Monthly Archives: September 2014

You should consider becoming a Presbyterian, part 6

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.

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TGC Hawaii Overflow Conference, October 17-18

Guest speakers: John Piper, D.A. Carson, and Michael Oh

Just about one month away! Special price this week (Sep 14-21)- $10 off. Registration includes two day conference, and three meals.

Seats are filling up fast. Spread the word.

Register here

You should consider becoming a Presbyterian, part 5

The meaning of the sacraments

I am indebted to the Reformed tradition for my understanding of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Growing up, I only thought about those two ordinances as symbols of your devotion to God. They were both about you saying something to God. I still think that is a part of it, but I also now believe:

  • They are about God saying something to us. They are both New Covenant signs, in which God promises things like forgiveness of sins, a heart that wants to follow God, power to live a renewed life, unity within the Church, and life forever in God’s Kingdom (Jer 31, Ezek 36, Matt 28). Taking those signs are acceptances of all those promises. To state the obvious, if you take these New Covenant signs, they assure you that you are no longer under the Old Covenant!
  • Tied to that, they are more about God’s faithfulness than ours. It is so easy to think that a person must be “ready” before they are baptized or can come to the Table. We do have to think about who the proper recipients are of these sacraments, but I now have a much more “come as you are” mentality. Every Lord’s Supper, there is usually one or two people that I find out withheld the elements from themselves, that I do not think should have!
  • They are actual means of grace. You grow spiritually through these sacraments. It matters whether you actually partake of these signs or not, for your spiritual good (1 Cor 11, 1 Peter 3).

There are probably more, but much of these things I have learned from Presbyterians and those who would claim to descend theologically from the Reformers. It is largely because of these ideas that Presbyterians would see it fitting to baptize their infants, since it is more about God’s faithfulness than the recipient’s. Martin Luther made strong arguments for God’s grace in saving infants being not that different from His grace in saving any dead sinner– both require God to do 100% of the work.

However, in the end, it makes more sense to see these as covenantal signs for believers only. On the Lord’s Supper, we almost all certainly agree. But on baptism, it is a promise from God to forgive you of all your sins. That is why Jesus commands every disciple to be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit as soon as the New Covenant age is official (Matthew 28). A promise from God is no promise if it is not a guarantee.

Our friends would probably object: “yes, but in the OT, many were circumcised who did not necessarily receive what was promised. A whole generation of circumcised Israelites did not receive the Promised Land. Yet, God is still faithful. That does not condemn God. Just because we might mess it up is no reason to not do what we are commanded to do, namely, give the covenant sign to our children.”

This probably deserves its own post before moving on to problem passages.