Last time we looked at some of the challenges we face in learning how to interpret Scripture properly and how the Ancient Christian Churches and the Reformed churches read the Scriptures, with Christ at the center. One way to understand this unity is to account for the biblical teaching about the covenants. This would seem to be fairly obvious thing to so since Scripture uses different terms for “covenant” about 295 times. The first time we find it is in Genesis 6:18, “But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you” (ESV). This is not the first time, however, the idea of the covenant appears in Scripture. It is in Genesis 2:17, which is an expression of the covenant of works: “do this and live.” In Genesis 3:15 we see the substance of the covenant of grace, when our Lord promised the seed of the woman to crush the head of the serpent. The first covenant the Lord made with Noah was an expression of the covenant of grace, that promise of God’s free favor to sinners, to be a God, to be a Savior, to his people.That promise is repeated again and again throughout the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. Nevertheless, it’s not unusual for evangelicals, which movements have been heavily influenced by Anabaptist theology, piety, and practice since the early 19th century to deny the very existence of the covenant of grace.
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I’ve heard some say circumcision was a spiritual sign and seal with the only requirement of physical descent from Abraham; whereas baptism, though also a spiritual sign and seal. is given only to those who profess the faith of Abraham. Thus the prophets prior to Pentecost called the circumcised to “be saved” to be circumcised in the their hearts; whereas no such injunction is given to the baptized community. The NT writers never tell the baptized community to be baptized in the hearts because the assumption is, based upon the required profess of faith, they are already baptized in their hearts. The only calls they are given is to live out what baptism is a sign and seal of, not to get the substance. That difference is part of the development in redemptive history between the sacraments. This accounts for the language used about the baptized in the NT vs the language used by the prophets regarding the circumcised church prior to Pentecost. Paul in Rom 6 tells the baptized to reckon or live out what we profess to be, united to Christ. He doesn’t employ the same language as the prophets before, telling them “Ok, now you’ve been baptized. Now be saved. Get baptized in your hearts.” Its only, live out your union that was signified in baptism. The prophets language to those circumcised to get saved seems to indicate that large numbers of the church were in fact not saved, hence to call. The absence of such a call in the NT to the baptized community, while it doesn’t imply everyone was in fact saved ala election, it does add weight to their view that the sign was given only to those “professing” faith. So instead of being told to circumcise the foreskin of their hearts, they are told to reckon themselves dead to sin and alive to Christ.
How to we account for this difference in how the community is addressed before and after Pentecost?
We don’t tend to give much weight to arguments-from-silence, what’s not there–in this case the complaint that a certain “form of words” isn’t found in NT parlance that might satisfy the Baptist looking for something more. More than the explicit parallel Paul makes between the two signs in Col.2:11-12, for instance.
There is, to the CT way of thinking, a “glaring omission” of NT directions to remove the children of believers from the visible community of faith, given that ours is the SAME faith as Abraham. This we might term a “strong” argument from silence based on the expectation of substantial continuity and accidental discontinuity, instead of substantial discontinuity.
Then, there are the “warning passages” of Hebrews, esp. 6:4, which “enlightened” is likely an allusion to baptism
2Pet.1:9, “purged” refers to the reality that baptism signifies and seals. 1Pet.3:21 similarly.
In all cases, the sign and the reality belong together; but this is no different from OT circumcision.
If there is any difference in emphasis detectable by way of verbal clues, it might be this: that in the OT age the sacrifice of Christ is in the future, whereas in the NT age the sacrifice is past; and therefore “warning” takes precedence over “recollection.”
It hardly makes any difference to whether believer’s children should be baptized. We are summoned to “make our calling and election sure.”
We reply by recognizing the assumption embedded in the question, namely, that Israel was only “physical” and the church is “spiritual.” That’s a false assumption. Paul says that it was never true. There was always a spiritual or “inward” (Rom 2:28; Rom 9) Israel. A Jew is one who is a Jew inwardly. Not all Israel is Israel but some of Israel was. Some of Israel was so inwardly.
It’s not true that circumcision was only for those physically descended from Abraham. It was for all those who entered the visible covenant community and for their children. Abraham was a gentile before he was circumcised and a Jew after (Rom 4).
There are discontinuities between the old covenant and the new and the Spirit has been poured out in the new covenant in a way he was not, apparently, in the old (under Moses). We are heirs of the new covenant blessings promised through Jeremiah. We live after Pentecost. There is still and inward/outward distinction, however. Failure to recognize that is fatal to Christianity and produces Romanism and the Federal Vision, among other errors. That’s why Paul makes the point in Romans.
James is a essentially a prophetic call to the very early Jerusalem congregation to repent. Clearly there were those in that congregation who were guilty of the very thing of which the prophets convicted the Israelites: going through the motions. They said the Shema (Deut 6:4) but they did not actually believe, hence their lack of fruit. He calls them to repentance and faith just as the old covenant prophets called Israel.
As to the NT metaphorical use of baptism, see Romans 6 and Colossians 2. In both places Paul calls us to, in effect, to a baptism of the heart analogous to a circumcision of the heart.
This objection has nothing to commend it.
You should consider being an “apostle to the dispensationalists” ! You’re explanation of covenant theology is always very clear and easy to grasp when i hear it. Have you ever thought of writing a book with the explicit purpose of winning non-reformed folk to reformed theology? I suspect you could do it. Thanks again for all your work.