Affirmations on Covenant and Baptism: An Outline
The context of the following affirmations is the struggle between various parties in the Reformed and Presbyterian world concerning the efficacy of baptism, as well as the status of believers' children. I trust that these statements may help provide a framework in which, even if agreement is not reached, certain concerns may be allayed.
1. Baptism is not in competition with either faith or the Holy Spirit.
i. Justification occurs through the instrumentality of faith alone.
ii. Baptism is not an instrument from man toward God, but of God toward man.
iii. The efficacy of baptism does not inhere within itself. That efficacy is found rather in the Word of Christ's promise and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
2. Through baptism, we are united to Christ.
i. The Church is the body of Christ, "the fullness of Him who fills all in all" (Eph 1.22-23). Thus all of the riches of Christ are laid up in the Church.
ii. Baptism is the instrument through which we are admitted into the Church (Acts 2.41, 47). Thus in baptism, the baptized one is clothed with Christ Himself (Gal 3.26-29).
iii. Thus there is an objective, covenantal possession of Christ and all His benefits granted to all who receive baptism. The baptized person is a branch in the vine of Christ (Jn 15.1-17).
iv. The transition of baptism is underscored in the words of the Great Commission itself (and thus clearly refers to water baptism): disciples are baptized into [Greek: eis] the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Mt 28.19), and thus now sustain a relationship of fellowship with the Triune God.
3. Baptismal union is not itself a guarantee of ultimate benefit.
i. We must distinguish carefully between being given Christ and all His benefits (which is entailed with membership in the Church), and receiving those benefits through genuine, persevering faith. A person may be given a gift, so that it is really his, but never make use of that gift, or use it only temporarily and then reject it.
ii. The Church is the congregation of Christ, yet her membership includes hypocrites (as Simon Magus, Acts 8.9-25) and persons having only temporary faith (Gal 5.4, 7).
iii. The possession of Christ and all His benefits is turned to cursing for hypocrites and apostates (Heb 6.6). The power of baptism is not thus made null and void; to the contrary, it is precisely because of its power and blessing that covenant members are subject to special judgment, since they tempt God and provoke Him to jealousy (1 Cor 10.1-22). Even as unqualified men who transgressed the temple boundaries died for their error, so too covenant-breakers and hypocrites who approach the throne under the new covenant will be judged severely for their sacrilege against the name, blessings, and covenant of God.
4. The blessings of baptism are promised to believers' children.
i. Jesus identified believers' children as paradigms of the kingdom, when He said it was of such as these (Mt 19.13-14), and that adults must be converted and become like them in order to inherit the kingdom (Mt 18.3).
ii. Therefore, covenant infants are believers, and should be nurtured and trained as God's children and disciples. Since the kingdom is of such as these, we deny that we ought to treat the infant children of believers as unbelievers, nor yet as a third category below that of believer. If of such is the kingdom, there is no greater believer than a covenant infant.
iii. Thus, through baptism God places His seal of authentication of what He has promised to believers' children, that He receives them as full members of the kingdom of Christ.
iv. This promise is not merely a deferred one (announcing what God will or may do at some point in the future), but refers to what God really and truly gives to covenant infants now, including remission of sins and participation in the Holy Spirit. If "of such is the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 19.13-14), and if the kingdom of heaven is "righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom 14.17), it follows that the promised Holy Spirit is given to them, along with remission of sins, as Peter also declares in Acts 2.38-39.
5. Baptism is a God-given means through which believers derive assurance.
i. Baptism is a key rite through which God declares to us the promise of the gospel in Christ.
ii. In baptism, God really gives what He promises, in uniting us to Christ.
iii. Therefore, we look to our baptisms for assurance, not instead of looking to Christ, but rather the opposite, as a God-ordained way of looking to Christ. Hence Paul assured the Gentiles that they were full members of the covenant and recipients of its blessings, by reminding them of their baptism into Christ (Gal 3.26-29).
iv. Thus baptism carries a force that extends throughout life, as a means whereby God binds us to Himself as His possession.
6. Baptism is a charge to live a holy life in Christ.
i. In baptism, we are united to Christ in His death and resurrection (Rom 6.3-4).
ii. This death and resurrection contains and implies a death to sin and resurrection to a new and righteous life (Rom 6.-7).
iii. Therefore, baptism is a personal charge and committal to denying sin its reign in our bodies, and presenting ourselves to God for holy living (Rom 6.12-14).
Soli Deo gloria.