If God counts children as members of the covenant community who are to receive this sign and seal of his covenant, then those who neglect covenantal baptism prevent covenant children from receiving one of God’s chief means of grace for their lives and the life of the church. These practical and theological implications are why the “discussion” about baptism is not idle theological discourse.
Baptism. Need I say more? Too often, it is best known as the church family “celebration” that causes conflict. This sacrament seems to be fertile soil for debate, disagreement, ridicule, and even mocking among fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet baptism lies at the very heart of the charge that our Lord and Savior gave to the church in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18–20, and it represents, as we shall see in these pages, the core of the Christian faith—the gospel. When we approach it as a source of conflict and controversy, we miss the blessing that is attached to this sacrament, as well, and the kind- ness God has shown his people—the family of Christ— by gifting it to them. I hope that this book, beyond anything else, will show you this blessing and kindness.
I take it for granted that if you are reading this book, you have some interest in the doctrine of baptism. That is good. That is right. Maybe you are a parent who is wrestling with whether you should baptize your child (or children). Maybe you are new to the Reformed tradition or wrestling anew with what you believe about baptism. Maybe you are a pastor attempting to articulate covenantal baptism more clearly, or a teenager wondering whether you should be “rebaptized” at the urging of friends, or a Christian parent wondering whether your wandering child’s previous baptism means anything for him or her now. Maybe you are simply looking for a quick refresher on the reasons for and blessings of covenantal baptism. This book is written for you.
But before we enter the discussion on baptism, I ask you to make a commitment with me. John Rabbi Duncan, a Scottish Presbyterian from a former generation, once said, “I’m first a Christian, next a Catholic,1 then a Calvinist, fourth a Paedobaptist,2 and [finally] a Presbyterian.”3 He places the right things in the right order. Before you read further, commit with me in the tenor of Duncan’s confession above, first, that you are a Christian; second, that you identify as a member of the universal church; and that everything else follows in importance.
We need to remain careful not to make too much of baptism on the one hand but neither to dismiss it with a nonchalant attitude on the other. Baptism is truly a “secondary doctrine.” Yet it is a significant doctrine. Our beliefs regarding baptism inform our parenting, our expectations of our covenant children, and even what church we attend and join. And, since blessings are attached to this sacrament (as we shall see), we desire those blessings to be received by all who are able. Most of all, because baptism is a foundational part of the Christian faith, our view of it should be well-informed and biblical.
If those who practice covenantal baptism4 by baptizing their children do so in contradiction to God’s Word, then they put words (and especially promises) in the mouth of God that are untrue. And yet, if God counts children as members of the covenant community who are to receive this sign and seal of his covenant, then those who neglect covenantal baptism prevent covenant children from receiving one of God’s chief means of grace for their lives and the life of the church. These practical and theological implications are why the “discussion” about baptism is not idle theological discourse.
This is an excerpt from the introduction to Jason Helopoulos’ book, “Covenantal Baptism,” part of the Blessings of the Faith series. Pick up a copy of, “Covenantal Baptism” for more information on this often-debated doctrine. Used with permission.