Why Children are not in the New Covenant (Because neither are their Christian Parents!)

Christian kids are not in the Covenant, because neither are we; neither are any of us!

In my previous article, Why don't Presbyterians baptise all their kids (automatically and universally)?, I concluded that:
  • Either the "promise" of Acts 2:39 universally applies to any person who is under a Christian's ownership and physical authority (i.e. any permanent resident of his household), regardless of age or faith -- meaning that the common practice of infant or covenant baptism is inconsistent with itself;
  • Or "the promise" of the Abrahamic covenant, which applied to his direct descendants, applied quite differently to Israelites/Jews as does the promise of Acts 2:39 to Gentile believers under Christ's fulfilled Abrahamic covenant - meaning that the sign of that old covenant, circumcision, was quite a different practice with as many differences in applicability to the new sign, baptism, as the New Covenant in Christ is different to that old way, which has now passed away.
In this article I want to explain this last option (in the second dot point above), and how it is the only possibility (the only option that is not inconsistent in practice or with the Scriptures themselves).

And again I want to say that I love by infant and covenant baptist family. As I said in the previous article, I'm a happy member of a Presbyterian church and most of my 'ministry' friends are paedobaptists. I'm not wanting to be divisive; I'm talking about this because we all agree that working out and trying to get at the truth by speaking about it to one another is the only way to true gospel unity. But I want to do that with gentleness and respect. So please know that I do respect all my Presbyterian and Reformed and Anglican friends. Many of my friends have already come to an infant baptist position on this issue, which is like me based on a sincere conviction that the Bible is the authority - they have simply arrived (so far) at a different position based on careful study and reflection. But we also all agree, that none of us has 'arrived'. We need to continually guard against becoming closed to the possibility of changing our minds on a difficult and debated subject like this, no matter how 'far down' the track we are.

So having said this, I want to lovingly ask, have Presbyterians thought enough about the possibility that the New Covenant is so different to the Old Covenant, that circumcision doesn't parallel directly with baptism; just like we don't think of our ministers as the new 'priests', just like we don't think of our church buildings as the new 'temple', and we don't think of our countries as the new 'land'; so too we mustn't think of Christian baptism as the new 'circumcision' (because Christians are not the New Offspring/Seed).

Our biblical theology has trained us to recognise not only the unity but the discontinuity between the old and new covenants, so that we realise that in Jesus the Old Testament does not apply directly to Christians; it applies directly to Jesus.

Covenant theology compares the new covenant to the old covenant and recognises incredible unity between them; but there are some very significant differences that it does not recognise - and one of these differences in enormous. It is a massive difference related to the fact that Israel failed to be an able member of the covenant. That old covenant failed because God's people (Israel) broke the covenant - and in fact could not keep the covenant; so the covenant Law would only bring down God's judgement on them, and they could not obtain God's blessing under it. But actually it didn't fail, because they didn't all fail - actually One did keep it; and when he kept it, he fulfilled it by obtaining the blessing of the Law and the Abrahamic Covenant, while at the same time made a brand New Covenant with the LORD himself, which didn't carry over the same weakness that existed with the first covenant (because the New Covenant was only between the LORD and this One New Man himself, who would live forever in perfect obedience).

So I've already given it away, but in case you're skimming and even missed the title of this article: have you realised that the significant difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant is that your kids are not in it, because not even we are in it: Parents of children are not in the New Covenant, so our children are not either.

I'll now slow down and try to explain this, first by taking a step back to think about circumcision a bit more; in particular, how different it is as far as signs go to baptism, even to what infant baptists practice when they baptise a child.

That circumcision was very different to baptism is seen in the way in which God allowed a newly bought slave to eat the Passover meal as soon as he had been circumcised - without consideration to his faith in the LORD! Would Presbyterians immediately baptise their newly adopted children of primary school age, and them automatically and immediately allow them to partake in the Lord's Supper, regardless of their faith? Would Christians in the early 1800s have intermediately baptised a newly bought slave and then automatically allow them to partake of the Lord's supper without consideration to their faith?

Using circumcision as an analogy in order to determine how to practice baptism is like trying to understand how to drive a car by studying horse riding. It is Reformed Evangelicals who warn against allegorical reading of the Old Testament, but the method of arriving at infant baptism is just as bad - it is an analogical reading of the Old Testament.

That circumcision was only given to males (can only given to males!) should tell us something very different was going on. Circumcision, as an operation on male children, was God cutting a covenant renewal in the flesh and with the blood of each generation of Israelites, making a mark in the flesh of each boy that would grow to be a man, so that each time he became a parent - each time he passed on his seed into a woman - the sign of circumcision in that union would testify to God's promise to Abraham (and David) that from the offspring of his flesh, the seed of his body, would come a Second Adam (cf. Genesis 3:15), who would like Adam be the Son of God: and that the LORD himself would be His God (This is why God calls Israel 'my Son', as he did Adam and David/Solomon and Jesus) (See e.g. Luke 3:38; Hosea 11:1; 2 Samuel 7:14).

Under the Old Testament, each generation that received circumcision did not necessarily grow up knowing the LORD - only the first and second generations under Moses and Joshua who saw all that the LORD did for them so that they might know him, had directly heard God's word and been saved by him:

Judges 2:10 "After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel."
So circumcision was not directly related to their faith in the LORD.

And yet, the covenant of circumcision was God's promise that everyone in that line of election, every physical descendent elected in that line between Abraham and Christ, would be to God his people; he would treat them as his sons, and he would be their God.

In the end this spelt disaster for Israel (Deuteronomy 32), because they were not able to keep the covenant, and in breaking its terms they brought down upon themselves the promised curse from a holy God who was faithful to his word of judgment:

Joshua 24:19: Joshua said to the people, "You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you."

But the promise of blessing in return for obedience still applied and, after Israel's end in judgment, the promise of blessing was fulfilled in a new, faithful and obedient Israel: Jesus, the Seed of Abraham, the Son of David, the Son of God. He is the Physical Descendant - who lives forever - and physical descent stops with him. He is the Circumcision; it was his flesh that was cut off, his body that was marked with death, his blood that was shed to make a New Covenant, which fulfilled permanently and completely all the requirements of obedience and faithfulness to the LORD under the Old Covenant, thus bringing the blessing of Abraham's covenant and forever satisfying and finishing the curse of it. Circumcision stops with him.

And as he rose from the dead when the LORD God exulted him to his own right hand, he became the Lord and Head of a new line of humanity, seeded not by physical descent (Jesus has no biological children!), but by his own Spirit, the promised Spirit of God whom Christ gives to make Gentiles into children; children born not of natural descent (John 1:12), but "born again" to become children and sons of God (John 3:3).

Only in Christ (through faith) we are descendants (i.e. children and sons and heirs), since we have his Spirit. Only in him we are circumcised, since by faith in him we have union to one who died our death, joining us to that act which cut off the word-made-flesh (John 1:14), so that our body of sin was crucified in him, and died and was buried. Only in Christ are we baptised, when the risen Lord pours out on us the Holy Spirit to washed (baptised) us so that we can be forgiven by God and credited with righteousness (like Abraham; cf. Romans 4), just as if we always were faithful to God's covenant law ourselves (justified).

This is exactly what Peter was getting at in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:39): What is the promise in Acts 2:39 that infant baptists point to; what does Peter say is promised to "you and your children and all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God (i.e. Jesus) will call"? Acts 2:38 says that the promise is "forgiveness of sins" and "the gift of the Holy Spirit".

This is how the blessing given to Abraham - to which circumcision pointed - came to us:
Galatians 3:14: He [Christ] redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
Unlike the Abrahamic covenant, which included physical descendants of Abraham (and so circumcision was given to them all), the New Covenant includes only one physical descendent: Jesus the son of David, the son of Abraham, the son of God. No other physical descendants are included. It was a covenant cut in his blood and his flesh alone. This is why the New Covenant is not broken when we sin; because we're not in it; it is not a covenant between God and Jesus and Us. It is between God and Jesus Alone! And that means that the blessings of it can be offered unconditionally to us through faith; because they are not conditional on our obedience, they are conditional only upon Jesus' perfect obedience and perfect sacrifice. And this is why the Abrahamic covenant, which is an unconditional promise that has a blessing which is conditional upon the obedience of Abraham and his descendants after him forever, is now perfectly fulfilled (i.e. promise is obtained) so that the blessing is eternally secure: because Jesus, whose perfect obedience brought the blessing, now lives forever.

In other words, there will always be standing before God the One Jew, Jesus, living as a man, physically descendant from Abraham, born under the law, both circumcised and faithful, who suffered the same punishment of death that we deserved under the curse of the God's law, but who through faith in him has redeemed us forever and given us his blessing of sonship with God and eternal life with him.

As it is written:
Romans 4:16: Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham [i.e. Christians].
Notice, the promise comes by faith. This is "the promise" of Acts 2:39 for all who repent and are baptised "in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins" (Acts 2:38). It is not a promise for the physical descendants of Christians. It is a promise for all those called by the Lord who is alone the physical descendant of Abraham that has become the heir of his blessing - and those he calls are all those who share the faith of Abraham in him, his Promised One, his Seed and Offspring, Christ Jesus.

Now I realise that to most of my dear Presbyterian and Reformed and Anglican friends and mates and extended family, much of this truth is known and cherished when it comes to the actual repentance and faith of those who believe in the gospel within these denominations. But this makes the practice of infant baptism all the more surprising because it appears to be inconsistent and illogical.

Actually, not a few Christians I've spoken to who baptise their infants based upon passages such as Acts 2:28-29 and 1 Corinthians 7:14 agree that these verses themselves don't support the practice directly or indirectly. The entire weight of argument for the practice lies on the comparison or parallelism between baptism and circumcision in view of the relative silence of the New Testament on the practice of infant baptism.

For any plain reading of Acts 2:28-29 will yield that "the promise" spoken of can only refer in the same way to "your children" as it does to "you" and to "all who are far off" - Peter is saying that the promise of forgiveness and the Spirit through repentance and baptism is for you and those near (i.e. Jewish children) and far off (i.e. Gentiles) - that is, everyone who the Lord calls.

And any plain reading of 1 Corinthians 7:14 yields that no special promise of salvation for the children of Christians can be in view, otherwise the unbelieving spouse of a Christian would also be saved. The language of 'sanctified' and made 'holy' with reference to the faith of the Christian is common language for Paul in the New Testament when using Old Testament terminology to describe the way in which Christ has made acceptable in the Christian household many things previously forbidden under the Law - including welcoming in the neighbours (i.e. Gentiles), allowing onto the table certain foods (e.g. food sacrificed to idols), and parenting the children of an unbelieving spouse (i.e. through union with a non Christian). Paul's further teaching in his second letter to the Corinthians makes the relevance of his message here very crucial to his audience. In 2 Corinthians 6:14-17 he will say "do not be yoked with unbelievers," and "touch no unclean thing and I will receive you." It would have been clear enough to the Corinthians, when Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 7 that the "brother [who] has a wife who is not a believer" must not automatically divorce her, that he was not implying some special promise about his children's faith when he said, "they are holy". Rather, like other previously "unclean" practices, now even the marriage union (let alone the children) is sanctified by the faith of the Christian, who knows that in Christ the word of God and prayer consecrate these things to God as good and acceptable ways to service and worship to him within this creation.

As it is written:
1 Timothy 4:4-5: For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
Children are good; parenting is good - as are all things for Christians that God has first created since the beginning, if we receive them and do them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

But the new creation, the second birth, comes through faith in Christ alone. It is special. It is a new beginning. It is not tied to the first creation; it is not passed on by physical birth or descent; it is not received by parenting, no matter how good our parenting is. When Jesus was raised from the dead, he commanded that faith and repentance be preached in his name to all nations, and that "disciples" should baptised them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18); that is, the mark of the new creation to which the water of baptism speaks, and the work of the new creation to which the water of baptism seals, is the relationship to the Name himself, the new relationship that those baptised have with God the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit in us.

That is why in the New Testament (from what we read in Acts) and in the evidence from before the second part of the second century, see don't see baptism, the sign of new creation in Christ, being given to infants. Because unlike circumcision, baptism is the sign and seal of a covenant that is not in our flesh, a covenant that is not between us or our offspring; it is a covenant between God the Father and his New Creation alone: the man Christ Jesus, the first-born over all Creation. Jesus is the New Creation; and only "in him" can we be part of it. Therefore, it is only by being "born again" (including kids of Christian parents!) that through the Son we gain access by faith to the promised Spirit and all the blessings of forgiveness and life in his Name that belong to him. Only the offspring of his Spirit have the right to be called children of God; therefore only those who believe in his name have the right to be baptised in his name, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit:
John 1:12-13; 3: 6-8: 
"...To all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
...Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” 
So this is why in the New Testament we don't see the infant children of Christians being baptised but we do see people being commanded to do it in an informed act of faith and repentance; because unlike circumcision, baptism is the sign and seal of being in Christ, not being in the Covenant. Only Christ is in the Covenant; he is the only descendant left of Abraham who remains under the Old Covenant and in whose physical body was cut the New Covenant.

But through baptism we are adopted in Christ through his Spirit by new birth to become children of God the Father; it is our faith that is seen in baptism that is the sign and seal of our sonship, and it is the mark of the Spirit in us that sets us apart as his people. And that's why baptism, unlike circumcision, is a sign of faith to be given to those who have repented and turned to the Lord (Acts 2:38).

It seems to me that practice of infant baptism is one of those teachings that people don't arrive at from reading and understanding and comprehending the teaching of the Bible itself. I don't mean to sound harsh; please hear me only trying to speak the truth in love. People arrive at this belief from reading Calvin or from going to an Anglican Bible College or from talking to paedobaptists or from studying the denominational codes or the historical debates and positions of our denominations in the past and present, etc. I realise that all beliefs we arrive at are significantly influenced by our culture and context - but it is a worthwhile 'thought experiment' to do: Imagine that it was possible to arrive at a belief only from reading the Bible: now think about whether you can see that anyone would arrive at the infant baptist position only from reading the Bible, in that artificial world. I don't believe anyone would. It's a good test. Infant baptism is just one of many church practices that has evolved out of church history after the Apostles time, and if things happened differently, it may never have emerged. This should be enough to show us that there is a problem with the practice of infant baptism, and a serious one.

That people don't arrive at the infant baptist position from studying the New Testament in light of the Old, or from studying the Old Testament in light of the New - should warn infant baptists that they may have fallen the same trap they know about from watching Pentecostals and others take on particular doctrines and practices, which have been informed by historical developments and can be explained only by considering the influences of developing church culture and our religious context: the practice of infant baptism is no different, as Justin Taylor has shown.

The Westminster Confession of Faith is of course not infallible; far from it - it is a human, man-made denominational creed that, though without doubt it has brought much blessing and unity to the Presbyterian church for hundreds of years now, has also caused great confusion and inconsistency over one of the most central New Testament gospel practices: baptism!

That the Confession states "it is a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance" (Chapter 28, article 5) has probably put the fear of God into many sincere Presbyterian Christians down through the last few centuries when it comes to this practice. But if we really fear God, we will not fear man; actually, we will obey God rather than man. And that is what we must do when it comes to baptism. After all, it is the Apostle's gospel of the New Testament that says to us "Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ...!"


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