Friday, June 13, 2008

Baptism and the Covenant

I wanted to blog about this post by Mark Horne over at Biblical Horizons. I know it is a post from long ago, but it was interesting and I thought deserving of a response no matter how late.

The question he is dealing with is whether or not baptism admits one into the covenant or confirms that one is already there. He does some quoting from the Westminster Shorter Catechism and makes his argument that baptism admits one into the covenant. With this I disagree. I shall not deal with Westminster quotes or argumentation because I do not hold to the Westminster and thus shall just let someone else argue about it. However, I should point out that this might be a difference between the Westminster and the Heidelberg Catechism. The HC specifically states about infant baptism, "Yes [infants are to be baptized], for since they, as well as their parents belong to the covenant and people of God," (Q.74). Thus, the reason given for infant baptism by the Heidelberg is that the infants already belong to the covenant of God. It should also be noted that the Heidelberg is explicit that sacraments are for assurance and confirmation not for conveying (see Q.65 and 67). The Westminster is less clear.

Rev. Horne does nice work in examining OT passages regarding the Passover, special feasts and circumcision. He has some ideas about why women were unclean after birth and whether or not that makes babies unclean and why that puts circumcision on the 8th day. I do believe he drifts into some speculation such as making the argument that children in utero were partaking of the Passover. He even goes so far as to make this an argument for paedocommunion. This makes the sacrament more about the act of eating than anything else. I find little support for the idea that babies getting nourishment through an umbilical cord is seen biblically as participating in the feasts of the OT. But I digress. Rev. Horne does deal with many Psalms that indicate a special saving relationship between God and the unborn (8.2; 22.9-10; 71.5-6, 17). He also mentions else where Samson and one could add John the Baptist as well. His answer is that is because the child is "in" the mother or "covered by the mother". He gives his defense from the ceremonial law. It makes for interesting reading.

But, I disagree because of a verse that Rev. Horne did not discuss. Genesis 17:7 speaks of the covenant and who it is with. Note the language. "And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee." Here we see the covenant is with God and Abraham, but also with his seed. At this time of course Abraham has no seed, but the covenant is still with them. They are not yet in their mother so the idea of the mother covering them cannot be used in this example. They are already parties to the covenant. The seed of Abraham are already made parties to the covenant here in Genesis 17. Rev. Horne does deal with Genesis 17:14 where the uncircumcised male child shall be cut off for breaking the covenant. Rev. Horne believes this only applies to the adult, but admits that language like this is used and the line is hazy. However, I think that Genesis 17 fits nicely with the Psalms mentioned above by us both that God is in covenant relationship with them already, prior to baptism.

It should also be noted that both the Belgic and the Heidelberg list as reasons for baptism of infants the fact that the promise of salvation is to them. Of course the Matthew passage of let the little children come to me is listed (19:14). And the Belgic makes reference to Leviticus 12:6-8 where the command is given to sacrifice for a child born either male or female. Females of course did not have circumcision, but they had the promise of redemption as seen in the sacrifice, thus they should be baptized. And the fact that the promise of redemption was for these children, it implies that they are a part of the covenant by birth. Rev. Horne fails to deal with this difficulty as well. If circumcision admitted one into the covenant rather than serving as a sign of it or confirmation of it, were women in the covenant? If so, how did they get in? Their birth alone cannot be the reason or all of the argumentation is undone. It would be helpful for Rev. Horne to address this problem in his argument.

The article is interesting and his admonition to deal with the book of Leviticus and OT typology is well taken. This book cannot be ignored. However, in the end, I find his argument wanting, and I must take the opposite position. I believe, along with the Three Forms of Unity, that baptism does not admit one into the covenant, but rather confirms one as already in it.