Question About the Validity of Arguing for Paedo-Baptism from Colossians 2
Question from a Baptist friend considering arguments for Reformed paedo-baptism:
"Where I am struggling is that, aside from Col. 2, there does not seem to be any connection between circumcision & baptism. Col. 2 seems to be talking about spiritual circumcision (which was in th Old Covenant and happened only to the elect) and spiritual baptism (raised through faith in the powerful working of God). Such a baptism is effectual through the gift of faith.
The pattern that I see in Redemptive History is that our parameters for 'spiritualizing' a shadow, sign, or type is the scriptures in precept or principle. I definitely see linking 'spiritual circumcision' with 'spiritual baptism', but does that give us license to do the same with their physical counterparts? If so, then it would stand to reason that such must happen to only the males at eight days and to avoid such would result in removal from the covenant which it signifies. The argument is proposed that there is no male or female in Christ, but that is in clear reference to salvation..."
I think you're underestimating the importance of the link between baptism and circumcision in Col. 2, and unnaturally divorcing the sign from the thing signified in both circumcision and baptism. God has always chosen to seal and signify his covenant realities with physical signs, and it is dangerous and presumptuous for us to think that we may assure ourselves of the realities signified while spurning the signs which God has condescended to provide us with as seals of the grace he freely gives. How can we know that we are possessors of spiritual baptism, by which we are united to Christ? Only by this, that we have gone through physical baptism, and our hearts are firm in faith that what God has promised to us and solemnly testified to in that sign he has been faithful actually to give. It is reckless and arrogant to say that we are spiritually baptized when we have never been physically baptized.
The same thing was true of circumcision. While many received physical circumcision without faith, and so never truly had spiritual circumcision, yet, the sign itself was so important that, if one never received it, he could not be counted part of God's covenant. Physical circumcision plus faith equaled true, spiritual covenant membership -- but no one could presume to be a spiritual covenant member without faith working together with the sign, nor could one be a member with faith apart from the sign. It is the same with baptism -- although many baptized persons lack faith and therefore have no spiritual covenant relationship, baptism is nevertheless a very important sign and seal -- in short, it is always illegitimate to say, "I have spiritual baptism," while refusing physical baptism.
I say all this only to say: if what was signified by both signs are identical, so that the one who has spiritual baptism is the same as the one who had spiritual circumcision; then the signs themselves are identical, so that the one who was given physical circumcision is the same as the one who is to be given physical baptism. This is because the sign cannot exist apart from the thing signified (that is, spiritual baptism/circumcision). The very nature of a sign is to point to and affirm a reality, and it is meaningless to speak of a physical sign as its own thing, apart from what is signified. Otherwise, it would not be a sign at all, which by its very definition means, something pointing to something else. This is important -- if the thing signified is the same in circ. and bap., as Col. 2 makes clear (that is, if they who have been spiritually baptized have been spiritually circumcised), and if the physical sign cannot be divorced from the spiritual reality, as it is evident it cannot, then the identity of those who have spiritual baptism/circumcision unequivocally demands the identity of those who have received the physical sign which does nothing but point to that identical reality.
This means that it is thinking wrongly to suppose that baptism is a "spiritualizing" of circumcision. Both baptism and circumcision have a "spiritual" meaning already; and both are, in themselves, physical signs pointing to that same spiritual reality. Physical circumcision did point to spiritual circumcision, and all who had faith, and were marked by that physical sign, possessed the spiritual reality; but now, physical baptism points to the same spiritual reality, so that, all who have faith and are marked by the sign have the same spiritual reality.
So then, you cannot say that circumcision was spiritualized -- but because of Col. 2, you must say that the spiritual reality it signified is now signified by something different -- namely, baptism. In other words, the sign changed, because of the monumental nature of what happened when Christ actually accomplished redemption -- but the spiritual reality remained the same. You may ask, "Why did the sign change?" -- and I say, ultimately, answering that question doesn't matter, it just matters that God, by clear testimony, did in fact change the sign. Perhaps it is meaningful that once Christ, the promised Seed, who came by the organ of circumcision, through Abraham, David, etc., actually was "cut off" in a bloody death, a bloody sign was no longer appropriate. Perhaps, it was helpful to give a sign applicable to males and females alike, to reinforce the spiritual truth that there is no male or female in Christ -- but whatever the reason, I find it sufficient that God has so commanded.
It is clear all throughout the NT that baptism is the sign of covenant inclusion, just as circumcision had been. They who belong to the Kingdom of Heaven are marked by baptism -- when adult pagans embrace the gospel, they are brought into the Kingdom, and sealed by the sign of baptism. So the question is, "Who may be considered Covenant members, who possess the Kingdom?". But all throughout history, that answer is, "The Promise is to Abraham and his seed" -- As Peter says, "The promise is to you and your children". If God has always included children in his covenant, and if he has always signified that by giving them the physical sign which signified the spiritual reality which Col. 2 calls the same thing whether it's spiritual baptism or circumcision -- then it is clear that covenant children, who, in Jesus' own words, possess the Kingdom, must be marked by the physical sign that seals this reality. If God has always called children of believers covenant members, and if the covenant made with Abraham cannot be negated (Gal. 3), then the Covenant which fulfills the Abrahamic promise (which ours does, read the end of Gal. 3), cannot withdraw the covenant sign from children. If the Law, which came 430 years after, could not invalidate any of the Abrahamic promises, then the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant, viz. the New Covenant, cannot invalidate any of those promises either. And one of the promises is membership in the covenant to children. But if they are covenant members, then it is impossible to withhold the covenant sign from them.
I'm probably rambling a little, but this is my basic point: A.) Col. 2 undeniably links spiritual circumcision and spiritual baptism, in such a way that the latter replaces the former (those who have spiritual baptism have been spiritually circumcised, not the other way around); B.) Physical circumcision and physical baptism by their very natures are signs, and therefore cannot exist except to testify to the realities which they seal; C.) Therefore, since the physical signs do nothing but signify the exact same realities, then the clear presumption is that they must be administered in the same way, unless God provides clear directives for doing differently (as he has, for instance, by clearly demonstrating that baptism should be given to women).
Consider this scenario: King John the seventy-sixth has determined to show who has access to his palace by putting a stamp on their right hands. He tells his minions whom to stamp, and they stamp everyone according to his instructions. Some ungrateful wretches never enter his palace even though they have the stamp, because they don't think the guards will let them in anyway -- but it is certainly true that no one who tries to come in without the stamp will ever get past the guards.
Well, one day, King John decides to update his system, and tells his guards that, instead of a stamp, they are to give a card that can be swiped electronically. The stamp will mean nothing anymore, so anyone who has only a stamp will get nowhere -- but, the card signified exactly the same thing: that its possessor has access to the palace, and can get in with no problem if he believes enough to go there and knock at the door. But John is feeling generous, and says, "Although previously, I only gave the stamp to males, and let the females in their families come in along with them, now I want to give the card to males and females alike".
That's all he says. Now, when he makes clear that the reality signified by the card is the same as the reality signified by the stamp; and when he had previously made clear who should receive the stamp; is it not only reasonable to suppose that the same persons who had received the stamp now ought to receive the card? And even if, in his grace, he decided to expand and give the card to women, does that mean that, with no instructions from King John, the minions should decide to limit those who received the card, and withhold it from the young children that John had already given the stamp to? No, John first said who should have the reality symbolized by the stamp; then he said he wanted to change the symbol to a card, without indicating that he wanted to limit those who possessed the reality; therefore, it would be presumptuous not to give the card to those whom John had commanded to receive the stamp. In the same way, it would be presumptuous for us not to give baptism to those whom God had previously marked as covenant members by circumcision, indeed, to those whom he himself has said possess the Kingdom, access to which is now symbolized by baptism.
Hope these rambling thoughts help!