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Reformed Doctrine
JGR Kroeze - published in Una Sancta Volume 53, Number 8, 11 March 2006

1) There are various positions on the baptism of infants.

Firstly there is the Roman Catholic position that argues that a child of believers must be baptised. If it is not baptised, it is not saved if it dies. They attribute salvific power to baptism. The water is holy water and effects salvation. Their concept of baptism is at basis magical, and does not bear much relation to faith, but to membership in the church.

The Baptists do not agree. They argue that only believers should be baptised and for this they appeal to the command of Christ where baptism is always presented as subsequent to faith. Their concept of baptism is that it is a testimony to the fact that one has been regenerated. It is only an outward symbol.

The Reformed agree with the Roman Catholic Church that a child of believers must be baptised, but they deny that a child is saved by virtue of baptism. They attribute no salvific power to baptism. It is simply a sign and seal of the covenant that God has made with the believer and his children and, therefore, must be administered to the children. It symbolises and confirms to them the promises of God's covenant and requires the child to appropriate these promises in faith. (cf. Romans 4:11 All Abraham's descendants received circumcision as a call to the same faith as Abraham had, of which circumcision was the seal.)

They believe that a child of believers, which dies in infancy is saved, but they attribute that to the blood of Christ by which the new covenant was sealed to them and not to baptism, which is only a symbol and guarantee of that. They also agree with the Roman Catholics that baptism is a sign of membership in the church of God, but not that it is that membership.

They agree with the Baptist that those who are capable of faith, and so responsible before God for faith, cannot be saved unless they believe.

Baptists generally do believe that children of believers who die in infancy (and the mentally deficient) are saved, but they are unable to defend this theologically, because to be saved one needs to be included in Christ since there is no salvation outside of Christ. If the only Scriptural manner of inclusion in Christ and in the kingdom of God is through faith, then no infant can be saved. The Baptist also has no adequate explanation for how our children can be holy instead of unclean (1 Cor 7:14). Holiness is only found inside the new covenant, and that holiness is only attributable to the blood of Christ. The Baptist attempts to avoid the problem by dedication of their children to God, but since this practice has no Scriptural warrant it cannot be given any theological force. The Reformed understanding of the doctrine of the covenant escapes this trouble.

2) The Reformed position on the covenant is as follows:

      God has always presented himself as the God of the believer and his children. You see that already in the fact that he worked through the generations from the beginning. You can however, also see in the Old Testament that he chooses in which family he will continue his covenant. Already in Genesis 3:15 you hear of the parting of the ways among the descendants of Adam and Eve. Some such as Cain and his descendants will be descendants of the serpent and others such as Abel, Seth and Enosh and his descendants would be descendants of the woman. These two began to unite again when the sons of God began to intermarry with the daughters of men. Noah, however, was faithful and was preserved from the flood. However we see a similar thing happening with his descendants. While the promises of God were given above all to Shem and his descendants corruption spread among them as well, so God made a covenant with Abraham and his descendants to be a God to him and his descendants throughout their generations (Genesis 15,17). The intention of the covenant was to preserve a people for God, who God would rule directly.

In the families of Abraham and Isaac we see the selection principle continue. Ishmael was a circumcised covenant child according to God's command, but was sent away as he was not to inherit with Isaac and persecuted him. The sons of Abraham's last wife, Keturah, who also would have been circumcised, were also sent away as they were not to inherit with Isaac. Esau was also a covenant child, but was sent away because he despised God's covenant and Jacob inherited the promises. There is a constant choice being made by God of the family in which his covenant will continue until we reach Jacob. All his sons were included in the covenant people of God in a permanent manner until the time of the Lord Jesus Christ.

At that point it no more remains a national covenant, but a covenant made with a spiritual people and their children (Acts 2:39; 1 Corinthians 7:14). All those who accept the Lord in faith may be included into the covenant people, the new Israel of God. They are included in Christ through faith and receive all his benefits, and this is symbolised and guaranteed in baptism. Scripture says that those who are included in Christ by faith are Abraham's children because Christ is and they are in him (Galatians 3:26-29). So Abraham becomes the father of all believers as God once promised (Romans 4:16-17; Galatians 3:7-9; Genesis 12:3; 22:18). Those covenant children who do not believe are sent away.

      Many are perhaps accustomed to thinking that there are three covenants made with Abraham, Moses and in Christ and that these are different and subsequent to each other. However that is not so. The three covenants are one, only there are different administrations of that one covenant. That this covenant is one is argued from the fact that the Mosaic Covenant was not understood to be the end of the Abrahamic Covenant (cf. Gal 3:17; Ex 3:15,16; Lev 36:42; 2 Kings 13:23; Ps 47:9; Micah 7:20; Mt 22:32). It simply continued in the form of the Mosaic Covenant. The new covenant in Christ's blood is declared to be the fulfilment of the promises God made to Abraham and so is the new administration of the Abrahamic Covenant. It is also the fulfilment of the so called Mosaic Covenant which has so come to an end. This interim administration of the Abrahamic covenant left its traces in the new covenant, for the moral law, given under it, is still the rule for our thankfulness. Under all three covenants there was no justification by God except through faith, for the law brought only death and a curse (Galatians 3:10-14; Deuteronomy 27:26; Habakkuk 2:4). It was given to lead us to Christ through revealing the depths of our sin and the necessity of a Saviour (Galatians 3:19, 21-25). The new covenant in Christ's blood is God's answer to sin and the fulfilment of the law (the Mosaic covenant) and the full reinstatement of the principle of justification by grace through faith (the Abrahamic covenant), but now with the object of that faith fully revealed, the Lord Jesus Christ.

      If the three covenants are one, why did the sign and seal of that covenant change. The sign of circumcision was given to Abraham to teach the need for the removal of the sinful nature (Leviticus 26:41; Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4; 9:25,26; Ezekiel 44:7-9). In comparison with baptism the sign is poor. It speaks only of a cutting off of the flesh, whereas baptism speaks of both the death of the flesh, burial and the resurrection to a new life. It also is a sign in which blood is shed. Therefore the sign had to change, for after Christ's death (the cutting off of the flesh Rom 8:3) there was no more necessity for the shedding of blood and the sign had to better reflect that which Christ had gone through and in what we are included. Colossians 2:11,13 speaks of baptism in terms of circumcision. The reference there is to the cross itself where the Lord put off the flesh. Then the apostle changes to baptism terminology referring to burial as happening in baptism and resurrection also being portrayed in it. This interchangeable use of circumcision and baptism, especially when compared to Romans 6:3-7, shows that for the apostle Paul circumcision is taken up into baptism. Baptism replaced circumcision as covenant sign as Christ and the fullness of salvation had come.

There is no command of Christ that terminates circumcision. It was quite a struggle in the early church to come to an understanding of the new covenant, but from the beginning it was understood by the apostles that those who tried to impose circumcision on the church were trying to bind believers to the Mosaic law as administration of the Abrahamic covenant and this was absolutely rejected (Acts 15:1,5,10; Galatians 5:3). Circumcision was abolished as a sign of the Mosaic Covenant, while the Abrahamic covenant still continued as the new covenant with the new sign.

Entry into the new covenant is, therefore, by baptism. Those adults who refuse to be baptised cannot claim to be in the covenant at all. Children of believers are also required to be baptised as Genesis 17:14 and Acts 2:39 indicate. The covenant has always been made with the believer and his children. In that covenant God promises to be a God to them and to their children after them. There are no such promises of God to those outside his covenant.

      The Baptist's argument that baptism is only a testimony of faith and regeneration falls short of the reality. It is not a human statement, but God's sign and seal that He has made a covenant with the believer and his descendants. The Baptist cannot really say that God is the God of my children, for outside of the covenant in Christ's blood there is no relation with God. However, God's covenant love extends further than the Baptist allows for God's covenant extends farther than he will allow. Deuteronomy 7:9 speaks of God who is a God of faithfulness, keeping covenant and loving kindness to those who love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations. He has not changed.

Perhaps the Baptist is scared of the idea that those who are baptised as infants will think they are automatically saved. That is, however, contradicted clearly in Scripture. It is precisely the covenant people who are judged first (1 Peter 4:17). Baptism doesn't save. Christ's blood saves those who believe in him and their children, for they have received God's promise to be their God while they are not yet capable of faith. Where faith does not appear, God's covenant wrath comes upon the unbeliever, and he is judged more severely than those who are outside of that covenant, for he has shared in Christ's gifts and spurned them.

God works through the generations. He binds them to him in a covenant. He claims their children as his own even when the covenant people reject the Lord (cf. Ezekiel 16:20-21; 23:37). The parents can bring the wrath of God onto all their living descendants (who have followed in the path of their parents) by breaking the covenant (Exodus 20:5 grandchildren and great grandchildren), but this does not deny the covenant bond. The children can break the covenant also by unbelief. The covenant bond is the framework which the Lord established to deal with his people. It is the framework within which the Lord addresses them as responsible covenant partners, who have bound themselves to obey him in faith. They have bound themselves and their children in a legally enforceable relationship which God maintains faithfully and jealously. That is not only true in the OT, but also in the NT (Hebrews 10:26-31; 12:22-25).

Consequently we can only conclude that baptism must be administered to our children as God's will. We must also conclude that they are far richer than the children of others who do not serve God, for the blood of Christ, which is the blood of the new covenant covers their sins also in the sight of God and guarantees to them that they are the children of the Triune God.

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