Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Meditation on Baptism

Note: I gave this meditation about two years ago when my youngest son was baptized. I still like what I said then and still think it is a helpful way of thinking and talking about the issues around children, baptism, and the Lord's Supper. This is the first part; perhaps I'll post the second part, on the Supper, later. Both parts of the meditation were eventually published on the PCANews website.

We have a great joy today, to have both sacraments in our worship. And I have great joy today, to participate in both, as my son is baptized and as we as God's people come to the table. It is in my role, though, as an officer of the church that I want us to think through what we are doing here this morning. Why are we going to baptize? And what are we doing when we baptize?

Well, we baptize because we believe God in Christ has commanded us to do so. "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations," Christ said, "baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20).

All Christians agree on this; all Christians agree that God has commanded us to baptize with "one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5). But we would go further and say that we are baptizing a child because God in Christ has commanded us to do so, starting in Genesis in Abraham's household circumcision and continuing on in Acts in Lydia and the Philippian jailer's household baptism.

In addition, we baptize our children because God has made promises to us to be a God to our children and us and to set apart our children for his holy purposes. Baptism is a sign and seal of these promises. Baptism is like a big road sign that points our children onto the proper path of faith in Jesus Christ. It is like a royal seal on a royal proclamation promising salvific benefit to those who believe in Jesus. It is like a jersey that identifies, that marks, the baptized on a different team from the world.

Now, there are those who say that we baptize because we presume that our children are regenerate, born again. If we don't presume regeneration, we are told, then, we are presuming that our children are pagan. Is this true? Do we, do I, in fact, presume that Benjamin is born again and thus should receive baptism? No, I don't. Does this mean that I presume he is pagan? No, I don't go that way either. I don't presume anything. Rather, we trust in God's promise to be a God to our children and to us; we train our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, catechizing them in our most holy faith; and we leave the question of his current spiritual estate open, safely in the Lord's hands for "the Lord knows those who are his" (2 Timothy 2:19; cf. Numbers 16:5).

Someday, hopefully sooner rather than later, Benjamin, along with our other children, will make a profession of faith. Lord willing, he will confess that he is a sinner, deserving God's wrath. He will confess that he has no resources in himself to stand in the day of God's judgment; all his works are filthy rags before a holy God. He will repent of his sins and his innate rebellion against God and he will turn in faith to Jesus Christ, trusting in his blood and righteousness alone for salvation. Then, he will come before the session, and he will have his faith examined, and he will be admitted as a communicant member of this church.

If, when, that happens, what can we say? We can say that "the grace promised" in his baptism, the grace "really exhibited" in his baptism, that grace was "conferred…in God's appointed time" in the work of God's Word and Spirit. In that day, baptism as a road sign that points Benjamin to Christ was effectual. In that day, baptism as a royal seal of God's gospel promises of Christ and his benefits to Benjamin have come to fruition. In that day, as Benjamin clings to Christ by faith, then all that baptism points to and guarantees—ingrafting into Christ, regeneration, remission of sins, newness of life—it will all be his.

But why? Because somehow this water was magical? Because these words were just right, a hocus pocus that caused grace to happen? Because Sara and I have enough faith or because we did everything right as parents? No—this will happen, Lord willing, as God by his grace keeps his promises for his own glory.

But what if the worst happens? What if, God forbid, Benjamin grows up and goes to college and walks away from the church and does not claim God's promise of salvation in Christ for his own? Is baptism pointless? Has God failed? I would say, no and no. Baptism is not pointless; indeed, "it [is] a great sin to condemn or neglect this ordinance." God tells us to do this; God has his purposes in this sign. In addition, we don't know the end of the story. Hopefully, Benjamin will out live Sara and myself; and as long as he lives, God's promise in the Gospel will be held out to him.

But would God's promise be ineffective if Benjamin does not own Christ someday? Not at all. There are mysteries of God's purposes in play, certainly; after all, both Ishmael and Isaac were circumcised; both Esau and Jacob. Simon the Sorcerer was baptized. Baptism neither ties God down nor are his purposes frustrated; it can be a sign of judgment as well as a sign of grace.

As a church officer and a parent, I pray that Benjamin's baptism today will be a sign of God's grace to him "in God's appointed time." That the Spirit baptism which this water baptism signifies will spiritually wash him and will make him part of God's true people, the true children of Abraham, in that day when he embraces Christ by faith. And I pray that each of our baptisms will be fruitful for us in a similar way as we improve them during this time for God's glory.

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