For Calvinists.....it leads to a hyper-Calvinistic Baptist Theology.
Here's a recent post from the Heidelblog of R. Scott Clark.
Circumcision and Baptism
Clark tries to avoid two extremes in dealing with a text like Colossians 2.11-12 but instead of navigating it, he's trapped.
The Bible is full of dialectical tensions often between the visible/temporal and the invisible/eternal.
Clark and others who depend on Aristotelian based and defined Systematics cannot let these tensions stand. The force and drive of their system insists on synthesizing the two sides and eliminating what seems to them a contradiction.
But rather than submit to God's word, this method subsumes Revelation and consequently the Scriptures are re-categorized to work in a grid-like dogmatic structure.
Ockham's Razor....is a tool of Rationalism which seeks to simplify and eliminate plurality or dualisms.
Aristotle's Razor is a name I've given to another Rationalist tool. This one parses and divides, creates categories that aren't there in order to make the System work with the matrix that it is interacting with.
In other words....re-define and re-categorize Biblical terms so that it makes sense in light of your system.
Rationalists who use the Bible as the matrix, accepting it as God's Word, then dissect the matrix as it were and reconstruct it, making it more logically coherent. For those who are willing to grasp the doctrine of Election...the system DEMANDS that election be placed as the center-piece and starting point of understanding and defining all of the rest of the Biblical data. Everything has to be read in light of it.
The New Testament strongly teaches election, but nowhere does it present this method. The focus of the New Testament is on Christ alone. Election is a comfort for the believer, a ground of assurance, knowledge of God's power and thus an impetus to worship Him.
We who believe in election and predestination take willingly or unwillingly the label of Calvinist. But those who take election as the axiom and develop all theology from that point employing Aristotelian Systematics are hyper-Calvinists. Logic is the authority that even Revelation must submit to.
In the end, this overthrows Sola Scriptura. The System is the authority, not God's Word.
Sadly, Clark in this article provides an excellent example of Aristotle's Razor at work and what hyper-Calvinism does to Covenant Theology, Ecclesiology, and Soteriology.
You'll need to open your Bible to Colossians 2 and keep Romans available as well. Much of what he says is very good. The first half or so of the article on his blog is excellent. But then I pick up and interact below. Again, my tone is conversational. I'm trying to write as I would speak...trying to keep it simple.
My text is in bold and italicized.
...In both cases, circumcision and baptism, the recipient is identified (not united to, contra the FV) with Christ’s death.
What? Where does this distinction come from? Identified but not united to? The passage says we are buried and raised with Him in baptism...we are made alive together with Him. I'm sorry but being alive together with him, is not identification. The concept of union couldn't be stronger. Romans 6 specifically says united. The idea couldn't be clearer.
So why does Clark want to impose two categories that aren't there? Why does the unity of baptism suddenly get split and we're talking about two types of baptism...one that identifies and one that unites? I'm all for dualisms and dialectical tensions.....when the text presents them. But this is one being brought in...why? Read on....
Those who believe receive what the sign/seal promises. Those who believe are elect, but the promise is administered in redemptive history to both those who believe and to those don’t believe because the visible church is always a mixed assembly.
And there we have it. Starting with election, Aristotelian systematics cannot allow for baptism to actually mean anything....or else it would contradict election. It demands for the sake of coherency, the creation of two categories, one that's real, and one that's not real.
We know the visible church will never be a perfect expression of the truth, because there are hypocrites and people fall away. But what a tremendous statement here! He's saying because the visible church has elect and non-elect, we allow election to define and determine the doctrine of the visible church. Hence, I argue, the visible church becomes a meaningless abstraction in this theology. The externals are basically meaningless, because if you give them meaning you overthrow election.
Where in the New Testament do you find Paul speaking to churches and saying, well, all those things I just said about Christ, that applies to those of you in the church who are actually elect. No, he calls them Christians.
This is an abuse of the doctrine of election, leading to a system which overthrows what the Scripture says about the visible church.
The visible church operates in the not-yet, time and space. Individuals professing faith are part of this body, period. They are baptized...they are Christians. We're not talking about election. We don't know who's elect. Election is a comfort for us, not the lens by which we read all of theology.
We're supposed to preach the Word, exercise discipline with the goal of a pure church. We know we won't have it, but we shouldn't be able to tell! And we don't case all of our Ecclesiology in light of election.
Even though the Bible uses language like Union for Baptism (the Visible Word)....well that doesn't work so well pull out Aristotle's Razor and create new categories ending up with a visible/water/abstract Baptism, and an invisible/spirit/concrete Baptism. But he doesn't even see he's doing it. He thinks the Federal Vision does this. They're the one's insisting on one baptism that we can speak of.....the visible.
We need to take what the Scripture says about Baptism and then understand it in tension. Visibly speaking Baptism is Union...it is salvation. Invisibly speaking it is the work of the Holy Spirit regenerating the heart. Both are true. Just like election is true, but visibly we are called upon to repent and believe. We don't start ordering decrees at this point. The Bible doesn't tell us to do that. We simply need to submit to God's word and allow both to remain in unresolved tension.
But we operate as a church, day to day, in the visible. Scott Clark has been baptized and still is professing Christ as Lord.....then as far as the New Testament is concerned, he's a Christian.
But wait someone says....regarding Scott Clark, I don't know if the Holy Spirit has ACTUALLY changed his heart. And no, you won't know until the Judgment. We look at the visible. His profession, his fruit.
So I'm left with the visible means given. He professes Christ, has been united with Him in Baptism...I have no reason to doubt he's saved. Keep on persevering....I hope you still are 10 years from now, 20 years from now. If he's not, then I have no reason to continue to call him brother.
But with this system, it's like saying....better be safe and not call him brother even now. Only if he's elect is he a brother.
This is foreign to the language of the New Testament. This is a form of hyper-Calvinism. The externals are not concrete, in fact they're not even really symbols at all.
It's kind like of the American flag is a symbol of America. I can point to that flag, touch that flag, and say this represents America. It's real. It's the visible expression of it and thus I can say it really truly does represent America, even though America itself is actually a geographic mass. Does the flag truly represent America? The answer is obvious...yes and no.
But with Clark, I can't even have the flag....I have to look at a photograph of it..... This identifies the symbol (the flag) he would say, but it's not the real thing.
This is baptist theology. It always goes hand-in-hand with hyper-Calvinism. Paedobaptists who operate under this type of system are doing nothing more than baby dedication.
Paul speaks freely in a way these Systematicians don't. He even refers to visible congregations as the elect. The terms operate dialectically between the already and not yet.
Baptism Saves..but it doesn't.
With Clark it's two baptisms...one is a photograph, the other is regeneration.....in both the visible covenant form given to us by God is an abstraction.
Kind of like a first step of obedience?
Nothing about the new covenant, even though it is superior to the Mosaic/old covenant (Jer 31; 2 Cor 3; Heb 7-10) changes that (Rom 2:28).
This is important....there are two abuses. Clark only gets one of them and it skews his whole theology.....
Paul's arguing against those who would trust in the visible forms. He's not arguing that due to their abuse....now we understand all externals to be meaningless.
It the OT time period. If you were an Edomite and you decided to follow Jehovah and moved to Israel and ran around saying you were a Jew but had not been circumcised......we're you? No, you were not. The Visible Word in the OT mattered as well. This person is despising the visible form and thus despising the God who gave it.
Now don't run to Romans and say circumcision doesn't matter. Maybe the Edomite had a true heart! That's not what we're talking about.
Paul's dealing with the other extreme.....the Jews running around saying I'm circumcised so I get to go to heaven. No, for this person they're trusting in the visible form and denying what it points to.
The Clark-Baptist model compresses the whole thing and forces the Scripture into a box. He's basically saying the Edomite was okay because all that matters is election. Even the Scriptures restrain Baptists. They can't escape the verses that say to do it, to baptize. But it doesn't really fit their model. They can't deal with the Scriptural language....they pretend the word Baptism means something else (the 2nd category they create) and relegate all the soteriological and covenantal language to that category. But for the actual visible water rite......what's left? First step of obedience or for Clark....it doesn't mean anything. It's just identifying yourself.
It's like saying, you don't get to be an American until you die. For now, you can just wear a t-shirt with a flag on it.
Thus, in Paul’s mind, the prospective sign/seal of circumcision is linked to the retrospective sign/seal of baptism because they refer to the same thing. They are linked conceptually.
For the purposes of this argument, it doesn’t matter whether our circumcision (“you were circumcised”) is subjective or objective. If it is the latter, it refers to our identification with Christ in his circumcision for us on the cross. If it is the former then it refers to a subjective change in the one circumcised, in fulfillment of Jer 31. This reading is possible because of Paul’s reference to a handless, if you will, circumcision. In other words, it’s not the circumcision done by a Mohel/Rabbi. It’s not the thing which the Judaizers were urging upon the Christians. Rather, it is something that quite transcends anything they had in mind. The same thing is true of the phrase, “circumcision of Christ.” If it is subjective, it refers to a change wrought in us or if it is objective it refers to what happened to Christ on the cross. The latter reading seems more likely. It seems best to read this passage as saying that the subjective change in us is grounded in what happened objectively to Christ, for us.
Right we're going to force it all through the decretal lens. Election defines it and so now we have to talk about objective/subjective even though it's not in the text......
I know what he means, and what he's trying to avoid, but the Bible cannot be bound this kind of Systematics.
In either case, circumcision and baptism and undeniably and irrevocably linked because they speak to the same thing. Both refer to a death. Circumcision refers to a bloody death and baptism refers to drowning (as in Noah’s flood!). We were “buried with” Christ. When? In baptism. This is only a way of saying to the Colossians that just as circumcision was a ritual prospective (looking forward in history) identification with Christ’s death to come, so Christian baptism is a retrospective (backward looking) identification with Christ’s death. This is the same doctrine found in Rom 6:3. Christians have been baptized “into,” i.e., identified with Christ’s death (See also 1 Cor 10).
Christ was circumcised for us. He was cut off for us. He became unclean for us. He was also baptized for us. He underwent and was overwhelmed by the flood of God’s righteous judgment for us. Both the old sign, circumcision and the new sign, baptism, point to the same reality: Christ’s death for his people.
Christ, however, did not remain dead. Romans 6 and Col 2 both also say that he was raised for us who believe. Thus, both the old sign and the new point to transformation. The circumcised person became ritually clean, outwardly a new man.The same is true of baptism.
Outwardly a new man.....thank-you. You just said it for me. Visibly speaking circumcision saved and baptism saves. Unless....you don't really mean it. They're really a new man in this theology.
We're not talking about election here......we're not talking about Sola Fide.....we're talking about how God administers the Covenant.
Yet, contra Rome and the Federal Vision, neither sign worked magically or ex opere operato (by the working it is worked). The administration is real. All the circumcised were and all the baptized are, outwardly, in the one covenant of grace but not all who were circumcised were “in Christ.” Esau was never “in Christ.”
Federal Vision isn't saying that either. But the outward covenant is all we can see and operate by. We don't know who is elect. We do know who is baptized. That's the category we have.
But here's where he has a problem. The Scriptures allow full verbiage for the Visible Church. We can call the Visible Church, the elect. Paul does. We can say Baptism saves. Paul does. We can say the Lord's Supper blesses us. Paul does.
But he also teaches....election can also mean.....decretal predestination. We can also say visible Baptism in the end doesn't matter....what matters is the heart. We can also say of course the Lord's Supper doesn't save....it's just bread and wine.
It was the same with the sacrifices (sacraments) in the Old Testament. Did they save? Yes and No. They didn't actually save and pay for sins. But to despise offering blood for your sin?......you would have no right to call yourself one of God's people.
In the case of Esau...he's a particular person we're told about. We are specifically told he wasn't in the eternal Covenant, God hated him. That was also true of many other descendants of Isaac and Jacob as well. Nevertheless, since we don't know, and they at the time didn't know, who was elect and who wasn't...Paul grants them status and says they were in Christ as per 1 Cor. 10.
So, sorry Dr. Clark. In one sense, Esau was in Christ...and in another he was not. If Fred is a reprobate who professes Christ...since he's baptized, he's in Christ. But since he dies and goes to hell....he's not.
It's not that difficult
He was identified outwardly with the people of God and with Christ. The Israelites who went through the Red Sea “on dry ground” were ‘baptized into Moses” (1 Cor 10) but they were not all united to Christ.
Often the New Testament is contrasting Moses with Christ, like in Hebrews....but this isn't one of those passages. Here he's trying to point out that even under the Moses-mediated Old Covenant arrangement....Christ was present. They drank the same food and drink....Christ. And in that sense, so did Esau if we may apply the Exodus in an anachronistic fashion.
And certainly in the New Testament we are baptized into Christ....union. For those who are elect it is a true union, for those who are not (which we don't know).....it wasn't or will not be at the eschaton.
Only the elect are united to Christ and they only receive the benefits of Christ by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. They are only brought to life by the Spirit who operates through the preaching of the gospel (Rom 10). Not all Israel is Israel. Some have only an external relation to the covenant of grace. There are not two covenants of grace or two baptisms. There are, however, two ways of relating to the one covenant of grace.
Circumcision is not baptism, but both point to the same reality.
Once again in this system....all of Ecclesiology and Soteriology are subjected to Election in this system. I know eschatologically only the elect are in union with Christ. But that's the whole point of the Visible Church......it's in the not-yet. We can't talk about individuals and the administration of the church in eschatological terms.
Not all Israel is Israel........but visibly they're still Israel in some sense or Paul's statement is meaningless. Clark is saying the visible Israel can't be called Israel at all, in any sense. I'm sorry but in time and space..they are still Israel. Even though some were not elect....they're were still Israel, the Covenant people of God. There's the rub, there's the warning.....beware and continue in the faith. Don't rest in being the visible Israel....but don't rest in being the invisible either, because you're not sitting on the Throne and can't see your own heart.
There's one covenant of Grace applied visibly and invisibly. He's doing the very thing he's accusing others of. He's creating two Covenants of Grace, one abstract and one concrete. He's creating two Baptisms, one abstract, and one concrete.
Thus they are conceptually linked in Paul’s mind. For Paul to think of circumcision is to think of the coming death of Christ, in redemptive historical terms. For him to think of Christ’s death/circumcision/baptism for us, is to think of our baptism which testifies to the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham in Genesis 17. All the types and shadows have been fulfilled. The reality has come. The bloody has given way to the unbloody but there are still signs/seals and we’re not yet in heaven. The covenant of grace must still be administered. History abides. There continue to be elect and reprobate together in the administration of the covenant of grace, both of them receiving the signs and seals. The elect will receive the benefits of Christ (justification, sanctification, glorification) sola gratia, sola fide and the reprobate will not.
The signs and seals are not signs and seals for Clark. They're pictures....holographs of the signs and seals. This is pure Baptist theology.
And hence my frustration........I would be with Clark on many things pertaining to the pilgrim-exile understanding of the Kingdom. But I'm too determined to follow the Bible as it speaks. I will not erect a system that trumps the revelation given to us.
But even these folks must be baffled at the language of their own confessions! Even the dogmaticians of the 17th century did not restrict the language of covenant and sacrament in this way.
The Federal Vision is Sacralist and in error. Many in the Two Kingdoms camp are actually Baptistic.
They're both right and both wrong, and I'm.....outside both camps.