Monday 24 February 2014

Concluding comments on a covenantal view of baptism

Christian baptism is in urgent need of being re-visited by the evangelical church. The biblical teaching of the sacraments is that they are “signs and seals” of God’s covenant grace (Rom. 4:11). The forerunner of baptism in the OT was circumcision which God instituted in Genesis Chapter 17. God commanded Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you ... and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you” (Gen. 17:9–11). We have noted the clear connection that existed between covenant and circumcision.

There is a connection between God’s covenant and God’s signs of the covenant, which in the NT are baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The shadow of baptism in the OT was circumcision: whereas circumcision involved the shedding of blood and therefore it pointed forwards to the future shed blood of Christ, baptism points backwards to the shed blood of Christ and Christ’s completed atonement. Baptism in the new covenant is to be administered using water and the new covenant name of God, “the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit”; and it is to be applied to adults and the children of believing parents.

As with the sign of the covenant – circumcision in the OT – in the NT this sign is to be applied not only to believers, but also to the children of believing parents. The exclusion of children in baptism by evangelicals is a mistake. A sincere question has been considered. In which direction does the sign of baptism point? Baptists would argue that it points to our faith in Jesus and our obedience to him. However, the signs of the covenant do not point to man but instead to God.

Baptism is not connected to the timing of its ordinance for its efficacy. The same is true of the Lord’s Supper. The waters of baptism speak of the shed blood of Christ and the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit – Titus 3:5–6 says: “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

Baptism must always declare the “priority of grace over faith”. We are not saved by faith. We are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8–9). It is important that we recover the biblical doctrine of baptism to ensure that God is most glorified; to strengthen the view that evangelism must be God-centred; with Christ declared in the gospel, freely offered for the salvation of sinners. This is something which is by God’s grace alone. A covenantal approach to baptism best represents this vision so that the church’s evangelism is in harmony with biblical theology.

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