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The Covenant and Baptism

By R. J. Rushdoony
February 01, 2003
Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:25-28)

The covenant sign of the Old Testament era was circumcision and that of the New Testament,baptism. Ezekiel 36:25-26 speaks of the sprinkling with clean water as a sign of rebirth. Before Christ's coming, proselytes among the Gentiles were both circumcised, if males, and baptized to indicate their status as the Messiah's people in the renewed and extended covenant.

Circumcision was a symbolic castration. It witnessed to the fact that man's hope is not in generation but in regeneration. Man cannot renew himself, nor can history avoid the fact of sin and man's war against God. Apart from Christ, history does repeat itself: sin and death mark all its days.

Among the images used in Scripture to define baptism is that of death and resurrection. Paul says in Romans 6:4:

Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
There must be a dividing line in our lives between our inheritance in Adam of sin and death, and our regeneration into the image of God in Christ.

In baptizing our children, therefore we are redirecting history from the old pattern of sin and death into the new life in Christ. This baptism does not produce an end product. It does not say that either we or our children are now perfected and thus ready for glorification. It means that, by God's grace, we have been redirected.

The World of Anti-Law
The world of the ungodly is the world of anomia, lawlessness, or anti-law. Paul describes it as "enmity against God" (Rom. 8:7). It is the willful insistence that man is his own god, his own source of law and determination (Gen 3:5). It means walking or living "in newness of life," or, in James Moffatt's words, we now "move in the new sphere of life." Because our baptism does not make us a finished product, we can and do sin. The word for sin, hamartia, means missing the mark; this can mean carelessness and indifference, but we are at least moving towards the mark, not against it, as in anomia, or lawlessness, or anti-law. Our distinguishing mark becomes righteousness, or, justice. The world talks much about justice while working all the while to subvert it, because justice means God's law and sovereignty.

Baptism is a witness to God's regenerating power, as Titus 3:5 makes clear. It is not the sacrament of baptism that regenerates us but God the Lord. It is not a natural fact but a supernatural one. The Lord can work His miracle of new life with equal ease in a baby as in a hardened old sinner. The power and the initiative in the regeneration is not ours but God's.

Two Errors
This means that there are two obvious errors regarding baptism to be avoided. First, there is the decisional error, namely, that my decision for Christ, my choosing Him as my Lord and Savior, is my rebirth. This is humanism in effect, and it is emphatically Arminianism. Its prevalence does not sanctify its error.

Second, there is the error of sacerdotalism, the belief that a power resides in the church and the sacrament, when the power really remains totally in the hands of the sovereign God. The church too often tries to impose a straightjacket on God's actions and on our freedom in Christ. Sacerdotalism too is a form of humanism. The church's right is to administer baptism, not to control or define it apart from Scripture.

It is important to insist on the priority of God in all things, and therefore certainly in baptism. The churches, by following erroneous ideas about baptism and other matters have lost much power as well as much freedom. It is interesting to read C. H. Dodd's 1951 comment about the first Christians:

But the most striking thing about the early Christians was their astonishing confidence in the face of overwhelming opposition. The Church was a minority movement, with every kind of power in the world against it. But they were convinced that all this power was already crumbling away. They knew it, and soon (they thought) everyone would know it. So they refused to be intimidated.1

The rite of baptism is a part of this holy confidence, the belief that we are "more than conquerors" in Christ (Rom. 8:37). It is an aspect of our vision of the future, that the world powers are crumbling, and that we are citizens of a kingdom that shall have no end.

We therefore rejoice in baptisms, in a child's or an adult's, because we know that, whereas death reigns outside of Christ, we are in Christ's kingdom, and He shall prevail.

Notes

1. Dodd, C. H., The Coming of Christ (Cambridge, England: University Press, 1951), 5.


Topics: Biblical Law, Justice, Philosophy

R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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