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The Necessity of Baptism

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The Necessity of Baptism


A reader asks, “If someone who was not circumcised was rejected from the covenant, is that still true today? Would it be right to say, ‘Yes,’ based on Hebrews 2:2-3? Another way of putting the question would be: Does Genesis 17:14 have any parallel in this dispensation?”

These are the texts: “For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him?” (Heb. 2:2-3). “And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant” (Gen. 17:14).

Although the questioner does not explicitly say this, I am assuming that he understands that baptism has taken the place of circumcision in the new dispensation (Col. 2:11-12). I am also assuming that he is aware that circumcision has no spiritual significance today. His questions, therefore, refer to baptism.

The answer to this question is indeed, “Yes.” The two texts quoted are relevant and make clear that the failure of parents to baptize their children is in the new dispensation as great a sin as failure to circumcise was in Israel during the old dispensation. It is even correct to say that those who fail to have their children baptized have broken God’s covenant.

There are several things that must be said about this.

In the first place, the question immediately comes up: What about Baptists? Baptists believe only in “believer’s baptism.” That is, only those who are old enough to make a credible profession of their faith in Christ are to be baptized.

There is no question about it that they are very wrong in their theology. This is not the forum, however, in which to debate the whole question of infant baptism. But the situation of Baptists is somewhat different from the situation presupposed by the questioner. The texts quoted have to do with Israel, and Israel was the church of the Old Testament. These people were, therefore, God’s covenant people. The context is exactly that God establishes His covenant with Abraham and his seed, and gives circumcision as the sign and seal of the covenant. The refusal of an Israelite to have his child circumcised was a flat-out rejection of the sign of the covenant and, therefore, of the covenant itself.

God’s commands had to do, therefore, with His covenant people. The Baptists do not even have a biblical covenant doctrine. The punishment for one of God’s covenant people who refused to circumcise his children was to be cut off from the covenant, from the Old Testament church and from the people of God. In fact, by refusing to circumcise their children, they were cutting themselves off from the covenant people of God.

The New Testament equivalent of this punishment for those who refuse to baptize their children is Christian discipline, ending in excommunication from the church and thus from God’s covenant people.

That such refusal was a serious matter in Israel is evident from the fact that God was ready to kill Moses for not having circumcised his two sons. The narrative is given in Scripture in Exodus 4:24-26. It seems as if Moses’ wife, Zipporah, was the one who refused to have the boys circumcised. Even though she had been born and raised in a home where God was worshipped and served, she was not of the seed of Abraham and did not have directly the promises of the covenant, nor the sign of it. Nevertheless, they were both on their way to join Israel, and God insisted that they become a part of His covenant people by giving their sons the sign of His covenant. They would not be a part of God’s covenant people without it.

It seems as if during the forty-years wandering in the wilderness, the people also failed to circumcise their sons. I wonder sometimes if this was not due to the fact that every person older than twenty was killed in the wilderness, except Joshua and Caleb. However that may be, the nation could not enter the promised land without all the uncircumcised males being circumcised (Josh. 5:2-9).

It must be understood that circumcision and baptism are signs and seals of the covenant that are added to the Word of God as visible proof of the truth of the gospel that God establishes His people in the line of generations. Infants who are born dead and or who die shortly after birth need not be baptized: their salvation does not depend on it, contrary to Rome’s teaching. There is no magical power or even spiritual power in the water of baptism; it derives its power from being a sign and seal that accompanies the Word. The power is that of the Holy Spirit who works grace in the believer through faith in Christ.    Prof. Herman Hanko

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 15
  • Issue: 7
Hanko, Herman

Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)

Ordained: October 1955

Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965

Emeritus: 2001

Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko

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