Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Green On Infant Baptism Pt. 1

"1. Children Were Admitted into the Old Testament Church

God makes covenants. They all spring from his grace, and need to be grasped by human faith and obedience. God’s covenant with Abraham was normative for the whole people of God in the Old Testament. His adult response to the grace of God was sealed with circumcision, the mark of the covenant: just like believer’s baptism. But it did not stop there. Isaac was born into the covenant community, and he received the seal of circumcision long before he could make any response to God’s grace. ‘Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him’ (Gen. 21:4). This circumcising of infants was no occasional aberration, no exception to the normal rule of adult circumcision. It was part of the purpose of God for the family. It was specifically commanded. It was an original and essential part of the covenant that God struck with Abraham before Isaac, the child of promise, was born.

This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant (Gen. 17:10–14).

Now that is strong stuff. It tells us that the child born into a believing home has the right to the mark of belonging, even when he is too young to fulfil the conditions on which the covenant was made in the first place. It tells us that this position for children is an express part of the will of God. It tells us that the faith of the head of the house is highly significant for his whole household, be that his natural household or others who have, for one reason or another, come under his roof. And it tells us that to refuse to give to infants born within the covenant the sign of that covenant is a very serious fault.

All this is highly relevant to the baptism of children, and their reception into the New Testament Church. Although for Abraham circumcision was the ‘sign or seal’ on his faith (Rom. 4:11) that sign or seal was applied by God’s specific command to Isaac and others like him, born within Abraham’s house, but as yet quite incapable of faith. They were circumcised simply and solely because, in the gracious purposes and plan of God, they had been born into a believing family. It is hardly surprising, therefore, to find Peter saying on the Day of Pentecost, ‘The promise is for you and your children’ when he challenges his hearers to baptism. ‘Those who received his message were baptised’ (Acts 2:39ff).

Children were admitted into the Old Testament Church. Are they to be excluded from the New Testament Church? Has God grown less gracious with the passing of the years? Are children meant to be worse off under the New Covenant than they were under the Old? Does a church consist only of consenting adults? Of one thing we may be fairly certain. A Jew, coming over to Christianity and thus fulfilling his Judaism, would be amazed to hear that his children should not receive the sign of the covenant. ‘If they can receive circumcision,’ he would say, ‘why not baptism? If they were welcomed into the Old Testament Church, why not into the New?’"

Michael Green, Baptism: Its Purpose, Practice and Power, 45 (Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 1987).

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