Two-Tiered Membership

Wilson has responded to my post. I don’t feel the need for an extended discussion at this point. I only wish to point out a few things. Firstly, with regard to the two-tiered membership and its approximation to the visible/invisible church distinction. Even if we cannot make these two correspond in reality, it is still the ideal for which we should strive. Just because our sanctification, for instance, does not correspond in life to what it should look like does not mean that we should stop trying in God’s strength to become more holy. Similarly, the better church discipline is handled by a church, the closer will be the correspondence between the communicant membership and the invisible church. The two “problems” with the system are problems that true church discipline aims either to minimize or eliminate. The church should constantly seek to disciple its members. In that process, hypocrites will be discovered eventually. Similarly, the elect and the regenerate among the non-communicants are brought to the place in discipleship where they can make profession and become communicant. This is what church discipline is all about.

Wilson asks why we should require a profession of faith in infants for (communicant, I assume he means) church membership, when we don’t require it for salvation. Church membership is a bit like citizenship in the US. We are born citizens. We don’t ever become more of a citizen than we already are by birth. However, that doesn’t mean that an infant can drive a car, vote, or drink. One grows into these privileges. Of course, the analogy breaks down in that some “citizens” of the church are traitors to the church. But then, there are traitors in our country as well, even if our country doesn’t always recognize the fact. I agree with David Gadbois’s argument about the notitia element of faith. The faith exercised in the case of baptism is the faith of the parents. This answers the first comment on Wilson’s post. The faith exercised by someone in the Lord’s Supper is that person. The church must have some way to judge whether in fact a person at the Supper is exercising faith, including notitia. So, it is not a matter of whether the child has faith, for all sides agree that infants can have at least the seed of faith from the womb. The question, as Ursinus put it so helpfully (and I notice that Wilson did not interact with the historical material), is how the church can make a judgment about said faith. It is the responsibility of the church not only to discipline those by bouncing hypocrites, as Wilson would put it. The church also has the responsibility to examine each person who would come to the table (though this examination need not be every time).

By the way, I have to thank Wilson at this point. This particular interaction has considerably sharpened my own thinking on this point.


  1. Ron said,

    March 21, 2008 at 11:08 am

    But Lane, children can legally consume alcohol under their parents’ supervision. :)

  2. Ron said,

    March 21, 2008 at 11:20 am

    So Lane, are you saying that when the Session examines the profession of a covenant kid that they are directly and primarily assessing the fitness of that child to be granted the second-tier privileges, or is it that they are seeking to make a more fundamental and declarative judgement on that child’s ontology, a judgment from which new privileges flow?

    Because if the latter (and that would’ve been my guess as to the Session’s objective), then it’d seem that your citizenship analogy breaks down because there is not a similar *step* for a child born American to prove that she is *truly* an American in her heart.

    Does that make any sense?

  3. greenbaggins said,

    March 21, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    Ron, I would say that it has to do primarily with understanding what the Sacrament means. It would be similar to a driving test before granting a driver’s license.

  4. Mike said,

    March 21, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    What was required for the children to participate in the Passover? To be born into the family or to be circumcized if they came into the family. The only “profession” of faith required was… why do we do this? And then the story was told to the covenant family again for the promises were for the adult and their children. I guess my mind can’t keep up with y’all on this since the arguement seems to answer itself. Or maybe I just don’t see a problem with bringing children to the table as early as possible which in the PCA requires that they meet with the Session… or a Session member so as not to overpower them… to determine their level of faith… understanding… then the parent helps them to examine themselves on a weekly or monthly basis. This is what the Scripture says to the parents when it says to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” This is a word and deed learning going on here according to the Greek. This is parallel to the Deut. 6:4-9 passage that we love. Two-tier as long as we strive to get them to the table as early as possible for they are members of the church from their baptism… Not full members in the since that they are not physically able to participate with what the Church has to offer. But as they grow and mature if they are discipled properly at home and by the elders…as I said before this is really not an issue.

    I am now 52 years old, the pastorate is a second carreer for me, which means I have finally seen enough, failed enough, laughed enough..well maybe not enough, really… and experienced enough to be able to see how this can work when everyone in the church takes their role seriously.

    It is within the context of the believing community that faith is fostered and it is by the means of grace participated in community that faith grows. When we baptize children we challenge the parents to use all the means of grace in growing their child in the knowledge and grace of the Lord. Our congregation takes that challenge seriously so doesn’t the elders and the children flourish.

  5. Ron said,

    March 21, 2008 at 5:14 pm

    I’m curious as to the practice of CREC churches wrt to covenant children and profession. I realize that pc-sympathetic PCA churches take simple professions so as to follow the letter of their BCO, but what about bodies where that formality isn’t required, and where the baptized children are already communing?

    So do they practice a similar step of some sort, and if so, what does it effect?

  6. greenbaggins said,

    March 21, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    I don’t particularly have a problem with your position, Mike. I have never had a particular problem with lowering the age, although one runs the risk, if one says “as soon as possible,” of assuming that the child knows more than he does know. However, the church must ensure a credible profession of faith. I would argue that 1 Corinthians 11 is a bit more work than the child’s question in the Passover.

  7. J.R. Polk said,

    March 21, 2008 at 8:13 pm

    Whoso eateth and drinketh without discenring the Lord’s body and eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, Lane. You want your children eating damnation? Apparently so.

    Where does Lane advocate such a position Rey?

    And you want them getting sprinkled with or dunked in damnation to, since baptism is nothing without faith, as Col 2:12 says “we are rasied with him in baptism, by faith…”

    I know it’s extremely dificult to argue against what you don’t understand and it’s painfully obvious that you don’t. With your assumption about paedobaptism in mind, you may want to look into “covenant theology” in particular.

  8. GLW Johnson said,

    March 22, 2008 at 6:27 am

    ” Original sin can only accrue death. The infant,therefore, need not be in the covenant, for he has no actual sin to be forgiven of yet.” Oh,my- rey it is a good thing you weren’t born in the 16th. century. Had you showed up in Geneva spouting this stuff you would have found Calvin a little bit abrasive with you and your Pelagianism.

  9. David Gray said,

    March 22, 2008 at 6:52 am

    >” Original sin can only accrue death. The infant,therefore, need not be in the covenant, for he has no actual sin to be forgiven of yet.”

    Well if you are Eastern Orthodox that works. From a reformed perspective that is one of the odder things I’ve heard in some time.

  10. Xon said,

    March 22, 2008 at 9:56 am

    I’m not entirely sure what to do with this quote vis a vis infants outside the covenant, but Calvin himself says “I everywhere teach that no one can be justly condemned and perish, except on account of actual sin; and to say that the countless mortals taken from life while yet infants are precipitated from their mother’s arms into eternal death is a blasphemy to be universally detested.” So, the plot thickens.

  11. Xon said,

    March 22, 2008 at 10:00 am

    Not that I find rey’s fiery anabpatist rhetoric at all appealing, mind you. He certainly would have run into trouble in Calvin’s Geneva for other reasons. I’m just not sure that the idea that infants are saved without baptism is one of them…

  12. Mike said,

    March 22, 2008 at 10:20 am


    Thank you for commenting. I always find such discussions stimulating. Rey’s coments are interesting to be sure. But I have always wondered about the depth of meaning that the Divines placed in this directive in the WCF- “The sacraments of the old testament in reguard of the spiritual things thereby signified and exhibited, were, for substance, the same with those of the new.”-I Cor. 10:1-4 seems to place a lot of clarification on the simple things of connection between the Passover and the Lord’s Supper.

    Christ was obviously wanting to make the connection in a “big” way with what had come before so that the full force of redemption would be understood… and since children were involved “as early as possible”-read just off the breast- even asked to repeat the question word for word from the Father’s lips without any understanding of the words…we see here a teaching process that begins in covenant and ends in covenant. For there is never a time that they don’t know the love of the work of the LORD. Whether they ultimately respond in saving faith is something that we will see. Since at their baptism or circumscison (OT) these are applied in anticipation of God’s work of redemption. I concur that not all who are born into the covenant are of the covenant but it seems to me that we err when we treat them as ignorant and unworthy as the WCF seems to claim since they are also according to the WCF “members” of the covenant (but not necessarily salvation)by virtue of their birth parents.

    Rey wants us to beleive that somehow children of the covenant are eating and drinking condemnation on themselves. If that is the case then the children of the covenant were doing the same thing at the Passover. But wait the only thing that admitted them to this meal was their inclusion in the covenant which required nothing of them. The physical seal at the time did that for them and it was placed on them by someone else (they didn’t have a choice)…so why not the physical seal of the NT?

    Once again, not to sound like a broken record but if the parents are taught well and the elders do their job of shepherding much of this discussion truly does go away. I have known of parents who have brought one child to the table early through the approval of the session and then those same parents who have decided that another child wasn’t ready even though they were the same age as the one who went before. It wasn’t an age thing… it was an age appropriate maturity thing which in fact was attested to by all parties involved. Since we leaders are called upon to make such calls…who is and who isn’t… we need to be very involved with the flock so that we make few wrong assessments which could be to the detriment of the individual and God’s church. We are not infallible but we can, by God’s grace, be humble enough to rest assured in our decision and this is especially easily done with children. If they have been brought up in the LORD they have a natural curiosity in the things of the LORD…the Body of Christ discerned? We harness that curiosity as the Spirit working since the non-believer doesn’t seek after the things of God and move forward.

  13. Mike said,

    March 22, 2008 at 10:23 am

    Oh By the way….

    I Hope Y’all (that is the way we spell it in the great State of Texas) have a BLESSED EASTER. May the reality of the Resurrction renew each of you anew as the Spirit does His work unhindered by our rhetoric.

  14. J.R. Polk said,

    March 22, 2008 at 10:43 am


    This is covenant theology . . .

    Rey . . . are you serious? You’re not even close. I grew up in Pentecostal/ baptistic/arminian/dispensational churches where the reformed faith was an object of vicious hatred. Why? Because the Pastors themselves knew nothing but caricature versions of reformed theology and the strawman arguments that went along with them. I smell the same thing in each and every one of your posts. I know it well. Do yourself a favor and take my advice very seriously lest you continue to make a fool of yourself.

  15. J.R. Polk said,

    March 22, 2008 at 10:46 am


    Could you remove the italics from everything after “This is covenant theology . . .” on post #18? I don’t know how I managed to mess that up. Thanks.

  16. David Weiner said,

    March 22, 2008 at 11:30 am

    Rey, re: #11,

    I always find your posts challenging; this one is no exception! ;) I did enjoy your mention of “What about the children!” I see that so often here and then along comes Acts 2:38-39 as somehow proving that ‘our’ children are ‘special.’

    Anyway, my 2 cents regarding that passage:
    1) the ‘promise’ is the Holy Spirit
    2) the condition of the reception of the promise is repentance
    3) Also, they ought to be baptized, since they have been forgiven of their sins (repentance did this)
    4) the promise is made without prejudice to the entire human race (comprising a) you, b) your children, and c) all those who are far off)
    5) Actually, the promise is only made to that part of the human race that God calls.

  17. greenbaggins said,

    March 22, 2008 at 11:34 am

    Done, J.R. You were missing the slash mark in the closing bracket.

  18. J.R. Polk said,

    March 22, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    Ahh . . . that will do it. Thanks.

  19. josh keele said,

    March 22, 2008 at 10:12 pm

    @David Gray, #13 “Well if you are Eastern Orthodox that works. From a reformed perspective that is one of the odder things I’ve heard in some time.”

    Everyone who calls themselves a Christian should respect the prophet Ezekiel. You will note that the Torah speaks of God visiting guilt on the children for their parents sins, and we find an example of it in Achin who was burned along with his children in Joshua 7 for stealing the accursed thing. But this was a physical visitation. Ezekiel affirms, or rather God spends much time and goes to great lengths there to affirm and to fight and contend for his faith, in Ezekiel 18 that the SOUL is a different matter altogether. That when it comes to the death of the soul, only personal sin counts. Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, anabaptist, Baptist, church of Christ, Methodist, Anglican, Presbyterian….all who claim to be Christians should accept what God says through the prophet Ezekiel.

    But I think I should add this lest some accuse Ezekiel of Pelagianism, as indeed some are already doing by now: Saying that the physical death alone accrues to us from Adam’s sin and not the spiritual death does not equal Pelagianism. Still, all men who outlast infancy will sin, and therefore will deserve spiritual death. And you certainly can’t accuse a safe infant who was never spiritually unsafe to begin with with saving himself by works, since he was never unsafe and therefore could not save himself, and since he never thought to save himself by works nor even did any work. Grace does not depend on original sin damning the soul. That all men sin after infancy is enough to require grace, and we need not contradict Ezekiel 18 and toss it into the fire in order to uphold a Manichean philosophy that Augustine brought into Catholicism from that cult. As if your very statement that the Eastern Orthodox never accepted the notion of spiritual death rather than merely physical death accruing to all men from Adam’s sin were not enough to confirm the Manichean origin of the doctrine, I present the plain teaching of Scripture–yet many are so wed to the pagan philosophy in which Augustine spent so much of his life that they would rather be spoiled by that vain philosophy than to accept the doctrine of Christ on this point.

  20. David Weiner said,

    March 23, 2008 at 9:33 am

    Rey, re: #23,

    the promise is the Holy Ghost, but the conditions of the promise are 1. that you be called 2. that you repent 3. that you be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.

    I’ll agree with the first two but the third condition seems to be contradicted by other passages of Scripture. For example, Acts 10:43 Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins. Note that no reference to baptism is here as a condition of forgiveness of sins. Was it an oversight? Is the verse using just a short handed way of telling us what is required for forgiveness of sins? Also, I am aware of the view that the efficacy of baptism is not tied to the time of its application. But, Acts 10:43 is not talking about time, it is talking about the one and only condition on the recipient of forgiveness.

    One other thought. The English word for can have two meanings. First, in order to and second because of. So, which must be the intended meaning in its use in Acts 2:38, for the forgiveness of your sins in light of verses like Acts 10:43?

    Anyway, quibbling over opinions of Scripture aside, He Is Risen!!!

  21. David Weiner said,

    March 23, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    Rey, re: #26,

    So if a person is truly elect, will it be possible for them to resist proper baptism? To say so would be to deny monergism,

    Monergism, absolutely. Baptism of the Holy Spirit to actually effect salvation, absolutely. Necessity of water baptism for a person to be in possession of eternal life, not required. Is water baptism commanded by God, absolutely. But, God also desires that I not sin and I seem to be able to resist that (not that I resisted baptism nor that I try to resist avoiding sin), so why would I not be able to resist undergoing water baptism and still not decimate monergism.

    Let me just point out that the people in Acts were quite unique as regards their situation vis-a-vis the Cross and Pentecost. What Peter had to say to the Jews who were actually there when Jesus was on the cross may not directly apply to us who are removed from that by 2000 years. So, maybe the exhortation for them to undergo baptism (Jewish baptism, by the way) because they have been forgiven of their sins may apply to us in a modified manner. Just a thought.

    those whom Apollos baptized wrongly were baptized properly by Paul,

    The problem was not baptism (either rightly or wrongly administered). The people in Acts 19 had not heard the gospel and therefore had not been saved. Remember, what John the Baptist preached was not the gospel of Jesus Christ, it was the gospel of the kingdom. Not having been saved, they had not received the Holy Spirit (i.e., not been baptized by the Holy Spirit) Paul told them the gospel of Jesus Christ, they believed, and the rest is history.

    One last question from my previous post. How do you reconcile your view of water baptism and verses like Acts 10:43?

  22. March 23, 2008 at 9:27 pm

    Rey, email me through our church office at, and we will see if we can fix your posting problem.

  23. Ron said,

    March 23, 2008 at 10:51 pm

    Lane, re: #3

    The PCA BCO says (Ch. 56-4.J)

    When they [baptized, covenant children] have reached the age of discretion, they become subject to obligations of the covenant: faith, repentance and obedience. They then make public confession of their faith in Christ, or become covenant breakers, and subject to the discipline of the Church.

    So unless you’re collapsing “faith, repentance and obedience” into a narrow review of whether the child has the capacity for self-examination, it seems to me that there’s more “at stake” in the child’s profession to the Session than you’re leading on.

    Bottom line, I’m just trying to see how your statement that “We don’t ever become more of a citizen than we already are by birth” squares with my understanding of the non-pc’s credible profession requirement, which is that it’s nothing less than a leap from the visible to the invisible church (+/-).

  24. GLW Johnson said,

    March 24, 2008 at 8:47 am

    rey-remember the remark the spider said to the fly?

  25. David Weiner said,

    March 24, 2008 at 9:24 am

    Rey, re: #28,

    Well, I am sorry but I can not connect your response to my question. What I can see is that you are basing your understanding of water baptism on what was said to a very unique group of people to whom you bear very little relationship and to Paul’s somewhat unique conversion leading to a very unique ministry. Seems dangerous at best. But, thanks for the interchange.

  26. Ron said,

    March 25, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    Any particular thoughts on #30?

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