2008-11-23 (pm) LD 27 Colossians 2.11-13 Should Infants Be Baptised?
For further reading on the subject of tonight’s sermon, check out the Calvin Seminary Forum. I’ve posted a pdf copy on the church’s website.
As you know, I’m a friend of Pastor Terry over at the Baptist church. I’m also a member of the Edson ministerial. I get together with Pastors John, Larry, Terry, Raul, Steve and George for prayer every Wednesday. We don’t often talk about doctrine. Most of our discussion centres around how our congregations are doing, how we’re doing as pastors and how we can pray for one another, and each other’s churches. When we do talk doctrine, it’s usually in a joking way, often poking fun at our differences. Mostly though, we’re fiercely committed to encouraging one another to be true to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Now, to be honest, I can say that the other churches’ practises doesn’t really fit with their theology, at least when it comes to baptism.
I’ve put in a lot of thought into this. I’ve had conversations with Pastor Terry about baptism. I’ve listened to John Piper’s sermons. And in all of these things I find one glaring error.
Pastor Terry, Pastor John Piper and others talk about the sovereignty of God, and in just about everything, hold onto a Reformed understanding of Scripture, except where baptism is concerned.
But in affirming the Sovereignty of God, they don’t quite go far enough. They will readily state that it is God who calls, God who moves first in someone’s heart, and then we respond. But they insist that baptism can only happen after a person responds to God. But that’s not our understanding of baptism.
Nothing describes this better than the covenants God made with His people.
Now, before we begin to look at the concept of covenant, and some specific examples of God’s instigation in people’s lives, lets take a quick look at Colossians 2:11-13. I want to use this to set up the rest of the sermon.
Paul very clearly teaches that the covenant symbol of circumcision is equal to and has been replaced by baptism. First, circumcision was a sign of the covenant God made with Abraham. Forgiveness of sins, atonement of sins is by blood, the blood shed through the removal of the foreskin, reflects the blood, shed in sacrifices and Christ’s shed blood.
But since Christ’s shed blood was once and for all, a bloody sacrifice isn’t required anymore.
Second, there was more going on in circumcision than simply the shedding of blood. There was the removal of a part of the body of flesh. The NIV translates the Greek in verse 11 as sinful nature. This is somewhat unhelpful. The Greek words mean body of flesh. So, just as you had a removal of an actual chunk of flesh from the body in circumcision, in baptism, the entire fleshly body is removed. It is not just one part, and it is not just for males. It is the whole body and it is for everyone.
So in this passage there is a clear continuity between circumcision and baptism, there’s a logical connection. Though the mode of the sign of the covenant has changed, the power of the sign of the covenant remains.
So, let’s examine this covenant idea a bit more.
The first sign of the covenant God makes is with Noah. It is the rainbow. With this sign, he promised to remember his covenant with Noah saying “never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
This actually is even more obviously connected to baptism, and if you recall, the form of baptism includes in one of the prayers the line, “spare us as you spared believing Noah and his family.” In the covenant God made with Noah, God approached Noah first. Noah right away obeyed, built this huge boat, preached repentance, and yet only he and his family survived the baptism.
Then, God called Abram out of Ur.
In Genesis chapter 15, we read that God promised Abram the Promised Land through a son, born of him and Sarai. Abram asked, how can I know this will happen? God instructed him to bring a heifer, a goat and a ram as well as a young dove and a pigeon. Abram cut them in half (except the pigeon and dove) and arranged the halves opposite each other.
This was normal practise when two parties formed a covenant. Then, after the animal carcasses were arranged, both parties would walk between the carcasses, sealing the deal.
The understanding was this. If either party reneged on the deal, or broke covenant, then they were saying, let me be like the animals, dead, and broken apart. It may have even given the other party permission to do so.
These types of covenants were usually made between a more powerful, more rich person and a poor person. So the poor person might give a portion of his harvest, and the rich person might provide protection from thieves.
In the case of God’s covenant with Abram, God caused Abram to go to sleep. And God alone walked between the carcasses. This was a covenant established by God as an everlasting covenant. And yet, who is on the hook if Abram or one of his descendants breaks covenant? God is! And God demonstrated it because Abram at times, and most certainly his descendants, both physical and spiritual have broken covenant with God.
But Christ willingly became like one of the animals, in order to redeem or keep covenant, the covenant with Abram.
So, not only is the covenant established by God, it is fulfilled by God through His Son, Jesus Christ.
Now, God renewed his covenant with Abram and in that renewal we get a bit more information.
In Genesis 17, God renewed his covenant with Abram. At that time God gave Abram a new name, calling him Abraham. Abram means exalted father, Abraham means father of many. This is quite a strange name change considering that Abraham’s wife Sarai was barren and beyond childbearing age.
Yet that was the promise, even down to his name, that God was giving to Abraham.
Then, God explains Abraham’s new name. I’m going to make you the father of many. Your descendants will become a great nation.
Then God instituted the sign, the reminder of the covenant. Abraham is to circumcise himself, all his men with him and every child is to be circumcised on the eighth day.
Now, in light of this teaching, when Paul compares, even replaces circumcision with baptism, what would Jewish and God-fearing Gentiles have put into practise? What makes the most sense? They would have instituted baptism in place of circumcision. It makes much more sense that infant baptism was practised immediately in the early church.
But what about objections?
There’s no clear teaching or commandment in the New Testament concerning infant baptism. But if those who were there were already used to the custom of infant circumcision, then they wouldn’t have thought it necessary to expressly teach it.
There are some who say, “well Jesus was baptised as an adult, isn’t that prescriptive?” To which, Pastor VanDyk says, “Jesus was also circumcised on the eighth day, but no one suggests that we have to follow that example anymore.
Then there are those who say, the Bible says, repent, believe and be baptised. They see this as a prescriptive order. Baptism happens only after repentance and belief.
But we hold onto God’s promise first and foremost.
It comes out of the understanding that we’re dead in our trespasses.
Perhaps you’ll remember me using Pastor Lew Vandermeer’s illustration of holding out and calling your dog spot to come get his treat. Only there’s one problem. Spot’s dead, and therefore he can’t respond. No matter what, he aint going for that treat, no matter how yummy it might be.
So it is with those who are dead in their trespasses, dead in their sins. Unless God moves first in our lives, we will never respond to God.
So, what we do in baptism then, in baptising our infants is declaring God’s good promises not only for us, but for our children as well.
This is amazing! Just as God powerfully demonstrated that He’s the one who keeps covenant when we fail, He also demonstrates first through circumcision and then also through baptism that his promises are available to everyone, even those who lack the physical, mental and spiritual ability to respond!
And that is very good news!
This changes how we raise our children. We raise them as children of the promise.
Children, do you know that you’ve been baptised?
Do you know what it means that God’s promises are for you?
It means that God knows you, he loves you and he wants you to grow up in a close relationship with Him. He’s already done everything to make it happen. He put you into your families on purpose so that you’d grow up in a Christian home, so that you’d grow up in a way in which to know him. What an amazing privilege you have! You can know God!
Now, like anything worth having in life, you have to put effort into it. I was joking with Brent and Leanne that you get what you put into life. But in this case, we get what God has already given to us in Christ. We already have everything.
The responsibility we have is to not take advantage of God’s gift.
There’s a saying from the puritans that goes like this, “Believe that everything depends upon God, but live as if everything depends on you.”
As we raise our children, the children of the church, we need to instil in them a sense that they belong to God no matter what. God declared them as his own in the sacrament of baptism.
But we need to teach them to live as though their eternal destination depends upon their performance.
We need to remind ourselves of this idea. This idea has much support from the apostle Paul, who tells us to run the race so as to win the prize.
This will help us deal with complacency.
In this, I think we can keep a healthy balance between the amazing grace of Christ, and the life lived in gratitude according to God’s will. Amen.