Baptismal Regeneration?

This answer to a question quickly graduated beyond the comments section, so I’ll post it here to clarify why we are making so much of our boys’ baptism …

Jazzycat asked: “At this infant baptism of your son, do you consider him as being redeemed and regenerate or a member of the covenant with expectations of regeneration and redemption at a later date?”

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Jazzycat,

Great question! You’ve obviously done study on this issue, and I hope this isn’t too much of a cop-out, but I don’t know when my three boys have been/will be regenerated. All we can do, as parents trying to keep the covenant faithfully, is baptize them in accordance with God’s promises to us and to our children (Acts 2:39).

In some sense, it seems your question might be a false dichotomy: we baptize our children because they are already holy (1 Cor. 7:14) and Jesus tells us the operation of the Holy Ghost (who regenerates us) is like the wind: we can’t see it, but we see the effects (Jn. 3:8). So, we pray that our boys will manifest the fruits of the Spirit, but we don’t treat them like unbelievers in the meantime.

The confession both our churches subscribe to seems to gives a both/and answer: “The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth to, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in his appointed time” (WCF, 38.6).

I’ve highlighted the phrases which state that infants can be regenerated at the moment of baptism. In fact, it seems that the Divines thought this was the “right use” of the ordinance. In other words, we should expect God to work in this way. But, contrary to a strict view of baptismal regeneration, God is free to regenerate his elect at some future time. And, of course, it’s all a work of the Holy Ghost, and of sovereign grace.

Thanks for asking this tough question. I’m preaching through 1 Peter, and am starting to get nervous about 3:21! This has helped me to clarify my thoughts.

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2 thoughts on “Baptismal Regeneration?

  1. Thanks for your post. It is certainly a good point that regeneration can happen to an infant and I would think it could happen before or even without baptism.

    I have struggled with my denominations infant baptism doctrine and even covenant theology for that matter.

    As to Federal Vision theology, I think the changing of the one word (presume to are) in the kingdom makes all the difference. If I understand you correctly you believe baptism does not make a person a member of the kingdom of God with the possibility of falling away, but rather we presume they are and God will work it out on his own timetable.

    To say that baptism places anyone especially adults into a right relationship with God from which they can fall away is a serious departure from the WCF in my opinion. However, I do not think you believe that from your post.

    Jazzycat

  2. Jazzycat,

    Our thinking gets muddled here if we fail to distinguish between election and covenant. Baptism does place us in covenant relationship with God by way of Christ (we become Christians) and His church, and thus His kingdom, and from this we can fall away or be cut off according to Hebrews. And, yes, based on the promises of God we may presume that those in covenant are elect, to be regenerated according to God’s own timetable.

    This is Federal Vision theology as I understand it–too many people don’t understand it.

    Blessings!

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