Cultivation and Representation


“In the days when our courts are declaring that good is evil and evil is good, the recovery of baptism as a delegation of divine legal authority rather than a sign of ‘limited Covenantal obligation’ is crucial.”

Every biblical Covenant is a word from heaven designed to bring a response from the earth. When the laws in the Ark of the testimony were given to Israel, the response of a legal oath was required, intended to culminate in the legal witness of Israel to the nations. Thus, every biblical Covenant is also a process which leads to maturity, beginning with cultivation and ending in representation.

A child must be schooled before he can be employed. A man must be a disciple before he can be an apostle. Adam was to be qualified before he could represent God as a just and merciful judge on earth. But the difference between cultivation and representation is the difference between circumcision and baptism, and this facet of the biblical Covenants is something paedobaptists are unable to accept, at least in its full glory.

Leaving Home

My friend Peter Leithart, once again, has written a brilliant article concerning this process of maturity.

Can we protect our kids from the world and prepare them for it?

Parents can draw guidance from an unexpected source: Paul’s letter to the Galatians, where Paul describes Israel’s history as a centuries-long process of child-training (Galatians 3–4). When Yahweh first brought his son from Egypt, he gave clear, detailed commandments and exercised strict discipline. Israel was, Paul says, “no better than slaves.” But this was always intended to be a temporary arrangement. The law was a tutor, but when faith comes, then “we are no longer under a tutor.” Israel was under guardians and stewards, but then God sends Jesus and the Spirit so that “we might receive the adoption as sons.” Overall, it’s a progression from childhood slavery to mature adulthood.

We can see this progression within the Old Testament. Early on, Yahweh created a comprehensive world that was at once a protection and a pedagogy. He gave his creatures stories, songs, structures, and rules—many rules. By the time of the kings, Israel had grown up. Instead of being withdrawn from the nations, Israel began to make good on the Abrahamic promise to be a light to the nations. Kings and queens streamed to Jerusalem to hear Solomon’s wisdom. Exile was both a judgment and a commission: By the time Nebuchadnezzar deported the Jews, they had become true children of Abraham, capable of leaving home for a land they didn’t yet know.

All this adds up to a rough but useful pattern for child-rearing. On the one hand, parents should have no problem treating their children as “slaves” during their youngest years. “No” is not a swear word; eight of the Ten Commandments begin with “No” (in Hebrew), and one of the two positive commands is “Honor your father and mother.” We don’t send toddlers into combat, and we shouldn’t send them into the warzone of the world. Should we sequester young children in an artificial cocoon of peace, love, and virtue? Absolutely.

On the other hand, the goal is to prepare them to leave, and to keep their heads as they pass through the big world outside. Like the God of Israel, we prepare them by gradual manumission. Some years ago, I read in a now-forgotten book that a parent moves from commander to coach to counselor. We give orders to little kids and require obedience. We coach them through the challenges of young adulthood, giving them room to make decisions, fail, and try again. By the time they’re ready to leave home, the commands should be second nature, and we offer advice to help them over the rough patches.

As Christians tell it, at the end of Israel’s story, the Lord doesn’t command Israel to “return.” Instead, Jesus, the God of Israel made flesh, sends the new Israel of the disciples away: Get out of the house. Fill the corners. The Hebrews started as priests, serving in Yahweh’s house, living under command. They grew to be kings, conquering and ruling a land in wisdom. They were sent out on a prophetic, then an apostolic mission, no longer slaves but sons, heirs of God. It’s the perfect pedagogy of the perfect Father, and we do well to imitate it.1Peter J. Leithart, Rearing Slaves, Rearing Sons,

Leithart describes perfectly the purpose of cultivation as preparation for representation, of training our children that they might leave home to change the world. Yet once again he fails to make any connection between this process and the difference between circumcision and baptism.2See Exposed to the Elements. Circumcision was about cultivation (“Hear O Israel” — word as seed). Baptism is about representation (“Go and tell” – profession/witness as fruit).

Judicial Maturity

For the Covenantalist / sacramentalist, the New Covenant sign means pretty much the same thing as the Old one did: cultivation. The sign is somehow believed to contain maturity in “seed form,” and Leithart has to read Galatians backwards to cram the judicial maturity of New Covenant baptism into something that can be applied to infants. See Reading Galatians Backwards. However, if Israel was in training until Christ, and only then was baptism as we now know it instituted, how can baptism ever be a sign of earthly pedagogy? Surely a personal confession by our children (and a desire on their part for baptism) is the time to celebrate a parenting job well done?

Adam heard the law but did not “image” God legally. He listened but failed to “Go tell” when the Word was challenged by the first false teacher. Unlike Adam, Noah heeded the word and became the first true prophet. Each was under the sword (cultivation) but only Noah took it up (representation as a judge).

We see the same contrast in Israel in Egypt (under the sword) and Israel at Jericho (wielding the sword). In the big picture, this is the difference between the Old Covenant and the New. This might be why the Covenant has moved from circumcision/Land to baptism/Table. We are following the life of the harvest from its natural origin on earth to its supernatural destiny as a communion between heaven and earth. The process begins at the root, works its way to fruit, and finishes at the table of God. The food on the table is the “qualified and glorified” representative of the cultivated land.

Culmination and Initiation

Now, the paedobaptist might object by saying that life is a continuous process of cultivation, and indeed it is. But these levels are not the same. An infant’s gown is not the same thing as a graduation gown or a wedding gown. There is “cultivation” in the womb, there is the “cultivation” of childhood, there is the “cultivation” of study, and of courting, and there is “cultivation” as a minister of God. Infant baptism is thus the breaking of the waters in the womb and cutting of the umbilical chord. This is the only way “paedo” can ever be linked with “baptism.” Physical birth ends cultivation in the womb and begins physical representation of the parents by the child.

Breaking the waters signals the end of something old and the beginning of something new. So baptism is a new beginning, and is thus both culmination and initiation. But what does baptism bring to an end and what does it allow to begin? Where does baptism fit among all these varied stages? Well, what does a biblical baptism picture? Death and resurrection. Baptism is linked inextricably to a ministry as a living sacrifice, a martyr for whom death is gain, given the power to bless and curse as a spokesman for God.

Unlike circumcision, baptism does not speak of being a child of men but a son of God, that is, a legal representative, a prophet. It ends the period focussed on submission to heaven and begins the subsequent dominion of earth. Noah’s Great Flood “baptism” ended the old world and began the new one, but the new order was one of greater maturity and more authority in office. Noah blesses and curses with the full authority of God, a chosen ambassador. Baptism ends “legal” childhood under the stoicheia and begins a ministry of legal representation of God.

Baptism is about office, not flesh. It is supernature, not nature. Jesus spoke of a new birth, but He was not talking about more sons from Sarah’s or Rachel’s wombs. He spoke of the firstborn from the dead, and the legal witness which would follow. Paedobaptism confuses the Covenant “Oath” (Adam’s faithfulness) with the Covenant “Sanctions” (the resulting gifts from God), the same error made by the Jews and Judaizers in the first century. It is a subtle seizing of the Tree of Kingdom without prior submission to God.

Conflated Births

Each era of cultivation speaks to the others, but conflating them is an enormous mistake when it comes to the meaning of baptism as legal representation. Baptism accompanied the sign of tongues and the explosion of prophetic ministry across the world. To claim it is about cultivation rather than representation is a backward step. This puts the criticism of the Christian Jews in Hebrews 5 into context. They were still “hearing” like Israel, but stuck on the Old Covenant basics.

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14)

Hebrews refers to the physical cultivation of childhood to describe spiritual cultivation. The saints should have been on the wine (strong food), and past the “milk” of the Covenant basics. Despite being raised as Jews, they were still getting a grip on the basics (cultivation) when they should by now have become teachers (representation). The author is not saying that these people were actual babies. Since they conflate the first birth with the second, paedocommunionists give wine to actual babies, which exposes their paradigm as a profound misunderstanding of some very basic things. The Church is the “nursery” of culture, but the Federal Vision unwittingly turns the church into an actual nursery. The earthly image is mistaken for the glorious reality, rather than merely a stage in the process.

This answers Dr Leithart’s strange case against us baptists who “talk to our babies.” He misguidedly conflates two very different stages of human life. Advocates of paedofaith quote Psalm 22:9-10 without thinking too deeply about it. David himself poetically conflates the care of his heavenly Father with the care of his earthly parents, but only poetically:

…you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God…

One certainly images the other, but these levels of cultivation are not the same. David’s parents were representatives of God in David’s boyhood cultivation. The ministry was from the hand of God but it came via mediators. In the New Covenant, we are no longer under an order administered by angels. We are now the angels, the messengers. That is the point of baptism. To claim that these very different periods of cultivation are the same thing is to claim that a child of men is, without ethical qualification, a son of God. But as in Hebrews, these are not the same thing. Although there is continuity between the child and the adult, a child is not an adult, and the flesh is not the Spirit.

The sacralizing of the first birth rather than the second unwittingly feminises the New Covenant. The New Covenant is about God’s sons, not ours, which is what Jesus’ baptism was all about, and why He had no physical children. The Church is not a nursery for the training of infants but a barracks for the training of soldiers. The Federal Vision’s hybridised New Covenant, with its “two tier” baptism, is just Abrahamic foozball in the clubhouse. Nurturing our children in the Lord is certainly a grave responsibility, but the real game is with Jesus out there on the field. Abraham’s inheritance was his own children. Jesus’ inheritance is the nations of the world.

Jesus’ Baptism

Based on Jesus’ baptism, the rite is a ceremony of graduation from the authority of Joseph the carpenter to the Craftsman of all Creation. Each stage prefigures the next, but the stages are not the same, just as the first birth is not the second birth, and just as the regeneration of one individual is not the regeneration of the world. The image is not the reality, yet although it is a part of it, conflating them is a form of idolatry, an over-realised eschatology. This explains the “sorcery” of Israel, whose leaders thought their earthly lineage made them acceptable to God. The Pharisees were indeed sons of Abraham (image) but not sons of God (reality). They were Jews but not what Judaism imaged or pointed to, thus not true Jews. “Dominion” was thus seen to be the result of breeding rather than legal witness.

The “baptism of the Spirit” was what officially ended the time of cultivation of the disciples and officially began their apostolic witness as representatives of Christ.

Jesus’ baptism signified the end of His personal cultivation on earth and the beginning of His representation of heaven. However, Jesus had four of these events, and even these must not be conflated, since they are stages of growth in stature and maturity: Circumcision (earthly father), Baptism (heavenly Father), death and burial (Table), ascension and return (enthronement). This process works from earth to heaven, from the Bronze Altar, through the Laver, into the Holy Place and ends on the kapporet. We see this exact sequence in the architecture of Exodus 24, which was the culmination of Israel’s physical cultivation as a nation, culminating in only the legal representatives dining with Yahweh on the mountain.

Likewise, in the life of Jesus, each of these events ended a period of cultivation and began a greater level of representation. The “baptism of the Spirit” was what officially ended the time of cultivation of the disciples and officially began their apostolic witness as representatives of Christ. This might be why the martyrdom of the saints in Revelation 14 is presented as a “fractal expansion” of the death of Jesus: the white harvest of the oikoumene (cultivation) was cut down and gathered for the table of God (representation).

Israel’s Baptism

Paedobaptists mistakenly think that Israel’s corporate baptism supports their errant rite, but even the nation of Israel was baptised for the sake of legal representation. Israel was not baptised into Abraham but Moses. Why? Circumcision was about cultivation (Abraham to Joseph) but Israel’s baptism was about representation (Moses to Joshua), her mediation for the nations.3See Destroy This Temple And within Israel, it was only the Levitical priests and the sacrifices — those who represented Israel before God — which were washed as mediators. The priesthood of all believers, the sign of which is believer’s baptism, came only at the end of Israel’s history. Israel’s annual feasts were also a process of cultivation (preparation for ministry) and then representation (witness) to the nations at Booths. Like the end of her annual feasts, this was the completion of her cultivation under the Law of Moses and the beginning of her ultimate ministry to the nations.

As Leithart fails to mention, protecting our children from the influence of the world until they are ready to influence it illustrates for us in microcosm the purpose of circumcision in history. The children of Israel were taken out of the nations that they might be matured, able to judge between good and evil, and then put back among the nations as a corporate image of the justice and mercy of God.

The Old Testament is claimed to offer support for paedosacraments, but even within the history of “Israel according to the flesh” we can see that circumcision and baptism meant very different things.

As we have seen, the institution of circumcision culminated in Israel’s “baptism” through the Red Sea and the “table” on the mountain. But just as the events from Abraham to Joseph were cultivation (Canaan to Egypt as Forming), and the events from Moses to Joshua focussed on legal representation (Egypt to Canaan as Filling), we also see these two elements within this secondary stage in legal terms, that is, legal cultivation and legal representation. The nature of Israel’s baptism as a sign of judicial maturity is the point paedobaptists miss when they note Paul’s allusion to these events. Since they are satisfied that their erroneous practice is vindicated, they fail to think any further about it. This is not only terrible exegesis, it is a failure in “Covenant theology” from its traditional experts.

The process in Israel’s journey from Egypt to Canaan is entirely legal, moving from external law (childhood) to internal law (adulthood), and this is why Paul refers to it in 1 Corinthians 11. The “exodus” of the Church from the Egypt of Herodian worship was fundamentally Ethical in nature. It had nothing whatsoever to do with being set apart genealogically as Israel was. It amazes me that this fundamental difference is consistently ignored.

Between Egypt and Canaan, the judicial maturity of Moses the prophet was to be “measured out” in the hearts of Israel. Israel was given the “Nos” of the Law and possessed Canaan only when the new generation said “Yes.” The process follows not only the Creation Week, but also the pattern of sacrifice. What began as raw flesh and blood was offered voluntarily to God and became a fragrant cloud of smoke, a pleasing testimony. Whereas the narratives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob focus on the reversal of physical barrenness (Sanctions), the wilderness journey is all about “ethical fertility,” that is, richness towards God (Oath).

Creation – Genesis:
Israel called from the nations
Division – Exodus:
Israel cut from the nations (blood and water)
Ascension – Leviticus:
Israel presented to God (Man) – Law Given
Testing – Numbers:
Israel threshed (People) – Law Opened
Maturity – Deuteronomy:
Israel reassembled (Army) – Law Received
Conquest – Joshua:
The nations cut from the Land (water and blood)
Glorification – Judges:
Israel among the nations

To claim that Israel’s corporate baptism is any kind of foundation for paedobaptism is to misunderstand the difference between circumcision and baptism. The Old Testament is claimed to offer support for paedosacraments, but even within the history of “Israel according to the flesh” we can see that circumcision and baptism meant very different things.

The Land of Israel

Circumcision was a boundary for farming, fencing off a people and Land for cultivation. The promise of fruit from the Land and fruit from the womb cannot be separated, either in Adam or in Abraham. This is why animals are always treated as part of the Old Covenant household of faith. The animals were the only truly “blameless representatives,” serving as substitutes for Israel as the firstborn of God, both her physical sons (cultivation, Exodus 4:22) and her ethical sons, the Levite priests (representation, Numbers 3:22).4See The Case for Covenantal Animal Baptism. If this twofold process seems strange, we must remember that Israel gave a tithe of its harvest to the Levites (cultivation) and the Levites then gave a tithe of that tithe to the Lord (representation). Man’s table is not God’s table. Differentiating between the sons of men and the sons of God under the New Covenant should not be difficult for theologians since it is woven throughout the very fabric of the Old Covenant.

Paedobaptistic ecclesiology is still working on the Abrahamic microcosm, the hobby farm.

Israel was set apart from the nations by circumcision, and cultivated by the Law. When Gentile believers mocked the Jews, Paul reminded them that this cultivation was of great benefit.

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means… (Romans 3:1-3)

The oracles of God were beneficial, just as our preaching to our children is beneficial. Whether or not it produces fruit, the process of ploughing, sowing and watering is a holy one. But when circumcision was ended through the death of Christ, the time of cultivation was over. It was time for the harvest. Paul also reminds those in Rome that both Jew and Gentile were still “under sin.” In Christ, the focus moved from seed to fruit, from cultivation to representation. Circumcision and uncircumcision meant nothing once there was spiritual fruit. When one brought forth spiritual fruit, the field from which one came, cultivated or uncultivated, Jew or Gentile, became irrelevant.

Baptism is not about seed but about fruit. Paedobaptism misguidedly sets a boundary of cultivation (planting the seed), which might explain why infants are “sprinkled.” But biblical baptism is about harvest, and Matthew 28 says there are no longer any fences. God harvests where He will. Paedobaptism tries to make the Church the field to be farmed, when the Church is actually a silo for the harvest, and a barracks for the workers. Paedobaptistic ecclesiology is still working on the Abrahamic microcosm, the hobby farm.

Since the “field” is now the entire world, the “nurture in the Lord” is not merely for our children but for all people everywhere. When one believes, one becomes a representative, a speaker. Since circumcision is gone, there is only the Gospel (cultivation) and witness (representation). There is no sign for cultivation, any more than there was before the time of Abraham. Baptism is only for legal representatives.

Paedobaptism makes the New Covenant as parochial as the old, as this comment from a paedobaptist demonstrates: “When you try to evangelize and disciple people who do not have the Spirit and who have no faith, you have no guarantees or promises or statistical probabilities.” This assumes that the Gospel has no power unless there is some kind of “fence” to contain it. Not only does this make no sense, we have no such guarantee anyway. We are simply told to sow the seed, water, and trust God for the increase.

The four “household” events recorded in the book of Acts were signs of the end of the old order, shifting the Covenant from the sons of a man to the sons of God, from physical forming to spiritual filling, from vessels to treasure, from cultivation to representation. If infants had indeed been baptised, this would make the New Covenant a limited obligation, a limited cultivation, like the Old. So it cannot logically be the case. It must therefore be a sign of representation, the sign of circumcision of flesh fulfilled in the circumcision of the heart of the believer.

Imitating Christ

To make baptism about cultivation under the Gospel rather than authority as an ambassador of the Gospel is to misunderstand the temporary purpose of the nation of Israel as a bootcamp for prophets. One must hear (cultivation - Land) before one can speak (representation - Table). Although Abraham was not baptised, he was qualified at various stages and only then ate before God with Melchizedek. Hebrews 5 says the same thing of Christ Himself, who was qualified before being given His great office.

If we want to celebrate parenting, baptism surely comes at the end of a job well done, at the beginning of ministry. The glory of a newborn is not the same as the glory of a child who chooses wisdom over folly. This glorious New Covenant rite is not one to be dismissed as “individualism.” Israel was baptised into Moses the prophet, but now all the Lord’s people are prophets, legal representatives, wise judges of what is good and what is evil. In the days when our courts are declaring that good is evil and evil is good, the recovery of baptism as a delegation of divine legal authority rather than a sign of “limited Covenantal obligation” is crucial.

At which point were the apostles sent out? In the big picture, it was after the institution of baptism. The Covenant moved from commander to coach to counselor — priesthood, kingdom, prophecy. As Leithart says, “We do well to imitate it.” But he does not. His ecclesiology is stuck in the Abrahamic childhood of the Church, and his sacraments are all about earthly parenting. Israel was baptised into Moses’ “No.” A believer is baptized into an uncoerced “Yes,” the testimony of Jesus Christ, the first sign of spiritual maturity. It is the day when a son or daughter becomes an eternal brother or sister.

After conversion, our “judicial” cultivation certainly continues until our baptismal investiture is fulfilled in resurrection. Only then will we truly represent God, enthroned with Him not only by faith but also by sight.

ART: The Ambassadors, Hans Holbein the Younger

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