A Jew ‘Gets’ Baptism

or The Federal Vision Isn’t Big Enough

But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?” (Matthew 12:25)

ACT I – An End to Sacrifice

“In AD70, the ‘office’ of Jew was finished forever (there are no more Jews in God’s eyes) and the “office” of Gentile was also finished. The middle wall was broken down. Any distinctions now are merely human distinctions.”

All Christians know that, in the death of Jesus Christ, God put an end to animal sacrifices, at least legally.

“Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; But in the middle of the week He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering.” (Daniel 9:27)

Although Jesus’ death made animal sacrifice redundant, this wasn’t fulfilled in the “week” in the middle of which Christ died. Jesus’ forgiveness of His murderers left that week at a three-and-a-half. In God’s longsuffering towards Israel, they were not cut off “like Sodom” but given another generation. As this prophecy played out in the first century, the week in which the Covenant was “ratified … with many” was the final seven years, in the middle of which a “firstfruits” of martyrs left Sodom without any righteous remaining in it—ripe for judgment. [1]

In their rejection of the atonement achieved by the Son of God, the Jews kept the sacrifices going for another few decades. But as He had done with the previous Temple, God brought the hordes in as a flood to wipe out the sacrilege.

Revelation shows the Herodian harlot (a corporate Herodias) being destroyed by the Roman beast. But then the empire beast is destroyed. This confuses conservative commentators because they don’t understand the four empires as corners of God’s throne, four guardians for God’s people who turn bad, one by one, and are replaced. Rome didn’t attack the Church “outright” (as the Church) until Nero’s reign. In the Revelation, after failing to destroy the firstfruits Church with Jewish persecution and then false doctrine, this is the point where Satan calls up a new beast from the Sea. [2]

So, Rome was not destroyed in AD66-70, but it was most certainly all shook up. Four emperors in one year ended the old system. Jordan observes that the subsequent emperors were of a different nature. The empire’s office as a guardian for God was finished. In AD70, the “office” of Jew was finished forever (there are no more Jews in God’s eyes) and the office of Gentile was also finished. [3] The middle wall was broken down. Any distinctions now are merely human distinctions.

In Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom, Peter Leithart makes the crucial observation that the first Christian emperor “desacralized” the pagan world through, among other things, a “baptism” of public space.

Paganism still had its place, but temples were increasingly overshadowed by large, and numerous, churches. (Leithart, p. 125)

As is ever the case, cultus is the foundation for culture. The unjust vengeance of Lamech led to the massacres in the days of Noah. The bloody rites of the pagans led to institutionalized bloodshed in the arena.

Combats in the arena reenacted the founding sacrifice of Remus by Romulus. According to Rome’s founding myth, Romulus “killed his brother for jumping over the walls which would define Rome and separate it from the non-Roman.” (Leithart, p. 192.)

The arena was also an instrument of imperial policy in the provinces. The spread of Roman power was marked architecturally by the spread of  amphitheaters. Not only were the arenas — built in a distinctively Roman style — visual reminders of the sometimes distant power of the emperor, but the bloody combats that took place on the sands reminded viewers of Rome’s willingness to use violence and gave restless provincials pause. Arenas embodied the empire; the gladiatorial shows and their amphitheaters were the “imperial process in microcosm.” (Leithart, p. 194).

Constantine’s discouragement of pagan offerings, and his promotion of the teachings of Christ, also put an end to the human sacrifices in the arenas. Criminals would no longer be punished by “serving” in the amphitheaters, but through a bloodless exile to the mines. (p.196.)

Constantine’s laws were more often Christian in effect than in intent. Outlawing gladiatorial shows struck down one of the main institutions for the propagation of Roman values, culture and power and was more transformative than Constantine could have known. (p. 304.)

So, the end of sacrifice in the Garden (through Jesus), led to an end of sacrifice in the Land (the final “Old Covenant” martyrs, the apostolic Church). This is what eventually led to an end of sacrifice in the oikoumene, the first century World.

[In Galatians 4,] Paul radically flattens out the distinction between Jew and Gentile. Unlike in Romans, here he does not say that all are under “sin” but rather that all are in bondage to the stoicheia. For Gentiles, as much as Jews, this bondage meant adherence to animal sacrifice, the keeping of days, the avoidance of contamination. (Leithart, p. 325.)

The “baptism” of Jesus and the “baptism” of the firstfruits church led to the “baptism” of Rome.


ACT II – The Baptism of Rome

“This ‘baptism of Rome’ was not in fact the investiture of Rome at all but an investiture of the Church.”

Through Constantine, Rome was baptized, and sacrifice in all these senses either came to an end or began to. Constantine stopped the slaughter of Christians. He refused to sacrifice at the Capitol during his triumph in 312. He ended sacrifice for officers of his empire, thus opening imperial administration to Christians, and eventually outlawed sacrifice entirely. He closed a few temples where sacrifices were being offered, though he permitted various forms of divination to continue… With Constantine, the Roman Empire became officially a desacrificial polity. If he did not entirely expunge sacrifice, Constantine displaced sacrifice frrm the center of Roman life and pushed it to the margins and into dark corners. Constantine’s reign marked the beginning of the end of sacrifice. He took away the smoky food of the not-gods (Galatians 4:8), and the demons began to atrophy. (Leithart, p. 328).

Leithart’s argument is that the Church did not “fall” in the fourth century, seduced by the principalities and powers. The principalities and powers that structure the world are not simply temporarily useful, potentially dangerous and ultimately doomed. Instead, they are there to be transformed from within. In effect, Constantine replaced the old sacrificial system with a new one. In a cultic sense, Rome was “decivilized” and “recivilized.” It was indeed the death and resurrection of an empire at its very heart. Leithart observes that Constantine welcomed into his city another city.

Christ’s is the founding sacrifice of the new city, the eschatological city. But that sacrifice is perpetuated by the body in mutual love and service… By virtue of this sacrifice, the Church does justice… When the Roman world passed through its “baptism” from bondage to the stoicheia, Constantine eliminated sacrifices to the gods in the earthly city and thereby renounced any claim that the Roman city was just a city. (Leithart, p. 330)

Through Constantine, the death of “brother Jesus” as a better Abel at the hands of the Cainite Herods exposed and usurped the death of Remus as a foundation for identity. The deaths of the apostles eventually exposed and usurped the arena as a foundation for culture. Identity and culture no longer needed appeasement. For Constantine, the future no longer needed to be constantly “bought.” The price was paid once and for all. The city could exist because the New Jerusalem was unassailable.

The baptism of Rome was indeed supposed to lead to the baptism of Romans, but not simply because they were Romans. While I agree with Dr. Leithart’s eye-opening reassessment of Constantine, I believe his adherence to the erroneous practice of paedobaptism causes him to misunderstand the baptism of Rome.

In the end it all comes round to baptism, specifically to infant baptism. Rome was baptized in the fourth century. Eusebian hopes notwithstanding, it was not instantly transformed into the kingdom of heaven. It did not immediately become the city of God on earth. Baptism never does that. It is not meant to. Baptism sets a new trajectory, initiates a new beginning, but every beginning is the beginning of something. Through Constantine, Rome was baptized into a world without animal sacrifice and officially recognized the true sacrificial city, the one community that does offer a foretaste of the final kingdom. Christian Rome was in its infancy, but that is hardly surprising. All baptisms are infant baptisms.

Yoder is famed for his patience, but in dismissing Constantine and the world he left behind, his patience failed. For Yoder, Rome was not radically Christian, Rome’s adherence to the faith was infantile, and because of that, he reasons, it was not Christian at all but apostate. He failed, as Augustine said against Pelagius, to give due weight to “the interim, the interval between the remission of sins which takes place in baptism, and the permanently established sinless state in the kingdom that is to come, this middle time [tempus hoc medium] of prayer, while [we] must pray, ‘Forgive us our sins.’” He failed to acknowledge that all—Constantine, Rome, ourselves—stand in medial time, and yet are no less Christian for that.

What can we expect in this middle time? Not much, Yoder thinks. He says that the project of Christianizing the state is doomed. The time when that could happen has long ago passed away. If he is right, we are facing nothing short of apocalypse. I believe that here too Yoder is wrong, and that we can escape apocalypse. But this can only happen on certain conditions: only through reevangelization, only through the revival of a purified Constantinianism, only by the formation of a Christically centred politics, only through fresh public confession that Jesus’ city is the model city, his blood the only expiating blood, his sacrifice the sacrifice that ends sacrifice. An apocalypse can be averted only if modern civilisation, like Rome, humbles itself and is willing to come forward to be baptized. (Leithart, p. 341-342)

Dr Leithart is, to some degree, longing for “the good old days.” He sees the future of Christianity in a “purified Constantinianism,” with infant baptism as the sacramental key. Yet it was precisely infant baptism that led to its failure.

Baptism is a new beginning, but it is not a birth “according to the flesh.” It is a second birth, an investiture with authority following submission to the Law of the Gospel. The end of sacrifice was only the baptism of Rome’s cultic heart, and Rome’s sacred heart was now the Christian Church, which had submitted to suffering and was now being exalted. This “baptism of Rome” was not in fact the investiture of Rome at all but an investiture of the Church.

What the investiture of the Church did, under Constantine, was put the entire empire officially under the sound of the Gospel. It condemned the entire empire to the death of repentance. But that is not submission to the gospel. It was the label of regeneration without the regeneration. This meant that Christendom eventually ran out of steam, out of Spirit. The culture is dying because it lost its cultic heart. And it lost its sacred cultic heart because paedobaptism distorted the very definition of what a Christian is. It confused culture with cultus because it replaced the walls of the New Jerusalem with the walls of the old one. It used baptism as a carnal, hereditary division (culture) rather than as the mark of repentance and faith (cultus). It introduced a new circumcision, invented a new version of the wall which the Son of God eradicated in His death and resurrection.

Worse, the conflation of citizenship with baptism through paedobaptism actually replaced the true Christian cultic heart with a false one. God is in control of history, and, as Dr Leithart demonstrates, Constantinianism was the need of the day. But what the invention of paedobaptism brought about was a reintroduction of pagan sacrifice in a very subtle way. It was, in fact, an apostasy, a falling back into the old ways, a “resacralizing” in a way that is entirely foreign to the New Testament. Paul called the first century Circumcision “the mutilation,” possibly referring to the self-cutting of the priests of Baal (Philippians 3:2). They attempted to make themselves acceptable to God without obedience to God. Although human sacrifice was never commanded by God, circumcision was always a symbolic child sacrifice, the real blood being shed by a substitutionary “innocent” victim, a redeeming animal. The priests of Baal sacrificed children to secure the blessings of their lord upon their culture. It was a “stimulation” of the natural order to achieve the supernatural. The Ethics of the Covenant are replaced with Magic. [4] Dr Leithart sees infant baptism as a “cutting off” of the flesh by water, but it is in practice an offering of flesh, an attempted “stimulation” of the natural in plain disobedience to God. [5] What our children need is the gospel. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17).

In Christ, circumcision or uncircumcision, that is, hereditary divisions, became nothing (1 Corinthians 7:19). According to Paul, heredity is a pile of shit (Philippians 3:8). Paedobaptism, like circumcision, is a hereditary distinction, and heredity is nothing, unless that heredity brings with it the hearing of the gospel. But hearing is not believing.

In Christ, all hereditary divisions, all genealogical divisions, were wiped away. In Christ, Jew and Gentile became one new Man, but not through generation. It is only through regeneration. A Christian nation is a great blessing, but, contra Leithart, a Christian nation is not one where everyone is baptized. A Christian nation is one under the sound of the Gospel, ruled by the baptized, the “invested.” The goal is not worldwide baptism. The goal is worldwide regeneration-and-baptism.

I have argued recently that paedobaptism is “another gospel.” [6] It usurps the place of the gospel as the “first contact.” There must be the bloody death of a cut heart, and repentance, before there can be the resurrection of water. In the approach to God, the outer border is always blood; the inner/upper is always water. By placing the “water” boundary at the edges of the empire instead of at the boundary of the regenerate within the empire, Constantine’s Christian state sowed the seeds of its own destruction.


ACT III – The Corpse of Constantine

“…the nations that adhered to Christendom as tribes rather than as individuals never forswore their love for their own ethnicity. On the contrary, they longed for eternal life in their own Gentile skin rather than in the Kingdom of God promised by Jesus Christ.”

Since AD70, any “holy” distinctions now are merely human distinctions. The boundaries of the New Jerusalem are defined not by flesh but by faith. We can see this within Israel at the microcosmic level: priesthood and people, with a boundary of water, the Laver. What Christ did was expand this “Land” model to encompass the World. Outside of credobaptism, there are to be no other boundaries recognized by the Church of Christ.

Paedobaptism is a fundamental misunderstanding of this act. It sees no fundamental change in the nature of the Covenant community, and so, seeking the same “Baalistic” carnal security of a boundary of blessing that is visible to the naked eye, it ties the boundary of Spirit to the boundary of family. Instead of “going viral,” the Gospel is locked up in Adamic family cells. Or worse, it is locked up in the boundary of the state. But the Gospel won’t be restrained. It not only transcends all human boundaries and distinctions (because the eyes of God no longer recognize them) it destroys them.

The body created by Constantine was only ever another boundary to be crossed. The investiture of Christ at His ascension led to the death and resurrection of Israel (the firstfruits, the first resurrection). The investiture of Israel led to the death and resurrection of the Jew-Gentile Church under Roman power: Garden, Land, World.

But God works in fractals. The investiture of the Christian Church under Constantine would inevitably lead to the destruction of Constantinianism. The Spirit is always working to break the old wine skins. How does He do this? He does it virally, that is, through regenerate individuals, the true baptism.

Sometimes it takes an outsider to see things objectively. I have quoted an atheist concerning baptism. [7] Now it’s time to hear from a Jew. In It’s Not the End of the World, It’s Just the End of You: The Great Extinction of the Nations, David P. Goldman writes:

Neither Christian nor Jew cares much about the logic of salvation. The soul stands in fear and trembling, sick unto death—which is the same as sin—and reaches out for grace. The Jews do this as a kinship community—Blutsgemeinschaft, in Franz Rozenzweig’s world. Christians must do so as individuals, because as Christians they abandon the doomed ties of Gentile kinship and instead join the assembly (ekklesia) that calls them out from among the nations.

The remnants of Christian state religion rot and stink on the dying continent of Europe. Christianity cannot persist except as a continuing revival, a recurring conversion—as a sequence of singular events rather than as an orderly process.

Awaiting execution in Hitler’s prisons, the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that, in a world come of age, the Christian religion no longer could exist as organized practice but only as an expression of individual conscience. America was created for precisely this purpose, to replace state religion on the European model with a religion of individual conscience. Such a religion must be schismatic, multisectarian, short on doctrine but long on inspiration. America’s kaleidoscope of Protestant denominations, so bewildering to Europeans, constitutes the only type of milieu in which Christianity has flourished during the past generation. Although Christian communities are burgeoning throughout the world, they seem to succeed best in emulation of the American version. With right the Vatican may defend the record of the Spanish inquisition [on the premise that, under state religion, heresy implies disloyalty to the state], but it alters not a jot or tittle of the awful sentence—oblivion—that history has passed on European Christianity…

All nationalism worships God in the carnival mirror of its own reflection. The exception is the Jewish nation, which understands itself to exist because God called it to his service. As Franz Rosenzweig observed, once the Gentile nations embrace Christianity, they abandoned their ancient fatalism regarding the inevitable extinction of their tribe. It is the God of Israel who first offers eternal life to humankind, and Christianity extended Israel’s promise to all. But the nations that adhered to Christendom as tribes rather than as individuals never forswore their love for their own ethnicity. On the contrary, they longed for eternal life in their own Gentile skin rather than in the Kingdom of God promised by Jesus Christ.

After Christianity taught them the election of Israel, the Gentiles coveted election for themselves and desired that their own people be the chosen people. That set ethnocentric nationalism in conflict both with the Jews—the descendants of Abraham in the flesh—and with the Church, which holds itself to be the new People of God.

Christian universal empire, from Charlemagne in AD800 to the Habsburgs in 1914, was by definition multinational, if not antinational. The Christians were the ekklesia, those called out of the nations, and only a truly universal elite could rule them…

Nationalism was to be suppressed. That is why the sixteenth century church did not tolerate translation of the scriptures into the vernacular… [But] Catholic universal empire, the “prison of the nations” in its nineteenth century Habsburg expression, ultimately was a failure. By contrast, the United States, a melting-pot nation of immigrants, achieved a transcendent kind of universality and thereby became the world’s dominant power. (pp. 42-49)

Bonhoeffer’s “expression of individual conscience” is anathema to the Federal Vision. On the one hand, we have Yoder decrying state religion, and on the other we have Leithart calling for a return to it. We have Leithart promoting the Church on earth as “one” and Yoder asserting it should only ever be a sort of underground “many.” What if they are both right and both wrong?

What it boils down to, possibly, is the failure to understand the sacred heart of the Shekinah, the incarnation, the glory of God dwelling in flesh. Leithart believes in a carnal (hereditary) baptism, a “one” in flesh, a unity based on blood. It clumsily identifies itself with Covenant at the cost of a true identification with Christ.. [8] Yoder, I assume, believes in a “one” that is only one in Spirit that cannot, or should not, ever achieve a governmental status.

The truth is that “Rome” itself cannot be baptized until the final day, the day of the “investiture” of the World. But until then, the Church is indeed already one, despite appearances, working like yeast within the nations. There will indeed be “growth rings” along the way, such as the fourth century, but they will only ever be an incomplete picture of the final reality. There will always be an “us and them” demarcation, a baptism, and it must never be confused with a human distinction of any kind, whether familial, national, cultural or international. That sort of baptism is the kiss of death to whatever parasite it was attached to. This is because human distinctions cannot by definition be universal.

Yoder doesn’t have a vision, let alone a federal (Covenant) one. Dr Leithart’s Federal Vision, being practically ethnocentric, simply isn’t big enough. If the Federal Vision doesn’t get “de-sacralized” at some point, it will take its place in the abyss relegated by the death and resurrection of Christ to all the “stoicheian” institutions of history.

A Constantinianism that is truly purified would be a Constantinianism without paedobaptism. In the long run, all paedobaptism can do is delineate another doomed tribe.

But the truly catholic Church marches on, and there is no locked door through which it cannot pass, no human institution it cannot transcend, and no boundary it cannot cross.

[1] See The End of Shadows.
[2] See James B. Jordan, The Handwriting on the Wall: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel.
[3] See The Future of Israel Re-examined.
[4] See Ray Sutton, That You May Prosper, Chapter 3, “Ethics” (p. 59ff) [PDF] and Baal’s Stimulus Package.
[5] See Cutting Off Flesh by Water.
[6] See Another Gospel – 1.
[7] See also An Atheist ‘Gets’ Baptism.
[8] See Another Gospel – 2.

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4 Responses to “A Jew ‘Gets’ Baptism”

  • MarkO Says:

    wow! Goldman pins the tail on the donkey – man, oh, man, yes. great quote!

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Yes, it’s a great book, although I haven’t finished it yet. Highly recommended. Like Mark Steyn but much deeper roots.

  • Ethan Russell Says:

    Do not say, “Why is it that the former days were better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this. NASB
    This might describe looking back at Constantine’s Rome longingly?

    I liked that perspective on the American Experiment… but right now I’m concerned about her.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Yes, things are not right, but in another sense they are very, very right. The thing that is tearing America apart is not politics or race. Deep down it is actually the gospel. Not even American nationalism can contain it.