What the First Sign of the New Covenant Teaches About the Church

Good Morning,

We can sometimes find ourselves with strange bedfellows when we consider what we do in the sacraments and what others do not. With the doctrine of Baptism, the first of the two of the New Testament’s signs and seals, as Presbyterians, Associate and otherwise, we have more in common with Roman Catholics than we do with Baptists on the question. That may be quite a provocative statement, but it is true. That reality is not just founded on the time and mode, but it is also based on what we understand Baptism to witness to and represent. To be sure, there are a load of things regarding the process and the outward form that we sharply disagree with and would condemn in wailing and gnashing in the RC way particularly. However, we need to testify to the truth that traditionally Presbyterians have accepted Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, and Anglican infant baptisms as lawful due to the fact that we understand that the visible stuff which may gross us out does not cancel the inward promise offered by Christ Himself in the waters. This does not matter if the water is sprinkled or poured on the subject, whether he or she be six months or sixty years of age, for the yeah and amen is of the Triune God, not us. We have no right to sit in judgment over what God has accomplished.

Us paedobaptists need to stick together in a world of credobaptists, even if the latter would not accept our baptism as valid, requiring immersion, whereas we would gladly receive theirs into our communion. We’ll hit on why that matters in a moment. For instance, we do not have godparents, nor do we require anything outside of the water, lawfully-called minister, one or more believing parents, and the Trinitarian, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for a biblical baptism to take place. In today’s catechism lesson we will begin to investigate not just the mechanics of how we go about applying admittance into the visible church, but why God has given Baptism for this purpose.

Here are today’s Q/A:    

Q. 165. What is Baptism?

A. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein Christ hath ordained the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, to be a sign and seal of ingrafting into himself, of remission of sins by his blood, and regeneration by his Spirt; of adoption, and resurrection unto everlasting life; and whereby the parties baptized are solemnly admitted into the visible church, and enter into an open and professed engagement to be wholly and only the Lord’s.

Q. 166. Unto whom is baptism to be administered?

A. Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church and so strangers from the covenant of promise, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to Him, but infants descending from parents, either both, or but one of them, professing faith in Christ, and obedience to him, are in that respect within the covenant, and to be baptized.

In the first question we receive the clear definitions of what ARP’s believe. It is a sacrament, that is set aside and given power by God alone. It is of the New Testament, that is for the Church come to age in the days after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. Like the Lord’s Supper we are to see that Baptism also witnesses to the gospel and faith through the shed blood of our Savior at the cross, and that good news given and granted by God above. On Tuesday I wrote about the importance of remembrance in the life of the believer. Here we see the corresponding glory of the old covenant sign of circumcision as it remains in the new covenant sign of baptism and why we are to comprehend their similar purpose. In the shedding of the blood of the foreskin there was a permanent outward sign of belonging to God. The same is true of the pouring of water upon the head in baptism. It is not a bare sign, but a seal of that promise founded upon the grace of Christ Jesus. Everything that happens in the life of the Christian is a response to what God has done in His Son, not a response to what we have done.

A biblical reference here is important. In John 1:12-13 as he introduces the virgin born Son of God the apostle writes, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:  who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” That last clause makes all the difference in what we believe about what Baptism does for the believer, and their children by covenant (Acts 2:39). Even when we lay water on the head of an adult convert it is not because they made a decision for the Lord, it is because God has made a decision for them. In other words by grace through faith alone are men saved, not of works that any man may boast, even in his baptism. The sign of the sacrament is a fruit of the Holy Spirit born redemption. Hence what you read in the second of our two Larger Catechism questions for today, that “. . . Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church and so strangers from the covenant of promise.” So neither do unbelievers have a right to it, nor those who are not covenantally holy in Christ. (1 Cor. 7:14). It is a requirement that the visible church be the place and home of the newfound member.

You cannot baptize someone into nothing.

In closing, we are going to speak more next week on how our baptism continues to bless us as we grow in sanctification via our spiritual union with Christ in the waters of the seal. Before we go, I want to return to something mentioned at the very beginning, and that is the question of godparents. I’ve heard of some in our circles using that term, and while they may not mean anything bad by it, it is harmful to one other aspect of Baptism, and that is membership in the local church. When we baptize an adult or a child we promise as a congregation to oversee and help the person or infant’s being raised up into the maturity of faith. Understanding that this is a community work, and not given over to a set of people, is important remembering what a true blessing it is to a member of a local church which loves Jesus and loves Him well in His signs.

One more word:

Blessings in Christ,

Rev. Benjamin Glaser

Pastor, Bethany ARP Church

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