I am a credo-baptist, meaning that the I believe God ordained the water rite of baptism as a visible sign of one’s conscious faith in Christ for righteousness. He alone satisfies God’s wrath against sin and sinners and bears the curse of the many. In water baptism believers publicly display our union with Christ in his curse-bearing, righteousness-securing death and its resulting resurrection.
This view of baptism was not always mine. For ten years I road the fence, unsure whether I would serve the Lord as a reformed Baptist or Presbyterian. At one point, my developing understanding of the relationship of the covenants moved me to conclude it necessary to baptize babies, much like infants were circumcised under the Abrahamic administration. But then biblical theology and detailed wrestling with some specific texts made me a convinced baptist––a doctrines of grace cherishing, hedonistic, mission-minded, holiness-pursuing, Christ-exalting, believer only-immersing Baptist.
The Warning Passages in Hebrews––A Problem for Credo-Baptists?
One of the obstacles many of my Presbyterian brothers have toward the credo-Baptist position is the warning passages in Hebrews. If indeed all new covenant members are conscious believers, how can Hebrews warn that some apparent covenant members can apostatize. Does this not suggest that the new covenant includes both remnant and rebel, elect and non-elect, in a way comparable to the old covenant? A key passage in this regard is Heb 10:28–29, which reads:
Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witness. 29How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?
The argument goes that only those who are part of the covenant can “profane the blood of the covenant,” and only those who are truly part of the covenant could be called “sanctified.” Does this text not suggest that new covenant membership can be lost and that the new covenant community is mixed, including both remnant and rebel, just like the old covenant? My response is “No” in light of the following six observations that together argue for a complete overlap of new covenant ecclesiology and soteriology in Hebrews. We must not confuse apparent membership with true membership.
The Makeup of the New Covenant Community in Hebrews––
A Credo-Baptistic Perspective
- In Hebrews, Christ’s atoning work is directly identified with his new covenant mediation. That is, Christ’s priestly service is fully a new covenant ministry (Heb 8:6–7, 13): “But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant that he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. . . . [[Quote of Jer 31:31–34.]] In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” Whatever Christ does in his substitutionary work is for the members of the new covenant. With this, Christ’s new covenant, priestly, mediatory work secures an eternal inheritance for all covenant members (Heb 9:15): “Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.” Christ’s priestly mediation is a new covenant work, and the eternal inheritance he secures is for all in the new covenant already.
- In “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ,” those connected with Christ in Jeremiah’s new covenant “have been sanctified . . . once for all” (Heb 10:10), so that “by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb 10:14). That is, those truly righteous in Christ will be made perfect (Heb 12:23), and the proof of this is that Jeremiah prophesied not only the internalization of Yahweh’s law but also eternal forgiveness (Heb 10:17–18; cf. Jer 31:33–34). Every member of the new covenant has already been sanctified in the substitutionary work of Christ.
- In Hebrews, perseverance in faith and obedience is what clarifies whether one is truly in Christ, which is shorthand for in the new covenant (Heb 3:12–14): “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you and evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” We are to guard ourselves from an unbelieving heart and to continue encouraging one another toward faith and away from sin’s deceits, because only those who persevere truly share in Christ. Those who fall away were never truly part of Christ’s new covenant mediation.
- Hebrews 3:12–14 finds a parallel in the context of our passage (Heb 10:23–27): “Let us hold fast our confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. 26For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.” When paralleled with Heb 3:12–14, it becomes clear that those who refuse to repent (Heb 10:26), failing to persevere, have not actually come to share in Christ (Heb 3:14). And if, as argued above, sharing in Christ must mean in Hebrews sharing in the new covenant, those who do not persevere are never part of the new covenant, even though they may taste benefits of it during their temporary contact with the actual community of faith (what some call the “visible church”). (An analogy could be non-relational guests enjoying a Thanksgiving meal with your family; the guests’ participation did not make them family. In contrast, an adopted child’s first participation of a Thanksgiving meal is experienced with a new identity, where he/she is family.)
- The charge:
- Heb 3:12–13 – Guard yourself from falling away in unbelief and encourage one another so that you do not become deceived.
- Heb 10:23 – Hold fast to your confession and stir up one another to love and good works, encouraging one another.
- The ground:
- Heb 3:14 – Because we have come to share in Christ only if we hold fast.
- Heb 10:26 – Because those who turn from the knowledge of the truth and persevere in sin can only expect judgment.
- The charge:
- Because Heb 10:29–30 are merely an explanation of the reason judgment should be expected for one who did not persevere, vv. 29–30 speak of someone who was not truly part of the new covenant. Any relation with the Son they experienced, any “sanctification” they enjoyed, any benefits received from the Spirit of grace (cf. Heb 6:4–5), where not true evidences of covenant participation, for they were not among the covenant members who were “perfected for all time” in light of the internalized law and eternal forgiveness (Heb 10:14–17). This fact appears to be highlighted at the end of v. 30 with the citation “Vengeance is mine; I will repay” from Deut 32:35, where this declaration is against God’s enemies in order to bring hope to covenant members (Deut 32:36). That is, the citation itself suggests any who truly “fall away” from the visible church would be among God’s enemies and not among the actual covenant members.
- Significantly, the writer of Hebrews was convinced that he and his audience were “not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (Heb 10:39). In short, he was convinced that they were truly part of the new covenant and that the warning passages would serve as sufficient motivation to keep them persevering in their walk with Christ.
In a future post, I will consider the portrayal of the new covenant community in 2 Peter 1–2.