Hi folks. Lately I’ve been working on notes for a “webinar” I’m doing on the subject of Covenant Baptism in the context of the Great Commission. I thought I’d post some details here in case anyone is interested in the topic. I’ll be talking a little about the Great Commission in general, but then focus on the command to baptize and how that relates back to circumcision in the Old Testament, specifically to children. If you want to view the webinar, which will be on April 27 at 3pm, you can get more details here. Below is a rough draft of some of the points I’ll be discussing, just FYI.
The Great Commission and Covenant Baptism
The “Great Commission” (Matt. 28:18-20) contains a wealth of explicit and implicit connections to the Old Testament. This missionary charter for the church is founded upon ancient principles and best understood as the culmination and extension of the rich evangelistic theology of the Hebrew Scriptures. Our focus today will be on infant baptism and its covenantal connections to the Old Testament, but we will begin with a few preliminary points that come from the preamble to the Great Commission.
A. Christ’s Authority.
1. The Great Commission begins with the authority of the Commissioner: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”
2. This reference is to the mediatorial kingship bestowed upon Christ when His sacrificial work was completed (cf. Psalm 2; Eph. 1:20-22; Phil. 2:5-11).
3. This divine formula, which includes a statement of authority and self-identification, is found throughout the prophets and is reminiscent of Sinai.
B. The Call to Make Disciples.
1. The first charge is, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations…”
2. This command is predicated upon, and an outworking of, Christ’s mediatorial kingship.
3. This commission rests upon the long precedent of Old Testament example, command and prophecy (e.g. Deut. 4:6; Ps. 67:1, 2; Isa. 2:1-5). The ancient church had an outward-looking, missionary character.
C. The Command to Baptize: Old Testament Context
1. As we have seen, the Great Commission continues and extends some foundational Old Testament principles. Behind this immediate context stands the basic continuity of the Covenant of Grace between the two Testaments.
2. When disciples were made in ancient times they were to be given the sign of the covenant, which was circumcision, along with their children (Gen. 17:1-14; Ex. 12:43-49).
3. This outward sign was to signify the inward reality of being forgiven of sin and receiving the blessings of the Covenant of Grace (Deut. 10:16; Rom. 4:11).
4. Instances in which the reality did not follow the sign remind us that people are saved by God Himself and not the sign itself (Rom. 9:6-13). Nevertheless, the exception of Esau does not disprove the rule of Jacob – that one of the ordinary and primary means by which God extended the Covenant of Grace was through the children of believers.
D. The Command to Baptize: New Testament Example
1. The basic continuity of the Covenant of Grace extends to the sign of the covenant. While the outward form has changed from circumcision to baptism (Col. 2:11, 12), the reality signified remains God’s covenant ownership and the cutting/washing away of sin (Deut. 30:6; Acts 2:38; 22:16).
2. Just as in the Old Testament, believers who entered the covenant by faith were given the sign of the covenant along with their children (Acts 2:38, 39). Notice in Peter’s sermon the formula that includes baptism, the covenant and children.
3. There are several New Testament examples of families being baptized upon the profession of faith of a parent (Acts 16:15, 33; note the term “household” in vs. 15 and the phrase “all that were his” in vs. 33. The implication is clearly that children were baptized).
4. There would have to be explicit biblical warrant for suddenly excluding children from having the sign of the covenant after many centuries of receiving it. The New Testament does not limit the sign to adults; instead, it extends it to include females (Acts 8:12).
The Great Commission rests upon ancient foundations. Our calling to disciple the nations has always been the calling of God’s covenant people, yet this commission has been accentuated with new power and urgency with the completion of Christ’s work. The sign of God’s Covenant of Grace has always been given to believers and their children, ever since our father Abraham was saved by grace and circumcised. Now, as the covenant community grows, and the Great Commission bears its fruit throughout the world, baptism continues as the sign and seal of the Covenant of Grace upon believers and their children.