This time, I feel it necessary to run a whole post in response to Doug without moving on to the next section in the joint statement.
Again, the charge has been made that I am out of accord with the standards on the efficacy of baptism. Again, the charge does not hold up when examined closely.
First point: my examination of the grammar of the WCF, chapter 28 was focusing in my last post on section 1. Doug simply does not address my grammatical interpretation of section 1 anywhere, but throws a grammatical interpretation of section 6 at me. It is impossible to claim victory in an argument if the opponents’ actual arguments are not addressed. So, once more, THIS is my grammatical interpretation: the words “sign and seal” apply to all the items in the series: ingrafting, regeneration, remission, giving up unto God, and walking in newness of life. It would be exactly parallel to saying this: I believe that God is eternal, unchangeable, and infinite in His wisdom, power, glory, blessing, etc. The words “eternal, unchangeable, and infinite” in the first series are intended to apply to all the attributes in the second series. This is what the FV has missed in its reading of WCF 28.1, and what Doug simply does not understand, or refuses to acknowledge.
On to 28.6. The whole question may be entirely summed up in this question: what is the nature of the grace promised, exhibited, and conferred? Is the nature of that grace the sign and seal, or the thing signed and sealed? In this regard, Doug asks what a seal is. A sign is not too difficult for us to understand. A sign points us somewhere. A sign that says “Bismarck 20 miles” will not normally lead us to expect that, if we follow that sign, we will come to Moscow, Idaho in 20 miles. A seal, on the other hand, is more difficult. Here is the WCF’s definition of what sacraments as signs and seals do:
Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and His benefits; and to confirm our interest in Him; as also, to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the Church, and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to His Word (WCF 27.1).
So signs and seals represent Christ and His benefits, confirm our interest in Him, put a visible difference between the church and the world, and engage us to serve God. Notice that there is no confusion here between the sign/seal and the thing that is signed/sealed. This section is immediately followed by one of the most helpful confessional statements in the whole of confessional literature on sacraments:
There is in every sacrament a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other (WCF 27.2).
I think one of the key points here is to ask the question about sacramental language: when we use the term “baptism,” for instance, do we mean to include only the sign, the sign and the thing signified, or the sign, the thing signified, and the sacramental union? Baptism can surely refer to any of these three formulations. I think there is a problem at just this point in Doug’s and my miscommunications with each other on baptismal efficacy.
For our purposes here, then, we can talk primarily about two parts: the sign/seal, and the thing signed/sealed. Now, for those who receive the sacrament in a worthy manner (by the grace of God), the thing signed/sealed will come to pass either before, during, or after the sign/seal. It is inevitable. The thing signed/sealed is regeneration/ remission of sins, newness of life. But the sign itself as distinct from the thing signed/sealed is not regeneration, remission of sins, newness of life, but rather a signpost and a seal of it. Seals were used to close up a letter with wax so that everyone knew who had sealed it. No one had better touch that seal, or there would be serious consequences. God puts His seal upon the baptized as a warning that no one (least of all the person himself!) should tamper with that sign, or serious consequences will result. For believers, then, baptism functions as a clear and visible sign, and a security-inducing seal that God loves us and has called us to be members of the covenant of grace.
There are two equal and opposite errors, then, when it comes to sacraments. The first error is to disconnect completely the sign/seal from the thing signed/sealed. Some Baptists do this, and certainly the Anabaptists do this. If you believed them, there is no connection at all between sign/seal and thing signed/sealed. WCF 27.2 clearly guards against this error. The equal and opposite error is to confuse the sign/seal and the thing signed/sealed. Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, and (I believe) FV’ers have done this. They have done this in different ways, of course. For instance, no one is accusing the FV of transubstantiation, which is an idolatrous confusing of sign and thing signified in the Lord’s Supper. Nor have I seen the Medieval interpretation of baptism in the FV, wherein baptism cleanses one from original sin, and all sin thereafter isn’t covered. Rather, the way in which the FV interprets the WCF results in a confusion of sign and thing signified.
This is what I mean: in the first paragraph of the Joint Statement’s section on baptism, there is no differentiation between elect and non-elect. Baptism does the same thing for all people baptized. So, when baptism means that it is into the redemptive-historical Regeneration, it is true for all baptized. There isn’t even any qualification such as “worthy receivers.” The only possible qualifications are the word “obligates” in the first paragraph, and the first three sentences of the second paragraph, which, however, do not qualify the statements in the first paragraph by means of synchronic distinction between elect and non-elect (decretal), but only by means of diachronic distinction. Thus, baptism does the same thing for all in the church. This is what is wrong, since baptism does NOT do the same thing for all in the church. The thing signified in baptism, by the way, is not primarily judgment, but salvation and regeneration. Thus, the decretally non-elect never receive the thing signified. The heart of the sacrament for us is not a duality of judgment/blessing. The heart of the sacrament is the positive side given to us because of the negative side that Christ endured. So, we should say that the heart of the sacrament as it comes to us is grace (if we are of the elect).