Baptism as Initiatory Rite of New Covenant

So, what is baptism? Most evangelicals would say that it’s a testimony to our faith or something along those lines. And it is that. But it’s more.

John Calvin taught that baptism “is the initiatory sign by which we are admitted to the fellowship of the church, that being ingrafted into Christ we may be accounted children of God”

Before we can appreciate baptism as the initiatory rite into the church we need to understand that the church is more than a voluntary association like the Kiwanis Club. It is the community of the new covenant. To the church he gave the Supper, a new covenant meal (1 Cor 11:25). To the church the apostles as “minister of a new covenant” (2 Cor 3:6). The covenant comes with exceedingly great promises to the faithful and exceedingly stern punishment for the unfaithful (more on the double-sidedness of the new covenant in a later post).

But how does one become a member of this covenant community, of the church? Baptism (1 Cor 12:13). The new covenant is concrete and objective, not just internal and invisible. It has a people – the church, organization and leaders, ceremonies, meals, etc. And one is admitted into this concrete covenant and the covenant community through the rite of baptism, just as, in the old covenant, one was admitted to the covenant community through the rite of circumcision (Col 2:11).

Westminster Confession of Faith, 28.1: Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world.

Heidelberg Catechsim Question 74: Are infants also to be baptized? Answer: Yes: for since they, as well as the adult, are included in the covenant and church of God; and since redemption from sin by the blood of Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult; they must therefore by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, be also admitted into the Christian church; and be distinguished from the children of unbelievers as was done in the old covenant or testament by circumcision, instead of which baptism is instituted in the new covenant.

Belgic Confession:  Having abolished circumcision, which was done with blood, Christ established in its place the sacrament of baptism. By it we are received into God’s church and set apart from all other people and alien religions, that we may wholly belong to him whose mark and sign we bear. Baptism also witnesses to us that God, being our gracious Father, will be our God forever.

Ok, so next post will be on infant baptism. But the same truth holds for adult converts – its is baptism that marks them visibly as Christians.

John Frame: “It is baptism that gives us the right to be recognized as Christians, unless or until we are excommunicated. Thus, it gives us the right to be part of the great work God is doing through his church”

Edmond Clowney: “Baptism is recognized as the mark of membership in Christ’s church by those outside it…in baptism we are numbered amongst the children of God, receiving the name of our Father, written, as it were, on our foreheads. To be sure, the washing of God’s regenerating grace is accomplished by the water of the Spirit, no that of the font, but the outward sign  functions  precisely because it is outward; it is the Lord’s visible seal of his invisible grace.”

Coming soon, two posts – one defending infant baptism, another defending the claim that “baptism is an effectual means of salvation in the elect because God uses it to elicit faith in the baptized person.”