The Household Baptist
I was baptized in the Reformed Episcopal church. I grew up in Reformed and Presbyterian churches. My father diligently taught my sister and I the distinctives of a Reformed covenant theology from our earliest days. He repeatedly reminded us that God had promised to be a covenant God to us and to our descendants after us. I believe those promises now for my own children. However, I have something of an aversion to the term paedobaptist (i.e. infant baptist). I don't prefer the terminology because I believe it to be too restictive in nature. I much prefer the term oikobaptist (i.e. household baptist) for a number of biblical and theological reasons. In this post, I want to share a few of those reasons why I call myself a household baptist.
When God promised Abraham that He would be a God to him and to his descendants after him, he gave Abraham the covenant sign of circumcision. He then commanded Abraham to give the covenant sign to all the males in his house when they were just eight days old. There are a number of redemptive historical details about this arrangement.
First, the sign of circumcision went on the reproductive organ of the male child because it signified that the corruption of the sin nature that was passed on generationally by federal representation from our first father--Adam--could only be dealt with by an act of bloody judgment. This pointed to the bloody judgment of the cross which the Apostle Paul called the circumcision of Christ.
Second, God commanded Abraham to give the covenant sign of circumcision to his offspring on the eighth day. Contrary to the naturalistic explanations that many have sough to advance concerning a high rate of blood clotting, the eight day represented the new creation. On a seven day week, the first and the eighth day are one and the same. Just as the first day represented creation, the eighth day--in the law--represented the new creation that would be secured by Christ crucified. When Jesus cleansed the hearts of his people by virtue of his bloody circumcision on the cross (an act also termed circumcision of the heart in Scripture) he brings about the new creation through their regeneration.
Third, the covenant sign of circumcision denoted the promise of blessing and cursing. Either the one who was circumcised would have the filth of his heart cut away (i.e. regeneration) or he would be cut off in judgment as a covenant breaker. The judgment that fell on Christ would fall on all who were not trusting in the coming Redeemer. This is the same thing represented by the waters of baptism. Just as Noah and those with him were typically saved as through water, and all those who did not believe were destroyed by the same water, so circumcision and baptism represent the promise of blessings and curses.
There is a redemptive historical shift that occured when Christ came into the world. When the Apostle Paul draws a correlation between circumcision and baptism in Colossians 2:11-12, he explained the close connection between these two signs. Baptism has replaced circumcision as the sign of the covenant. This is further seen from the fact that the Apostle Paul taught explicitly that circumcision means nothing in the New Covenant; baptism is now the sign of the covenant. However, the New Covenant people of God are grafted into the church...of which the members of Old Covenant Israel belonged. Though we were once far off from the covenant promises, the Apostle explains, we have been brought near by the blood of Christ. There is one overarching plan of redemption that the Covenant Lord works in two dispensations in history.
In Romans 4:11, Paul explained the nature of the covenant sign of circumcision when he called it "a sign" and "a seal of the righteousness of faith." Circumcision represented the promise of God to justify those who believe. Abraham believed and then obeyed God by giving the sign to all of his male descendants. Abraham had believer's circumcision, so to speak, and then gave the sign of the righteousness of faith to his descendants.
However, Abraham did not only give the sign to all of his descendants when they were eight days old. He gave the sign to all the males in his house. Abraham practiced household circumcision in accord with God's commands. Whenever the subject of baptism is debated, my Baptist friends like to insist that we have no example of an infant being baptized in the New Testament. I quickly agree and then assert that we do have many instances of households being baptized, however. It is not incidental that Luke takes note of the fact that--as the Gospel spreads to the nations--the same principle remains in the New Covenant. The professing believer who leads his or her household is to give the sign to those in his or her household. The New Covenant is more expansive, in fact, than the Old in so much as the sign is now not limited to the males in the household only. The sign is not bloody because the blood has been shed. The sign is therefore less visible in so much as it denotes the fulfillment of all things in Christ and the heightened spiritual nature of the New Covenant in fulfillment. This is one of the chief reasons why I consider myself to be a household baptist--rather than an infant baptist.
The other reason why I prefer the term Household Baptist to Infant Baptist is that it keeps the evangelistic focus of the church in view. I sometimes fear that the most ardent supporters of infant baptism become too inward focused. They have a hyper-commitment to the members of their family as over against reaching the lost. The first adult baptisms that I administered in the early days of our church plant included a father and mother in their 50s, together with their two teenaged children. The children were not resistant to receiving the covenant sign--albeit, most of my Baptist friends would have pressed for a more mature profession of faith from them. The reason that I baptized the entire family on the profession of the parents is that I was convinced of a Household Baptist position. The Apostle Paul made clear in 1 Cor. 7:14 that the children of even one professing believer are covenantally set apart to God as members of the visible church. If we limit the covenant sign to the infants of believers, then we inadvertently limit the scope of the New Covenant and the inclusion of the family members of the household of new professing believers.
While this post may open more questions than it answers, it is my sincere desire to see believers wrestle through these issues for the good of their own family, church and outreach efforts. To that end, I would encourage everyone reading this to listen to Edward Donnelly's exceptionally helpful six part series on baptism.
*This first appeared at The Christward Collective.