>On the Eternal Covenant and the Status of our Children

>An Humble Offering.

As a contributor to CRM that holds to a covenantal view of baptism, I’ve been asked to point our readership to a series I’m currently writing on the subject. I’m almost finished, but have a few points left to make. There has been a bit of discussion on Jer 31/Heb 8 in the comments, as you might expect. You can read along here.

Additionally, our own Jared Nelson has also written from time to time on the subject in what I believe to be a most winsome and convincing manner. You can read those posts (a bit more eclectic and less intentional in their organization) here.

I must admit to posting this here with some trepidation. I know we have contributors and regular readers here that do not share this view despite giving a great deal of careful thought to the subject. I don’t doubt your arguments are weighty and will require my utmost in order to respond to them. I’m not looking for a fight, but invite your input if you decide to join us. This should be a wonderful opportunity for iron to sharpen iron. I know the discussion seems like it has been done to death, and yet in my ministry I am encountering more and more lay people wrestling with the question (and pastors as well!). I suspect this has something to do with the resurgence of reformed theology. As more are coming into the reformed fold from the credobaptist traditions, they are more hesitant to embrace this doctrine than the others that they have come to love in our reformed tradition. It’s a healthy exercise and I’m encouraged to find people engaged in it.

If you do share the covenantal view, please come help me defend myself! :^)



4 thoughts on “>On the Eternal Covenant and the Status of our Children

  1. >Sorry. I didn’t finish it. I want to argue about something else:I am not more wordy than you.:^)

    Posted by Matthew Bradley | October 1, 2008, 3:28 am
  2. >I read most of your series. You are more wordy than I am, amazing…Anyway forgive me for this rambling reply; I am not as lucid as you nor as scholarly. For more specificity, you will have to ask the right questions, my reponses are limited… but not by words ;)WARNING: THE FOLLOWING IS NOT BRIEF!, ,…a submitted/committed position doesn’t necessarily exclude infants… My commitment doesn’t include or exclude anyone. However, if you are asking what constitutes submission/commission, then by definition they exclude those who cannot make such a covenant. If the question is, who is a legitimate member, i.e. who can engage mutual accountability, or who is eligible for the table, then I would have to make appeal to the consideration of the Supper itself in Corithians. Two things that must occur and be the possession of the person coming to it is the abillity to examine oneself and to rightly discern the body of Christ. Neither of which are the propriety of infants or many youth, or even some adults for that matter.As to the matter of membership in general, my ecclesiology, is based in this understanding of the Supper, and other passgages that deal with submission to authorities, as well as the working in common union for the mutual benefit of believers. I don’t know if you want me to list Scripture, I don’t think it necessary, here. Discipleship requires both parties’ involvement and assent to the purposes and means to accomplish it.The church was established according to Paul in Ephesians for the equipping of the saints, to bring them to maturity. The hierarchical structure would be incomplete without those who are the target of leaders’ callings. Both negative and positive discipline are required. If, for the sake of example, in marriage the commitment to it includes an external authority, say the parents, wherein is the separation unto the authority within the marriage. Likewise, when a person commits to local membership, it is the severing of one authority for the other. In that sense, membership cannot be accomplished by those whose first commitment is to an external authority, say the parents, nor by those who cannot make or break covenants. The church is established as the first, and sole authority in matters of doctrine and training in righteousness. Families, parents, take a subordinat and supporting role.I do not necessarily hold that baptism is a sign of incorporation in the body (local authority). It is rather the incorporation into Christ (church universal), but not in the actual, rather, it symbolizes it. Membership, locally, is a different matter, and requires assent, and the consent of the governed and commitment by both parties. The question of visible/invisible isn’t then quite the best way to look at the local church. Invisible can only refer to the universal church, throughout time, in all places. But, membership, is only visible. Universal/invisible is ungovernable. Visible, is, and the requirements of covenantal membership is such that both parties submit to the requirements of the convenant, local (as distinguished from the “covenant eternal, that is the convenant of grace). This is where the church visible mixes two separate concepts, often. Fellowship within the local communion requires a local covenant, and not one that is universal. The only test to that is as I mentioned, discerment, correction, and understanding on the part of both parties as to the requirements of that covenant. Visible, as conceived by most would be any member of any communion with or without membership covenants.By sign, I suppose you mean baptism. Well, let’s examine the term. Signs cannot be invisible. The sign of the invisible church is an invisible signatory, the cicumcision of the flesh by the Spirit. The OC circumcision was visible and remained a testimony, not of inclusion, but exclusion from the promise (see below). The baptism is invisble. What remains as the visible sign is the visible church, and not baptism, but only in its proper relationship to common union and that in reality only in as much as the particular individual remains in it. And by that I do not mean the Lord’s Supper, but the continuance of the purposes and all means of the church as fulfilled by both parties.I have opened up alot of questions in trying to answer, let me first conclude with what I believe to be the wrong view of circumcism and why it does not translate to baptism.First, circumcision was given as a sign, but in the negative. It’s NT referrent is John 1:13. It is the reason that it was required of both the promised Seed, and the reprobate; the children of Sarah, and the children of Hagar. It tells us that the convenant does not come by bloods, by the will of progenitors, or the will of man. In other words, the relationship to the progenitors is cut off. Indeed the promise to the Seed came before it. And by Seed, Scripture does not mean Isaac. It speaks of the means by which the covenant cannot be transmitted: neither by national affiliation, by fathers, nor by the will of individuals. Contrary to that, baptism is a sign of the promised Seed, only, and speaks of that which cannot be done by the hands, cannot be passed from one generation to the next. The only thing that is passed from one generation to the next, by the way, is sin. The NC sign is done according to the promise by the Spirit. Both are is hidden after the act, whether circumcision or baptism, but the former is always a reminder, a physical presence, that it cannot include one in the covenant. The second cannot be discovered except by testimony. Circumcism infact shows that by it, one is not included. Baptism on the other hand is a sign, to the believer, one who has faith and is of Christ, He being circumcised in death for the removal of sin. It is not a promise of what will be, but of what has already taken place within as that which was accomplished on Calvary. Note, that I did not say that circumcision does not contain the type of the NC signatory, baptism, but the suspension of it. And its replacement with another clearly makes the former annulled, while at the same time showing that the former ordinance which could not perfect, has been perfected in another, namely Christ. I add to this, that baptism is a sign to the believer, but is also a declaration to unbelievers of the Gospel that says no man can take this to themselves, nor is it conferred by others, or by affiliation but by the will and action of God alone.The visible church is not that which can be seen, really. The mere physical presence of membership means nothing salvifically. Perseverance in faith in relationship to the church, does. In that, the sincere faith clings to those who are members of its own body. The visible church cannot see that which is spirit. It can however, regulate and discipline that which is seen. Baptism therefore, does not make one a member in spiritual convenant, but only in formality, a member in the flesh. Membership does not incorporate into the invisible, but the visible, and that for demonstration, so that those who continue are accounted as approved. Those who go out are then by their own accord declaring they were never of the body. So by visible, I mean something different than that which is commonly understood. Visiblility cannot be baptism, no one sees it except when it is done. On the other hand, the functioning body of Christ and its particular members do proclaim Christ’s presence. What is visible is as much like baptism as circumcism. It is hidden, for those who can be seen, are not by that members. So too, baptism which can be seen, does not endure. What differentiates the visible from the invisible is perseverence, and that cannot be tested in futurity, but only in the present. In this the distinction of visible and invisible break down, because what is seen will not be the same tomorrow. Visibility is proven by end, and not means. Paul’s remarks concerning what he had heard and wanted to see does not provide the evidence of the visible. He had only one test. That was that they continue.The term visible is fraught with problems. Invisible necessarily includes all who were, are, or will be the church universal. But, visible membership does not. Baptism then, as a physical ordinance, is no better than circumcision if by it one is incorporated, for both can be denied. It then can only be that the circumcision of the heart remains. That however does not speak to covenanted submission/commission but only to inference of a possibility. Membership among an accountable group with leaders (Elders) is what I was alluding to in my statement. That is individual and based in a recognition of the commandments to persist in fellowship within a rightly constituted body of believers.A final final statement 😉 I think that by making baptism a sign in the same way as circumcision was used actually lessens the meaning of baptism, if indeed it is a continuance of the OT sign, and not suspendended in its significance. If my argument above is true, baptism as circumcism, is not a sign of inclusion, but of exclusion and only pointing to something greater. I think it is contrary to the emphasis in the NT that baptism is not a promise of future redemption, but of currency. Over against the Supper, which signifies both currency and eschatology, baptism becomes invisible. By making it a visibly continuing sign, such as was the case with circumcism, would seem to lessen the perfection that is portrayed by it. The Supper on the other hand and the other means of grace demonstrate a future reality and at once the ongoing work of sanctifying the bride.I hope this answers my “basis” for why infants/non-confessors would not make qualified candidates for submission/commission. As I said my reference was to my relationship and I was not thinking of others when I made that statement. I understand that there can be both even in unbelieving members, but not in the sense that is required of believers.The signs, as I said, are not, in my opinion, necessarily understood, correctly. Of course we cannot identify the work of the Spirit, as I noted above. We can, however, regulate what we can see and instruct on the necessity of the reality as is reflected in the qualifications for the table examined in Corinthians. Like all other things instituted in the Church, short of living Apostles, and barring words of knowledge, about the state of things hidden in the spirit, we cannot discern who is part of the invisible church (by which I take it you mean those living on earth now). We can however determine, and are charged to do so, who is qualified. We have been given administrative and legal jurisdiction to regulate the functions of the church and its membership. The guidelines for Elders, Deacon, etc., and many other instructions Paul left so that we “might know how to conduct” ourselves. Among those things is recognizing, though not without fault knowing, who can commit and submit. That does not rule out the requisite duties of parents and others to train up children as unto the Lord. The question that you asked applies equally to that. How is one to know, who is, who isn’t? We don’t discriminate in that, but we do discriminate among our children according to age acuity and determine based upon the best of our ability what level of maturity they have and permit, or not, their participation in any of various activities to varying degrees. That they remain our children is without dispute, as to their membership in the family that is acquired by participation.If the question is submitted, that children are by birth members of the NC, then I would have to say not. And base that upon what John 1:12-13 says. In the passive/active response to the Gospel it is not based upon affilliation, it never was. The covenant given to Abraham is a double edged sword, and cuts both ways. God forbid, that baptism which saves, could fail. I think therefore, baptism is more critical than to be lightly administered as if it were an annullable covenant. And that we should as a church try to ensure as much as possible that we are not diminishing it. By associating baptism with circumcision we necessarily make it forfeitable, and while we cannot insure that one will not forfeit their baptism, we can instruct so that the understanding in candidate is not left to happenstance. We can by that be free of responsibilty for their sin and discharge the duties of conscience.

    Posted by Strong Tower | October 1, 2008, 12:58 am
  3. >ST,I think you’re right to be cautious. The PCA doesn’t require you to subscribe to the confession to be a member, but not doing so sets us up for failure in the “peace and purity of the church” department. Ir can be managed without too much difficulty, but shouldn’t be done lightly.As for your view, I wonder why you hold to a submitted/committed position which necessarily excludes infants? What is your biblical basis? You say your ecclesiology drives you to this. Can you give me a brief explanation of your ecclesiology? Do you believe in the invisible/visible distinction? Do you think the sign is only for the invisible church? And if so, how do you apply the sign to those you cannot identify?Baby dedications among Baptists intrigue me. They will not baptize their infants, often citing no NC example of such, but then they do baby dedications for which no NC example exists either. It would seem we need a different standard of exegesis. Since children received the sign in the OC (and it was commanded forever), and repeal of this command has not yet been cited, it would seem best to continue giving them the sign (which all agree is now baptism).Anyway, I’d love to have you read the series and interact. So far I haven’t had much baptist pushback. I’m curious to find out where my exegesis and logic are found to be weak by the unconvinced.

    Posted by Matthew Bradley | September 30, 2008, 12:51 pm
  4. >I am attending a PCA church and am former SBC. We had a baptism this Sunday. What interested me about the covenantal view expressed was not the emphasis upon the child’s disposition according to faith, but the parent’s.I am just wondering. Because coming from a SBC background, we had baby dedications that were in every way no different from this one, except of course for the spinkling. I by the way affirm immersion, but not as the exclusive mode. What is often the case in Baptist circles is that there is such an emphasis upon form that it is nearly as sacramental as any insturmentalist perspective.Anyway, considering membership among fellow Reformed believers under a confession that I cannot necessarily agree with completely leaves me in a quandry. There really is no other place to go where I will find Reformed Theology taught or preached, but my ecclesiology drives me toward submitted/committed membership. For myself, I can abide my paedo brothers, though I am convinced they are wrong. What I am uncomfortable with is my position in regards to theirs, even though I have been assured that it would not be a problem.

    Posted by Strong Tower | September 30, 2008, 1:13 am

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