"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Three signs

Explaning what a "sign of the covenant" is can be difficult and confusing. After a storm in Dallas, I saw a rainbow and began to think about the similarity of the rainbow as a sign along with circumcision and baptism. The similarities may help us understand what a sign is.

The Rainbow: In Genesis 9, God makes a covenant with Noah. God promises never to destroy the earth by water again, and gives Noah a sign. This sign points to God' promises, (Gen 9:14-16) not anything in Noah. The purpose of the sing for Noah is as a reminder of God's promises.

Circumcision: In Genesis 17, after God has promised many things to Abraham. To assure Abraham of His promises, God gives him the sign of circumcision. Paul tells us that circumcision is a "sign of the righteousness that comes by faith" (Rom 4:11). The sign is not of what Abraham does, but of God's righteousness to keep his word and promises to Abraham. Not Abraham's righteousness, for "the Lord is our righeousness" (Jer 23:6). Not Abraham's faith, but the righteousness that comes by means of faith.

Baptism: The image of Baptism is throughout the Bible. God promises many things to His people, including: his ingrafting into Christ (Rom 6:5; Gal 3:27), of regeneration (Tit 3:5), of remission of sins (Mar 1:4), and of his giving up unto God through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life (Rom 6:3, Rom 6:4). Like circumcision, baptism points to the promises of God, a righteousness that comes by faith, it does not point to faith but the righteousness.

What do these three signs together tell us of signs in God's covenant? The Rainbow points to the promises of God. Circumcision points to the promises of God. Baptism points to the promises of God. So the next time we reflect on our baptism, see the baptism of another, or think of what to say to someone about their baptism, let us remember that baptism is not about the person or what they can or did or do, but about God, what He did in Christ for them and does by the Spirit in them and the promises He makes to the believer, promises of His righteousness to be received by faith.


Nicodemus said...

Have you come across "Federal Vision" over there in Texas and it's view of baptism. I came across it at a Conference where Don Carson was one of the speakers here in the UK when he talked about it and I then got a trusted friend to have a look at it for me and produce a post on it for me.It is clearly serious error in my view. What do you think about infant baptism and the parallel to circumcision. I believe in adult baptism it would appear like you?



Jared Nelson said...

I've read a little of Leithart and Doug Wilson. I am planning on posting a review of Leithart's "The Baptized Body" sometime, which lays out the Federal Vision view of Baptism. I think the error of FV is seeing baptism as always effectually doing something objectively good. There's no such thing as a bad baptism, like the Egyptians in the Sea, or the people outside Noah's ark for FV.

I believe the promises of baptism need to be accepted by faith, but there has been no requirement that this baptism be preformed before or after faith, like with Abraham receiving circumcision after faith and Isaac receiving it before faith at the age of 8 days. IOW, I believe in beliver's baptism for the unbaptized and paedobaptism for their children who I believe to be in the covenant community as well (Acts 2:38-39).

Nicodemus said...

Some questions then and please treat them as friendly because that is what I intend.

Is not Abraham the father of us all and not Isaac and Abraham it has been underscored believed God and that was counted to him as righteousness? Can one therefore draw that principle from Isaac?

Circumcision was for men and not women and so how can it fully parallel baptism and if it cannot surely there should be a degree of trepidation about according it such a status before faith?

What is the calling then of those to whom you refer are within the covenant community not yet believers when we are called in Christ not to be anything like a theocracy but to love one another earnestly from the heart?

You will know the verses I am sure in 1 Peter and Romans.

To be fair to you let me tell you where I currently stand. My conviction is believers baptism but I understand something of the arguments of those like you who see it in your perspective, moving more in my view towards although I am sure separate from Catholicism and even Federal Vision.

Hope you find this interesting!


Jared Nelson said...

(some of this is retread of previous posts under "baptism")

The parallel of baptism to circumcision was made by Paul. He refers to baptism as the “circumcision of Christ” (Col 2:11-12). Since the principle for baptism is drawn from circumcision, then we must have a complete notion of circumcision in order to know what baptism means. Circumcision should have been applied to adult males who converted and to male children of the family. Baptism, it is true, is more inclusive, since it includes women. But it is not less inclusive in ending the membership of children in the covenant.

The similarities can be seen in Genesis 17:9-13 where the Covenant included:
Parties: The believer and their child. (Genesis 17:9-12)
Sign: Circumcision (Gen 17:9-13)
Promise: Nation, Land, Salvation.
Stipulations: Faith (Gen 15:6)

Compare that to Acts 2:38-39

And Peter said to them,"Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself."

Parties: Believer and their child. The near (the audience: Jews) and the far (Gentiles) [Acts 2:38-39] [cf. Eph 2:11-22 for near far language use for Gentiles and Jews]
Promise: The Gift of the Holy Spirit (salvation)
Stipulations: Faith/Repentence
Sign: Baptism (the replacement for circumcision Col 2:11-12)

You are right to notice that such a view sees the covenant community as broader than just those who have observable faith. Therefore, just as in the old covenant there was a mixed community of faithful and not, so in the new covenant community.

We see this illustrated in two teachings of Christ. Christ tells of a field planted with seed, and good seed growing up next to weeds (wheat next to tares). Within the field (not the world, but the kingdom of God - Matt 13:24) there is both good and bad unseparated until harvest. Again we see this in Christ’s teaching that the kingdom of God is a net which has within it, both good and bad fish. (Matt 13:47).

The error of the Pharisees was believing that being circumcised in the flesh (sons of Abraham in the flesh) made them spiritual sons of Abraham. Such was not the case, and one must be circumcised in the heart (Deut 30:6) to be a true son of Abraham. As Paul says "All Israel is not Israel." Not all circumcised are "of the circumcision." Though Israel misunderstood this, God throughout the Hebrew Scriptures never revokes or repents of his decree that the covenant was open to the children of believers (Gen 17:9-13) and neither is it changed in the New (Acts 2:38-39, 1 Cor 7:13-14). Similarly, not all baptized are baptized. The mixed community is the reality of the covenant community containing both believers and their children. In the Old Testament, the true elect were elect by grace alone though faith alone, even if they had the sign of faith: circumcision. In the New Testament, we are reminded that the true elect are elect by grace alone though faith alone, even if we have the sign of faith: baptism.

So what is the advantage of the covenant member that has no faith?

The same problem existed in the Old Covenant, something Paul talked about (because it remains true in the new covenant) in Romans 3:1-4:

“what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar”

The sign of the covenant represents the faithfulness of God to his promises, and that He is true to honor them if grasped by faith. There is benefit to the covneant member having the promises of God extended to them, and if they reject them, the person is shown to be unfaithful, not God. The sign teaches the community of God's grace and God's faithfulness to the covenant, a God who is faithful to extend His promise in a real way to his covenant community, even when only a remnant remain faithful to him. (Isaiah 10:22-23)

Does that help?