The meaning of the Sacraments, part 2
In the last post I argued that only believers should receive baptism because in baptism, God promises forgiveness of sins. But Presbyterians would respond by saying that in circumcision, God promised the land of Canaan, and not all recipients of circumcision received what was promised. Israelites messed up, not God; yet Israelite infants still receive the covenant sign. So we should still give the covenant sign to infants today, even if we could end up messing up, and not receiving what was promised. It does not change who should receive the covenant signs.
Let me begin by saying this is a strong argument. There is undoubtedly a parallel between circumcision and baptism. Both are signs that you have entered into a covenant with God. Both are more about what God promises than what mankind is committing to. But here are three reasons I reject that reasoning:
1. The connection between covenant entrance and covenant renewal (Exodus 12.48)- Only males who were circumcised, and presumably their families, could partake of the Passover. But that meant that everyone who was circumcised should take the Passover. There is a parallel connection between baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Only those baptized should partake, but all who are baptized should partake (assuming they are in good fellowship). Most (?) Presbyterians would not allow their children to partake of the Lord’s Supper until they are sure their children have been converted. In that way, they are Baptistic. However, I see no reason why they should withhold the Lord’s Supper from the very people they baptize, namely their children. Sure, perhaps we wait till their kids can eat solid food and drink juice (or wine!). But as soon as they can, there is no reason to withhold! They would argue that the NT makes it clear that the Lord’s Supper is only for born again believers. But at that point, they sound like they make the same arguments Baptists make about baptism.
2. What is actually promised to New Covenant members (Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36, Matthew 26)- What is new about the New Covenant is that every covenant member receives forgiveness of sins, has the Law written on their hearts in a new way, and receives the Spirit. What is perhaps the most obvious aspect about the death of Christ, but often overlooked, may also be the most obvious argument for a particular atonement. The cup in the Lord’s Supper is the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood! He purchased forgiveness of sins, a new heart, and an indwelling of the Spirit for everyone in the New Covenant, didn’t He? He purchased it for them, and only for them. I respect paedobaptists more who would say “this baptism GUARANTEES forgiveness of sins for my child,” but all of us I am certain want to stay away from that for obvious reasons. But once you move away from that, you move away from a definite atonement. (I pray this does not cause any Presbyterian to become a 4-pt Calvinist instead, seriously)
3. Even understanding circumcision in its own context (Genesis 17)- the way circumcision was given indicates God intended for the covenant community to be of a different nature from the New Covenant community. The circumcision community was intended to be a mixed community. It is not merely that the Israelites messed it up, and that is why they did not receive what was promised. God simply intended that not every circumcised person receive what was promised. He commanded “every male among you” to be circumcised. But that was after He already told Abraham that Isaac was the promised seed, not Ishmael. Yet “every male”, including Ishmael, must be circumcised. Esau was circumcised as well. Plus, “every male among you” implies it is every male in your family. There was an ethnic connection to circumcision that is not there in the New Covenant. If you were an Israelite, but were not circumcised, you would be cut off from the people. But you would still be an Israelite in the flesh. If you are not baptized, you will be cut off from the Christian Church. But that calls into question whether you are a Christian at all. God simply intends for the Old Covenant community to be mixed, and the New Covenant community to be only born again, forgiven believers.