February 21, 2014

Baptism Isn’t a Secret Thing

Category: History,Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

In his debate with Jacob Andreae, as reported by Jill Raitt, Theodore Beza often began to bring up predestination.  When he did, Andreae cut him off, telling him that they were dealing with baptism and would come to predestination some other time.  To Andreae, these were clearly two very different subjects.  But from the fact that he kept bringing it up, it seems clear that to Beza it was impossible to discuss the efficacy of baptism without reference to predestination.

That’s worth thinking about.  At the risk of oversimplifying things, it would appear that for Beza baptism is efficacious (at least, to the fullest degree) only for those who are predestined to eternal glory with Christ.  Others who are baptized are included in the covenant, whatever that means exactly, given that Beza  distinguishes being in the covenant from being in God’s family.  But they cannot really draw any comfort or assurance from their baptism per se, nor can they have that comfort for their children who are baptized.  At most, they can know that those children are “probably” loved and adopted by God, though they might be among the thousands that perish.

But can you imagine an Israelite wondering if his circumcision really meant that he belonged to Israel, God’s holy nation, God’s chosen people, God’s royal priesthood?  Of course he belonged.  That’s just what circumcision was.  He didn’t need to have any doubt about it.  Instead, he could be confident about it, completely assured that he was the object of God’s love — and then he could, and should, act on the basis of it.

After all, circumcision wasn’t one of the secret things.  In Deuteronomy 29, Moses says, “The secret things belong to Yahweh our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (29:29).  God gave Israel an obvious ritual, a cutting in the flesh, that marked them out and made them into members of the holy nation because he wanted them to live in terms of their circumcision.  Circumcision wasn’t a secret thing that belonged to Yahweh; it was a thing which was revealed so that Israel could do what she ought to.

And so with baptism.  If we tie the comfort and assurance of baptism to predestination, as Beza did, so that only those who are predestined to eternal glory with Christ can have any comfort, any assurance that they are God’s beloved children, we turn baptism itself — a public, open act — into a “secret thing.”  God knows who is really baptized, who really belongs to his family, but we don’t — and so we cannot live in terms of our baptisms, cannot really look to them for comfort and assurance.  At most, we can live on an entirely speculative “probably.”

But predestination is a secret thing.  Baptism isn’t, and therefore we can — and must — live on the basis of it.  “There should be no doubt that when a child is baptized, it enters into God’s adoption and love, said Andreae.  There should be no ‘probably,’ but rather assurance” (Raitt, 167).

 

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Posted by John Barach @ 1:52 pm | Discuss (0)

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