God Does Not Deal with Individuals?

Many reformed defenses of infant baptism depend in some way on not focusing the redemptive-historical character of covenants. Despite his Meredith Kline (some would say dispensational) model, Stellman also relies on “the covenant” talk, expecially when he claims that worship is the same in the new as the old covenant.

My aim here is not to pit one paedobaptist against another (though that’s fun enough, see the little book from Evangelical Press by TE Watson).That does not get to the crux of the question, which has to do with ordained “ministers” doing something and saying that God is doing and man is not.

“Ancient sacramental” folk spend a lot of time quoting Calvin and Nevin to their pietist congregations. And I will grant them that the Constantinian tradition is on their side: the Godfrey-Horton-Doug Wilson types can find plenty to support them even in Zwingli. But it’s going to take more than accusing others of being Gnostic and quoting the confessions about the office of the “minister” to convince us.

Stellman claims that “God never deals with us as individuals” (p9) I do not agree. I disagree that, when we hear Christ preached, we then hear Christ preaching. (p13) I disagree that we hear an official “minister” absolving our sins, that we hear Christ forgiving our sins.

WHO IS HEARING? Are the non-elect not hearing, because they don’t care about their sins? If so, then it comes back again to the faith of the hearers? Or, instead, are the non-elect hearing “you are forgiven” by the “minister” as telling them that THEIR sins are forgiven?

Is it “pietism” to warn people that the New Testament is written only to “as many as” are individually Christian? It’s ironic that Stellman can make distinctions for Sabbath (no death penalty for this! ) but he won’t divide individual Christian from individual nonChristian for those “taking the sacrament”.

Why go on pretending that everybody listening to the sermon and observing the sacrament is an exile from the world and a Christian? But since he refuses “to speak to the church as if were the world” (even though he baptises the infant world into the church), he needs to think more about about the possibility of water passing on salvation to pagans who are not children, and about the supper being converting for those halfway in.

Or, as he himself asks, Even if there is no faith, is there no blessing? (p 14)

To the extent Stellman uses “the covenant” to argue for sacraments, his distinction between the old and new covenants collapses. When he talks Sabbath, he doesn’t want the death penalty to apply, but when he talks sacraments, he still wants to talk sanctions and curses. (p77) Like his mentor Kline, he warns that God may break you off if you don’t observe the rituals.

Stellman doesn’t want us to talk about “dead” Christians (p80) as if some internal work of the Spirit needed to be done, but rather ask if people are “observant” at the sacraments. Maybe you agree with him.

My point is that not even all paedobaptists agree with him on that.

If you are faking it at the sacrament, then God can kill you. That argument in itself does not prove that it is a sacrament or that God is the agent in water baptism and in the Supper. Those questions have to be answered biblically. By that, I don’t exclude any sense of individuality at conversion. Neither do I exclude use of confessions.

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11 Comments on “God Does Not Deal with Individuals?”

  1. Neil Robson Says:

    as to admiting non Christians to communion,this is not a traditional presbyterian practice.The table was “fenced” and non Christians were disueded from partaking.In many Free Presbyterian churches in Scotland,this is still the practice.But in the case of non evangelical presbyterian churches it became the norm to accept those who had become church members, to the table automatically,since at thier acceptance as members they made a profession of faith,which was taken as being sincere and therby not to be questioned.


  2. The real bottom line in all this is that the magisterial Reformers were state-churchists to a man. 90% of their blunders were caused by the necessities predicated on state churches. This is why the “ana”-Baptists were such a threat, and made enemies of the State.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Charles Hodge: “It is to be remembered that there were two covenants made with Abraham. By the one, his natural descendants through Isaac were constituted a commonwealth, an external, visible community. By the other, his spiritual descendants were constituted a church. The parties to the former covenant were God and the nation; to the other, God and His true people. The promises of the national covenant were national blessings; the promises of the spiritual covenant (i.e., the covenant of grace), were spiritual blessings, reconciliation, holiness, and eternal life.”

  4. markmcculley Says:

    Philip Cary—Catholics don’t worry about whether they have saving faith but whether they are in a state of mortal sin—so they go to confession. Reformed Protestants don’t worry about mortal sin but about whether they have true saving faith—so they seek conversion.

    Luther points here to the words “for you,” and insists that they include me. When faith takes hold of the Gospel of Christ, it especially takes hold of these words, “for you,” and rejoices that Christ did indeed died for me

    In this way the Gospel and its sacraments effectively give us the gift of faith. I do not have to ask whether I truly believe; I need merely ask whether it is true, just as the Word says, that Christ’s body is given for me. And if the answer is yes, then my faith is strengthened—without “making a decision of faith,” without the necessity of a conversion experience, and without even the effort to obey a command to believe.

    For what the sacramental word tells me is not: “You must believe” (a command we must choose to obey) but “Christ died for you” (good news that causes us to believe).

    It is sufficient to know that Christ’s body is given for me. If I cling to that in faith, all will go well with me. And whenever the devil suggests otherwise, I keep returning to that sacramental Word, and to the “for us” in the creed, where the “us” includes me. Thus precisely the kind of faith that is insufficient to get me admitted to the Puritan sacraments—which is to say, mere belief in the truth of the creed and trust in my baptism—is all the faith I have. If Luther is right, it is all the faith I can ever have, and all the faith I need.

    the Reformed tradition generates pastoral problems that cannot be helped by the sacrament, because neither word nor sacrament can assure me that I have true saving faith. The logic of the matter, it seems to me, makes it impossible to split the difference between these two positions and get the best of both.

    https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2014/10/23/clinging-to-externals-weak-faith-and-the-power-of-the-sacraments/

    mcmark—-Talk of the sacrament “for us” always replaces talk of definite atonement only for the elect, and crowds out any good news of justice requiring the final salvation of all for whom Christ died. The Lutheran “us” claims to be everybody, but for Lutherans, it’s not the death for “us” which saves anyone, because what saves anyone is present faith. Present faith, present salvation, and losing faith is losing salvation, and Christ’s satisfaction of the law has nothing to do with it.

  5. markmcculley Says:

    http://www.the-highway.com/articleApr06.html

    SOLA ECCLESIA: The Lost Reformation Doctrine
    by Michael J. Glodo
    With which of the following statements are you in greater agreement?

    1. “Every day people are straying away from the church and going back to God.”

    2. “Away from [the church] one cannot hope for any forgiveness of sins or any salvation.”

    For the average evangelical Christian the first statement may lack some balance, but the second sounds downright Romish. If this describes your reaction, then your ecclesiology is closer to the author of the first, Lenny Bruce, than to the author of the second, John Calvin (Institutes 4.1.1). Bruce, satirist of organized religion and nemesis to hypocrisy, a comedian notorious for his vulgarity and impiety, nevertheless expressed a common contemporary assessment of organized religion, while Calvin’s statement seemed to betray his role as one of the primary catalysts of the Protestant Reformation

    There is no invisible baptism,. The person who says, “I’m a member of the Kingdom of God, not organized religion” is inherently contradictory. How do we know that such a person is truly converted? For that matter, how does he or she know? They have refused Christ’s appointed administration of his Kingdom and, thus, stand apart from his kingship. For this reason, one cannot possess assurance of salvation indefinitely if he remains outside of the Church . He may have saving faith, but have none of Christ’s means of assuring him of it. Paul wrote, “But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother” (Galatians 4:26, NASV). Hence, Cyprian wrote, “No one has God as his father without the Church as his mother.”
    Ridderbos described that view, “liberal theology asserted that, as a visible gathering of believers with a certain amount of organization, the Church lay entirely outside Jesus’ vision.”

    mark: like the fundy slippery slope from no head covering to evolution and same-sex marriage, the sacramentalists accuse all who disagree with them of being “liberals”

    • markmcculley Says:

      ebastian Franck Why should God wish to restore the outworn sacraments and take them back from the Antichrist [the Pope]? (Letter to John Campanus).

    • markmcculley Says:

      The Oxford Tract writers make the church the main point; the church as an ordinance for conveying life to all its members by means of the sacraments. The church, with them, is the great mediator between God and man, the only authorized channel of divine communication.

      —Charles Hodge, Review of Tracts For The Times (1838)

  6. markmcculley Says:

    John Piper on Romans 9—By this election of Isaac instead of Ishmael God shows that physical descent from Abraham does not guarantee that one will be a beneficiary of the covenant made with Abraham and his seed… But, the interpretation continues, the covenant blessings for which Isaac is freely chosen (before his birth) and from which Ishmael is excluded (in spite of descendancy from Abraham) do not include individual eternal salvation. One cannot legitimately infer from Rom 9:7-9 that Ishmael and his descendants are eternally lost nor that Isaac and his descendants are eternally saved. What God freely and sovereignly determined is the particular descendant (Isaac) whose line will inherit the blessings of the covenant: multiplying exceedingly, fathering many nations, inhabiting the promised land and having God as their God (Gen 17:2-8). This benefit, not eternal salvation, is what is not based on physical descent from Abraham, but on God’s unconditional election…
    God’s promised blessings are never enjoyed on the basis of what a person is by birth or by works, but only on the basis of God’s sovereign, free predestination (Rom 9:11,12)… We may grant, for the sake of argument, that in the demonstration of this principle of God’s freedom in election Paul uses Old Testament texts that do not relate explicitly to eternal salvation… [But] the solution which Rom 9:6-13 develops in respons to this problem [9:1-5], must address the issue of individual, eternal salvation…
    [W]hether Paul sees the election of Isaac (Rom 9:7b) as the election of an individual to salvation or as the election of his posterity for a historical task, the principle of unconditional election is immediately applied by Paul to the present concern, namely, who in reality does constitute true, spiritual “Israel” (9:6b), whose salvation is guaranteed by God’s word?
    – John Piper, The Justification of God, p. 56-73

  7. markmcculley Says:

    despite Kant, I can’t stop thinking about me. Galatians 2:19 For through the law I have died to the law, in order that I live for God. I have been crucified with Christ 20 and I no longer live, but Christ LIVES with regard to ME. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved ME and gave Himself for ME

  8. markmcculley Says:

    Matthew 10: 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

    Matthew 12: 46 While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. 48 But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!

    Matthew 19: 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit lasting life

  9. markmcculley Says:

    https://dogmatics.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/in-praise-of-evangelical-ecclesiology/

    “Low-Church and Proud.”

    Zahl comments, “No one hears collectively. It just doesn’t happen…given the pain and losses and crimes of the heart, people hear the Word as a word to them individually”

    Zahl sees The Episcopal Church (and, I would add, most of mainline Protestantism) as trying to construct a “liberal catholicism” that “rarely satisfies, because it is a construct for people to have their cake and eat it too. Liberal views of authority and Scripture and cultural rapprochement do not finally cohere with a historic, catholic view of the church. …Bible-anchored evangelicals are bound to be disappointed. I can almost guarantee that” (p. 216).

    ” As an evangelical and Protestant Episcopalian, I wonder about the attraction that high-church ecclesiologies have for many of my evangelical sisters and brothers on the free church side. [p. 213]

    In fact, Zahl finds it “disturbing” when he witnesses evangelicals “fall for” the aesthetics and hierarchy of high-church bodies. “It seems like a reaction to something that was missing or kinked in childhood, a compensation to make up for an earlier loss.”

    Most intriguingly — for an Anglican no less! — Zahl even poses a contrast, an either/or, between Protestant and Catholic. He questions why his evangelical friends who are “compulsively attracted” to high-church form do not go all the way. “Pull a Cardinal Newman. Be consistent”:


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