Is baptism primarily a sign of my profession of faith or of God’s promise of grace that is to be received by faith? What similarities and differences exist between the old covenant community and the new covenant community? How does this relate to infants and young children? Discover the answers to these issues and much more in Baptism: Sign of Promise.
Follow along with the sermon notes below. Please excuse the formatting issues. Hey, that rhymed. 🙂
Many of us have heard the story about the young wife who is cooking a roast for her family… cuts the ends off of the roast before putting it in the oven. Mother comes in and asks why?
That is the way some of us are when it comes to things we grew up doing in church. We don’t know WHY we did them that way? We just did. Architecture. How people dressed. Kind of music, style of preaching. The administration of the sacraments, which in some churches are called “ordinances.”
In the New Testament these are baptism and the Lord’s Supper / Communion / Eucharist.
Today we want to understand the why to the administration of baptism.
While there is some disagreement about the Lord’s Supper in protestant churches, when it comes to baptism, there is… more. A huge chasm.
- Disagreement –> debate –> for some, a line in the sand.
But I don’t think this should be a line in the sand issue. Especially, since I have been on both sides of the line… struggled… even was a convinced Baptist for over a year.
So, I want to share my journey. What eventually caused me to see baptism the way that I do.
The beauty of our fellowship at Creekstone is that you can be a full member and NOT agree with what I am going to share today. So, sit back and relax and let me share my journey with you.
I have organized what I want to share under 7 headings.
I. The Big Picture of the Bible
- “The Bible is the grand story of God restoring our communion with himself.” Rankin Wilbourne, Union with Christ, 83
- Notice the God-centeredness – God does the restoring. Grace.
- The restored are united to God and to each other as a family — a spiritual community.
- In the OT, this family was a geo-political community, Israel.
- In the NT, this family expands into a trans-geo-political community, the Church.
- In both the old covenant community and new covenant community, God ordained a sign of inclusion and a sign of communion.
- For the old covenant community, these were circumcision and Passover
- For the new covenant community, each of these had counterparts, which are baptism and the Lord’s Supper
- Theologians call these signs sacraments.
- The rites of inclusion were passive
- The rites of communion were active
II. The Purpose of the Sacraments (or, Ordinances)
- The early fathers translated the Greek word mysterion as sacramentum in Latin. In a sacrament, meaning is hidden in but also revealed by a sign.
- Sacraments are signs of God’s covenant promise in the gospel. They point to what God has done by grace that we are to receive by faith. Like a wedding ring represents a vow/promise.
- When studying baptism, I found that understanding its old covenant counterpart, circumcision was surprisingly insightful.
III. The Old Covenant Community Sign of Circumcision
- It’s origin: Genesis 17:10-11 – 10This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.
- It’s meaning:
Genesis 15:6, “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”
Romans 4:11, “Abraham received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith…”
Circumcision was the old covenant sign of the gospel (faith righteousness / justification by grace through faith / spiritual cleansing / initiation into the covenant community with the LORD as God)
THIS blew my mind! I had thought that circumcision was primarily a sign of promise for the Jews to give them the promised land. Like scaffolding.
IV. The New Covenant Community Sign of Baptism
- Baptism has the same essential, spiritual meaning as circumcision. Baptism is the new covenant sign of the gospel: spiritual cleansing / faith righteousness / justification by grace through faith / initiation into the covenant community
- An explicit connection between circumcision and baptism: Col. 2:11-12 (you have been circumcised… having been baptized)
- Here is what changed my mind –> It dawned on me that baptism does not represent my profession of faith, but rather, God’s promise of grace that is received by faith. [repeat]
- NOTE: faith is the response to the promise, but not what the sacrament/rite symbolizes!
- I recognize that we WANT to existentially validate our profession of faith… yes, baptism does that, but that is the ongoing role of the Lord’s Supper.
- I finally had to submit my emotions to the explicit teaching and example of what I saw in Scripture.
4. The new covenant community’s practice/ administration
When someone first believed, they received believer’s baptism. (Acts 2:38-39) – but even this passage speaks of their children… and ALL of them were Jews!
Then, their household (oikos) received the sign as well. This was true of Jew and Gentile believers alike. (Acts 16:15, 30-31; 1 Cor. 1:16)
The meaning of oikos (household) – J. Jeramias… mutigenerational; requires the inclusion of children
V. The Implication for Applying the Covenantal Sign of the Gospel
- A critical detail…
- Abraham received circumcision after his profession of faith. Abraham received “believer’s circumcision.”
- However, the LORD commanded that he apply the same sign of circumcision to his infant son, Isaac, before Isaac could make a personal profession of faith. What was required for Abraham was not required of his infant son.
- At the time of Christ, the covenant community had continued this practice for 2,000 years.
- The apostle Paul spoke to children in the new covenant community as members of the new covenant community.
Eph. 6:1-3, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”-which is the first commandment with a promise- 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
- It is like putting a UGA Bulldog onesie on an infant – “I’m a little Bulldog” – Grow up in a Bulldog family, you get to wear the stuff. But one day the child will have to confirm his loyalty by enrolling and attending the university.
- A common objection: but there is no NT command to baptize infants?
VI. The Principle of Continuity and Discontinuity
- Since all of the first Christians were Jews, the concept of covenant was deeply woven into the fabric of their spiritual community. This inclusion of children in the covenant community had been practiced for 2,000 years.
- However, there were aspects of God’s design for the old covenant community that were discontinued/abrogated/abolished for the new covenant community, such as the dietary laws. Yet there is no evidence of any change with regard to how the covenant signs were to be applied.
- So, as far as the question about a NT command to baptize infants? There would not be a need to re-state what had been a fundamental practice of the covenant community for two millennia.
- Consider the use of instruments in gathered worship. We know that the LORD was pleased for instruments to be used in worship under the old covenant. However, there is no NT command to use instruments in worship, nor is there an example. Yet we believe that the new covenant believers continued the practice because the continued use of instruments was never forbidden. God was pleased with instruments and never said to forbid their use.
- The same is true with the application of God’s sign of covenantal inclusion of infants being nurtured in the new covenant community. We know that God was pleased, and even commanded the application of the sign to infants. Without any word to discontinue the practice, we can only assume he still is pleased.
VII. Practical Issues
- Children baptized in infancy must come to profess their faith in the promise. “Affirmation of the promise” – Acts 2:28-3:4
- Infants are not saved by baptism any more than adults are saved by baptism. It is a sign representing a promise that must be received by faith – a sign that represents NOT our profession of faith, but God’s promise of grace.
- For the adult entering the covenant community, faith must precede baptism.
- For infants in the covenant community, baptism precedes faith.
- When a baptized child refuses to believe… it is the same for baptized adults who no longer live in line with a former profession (Rom. 11:17-20).
- Nurturing children in the new covenant community
- Infant baptism is a staggering picture of grace for a child. God’s initiating love.
- May want to see conversion not primarily as an event, but as a process
- What baptism continues to say to us – by grace through the relationship restoring work of Jesus, you are forgiven, clean, connected, treasured and empowered.
The first time I saw a single image stereograms was in a mall in St. Louis back in the early 90s… Also called “magic eye” or 3-D posters… Have to stare… see through the surface image… and the image eventually a 3-D image would be revealed!
The picture below is of two sharks!
This is what study of baptism is like for a lot of folks. It takes time.
What is your next step going to be? What do you want to do in light of today’s message?
- Receive baptism
- Bring your children for baptism
- Further study – check out my booklet on the welcome table & other resources (Children of the Promise)
- Run for your life?
- Run to Jesus
My deepest desire for us… more than embrace a covenantal perspective and practice of baptism, I want for us to see the outstretched arms and nail-scarred hands of Jesus in 3-D. God’s forgiveness. The love of the Father for you in 3-D!