You and Your Offspring
“I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you” (v. 7).- Genesis 17:1–14
Over the past several decades, many evangelical Christians have come together under the banner of God’s sovereignty in salvation. It is now common, for example, to find Baptists and Presbyterians teaming up to plant churches, send missionaries, and do other kingdom works because of their shared conviction that the Lord elects and irresistibly brings His people to faith in Christ.
Despite this laudable development, divisions remain between those who are otherwise united by a Reformed soteriology (doctrine of salvation), not the least of which concerns the proper subjects of baptism. Presbyterians baptize professing believers who were never baptized before as well as their children. Baptists, however, baptize only those who profess faith in Christ. They do not apply the covenant sign to believers’ children before these children profess faith.
Although church tradition is not the ground upon which we stand to defend the Presbyterian view, it is nonetheless worth noting that the vast majority of professing Christians throughout history has baptized adult converts and their children. Question and answer 74 of the Heidelberg Catechism also affirm the traditional Presbyterian view of baptism. At the end of the day, however, this is the fundamental question we must ask: “Is the Presbyterian view faithful to Scripture?” Based on the entire canon of Scripture, Presbyterians answer, “yes.” Ultimately, the Reformed view of infant baptism is grounded in the covenant promises of God, which promises are given to adult covenant members and their children. As we see in today’s passage, our Creator made His covenant with Abraham and his offspring throughout their generations (Gen. 17:7). The blessings of being separated from the world unto God and hearing His Word were not limited to those who “made a decision for Yahweh”; rather, these blessings belonged also to the children of adult old covenant members. Circumcision, the sign of covenant initiation, was therefore given to adult believers and their children (vv. 9–14).
In Romans 4, Paul uses Abraham to illustrate God’s covenant of grace. As this covenant with Abraham continues in Christ, the covenant promises belong to adult believers in Jesus and their children (Acts 2:1–41). Why, then, would we not give the new covenant sign of initiation—baptism—to the children of new covenant believers?
The church is not infallible, but the church is wise. We should, therefore, take its tradition and guidance seriously. In the matter of baptism, church tradition is overwhelmingly on the side of baptizing adult Christians and their infant children. This does not necessarily make the practice right, but it does put the burden of proof on those who would break with the tradition, for the church has long understood the Bible to teach infant baptism.
Passages for Further Study