I wrote a little while ago about how baptism is connected to the theme of adoption. St. Paul draws these two concepts together in Galatians. This gives us one of the fundamental theological principles of baptism: if baptism is analogous to adoption, then the one being baptized is not choosing, he or she is being chosen.
This idea also bears on one the more contentious debates on baptism: whether infant baptism is a legitimate form of the sacrament. This debate revolves around a couple of different points, notably whether children can be considered sinners before they are old enough to understand the concept, or whether they can articulate their faith sufficiently to be considered ready to be baptized.
Luther argues that, while faith is indeed necessary to receive the gifts offered in baptism, certainty of faith is not something that can ever be achieved. Each of us is stronger or weaker in our faith from one day to the next. So, holding off on baptism until a child can be said with certainty to have faith sufficient to be baptized means it will never happen. Jesus repeatedly comments on the disciples’ lack of faith? Can any of is truly say we are better?
The sin issue takes a bit more unpacking, but we can see God communicating this through Noah and the Flood. The Flood tells us baptism takes us back to a time before the Fall, to a time before the sin of Adam corrupted us all. This reason enough to see the need to baptize even little children, but the adoption theme sidesteps these questions and goes right to where God most graciously meets His people, in His promises.
In Colossians 2, St. Paul also connects baptism to the idea of circumcision. He says, “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” Of course, the original readers of Paul’s letter, familiar as they were with the Old Testament, would have seen Paul’s intention in bringing baptism together with God’s covenant made to Abraham. In Genesis 17, God tells Abraham, “This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised.”
Like the rainbow of Noah’s day, circumcision is a sign of God’s promise. He will see it and remember this person is a recipient of the covenant He had made and will treat that person accordingly. There is no choosing to be a part of the covenant, for it is already established by God. There is only accepting what God has already offered or there is refusing the gift He gives, with all of the consequences that go with that choice. Just as no one chooses to be adopted. Their only choice is to either be grateful for their adoption or to reject it and run away from their adoptive family.
So far nothing that particularly counters the anti-infant baptism arguments. That is, until you get to the final detail in God’s command to Abraham, notably that God demands that children be circumcized at eight days old. God’s promise is already offered to them. They do nothing to earn it or receive it. God has already declared it theirs. Now is just the rite by which that promise is explicitly applied to them, specially circumcision.
Here again, the child doesn’t choose. They are chosen. The child makes no conscious decision to be made a part of the promise and certainly isn’t choosing to be circumcized. Nevertheless, God’s command stands. God’s promise brings life and salvation. Outside of that promise is solitude and death.
St. Paul’s discussion in Colossians 2 continues, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” Before your circumcision, you are dead. After your circumcision, the debt for your sin is paid for by Christ’s death. The eighth day is another notable detail here, but for now the pertinent point is that God commands this baptismally-oriented rite to be done that they cannot communicate beyond expressing their displeasure at what is being done to them.
God has explicitly brought children into His promise because they need it as much as everyone else. This theology has been built into Biblical history from very early on. With circumcision and adoption as founding principles of baptism, there is no longer any argument that can counter the realty of infant baptism. The sign of our reception of God’s new covenant, established in Christ, is given to all regardless of age.