I’m in the midst of an interesting discussion of baptism with a friend, who has Baptist convictions but who understands Reformed theology better than many Reformed folks. He is quite sympathetic to historic and confessional Reformed theology. For example, he affirms that covenant children are holy and reads 1 Cor 7:14 the same way Reformed people read it. He affirms that Acts 2:39 is a repetition of the Abrahamic promise to be a God to believers and to their children. On what ground does he refuse baptism to covenant children? He does so on analogy with the RPW. I’ve heard this argument before but my response today was clearer than in the past; helped I think by recent discussions on Abraham and Moses regarding republication.
This argument against paedobaptism says just as we no longer sacrifice animals (or use musical instruments, or use choirs etc) in the same way, in the absence of clear NT warrant we can no longer initiate children into the covenant community. On the surface this is a compelling argument since it appeals to a powerful instinct among Reformed people, one to which they should listen carefully: we do in worship only what is commanded and in the New Covenant, the types and shadows have been fulfilled. Therefore we ought not reintroduce typological elements into New Covenant worship.
There’s a problem with this attractive argument, however. The argument continues to make a fundamental categorical mistake: It confuses Abraham and Moses. One of the pillars of the Baptist argument is that we have to regard Abraham and Moses together such that if Moses has been fulfilled the Mosaic epoch has expired with the death of Christ so also the Abrahamic covenant is likewise fulfilled and expired. In other words, in my experience, Baptists frequently confuse Abraham for Moses. The difficulty is that Abraham isn’t Moses.
Thesis: Whatever is distinctly and solely Mosaic is fulfilled and expired with the death of Christ. The saturday sabbath: expired, the cultic laws: expired, the civil laws: expired and binding only insofar as the general equity (i.e. insofar as they reflect natural/creational law) thereof may require, the ceremonies: fulfilled, the temple: fulfilled, the land promises: fulfilled and expired. Whatever belonged distinctly and solely to Moses was fulfilled and expired with Christ.
What about the decalogue? Well, if you don’t recognize natural law, you’re in trouble aren’t you? The Reformed, in contrast to the theonomists and Barthians, believe in and confess the natural knowledge of God, natural or creational law that comes to expression in the garden, after the garden, under Moses, and in the New Covenant. The decalogue is an expression of the natural law. The substance of the decalogue remains in force because it is the creational law that reveals God’s moral will in all ages. The Israelitish accidents (Saturday Sabbath and land promises) are fulfilled and expired.
Indeed, all the typological circumstances of the faith whether they be Mosaic or Abrahamic were fulfilled and have expired with Christ. Yes, there were typological elements in the Abrahamic administration fo the covenant of grace, but we in the New Covenant don’t relate to Abraham the way we relate to Moses. The covenant of grace made with Abraham was administered through types and shadows and under land promises and the like (see Gen 12, 15, 17).
Whereas the land promises were essential to the theocratic national covenant made at Sinai with national Israel, the land promises to Abraham were accidental. They were not of the substance of the Abrahamic covenant. The substance or essence of the Abrahamic covenant, the covenant of grace—no one ever says that there is a works element to the Abrahamic covenant because it has a different character than the Mosaic covenant—is the divine promise: I will be your God and you will be my people, I will be a God to you and to your children. This is not accidental (i.e. it is of the essence of what makes the Abrahamic covenant what it is) to the covenant of grace but essential.
In contrast to the Abrahamic covenant of grace, the Mosaic covenant per se, not insofar as it was an administration of the covenant of grace, but insofar it was intentionally a temporary, typological national covenant added to the covenant promise given to Abraham (Gal 3) was temporary. It was a codicil added to the earlier, more fundamental covenant. Its distinct function was to act almost as a counterpoint to Abraham. There are not 613 Mitzvoth in Abraham, but there are in Moses. There are “10 words” in Abraham but there are in Moses. There is no temple in Abraham, but there is in Moses (considered from the tabernacle to the coming of Christ).
What carries over into the New Covenant that didn’t pre-date Moses? The Sabbath pre-dated Moses. It was built into creation. The idea of sacrifice predated Moses. Infant initiation predated Moses. Moses was a giant, 1500-year sermon illustration. Yes, Moses was looking toward heaven (Heb 11), and he and all Christians in that epoch were saved and justified sola gratia, sola fide, et solo Christo but Moses represents the “old covenant,” of fading glory. Abraham was a typological figure but not, strictly speaking, an “old covenant” figure. He was a New Covenant figure who lived, as it were, out of time. Clearly we have a different relation to Abraham than we do to Moses. It’s Abraham, not Moses, who is the father of all who believe (Rom 3-4.
What about the RPW? Well, the RPW does away with Moses and all typology. Fine. Let’s have the RPW (we only do in worship what God explicitly or implicitly requires). That’s why we baptize infants, because God ordained that the sign and seal of initiation into the visible covenant community be administered to covenant children and he did so under Abraham, not Moses. Let us keep our eye on the pea in the shell. Let us not confuse Abraham for Moses. Both are typological, but not all typological figures are the same.
This is why Colossians 2:11-12 is so important here. Paul’s intent is not prove infant baptism (he doesn’t have to prove it, it’s commanded in Gen 17 and Acts 2:39) but as he makes one point he implies another. In Paul’s mind, circumcision and Baptism are both ritual identifications with the death of Christ. Circumcision is the typological, forward looking bloody type and shadow of the reality of Christ’s circumcision on the cross—he was cut off for us, he bore the wrath of God for our covenant breaking, outside the city. Baptism is the New Covenant ritual identification with the death of Christ. This is Paul’s point in Rom 6. We’ve been baptized. We’ve been identified with Christ. If we believe what baptism promises (the gospel of free righteousness with God by faith alone), and if we are united to Christ sola gratia et sola fide, then we ought to live a certain way. Baptism is the bloodless, New Covenant, sign and seal of covenant initiation and identification with Christ’s death because Christ has put an end to the bloody types and shadows on the cross.
The RPW works for the paedobaptist because God has said, in effect, “initiate your children into the visible covenant community.” This is a divine command and promise administered under types and shadows and under the fulfillment. What was typological about circumcision was not that it was administered to infants but that it was bloody. There’s nothing inherently typological about initiating infants. There is something inherently typological about shedding blood. Sacrifices aren’t typological. Bloody sacrifices are typological. Today, Christ having made the perfect and final sacrifice, we offer metaphorical sacrifices, i.e. we offer ourselves out of gratitude (Rom 12). How did Jesus’ death fulfill the initiation of infants into the visible covenant community? Non sequitur.
The point here is to distinguish between Moses and Abraham. They had the same faith. They were looking for Christ. They were both members of the covenant of grace, but, in the history of redemption, they played different roles. Abraham is a leading character and Moses had a supporting role. Our Baptist friends would like us to tie infant initiation to Moses but it can’t be done. If they will get rid of infant initiation they must get rid of Abraham and that cannot be done.