The Baptized Body – 4
“…if everyone in a culture is baptized, and that baptism is simply an ‘efficacious call,’ then everyone is a grub with great expectations, and there is no celebration of butterflies.”
Chapter 1 continued
See the Baptism links page for all articles in this series.
Do Baptists talk to their babies?
The question of infant faith is not: “Are infants capable of receiving this jolt of divine power?” The question is: “Can infants respond to other persons? Do infants have personal relations?”
Paedobaptists go to great lengths (stretching Scripture beyond recognition to do so) to prove that the New Covenant is “objective,” that is, baptism is merely something that is done to us. No prior response to the Gospel is required. Yet, if baptism is to be efficacious, it must do something to the recipient and not be merely a “legal” rite. So, rather than baptism being the vindication of an ethical/spiritual response to God, baptism becomes the means of an Ethical/spiritual response to God. In other words, baptism usurps the hearing of the Gospel.
Paedobaptism is neither more nor less odd and miraculous than talking to a newborn. In fact, that is just what paedobaptism is: God speaking in water to a newborn child.
Speaking to a newborn is efficacious. Speaking or singing to the unborn is efficacious. Wrapping a newborn tightly so it feels as secure as it did in the womb is efficacious. Comforting a baby by tapping a “heartbeat” on its posterior is efficacious. All these things mediate the love of God for the child, because God has delegated authority to parents as His representatives. Yes, God is speaking in all these cases, yet the infant does not yet know God. He or she only knows images of God because this is a time of personal stoicheia. God is not speaking directly to the child but through mediators. The child will come to understand its heavenly Father through an earthly father, just as mankind would come to understand the Father through Abraham. We are grown up, now, so we no longer need Abraham or circumcision. Baptism is about a direct understanding of our heavenly Father. It is about being grown up.
Besides this, the Bible always puts baptism at the end of a period of growth and qualification. It appears at Step 6, which corresponds to the water of the Jordan and the bloodshed at Jericho. (The crossing of the Red Sea was intended to be at the end of a pattern but Israel was faithless and God had to put them through it again!) In gestation, the blood and water are the events of every child’s natural birth. The waters break, and there is blood, and a cutting off. So, as far as God is concerned, every child has a “natural baptism” at its first birth, vindicating a process of growth and qualification in the womb. But baptism isn’t about the first birth, is it? Every child in history has already experienced a natural baptism, beginning its citizenship of all nations. Paedobaptists would claim that the child also needs a supernatural baptism that begins its citizenship in a “spiritual nation,” but where is the vindication of a process of growth and qualification? Circumcision was a sign that the natural birth should be cut off, that the son of Man (Adam) was to be claimed by God and slain. It was carried out on the eighth day to dispose of the Old Creation, like cutting off the leaven at Passover. Thus, Jesus Himself, and all the Jews who came to John, were baptized after a period of growth and qualification under the stoicheia of the Law. Baptism was not the beginning of a new natural life, but a new ethical life, not the beginning of hearing the Law, but the end of the Law.
Some paedobaptist friends pointed me to this book as the book that would change my mind. I stopped reading it for a while at this early point, being flabbergasted that this was seen as a valid argument. I mentioned to Dr Leithart that he was conflating the natural and the spiritual, and he replied, quite confidently, that that is exactly what he is doing. Of course, it dawned on me that I was communicating with somebody with quite a different understanding of the New Covenant.
It seems that Leithart’s New Covenant is rooted in the Covenant with Abraham, which involved seed and flesh, but involves the Spirit in a parallel fashion, rather than the linear one which Paul describes. Instead of the process being “first the natural, then the spiritual,” with transforming fire in the middle, the spiritual is just the natural infused with spirit. There is no transformation. To my mind this is like pinning butterfly wings onto a caterpillar, instead of allowing the intended “death and resurrection” into something that is actually “a new creation.” Did you know that the caterpillar entirely dissolves inside the cocoon? It is not merely “fitted out” or renovated, but entirely reconstructed. The problem here is that the paedobaptist conflates being “under the Gospel” with being a mediator of the Gospel. Conviction of sin under the Law leads to mortification, transformation, and ethical maturity. Baptism is the vindication of that process, not its beginning, otherwise everyone who is merely convicted by the Gospel, or indeed on God’s hitlist (which is all nations) ought to be baptized. This seems to be Dr Leithart’s intent (as discussed in the previous post.) But if everyone in a culture is baptized, and that baptism is just an “efficacious call,” then everyone is a grub with great expectations, and there is no celebration of butterflies. That is not the New Covenant.
Baptism is not the call. The Gospel is the call, and it is a call to repent and believe. Baptism comes after repentance and faith in every case. Why is this so hard to understand? This insistence on turning baptism into a replacement for circumcision results in its contortion into something that looks absolutely nothing like the baptisms we see in the Bible. It is the exaltation of the natural before its humbling.
This parallel natural/spiritual assumption of Leithart finds no support in the Bible or in nature. When a believer identifies with Christ, the believer does not identify with the birth of the Christ, climbing back into the womb, but with His death and resurrection. Baptism is not about the birth of the natural creature but its legal destruction under the Law, and its recreation by the Spirit. The pattern of sacrifice given to us is the best example. The transformation from flesh and fat, etc. into fragrant smoke is not a “parallel” arrangement. God will not accept us “raw.”
Dr Leithart continues the conflation by stating that waiting until a child can consciously respond to the Gospel is like waiting for the child to reach an age when it can name itself. This shows his utter misunderstanding of what a Christian is — a being mortified and transformed by the Spirit of God. What is the order we observe in Genesis 1, 2 and 3?
In Genesis 1, Adam is a Physical being, the pinnacle of the Creation. In Genesis 2, which contains much about naming, Adam is a Social being. In Genesis 3, Adam is called to represent the Physical Creation and the new Social Order (his wife) in an Ethical manner. He is called to minister, and this was to involve a legal witness, a profession of faith in his heavenly Father, regardless of the consequences to himself.
Is it really too much to ask for us to see this in:
1) Bible history, which shows us the Physical Creation destroyed under a Covenant in which Adam represented it all, then a Social Covenant which involved the cutting of Adam’s flesh (circumcision) and Israel’s representation of the nations to God, and then an Ethical Covenant, which began with the crushing of the serpent through the profession of faith of the Son of Man (son of Adam) in His heavenly Father? To conflate the “Ethical” body of the New Covenant with the “Social” body of the Abrahamic Covenant is illogical, and worse, it entirely misrepresents that Covenant to the world. Yes, the Church is the Body of Christ, as Dr Leithart insists, but that Body is not a natural body. If we attempt to stitch natural flesh onto it, or graft it in, the surgery will not take. The natural will wither and die.
2) Every human life, which begins with the “natural baptism” described above, continues in a period where the child develops socially through contact with human flesh (which of necessity involves discerning “other” families or households), and reaches it apex at Ethical maturity. We could also describe this as a journey through the discernment of Physical light (outside the womb), through Social light (who loves me) to the point where he or she becomes a wise judge of ethical light and darkness, and the human heart, reliant on the grace of God, as did Solomon. Each stage speaks to and ministers to the other, but is not the other. It is triune. We see it in the Father, Son and Spirit, and also in Word, Sacrament and Government. Baptism is for those whom God has put in government, access to the Sanctuary and authority as His legal witnesses. It is “graduation day” for the grubs who have been transformed and a ready to spread their glorious wings.
Leithart finishes this section wondering why baptists treat their children as Christians, teaching them to sing “Jesus loves me” and to pray the Lord’s prayer, if they resist the “imposition of the Covenant sign.” Despite the fact that this is a very badly fashioned straw man (a straw baby?), it reveals a misunderstanding of the New Covenant once again. Every man, woman and child is already under obligation to Jesus. There is no need for a sign because Jesus was “circumcised” for all of us. As far as God is concerned, the entire world already has “a Christian identity” imposed upon it. He has given our enemies into our hands. Leithart messes with the process of hearing and believing. There’s a very good reason why the Mosaic Covenant was “Hear, O Israel,” and the New Covenant is “Go and tell.” The entire world, not just the children of Christians, is now called to hear. The ones who hear and believe are baptized and sent to go and tell.
Did Jesus love my children before they were baptized? Yes. Should the unconverted learn and pray the Lord’s prayer? Yes. Why? Firstly, because God already loves them and already provides for them. He no longer limits the revelation of Himself to a single nation. Secondly, because the worship of the New Covenant Church is completely open, open not only to our unsaved children but to anybody who cares to visit. Open worship is one of the means we have of preaching the Gospel. It is not exclusive. (And I know some paedobaptists who take their doctrine to its logical conclusion and desire to exclude outsiders!) To outsiders, paedobaptism says “stay away.” You paedobaptists might not see it this way, but that’s how it smells from outside. “The door is closed, and we are going to breed our way to dominion. You are not welcome here. You have to be born into this Covenant, or marry into it.”
That’s how it looks, because the Ethical/spiritual has been defined by and thus co-opted by the Social and Physical, rather than becoming a flaming sword that divides them up and creates a truly new Social and Physical order. Thus, paedobaptism is anti-Gospel. It tells a very different story to the one preached in the pulpit. The Ethical birth is conflated with the Physical birth. The Ethical identity is conflated with the Social identity (name).
Dr Leithart’s theoretical “baptized body” is just the natural body given a bit of a wash, and not the glorious body of Jesus.