Baptism Correspondence

Posted: July 23, 2009 by Rick Hogaboam in Baptism

Based on an earlier post:

Joel and I have corresponded and I thought that posting my response in a blog post would interest some readers. Here it is:

joelmartin said

July 23, 2009 at 7:14 am e

I actually embrace infant baptism based on the authority of the Church and the idea that she can decide things for me that I don’t have to decide.

I’m curious as to what you make of circumcision, its function and what it accomplished? IOW, did one have to profess faith to join the OT church? Did their infants?

You might like this:

Rick Hogaboam said

July 23, 2009 at 12:00 pm e

I can actually respect deference to the Church on the issue of baptism. As a pastor, however, one needs to actually represent the Church and do so in hopefully good conscious…therein my responsibility in studying this issue while preparing for pastoral ministry.

As for circumcision, I think that John Reisinger’s book “Abraham’s Four Seeds” sums up fairly well what I believe about circumcision…essentially that it had a multifaceted function under the Old Covenant:

– it represented God’s promises to an ethnic people (natural seed) and was thus annulled in Christ, who is the true circumcision.
– it represented the internal covenant of grace in pointing to Abraham’s faith, which was a necessary requisite for inclusion in the “Israel within an Israel”. God also commanded His people to circumcise their hearts, showing that the external sign really pointed to the need for faith.
– there are some more nuances to what I have explained, but time permits me to condense it all.

Jesus, as the true circumcision, HAD to be a Jew, from the lineage of Abraham…thus fulfilling the ethnic (promise to Abraham’s physical seed) aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant. He is also the truly righteous one, whose heart was perfect in every way, whose faith surpassed that of Abraham, etc., thus truly being what circumcision pointed too: faith.

John the Baptist, who was a forerunner to Christ, and the last prophet of the OT, was purposed by God to do two things: call for repentance and baptize. God was signaling that His people would soon be regarded by faith and no longer by ethnic descent from Abraham. Repentance was a necessary, and had always been a necessary requisite to become part of the “true Israel”. A new sign was introduced, baptism. This new sign would now mark God’s “true Israel”, the Israel of faith.

As such, God constitutes His people today based on faith alone. He is no longer fulfilling promises to a particular ethnic people. Repentance and Baptism was necessary under John and so also under Peter on Pentecost. I would go on more on this point, but will stop for now.

As for children and whether profession of faith was necessary to become part of the “OT church”, well, if you mean by “OT church” the Israel within Israel of faith and heart circumcision, then one truly had to bear such fruit. Ultimately, my soteriology would point to God as the one doing the heart circumcision, but this would inevitable lead to faith. In fact, John the Baptist was urging the people to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Children in the OT could be circumsized, taught everything, etc. but show a hardness towards God and bear no fruit in their lives, thus evidencing that they really don’t belong to God and never did in an internal fashion as part of his eternally elected Church.

There was no confirmation or public profession of faith per se to examine whether one had truly repented…not until John the Baptist, which is significant to understanding the transition of the Covenant in God’s redemptive purposes. I don’t believe that infants were baptized under John’s ministry, nor do I think infants were baptized on Pentecost, nor the household baptisms recorded in Acts. As such, holding loosely to the regulative principle, I only do what is clearly commanded or inferred. In my case, I need more clear proof for the practice of infant baptism as well as a theology of it that I don’t see articulated in the NT.

For others, an assumption is made that God has constituted His people in much the same way from Abraham to us…if children were included then, then why not now? For them, the burden would be to show where children are excluded in the NT Church and they don’t see convincing proof.

I agree with both camps to a degree. What we are left with is “good and necessary inferences” (quoting John Murray). He lands on one side, while I land on the other. I have told people that my ‘credo-Baptist’ position is less like a slam-dunk and more like a 60-40 victory in a presidential election. The other side got many votes, but there is one president who must rule. Therefore I minister within a ‘credo’ paradigm, but am gracious to the opposing views.

When more time permits, I will explain how I do argue that Children are conditionally placed in the NT Church. You might say that it was the same in the OT, but there are some differences. The children in the OT were guaranteed, irregardless of their faith, that God would bless the whole world through Abraham’s seed. Circumcision was also one’s birth certificate in Israel, a particular land with particular laws. As for truly belonging to God’s true Israel, then circumcision was indeed a sign for the need of heart circumcision. Circumcision therefore bound children to their responsibilities as a child of Israel and conditionally placed them within the true Israel, should they have faith. The children in the NT are bound to the Decalogue (Eph. 6), not only in that it speaks clearly of the promise of eternal life (”that it might go well with you and you may live long in the land” (earth)). These promises are spoken preveniently to our children from the womb. Should they evidence fruit of repentance and signs of faith, then they should be admitted to the waters of baptism and full inclusion and assurance within God’s eternal Israel. They would then be admonished to bear fruit in keeping with their repentance as a necessary litmus test to show that they truly are the Israel of faith.

Therefore baptism corresponds to heart circumcision, doesn’t point to the need for it in the person baptized. It presumes it and must be evidenced before the administration of the new sign of baptism. While physical circumcision pointed to the need for faith and heart circumcision, baptism corresponds to it having already occurred. Of course baptism binds us and calls us to persevering faith, it never represents what potentially might or should happen. Since I am a sacramentalist in the Reformed sense, I think I preserve the efficacy of baptism as being tied to faith in the subject concerned. Therefore I have no problems with Peter who says that “Baptism now saves you”, only so far as it rightly represents the “cry of the heart for a pure conscience” in the one being baptized. I think I am a greater sacramentalist than my Reformed friends who qualify infant baptism by stating that nothing is effected by it “ex opreato” because the infant obviously hasn’t evidenced faith. At least Rome and Lutherans preserved something of fidelity to the fact that God actually does something in baptism. I am not arguing for their inclusion of infants, but only applauding their consistency in stating that the child being baptized is actually receiving something. I don’t believe that, but note their consistency.

I actually believe more is effected in baptism than my Presby/Reformed colleagues. That is what makes me an oddball. I don’t fit in the baptist church for obvious reasons and don’t fit in the Presby/Reformed church, etc. Some people say I am confused…but I am just trying to understand Scripture and that is where I am at for now. As for other issues like ecclesiology, charismatic gifts, etc. I don’t fit in any one movement. It is what it is.

Thanks for that reference you sent my way. BTW, I probably agree with most of the criticisms of American Baptist ethos. I also am critical of Baptist political engagement, worldview, asceticism, piety, etc in many ways. I also learn much from my Baptist friends, but I sometimes feel like we are on two different planets.

Well, better stop now before this turns into a book. Hey, maybe we can write a dialogue book…or not. I am curious, if you were to asses your conclusions on baptism based on a popular election, how much did ‘pedo-baptism’ win by? Also, what do you do with the highly inconsistent theology regarding pedo-baptism in the history of the Church? When you say that you let the Church make that decision…what is the theology of pedo-baptism that you currently hold to?

  1. Hampers says:

    Nice blog on Baptism Correspondence. It was nice going through the blog. Keep it up the good work.

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