************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 34 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 27, 2020
Belgic Confession Article 34
The Belgic Confession lays out for us an orderly presentation of biblical truths. What we have in the Belgic Confession is the teaching of the Bible, in the language of the Bible, using word for word statements from the Bible. The Bible itself is being taught. The Confession begins by teaching us how we can know God, and concludes by showing us that in the last day the Lord Jesus will fully reveal Himself in all His glory and majesty.
In the first sermons on the Belgic Confession, we met God and saw that He revealed Himself to mankind through creation and also in His Word. We then learned that God revealed Himself as the triune God who creates and upholds all things. We learned about the three person of the Trinity, about their work as the one true God, and focused especially on the person and work of Jesus Christ and the salvation He has earned for us. We next saw that salvation is to be enjoyed within the church for, as the Confession notes, outside of the church there is no salvation. Therefore, as discussed next, it is important for us to know what the church should be, and how it should be governed. We learned faithful preaching is one of the three marks of the true church. We learned the right administration of the sacraments is another mark of the true church.
Last time, based upon the Bible, using the language of the Bible, we saw that the Confession laid out the basic truths of the sacraments. When we see the sacraments we see signs and seals of God's grace. We also see pledges of God's good will towards us. We can hold the signs and seals and pledges before God to remind Him of His promises to us. Of course, this must be done with humility for in claiming the promises of the covenant, our proper spiritual posture is that of a beggar at the throne of grace. Pride in our covenant privileges is never becoming of the believer. God owes us sinners nothing. This reminds me of a friend and neighbor. I ask, "How are you doing?" He answers, "Better than I deserve!" How true that is for all of us.
God owes us nothing. Does this mean the sign and seal of the sacraments are empty? Does this mean the pledge of the sacrament is useless? No, absolutely not! God keeps His sign and seal and pledge not for our sake but for His sake. He owes it to Himself and His character.
Now, notice that the Article on baptism starts the same way as almost every other article: "We believe." The sad fact is many people do not believe anything regarding baptism. At most it is an honorable tradition that is followed out of custom or superstition. Or, it is nothing more than a name-giving ceremony. Or, it is likened to a dedication ceremony. On the other hand, others overestimate baptism as if the outward washing with water is, in fact, the cleansing of the soul.
I have three points in this sermon regarding what we believe about baptism: its roots, its application, and its sufficiency.
I The Roots of Baptism
A When we consider the roots of baptism, we must look at the Old Testament. This is the approach of the Belgic Confession:
We believe and confess that Jesus Christ,
in whom the law is fulfilled ...
Having abolished circumcision ...
... established in its place
the sacrament of baptism.
Quoting from Jesus in Matthew 5, the Confession says in Jesus "the law is fulfilled." That is, He is the goal of all the ceremonies; they point to Him. And, with Christ's coming all the ceremonies have ended and no longer are necessary. With His once-for-all sacrifice, all other bloody sacrifices have been ended. It is not possible to do any more. An altar of atonement in the church is not only unnecessary, it is also forbidden.
B Related to this, the Lord Jesus also put an end to circumcision as a sign of the covenant. According to Genesis 17, when God established a covenant with Abraham, circumcision was given as a sign of that covenant. While it is true that girls did not receive a distinct sign of inclusion in the covenant, circumcision was given to men as head or potential head of the family. In this way the girls and women were also included.
Circumcision signifies cleanliness at two levels. First, it pictured the removal of the body's uncleanness. Second, it signified the removal of the soul's pollution and filth. It pictures physical cleanness and spiritual cleanness.
With the coming of Christ and the finishing of His work, this bloody ceremony was abolished as a sign of the covenant; it was finished. Christ's coming signaled the end of the ceremonial law.
C God's covenant relationship with His people still stands. So what is the sign of the covenant today? The message of the Bible is that circumcision has been replaced by baptism.
Baptism was a rite known among the heathens and the Jews. So, when John the Baptist baptized by the River Jordan, he did not do something that was strange and mysterious to the Jews. They had known this sign for many ages already. This means the Lord used an existing sign and gave new meaning to it. When the Lord ascended into heaven, He ordained this ritual as a sign until He comes again.
Baptism, like circumcision, is a sign of the covenant relationship we have with God. This means baptism does not make us members of the church, nor does baptism make us part of the covenant. We belong to God already and baptism is but a sign of this. This is why the form for the baptism of children quite correctly states that our children "as members of His church ... ought to be baptized."
D Baptism, like circumcision, signifies cleanliness. By it, says the Confession, we are "set apart from all other people and alien religions, that we may be dedicated entirely to him, bearing his mark and sign." Here we come to the teaching of Romans 6. If you are baptized you are supposed to
(Rom 6:11-14) ... count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (12) Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. (13) Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. (14) For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.That's why the form for baptism says "baptism ... places us under obligation to live in obedience to God ... We must abandon the sinful way of life, put to death our old nature, and show by our lives that we belong to God." So, baptism calls us and our children to repent and believe. Baptism is a call to be a covenant keeper rather than a covenant breaker.
II The Application of Baptism
A The Lord Jesus gives us specific instructions concerning the application of baptism. Says the Confession,
that all those who belong to him
be baptized with pure water
in the name of the Father,
and the Son,
and the Holy Spirit.
This formula says "name," not "names." We are baptized into one name. Our baptism thus speaks to our relationship with one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The triune God is not compromised of three individual and separate gods. Baptism is done in the name of the one God who "is a single and simple spiritual being" (Article 1). "We believe in one God who is one single essence, in whom there are three persons, really, truly, and eternally distinct according to their incommunicable properties -- namely, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" (Article 8).
B We are instructed to baptize "in" the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. What does it mean to baptize "in" the name of the triune God? The word "in" can mean that ministers baptize by the authority of God, in the place of God, as the servant of God. Do you see how this is going in the wrong direction? It goes in the direction of the Roman Catholic notion that the priests have power to forgive.
If you look at the footnote to Matthew 28:19 in our pew Bibles, it suggests the word "into" as a better translation. That is, baptize "into" the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The emphasis is not on the person doing the baptizing but on the covenant relationship between God and the person being baptized. Herein lies the confession and faith of the church. In baptism, the heart of salvation is summarized in the covenant relationship with us claimed by the triune godhead.
C The Confession reminds us that God has commanded that all those who belong to Him be baptized just as all those who belonged to Him in the old covenant were circumcised. This command to baptize is for all generations and all ages. It makes me think of the time the LORD met Moses and was about to kill him. Why? Because Moses had neglected to circumcise his own son. Moses' wife, Zipporah had to do it for him. Because of the blood Zipporah shed, the Lord left Moses alone (Ex 4:24-26).
Maybe, like me, you have noticed that some churches of a Reformed persuasion are giving their members a choice of either baptizing infants or dedicating them. No, says the Confession. God has commanded that all those who belong to Him be baptized. "We believe" means dedication is not an option.
D We also need to make clear -- unlike the Roman Catholic Church -- that the water of baptism itself does not clean; there is no cleansing power in baptism in and of itself. Only Jesus can cleanse our soul, our body, our life. Christ and His renewing power is the true object presented by baptism.
This is the reason that baptism and the blood of Christ are referred to by the Confession as the "Red Sea." The blood of Christ serves as the separation between the "then" and "now," between the old man and the new. Because of Christ's blood, there is a change that comes to those united to Him: bound in Him, we are set free from the powers of sin that once enslaved us. The power of sin is broken. As mentioned in our baptism form, the Egypts of this world and the tyrannies of Pharaoh are left behind and we can enter into the Promised Land, the rest of the Lord.
Baptism, then, is a sign of a most wonderful thing -- the gracious renewal of a person through the blood and Spirit of Christ. It shows us God's fatherly goodness in clothing us with the "new man" and stripping off the "old man" with all its works.
III The Sufficiency of Baptism
A Article 34 further states, "For this reason we believe that anyone who aspires to reach eternal life ought to be baptized only once without ever repeating it--for we cannot be born twice." Like circumcision, baptism can only be applied once. Here the Confession is dealing with the Anabaptist error of rebaptizing those who were first baptized by the Church of Rome. With many of the Baptist churches we have much in common, but these brothers and sisters do not recognize the scriptural reason for infant baptism. So, if one of us were to join them, they would require rebaptism because in their opinion our baptism as infants does not count.
Some Baptists go so far as to reject any baptism that is not done by immersion. We recognize the method makes no difference -- whether by immersion, pouring, or sprinkling. Scripture speaks often of cleansing through sprinkling both with blood and with water -- there are many references to this in Exodus and Leviticus. In Ezekiel 36:25 the Lord promises to sprinkle His people with clean water. It makes no difference.
The more serious error of the Baptists is their teaching that baptism can only take place upon repentance. This error finds wide acceptance today. Of course, we realize that for adults who join the church for the first time, this is the scriptural way. But we ought not to throw out the other Scriptural way for infants of believing parents. The Baptists argue that infants should not be baptized because they cannot believe. We should be clear that we do not baptize infants based upon presumed faith. Baptism does not seal our faith and repentance; rather, it seals the grace and promise of God, which is extended to our little ones as well as to adults. Just as circumcision was administered to the little ones, so too is baptism.
The Baptist view of baptism ties in with their view of free will. If I must believe before a work of grace is performed in my heart, then it must in part be a matter of my choice. In contrast to this, we confess that grace -- signified in the blessed gift of baptism -- comes before faith. Thus faith is not the condition for children to receive the sign and seal of grace.
Baptism is a rich gift. If you are baptized, you have received the sure pledge of God's grace. Does you life show evidence of this? Do you count yourself dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus, as Paul writes in our Scripture reading?
Have you received the riches of baptism in faith? If not, then the covenant mercies of God given in baptism will serve as an everlasting testimony against you. If so, then covenant blessings of your relationship with God are heaped upon you. Which is it: covenant blessing or covenant curse?
So I plead with you: receive the riches of your baptism in faith and live a life of repentance.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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