LBCF 1689 Reflections. Part 236

Reflections on the Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689

23 Aug 14 began a perhaps unbroken, orderly, and personal journey through my favorite written confession of faith. These are my personal reflections on this beloved historic Particular Baptist confession of the Christian Faith.


Chapter 29. Of Baptism. Paragraph 1a: “Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament…”
Here the writers step back again to briefly examine our two wonderful chief New Covenant ordinances. There is not this baptism in the Old Covenant. Ritual washings, yes. A dipping or baptism of one animal into the blood of another, yes. Leviticus 14:6. But not at all what we’ve been given in Christ. A word study alone shows there is a strong pointing forward and a relation between what God commanded his people to do under the Old Covenant in its ceremonial washings and promises and what he commands of us under the New Covenant, but water baptism is a decidedly “New Testament” thing.

When John the Witness- Jesus’ older cousin- began his preaching, this was a new thing. A new covenant community sign. He preached a “baptism of repentance.” Mark 1:4. No animals to slay, no circumcision, no Shema again to quote, but a baptism to undergo. On Pentecost, Peter’s message was followed up with the command extended to the crowd of men to “repent and be baptized.” Acts 2:38. Thousands were. Jesus commanded his disciples to follow the pattern of preaching and then baptizing those disciple converts who responded to the message in faith. Matthew 28:19. Baptism was new but was a clear command to John “from heaven.” We know that because of what Jesus implied of in Matthew 21:25, but we’re not told where exactly or when the blessed ordinance came to John. Some teachers speak of proselyte baptism into Judaism carrying imagery (which I don’t deny), but there’s nothing in the Old Covenant about the immersion of a believer like this into water. We know that baptism by immersion was how John baptized and how Jesus’ disciples baptized. A simple reading is clear. All of the baptisms recorded without exception are of believers by immersion as such. We furthermore know that this was how the earliest Christians baptized. The Didache for example, one of the earliest documents outside of the New Covenant letters, calls for those baptized to fast and pray prior to the work. It also calls for baptism in cold water and clearly implies it all to be done by submersion. The symbolism commensurate with baptism is most complete in immersion. This was all a new thing as far as I can tell. Again, not washings, but the immersion of the professing faithful into water. If you said you wished to repent when John called, John would immerse you in water. If you said you wished to repent, Peter would immerse you in water. All with the proclamation of a new life in a new covenant, John looking forward and Peter looking back.

Sound and wonderful Christian theological systems disagree about what the specific symbolism of baptism is in the Gospel of grace, or whether it’s to be a personal sign or more of a community sign, but no sound theology ascribes it the power of salvation. We must oppose the papist view and lament the lingering Protestants who maintain it as regenerative even while confusingly embracing the other aspects of a sounder theology. Baptism is not one’s regeneration. That is simply impossible and unwise. Grace alone.

Baptism is a religious work. I simply cannot define it otherwise, and nor do I think anyone else can. It’s a work. A blessed, wonderful, holy, life-giving, humbling, soul-satisfying, conscience cleansing, remarkable work. Like all works it’s our love for Jesus on display. John 14:15. Insomuch as is Bible study, the Lord’s Table (communion), fasting, preaching, giving of my money to the works of the church, gifts to poor people, prayer for others, hosting strangers, handing out pamphlets at church, leading home Bible study, cutting a neighbor’s grass, taking my kids to youth events, meeting with a disciple for coffee, etc. It’s all works. I do all these things in my salvation. Everything I do as a part of my Christian obedience is a work. They’re all now acceptable to my Lord because I’m in Christ. They’re not to forgive any sin, they’re done in the Cross-centered covenant of the forgiveness of my sin.

For me then there are two possibilities in this New Testament ordinance or sacrament as stated here. 1) Baptism regenerates our souls, and we have then an irreconcilable contradiction in Scripture as then we’d be clearly saved by works. Or 2) baptism so closely signifies God’s saving grace to me in this New Covenant that, just as I can call the bread “blood” at the Table, I can speak of baptism as that life granted to me in Christ. It’s one or the other. I say it’s the latter. Baptism so wonderfully calls into my heart all that my faith symbolizes in this covenant of the Cross that I can speak of it as my raising to newness of life.

More to follow.

Joseph Pittano

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