Saturday, March 26, 2016

Historical Context and Baptism

One of the reasons why many people today have a hard time understanding the New Testament, and indeed the entire Bible, is because they misinterpret large portions of it. They fail to study the context surrounding it. The individual who grew up in a post-renaissance affected culture attempts to interpret the Bible individualistically rather than corporately or federally by household. Most cultures around the world today still function corporately or federally, and this is precisely how the biblical cultures worked. If we fail to grasp this when interpreting Scripture, we will arrive at false conclusions every time. The reason why most people fail to understand the New Testament is because they are attempting to impose modern debates and questions upon it. They are exporting modern ideas to the past that are not native to the past. This is called eisegesis.

Homosexuals and their supporters are guilty of this when they try to claim that the Bible says nothing against homosexuality and that the biblical cultures knew nothing of modern homosexuality. They are attempting to export modern practice and acceptance thereof to the past and impose our modern perverse understanding upon them. I will not address this issue any further here as I have addressed it thoroughly elsewhere, many times over.

One of the reasons why many modern churches fail to understand infant baptism is due to the ignorance of context as well. Grabbing a concordance and looking up every occurrence of the word in the New Testament will not build a doctrine for you on the issue. You need to look up all the passages that address parents, children, generations, descendants, promises, covenants, circumcision, Gentiles, Jews, olive trees, and countless other important areas. The subject is larger than it appears. You cannot begin with the question, "What does the New Testament say about infant baptism?" You need to begin with the question, "What were the debates the early church faced?" You have to move forward with your reasoning. You cannot move backward. In other words, think of it as looking at a chess board. You cannot start at the end of the game with the remaining pieces on the board and try to figure out how the end result occurred. You need to start at the beginning of the game and follow each move through, and then you will understand the end result. When you understand circumcision and the transition from circumcision to baptism, then you will understand baptism correctly.

Circumcision and baptism point awaynot in. Baptism has nothing to do with our own personal faith and testimony. It points to Christ and His righteousness. There is a reason why belief (faith) and baptism are so closely united. The sign and seal of both circumcision and baptism and what they represent are exactly the same. They point to the righteousness of Another. The debate in the early church was not over whether or not infants should be baptized; it was over whether or not Gentiles and their children should be circumcised. Apart from Tertullian, this debate over baptizing children did not exist historically until 1522 A.D. Jewish Christians still circumcised their children, but they also baptized them. Gentiles were not required to circumcise their children. If Gentiles did not baptize their children, this would have created a division in the church between Jews and Gentiles, of which Christ made one new man. Jewish children would have been included as members of their local church through both circumcision and baptism, whereas Gentile children would have been excluded as members. The Gentile fathers would be tempted to listen to the Judaizers and have their children circumcised so that they, too, could be included as members of the church. Baptism was a requirement for both Jew and Gentile.

The baptistic argument that we should not baptize infants because they are too young to express faith is ignorant and without warrant or foundation. Infant males were circumcised on the eighth day, their circumcision automatically placing them in covenant membership with God, and yet what kind of faith can an 8-day-old infant express? Circumcision and baptism have nothing to do with our expression of faith or our personal testimony. They represent the testimony of the One they point to: Jesus. Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, were all circumcised, being members of the same covenant. Ishmael and Esau wore the sign and seal of Christ hypocritically. Therefore, their circumcision was a witness against them, which served to increase their condemnation. They neglected so great a salvation. Baptism is exactly the same. A child growing up rejecting the faith is wearing the sign and seal of Christ hypocritically. His/her baptism is a witness against him/her, which will serve to increase his/her condemnation.

Abraham received believer's circumcision; his children and his children's children did not. Someone coming to Christ for the first time ever will receive believer's baptism, but their children and their children's children will not. Early Gentile believers were grafted in to the tree that is Christ, but their children grow up in that tree. Children of believing parents are included under the umbrella of their parents' faith. This is why Paul can say, "For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his [believing] wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy" (1 Cor. 7:14). It is also how he can apply the promises to Gentile children: "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER (which is the first commandment with a promise), SO THAT IT MAY BE WELL WITH YOU, AND THAT YOU MAY LIVE LONG ON THE EARTH" (Eph. 6:1-3).

In Acts 2, after Peter had preached his sermon, those gathered "were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Brethren, what shall we do?'" (v. 37). Peter answered them, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (v. 38). But Peter did not stop there. In the context of baptism, Peter continued, "For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself" (v. 39). The Belgic Confession argues that children in the new covenant, as in the old, should be baptized since "Christ has shed his blood no less for washing the little children of believers than he did for adults. . . . Furthermore, baptism does for our children what circumcision did for the Jewish people. That is why Paul calls baptism the 'circumcision of Christ' [Col. 2:11]."

The reason why so many professing Christians do not understand a great many things about Scripture, including infant baptism, is because they have no concept of covenants and covenant relationships. If they would study the issue of covenants, a great deal of issues would be lain to rest for them. They would have a greater understanding of Scripture as a whole, and of God's workings in particular. Those who believe you can lose your salvation do so because they have no concept of being in covenant with God and what that entails. Apostasy is the result of those in Christ who never truly belonged to Him in the first place. Covenant relationships explain this perfectly, and bring the apostasy passages into clear light. Understanding the purpose of covenants and how covenants work would, or at least should, eliminate several doctrinal differences, showing them to be opinions opposed to the factual evidence.