of infant baptism as a universal practice in the early church.

  • Tertullian (end of 2nd century) acknowledged the universal practice of infant baptism.

  • Origen (2nd and 3rd centuries) spoke of infant baptism as the common practice of the early church.

  • These 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 nor 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 large part because there is a wealth of documentation about virtually every other theological debate and/or alleged “heresy” in the early church.


What child baptism signifies

  • An outward sign of God’s promises to the children of believers. According to Scripture, baptism signifies the promise of God that He will give His Spirit to believers and their children. We take this to mean two things: First, that the child will be exposed to the work of the Spirit as he / she is raised in a Christian home and church where the Word of God is taught and lived. Second, that the child’s parents can look expectantly to God for the salvation of their child, as the child is brought up in the ways of God.

  • An outward sign of the child’s inclusion in the community of faith. Like circumcision, in Scripture baptism represented the child’s inclusion in the church community. By virtue of his / her baptism, the child becomes a “non-communing member” of the church, and is entitled to all the benefits of a full church member, except (1) the right to receive the Lord’s Supper, which first requires a credible profession of faith in Christ, and (2) the right to vote as a church member.

  • An outward sign of Jesus’ heart for children. Through child baptism the entire church community acknowledges Jesus’ statement that the kingdom of God belongs to little ones. Jesus regularly included little children and babies in His fellowship.

What child baptism does not signify

  • Baptism does not signify that the child is instantaneously saved upon baptism. There is no “magic” that takes place in this sacrament. The child’s salvation will be secured, as far as his / her parents and church are concerned, at the moment in which the child is converted to Christ through faith and repentance, not at the moment of baptism.

Our attitude about household baptism

We encourage household baptism at City Church, but do not require it of those who cannot accept it. To us the biblical and supporting historical teaching seems clear, so we do encourage City Church parents to have their children baptized. However, parents who are not convinced of our position are not required to have their children baptized in order to be fully active and fully 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. We will under no circumstance make this “non-essential” issue an essential one.

- Adapted from the Redeemer NYC position paper on infant baptism