The divisions over baptism become most evident when discussing the proper recipients of the sacrament. Most American evangelicals only baptize those who have verbally professed faith. Yet many Christians follow the majority practice of church history and administer the ordinance to adults and their infant children.
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 it is practiced by many Christians.
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. In today’s passage, 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.