Untangling Webs Of Assumptions About Baptism

Wendy writes,

I remain confused as to why God in being ‘more generous’ has actually also made it ‘more ambiguous’. Wheras under the Old Covenant the command (and its benefits) were explicit, under the New they must be deduced by inference….

I reply:

Well, I’m not sure I can address your question completely perhaps because I don’t agree with the assumptions on which it’s built—I’m not sure I understand the question fully.

1. In this context, I might not have written about the “old covenant” or “old testament” quite the way Liam did. He was using the term, as we often do, in the broad sense. Strictly speaking, however, the “old covenant,” in the narrow sense, refers to the Mosaic (including David) covenant that began at Sinai and ended at the cross. In that sense, then, infant circumcision was not strictly an “old covenant” rite.

2. Circumcision was typological, i.e., it pointed forward to Christ’s death on the cross.

3. Paul makes the connection between circumcision and baptism explicit in Col 2:11-12. Here’s a brief explanation of the connection. Here is another.

4. I think the assumption that you’re making that confessional paedobaptists have rejected is that the advent of the new covenant requires that infant initiation be stated explicitly. That assumes that there was more discontinuity with Abraham than there was and that assumes that Abraham is not the paradigm. So, there is a web of assumptions that must be untangled.

We begin with the conviction that Abraham Was Not Moses. Everything that was distinctly Mosaic has been fulfilled and abrogated. Infant initiation was not Mosaic. It was Abrahamic. That makes a big difference. Yes, there were typological elements under Abraham, circumcision being one of them but was infant initiation one of them? We say no because the promise is: I will be a God to you and to your children. Where did that promise change? Assuming continuity with Moses may be problematic but assuming continuity with Abraham is not because of the fundamental nature of the promise. It was explicitly re-stated in Acts 2:39. That’s not an inference. If the promise is to covenant parents and to their children then, of course, there remains a pattern of initiation into the visible covenant community of believers and their children. Peter didn’t have to say, “yes, we’re still initiating children into the new covenant community” because he already had in Acts 2:39. He would have needed to be explicit to revoke the Abrahamic promise. According to Paul in Romans 4 and in Gal 3-4, the Abrahamic promise wasn’t revoked. It was foundational. The Mosaic was an addendum to the Abrahamic.

5. Finally, according to the NT itself, the new covenant is new relative to Moses, not to Abraham. Check out this essay.

13 comments

  1. For the promise (of the Holy Spirit) is for you and for your children AND for ALL who are far off, **everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself** . . . [if this verse gives us warrant to baptize infants, then it must surely give us warrant to baptize everyone to whom the Gospel promise is preached]

    So that **in Christ Jesus** the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

    Abraham’s blessing is for the called ones of Jesus, the Son of promise, who are born of the Spirit. Spiritual sons. Not the natural offspring of men, born of the flesh.

    “I will be a God to you and to your children” refers to the children of the SEED, those born “again” of Him, by His Spirit. God is not the god of baptised unregenerate sons. Apart from the Spirit, they are still children of wrath, like the rest of mankind, following the prince of the power of the air (Eph 2:1-3).

    The new covenant community cannot be modeled after the fleshly externals of Abraham’s illegitimate slave sons, Ishmael and Israel. It MUST be grounded in Abraham’s Son of promise. Membership is about covenant-union to Jesus through faith and His powerful indwelling Life by the Spirit. Only spiritual sons are covenant members of Christ.

    The Scriptures declare that members of the new covenant community are only those that belong to Abraham’s Seed through faith (Gal 3:29) AND who possess Abraham’s promised inheritance (Gal 3:14).

    There is no place in the new testament that gives us warrant for viewing the Church as a fleshly republication of the Old Covenant community of Israel, Abraham’s natural seed, who followed the pattern of the illegitimate son Ishmael (Gal 4:21-31).

    In the end, the CT view of covenant membership is really just an old testament reconstruction of Ishmael/Israel. Where one can be born into the community but not be born again. Where one can belong to the Church but not to Christ, who is the living Head of the Church. Where one can be a covenant member but not be in covenant-union with Christ by faith. Where one can partake of the external means but have no grace. Where one can make profession but have no Life. Where one can be “wet circumcised” of the flesh, but have no true circumcision of the heart by the Spirit.

    • Paul in Gal 3-4 and Rom 9 isn’t introducing New doctrine in regards to who true Israel is. That’s why he uses the book of Genesis to illustrate the points he’s emphasizing, especially in light of gentile inclusion. He’s countering Judaizer theology, which many baptists mistake for how it must have been back yonder. Wrong. Of course only those with faith are real children of Abraham. That was always the case. Paul is nowhere scaling back the boundaries of the visible church to exclude children of believers.

  2. “It was explicitly re-stated in Acts 2:39. That’s not an inference. If the promise is to covenant parents and to their children then, of course, there remains a pattern of initiation into the visible covenant community of believers and their children. Peter didn’t have to say, “yes, we’re still initiating children into the new covenant community” because he already had in Acts 2:39. He would have needed to be explicit to revoke the Abrahamic promise. According to Paul in Romans 4 and in Gal 3-4, the Abrahamic promise wasn’t revoked. It was foundational.”

    Yes, yes!

    • This is precisely the point where CT stumbles.

      Acts 2:39 – The confirmation of the Abrahamic Promise (identified as the Holy Spirit – v 39 and Gal 3:14) was NOT made to “covenant parents and to their children”. It was made to Abraham’s offspring – namely to Christ.

      “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your Offspring,” who is Christ.” Gal 3:16

      Christ, is the only Offspring to whom the Abrahamic promises were made. He shares his promised inheritance ONLY with those who are beleiving:
      “But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” Gal 3:22

    • John,

      This is not an either/or question but a both/and question. The promise was fulfilled by Christ. He is the seed. The promise is administered through believing parents and their children.

    • This is where we disagree. CT teaches an external and intermediate administration of the covenant substance (“grace”) – administered through types/means. Modeled after the mixed OC community and her external types/promises.

      However, the Scriptures indicate that Messiah himself, “given for the people” in His death, IS the covenant substance (Isa 42:6, 49:8, Lk 22:20, Heb 12:24), who also mediates the substance (His own blood) to his elect directly through Word and Spirit. Not through Word and intermediate means of “sacrament”.

      Covenant membership, then, means membership TO Christ himself, the Covenant. Not membership to an external framework of grace, which does not, in and of itself, guarantee or admit membership to Christ.

      Jesus, as the WORD made flesh, accomplishes the administration of Himself through the preaching of the living Word and the immediate ministry of the life-giving Spirit:

      “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you ARE spirit and life.” John 6:63

      Being born to godly parents, while advantageous, is still of the flesh . . . and ultimately, no help at all with regards to membership to Christ the Covenant. The Spirit is the “gatekeeper” of the Covenant who must give Life to the living Word in human hearts and grant spiritual admittance to the Jesus, the substance.

      Covenant children, then, are only those who have heard the Gospel and believed into the Covenant substance – Jesus Christ, and belong to Him, having been sealed by His Spirit.

      “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, HE gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)

      “When you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” (Eph 1:13)

  3. “Being born to godly parents, while advantageous, is still of the flesh . . . and ultimately, no help at all with regards to membership to Christ the Covenant. The Spirit is the “gatekeeper” of the Covenant who must give Life to the living Word in human hearts and grant spiritual admittance to the Jesus, the substance.”

    This does not appear to be how Paul views the children of believers and makes little sense with regard to his admonition to parents in Ephesians 6:1-4:

    ‘Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” 4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.’

    Children are to obey their parents ‘in the Lord’ and parents are to ‘bring them up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord’ not ‘evangelize them every day until they profess faith in Christ and can become proper members of the covenant community.’

    • Paul is encouraging believing children (of any age) to love and honour their parents. Fathers are instructed to train and instruct their children into Christ.

      Yes, this is how believers are to evangelize their unregenerate children. They need to believe into Christ and be born again of the promised Spirit. The Spirit is the Abrahamic Promise. He is only promised to the believing children of the SEED (Gal 3:14, Eph 1:13), not to the baptized seed of Mr and Mrs Smith.

      The Promise is not made to fleshly seed. But only to those whom the Lord calls to himself (Acts 2:39).

      These verses do not address the concept of covenant membership through the initiation of infant baptism. You are reading that into the text.

  4. I’m sorry but you seem to be the one reading something into the text. Paul does not say ‘believing’ children, he is addressing all children of parents in that community of God’s people. Those children (whether presently believing or not) are described as ‘in the Lord’ and this needs to be accounted for. You just can’t dismiss it by saying that these are believing children of any age. Paul addresses the proper relations between a husband and wife in the preceding verses and addresses the children in the following section. To assume that he is only speaking to believing children is to over-spiritualize the text, especially in light of the fact that Paul cites a commandment that was given to children who were called to honour their parents who turned out to be a mixture of regenerate and unregenerate members of the covenant (all receiving the sign of that covenant).

    At no point did I say the text addresses covenant membership through the initiation of infant baptism. However, I believe that this text has significant implications in that regard (something shared by Robert Letham in his book on Baptism). It is no less pertinent to the discussion than your citation of texts to the contrary.

  5. John, I’ll come at you from a different angle: please don’t condemn Covenant Theology for the demands paedo-baptists make within its context.

  6. I fought covenant baptism tooth and nail when I was at
    Westminster Seminary CA. In fact, I took a tone with my professors
    that was worse than I tone(s) I seem to pick up from some of the
    comments. In other words, I handled things poorly when speaking w/
    my professors. So I know what it’s like to fight for something in
    which I believe (i.e., at that time, “confessor baptism”) and do so
    with a less than gracious tone. My position on baptism changed. It
    changed during the final semester of my Mdiv. Interestingly enough,
    I had two potential calls to Baptist churches at that time. It’s
    interesting how things turn out in the providence of God. Here’s my
    story. These posts are not in exhaustive detail. If you have a
    question, I may not write back. With family, church, and
    post-graduate work, things can get busy. Either way, I hope you
    enjoy.
    http://heidelblog.net/2012/11/baptism-the-doctrine-that-caused-tears-1/

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