Sunday, May 13, 2007

Paedo-baptism 2

Continuing on with posts concerning paedo baptism, we will look at Romans 4:11. In the passage we find the apostle arguing against those who would seek a works righteousness. Specifically he argues against circumcision. His primary objective is to demonstrate that Abraham was given a righteousness that was not his own before he was circumcised. The text says,

9 ¶ Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness.
10 How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised.
11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also,
12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.
13 For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.

The blessedness spoken of in verse 9 refers to verses 7-8. There we see that the blessedness is the forgiveness of sins, those to whom God does not impute their sin. So Paul is going to make his point by using the “father of all those who believe”, Abraham. It is crystal clear that Abraham is indeed justified by faith apart from circumcision. Paul says as much in verse 10. He also makes a point in verse 11 concerning those who believe who are not circumcised. Paul’s point is that though there are those who are uncircumcised, they still might have righteousness imputed to them because they would have the same faith that Abraham possessed.

We also note in verse 12 that those who were circumcised found righteousness the same way those who were not circumcised found it: by faith.

So, with this said, am I saying that paedo-baptists don’t believe this? Absolutely not. But here is where the inconsistency comes in, IMHO. Circumcision simply was a sign given by God concerning the promises He made to Abraham and yet those promises were made to him and affirmed to him BEFORE he was circumcised. My paedo-baptist friends will point here and say there is a correlation between baptism and circumcision. At least in this passage I cannot even begin to see that correlation. By this I mean that I don't see the passage tying the two together. The only thing I can assume that is meant by that is this: Since Abraham then circumcised Ishmael and Isaac and since they in turn gave that sign to their children and so on and so on, then we should administer baptism in the same manner, as merely a sign.

However, as a previous commenter pointed out, many in church history put far more emphasis upon baptism than a mere sign. They actually said it had salvific efficacy. If baptism has salvific efficacy, then I might want to ask those who believe that, “Why did Christ die?” This will come out more clearly in Colossians 2.

Now, the paedo-baptists I know of do not declare that baptism has any power to save, though some of them in their language seem, at times to indicate that, apart from clarification. Those I have spoken to simply indicate that it is a sign, just as circumcision was a sign in the Old Covenant, and that it points to the doctrine of regeneration, which is fine. I have absolutely no problem with that. However, they will then go on to say that this brings children of believers into the covenant community of the church. This I do have a problem with. Does it bring them into the covenant community in the same way that an adult believer who has professed Christ and actually been regenerated come into the “covenant community”? I don’t think so.

From the Baptist perspective, we don’t deny the picture of regeneration in baptism. We actually go further than that. We recognize that the Scriptures teach death in baptism as well.

Ro 6:4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Col 2:12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

Only true believers are really identified in Christ’s death and thus ONLY true believers are identified in His resurrection. Therefore, as far as the Scriptures are concerned, only those who have been identified with Christ in His death AS WELL AS His resurrection should submit themselves unto baptism. The clear reading of the text seems to indicate that. I simply can’t understand, apart from assuming a silent mindset, which we are told that the Jews would have had about circumcision, that we should be baptizing infants.

Why would I say that this is “clear” concerning believers? Notice Romans. Paul uses the term “we” and identifies that we were buried with Christ and that “we” should walk in newness of life. In Colossians he uses the term “you” and indicates that the Colossian believers were raised with Christ. So it seems that baptism is simply the outward sign of the reality that one has both died and risen with Christ, not a hoped for event in the future.

I will next deal with the Colossians 2 passage.


Gordan said...

From my Presbyterian days, I can tell you that my argument against what you've said here would go like this:

Inasmuch as circumcision pointed to the removal of the "flesh" that happens in regeneration, it also included the idea of dying to the old life. It was the cutting away (death) of the old, that the new might live in its place. I would've said that simply because the New Testament is explicit about the inclusion of death before new life in the symbol of Baptism, does not exclude the hefty implication of that with circumcision in the Old Testament. I mean, what circumcision strongly implied is merely made explicit with baptism, so that the substance they both point to is identical.

I would have also protested that Paul's use of words like "us" and "we" in his letters ought not be taken as a sign that he excluded the possibility that there were in the churches some unregenerate members. In fact, there is ample evidence to the contrary: false converts to Christ were a reality he dealt with, warning of wolves in sheep's clothing, and of those who forsook Christ for the sake of worldly comfort, etc.

I'd have also argued with the assertion that there is no future, hoped-for reality that is represented in baptism. My argument would be that the spiritual resurrection that has happened for every true believer is organically unified with the future resurrection of the body. Strictly speaking, they comprise one event, with the pieces of it merely separated by a period of time. So that when we are baptized, we are claiming to have joined in Christ's resurrection (which is the first-fruits of our own bodily resurrections.)

In fact, I'd admit that I still hold to all those arguments. It's just that none of them overcome the force of the biblical concept of a regenerate church, in my view.

Tim said...


Thanks for your help here. I agree that there is a bit of a parallel in baptism and circumcision. I, like you, am just not convinced that it is totally parallel, because, like you, I believe in a totally regenerate church:)

While I agree that there were unregenerates in the visible church, in response to the use of words like "us" and "we" it seems that he indicates that it is something that has ACTUALLY taken place. Here's the context of Rom. 6:

1 ¶ What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?
4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.

and I think the same is true of Colossians. For there in the very verse I cited Paul explicitly says they were raised with Christ THROUGH FAITH.

Ok, you got me on the last one:) I wasn't saying that we as believers don't have a future hoped for reality. I was saying that I don't see how baptizing an infant is in hopes of true saving faith (reality). In other words, when an adult comes to faith and is baptized, is there a difference in description of baptism than the infant. I have heard that infants are baptized showing that they do nothing, picturing regeneration, and that the Lord's Table is partaken of in faith, picturing justification. Since the baby doesn't present himself, but the parents its a perfect picture of regeneration. What about an adult? I'm asking this, though you probably would not have agreed with that:)

Gordan said...

Yeah, Tim, I'm afraid I've played out my roll as devil's advocate on this one. I agree with what you've said there. Everywhere the NT speaks of baptism it does so with reference to a work that is immediate, or past, and not looking years into the future, assuming that God will do something at some point.

Sorry I can't string out a long discussion on this one. :)