I want to pick up on one example of thee continuity-discontinuity question and look at baptism. Our church practices “Believers’ Baptism” but a lot of churches practice “paedo-baptism.” The argument for this among Reformed Christians is as follows
– We are ingrafted into the Covenant with Abraham – therefore there is covenantal continuity
– The mark of being in the covenant was circumcision on the 8th day. Children were objectively included in the communion by this sign.
– The promise of Salvation says Peter is “To you and your children and your children.”
– Baptism replaces circumcision as the Covenant seal.
– A minor supporting argument (I think mainly made by Doug Wilson) is that there was no New Testament dispute about the abolition of circumcision. People would expect their children to be included within the Covenant and therefore there would have been an argument about the loss of the seal of the covenant for the child, unless it had been replaced.
Earlier I noted that some Baptists emphasise covenant discontinuity here. Their argument is that we have a new covenant (Jeremiah 31) and therefore the old covenant markers have completely gone and the new ones are not comparable.
I think a better argument is that there is a deeper covenant continuity but the movement we are looking for is not from one symbol to another but for a movement from ineffectual outward symbol to effectual heart change.
This means that the movement is from outward circumcision to inward heart circumcision.
Colossians 2:11 puts it this way:
11 When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature”
Now, verse 12 does put this event in the context of baptism:
12 For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.
It is the close proximity of a verse about baptism that causes paedo-baptists to draw the link. However, look again, verse 13-15 says:
13 You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. 14 He cancelled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. 15 In this way, he disarmed[d] the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.
The circumcision language shows up again and the language is all about cutting away sinful nature, receiving forgiveness and having the charge sheet against us nailed to the Cross. We are in the language of regeneration, penal substitution and justification. In other words, Paul is describing conversion. So, it is no surprise to see that baptism shows up here too because baptism is integral with conversion as the outward marker of the heart profession. That’s why throughout the NT the command is “Repent and be baptised.”
Baptism cannot be the outward marker of an inherited covenant membership unless it comes with an inherited faith. In other words, the child is regenerate on the basis of their parents faith. Most Evangelical paedo-baptists stop far short of this because it starts to sound like baptismal-regeneration and that’s all a little Roman Catholic isn’t it. This was one of the concerns that many had with Federal Vision theology. Was it pushing towards baptismal infant regeneration?
In that context it is helpful to pick up on the quote from Peter. “The promise is for you, your children and your children’s children…” sounds very much like a covenant promise that will be inherited – passed down the generations, doesn’t it? That’s until you get the full quote.
39 This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away —all who have been called by the Lord our God.”
The full quote is not about something being passed on to your children so that they inherit covenant membership on the basis of your covenant membership. Rather this is a fantastic Gospel call to pass the word on and share the good news with as many as possible, both those in your family and those outside of it.
Finally, it is worth looking at the so called dog that did not bark -the great argument over whether you could stop circumcising your children.
1. The dog does bark -circumcision and even whether Gentiles need it comes up in the NT. Paul’s response is never “Don’t worry about it -you are having baptism instead.”
2. There are actually other clear pointers to why baptism is something distinct. You see, baptism, starting with those who came to John and going on to those who hear the message in Acts is offered to people who have been circumcised. Baptism is doing something different.