God’s Covenant Unfaithfulness?
Recently someone posted the following on Facebook:
This is a common claim baptists hear from Presbyterians. If a child of a Christian is saved, it is a testimony of God’s covenant faithfulness. But, as I pointed out, that must mean the inverse is true as well: If a child of a Christian is not saved, it is a testimony of God’s covenant unfaithfulness. The logic is simple:
- P1 God promises to save the children of believers
- P2 The salvation of believers’ children is testimony of God’s covenant faithfulness
- C The lack of salvation of believers’ children is testimony of God’s covenant unfaithfulness
Of course the immediate response is that I have misunderstood and misrepresented the paedobaptist position. The correct P1, I’m told, should be:
P1 God promises to save the elect children born of Christian parent(s)
I was told to read this statement (note, see They are not all Israel, who are of Israel):
The promise to which Peter referred in his Pentecost sermon is mentioned in HC74: “both redemption from sin and the Holy Spirit, who works faith, are through the blood of Christ promised to [the children of believers] no less than to their parents.” The Baptist, however, hears language like this and often assumes that Reformed churches believe that every baptized child is guaranteed to be one of the elect. “If this true,” concludes the Baptist, “then what are we to say about those cases in which a baptized child did not persevere in the faith? If God made a promise to the child in baptism, but the child apostatizes as an adult, what does that say about God’s promise? Did his promise fail?”
Unfortunately, there are some Reformed churches that have contributed to this misconception by speaking of every baptized person in the church – “head for head” – as being truly elect and inwardly united to Christ. But it must be understood that membership in God’s visible covenant community does not guarantee membership in God’s elect people. This is Paul’s point in Romans 9 when he defends the fidelity of God’s promise to Abraham: “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (Rom. 9.6). In other words, not all in the visible church belong to the invisible church. This is why the Bible often speaks of another circumcision, a circumcision of the heart (Deut. 10.16; 30.6; Jer. 4.4; 9.25-26; Acts 7.51; Rom. 2.28-29). Although he was consecrated to the Lord as a member of the covenant people of God, the Israelite male was still responsible to believe the promises signified in his circumcision, for the sign (circumcision) never became the thing signified (the promises of God).
To which I am happy to revise my initial syllogism:
- P1 God promises to save the elect children born of Christian parents.
- P2 God promises to save the elect children not born of Christian parents (John 1:13; Gal 3:7-9; Rom 9:7-8, 11, 24-26; 10:11-13; 11:17; Eph 1:4-10, etc)
- C1 Physical heritage is irrelevant to God’s promise to save the elect.
- P3 Physical heritage is irrelevant to God’s promise to save the elect.
- P4 God’s covenantal faithfulness is determined by His promise to save the elect.
- C2 Physical heritage is irrelevant to God’s covenantal faithfulness.
The response? That can’t be true because God promises to save the children of Christians.
God’s promise to us includes our children.
God promises to, as a general principle, bring about the salvation of covenant children…
So we are back to square one because they are equivocating on what the promise is, precisely. Is it to the elect, or is it to all our children generally?
The final response was (note the equivocation):
An accurate P4 (etc.) would be:
- God’s covenantal faithfulness is determined by His promise to save those who he has promised to save.
- P5 God has promised to (among others) save the children of believers.
- C God shows His faithfulness (among other ways) when He saves (among others) the children of believers.
In which case, there is nothing unique about the salvation of the children of believers since God’s faithfulness is also demonstrated (“among other ways”) when he saves the children of non-believers (“among others”). In other words:
- C2 Physical heritage is irrelevant to God’s covenant faithfulness.