Some readers may know that I have a continued interest in the question of infant baptism vs. the baptism of professing believers alone. Because I live in a Presbyterian world, my life would be a lot less complicated if I embraced infant baptism, and I recognize that there are good arguments for it, but I just haven’t been able to get all the way there so far.
This morning I read a passage that’s often quoted at infant baptisms (our church does it, and we don’t walk out in protest or anything!):
For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself. (Acts 2:39)
Of course, this is a great verse, and I love that God’s promises are for me and Sam and others who will hopefully follow. And if you’re going to baptize infants, this is a great verse to read when you do it. I think it falls short as a prooftext, though. The obvious thing that’s always stuck out to me is that there’s a qualifier on the “for you and your children and for all who are far off”: the very next phrase, “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” It seems to follow that the promise is not for those whom the Lord our God doesn’t call to himself, and since we have no way of knowing whether God has called or will call an infant to himself, we should wait until they have a credible profession of faith to baptize them.
But it’s conceivable that that objection might be pressing the words further than Peter meant them. So this time I tried to take a step back and ask, what is “the promise” that Peter refers to? Who is he applying it to, and in what sense is it for them and their children and those who are far off?
Peter is answering a question. He’s just finished his Pentecost sermon, and those who are “cut to the quick” by his preaching ask him what they should do in response. His answer is in v. 38: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” This seems to be “the promise” he refers to in the next sentence.
What we have, then, is a promise to repentant sinners: Repent, receive baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, and God will give you the Holy Spirit. Certainly this is a promise given to those listening, their children, and “all those who are far off.” It’s the great promise of the gospel, what we call the “outward call:” Repent and believe.
Our infant children are treasures. They are created in God’s image and given to us as a trust. And among all the things we have to teach them, surely the most important is the gospel. They have the great privilege of growing up in the church, talking about God and his Word in the home, and many others. When they repent of their sins and profess belief in Christ for themselves, we should rejoice and baptize them. But I still don’t think we should baptize them before then.