REASONS FOR INFANT BAPTISM? Do they exist?

PAEDOBAPTISM. Is there a valid reason for doing it? More importantly, is there a valid biblical reason for doing it? See THIS ARTICLE for my thoughts on paedobaptism and the covenant of grace. Over the last few months, a dear brother in the Lord has been sharing what he deems to be “Reasons for Infant Baptism.” Of course, he comes from a Presbyterian perspective, so it only makes sense that he would promote such a position. What I can appreciate is that all of his “reasons” have Scripture attached to them. In fact, many of them are nothing more than a verse or passage left to speak for itself. But just because one can post a verse or passage from the Bible does not mean it is automatically a biblical justification. It is this which I have sought to demonstrate in my responses to him. Those responses make up the underlying structure and content of this article. I will break it down into sections, with each one representing a different reason. As you read, I encourage you to think about how you might have responded to each of these propositions.

REASON #1
“And Peter Said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’” (Acts 2:38-39)

I have heard this verse used by paedobaptists more times than I can possibly count. As with many things in life, this is just another instance where popularity doesn’t necessarily equate to accuracy. Bottom line: These verses have nothing to do with infant baptism. This is a case for the Elect coming from all groups of people. The promise is for everyone who is called by God. If it was for the children of believers, it means all the children would also have to be called. If all the children are called, it stands to reason that all the children would also be predestined, justified, and glorified. Since we know not all children of believers fall into this category, we can also know the passage is not saying all children of believers are called (any more than all who are far off are called). Therefore, to use this verse to justify infant baptism, it must also be used to justify the baptism everybody who is far off. Or we can accept it for what it’s actually saying: God calls His own, and they may come from Israelite parents, their children, or anyone else. Context matters!

REASON #2
“And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” (Genesis 17:7)

Would anyone be shocked that I disagree with this being a reason for infant baptism? Abraham had physical descendants, with Christ being the Seed. Whereas Abraham’s physical descendants partook of the blessings of the covenant, only spiritual descendants are part of the covenant of grace. This is accomplished by being united in Christ through faith. Ephesians 2:12-13 makes it clear that Gentiles were once far off but have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Anybody who believes in limited atonement would have to admit the blood of Christ was only shed for the Elect. Therefore, only the Elect are brought near. Since Christ is the only way into the covenant (i.e. once being far off and now being brought near), only the Elect can possibly be in the covenant of grace. Since baptism is a sign of membership in the covenant of grace, it should only be applied to those who are in it and precaution should be taken against applying it to anyone who does not have faith in the Son. Therefore, this passage, when taken in the full context of the New Testament, would actually have nothing to do with infant baptism.

Oftentimes, a paedobaptist will follow up with an attempt to back the credobaptist in a corner by asking if they have only ever baptized genuine believers, as if mistakenly baptizing a false convert will completely vindicate their system. There are certainly many who go through the motions of baptism when they never should have. This number includes both unbelievers who perhaps exhibited some sign of fruit only to later fall away, as well as infants. But just because there are non-Elect who go through the motion of baptism doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do our due diligence to prevent it from happening as often as we can. Also, I would say the non-Elect are never truly baptized because they lacked an essential part of a valid baptism: faith.

Earlier, I alluded to the covenant of grace. While there are many flavors of paedobaptists (i.e. Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutherans, etc), when it comes to Presbyterians, our differences really do boil down to our system of covenant theology. Regarding baptism, the Presbyterian argument (in a highly summarized nutshell) is that circumcision was a sign of the old covenant and baptism is a sign of the new covenant. In this, it would be safe to say that, in such a view, baptism has taken the place of circumcision. Where I feel this is impossible is in the fact that, while circumcision was the sign of the old covenant, circumcision is still very much the sign of the new covenant. The difference is in who it is applied to as well as the one doing the applying. In both the old and new covenants, circumcision was given to all who were in it. The old covenant was physical in nature. Thus, a physical sign was given from men to men. In the new covenant, it is spiritual in nature. Thus, a spiritual sign is given from God. No longer are we circumcised in the flesh but are circumcised in the heart. This circumcision of heart (a sign of being in the covenant of grace) is only given to believers through faith in Jesus Christ. Circumcision of the flesh was typological of the circumcision of heart. Since circumcision is very much still the sign being applied, to replace it with baptism becomes a dangerous precedent because it replaces that which God has not done away with. Baptism is what believers do out of obedience to God as they profess their faith to other men, but baptism is not the new circumcision nor has it replaced it. Additionally, the verse in Genesis 17 is about the spiritual future of the New Covenant. While it did have a practical application for the people of Israel, hence circumcision being a physical sign, it was another facet of the typological nature of the Abrahamic Covenant and not a matter of substance in the New Covenant.

REASON #3
“In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism…” (Colossians 2:11). The sign given to Abraham when God made a covenant with him was circumcision, given to infants. Baptism is the new sign of the covenant, the new circumcision.

While there is certainly talk of circumcision in the verse above, baptism doesn’t actually circumcise anyone. The circumcision that occurs is circumcision of the heart by the Spirit. It’s the removal of our heart of stone and giving us a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). Baptism is the outward proclamation that the inward reality (circumcision of heart) exists. The external sign should never be worn by one who does not possess the inward reality.

REASON #4
“For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea…” (1 Corinthians 10:1-3). Israel, including children, were baptized in the Old Testament.

Considering paedobaptists attempt to correlate circumcision to baptism, and not the Red Sea to baptism, I truly failed to pick up on this. I just had no idea how it was even being related. The “baptism” into Moses wasn’t a sacrament or a sign of a covenant. It was describing what they went through as they passed through the waters. Through discussion, it was explained to me that just because circumcision is connected to baptism does not mean that there are no other texts of scripture that teach us about it, and that Paul connects what happened to the Israelites in the Exodus account to the life of believers today. Essentially, he was not using the above passage as straight exegesis but rather as inference. But is it proper inference? I dare say not.

Despite the explanation that was offered up, I still failed to see the connection of Paul using the word “baptizo” with the ordinance of baptism in the life of the Church. Again, he was being descriptive of what they went through, with the primary purpose being in running the race and being obedient. It wasn’t a message on baptism, infant or otherwise. Not only is the passage not an explicit text on baptism, it’s not even an implicit text with good and necessary consequence or inference. I can 100% agree with good and necessary consequences. I just don’t agree that this is one of them. I think this is a very far stretch to shoehorn unbiblical tradition into the life of the church (and I mean no offense by that, just stating it as I believe it to be). In this case, my brother felt like Paul using the word baptizo should be enough to mean they were baptized, and that we should take it as a written example for us to follow.

Personally, I don’t take it to mean what he was asserting. If one didn’t believe in infant baptism, I think most would read that verse very differently. It’s neither descriptive nor prescriptive when it comes to the ordinance of baptism as found in the Church. I think this is an instance of grasping at straws and possibly an instance of an equivocation fallacy. There’s literally nothing in it that would lead the reader to think Paul was referring to the ordinance of baptism and relating it to entire families. That’s just a really big stretch. All it says is that they all passed through the sea and were immersed into Moses. The example is not baptism for all but rather to not be disobedient as the followers of Moses were. We are to be immersed in Christ and be obedient in faith. It’s a thought that immediately follows chapter 9 where it speaks of such things. Again, this simply is not an argument for infant baptism and, if anything, is an argument against it since infants cannot run the race and be obedient in faith. They can’t be immersed in Christ. Therefore, they would only end up receiving a hollow version of a sacrament.

REASON #5
“Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” (Psalm 127:3-5a)

At the risk of being overly blunt, this is even more of a stretch than Reason #4. Children are a blessing, but that doesn’t mean all blessings are baptized. Otherwise, I’d have to baptize my house in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. While having absolutely nothing to do with infant baptism, this text fits perfectly with a Baptist worldview. Children are a blessing and, more importantly, it is obedience to the command given in Genesis 1:28. But our children are still under the dominion of Satan unless regenerated by the Spirit. This is why we raise our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord while stressing the need for them to trust in Christ as their Savior, lest they be lost to the pits of Hell without Him.

REASON #6
“Did he (the Lord) not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring…” (Malachi 2:15)

As with all the other reasons given before now, this is also a stretch. This verse has nothing to do with infant baptism nor does it contain an underlying reason to baptize infants. Note the last part of verse 15 (that was conveniently cut off when it was posted):

“So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. “

This verse is speaking about how the priests were unrighteous and sinning against their wives. Notice that verse 3 says their children would be rebuked as a result. We see a similar warning in Leviticus 26:16. The passage isn’t referencing infant baptism. It’s not even about godly parenting. It’s about a covenant between a man and his wife and the consequence that comes with breaking it. I, too, seek godly offspring. This is why I raise them to know they are sinners in need of Jesus instead of telling them they’re part of an unbreakable covenant even if they don’t have faith (which would make them children of Satan).

I was then met with the claim that he was not trying to interpret it as a command to baptize infants but that he was using it as justification for determining what view of baptism allowed for the category of “godly seed”. He said God desires faith and faithfulness in a marriage because of what it produces, and that such logic carries over to the New Testament. While I promote there are only two categories of children in Scripture, children of God or children of Satan, his position is that there are additional categories that must be recognized in order to properly understand how the children of believers are to be dealt with. I can appreciate the desire to do something with these children, but I just do not see the biblical warrant to baptize them.

As for the category of what best describes godly seed, I would say that is going to entirely depend on whether or not God calls the child to Himself, not whether or not a child has been baptized. Certainly, any Reformed person would agree that we are all children of the devil prior to regeneration (John 8:44). So long as one remains in this state, he/she is not godly. The Presbyterian must create a third category, but those are the only two spiritual states laid out in Scripture. There simply is no third option. Anything else would be a purely fabricated category that would have nothing to do with their spiritual status. We are either in Adam or in Christ. That’s it. If we are in Adam, we need Christ and any blessings that might come our way are only because of either God’s common grace or as a byproduct of blessings given to His believing children that have a residual effect. I’m not even sure how one can say there is another category apart from Adam or Christ, Satan or God, unregenerate or regenerate. To say children of believers, so long as they remain in an unregenerate state, are anything other than children of the devil (in a spiritual sense) is to be at odds with Scripture. All humanity, regardless of whether or not their parents are saved, are in dire need of a Savior and are not adopted into the covenant until they enter through faith. The fact that Presbyterians believe in preaching the gospel to their kids only serves as an inconsistency in their view of the covenant of grace. To place them in a third category that merits bearing the sign of the covenant treats kids like they’re in, even though they lack faith and still belong to Satan.

Credobaptism is the clear demonstration from Scripture. I assert infant baptism is purely tradition, be it Presbyterian, Catholic, Lutheran, or other. This is further amplified by the fact that the Presbyterian version of paedobaptism isn’t even the original reason it was performed. Remember, other paedobaptist systems came before them and each had their own separate reasons. Thus, the Presbyterian edition is a revised version that clung to an action of tradition while merely changing its reasoning.

REASON #7
“For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” (1 Corinthians 7:14). The children of at least one believer are considered holy and not unclean like the world.

This is perhaps one of the easiest arguments to defeat. The basis of the argument is that the children of at least one believing parent is considered clean (i.e. holy) and should therefore be baptized. However, the unbelieving husband is also explicitly called holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is explicitly called holy because of her husband. Therefore, if the argument is that since the unbelieving child should be baptized due to being made holy by one believing parent, you would also have to argue that an unbelieving spouse should be baptized due to being made holy by the one believing spouse. If Presbyterians will not advocate for an unbelieving spouse to be baptized, it shows they don’t even really believe their own argument, at least not with any level of consistency. In fact, if one states the unbelieving spouse should abstain from baptism and the Supper, it would only serve to demonstrate why the unbelieving infant should also abstain.

But this goes back to the previous “reason” where the idea was floated that there are other categories apart from elect and reprobate within the Church. I admit there are various other categories (i.e. elder, deacon, sheep, husband, wife, child, etc), but when it comes to spiritual states, I outright deny this. There are only two. If one desires to be consistent, to use 1 Corinthians 7:14 for infant baptism would also be to use it as justification for the baptism of unbelieving spouses so long as one spouse was a believer. Yet, this isn’t pushed for. For any argument that the children are to be treated differently, the same argument must exist that the unbelieving spouse must be treated differently. Since all males who were part of Abraham’s house were to receive the sign of circumcision, it would stand that all (at a minimum, males) who are in the house of a believer would also have to bear the sign. Faith simply would not play a role. If faith does play a role, it must play the same role for all. This would only be further backed by the fact that the verse puts both unbelieving children and the unbelieving parent in the exact same category. Of course, the Presbyterian view begins not with Scripture but with a category of “covenant children” as rooted in tradition. Again, it requires a foundation of tradition before the subject can ever be broached. Since baptism does not regenerate, the paedobaptist must advocate for children of the devil bearing the sign of the covenant of Christ, void of faith and filled with sin.

But if the children of believers are not considered clean or holy, how can it be declared, with any level of confidence, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15)?” Can a house truly serve the Lord if the children within are not clean, holy, and baptized as children of the covenant who have been marked out as members of the visible Church? Is it a valid category? The problem with using a term like “covenant child” is that it isn’t even hinted at in Scripture. Yes, it could have been used of Old Covenant children but not of the New Covenant. People became members of the Old Covenant by nothing more than simply being born. It included believers, unbelievers, children, and servants. It was meant for a nation and all who were part of it. The New Covenant is far more selective in that only those who are in Christ are in the covenant. This limits the members to being only those who possess faith.

I also noticed a repeated theme in these “reasons” being cited. In many of them, it was said the reasoning does not depend on just that one reason but on all of it combined. However, every last one of the reasons has been easily refuted to show why it does not say what is being claimed. This means the reasoning is now built upon at least eight (counting the next one) refuted passages that are taken out of context. Having a plethora of verses taken out of context doesn’t mean a solid foundation exists. If anything, it demonstrates the opposite. A solid foundation would be built upon multiple verses that all say the same thing and can stand on their own merit individually but gain more strength when taken collectively. This is not the case here.

As for the comment about what marks the visible church, I agree this is baptism (though I would also add to that a public and credible profession of faith). However, the visible church should, in as many ways as possible, reflect the invisible church. This is why, when we discover someone who is living in sin, we might cast them out of fellowship and membership. Similarly, it is why we would not baptize an unbeliever who just so happens to come to church every Sunday (for whatever his reasons may be). To apply the sign to some merely because they sit in a pew or have a parent who believes is to misapply the sign. Yes, unbelieving wives and unbelieving children may be in the pew but that does not make them worthy of receiving the sign.

The holiness being spoken of is in the sense of being sanctified as a household. The believing spouse didn’t have to worry about leaving the unbelieving spouse. This is clearly the context of what’s being said in the passage. The same context is to be applied to the children. They didn’t need to be treated like outsider pagans to be rejected. Just as it isn’t saying they are saved, it also isn’t saying they are the recipients of the sign that is to be given to members of the covenant. This sign only belongs to believers who possess faith in Christ and are admitted membership through said faith.

As for Joshua 24:15, if it requires all members to actively serve the Lord in covenant before one can make the statement, it means a household who has one believing parent and one unbelieving parent would not be able to claim it. The children have no bearing on it. If being able to make the claim first requires baptism and entrance into the covenant, you now have to advocate for the unbelieving parent being admitted into the covenant, baptized, treated as a holy covenant member, and admitted to the Table. While some Presbyterians actually do claim this, I know my brother was not about to go that far. In that respect, I am thankful for his inconsistency.

REASON #8
Infants can die apart from conscious sin due to Adam’s federal headship and his imputed sin. Likewise, they can be saved through Christ’s federal headship and His imputed righteousness. Baptism does not force God’s grace, but it does signify it. See Romans 5:12-21.

Anybody whom God has called can (and will be) saved by His grace alone. If we’re not going to baptize all unbelieving adults in order to signify the potential grace that might be shown to them, we shouldn’t do it for infants either. While they may be saved and shown grace, they may not. Notice that both the WCF and 1689 (in 10.3) leave room by saying “Elect infants dying in infancy are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit; who worketh when, and where, and how he pleases; so also are all elect persons, who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.”

To go a bit further, his reasoning deferred to federal headship. While we are all in Adam by physical birth, we are only in Christ by spiritual rebirth. This first requires the Holy Spirit regenerating an individual. Of course, once regenerate, there is no becoming unregenerate. This is the very basis of Preservation of the Saints. Thus, once a person is regenerate, he are now in Christ and become the proper recipient of the sign. However, apart from this, no sign should be administered, for it becomes a sign administered in vain and error.

CONCLUSION

While there are a great many verses that our Presbyterian brethren will throw out there in an attempt to plead their case, none of them actually support their cause. In fact, when properly exegeted, they will often betray their cause and speak against it. We all come before Scripture with our presuppositions, but we should also always strive to let the Scriptures speak as we pray and meditate upon them. While some of my commentary above may sound harsh at times, it is my hope that you, the reader, will not only see why my brother’s “reasons” are flawed but also see love and grace in my rebuttals.

~ Travis W. Rogers

PAEDOBAPTISM MOCKS THE OLD TESTAMENT

BAPTISM. It’s no surprise that I disagree with paedobaptism. It also shouldn’t be a surprise when I say the Baptist and Presbyterian views of baptism will revolve around how we view the covenant of grace. Each side believes in the covenant of grace, but we greatly differ in how we believe it is applied as well as when it was implemented. Without getting too far into the weeds, Presbyterians (and some others) believe the covenant of grace was active in the Old Testament but was merely a different form of administration as compared to the New Testament. Just as circumcision was a sign of the old covenant, so they feel baptism is a sign of the new covenant. Similarly, just as children in the old covenant were given the sign of circumcision, they feel children of believing parents are considered “covenant children” who should receive the sign of baptism. Now, there is far more to be understood on this topic, but this should suffice to give a fair overview of their beliefs. While my first two statements shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, perhaps my third will. I assert paedobaptism makes a mockery of the Old Testament and the old covenant (i.e. Mosaic covenant) by inadvertently declaring the latter to be a sham.

Before the hate mail begins, allow me to justify my assertion and preface it with the acknowledgment that no Presbyterian would ever dare make such a claim of the old covenant. I do believe our Presbyterian brethren are genuine in their desire to be true to the Word of God. My point is less that they openly declare such a position and more that their belief in infant baptism necessitates it. As we begin, we need to turn our attention to the eighth chapter of Hebrews. I will make bold the parts I plan to discuss in more detail.

6But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, to the extent that He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. 7For if that first covenant had been free of fault, no circumstances would have been sought for a second. 8For in finding fault with the people, He says,

“Behold, days are coming, says the Lord,
When I will bring about a new covenant
With the house of Israel and the house of Judah,
9Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers
On the day I took them by the hand
To bring them out of the land of Egypt;
For they did not continue in My covenant,
And I did not care about them, says the Lord.
10For this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel
After those days, declares the Lord:
I will put My laws into their minds,
And write them on their hearts.
And I will be their God,
And they shall be My people.
11And they will not teach, each one his fellow citizen,
And each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
For they will all know Me,
From the least to the greatest of them.
12For I will be merciful toward their wrongdoings,
And their sins I will no longer remember.”

13When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is about to disappear. -- (Hebrews 8:6-13)

I will use the remainder of this article to lay out my reasoning. For the sake of space, this will just lightly touch on the subject. However, I do believe my case will still be made clear despite the brevity.

To begin, we must keep in mind the author of Hebrews declares the new covenant is not only new (v.8) but is also a better covenant with better promises (v.6). He makes it abundantly clear that this new covenant is not like the old one made with their fathers (v.9). It seems awfully strange to go to such an extent in differentiating the covenants, only for them to end up actually being the same covenant under a different administration. Not to mention, there is zero mention here of administrations. It is the covenants themselves that are different from one another. In the old, there was fault in that it was held together by man (v.7). The new is faultless because it is God Himself who keeps it. Again, the old covenant and new covenant are not the same, and any similarities in the old serve as a type/shadow of the new that was to come.

Let us shift our focus to Hebrews 8:8-12. These verses are quoting Jeremiah 31:31-34. Take note that Jeremiah is speaking in the future tense. At a minimum, the covenant of grace did not yet exist during his day. He clearly wrote of it as being a covenant yet to be. So when was the covenant of grace established? The answer to this is simple. It was established in the crucifixion of our Savior. The covenant of grace was not validly established until His blood was shed (Hebrews 9:16). Just as the old covenant was inaugurated with blood (Hebrews 9:18-19), so was the new covenant. Nobody tries arguing the old covenant existed prior to its inauguration. We must hold the same standard to the new covenant if we hope to be consistent.

But what happened to the old covenant once the new came? According to Scripture, it was made obsolete and disappeared (v.13). With the new covenant, there was no longer a need for the old. The Presbyterian uses words like “administration” because it fits their tradition, but we see no such wording found here. This is an area where I wish Presbyterians had continued reforming. I like to semi-jokingly assert that Lutherans were part of the Reformation but are not Reformed, Presbyterians are partially Reformed, and Particular Baptists are thoroughly Reformed. Of course that’s not to say we’re perfect and have it all figured out, but I do feel in the case of baptism we are further Reformed than our Presbyterian brethren. I also assert infant baptism is a doctrinal holdover of popish error and tradition. If the new covenant was not the old covenant, the new covenant was not inaugurated until the death of Christ, and the old covenant was rendered obsolete upon the establishment and inauguration of the new covenant, it necessitates that the old covenant and new covenant could not both exist simultaneously. The covenant of grace was not valid until it was ratified by Christ through the shedding of His blood, which means it was not active in the Old Testament. Thus, if paedobaptism requires the belief that the covenant of grace was active in the Old Testament, it must first declare the entire old covenant to be a sham. I dare say this is no small claim, but it is the logical conclusion of paedobaptism so long as it holds to the “two administrations” model of the covenant of grace. If the covenant of grace truly existed in the Old Testament, it means the old covenant was obsolete from the beginning, that it was never a valid covenant, and that it was all a sham. Thus, paedobaptism makes a mockery of the old Mosaic covenant and all who believed they were a part of something valid. During their time, the new covenant existed in promise only, the substance yet to be inaugurated.

But what does that make of Old Testament saints? Were they not actually saved? If they were saved, was it by some other means than how we are saved today? Rest assured, Old Testament saints were saved in the very same manner we are today: by faith in Christ alone. Paul makes very clear that Abraham was justified by the same faith that we possess today (Romans 4). This is because Old Testament saints looked forward in faith to the coming Messiah while New Testament saints look back through faith. This faith remains constant, though there was certainly more revealed in time. So does this mean Old Testament saints were actually in the covenant of grace after all? Does this mean they saw heaven from the moment of death because of their faith? The answer to the second question is no. The answer to the first question, however, is a bit more difficult to answer. While they were saved by the same faith, and we can safely say they are part of the covenant of grace, they were not yet in the covenant because it had not yet been established. There was no covenant of grace to be a part of. However, it was their very real faith that saved them. This is why they went to Abraham’s Bosom (for more, READ THIS). This was not a place of uncertainty but of temporary holding until the Christ would come and inaugurate the new covenant. Upon inauguration, all who possessed faith in Christ were now a part of it though Him. The below graphic might help.

TIMELINE OF THE SAINTS

The good news is that there is now a better covenant with better promises. In the old covenant, you could be a full-fledged member simply by birth, yet be bound for hell in unbelief. The better promise of the new covenant is that all who are part of it will see heaven. This is because only those in Christ by faith are members. All members of this new covenant, from the greatest to the least, will know Christ (v.11). Just as circumcision was the sign of the old covenant, so is circumcision required in the new. All new covenant members will bear the sign of a circumcised heart which leads to faith. This is the inward reality of all members. I, too, believe in covenant children but only in one of two ways: either a child who comes to saving faith in Christ, or by the fact that all believers are children of God. As Pastor Steve Clevenger so succinctly put it, “You are not in the new covenant without the inward realities.”

The new covenant is unbreakable. All who are in it shall remain in it. No covenant member can wear the external signs, void of internal realities, only to fall away or depart later. Such a person only demonstrates they were not covenant members at all. While Baptists may occasionally mistakenly baptize false converts, Presbyterians routinely do so to those who never even proclaim faith, all in the name of a covenantal continuity that does not exist. This is dangerous territory. If you were baptized as an infant only to come to faith later in life, I urge you to be baptized through faith in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the absence of faith, your baptism was just a BATHtism. Seek obedience to your Savior have the ordinance be carried out biblically.

The new covenant is unbreakable! Take peace in this and give thanks to the Lord who has called His own and shall preserve us to the end in such an unbreakable covenant.

~ Travis W. Rogers

Should You Dine Out on the Sabbath?

COVID has not shut the doors of our sanctuary since early 2020, but it has shut the doors of our kitchen. After the benediction and after-service catch-ups, the saints will by-and-large return home to sup with their families, while the hungry remnant plays hot-potato until someone gets stuck with choosing the restaurant. But after a few months of Sunday wings, our brother Sean came to the conviction that the new routine is not biblical. For the record, he has never made it out to be more than a personal conviction or insisted that we do otherwise, but because I take a potential violation of the Sabbath command seriously, I thought that it warrants a careful, systematic response. So, encouraged by the request of others, I will try to do that here. This practical issue is not its own island — it stems from our understanding of the scope, nature, and implementations of the Sabbath command. I pray that it will be useful even for those considering matters outside of this specific Sabbath question.

The Sabbath as Positive-Moral Law

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

Exodus 20:8-12

The Sabbath command is moral law. God thundered it out from Mount Sinai as part of His perfect, righteous standard to the condemnation of His hearers. The Hebrews begged the voice to cease (Exo. 20:19) — the Law pierced their hearts and revealed their worthiness of death, because it confronted them with the law already written in their hearts (Rom. 2:15). The commandment, which was ordained to life, they found to be unto death (Rom. 7:10), because it was that moral law they knew demanded the judgement pictured by the burning, black mountain. The Sabbath commandment cannot be excised from the other nine and treated as purely ceremonial; it was given with the others for the undoing of the Israelites, so that they might fear and submit themselves to the mercy of the great God who spoke. God circumvents any attempt to treat it as ceremonial law by grounding it in creation itself, leaving no excuse for those who would separate it from the other nine.

Yet, though the Sabbath command is moral law, it is not simply moral law. In the words of the Confession, it is a “positive moral” commandment (2LBCF 22.7). “Positive,” when used in this sense does not mean “good” (although the commandment certainly is good), but rather refers to something commanded by God in addition to what is dictated by the law of nature. To quote Richard Barcellos, “Positive laws are those laws added to the natural or moral law.”1 The Confession uses the same language to describe Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as non-natural institutions — they are God-given institutions given for a specific people living in a specific age.

The Sabbath command is uniquely described as positive-moral. How can it be both? Consulting the Confession again, it tells us “it is the law of nature, that in general a proportion of time, by God’s appointment, be set apart for the worship of God” (2LBCF 22.7). The law written on the heart of man teaches him three things concerning this commandment:

1. God should be worshiped.

2. Worship requires a proportion of time.

3. The time and manner of this worship should be determined by the One being worshiped.

The last of those three precepts of moral law obligates man to seek positive law — there is a universal, binding demand upon all men to discover when, where, and how God has commanded Himself to be worshiped in the age they live in. Positive and moral law, accordingly, are intimately linked in the fourth commandment. But although they are linked, they are also distinct. The positive law necessitated by the moral law may be (and has been) changed according to the good pleasure of God. We must learn what has and hasn’t changed to worship Him correctly.

The Purpose of the Sabbath in its Covenantal Administrations

There is a two-fold purpose for the Sabbath. God tells us the first reason immediately after giving the commandment: “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it” (Exo. 20:11). This Sabbath was given (according to the One who gave it) to point to God’s work and His completion of that work. It was not given merely for the ceasing of our work — our rest from our labors is a means to an end, which is to worship God for His work. But the work of God we must acknowledge is more than His first creation — we must principally acknowledge the completion of His work for the new creation. It is impossible to enjoy God’s Sabbath rest apart from the completion of His work for His new creation:

For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief: … There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.

Hebrews 4:2-6,9-10

Those who enter into God’s rest are only those who believe and approach the throne of grace through the free salvation offered by the High Priest, Jesus Christ (Heb. 4:14-16). The true Sabbath, then, that our weekly celebration points to is the rest we have in Christ through His finished work of redemption. We dare not pollute this rest through our own works — by ceasing from our works and enjoying the fruits of His, we acknowledge that our rest was accomplished by the monergistic act of God. We cannot add to His work, because we cannot add to the perfection of Christ’s righteousness or to the infinite worth of His payment.

The second reason is implicit in the commandment and made explicit by the Lord: “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Resting in God’s promises, meditating upon His work for us, and rejoicing in Him is for our good. God completed His works for our sake, and set His Son to be a propitiation for our sins because of His love for us. By observing the Sabbath, we proclaim the rest we have in our God to the whole world, modelling the fruits we enjoy because of His blessings in a small way. Contrary to a popular understanding, the Sabbath was not made for man because everyone needs rest. Scripture indicates no such thing, and God will give the wicked no rest day or night as the smoke of their torment rises forever and ever (Rev 14:11). Before God says anything about rest He tells us to keep the Sabbath holy, and any Sabbath-keeping that doesn’t involve holy rejoicing in God’s rest from His work is no Sabbath-keeping at all, and is no more worthy to be called a fulfillment of the Sabbath command than taking off work for St. Patrick’s Day. The rest is a means to an end, and that end is keeping the Sabbath holy by acknowledging the completion of God’s work and participating in the rest He bought us.

This will bring us to the meat of the matter — the Sabbath can only be kept by God‘s Covenant people. The Sabbath command, as we have said, is moral law and binds all men, yet it binds them by compelling them to seek the way God commands them to worship Him, and to join themselves to His Covenant people so they can do so. Covenant membership is an absolute prerequisite. The very framing of the commandment indicates this, with God telling Israel, “thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates” (Exo. 20:10). There is no hint that the commandment is to be exercised outside of the Covenant nation and her members — the gates mark the boundaries of the cities of Israel (as a quick word study will bear out, it is never a reference to private property). In fact, this language indicates that it is only to be exercised by the Covenant nation. The same language is used for celebrating other Covenant holidays, like the Feast of Weeks: “And thou shalt rejoice before the LORD thy God, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite that is within thy gates, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are among you” (Deut. 16:11). These, of course, were holidays only the Covenant nation could celebrate. It also parallels the language used to describe those who needed to be circumcised: “And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin … And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised” (Gen. 17:11-13). Every fourth commandment group that could be included in the circumcision commandment is found again (thou, thy son, and thy manservant). Only women and cattle are excluded (for obvious reasons), as well as the stranger in the gates, because — in the days of Abraham — there was only a Covenant house instead of a Covenant nation, and most people do not have unemployed strangers living in their house.

Although they are moral law, then, the Ten Commandments were couched in language peculiar to the Covenant they were given in, and could not be framed the same way in all other periods of redemptive history. In a small way, we see this in the fifth commandment when God promises long days “upon the land” for those who honor their parents (Exo. 20:12); when Paul repeats this in the New Testament, it becomes “on the earth” (Eph. 6:3), because the New Covenant people will inherit much more than the physical land promised in the Old Covenant — they will inherit the New Heaven and Earth. But as positive-moral law — as the universal, binding commandment to seek how God commands to be worshiped in the current age — the Sabbath command is more dependent on its covenantal administration than any other. Most obviously, the day has been changed from the seventh to the first. God having finished His work of redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, His people no longer celebrate the Sabbath rest at the end of the week — as something at that we experience at the end of our toil. God has finished the work and plunged us into the Sabbath rest found in Christ, and this rest opens the new week — inaugurating the new work of the new creation. But another change has taken place: God’s Covenant community has progressed from a Covenant house, to a Covenant nation, and now finally to a worldwide Covenant people. No longer a mixed community of believers and unbelievers, the members of the New Covenant are only those who have the law of God written on their hearts (Jer. 31:31-34). Gone are the days of a physical institution representing God’s people, with everyone in them participating in the ordinances, celebrations, and blessings regardless of whether they had a right to the reality pictured by them. Now, only those circumcised in the heart have a right participate in the Lord’s Passover, to receive God’s ordinances, and to celebrate the rest they have in Christ. Try as one might to import the second half of Exodus 20:10 lock, stock, and barrel, it’s an impossible task, because the Church has no gates for a stranger to be within (unless you’re a theonomist). Verse 10, above all, indicates that the Sabbath is to be celebrated within the Covenant community, which is now composed only of believers. Yes, it’s a command that binds all, but it binds all to first become believers so they can observe it.

The Issue at Hand

The argument against eating out on a Sabbath goes as follows: “It’s a violation of the Sabbath command to go to restaurants, because the commandment forbids us from forcing others to work on the Sabbath. And as a moral law, we sin by supporting others when they break it.” My answer to the first part follows from everything outlined above: the Sabbath is to be observed by the Covenant community, and cannot be observed outside of it. The language God uses in Exodus 20:10 is a standard way of denoting the entire Covenant community, which in those days was the whole nation-state of Israel. Even those who had no part in the object of our Sabbath rest points to had to cease from their labors, because the Covenant nation as a whole was designed to point to the rest God’s true people would have. It nowhere forbids people outside of the Covenant community from working, nor is there any place in where believers are worried about the Sabbath-keeping of foreign pagans in the Old Testament or neighboring unbelievers in the New Testament. Since the commandment only forbids the working of those living in the Covenant community, and since the only New Covenant community is the Church of believers, it goes beyond the commandment to forbid the working of an unbelieving waitress. It is certainly no part of the law of nature that unbelievers should benefit from the worship God institutes any more than it’s the law of nature that unbelievers should receive the ordinances of Covenant entry, which was then circumcision. Their involvement was part of the positive (as opposed to moral) aspect of the commandment, and was permitted only because of the corporate nature of the Old Covenant. Not only does it not logically follow for unbelievers outside the New Covenant to participate in a commandment meant to be exercised by the Covenant community, it is also the case that all positive law falls under the regulative principle of worship, and must be explicitly be given by each covenant to be validly practiced. Therefore, it is no more legitimate to enforce Sabbath-keeping for unbelievers than to baptize infants.

As for the second part of the argument, it presupposes something that will not be granted — that unbelievers are more guilty of a Sabbath violation when they work than when they don’t, and so we participate in their sins by paying for their services. The chief end of the Sabbath command is not to rest, but “to keep it holy.” The rest is a means to an end — a command to stop concerning ourselves with the things of the world so that we can focus on worshiping God in the way He has commanded, and enjoy the rest He has given us through Christ. If unbelievers are not working, they are certainly not worshiping God, but spend the day worshiping their idols — literal or figurative. If they take off the Sabbath as a way to share in its blessings while having no part in Christ, they violate two commandments: they profane the Sabbath and take the Lord’s name in vain. Those outside the Covenant have no right to share in the blessings of its rest, but will have their part with those who will never know rest — “There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked” (Is. 48:22). It was necessary for a time that those belonging only to the Old Covenant should enjoy Covenant holidays and Covenant ordinances, but that time has ceased. God was eager to make it cease, and never enjoyed the lip service of the pretenders. These are His words against them:

To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

Isaiah 1:11-15

Why should we compel unbelievers to do that which God has no delight in? Why should we encourage them to act as if they have a part in the Covenant blessings? Why should we affirm any attempt to keep the Sabbath without joining God’s Covenant, when Scripture no where tells us that this is possible? Our message to unbelievers should be this: repent and believe, be baptized, and keep the Sabbath — in that order. We should no more want them to keep the Sabbath before joining the covenant than we should want them to be baptized before professing faith. Until then, they will do more good preparing food for believers then taking the day off to engage in whatever sin their heart delights in. By making food, they at least give believers one less secular task to worry about, giving them a bit more time to keep the Sabbath holy.

[1] https://www.rbap.net/doctrinal-assumptions-and-technical-terms-of-the-confession-on-the-sabbath-22-7/#_edn7

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