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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Presumptive Regeneration (and presumptive non-regeneration)

It should be indubitable among Bible students that Scripture and, therefore, Reformed Theology teaches that infants born of professing Christians ought to be regarded as elect in Christ unto salvation. Although sadly too often covenant children fall away; they are without exception to be regarded as elect until such time they demonstrate otherwise. Added to this, all who are to be regarded as elect are also to be regarded as regenerate. Such consistency does not preclude admonitions to make one’s calling and election sure, another matter altogether. There is no need to rehearse here a defense for the Reformed position with respect to the external status of covenant children other than to say that Ishmael, a foreknown apostate, was to receive the mark of inclusion into the people of God (a birthright indeed!), and nothing in the New Testament overturns that precept. Consequently, it is still the case under the newer economy that all those who qualify as part of the visible church are to be regarded as God's invisible-elect and those regarded as such are always to be regarded as already subdued.

Presumptive Regeneration:

When we turn to the question of presumptive regeneration, we are no longer to concern ourselves with how one is to be regarded but rather what is normative with respect to the actual (real-time) state of one’s soul. It is normative that covenant children born of faithful parents are elect, for God delights more in saving the seed of the faithful than damning them. However, it is quite another thing to argue that covenant children are typically regenerate early in infancy. I may presume election (and therefore final adoption) for the children of the faithful, as well as regeneration to occur at some time in their lives for this is normative, but I may not presume regeneration in early infancy for covenant offspring (though such infants are to be regarded as regenerate).

The Westminster Divines were indeed correct that elect infants dying in infancy are regenerate and united to Christ; nonetheless, one may not leap from that justifiable Westminster-premise to the conclusion that all elect infants are regenerate in infancy; nor ought we to reason that the mere possibility of early infant regeneration demands the normative probability of early infant regeneration.

Presumptive Non-regeneration:

Although presumptive regeneration is a false doctrine, Scripture does not afford us the premises to reason and presume that covenant infants are without regeneration either, let alone to be treated as such. Archibald Alexander could not have been more wrong when he wrote: "The education of children should proceed on the principle that they are in an unregenerate state, until evidences of piety clearly appear, in which case they should be sedulously cherished and nurtured. . . . Although the grace of God may be communicated to a human soul, at any period of its existence, in this world, yet the fact manifestly is, that very few are renewed before the exercise of reason commences; and not many in early childhood."

Presumptive Non-regeneration worse in ways:

We must not embrace the false doctrine of presumptive regeneration – nor should we embrace the equally false doctrine of presumptive non-regeneration. Note well that the latter doctrine is more harmful than the first, for at least the first doctrine allows one to consider his covenant child as he ought - a disciple of Christ; whereas the teaching of presumptive non-regeneration demands that the child be regarded as outside the camp with the wrath of God abiding upon him, a monstrous practice that is not only foreign but also contrary to the teachings of sacred Scripture.

Presumptive Regeneration does not necessarily lead to more error:

Both presumptive regeneration and non-regeneration are false doctrines. And although it might often be the case - those that embrace the former doctrine need not have a lax attitude toward making one's calling and election sure. After all, Scripture is replete with warnings not to fall away and exhortations to persevere even when conversion is assumed if not even infallibly known. For even the technician of grace, the Apostle Paul, with full assurance of his conversion buffeted his body lest he be a castaway. Consequently, those that hold to the erroneous and presumptive doctrine of presumptive regeneration need not be delinquent in practice with respect to encouraging others unto final salvation. Accordingly, a deficient doctrine of presumptive regeneration need not reduce to a hyper-Calvinism of any sort. On the other hand, those who hold to presumptive non-regeneration, like our Baptist brethren and our latent-baptist paedobaptist brethren, always (if consistent) make the mistake of treating covenant children wrongly as pagans.

Regarding one as elect and converted need not lead to nominalism; but it should lead to rejoicing more in promise than fruit:

As we treat our covenant children from the womb as disciples of the Lord, we are to instruct them to believe the entire Bible as we call them to “accept, receive, and rest upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life,” (just as we with credible professions must do as well all our days). Although we are to presume the election of infants born of faithful parents, we may not presume anything at all regarding their regeneration while yet in early infancy. We're to remain agnostic as it were with respect to the probable state of their soul, but is that so terrible? After all, I'm to regard infants in the church as regenerated disciples of Christ (are there any other kind!), and on their way to glory through proper nurturing and employment of the means of grace - a most happy thought indeed. Upon fruit we may presume their actual conversion, which although a great blesssing, our greatest rejoicing is not to be found in the fruit we see later but in the child's birth into a Christian home, which allows him to be baptized in the name of the Triune God as a disciple of Christ! Coming at this from another angle, should we rejoice less over our covenant child's eternal state should God decide to take him while still in the womb rather than after he professes Christ? If not, then why not?

The only way that the fruit of conversion can become a greater occasion for rejoicing than a birth to faithful parents is if one doubts God's promise and precepts in the first place! Isn't my a priori confidence in my child's salvation simply confirmed by a good profession and not established by the fruit I see? Shouldn't I expect to see fruit if I am believing God's precepts and promises in the first place? Isn't my utmost rejoicing to be found in God's promise and precepts (signed and sealed at the font), which precedes the always future outcome of the embraced promise, namely the ever abundant fruit of salvation? What is more extraordinary after all, that God would place an undeserving child in a covenant home and place His mark upon him, or that He would keep His promise(!) according to His precepts?

Something horrible to presume:

As for presumption, if we want to presume anything unfortunate regarding the children of professing believers, then presume that those who do not confess Christ by their late teens are more probably reprobate than not; which is all the more reason to encourage our covenant youth to make their calling and election sure, even today.

Ron
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19 comments:

Anonymous said...

When would you presume the child is regenerate?

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

I expect children of faithful parents to be regenerate at a very young age. As we train our children, we are to expect that they will follow the Lord in faith, which presupposes regeneration. I wouldn't be suprised if it is in fact normative that the infants of the faithful are regenerate in infancy (David), even in the womb (John the B); I just don't think that two data points can constitute a pattern we can count on. Having said that, training a child in the way he should go would seem to allow for a reasonable expectation of conversion (in order that the child can be trained in the way he should go). So again, I presume conversion at the youngest age of understanding.

Ron

Anonymous said...

perfect

Anonymous said...

Ron, will you please recommend a logic text for me to use? I want to sharpen my logic.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

I would recommend Copi and Cohen

http://www.amazon.com/Introduction-Logic-Irving-M-Copi/dp/0130102024

Blessings,

Ron

Richard said...

Cracking post!

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Richard, if you like that one you might have an affinity to this one.

http://reformedapologist.blogspot.com/2006/09/children-of-promise-or-little-vipers.html

heymikey80 said...

I had the impression a number of times that early Reformed writers considered presumptive regeneration not to be quite the same as assumptive regeneration -- that the writers expected the covenant to bring their children to New Birth at some time in the future.

This seems to get confused nowadays because "presumptive" has now shifted to mean "assumed something that's not there".

Is that in line with what you're noticing?

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Is what you have after the dashes your definition of assumptive regneration, or are you harking back to presumptive regeneration?

My suspicion is that there were varying views at the Assembly. And that some thought the seed of faith was present in the elect at the font as normative whereas others remained agnostic, and still others looked for the Word to quicken upon years of discretion.

Ron

jazzycat said...

Although sadly too often covenant children fall away;

Is this:
(1) salvation lost?
(2) covenant children never had salvation in the first place?

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Clearly 2, not 1. They went out from us because they were not truly of us; for had they been of us they would have remained with us... I'm paraphrasing but you get the point.

jazzycat said...

Thanks,
It seems to me that covenant children were never “with us” in the first place and that this practice (infant baptism) amounts to knowingly baptizing people who are not in the covenant, since some will prove to be non-elect. The verse you quote seems to apply to professing adults who prove their profession was not sincere and not for infants arbitrarily placed in a covenant.

Let me identify myself more thoroughly. I am Wayne and I am a member of Swordbearer’s (Tim’s) church and have been struggling with this issue for a while. Please do not take this as a hostile encounter.

You also said….. Consequently, those that hold to the erroneous and presumptive doctrine of presumptive regeneration need not be delinquent in practice with respect to encouraging others unto final salvation.

What do you mean by final salvation? Also, what do you mean by training the child in the way he should go? Since I don’t want to assume something you may not mean, I am interested in you being a little clearer in distinguishing between justification and sanctification. I know it is Christmas and you may be busy, but I hope you have the time to consider my questions.

wayne

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Wayne,

I'm happy to give you my thoughts on the matter. I know how theological matters can occupy the mind, even to the point of distraction toward other needful things. I'll post something tonight sometime, Lord willing.

Blessings,

Ron

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Wayne, you'll probably have more questions after reading this. If you are one who would care to talk two-way, I'd be happy to accomodate.

Wayne Says: “It seems to me that covenant children were never “with us” in the first place”

Wayne,

Why do you say this? Does Scripture teach you that infants cannot be saved from birth?


Wayne Says: “and that this practice (infant baptism) amounts to knowingly baptizing people who are not in the covenant, since some will prove to be non-elect. The verse you quote seems to apply to professing adults who prove their profession was not sincere and not for infants arbitrarily placed in a covenant.

I would read my “primer” on covenant theology below, which culminates in a polemic for infant baptism. I won’t rehearse the argument here. Let me say that it is not “arbitrary” to baptize infants. It’s a good and necessary inference from Scripture that we do.

Wayne Asks: “What do you mean by final salvation?

The Scripture teaches that we are saved, being saved and will be saved. Final salvation is final-adoption.

Wayne Asks: “I am interested in you being a little clearer in distinguishing between justification and sanctification.

Justification involves God declaring us righteous and pardoned for the sake of Christ. It’s “legal” or “forensic” if you will. Sanctification entails our becoming Christ like. Sanctification is immediate and progressive.

Blessings,

Ron

jazzycat said...

Perhaps I was not as clear as I should have been in my questions. I am familiar with the theological definitions of these terms and my questions were more in regard to your context and how you meant them in your statements that I quoted. If I might, let me re-phrase my questions.

(1) you asked…. Why do you say this? Does Scripture teach you that infants cannot be saved from birth?

My point: You stated that all too often covenant children fall away and then quoted a verse that they were never with us to begin with. I agree, but your statement about covenant children falling away is a contradiction to your proof text. I do agree that infants can be regenerated even in the womb.

(2) Your use of the term “final salvation” is what I was most curious about and still am. Now you mention “final adoption” which also puzzles me. Rather than try to understand what you mean which seems to imply a process of justification and adoption, let me state my view that will perhaps clear up my questions. I BELIEVE: While salvation includes all the steps and others that are mentioned in Rom. 8:29-30, justification is a one-time event that is instantaneous and followed immediately by adoption. Adoption thus would not be a process, but would also be immediate and final. Working out one’s salvation with fear and trembling concerns sanctification of the regenerate only, as it is impossible for an unsaved and unregenerate person to work out his election or salvation.

I am sorry for being a bother and if I have misunderstood you and you agree with my belief statement then we are together on the essentials of salvation.

wayne

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Wayne States: “My point: You stated that all too often covenant children fall away and then quoted a verse that they were never with us to begin with. I agree, but your statement about covenant children falling away is a contradiction to your proof text.”

Wayne,

What’s the logical contradiction?

Is this premise true: If a Covenant child falls away, then he was not saved to begin with

The proof-text states that they went out from us because they were not truly of us. Which means, the apostasy occurred because they were not truly of the people of God.

Wayne States: “Rather than try to understand what you mean which seems to imply a process of justification and adoption.”

Wayne,

Please put your assertions into an argument that I can interact with. Nowhere do I imply that justification and adoption are a process.

Wayne States: “I BELIEVE: While salvation includes all the steps and others that are mentioned in Rom. 8:29-30, justification is a one-time event that is instantaneous and followed immediately by adoption. Adoption thus would not be a process, but would also be immediate and final. Working out one’s salvation with fear and trembling concerns sanctification of the regenerate only, as it is impossible for an unsaved and unregenerate person to work out his election or salvation.

Wayne, that’s very good. Now where do I contradict those sentiments?

Ron

jazzycat said...

Ron,
It seems to me that for a covenant child to fall away from the covenant (defined as the elect) he must first be in the covenant. You have agreed that such a child was never in the covenant.

The use of the phrase “seems to imply” was not an assertion but rather my way of pointing out that I did not fully understand your position. Now that you have affirmed my belief statement, it clarifies your doctrinal position. Your use of the phrase, “final adoption” at the very least hints at some kind of conditional or initial incomplete adoption. That is why I made my statement for you either to agree or refute.

One final point…..
You said in your last sentence of the post….. As for presumption, if we want to presume anything unfortunate regarding the children of professing believers, then presume that those who do not confess Christ by their late teens are more probably reprobate than not; which is all the more reason to encourage our covenant youth to make their calling and election sure, even today.

It seems to me that in this situation, a child should be encouraged to understand his need for a savior and to come to faith and repentance in Jesus Christ rather than make his calling and election sure (which you agreed pertains to sanctification). As we have already agreed, it is impossible for an unregenerate person to make their calling and election sure. Such a person needs prayer and evangelism and the hope of God's grace. Therefore, I think there is a danger of teaching covenant children a need for works to make their salvation final rather than their need for Christ in churches (including mine) that practice infant baptism. This is a general observation and does not mean I think you are doing this.

Thanks for your time and I hope I have not been too disagreeable. I wish you and your family a wonderful Christmas.
Wayne

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Wayne,

Final adoption is a biblical idea (Romans 8:23).

I didn't understand the last part of your post. I trust my position is clear, whether you disagree or not.

Blessings,

Ron

swordbearer said...

Let me state that while Jazzycat is a member of my congregation and beyond that we are great friends who enjoy blogging and who love discussing theology, our views regarding infant baptism differ, though on many related points we agree (such as justification, adoption, etc.). Wayne and I have discussed these matters at length even in the last month, but still come to different positions, primarily over issues related to the covenant rather than over justification or adoption. (It should be noted we are still great friends and enjoy ecclesiastical unity in keeping with the lattitude afforded us in accordance with our vows of church membership).

While I have debated Wayne at length on this issue, I believe your discussion will come down to the issue of whether the covenant sign should only be applied to professors of the faith... or whether in following the command of God it should be applied both to believers and their children (even if their children choose to reject the covenant ... as did Ishmael). In Wayne's view, if I'm correct, one is either in the covenant or not (i.e., black and white) and therefore the sign should only be applied to those in whom evidence would lead to believe are justified and in the covenant (though all would agree man cannot infallibly determine this), rather than the biblical view that teaches both that elect children are included in the covenant of God and therefore are rightful recipients of the sign of the covenant even before the outworking and application of all the graces offered through the covenant, and that even non-elect infants of believers are included in the covenant (not salvifically) but to the point that the covenant is legitimately extended to them (and therefore the sign rightfully applied to them) (like with Ishmael) even though they may later choose to reject the covenant for themselves, ... so that it's not a matter of them either being in the covenant or out of the covenant (black & white), but being included in the legitimate offer of the covenant, though they by nature and in history reject the author and Christ of the covenant.

In the end, Wayne, while a proponent of "believers baptism" has demonstated a cordial spirit toward those with whom he disagrees as well as a submissive spirit to the brethren and the practice of the church. While he is one who is masterful at getting to the point and asking penetrating questions that clarify and divide the issue (a gift useful among God's people and for the church), he should not be viewed as antagonistic or as a threat. I've found him to be a great friend, a valued church member, a determined evangelist, and a terrific blogger..... even if he was a scummy Air Force pilot, something I cannot let him forget, being a naval aviator myself.