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............."Oh, the gallant fisher's life, It is the best of any 'Tis full of pleasure, void of strife, And 'tis beloved of many." ..........[Piscator's Song, "The Compleat Angler" by Izaak Walton] "The fishers also shall mourn,and all they that cast angle into the brooks shall lament, and they that spread nets upon the waters shall languish." [Isaiah XIX:8]

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Of the Waters of Infant Baptism

Let's begin by wading into the water, the water of infant baptism, in the hopes of catching 'little ones'. The water seems shallow enough, but many have slipped on slippery stones, even close to shore, and many 'little ones' have gotten away. Any successful trout fisherman will tell you, you must first learn to 'read the water' to learn the secrets that lie underneath the surface.

Yes, Roman Catholicism says that infants should be baptized in the church. And they believe that infants need to saved from sin and the power of the devil. But their misunderstanding of the sacraments makes salvation dependent upon the power in the sacraments themselves, failing to understand the sacraments as signs and seals of the covenant of grace. This is a crucial distinction and difference from the faith professed in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

In the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter XXVIII, paragraphs 1 and 4, we in the OPC affirm the following:

1. "Baptism is a sacrament of the new testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church; but also, to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ's own appointment, to be continued in his church until the end of the world."

4. "Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized."

Further, in Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 95, we confess the following:

Q. 95. "To whom is baptism to be administered?"
A. "Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him; but the infants of such as are members of the visible church are to be baptized."

Underlying the importance of baptism in the Reformed churches like the OPC is the whole biblical understanding of the covenant. In the old covenant, the sign and seal of circumcision pointed to the covenant made with Abraham and his descendants the Jews. God promised to be their God and for them to be His people; He would be their shield and their great reward. All males were to be given the sign and seal of the covenant, namely circumcision. The descendants of Abraham and those received into his house were to be circumcised. In Romans 4:11, Paul describes circumcision as a sign and seal of a faith and salvation, which Abraham already had by God's grace. To be sure, not everyone circumcised in the covenant community (Israel) was saved, but only those who had true saving faith. Still the sign and seal were to be applied to the many, including the infants, before they evidenced any faith or not.

We confess (WCF XXV.II.) that the visible church, which is ... catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children. The new covenant includes both Jews and Gentiles. The new covenant like the old includes the believers and their children and also includes both privilege and responsibility.

Baptism marks a person as a member of the covenant community (the church). But baptism, like circumcision, does not save. It does, however, stand as a sign and seal of the covenant, pointing both the parents and the child to the promises and the warnings, the privileges and the responsibilities of being included in the covenant in the church.

We believe baptism sets us apart from the world. Scripture says that the children of a believing parent(s) are holy (I Cor. 7).

The baptism of our children says to them that they belong not to themselves but to God in Christ. Therefore, they are continually reminded and called by their baptism to covenant faithfulness. Woe to that child who does not improve upon his baptism, who does not repent and believe. Like a Bethsaida or Jerusalem to whom the ministry of Christ had come, only to be rejected, how great will be the woe to come upon the child who does not respond to God's covenant faithfulness and His testimony of compassion and love in Christ.

In a certain sense, infant baptism epitomizes covenant grace. Like the child who cannot understand, who cannot say yes or no, the baptism of an infant points to the wonderful truth that our sovereign God saves the weak, the helpless. Again, I say, God speaks to us through baptism; it is, as it were, a sermon in picture (sign) and an awesome confirmation that binds us to the covenant (seal).

We acknowledge that the covenant sign and seal set before us both God's covenant blessing and curse, both promise and warning. The child included among those receiving the covenant privileges of the ministry of word, sacrament, and discipline are more than doubly accountable. Not only are they created and included in the original covenant with Adam, but they are privileged to be accounted among the people of God. Thus, their baptism continually beckons them to obedience and faith.

Baptism no more saves our children than circumcision saved an Esau, for example. Nevertheless, the sign of the covenant testifies to us and to our children of the new covenant. Baptism is not so much what we say to God as it is God's testimony to us. It says to us that it is God alone who saves, God alone who washes and sanctifies. It is the washing of the Spirit from above, the washing that comes through the blood of Christ, that saves us.

This will have to do this evening for a first lesson in 'reading the water', an essential in 'man-fishing'.

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