Credo-baptists and pedo-baptists at prayer together about their baptismal covenant

I wrote Providence and Prayer because of my keen interest in the way different models of divine providence lead to different prayers of petition and thanksgiving. Last week, as I prayed the prayer appointed for the week, from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime, it occurred to me that it is a good thing that many of our other doctrinal differences have much smaller effects on our prayers. This makes it easier to prepare liturgy for a theologically diverse congregation. Take, for instance, this prayer:

Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into His Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen. [emphasis is mine]

I prayed that prayer last week as a credo-baptist and did so  with fervor. Given that nominal Christians constitute about a third of the world’s population, how much better the Christian church would serve God in the world if this prayer were answered. This morning, however, I suddenly wondered what would be in the mind of pedo-baptists praying these words. To speak of keeping “the covenant they have made” sounds credo-baptist to my ears, and so I wonder what was in the minds of those who crafted this petition, who were almost certainly pedo-baptists, or in the minds of pedo-baptists who prayed the prayer with me last week.

Perhaps Lutherans, who believe that God gives justifying faith to all infants being baptized, could pray the prayer most naturally. Roman Catholics, who also believe in baptismal justification, but without the need of infant faith, might think of the “they” who made the covenant in more corporate terms. Or perhaps what comes to their minds is the sacrament of confirmation, at which point, the person baptized as an infant does indeed personally appropriate the covenant entailed in the act done to them by the church. Reformed people, however, who do not believe that baptism justifies, might think of the baptism in terms of covenantal solidarity, so that though only the parents were able to intend the making of a covenant, they could do so in hope that the children would come to faith as they mature, and grow up as covenant-keeping children. Perhaps in their minds, the representation was so actual that when the parents had their baby baptized, the baby was making a covenant.

However differently we mean these words, I would be happy if every Christian, worldwide, was praying last week that “all who were baptized into His Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior.”

What do you think of this prayer as a petition which could be offered up by both believer and infant baptists?


By Terrance Tiessen

I am Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Providence Theological Seminary, Canada.

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