Sunday, August 12, 2007

Circumcision and Baptism

Both circumcision and baptism have a much broader meaning than many evangelicals today know or understand. Circumcision, like baptism was given as a sign of faith. “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:” (Romans 4:11)

We find here that Abraham received believer’s circumcision (credo-circumcision), but at the same time his son (Ishmael) and all those in his house also received this very same sign. Did they all believe? No they were not all believers and most were not descendents of Abraham. In fact, the vast majority of those who received this sign, which was “a seal of the righteousness of the faith”, were not even related to Abraham. Yet they were in his house and they were brought into the covenant because he was their federal or covenant head.

Abraham’s son Ishmael received the sign of circumcision and as we know he was not a believer, and to our knowledge, never became one.

In the Old Covenant economy to be an outward member of God’s covenant people (assembly) you had to be circumcised. In order to be a member of God’s covenant people (assembly) today you must be baptised.

Uncircumcised people could not participate in the Covenant Meal, Passover, which God had given to His people. (See Exodus 12:43,48; Num. 9:14). In the New Covenant, the Lord’s Supper has replaced Passover, just as baptism replaces circumcision, and a non-baptised person is not to receive the communion either. In both cases outward covenant membership is required in order to be allowed to the Lord’s meal that He has given to His covenant people.

So circumcision was a sign of God’s covenant people in the Old Covenant, and baptism is the sign given to God’s covenant people in the New Covenant. Both are designed by God to be outward signs of what should be and inward reality.

Our dear Baptist brethren tell us that baptism is for individual repentant believers “only.” Of course I disagree with them and I think I can show that this is also not supported Scripturally (especially if we remember the cultural context of the first century church).

A number of the baptisms mentioned in New Testament Scriptures are household baptisms. Cornelius and his household were baptised, as was Lydia and her household, and the Philippian jailer and his household. We also find that Crispus and his household were baptised and also Stephanas and his household.

There are nine New Covenant baptism episodes in the New Testament and four of them are household baptisms. Of the remaining five, four were of men only and the one remaining (of the Samaritans) is the first to include women for baptism.

If the familial/generational aspect of the Covenant, which is so clearly established in the Scriptures of the Old Testament, is to be continued into the New Covenant era, we should expect to find household baptisms in the New Covenant. Just as we find household circumcisions in the Old Covenant we should find household baptisms in the New. Guess what, this is exactly what we do find in the New Testament Scriptures.

Both circumcision and Passover were a bloody rites, as was and most of the ritualistic worship of ancient Israel. All this shedding of blood pointed to Christ. When Christ came he shed His blood for our sins and all the old covenant bloody ceremonies were either done away with completely, or they were changed to bloodless rites. The Eucharist (Lord’s Supper) is bloodless replaced and it Passover which required the shedding of Blood. Bread and wine take the place of the Passover lamb. Circumcision, which also requires the shedding of blood, was replaced by a bloodless water baptism.

Both circumcision and baptism point to a need for cleansing of the recipient. The Old Covenant saints are called on to circumcise the foreskin of their heart. Baptism is symbolic of the washing away of sin. In both cases the outward sign points the recipient to the inward reality that is symbolised in the outward act.

In the Old Covenant Abraham was saved by faith. God instituted circumcision as the covenant sign given to Abraham because of that faith. We see that clearly spelled out by Paul in Romans (see Romans 4:11). When God covenanted with Abraham the covenant was not for him as an individual alone. It was familial and generational. We Christians are heirs to God’s covenant with Abraham and are Abraham’s seed (see Gal. 3:27-29). In verse 29 Paul says of Christians “And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.” We are, like Isaac, children of the promise. We see that in Gal. 4:28, “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.”

God’s promise to Abraham was generational (I can provide plenty of Scriptures here if needed). We are heirs to that promise and God’s generational promise was repeated at Pentecost, by Peter, to the Jewish converts into the new covenant administration. Peter brought the children of believers in during the very first sermon of the New Covenant era. We read “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:38, 39).

The new sign given for covenant membership is baptism, and the Jews now entering the New Covenant hear in Peter’s sermon what they have heard for two thousand years --- Their children are still included in the covenant promise of God to His people.

At this point we have to ask ourselves how would a first century Jew understand Peter’s words that the “the promise is unto you, and to your children.” We must take into our consideration how the original audience would understand Peter’s statement. This is an important rule of hermeneutics that our individualistic age too often leaves out of consideration at this point.

In the New Covenant we find in-depth explanations of the major discontinuities between the old and new covenants. Dropping the children from God’s covenant membership would be a very drastic and extreme change. Such a change is never taught in the New Covenant Scriptures. In fact the New Covenant Scriptures repeat many times the Old Covenant themes of the inclusion of children in the covenant.

If we are in the New Covenant, which God promised in Jeremiah, than we are Israel and Judah that he is speaking of. In Jeremiah 31:31 we read “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah.”

Israelites from birth were covenant members. God’s New Covenant is with the “house” of Israel and the “house” of Judah. The concept of “house” in scripture includes all members, even those yet unborn. An Israelite came into covenant with God by his birth, and he received the sign of the covenant as an infant. We are the New Israel of God. We can see this clearly in Hebrews. The writer says “In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.” (Hebrews 8:13)

The Old Covenant was, at the time of the writing of the Epistle to the Hebrews, fading away, because the New had come in. The old disappeared completely in 70 AD when Rome put an end to temple rituals and destroyed the temple. We are the Israel of the New Covenant no matter what our ethnicity, because in this new covenant there is neither Greeks nor Jews. We are heirs to the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We are grafted into that olive tree. These are only some of the reasons why I believe our children should be baptised as infants.

In Christ,