Summary: We baptize infants because it reminds us of the assurances of God.
“Between the Lines: But They Won’t Remember”
My original series from Romans did not include a sermon from Romans 6. I was going to save this chapter for a future baptismal service. But in recent months I have been involved in several important conversations about baptism – some of them with some of you. I concluded that now would be an appropriate time address the topic.
I mourn the fact that two of the symbols Christ gave the church to give her unity – communion and baptism – are often two of the most divisive elements in the church. There’s too much talk about believers baptism vs. immersion baptism vs. infant baptism, etc – as if only one represents the truth. The truth is, all are biblically valid. In Romans 6, Paul puts forth some principles and assurances of baptism, which are important to know if we want a clearer understanding. Since infant baptism seems to be the most attacked position, I want us to see how it flows out of and is supported by Paul’s letter. So let’s jump in!
Why do we baptize infants, anyway? After all, it doesn’t mean anything to the infants. They have no clue as to what’s going on. Certainly they are no different because of baptism; obviously they will not remember the day. For example, how many of you who were baptized as infants, remember your baptism? If it doesn’t change us, if we don’t remember it, why do it? Such are the questions of an age which needs to validate everything on feelings and which values only what can be experienced. So why do it? To put it succinctly, WE BAPTIZE INFANTS BECAUSE IT REMINDS US OF THE ASSURANCES OF GOD. According to our liturgy and the Word of God, infant baptism reminds us of at least three such assurances.
Our first assurance is that we have AN IDENTITY ROOTED IN THE PAST. Our liturgy states that “In baptism God promises by grace alone: To forgive our sins; To adopt us into the Body of Christ, the Church...” In Romans 6 Paul talks about newness of life through baptism (4): “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” The roots of this new life are in Genesis 17 where God makes a covenant with Abraham (17): “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” Luke the Apostle wrote (Acts 2:38-39): “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children ...’” In other words, whatever blessings God provides for his people, are for the children as well. Even as circumcision in the ancient Jewish tradition symbolized that the infant was a full-fledged member of the Jewish community – of God’s people – and thereby would receive all the blessings and privileges associated with the community, so the baptism of infants – as a fulfillment of circumcision – reminds us that God promises the infant will receive all the blessings and privileges associated with the community. That’s why the Liturgy assures us WE ARE ADOPTED INTO THE HOUSEHOLD OF FAITH. Think for a moment about adoption. To adopt a child today requires money – in fact, it’s a heavy price to pay. It also costs a heavy price for any of us to be adopted into the church: it cost Christ his life. He paid the price. The forgiveness promised to adults extends to our children as well. It is only through forgiveness that any of us can be included in Christ’s family.
In a world which is brutal towards those who do not measure up, which overvalues and over-rewards success, and which over- stresses the importance of the approval of peers, baptism is a refreshing reminder that we belong to God – that we are his children, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. Therefore worldly standards, success, and approval are not what matter most. Our identity comes not from what others say and think, but from what Christ has done. He died once, for all, forever. WE CAN ALWAYS KNOW WHO AND WHOSE WE ARE. As our liturgy reminds us, even “When we fall into sin, we must not despair of God’s mercy, nor continue in sin, for baptism is the sign and seal of God’s eternal covenant of grace with us.” There is no greater lesson children can learn than this. As a brother or sister of Jesus, as a member of the church family, any child can always start again. They are free to fail, free to not measure up, free to reject this love. And they are free to be who they are, children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. Parents must provide children with enough counsel and exposure to life in the church – and this church must so nurture them – that they always have the assurance of this loving acceptance and deeply rooted identity. Then every time they witness baptism, it is a means of grace that reminds them of who and whose they are. Both in the home and in the church, children must be given a sense of belonging to Christ, of being committed and pledged to him, of being protected by him. They won’t remember this day; but may they never forget it! Our identity is rooted in the past!