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Presbyterian vs Congregationalist vs Baptist Sacramentology

December 7, 2017 Leave a comment

Visible Saints and Notorious Sinners: Presbyterian Sacramental Doctrine and Practice and the Vicissitudes of the Baptist Movement in New England and the Middle Colonies is an interesting essay from OPC pastor Peter J. Wallace. He argues that after the Great Awakening, baptist convinctions grew in Congretationalist New England but not in the Presbyterian Middle Colonies because of a difference in sacramentology. Both baptized infants, but they had different views of the visible church.

Congregationalists held to the “English Puritan” belief in “visible saints.” The visible church is for those who have been saved. The Scots and Scotch-Irish Presbyterians rejected that idea. The visible church is for those who want to be saved. Wallace traces some of the history involving Isaac Backus, showing how the baptists convincingly pointed out that if the church is for those who have been saved, then there is no reason left for baptizing infants.

In Congregationalism, in order to partake of the Lord’s Supper (become a “communicant member”), one had to become a visible saint by professing that they were saved.

While the early Puritans, such as William Perkins, still insisted on baptizing all children within the parish [i.e. every English-born child], the increasing emphasis on inward subjectivity and the “disciplined and communal character of the Christian life” in English Puritanism led to a growing emphasis on baptizing only the children of visible saints.[14]  The original New England Puritans attempted to combine the ideal of the pure church with the holy commonwealth [i.e. state church], holding purity and inclusiveness in tension.[15]

They began to recognize this tension and adopted the Half-Way Covenant solution: rather than becoming a visible saint, one merely had to “assent” to Christian doctrine and the desire to be saved in order to have their children baptized (they had to have “historical faith”). They still could not take the Lord’s Supper. According to Wallace, this was a half-step back towards Presbyterianism (rooted in the parish model). “Hereafter the sacraments took on new functions in New England culture:  baptism was the symbol of inclusion in the holy commonwealth, while the Lord’s Supper became the test of purity within the commonwealth.”

Stoddard

Many years later, New England Congregationalist pastor Solomon Stoddard recognized that tension still remained. He took another half-step back towards presbyterianism.

[T]he inclusive policies of the Halfway Covenant received an extra push from the presbyterianizing Solomon Stoddard… Stoddard argued that the church should indeed consist of visible saints, and that those who did not exhibit such signs should be excluded altogether and banished from the church.  But those who qualified for baptism also thereby qualified for the Lord’s Supper.  The Halfway Covenant erred in retaining too strict a definition of visible saints:  “There is not the least foundation in Scripture, for two sort of adult members, one that might, an other that might not come to the Lords Supper; unless they were under offense, or wanted sufficient knowledge for that Ordinance.”[26] Instead, he declared that the Table was for all who made a “solemn Profession of Faith, & Repentance, & are of Godly Conversation, having Knowledge to Examine themselves, & discern the Lords Body.”  This profession was not “an Affirmation that they have Saving Faith and Repentance” but only “an Assent unto, & Acknowledgement of the Doctrine of Faith & Repentance (as the onely Doctrine according to which they hope for Salvation) together with a Promise of Obedience to all the Commandments of God.”[27]

When Stoddard replied in 1690 that the Lord’s Supper was a converting ordinance, he did so on the grounds that the means of grace were intended for all those in the visible church, not only for those who were regenerate, but for all members of the covenant–thereby including only those unregenerate who were already within the covenant.[30]

Edwards & the Baptists

On February 15, 1727, Edwards was ordained minister at Northampton and assistant to his grandfather Solomon Stoddard. Stoddard died 2 years later, leaving Edwards to fill the pulpit. Eventually, Edwards came to disagree with Stoddard’s sacramentology and returned to the Half-Way Covenant, requiring a profession of saving faith for admission to the Lord’s Table. The Northhampton congregation kicked Edwards out of the pulpit, but his views took root elsewhere.

Insisting that only those who were admitted to the Lord’s Supper could have their children baptized (and requiring transfers from “impure” churches to make a full profession of faith), the New Divinity pastors were often indistinguishable from the Separatists, and frequently cooperated willingly with Isaac Backus and the growing Baptist movement.[37]

Moses Mather and the Old Calvinist establishment responded with alarm.  If gracious affections are “the Band of Union to the visible Church; it will follow, that no Person in an unrenewed State can be a Member of it.”[38]  In Mather’s mind, it was only a small step from such a position to denying infant baptism…

Pushing the visible saints criterion to the next step, Backus argued that only the Baptists could faithfully continue the New England tradition, since even Edwards and the New Lights compromised their principles by allowing non-professing infants into church membership.  Claiming that only the New Testament was a sufficient guide to understand who the church should admit to the sacraments, the Baptists relied heavily on the argumentation of the New Lights to show that the only way to guarantee a church full of visible saints was to stop baptizing babies.[43]

The Great Awakening alone (to say nothing of later developments) produced almost 100 separatist churches–many of which became Baptist.  C. C. Goen’s survey of these churches suggests that “the logic of the pure church ideal” drove New Englanders to affirm believers’ baptism as the only way to guarantee a pure church.[44]  Denying entirely that the “ordinances” of baptism and the Lord’s Supper were converting ordinances, Backus claimed that in them the “work of sanctification in believers is carried on,” but no salvific power.  Hence he denied access to all but visible saints.[45] He rejected infant baptism for several reasons:  1) it falsely supposed that there is no distinction between the old covenant, which was based on the family and the nation, and the new covenant, which was made purely with elect individuals; 2) it permitted the baptism of those who were neither regenerate nor even disciples, since they had not been taught; 3) historically, it was an innovation from the second or third century without warrant in the New Testament; 4) it violated the heart of the Puritan doctrine of visible saints, creating a territorial church that gets mingled with the world; 5) it is harmful to children by making them think that they are inside the covenant of grace, when actually even paedobaptists only believe that they are inside the external covenant; 6) if its advocates were truly consistent, they would give the Lord’s Supper to infants as well.[46]  His arguments resonated with his audience.  Within a span of only fifty years, nearly 300 Baptist churches were founded in New England.

Scottish and Scotch-Irish Presbyterianism in America

Presbyterian sacramental doctrine and practice was rooted in its Scottish and Scotch-Irish background.  Puritan sacramental practices had developed through their attempt to purify the Church of England, resulting in an emphasis on the gathered congregation of visible saints, called out of the world.  Presbyterian sacramental practices had developed through the resistance of local communities against external pressure from England (not to mention a century of struggle with Scottish episcopacy), resulting in a strong emphasis on the sacraments as bonds which held together the whole community… Since Presbyterians emphasized the church “as the means of organising and disciplining the whole society” they only required “external [i.e. non-saving] profession and decent conduct” for church membership.[53] … This Scottish and Ulster Presbyterian community was transplanted to the new world, where it developed in slightly different directions from the parent communities, but still within a similar trajectory.

Wallace argues that Baptist principles did not experience the same growth in the Middle Colonies as it did in New England because Presbyterian sacramentology was not as susceptible to baptist critique of Congregationalism. Presbyterianism did not require a profession of saving faith – only an assent to the truth of Christian doctrine (“historical faith”).

The Presbyterian practice was that virtually everyone should be baptized (even those who were born of scandalous parents could be sponsored by godly folk, who would thereby promise to give them a Christian education).  But some profession was required for admission to the Lord’s Table.  Not indeed the Puritan requirement of a conversion narrative, nor an Edwardsean profession of the will; they simply required that each communicant have an adequate knowledge of Christian doctrine and an outwardly godly life.  Only the scandalous and profane were to be excluded from the Table…

The practice of American Presbyterians in determining the subjects of baptism prior to the Great Awakening was set forth in the Minutes of Synod in 1735:

“And [we] do also exhort all the ministers within our bounds, to take due care in the examination of all candidates for baptism, or that offer their children to God in that sacred ordinance, that they are persons of a regular life, and have suitable acquaintance with the principles of the Christian religion; that that seal be not set to a blank, and that such be not admitted to visible church relation that are manifestly unfit for it.” [68]

Here there is neither a requirement for an account of a conversion experience, nor is there any mention of a “profession of faith,” per se.  Insisting that ministers could not judge the heart, they did not require positive proof of godliness, merely an understanding of the gospel and a life that was consistent with such an understanding [i.e. not scandalous]…

[W]hile some New Side Presbyterians were drawn towards a practice that echoed certain features of the halfway covenant, others appear to have retained the traditional Presbyterian understanding that Christ called all who were “labouring and heavy laden” to the Table.  The key difference from the Congregational practice is that Presbyterianism had no strong tradition of the “visible saints” doctrine.  Rather, colonial Presbyterians had inherited from Ulster and southwestern Scotland a tendency to develop regional communities organized around their presbyteries…

This also helps to explain why Baptists never took root among the Scots and Scotch-Irish.  Baptists affirmed an extreme version of the Puritan visible saints criterion, insisting that the church should be composed only of the hopefully converted.  Presbyterians had little interest in starting with visible saints; they gathered all but the profane and scandalous into the church and through preaching, catechizing, and communing, sought to transform the community into visible saints.

John Green & Modern Presbyterianism

In 1764, under the influence of Edwards, John Green sought to change Presbyterian sacramentology.

At first he had followed his mentors, Jonathan Dickinson and Aaron Burr in “admitting to the sacraments all who seemed desirous of leading a godly life,”[79] but now after reading Watts and Edwards he had decided that only those who could manifest a “relish for religion” would be permitted to have their children baptized (9)… Green concluded by asserting that membership in the visible church consisted of three things for an adult:  profession, life and baptism; but four for an infant:  being a child of believing parents, baptism, and then profession and life when he reached years of understanding.  Here he clearly followed the trend in New England to dissociate church membership from baptism.  Insisting that the church should discipline her youth, he argued that if by age eighteen or so they neither love Christ nor walk in his ways, churches should “drop them out of their number” (71).

Note that Green’s view matches the practice of modern American Presbyterianism. When a baptized infant becomes an adult, they must become a visible saint by professing saving faith, or else be dropped from membership entirely. But in the 18th century, Green’s views were rejected. “Faced with resolute opposition from even the New England-born ministers in the New York Presbytery, Green finally led a four minister secession in 1780, founding the independent Morris Presbytery on Edwardsean principles.”

Presbyterianism responded by the pen of John Blair. “Blair had previously established himself as one of the leading Edwardseans in the Presbyterian church” but came to reconsider his position. He argued since there is no promise of salvation outside the church, all those who want to be saved should be included.

Blair bluntly asserts that baptism alone makes one a church member:  “Membership in the Church of Christ admits not of Degrees” (9).  There are no grounds, he claimed, for distinguishing between the church and the congregation–as though one were gathered out of the other.  Rather, all who are baptized are commanded by Christ to come to the Table as soon as they have sufficient knowledge to examine themselves and discern the Lord’s body (11).

Rejecting Green’s insistence on trying to discern a work of grace, Blair argued that the “visible church consists of all those, who by an external Profession of the Doctrines of the Gospel, and subjection to the Laws and Ordinances of Christ, appear as a Society separate from the World, and dedicated to God and his Service” (13-14)…

Blair argued that if we view baptism as the seal of the covenant which truly makes us members of the visible church, then we should treat all baptized children as fully obligated to the covenant.  Those who do not live according to Christ should be cut off (20-21).  Yet the very means by which Christ has chosen to build faith within his people is through the sacraments.  Baptism and the Supper “exhibit Jesus Christ and him crucified” and by the Holy Spirit “quicken and raise the Affections, and enliven every grace” (21).  But if we truly believe that baptism brings our infants into the covenant, then we should believe that infants are “reputed the Professors of it untill they disavow it” (24).

But Blair went a step further and challenged the very notion of a profession of faith arguing that requiring a public profession of baptized infants denies their membership:  “Are not the signs which our Lord Jesus Christ has appointed and the Manner of Covenanting which he has prescribed sufficient, without the Addition of our own Inventions to supply the Defect?” (26).  Those who have been baptized should be welcomed to the Table as soon as they have sufficient knowledge to examine themselves.  No public profession is necessary…

[R]egeneration is not accomplished apart from the means of grace; hence we ought to welcome all who desire salvation into the church (74)…

In this argument Blair returns to the Scottish and Scots-Irish practice of viewing the sacraments as the bonds which hold the community together… [H]is description of the sacraments as converting ordinances … echoes the Stoddardean approach.  As odd as it may sound, Blair utilized an Edwardsean understanding of regeneration to undergird his Stoddardean (or more precisely, Presbyterian) view of the sacraments.

Conclusion

Wallace concludes

Scots and Scotch-Irish Presbyterians had never developed the “visible saints” criterion that had arisen among the English Puritans, but had welcomed all who desired salvation into the church.  While both camps may have sounded similar when insisting upon faithful participation in the Lord’s Supper, the actual practice of communion differed drastically, due to the fundamentally different conceptions of the nature of the visible church.

Below is attempt to categorize these differing views.

Baptism
Lord’s Supper
Non-Communicant Adults
Examples
Scottish Presbyterianism
all in external covenant:
regenerate & unregenerate
all in external covenant:
regenerate & unregenerate
only the scandalous; barred from communion but continue as members
John Blair, Solomon Stoddard
Half-Way Covenant
all in external covenant:
regenerate & unregenerate
visible saints
(profession of saving faith)
all baptized members who do not profess saving faith; continue as members & may baptize their children
Increase Mather*
Modern Presbyterian**
only the children of visible saints
visible saints
(profession of saving faith)
if fail to profess saving faith when an adult, then dropped from membership (no non-communicant adult members)
John Green, Increase Mather*, OPC, PCA
Baptist
visible saints
(profession of saving faith)
visible saints
(profession of saving faith)
none
2LBCF adherents, Benjamin Keach, Isaac Backus

*At first, Increase Mather opposed the Half-Way Covenant, but when challenged, he could not reconcile his opposition with the practice of infant baptism, so he embraced and began to defend the Half-Way Covenant. He later argued against Stoddard’s practice.

**I am not sure how best to label this position

Further Reading:

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Baptism to a Thousand Generations?

October 8, 2017 1 comment

SummaryUpon the basis of how circumcision was administered, historically, the reformed practiced that the distant offspring of a believer were entitled to baptism, even if their immediate parents were unbelievers, apostates or excommunicates. Modern paedobaptists have rejected this practice, resulting in an inconsistency in their appeal to circumcision.


Joe Anady of the Confessing the Faith podcast interviewed former URC member and WSC graduate Mark Hogan about his change in beliefs from paedobaptism to credobaptism. In Part 3, Hogan mentions one of the inconsistencies that contributed to his change of mind. During seminary he read William Perkins arguing (from the basis of Israel) that the baptism of the believer’s offspring was not limited to the first generation, but extended down the line to include even offspring whose immediate parents were wicked. Hogan found no consistent answer for modern Presbyterianism’s rejection of this logic and practice. Gavin Ortlund explained this point was part of his change of mind regarding the baptism of infants as well.

Circumcision is given in Genesis 17:9 to “you and your seed [offspring, descendants; Hebrew zerah] after you, for the generations to come.” The individuals in view here are the intergenerational descendants of Abraham. The faith of an Israelite child’s parents was not what determined the child’s right to circumcision; it was the child’s association with the nation of Israel. In other words, the lines of covenant throughout the Old Testament weren’t drawn around individual believing families, but around the national family of Abraham. It wasn’t the “children of believers” who had the right to the sacrament of initiation, but the “children of Abraham.” So, given paedobaptist presuppositions, why not baptize the grandchildren of believers, too? If we’re really building off continuity with the Old Testament precedent, why stop at one generation?

Why I Changed My Mind About Baptism

Nehemiah Coxe made the same point in 1681.

The promises previously given to Abraham for his natural offspring involve those in remote generations as much as those immediately descended from him. And in some respects they were made good more fully to them than to the others… It was not Abraham’s immediate seed, but his mediate, that became as numerous as the dust of the earth and took possession of the land flowing with milk and honey…

The right of the remotest generation was as much derived from Abraham and the covenant made with him, as was that of his immediate seed, and did not at all depend on the faithfulness of their immediate parents. Thus, the immediate seed of those Israelites that fell in the wilderness under the displeasure of God were made to inherit the land of Canaan by virtue of this covenant with Abraham. They never could have enjoyed it by virtue of their immediate parent’s steadfastness in the covenant…

[I]f I may conclude my concern in this covenant is such that by one of its promises I am assured that God has taken my immediate seed into covenant with himself, I must on the same ground conclude also that my seed in remote generations will be no less in covenant with him, since the promise extends to the seed in their generations.

Covenant Theology From Adam to Christ, p. 90, 97, 106

Perkins

The reformed generally were in agreement with this point and put it into practice as part of their national understanding of the church. The quote that initially gave Hogan pause is from Perkins’ 1604 commentary on Galatians 3:26-28.

Thirdly, it may be demanded, whether the children of wicked Christians, that is, of such as hold in judgment true religion and deny it in their lives, may be baptized? Answer. They may. For all without exception that were born of circumcised Jews (whereof many were wicked) were circumcised. And we must not only regard the next parents, but also the ancestors of whom it is said, “If the root be holy, the branches are holy” (Rom. 11). Upon this ground children born in fornication may be baptized, so be it, there be some to answer for them besides the parents. And there is no reason that the wickedness of the parent should prejudice the child in things pertaining to life eternal.

Lastly, it may be demanded, whether the children of parents excommunicate, may be baptized? Answ. Yea, if there be any beside the parents to answer for the child. For the parents after excommunication remain still (for right) members of the Church, having still a right to the kingdome of heavens out of which they are not cast absolutely, but with condition, unless they repent: and in part, that is in respect of communion, or use of their liberty, but not in respect of right or title: even as a freeman of a corporation imprisoned, remaines a freeman, though for the time he hath no use of his liberty.

The Works of William Perkins, v. ii, 232

(Note the erroneous reading of Romans 11 that is necessarily required. Perkins must interpret the root not as Abraham, but as every believer. Every believer thus has their own tree of which they are the root down to a thousand generations.)

Calvin

Perkins was just repeating what previous reformers concluded. In 1559, Scottish Presbyterian John Knox wrote to Calvin asking “whether it be lawful to admit to the sacrament of baptism the children of idolaters and excommunicated persons before their parents have testified their repentance.” Calvin replied

Respecting the questions of which you ask for a solution, after I had laid them before my colleagues, here is the answer which we unanimously resolved to send

[I]n the proper use of baptism the authority of God is to be considered, and his institution ought to derive its authority from certain conditions, one of the first things to be considered is who are the persons that God by his own voice invites to be baptized.

Now God’s promise comprehends not only the offspring of every believer in the first line of descent, but extends to thousands of generations. Whence it has happened that the interruption of piety which has prevailed in Popery has not taken away from baptism its force and efficacy. For we must look to its origin, and the very reason and nature of baptism is to be esteemed as arising from the promise of God. To us then it is by no means doubtful that an offspring descended from holy and pious ancestors, belong to the body of the church, though their fathers and grandfathers may have been apostates. For just as in Popery it was a pernicious and insane superstition, to steal or forcibly abduct their children from Jews or Turks, and forthwith to have them baptized; so likewise, wherever the profession of Christianity has not been altogether interrupted or destroyed, children are defrauded of their privileges if they are excluded from the common symbol; because it is unjust when God, three hundred years ago or more, has thought them worthy of his adoption, that the subsequent impiety of some of their progenitors should interrupt the course of heavenly grace. In fine, as each person is not admitted to baptism from respect or regard to one of his parents alone, but on account of the perpetual covenant of God; so in like manner, no just reason suffers children to be debarred from their initiation into the church in consequence of the bad conduct of only one parent.

Calvin’s Lat. Corresp., Opera, ix. P. 201; Calvin, John. Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters vol. 7; edited by Henry Beveridge. Edmonton, Canada: pp. 73-76. via BaylyBlog

Rutherford

In the 17th century, this practice was challenged by Congregationalists who argued “we do professedly judge the Calvinian Reformed Churches of the first reformation from out of Popery, to stand in need of a further reformation themselves.” They argued that excommunicants are not members of the church and that only the immediate offspring of communicant members may be baptized. In response to this pressure, and to defend the national church model, Scottish Prebyterian and leading member of the Westminster Assembly Samuel Rutherford again argued from Abraham and Israel.

Therefore there was no more required of the circumcised but that they were Abraham’s seed according to the flesh, and by that same reason, there is no more required of infants that they may be baptized but that they be born in the Christian church… Now if God be the God of Abraham’s seed far off and near down, to many generations, the wickedness of the nearest parents cannot break the covenant, as is clear… These are to receive the seal of the covenant whose forefathers are in external profession within the covenant.  For God commands not Abraham only to circumcise his sons, but all parents descended of Abraham to circumcise their seed: the seed of Abraham carnally descended to all generations… We desire to know whom God forbade to be circumcised that were carnally descended of Abraham?  Or show us example or precept thereof in the Word.

But, say they: drunkards, murderers, sorcerers, swearers, and ignorant atheists, both fathers and mothers, whose children you baptize, do not profess the faith, for in works they deny and bely their profession.

Answer: 1. Then you will have the children of none to be baptized but those whose parents are sound and sincere professors in the judgment of charity. But so Joshua failed who circumcised the children of all professing themselves to be Abraham’s sons carnally, though Joshua knew and was an eye witness that their fathers did deny and bely their profession.

On The Baptism of the Children of Adherents

New England Congregationalists

In 1662, the New England Synod stated

Partic. 5. It is requisite unto the membership of children, that the next parents, one or both, being in a covenant. For altho’ after-generations have no small benefit by their pious ancestors, who derive federal holiness to their succeeding generations in case they keep their standing in the covenant, and be not apostates from it; yet the piety of ancestors sufficeth not, unless the next parent continue in covenant, Rom. 11.22…

If we stop not at the next parent, but grant that ancestors may, notwithstanding the apostacy of the next parents convey membership unto children, then we should want a ground where to stop, and then all the children on earth should have right to membership and baptism.

Modern Presbyterians

Modern presbyterian denomoinations that have rejected the unbiblical national ecclessiology of their forefathers have also rejected this unbiblical practice of the baptism of infants down to the thousandth generation.

For a child to be presented for baptism, at least one parent must be a communicant member of the Church… Only parents who are communicant members of the Church may be permitted to take parental vows.

OPC DPW 3.1.a

 

One of the few modern defenders of this practice, Gordon Clark, explains the logical implications of this modern abandonment of reformed tradition.

Does the Bible require or prohibit baptisms to the thousandth generation? If it does, and if a generation is roughly thirty years, a thousand generation from the time of Christ would include just about everybody in the western world. Then the church should have baptized the child of an intensely Talmudic Jew whose ancestor in 50 B.C. was piously looking for the Messiah. Or, George Whitefield should have baptized Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Tom Paine, as children, because one of their ancestors played a small role in the Reformation. Strange as this may seem to many, it ought to have been done if the Bible so teaches.

Some very eminent theologians have so held. The strictest view has not been universal; it is more American than European. The view that only the children of professing parents should be baptized seems to have been the result of colonial revivalism [and/or the rejection of a national church model]… as it… tended to view the ideal church as consisting entirely of regenerate persons… The logical result is the Baptist position; but in Presbyterianism it stopped short at requiring faith of the parents who wanted their children baptized. But if it did not result in Baptist practices, it involved a change in the theology of baptism.

-Gordon H. Clark. What Is The Christian Life? (Kindle Locations 1192-1194). The Trinity Foundation. Kindle Edition.

The problem with the modern pratice (as Perkins, Calvin, Rutherford, and the reformed argued in the past) is that circumcision was not administered in this way. This great inconsistency led Hogan and Ortlund to change their minds regarding the proper recipients of baptism.

I encourage you to prayerfully consider this matter.

See also:

Does 1689 Federalism require “Regeneration Goggles”?

August 17, 2017 Leave a comment

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

Aug 10

 Discern = judgment of charity based on a credible profession of faith. No different from paedo for those “of age.”

The chart says that the visible church is identified by a credible profession of faith, that’s not how reformed identify the visible church.

Aug 10

 I’m sorry, you’re really confusing me. Can you please clarify?

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?

Aug 10

via baptism, WCF 28.1 “Baptism is …not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church”

Aug 10

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.

Aug 10

However, what a thing is, and how you identify a thing are not the same thing.

What role does a credible profession of faith play, in your understanding?

Aug 10

It’s a means to determine if someone outside the covenant is serious about entering into it.

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”?

Aug 10

 with all that entails, yes.

“just means” sounds like it’s trying to make church membership into a small thing.

Aug 10

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.

Aug 10

Aug 10

He says visible = ppl we have “reason to believe” are in invis. It’s not speculation or stating absolutes to connect prof of faith to regen

Would you say that Ref/Pres do the same thing, but just with different standards for ‘reason to believe’?

What do you think the different standards are?
For instance, a person might say that being born in a christian home *is* reason to believe they are in the invisible church.
In that case, you’d say baptists and ref’d are baptizing for the same reason.
This gets hairy because of disagreement about presumptive regeneration. But in that case, yes (see Utrecht 1905 Synod for example)
Yeah, personally, I’m not a fan of answering the regeneration question at all, as you could probably tell from my answers.
WCF 28.1 says baptism is a sign and seal of regeneration. OPC DPW IV.B.1 says public profession = “you have accepted God’s covenant…
promise that was signified and sealed unto you in your infancy by holy baptism.” To receive prof of saving faith = to judge regenerate.
Ben, can you acknowledge 1689 Fed view does not require “regeneration goggles”?
I don’t think I used those words in this convo, I think there is an over-emphasis on the invisible, but only use that phrase in jest.
Nor do I think baptists think they know who the elect are.
To clarify your view: how can you judge someone to have saving faith without judging them to be regenerate?

I received no reply to the last question, so I asked it again 2 days later.

To clarify your view: how can you judge someone to have saving faith without judging them to be regenerate?

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

 

 

Keach on Inconsistent Congregationalists

June 24, 2017 6 comments

In the 17th century, three main reformed camps were the Presbyterians, the Congregationalists, and the Baptists. The Presbyterians believed in a national church. Congregationalists believed the church consists of people who had been saved out of the world (the nation) who then gather together in congregations. No one was considered a member of the church until they had made a credible profession of saving faith and was thus admitted to the Lord’s Table. Baptists were Congregationalists who rejected infant baptism.

Keach recognized a great inconsistency in the Congregationalists. In fact, it was specifically this inconsistency that led to a controvery in New England, resulting in the Synod of 1662. The Congregationalists were faced very practically with Keach’s dilemma. They could not answer it, so they abandoned a key Congregationalist tenet and turned back towards a Presbyterian view, which did not restrict membership to those who had been called out of the world. This is known as the Half-Way Covenant.

As for our Brethren, called Congregational, I cannot tell what they mean by contending for the Practice of Pædo-Baptism, nor do I well know what their Sentiments are about it: they agree (as I do understand) with us (and other Christians,) that Baptism is an initiating Rite or Ordinance; now if their Infants are in Covenant with themselves, and are made visible Church-Members by Baptism in Infancy, and until by actual Sins they violate their Right and Privilege, abide Members thereof.

(1.) Then I would know whether they have their Names in their Church-Book, or Register, as Members? And

(2dly,) Whether they ever Excommunicate (or bring under any Church Censure) such of their Children who fall into scandalous Sins, or actual Transgressions, or not?

(3dly,) If not, what kind of polluted Churches must thir’s be, who have not purged out such corrupt Members?

The truth is, I see not how Infant Baptism is consistent with any Church State, unless it be National; and no doubt, the first Contrivers or Founders of it, devised that way for the Progress of that they call the Christian Religion, and so opened a Door, that Christ shut, when he put an end to the National Church of the Jews.—Therefore I wonder at our strict Independants, considering their Notions, (knowing how their Principles differ from; and their Understanding or Knowledge of Gospel-Church Constitution exceeds others) for Baptism does not initiate into their Churches, it seems by their Practice; unless their Children, when baptized, were thereby made Members with them.

Keach, B. (1693). Sermon III. In The Ax Laid to the Root, Parts I & II (Vol. 2, p. 34). London: John Harris.

(Note that modern Presbyterians, in abandoning the national church model, have followed largely in the path of Congregationalism)

Kline’s Argument Against Presbyterianism

March 10, 2017 2 comments

In the 17th century, Presbyterians argued for their ecclesiology from the structure of the Jewish church. It was divided geographically and functioned with varying levels of authority (presbytery, general assembly, etc). Gillespie said “it is plain from Scripture that there was at least a two-fold ecclesiastical court among the Jews, the synagogue and the sanhedrim, the latter having authority above the former.” An important part of this argument was distinguishing between the church and the state in Israel. “That there was an high ecclesiastical sanhedrim, distinct from the civil sanhedrim, is observed by Pelargus, on Deut. 17., and Sopingius, ad Bonam Fidem Sibrandi, p. 261, et seq., beside many others cited before, part 1, chapter 11. And that it was so we prove from three places of the Old Testament… We find Deut. 17, a distinction of two supreme judicatories, to be set in the place which the Lord should choose to put his name there,—the one of the priests and Levites, the other of the judges.” Both the Episcopalians and the Separatists/Congregationalists argued that appeal cannot be made to Israel. In response, Gillespie argued

Is it right dealing now to forbid us to reason from the form of the Jews? I will not use any further expostulation, but let the reader judge. The truth is this: Even as that which is in a child, as he is a child, agreeth not to a man, yet that which is in a child, as he is animal rationale, agreeth also to a man; so what we find in the Jewish church, as it was Jewish, or in infancy, and under the pedagogy of the law, agreeth not indeed to the Christian church. But whatsoever the Jewish church had, as it was a political church, or ecclesiastical republic (of which sort of things the diversity and subordination of ecclesiastical courts was one), doth belong by the same reason to the Christian church. I say further, though the commonwealth and civil policy of the Jews be not in all points a pattern to our civil policy, yet I am sure it is no error to imitate the civil policy of the Jews in such things as they had, not for any special reason proper to them, but are common to all well constituted commonwealths; and so we may argue from their commonwealth, that it is a good policy to have divers civil courts, and the higher to receive appellations from the inferior, as it was among them. Shall we not, by the very like reason, fetch from their ecclesiastical republic diversity of spiritual courts, and the supreme to receive appellations from the inferior, because so was the constitution of the Jewish church, and that under the common respect and account of a political church, and not for any special reason which doth not concern us?

The Church of England should derive it’s ecclesiastical polity from the Jewish church, and the commonwealth of England should derive its civil polity from the commonwealth of Israel.

In an essay titled Goodwin vs. Gillespie: An Old Testament Debate for Church Polity, Jonathan Brack summarizes a debate that took place in the Westminster Assembly between the Presbyterians and the Congregationalists.

Mr. Calamy argues for a Gillespie-like understanding of a distinction between civil and ecclesiastical courts from Deuteronomy 17:12:

Here is a distinctive that hints 2 courts. By ‘priests’ is not meant one priest but many. By “Judge” cannot be meant the high priest, for he is contradistinct from the priest. 2. Cron. 19:8–11 ther is the resistution of them by Jehosaphat. This text showes the distinction of the Judicatories. The words in the 8 v. read with a reduplication.

Goodwin, a Congregationalist, objected.

In questioning the often-used Deut. 17: 8–9 and 2 Chron. 35:8 texts posed by Gillespie, where Gillespie demonstrated a distinction between church and state in the Old Testament, Goodwin showed himself to be functioning from a different hermeneutical angle. An angle that disagreed on the status and nature of the Jewish church in the Old Testament,

That which belonged to this Sanhedrin at Jerusalem, it was either matters Judiciall, therefore called ‘matters of the Lord’ because God had given expresse … Or matters of the king, the things of his revenew, or perhaps matters of warre and peace, yet soe as they did not … The church & state ware involved in one. Their lawes ware the lawes of God. Their judicialls had spirituals in them. [7]

Goodwin along with Phillip Nye challenged the distinction between civil and ecclesiastical.

[…]

Phillip Nye launched into a long speech attempting to disprove the civil and ecclesiastical distinction made from Deuteronomy 17:8–9.

The matter before us is about the validity of this place of scripture to prove that besides the priests an addition of elders. My concievements are that the totum totalum of the common wealth ware of a mixt nature … Ther is no such a perpetuall intermixture throughout all as in the Jewish church.

[…]

Goodwin’s point was that everything given in Deuteronomy was “ecclesiastical” in a certain sense. This was because, for Goodwin, ecclesiastical and civil are one and the same in the Old Testament. To this, Lord Say added that on these grounds,

It ware much better to find out those places that established a ground for this ruling elder in the New Testament wher this constitution was.

So the Congregationlists argued that Israel was a unique entity of a “mixt nature” that cannot be appealed to in order to establish church government under the New Covenant.

Different Hermeneutics

Brack goes on to highlight how the Presbyterians pointed out inconsistencies in the Congregationalists on this point.

After Calamy represents the basic Presbyterian position of Old Testament roots for elder-rule, Gillespie strengthens the argument by arguing for hermeneutical implications,

Something to strengthen what is spoken. The analogy betwixt Jewish & Christian church, little question of that little question… If this faile, the argument of Baptisme from circumcision will faile also.

…How can the Assembly agree to pedo-baptism by appealing to the Old Testament, without also functioning the same way for the debate on church polity?… If one were to cut loose the Old Testament ground for elder rule, then one were to cut loose the very ground for Presbyterianism, not to mention baptism…

To this Mr. Vines pressed Goodwin and Lord Say on the exact same hermeneutical point made by Gillespie two days earlier,

For that we must not looke to the state of the Jewish church, is only a warrantableness for the analogy of the Old Testament & New, granted. The brother that spake last said before we must cut loose the argument of Jewish church; [for] but how shall we prove pedo-Baptism?

Richard Vines saw the inconsistency in hermeneutical method being deployed by the Congregationalists. If we were to cut loose the Old Testament ground for church polity, then what is to stop us from the Anabaptist tenet of cutting loose our progeny as well?

Meredith Kline

In 1953, in an essay titled The Relevance of the Theocracy, Kline wrote a short essay arguing against appeal to Israel for matters of civil government and ecclesiology. He said any such appeal is unwarranted because Israel was a unique theocratic entity unlike any other. It was a type of heaven. As a result, “church” and “state” were of a “mixt nature.”

If we do listen we will not try to segment the Theocracy into the usual three discrete institutions. We will not then say: “Here (e.g. in Aaron) is the church, and here (e.g. in Moses or David) is the state, and there the family.” Not even roughly speaking. For all that can be said accurately is, “Here are theocratic priests, here are theocratic kings, here are theocratic prophets and there are the theocratic people from whose ranks all these have come. (Cf. Ex. 28:1; Dt. 17:5; 18:5.)…

That the horns of the dilemma are vaporous is evident, for the argument rests on an utterly false equation of the theocratic monarchy with the ordinary state. As observed above, neither church nor state is isolable within the Theocracy. It is therefore impossible to identify one theocratic institution such as the kingship with the ordinary concept of the state…

Our chief criticism again, in terms of the thesis of this article, is that to label the priests and/or the prophets as the church within the Theocracy [as the Presbyterians did] is unwarranted… God was in the midst of the covenant people and, therefore, all was church, as also all was family and all state – the church of God, the family of God, the Kingdom of God – all in one and one in all, and such was the Theocracy. However, if all is church and all is family and all is state, then nothing is church and nothing is family and nothing is state in the usual sense of those words. Strictly speaking all is Theocracy and nothing but Theocracy.

Like many modern Presbyterians, Kline has neglected the roots of Presbyterianism and is unaware that he has adopted the Congregationalist hermeneutic (see my post on Congregationalist covenant theology).

I will close with these words from Brack:

In recent church polity debates among Presbyterians and Particularists… appealing to Old Testament ecclesiastical polity in order to gain support for the purported theories of New Testament polity assumes a presupposed debated hermeneutical method. In other words, a foul is committed in the debate, since a disagreement over how one uses the Old Testament is not properly neutral. This truth, in the mind of many Presbyterians, is a strange inconsistency in the pattern of basic Reformed hermeneutic strategies.

Recognizing that Israel in the land of Canaan was a type of heaven necessarily leads to congregtaionalism and the rejection of paedobaptism, as Presbyterians warned from the beginning.

(See also Meredith Kline: Baptist Criticism of the WCF is Correct)

Re: Some Vossian Thoughts on the Visible-Invisible Church Distinction

December 31, 2016 1 comment

Lane Keister, at the Green Baggins blog, offers some comments on Vos’ explanation of the visible-invisible church distinction. His point is that there are visible and invisible aspects of the church, noting that Anabaptists and some baptists are therefore in error in holding that the true church is entirely invisible. Keister apparently didn’t put much thought into that point, since I don’t know any Anabaptists or baptists who deny there is a visible aspect of the true church. Interestingly, a commenter picked up on a very important point. He objected to Keister’s insistence that visible and invisible refer to two aspects of the same church because he felt that would lead to the Federal Vision error. I offered some comments. Read more…

John Murray (the Baptist) vs James Bannerman (the Presbyterian) on The Church

December 5, 2016 3 comments

One of the primary foundations of infant baptism is the concept of an external church member, with external church privileges, stemming from an external covenant of grace. While saving faith is a required condition for the invisible church, it is not a condition of the visible church. Therefore the church consists of both true believers and false believers, along with their children.

James Bannerman

James Bannerman, a member of the Free Church of Scotland, published the popular The Church of Christ in 1868. He explains this concept as it relates to the visible/invisible church distinction.

Now, at the outset, it is not unimportant to remark, that when we speak of the Church invisible and the Church visible, we are not to be understood as if we referred in these designations to two separate and distinct Churches, but rather to the same Church under two different characters. We do not assert that Christ has founded two Churches on earth, but only one; and we affirm that that one Church is to be regarded under two distinct aspects. 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…

The Church invisible stands with respect to its members, in an inward and spiritual relationship to Christ, whereas the Church visible stands to Him in an outward relationship only… involving no more than the promise and enjoyment of outward privileges…

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. Whatever name may be given to it, there is no doubt that there is a real and important relationship into which the members of the visible Church have entered, to be distinguished alike from the state of the world without, and from the state of the invisible Church within…

[T]he formal professor may not possess that faith unfeigned and that vital union to the Saviour which will obtain for him the internal and saving blessing which the real believer will find in the ordinances; but there are external privileges which he may and does obtain in consequence of his mere outward profession and observance; and although he falls short of the saving benefit which the spiritual Christian finds in Christ’s Church, yet the benefits he actually enjoys are both real and important. This relation of the mere formal professor and member of the visible Church to Christ may be called an external covenant and outward federal union, or not. But under whatever name, it is important to bear in mind that there is such a relationship, involving both real responsibilities and real privileges; and that it is this relationship, as contradistinguished from an inward and saving one, that makes the difference between the members of the visible and the members of the invisible Church of Christ.

That is a principle foundation of paedobaptism, and Bannerman knew it. He goes on to explain that this particular view of the distinction between the visible and invisible church is what separates Presbyterianism from Congregationalism and paedobaptism from credobaptism.

The principles now illustrated, in regard to the real distinction and yet the real connection between the Church invisible and the Church visible, bear with them very important consequences. It may be well to indicate, without illustrating in detail, their bearings in four different directions.

In the first place, the doctrine in regard to the visible and invisible Church which we have laid down, if it be a correct and scriptural one, has a most important and decisive bearing upon the principles of Independents in reference to Church communion…

[T]he conclusions to which the principles already laid down, in regard to the Church in its twofold character of visible and invisible, seem to lead on the subject of its membership. Independents in general have rejected this distinction, and denied that there is ground in Scripture for asserting the existence of an outward society of professing Christians standing in an outward relation to Christ, and made up of nominal as well as actual believers…

In the second place, the 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

The Independent view, which insists on the possession of a saving faith in Christ as the only footing on which Church membership can be conceded, and the only title to the enjoyment of Church ordinances, tends very directly, if consistently carried out, to deprive the infants of professing Christians of their right to be regarded as members of the Church, or to claim the benefit of its ordinances.

John Murray

Writing 100 years later, John Murray criticized Bannerman’s (Presbyterianism’s) argument regarding the visible/invisible church distinction. Murray wrote about this issue on multiple occasions. His essay The Church: Its Definition in Terms of ‘Visible’ and ‘Invisible’ Invalid is found in Volume I of his Collected Writings. He also wrote about it in The Theology of the Westminster Confession of Faith, found in Volume IV.

In the former, he argues

It has been common to make a sharp distinction between the church visible and the church invisible and with this distinction to apply definitions by which the differentiation can be maintained. This position calls for examination in the light of Scripture…

The distinction between the church visible and the church invisible is not well-grounded in terms of Scripture, and the abuses to which the distinction has been subjected require correction…

Strictly speaking, it is not proper to speak of the ‘visible church’. According to Scripture we should speak of ‘the church’ and conceive of it as that visible entity that exists and functions in accord with the institution of Christ as Head, the church that is the body of Christ indwelt and directed by the Holy Spirit, consisting of those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be saints, manifested in the congregations of the faithful, and finally the church glorious, holy and without blemish.

Murray’s point is liable to misunderstanding. In fact, Federal Vision proponents have  called upon Murray in defense of their rejection of the invisible church. But that is certainly not what Murray meant. He defines the church in terms typically reserved for the invisible church and says they apply to the visible church as well. He does not reject the invisible church at all.

His third chapter in Christian Baptism titled “The Church” actually brings great clarity to his position. It is excellent. I could honestly quote and endorse the entire chapter (save the last paragraph and 2-3 sentences elsewhere). I will try to be as concise as I can in quoting him here.

The Church as Invisible

The church is therefore circumscribed by the facts of regeneration and faith, facts which in themselves are spiritual and invisible. For this reason no man or organisation of men is able infallibly to determine who are regenerate and who are not, who are true believers and who are not… For these reasons, if for not others, we must recognize that there is an aspect of invisibility that attaches to the concept of the church. *21

*21 In order to avoid the misconstructions and misconceptions frequently associated with the distinction between the church visible and invisible it is more proper to speak of the church as invisible and the church as visible or of the aspects of invisibility and visibility attaching to the church rather than of the visible church and the invisible church. The terms visible and invisible are aspects from which the church may be viewed. James Bannerman states this well: “When we speak of the Church invisible and the Church visible, we are not to be understood as if we referred in these designations to two separate and distinct Churches, but rather to the same Church under two different characters. We do not assert that Christ has founded two Churches on earth, but only one; and we affirm that that one Church is to be regarded under two distinct aspects” (op. cit., Vol. I, p. 29). But Bannerman does not appear to carry out this emphasis consistently in his subsequent discussion. He proceeds to define the visible church and the invisible respectively in terms of distinctions which do not appear to be borne out by the usage of Scripture itself.

Our approach to this question of the church must take account of the fact that every one who has a place in the organization which is visible and known to men is not by that mere token necessarily united to Christ by regeneration and faith. It is the distinction between that which is visible to men and what is known and viewed only perfectly by God that is guarded by saying that there is to the church and aspect of invisibility

The Church as Visible

[T]hose united to Christ form the communion of the saints and the congregation of the faithful… We cannot think of the church invisible as anything that exists in abstraction or apart from the overt expression which the spiritual and invisible facts of union and communion with Christ demand…

[H]uman agency and responsibility are operative in the church… [H]ow does this administration on the part of men relate itself to those spiritual and invisible facts by which the church is constituted? Men are n o t omniscient. and they, are fallible… What we find in the New Testament is that the constituting bond of communion w a s common faith in Christ and that the condition of admission to the fellowship was this same common faith (cf. Acts 2:38‐42: 8:13. 35~38: 10:34-38; 16:14, 15, 31‐ 33). This faith. however. did not have any automatic way of evidencing itself and, consequently. could become effective in gaining admission to the fellowship of the saints only by confession or profession. This means that faith was registered by confession, and the criterion by which the church exercised its administrative responsibility in the admission of members was confession…

This profession, though it is a profession that only a true believer can honestly and truly make, is, nevertheless, of such a nature that those who do not have true faith may make it to the satisfaction of those responsible for that administration whereby admission is secured into the fellowship of the church (cf. Acts 8:13, 20-23). We are here faced with the anomaly that the visible entity which is called the church may comprise within its membership those who do not really and truly belong to the body of Christ… This is an anomaly which must be fully appreciated and we must not make attempts to eliminate it. There are two dangers we must avoid and into which we are too liable to fall. *24

The first danger is to construe the confession as not a confession of true and saving faith but simply of intellectual and historical faith. In this way it might appear that the discrepancy between the fact that the church consists of those who are members of the body of Christ and the fact that many may be admitted into the fellowship of the visible church who are not truly members of the body of Christ is removed. It is a false solution. There is no warrant whatsoever for supposing that the confession which we find in the New Testament, by which members were admitted into the fellowship of the church, was a profession of mere intellectual or historical belief. It was the confession of like nature with that which Peter made at Caesarea Philippi, a confession which elicited from our Lord the benediction, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 16:17). It is most instructive in this regard that the confession of Peter provided the occasion for the most significant disclosure made by our Lord respecting the church: “Upon this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). However we may interpret the word “rock” in this utterance there can be no question but that the church confession is the kind of confession made by Peter. And this means that the confession requisite for membership in the church is the confession of Jesus as the Christ, as the Son of God, as Savior, and as Lord. It is a profession of true and saving faith.

It is not by any means the prerogative of those who administer the government and disicpline of the church to determine whether the professino made is a true and sincere profession of such faith. A judgment of this kind would exceed the warrant of men. But it is the prerogative and duty of those who rule in the church of God to make plain, both in the instruction and examination of candidates for admission, what the meaning of the profession is and to insist that only the regenerate, only those united to Christ by faith, can truly make the profession required. There is thus the fullest scope for the examination of candidates in ascertaining the intelligence and consistency of the profession made, in instructing candidates respecting the nature of the Christian confession, in dissuading those who do not have true faith from making the profession which they cannot sincerely and honestly make, and in maintaining the purity of the church against the entrance of the ignorant and profane. But this examination, it must be remembered, is not conducted on the premise that to the officers of the church or to the church as a communion is given the prerogative to determine who are regenerate and who are not. It is conducted, rather, on the basis that to the ministry of the church belongs the obligation to insure as far as possible by instruction and warning that only those united to Christ will make the confession which only. such can truly make. It is the function of the church to demand an intelligent, credible, and uncontradicted confession that Jesus isthe Christ, the Son of the living God.

Murray the Congregationalist

To clarify, Murray is here rejecting the Presbyterian view of profession and adopting the Congregational view (his footnote 24 recommends Williston Walker’s The Creeds and Platforms of Congregationalism, Chapter XI “For a history of thought and debate on this question” – see also Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea). Recall what Bannerman said above. Mere formal profession devoid of saving faith (what is known as “historical faith”) is all that is required for membership in the visible church.

[T]he formal professor may not possess that faith unfeigned and that vital union to the Saviour which will obtain for him the internal and saving blessing which the real believer will find in the ordinances; but there are external privileges which he may and does obtain in consequence of his mere outward profession and observance; and although he falls short of the saving benefit which the spiritual Christian finds in Christ’s Church, yet the benefits he actually enjoys are both real and important. This relation of the mere formal professor and member of the visible Church to Christ may be called an external covenant and outward federal union, or not. But under whatever name, it is important to bear in mind that there is such a relationship, involving both real responsibilities and real privileges; and that it is this relationship, as contradistinguished from an inward and saving one, that makes the difference between the members of the visible and the members of the invisible Church of Christ.

This is what Murray is explicitly rejecting. What is required is saving faith, not historical faith. Bannerman identified this as the Independent (Congregationalist) view. “The Independent view, which insists on the possession of a saving faith in Christ as the only footing on which Church membership can be conceded…”

Samuel Rutherford, one of the leading members of the Westminster Assembly (Dr. Guy Richard says “Rutherford had a huge impact upon the Assembly” and Chad Van Dixhoorn says Rutherford was the second-most prominent speaker on the floor of the Assembly), faced this argument in his day. He responded to the Congregationalists thus:

Therefore these words must import that nothing is more required for the church to confer the seal of the covenant without sin, but that the children be descended of parents professing the truth and faith, though the parents (indeed, as concerning any real union of faith) be plain strangers to the covenant [inwardly], and are members of the church only as an arm of wood is a member of the body.  Which being true, as it must be said, the assumption [of the Separatists] is weak and sick.

For the question is: what is it to be externally within the covenant? 

It is not to see all known sins, to be a chosen people, a people taught of God [inwardly], as this argument would say.

1. For then God would not have commanded Joshua (Josh. 5) to circumcise all Israel because their fathers were externally within the covenant.

2. For their fathers were a generation of unbelievers who knew not God, who tempted Him, grieved his holy Spirit in the wilderness, and professed themselves by their murmuring never to be truly within the covenant [inwardly].

Then to profess the doctrine of the covenant is but to be born Jews, avow the Lord in external profession and swear a covenant with Him (Deut. 29), [even] when the heart is blinded and hardened (Deut. 29:4).  And so by this it is clear that Joshua had commandment of God to give the seal of the covenant to their children, who [the parents] were as openly wicked against the Lord, as murderers, drunkards, swearers, etc.

3. This argument [of the Separatists] will prove that circumcision could lawfully be given to none but the children of parents within the covenant, that is, professedly known to be faithful, holy, and separated from the profane world in the judgment of charity. This has no warrant of the Word.  For:

1. The children of the most wicked were circumcised (Josh. 5:2 [see also verses 6-7]). We desire to know whom God forbade to be circumcised that were carnally descended of Abraham?  Or show us example or precept thereof in the Word.

2. What God required in the parents, whose infants the church might lawfully and without sin circumcise, was that they were born Jews. O, says Mr. Best, they were behooved [required] to be members of the church, whose infants might lawfully be circumcised.  I answer: that is ignotum per ignotius [unknown per the unknown].  Show me one person being a born Jew whose child the Lord forbid to circumcise?

3. What is it to be a member of the Jewish Church? Is it to be a visible saint and taught of God [inwardly]?  I [admit this to be] true: that was required indeed to make men acceptable before God.  But to make one a visible member of the visible Jewish church, nothing was required but to be a born Jew, profess God’s truth, and keep from external ceremonial pollutions.  I mean: to be a member of the visible church, [is] to keep external and church communion with the rest of God’s people.

On the Baptism of the Children of Adherents

John Murray the Baptist

Murray continues:

The second danger that must be avoided is the tendency to define the church in such a way as would seem to eliminate or at least tone down the discrepancy or anomaly with which we are dealing. This again is a mistake. Our definition of the church must not be framed in terms of an accommodation by which we make provision, within our definition, for the inclusion of hypocrites, that is to say, of those who profess to be Christ’s but are not really his. Our definition of the church must be framed in terms of the constitutive principle, to wit, that the church consists of those who are united to Christ and are members of his body. It is the communion of saints. And it is precisely that body of believers in fellowship with Christ and with one another, associated together in the world in accordance with Christ’s institution, which is called in the New Testament “the church” and is what we often call the visible church. We may not abandon this constitutive principle, we may not accommodate our definition in order to make allowance for the fact that some make the profession who do not have the faith and who enter into the fellowship without the bond that constitutes it.*26

*26 It is very easy to fall into this kind of accommodation when we begin to apply the distinction between the church as invisible and the church as visible. And, indeed, it may appear to be necessary in order to avoid other pitfalls of the Romish doctrine of the church. In the esteem of the present writer this appears rather conspicuously in James Bannerman’s excellent work, The Church of Christ. His definition of the visible church is framed in terms that do not appear to be supported by New Testament usage (cf. op. cit. Vol. I, pp. 29ff). The terms in which Bannerman develops the distinction between visible and invisible and frames his definition of the visible church seem to provide us with a very simple and effective polemic against Rome. The controversy with Rome must, of course, be unabated, but it does not appear to be sound to conduct this controversy on the basis of a definition which does not find its counterpart in the Biblical usage with reference to the church.

I Cor. 1:1, 2… provides us with Paul’s concept of the church at Corinth, namely, those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be saints, and he does not conceive of the church in broader terms so as to distinguish between the church and those sanctified and called…

Paul recognised that there was old leaven in the church at Corinth, leaven which needed to be purged out. But when he addresses the church he does not address it as a community to be defined in terms of old leaven and new unleavened bread. He does not define the church in terms which would make allowance for both elements. No, he addresses the church as those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, and who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ…

It is true that hypocrites may secure admission to the church. As we have seen, the very administration which Christ has instituted for the admission of members allows for that. There are disciples who are not truly disciples, and there are branches in the vine which are not vitally and abidingly in the vine. But while we fully recognise this fact we must at the same time distinguish between the constitutive principle in terms of which the church is defined, on the one hand, and the de facto situation arising from the way in which Christ has chosen to administer the affairs of his church in the world, on the other. The inclusion and exclusion are in the hands of fallible men. This administration is of divine institution. Hence those who are not Christ’s gain admission.*27 Here is the anomaly. We have to recognise and contain it. It persists in its sharpness because we refuse to define the church in lower terms than the body of Christ and the communion of the saints. It is that definition that creates the anomaly and we may not revise the definition in order to relieve the tension…

*27 Cf. Calvin: Inst. IV, i, 7 and 8.
In refraining from the attempt to define the church in terms of an accommodation that will make allowance for the inclusion of hypocrites we are following the same lines as would have to be followed in defining the kingdom of God. We are not forgetful of the parables of the tares and the wheat and of the drag net. There is a mixture in the kingdom, and Christ will at the end gather out of his kingdom all things that offend and them which do iniquity. But we may not define the kingdom of God in terms of accommodation to this de facto situation. We must define it in terms of the rule and realm of righteousness, life, and peace.

What we have here from Murray is the exact argument I have made previously regarding the church (See Church Membership: De Jure or De Facto?). False believers who are not united to Christ are part of the visible church de facto only because their “inclusion and exclusion are in the hands of fallible men.” But according to God, who sees rightly, they are not part of the church, the body of Christ. The visible/invisible church distinction is the distinction between man’s fallible perspective and God’s infallible perspective. Murray’s student Edmund P. Clowny (the first president of Westminster Theological Seminary) noted “The confusion about the relation of the aspects of visibility and invisibility of the church can only grow until it is again recognized that the church as invisible is not some abstract ideal, but simply the church as God sees it, in contrast with the church as we see it.” (“Distinctive Emphases in Presbyterian Church Polity,” in Pressing Toward the Mark)

This same point was made by James Ussher.

But are none to be accounted members of this [visible] Church, but such as are true believers, and so inseparably united unto Christ their head? Truly and properly none other. (1 John 2.19)… [they are] in humane judgement accounted members of the true Church, and Saints by calling, (1 Cor 1.1) until the Lord (who only knoweth his) do make known the contrary.

Cited in Church Membership: De Jure or De Facto?

And by the Second Helvetic Confession:

Whence the Church of God may be termed invisible; not because the men from whom the Church is gathered are invisible, but because, being hidden from our eyes and known only to God, it often secretly escapes human judgment… not all that are reckoned in the number of the Church are saints, and living and true members of the Church. For there are many hypocrites… But eventually the character of these men, for the most part, will be disclosed. For the apostle John says: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would indeed have continued with us” (I John 2:19). And although while they simulate piety they are not of the Church, yet they are considered to be in the Church, just as traitors in a state are numbered among its citizens before they are discovered…

Chapter XVII

And Wilhelmus à Brakel:

As one person cannot be divided into an invisible and a visible person, one may not divide the church into a visible and invisible church, for then it would seem as if there were two churches, each being a different church. One may also not divide the church into a visible and invisible church as far as the members themselves are concerned, as if the one had different members from the other… This is, in our opinion, an erroneous view, generating many confusing thoughts and expressions concerning the church… If one understands the differentiation between the external and internal church to be but a twofold view and perspective of one and the same church, and does not hold to a twofold membership relationship, all is well and our proposition is confirmed: The differentiation between an external and internal church on the basis of membership and relationship is not good. One and the same church, consisting of true believers only, can either be viewed in reference to her internal spiritual condition, or in reference to her external manifestation in the world. This is what we have stated…

The church is a congregation of true believers. The unconverted, even though they have made confession of faith, have been accepted into the fellowship of the church, live without offense, and have been admitted to the use of the sacraments, the unconverted, I repeat, are not true members of the church. This is so whether the church is viewed in her internal, spiritual condition or in her public gatherings whereby she manifests herself externally to the world. The unconverted are not members of the external, visible church. Believers only constitute the true church. They alone are members of the church, regardless of how one views them.

Cited in Church Membership: De Jure or De Facto?

Murray applies this to the question of baptism.

The resolution of the anomaly, that there are some who, from the standpoint of administration, rightly receive the sign and seal of that which in reality they do not possess, is not to be sought along the line of the distinction between an external covenant relationship and the internal spiritual relationship but rather in the consideration that there is a discrepancy between the secret operations and purposes of God in his saving grace, on the one hand, and the divinely instituted method of administering the covenant in the world, on the other. In other words, the administration of the rite that is the sign and seal of the covenant has to be conducted not in accordance with God’s secret operations and infallible purposes of grace but in accordance with certain requirements which fallible men may execute and apply. The divine method of administering the covenant in the world is that God commits to fallible men the ordinances of administration. These ordinances have to be dispensed in accordance with requirements which fallible men may apply. But the requirements that may be applied by men are not the measure of God’s secret and efficacious operations of grace. To be very specific, baptism is not administered by revelation of God’s secret will. It is properly administered when certain conditions of divine prescription, conditions with reference to which fallible men are in a position to judge, have been fulfilled. This is the divine institution. (52)

Of course, as Bannerman warned, Murray’s view of the church, “if consistently carried out… deprive[s] the infants of professing Christians of their right to be regarded as members of the Church.” But Bannerman’s warning here comes in the same section where he addresses the Romish view of the church. Thus we may paraphrase Murray’s rebuke of Bannerman’s polemic accommodation.

 It is very easy to fall into this kind of accommodation when we begin to apply the distinction between the church as invisible and the church as visible. And, indeed, it may appear to be necessary in order to avoid other pitfalls of the Baptist doctrine of the church. In the esteem of the present writer this appears rather conspicuously in James Bannerman’s excellent work, The Church of Christ. His definition of the visible church is framed in terms that do not appear to be supported by New Testament usage (cf. op. cit. Vol. I, pp. 29ff). The terms in which Bannerman develops the distinction between visible and invisible and frames his definition of the visible church seem to provide us with a very simple and effective polemic against the Baptists. The controversy with Baptists must, of course, be unabated, but it does not appear to be sound to conduct this controversy on the basis of a definition which does not find its counterpart in the Biblical usage with reference to the church.

What About Abraham?

Of course Murray goes on to argue for infant baptism on the basis of the Abrahamic Covenant. But so did the Congregationalists. And, as older Presbyterians warned, their argument ultimately failed (both theoretically and practically) because of their definition of the church.

Murray argues:

The basic premise of the argument for infant baptism is that the New Testament economy is the unfolding and fulfillment of the covenant made with Abraham and that the necessary implication is the unity and continuity of the church…

With reference to circumcision it must be fully appreciated that it was not essentially or primarily the sign of family, racial, or national identity. Any significance which circumcision possessed along the line of national identity or privilege was secondary and derived. Its primary and essential significance was that it was a sign and seal of the highest and richest spiritual blessing which God bestows upon men… [W]e have no authority whatsoever to say that circumcision was simply the sign of an external relationship…

What was the Abrahamic covenant in the highest reaches of its meaning?  Undeniably and simply: “I will be your God, and ye shall be my people” (cf. Gen. 17:7; Exod 19:5, 6; Deut 7:6; 14:2; Jer 31:33). In a word it is union and communion with Jehovah, the God of Israel… Baptism, which is the sign of the covenant under the new economy as circumcision was under the old, bears essentially the same import as did circumcision.

Congregationalists made this argument in the 17th century. Here is how Presbyterian Samuel Rutherford responded:

[T]here was no more required of the circumcised but that they were Abraham’s seed according to the flesh, and by that same reason, there is no more required of infants that they may be baptized but that they be born in the Christian church.  For the Christian baptism, and the Jewish circumcision in substance are all one (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:11; Jer. 9:26; Jer. 4:4; 1 Pet. 3:21,22)…

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.  It must be a holiness because of their elected and chosen parents (the patriarchs, prophets, and the holy seed of the Jews), and so [it must be] the holiness federal, or the holiness of the [external] covenant.

If then the Jews in Paul’s time were holy by covenant (howbeit for the present the sons were branches broken off for unbelief), how much more then (seeing God has chosen the race and nation of the gentiles and is become a God to us and to our seed), that the seed [of those in the covenant] must be holy with a holiness of the chosen nation and an external holiness of the covenant, notwithstanding that the father and mother were as wicked as the Jews who slew the Lord of Glory…

If external profession be sufficient (without a longer examination) to baptize the aged by the apostolic practice (as we see in Simon Magus, Acts 8:13, and in Ananias and Saphira, Acts 2:38-39,44-45, compared with Acts 5:1-2): then the profession of faith in the forefathers is enough for us to judge their forefathers within the covenant and consenters to the covenant.  For when many thousands at once are said to enter into covenant with God (as is clear, Deut. 29:10-13; Josh. 24:24,25; 2 Chron. 15:9-12), they could not give any larger proofs or evidences of their faith of the covenant than a solemn assembling together and a verbal oath (or saying, ‘Amen’, or ‘So be it,’ as Deut. 27:14,17), after which they were reputed to be in the covenant, and so their seed also [were reputed to be] in the covenant…

The proposition he [the Congregationalist] proves from Gen. 17:10, ‘This is my covenant… and every man-child amongst you shall be circumcised,’ and Rom. 4:11, ‘He received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of faith.’  The assumption, he and others, prove [this way]: because murderers, drunkards, swearers, and whose children we baptize, declare themselves not to be Christians (nor faithful, nor saints by their wicked life) and so not within the covenant.  This argument also the Separatists use.

Answer:

…If the former be said 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. 

Therefore these words must import that nothing is more required for the church to confer the seal of the covenant without sin, but that the children be descended of parents professing the truth and faith, though the parents (indeed, as concerning any real union of faith) be plain strangers to the covenant [inwardly], and are members of the church only as an arm of wood is a member of the body.  Which being true, as it must be said, the assumption [of the Separatists] is weak and sick.

For the question is: what is it to be externally within the covenant?

It is not to see all known sins, to be a chosen people, a people taught of God [inwardly], as this argument would say.

1. For then God would not have commanded Joshua (Josh. 5) to circumcise all Israel because their fathers were externally within the covenant.

2. For their fathers were a generation of unbelievers who knew not God, who tempted Him, grieved his holy Spirit in the wilderness, and professed themselves by their murmuring never to be truly within the covenant [inwardly].

Then to profess the doctrine of the covenant is but to be born Jews, avow the Lord in external profession and swear a covenant with Him (Deut. 29), [even] when the heart is blinded and hardened (Deut. 29:4).  And so by this it is clear that Joshua had commandment of God to give the seal of the covenant to their children, who [the parents] were as openly wicked against the Lord, as murderers, drunkards, swearers, etc.

3. This argument [of the Separatists] will prove that circumcision could lawfully be given to none but the children of parents within the covenant, that is, professedly known to be faithful, holy, and separated from the profane world in the judgment of charity. This has no warrant of the Word.  For:

1. The children of the most wicked were circumcised (Josh. 5:2 [see also verses 6-7]). We desire to know whom God forbade to be circumcised that were carnally descended of Abraham?  Or show us example or precept thereof in the Word.

2. What God required in the parents, whose infants the church might lawfully and without sin circumcise, was that they were born Jews. O, says Mr. Best, they were behooved [required] to be members of the church, whose infants might lawfully be circumcised.  I answer: that is ignotum per ignotius [unknown per the unknown].  Show me one person being a born Jew whose child the Lord forbid to circumcise?

3. What is it to be a member of the Jewish Church? Is it to be a visible saint and taught of God [inwardly]?  I [admit this to be] true: that was required indeed to make men acceptable before God.  But to make one a visible member of the visible Jewish church, nothing was required but to be a born Jew, profess God’s truth, and keep from external ceremonial pollutions.  I mean: to be a member of the visible church, [is] to keep external and church communion with the rest of God’s people...

So they cite scriptures that by no force of reason do speak for them, as Rom. 4:11 and Rom. 11:16, which say nothing but that ‘if the root be holy’ with the holiness federal and of the external profession, then so are the branches.  But the place speaks nothing of true inherent holiness: for then all holy parents should have holy and visible saints coming out of their loins, which is against scripture and experience…

By this our divines lose their best argument against Anabaptists: namely, that children of Christians are to be baptized by that same warrant that infants under the Law were circumcised.  But none was circumcised but a member of the visible church under the Law.  Now this you gainsay, who would have all clean and unclean baptized; and so you leave your pattern.

Answer:

We leave our pattern in no sort.  For all were circumcised that were born of circumcised parents within the church of the Jews.  So all are to be baptized that are born of Christians and baptized parents professing the faith.

But, say they: drunkards, murderers, sorcerers, swearers, and ignorant atheists, both fathers and mothers, whose children you baptize, do not profess the faith, for in works they deny and bely their profession.

Answer:

1. Then you will have the children of none to be baptized but those whose parents are sound and sincere professors in the judgment of charity. But so Joshua failed who circumcised the children of all professing themselves to be Abraham’s sons carnally, though Joshua knew and was an eye witness that their fathers did deny and bely their profession.  And John baptized the seed of all (Matt 3) that professed the faith of the Messiah, although he knew them to be a generation of vipers.

They often require that one of the parents be a believer or else the child cannot be clean, nor lawfully baptized.  They repose on that place (1 Cor. 7:14):

‘For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; else’ (that is, if both were unbelievers) ‘were your children unclean’ (that is not within the covenant) ‘but now are they holy.’

And they allege Theodore Beza and David Pareus for this.

Answer:  But they mistake the word ‘unbelieving.’  For by ‘unbelieving’ in that place (as the Professors of Leyden do well observe[15]) is meant infidel gentiles that are without the church and profess not Christ [not unbelievers within the visible chuch], as is clear from the text

On the Baptism of the Children of Adherents

In other words, Rutherford explains that Scripture is clear the “Jewish church” was not “the communion of the saints and the congregation of the faithful.” Rather, the “Jewish church” was made by the promise of God to Abraham’s sons according to the flesh establishing an external covenant.  To be part of the “Jewish church” was “[T]o be born Jews, avow the Lord in external profession and swear a covenant with Him (Deut. 29), [even] when the heart is blinded and hardened (Deut. 29:4).” Therefore, if Murray correctly recognizes that the New Testament defines the church as “the communion of the saints and the congregation of the faithful” then “By this our divine loses his argument against Anabaptists: namely, that children of Christians are to be baptized by that same warrant that infants under the Law were circumcised.”

In sum, Murray is correct that paedobaptism’s “definition of the visible church is framed in terms that do not appear to be supported by New Testament usage.” Therefore it cannot “justify us in regarding the infants of professing Christians as entitled to share the communion and privileges of the Church.”