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Sunday, September 24, 2006

Children Of The Promise or Little Vipers?


A question of debate among those who embrace infant baptism while rejecting infant communion is How should covenant children be thought of and treated, which is to say regarded? Should they be regarded as elect? How about regenerate and, therefore, as having the mind of Christ? To do these questions justice, we need to first touch upon the subjects to whom the promise of salvation pertains and the visible-invisible church distinction.

To whom is the promise of salvation made?

The covenantal promise of eternal life is made only to the elect in Christ. Accordingly, only those to whom the promise pertains will God grant the evangelical graces of repentance and faith. And God will grant those graces to all those to whom the promise pertains. {For a discussion on the covenant of grace with respect to whom it pertains please see: http://reformedapologist.blogspot.com/2006/07/primer-on-covenant-theology-baptism-3.html }.

Who is to be regarded as part of the visible church?

Although the covenant of grace is particular in nature, (which is to say established with Christ and in Him with the elect), it is nonetheless to be outwardly administered to those who are not elected in Christ unto salvation as long as they qualify by birth or by profession. This is to say that there are those who are hell-bound that still ought to be listed on the church roles as members in good standing given the biblical precepts that the elders are to follow with respect to church membership. Although the promise of salvation pertained to Abraham and his elect son Isaac, Abraham’s son Ishmael who was not a child of promise was nonetheless to bear the sign of entrance into the covenant community, the church. Accordingly, there is precedence that certain reprobates – those that qualify – are to be regarded as members of at least the visible church.

Does the Bible regard those who might finally fall away as elect and converted?

The author of Hebrews gives some of the sternest warnings found in the Bible. After warning his hearers of the perils of apostasy, the author of Hebrews exhorts his hearers unto faithfulness, treating them as true believers: “Though we speak this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things – things that accompany salvation.” Moreover, he enourages them by saying that “we are not of those who shrink back but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”

The Apostle Paul when writing to the Galatians who were even “bewitched” by the false gospel of the Judaizers continued to refer to the baptized as those for whom Christ died, having received the Holy Spirit and the gift of faith. In fact, he goes so far as to attribute the thing signified – namely faith – to the outward sign of faith, baptism. In other words, the apostle, being a Calvinist (I speak anachronistically of course) attributes that which the sign signifies (union with Christ), to the sign itself (baptism)! “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ… and if you’re Christ’s then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.” Children are of course included in the set of “as many of you as were baptized.” Consequently, children who have lawfully received the sign of baptism are to be regarded as having put on Christ!

{For a discussion that distinguishes between faith and belief, the former being the propensity to believe gospel propositions, which can be possessed by infants, please refer to: http://reformedapologist.blogspot.com/2006/04/is-faith-belief.html}

If God would have us regard congregants as united to Christ and in the invisible church even when such have the immediate need of being warned against apostasy, how much more the case when the hearers are considered more mature in the faith? When the apostle Paul wrote to the saints in Ephesus whom he called “faithful in Christ Jesus,” He instructed them that they were chosen in Christ Jesus; redeemed by His precious blood; predestined to adoption; and sealed with the Holy Spirit. He taught them in other words that they were blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus. The apostle Paul recognized that not all Israel was Israel and for that matter that not all the church is the church. He understood, in other words, that those he addressed might not truly be elect in Christ; yet not only did he regard them as elect - he regarded them as converted! He regarded the congregants according to their visible position in the church; for that is all any of us have to go on when there is no evidence that would bring into question someone's union with Christ. Therefore, we should not find it unusual that the apostle addressed the covenant children as well - for they too had received the same visible sign of the covenant, baptism! In chapter six of the same epistle the apostle instructs the covenant children to obey their parents in the Lord. In other words, he addressed the children as a subset of those to whom he was writing – whom he had already declared as having received the Holy Spirit, the seal of one's salvation. In a word, the apostle addressed the covenant children according to what their baptism signified (union with Christ), and nothing more. The apostle did not wait for a credible profession in order to exhort the covenant children in the Lord.

Summary:

Although paedobaptists agree that the rite of water baptism is to be administered to infants born of parents with a credible profession of faith, it is not held by all paedobaptists that such infants are to be regarded as God’s elect (let alone regarded as already existentially united to Christ by the Holy Spirit). In other words, not all paedobaptists agree that infants are to be regarded as being united to Christ by the Holy Spirit. However, many paedobaptists who would prefer not to regard covenant children as already united to Christ are more than willing to regard adults as having that very position in Christ. What is the biblical argument for a such a distinction? It would seem that these paedobaptists would prefer to wait for more evidence of salvation from the covenant child than simply being born in a professing household; yet (a) no evidence can ever attain to a revelatory level whereby the elders can have certainty of the child’s invisible status with respect to Christ, which can be only known by God; and (b) the Bible does not require such evidence. No matter how credible one's profession of faith becomes over time, apart from special revelation no human person can be certain of another’s salvation. To wait for more assurance is arbitrary, contrary to Scripture and baptistic.

What's the cash value in all of this? Well, for one thing, I, who believe in "limited atonement," have told my children from birth that Jesus loves them, died for them and has secured their salvation, which is something I'd never say to the little children of infidels. At the same time, I can also tell my children that if they do not persevere in the faith they will be damned; I can also add that I am persuaded of better things of them - the things that accompany salvation...

We've all heard the words of comfort at the grave side when one of God's faithful servants departs to be with the Lord. Don't those words of comfort apply to the the parents of infants who die in infancy? If not, then why not? Again, what is being sought after by some is a greater degree of evidence. Yet there is already ample evidence that the children of the faithful are elect, for their parents by God's grace love the Lord. However, the discussion over evidence proceeds under a false premise that evidence is germane. The simple point is that we are to follow God's lead regarding how to treat covenant children.

Questions that might readily arise:

Does such a practice lead to paedocommunion? Absolutely not! The question we are dealing with is whether we ought to regard our covenant children as united to Christ; whereas the question over paedocommunion is concerned with whether certain cognizant faculties are requisite in order for one to partake of the sacrament. One can be regarded in Christ without being able to discern the Lord’s body from common food.

Should we exhort our children unto faith and repentance? Yes indeed! In fact, we all need to buffet our bodies lest we too become castaways.

Might we be telling our children a lie? No, but we might be telling them something false!

Are we at liberty to tell someone something false? Yes, when there is biblical precedence to do so. First and foremost, the apostle Paul taught the same saints at Rome that nothing could separate them from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8), knowing full well that that some might be grafted out of Christ as was Israel according to the flesh (Romans 11). He certainly did not lie. Did he say something false? Well, probably so, but who would have been responsible for the false statement? If someone is not a true believer, then he should remove himself from the congregational roles, rejecting the appellation of saint. The church is not responsible for hypocrites. Even with children, the same principle is at work. If I were to tell my child that Jesus died for her and she truly believed that He did, then she would be saved! However, if she didn't believe me, then she would be responsible to tell me so. In which case, I would be constrained to treat her as an unbeliever, encouraging her to enter the kingdom by faith. Now one will no doubt say, "well of course your child will believe you!" Well in that case, if she believes me, then why wouldn't I treat her as justified? Oh, isn't a child like faith wonderful! Let's tell them about Jesus when they're so apt to believe! (Of course the parent should ask diagnostic questions when appropriate in order to assess the validity of the child's faith, even though at least tacitly the child suggests union with Christ by believing everything he's taught from the Scriptures. We all do well to make our calling and election sure. So of course we are to help our covenant children in that regard. However, such assessment is aimed at making one's calling and election sure and not to be used as a tool of evangelism.)

I might add to these questions as new ones arise.

Ron

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12 comments:

razzendahcuben said...

Interesting post. I'm glad you're open about a lot of the "tough" areas of covenant theology. If I may opine: Personally, I think that this post is one of the most persuasive pieces of writing I've seen against covenant theology.

1. The implications of covenant theology.

-unregenerate church membership
-Paul's references to the non-converted converted
-"my children are chosen, yours aren't!"
-giving children assurance in something that might be false, but is evidenced for using criteria that Baptist's would use (irony)

2. The person who wrote is a covenant theologian---"hostile witness".

Nevertheless, I'm not saying you're wrong. I'd like to read your posts over more carefully, compare it to dispensationalism (which I have not studied in any depth, either), and then perhaps ask you some questions (if you're willing). I'll wait until break rolls around, however.

Still, any online resources you would recommend as critiques against dispensationalism?

Thanks again for the nice post.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

"Interesting post. I'm glad you're open about a lot of the "tough" areas of covenant theology."

I don't know how open I am. I would say that I'm pretty settled on the matter.

"If I may opine:"

What, are you a Fox News guy?!

"Personally, I think that this post is one of the most persuasive pieces of writing I've seen against covenant theology."

Hmmm... I'd have to say that you either don't understand the post, or you don't understand covenant theology. Sorry. :(

"The implications of covenant theology.

-unregenerate church membership"


All churches have unregenerate church membership. It's built into God's system. In fact, God wants it that way. Didn't Jesus offer the Supper to Judas?

"-Paul's references to the non-converted converted"

Do you talk in riddles sometimes or is it me? :)

-"my children are chosen, yours aren't!"

My children are no more chosen than the Reformed Baptist's. The only difference is, I treat my children as God would have me, whereas the Reformed Baptist doesn't.

"-giving children assurance in something that might be false, but is evidenced for using criteria that Baptist's would use (irony)"

Another Raz-ma-taz riddle...

Nevertheless, I'm not saying you're wrong. I'd like to read your posts over more carefully, compare it to dispensationalism (which I have not studied in any depth, either), and then perhaps ask you some questions (if you're willing). I'll wait until break rolls around, however.

Feel free friend.

"Still, any online resources you would recommend as critiques against dispensationalism?

Besides the Bible? Ken Gentry has done the most work in this area.

"Thanks again for the nice post."

I guess you're welcome. I say "I guess" only because I don't know whether I confused you or not.

Blessings,

Ron

razzendahcuben said...

When I said you're open, I mean you don't hide things like unregenerate church membership---not that you're open to change. The last words I ever expect to hear from you are "The verdict's still out on that one..." :) That's not a bad thing, by the way. It's one of the reasons I feel comfortable learning from you. I know where you stand.

And yes, I watch Fox News constantly, like any obedient Christian should. Are you implying that you don't?!?

Hmmm... I'd have to say that you either don't understand the post, or you don't understand covenant theology. Sorry. :(

You're forgiven. ;)

In fact, God wants it that way. Didn't Jesus offer the Supper to Judas?

Christ *chose* the apostles for a specific purpose---and in the case of Judas, a specific prophetic purpose.

"'Men and brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David conerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus; for he was numbered with us and obtained a part in this ministry.'" (Acts 2:16-17)

We don't choose church members in order to fulfill prophecy or launch a new movement in the faith, we allow members in the church based on their testimony. And notice that certain criteria were met during the replacement of Judas in Acts 1---criteria that would indicate Matthias' sincerity as a repentant believer and follower of Christ.

Consider Peter, Paul, John, and Christ. With all the emphasis they placed on the detection of false teachers, separation from the unrepentant, and personal examination, I find it very hard to believe that they wanted unregenerates listed amongst the bride of Christ. Would it happen? Sure. But this is no excuse to take a lax stand on the matter.

Besides the Bible? Ken Gentry has done the most work in this area.

Besides the Bible... you make it sound so easy! Let's not forget the semantic gymnastics you just performed with Paul's words in Ephesians. (Indeed, "un-converted converted" is a riddle---that was my point!)

I am familiar with Gentry's _A House Divided_, but I was thinking more along the lines of online articles. I'll check out monergism.com.

Keith

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

... we allow members in the church based on their testimony.

You might wish to read my primer on covenant theology.

Ron

razzendahcuben said...

I will do that. Thank you.

JonathanB84 said...

Hey Ron,

As I mentioned earlier I am relatively new to Covenant Theology. One of the areas I haven’t had time to study yet is Paedobaptism. I’m glad to see you have several articles on it and I would love to go through them sometime in the future. I say in the future because right now I am very busy with school and this issue isn’t that high on my chain of priorities right now.

Kenneth Gentry is excellent but I haven't seen much from him on progressive dispensationalism (though I haven't looked very hard). Is there someone different you would suggest for pro. disp.?

P.S. I loved the comment "What, are you a Fox News guy?!" I was thinking the same thing when I read "opine."

Your as of now credobaptist fan, Jonathan.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Hey Jonathan,

I'm a credo-baptist fan too. I'm just not a credo-baptist-only fan.

As for progressive dispensationalism, they seem to be somewhat post-trib pre-mill. In any case, I don't know anyone who has spent much time interacting with the position but much of what Gentry argues is applicable to them as well since so much of his work deals with A.D. 70 and the destruction of the temple.

Having said all that... "If you wish to opine , keep it pithy . And no bloviating . That's my job."

Take care Jonathan.

Ron

Anonymous said...

You say that Paul is speaking to people in Rome, in Chapter 8, whom he knows must contain reprobate. You use that as justification for telling your infant children false things. How do you account for the fact that Paul, earlier on in that same chapter, identifies his audience in Rome as born again believers? “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.”

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

"You say that Paul is speaking to people in Rome, in Chapter 8, whom he knows must contain reprobate."

Yes, he is regarding the visible people of God as the true people God.

"You use that as justification for telling your infant children false things."

I use that as my precedence to tell people in the visible church that they are heaven bound. My precedence comes from God's word. Moreover, when we give assurance of pardon to hypocrites, then of course telling them something false is justified because it would be based upon on their false profession. Nothing you said addresses that, let alone refutes the position. An analogy might be helpful. If someone told me a lie and I gave them assurance that they did the right thing based upon what I was told but they hadn't done what they told me but rather the opposite, a terrible thin, then my statement that they did the right thing would be false - yet justified. Accordingly, let's not pretend that it is always wrong to say something false, which is a principle you seem to be operating under in this matter.

"How do you account for the fact that Paul, earlier on in that same chapter, identifies his audience in Rome as born again believers? “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.”"

Well first of all the text you quoted doesn't say that they are born again believers; it only says that they are in the Spirit IF the Spirit indwells them. Whether they are believers is contingent upon something else which the apostle does not say is the case. So your supporting text betrays you. Yet, even if we allow the text to teach they are believers, the answer is the same. The Reformed position is we are to regard the visible church as God's people, so any text that demonstrates that Paul is treating the people as true believers doesn't undermine the position! Moreover, to deny this basic tenet is to say that we may not accept anyone's profession of faith since we're not omniscient, and that Paul could not write to "saints" but merely to hopeful saints.

You're "argument" presupposes that he is only addressing the truly converted. We know that can't be true because Paul did not KNOW whether anyone in Rome was truly converted unless God had revealed that to him, which we have no reason to believe He did. Yet Paul addresses these people as saints. That would indicate that he was giving a charitable rendering to their salvific status given that he did not know the reality of their calling. We see this type rendering in Hebrews when the warnings are followed by statements like "we're persuaded of better things of you...the things that accompany salvation." We see it in Galatians - who were a people who were falling from grace as it were but still being considered true converts.

Ron

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

"You say that Paul is speaking to people in Rome, in Chapter 8, whom he knows must contain reprobate."

Yes, he is regarding the visible people of God as the true people God.

"You use that as justification for telling your infant children false things."

I use that as my precedence to tell people in the visible church that they are heaven bound. My precedence comes from God's word. Moreover, when we give assurance of pardon to hypocrites, then of course telling them something false is justified because it would be based upon on their false profession. Nothing you said addresses that, let alone refutes the position. An analogy might be helpful. If someone told me a lie and I gave them assurance that they did the right thing based upon what I was told but they hadn't done what they told me but rather the opposite, a terrible thin, then my statement that they did the right thing would be false - yet justified. Accordingly, let's not pretend that it is always wrong to say something false, which is a principle you seem to be operating under in this matter.

"How do you account for the fact that Paul, earlier on in that same chapter, identifies his audience in Rome as born again believers? “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.”"

Well first of all the text you quoted doesn't say that they are born again believers; it only says that they are in the Spirit IF the Spirit indwells them. Whether they are believers is contingent upon something else which the apostle does not say is the case. So your supporting text betrays you. Yet, even if we allow the text to teach they are believers, the answer is the same. The Reformed position is we are to regard the visible church as God's people, so any text that demonstrates that Paul is treating the people as true believers doesn't undermine the position! Moreover, to deny this basic tenet is to say that we may not accept anyone's profession of faith since we're not omniscient, and that Paul could not write to "saints" but merely to hopeful saints.

You're "argument" presupposes that he is only addressing the truly converted. We know that can't be true because Paul did not KNOW whether anyone in Rome was truly converted unless God had revealed that to him, which we have no reason to believe He did. Yet Paul addresses these people as saints. That would indicate that he was giving a charitable rendering to their salvific status given that he did not know the reality of their calling. We see this type rendering in Hebrews when the warnings are followed by statements like "we're persuaded of better things of you...the things that accompany salvation." We see it in Galatians - who were a people who were falling from grace as it were but still being considered true converts.

Ron

Don P said...

It is no more false to tell a child the word of God, specifically that:
Acts 2:39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call."

Than it is to offer salvation in the gospel to all though we know God has not intended to save everyone.
God chooses to present His requirement for man, His demands in the form of an offer, although He knows whom He has chosen and the rest are so fallen in sin and separated from God they will never seek Him.

Note the context of the promise to Children above. It is part of the gospel call. Repent and believe because the promise is to you and your children.

Ron there is no partial or discriminatory membership. A member is a member. But children don't get married, vote, go to war, drive cars or make any other contracts or even consent to sex until they are of an age of consent where they have the ability to grasp the consequences of their action and the ramifications involved.
Why on earth would parent rush a child into making the most important contract of their life?
This is why God has made them members of the covenant with promise, with hope, to avoid any need to press a profession from them prematurely.
We rest in the faithfulness and goodness of our God as parents with our children receiving all the benefits and protection of the headship and being under the covenant until they become covenant breakers.
Pressing kids to have to make profession to east the parents ind and responsibility to pray for their salvation is the cause of many leaving the church in my opinion. They say I did the God thing, I accepted Jesus and nothing happened. So there must not be a personal god or Christianity isn't it.
Better they knew they had not made a profession and given their life to Christ and could be convicted.
False Christianity is the worst of all false religions the devil has invented.
Very clearly written article!!

Reformed Apologist said...

It is no more false to tell a child the word of God, specifically that:
Acts 2:39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call."

Than it is to offer salvation in the gospel to all though we know God has not intended to save everyone.


Don,

If I say that Jesus died for you, I could be wrong, but if you're a member of a church I'm to say it just the same. If I say that Jesus died for sinners and that sinners can be saved by trusting Christ alone, then I'm never wrong. I think both may be said because of precept, but there is a difference between the truth claims.