Baptism and Education – 2


Peter Leithart believes that baptism is the ground for Christian education. I agree with him. But when it comes to whose baptism, I think it can be demonstrated that he departs from the biblical pattern.


In Baptized Education, he writes:

The Christian school has to function as a fruit of the Christian church. That does not mean it has to be administratively connected to a church.

So far so good. A state education is no longer semi-Christian or non-Christian. It is decidedly anti-Christian, to the point where anything except Christian doctrine can be taught to our children. At least in the USA, Christian education is something valued more by Christians from Reformed Churches than Baptistic ones, as this guest post from Sarah Culbertson describes. The failure to raise our children in the nurture of the Lord has resulted largely from a misplaced trust in the state.


But to be Christian it has to take the church’s ministry as its given starting point. Specifically, I have in mind the sacrament, rite, or ordinance of baptism. What does baptism have to do with education?

Certainly, but what is the Church’s ministry? Is it witness to the nations, or out-breeding them? Right at the point when we ought to be discussing whether or not to invite and include children from non-Christians families into our Christian schools, Leithart wants to sacralise Christian education and build a fence around it.

I do understand his reasons. American Baptist culture has lost a generation or two to secularism, and the two main reasons were a failure of Christian fatherhood and a lack of Christian education. The emphasis on fatherhood and education is the strength of the Federal Vision. But the foundations for Christian fatherhood and Christian education are not to be found in the significance of the value of “Covenant children,” but in the value of all children and indeed all people, and the transforming power of the Gospel of Christ which must be heard to be believed.


So, what does baptism have to do with education?

We might think very little. Kids from Christian schools are subjects of Christian nurture simply by virtue of their birth. But that is not a sound premise. They are members of the people of God not by virtue of birth but by virtue of baptism.

This paragraph contains the linchpin of Federal Vision thinking. If it can be pulled out, the entire construct falls apart. What disturbs me, and should disturb my FV friends, is how easily it can be pulled out.

I maintain that baptism cannot become familial, tribal or civic without losing its power to transcend those barriers. Paedobaptists avoid the obvious by claiming that even though the very reason certain persons “qualify” for baptism is indeed familial, tribal or civic, the rite of baptism negates, or even slays, those human ties, by rendering this person a “Christian.” It should be obvious to anyone that all this practice does, by attaching itself to these human ties, is sacralise them. Suddenly, they become divine! The foolishness of this is only apparent to those on the outside of the particular family, tribe, city or culture, to whom it is plain as day that this rite is a means of exclusion rather than inclusion. Instead of transcending all those ties and putting them under the authority of Christ, it exalts them into the heavens. This is exactly how Judaism, and indeed Christendom, were turned into Babels. The Gospel of Christ is first and foremost ethical, with social outcomes, not the other way around.


They are to be nurtured in Christian faith not because they are human but because God has claimed them.

Paedobaptists maintain that this rite includes their children in the Covenant. I maintain that all children, all humans, are already in the Covenant. All were claimed by Christ at His ascension, which mean that what paedobaptism actually does (if it really did anything at all) is put everyone else outside the Covenant, just as Gentiles were not included in the Jewish social identity or its Covenantal promises and obligations. So the supposed “claim” on these children is an Old Covenant one, the Law of Moses.

Raising our children in the nurture of the Lord is simply a Christian obligation, part of our ministry of faithful witness. Our children need the Gospel just like all children do. There is nothing special about them. They are not part of any fleshly Messianic line or heredity “Covenant succession.”


This has several direct implications for how teachers carry out their work. Whenever and however administered, baptism is a renunciation of the world. It is a liturgical initiation into a people that rejects and resists the liturgies of the world.

Instead of focussing on the faithfulness of Christian teachers, and baptism as a sign of the New Covenant Oath, the public profession of the name of Jesus Christ, Leithart is stuck on the children, those affected by the Sanctions of the Oath. Has the teacher renounced the world? Does the teacher faithfully instruct the students in the ways (and thus the liturgies) of God? This is the weakness of the Federal Vision. Instead of transformation it offers legislation. Instead of representation it offers demarcation. Covenant obligations were always the concern of those in authority, whether familial, tribal or civic. They were the ones accountable to God, and they were to image Him to those in their care. This is how it was in Eden, how it was in Israel, and it is how it is now for baptised (invested) Christians among all nations.


A teacher can appeal to the students’ baptisms as grounds for moral exhortation and formation. “You have been bought with a price,” a teacher says, “you belong to Jesus. Therefore, don’t give your soul and your loves to David Tennant or Benedict Cumberbatch or the latest rock star. Your life is in Christ, therefore does not consist of possessions…

What if there are students from non-Christian families in the school? Are they exempt from moral exhortation and formation because they have not been baptised? Has the entire world not been bought with a price? Does not every soul already belong to the King of Kings? Is that not the grounds for preaching the Gospel to every creature? Appealing to somebody’s baptism (particularly a paedobaptism) is the soteriological equivalent of the Bootstrap Paradox. And there are young people who, although baptised and thus supposedly “in Christ” come to resent these supernatural obligations inherited via their natural identity.


…Your people are the people of God, and so your loyalties are first of all there. You are baptized, therefore you are not the kind of person to despise the wisdom of the aged. You are baptized, therefore you live and study in patient faith.”

Finally, we come to the carnal terminal of all human demarcations, including familial baptism: human seed with claims to divinity. Even within the Old Covenant line, the carnal succession jumped tracks quite a number of times and included scandalous people to remind us that this succession was not a work of the flesh.

And now, with the genealogical promises complete, and all the records incinerated at Jesus’ hand in AD70, the Spirit is free not only to jump from person to person, family to family, tribe to tribe, but also from nation to nation. God simply will not allow us to glory in the flesh, and baptism is evidence of that. It does not sacralise human ties as paedobaptism does. It transcends them entirely. There is no boundary on the work of Christ, and baptism should not be contorted into one. Paedobaptism glories in the flesh, a carnal succession.


There is no need for a baptismal fence to keep people in. Baptism is not a mining claim. Christ owns the entire world. Baptism is for the gold, silver and precious stones mined out of it, purified through repentance and faith, then baptised and put to work in the house of God and in battle out in the field. Baptism is investiture, not initiation. In educational terms, it is the graduation gown, not the beginning of schooling.

People do not “enter” the Church via baptism as ancients entered Israel via circumcision. Circumcision transformed no one. But baptism is for the transformed, and that transformation comes only from beholding Christ. The Church which focusses on maintaining its own glory always becomes Babel, and the Spirit departs. However, when people are pointed to Christ, the Church gathers of its own accord — around Him.

Any system which must continually point people back to their baptism instead of pointing them to Christ is not only far from the focus of the New Testament, but far from recognising what an actual Christian is, and how somebody becomes a saint. Given this sort of power by unwitting sacramentalists and Covenantalists, the sacraments replace the Gospel in the minds of children. And as it was for the Jews, as the generations pass we end up exalting and rejoicing in bread and wine while Jesus Himself is left outside the door. Let me ask you, do you have a relationship with Jesus because you were baptised, or were you baptised because you have a relationship with Jesus? The difference here is crucial.

The world does not need baptism first. The world needs Christ first. And the same goes for our children. Baptism is for parents and teachers, legal witnesses, message bearers. Baptism sets these speakers apart as living sacrifices, but there is no fence around the audience. All are called to repent and believe.

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