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Gospel-Driven Anglicanism

Baptism Part 2

By The Revd Dr Mark Pickles

Circumcision is a sign of the covenant that God made with Abraham (Genesis 17) and that at the heart of the covenant is the promise of God to Abraham and his offspring that he will be their God, they will be his people.  In the case of Abraham who comes to faith from a pagan background he then receives the covenant sign of circumcision.  So in Abraham, we see the same pattern that we noted the New Testament profession of faith followed by receiving the covenant sign.  

However, what is fascinating is to see what happens to his son Isaac:

“This is my covenant which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you:  Every male among you shall be circumcised.  You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.  He  who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised”. (Genesis 17:10-12)

What is clear is that the sons of adult believers  were also to receive the covenant sign at eight days old, clearly well before it was possible for them to profess the faith themselves.  God was saying to Abraham that as the child of a believer, his son was to be included within the covenant and to receive the covenant sign.  

At this point it is clear that God explicitly commands that a sign of faith be administered to a person who does not possess or cannot yet articulate that which the sign signifies.  It is not to be given to everyone, only to the children of believers but it is to be given before they had personally came to faith.

Now when we come to the New Testament, again from an understanding of covenantal theology, we see that baptism replaces circumcision as the outward sign of an inward invisible grace, it is a covenantal sign and we see the same pattern as regards adult believers.  Those who come to faith after hearing the gospel are quite clearly instructed to be baptised, as we have seen people like the Ethiopian eunuch, or later in Acts Cornelius, Lydia, and the Philippian jailer.

However, the million-dollar question is:  “but what of their children”?

Does a child of a believer receive the sign of the Covenant in the New Testament as it does in the Old Testament?

There is clearly one difference at least.  In the Old Testament the covenant sign was given only to males, to men and boys but in the New Testament it is given to women as well.

Paul in Galatians 3:27-28 writes that “as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ.  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”.  The implication being that all the aforementioned had been baptised thus making clear their unity in Christ.  In Acts 16 we read of the baptism of Lydia.

It is interesting to note that in this regard at least the New Covenant is more expansive not less, the New Covenant in this regard is more inclusive than the Old Covenant.  

What would appear strange, to say the least, is the idea that after 2,000 years of children being included in the covenant, that that would suddenly change and that from the Day of Pentecost onwards, children would excluded, immediately and without a single word.

In fact, not just strange, inconceivable.

We understand how revolutionary it was for Peter to grasp that the food laws had changed.  In Acts 10 and 11, Luke records the story for us, in effect repeating the story three times to emphasise the truth of this dramatic change.  Mark also draws our attention to it, in Mark 7:19.  It is extraordinary to believe that a change as huge as this, as regards the covenant would take place without any express command.  It is unbelievable to imagine being a believer whose children were in the covenant one day and then not in it the next, without a word of explanation anywhere in Scripture.

Modern evangelicals tend not to be so covenantal in our thinking and so we perhaps do not immediately think like this but it would be extraordinary and the idea that it changed without a whisper in the New Testament is implausible and inconceivable.

“Isn’t it strange that this departure and deviation from the purity of the apostolic church took place to the extent that it captured the whole of Christendom and not one single word of protest survives from that period?  Now that’s an argument from silence.  But it’s a very screaming silence”.  RC Sproul, Case for Infant Baptism, the Historic Paedobaptist Position

Excerpted from Gospel-Driven Anglicanism, by The Revd Dr Mark Pickles, pages 39-41