Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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November 2008 • Volume XII, Issue 7


Christ Will Build His Church (4)

Christ’s promise, "I will build my church" (Matt. 16:18), means that the true church will always be present in the earth. Even in Elijah’s day there were still 7,000 in the N. Kingdom who had not bowed the knee to Baal (I Kings 19:18). They are always a remnant, and sometimes "a very small remnant" (Isa. 1:9), but the Lord always has His people in the world. There is no reason for despondence. Do not set your hope upon the world or the false church! Do not despair as they degenerate further. Do not lose heart if true churches become smaller and harder to find. Christ’s Word is sure: He will build His church. Perhaps the elect have already been gathered in your area, but there is always a true church somewhere.

This explains why isolated Christians and those in departing churches are often discouraged. They find it hard to see the church (like Elijah), so they doubt Christ’s promise. Moreover, they lack the means of grace (preaching and sacraments) properly administered and so they do not enjoy, as they ought, the communion of saints with Christ and each other. In these sad circumstances, believers should move to a faithful church that the Son of God is building, for their own good and that of their family, children and other saints, because Christ builds His church through believers and their seed in true, instituted congregations.

Here is also ground for hope in our mission work and evangelism. Most do not want to acknowledge their wickedness and so do not see the need for repentance and faith in Christ crucified. This can be discouraging. But though most of those who are called by the preaching of the gospel reject the truth, Jesus encourages us that always a "few are chosen" (Matt. 22:14). These are the elect whom He makes living members of His church.

Some 2,000 years of Christ’s building His NT church have passed. He will continue this great work until the last of His people are brought to repentance (cf. II Peter 3:9) and then He shall return in glory on the clouds of heaven. Our calling is to believe, preach and hold fast to Christ’s promise (Matt. 16:18), especially in times of doubt, despair and setbacks. He is faithful who has promised!

Matthew 16:19 states the official means Christ uses in building His church: "the keys of the kingdom of heaven" (cf. Heidelberg Catechism, Lords Day 31). These two keys are the preaching of the gospel (John 20:21-23) and church discipline (Matt. 18:15-18). Christ wields these keys through Peter (16:19) and all the apostles (John 20:21-23; Matt. 18:15-18) in the first instance, and today He uses pastors who preach the Word and elders who administer church discipline.

So what is the basic idea of the keys of the kingdom? Picture the church as a well-fortified city ruled by a king. Through the faithful preaching of the gospel, Christ assures the true citizens of the kingdom that they belong within her walls. They see and hear, as it were, the gates of the kingdom being locked, with them safely on the inside. Meanwhile, unbelievers who are not members of the church also hear the preaching; their consciences testify to them that they are wicked; they see the city’s gates locked against them. Church discipline functions as a key when a confessing church member falls into sin, does not repent after receiving frequent brotherly admonition, and is finally excommunicated (cf. I Cor. 5). Then he passes through the gates of the kingdom, which are then closed and locked behind him so that he is now outside its walls. Thankfully, in some cases, that same key of church discipline is also used to readmit the excommunicated person, when he shows signs of genuine repentance.

The other imagery used in Matthew 16:19 is that of binding and loosing. Positively, Christ uses preaching and the readmitting of excommunicated persons to seal upon the hearts of His penitent, believing people that all their sins are forgiven or "loosed" from them. Negatively, He uses preaching and excommunication to testify to all unbelieving and impenitent people that, as long as they remain this way, all their sins are firmly "bound" upon them.

The exercise of the keys of the kingdom and this binding and loosing are, of course, only ratified and sealed "in heaven" (19), if the preaching and church discipline are in accordance with God’s holy Word.

In our day, the keys of the kingdom are frequently little understood or despised. This is in part through their abuse by false and departing churches and in part through the failure of churches to teach God’s Word properly. From the context in Matthew 16, we must emphasise that these two keys (19)—preaching and church discipline—are the official means that Christ uses to build His church and defend her from the gates of hell (18)! A church where these keys are not used properly or are even used wrongly is wide open to Satan or even part of the forces of the gates of hell! It is that serious! See to it, believer, that you are in a church (and denomination) where the keys are rightly esteemed and used!

Jesus goes on to explain the difficult, but blessed, calling of His followers: self-denial, cross-bearing and losing your life for Christ’s sake (24-25). This is how the true citizens of the kingdom and the living members of the church walk in this world. And this is the calling which Jesus and His true church issue to all those who confess Him as "the Christ, the Son of the living God" (16). Rev. Stewart

Are All Children Dying in Infancy Saved?

"Do all children dying in infancy, all stillbirths, all newly-conceived foetuses and all who have not reached the age of discretion—which comes earlier the higher the child’s intelligence—go to heaven automatically, as do all lunatics, autistic children, etc. (cf. II Sam. 12:23; Matt. 18:10)?" asks a reader.

This question has perplexed the church for centuries. Ulrich Zwingli believed that all children in all history who die in infancy, whether from pagans or believers, are saved. This position was rejected by Luther, Calvin, Knox and the rest of the Reformers. The Canons of Dordt limits its answer to the children of believers: "Since we are to judge of the will of God from his Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature, but in virtue of the covenant of grace in which they, together with the parents, are comprehended, godly parents have no reason to doubt of the election and salvation of their children whom it pleaseth God to call out of this life in their infancy" (I:17).

The Westminster Confession declares, "Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth. So also are all other elect persons, who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the word" (10:3). Like the Canons, the Westminster Confession speaks of elect infants, dying in infancy, but it also refers to "all other elect persons, who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the word." Clearly the Westminster Confession deals with those within the visible church, for the entire chapter is dealing with the effectual call which comes in connection with the preaching of the gospel.

The Heidelberg Catechism does not directly address the question of the salvation of infants dying in infancy, but it does state that baptism must be administered to the children of believers because "they, as well as the adult, are included in the covenant and church of God; and ... redemption from sin by the blood of Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult; they must therefore by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, be also admitted into the Christian church ..." (A. 74).

We may safely conclude that in the lines of the covenant, that is, in the case of children of believers who die in infancy, believers have no reason to doubt the salvation of these children. The same is true of children of believers who are mentally handicapped. They may grow to adulthood and be unable to comprehend the means God’s uses to save His people, namely, the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. The power of God’s grace is not limited; He can and does save them as well.

You see, we must never, never underestimate the understanding of mentally-handicapped children, no matter how severe the handicap may be. The danger in underestimating the intellectual ability of such children is really a lack of trust in the work of the Holy Spirit who is able to do far beyond what we ask or think in the salvation of Christ’s elect (Eph. 3:20). I have known and grown up with such children, and there is no doubt in my mind at all that the Spirit works in them powerfully and amazingly. Covenant parents with such children know this, and they teach these children as much as these children can learn.

These children have a very special place in the families into which they have been born and a special purpose in the church of which they are a part. They are gifts from God. It would be more than passing strange if God did not show a special love to these children as He shows a special love to families and churches into which such children are brought by God’s grace.

II Samuel 12:23, referred to in the question, may very well be used as proof that David also believed that the elect children of believers who die in infancy are saved. Some want to make the text merely refer to the grave, but it is more likely that David confesses his faith in the salvation of covenant children.

Matthew 18:10 is definite and positive proof that children of believers, whether infants or young children, are children of God and objects of His love. The text, and everywhere else in Scripture, makes no distinction between children that live or children that die in infancy; children who have normal intellects or children who are born with mental defects. God is no respecter of persons.

Underlying all this is the question whether covenant children are saved in infancy or even prior to conception. Our creeds and Scripture assure us that this is so. Jeremiah 1:5 is explicit on this point. Jeremiah was sanctified from the womb. Although, strangely enough, some argue that the sanctification referred to here is only external separation from the world, such argumentation is specious. Jeremiah was sanctified from the womb so that he, as one in whom the Spirit dwelt, was made holy and equipped for the work that God gave him to do.

The same is true of John the Baptist when he leaped in the womb of his mother Elizabeth at the presence of Christ (Luke 1:41-44). John was sanctified for his work of announcing the coming of Christ, for he began that work even prior to his birth: he announced to Elizabeth that Christ was present, and he announced to Mary that she was already pregnant with Christ.

Parents who take the covenant seriously, and who know that incorporation into the covenant is a sovereign work of God through Jesus Christ, recognize the salvation of their children and receive their children as those for whom Christ died, as regenerated children of God who are heirs with them of the covenant of grace. They teach their children God’s ways, knowing that the Spirit will make their teaching effective. They most emphatically do not consider their children unconverted and objects of mission work. Prof. Hanko

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