Is Baptism A Warning that God Might Not Spare You Either?

Jeremiah 31:-34 My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. but this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel, after those days, says the Lord: ‘I will put My law in their minds, and write in on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying ‘Know the Lord’, for they all shall know me…”

Will all in the new covenant know the Lord, or only those who keep the covenant? Will all in the new covenant keep the covenant? Will all in the new covenant be the people of God despite their sins?

When Jeremiah contrasts the new covenant with the one made with the fathers, the contrast is to the Mosaic covenant and not to the Abraham covenant. But neither is it accurate to say that the new covenant is only a renewal of the Abrahamic covenant. As Genesis 17 and 18 suggest, the Abrahamic covenant also had its “conditional” aspects.

One way some people put this all together is to say that the unconditional aspect of covenants only refers to God’s promise to save a people, but that WHICH INDIVIDUALS are part of the people is conditioned on covenant obedience. Instead of saying that all blessing is conditioned only on Christ’s death for the elect, many “Calvinists” bring into the picture the sovereign grace of God which enables the elect to meet the conditions of the covenant. They separate “covenant” from election and particular redemption. Abraham stayed in because he was enabled to obey, but some who are in get broken off because they do not obey.

I think that the “new legal state” of those in the new covenant does not depend on our conduct and walk. Those who try to walk to life will never arrive there. The Christian walk is a fruit of those who “stand in grace”. (Romans 5:1-2).

I want to interact with Meredith Kline’s By Oath Consigned (Eerdmans, 1968). I agree with his holding the line on the law/gospel antithesis, but I will argue that his reading of the covenants makes it difficult for him to talk about God meeting all the conditions for the salvation of an INDIVIDUAL.

Ultimately of course Kline’s book is about infant baptism. Unlike the confessions which speak of the water as a means of assurance, Kline says that the water only puts individuals into a conditional covenant, and introduces them to potential curse as well as potential blessing. But my focus in this short essay is not baptism, but Kline’s view of covenants.

Is the new covenant ONLY about the gospel, or does it have a secondary law-aspect as well, so that blessing is conditioned on keeping it? If so, what are these other “covenant” blessings which are not gospel blessings purchased by Christ? If there is such a thing as being in the new covenant but not being in Christ, what are the blessings of being in covenant for those for whom Jesus did not die? What is the “ grace” of being in the new covenant, if one assumes that the non-elect can be included for a time in the covenant?

Kline writes about ‘the proper purpose of the covenant, the salvation of the elect.” p34. But he also cautions that “we are not to reduce the redemptive covenant to that proper purpose.” Those who don’t continue to believe the gospel are condemned. (John 3:18). Of course this is true. Despite inability,all have a duty to believe the gospel. All have a duty to come into the new covenant in which “all know the Lord “. But this is something different from saying that the non-elect are in the new covenant, and will be cursed and broken off if they don’t continue to believe..

When we baptize with water,we cannot know for sure if people know the Lord. But this does not eliminate our duty to judge by the gospel. Those who do not confess with their mouth the gospel we should not presume to baptize. Those we do baptize we do so not to put into a conditional covenant but on their confession of bankruptcy which rules out any future covenant keeping as a basis for blessing.

But Kline resists the “bent toward such a reduction of covenant to election. To do so is to substitute a logical abstraction for the historical reality…”The historical reality for Kline is the reality of covenant threats and “actual divine vengeance against disobedience as covenantal”. I agree about divine vengeance but question if this wrath is “covenantal”.

Do those who are never initiated into the new covenant experience wrath? I am sure Kline would agree with me that they do. But this is something different from saying that those who experience the wrath of God were once members of the new covenant. Those who hear the gospel and reject it face greater condemnation but this does not prove that they EVER knew the Lord covenantally. Matthew 7 teaches us that there are those who never knew the Lord. There are no new covenant people who knew the Lord who then stopped knowing the Lord.

I agree with Kline about the need for Jesus to keep the new covenant. As he puts it: “the covenant concept has law as its foundation and makes its promises dependent on the obedience of a federal representative. ” p 35 I agree that the blessing of the new covenant comes through covenant curse on Jesus Christ. But since Christ has kept the covenant for all those in the new covenant, how can Kline speak of “dual sanctions” for those in the new covenant?

Kline thinks that those who were never elected and those for whom Jesus never died can be initiated into the new covenant. And his pattern for this is not only the Mosaic covenant but the Abrahamic covenant. Not all the children of Abraham are children of Abraham. It was possible to be in that covenant but not be justified like Abraham was.

Kline agrees that Jeremiah 31 sounds like “discontinuity” with earlier covenants. “Jeremiah speaks, to be sure, only of a consummation of grace; he does not mention a consummation of curses in the new Covenant.” p76. But Kline maintains this is only a matter of focus: the emphasis is on eschatological blessing but curse is not denied. “But the theologian of today ought not to impose on himself the visionary limitations of an Old Testament prophet.”

But why should we take this (marcionite? to turn the tables!) attitude to Jeremiah? Perhaps the prophet really is seeing a new covenant which has no “dual sanctions” because it is altogether conditioned on the obedience of Christ.

Yes, there is anathema/ excommunication in the New Testament. But what Kline needs to show is that those judgments are exclusions of those who were in the new covenant. Otherwise we simply assume the paradigm with which we begin. I John 2:19 says that those who sent out “were not of us.”

John 15 says that those who do not abide in the vine are thrown away. Were they broken off from “the covenant”? I don’t see how saying that the vine is the covenant fits with Christ saying He is the true vine. Certainly there is such a thing as a false profession about Christ, but does it really answer any questions to introduce into John 15 a covenant with dual sanctions?

But Kline argues that the new covenant of Jeremiah 31 is ultimately not about now but about after the second coming. Thus he says that we who say that only the elect are now in the new covenant “prematurely precipitate the age to come.” (p77, footnote about Jewett). The new covenant is really not yet, he thinks, because now there are those in it who do not know the Lord. Kline argues from Romans 11:17-21 to say that gentiles in the new covenant are grafted into the Abrahamic covenant, and that therefore this means we must not say that the new convent is unconditional because the Abrahamic covenant was not unconditional. Verse 21: “he may not spare you either”.

Of course we have the promise of Romans 8:32 that all those for whom God did not spare His Son will be spared. The condition of this blessing is Christ’s obedience (even to death) . But it is possible to warn and threaten folks ( he may not spare you either) without telling them that they have been initiated into the new covenant.

I think Kline would agree: not all are in the new covenant, we have to be initiated. But are there some in the new covenant who will not be spared? What good would it do to warn people in the new covenant about this if it were not possible for them to be broken off? Then again, what good would it do to warn people about sin and disobedience if they are so reckless as to put all their hope in Christ as the only condition of blessing?

I want to learn. I seek reconciliation of all the biblical data. I don’t want a reduction which leave out the warnings. But I would argue that the issue in Romans 9 to 11 is not about our covenant keeping but about continued faith in the righteousness of Christ.

When Romans 9:32 complains that some of the children of Abraham did not seek righteousness by faith, this does not mean that they did not work in the right way. Israelites who rejected the scandal of Jesus were perfectly willing to give God credit for their works. They were simply not ready to be told by Jesus that their works were evil .The reason the works of the Israelites who stumbled were evil was not a lack of sincerity orl effort. Their works were evil because they were done without faith in the gospel Abraham believed.

The gospel says that God justifies the ungodly who do not work (Romans 4:5). It was not a situation of being in a covenant but failing to meet certain legal conditions. The problem was people not believing the promise of the gospel. Romans 10:3 “for they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. “ A person who has not submitted to the righteousness of Christ has not yet had the law written on his heart, and there are none like that in the new covenant.

This is NOT a “premature” anticipation of the age to come. ALREADY in Romans 9-11, Paul makes two points:

Not every Jew is elect or justified. One could be in the Abrahamic covenant but not justified by God. Even those who stumbled could agree. Yes, we believe in election, and we know that we are elect because God has made us able to keep the covenant. Thus we teach grace but also conditional covenant.

Paul has a second point to make in Romans 9:11, and this is the one many stumble upon. Paul claims that we cannot establish our own righteousness, not even if we give God the credit for our doing.
The claim of Romans 11:32 is finally that “God has committed them all to disobedience, to have mercy on all.”.This is not a claim that every individual will be justified. All for whom Christ kept all conditions will be justified. But the gospel hope is not founded on the obedience of those who will be justified.

Though I agree that there is a law-aspect to the Abrahamic covenant so that we can speak of some Israel being broken off, I cannot agree that any curse hangs over those in the new covenant. I cannot agree that anything we might be enabled to do can add to what Christ did as the condition of blessing. Those for whom Christ died will be spared. To tell a person that “you may not be spared either” is to warn him that he may not yet be in the new covenant.

If the law is not established (Romans 3:31) by the death of Christ, what makes us think anything the Spirit does in us will secure our safety? If what God did by sending his Son cannot fulfill the righteous requirement of the law, through our legal death with the Son, why should anything we are enabled to do make us free from the law of sin and death? (Romans 8:1-4) If people in the new covenant can be broken off from the new covenant, what is the big deal about the new covenant?

Hebrews 9:14 how much shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit,offered himself without spot to God,purge your conscience from dead works, to serve the living God?

Hebrews 10:14 for by one offering He has perfected fervor those who are being sanctified

Does “living by the Spirit” mean that we are being enabled to stay in the covenant by means of covenant keeping? Or does it mean continuing by faith in the righteousness of the one who is the only condition of all our blessings?

Hebrews 10:22-23 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience…let us hold fast the confidence of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

Hebrews 10:29 warns, to “count the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a communion thing”? Does this verse teach that those who are threatened with “worse punishment” are presumed to be already in the covenant? Again I deny that you have to be in a covenant to dishonor it. The “him” who is sanctified by the blood is Christ, not us. Those who have not submitted to the covenant are not yet in the covenant.

I certainly agree with Kline that there are many professing Christians who are not really Christians. Kline assumes that to avoid being premature, we need to agree with these folks that they are in the covenant. But I disagree. We can’t assume that all those in any community which professes to be Christian are in the new covenant.

Christ has authority over all human creatures. Nobody has to be initiated into the new covenant in order for God to have greater jurisdiction over him! God owns even those Jesus did not buy, and their inability is no barrier to God judging them. We do not need to add them into some covenant to give God a basis for cursing them.

When we pledge ourselves to the new covenant, we do not confess our hope that we will be able to do what we promise (or be cursed if we fail). We confess a hope in the God who conditioned all the blessings of the new covenant on the obedience of His Son.

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14 Comments on “Is Baptism A Warning that God Might Not Spare You Either?”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    Duane Garrett, “Meredith Kline on Circumcision and Baptism”. in NAC Studies in Bible and Theology, Believers Baptism, ed by Schreiner and Wright

    p274– Jesus was baptized to identify with sinful humanity. In Kline’s interpretation, however it is John the Baptist’s confusion, not the baptism of Jesus, which must be explained. If baptism is an ordeal meant to determine guilt or innocence, there is no reason that Jesus should not be baptized.

    p275– I Peter 3:20-21 does not sustain Kline’s case. The flood was not a water ordeal for Noah, a test to determine whether he was righteous. It was a judgment on the world.

    p276–A good conscience is not the object of the pledge/request since the verse means “with a good conscience”. If one were either pledging obedience to God or appealing for forgiveness from God, one would expect to see either “obedience” or “forgiveness’ rather than “good conscience”.

    p281–Interpreting baptism under the rubric of a suzerainty treaty means that a Christian must require all persons under his authority to be baptized. This implies a Constantinian version of Christianity, in which the people are to become Christian because the emperor or the fathers are Christians.

  2. David Bishop Says:

    “Christ has authority over all human creatures. Nobody has to be initiated into the new covenant in order for God to have greater jurisdiction over him! God owns even those Jesus did not buy, and their inability is no barrier to God judging them. We do not need to add them into some covenant to give God a basis for cursing them.”

    Is the same thing I was thinking. No one has to be died for in order for God to be man’s judge.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Romans 2:28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical.

    So Ishmael was never an outward Jew, or was cut off from being an outward Jew? When? Were Esau and Ishmael in the outward “new covenant”? Were Jacob and Isaac in the new covenant?

    Romans 9: 6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”

    Since Abraham is the father of those who believe the gospel, does that mean that Abraham is not the father in any sense of Esau and Ishmael? Since Christ is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham that His seed would bring salvation and the “new covenant”, does this prove that Esau and Ishmael were in the new covenant? I suppose the problem here is that Paul is not using the administration/substance distinction and therefore Paul’s “not all” makes it sound like some kind of antithesis.

    Romans 9:8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.”

    But it would be too simple to flat out say that Ishmael was “not a child of God” and not a “child of promise”. Better to ignore that there are various promises to Abraham, and assume that a promise to Abraham is also a promise to Ishmael, even if that promise turns out to be conditional.

    Romans 9: 30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it….

    But this is not normal or ordinary. Usually you have to be in the covenant, and then it’s conditional on if you pursue it the right way, like we do.

    Galatians 4: 21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar.

    But focus on verse 24, and see that the law is about Sinai and Moses, so this is not about Abraham, not about the two sons of Abraham, even though verse 22 talks about Ishmael also, and verse 23 sounds like there is no promise for Ishmael, but we know this is not true, because we know that the Abrahamic covenant has a promise for Ishmael also, even if it’s conditional. So the son of the slave born according to the flesh really has nothing to do with Abraham but only with Moses.

    So it comes down to what the “new” in new covenant means. Does it mean “utterly” new or a “gradually a little” new or “someday in the end” new or “different in kind” new or “conditioned only on Christ” new? Is the new covenant in ANY WAY different from the Abrahamic covenant? Not when you talking to baptists, because then you need to keep it simple so they can get it .

    Since Scott Clark has used the rhetoric of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend News already , let me do so as well. REALLY?

    We tend to come out with the same presuppositions with which we entered. This is a long debate. It will not be resolved here soon. And it’s not because one side is stupid or rebels against God’s Word. Even when we make a distinction between outer and inner, that does not mean that we need to say that the never-justified yet are in the new covenant. Waiting to see who God calls is not only about waiting for Gentiles to come in. Unless we have an over-realized eschatology, we know that some of our children have not yet been called. The promise of the gospel was never for those who never believe it.

  4. markmcculley Says:

    I thought the Paedobaptist catechisms were to be taught to and repeated by all members of the Visible Church Community whether fit to come to the Lord’s Table or not; so that not everybody for whom the catechism is written necessarily professes to belong to the Invisible Church.
    Reply ↓

    R. Scott Clark

    January 28, 2014 @ 3:54 PM
    That you feel the impulse to revise the language does illustrate one of the differences between the Baptist and the Reformed conception of the church.

    In the confessional Reformed churches we catechize our children to confess what we believe. We catechize them, we pray for them, we expect (but don’t presume) that the Spirit will give them life and with that life faith to receive all that is promised. We ought to challenge those who profess falsely (hypocrites) but we accept, on the judgment of charity, the profession of members in good standing who are not under discipline for denying their profession.

    To change “we” to “elect” requires an unhealthy inward turn away from Christ and his promises to to me and to the question: “am I elect?” which Calvin and the Reformed orthodox strongly discouraged. The question is: do I believe? If the answer is yes, then that answers the question, am I elect? To sit around trying to decide, in the abstract, whether one is elect is the caricature of Reformed theology and piety but not our actual theology or piety.

  5. markmcculley Says:

    Posted April 24, 2015 at 5:19 pm | Permalink
    More from the earlier Kline, speaking as a “theologian of today” without “the visionary limitations of an Old Testament prophet.” Don’t say “dispensationalist” or “Marcionite” before you read what Kline wrote.

    MK—By circumcision, the sign of the consecratory oath of the Abrahamic Covenant, a man confessed himself to be under the juridical authority of Yahweb and consigned himself to the ordeal of his Lord’s judgment for the final verdict on his life. The sign of circumcision thus pointed to the eschatological judicial ordeal with its awful sanctions of eternal weal or woe. In the case of a covenant with the fallen sons of Adam, their nature as covenant breakers from their youth would seem to preclude any outcome for the divine ordeal other than condemnation. Yet the very fact that Cod makes a covenant with such subjects reveals that along with justice the principle of redemptive grace is operative here with its totally new and unpredictable possibilities. The covenant is a law covenant but it is a redemptive law covenant….

    MK—“I indeed baptize you with water . . . he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire” (Matt. 3:11). John called attention to the great difference; his own baptism was only a symbol whereas the coming One would baptize men in an actual ordeal with the very elements of divine power. But the significant fact at present is not that John’s baptism was only a symbol but that, according to his own exposition of it, what John’s baptism symbolized was the COMING MESSIANIC JUDGMENT….

    MK–The newness of the New Covenant does not consist in a reduction of the Covenant of Redemption to the principle of election and guaranteed blessing. Its law character is seen in this, too, that it continues to be a covenant with dual sanctions….There is no reason to regard Jeremiah’s description of the New Covenant as a comprehensive analysis, on the basis of which an exclusive judgment might then be rendered, excluding the curse sanction from a place in New Covenant administration. Even the aspect of New Covenant consummation that Jeremiah does deal with he views from the limited eschatological perspective of an Old Testament prophet…. The theologian of today ought not impose on himself the visionary limitations of an Old Testament prophet. By virtue of the fuller revelation he enjoys (c/U Lk. 10:24; I Pet. 1:10-12) he is able to distinguish these two distinct stages in the history of the New Covenant and to observe plainly that the imperfection of the covenant people and program has continued on from the Old Covenant into the present phase of New Covenant history. It is in accordance with this still only semi-eschatological state of affairs that the administration of the New Covenant is presently characterized by dual sanctions, having, in particular, anathemas to pronounce and excommunications.”

  6. markmcculley Says:

    Mark Jones—, baptism is a sign that my child must look to, and embrace by faith until he/she dies.

    Circumcision was not a sign of faith, but a sign that faith embraced or looked to (cf. Rom. 4:11). Baptism represents Christ (Gal. 3:27), in whom our faith must rest. In baptism, God takes the initiative with our children. He speaks favour to them in baptism (“You are my child, whom I love”) and they are to respond in faith to his “wooing.”

    Crucially, as a parent, when the waters of baptism are poured upon the head of my child, I’m confronted with the sobering, yet glorious, reality that I am raising GOD’S CHILD for his glory.

    Because my covenant children belong to God and Christ, in terms of the nature of the visible church, the stakes are high. Very high.

    Yes, we have the promise (Acts 2:39), BUT baptism is also a solemn reminder to those who do not respond in faith, hope, and love to the God who set his seal upon them. The seal of baptism is more permanent than a tattoo, because the seal has eternal consequences, whether for good or bad.

    Baptism is a wARNING to parents that they cannot take it easy or presume upon the grace of God

    The covenantal dynamic that parents and children enter into is one whereby rejecting Christ, who is OFFERED IN BAPTISM, brings those who reject such grace under a divine curse.

    Thus, infant baptism is God taking the initiative to preach the gospel, and calling the child, FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE to repent, believe, and LIVE FOR the glory of the one into whose name he is incorporated or face the terrifying reality that covenant breakers will face a STRICTER JUDGMENT than those who never received such blessings.

    Parents mustn’t be ignorant of such things. For to whom much is given, much is expected.

    As Luther well said, “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ,, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.” Not bad for someone who believed in baptismal regeneration

  7. markmcculley Says:

    Those who accept “two administrations, one covenant” have already bought the farm for agreeing that circumcision not only points to Christ’s death but also means that there are none-elect for whom Christ did not die in the new covenant.

    I believed that under the Old Covenant there were both blessings and curses while under the New Covenant there are only blessings, since the covenant only pertains to the elect. How else are we understand the fact that the prophecy of Jeremiah, which is cited in Hebrews 8, promises that all within the New Covenant will know the Lord, have the law of God written on their hearts, and experience the forgiveness of sins? How does this relate to baptism? Clearly, if the elect and covenant members are the same group of people, only those with a credible profession of faith should receive baptism as the sign of the covenant.

  8. markmcculley Says:

    hy not be at least as indiscriminate as they were back in the Abrahamic covenant? no need then for one believing parent? If the gospel is both “offer” and threat, why not water everybody?

    Argues Jewett, “all Israelites had a right to the sign of circumcision by virtue of their participation in the earthly blessing of the covenant community: they were citizens of the nation of Israel by birth. However, since this outward form of the covenant was done away with in Christ, to baptize indiscriminately in the New Testament age is either to abuse discipline in administering the rite or to be guilty of hypocrisy in receiving it.”

    Circumcision was a right and a responsibility for parents to consecrate the child unto the covenant God who demanded that the children be his people. The children had no right not to be circumcised. The children of unbelievers who descended from Abraham did not have the right to remain uncircumcised. . This means that the unbelievers had forsaken the covenant signified by their circumcision. As covenant breakers, they had invited upon themselves the curse of the covenant that cut them off from the people and the promised rest awaiting them. Their continuing appearance as the true descendants of Abraham not only warranted but necessitated the passing on of the sign to their descendants under covenant with God by passive consecration. When their unbelieving rebellion was judged by God, they received the curse and LOST THE BLESSINGS along with the sign that pointed to them.

  9. markmcculley Says:

    Brandon Adams — historic Presbyterianism was very different than modern Presbyterianism. Modern Presbyterianism will consider a non-communicant member who has reached the “age of discretion” and does not profess saving faith in Christ to be a covenant breaker and thus excommunicated. That was not the historic position. Instead, non-communicant members could remain members of the church without making any credible profession of saving faith. That was only required for communicant membership (access to the Lord’s table). Thus everyone in a nation was required by law to profess the true religion (known as “historic faith”) but they were not required by law to profess saving faith. Therefore the covenanters did not see themselves as judging “the world” with these laws. They were judging the church.

    With which presumption will we start?

    –will we exclude from the new covenant those who were in the Abrahamic covenant, or only “include more” ( now females and unmarried males)

    –will we include the spouse and the slaves and the teenage children of a father, or even the grandchildren of those with parents who were cut off from the covenant?

    All or nothing–if we want to include instead of exclude, why not let’s water everybody (not only infants from some families) , including all the adults who come our way–then we can begin to teach them the commands of the covenant (how could we teach anybody God’s law until after they were in the covenant?) and thus we can teach these included disciples that God has promised all of them them saving faith….less narrow, more generous and capacious

    And all we need for that is a common enemy scapegoat—those who refuse to be magistrates, we can accuse them all of wanting to take over as magistrates—and thus find unity between ourselves by excluding fanatics loyal only to one kingdom.

    every inclusion is also an exclusion

  10. markmcculley Says:

    Piper’s appendix from The Future of Justification— Romans 9:32 views the law as it points to and aims at “Christ for righteousness,” not in all the law’s designs and relations to faith. Therefore, it would be a mistake to use Romans 9:32 to deny, for example, that there is a short-term aim of the law that may suitably be described as “not of faith” as in Galatians 3:12 (“But the law is not of faith, rather `The one who does them shall
    live by them'”).

    John Piper—I myself have argued in the past, for example, without careful distinction, that “the law teaches faith” because Romans 9:32 says that you don’t “attain the law” if you fail to pursue it “by faith,” but pursue “as from works.

  11. markmcculley Says:

    Scott Clark exxplains why paedocommunion is wrong, because the baptists have not yet understood it. It’s not only a matter of disagreement but a lack of comprehension on their part, that the sacraments have conditional efficacy–sometimes they are not a means of grace but a means of jeopardy.

    Scott Clark–There has been pressure from some quarters to commune younger children. Sometimes this pressure comes from families who are emerging from Baptist and more broadly evangelical settings into Reformed congregations. Because they have not grasped clearly the distinction between initiation and renewal they conflate the two signs. They reason that if covenant children are members of the visible church by baptism (they are) that they should also be permitted to the table. This problem has already been addressed above

    (the passive know it all)

    but it is essential for these parents to see the difference between initiation and renewal in the outward administration of the covenant of grace. Baptism recognizes the rightful place of the children of believers in the visible church. Communion is a privilege reserved for members of the visible church who have made a credible profession of faith before the elders.

    Another source of pressure is social. Parents and children see the children of other Christian parents making profession and there is a sense of being left behind. Parents naturally want the best for their children and when they see other children coming to the table they fear that their children are missing out.

    (my children are ready sooner than yours)

    Both newcomers to Reformed and Presbyterian churches and those who feel a pressure to keep up need to appreciate an important biblical teaching in 1 Corinthians 11 ..We used to call the Lord’s Supper “Holy Communion.” It might be a good idea to renew our use of that language. That which is holy is not common. It is set apart. It is sacred. It is clean. It is not like everything else. It is not for everyone. It is not for unbelievers. It is not for the unbaptized. It is not for those who are under church discipline, who have been suspended from the table or excommunicated. It is for believers who able to examine themselves, who have sufficient maturity to know themselves, who is able to “discern” the body and blood of the Lord
    The question elders, whose job it is to fence the table, and parents must face is this: are young children (e.g., ages infant to 9) able to examine themselves and discern the body and blood of the Lord? Almost certainly not.

    Clearly, according to Paul, there is risk associated with the table. Would elders or parents permit small children to drive a car? Certainly not. Why not? Because they lack the judgment, discretion, experience, wisdom, and even the motor skills to control a 2,000 lb vehicle capable of high speeds. Even on the farm, where children learn to drive earlier than city kids, most kids do not drive even in the pasture until they demonstrate a certain degree of responsibility. Driving a car is a secular matter not a matter of spiritual life and death. The same cannot be said of the Lord’s Supper. It is a sacred meal to which a certain jeopardy is attached and the abuse of which in Corinth led to real consequences.

    Why would we involve young children, too young to know themselves or to understand what it means to “eat the body and blood of Christ” in such a sacred ritual? Why would we expose them (and the congregation) to potential jeopardy? On reflection most parents and elders would almost certainly see the wisdom of postponing participation until a child can give a reasonably mature account of the faith, including an account of what is taking place in the Supper.

    Perhaps the most insidious and dangerous motive for bringing infants and young children to the table is the influence of the self-described, so-called “Federal Vision” theology –teaches that at baptism the child is granted a provisional election, justification, union with Christ, and adoption. Those provisional “baptismal benefits” are said to be retained by grace and our cooperation with grace. Without sufficient cooperation they may be lost. We might fairly call this view a sort of sacerdotal Arminianism or as my pastor Chris Gordon has called it, “covenantal Arminianism.” The Federal Visionists hold that God has made a provisional covenant and grants these provisional benefits in baptism.

    There are not two kinds of election, provisional and eternal. There is but one election from all eternity, in Christ. It is an unconditional election and it is an election to new life and to true faith. Christ’s benefits are administered in the visible church but the sacraments are not magic. They do not have the power to confer a provisional new life, election, and salvation. They signify salvation and they seal it to believers but they do not create the reality they signify. The Federal Vision churches are known to practice infant communion (paedocommunion) in order to enable infants to begin to fulfill “their part” of the covenant, to maintain what has supposedly been given them in baptism.

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