Baptism 2 - Response to Stuart Latimer's Christian Baptism series, sermon 2

10/28/2010 11:49

Sermon 2 – Infant Baptism


Response by Dan Salter:


In his second sermon on Christian Baptism, Pastor Latimer’s argument for infant baptism hinges on two major points with which I disagree. His first point concerns paedobaptism’s symmetry with circumcision’s application to infants. Pastor Latimer read from Genesis 17 in which we find that circumcision is indeed the sign (picture) and seal (stamp of guarantee) of the Abrahamic covenant.

Pastor Latimer takes some liberty, however, in addressing the father’s intent in circumcising his children. He says that in presenting his child to the priest for circumcision, the father is saying:


1. I am marking out my child for God.

2. I take responsibility of training him rightly.

3. I can point him to the Lord through this sign.


I would agree with only the first of his three points. While the other two points could indeed have been true of the father’s attitude and (in my opinion) should have been true of the father’s attitude, the Bible nowhere says that they are among the signifying points that circumcision conveys. Circumcision is a sign (mark) of entrance into the covenant. Abraham’s descendants were commanded by God to carry this mark. Therefore, Abraham and his descendants so marked the males born to them—not as personal commitment by the fathers to instruct their children, but rather in simple obedience to God’s covenant commandment.

Pastor Latimer states that the New Covenant sign and seal is water baptism. He further states that just as the old covenant father brought his child to be circumcised, marking him for God, the New Covenant father brings his infant child to be baptized, marking him/her for God. In his defense of this line of reasoning, Pastor Latimer states that God again and again emphasizes Abraham and his descendants and that “God works through families.” I do not argue with God’s emphasis on family. My disagreement here relates to the very basis of the covenants.

Hebrews 10 tells us that the old covenant was a shadow of the new. Thus, we must be careful when applying old covenant practice to what we think should be New Covenant practice. Old covenant practice took the blood of sacrificial animals and actually sprinkled it on the people. In the New Covenant, Christ’s shed blood is applied to us, but not by a literal sprinkling as in the old covenant. We thus see literal application in the old covenant that is figuratively applied in the New. The covenant with Abraham was established by God and promised to be kept by God whether Abraham and his other descendants kept it or not. Abraham, through sin, failed to keep the old commandment. All of his descendants (save one), because of sin, failed to keep the obligations of the covenant. But God kept his word by providing a descendant for Abraham who kept all of the old covenant obligations. That Covenant-Keeper presented himself as priest and sacrifice. He took our sins on himself; he died for them; and, because of his holy soul (Acts 2:27), he was resurrected. By all of that—the covenant keeping, substitutionary sacrifice, and resurrection—he was declared to be the Son of God (Romans 1:4). Not only did he give us his righteousness, but he gave us his Spirit by which we also may be called the sons of God (Romans 8:14).

My point in recounting this is to identify our father as God and our priest as God. Under the old covenant, the father brought his newborn child to the priest to mark in that child the sign of the covenant—circumcision. In the New Covenant, it is our Father God and our Priest Christ who must initiate the sign and seal. To lock New Covenant community into old covenant economy is a literalist exercise that loses the impact of the new spiritual family that God has created. God focused on Abraham and his descendants first to point to Christ, the firstfruits Covenant-Keeper, and then also to us. It is for this reason that Romans and Galatians insist that Abraham is the father of Gentile believers—because we are sons through Christ. That is the family line of emphasis. That is the New Covenant community—no longer the physical, covenant-breaker descendants of Abraham, but the spiritual, through Christ covenant-keepers who have experienced the new birth. We are born into Christ’s family. At that birth we receive the covenant sign and seal. As Pastor Latimer stated, “God has no grandchildren.” In other words, we all are directly sons and daughters of God. Therefore, the sign/seal of the New Covenant should be passed to us directly from the Father of our spiritual birth, not through the father of our physical birth. And God becomes our Father spiritually, not at physical birth, but at spiritual birth. In that sense, therefore, baptism of infants has no place.

The second of Pastor Latimer’s major points with which I disagree is in naming baptism the sign/seal of the New Covenant. As Pastor Latimer ably argued, in the old covenant, the father brought the new child to the priest who marked him with the sign/seal. That sign/seal was something that stayed with him throughout his life. In the New Covenant, the spiritual Father and spiritual Priest mark the new child of spiritual birth with the sign/seal. It is a spiritual sign/seal—the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This sign (unlike baptism) continues throughout the new child of God's spiritual life.

Pastor Latimer says that baptism is the New Covenant sign/seal on the basis of Colossians 2:11-12. But consider the lack of qualification that baptism has as a sign/seal. Even if Colossians 2:11-12 refers to the water baptism rite (a view with which I personally disagree), it mentions only being buried with him in baptism. The rising, according to the verse, is through faith. Thus, if it must be a sign, verse 12 applies it only as a sign of death, not of the resurrected life.

As qualification of the indwelling Holy Spirit as sign and seal, Scripture offers the following:

2 Corinthians 1:21-22 "And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee."

2 Corinthians 5:5 "For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened -- not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee."

Ephesians 1:13-14 "In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory."

Ephesians 4:30 "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption."


Finally, Pastor Latimer assumes that the Jews listening to Peter’s Acts 2 sermon would consider it a radical thing were Peter to argue for baptizing individuals without a covenantal baptizing of their children. As already argued, the New Covenantal community is a spiritual family, not a physical one. But putting that aside for a moment, a close look at Acts 2:38-39 may reveal that the baptism of which Peter speaks is not necessarily the water rite. Peter calls out to repent and be baptized. Considering the meaning of the word here and the parallel construct of the phrase used by Christ and others (e.g., "repent and believe" or "repent and turn"), Peter is calling out for them to repent and give themselves over to or immerse themselves in Christ and his kingdom. This cannot be a call to perform a water rite because the result (verse 38) is forgiveness of sins.

Pastor Latimer insists that verse 39 groups the “you” and “your children” as a conjoined group for baptism even though the statement mentions three groups, not two. If Peter’s intent was to assume the baptism of the second group (your children) on the basis of the belief of the first group (you), it would seem that we would also have to baptize the third group (all who are far off) on the basis of the baptism of the first group as well. But Pastor Latimer ignores the third group while maintaining some required (but unstated) connection between the first two groups. His reasoning is less than compelling.

Pastor Latimer also claims that not baptizing children would be too radical a change in applying the sign of a covenant for Peter to remain silent about it. (Of course, I argue that it is not a sign, hence his silence.) But Peter also does not provide a reason for the radical change in covenant sign from circumcision to water application. He does not provide a reason for the radical change in applying the sign to women as well as to men. He does not provide a reason for the radical change from a sign of blood to a sign of water. If baptism is truly the sign of the New Covenant, why is Peter silent about all these other radical changes? As Pastor Latimer says, we must think like the Jewish people of that century standing there listening to Peter. If this is truly a new covenant sign, why does Peter not explain all these radical changes? I would argue it is not the New Covenant sign. But in any case, in the face of Peter’s silence on these other radical changes, Peter’s silence on no longer baptizing infant physical family members into the covenant community cannot be used as proof that they, therefore, must be assumed to be included in baptism on the basis of the parent’s initiation.

In conclusion, the following assertions appear to me to be compelling: (1) primary correlation is evident between circumcision as a sign of the old covenant and the gift of the Holy Spirit as a sign of the New Covenant, not baptism as a New Covenant sign; (2) baptism now, as was John’s baptism in the Jordan, is a public display of an inward commitment, but no sign or seal of the New Covenant and, therefore, not justified before the new birth; and (3) the mode or manner of baptism is not significant.