Monday, April 25, 2011

Paedobaptism Defended, Part 4

As we continue to evaluate the arguments of the anti-paedobaptists, we move on to the fourth objection.

4. Baptism is not the replacement sign for the Abrahamic sign of circumcision.

In reply to this objection, I reply: WRONG!!!

In many ways, this is the heart, because the practice of infant baptism - like many other New Testament doctrines, such as the Trinity and justification by faith alone - rests squarely on an Old Testament foundation. Remove that foundation, and infant baptism collapses.

How should we view the Old Testament? Should we reject it as having nothing to say to us today? Or should we obliterate all distinctions between the two Testaments? Two extremes must be avoided as we deal with the Old and New Testaments: that of the Dispensationalist who sees little connection and continuity between the Old and New Testaments, on the one hand, and an approach that flattens redemptive history as if there were no true significance to the Cross. A biblical approach to the two Testaments comprehends that there is virtually nothing “new” in the New Testament, because it is all rooted in the Old Testament, but it also understands that almost nothing from the Old Testament comes into the New without being transformed in some way by the work of Christ.

As with other New Testament institutions, baptism does not exist simply as a New Testament phenomenon; it is the Spiritually enriched, outwardly modified continuation of an Old Testament ordinance, circumcision.

When God made the covenant with Abraham, God Himself passed through the severed parts of the slaughtered animal, thereby signifying that He would take the punishment and be "cut" the same way if He broke the covenant by not fulfilling His promises to Abraham. That is the significance of circumcision. The cutting is a sign and a seal of the covenant. When a Jew refused to be circumcised, he was to be "cut off" from Israel. He was essentially rejecting God as His mediator and saying, "No thanks; I'll do it alone." Refusal to submit to circumcision was to reject God and His gracious covenant. God's promise to Abraham came to fruition when Christ was "cut off" (Daniel 9:26). He was circumcised for us by being "cut off" for us.

God gave Israel an outward sign and seal of this covenant: “Every male among you shall be circumcised” (Genesis 17:10). They cut off the foreskin to remind the people of the blessings and obligations of the contract. It was a symbolic way of saying, “May I be cut off in damnation, if I do not live up to this covenant.” Christ took the brunt of this cutting when He bore the sins of the elect.

Christ was circumcised in His crucifixion. But this is what the New Testament sacrament of baptism signifies. Jesus asks James and John, "Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?" (Mark 10:38). As Christ our Lord and Covenant Head hung on the cross, He was baptized with the judgment of God against human sin. He was also circumcised by the divine justice as His life was cut off.

Paul equates circumcision and baptism in Colossians 2:11 & 12. He says, “In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:11, 12). In other words, the circumcision not done by hands, the circumcision of the heart (a spiritual image found frequently in the Old Testament), is the circumcision of Christ - which is BAPTISM. All believers were circumcised with Christ in His death upon the cross. This is why in the New Testament, not only males receive the sign. Just as circumcision was a sign of God's covenant in the Old Testament, baptism is the sign of God's covenant in the New Testament. The sign has changed because the bloody "cutting off" was fulfilled in Christ's death. This is why Paul equates religious circumcision with a rejection of God's grace in Christ.

Circumcision was much more than a sign of national identification for the nation of Israel. It was a spiritual act full of spiritual meaning. If you were inclined to imagine that most of the Bible's references to circumcision are in the Old Testament, you'd be mistaken. Most of the Bible's teaching about it is actually in the New Testament. Perhaps the fullest treatment on the subject is found in Romans. Paul tells us here that “A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 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” (Romans 2:28, 29). The meaning of circumcision, then, is not some outward thing. It, in fact, points to the work of the Holy Spirit in giving a new heart. Circumcision reminds us of the need for regeneration.

Moreover, Paul tells us that circumcision is a sign of being justified by faith. He reminds us that Abraham “received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised” (Romans 4:11). In other words, Abraham believed, he was justified by faith, and then he received God’s sign and seal of this in circumcision. Sometimes people are married and cannot afford wedding rings. Years down the road, they can afford them, buy them and start wearing them. They are no more married now than they were before. They simply have the outward sign as symbol of their true state. Abraham was right with God the moment he put his trust in him. He was no more saved before circumcision than he was after it. Regeneration and justification by faith are the spiritual realities to which circumcision points.

To be circumcised was to wear a sign that said, “I am a believer; God accepts me as righteous with His righteousness. He has established his covenant promises with me.” It was to bear the seal of God’s ownership. Circumcision was the Old Testament way of saying that Christ would die for your sins and to confess that you were united to Him as He is offered in the gospel. After all, the same gospel was preached to Abraham (Galatians 3:3). Abraham was circumcised because he looked forward to the day of Christ (John 8:56).

It should be obvious by now that everything we have said about circumcision can be equally said of baptism. This is because baptism is New Testament circumcision. Under the New Covenant the Gospel extends to all nations. It is more inclusive, which is why females also receive the seal of faith alongside males today. Circumcision, like the other great symbol of the Old Testament, the Passover, required bloodshed. However, the death of Christ has fulfilled the shedding of blood once for all. The outward form of circumcision is different from that of baptism, but the inward meaning is the same. This is why the form of the sacrament changes from the Old Testament to the New Testament.

Any objection that can be made to infant baptism could, with equal force, be made against infant circumcision. Why would God require Abraham to put the seal upon his children which symbolized that they were believers who were justified by faith? Yet that is exactly what God commanded him to do in Genesis 17:9-14. And it was Moses’ failure to carry out this commandment which so angered God that he sought to kill him before he entered Egypt (Exodus 4:24 ff.). 

God told Abraham to place the mark of divine ownership on his household because it was God’s purpose for them to belong to him: “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you” (Genesis 17:7). The Bible brings the same idea out hundreds later, on the plains of Moab, as God’s people were about to enter the promised land: “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live” (Deuteronomy 30:6). Deuteronomy 30:6 had both a present and a future meaning for Moses’ hearers.

God has always included the children of believers in the company of His Covenant people. It is extremely strange therefore when someone insists that the Gospel is so much most extensive and inclusive than the Old Testament, yet he simultaneously excommunicates all the infant children who would have been included under the old economy. Scripture explicitly teaches that the New Testament is the very same covenant which God made with Abraham. This is why even people who reject Covenant Theology along with its sacrament of baptism teach songs to their children like "Father Abraham." If Abraham's Old Testament children were to be admitted to the Covenant by the sacrament of circumcision, why then are his New Testament children not brought into the Covenant by baptism?

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