In our August issue I began to answer some question concerning the grounds of infant baptism. The first question raised by my questioner, who was quoting arguments raised by a Baptist Minister, I saved for this issue. Let me repeat the question to refresh our memories: “His point of argument was as follows: during the Old Testament institution of the Passover, the young children were instructed to partake of the institution, and when they asked their fathers, ‘Why do we observe this ceremony?’ the fathers were to teach them about their deliverance out of the land of Egypt, Exodus 12:24-27. We believe that in the new dispensation the institution of the Lord’s Supper has taken the place of the Passover, and yet onlybelievers are allowed to partake of the Sacrament and not their children (as in the Passover). Because ONLY believers are to partake of the elements of the Lord’s Supper, so also ONLY believers are to receive the sign of the covenant. In other words, although ‘. . . God formerly commanded them to be circumcised, which was a seal of the covenant, and of the righteousness of faith. . .’ now, because the infants are excluded from the Lord’s table, so are they to be excluded from this ‘seal of the covenant.'”
This is indeed an interesting, though entirely specious, argument. Why? There are several reasons why this argument is not valid.
First of all, and most importantly, there is a false disjunction here between believers and children (infants). I alluded to this in my remarks about the relation between baptism and circumcision, (cf. August issue). But this is extremely important. The Baptist claims that we must baptize only believers. We reply that we do baptize believers when we baptize infants. We do so just as surely as he baptizes believers when he baptizes adults. He will argue that many infants who are baptized later prove to be no children of God, but are lost. On this same basis, however, the Baptist cannot baptize adults: for he cannot be sure that all professing adults are believers either; some, even many, may be hypocrites and false confessors. But above all, the Baptist has to make the same argument against infant circumcision as against infant baptism. But if he does so, he is in flagrant contradiction of Scripture, which directly commanded that the seed of Abraham be circumcised in infancy. We must remember, therefore, that it is organically true of infants of believers that “they as well as the adult are included in the covenant and church of God” and that “redemption from sin by the blood of Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult,” and that therefore “they must by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, be also admitted into the Christian church,” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. and A. 74).
But what about this argument from the idea of the Passover?
In the first place, it should be remembered that this discussion revolving about the relation of the Passover and the Lord’s Supper involves children, not infants. This is an important difference, so important that it destroys the whole argument raised by this Baptist minister. For it means that he cannot argue back from the Passover-Lord’s Supper relation to the Circumcision-Baptism relation. Circumcision and Baptism both involve infants who cannot even begin to ask, “What does this ceremony mean?” The Passover included children, but, remember, such children as were able to ask about and to receive instruction in the meaning of that feast. Now we are not informed in the Old Testament how old children were, or had to be, before they participated in the Passover and would raise this question. But certainly, they had reached “the years of discretion.” They were no infants; they were not even toddlers. The very question and the possibility of understanding an answer presuppose this. And we know from later history that at the time of Jesus’ earthly sojourn the boys were not taken to the Passover at Jerusalem until they were twelve years old, and that this was preparatory to their being admitted to the congregation at the age of thirteen. But—whatever the age—you certainly cannot draw a parallel and thus destroy the argument in favor of infant baptism in this way, for the simple reason that there is a vast difference between infants and children.
In the second place, I do not believe that one can draw a strict parallel between the Passover and the Lord’s Supper, as is presupposed in this argument. It is true that the institution of the Lord’s Supper has taken the place of the Passover as a whole. But it is not true that the Lord’s Supper is in every respect and detail the New Testament replacement and fulfillment of the Passover. In fact, there is not even the similarity to a sacrament in the Passover which you find, according to Scripture, in Circumcision: Scripture literally calls Circumcision a “seal of the righteousness of faith,” Rom. 4:11. I point this out because this also implies that one cannot expect that all children should be admitted to the Lord’s Supper as they were to the Passover. In the case of Baptism you may expect all infants of believers to be baptized, even as all infants of the covenant were circumcised. But in the case of the Lord’s Supper you may not expect this (and then make an argument against infant baptism out of the fact that they are not), because there is not a full parallel between the Lord’s Supper and the Passover.
In the third place, children are admitted to the Lord’s Supper. However, the question of admission is not determined by the question as such whether they are children or adults. The criterion is a spiritual one. Fundamentally, we may briefly state this criterion in the question: are they able to discern the Lord’s body? The church has differed in the past as to how old a child must be in order to do this; and the church has differed as to how this standard is to be applied. In our churches adolescent children are admitted when they are able to make and do make profession of their faith, at whatever age that may be. John Calvin at one time proposed that this could be at the age of ten, after thorough catechizing. Later the age was set at fourteen in his Ecclesiastical Ordinances.but it is surely not correct to say that children are not admitted to the Lord’s Supper. In fact, I will go a step farther. Children are admitted in a measure and as members of their families even before they actually partake of the Supper’s elements: this is the reason why they ought to be and are present with their parents when the Lord’s Supper is celebrated and why we do not and ought not leave them at home at the occasion.
Finally, all of the above stands in close connection with the difference between the two sacraments. Baptism is the sacrament of our incorporation into the covenant and church of God. In this incorporation we are passive. Even infants can be and are incorporated into the covenant. Hence, infants ought also to be baptized. The Lord’s Supper, however, is the sacrament of our continuance in, nourishment in, and enjoyment of the fellowship of God’s covenant. In this we are conscious and active. We eat and drink. We discern the Lord’s body. This presupposes a conscious and active faith on the part of those who partake.
In conclusion, therefore, I maintain that the argument raised by this Baptist minister to my questioner is not a valid argument against baptism of infants.