"What's the connection there?" you might be wondering...and well you might, I suppose, for as y'all likely know, all of our beeves are in the Other State...and no, we haven't gotten any here.
This whole thought process all goes back to the conference we attended in May...On the way home, Savannah was telling us about one of the sessions which she had attended,which some of the others of us, had not. The particular session she was telling us about, was one by Dr. Joe Morecraft which was on covenant children...or rather, how children born into Christian households are within the "covenant" of the visible body of Christ. This does not mean that children born into Christian homes will be believers from the womb, nor does it mean that all of them are necessarily even elect, but what it does mean, is that those children born into Christian families are part of the visible catholic church (small 'c' in catholic there, not a capital 'C'...don't freak out protestant folks, all 'catholic' with a small 'c' means, is universal). The body of Christ (the visible and the invisible), are under the covenant of grace, under which covenant all believers, all who belong to the church invisible, reside as covenant keepers. God has not made this covenant with individuals alone, but it is a covenant promise to individuals, yes, but also to their families. To a man and his posterity, to generations...that is the nature of a covenant. Thus, the children of Christians are also within this covenant of grace. This is the very reason why we as Christians get baptized is it not? We receive baptism as a sign that marks us out as being in the covenant, it marks us as being part of the visible body of Christ.
At this point I will disclose that I am a Reformed Presbyterian who is postmillennial* in eschatology, and a paedobaptist (meaning, I believe in infant baptism).
The reason why I believe in infant baptism, is that I believe that Christians should mark out there children as in the covenant. Their children are in the covenant, so I believe that Christian parents should mark them as such. What parent, knowing that their children are graciously included in God's covenant with them personally, would not want to mark out their children as being within that covenant? And this is where branding cattle comes in...okay, no, I'm not just some crazy nut-job...don't judge me quite yet...
As Savannah was telling us about Dr. Morecraft's lecture I had the following thought process (or something close to it):
Baptizing one's children is rather like branding and ear marking calves...it marks them out as part of a community (the herd in the case of cattle). Now when you brand and ear mark a calf, you are marking that calf as belonging to your herd. The calf is, of course, already a part of that herd--it has been since it was born, but you are marking it as belonging specifically to that herd. Just because a cow is marked out as, and is a part of the herd, does not necessarily mean that it is going to be a productive, healthy, or well behaved cow. That calf might be a constant fence breaker, and the meanest stinker there ever was--and sometimes for such reasons, ranchers have to sell certain contentious beeves.
So it is with the baptism of covenant children...
As Christian parents, by having one's children baptized, one is marking them as belonging to the community, the covenant community. The children, due to their covenant heritage (being born into it), already belong to the community--and have since they were born. And just because they belong to the covenant community does not mean that they are necessarily going to be believers from the cradle, or some of them may not be elect at all. That is certainly a sobering and scary thought, but baptism does not save. There is no baptismal regeneration, for only "...if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is LORD and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved." (Romans 10:9-10) No "magical" application of water on a person's body or the declaration of a man that one is within the Kingdom, can make a person such. Only through the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit can a man be saved.
Infant baptism does not make one a Christian, a regenerate believer, any more than does a "believer's baptism". In both cases, the person, be they a few weeks old or of 95 years, that person is receiving a mark, and that mark sets them aside as a member of the visible body of Christ. It marks them as being a member of the covenant community, even if they were a member of that community before they received the mark (such as the children born into Godly Christian families).
Think about the covenant this way...it is kind of like when you join a church. When you join a church you are united with that group of believers as a member of that community, and you take vows to dwell in fellowship with them and be held accountable by them in your Christian walk. (I am aware that some churches do not practice membership vows, but I presume that members of such churches would agree that by joining a church they are agreeing to dwell in fellowship and accountability with those members of their congregation.) As children born into a family who are members of a church are automatically members (they are members by birth), so in the same way, God's covenant with his children passes down through generations.
Baptism, writes one's name as it were, on the membership rolls of the visible church. It is a mark that declares you to be a member of the visible church...not just united with your congregation (that is what membership if for), but with all persons everywhere on God's earth who are included within the covenant (and not all included within the covenant are necessarily covenant keepers, just as not all calves belonging to a herd will be good, healthy, or productive animals). Those born into covenant families are by birth, part of the covenant, just as children born to members of a church are automatically members, or calves born into a herd are automatically part of the herd. This does not mean that those children born to church members will remain in the church, any more than it ensures that children born into the covenant will remain covenant keepers, yet, as being born into the covenant, why should these children not receive the mark of the covenant? Just as circumcision, the Old Testament covenant sign, was received by the (male) infants. And we know from Scripture that not all of those who received the sign of the covenant (circumcision) remained faithful to their God and faithful to that covenant. Of course this does not mean that those true believers who have not yet been baptized are outside of the church universal, for of course they are not, they just simply have not yet received the outward sign of being part of the visible church.
Perhaps I should define the term of "covenant family". In my understanding, a "covenant family" is a man and wife who have "...confess[ed] with...[their]...mouth[s] that Jesus is LORD and believe in...[their]...heart[s] that God raised him from the dead...For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved." (Romans 10:9-10). That is the ideal foundation of a "covenant family", yet, such circumstances as the following could also be described as a "covenant family": "...if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy." (I Corinthians 7:12b-14, emphasis added) I believe that this description of children who have at least one believing parent as being "holy" (set apart), is the same as saying that these children are within the covenant. That is what being in the covenant means, it means to be set apart as belonging to God, it means being in covenant with God. However, just as one who has been declared holy may not remain undefiled, so those within the covenant may not remain covenant keepers, they may break covenant with their God and choose not to be set apart to Him, but instead to join the ranks of the World. "For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. ...For this reason God gave them up...[to sinfulness]. ...And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. ...Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them." (Romans 1:21,26,28, and 32) These verses from Romans give evidence that people who at one time are in covenant with their God, may in sinfulness desert that set apart life. (Yet those who permanently turn from God have never known true salvation, for one truly regenerate cannot lose their salvation. However, that is a topic for another day...)
So just as calves born into a herd are marked out as being part of that particular herd, even though by birth they are already in a practical sense a member of the herd, so, baptism of the infants of a believing parent or parents marks out that child as being included within God's covenant with that believing parent or parents. God is in covenant with His people, and as we find in Scripture, covenants are made not just with God's individual children, but also with their posterity. So that is why children born to believing parents are already within the covenant...and baptism is just the mark--comparable a brand or ear mark. Yet, just as a calf receiving the mark of the herd does not mean they shall forever remain within that herd, so, a child (or even an adult) receiving the sign of baptism does not ensure that that individual may not abandon their set apart-ness, may not abandon God's covenant with them.
I have included quite a bit of information here and I hope that I have finally gotten it written out clearly...Hopefully my ramble hasn't been too rambly, and hopefully you did not find my cattle analogy too...gross, or in bad taste.
But...now you know what cattle and covenants have in common--Our Awesome Creator God! May He be praised always! Unto him be the glory forever! Amen!
* ("Postmillennialism holds that Jesus Christ establishe[d] his kingdom on earth through his preaching and redemptive work in the first century and that he equips his church with the gospel, empowers her by the Spirit, and charges her with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) to disciple all nations. Postmillennialism expects that eventually the vast majority of men living will be saved. Increasing gospel success will gradually produce a time in history prior to Christ's return in which faith, righteousness, peace, and prosperity will prevail in the affairs of men and of nations. After an...era of such conditions Jesus Christ will return visibly, bodily, and gloriously, to end [transient] history with the general resurrection and the final judgment after which the eternal order follows." I took this definition from Wikipedia, as it succinctly summed up my understanding of postmillennialism. However, for the record, I do not advise blindly trusting all information, theological especially, which one finds on wiki.)