Steven Wright tells the story of two babies who were born on the same day at the same hospital. They lie there and look at each other. Their families came and took them away. Eighty years later, by a bizarre coincidence, they lie in the same hospital, on their deathbeds, next to each other. One of them looked at the other and said, “So, what did you think?”
Coincidentally, here are some quotes on coincidences.
- From Agatha Christie: “Any coincidence is worth noticing. You can throw it away later if it is only a coincidence.”
- From Albert Einstein: “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”
- From Ian Fleming: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.”
- From Yogi Berra: “That’s too coincidental to be a coincidence.”
- And from John Green: “It’s hard to believe in coincidence, but it’s even harder to believe in anything else.”
There is an interesting set of coincidences when we look at the sacraments of the Old Testament and of the New. Do they prove anything? No, but they are conveniently very coincidental! Let’s start off by comparing Passover and the Lord’s Supper. There, we see:
- Both are administered repeatedly.
- Both are administered to members of the covenant (believers) only.
- Both speak of God’s redemption.
- Both are signs of maintaining our relationship with God.
- Both speak of taking in spiritual nourishment.
- Both call us to remember all that God has done for us.
- Both are done when the recipient is active and alert (he or she partakes by his or her own volition).
And when we look at circumcision and baptism, we see even more coincidences!
- Both are administered only once to a person (don’t panic, we will argue this in an upcoming post).
- Both are signs of entering into a relationship with God.
- Both are signs of entering into the covenant community.
- Both speak of such things as justification and cleansing.
- Both are signs of God’s ownership.
- Both are administered to believers and their children (I know, if I was making an argument, I would be using my point to prove my point, but I am not making an argument, I am simply pointing out a few coincidences!).
- Both speak to the faith of the parents involved. (Again, it’s a coincidence!)
- Both are done when the recipient is wholly passive. (Again, coincidence, not an argument.)
Now, it is no coincidence that people will object to these two lists. Their firm view is that the pattern for baptism in the New Testament is always faith (or at least, an expression of faith) before baptism. And since infants don’t have faith, they shouldn’t be baptized. But God’s pattern in the Old Testament was always to grant the sign of the covenant to infants, and we never see this pattern (command?) revoked in the New. Plus, forbidding infants the sign of the covenant proves too much. If baptism is denied to infants because they can’t believe, isn’t God’s grace also denied to them because they can’t believe?
This raises an interesting question: How are we to view our children? Do we look at them as outside the covenant? Only as sinners separate from Christ? Cut off totally from God’s salvation? Should we see our kids as nothing more than tiny, depraved pagans? I hope not. But many do.
I heard one pastor talk about a struggle he had with his three-year-old son. Every night, this pastor would tuck his son into bed and pray a good-night prayer over him. One night, his son stopped him before the prayer and said that he wanted to pray that night. The pastor knew his Bible, Proverbs 15:29: “The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.” In other words, God was not about to listen to the prayer his unsaved son would offer. And so, this pastor said to his son, “Sorry, son, only Christians can pray; and you are too young to be a Christian.” The child responded, “But I am a Christian!” Our pastor only shook his head. He knew his son was way too young to repent truly and believe fully in the gospel. And so, our pastor friend would not let his son pray. He said, “I prayed for him, but I didn’t let him pray. After all, he didn’t know God.” Now, I am hoping that your response to this story is the same as mine. I went through the roof! How awful! Children of believing parents are set apart by God and welcomed into the covenant community; and as a result, they are given all sorts of privileges, including prayer. To withhold these gifts from them is offensive.
David Feddes, English radio minister with the “Back to God Ministries,” writes:
“When a new baby is born, do parents wait for years to see whether the baby chooses to be part of the family before they treat him as part of the family? No, they treat the little one as part of the family right away. Do they wait for years to give the child a name and just say, ‘Hey, you!’ until he can choose a name for himself? No, they give the baby a name as soon as he’s born. Now, it’s conceivable that when a child grows up, he could disown his family and change his name, but that’s not the expectation. The expectation is that the child will always be in the family. In God’s family, the church, should we wait for a baby to grow up before treating him as a member of God’s family? Should we wait to see how he turns out before we give him a name, an identity? No, a baby of Christian parents should be treated from the start as part of God’s family. He should have the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit placed upon him in baptism.”
There is tremendous wisdom and grace and joy in those words.
Here’s the bottom line: Those who oppose infant baptism try to shift the burden of proof to those who believe in the practice. “Show us some explicit command for infant baptism in the Bible or an example of it in the New Testament.” But when you see the issue in light of the whole counsel of God, you see that the real issue is for those who oppose infant baptism to show where God rescinded the “you and your children” principle established in the promise to Abraham. Those who oppose infants receiving the sacrament need to show where the Bible teaches that kids are no longer part of the covenant community in the New Testament. But those are things that are impossible to show because God calls the children of all of his people to bear his sign and be set apart from the world. Let me quote Larry Wilson here:
“Baptism is to the New Testament what circumcision was to the Old Testament. This means that the very same objections that our baptistic brethren often raise against infant baptism also apply against infant circumcision. And yet, God commanded infant circumcision!”
Of course, baptism doesn’t guarantee conversion. Circumcision didn’t either, so it should not surprise us. Paul says in Romans 9:6-7: “It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children.” To make our point even clearer, he could have added that not everyone who was circumcised was a member of the redeemed. And yet, even though it didn’t guarantee conversion, God did not forbid circumcision. So, apparently, God is okay with that.
And yet, this lack of a guarantee actually serves us well. True, we can’t know if the child will come to Christ, but we can certainly stack the deck in belief’s favor. When we baptize a child, we don’t just baptize any child. We baptize the children of believers (even if both parents aren’t Christ followers, one must be). And we baptize a child into the life of the church (it is not a private ceremony). And both the parents and the members of the church make certain promises to raise that child in the fear and admonition of the Lord (parents promise to pray with and for that child, to set before that child a godly example, to teach that child our faith, and to raise that child in the church where others will come around him or her and shepherd that child’s heart). And in baptism God himself promises to work in that child’s heart right from his or her first heartbeat and even before that! And so, this lack of a guarantee motivates us as Christian parents to be very diligent in raising our kids. We make use of every opportunity to grow our kids in their faith, teaching them with words, deeds and by example. And we immerse our kids into the life of the church so that grace can flow to them from all directions. BB Warfield writes:
“Every time we baptize an infant, we bear witness that salvation is from God; that we cannot do any good thing to secure it; that we receive it from his hands as a sheer gift of his grace; and that we all enter the Kingdom of heaven therefore as little children, who do not do, but are done for.”
And we do this so that when the child professes Christ as an adult, she can look back on her baptism and say, “God has been faithful to me since my very first breath.” What a gift we give our kids when we baptize them.
But if infant baptism is so important and wonderful, why doesn’t the New Testament make this explicit? Coincidentally, that is what we are going to look at next week. In the meantime, remember these great words of GK Chesterton, “Coincidences are spiritual puns.” You have to love a man who believes in a God who loves to laugh.