In Baptism, Guy Richard provides a short overview of what baptism is and presents a case for infant baptism. Richard begins by first defining what baptism is, what it signifies, which modes of baptism is acceptable, and why we ought to be baptized. The author then moves on to outline his position on infant baptism based on biblical precedent, covenantal continuity, and connections between circumcision and baptism. Richard asserts that the household baptisms in the New Testament seem to indicate the entire household being baptized which would include children and servants. Moreover, Richard states that the new covenant Jesus establishes in the NT is the same covenant in essence as the Abrahamic covenant in the Old Testament (OT) but in an expanded, clearer form. As such, baptism serves a similar function to circumcision in the OT to mark out those who are the true children of Abraham. Since the Israelites were commanded to undergo circumcision, believers today should also baptize their children as recipients of God’s special blessings and privileges within the covenant community. At the end of the book, Richard discusses common objections by credobaptists and offers some practical applications in relation to baptism.
Although I agree with most of Richard’s points on baptism generally, there seems to be some weaknesses regarding the author’s arguments for infant baptism. I hope to examine what Richard posits as the meaning and significance of baptism and how these two fundamental elements are at odds with his position on infant baptism.
Firstly, in terms of definition, Richard defines baptism as a physical sign of the internal reality of a believer who has been regenerated through faith. In a similar way, circumcision was to be the outward symbol of the internal heart circumcision that God required of the Israelites. Richards acknowledges that in both circumcision and baptism, there certainly are individuals who do not exhibit regenerate hearts such as Esau and Ishmael. In both infant baptism and circumcision then, the objective would seem to be inclusion in the covenantal community which would be at odds with Richard’s definition of baptism as being the outward sign of the internal washing and cleansing of sin. This would mean then that infant baptism would not meet the definition of baptism as defined by Richards since there is no regeneration in the infant.
Secondly, in terms of meaning, Richard asserts that baptism primarily signifies the washing away of sin of which I fully agree. However, my question is: what does baptism signify for infants? Surely it cannot signify the washing of sin as all children are born sinners. This would then seem to imply that the baptism of children and adults are similar in form but different in substance. If so, then how do we reconcile this with baptism as described by Richard as a sign and seal of a believer who put their faith in Jesus? I understand those who undergo infant baptism often go through confirmation, but would this not further solidify the argument that infant baptism and adult baptism are different in nature?
Richard does clarify later in the book that infant baptism is the hope that the child will exercise saving faith in the future, the solemn promise of the parents to raise their children in the Lord, and the inclusion of the child in the covenantal community including its spiritual blessings and privileges. If that is the case, none of those three objectives would fit the definition of baptism that Richard himself puts forward at the beginning of the book.
Richard also argues based on OT precedent of Abraham circumcising all the males in his entire household that we should take this as example that we should baptize our children. It is apparent that not only the children but all males including servants of various ages were also circumcised. Does this mean that those servants also exercised saving faith in God like Abraham or were they baptized only because their master was? Assuming some of these males were adults such as Abraham’s trusted servant in Genesis 24, should it not be based on their own faith that circumcision is applied? If not based on their own faith, their circumcision would seem more a matter of their affiliation with Abraham and his household rather than a sign of spiritual regeneration which again would mean their “baptisms” would not fit Richard’s definition and meaning. Moreover, if based on Richard’s argument that infant baptism is for covenantal inclusion and spiritual inheritance, what spiritual privileges and blessings do these household servants inherit since they are not the biological children of Abraham and of which some were pagan foreigners?
Based upon my observations above, it would seem difficult to argue the case for infant baptism if it does not meet the definition and meaning that the author himself presents.
I recommend this book to all who are unfamiliar with the subject of baptism in general and infant baptism in specific. Despite my objections to the author’s arguments as stated above, I greatly appreciate Richard’s efforts to make this book accessible to a wide audience and his charitable approach to those who support believer’s baptism. As this book is introductory in nature, it is apparent that many of the arguments and counterarguments for both supporters and their opponents have not been fully fleshed out. As such, I encourage readers to increase their familiarity of this subject through reading the Bible, engaging the works of seasoned preachers and scholars, and praying for the Spirit to provide greater wisdom and enlightenment as this critical subject has immense significance to the Christian life.
In compliance with Federal Trade Commission regulations, I was provided a review copy of this book from Reformation Trust.