A Case for Infant Baptism from Covenantal Lordship

In this post I present several quotes that I have found helpful over the years in clarifying and expressing my views on baptism. I have wanted to record these quotes in one place for future reference for quite some time and have finally gotten around to doing it. In summary, I have outlined the quotes to present an argument for infant baptism based upon the doctrine of Christ’s covenantal lordship, and his delegation of that lordship in Christian families.

The two authors quoted below are Meredith Kline, who was a paedo-baptist, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who was a credo-baptist. Kline’s book, By Oath Consigned has been instrumental for my understanding of the doctrine of baptism. I do not agree with every element of the book. I am not sold on his teaching about New Covenant covenantal curses. But, I should point out, Kline reportedly tweaked his own teaching on baptism in later years and decided to bring the book out of print. Despite this, however, Kline’s teaching on suzerain-vassal treaties and the import of the theme of lordship within covenant structures, ceremonies, and signs is extremely illuminating. It is this line of thought from the book that I use.

As for the Doctor, years ago I spent a good deal of time reading his commentaries on Ephesians. In his sermons on the family in Ephesians 6 and baptism in Ephesians 4, I found some striking statements that have served to help me express my own contentions about the role of Christ’s lordship in baptism and general family life.

The primary Scriptures referenced for this argument are the ‘Great Commission’ of Matthew 28:18-20:

  • Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

And the following statements of the Apostle Paul from his Epistle to the Ephesians:

  • Ephesians 4:5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism
  • Ephesians 6:1 ¶ Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
  • Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

In addition to these texts, Kline points us to the texts and context of the institution and import of circumcision in Genesis. And we also might point to various texts dealing with baptism such as 1 Peter3:21, which, Kline notes, may be translated that baptism is ‘a pledge of good will to God’ (that is, a pledge of allegiance) (By Oath Consigned, p. 67) or 1 Corinthians 10:2, which we discuss below. The ‘household’ baptisms of Acts and 1 Corinthians 1:16, as well as Paul’s statement concerning the ‘consecration’ of children in 7:13, come into play, but I will not discuss those texts in this post. I will only say in passing that the doctrine of covenantal lordship set forth below sheds tremendous light on each of those texts. Read this post, then read those texts, and see if they do not begin to make sense.

Each quote referenced by Kline comes from the book By Oath Consigned. And with those preliminaries covered, I give you my outline:

1. In the Old Testament, God is Lord of his covenants

Now since in certain notable instances, particularly but not exclusively in the Mosaic covenants, it pleased the Lord of Israel to describe his covenant relationship to his people according to the pattern of these vassal treaties, no other conclusion is warranted than that ‘covenant’ in these instances denoted at the formal level the same kind of relationship as did the vassal covenants on which they were modeled. That is, covenant in these divine-human transactions denoted a law covenant and hence was expressive of a lordship that could satisfy the terms of the covenant by stretching forth its sceptre in either blessing or curse (Kline, pp. 21-22).

2. He ordains signs in order to display his lordship over his people

The oath whose curse sanction circumcision symbolized was an oath of allegiance. It was an avowal of Yahweh as covenant Lord, a commitment in loyalty to him. As the symbolized curse which sealed this pledge of allegiance, circumcision partook of the import of an oath. It was, therefore, a sign of consecration. Hence Israel is commanded: ‘Circumcise yourselves to the Lord’ (Jer. 4:4) (Kline, p. 43).

3. Those who receive those signs are dedicated to his lordship by oath

Hence, by circumcision, the sign of the consecratory oath of the Abrahamic Covenant, a man confessed himself to be under the juridical authority of Yahweh and consigned himself to the ordeal of his Lord’s judgment for the final verdict of his life (Kline, p. 48)

4. In the New Covenant, Jesus Christ is declared to be the Lord of the Covenant, and Baptism is Declared to be the Sign of Entrance into the Covenant

Now if the covenant is first and last a declaration of God’s lordship, then the baptismal sign of entrance into it will before all other things be a sign of coming under the jurisdiction of the covenant and particularly under the covenantal dominion of the Lord. Christian baptism is thus the New Covenant sign of consecration or discipleship (Kline, p. 79).

5. Therefore the sign of baptism is an oath-sign dedicating the one baptized to the lordship of Christ

Now if the covenant is first and last a declaration of God’s lordship, then the baptismal sign of entrance into it will before all other things be a sign of coming under the jurisdiction of the covenant and particularly under the covenantal dominion of the Lord. Christian baptism is thus the New Covenant sign of consecration or discipleship.

It is immediately evident in the great commission that consignment under the authority of Christ is the chief thing in Christian baptism. For there baptizing the nations takes its place alongside the teaching them to obey Christ’s commandments in specification of the charge to disciple them to him who has been given all authority in heaven and earth. Of similar significance are a concatenation like Paul’s ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism’ (Eph. 4:5) and the common confession of Jesus as Lord or Christ in baptismal formulae (Acts 2:28; 8:16, 19:5; I Cor. 1:13ff; cf 1 Pet. 3:21; Rom. 10:9). The related baptismal phraseology of ‘in (or into) the name of Jesus Christ’ (or ‘of the Lord’ or of the Trinity) also expresses the nature of baptism as confirmation of an authority or ownership relationship, judging from analogous usage in the Old Testament…Further evidence is the representation of baptism as a seal, in the sense of a token of authority or mark of ownership…

The incorporation of disciples into the jurisdiction of the new Covenant by baptismal confession of Christ as Lord is in clear continuity with the tradition of the initiatory oath of allegiance found in Old Testament covenant engagements….
As an oath-sign of allegiance to Christ the Lord, baptism is a sacrament in the original sense of sacramentum in its etymological relation to the idea of consecration, and more particularly in its employment for the military oath of allegiance…(pp. 79-81).

Though Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was not a paedo-baptist, he expressed the idea of baptism as a sign of the Lordship of Christ quite well in his commentary on Ephesians 4:5 (‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism’):

Baptism does represent the washing away of sins, but having done so, it goes on into something infinitely more important. We note that the term used is ‘baptized into’ or ‘baptized unto’. This gives us the key to a true understanding of this ‘one baptism’. It means ‘in reference to Christ’, or ‘into the realm of Christ’, or ‘into the sphere of influence which is exercised by Christ’ (Christian Unity: An Exposition of Ephesians 4:1-16, p. 124).

He notes 1 Cor. 10:1-2, which says,

  • 1 Corinthians 10:1 ¶ I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea

He comments,

That statement can have but one meaning. They were baptized into the leadership, the sphere of influence, of Moses. They had become identified with Moses and all he stood for, and the cause that was represented by Moses. In other words, they were separated from the Egyptians, amongst whom they had been living…There was now a division between them and all who belonged to the realm of Pharaoh…Baptism therefore represents and signifies our being put into the realm and into the sphere and into the influence of the Lord Jesus Christ (Ibid, p. 125).

The Doctor also helpfully points out that the record of the Book of Acts that baptism was performed ‘in the name of Jesus’ makes perfect sense in light of this teaching. If baptism is primarily a symbol of the lordship of Jesus, then Luke (the author of Acts) is making a statement of doctrinal significance by describing the baptisms of the early church in this way (Ibid).

6. The Christ-Given, Christ-Representing Authority of Parents as the Basis for Infant Baptism

Returning to Lloyd-Jones, though again, he was not a paedo-baptist, he makes a statement which helps us understand the covenantal authority of parents in this regard:

The parents should be living in such a way that the children should always have a feeling that they themselves are under Christ, that Christ is their Head (Life in the Spirit in Marriage, Home and Work: An Exposition of Ephesians 5:18-6:9, p. 299, emphasis mine).

In the covenantal workings of the family, under the New Covenant, the task of Christian parents is to represent the lordship of Christ in the household. They are to essentially live out the relationship of Christ and the church. That is, they are to emulate Christ, by the help of the Spirit, in all family relationships:

A. Husbands/Fathers

  • Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
  • Ephesians 5:28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body.
  • Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

B. Wives

  • Ephesians 5:22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

C. Children

  • Ephesians 6:1 ¶ Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.

Ephesians 6:1 and 4 are absolutely vital to the discussion of the covenantal headship of parents, and particularly of fathers in 6:1. Notice in 6:1 that children are commanded to obey their parents in the Lord. In light of the teaching of the New Testament in regards to headship, it would seem clear that the idea behind the phrase ‘in the Lord’ is that covenant-children are to obey their Christian parents because their parents are exercising the authority of Christ over them. To paraphrase Lloyd-Jones (quoted above), in honoring the authority of their Christian parents, children are honoring the authority of the Christ who is over their parents.

6:4 describes such parenting: the parent is carrying out the ‘discipline and instruction’ or ‘nurture and admonition of the Lord.’ When parents are truly parenting under the authority of Christ in this way, children are obligated to obey based upon the authority of Christ as declared in the great commission:

  • Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

In summary, then, the children of Christian parents are disciples of their parent or parents who are disciples of Christ. Indeed, the covenantal authority of Christ is delegated to the parent for the proper discipling (i.e. ‘making disciples of”) children. In light of this, and the other points of the argument, it  only seems logical that the children of believers should receive baptism as a sign of their position under the disciple-making authority of the covenant-Lord Jesus Christ.

We therefore conclude with Kline:

…Though the confession of faith has this primacy in the administration of baptism it is not the exclusive principle regulative of this rite. For the one who confesses Christ is required to fulfill his responsibility with respect to those whom God has placed under his parental (if not household) authority; exercising that authority to consecrate his charges with himself to the service of Christ. The basis for the baptism of the children of believers is thus simply their parents covenantal authority over them (Kline, p. 102).

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One thought on “A Case for Infant Baptism from Covenantal Lordship

  1. Roundup That Matters | Timothy J. Hammons

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