Another word that shows up a lot in our Reformed accent is covenant. Perhaps that word isn’t familiar to you. A covenant is like a contract or a treaty. It involves partners who make promises to each other and then seal the deal in some appropriate way—with signatures, for example. The Bible talks of God as a “covenant-making God,” meaning that he makes promises and keeps them. (The word testament, as in Old and New Testaments, really means covenant.)
This is a very good thing to know! Because the sad truth of the matter is that we have a hard time keeping our promises. Think of all those New Year’s resolutions that dissipate in the light of January 2. More sadly, think of the number of marriages promises, made in complete sincerity, that are broken. God makes firm covenant promises to love and protect, to care for and guide his people—in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer. Though our promises prove feeble, God’s are firm. In fact, God can carry our covenant all by himself.
Here’s where our accent gets a little more pronounced. We profess that God’s promises are not simply made to individuals but to a community. Not only that, they are generational. We take our cue from God’s Old Testament covenant with the people of Israel. And we note that on the day of Pentecost, in the first Christian sermon, the apostle Peter urges adult Jews to “repent and believe” this new interpretation of the events of Jesus’ life and death and their complicity in it. When they do so, he says, they will receive the promised Holy Spirit, which is “for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39). Even in the New Testament, God’s promises are communal and generational.
This means, for example, that with joy we baptize adults who want to profess their faith, and with equal joy we baptize infants (a practice that goes back to the early church). There’s a catch, though. Baptism is reserved for children of believing parents (or a believing parent) who are part of the church family, because we know that the Holy Spirit is active in those households. Those children will grow up to experience God’s promises at home and in the Christian community. Infant baptism is about God extending his promise to our children even though they have no understanding at the time. It is a sign to the whole congregation that God’s grace is a gift we cannot earn: it’s all about God acting first.
This is from the CRCNA website at: