This a topical sermon on the role of signs in teaching families to identify themselves with God’s Saving Work in Christ. It explores the historical role of Circumcision, Baptism, and Dedication as marks of faith. This sermon was originally preached on June 2nd, 2013 at The Resolved Church in San Diego,CA.
The Resolved Church
Pastor Duane Smets
June 2nd, 2013
God Offers A Ceremonial Sign for Families: Marked By God
God You & Our Kids | Selected Texts
I. Circumcision: The Old Testament Sign
II. Baby Baptism: The New Testament Sign
III. Baby Dedication: The Christian History Sign
IV. What’s Important & Why
Good morning church. Super good to see everyone this morning. If you’re new or newer, welcome. Glad you made it today. It’s that special one time a year event when our whole city gets turned upside down for the Rock-N-Roll Marathon, which can make it quite a challenge on getting around. So congratulation on getting here!
My name is Duane, I’m one of the pastors here at The Resolved and it’s my job to preach most of the time. Last week, we had Matt Ortiz preach the pastor of Infusion Church, a sister Acts 29 church up in Escondido. It was an especially timely sermon for us as a church to be reminded of what it looks like to really love and serve each other and why.
I was gone, not too far… just up the road to Solana Beach to celebrate my 12 year wedding anniversary with my wife Amy. It was the first time we had been alone together for 24 hours in like 18 months, since she got pregnant with our latest daughter…and I’ll tell you what. Man, I love my wife. This sounds silly and pretty sappy but it’s so easy in the midst of raising children and pastoring a church to forget that.
But there was moment for me when I was sitting across the table with my wife eating breakfast and it just hit me hard…”I love my wife.” I love looking at her. I love talking to her. I love eating with her. I love just being with her. I love my wife. And it kind of puts everything in perspective. Yes, I love this church. And yes, I love our girls. But other than Jesus Himself…I love my wife more than anyone and she is more important to me than any other person in my life. So Amy, I love you.
And that’s a subtle hint for some of you husbands. Go take your wife out on an extended, 24 hour plus date and fall in love with her again. I promise she’ll like it and there may be some good perks that come along with it too.
Well, we should move on to today’s text and sermon. Today’s sermon is titled, “Marked By God” and is on how God gives a ceremonial sign to families who belong to Him through Jesus. We’ll look at a few different key passages of Scripture this morning but our main text will be Mark 10:14. So let’s go ahead and read it, declare it as the Word of God, thank Him for it and pray over our time in the Word this morning.
• Read Mark 10:14
• Pastoral Declaration: This is the Word of the Lord.
• Congregational Response: Thanks Be To God.
• Pastoral Prayer
Alright. So this is the sermon I’ve promised several months ago when many asked me about either baptizing or dedicating their new babies. Thank you for your patience and waiting for me to get here at this time. I felt strongly it was important for us to consider this issue in light of everything we’ve been talking about in the series thus far…which is why I waited this long to do it.
If you’re a new Christian, here’s basically what this whole deal is about. If you’ve had this awesome conversion experience as you’ve come to know Jesus and understand the goodness of His Gospel, the question is what are you supposed to do with your kids when they are born? Are they Christians by default because they are your kids or do they have to wait until they’re older to be able to know and understand certain things and have a conversion experience like your own?
Historically in Christianity, there has basically been two different answers to that question. One says yes, children are part of the Christian family and children are given what’s called “the sign and the seal” of their Christian-ness with the ceremony of baptism with water when they are babies. The other says no, or we don’t know and simply chooses to do a different kind of ceremony called “dedication” hoping they will become Christians one day, and the time until this is just sort of a question mark.
Now I’m sure a number of you are aware that this particular issue has caused a lot of division and debate in Christian churches throughout the history of Christianity and sadly in my opinion, it continues to do so. There have been church splits over this. People have left churches over this. And at times it has been downright ugly.
When you look out across the landscape of the great theological minds and theologians and pastors of history and of today, even just the ones who are in our own “theological camp,” the Reformed camp…they are divided. About half of my personal heroes are on one side of this and half are on the other side of it. On one side there’s Calvin, Luther, Owen, Edwards, Sproul, Horton, and several others. Then on the other side there’s Bunyan, Gill, Charles Spurgeon, John Piper, Wayne Grudem and Al Mohler and more. On 90 percent of things they all agree…but on this they do not.
When it comes to disagreements or differences in doctrine or beliefs there’s basically two schools of thought. One says, it doesn’t really matter which belief is true or which one you accept or that the truth is always somewhere in the middle. The other says, no, there is always one correct position and every belief or stance is interconnected with other beliefs, so you have to do the hard work and figure out what you believe.
Along with these two schools of thought are two different attitudes. One is an unhealthy attraction toward controversy and conflict, the other is an avoidance of any controversy and conflict at all costs.
To the first attitude, the Bible has some strong warnings. Like Titus 3:9-11 “Avoid foolish controversies…as for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, having nothing more to do with him.” So we have to be careful in getting caught up in the wrong controversies.
To the second attitude, the Bible tells us it is Satan who causes confusion concerning what is true. 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 says, it is “by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders and with all wicked deception…(and that those who are or have been deceived) refused to love the truth.” So there are some truth, of which there may be controversy over, for which we need to fight for.
Sometimes it’s the most precious truths which the enemy attacks the most violently, attempting to create as much confusion and doubt as possible. Things like the resurrection or deity of Jesus or the importance of turning to Him as savior.
So I guess I will just come out and say it up front near the beginning of this sermon and then come back to it later but we here at The Resolved do not this issue, the baptizing or dedicating of babies is a theological issue worth fighting or dividing over. There are hills we will die on which we hold tight fisted and there are ones which we not and hold loosely and this is one of them.
Two practical implications of that are one, our doctrinal statement and two our deference to the head of the household.
On our doctrinal statement, we are a confessional church. Our doctrinal statement serves as a modern confession of what we believe. As well, there are a number of ancient confessions we affirm such as the Apostles Creed, the Nicean Creed, the Chalcedonian Creed, the Athanasian Creed and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Some have wondered why have not affirmed the creeds of the 16th century Reformation? For the most part, it’s due to our our open stance what we’re talking about today because whether it’s the Westminster Confession, the Three Forms of Unity or the London Baptist Confession…they all take one particular stance either for or against baby baptism.
Doug Wilson, a well-known theologian today who pastors a church in Moscow, Idaho which takes a similar approach to this issue as our church does said in an interview, “Baptism is one Lord one faith one baptism, so what kind of sense does it make for Christians to divide over the side of unity?” That’s where we’re at on this one.
Scripture is not explicit either way, so God must have meant for us to exercise charity with it. If God meant it to be a hard and fast rule in His churches we believe He is smart enough and would have had enough foresight to make it clear in what He wrote down in His book for all generations.
That’s the doctrine piece. On our deference to the head of the household, what I mean by that is we do believe that you if you’re a Christian and God blesses you with children that you should do something, and that you ought to have thought through it have good reasons why. So what we do is leave it up to the head of each household to decide and just ask that they study both sides first.
And that’s a big goal of my sermon today. To sort of lay out both sides and to create a resource for parents to listen to or read in order to help them make an informed decision.
I picked Mark 10:14 as our main verse for today because I think it encapsulates the heart and the theme of what we’re going after with sermon in talking about this issue. Jesus says, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them.” Jesus is not hung up on how they come. Instead on doing everything possible to help them come.
So the plan for the rest of the sermon is to briefly walk through four things: Circumcision as the Old Testament Sign, Baby Baptism as the New Testament Sign, Baby Dedication as the Christian History Sign and then conclude by talking about What’s Important and Why.”
First, “Circumcision: The Old Testament Sign.”
I. Circumcision: The Old Testament Sign
Go ahead and turn to Genesis 17 in your Bibles with me. Genesis is the first book, so it’s easy to find. Chapter 17 basically serves as this follow up to what happened in chapter 15, which we talked about a few weeks ago here. In Genesis 15 God comes to Abraham and makes a covenant with him…a holy pact, a solemn vow. God states the terms, the promise of blessing and the threat of curse. He has Abraham take an animal, cut it in half throwing the two pieces on the ground and then God moves in between the pieces which in ancient near east culture was a way of saying, if I break the terms of this covenant may I be cut in half like this animal.
God’s promise was the promise to be Abraham’s God and to give him a family and an eternal future. What happens here in Genesis 17 is a continuation of this covenant promise and in this chapter God gives Abraham a permanent tangible sign of it.
First, look at verse 7. God says, “I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you to your offspring after you.” So see, same covenant right?
Now, look at verse 11, “You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between you and me.” That’s a key verse.
Two main things here. Circumcision itself and then the role of signs.
Let’s do signs first. Signs are everywhere. There were a ton of extra signs all over our city today about the Rock-n-Roll Marathon right? Road closures everywhere. Signs directing traffic in all kinds of different ways.
Signs. Usually they are some symbol meant to communicate something…a warning, directions, an invitation, or some greater reality. With circumcision it’s that last thing. Circumcision was a picture of a greater spiritual reality.
I’m guessing most of you know what circumcision is. If you don’t, it’s the practice of cutting off part of some of the skin which hangs down over the head of a male penis. Most people today are circumcised when they are infants at the hospital primarily to make hygiene easier for little boys as they are growing up.
Some have wondered why God wanted Abraham to do such a thing? There’s two reasons the Bible gives: a cutting out and cutting off.
One, what the next verse says. In verse 12 God describes what R.C. Sproul says was God saying, “I am cutting you out from the rest of fallen humanity and consecrating you as a nation to myself.” So one, God is cutting Abraham and his family into the fold to be God’s special people whom He saves. It’s for both men and women, but only the men were circumcised since the females were seen as included under their covering and leadership.
Two, the cutting off is what the next verse after that says. Verse 13 describes what happens to those of Abraham’s family who break God’s covenant by rejecting God as their God. If one does that, verse 13 says he “shall be cut off from his (God’s) people; he has broken by covenant.”
So circumcision is a picture of God’s promise to cut out a certain people to experience His blessing and a threat to cut them off from that blessing if they reject Him. Circumcision was and always has been an issue of the heart, about whether not God’s people will have Him as their God. Romans 2:29 says it plainly, “circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter (or we could say by the knife).”
The point with circumcision is that God’s people always had a ceremonial sign to symbolize and remind them they were God’s people. Okay. So hold that thought and let’s move on to “Baby Baptism: The New Testament Sign.”
II. Baby Baptism: The New Testament Sign
If you follow the story of the Bible and the story of Abraham’s family what happens is as generations pass his family grows and grows with thousands and thousands of people coming from his bloodline. And many many many of them break the family covenant…in fact everyone ends up breaking it. But God in His gracious kindness still makes a way to save His people by sending His own perfect son to die for His people’s sin and rise again to give them new life.
And this is huge! This is the biggest work of God since God created the world itself…sending Jesus. And the picture the Bible gives of the person and work of Jesus…the sign, is baptism!
Listen to Colossians 2:11-12 and what it says about those who embrace God’s Son Jesus and His work in dying and rising for sinners. Write down this verse, Colossians 2:11-12 “In him (that’s Jesus) you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
There’s a lot there but you can clearly see the connection between circumcision and baptism. Baptism becomes the fulfillment, not replacement, but fulfillment of circumcision once Jesus becomes the only person in all of Abraham’s family to never break the covenant and to pay the price for all who did.
So for anyone, whether baptized as a child or adult, their baptism is meant to be God’s mark upon them symbolizing that they belong to God through Jesus. Now up to this point, as far as the whole debate thing goes, everybody is still on the same page.
But here is where things start to diverge. The question at this point is whether this is for children or not…because circumcision was. They did it on the 8th day of a new baby’s life.
So here’s the position of those who would say “yes.”
The book of Acts, in just the second chapter on the first day of the Church when everything gets started…the Apostle Peter preaches a sermon about Jesus, who He is, what He did on the cross, now He rose and what that means for those who believe.
At the end of his sermon the response of the crowd is that they were “cut” to the heart…interesting, since cut is the word for “covenant” and what you did to circumcise someone. But anyway, chapter 2 verse 37 says they were cut to the heart and ask what they should do. Here’s Peter’s response, verse 38 “Repent and be baptized every one of you (doesn’t say just men or just adults but every one) in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Then look carefully at verse 39, “For the promise is for you and for your children.”
So those who would say you ought to baptize your babies point to this passage and say, clearly here Peter instructed parents to have their children baptized. Later in Acts 16 a guy who works at a jail becomes a Christian and on the basis of his faith and the leadership he carried over his house, his whole household is baptized.
In 1 Corinthians 1:16, the Apostle Paul says he baptized another whole family, that of Stephanus. Then just a few chapters later in chapter 7:14 he talks about cases where you only have one Christian parent. Here’s what he says, “The unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is they are holy.”
The word “holy” means “set apart.” It best it may mean they were baptized because of their parents faith, at minimum it is saying there is something special about kids who come from parents when there’s at least one of them who are Christian. They are part of their parent’s physical family and are to be treated as “holy” which surely means being members of the spiritual family, the church, with all the rights and privileges thereof.
Now, there’s a ton more that could be said here about the case for infant baptism or what’s also known as paedobaptism like the evidence that this was the practice of the early church and really all of church history until some groups started to part from it in the 16th century…or there’s tons about how and when they did baby baptisms and what was said about them.
I’ve got a stack of books on my desk which trudge through all the ins and outs of this. But that’s all we’re going to cover today. What we have hit is the basic nuts and bolts of the background and position of those who say you should baptize your baby. With that let’s move on to “Baby Dedication: The Christian History Sign” and the argument from those who say you shouldn’t baptize your baby.
III. Baby Dedication: The Christian History Sign
The earliest record of a church baby dedication we have is from a pastor named Balthasar Hubmaier, who on January 16th, 1525 wrote a letter describing his change in course from baby baptism to dedication. He wrote, “Instead of baptism, I have the congregation assemble, introduce the child, then the child is named; the entire church prays with bent knees for it and commends it to Christ, that He may be gracious to it and intercede for it.”
Balthasar Hubmaier was part of the Anabaptist movement from the 16th century Protestant Reformation. Today, several different denominations trace their heritage from the Anabaptists including the Mennonites, the Pentecostal branches, the Brethren churches and all the Baptist churches.
You see what happened in history was after the break from the Catholic Church, all kinds of different churches and movements began springing up. One of these movements made baptism their key and core driving principle.
The Anabaptist were one of the them. The good thing they brought to the table was they were preaching the Gospel and many people were coming to Christ and being baptized. The questionable thing, in my opinion, was dividing from the rest of the Reformation movements over the issue of baptizing babies.
Regardless, here was their concern. When you read through the New Testament, nearly all of the stories you read about people being baptized are adults who are of an age where they can hear and understand the Gospel and then they respond to it with personal repentance and faith. So very simply, they said since a baby cannot repent or express personal faith baptism could not be for them.
As for the cases like in Acts or 1 Corinthians, those who are in favor of dedicating instead of baptizing, also known as credobaptists, say “household” did not necessarily mean babies but could’ve meant children who were old enough to understand and believe in the Gospel themselves. Which is fair.
So those coming from this perspective suppose there is what they call an “age of accountability” a child comes to when they can repent and exercise faith, which varies with each kid wherein if they die before that God just saves them anyway. Those from the baby baptism perspective usually just point out that there’s no reference anywhere in Scripture to an age of accountability, that children are born sinful and that God especially does have grace on them to save them when they are covenant children born to believing parents. That’s what the whole kids song “Jesus Loves Me” is all about.
When it comes to Scriptural support for baby dedication, there’s not a ton. Some have tried to point to Samuel, whom Elkanah and Hannah “dedicated” to the Lord, though the text doesn’t even use the word “dedicate.” If you read that story, when Hannah goes to the temple to dedicate Samuel, Samuel actually went in and lived in the priest’s house for the rest of his life. So it was really an adoption not a dedication as you would conceive of today’s church practice of child dedication.
The strongest example of child dedication in Scripture is actually with Jesus himself in Luke 2. Here’s what Luke 2, verses 22-24 say, “22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”
The quote there in verse 23 is from Exodus 13:2 which starts out by saying, “Consecrate (or dedicate) to me all the firstborn.” The ceremony involved in this consecration or dedication seems to be just as Luke 2 describes when it says in verse 28 that the priest took the baby Jesus up in his arms and prayed a prayer over him.
So the practice of baby dedication is not completely foreign to the Bible. To be sure, the dedication of Jesus in accordance with the Old Testament practice was only meant for the firstborn male. Like tithing which is to be a “first-fruits,” a first portion, giving the first to God is an acknowledgment that all of it comes from Him.
Nonetheless, the first born male dedication is still a Scriptural example of what some Godly parents, living under the Old Testament law, did with a child in order to signify, sign, that their child belonged to God and was to serve Him.
With let’s move on and kind of put this all together and talk about, “What’s Important & Why.”
IV. What’s Important & Why
Here’s the two sides if you boil down their arguments to their bare bones and put them side by side.
Baptism = Kid Circumcision | Baptism = Personal Faith Only
Faith = For Covenant Children | Faith = At Age of Accountability
Example = Households Baptized | Example = Jesus Was Dedicated
In looking at this and how you figure out where you land I’ve got four simple main principles in mind.
1. Not for salvation. It’s extremely important for wherever you land on this one that neither baptism (as a baby or an adult) nor dedication saves a kid. There is no outward work any person can do to save themselves or another person. Salvation is the promise and guarantee from God that He will spare us from His wrath to come for sin based Jesus’ death for one’s sin and His resurrection.
2. Not for separation. This is what we talked about at the front of the sermon. We here at The Resolved Church do not believe this is something Christians and churches ought to divide or separate over. Our practice is to major in the majors and minor in the minors. Where Scripture speaks clearly and explicitly we major in that and will not compromise on it. Where Scripture doesn’t speak clearly and things are somewhat grey, we minor in that and exercise charity toward one another.
3. For consecration. The point in either baby baptism or baby dedication is that there is a special ceremony wherein the Christian parents of the child publicly acknowledge that their child is from God and meant to live for Him and they publicly commit to teaching them that for all the child’s days. Here at the Resolved we use a special covenanting ceremony and we use the same one for both baby baptism and baby dedication…one just has water and one doesn’t.
4. For identification. This is perhaps the most important thing. The why, the why do anything at all is to mark your child to say they belong to God. Baptism…or even dedication is meant to be a permanent brand upon the person saying you are God’s, your whole life long and you will never be happy if you are not loving and worshipping Him. Who you are, at the deepest core of your person and your family history is a person set apart, cut out and designated for Jesus. I think of it like a wedding ring or a tattoo. It says to God and the world, I belong to you.
So in light of those four things: not for salvation, not for separation, for consecration and for identification…there’s basically two points of personal application.
First, if you have had a child recently…get ‘em baptized or dedicated. There’s a form on our church website that was posted this morning where you can sign up to do that. Likewise, if you’re an adult and you’ve never been baptized or you recently became a Christian, you need the mark too so get baptized. As a side note, in case you haven’t seen one here we sprinkle babies with water and don’t immerse them for safety reasons.
The second thing is for everyone who has been baptized (regardless of when) or if you dedicated as a baby…Remember your baptism. Remember that God’s mark was put on you and you were sealed for him by the water. Remember your dedication. Remember that you were set apart and publicly offered up and declared a child who would be for God.
We so easily forget who we are and why we’re here. Both baptism and dedication are meant to be a one time thing. A permanent mark. They’re not just something you’re supposed to have as a spiritual experience, which if you were a baby you wouldn’t remember anyway…they are meant to be reminders of who we are and who we are to be at the core of our being. We are God’s and we belong to Him. We are meant to be able to look back and to know that.
And this is where I actually want to conclude the sermon…with each of us looking at ourselves and what marks us.
For those of you here who don’t have kids and are a long way from that, or if your kids are all grown up already, or if you’re a new Christian, new the Church and the Bible…if you’re in any one of those camps I want to thank you for your patience, thank you for loving your Christian brothers and sisters well in this sermon. I realize a lot of the stuff we’ve been talking about today may seem pretty irrelevant to your life right now. But one day it may not be.
Next week we’ll conclude this sermon series and it’ll be for everyone, not just parents and families and it’ll be a great week to invite friends. We’ll be talking about Heaven’s Family Party. A big part of heaven is the great feasts and parties we’ll have and here and now, on earth, every time we sit down with our family or our friends is meant to look forward to that.
So often and so easily we can sort of drudge through the Christian life living under this dark weight of guilt and we fail to realize and experience the joys that Jesus purchased for us on the cross. So come next week and bring friends, so they can hear how the good news of the Gospel is what really enables us to eat and drink well, for the glory of God.
Alright, so a lot of this sermon has been directly addressed to parents. But this is for everyone and this is the concluding thought I want to leave you with.
Everyone of us has things which mark us. We’ve got identity markers. There’s the physical features of our face. There’s our personalities. There’s our fashion style in how we dress. There’s our personal interests and hobbies. There’s our single, married, with or without children status. There’s our jobs and what we do for work or are going to school for. We’ve all got identity markers.
What the heart of this sermon today is getting at is what marks you most of all. Are you marked by and for God? Forget baptism and dedication for a minute and just ask yourself this question, “What makes you you?” Has your life been set apart for God?
We started out today talking about signs. What does your life signify? If you are a sign, what do you point to, what do you say?
Where I think God may likely have the most heart work to do in us today is on this point…because if our answer to any of those questions is not Jesus, then we have repenting to do. I have some repenting to do today. It is so easy for other things and other people and other things I care about to become the things which mean the most to me instead of Jesus. And my life is marked for Him.
You see the greatest sign of all is not circumcision, it’s not baptism or dedication, it’s not having children or any of those things. The greatest sign of all is Jesus Himself.
Jesus came into the world performing miracles he called “signs” which said He was the savior and the Son of God.
Jesus died on a cross for sin and thus the cross is the Christian sign which says we are forgiven because He paid the price for us.
And lastly, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is The Sign that because He lives we who believe will live because He is truly Lord and worthy of all of our lives for all eternity.
So today as we prepare our hearts for the Lord’s supper to receive the body and blood of Jesus in the bread and the wine, prepare in this way. Ask God, “What marks me?”
If you’ve been baptized or dedicated take a moment and reflect on your baptism or your dedication and the course of your life.
If things have taken the place and the seat of Jesus in your life repent of it and receive Jesus’ forgiveness.
Then lastly, resolve once again to be person marked by God and for Him for all of your life.
I heard Pastor Matt did something pretty sweet with communion last week so I thought we’d do it again. We’re just going to spend a couple minutes in quiet prayer, reflecting and examining ourselves and then I’ll pray and we’ll all come forward and partake.