So long in fact that most of us, effectively trained by Facebook and Twitter to not be able to read anything longer than 420 characters, may not be able to read the whole thing. Ha!
God has been teaching me so much about Himself. I love these spiritual growth spurts where everything for some reason seems to start making sense. Okay, not everything. I don’t have it all figured out! But you know, where some things that were muddled in your heart/mind now jump out and make every kind of sense? It’s especially refreshing after what seemed like a spiritual dry spell. Please bear in mind that I am a Presbyterian (sadly, there are many varieties of Presbyterian [which simply means Elder Rule] We are PCA — Not PCUSA) and have been for 15+ years so I am one that holds to the sacrament of baptism being applied to infants. I am going to be discussing this topic here. If this is just going to make your blood boil the whole time, you probably better stop reading now. However, I am not writing to try to convince anyone of it. I’m writing because it’s finally making sense to me after all this time! I am only sharing with you the beauty that God has been revealing to me in His sacraments and how they bind us together with His people all over the world from all generations back to Abraham and into the future as well. My revelry here is simply that… I am reveling and praising God for opening up the scriptures to me recently even as was done for the men on the road to Emmaus, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (emphasis mine… meaning… The whole thing. Cover to cover. Every word. It’s all about Jesus!) So this is my doxology – my hymn of praise, not a lecture or a tract intended to sell you on my theology, just my doxology — me praising God for His covenant love. Even as I am not attempting to convince you of my theology, I welcome those who have an earnest desire to understand the logic and Biblical reasoning (as well as the beauty) behind covenantal infant baptism, whether you currently are in a church that practices it or not, to read on. Though if you want to hear from more seasoned theologians than moi, I recommend this book and this web-page (a church that I am not connected with in anyway other than it being in the same denomination I am in. I just liked how succinct it was and all the proof texts it supplied.)
That covenant love began with Abraham (though His promise of salvation came right after the fall in the garden of course) and comes to me through Christ fulfilling what God promised to Abraham, “Through you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” It didn’t just say, “All the individuals of the earth will be blessed.” God has always worked in families and graciously included the children of His people in on the family blessings.
Last night I was reading this:
“Romans 11: 17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.”
I could never understand this before. I thought it was somehow a strange contradiction of the doctrine that “once saved, always saved” also known as “perseverance of the saints.” But the Bible is amply clear that once you have gained salvation, having a heart changed by Christ’s work on the cross, that you cannot be snatched out of His hand. And I knew that God never contradicts Himself even when it sometimes appears that way. How do these verses jive if we don’t look at them in the context of the covenant? The Jews were members of the covenant outwardly whether they liked it or not. By birth they were blessed to be in the family of faith. They had God’s word given directly to them, they had signs of His promises that they could see on their bodies, they had their memorials of what He had done for them in their salvation from Egypt and yet some did not grasp these things by faith in God’s promised messiah and therefore were cut off. We have the same promises, “I will be a God to you and to your children after you…. respond in faithful obedience.”
“I am the the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.
You are already a part of me, He is saying, through the covenant (that is, we have all grown on the vine of Abraham, as He was speaking to Jews here) so we have all been given God’s word from the time we were small. But even if you grow on the vine of the covenant, if you do not respond in faithful obedience, abiding in Christ’s love, bearing the fruit of righteousness (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control) you will be cut off — even as was said in the passage above. In other words, fulfill your covenant obligations — obedience through faith in Christ — or you will be just as the jews who may have even obeyed outwardly but did not obey through faith in God’s promised messiah.
Just as covenant members through Abraham had a sign that God commanded be placed on them reminding them that they are set apart from their infancy to be made clean, to throw off the unclean (as is alluded to in the NT in the “throw off the old man”) and they applied this sign to every member of the household of faith (children, slaves, converts, etc.) though only males, we now have a better sign of a better covenant. Why is it better? Could it really be said to be better if when Christ came He suddenly began a covenant that now no longer extended “to you and to your children”? The Jews who heard the gospel would be hard pressed to believe that this was now really a better covenant if their children were to be treated as pagans, not receiving the sign of God’s promise any longer. It is better because it is open to the rest of the world (made abundantly clear at Pentecost when God gave men the ability to speak other languages that His word might go out among the nations — those nations that had before been called Unclean) that we might all be called sons of Abraham. But too the glorious thing is that the sign which was given to replace circumcision (as circumcised Jews were required to be baptized though they could still circumcise their children if they were doing so as an act of faithful obedience (Acts 21:17-27, Romans 2:25-27), but Gentile converts were NOT required to be circumcised as converts had been in the old covenant, they were called to be baptized though. And baptized into Christ. But one of the glorious things of the new and better covenant, which didn’t do away with the old one, just brought it full circle can now be applied not only to infant sons and men of the covenant but infant/children daughters, women, slaves, barbarians, scythians…. because we have been grafted in. The doors were flung wide in Christ, “As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.'” And we are branches that produce young, our children, who are by nature of growing on the vine, members of the covenant — that is not to say “automatically saved” — but blessed to be on the vine and therefore worthy to receive the sign of God’s promise — Baptism.
Members of the covenant who grow up on the vine with the blessings of belonging to the covenant, that is, hearing the word from day one, being told and sung to as a lullaby, the love of our savior, being taught as covenant children were in the OT (children obey your parents, etc.), that by being a member of the household of faith we were greatly blessed and are bound by God’s promises to us to respond in faithful obedience to Him which is why the New Testament echoes the commands given to all the household of faith (household included all who lived under the family head — whether that was a father or a mother who had no husband or an unbelieving husband — be they children, slaves, etc.) In the New Testament they are given covenant obligations as to how to live out their faith towards God and one another. If they are not members of the covenant then they would not have been addressed in letters to the churches.
Christian parents know by nature that our children are living in a special arrangement towards God as we teach our toddlers, “We belong to God so we need to obey Him.” or “It pleases God when we love Him by doing what He commands, that’s why you need to obey Mom and Dad.” I knew this to be true even before I accepted that the children should have the sign and seal of God’s promise to His people placed on them, as this is how I was raised, how my parents were both raised, etc. That is, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. But I am just beginning, to see, that the sign of God’s covenant on us, graciously, after the death and resurrection of Christ was no longer to be a bloody sign applied only to males of the Jewish race but a watery sign to be applied to all members of the covenant family. I believe both signs were represented even in Christ’s crucifixion — blood and then water flowed from His side. The sign has changed from a bloody sign (circumcision) to a watery sign (baptism) because he was cut off (a bloody sign) from His people, we pass through the waters of baptism, like the Israelites were sprayed with the water that was walled up on either side, as they walked through the sea to their freedom. Many will argue that the blood and water flowing is not of spiritual significance simply because it is a natural body response, however this argument is terribly flawed as we see throughout scripture where normal physical responses (like birth, death, hunger, thirst etc.) have spiritual significance (ie. Lazarus died which is natural — But God allowed it that His glory might be shown, the Israelites grumbled as they were hungry and wondered where their meal might come from and this showed a spiritual reality about them — unbelief. Natural bodily realities can and do have spiritual meaning because God made the body and had the whole of history — including its blazing center which is Christ — in mind when he did so!)
I Cor. 10: 1For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3They all ate the same spiritual food 4and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.
ALL covenant members of Israel were baptized into Moses, their covenant mediator (as Christ is for us) — the one who stood between them and God — as they passed through the sea. They were all — from the least to the greatest — sprinkled with the water as it was walled up on either side of them as they passed through the waters, surely with fear and trembling, and yet were not engulfed as God’s enemies were. And yes, ALL even ate the same spiritual food that we eat and drank the same spiritual drink that we drink. Is this verse not a direct correlation to water baptism and communion and how they are good and given to all in the covenant as a sign of God’s promise of salvation from slavery, but do not ultimately accomplish that salvation apart from faith? Paul couldn’t have stated it more clearly. What they ate and drank, manna — bread of life from heaven, and water from the rock — and that rock was Christ — is what we eat, the bread (his body) and drink, the wine (his blood) of Christ in Communion. In both instances all Israelites, from the least to the greatest, all covenant members partook. They did not starve the children because they couldn’t yet fully understand the significance of getting food from heaven and water from a rock. Those who understood the gravity of the food and drink and imbibed them through faith must have taught their children, with great rejoicing, “Look! God has provided a way for us! It is on Him that we survive and thrive!” And the children who were among them likely ate and thought to themselves, “How did the water do that so we could walk through? Why do we get food from the sky and water from a rock when other people don’t? Is this normal? Or is this just normal for us? I don’t know yet but I’m gonna eat it. You can tell me why as I fill up on it.” As we do when we lead our children in communion — we whisper the glory of the cross to them as they partake. We tell them, “This is God’s special meal for His people…” We tell them what it means to us, that He was struck like the rock in the wilderness so that we could live and not die of our thirst. (And if we withhold it from them they may just get the discrepancy and assume that they are not one of His people since they are not allowed to eat it. Or that this meal is just too special to be risked on children.) All partook of the food and water in the dessert — which was Christ. But only those who did these things by faith in the coming messiah were able to please God. “For without faith it is impossible to please God.” As it says, “God was not pleased with most of them” and they perished in the dessert. Interestingly enough it was the children of that generation that were to inherit the land, just as Jesus said, “Do not hinder them for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” Just because some did not believe, did not mean that they were excluded from receiving the covenant signs and promises. The promises were extended and extended and extended to them until God either brought them to salvation or brought judgment on them.
But I love the warning in the first passage above to us reminding us that those Jews who were not Jews by faith or validated their circumcision with a faith in God’s messiah, even if you grow up on the vine (that is in a covenant relationship to God) and you hear His promises to claim all those who worship Him in truth and not just in form, you may not rely on your covenant membership (ie. your circumcision or baptism) to assure yourself that you are in fact one of the elect.
Romans 2: 25 Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. 26 If those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? 27 The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker. 28 A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29 No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.
None of this is saying that the law is evil or bad or to be ignored. It is saying that obeying the law apart from faith in Christ our savior is not going to do you any good, but will in fact do you harm. Baptism is often spoken of in the very same manner. We baptize and baptism is good, but it is not the ultimate reality. It is the sign, that God gave to us to remind us that He never breaks His promise — so do it — but more importantly, respond in faithful obedience from a heart changed by grace as that is what will, as Jesus said, “prove you to be my disciples.” This is why we read so many Psalms that express a love for the law. If the law was to be abhorred and we were to merely have a clean heart that does not somehow lead to obedience then we could assume that the Psalms must have been written by non-humans! How could they love it? Because they saw the grace in it, they saw the coming Savior in it and they believed that though they could not possibly keep the law, they were called to obey none the less, knowing that one final sacrifice would one day be made for where they transgressed that perfect law, the lamb which transformed it from a law that condemned us to “the law of perfect freedom” where we are able to obey, though falteringly, by faith in Christ so that we are able to say along with our Psalmist brothers, “Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.” (Read all of Psalm 119 with this thought in mind. It’s amazing, a beautiful and humble cry — I love your law, I know it’s good for me, it shows me a better way to live, it shows me YOU, make me long for it, it’s so beautiful because it embodies your character!! What’s not to love?!)
Going back to Romans 2 (above) It’s important that we recognize that circumcision didn’t guarantee salvation — just as baptism doesn’t guarantee salvation. To Ishmael and to Esau and to Judas the physical reminder that they had been consecrated to God and set apart as members of God’s covenant with their Father and Forefathers and yet turned away from Him were a curse to them. They surely did not live in accordance with their circumcision. The fact is, no matter when one is baptized — as an infant or as an adult — there is the real possibility that they may turn their back on God and not live in faith. We have seen this time and again whether the people were baptized as infants (signifying that God Himself will do the ultimate the cleansing work of regeneration and we have no part in it except that of how a baby responds to its first breath of life giving air, crying out and in this sense that cry is the first cry faith, a response to the new life He has given, wrought not by anything we could do) or whether they were baptized as an adult because of a decision of commitment. Neither is salvation itself. Baptism belongs to God. This is why it does not matter if you are baptized by a minister who later turns from the faith… His faith is not what made your baptism legitimate. Baptism is God’s, not man’s. This is why we see it as coming from above just as Jesus said, “I will baptize you with water and with fire,” as we saw in Acts the flames of fire came down and rested on their heads in the baptism, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.
Baptism, like circumcision, if you have had it applied to you is God’s sign that His promise will never be broken. Can we break his promise? No, certainly not, because we did not make it to Him, He made it to us. But we can certainly break our covenant obligations to God (that is to respond to his promise in faith). We can certainly turn away from the blessings of living in covenant relationship to Him. And that makes every gift that came to us by way of God’s covenant promises, which we turn away from and do not embrace with faith, become a curse to us. (Luke 12:48) “Circumcision becomes uncircumcision” when that circumcision is not culminated with true faith. Baptism becomes unbaptism when it is not culminated with true faith. The meal of communion becomes excommunication when the heavenly food we receive is not met with faith — that which nourishes when it is culminated in faith is essentially a poison going down to those who will turn away.
Take Judas for example. Judas had been called as a disciple. He had been “on the vine” so to speak. He was exposed to all of Jesus’ teachings, all of his character, He had literally looked upon God in Christ (Heb. 1:3), He had seen all the signs, and witnessed the power of the holy spirit in Jesus’ words and miracles. In other words, Judas was included in the covenant promises and had all the same blessings of being in company with Christ as all of the other disciples. But even though all this was true and Jesus had even “washed” him outwardly (when he washed his disciples feet) along with all the other disciples, Christ declared, “And yet one of you is not clean.” If Jesus was only washing their feet and not teaching them something of much greater significance even beyond the message that we need to serve one another, which is certainly a lesson here, why would he have said, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me?” He was talking about inward washing even as he was applying an outward washing. In saying, “and yet one of you is not clean,” Jesus was saying that outward washing alone is not enough and Jesus of course knew who was going to betray Him and who was not truly clean, despite having been outwardly washed. Further still, Judas shared in the communion meal — the last Supper. He ate the bread and drank the wine. Jesus did not fence him from the table. Judas was a member of the covenant. he was entitled therefore to eat the meal. But the meal went down as a curse to Him because it was not a meal that was ever culminated in faith. Even for those of us who falter and fail and seem to turn away at times, if we are members of the covenant the meal of Christ is for us. Did Judas look around and see brothers? No, he saw enemies. But he ate the meal and it was a curse to Him. Covenant children who express even the most immature faith should be able to eat this meal even as they grow in their understanding of it — just as we don’t understand digestion as an infant, we still eat — as they take it regularly and are told by their parents of the beautiful spiritual significance of this meal and how we are to recognize that it means we are all one in Christ and we must look to the needs of those around us, they will begin to imbibe not just the meal but the significance of the glorious savior behind the meal. Or, conversely, since we know that not all children of the covenant are finally one of God’s elect, the meal will go down as a curse, in that these children had all the blessings of being in the household of faith and yet turned away. As God declared in Isaiah 55:11 “so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” And as Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone (ie. still eat it but there’s more to it than just filling your tummy!) but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.” Yes, in communion we eat God’s WORD who is Christ. (No, I’m not saying that the bread magically physically transforms into a real physical body and yet Christ is really present with us as we partake in the sacrament). He will accomplish His purposes of both blessing and cursing in everything that He institutes so we need not fear. God will either use the meal to nourish our floundering love for Him or we will taste it merely as a bitter reminder that we are a sinner and not want to be confronted with that reality, ultimately turning away from Him.
2 Peter 1:3-7 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
So, yes. I just wrote a paper, I realize. (Sorry!!) And I also realize that not everyone will agree with me. I am not writing this to try to persuade anyone but rather to express the joy I have found in finally understanding something that I have done by faith for a long while now — just like the children who eat without fully understanding. When you finally understand and it suddenly makes all the sense in the world to you, you really just want to shout it from the mountain tops. I implore that if you would like to dialogue in my comments on this subject you do so with respect and humility and I will do my best to do the same. I guarantee you (as is witnessed above) I will be verbose in my discussion should there be a discussion. My verbosity should not be construed as a heart that does not love my baptist brothers and sisters. I grew up believing only in believer’s baptism (which I still most happily embrace when the person in question has never received the sign of God’s covenant). My joy in posting this is not one in trying to shove it in the eye of anyone who does not agree. My hope is that it is read as it overflowed from my heart, a song of praise for the continuity and expansion of God’s grace through His covenant promises in God’s scriptures.
Because I know the nature of this post can be contentious, I welcome heartfelt and respectful questions when the first acknowledgment is that we are one in Christ and we treat each other as such. However because I don’t desire for my comments to be a place for heavy debate, comments will as always be moderated and I will generally do most of my conversing via e-mail (as I typically do) and not in my comments section. Accusations or strong intimations of heresy will not be tolerated and will not make it past moderation.