The Baptized Body – 6

And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained upon him.” (John 1:32)

“Efficacious paedobaptism is maintained at the tragic cost of the efficacious work of the Spirit…”

Chapter 1 continued

See the Baptism links page for all articles in this series.

Dr Leithart says that the sign of baptism is not merely symbolic of a personal encounter with God, but is actually the personal encounter. I concluded, based on the process of maturity found throughout Scripture, that although his observation is correct as far as it goes, what he has observed goes even deeper. “The sign” is not merely the baptism, but actually includes the human being in personal relationship with God. The one being baptized is the sign, and the sign is ethical maturity.

The calls of Jonah

The sign of Jonah is “the sign of the dove,” the Spirit descending upon a now blameless son or daughter of God, someone in whom God is well-pleased, who is then authorized to witness to the nations. The original call of Jonah was despised because he knew (from Deuteronomy) that a witness to the Gentiles meant judgment and death for Israel. (This may be the reason why Peter is “the son of Jonah.” He betrayed his original calling and was given a new one after passing through the sea.)

The sign of Jonah is a combination of the birds and the fish of Day 5 in a single man. The anointed priesthood of Israel rebels and is swallowed by the nations, but the original “Day 1″ anointing was a gift “without repentance” (Romans 11:29), that is, it is irrevocable. Like the decrees of Ahasuerus, the original call could not be reversed, only superseded by a new call. Thus, even after Israel’s disobedience leading to corporate death, Israel always emerged in a new form with a new call. This is evident in the return of Israel from captivity, and also in the death of Aaronic Israel in the first century and its resurrection as the “Melchizedekian” (all nations) priesthood of the Christian church. The point is that the first call is not the same as the second call.

Neither Jonah nor Jesus
emerged from Hades
“as a little child.”

Each “Covenant call” is different because the entire history is a process of maturity. The call of Abraham is not the call of Christ. The first was a call which formed a “natural” people, a call to the Land and the womb to become fruitful, a reversal of the curses upon Adam and Eve. When the Land and womb finally brought forth Christ, it was time for a new call.

The Abrahamic Covenant concerned the Land and the womb, not the reversal of death, hence the sign of circumcision. The second is a call which formed a “supernatural” people, a call to the tomb, hence the sign of the dove, baptism. The Edenic curse upon Land and womb was immediate, yet the death of Adam was delayed through the shedding of animal blood. The reversal of death had to include “all men,” all nations. It was not about the fruit of the Land or the womb but the fruit of the tomb. Neither Jonah nor Jesus emerged from Hades “as a little child.” Like the saints in Matthew 27:51-53, they were raised to witness, and their raising meant the end of the circumcision (the tearing of the veil – Most Holy Place/Garden), the end of the old Land (the splitting of the rocks – the Holy Place/Land), and miraculous faith among the Gentiles (Gentile Courts/World).

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

Resurrection alone is not the sign. The one resurrected is the sign. The verbal testimony of heaven has a response in a verbal testimony from the abyss—Word incarnate.

For the Federal Vision
to be a blessing to all nations
it must either reform its baptism
or roll over and die.

Adam’s ethical failure had social and physical consequences, womb and Land. Baptism is a witness to the new Adam’s ethical success, rendering the “Land and womb” sign, which concerned “carnal” things, obsolete. Paedobaptism is the wrong kind of sign because it represents an obsolete call, a carnal and territorial division rather than an ethical one.

In its reinstatement of the womb, paedobaptism quite naturally reinstates the Land (a “city of God” whose authority is centered on earth rather than in heaven) and circumvents the New Covenant’s intended blessing for all peoples and all lands. It builds the fortress of Cain upon the blood of Abel.

To be carnally-minded is death (Roman 6:8-10), which is why Hebrews tells us that even Abraham understood that the carnal promises to him were a temporary shadow (Hebrews 11:8-16). All the physical and social divisions, the manifold “cuttings” of the Old Covenant concerning Land and womb, would strip away the fruit of the flesh of Adam until the fruit of his heart was revealed. Paedobaptism is an offense to the work of Christ.

The death of the Land and the womb brought forth the fruit of righteousness. All nationality, all heredity, all history, is destroyed in baptism. (See An Atheist ‘Gets’ Baptism.) Thus, the only people or kingdom or succession which paedobaptism can ever define are condemned ones. (See The Eternal People.) This is the fundamental flaw in all of Leithart’s recent work concerning the kingdom of God (See A Jew Gets Baptism). Jesus has already inherited the fruit of all Lands and all wombs. For the Federal Vision to be a blessing to all nations it must either reform its baptism or roll over and die.

Dr Leithart’s work on baptism and kingdom is helpful because it takes a carnal baptism (bap-cision?) to its logical conclusions. He can point his paedobaptistic detractors to their own baptisms as the foundation for his doctrines, yet his detractors’ objections, based upon the New Testament, are sound.

Leithart’s Land-locked “sign of Jonah”
is a fish out of water, so he has
a lot of explaining to do.

Sacraments are Rituals

Leithart’s work on baptism is an attempt to make Abrahamic promises work in a post-Abrahamic world. His Land-locked “sign of Jonah” is a fish out of water, so he has a lot of explaining to do.

When it comes to signs, Leithart is attempting to navigate the landscape of the New Covenant as if it were still under the division and darkness of the Old Covenant. He takes pains to explain something which appears mysterious, yet it is a mystery to him only because he rejects New Covenant revelation. Unlike circumcision and the Law, baptism is not a “dark saying.” Its purpose is not to bring us to salvation in Christ but from salvation to resurrection. It identifies one who already has the mind of Christ and is thus a friend of God as Abraham was.

An efficacious ritual

Leithart makes some good points concerning rituals. A ritual is not merely a sign or symbol of a “change of status.” The rite itself, as a human act, is what affects the change in status. This is not because the rite has any inherent power but because of the relationship between those in authority and those under it. Israel’s sacrifices were efficacious because God recognized them.

An excellent example to illustrate this change of status is the ritual act of knighthood. When the one being knighted kneels, and the one doing the knighting places the sword on both shoulders, the acts are indistinguishable from the relationship. If the acts do not occur, neither does the change of status. The “ethical” is being expressed in the social and physical realms.

But the crucial thing Leithart overlooks is that Israel’s sacrifices were not recognized by God when they were not offered in faith. Without faith, the rites were not efficacious. The priesthood became useless and was destroyed, like the sons of Aaron and Eli. Leithart wants us to believe that “baptism is baptism.” But baptism is baptism as knighthood is knighthood.

In his The Priesthood of the Plebs: A Theology of Baptism, Dr Leithart attempts to apply the “water boundary” of priesthood to the “blood boundary” of flesh, which is a mistake so fundamental, considering the erudite nature of the book, that it belies belief. Ministry “within the Laver” is the ministry of angels, heavenly servants, and is now the ministry of “heavenly sons,” the resurrected. Those who are regenerate are flesh that has somehow made it past the angels into the presence of God, through the virtue of their slain brother. The “corporate Eve” is now given Sanctuary access because the serpent has been crushed. But also because she is now a co-regent, a serpent-crusher, like Esther. There are no children in the Sanctuary because it is a place of government. It is for the shelterers, the trees of righteousness, not the sheltered. Excommunication is for those who have revealed that their governing spirit is not the Spirit of God because they will not govern themselves.

Despite his excellent observations on the reality of ritual acts, Dr Leithart has missed the point of Pentecost, and thus the overlooked the very heart of the New Covenant: self-government. An Adam governed by God is an Adam fit to govern. Baptism is knighthood, a willing submission to authority that one might carry that authority.

Leithart’s bap-cision
makes a new sociology
the cause rather than the effect.

A change of status

Leithart assumes that paedobaptism is Scriptural, and based on that wrong assumption, logically sees baptism as inherently sociological. This obviously seemed to be a solution to the sociological failures of baptistic culture, but the real solution to this is a standard of church discipline, of accountability, equivalent to the baptismal vow (as in knighthood). Baptism concerns not nature but “super” nature, that is, delegated office, ministry.

Leithart’s first problem here is that Christians are not Jews. He sees a difference between the Judaizers and those, like himself, who claim that the New Covenant Israel is fundamentally sociological, but there is no difference. Ethics, not sociology, is primary, not secondary, under the New Covenant. Leithart’s errant bap-cision makes sociology the cause rather than the effect. The Federal Vision’s baptism is not only not efficacious, it is no more effective in the creation of a new society than was circumcision. Paedobaptism turns baptism into just another “-ism” with Utopian pretensions, like socialism or communism or libertarianism. It is just another carnal division rather than a true work of God.

Leithart’s second problem is that it was not circumcision which changed the status of the infant circumcised, as Leithart assumes.

“Scripture shows the reality of status changing rites. A child circumcised on the eighth day becomes a child of the Covenant.”

This statement is incorrect. Leithart is reading his misunderstandings of baptism back into circumcision, and thus misunderstanding circumcision itself. The new child was already an Israelite. We know this because the female infants were counted as Israelites, and because even the newborn male Israelites were not circumcised in the wilderness, yet still counted as the seed of Abraham. For individuals, the Old Covenant led to faith. For individuals, the New Covenant begins with faith.

He then goes on to mention a number of ceremonial cleansing rites, and also marriage, as further evidence, but these were all carried out by, or upon, adults, so they don’t count. He fails to demonstrate that circumcision conferred entry into a sociological people for individuals. “I now pronounce you man and wife” brings about a change of status. “I now pronounce you an Israelite” was never used to turn an infant into a “child of the Covenant.” There was never any such thing. If this was the meaning of circumcision, then circumcision was redundant. And I have already argued that paedobaptism, as Leithart understands it, is redundant, because there are no more sociological divisions. One purpose of baptism is to wipe out such divisions, not construct a new one.

Leithart’s third problem is the sacrificial meaning of baptism, as revealed in the New Testament. If he really wants to align Old Covenant sacrifices with the rite of baptism, he needs to deal with the fact that his correspondence would be better informed by the way that the New Testament Scriptures themselves do it.

Accounts of baptism in the book of Acts align baptism not with the objective “delegation” of Covenant obligations but with the “vindication” of a subjective response to that initial Word. The Bible aligns baptism with the acceptance of the one who has believed God, trusted in the shedding of substitutionary blood, has been accounted as righteous, and is given authority as God’s representative to the nations.

The best example is Peter’s preaching at Pentecost, but my favorite is Acts 8. It also predicts the pattern found in the book of Revelation:

Initiation/Creation (blameless animal chosen)
Philip commanded by the Spirit
(Genesis – Transcendence)
Delegation/Division (animal cut)
The chosen Jew and the “cut” Gentile court official in the desert
(Exodus – Hierarchy)
Presentation/Ascension (animal lifted up)
Philip ascends into the “heavenly” chariot and opens the Covenant scroll concerning the Firstfruits lamb
(Leviticus – nearbringing)
Purification/Testing (holy fire descends)
The curses of the Law consume the lamb from the Land
(Numbers – Ethics, Israel cut off)
Transformation/Maturity (animal becomes fragrant)
Philip’s legal (prophetic) witness opens the eunuch’s eyes
(Deuteronomy – a new, uncircumcised Israel)*
*The next generation of Israelite males were not circumcised until they reached Jericho.
Vindication/Conquest (offerer accepted by God)
The eunuch desires to be baptized
(Joshua – Word vindicated, inheritance received)
Representation/Glorification (reconciliation)
Philip is taken away (the ascension of the OT saints to “the heavenly country”) and the new Jew-Gentile body testifies to all nations
(Judges – serving the nations)

More on this passage (regarding baptism) here.


What Jesus is saying here
is that those Jews who would
hold onto their “corporate baptism”
through the Red Sea would
actually lose their lives.

The one and the many

So far there has been no response to this from my Federal Vision friends aside from the theological equivalent of Haeckel’s fraudulent embryo diagrams. One of these is the confusion of Israel’s corporate baptism with the New Covenant’s individual baptisms. This necessitates overlooking the unmistakeable differences between the Old Covenant people and the New Covenant people.

When dealing with types, we must ask “What is the same?” and “What is different?” Because they classify 1 Corinthians 10:2 as strong evidence for paedobaptism, paedobaptists haven’t considered the blatant differences. God has clearly moved from a Social Covenant people to an Ethical Covenant people. This was always the plan. The Jews who “came out” of the harlot, Herod’s Egypt, did so ethically, not geographically. Their souls were saved, not their lives. In fact, their lives were most often lost, as Jesus predicted.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26)

What Jesus is saying here is that those Jews who would hold onto their “corporate baptism” through the Red Sea would actually lose their lives. The new “individual” baptism was not about flesh but about Spirit. The call to take up one’s cross is a call to individuals, for the purpose of uniting them in a new way. The new baptism is subjective, not objective, which is why only a few verses later, describing His return within one generation, Jesus states:

“For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:27-28)

Thus, to make New Covenant baptism a “corporate sign” by conflating an earthly people with the blessing of the Spirit (evading the ethical demands of the Father), is to make it a baptism of condemnation.

Every stage has physical, social and ethical components, certainly, but for the Firstfruits Church, Covenant membership was tied to a personal change of heart that put all existing social ties to death and bound them through a new one. The new binding is for those who have been cut already and are living sacrifices.

God, Time and Change

Nearing the end of chapter one, the book takes a strange turn as Leithart presents the accounts of God’s repenting as evidence for an acceptance for the apostasy of “Covenant people.” Since God responds to the acts of Man, then something which God said was “so” can become “not so.” Apostates come under judgment, and God changes His attitude towards them.

This all sounds fine, but once again, Leithart is attempting to establish in our minds that baptism is the beginning of obligation rather than the beginning of ministry. He uses the example of the construction of a table. I could use the example of a construction of a ship. Baptism is not the acceptance of the plans by the shipping company, but the breaking of a bottle of champagne over the bow, just before the ship starts its maiden voyage. The difference is obvious, yet those committed to paedobaptism are unable to see it, or unwilling to accept it.

Leithart ends this section by saying that an apostate who repents is now under God’s favor, rather than under curse. “That’s what conversion means.” The only real “conversion” here is one that has occurred in God’s mind. I’m sorry, but based upon the Covenant process, this is sorcery at worst and disturbingly woolly thinking at best.

If this is the case, we can take the rite intended for a repentant adult and use it on an infant, so that infant is now “converted,” which means he or she is now under God’s favor. If baptism can mean this, then why did the Spirit single out Jesus from among His circumcised “brothers” in the Jordan? It is because the “corporate” favor bestowed upon Israel-according-to-the-flesh was coming to an end. A repentant person is, however, evidence for the efficacy of baptism, but only for credobaptism.

The redundancy of a baptism based upon sociological ties is exposed when sprinkled children grow up and move away, and leave Christianity behind (as detailed in a post by Doug Wilson). They never made any personal vows, so how can they be held accountable? Since they are not Jews, who were still counted as Jews wherever they settled, the purpose of credobaptism is made plain. If we insist that the Church is foundationally sociological rather than ethical (with sociological outcomes), we are left with only sociological authority when children who never believed leave the Church. The call to repent comes through their parents because they never submitted to the Church. They were never Christians, despite the label being stuck on in infancy. They can only be disciplined as children of their parents, not as sons and daughters of God.

If one makes someone a Christian from birth through an “efficacious paedobaptism,” one has to explain how such a “Christian” can apostatize. Credobaptists have no problem with this: baptism is efficacious when mixed with credo, with faith, and not necessarily with paedo, offspring. If the credo turns out to be non-existent, so does the baptism.

Excommunication is an expression of the accountability of one who submitted to shepherding through a vow. (Note that Israel’s offspring in the wilderness were not slain or left in the wilderness because it was their parents who had taken the Covenant vow.)

Finally, efficacious paedobaptism is maintained at the tragic cost of the efficacious work of the Spirit. In his attempt to make baptism efficacious despite the response of the recipient (in an infant), or the lack of perseverance of the recipient (in an adult), Dr Leithart’s “efficacy of baptism” comes at the expense of the efficacy of the work of the Spirit. Note that I am not referring to conviction but to conversion. The change of heart in the recipient is the whole point of the New Covenant. Baptism means that the favor of the Father upon Jesus at His baptism is now also upon the one being baptized. The death of the High Priest has brought about a change in the Law. It is no longer external (conviction) but internal (conversion). The change of status comes because of a change of nature.

There is only one way to maintain both an efficacious baptism and an efficacious work of the Spirit, where “the Spirit remains” upon the baptized, and that is to link faith and baptism together in credobaptism.

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