What is New Covenant baptism and what does it supersede? Here are some of the common answers in ’the books.’
All of these focus on an administration of water as the primary meaning of baptism. To date, there is no good book available on New Testament baptism providing a comprehensive view of apostolic teaching. Certain truths are presented in all, the ‘big picture’ is present in none. Whether scholarly or elementary. I have witnessed biblical scholars openly admitting this fact.
The history of dogma has given us a primary use of the word ‘baptism’ that completely contradicts the New Testament. The great apostasy prophesied by Paul has attempted to impose upon us an alternate community (‘church’), alternate priesthood (‘episcopacy’), alternate sacred calendar, different giving requirements, sacred physical elements (font, tank, host), and a legion of other requirements that deny the apostolic gospel. The apostasy attempts to bind the Christian conscience with a brand new system of law after the order of the Levites. As in the politics of much human government, this system called ‘church’ is all about power and self-aggrandizement. A prominent Reformed theologian actually went so far as to affirm this: “All church power is of God.”
Until we understand that New Covenant baptism is Holy Spirit baptism, we will never experience full assurance of faith. This is because our consciences will not be looking fully to the resurrection of Christ for assurance, but partially to whether the correct administration of water has been submitted to.
When church people hear or read the word ‘baptism,’ the first point of reference in their thinking is to water administration. Automatically. Unless the author or teacher explicitly states that the reference is to the Holy Spirit, the default meaning is assumed to be water. We know it. Not so with the New Testament! After the full revelation of the New Covenant gospel was revealed to Peter in Acts 10, the primary meaning of ‘baptism’ in the New Testament is always the Holy Spirit. It only refers to water if the context explicitly refers to it. So the teaching of the apostles after the final gospel revelation is exactly the opposite of the teachings of men.
Paul’s revelation of the gospel received directly from God is exactly the same as that which God gave to Peter in Acts 10. Although the Lord dealt with these two men separately, they ultimately ended up with the same teaching. The same is true of the apostle John, who was left to continue the work of the gospel in the age of Antichrist. That is, during the swelling of the great apostasy that Paul prophesied would happen after his death (Acts 20).
All of the Pauline passages on the meaning of baptism are expounding the reality of the Holy Spirit, who baptizes believers with full assurance of faith in the power of Christ‘s resurrection. Only in I Cor. 1 and I Cor. 15:29 does Paul refer to water. This is a radically different perspective than that of Baptist and paedobaptist theologicans, who assume in their interpretations that Paul is always referring to the water. What is this assumption based on? I would propose that it is assumed because of this: the history of dogma has so ingrained ’baptism’ as ’water’ in our minds that we assume that the Holy Spirit is the ‘exception to the rule.’ That is, Paul has to say ’I mean the Holy Spirit’ in order for us to believe that he is referring to Holy Spirit baptism.
Acts 10 is the key passage on this subject. It is the first time that Peter preached the full-corn gospel of justification by faith alone, after the Holy Spirit drove him into it. Prior to that, like the rest of the apostles, he partially perceived Christianity as a new and more perfect Judaism. Why is this fact ignored when scholars interpret earlier passages on baptism? The early passages are given equal weight with the later ones--and this can only confuse the issue.
Mt. 28:19 cites a general command to baptize with water that Christ gave to the eleven. This command is often called a ‘commission,’ which is very misleading for these reasons:
Point #4 is extremely critical and the most important. Paul quotes the exhortation of Ananias in Acts 22:16, whom God told him to visit after the great blinding: “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” Although God had revealed to Ananias that Paul would receive God’s ultimate and final revelation of the gospel for the nations, he himself did not yet perceive the impact of what Paul’s full-corn gospel would accomplish. It was to radically change the imperfect doctrine of water baptism originally taught by the eleven!
The passages in Acts prior to chapter 10 clearly show us the imperfect nature of what the apostles originally taught regarding water. They taught that submitting to it was conditional to entering the kingdom and receiving forgiveness (Acts 2:38,39). God did not immediately correct their mis-perceptions about this, any more than he corrected their wrong views of the kingdom expressed in Acts 1:6. In fact, the way in which the Lord dispensed the Holy Spirit prior to Acts 10 (notably Acts 8:14-17) actually resulted in confirming the wrong teaching of the apostles! This was not because God deceptively told them they were right. He ordered events in such a way that their wrong perceptions were not corrected. God had a definite time when he planned to announce the full-corn gospel of justification by faith alone to the nations! Until then, Christianity remained in Jerusalem and a few surrounding regions. God hid the full light during this interim period--by not correcting the wrong teaching of the apostles on water administration.
Some, in contemplating Christ’s command in Mt. 28:19 to the eleven, have proposed that the ’laying on of hands’ (Acts 8:17) was a separate baptism in the name of the Holy Spirit--different from that of water in the name of Jesus Christ and the baptism of repentance toward the Father. This is because Acts records water baptism as taking place in the name of the Lord Jesus only, whereas Christ commanded baptism in the name of all three persons of the Trinity. Although this idea may seem to contain some legitimacy, it really doesn’t matter to us if we understand the progress of revelation. Once the full gospel of justification by faith alone was manifest, all of the earlier issues on the correct form of water became irrelevant! The water became an ‘afterward’ testimony to the realities of gospel faith, which had already been perfected in a redeemed soul (Acts 10:47,48; 16:33).
The full-corn gospel proclaims that eternal life is entered solely by genuine belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It excludes the mention of water as a door to entering the kingdom, and supersedes the earlier but imperfect Jewish view (also taught by John the Baptist) proclaimed to Jews by Peter in Acts 2:38. The final teaching of all of the apostles, subsequent to the events of Acts 10, confirms that the Holy Spirit is in agreement with this proposition. Our full assurance of faith is grounded in Holy Spirit baptism alone. Water baptism is a testimony of the realities of the gospel, however, the most perfect administration of it can never cleanse any conscience of the guilt of sin.
The Diversity of Apostolic Water Administration
The first study in this series established the primacy of Holy Spirit baptism in the New Testament; as the one and only baptism for remission of sins in Christ through faith. Water baptism is merely a sign and testimony of the greater and more perfect baptism. If men and women truly believed in the apostolic teaching on the critical issue of Holy Spirit baptism, further studies on the meaning of the water would be largely unnecessary and perhaps even irrelevant. Nonetheless, there is a history of dogma lasting more than 1900 years on the matter of Christian water administration. Debunking the myths of the man of sin on this topic is a task of nuclear proportion. The amount of cherished heresy to be renounced is so great that only God can accomplish it. The most an article such as this can achieve is to try and make a few Christians aware of the gospel-denying implications of the two poles of water dogma.
Virtually all of Christian studies on baptism begin with the assumption that the water is primary. Instead of laying aside presuppositions and investigating the apostolic testimony, men search the scriptures for evidence that their presupposed notion of water administration is true. Mt. 28:19 is assumed to teach that only one definite position on the water is correct. Knowing the exact mode and subjects of the water is automatically proposed to be the crux of the doctrine of baptism. With that foundation having been established, teachers proceed to construct the most ingenious and elaborate defense possible of biblical evidence for one side of the polarization or the other.
The dreaded ‘argument from silence’ is always condemned when a teacher is determined to promote a certain view. But this seemingly foolproof line of defense has a very important weakness. If silence on any given topic in the apostolic testimony occurs due to a greater determining factor, then it is extremely significant. In such a case silence is golden. It evidences the non-importance or irrelevance of the issue in relation to something far more comprehensive and decisive.
If the command of Christ to baptize with water is general and not covenantal, it is left to the sanctified wisdom of Christians to best determine how to fulfill it. The water is a sign and testimony of the greater and perfect baptism, not the reality. So its exact administration is a matter open to diversity of interpretation. There are many other commands in the New Testament having the same character, most significantly that of prayer. None can deny the importance of prayer for Christians: God has commanded it. But what the proper form, manner, time, demeanor, length, and frequency of prayer? The debate is endless. However, differences on the issue are not considered paramount. A certain object of prayer, the Lord Jesus Christ, is far more significant than the exact form of prayer itself. The perspective of the New Testament on water administration is very much the same as this.
No clear and undisputed form of administering the water will ever be discovered. It is almost comical to observe that in spite of the obvious sacramentalism of the second century and beyond, interpreters have never been able to find ANY ‘ammunition’ to support a definite administration of water in all of the post-apostolic writings. Certainly this says something to us. If there had been a commanded apostolic tradition of form on something estimated to be so vital, it would never have suffered such a fate.
One of the most important verses shedding light on this issue is one that is most often brushed off as insignificant: 1Cor. 15:29. There can be no question that if a form of baptism by proxy existed in some first century Christian circles, it was illegitimate and out of harmony with apostolic teaching. Yet Paul spends no time condemning it or giving reasons to abhor and shun the practice. He certainly might have done so, since there is no doubt that his own convictions would have been against it. But there were far more important heresies and immoral indulgences plaguing the Corinthians. So Paul ended up using the custom of baptism by proxy as a mere argument to advance the resurrection. Does this say anything to us on Paul’s perspective of the hierarchy of importance of revealed truth? It definitely should.
The apostolic Christian community was immersed in joyful celebration of the gospel. Polarization over baptism with water would have been a stumbling block to this rejoicing in the power of Christ’s resurrection. It didn’t happen.
Paedobaptistism: Condemned and Renounced by the Gospel
This exposition will focus on the tenets and failures of paedobaptist dogma in history. Another article will deal with the tenets and failures of Baptist sectarianism. There is no lack of guilt on either side of the watershed.
The points to follow in this article will assume that readers are familiar with covenant paedobaptist teaching, which is based on the following tenets:
Before examining each of these five arguments, it is first necessary to examine the origin and history of paedobaptist thought, practice, and dogma.
The water baptism of infants had its origin in pre-Christian Judaism. There is no real debate on this fact among scholars. For a summary of the historical arguments in this regard, see Infant Baptism: Its Background and Theology by R. T. Beckwith, which is an article in the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Vol. 1, pp. 154-160).
There can be no question that water baptism of the infants of Christian parents originated in the apostolic era. Baptist expositors will no doubt shrug away in horror at such a proposition. But those who would rejoice in certain facts regarding certain water customs in primitive Christianity must deal with this additional fact: baptism by proxy also originated in the apostolic era! Those who want to defend paedobaptism as an absolute requirement for the Christian community must address such issues.
The apostles never condemned (in writings that we have) any paedobaptist water practice in their midst. Neither did they condemn any proxy water baptism in their midst. Their preoccupation was the gospel. No one has ever been able to find historical documentation of a precise apostolic teaching on the proper subjects and mode of water baptism. Neither is there any documentation of such precision in the post-apostolic writings. Only over many centuries did the three distinct and separate practices of Roman, Eastern, and adult-only water baptism emerge.
Water sacramentalism had its origin very early in the history of professed Christian dogma. Papists, Orthodox, and Protestant high-churchmen are quick to point this out. They view this as indisputable evidence that water regeneration is the true and ancient teaching of ‘the church.’ However, the sacramental teaching of the second and third centuries never establishes a definite link of water regeneration to a requirement of infant baptism. This does not clearly emerge until the fourth century and the Constantinian era. For this reason, expositors in the adult baptism tradition have always viewed paedobaptism as inextricably linked with the state-church. If the point under discussion is mandatory infant baptism, the Baptist position is indeed correct. Although the practice of infant water baptism in Christian circles no doubt originated much earlier, the notion of a universal and mandatory baptism of the seed of all Christian parents began with state-church rule under Constantine.
Only in the Reformation did a change occur. Zwingli and Calvin, though maintaining a state-church paedobaptism, began to move Christian teaching away from water regeneration. This ultimately gave birth to the ‘strictly covenant’ teaching of the Reformed movement on water baptism. Eventually, with the removal of the state-church, the teaching of family covenant solidarity became the sole remaining force perpetuating the dogma of mandatory baptism of the seed of Christian parents. That is where things remain to this day.
With this background in mind, we will now proceed to examine the scriptural arguments for mandatory Christian water administration to infants.
1. The Abrahamic covenant of circumcision has been transferred in exact letter to infant and adult water administration in the New Covenant, based on family covenant solidarity. The main contrast in these covenants is the inclusion of females in the ‘drip’--which testifies to the expansion of blessing in the New Era over the male-dominated Old Era--which consisted of administration of circumcision to males only.
The argument here is based on reasoning from analogy. There is no limit to the varied and contradictory premises that result from applying such a principle. This has been proven time and time again, especially in the area of prophetic interpretation.
Luke 1:72-75 and Gal. 3:6-29 refute this type of reasoning. The covenant of circumcision is ended, not in outright abolition like the law-covenant at Sinai (2 Cor. 3:4-18, Heb. 8:13) , but in being ‘filled-full’ in Christ as the fulfillment of the promise. The fulfillment of the Davidic covenant (Luke 1: 68-71) is certainly parallel to the fulfillment of the covenant with Abraham. The covenant signs of an earthly throne and king are no longer with us, since Jesus Christ is enthroned in the heavens! Even so, the covenant sign of circumcision is no longer with us (Gal. 5:1-4), since the Holy Spirit is the true circumcision of Christ. To look for a new form of either of these covenants is to miss the transcendent reality.
2. Acts. 2:38,39 teaches that believers and their children are the heirs of the promise of salvation. So the gospel form of water administration should be administered to both, just as circumcision in the era before Christ was administered to all family males in the ‘line of promise.’
There are no genealogies recorded in scripture after the Advent of Christ. Does this say something to us? Genealogies were related to the promise which is now fulfilled.
Acts 2:39 also teaches that those ‘afar off’ are included in the promise. None of the three groups in Acts 2:38 (those hearing Peter preach, their children, or the Gentiles) have any automatic guarantee of being included in the promise. So this argument is a moot point. One might as well argue that the water should be applied to as many heathen ‘afar off’ as possible, since they MAY be subjects of salvation in the fulfillment of the promise at some point.
The whole argument here is not to deny a principle that God works along the lines of generations. It is not even to argue that application of water to infants is wrong. It IS to deny the universal obligation of Christian parents to apply a supposedly ‘transferred’ covenant sign and seal (water) to their children. Reformed teachers have often stated that believers who fail to get their children baptized are under God’s wrath, as surely as Moses who delayed in circumcising his son. Hogwash! If we reason like this, how can we respect the New Testament?
3. The book of Acts mentions a number of water baptisms of all household members. This must certainly indicate that the Jewish tradition of administering ‘water purification’ to children of previously heathen converts was continued in the Christian administration of water.
This argument proves nothing. No one knows who these households consisted of or whether infants were sprinkled. Even if they were, this is hardly a mandate for covenant transference of circumcision. Without an imperative command, believers have no obligation. God always makes his covenantal commands perfectly plain with definite and ‘official’ communication.
4. Jesus taught that children were included in the kingdom of God. In like manner, Paul stated in I Cor. 7:14 that the children of believers are ‘sanctified.’
This is irrelevant to any argument of a solemn obligation (with penalty of God’s wrath to those who disobey) to apply water to infants. No further comment on that is needed.
Only elect chidren or infants are included in the Covenant of Grace. Not all seed of believers are saved by any means. All are set apart for kingdom purposes but this reality does not guarantee their election.
5. Col. 2:11,12 teaches that water baptism replaces circumcision. Since circumcision was administered to infants in the former covenant, water baptism must be administered to infants in the New Covenant.
All of the Pauline passages on baptism (except in 1 Cor. 1 and 15:29) refer to Holy Spirit incorporation of the elect into Christ by faith. This passage is no exception.
Paedobaptists always object to the Baptists teaching that Romans 6 is literal water instead of the Holy Spirit. Baptists always object to paedobaptists teaching that Col. 2:11,12 is literal water instead of the Holy Spirit. Both are right and both are wrong. May the Lord deliver us from BOTH Romans 6 water fundamentalism AND Colossians 2 water fundamentalism!
The fulfillment of the sign of circumcision is the Holy Spirit uniting us to Christ by faith.
Paedobaptist writings on baptism, scholarly or otherwise, start with the premise that a certain position is correct. Then the assumed dogma is searched out and found in history and scripture. There is really no end to the questionable and sectarian doctrines that can be promoted with such a methodology and hermeneutic.
The sin of paedobaptistism is not that it proposes the bare existence of a practice of household infant water baptism in primitive Christianity. Its sin of huge proportion is that it exhorts the practice of dripping water on infants as a ‘new law’ of Christ himself. That is it. Forget about everything else in the system, which consists of a lot of principle but also mere side issues. If Christ has not commanded the ‘drip’ on the infant seed of believers, with the penalty of covenant disobedience as the consequence of failure to obey, those who propose such a sober interpretation of the meaning of the New Covenant must repent of their gross sin in great humility. They must desire to know the real meaning and implications of the true gospel.
Paedobaptist teaching cannot separate itself from the sacramental and state-church controversies. Lutheranism used the obvious teachings of the ‘church fathers’ (from Justin forward) to justify its sacramental teaching on the water. Although Zwingli and Calvin tried desperately to separate Protestant teaching from the sacramental tradition, they failed in the long run. There is no question that paedobaptist teachers still try and use the fact of the ‘drip’ as a basis for assurance in those whom they exhort, even though most constituents of their churches do not remember ‘drip’ event at all. What a sad testimony to the transcendent glory of the apostolic gospel, which was a teaching unheard of in all earlier philosophies and religions of men!
Even though many Reformed expositors have separated their position of Covenant water baptism from state-church intolerance and persecution, the fruit of such persecution of believers by other professed believers is strictly the work of the devil himself. The Reformation remains stunted and stopped short by issues of law and sacrament. If there is ever to be a continuing Reformation in the power of the Holy Spirit, the teaching of mandatory covenant baptism of the infant seed of believers must go.
Baptistism: Condemned and Renounced by the Gospel
Baptistism, though endlessly split today into hundreds of different sects, has traditionally claimed to be the true heir of the apostolic gospel and the Reformation. The Baptists have always proposed that the paedobaptists did not reform sufficiently away from the state-church. This is certainly a true statement of fact! But the Baptists view themselves as the most pure and genuine expression of the faith of the early EKKLESIA. The most radical form of Baptist ecclesiology proposes a ‘trail of blood’ that dates back to the apostles. This strange trail of nonconformist ‘apostolic succession’ has been proposed to include such groups as the Montanists, Donatists, and a number of radical Nonconformist groups in the Reformation era! Certainly we must re-examine many of these exalted claims. A group or movement claiming to be the true ‘church’ in contrast to all other Christian professors must be tried and tested by the Word.
Obedience to the one and only true gospel is the sole legitimate claim to apostolic succession. A line of tradition or heredity is entirely irrelevant. There has never been a time in Christian history when the Holy Spirit stopped creating the body of Christ. Discerning this body in certain times and places of past centuries may be a difficult task. But much historical evidence has been destroyed. The miracle of the history of Christ’s people is that the Word of God itself was preserved. That is the living testimony; in conjunction with which the Spirit continues to create the New Covenant kingdom today. So it has always been.
Previous studies have affirmed that the New Testament contains no ‘system’ of teaching on the proper mode and subjects of water baptism. Post-apostolic writings such as the Didache are just as vague on these matters. The historical record of many confessor baptisms may be viewed as some type of commanded pattern. But an indicative record still falls short of constituting an imperative command. Nothing recorded in the New Testament helps to affirmatively answer the questions asked by Baptist critics:
If any of the above questions are incorrectly answered, the one and only apostolic baptism for the remission of sins is gone. That is, assuming Baptists are correct in their tireless affirmation that baptism is immersion!
The curse of sacramentalism has certainly been the fruit of Baptist as well as paedobaptist orthodoxy. A number of radical sects in the Baptistic tradition teach water submersion as a required condition of salvation. Some argue in addition that only a certain formula of administering the water will result in the salvation of the candidate!
The curse of Baptistism in the history of the gospel is inestimable. The ‘Baptist popes’ have succeeded in declaring to their congregational masses that all of the pouring baptisms of nonconformist predecessors are non-baptism. Including all of those who were killed by both Papists and 16th century Protestant state-church governments. Baptistism has mainly been a religion of popery. Self-righteous leaders assume an authority that can only be compared to the type of dominion and control exercised by Rome. The priesthood of all believers is denied entirely. The Baptist movement has accomplished very little Reformation at all except in the area of human government. Strangely, it was Baptist Roger Williams--a man who was condemned to die by the colonial Puritans--who founded the first free government in the history of Protestantism. Many principles of the Rhode Island constitution were carried over into the U.S. constitution.
If a continuing Reformation is ever to happen, the sectarian and anti-reformation tenets of both paedobaptistism and Baptistism must be abandoned. Neither system has anything to do with the gospel. Both are denounced by the spirit and essence of the gospel, which condemns the imposition of human-invented regulations upon those who are united to Christ.
The End of Pagan Servitude: A Gift of the Gospel
The implications of the puny debate on the issue of water baptism are clear. It is a non-issue. Gospel believers must simply allow all communicants to follow conscience and conviction. If the people of God cannot unite and put away their sectarian differences on such a minor matter as this, there will never be continuing reformation. Instead, religious popery and sectarianism will dominate professed Christianity until the end of time.
Many who promote a sectarian agenda do it in the name of the gospel! They arrogantly judge all anti-sectarianism as ungodly ecumenism. These persons have no idea of what they are talking about. Any Christian who knows the gospel is completely aware that the Christ-hating ecumenical movement of the last 100 years is Satanic. So the real dilemma is that which faces those who deny godless ecumenical unity. It consists purely of this sobering fact: if historic religious churchmen are determined to view a cherished sect as the one and only embodiment of the true Reformation, we are headed for a new Dark Ages. Only God in his wonderful sovereignty can reverse this awful mentality. If people who love the true gospel will not wake up and evaluate the real implications of the history of dogma, we are definitely condemned to repeat the horrible tragedy of the great apostasy--for another 1000 years at least.
Luther re-discovered the apostolic truth of justification by faith alone. He found it in scripture alone. No published scholar of the highest Greek and Hebrew knowledge could help him, no, not even St. Gus! No author or teacher can point to any writing that Luther plagiarized in order to construct his teaching on grace. It was discovered solely from the gospel revelation given to Paul.
So it will be with all other genuine discoveries of New Testament truth. We long for the day when God will liberate us from the pagan servitude of ‘church.’ But he has already done this in the gospel! Hallelujah! All we can do is accept our freedom, trust Jesus, and do as we please. We have the liberty to do as we please because the Holy Spirit has forever written the commandments of God in our hearts! The kingdom of God is a party, not a burden. If we do not enjoy our faith, we are of all creatures most miserable! We must rebuke any person who tries to impose a foolish regulation or legal requirement on us that is not demanded by the gospel. It matters not whether such regulation is based on Old Testament law or imagined 'New Testament law.’
The last Reformation tragically ended within a hundred years of its inception. It divided hopelessly on issues of law and sacrament. So we are still in pagan servitude, unless God has liberated us privately as individuals who love gospel truth.
When the communion of Christ’s genuine believers fully lust after the gospel--to the extent that passion for the NT revelation finally destroys everything in the former system of slavery, mankind will have discovered fire for the first time since the apostles!