Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Baptism and Covenant Theology - Part the first

And of course, by 'baptism' I mean Infant Baptism!

Many of those who struggle with the whole paedobaptism stance struggle even more (or so it seems) with sacramental and covenantal approaches to the thing. 'We only have believer's baptism' they cry and yet 'oikios' and common practice appear to deny that call.

But how do we play the 'Covenant' card I wonder? What assumptions, claims and extrapolations exist and how can we validate (or otherwise shoot down and discount) the many elements before us? Let's have a go:

Church, the body of Christ, is surely contiguous with it's Jewish roots - for we are a Judeo-Christian construct - which means that both OT and NT Church are effectively one and the same. (after all, we don't throw out the Old because we have the new, even though I have heard this preached many, many, many* times in a number of places+)

Children, were very much a part of the Church then and are very much a part of the Church Now (they are not the next generation of Church, they are part of it now!) and in the OT when believers have children they (the males that is, have to be sure to point that out in a world where the awfulness that is female genital mutilation exists) were brought in to the promise of God through His covenant with Abraham by the covenant sign that is circumcision. The act of circumcision is a claiming of the benefits and merits of that covenant relationship - in the New Testament that claim is made by baptism and those who are baptised in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are considered to be initiated into the Church (but note - this does not make them Christians and oddly, the confusion that confirmation has become has parallels with a baptism of the Holy Spirit, second-blessing and other interesting avenues to consider (Blimey - it never ends does it?).

Suffice to say that in the OT there was circumcision - in the NT there is baptism (can't get any simpler can it?).

Better still in these days of enlightenment - baptism is not limited to one sex** and those who have been baptised are members of the Church. But having given them their membership card is merely the invitation to be in a place and in the company of and hearing (fingers crossed here) sound teaching on what being Christian is and the ways we make it real and become disciples.

Abram, in Genesis fifteen, finds himself childless and before the Lord and he hears the words that tell of a child of his own (meaning him and Sarai) and descendants more numerous that the stars and he believes God (and this is counted as righteousness) - Those who did not know God, in fact those who were not yet, were brought under the benefits of this simple moment.

Paul, speaking of this in Romans four, points to the OT:
'Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.'
He points to the fact that wages are given as a right not a gift and that Abraham did not work to bring about the outcome (ie. he didn't work) but merely believed and this was counted as righteousness and the result was not warranted as right but given as gift. It's not something we can work at to win (and yet having been gifted it we do need to work at it afterwards).

Let's let Paul do it for himself to avoid the confusion of my limited understanding:

'And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised?
For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness.
How then was it counted to him?

Was it before or after he had been circumcised?
It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.'

Here's a challenge for the blessing; the righteousness; came about before the covenant sign. In fact the blessing came first and then the outward visible sign (Whoo Hoo - see the nifty nod to sacramental here?)  came. The pattern is established in that the uncircumcised acted to bring the blessing of relationship with God (then and confirmed and made more immense, if it could be, by the atoning act of Christ on the cross) to those before they too were circumcised (or even born) 'so that righteousness would be counted to them as well'.

This seems to be setting up a pointer to the path that leads to salvation and this is great news for us because the covenant between Abraham and God sets the grounds and establishes the relationship and the cross brings the fulfilment of the relationship in victory over the power of sin and extension of the covenant to the Gentiles for we (Gentiles) have (as Paul says in Romans eleven) been grafted on and are part of the whole. Circumcision and baptism finding their fulfilment and completeness in the cross and their hope in the second coming.

And that's about it for now - time has beaten me and so we will have to take this further some time later.

Hope I've not added too much noise to the situation.

* The Police Academy gene kicking in - sorry

+ None of them CofE I have to say

** I have to say that as I understand it 'sex' related to a biological reality - 'gender' is something sociological and can be redefined - they are different animals!

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