Many people struggle with the concept of biblical continuity. They impose unnecessary breaks in the Bible. They put commas when God has put a period. The same takes place in matters of sacramental importance. The Bible becomes a place full of rituals and rites. These rituals and rites have a purpose in the Scriptures. They shape the humanity of the Israel of God. Israel becomes a people because they participate in these important initiatory experiences. We are all shaped by experiences. These experiences in the context of the Church make us who we are. They identify us with a certain community. In ancient Israel, the Hebrews were identified by their bloody signs. These signs connected us with a bloody religion; the religion of our forefathers.
These signs were to be identity-markers. As God’s people transitioned in leadership these signs remained. As God’s people went through periods of obedience and disobedience, these rituals remained. As God’s people were organically joined with the Gentiles, becoming one flesh–like husband and wife–these rituals remained. Now, it is not that the rituals remained unaffected in every detail. In fact, they changed drastically. The once bloody identity markers were replaced with cleansing markers. There is lots of cleansing taking place in the New Covenant. This happens because Jesus’ humanity changes the world. Jesus’ humanity humanifies the world. The presence of Messiah in word and deed pushes back the dirt and corruption and darkness and incompleteness of the Old Covenant rituals. There is a temporary nature to particular rituals, but the rituals themselves continue to a thousand generations.
The issue of continuity is a fundamental aspect to this ritual-laden world. The rituals continue, changed by times and places, but the object of these rituals never decrease, they only increase. In other words, every male boy at eight days old was to be circumcised (Gen. 17). There is no reference of explicit female circumcision, though there are indications that females should be spiritually set apart as the boys. But in the New Creation, entire households are brought forth for this cleansing ritual called baptism. Every Gentile and Jews, male and female are made explicit recipients and are called to partake of this new sign.
The New Covenant is a covenant of abundant life, and abundant life means blessings to the nations. Baptism saves to the uttermost because Christ saves to the uttermost. You cannot separate the abundant life Christ gives with the abundant life of the means Christ provides for His own.
The individualized language of modern sacramental and evangelical theology is a departure from the type of language the Bible has trained us to use when referring to rituals. Rituals have always been communal activities. The glory of the many in the Old Creation is not substituted by the radical commitment of the one in the New Covenant. Jesus is always and perpetually connected to a body in His ascension work. To divorce Christ from the body is an act of covenantal treason. Continuity is key to understanding this process. It is not as some assume that the sacrament of baptism needs to depart from the Old Creation. The sacrament of baptism is so inextricably tied to the bloody rites of the Old Creation that it cannot be divorced from it in any way, shape, or form. Blood makes room for water. Bloody-martyr-servants make room for cleansed-martyred servants. Still, One Lord, one faith, one baptism.
Baptism is a welcome party for martyrs. In baptism, the noble army of God is equipped to serve and battle. They do not begin anew, but they continue the ancient battle begun in Genesis. They add their powerful voices and armors to the battle. They are consecrated in water, their swords are sharpened, and their helmets are strengthened. In the heat of the battle while the enemies find no place to call home, Yahweh prepares a table in the presence of His enemies.
Baptism is preparation for a life-long war. Christ leads the baptized saints. He washed them with great care and equipped them to do the work. This community of faith directs their love to the One who adopted them in love. Baptism is loyalty to Messiah. Baptism cleanses, restores, and adorns those who undergo the great cleansing. To deny a continuity of rituals is to deny the war on the serpent. All God’s children need to be ritualized, so they can war.