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Monday, November 19, 2012

Covenantal Connection – More of a (Partial) Case for Infant Baptism (Genesis 17.1-14)


In my previous post, I dealt with Jesus’ own desire that we are to bring the brephos (infants, little ones) to him, and that Jesus establishes the pattern of New Testament discipleship: the Mommas and the Papas come to Jesus and they bring their little ones to Jesus. I then asserted that this New Testament pattern of Discipleship was, surprisingly, the Old Testament pattern. In this post I will unpack this last concept a bit. To do it right, you’re going to need to lay open a Bible in front of you and follow along.

The first thing to do is read through Genesis 17.1-14. Read it out loud (yep, even if you’re sitting at Starbucks sipping your Latte). I’ll wait while you read….Nice job. Anyone ever told you that you read well?

Now listen while I read Colossians 2.11-15 and see if you hear the connection.
“In him [Christ] also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” 
I’m sure you caught it. There is a connection between circumcision and Baptism. Now we’re going to look back at Genesis 17 in just a second, but first let me give you a Huge Hinge Principle that will help you to read the Bible:

Huge Hinge Principle: Everything in the Old Testament applies to Christians except where the New Testament specifically changes them.

It would take me a little bit of time to unload this point, and maybe I will in the near future. But for now humor me by temporarily accepting it. Everything in the Old Testament applies to Christians except where the New Testament changes them.

Now we’re ready. Let’s delve and dive into Genesis 17.1-14 and see what applies.

Ø  God says to Abram, “I will make a covenant between me and you” (2). God doesn’t ask permission, he simply stoops to Abram and draws him into a relationship with himself.
Ø  God goes further and tells Abram that the Covenant is to be made in the flesh (10, 13). There is to be a physical mark of the Covenant on the body.
Ø  The Covenant sign coincides with a new identity (5 & 15-16): new names (Abram now Abraham, Sarai now Sarah – the new names have new meanings and new identities). The Covenant marker-on-the-body also distinguishes and marks out those in covenant with God from those outside.
Ø  The Covenant sign is a picture of Grace. Here is a deep question for you: what does a person do in circumcision? Nothing! The sign is imposed on them from outside, in the same way the covenant is made by God without his asking permission.
Ø  The Covenant Sign is full of, and dripping with, Promise: The Promise of an inheritance (2, 4, 8) and the promise of belonging (7). This is what Paul capitalizes on in Galatians 3.26-27 and 29:
“for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. ( . . . ) And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.
Ø  The Covenant sign includes babies, kinfolk, slaves and the elderly (12-13, 23-27). At the time, it was limited to the males (for reasons unexplained), but now the Covenant sign includes males and females. 
Ø  The Broken Covenant (14). This verse implies that children born into a covenant family *are* already a member of the covenant/Church, but by not being circumcised they are breaking the covenant to which they belong.
There you have the passage. At this point, take the Huge Hinge Principle and apply it here: Everything in the Old Testament applies to Christians except where the New Testament changes them.
The Covenant is made in our flesh (baptism) but since the death and resurrection of Christ, it is no longer bloody.
The Covenant sign is a picture of grace (not faith) because the one being baptized does nothing but receives.
The Covenant sign coincides with a new identity and a new name, for we are baptized into Christ and in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. It’s at this point we are now known as Christians, and our identity is all wrapped up in Christ!
The Covenant sign includes all who are brought into the covenant, regardless of age. It’s interesting that Paul embraces this pattern in Acts 16.31-34. When asked what the jailor must do to be saved, Paul (and Silas) responds in a Genesis 17 fashion:
“And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.”
Therefore, the Covenant sign is dripping with promise. In fact, we baptize, not because of the faith of the person, but on the promise of God. God promises that he will be our God and the God of our descendants after us, and the Covenant sign physically seals that promise. Even for those who are older and proclaim their faith, I baptize them because of God’s promise. I know all too well that several of those who “profess faith” will show at some point that they don’t really believe. 
So baptism preaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ, displays grace, and declares that this adult, or teen, or baby, belongs to Jesus. They don’t belong to Mohamed, Buddha or Krishna, etc; they belong to Jesus!
[NB: we baptize infants based on the promise of God, but faith seems to be required for the Lord’s Supper, this is why we don’t promote infant communion – MWP]
These were some of the things I was starting to recognize about baptism while I was a Church of Christ preacher, and one of the reasons we became Presbyterian.
Mike

1 comment:

Greg Fields said...

Mike,
Could it be argued that the same hinge principle applies to communion? It seems like 1 Corinthians 10 & 11 might be read in way that accords with what the prophets said about Israel's celebration of the festivals while they oppressed the poor and engaged in blatant idolatrous practices. There doesn't seem to be barring of children from eating back then. So, the children ate back then and Israel was called out for the same reasons Paul gives in Corinthians, why would we see Paul's rebuke also functioning to exclude children from eating? This, I know, was not the point of your post, but it's a counterargument that I have heard and wrestle with.

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