Colossians, Children Are the Church, & Infant Baptism

One problem I have with credobaptism is that it doesn’t consider covenant children part of Christ’s church. Credobaptism assumes covenant children, particularly infants, do not possess the seed of faith and are not united to Christ, therefore, they are considered outside the church and part of the kingdom of Satan. Since the children cannot verbalize faith in Christ, credobaptism assumes they are outside of Christ. Is that an assumption Christian parents and churches should make considering they don’t infallibly know the state of covenant children’s hearts or the hearts of anyone in the visible church? With God’s covenant gospel promise to covenant children in mind, why begin with the premise that they are unregenerate, especially when Scripture suggests otherwise? Even children in the womb can be united to Christ by faith, as was the case with John the Baptizer in Luke 1:41 and David in Psalm 22:9-10. David was able to say:

Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. 10 On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

Hear David’s point. David belonged to the Lord while in the womb. What if his parents had treated him as a pagan child, a reprobate child, a child outside the covenant, what if they refused to circumcise him, simply because he didn’t verbalize his trust in God’s promise of Christ? No, from the womb David was treated as one of God’s covenant people, and he was circumcised to show it.  

Additionally, credobaptism doesn’t effectively differentiate between membership in the visible church and membership in the invisible church. No one can know for sure who is truly united to Christ because no one truly knows the state of someone else’s heart. Only God infallibly knows. No church has ever baptized someone they infallibly knew was elect. Instead, churches should baptize upon God’s covenant gospel promise. Despite millennia of covenant children being included in the visible covenant community of faith, credobaptism unwisely puts covenant children outside the visible church despite Jesus saying they’re in (Lk. 18:15-17; Acts 2:39).

So, one of the problems I have with credobaptism is that covenant children are treated as outsiders. I don’t see that in Scripture. In fact, I see the exact opposite throughout all of Scripture, Old and New Testaments alike.

A thought hit me while considering Colossians 2:11-12 which led to this episode. Before we can understand Colossians 2:11-12, we need to understand a few things about Colossians as a whole.

To whom was Colossians written? Paul tells us in the second verse: “To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae.” Paul wrote to the visible church, the covenant assembly in Colossae. He addressed those considered to be “holy ones,” those united to Christ by faith (c.f. 1 Cor. 7:14). Right?

Throughout Colossians, Paul uses the word “you,” and by it, he means the entire visible church in Colossae. Right? Isn’t it interesting, then, that at the end of chapter three, Paul addresses Christian households as part of that visible church? Whoever Paul mentions at the end of chapter three is unquestionably part of the “saints and faithful brothers” to whom Paul was writing.

Paul first mentions wives. Then he mentions husbands. Then—and this should come as no surprise—Paul mentions the children of those Christian wives and husbands. Paul addresses covenant children because they are unquestionably part of Christ’s visible church, Christ’s covenant people. Again, their inclusion in Christ’s visible church is not based on infallible knowledge of their election or even salvation but is based on God’s covenant gospel promise to them and the inferences of all Scripture.

At this point, credobaptism may respond, “Yes, Paul was addressing all the children who confessed faith in Christ!” But the text doesn’t say that. Why would we assume Paul meant that? How would the Colossians have known that some of their children were being addressed but others, namely the youngest ones, were not being addressed? Would there be a reason the parents would say to their three-year-old, “Nothing of Mr. Paul’s letter is directed to you, Joseph, Sarah, and Ruby because you are not part of the church yet”? Seems like a very odd way to interpret Paul. It is best to infer that Paul was addressing covenant children of all ages who were very much a part of the visible church.  

When Paul says, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord,” is he speaking to 10-year-olds who confess Christ? Is he speaking to eight-year-olds who confess Christ? What about four-year-olds? What about two-year-olds who have an age-appropriate confession of Christ (e.g. “I love Jesus, Daddy!”)? How would we determine where the line is? Is Paul excluding infants? I would think that Paul wanted infants to grow up hearing verse 20 and believing it applies to them. The only way infants will grow up believing verse 20 applies to them is if their parents, pastors, and church believe verse 20 applies to them and treat them as if they’re part of “the saints and faithful brothers in Christ.” It is not difficult at all to see that Paul believed the entire covenant family, including the children, including even the littlest children, belonged to the visible church in Colossae.

The Greek word for “children” in verse 20 often refers to children of all ages including infants. There’s nothing in Paul’s address to “children” that suggests some of them were outside of Christ and his church and therefore excluded from this covenantal command. Even infants and toddlers need to know and learn to obey their parents because it pleases their Lord. This point can also be made from Ephesians 1:1 and 6:1-2 where children are considered “saints” and “in the Lord.”

Seeing that Paul addressed covenant children of all ages as part of the visible church in Colossae and Ephesus, we now come to Colossians 2:11-12. Paul says, “In him also you were circumcised.” Let’s stop there. That verb is plural. Paul was saying the entire visible church “[was] circumcised.” Whatever Paul says in Colossians 2:11-12 applies to wives, husbands, children, and the entire church. To make this point more vivid, let me insert “including covenant infants,” after every “you” because I believe covenant infants are included in the “you,” as I argued earlier.     

In him also you [including covenant infants] were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you [including covenant infants] were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Is there any good reason we should exclude the infants of the Colossian church from those verses, especially considering Paul directly addressed the covenant children? On what textual basis would we exclude them? I believe Colossians 2:11-12, taken in the context of the entire letter, infers that even covenant infants received baptism as the New Covenant sign and seal of the age-old covenant of grace. Paul not only links the New Covenant sign and seal of baptism to the Old Covenant sign and seal of circumcision in verses 11-12, but Paul also seems to say that even children received the sign and seal of baptism.

I realize this point doesn’t answer every question or solve the debate, but I don’t agree with credobaptism when it removes covenant children from the visible church and denies them the sign and seal of belonging. I don’t find the idea that Paul merely addressed Colossian children who professed faith in Christ compelling. In fact, I find it counterintuitive to Scripture and the Christian mind. I don’t see it in the text nor in the entire trajectory of Scripture.

So, I humbly offer you this point to consider. Maybe you don’t agree, but I believe we have very good Biblical reasons to think that covenant children of all ages are part of Christ’s visible church. That doesn’t mean they are all elect or that every adult in Christ’s visible church is elect. But belonging to Christ’s visible church is not based on election or even a profession of faith per se; inclusion is based on God’s covenant promises and who He considers in. And I think this point is a great comfort to parents, children, and the entire church of Christ.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one-half of any book of the ESV Bible.

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Jonathan Shirk

Welcome to the online home of Jonathan Shirk, family man, Reformed pastor, author, podcaster, and small town theologian. Whether you're from a small town or big city, may this website help you find deeper comfort and joy in the gospel.

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