Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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October 2009  •  Volume XII, Issue 18


One Body Animated by One Spirit (3)

The "one baptism" of Ephesians 4:5 is the real, inner, spiritual baptism: "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit" (I Cor. 12:13). This makes us living members of the "one body" of the church, enabling us to believe the "one faith" and subjecting us to our "one Lord" (Eph. 4:4-5).

Some err by teaching two (or more) inner, spiritual baptisms, such as Pentecostals or second-blessing advocates. They reckon that all Christians are baptized by the Spirit into Christ (regeneration), but that only some Christians are baptized by Christ into the Spirit (second blessing). By definition, this is not only false but also schismatic, for there is "one baptism." This is why a biblical and Reformed church must not permit Pentecostals and Charismatics to be members, for their heresy is necessarily divisive.

There are also errors regarding water baptism. Anabaptism rejects the baptism of the children of believers, even though the Bible calls such "holy" (I Cor. 7:14), members of the covenant and citizens of the kingdom. Those churches which allow both paedobaptists and credobaptists as members cannot be truly united, because they have two views on (water) baptism and thus two views on the nature and membership of the church. The scriptural, Reformed faith is that there is one spiritual baptism, signified and sealed in one water baptism, both of believers and their seed (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A. 74).

The "one God and Father of all" (Eph. 4:6) is the Triune God. The "all" here does not refer to all mankind head for head; it is all the saints in the "one body" of the church. The Triune God’s being "above all" means that He is over all the body. That He is "through all" means He pervades the church. That He is "in you all" means He is present in all the members of Christ by His indwelling Spirit. Ephesians 4:6 is the goal and climax of the seven "ones" of Ephesians 4:4-6. To be filled with God with Him in us by the Spirit! This is the privilege and goal of the church as the body of Jesus Christ!

What an emphasis on the unity of the church in Ephesians 4:4-6: "one body," "one spirit," "one hope," "one Lord," "one faith," "one baptism" and "one God and Father of all." What is missing from this list of seven "ones"? One pope! Romanism sees this as necessary for church unity, yet here in Ephesians 4, where there is the greatest emphasis on unity in the epistle whose theme is the church as the body of Christ, there is no mention of any Roman pontiff. True church unity is found where the "one body" is animated through "one baptism" by the "one Spirit" and so possesses "one hope" and "one faith" in "one Lord" to the glory of the "one God and Father"—according to the Bible. This is not the unity in which the World Council of Churches is interested.  Rev. Stewart

The Place of Children in the Covenant (1)

Question: "Are children in the covenant of grace upon baptism or are only the elect members after conversion? With whom was the covenant of works made? The visible or the invisible church? How does all that work out?"

This question from a brother in Australia really consists of two questions: one concerns the place of children in the covenant; the other has to do with the covenant of works. Although they are related, we will treat them separately and in different articles.

The questioner presents two options: either children are brought into the covenant at baptism or they become members of the covenant upon conversion. Neither of these two options is correct. Scripture and our Reformed creeds teach that children are brought into the covenant either in earliest infancy (prior to baptism) or when their parents are converted and brought to faith in Christ. The exception is that adults on the mission field are brought into the covenant through faith worked by the Spirit and by means of the preaching of the gospel. But these are adults who have not belonged to the covenant in their generations.

The children of believers who are born in the line of the covenant are members of the covenant at the moment of birth or even prior to birth. On the mission field when parents are converted, their children are also saved. Paul tells the Philippian jailer that upon his repentance and faith in Christ, both he and his house would be saved (Acts 16:31). Peter tells the Jews converted at Pentecost, "For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call" (Acts 2:39).

There is a great deal of dispute over this question. Baptists, for example, refuse to baptize children because they hold to believers’ baptism, that only those who confess faith in Christ may be baptized. But many, even within Reformed circles, although they baptize children, reckon that these baptized children are not really in the covenant until they believe in Christ and walk in obedience to God.

Both Baptists and those Reformed who deny that children are in the covenant hold to a view of the covenant which makes the covenant conditional. The covenant is defined as an agreement between God and man with various promises, threats and conditions. The covenant can only be realized when man fulfils various conditions. Obviously, babies and children cannot fulfil conditions.

But a conditional covenant is the death of sovereign grace. If grace is sovereign, God is able to save babies as well as adults. What possible objection could be raised against such sovereign power of God? If the covenant is not conditional (and it is not) then God alone takes into His covenant salvation whom He wills.

In Scripture, we read of babies (even unborn) who were taken into God’s covenant. God chose Jeremiah to be His prophet and saved and sanctified him before his birth: "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations" (Jer. 1:5).

When Mary, the mother of our Lord, came to the home of Elizabeth to tell her the message the angel Gabriel had brought her, Mary did not know she was pregnant with Christ, nor did Elizabeth know this. But Elizabeth was also pregnant with John the Baptist, and John’s work was to announce Christ’s coming. He began that work at the very moment he leaped in the womb of His mother, announcing to her and Mary that they were all in the presence of the promised Messiah (Luke 1:41-45). John, we are told, leaped in the womb of his mother "for joy," a fruit of the Spirit (44; Gal. 5:22)—a clear indication of the fact that John was regenerated before he was born.

When mothers in Israel brought their children to Jesus to be blessed, and persisted even when the disciples tried to discourage them, Jesus insisted that these mothers be permitted to do this: "Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 19:14). It is clear from this passage and the parallel passages in Mark 10:13-16 and Luke 18:15-17 that among these children were little babies, infants in their mothers’ arms. Yet they too are in the kingdom.

In both the Old Testament and the New Testament, Jehovah is the God of believers and their seed. He establishes His covenant with the children of believers, as well as with their parents (Gen. 17:7). Our children have God as their God.

Baptism does not bring children into the covenant; children are baptized because they are already in the covenant. Baptism is a sign and seal, administered to children of believers, that signifies and seals that God saves believers and their seed. It is a sign and seal of God’s gracious way of working in the generations of believers.

But there remains one problem, to which the questioner refers: Are all the children of believers saved? This is the question that inevitably arises when the truth of God’s covenant is explained as the Bible teaches it.

The very obvious answer to this question is: No, not all the children of believers who are baptized are saved. This was true among the children of Abraham and Isaac. It was also true of the nation of Israel throughout its history, as you all know.

This is also true in the New Testament. By no means does God save all our children—to make it very personal.

Scripture explains that this is God’s rule in Romans 9:6-13. Though both Jacob and Esau were born from believing parents and, though, in fact, Esau was the eldest, God told Rebekah their mother that "the elder [i.e., Esau] shall serve the younger [i.e., Jacob]" (Gen. 25:23). This is interpreted in Scripture itself to mean that God loved Jacob and hated Esau (Mal. 1:2-3; Rom. 9:12-13). And so it was throughout the nation’s history. The wicked Israelites, born in the line of the covenant, were constantly a thorn in the flesh of the true Israelites and led the nation astray into the service of idols.

So it is today. God tells us through Paul that it was never His intention to save all those baptized, neither in Old Testament Israel, nor in all the generations of believers: "For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel" (Rom. 9:6).

What determines who are saved among the children of believers and who are not? Paul makes it very clear in Romans 9 that it is not the difference between those who fulfil certain conditions of the covenant and those who do not. Nor is the difference that some accept the promises of the covenant by faith and walk in obedience. The sole determining factor is God’s sovereign decree of election and reprobation (Rom. 9:11-18). This decree not only divides the church from the world; it divides the elect covenant children from the reprobate seed who are born in the sphere of the covenant.

People do not like to hear this in our day and they engage in elaborate theological squirming and wriggling to avoid this clear teaching of Scripture. Yet it is this truth, set forth in many places in Scripture and not only Romans 9, that expresses sharply the absolute sovereignty of God in all His works, including the salvation of His church. It is, indeed, painful for believing parents when their own children go astray (I cannot think of anything more painful), but God’s people bow in humble submission to His will and humbly give thanks that He saves even one of their children, and perhaps more; for even this they do not deserve.

But there is another question that must be answered. If we know from Scripture that all the children of believers are not saved, why must we still baptize them all? This question is one that is inevitably raised by the Baptists, and is seen by many as being the nail that seals the Reformed view in a coffin. Baptists boast that they baptize only believers, for only believers are incorporated into God’s covenant.

Now, apart from anything else, this claim of the Baptists is not even true. They may indeed wait with baptism until a person makes confession of faith, but many who make such a profession of their faith show in their lives that they are not, after all, truly children of the covenant. They go astray; they forsake their church; they live ungodly lives; they never repent—even though they once professed their faith and were baptized. So the Baptist position is no guarantee at all that only believers are baptized.

Also wrong is the position of some that baptism means that all baptized children are included in the covenant, but that the covenant is conditional and dependent for its realization on man’s fulfilment of conditions. This view, taught by some within the Reformed community, is carried to its extreme by the Federal Vision. Those who hold to the Federal Vision claim not only that all those baptized are actually in the covenant, but that they are all regenerated and given salvation in Christ. But whether these persevere in their salvation and are finally brought to heaven is quite another matter. They may very well lose their salvation by their failure to fulfil the conditions of the covenant, and so go lost after all. This is dangerous Arminian theology, guilty of denying all the five points of Calvinism, and corrupting the great, towering truth of God’s absolute sovereignty. We must have none of this. Only elect believers and their children are included in the covenant of grace. They are, sovereignly and by grace alone, brought into the covenant and preserved in the covenant.

But we have not yet answered the question: Why are all the children of believers to be baptized? And why does God command that all children of believers be baptized? These questions bring us back to the question: Why did God command that all the children of believers were circumcised as a sign and seal of the covenant? We reserve this question for our next article in the NewsProf. Hanko

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