Profession of Faith and the Half-Way Covenant

This post will finish the review of chapter 22 of RINE. The issues before us are these: is a two-tiered church membership the result of the Half-Way Covenant? Is a two-tiered church membership biblical? Are we placing our faith in something we can see if we require a profession of faith in order to have access to the table?

Wilson would answer yes to the first question, no to the second question and yes to the third question. That is a fair summary, I believe, of Wilson’s argumentation in the rest of chapter 22.

Historically speaking, a two-tiered membership of the church is attested. One can see this in Ursinus’s commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism (on question 81), pg. 425, when he says this: “Infants are not capable of coming to the Lord’s supper, because they do not possess faith actually, but only potentially and by inclination.” Olevianus also says that there are two outer bonds of the covenant, and two inner bonds of the covenant. The former are the outward call and our profession of faith. The inner bonds are election and the Holy Spirit. The former can be broken, but not the latter. The former correspond with the outward administration of the covenant. The latter correspond with the substance of the covenant (See Bierma, pg. 103). The whole discussion is valuable (pp. 96-105). Vanderkemp says the same about infants on pg. 122 of his commentary on the Heidelberg. In other words, the question of paedo-communion is very much wrapped up in this discussion. If one believes that there is only one kind of membership in the covenant, then paedo-communion is the logical outcome. However, it is easily demonstrated that the Reformed authors of the 15th and 16th centuries did not view church membership this way. There was a two-tiered membership. This can hardly be the fault of the Half-Way Covenant, of course. Nor does such an arrangement prevent the little children from coming to Jesus, as Ray Sutton supposes. Union with Christ in faith is possible from the womb. However, what is the church supposed to do about whom to invite to the table? Ursinus is clear: “The questions who ought to come, and who ought to be admitted to the Supper, are distinct and different. The former speaks of the duty of communicants; the latter of the duty of the church and ministers” (pg. 424). It is plain from the quote on page 425 that Ursinus does not speak of infants as communicants, even though they are members of the church outwardly speaking.

A two-tiered membership of the church corresponds to the visible/invisible church distinction in ideals. As such its biblical basis rests on that distinction. Of course, it cannot correspond in reality, since many make profession of faith who are hypocrites. But the church must fence the table somehow. The distinction that Ursinus makes helps us here. The church can only do so much in fencing the table. The rest is up to the people’s consciences.

With regard to the third question, Wilson makes a mistake. Requiring a profession of faith does not mean that the church trusts the word of man rather than the word of God (contra Wilson, pg. 185). The Bible speaks about professing with one’s mouth (Romans 10:9, and the content of that profession follows, which rules out an overly wide definition of professing so as to include a baby’s nursing, etc.). A verbal profession of faith is commanded by the Scriptures. If that is commanded, and the church is supposed to do something about that, then does the church stop believing God’s Word in order to listen to a man to see if it is credible? The church must judge so as to exercise church discipline properly. Of course, Wilson will disagree with me here. But I did want to demonstrate not only that the critics’ position on this is Reformed, and not dependent on the Half-Way Covenant, but also, and more importantly, that it is biblical.