"Signs and Seals"
October 6, 2023, 12:01 PM

Signs and Seals

Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

God gave the church signs and seals of the covenant of grace. These extraordinary gifts are called sacraments or holy ordinances. They are both holy and commanded. There are two sacraments instituted by Jesus Christ. They are baptism and the Lord’s supper. These sacraments are often referred to as “secondary doctrines.” They are secondary not because they are unimportant, but because they are not necessary for salvation.

Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The sacraments are means of God’s grace. In other words, they have been given by God for the spiritual growth of His people.

The first, baptism, is the subject of this essay. When discussing the sacraments, it is critical to define terms. The church has provided a biblical definition of baptism. I refer to the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q. 94), “What is Baptism? Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.”

There are two words in the definition that need further explanation. Signifying or signing and sealing mean that the sacrament of baptism points to (signs) and authenticates (seals) what only God the Holy Spirit does. He regenerates (washes and ingrafts) those whom God chooses to be His! Notice that the sacrament of baptism does not do anything or obligate God to do anything. It is a sign. That is, baptism points to what we pray God will do! It is a seal. It is the only valid sign given to the church by God. The seal is reminiscent of a sovereign’s ring’s impression in wax that provided authenticatation.

These definitions have been developed over the centuries in the Protestant Church. They reach across denominational boundaries. They represent the teaching of the Bible. The obvious question, where is the origin of baptism in the Bible?

It began with circumcision. Genesis 17:10 states, “This is my [God's] covenant which you [Abraham] shall keep, between me and you and your offspring [seed] after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.”

God established a covenant with Abraham. His covenant was “to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” Genesis 17:7 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he received the command to be circumcised. He submitted to circumcision. He also circumcised all the males in his household. Abraham is called the father of the faithful. In Genesis 15, Moses recorded that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. All the males in Abraham’s household were circumcised but there is not biblical record that they all believed before they were given the sign of circumcision.

God’s command to give the sign of covenant membership was never removed. The sign itself was superseded by baptism. In Colossians 2:11-12, the Apostle Paul wrote that circumcision was superseded by baptism.

Since baptism is the sign of covenant membership, those who receive the sign are believers and their children. Another Question and Answer from the Westminster Shorter Catechism makes this clear. “To whom is Baptism to be administered? Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him; but the infants of such as are members of the visible church are to be baptized. (WSC Q. 95)”

Why would children be included? As noted above, Abraham circumcised all the males in his household whether or not they were believers or even if they were old enough to profess faith. The Apostle Peter in his sermon on the first Christian Pentecost declared, “the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39).

Therefore, the “secondary doctrine” of baptism is that it is the sign of New Covenant membership. The theological name for baptism is Covenant Baptism. All those who profess faith in Jesus Christ, demonstrate obedience to Him are to receive the sign of covenant membership. Likewise, the children of those who profess faith in Jesus as He is revealed in the gospel are to receive this sign of membership. All who are members of the visible church, believers, and their children, are benefactors of the Covenant of Grace.