August 5, 2008

Circumcision and Faith

I read the introduction to Believer's Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ (eds. Schreiner and Wright, B&H, 2006) this morning. The authors make this statement:

"The view of paedobaptism affirmed by the Reformed tradition is fraught with inconsistency: as evangelicals they believe that salvation is by faith in Christ alone, but as paedobaptists they give the sign of that faith (baptism) to those who have not excercised faith (infants). It is primarily this theology that we are trying to correct in this book" (7).

Having not yet read the rest of the book, it would be inappropriate to argue against the claim that paedobaptists inconsistently give the sign of faith (baptism) to those who have not excersized faith (infants). However, it is appropriate to raise an important question for reflection as the coming argument is considered.

In Romans 4:11, Paul tells us that, "[Abraham] received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he ws still uncircumcised." Interestingly, Paul here connects faith and circumcision. Abraham himself was justified before God by faith. Abraham's circumcision was a sign of the righteous declaration received from God on the condition of his faith. As Douglas Wilson says in his book To A Thousand Generations, "his was a case of believers circumcision" (74) because Abraham received the sign of his by faith righteousness after the fact of his faith. In Abraham's case, the sign came after the thing signified.

However, Abraham went on to circumcise his children and his physical descendents did the same. Why did they do this? Because God commanded them to and to do it on the eighth day after the birth of the child (Gen. 17:12). God commanded Abraham to give his eight day old descendents the mark which Paul says was a sign of the righteousness had by faith. These questions must be raised: Why did God command Abraham to give his sons a sign of righteousness by faith before they had any righteousness by faith by virtue of their infancy? Did the circumcision of Abraham's descendents signify something different from Abraham's own circumcision? Why, in the case of Abraham's descendents, did the sign (circumcision) precede the thing signified (faith-righteousness)? Did Abraham, under the commandment of God, inconsistently give the sign of faith (circumcision) to those who had not exercized faith (infants)? It is even more interesting that the sign of righteousness by faith was given to those who did not have righteousness by faith especially considering the fact that many of Abraham's descendents would never come to faith at all despite the fact that they bore on their bodies the sign of that faith.

Let me emphasize, I am not presently arguing against the thesis of this book. I haven't read the argument yet. However, the thesis of this book immediately raises the above pertinent questions. Perhaps the authors will be able to supply adequate answers to these important questions.

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