Baptism in much of the modern church has degenerated into an effete and perfunctory ordinance, practiced more for traditional than for substantial reasons. Where it is not treated as divine white magic in sacerdotal churches, it is frequently in more evangelical churches treated in a mindless and mechanical way. The error is not merely the reductionistic denial of baptism as a sacrament among the evangelicals, but also the neglect of its essentially covenantal and moral character that penetrates the very heart of the meaning of Christianity.

In sharp contrast to this reductionistic view, the church historic perceived the great significance of baptism, including its oath-bound character. Of the practice of baptism in the early medieval church, Schaff observes:

In the act of baptism itself, the candidate first, with his face toward the west, renounced Satan and all his pomp and service; then, facing the east, he vowed fidelity to Christ, and confessed his faith in the triune God, either by rehearsing the Creed, or in answer to questions. Thereupon followed the threefold or the single immersion in the name of the triune God, with the following of the name of the candidate, the deacons and deaconesses assisting. [Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1910), p. 487]

Less significant than the baptismal modality and procedure is the signification: the initiate renounces Satan and life under his authority while affirming Christ and his. In the Reformed view later developed, this renunciation and affirmation were seen in a covenantal context. As Bannerman notes of the two sacraments:

They are federal [covenantal] acts,-seals and vouchers of the covenant between God and the believer. They presuppose and imply a covenant transaction between the man who partakes of them and God; and they are the attestations to and confirmations of that transaction, pledging God by a visible act to fulfill His share of the covenant, and engaging the individual by the same visible act to perform his part in it. [James Bannerman, The Church of Christ (Edmonton, Canada: Still Waters {1869}, 1991), 12]

In baptism, as in communion, the adult initiate pledges himself (and, if applicable, his children) to the Christian Faith. This pledge, however, includes the renunciation of Satan and his kingdom. Thus St. Paul states in 1 Cor. 10:21, “Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakes of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.”

The neglect of the covenantal signification of the sacraments quite naturally issues from a neglect of the necessity of renouncing the world and pledging oneself to Christ in the modern church. Much of the modern church is interested in conforming to the temper of the times, not in following Christ and his infallible word when that tack becomes unpopular. For example, major denomination are now ordaining women elders and some even homosexuals, thereby jettisoning clear Biblical teaching (1 Tim. 2:12) as well as the position of the undivided church catholic until late this century. Only the most naive and prejudiced would deny that the pressures of a feminized modernity and homosexualized culture motivated this erroneous decision. As the late Francis Schaeffer stated: accommodation leads to accommodation leads to accommodation.

Conversely, the oath taken at Christian baptism includes the intent to follow Christ and his inscripturated word, not the temper of the times. Moreover, it entails a renunciation of all allegiance to Satan and his hosts and kingdom-a denial of self-will, the determination to be one’s own god, and the worship of any but God. It equally entails a repudiation of all that the word of God prohibits. A chief dimension of the signification of baptism is that we cannot make our own rules. We are bound by the terms of the new covenant (Heb. 8:10). We are under the command of Another, the Captain of our salvation (Heb. 2:10).

The Christian commitment is in essence covenantal allegiance (2 Cor. 3:6-4: 7). It is not good-feeling religion bolstered by pastoral and musical entertainment every Sunday. It is not weepy religious sentiment generated by Christian romance novels. It is not laughing bouts stimulated by a “Holy-Ghost bartender.” It is not emotional hot flashes experienced in an Arminian altar call. Christian commitment is covenantal allegiance to the King.

To claim that saving faith may not persevere and that one who does not persevere in faith may nonetheless be saved is a travesty  [see Zane Hodges, Absolutely Free! (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989), 63, 69, 107, 11, passim]. This is the view of the opponents of the so-called “lordship salvation,” which is, after all, nothing more than Christian orthodoxy. Justification is appropriated exclusively by faith apart from any merit or works, but God justifies none whom he sanctifies. As the Puritans stated, “Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is not alone.”

To love God with all one’s heart, soul, and might is to act on a pledged allegiance to the covenantal stipulations of the King (Dt. 6:1-9). We cannot sever obedience from devotion any more than we can works from faith (Jas. 2:14-26). The individual with white-hot devotion to God is the one who has pledged his allegiance to the King and who manifests that allegiance in his conformity to the inscripturated law-word of God.

Do you manifest this allegiance in your life?