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Of Saints and Children

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Thankful for Covenant Promises

This Sunday I get the opportunity to baptize a covenant child for the first time. Having been raised in a church that thought little of theological matters, and attending a strong (Reformed?) baptist church in college, before finally being convinced of infant baptism in my mid-20s, this is quite a monumental moment for me. As I baptize this child, I am sure I will remember my “journey” and undoubtedly, I will be thankful for the covenant promises that belong to me and my children (Acts 2:39).

Children in the Church?

One of the practical issues that drew me to embrace infant baptism was the question: What do we do with our children? When I go to church on Sunday, do my children have a right to participate in the worship of God’s people? Do they have the privilege of praying in church: “My Father”? Does the church encapsulate my children?

I think for many baptists out there, they would have to deny all the above. Though their children attend church, are educated in Sunday School classrooms, participate in the singing and prayers of God’s people, and are often viewed as belonging to a Christian family, baptists can’t say that children belong to the church. This is why they deny them the sign and seal of admittance into the church–baptism (cf. Acts 2:41).

But when we look at the biblical boundaries of who is in the church, the bible appears clear: Children belong in the church. I am thankful for what I see as an inconsistency in the way in which many baptists raise their children. While denying their children belong to the church, most baptists I’ve met, (functionally) act like their children do belong. And they’re not without warrant for doing so!

Children and Saints

When it comes to children belonging to the church, Ephesians 6:1–4 appears to speak directly to the matter. In Ephesians 4–6 Paul is largely giving practical exhortations. In the end of chp. 5 he begins addressing three different types of relationships: (1) Wives and husbands, (2) Children and fathers/parents, and (3) Slaves and masters.

The fact that Paul addresses children, is significant. In Ephesians 1:1, Paul is clear who he is writing to: To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus. When Paul turns to his practical exhortations, he is NOT writing these instructions to the common mass of humanity. But he is addressing those who have been marked out as “children of God” (cf. Eph. 4:17; 5:1). As Paul comes to the three different types of relationships, he is addressing different groups of people in the church.

So as Paul addresses “children” he is still addressing the “saints who are in Ephesus.” Paul didn’t see that children (of believers) were outside the bounds of the church, but in it. This is why he can give apostolic injunctions to them.

By Profession or Birth

Now there are many commentators who believe that “children” in v. 1 refers only to those who have made a public profession of faith. This is perhaps understandable as Paul speaks of children obeying their parents “in the Lord.” And, they argue, a child who doesn’t know what it is to be “in the Lord,” can’t obey their parents in that manner. So some commentators have chosen to minimize “children” to those who have professed faith. But is this fair? I don’t think so for (3) reasons:

(1) “Children” is also used in v. 4. Fathers are commanded not to provoke their children. I have yet to read someone who argues for a limited definition of children in v. 4. As far as I can tell, everyone agrees the “children” in v. 4 are all children living under the authority of their covenant head. The simplest reading of vv. 1–4 would therefore be to say that Paul is addressing the same body of children in v. 1 and v. 4.

(2) Paul, defending that obedience is right (v. 1), confirms this by citing the fifth commandment (vv. 2–3). The fifth commandment is one of ten commandments that God gave to Israel on Mt. Sinai (see Exod. 20 and Deut. 5). As far as I can tell, there is no one who argues that the fifth commandment only applied to professing Israelite children; but the commandment was binding upon all Israelite children. Paul’s intentions in Ephesians 6:1–4 is NOT to reconstitute who the children of the church are, this isn’t anywhere in the text or context. Rather, Paul sees a great degree of continuity between the children of the OT church and NT church.

(3) First Corinthians 7:14 is a helpful verse to understand Ephesians 6:1–4. I say this because 1 Cor. 7:14 uses the words “children” and “holy.” And what Paul says is that children are “holy” by having a believing parent. Now the word “holy” in 1 Cor. 7:14 is the same word Paul uses when he addresses the “saints” in Eph. 1:1. So by joining 1 Cor. 7:14 to Eph. 1:1 and 6:1, we see in Paul’s greater theology that children are accounted as “saints” (or “holy”) by right of a believing parent; not necessarily by a profession of faith.

For these three reasons, it seems untenable that when Paul addresses “children” in Eph. 6:1, that he is referring only to those children who have made a profession of faith. This isn’t seen from the context, the law, or Paul’s greater theology.

What Prevents Baptism?

And so if Paul sees children as belonging to the church of Jesus Christ, and baptism is the sign and seal of our membership in his church, we can ask with the Eunuch: What prevents [these children] from being baptized? So I am thankful for the sign of the new covenant. And I am honored to be able to baptize a covenant child. And I am even more thankful that the Lord of the church has seen fit to include covenant children among his saints on earth.

 

 

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