Friday, February 8, 2008

Baptism in the Reformed confessions

So far I have described baptism's function as a sign and seal of the new covenant promises. Perhaps a few relevant, if redundant, quotes from various Reformed confessions and catechisms would be helpful at this point.

From the Heidelberg Catechism:

Question 66: What are sacraments?
Sacraments are holy signs and seals for us to see. They were instituted by God so that by our use of them he might make us understand more clearly the promise of the gospel, and might put his seal on that promise. And this is God's gospel promise: to forgive us our sins and give us eternal life by grace alone because of Christ's one sacrifice finished on the cross.

Question 69: How does baptism remind you and assure you that Christ's one sacrifice on the cross is for you personally?
In this way: Christ instituted this outward washing and with it gave the promise that, as surely as water washes away the dirt from the body, so certainly his blood and his Spirit wash away my soul's impurity, in other words, all my sins.

From the Belgic Confession:

Article 33: The Sacraments
We believe that our good God, mindful of our crudeness and weakness, has ordained sacraments for us to seal his promises in us, to pledge his good will and grace toward us, and also to nourish and sustain our faith.

He has added these to the Word of the gospel to represent better to our external senses both what he enables us to understand by his Word and what he does inwardly in our hearts, confirming in us the salvation he imparts to us.

For they are visible signs and seals of something internal and invisible, by means of which God works in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. So they are not empty and hollow signs to fool and deceive us, for their truth is in Jesus Christ, without whom they would be nothing.

Article 34: The Sacrament of Baptism
. . . Having abolished circumcision, which was done with blood, [Jesus Christ] established in its place the sacrament of baptism. By it we are received into God's church and set apart from all other people and alien religions, that we may be dedicated entirely to him, bearing his mark and sign. It also witnesses to us that he will be our God forever, since he is our gracious Father. . . .

In this way [that is, water baptism] he signifies to us that just as water washes away the dirt of the body when it is poured on us and also is seen on the body of the baptized when it is sprinkled on him, so too the blood of Christ does the same thing internally, in the soul, by the Holy Spirit. It washes and cleanses it from its sins and transformed us from being the children of wrath into the children of God. . . .

So ministers, as far as their work is concerned, give us the sacraments and what is visible, but our Lord gives [to those whom he has foreknown] what the sacrament signifies--namely the invisible gifts and graces; washing, purifying, and cleansing our souls of all filth and unrighteousness; renewing our hearts and filling them with all comfort; giving us true assurance of his fatherly goodness; clothing us with the "new man" and stripping off the "old," with all its works.

From the Westminster Confession of Faith:

Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ, and his benefits; and to confirm our interest in him: as also, to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the church, and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to his Word. (27:1)

There is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other. (27:2)

The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither doth the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that doth administer it: but upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution, which contains . . . a promise of benefit to worthy receivers. (27:3)

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. . . . (28:1)

Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it; or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated. (28:5)

The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God's own will, in his appointed time. (28:6)


Ted M. Gossard said...

Question 69: Yes, it's the Spirit's work. That's the real seal and assurance.

Baptism is good for depicting that work of our sins being washed away, but it's a Spirit work through faith in Jesus.

Ted M. Gossard said...

article 33 of Belgic Confession

I stand to be corrected, but I don't follow this either. They are not empty signs BECAUSE they point us to the reality in which we now live in Christ. Not because we can be ever strenghthened by them.

Water baptismal language in the New Testament I think is usually metaphorical for something that is not water baptism itself.

And I want to get in here that I'm back to my older thinking that for example when we're told that we're all children of God by faith in Jesus Christ. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3 I think), that is talking about the Spirit baptism of 1 Corinthians 12:13, which also refers to the washing of 1 Corinthinas 6- and if water baptism is as high as these theologians think, then why does Paul say what he says in 1 Corinthians 1?

It's important in its place, but it's only a sign of the reality, and certainly not an empty sign. Regeneration can occur at water baptism, or before or after. That's rather beside the point since surely the Spirit baptism and the water baptism are two different things.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I'll keep working on this. I really appreciate your good and diligent work. I would encourage you to consider picking up and reading this book (here too). Ben Witherington III is a top notch evangelical scholar, and you have to read the entire book (only 135 pages). He challenges both Baptists and Paedo-Baptists to the hilt, entirely based on Scripture.

I don't see how he can be refuted on some of what he says, since it's really Scripture. But it's like being in a seminary classroom with an excellent and clear professor, who nevertheless challenges you to the hilt, with nearly every sentence, or at least paragraph of what he is saying, or in this case what I was reading.

He actually is not opposed to infant baptism in the end, though Scot McKnight, who believes in believer's baptism, emailed me that this is the best book on water baptism- and Scot has a commendation of it on the blurb of the book.

I take in only what I can and what makes sense to me by Scripture, so my comments this evening were based on what I've believed not without some significant input from the book I read today.

Again, I really think it could be helpful for both you and Olivia. It is again, not the easiest read in the world, not because it isn't clear, I think I followed him for the most part. But because it is challenging. Best not read in a day, I suppose.

At any rate, Andrew, the Lord's blessing on you and on your life and work- in every way. Keep at it; keep going on and growing in all God has so richly given you!

Andrew said...

I totally agree with your second post about article 33 of the Belgic Confession. I can't disagree at all. In fact, I think it's a wonderful, concise, clear description of Baptism. We do need to warn against automatically equating reception of the sign with reception of the thing signified. People can certainly be reborn both prior to or after baptism; otherwise the "wind doesn't blow as it pleases" (John 3:7).