BAPTISM - Its Meaning, Methods, and Recipients by Jim Rooney - HTML preview
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Second, circumcision was a sign of the death of the flesh by its being cut off and put away (buried). Baptism is also a sign of the death of our “old man” or “body of sin” of the flesh which has been destroyed (cut or put off, buried) by this spiritual circumcision made without hands. (Col. 2:11,12)
3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 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. 5 For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. (Rom. 6:3-6)
Both circumcision and baptism are performed once. Both point toward faith in Christ and regeneration of the Holy Spirit, the “washing of regeneration.” (Titus 3:5)
The Sign of the Covenant Must Be Applied Consistently
If God allowed for circumcision to be applied to the infants of believing Jews as the sign of the covenant prior to the faith of the child, why would He not likewise do the same for the infant children of believing Christians? They also are part of the covenant family of God or seed of Abraham through the “servant to the circumcision,” Jesus Christ.
8 Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers, (Rom. 15:8)
Many have erred by maintaining that the thing signified (faith) should always precede the sign (baptism). In the Bible, the sign is often given first and then the significance happens later. For example, circumcision and the signs and patterns of the Old Testament pointed to baptism and the later work of Christ.
But Shouldn’t Faith Come First?
While it is true that specific individuals mentioned in the New Testament were said to have been baptized after their repentance and faith, one must realize these converts were first generation believers. When Christianity started, it was necessary to be a believer first before being baptized for the Gospel to spread. The exact same thing was true of Judaism. Abraham and his family were first generation Jews and as adults had to believe before receiving the sign of the covenant. However, the sign of the covenant was commanded by God to be applied to their infants in all succeeding generations after the first generation. This would be in keeping with the Great Commission of Matt. 28:19 which commands we should teach and then baptize. We teach the first generation to become part of the covenant family of God through their faith and baptize them and their infants in all succeeding generations. This keeps a harmony or consistency with the Old and New Testament.
Therefore, there are two ways to be admitted into the covenant family of God.
First, if one was not born into the family of believing parents but was capable of believing then that person must enter it by faith just like the first generation Jew and Christian. That person then would receive the sign of the covenant, circumcision to the Jew in the Old Testament and baptism to the Christian in the New Testament.
Second, if one was born into the believing family of God, then on the basis of being of the seed or children of Abraham and heirs to the promises of the covenant, the child received the sign of the covenant, circumcision in the Old Testament and baptism in the New Testament. This would be done shortly after birth so the child would be dedicated and consecrated to the Lord.
The sign pointed toward the time God would regenerate and bring the child to faith. Neither being born into the covenant family nor receiving the sign saved the individual. Just as some were circumcised but did not come to saving faith, so too are some baptized but do not come to faith in Christ. In both cases, the child became righteous by his faith to come. The sign was just a picture of the future regeneration of cleansing and death to sinful flesh. This was true of both circumcision and baptism.
Just as the infant had no faith before circumcision, but was circumcised due to the faith of the Jewish parents, so too are the infants of believing Christian parents baptized before their faith on the basis of the faith of the parents within the covenant family. In a very real sense, the baptism of the infant does follow faith, the faith of the believing parent or parents.
Isn’t Infant Baptism Strange?
If there is no absurdity in the command to circumcise infants, then there is no absurdity in the baptizing of infants of believing parents. Nowhere in Scripture does it say that those being baptized must examine themselves first as is the case when partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Therefore, an infant would not be excluded from baptism as the child would from the Lord’s Supper. If God commanded that infants in the Old Testament be circumcised before their hearts were circumcised (regeneration), why wouldn’t infants of the family of God of believing parents in the New Testament receive baptism before their spiritual baptism (regeneration)? The following verses show us circumcision of the heart (regeneration):
16 Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer. (Dt. 10:16)
6 And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (Dt. 30:6)
Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, And take away the foreskins of your hearts, (Jer. 4:4)
Circumcision and Baptism – Signs of Repentance and Faith
Many say that baptism is a sign of repentance and faith and therefore should not be given to infants. However, circumcision was also a sign of repentance or change of heart. (Dt. 10:16, 30:6; Jer. 4:4) It was also a sign of faith.
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, (Rom. 4:11)
Therefore, if circumcision, a sign of repentance and faith (regeneration of the heart), was given to the infant child before his faith, why would not baptism (washing of regeneration) also be given to infants of Christians? The repentance and faith regarding circumcision was referring to the faith of the believing parents and then later to the child at conversion or regeneration. The same is true of baptism.
In the New Testament, we see that the children of believers (one or both) are considered “holy” by God.
14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. (1 Cor. 7:14)
Abraham’s seed in the Old Testament were also called a “holy” seed.
2 For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, so that the holy seed is mixed with the peoples of those lands. (Erza 9:2)
a tenth will be in it, And will return and be for consuming,
As a terebinth tree or as an oak, Whose stump remains when it is cut down. So the holy seed shall be its stump.” (Isa. 6:13)
Here we see a direct connection with the Old and New Testament children of the covenant. Both are sanctified by their believing parents. Why then would God give circumcision to the Jewish infant, yet withhold baptism from the Christian infant?
Baptism Has Replaced Circumcision As The Sign of the Covenant
Since the Abrahamic covenant was an everlasting covenant, it is still in effect. Circumcision was the sign of this covenant in the Old Testament. Therefore, what is the New Testament sign of this everlasting covenant? It is evident that baptism has replaced circumcision as the sign of God’s everlasting covenant of the seed of Abraham or Christians of the New Testament. In the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19) we are commanded to baptize, not to circumcise.
When we are baptized spiritually, we are also circumcised spiritually “with the circumcision made without hands.” They mean one and the same thing.
11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 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. (Col. 2:11,12)
Therefore, we are fulfilling the Abrahamic condition of circumcision (Gen. 17:10) by baptizing the infant. Further evidence that baptism has replaced and is superior to circumcision is that in baptism both Gentiles and females can receive the sign of the covenant.
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Gal. 3:28,29)
Circumcision was a mark that symbolized that the Jew was one of God’s people. Baptism also shows this. The sign is given to the infant of believing parents as a seal of the baby’s son-ship to God and of His grace to the child.
Old Testament Household Baptism and Blessings
God has made abundant provision for the salvation of the household on the same basis of faith as he has for the individual. There are many cases in Scripture where the faith of one (the parent) was the basis of God’s blessing on another (the child).
In the Old Testament, the Lord commanded Noah and his household to get into the ark.
7 Then the Lord said to Noah, “Come into the ark, you and all your household, because I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation. (Gen. 7:1)
We see also in Scripture that the ark was a figure of baptism.
when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. 21 There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), (1 Pet 3:20,21)
Noah’s entire household was saved from the flood as a result of the faith of Noah as the parent.
God told Moses and Aaron for the first Passover for God’s people to take a lamb and sacrifice it and place its blood on the doorposts to save those of the household from death by the Lord as He passed over that house.
3 Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying: ‘On the tenth of this month every man shall take for himself a lamb, according to the house of his father, a lamb for a household. (Ex. 12:3)
7 And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it. (Ex. 12:7)
Here, the entire family of the household, infants and those older, received the blessing of the passing over of the Lord on the basis of the faith of the believing parents who had to apply the blood on the door posts.
Joshua believed that the promises of God included all the members of his household. It was by his faith that led his family to serve the Lord.
But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)
New Testament Household Baptisms and Blessings
When God told Cornelius to send for Peter, it was for the purpose that he and his household might be saved
Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, 14 who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved. (Acts 11:14)
Lydia was baptized after believing and then her household was baptized.
14 Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. 15 And when she and her household were baptized, (Acts 16:14,15)
Paul and Silas told the Philippian jailer to believe and that he and his household would be saved.
31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:31)
The Philippian jailer, after believing, was immediately baptized along with all his family or household.
And immediately he and all his family were baptized. (Acts 16:33)
Of all the household baptisms mentioned in the New Testament, it would seem unlikely that not one infant was present. If even one was present, then he or she certainly was baptized as part of the household.
Cases When the Faith of One Was the Basis for the Blessing of Another
Jesus forgave the sins of the one sick of the palsy on the basis of the faith of his friends.
So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.” (Mark 2:4,5)
The servant of the centurion was healed long distance because of the faith of his master.
13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” And his servant was healed that same hour. (Matt. 8:13)
This often involved the faith of the parent with a corresponding blessing to the child. Such was the case when Jesus raised from the dead the daughter of Jairus on the basis of his faith.
22 And behold, one of the rulers of the synagogue came, Jairus by name. And when he saw Him, he fell at His feet 23 and begged Him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live.” 24 So Jesus went with him, and a great multitude followed Him and thronged Him. (Mark 5:22-24)
41 Then He took the child by the hand, and said to her, “Talitha, cumi,” which is translated, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42 Immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age. And they were overcome with great amazement. (Mark 5:41-42)
The nobleman’s son was healed strictly on the basis of the father’s faith.
49 The nobleman said to Him, “Sir, come down before my child dies!” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your son lives.” So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way. 51 And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, “Your son lives!” (John 4:49-51)
52 Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better. And they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” 53 So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives.” And he himself believed, and his whole household. (John 4:52,53)
Therefore, if miracles were performed on a child because of the faith of the parent, doesn’t it seem reasonable that God would bless the faith of Christian parents when they bring their infant children of their household for baptism? This blessing would certainly seem in order and proper as parents brought to Christ their “little children” for Him to hold. Jesus blessed the little ones.
13 Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. 15 Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” 16 And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)
Shouldn’t we also bring our little children to receive the blessing of baptism? On the basis of our faith, would He not likewise bless our infant children in like manner?
Benefits of Infant Baptism
The infant baptism is a dedication or consecration of both the child and the parents.
The benefits of infant baptism are three-fold. First, it instills parental responsibility in the spiritual upbringing of the child. Second, it instills congregational responsibilities in the child’s spiritual development. Third, although baptism does not take away sin or save the child, it imparts a spiritual blessing or benefit. Circumcision of the Old Testament profited the Jewish infant.
3 What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? 2 Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God. (Rom. 3:1,2)
Since circumcision profited the Jewish infant, then baptism most certainly profits the infant born of Christian parents.
Through the study of the covenant of grace, we see how the promises, benefits, and advantages of the Jewish family were to apply also to the Christian family. We also see the harmony that exists between the Old and New Testament. There is one church or family of God. Circumcision and baptism stand for the same spiritual realities but baptism is superior and has replaced circumcision.
We see that on the basis of the faith of the parent, the infant is baptized (thus circumcised) in obedience to the command of God (His everlasting covenant) for all the seed of Abraham which includes Christians. It also shows how God deals with His family in a collective sense. The linkage between circumcision and baptism is clear from Scripture. (Col. 2:11,12)
This special covenant relationship we have with our God should be a great comfort to Christian parents. It demonstrates God’s outpouring of blessing to those of the covenant and gives us greater assurance that God will one day save our children by bringing them to faith. By interpreting Scripture with God’s covenant as our focus, we see how beautifully the Old and New Testaments harmonize and mesh together. This also reveals how the New Testament is biblically consistent with the Old Testament.
Comparison of Circumcision and Baptism
The Signs of the Abrahamic Covenant (Regeneration)
Circumcision, which was performed once, symbolized:
1. the cleansing of sinful flesh. (Isa. 52:1)
2. the death (“putting off” or to “cut off”) of sinful flesh. (Gen. 17:14; Col. 2:11)
3. regeneration or the new birth of the Holy Spirit. (Dt. 30:6; Jer. 4:4; Col. 2:11)
4. the spiritual circumcision (“made without hands”) of regeneration performed by Jesus Christ. (Rom. 2:28,29, 15:8; Col. 2:11)
5. the Old Testament sign of the covenant. (Gen. 17:10)
Baptism, which is performed once, symbolizes:
1. the cleansing or “washing” of sinful flesh. (Acts 22:16; Titus 3:5)
2. the death or destruction of the body of sin. (Rom. 6:3-6)
3. regeneration or new birth of the Holy Spirit. (John 3:5, Titus 3:5)
4. the spiritual baptism of regeneration performed by Jesus Christ. (Matt. 3:11; Titus 3:4-6)
5. the New Testament sign of the covenant. (Matt. 28:19; Gal. 3:26-29)
Concluding Thoughts on the Recipients of Baptism
All Christians agree that when an unbaptized person comes to faith, he then should be baptized. The question is should the infants of Christians be baptized? Although I like to stay away from labels, I feel it is necessary here to describe two views on this subject.
One group of Christians, who believe in dispensational theology, teach that the Bible is divided up into different dispensations or time periods where God deals with man in various ways. They believe that the practices done in the Old Testament do not necessarily have any direct bearing on our worship or practice of faith in the New Testament. Those who hold to dispensational theology feel strongly that infants of believers should not be baptized because infant circumcision was commanded in the Old Testament but there is no such command for infant baptism in the New Testament.
The other group of Christians believe in covenant theology. This teaches that God deals with mankind on the basis of his covenants or promises with special emphasis on the covenant of grace to the seed of Abraham. Since they believe that all believers in both testaments are part of His one family or church (seed of Abraham), those practices in the Old Testament do have a direct bearing and relationship on how we should worship and serve God now. They believe that rather than a clear separation between the Old and New Testaments, both mesh together in Jesus Christ. Since they believe that circumcision and baptism mean the same thing, and that God replaced the command to circumcise with the command to baptize, then in the New Testament we should baptize infants of believers without a command from God not to. (Note: Some Christians who hold to covenant theology do not believe in infant baptism.)
Is either of these viewpoints evil or harmful? Which theology is the Scriptural one? Should we baptize infants of believers or not according to the Bible? First of all, neither of these viewpoints is evil or harmful. They represent the best understanding of Scripture by people who honestly differ in their interpretation of the Bible. Second, they are both scriptural. We know that God made covenants, promises, and agreements with His people. We also see periods where God dealt differently with mankind. Both viewpoints are based on the scriptural beliefs of honest, sincere Christians. Therefore, let us refrain from criticizing one side or the other as unscriptural, evil, or harmful.
This brings us to the main question. Does God want us to baptize infants of Christians or not? The specific answer to that question is not found in the Bible. If it were, there would be no debate here. Scripture does not command it nor does it prohibit it. The dispensationalist says we shouldn’t do something in worship unless it is commanded by God to do it. The covenant theologian says that since God commanded the sign of His everlasting covenant be applied to infants and that the sign of the new covenant is certainly baptism, which stands for the same thing as circumcision did, infants of Christians should be baptized without a command against it.
God could have cleared up this confusion by simply stating that infants of Christians should or should not be baptized. He knew this issue would cause heated debate and great division. Since God chose not to address this matter in Scripture, it must not be an important issue with Him.
Each of us must study these issues in the Holy Scriptures and come up with our own position on how we are to practice baptism. However, let us be respectful to others who may baptize differently than we do. We have seen that all the differing viewpoints discussed in this book have a valid biblical basis.
I hope this book has accomplished my goals as stated in the preface. I have tried to be fair and balanced in my comments and to help bring unity and mutual respect among Christians who read this book. I hope I was able to accomplish these objectives.
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