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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:Let Us Not Make Too Much of the Sacrament of Baptism
Text:LD 27 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Baptism
 
Added:2022-07-13
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: 1 John 2

Lesson: Lord’s Day 27

 

LET US NOT MAKE TOO MUCH OF THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM

  1. It is a Sacrament of Promise, not of Salvation

  2. It is a Sacrament of Grace, not of Faith

 

  1. Psalm 73: 1, 4, 5, 8

  2. Psalm 71: 1, 3, 9

  3. Hymn 52:1-5

  4. Nicene Creed, followed by Hymn 6

  5. Psalm 56: 1, 4, 5

  6. Hymn 66

 

Words to Listen For: tragic, instant, Benjamin, connect, sorry

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. What two things did Luther say about baptism?

  2. What two baptismal errors does 1 John 2 reject?  Describe them.

  3. How does the story of Paul fight against presumptive regeneration?

  4. What does Jeremiah 31 have to say about infant baptism?

  5. How does this touch down on our spiritual lives?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Jesus Christ,

There are few things scarier to a parent than when their young child wanders off.  I have been the CAUSE of this scare a few times in my life, and, when taking care of other people’s children, I myself have felt the fear.  You turn around, and the child who was beside you just seconds ago is now nowhere to be seen.

And so, quite a few years ago now (some people point back to the 1930s!) a solution was developed - child harnesses.  Those things that have started to become known as child leashes.  They were seen as very practical and inoffensive for a good 50 years, until in the 80s and 90s, when magazines, and then later, parental blogs on the internet, began to turn public opinion against them.

There are fierce debates that rage over these things.

     Are they actually good for children?

     Do the pros outweigh the cons?

     Aren’t they humiliating for both parents and children?

It seems that talking about child leashes is like talking about politics with your extended family over Christmas - inadvisable, unless you relish in a good debate.

But usually, it seems, those who are against child harnesses are those who have never had a child run away from them in public.

But for those of us who have...the cons quickly fade away when you realize firsthand how unpredictable children are. Quick and impulsive...while at the same time being the most precious thing in the world.  Suddenly a harness isn’t the worst thing ever.

And why I bring all of this up isn’t to start a debate with parents over the google group, but rather, because just as small children run away from their parents early in life, there are also children who, later in life, run away from the church.

It’s not exactly the same of course...usually the decision to leave isn’t quick and impulsive, but it is something that has been building and building for years.  Poor music, or the judgemental nature of the church are common accusations levelled and excuses that are given.  Or maybe the theology.  When reformed theology isn’t properly explained and other theologies are just brushed over in a vague and unfair way, we do our children a disservice.  When they meet a Roman Catholic for the first time, or an adult-only baptist...they are shocked to find that other denominations are filled with people just like them.  Not ignorant people.  Not evil people.  But genuine, kind, caring, and sincere people.

And then they leave.  They leave our church, and go to another church, or they leave the faith altogether.  And you wish that maybe there could be some sort of spiritual child harness.  That would prevent them from wandering.  That would prevent them from turning their back on you, the church, and God.

And this, beloved, is how some people view baptism.

If your child received the sign of the covenant, then, though they might wander a little ways, they will always come back.  If they start to stray, if they live an ungodly life...well...they’re covenant children!  They’ll come back!  But for those who have experienced this heartbreak, you know that’s not always the case.  You know that you can’t afford to be cavalier about teenage rebellion.

Because baptism isn’t a spiritual child harness, beloved.  We heard last time what baptism IS. We learned what baptism does for God, and what it does for us.  Baptism is a mutual remembering.  Baptism is a promising.  Baptism is a picture of belonging to the family of God.

But baptism, even though we may wish it was...is not a spiritual child harness.  Beloved...

LET US NOT MAKE TOO MUCH OF THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM

  1. It is a Sacrament of Promise, not of Salvation

  2. It is a Sacrament of Grace, not of Faith

 

Baptism is a sacrament of promise, not of salvation.

I first want to start off by reminding those listening that this sermon directly continues from the sermon on Lord’s Day 26 also about baptism.  If you haven’t heard that one, or if you forget it, this sermon may seem to make too LITTLE of the sacrament of baptism as it attempts to not make too MUCH of it.

Baptism is indeed powerful, it is indeed wonderful, it is indeed a means of God’s grace to us.

And yet, there are those who make too much of it, seeing baptism as almost an alternate method of salvation.  My child may not have faith, or live a Christian life, but at least she was baptized!

But we have to remember, beloved, that not all those who are baptized are saved.  Not all those who are baptized are saved.

We can read a tragic description of rebellious covenant children in 1 Corinthians 10

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.  Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.

The people of Israel were all covenant people.  They all went through the Red Sea together, they all ate the spiritual food of manna, and all drank the spiritual drink from the rock.  And yet, they desired evil, and pursued that path for their lives.

Being a covenant child does not, unfortunately, serve as a child harness.  You see, rituals, no matter their origin, no matter the holiness of the people, or the solemnity of the ceremony...rituals do not have power to save.

This is the teaching of our Lord’s Day

     Does this outward washing with water itself wash away sins?

     No, only the blood of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sins.

For those of you who remember the example of Martin Luther from last time, writing on his desk with chalk, again and again, “I AM BAPTIZED” … Lord’s Day 27 may make us ask “Why?”  Why was this a comfort to Luther?  Should it have been a comfort to him?

Yes.  Luther did not go wrong in this.  For what did he mean when he wrote this?

He did not write: I AM BAPTIZED...therefore I do not have to fight against my sins

I AM BAPTIZED…therefore I do not have to work out my salvation with fear and trembling

But rather, I AM BAPTIZED...therefore I have been claimed by Christ to be His covenant child.  I have received these wonderful promises from God - promises that will never be withdrawn from me.

Luther also said, in relation to baptism: Baptism is not a small Christ.  Baptism is not a small Christ.  It doesn’t replace the work that Christ did.  It is not an alternate Saviour.  Baptism does not lock the doors of the house of salvation, trapping us inside.    Though we may wish it did, this is not the reality.

We heard this in our reading this afternoon from 1 John 2.

In this letter, the Apostle John is writing to the church.  This is very clear with how he addresses the readers.

He calls them “my little children,” “beloved,” and “children of God.”  John isn’t writing a letter to evangelize non-believers and bring them into the flock, but he is writing to those who are in the church already.  Those who have already received the promises of God in their baptism.

And in 1 John 2, we can see that the Apostle, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, rejects two baptismal errors.  We would do well to pay attention to these.  John rejects both baptismal regeneration and presumptive regeneration.  It may do well to write these down.  Baptismal Regeneration and Presumptive Regeneration.

Firstly, John rejects the error of what we might call baptismal regeneration.

Now, one of the challenges with something like baptismal regeneration is that there are a number of different interpretations of what it means.  I will give you what I believe to be the two most common understandings of it.

There are those who equate baptismal regeneration and perfectionism.  They turn to passages such as Romans 6 - Those of us who were baptized with Christ were baptized into His death...and our old self was crucified with Him...they take these verses to mean that as soon as someone is baptized, their old nature is completely killed off, and they live only in the new nature.  

They believe that God has so infused the water of baptism with the power, not only of REGENERATION, but with the power of INSTANT regeneration.  When you are baptized, your sins are washed away, and your capacity to sin is also washed away!  Those who were once washed can never be unwashed, and can never again live according to their old nature.

And we can see, very clearly, throughout 1 John, that the Holy Spirit rejects this belief.  Again and again, it seems, sometimes with tears and on bended knee, John pleads with the church to reject sin and live a holy life.  He writes to them commandments.  A new commandment that is also old.  The commandment to love.

He encourages them to love, not the world, and the things of this world, but rather, to love God.  To love each other.  He tells them to do the will of God, and reject those who try to deceive them.  If they were already fully regenerate, fully sanctified, fully perfected, then these commandments would be unnecessary.

But, to be fair, not everyone holds baptismal regeneration in one hand and perfectionism in the other.

There are also those who say that we are regenerated through baptism, and we are JUSTIFIED through baptism...but this is only one of two justifications.  The first by baptism, and the second by faith.  Though this is slightly more palatable, it is still wrong.  There is no INFUSED POWER in the water of baptism.  The power of baptism, the strength and the meaning of baptism...it comes from the PROMISE OF GOD.  The public promises of God proclaimed over the child or over the new believer.  We heard that last time.

Baptism is as though the Lord Himself came to you, as if He Himself laid His own hand on your head and said to you, “I promise that I will not reject you.  This is my covenant.  Those who come to me will never be forsaken.  I will fulfill your every need through your spiritual family, My body, the church.”  Though it was the hand of the minister that baptized you, it was, really, God who baptized you.

It is through baptism that we publicly enter into God’s covenant people.  Our public entry comes after our private entry -  from the time of our conception.

But, there is another error that people will teach.  The idea that we baptize based on the presumed regeneration of our children.  This is an idea made popular by Abraham Kuyper, and then, how the various assemblies dealt with this belief literally split the church.

So what is this idea exactly?

Kuyper and his followers said that the REASON we baptize our children is not to regenerate them through baptism, but because they are already regenerate.  He did well to reject that first error, that the waters of baptism actually regenerate, but then he went too far.  He went too far, saying that you baptize because you presume that the child is one of the elect.  And, if he or she grows up and rejects God and His church, then you made a mistake in baptizing them, and their baptism didn’t actually count for anything.  It was just a very quick, very public bath.

But this misinterprets what baptism actually is.  For baptism is a sign, not of salvation, not of election, but of the covenant!  A sign of what God promises to all His covenant children.

Does being a wayward covenant child nullify God’s promises to you?  Of course not!  The promises are still there!  There is promise in baptism, but there is also obligation.

Just as with the people of Israel.  Just as there were covenant blessings, there were also covenant curses.  If an Israelite, born into the covenant people, receiving the sign of the covenant - circumcision, rejected God, he would not simply become a Gentile, but he would incur on himself the covenant curses.  Why?  BECAUSE HE REMAINED A COVENANT CHILD!

We see this in our reading as well, 1 John 2:18 and following

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that AntiChrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come.  Therefore we now that it is the last hour.  They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.  But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

They still went out from the church.  These antichrists, those who deny the Father and the Son...these antichrists were members of the church.  They went out...FROM US.  But they were not of us.

Another way of saying this is, “they were covenant people, but they were not elect.”  They received the promises of God.  True and sure and firm promises.  Promises that God will never drive them away.  But they drove themselves away.

They ran in the other direction from God and rejected His promises.  But this did not mean that the promises were void and meaningless.  For, if any of these antichrists, those who denied the Father and the Son...if any of them repented, and came back, these promises would be fulfilled!  Anyone who comes to me, I will not drive away!

We can take great comfort in this, beloved.  Those that we know who have been baptized, but stray far from God...His promises are all still there.  And if you doubt this, look to the example of the Apostle Paul.  He was a covenant child.  Circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

He had received the sign of the covenant, but in persecuting the church of Jesus Christ, He had rejected the Son of God.  He had rejected and hated and persecuted the Messiah.  And those who deny God’s Messiah deny God too.  Saul, before he became Paul, could be labelled as an antichrist.  And yet, God’s covenant promises found him.  Powerfully, violently, on the road to Damascus.  God’s glory flashed around him, and he was brought back into the fold once more.

What happened on the Damascus road was grace.  Pure grace.  God’s unmerited favor or kindness to the one who does not deserve it.  Saul did not deserve anything but judgement and condemnation, but he received mercy and forgiveness.

And this is the same for us, is it not?  When we are born, though we look so beautiful and prefect, we know that we are not deserving of God’s favor and kindness.  Sin already clings to us.  Or, when we have lived a sinful life, far from God, and He brings us near to Him, we know that we do not deserve to have God as our Father and be part of His church.  And yet, through grace, these things are ours.  Our second point.

There has been something touched on, this week, and already last week, but not delved deep into.  It is the elephant in the room when we talk about baptism.  This is a debate that spans both Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, it spans centuries and continents.  The question of who should get baptized.

And it’s not an easy question to answer.  If it was, it would have been solved a long time ago.  There have been very intelligent men and women on both sides of the debate.  Those who say that infants as well as adults should be baptized, and those who deny baptism to children because they cannot make a credible profession of faith yet.

Let’s look, first briefly at our catechism, and then at Scripture.

     Should infants, too, be baptized?

     Yes.  Infants as well as adults belong to God’s covenant and congregation.  Through Christ’s blood the redemption from sin and the Holy Spirit, who works faith, are promised to them, no less than to adults.

The argument of the catechism is that baptism is a sign of the covenant, and therefore, those who belong to the covenant should be baptised.  And virtually everyone, whether adult only baptist or not, will hold to this.  The argument comes from who actually is part of the covenant.

The question of “who should be baptized” is really a question of “who belongs?”

Who belongs in the covenant of God?

Now, we must, first of all, acknowledge that there are, broadly speaking, 2 covenants in Scripture.  Of course there are many smaller covenants, the covenant with Noah that we talked about last time.  The covenant with Abraham, the covenant with David, and various others.  But there are, broadly speaking 2 covenants.  The Old Covenant, and the New Covenant.  The Old Covenant that was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and the New Covenant that He instituted.

  • The Old Covenant was built upon the foundation of the Law, given on Mt. Sinai.  On tablets of stone.

  • The sign of the Old Covenant was circumcision.

  • Entrance into the Old Covenant was through birth, or conversion.

Now, how does the New Covenant stack up to this?

To examine this further, we should take a look at Jeremiah chapter 31.  Please turn there with me.

Jeremiah 31.  The first part of this chapter speaks of God bringing back His people from their exile.  Though parallels could be drawn between this and the new covenant, it is clearer if we begin at verse 31, where the words “new covenant” are specifically used.

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.”

It is clear from the New Testament fulfillment that this is not a reference only to those who are culturally and genetically Jewish, but rather the church, as the new Israel.  The church filled with both Jews and Gentiles.

“It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.  This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord.  “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

We can see here some of the differences.  Let’s connect them.

  • The Old Covenant was built upon the foundation of the Law, given on Mt. Sinai.  On tablets of stone.

    • The New Covenant, we see here, is built, still on the law, but the law written in their minds and on their hearts.  The law summed up by love.  The law that the Apostle John could tell his church was new and yet old.  The law, as it is seen in the gospel of love, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now, what about the sign of this covenant?  One could say that the sign is the writing on the heart, but a sign is visible.  A sign is clear, like circumcision.  And we find in Colossians chapter 2 that the new circumcision, a circumcision without hands, is referred to as the baptism of Christ.  Baptism was the sign that we are members of the new covenant.  This is not very debatable.  Baptism, for Christians, is seen as a sign of the covenant.

  • The sign of the Old Covenant was circumcision.

    • The sign of the New Covenant is the circumcision of Christ, that is, baptism.

But what about that third aspect.  That thing we really want to know...WHO BELONGS to this covenant?

Take a look at verse 31 - I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.

This new covenant is made with the PEOPLE, or with the HOUSE of Israel and Judah.  Not just individuals, but people.

Or verse 33 - I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.

These are said in the plural.  This is important.  The same language used for the patriarchs.  Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The same language used for the nation of Israel.

If you’re still not convinced, look at verse 36 - “Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,” declares the Lord, “will Israel ever cease from being a nation before me.”

Once again, national language.

And finally, the clincher of the argument, verse 37 - This is what the Lord says: “Only if the heavens can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,” declares the Lord.

Descendants.  The New Covenant, just as with the Old Covenant is about DESCENDANTS.  Not just individuals, but families.

Acts 2 speaks to this as well when it says, “The promise is for you and for your children.”

Now, I realize that this has become a lot like a lecture instead of a sermon.  An interesting lecture for some, hopefully, but it is like this for a good reason.  There are many wise and godly authors, speakers, and pastors, who teach that baptism is not meant for children.  And since there are no specific scripture texts where God commands us to baptize children, it can be difficult to explain our belief, without it seeming as though we put our confessions and traditions above the Word of God.  We should defend what we believe, we should defend what Scripture teaches.

And, if someone thinks differently on this, God will reveal it to him or her.  Maybe He will reveal it through you.

But the purpose of this is not only to feed your minds, but truly, to feed your hearts and your souls.

So how does this touch down on our spiritual lives?

Well, if baptism is denied to infants because they cannot make a credible profession of their faith at that young age, then baptism has become about us, hasn’t it?

Baptism has become a sacrament of our faith, demonstrating it to the world.

     Look at what I have done!

     I have decided to be part of God’s covenant community.

     I have decided to join myself to His family.

     I have become so spiritually mature that I am going to make vows

 

I HAVE.

I HAVE.

I HAVE.

 

But this is not what baptism is about.  Baptism is not about you.  I’m sorry, but it’s not.  Baptism isn’t about you, but it is about GOD.  It’s is about God’s grace and love.  It is about God’s mercy and favor.  It is about God’s unmerited kindness.

Your baptism is not about what you have done.  It’s about what GOD has done.

Baptism is a sacrament of God’s grace, demonstrating it to the world.

    Look at what GOD has done.

    God has welcomed you into His covenant community.

    God has decided to welcome you in, to join you to His family.

    God loves you so much that He is going to make you wonderful promises.

 

Is God’s grace for everyone?  No matter the gender?

    YES!  There is no distinction.  Male and female, both are in God’s household.

Are God’s promises for everyone, no matter the sin in their heart?

    YES! God’s wonderful promises of the gospel are there, not DESPITE your sin, but because of it.  Because of your sin, and His love, He promises to wash you clean.

Are God’s blessings for everyone, no matter their age?

    YES!  You cannot be too old or too young to receive God’s amazing promises.

 

Salvation does not depend on your abilities beloved.  For when God chose us, we were dead in sin.  Do not think that your weaknesses due to age, intelligence, or physical ability means that God can’t choose us.  That God can’t use us.  That we don’t belong.

For the church has one foundation, and it’s not you.  The church has one foundation -  the promises of the gospel in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

AMEN.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

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