Friday, July 4, 2014

Sully Notes Special | Baptism: The Water that Unites Part 1 of 2

Emmaus City Church Worcester MA Christian Reformed Acts 29 Soma Sully Notes Baptism Special Part 1

Sully Notes Special Part 1 of 2: How do the covenant promises and their sacraments in the Old and New Testament connect together to tell the story of God and His relationship to His people throughout all of human history? 


Sully Notes are meant to provide you with direct quotes from some books I've read in the last year, so you can get a taste of the overall theme of the book and then begin to chew on what your life might look like if you applied what you read.

Emmaus City Church Worcester MA Baptism Christian Reformed Acts 29 SomaThis week's special Notes are touching on a sensitive subject within the 21st century American church. I know this because it was sensitive for me to explore after I graduated from college. I grew up in a family with grandparents and parents who were Roman Catholic, but found Jesus through the witness and love of people involved in baptistic churches. So, in many ways, the practice of baptism became very one-sided for them because of the baptistic churches God used to reveal His amazing grace to them through. 

However, as I went off to college and gained a grander view of the Church across the world and throughout time, I began to learn things that I had never heard in the churches of my youth. And in light of the Scriptures, history, and culture, I began to wonder why infants of believing families have been baptized throughout the life of the Church in Catholic, Orthodox, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, Anglican, and Reformed traditions if Baptist, Pentecostal, Seventh-Day Adventist and most nondenominational churches do not continue in this practice. I began to ask, "Why is it that most Christians throughout history and around the world today baptize infants?"

The answers I found in the Scriptures led me to eventually and respectfully disagree with the baptistic position, though I understand where they are coming from because I used to hold that line. My goal is for my writing tone to be generous and for the information to be comprehensive. These posts are not intended to start debates, but to initiate conversation for those who are interested. God has graciously led me to enjoy being part of His family with people who share differing perspectives in relation to this sacrament as I've been a member at both types of churches. When this discussion is to be had by me with others in the future, I hope from now on I will ask, first of all, if I can pray with the person or persons, and we can agree together that wherever the discussion takes us that we will look to worship Jesus through our posture and attitude and seek to understand what He intends for God's gift of baptism for His church today. One recent confessional statement agreed upon by pastors from both baptistic and paedobaptist backgrounds says this about the sacraments:  

"We believe that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordained by the Lord Jesus himself. The former is connected with entrance into the new covenant community, the latter with ongoing covenant renewal. Together they are simultaneously God’s pledge to us, divinely ordained means of grace, our public vows of submission to the once crucified and now resurrected Christ, and anticipations of his return and of the consummation of all things."

The following notes are meant to show how there is biblical, historical, and sociological evidence and rationale for including children in baptism, the sacramental or covenantal signification of the Church. Along with quotes from Robert Letham's Baptism: The Water that Unites, at the end of each of the two posts, I will include my own reflections and questions in italics. 

If you would like to take less time reading than through the next two posts, Tim Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City provide a thoughtful and succinct 3-page summary entitled, "Infant Baptism at Redeemer Presbyterian Church." Kevin DeYoung's post "A Brief Defense of Infant Baptism" and Scott Saul's two-page document "Household Baptism" are quite good as well. 

And last, but not least, for those who want a longer compelling biblical and historical review of this sacrament that is accessible to all audiences, I would recommend It Takes a Church to Baptize by Scot McKnight and Baptism: Its Purpose, Practice, and Power by Michael Green 


Chapter 2 | Interpreting the Bible: The Old and the New

The church recognized that the one God had a plan for our salvation that encompassed the whole of human history, from Adam to Abraham, Moses, and David, finding its fulfillment in the coming of the Son of God in Jesus Christ. In the life of the early church, Irenaeus, Tertullian and others were responsible for defending the faith against Marcion (and his denigration of the Old Testament). It was clear to them, and to the church that the Old Testament and New Testament stood together. ... Jesus' own method of biblical interpretation was to see all parts of Scripture – the Old Testament as we now have it – as referring ultimately to himself. In Luke 24, following his resurrection, he explained to the disciples on the road to Emmaus that the law and the prophets spoke of him (Luke 24:25-27). Later that same day, to a larger gathering, he declared that all sections of the Old Testament referred to his sufferings and glory, and to the task of the church in preaching the gospel (Luke 24:44-47)." – pgs. 6-7, 10-11

"Central to the whole sweep of redemptive history is God's covenant. Made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Yahweh renewed his covenantal commitment to their descendants at Sinai. Later, Jeremiah foretold that he was to make a new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-33), bringing to fulfillment the Abrahamic covenant and his promise to Adam, writing his law on human hearts, and making effective and definitive atonement for sins. This new covenant fulfills the covenants of the Old Testament, and is not a replacement. The protevangelium (the first announcement of the gospel) in Genesis 3:15 was fulfilled by Christ's conquest of the devil. There God promised Eve that one of her offspring would deal a deathly blow to the serpent and his offspring. Jesus announced that this had taken place (John 12:31-32). The new covenant fulfills the central promise that the offspring of Abraham would be the means of worldwide blessing. Paul argues that justification by faith applied to Abraham and David as well as to us (Romans 4:1-8). Abraham looked forward to the time when the covenantal promise God had made would be realized; this has happened now that Christ has come (Romans 4:9-25, Galatians 3:6-18), for he is the offspring in whom all the nations are blessed (Genesis 12:1-3, Matthew 28:18-20)." – pgs. 12-13

"Christ took Adam's place, fulfilling the covenant of life which Adam had broken. Whereas Adam, tempted in a beautiful garden, succumbed to sin, the second Adam, tempted in a barren desert, remained faithful. Adam sinned in connection with a tree; the last Adam made atonement on the tree. Christ's atoning death, the shedding of his blood on the cross, atones emphatically, once-for-all, for all our sins. This fulfills the words of the prophet Micah, insofar as God has buried our sins in the depths of the sea (Micah 7:18-20). Correspondingly, Christ's resurrection achieves our justification, received through faith. It was his vindication before the entire cosmos; in union with him we are justified in his resurrection (Romans 4:25). Furthermore, since all he is and he does is in union with us, his ascension puts us in the heavenly places, with him in the presence of the Father (Ephesians 2:4-7). The significance of this is that baptism is into the new covenant name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20)." – pg. 12-15 

Chapter 3 | Promises and Sacraments

"At each stage of covenant history God reinforces his promises by material signs by which he assures us of the truth of what he has said and done. Underlying this is the first sentence in the Bible, Genesis 1:1, 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.' God created both spirit and matter ... Christianity is not something confined to the 'spiritual' dimension; it involves the whole of life. The creation, incarnation and bodily resurrection are proof of this. ... The eternal Son of God took human nature into personal union, body as well as soul. He lived as man, growing from infancy to childhood to adulthood. He experienced all the range of human experiences, from growth, hunger and thirst to suffering, temptation, bereavement and death. In doing this, the Son of God experienced the world of matter and consequently redeemed it; we are material beings and the entire creation awaits its glorious liberation at Christ's return. Both now and forever the Son has a human body. ... Christianity is not some spiritualized religion that abandons the material aspect of humanity. It is earthy and physical as well as spiritual." – pgs. 18-19

"In the Noachic covenant, which re-established the creation order after the flood, God appointed the rainbow as a sign that he would never again flood the earth in the manner he had recently done (Genesis 8:20-22, 9:8-17). God instituted circumcision in the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 17:3-14). As flesh was removed in circumcision, so God would remove the heart of unbelief and grant a new heart and a new spirit (Ezekiel 36:25-28, Romans 2:25-29, 4:9-12, Philippians 3:3). In the Mosaic covenant, the Passover commemorated Yahweh's mighty deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt so as to inherit the promises of the Abrahamic covenant (Exodus 12:1-13:16), looking forward to the new exodus to be accomplished in later years. In the new covenant Jesus appointed baptism in the name of the trinity (Matthew 28:19-20) to portray cleansing from sin and union with him in his death and resurrection. Furthermore, the Supper he introduced was to be the point at which his people were to be nourished by his body and blood to eternal life (John 6:47-58, 1 Corinthians 10:16-17). He appeals not only to our ears, through the words he utters, but also to our eyes, by the sacramental signs. ... The tree of life gives everlasting life. The rainbow denotes the triumph of grace over judgment and appears in certain conditions when it rains, the deluge counterbalanced by the sunshine. The Passover indicates Yahweh passing over and sparing his people from wrath, and guiding them to their inheritance. Washing with water in baptism portrays cleansing from the greater filth of sin. Bread and wine in the Lord's Supper demonstrate Christ feeding and nourishing us to eternal life." – pgs. 20-21

" ... the major point in the sacrament is not what we do but what God does. These are not seen mainly as human actions, as rites which we perform. Over and above this, these are signs for God and demonstrate what he does. The whole force of circumcision, as its significance is unfolded later and in the New Testament, is that only God can change us, declaring us righteous in Christ, and granting us a new heart and a new spirit." – pgs. 24-25

"Not only are the sacraments pre-eminently signs in which God is at work but behind them is the glorious reality that God keeps his appointments. When Christ died on the cross it was not on any old day, for it was on the day of the Passover, as the authors of the synoptic gospels recount and as Paul recalls (1 Corinthians 5:7). Jesus died and rose again at the Passover 'when the time had fully come' (Galatians 4:40). He was the Passover lamb. The Passover dramatically foreshadowed him and his work. It was at the Passover that he offered himself by the eternal Spirit to the Father (Hebrews 9:14). The slaughter of the sacrificial lamb signified the deliverance Yahweh had given to his people from the bondage of Egypt. Now a greater deliverance had arrived, from sin and death, through the Messiah. That deliverance was effected not on any day but on this day. When he rose from the dead it was on the first day of the week. It marked a new epoch, a new creation, just as this had been foreshadowed when the angel announced to Mary the impending birth of Jesus in terms reminiscent of the creation account in Genesis 1:2 'the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you' (Luke 1:34-35). This new creation broke through on the first day of the week. When the Holy Spirit came it was when the day of Pentecost had fully come (Acts 2:1f), not a day earlier, not a day later, precisely on time. It did not happen on the spur of the moment. It was a day fixed by God from eternity, a day that happened to coincide with one of the great festivals he had set up centuries earlier with precisely this in mind. This day was not intended merely as an occasion for ritual, for something humans did. It was selected by God for a decisive strategy point in the history of redemption he had planned from before the foundation of the earth. So, as Paul recounts, 'when the time had fully come God sent forth his Son' (Galatians 4:4). He sent him at just the right time, at the time of his appointment. Or as Luke recalls, 'when the day of Pentecost had fully come,' the Spirit fell on the church (Acts 2:1). In short, God honored the feast days he had set in the Old Testament. These were not arbitrary or accidental dates on the calendar. God invested them with great significance. From the human side the ritual was no mere empty repetition. It pointed to a reality to be fulfilled expressly in connection with, and through, the ritual. God brought that fulfillment precisely in and through those days he had established." – pgs. 26-27 


Part 1 of 2 Reflection from Pastor Mike:

Promises and Sacraments

God meant to fulfill the Passover in the crucifixion of Jesus, and the Feast of Weeks with Pentecost and the arrival of the Holy Spirit. He ordered these days in His good timing for giving ultimate glory to Jesus. As Paul writes in Colossians 2:16-17, the religious festivals and Sabbath day were shadows of things to come with the substance of them found in Christ. In this same movement of God's order of presenting promises showcased and fulfilled physically and spiritually, have you considered that Jesus used the Lord's Supper to fulfill the Passover meal, and that He gave baptism as the fulfillment of circumcision? 

Paul writes in Colossians 2:11-12, 

"In (Jesus) 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.

God connects the spiritual and the physical, the spiritual promise with the physical sign of the promise, and the shadow of what came before with what He wanted to reveal later in the Incarnation. 

The Individual and the Corporate

When God promised to deliver Noah, it was with him and his children (Genesis 9:9‐17) that God made a covenant to never destroy the world again by water (one which all mankind still benefits from). When God made the covenant with Abraham, it was with him and his children after him (Genesis 15:8; 17:1‐21). When God redeemed Israel out of Egypt, it was not because of anything virtuous they had done, but because of His covenant loyalty to the word of promise he gave them and their children. When God made a covenant with King David, to build “a house” for him meant a promise to build his family (II Samuel 7). 

In all these examples we recognize that God’s covenant or promise of grace to the family is the primary vehicle for the salvation of individuals within that family. This does not mean that being a part of a Christian family alone is what saves us any more than solely the water of Christian baptism, or going to the "right" Christian church and participating in their services of worship, or simply continuing to partake of the Eucharist regularly saves us. All of these actions we do in faith and obedience in response to the God who has provided them as means by which we actively rest in knowing and enjoying the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Children who are part of a Christian family from birth with a parent or parents who are humble followers of Jesus have been blessed by God in that He has established for these children a special foundation for discipleship in His grace from the time they were born. Along with this, we can see why God patterned the church after His "very good" creation the family as He chose for this unity in community of humanity to reflect His unity in community that is the Trinity. God encourages His church to function as a family because it is God’s paradigm for understanding who the church is, a community (not merely a gathered group of individuals) related by the blood of Christ and the waters of baptism to God and each other.

Recently, I was reading a pastor's reflection on baptism that captivated me in relation to what God has given His household the Church in this sacrament:

"I would caution that too often debates about adult and infant baptism focus only on the individual baptismal candidate and obscure what was central to the early Christians: baptism is invitation and initiation into a family. We neither baptize to encourage sentimentality about babies nor do we baptize to secure private, individual salvation. We baptize to obey Jesus in building and discipling a new family in relation to His family (i.e. the Father, the Son, and the Spirit). We also do this in a world where all the other kingdoms should bow to, but do not bow to God’s Kingdom. What’s missing in baptismal liturgies, adult and infant, is the sense of awe that God is slowly bringing all nations together and creating a new one in the name of His family with men, women, and children from every tribe, tongue, and nation. God has chosen through baptism to create a people who are His Kingdom representatives to the kingdoms of the world. This is what Paul conveys when he writes about how those who are one in Christ through baptism are now no longer Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free. Baptism sets apart a community that challenges and critiques the social hierarchies of this world. Baptism makes Jesus' Church a community where the class distinctions of Rome no longer matter and where the familial distinctions of Israel no longer matter. At baptism, you’re not just saying ‘I do’ to Jesus you’re saying ‘I do’ to everyone else there. The waters of baptism make the Church our family. Once we’re baptized, Jesus' statement becomes our own: ‘Who are my mother and my brothers? Those who do the will of God the Father.’ As James K.A. Smith says, 'baptism smashes open our families of birth and opens us up to the disruptive friendships that are the mark of the Kingdom of God.’ ... I remember when my wife and I began the adoption process for the first time. In an initial interview, the social worker asked us why, when we had no known biological need to do so, we were choosing to adopt. Our answer was quite sincere and it’s one I recall every time I preside before a baptism: that, as Christians, we believe in baptism and baptism suggests that adoption is just as ‘normal’ a way as biology to constitute a family. Because of baptism, so to speak, water is thicker than blood."

Historically, baptism is the sign of membership in the new covenant community. If we agree and consider that water baptism is the covenant sign God has instituted for His people and their children after Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, is any “exclusion” of children from this covenant biblical? If an infant could enter into the Abrahamic covenant through the faith of the parent, why would we expect it to be different with Christ’s covenant? If there was no waiting for the “the age of reason” for circumcision, why should there be for baptism? How would we explain to a First Century Jewish Christian convert that, although his son previously entered into covenant with Yahweh through circumcision, that he would have to wait years prior to entering into the New Covenant?

As Moses quickly learned in Exodus 4:24‐26, God frowns upon leaving children out of His promises and their signs. For failing to listen to God and circumcise his son, God’s intent was to kill Moses because he was not honoring the sign of God’s promise for him and his children. Throughout history, in God’s Word and with His people, children are included in the covenant community because God desires and requires it. God made the family with an integrity that is affirmed, not threatened by the Gospel. In every age of God’s dealings with mankind, the children of covenant community members have been included for reminding them of who God is and how they are to turn to Him throughout their entire lives in repentance and faith as they grow in their relationship with Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I appreciate what Bill Kynes, a baptistic pastor of Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Annandale, Virginia, had to say about considering infant baptism though he does not practice it himself: 

"Why would we as a church accept the baptism of a believer who was baptized as an infant as a valid baptism for the purpose of church membership? I recognize that paedobaptism has been the practice of the overwhelming majority of Christians throughout most of church history. This includes the practice of the Protestant Reformers to which I owe a great theological and spiritual debt. I humbly recognize that I could be wrong about paedobaptism (and the conclusion that the great majority of Christians through history were never really baptized), and for this reason I am hesitant to insist upon my position on baptism as a grounds of church fellowship."

As faithful baptistic and paedobaptist brothers and sisters agree, only God’s grace given to us through what Jesus accomplished, and received by us through repentance and faith, can ultimately justify us, save us, and seal us to be reconciled to His family. But if the Church is the earthly steward of this good news of Jesus, and it is membership within the life of a faithful local church that discipleship in the Gospel of salvation in Jesus is most effectively seen and experienced, is it God's desire for the child of a believer or a believing couple to be baptized into membership in this covenant community corresponding with who received the signs of His promises throughout all of the Scriptures?
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