A good friend, Jeremy Fruechting, has been interacting with some thoughts contained in a previous post on infant baptism. My latest response is too long to leave in the comment section, so I will post it below. For the post and Jeremy's full comments, click here.
Doug: Can you think of a biblical covenant that doesn’t have a sign? And if baptism isn’t a sign of the covenant, what is it?
Jeremy: Joshua 8, 1 Sam 18.
Doug: In Joshua 8 we have a covenant renewal with oaths sworn before God, but since it is a renewal, the people had already received the sign (circumcision) previously.
In 1 Samuel 18 Jonathan “stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt” (v. 4). Gifts of this sort were often used as signs or memorials of covenants made. In the Iliad, for instance, Diomedes meets the Lykian, Glaukos, on the battlefield before Troy. Before they fight, Diomedes asks who he is and what family he springs from. When he learns that his grandfather once played host to Glaukos’ grandfather, and vice-versa, they renew their friendship (covenant) by exchanging gifts. “ ‘Let us exchange our armour, so that these others may know how we claim to be guests and friends from the days of our fathers.’ So they spoke, and both springing down from behind their horses gripped each other’s hands and exchanged the promise of friendship” (i.e., they made a covenant, signed and sealed with the exchange of armor...the same thing Jonathan did with David.)
Jeremy: I can almost grant that is a sign of the covenant, but not quite.
Doug: I’m hoping and praying you will grant it soon, and that you’ll bring your (now) four beautiful children to the baptismal font! (By the way, congratulations on the birth of Emmett! Melinda and I had dinner with your parents Wednesday night and they told us the good news.)
Jeremy: It's a public proclamation…
Doug: Proclamation of what…and by whom?
Jeremy: We, sinners, MUST be justified by faith because the covenant made at Sinai with the people of Israel did not and cannot proffer salvation (I mean here not the sense of "offer" but the sense of "provide" or "tender"). So Jeremiah 31:32. The covenant made at Sinai produced death. In Galatians 3, Paul pits salvation by the law against salvation by faith, for the one aggravates our condition while the other remedies it--it could not proffer salvation to sinners.
Doug: Paul pits salvation by being Jewish (Gentiles must perform the works of the law, i.e., be circumcised, keep kosher, observe the feasts, etc.), versus salvation by faith. He shows that not even Jews were saved by being Jewish. Abraham was reckoned righteous by God before he received circumcision and before Moses received the law at Sinai. God never gave the law for the purpose of Israel seeking to be justified by it. He always intended that they follow in the footsteps of father Abraham. That some Jews misunderstood this doesn’t mean that the law is inherently a ministry of death or of condemnation, only that it becomes such to those who misuse it. As Paul says, “the law is good, if one uses it lawfully” (1 Tim. 1:8).
Jeremy: Further, one could belong to Israel, be a Jew according to the law, and yet have no inward reality to which his very Jewishness was pointing.
Doug: Granted. Likewise, one can belong to the church, be a Christian according to profession of faith, and yet have no inward reality to which his very profession is pointing.
Jeremy: You say: The new birth was as real and as necessary in the Old Covenant as it is in the New Covenant. Response: Yes the new birth was necessary, but the whole problem with Old Covenant is that it did not and could not produce that new birth, which was why a new and better covenant that could actually atone for sin, cleanse the conscience, impart faith, and make a new creation was necessary.
Doug: You said in your first post that circumcision of the heart is the Spirit’s work of renewing the inner man. By which I assume you mean the new birth. But this in fact is promised and given under the Old Covenant. “The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut. 30:6). [Be sure not to miss the promise made to the children of believers in this verse: your heart and the heart of your offspring!]
Jeremy: That some people had the new birth is very different from saying that the Old Covenant entailed the new birth.
Doug: As I mentioned before, both the Old Covenant and the New Covenant have an outward administration as well as an inward reality. One can have the outward forms, but not the inward reality. The inward reality is the same in both, but the outward administration has changed.
Jeremy: Regarding household baptisms, I say I agree, if all of the household likewise are exercising faith in Christ (which we have no reason textually to say it is / not the case).
Doug: My point is not there were infants in the households mentioned, but that if there were, they would/should be baptized. If a mature member of the household did not believe and refused to submit to baptism, then of course he would not be baptized.
Jeremy: “Household” does not support the argument either, for see 2 Tim 4:19 where the word is used almost certainly without infants in mind. The practice of infant baptism must be decided on other grounds.
Doug: I agree. I cite the “household” texts not as an independent proof, but as evidence consistent with the practice of infant baptism, given its relation to circumcision and the covenantal solidarity of the family that we find so frequently throughout the Scriptures.
Jeremy: The most decisive texts I think are the prophecies of the New Covenant. How do you understand Jer 31:33-34, and Ezek 36:26-27--that a person cannot belong to this New Covenant without being born again by the Spirit of God (using John's descriptive language)?
Doug: In context, Ezekiel 36:26-27 is speaking about God’s re-gathering of Israel from Babylonian exile. In the two verses previous, the Lord says, “I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.” In the verse following, he says, “You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” It seems to me that the fulfillment of these promises occurred in the return from exile, including the promise contained in vv. 26-27. These very things are also mentioned in Ezekiel 11:14-21.
The promise of a new heart [under the Old Covenant] is also made Deuteronomy 30:6; Jer. 24:7; . David prays for a new heart in Psalm 51:10 and asks that the Holy Spirit not be taken from him (v. 11)—which indicates that God had previously given David the Spirit. The Spirit is also promised to the Old Covenant saints (and their children!) in Isaiah 44:3; 59:21.
As far as God writing his laws on the hearts of his people a la Jeremiah 31:33-34, mentioned as a blessing of a new covenant, wasn’t this also a blessing Old Covenant saints received? See Ps. 37:31; 40:8; 119:34; Isa. 51:7.
In short, one can belong to the New Covenant without being born again by the Spirit of God. At this point you are probably thinking that Jeremiah 31:34 and Hebrews 8:11 (quoting Jeremiah) contradict this when it says that under the New Covenant “they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest”.
But if we take this to mean that we must limit membership (and consequently baptism) to those who are regenerate, what are we to make of the many, many passages in the New Testament that warn of covenant apostasy, assuming the Reformed view of the perserverance of the saints? See especially Hebrews 10:29. I think we have to conclude that the New Covenant includes more than those who are regenerate (in the scholastic Reformed sense).
Much more could be said, but let me recommend a couple of books. The first is the one that convinced me of paedo-baptism about 12 years ago now: “Children of the Promise,” written by Randy Booth. Perhaps a better one, though, since it deals specifically with the issues you have raised here, is “The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism,” edited by Gregg Strawbridge (P&R). See especially chapter 7, “The Newness of the New Covenant” by Jeffrey Neill.
Blessings all around, Jeremy! Hug all the little ones for me!