In The Avenger of Blood I showed how Mosaic law (reflecting Genesis 9:5-6) authorized the next of kin of a murder victim to administer retributive justice – something not reserved for a special class called “rulers”. I noted that this was the common/default practice in ancient cultures. But the practice did not die out there.…
Critics of 1689 Federalism often caricature baptists as claiming to know who the elect are. This does not follow from any 1689 Federalism belief. We agree with the reformed “judgment of charity.” Based upon a credible profession of faith, we judge (with charity) a person to be saved. The only difference is that we do not believe that being born to a professing parent is sufficient warrant to charitably judge a person to be saved.
The following is a rather revealing Twitter conversation demonstrating 1) that there is nothing radical about baptists on this point, and 2) that some (many?) paedobaptists haven’t really thought through this issue.
AKA: Why I am not a baptist.
Notice in the final row where Denault explains the need to discern who is in the invis church to identify the visible. This isn’t a strawman
The chart says that the visible church is identified by a credible profession of faith, that’s not how reformed identify the visible church.
Maybe you can tell me what you aren’t getting.
Everything you’ve said in the above replies. How do you think the reformed identify the visible church?
via baptism, WCF 28.1 “Baptism is …not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church”
How do you understand WCF 25.2?
I’d have to look at what they intended by it, but I assume “professing christian” would include baptised.
What role does a credible profession of faith play, in your understanding?
It wouldn’t make sense to baptize someone into the church who has no real interest in joining.
So credible profession just means “Wants to join the church”?
“just means” sounds like it’s trying to make church membership into a small thing.
What is required for someone to be a communicant member?
For someone to be made a communicant member they have to publicly profess their faith and be baptized.
OPC DPW IV.B.1 says they must “give evidence of conscious saving faith in Christ.” Do you agree?
Ah, you’re talking about someone who is already a member. Yes, but this wouldn’t make them any less a church member.
It’s a protection against judgement for misusing the supper.
How does it protect? What would be misuse?
Eating or drinking without discerning the body, because of sin.
Sin in this instance would be lack of saving faith?
that could be an example, though I don’t think it’s the only one.
Does the public reception into full communion entail a judgment of charity that the person has “conscious saving faith in Christ”?
I think that’s fair, otherwise, what’s the point of fencing the table
Does making said judgment of charity require “regeneration goggles”?
non communicant members are still church members, the assumption is still that they are church members…
…but that they have some sin that requires repentance. The Q isn’t about regeneration. The only time it /might/ be is excommunication.
Does judging a person to have saving faith mean judging that they are regenerate?
It seems to me this is exactly the problem I was pointing out, you really want this to be about something invisible, and behind the scenes.
I’m saying that it isn’t, and a judgment of charity is exactly the kind of thing you use when you *don’t* know.
Ben, I honestly think you’re unnecessarily pushing yourself into a weird corner in this thread, becoming a polar opposite without good cause
Maybe so, my original point was, and remains that trying to ‘see’ the invisible church to identify the visible isn’t helpful.
I guess I’d just say I find that argument (baps try to see invis church) a straw man, realizing you wouldn’t agree.
Reconstructing the vis kirk w/ infant inclusion as primary deconstructs the system & is source of unnecessary polarizing to ur own hurt.
Would you say that Ref/Pres do the same thing, but just with different standards for ‘reason to believe’?
I received no reply to the last question, so I asked it again 2 days later.
I received no reply, so I asked again 2 days later. And again 2 days after that. I asked 4 times over the course of a week and was never given a reply.
Note this statement from an 1857 issue of the Princeton Review
And this statement from Hodge in an 1858 Princeton Review.
In sum, there is nothing radical about 1689 Federalism’s view of church membership.
For more on this, see
- The Evolution of Reformed Paedobaptism explains changing views amongst Presbyterians on what membership in the visible church implies
- Church Membership: De Jure or De Facto? explains the 1689 Federalism view of the visible church in detail
- Who Should Be Baptized – Professors or Believers?
I am quite convinced that understanding the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant is foundational to properly exegeting Romans 13:1-7. I call this the “legitimacy interpretation.” I believe Paul is applying Jesus’ words in John 18:36 to the situation in Rome. I touched on this a bit in a previous post and…
John 6:35 And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. 40 And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
41 The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” 42 And they said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
43 Jesus therefore answered and said to them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. 44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.
Note Jesus’ emphasis on “all.” All that are elected will come to Christ and all of them shall be raised on the last day. To prove this he quotes Isaiah 54:13 “And they shall all be taught by God.” He says this prophecy refers to election, the effectual call, and regeneration – and thus also perseverance. Calvin notes “As to the word all, it must be limited to the elect… he fastens on the general phrase, all; because he argues from it, that all who are taught by God are effectually drawn, so as to come… Hence it follows, that there is not one of all the elect of God who shall not be a partaker of faith in Christ.”
Isaiah 53 describes the suffering messiah. 54 describes the covenant of peace he brings.
9 “For this is like the waters of Noah to Me;
For as I have sworn
That the waters of Noah would no longer cover the earth,
So have I sworn
That I would not be angry with you, nor rebuke you.
10 For the mountains shall depart
And the hills be removed,
But My kindness shall not depart from you,
Nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,”
Says the Lord, who has mercy on you.
11 “O you afflicted one,
Tossed with tempest, and not comforted,
Behold, I will lay your stones with colorful gems,
And lay your foundations with sapphires.
12 I will make your pinnacles of rubies,
Your gates of crystal,
And all your walls of precious stones.
13 All your children shall be taught by the Lord,
And great shall be the peace of your children.
What is the cross reference for v13? Jeremiah’s teaching on the New Covenant (31:33-34; cf Hebrews 8:10-11). “No longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,‘” for they shall all know me,” from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. Jeremiah and Isaiah were prophesying about the same thing. On 6:45 Calvin says “this teaching of God is the inward illumination of the heart.”
Therefore, according to Jesus, the New Covenant of Peace is made with the elect, chosen and called by the Father and given to Christ as mediator of the New Covenant to intercede, preserve, and raise on the last day. “They shall all know me” refers to the elect and it is fulfilled in the present.
Is 54:13. Quoted by the Saviour (Joh 6:45), to prove that in order to come to Him, men must be “drawn” by the Father. So Jer 31:34; Mic 4:2; 1Co 2:10; Heb 8:10; 10:16; 1Jo 2:20. Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Verse 13. – All thy children shall be taught of the Lord (comp. Isaiah 44:3; Jeremiah 31:33, 34; Ezekiel 11:19; Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17, 18, etc.). Christians are all of them “taught of God” (John 6:45 1 Thessalonians 4:9). The “anointing,” which they have from the Holy Ghost, “teaches them, and is truth, and is no lie” (1 John 2:27), and causes them to “know all things” (1 John 2:20). Pulpit Commentary
Owen on Hebrews 8:11 explains
The knowledge of the LORD may be here taken, not objectively and doctrinally, but subjectively, for the renovation of the mind in the saving knowledge of God…
The instructive ministry of the old testament, as it was such only, and with respect unto the carnal rites thereof, was a ministry of the letter, and not of the Spirit, which did not really effect in the hearts of men the things which it taught. —The spiritual benefit which was obtained under it proceeded from the promise, and not from the efficacy of the law, or the covenant made at Sinai. For as such, as it was legal and carnal, and had respect only unto outward things, it is here laid aside…
The proposition is universal, as to the modification of the subject, “all;”
but in the word aujtw~n, “of them,” it is restrained unto those alone with whom this covenant is made…
Obs. XXIV. Where there is not some degree of saving knowledge, there no interest in the new covenant can be pretended…
Obs. XXVII. Persons destitute of this saving knowledge are utter strangers unto the covenant of grace; for this is a principal promise and effect of it, wherever it doth take place.
Augustine likewise recognizes that it refers to the elect.
What then is the import of the “All, from the least unto the greatest of them,” but all that belong spiritually to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah,—that is, to the children of Isaac, to the seed of Abraham? For such is the promise, wherein it was said to him, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called; for they which are the children of the flesh are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed…” (Rom 9:7-12) This is the house of Israel, or rather the house of Judah, on account of Christ, who came of the tribe of Judah. This is the house of the children of promise,—not by reason of their own merits, but of the kindness of God. For God promises what He Himself performs: He does not Himself promise, and another perform; which would no longer be promising, but prophesying. Hence it is “not of works, but of Him that calleth,” (Rom 9:11) lest the result should be their own, not God’s; lest the reward should be ascribed not to His grace, but to their due; and so grace should be no longer grace which was so earnestly defended and maintained by him who, though the least of the apostles, laboured more abundantly than all the rest,—yet not himself, but the graceof God that was with him. (1 Cor 15:9-10)
“They shall all know me,” (Jer 31:34) He says,—“All,” the house of Israel and house of Judah. “All,” however, “are not Israel which are of Israel,” (Rom 9:6) but they only to whom it is said in “the psalm concerning the morning aid” (Ps 22) (that is, concerning the new refreshing light, meaning that of the new testament [covenant]), “All ye the seed of Jacob, glorify Him; and fear Him, all ye the seed of Israel.” (Ps 22:23) All the seed, without exception, even the entire seed of the promise and of the called, but only of those who are the called according to His purpose. (Rom 8:28) “For whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified.” (Rom 8:30) “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed: not to that only which is of the law,”—that is, which comes from the Old Testament into the New,—“but to that also which is of faith,” which was indeed prior to the law, even “the faith of Abraham,”—meaning those who imitate the faith of Abraham,—“who is the father of us all; as it is written, I have made thee the father of many nations.” (Rom 4:16-17) Now all these predestinated, called, justified, glorified ones, shall know God by the grace of the new testament [covenant], from the least to the greatest of them.
The following stages of reformed paedobaptism can be discerned in history.
- Baptism presumes inherent holiness in adults and infants.
- Baptism is based on external holiness and therefore does not presume inherent holiness in adults nor infants.
- Infant baptism is based on external holiness, but inherent holiness is required to remain in the church as an adult.
1. Baptism presumes inherent holiness
Early in the reformation, Luther taught that conversion, faith, and salvation occurs at baptism. The reformed rejected this and argued that baptism was only a means of grace to those who had faith, not to all who received it. Lutherans were right that baptism signified conversion, faith, union with Christ, but not all who receive the sign have the thing signified. We cannot know which is which, so we presume that those who receive the sign have the thing signified. In the case of adults, this presumption is based upon their profession of faith. In the case of infants, this presumption is based upon God’s covenant promise. Ursinus said
[S]ay our [Anabaptist] opponents, the church ought to be satisfied with a profession of faith. This we admit, and would add, that to be born in the church, is, to infants, the same thing as a profession of faith. Faith is, indeed, necessary to the use of baptism with this distinction. Actual faith is required in adults, and an inclination to faith in infants… [I]nfants have the Holy Ghost, and are regenerated by him… In as much now as infants are fit subjects for baptism, they do not profane it as the Anabaptists wickedly affirm.
Baptism, which requires faith, is not profaned because the Holy Spirit can and does work faith (or the inclination of it) in infants.
2. Baptism is based on external holiness
Fast forward a hundred years to the Westminster Assembly where “The Grand Debate” between Congregationalists and Presbyterians took place. The Assembly was filled with Puritans who wanted to “purify” the Church of England from corruption – including corruption of the Lord’s Supper. Some have called these men “disciplinarians” because they advocated barring unworthy participants from the Lord’s Supper.
Within this context, Congregationlists argued against the national church, saying the reformed had not reformed enough. They said the national church was filled with adult “known unbelievers” who should not be considered members of the church – and therefore their children had no right to be baptized. This would nullify the national church model, wherein birth in the country granted one a right to baptism (their baptism was used as a birth certificate).
Presbyterians, continuing in line with the “magisterial reformation” sought to defend the national church, but this required a shift in belief about baptism and the church. The only way “known unbelievers” could remain members of the church and have their children baptized is if faith (actual or an inclination) was not a prerequisite for baptism and church membership. They argued that the covenant promise only referred to “external,” “federal” holiness, not to “inherent” holiness and faith. Thus there was no basis to presume infants or adults in the church had saving faith, and therefore no reason to exclude them. “Known unbelievers” were not allowed to partake of the Lord’s Supper (they were not “communicant members”), but they were still members of the church.
Debate on the floor of the Assembly is recorded in the Minutes. Thomas Goodwin (Congregationalist) argued
I do not know what distinction you will make betwixt federal and real holiness. It is such a holiness as if they die they should be saved. Whether a holiness of election or regeneration I know not but I think it is they have the Holy Ghost… I do not affirm that they are actually saved, but we are to judge them so.
Stephen Marshall, a Presbyterian, responded
I conceive we are not bound to judge that they are saved, for if so, that I must judge of them all singly that they are saved, I have no warrant. It is sufficient to believe in the general, that the infants of believing parents are federally holy.
Goodwin responded that “I am thy God and the God of thy seed” refers to inherent holiness. In one of his books, Rutherford argued that it did not.
If the root be holy, so also are the branches (Rom. 11:16). Now this holiness cannot be meant of personal and inherent holiness, for it is not true in that sense. If the fathers and forefathers be truly sanctified and are believers, then [it would follow] are the branches and children sanctified and believers. But the contrary we see in wicked Absalom born of holy David, and many others. Therefore, this holiness must be the holiness of the nation, not of persons…
[If the Congregationalist view is correct] it will follow that God speaks (Gen. 17) only to Abraham and his sons by faith (according to the promise) and only to believers.
But God speaks to all Abraham’s sons according to the flesh:
Because [otherwise] God should speak an untruth: that He were a God by real union of faith to all that are commanded to be circumcised. For He commanded thousands to be circumcised to whom He was not a God by real union of faith…
But I fear that these who will have none baptized but the children of believing parents aim at this: that the faith of the father is imputed to the children (which indeed reverend Beza does maintain). Or something worse: that infants are not to be baptized at all, seeing they oppose the places that we cite for the lawfulness of baptizing infants.
We are against Separatists who will have the number of aged persons that are members of the church and the number of those who are to be admitted to the sacrament [of the Lord’s Table] equal. We think multitudes are members of the visible church, and must be hearers as known unbelievers, who are not to be admitted to the sacrament [of the Lord’s Table].
This became the standard Presbyterian view. The visible and invisible church were formally separated and corresponded to an external covenant and an internal covenant. Bannerman summarized it thus:
As the Church invisible, it consists of the whole number of the elect, who are vitally united to Christ the Head, and of none other. As the Church visible, it consists of all those who profess the faith of Christ, together with their children…
This external relationship, in which the members of the visible Church stand to Christ, as having been brought into a Church state from out of the world, has been often spoken of by theologians under the name of an external covenant or federal relationship…
[T]he principles in regard to the visible and invisible Church already indicated have a very important bearing on the question of the lawfulness or unlawfulness of Infant Baptism… [T]he doctrine of the visible Church and its external covenant relationship to Christ, lays the foundation for those views of Church membership which justify us in regarding the infants of professing Christians as entitled to share the communion and privileges of the Church.
3. Infant baptism is based on external holiness, but adult membership presumes inherent holiness
In time, most Presbyterians (especially in America) came to reject historic Presbyterian ecclessiology (the national church). They followed the Congregationalists and held that a presumption of inherent holiness was required for membership in the church. But, with regards to infants, they still maintained that they should be baptized on the basis of an external, not inherent, holiness. Therefore infants should not be presumed to have inherent holiness, like adult members are. As R. Scott Clark explains “A baptized member is a sort of provisional membership. They are members but they are so with the expectation that they will make profession of faith [when they grow up].” The PCA Book of Church Order added a provision (56-4.j) not included in the original Directory of Public Worship.
By virtue of being children of believing parents they are, because of God’s covenant ordinance, made members of the Church, but this is not sufficient to make them continue members of the Church. When they have reached the age of discretion, they become subject to obligations of the covenant: faith, repentance and obedience. They then make public confession of their faith in Christ, or become covenant breakers, and subject to the discipline of the Church.
Thus modern reformed paedobaptism is a hybrid of the two above views. It rests upon a dichotomy between infant and adult membership. They are not members on the same basis. William Cunningham candidly admitted
It has always been a fundamental principle in the theology of Protestants, that the sacraments were instituted and intended for believers, and produce their appropriate beneficial effects only through the faith which must have previously existed, and which is expressed and exercised in the act of partaking in them…
[I]t is quite plain to any one who is capable of reflecting upon the subject, that it is adult baptism alone which embodies and brings out the full idea of the ordinance, and should be regarded as the primary type of it…
We have no doubt that the lawfulness and the obligation of infant baptism can be conclusively established from Scripture; but it is manifest that the general doctrine or theory just stated, with respect to the import and effect of the sacraments, and of baptism as a sacrament, cannot be applied fully in all its extent to the baptism of infants… [I]nfant baptism is to be regarded as a peculiar, subordinate, supplemental, exceptional thing, which stands indeed firmly based on its own distinct and special grounds…
Some men seem to shrink from laying down the position, either that the sacraments, or that baptism, should be held to be intended for believers, and of course to require or presuppose faith and regeneration, because this leaves out and seems to exclude the case of infant baptism… The giving undue prominence to the special case of infant baptism, is very apt to blind men’s eyes to the strength of the evidence, that baptism in its general import and object – that is, adult baptism in its legitimate use – implies a profession of faith in Christ, and can therefore be rightly received and improved only by believers…
[T]he full and adequate idea of a sacrament, as exhibited in adult baptism and the Lord’s Supper, does not directly and thoroughly apply to the cast of infant baptism.
In this way modern Presbyterians oppose the idea that infants are presumed regenerate. Cunningham notes “neither parents nor children, when the children come to be proper subjects of instruction, should regard the fact that they have been baptized, as affording of itself even the slightest presumption that they have been regenerated.” Of course, the problem with this view is obvious: it teaches two baptisms, not one.
4. A Return to 1.
More recently, some paedobaptists have recognized how divergent this modern view is from the original and how much ground is has conceded to baptists. They see the modern view of infant baptism as little more than a “wet dedication.” The Federal Vision movement is in large part a reaction to this. They consider modern Presbyterians to be much more in line with Baptists. The FV is contrary to the Westminster Confession and is not strong on historical theology, but others have likewise recognized the divergence and have pushed for a return to the original (#1) view outlined above. For example, in a Reformation 21 article, Mark Jones argued for Thomas Goodwin’s view. These men are ruffling the feathers of modern Presbyterians who hold to #3. Of course, as Rutherford and other Presbyterians argued, #1 ultimately forfeits the grounds for infant baptism at all.
5. Meredith Kline
We can also throw Meredith Kline’s new formulation of infant baptism into the mix (see here and here). He said the reformed have been wrong to base infant baptism on God’s promise (what he calls “a confusion”) because that promise is only to the elect. Infant baptism is not based on God’s promise. Rather, it is just simply a result parental authority over children. As long as our children live “under our roof” they are Christians and should be baptized. He said “One on this approach doesn’t face all of the awkwardness and embarassment that we make the basis of their being baptized because they are holy in Christ.” He said “The baptists are right there. Their criticism of the traditional Presbyterian argument is correct.”
So when you are talking to a paedobaptist, make sure to find out which one of these views they hold (they are probably unaware of the distinctions). There is quite a variety out there today and disagreements become much more convoluted & intricate than the above. Obviously this just provides some categories and contours for analyzing the issue. It’s not exhaustive. Hopefully this brief sketch will help make sense of some of the claims and the views you may encounter. It also illustrates how infant baptism has always been a practice in search of a theology.
For further reading:
- Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, and “The Conclusions of Utrecht 1905” J. Mark Beach
- Dutch Reformed Synod, 1905 “Synod declares that, according to the confession of our Churches, the seed of the covenant must, in virtue of the promise of God, be presumed to be regenerated and sanctified in Christ, until, as they grow up, the contrary appears from their life or doctrine.”
- The Presbyterian Doctrine of Children in the Covenant: An Historical Study of the Significance of Infant Baptism in the Presbyterian Church by Lewis Bevens Schenck (Review)
- Compare with this review and subsequent comments (advocating view #3)