The Reformed Confessions and Paedocommunion

My apologies to Doug and the rest of my readers. It has been a rather difficult time, and I have had to put posting off for a while. Firstly, I will give a couple of thoughts on Doug’s response to the church history question, and then we will dive in to a discussion of the confessions.

There are only a couple of points that I feel need addressing with regard to Doug’s post. The first is that I believe Doug has slightly overstated when he says that Venema “also grants the widespread practice of paedocommunion in the West from at least the time of Augustine down to the Fourth Lateran Council (1215).” I don’t believe that this is quite what Venema said. Venema said that there is evidence that PC was practiced in this time period (p. 20). It is difficult to say how “widespread” the practice was. Venema’s point, however, is that the practice was in decline even before the Fourth Lateran Council (p. 21). The practice was in decline throughout the church, and not just because of the Fourth Lateran Council. Venema allows that it may have been a widespread practice during some of that time. His exact words are: “What is clear from the history of the Roman Catholic Church is that paedocommunion ceased to be a widespread practice by the eleventh century” (p. 20). This statement makes no claim on when the practice was widespread. This is important, for we see PC advocates often saying that it was the norm of the church until the 4LC. This is more often asserted than proven.

Secondly, Doug says this near the end of his post: “The central good that I see coming out of the paedocommunion debate is the central place it gives to the question of ‘who makes up the body of Jesus?'” I would cautiously agree with this. However, there is the equally important question of whether the members of the body of Jesus always have to have access to everything in the church, or else they are in effect excommunicated. I really do like the analogy of citizenship here. A child born in the US is a citizen. Period. No ifs ands or buts. However, we don’t allow them to drive at birth. We don’t allow them to vote at birth. And we don’t allow them to drink alcohol at birth. Does that make them any the less a citizen of the US? Similarly, just because an infant is not allowed to the table has no bearing on whether they actually are part of the body of Christ. We call baptism the initiatory rite, because that is what initiates a person into the visible body of Christ (WCF 28.1). Nothing else is required to mark a person as belonging to the body of Christ. This is not to diminish the importance of the Lord’s Supper. But the importance of the Lord’s Supper lies in a different direction: that of confirmation of faith, and growth in grace. The Lord’s Supper is not the marker of who belongs to the body of Christ: baptism is what does that. Therefore it is a fallacy to argue that unless everyone in the visible church is partaking of the Lord’s Supper, they are in effect excommunicated. If a citizen of the US is not de-citizened just because he is 15 and cannot drive, then neither is a child excommunicated just because he may not be capable of participating in the Lord’s Supper yet.

To move on now to the confessions. Basically put, no major Reformed confession that is in use today allows for the practice of paedocommunion. This is generally acknowledged. However, the implications of that are not generally acknowledged. For instance, it is thought to be a relatively insignificant thing for a person to hold to an “exception” like this and be ordained in a denomination that does not practice PC. Let me put the argument this way: Baptists are our beloved brothers; we may affirm orthodoxy of them at almost every major point. We may have delightful fellowship with them. But they cannot be ordained in the PCA or OPC. Why is that? Because they do not administer the Sacrament of baptism in the same way we do. My question is this: why do many in the PCA and OPC view paedocommunion as somehow less opposed to the Westminster Standards than credo-baptism is? In my opinion, the errors are of a very similar but mirror-image nature. Both PC and CB (credo-baptism) err in the age requirements of one of the sacraments. Both argue that the Sacraments operate the same way with regard to church membership. CB argues that both have to be given to consenting adults (or folks who have achieved the age of responsibility), whereas PC argues that both may be given to passive recipients. I see not one single reason why PC may be more acceptable in a Westminster denomination (or 3FU, for that matter) than CB. To those who argue that PC is more covenantal, I respond that there are plenty of CB’s out there who are firmly covenantal and redemptive-historical (Mark Dever, for one). The above argumentation is why I personally cannot vote for a person who holds to PC in my Presbytery. This is not to say I think they are heretics any more than I would say that CB’s are heretics. And I would never refuse church membership on this basis either, since I believe a credible profession of faith is all that is required (though I do believe that it is helpful for a church to have a new members class in order to instruct the prospective members in what their membership vows entail).

Moving on to what Venema actually says, it is important what he says about the theology of sacraments as a whole:

The confessions’ position on this subject derives from a more comprehensive view of the sacraments’ role as means of grace that accompany the preaching of the gospel…Indeed, the notion that children should be admitted to the Lord’s Table, which is the principal interest of those who advocate paedocommunion, has more far-reaching implications than many paedocommunionists often admit. Whether these implications are consistent with essential features of the Reformed view of the sacraments remains to be seen. Here it need be observed only that the question of paedocommunion cannot be isolated from the broader framework of traditional Reformed teaching regarding the sacraments (p. 28).

I will have to take up further Venema’s comments in a subsequent post. For now, suffice it to say that I believe that believing in PC requires taking exception to a great deal more than WLC 177. The entire concept of worthy participation, which is laid out in WLC 169-175 are plainly meant to be taken as the way in which all worthy participants are to partake. There are many things in that whole series of questions which an infant is incapable of doing. It should also be noted that the interpretation of the Supper as an objective memorial, and not as the subjective remembering of the people, is counter to WLC 169, which says that the Supper is for a “thankful remembrance that the body of Christ was broken and given, and his blood shed, for them.” WCF 29.7-8 is also denied by PC, since section 7 uses the phrase “worthy receivers,” and section 8 says that ignorant men do not receive the thing signified. Section 8 forbids ignorant people from participating in the sacrament. It cannot be argued that an infant who can recognize that everyone around him is eating, and therefore he ought to eat too is not ignorant in the sense in which the confession means it here. A worthy participant is clearly defined as someone who understands section 7. It would furthermore be denying the influence that WLC 177 should have on sections 7-8 of chapter 29 of the WCF to say that a 3-year old can in fact pass muster in this respect. I think when I counted, there were no less than 13 places in the WS that a PC advocate would have to take honest exception to in order for his view to be properly pigeon-holed with regard to the confession.



  1. Larry said,

    April 28, 2009 at 9:28 am

    Thank you for these comments. I’d suggest that there is another scriptural thread that PC advocates unwittingly pull from the Westminster Standards. We get a hint in the delineation of the members of the church as visible, “The visible church . . . consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children. . .” (WCF 25:2). Now start following the emphasis on PROFESSION — on believing in the heart and CONFESSING with the mouth — throughout the Confession and Catechisms, and even more importantly, throughout the Scriptures. This is more than a minor exception to the Standards.

  2. Matt Beatty said,

    April 28, 2009 at 9:31 am


    Would you not give a “thumbs-up” to GI Williamson transferring into your Presbytery – the man who literally “wrote the book” for many contemporary Presbyterians’ understanding of WS and the 3FU?


  3. Michael Saville said,

    April 28, 2009 at 9:46 am

    Lane, I was just going to ask Matt’s question re: GI Williamson. And if not in the PCA (or OPC), which denomination do you think someone like him should minister in?

  4. greenbaggins said,

    April 28, 2009 at 10:02 am

    I greatly respect GI Williamson, and actually thought about including this in my post. However, for the reasons mentioned, I could not vote for him to be transferred to my Presbytery, no matter how much I respect him in other ways. I equally respect John Piper and Mark Dever and Voddie Baucham, but could not vote for them either. As to which denomination they should be in, I don’t know. My hunch is that Reformed Episcopal may be good. Isn’t there a NAPARC denom that allows PC to be practiced? See, that’s the other problem with this is that no PC advocate can practice what he preaches in the PCA or OPC. Shouldn’t there be a place where they could practice what they preach?

  5. Larry said,

    April 28, 2009 at 10:22 am

    Dear brothers, is this altogether fair? When the OPC had a pastoral problem, it set up a *study committee* on this topic. G.I. was elected to the committee and he reported his conclusions with the rest of the committee at the time. The OPC did not adopt those conclusions, and G.I. submitted. He has not taught or practiced contrary to the Standards. But was it wrong for him to wrestle with Scripture as the Church had charged him to do and as he did as part of the study process? And who’s to say that he hasn’t been persuaded otherwise since that point?

  6. greenbaggins said,

    April 28, 2009 at 10:28 am

    What exactly is not fair about what I said? I merely opine that PC ought not to be an allowable position in the PCA or OPC. This is the gate-keepers’ job, the candidates and credentials committees’ job.

  7. Larry said,

    April 28, 2009 at 10:53 am

    Maybe my comment came across as more critical sounding than I intended. Please forgive me. I agree with you that PC ought not to be an allowable position in the PCA or OPC. My point is that it is not fair to G.I. that he keeps getting dragged into this. He has not been an advocate of PC. As part of his service on that study committee a couple decades ago, he did argue for PC. So apparently he was persuaded of it at that time. But after the Church ruled otherwise, he utterly dropped the subject. Who knows? He may even have been persuaded otherwise. I don’t know, but I do know that he has not practiced or promoted that position. He submitted to his brethren and trusted that King Jesus was ruling his church by his Word and Spirit through his officers. I’ve often looked to him as a good example that way. So I’m not zealous to criticize you, especially since I agree with you, but rather to defend G.I.’s good name.

  8. greenbaggins said,

    April 28, 2009 at 11:10 am

    Ah, point well taken, Larry.

  9. Michael Saville said,

    April 28, 2009 at 11:14 am

    The issue as I see it is not advocacy, promotion, or practice. What of those men who believe that paedocommunion is correct (or probably correct), but are willing to submit to the courts of the church and not promote or practice it? It seems that under Lane’s view, they should not be able to minister in a PCA or OPC presbytery.

  10. J.Kru said,

    April 28, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    I also like the analogy of US citizenship. My question into that analogy is along the lines of the rights of citizens. While a teenager may not vote, he is still entitled to the right to free speech. Even a baby would be granted due process if he were ever charged with a crime.

    So I guess we would have to establish whether the nature of the sacrament itself is like voting or like free speech.

    I also think that Lane should reconsider voting for a PC advocate who is willing to submit to Christ’s church. Otherwise he may arrive at Presbytery and find that he’s surrounded by credocommunionists who just installed deaconesses.

    Last question: does Venema address invalids and the severely handicapped? This is one of my big issues: can the disabled (either mentally or those unable to communicate clearly) be admitted to the Lord’s supper in a CC model?

  11. tim prussic said,

    April 28, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    I don’t care for the citizen analogy, as I think it actually clouds the issue. It likens sacramental participation with a driver’s license, and, as JKru noted, these things are frankly not that similar. Thus, the analogy tends simply to *replace* the issue with another rather than to clarify the actual issue.

    Maybe another angle on the CB/PC connection: CB assert that sacraments are due to the recipient on basis of conversion and profession. PC assert that both are due on the basis of covenant. As Calvin says, baptism is something owed to our children because of the covenant into which they’re born. That mentality (which [unlike Calvin] PC extend to the Supper) is a massive difference between the two positions and should keep them (other similarities notwithstanding) clearly distinct in our minds and ecclesiastical practices.

  12. Jeff Cagle said,

    April 29, 2009 at 11:09 am

    Lane, I think you and I are fairly close on the PC issue, so I’d like to critically examine some comments here with the understanding that I’m not necessarily in disagreement.

    The Lord’s Supper is not the marker of who belongs to the body of Christ: baptism is what does that. Therefore it is a fallacy to argue that unless everyone in the visible church is partaking of the Lord’s Supper, they are in effect excommunicated.

    * Is it not the case that the Lord’s Supper is constrained by the unity of the body?

    When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!
    …Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord…So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. — 1 Cor 11.20ff.

    It strikes me that the offense of not waiting is an offense against the unity of the body; the remedy that restores a “worthy manner” is waiting for each other.

    Does it not follow that the Lord’s Supper is a mark of the unity of the church?

    This reading would seem to be strengthened by

    Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. — 1 Cor 10.16-17

    So assuming that the Supper is a sign of the unity of the Church, then in what sense is the Supper not a marker of who belongs (as far as we can tell) to the Church?

    * An argument against my point might be that we suspend the sacraments from an individual without necessarily excommunicating him. But in the case of ordinary members, the suspension is always indefinite — a half-way move towards excommunication. So suspension could be seen as a provisional statement of uncertainty about the individual’s place in the church.

    I’m not sure what to think about definite suspension for TEs. :)

    * If one has ever visited a church that practices closed communion, and been excluded on the basis of not belonging to the denomination, it is received as a kind of offense. Is that offense real or apparent?

    What I’m getting at is that Doug’s argument is fallacious if and only if the Lord’s Supper is not a marker for who belongs to the body of Christ. Is that really so?

    Jeff Cagle

  13. tim prussic said,

    April 29, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    Jeff, good post. The unity aspect is clearly not a contrasting issue between the sacraments. The Bible contrasts the sacraments in other ways: beginning vs. continuance, birth vs. sustenance, and others, too. The unity of the body, however, is clearly taught in both. There is one baptism which bespeaks the unity of the body (Eph 4:5), and we partake of one loaf (1 Cor 10). (Not only that, but 1 Cor 10 demonstrates the sacramental unity of the NT with the OT covenants: they had baptism and they drank Christ, even as NT covenant members do [vv. 1-4].) We have a pretty thorough-going view of covenental/sacramental union here, don’t we?

    Does unity, though, necessarily include totality? This seems to be the question at the center of this present discussion. I think your church discipline answer would indicate that sacramental unity does not necessarily include totality. The feller under discipline is NOT being excluded from the body of Christ… yet. However, case-by-case discipline is one thing and the regular sacramental function of the church is another. Is the exclusion of young children from the Supper in keeping with the unity which the Supper teaches? Did the OT children pass through the sea in baptism? Fo sho! Did they drink of the water from the Rock? Er.. I dunno. What might follow from that?

    ISTM that, for a Reformed, paedo-baptist, the entire CC case hangs on a particular interpretation of 1 Cor 11. Everything else in the Bible, I think, moves toward the inclusion of children in the Supper. “But they don’t necessarily even understand the Supper!” I know. (Neither do I!) They don’t understand the preacher so well either. Do we, therefore, exclude them from sermons? May it never be! We teach them by means of the sermon, don’t we? If the received interpretation of 1 Cor 11 is found wanting, we’d gladly teach our little ones by means of bread and wine, too.

  14. Joshua W.D. Smith said,

    April 29, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    Actually, based on 1 Cor. 10:16-17, I would say that exclusion from the Supper is, in a very important way, excommunication. The term translated “participation,” is, in fact, “communion,” koinovia. So, to be excluded from the supper is to be visibly excluded from the fellowship that is based upon Christ’s sacrifice, i.e., to be excommunicated.

    And, while the contrasts you set up between the sacraments, Tim, are accurate, the CC position requires separating those things by years: we begin at baptism, but don’t receive the sacrament of continuation until 10 or 15 years later. We receive the new birth, but don’t any spiritual food for 10-15 years. How does that make any sense? That is, for me, the plausibility of the PC position. I’m still undecided on whether 1 Cor. 11 dictates against PC…

  15. Jeff Cagle said,

    April 29, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    We receive the new birth, but don’t any spiritual food for 10-15 years.

    OK, that’s a stretch. They are receiving the word both in the sermon and in catechism. And is not the sacrament, the word in physical form?

  16. tim prussic said,

    April 29, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    Jeff, you nailed it. I’m quite sympathetic with the PC position, but there’s an overload of rhetoric that’s just not helpful. The “starving” of children and their “excommunication” are two common examples. If the Supper were the only koinonia, the excommunication argument would stand. But since we participate in Christ and each other in various ways, the argument fails. However, just because it fails in it’s absolute statement, doesn’t mean that it isn’t powerful by degree. The koinonia of the Supper is real, efficacious, and important. Excluding our children from it (if they’re not supposed to be) would certainly have infelicitous effects on them spiritually.

  17. Scott said,

    April 30, 2009 at 8:43 am

    Larry said,

    “I’ve often looked to him as a good example that way. So I’m not zealous to criticize you, especially since I agree with you, but rather to defend G.I.’s good name.”

    Since we do not have a “thank you” button, here let me thank you this way for defending Mr Williamson’s good name and saying what many of us think, and the gracious way you stated it.

    He models well what it means to be confessional, to be humble, to be in subjection to his brethren in the Lord, and still to participate in good faith within the good presbyterian policy and procedures of his denomination.

    This is the kind of exemplary life church officers are examined for, based on the qualifications God appoints us to use in Scripture, and one which Mr Williamson has exemplified his entire life, to the honor and glory of God!

  18. Matt Beatty said,

    April 30, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    My intention isn’t to “keep dragging GI Williamson into this,” nor would I expect his practice of submission to the larger body to be anything but complete and humble. I also would not expect – barring some statement to the contrary -his convictions or practice to have changed! :-)

    Is everyone realizing that if we could go back in time, Williamson – according to Lane – would’ve been refused admission to the PCA or OPC. He wouldn’t have been told to teach his views in a way that respects the Standards, or even to not teach/practice PC, but humbly submit… but just, “Nope. GI – have you considered the REC?”


  19. tim prussic said,

    April 30, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    I tend to agree, Matt.

  20. greenbaggins said,

    April 30, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    To a certain extent, this question is anachronistic, since, if we were talking about G.I. at the very beginning of his career, with none of this aura of helpfulness and authorial genius surrounding him, the question would just be about his views on PC. I get the distinct impression, Matt, that you are trying to use Williamson’s weight as an author in explaining the confessions to screen the difficulties in the way of approving a man for ordination who believes in PC. But they are not really relevant to the question of whether someone ought to be approved when they believe PC. However helpful someone may be in writing things about the confession (and are we sure we know what his view is now?), that does not justify approval of a position that is definitely contrary to the confessions.

  21. Joshua W.D. Smith said,

    April 30, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    When do children really say the catechism, or really start understanding the sermon? That means they are still not receiving nourishment for 4 or 5 years.

    How about a change to the analogy? The kids eat standing in the kitchen for 10-15 years, then we invite them to sit down with us for dinner. Or, we actually let them sit down with us at dinner, but they aren’t allowed to have the food being passed at the table. Instead, we give them the same food an hour before dinner, or an hour afterwards. So, we’re not starving them, but is that sufficient?

    Nothing else, that I know of, is tied so closely to the koinonia that it can be said to be the koinonia, apart from the supper. So, while there may be other expressions of that fellowship, none of them is as central as the supper.

    How necessary is the supper? Can we get everything we receive in the supper from other sources. like the sermon or other aspects of fellowship? If that’s the case, why aren’t we Quakers with regards to the sacraments?

    The supper is neither magical, as RC and EO seem to hold, but nor is it redundant and unnecessary, as many Protestants–even Reformed–seem to think. Unfortunately, it seems to stem from the reduction of the sacraments to the Word: that’s why we can just look at the supper, or skip it all together, and yet everything’s fine. Leithart’s Blessed Are the Hungry is a great antidote to this one-dimensional thinking–and that book used to be recommended by Horton and Van Drunen, though I don’t know whether it still is.

  22. tim prussic said,

    April 30, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    I think we’re talking about degrees of seriousness, pastor. A PC proponent who is willing to abide within the rules of the church body seems pretty innocuous. To exclude such an one seems excessive, I think. If he were a trouble maker, I could see it. But if he’s humble and submissive to the authority of the church, it doesn’t seem like a disqualifying mark to me.

  23. Jeff Cagle said,

    April 30, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    When do children really say the catechism, or really start understanding the sermon? That means they are still not receiving nourishment for 4 or 5 years.

    I beg to differ on the point of fact. Both of my girls express faith in Jesus and have been doing so since about age 2 or perhaps 3. I don’t know how much they understand, but they obviously have been getting something from somewhere.

    Let’s turn it around also: how much nourishment is received from communion that is not received by faith? And if the child is able to receive communion by faith, then why not the word?

    How about a change to the analogy? The kids eat standing in the kitchen for 10-15 years, then we invite them to sit down with us for dinner. Or, we actually let them sit down with us at dinner, but they aren’t allowed to have the food being passed at the table. Instead, we give them the same food an hour before dinner, or an hour afterwards. So, we’re not starving them, but is that sufficient?

    It certainly makes a statement; and I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the statement it makes. I would prefer for children to be included in the Supper early.

  24. tim prussic said,

    April 30, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    In keeping with the natural order of food in the house, a nursing infant in on his own schedule, but by a year or so the child’s eating with the family. I think that Christ Church Moscow’s practice is in line with this analogy.

  25. Scott said,

    May 1, 2009 at 9:10 am

    Also, as has been stated, we do not know what Mr Williamson’s views on this are now. It’s not right to even speculate about that.

    We only know that he has submitted to his presbytery and denomination totally in this.

    If he were to come for ordination now, of course, his views on this would be carefully reviewed.

    It’s strange, can’t quite explain it, but on the one hand I can’t imagine allowing an exception for this for a church officer because it is so clearly contrary. On the other, I can’t imagine not ordaining Mr Williamson in to teach, as long as he did not teach this.

  26. Reed Here said,

    May 1, 2009 at 10:51 am

    This all seems so silly to me. Try looking at it from this perspective: would any officer of a presbyterian denomination rightly agree to ordain J.I. Packer into their denom.?

    Nothing negative is being said about Packer when we say no. Rather, something positive is being said about the nature of an officer’s vows and mutual submission to fellow officers.

    We’re making too much of Lane’s scruple here.

  27. Joshua W.D. Smith said,

    May 1, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    Jeff, I’m not sure what your turn-around does, since, as far as I know, no PCers advocate not giving the word to children (although the practice of many churches to send the youngest children out during the sermon would be suspect–as it should be–under your formulation). Sure, the benefits of communion are only received by faith (thus the “Trojan horse” of paedofaith from an earlier thread), and the benefits of the word are received by faith, but that doesn’t make the benefits of communion and the benefits of the word identical or interchangeable. Additionally, the benefits of baptism are received only by faith, right? Yet we still baptize infants. So, I’m not sure how (rightly) asserting that the benefits of the means of grace are received only by faith gets us anywhere…

  28. Joshua W.D. Smith said,

    May 1, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    I just have to say I completely disagree with Lane’s perspective in statements like these:

    “just because [someone] is not allowed to the table has no bearing on whether they actually are part of the body of Christ”

    “The Lord’s Supper is not the marker of who belongs to the body of Christ”

    This is contradicted by Scripture: 1 Cor. 10:21 makes it clear that the table is only for those who are the Lord’s and they are not to dine at any other table. Thus, the Supper marks the difference between the church and the world. The LC, esp. 168, 172, and 173, also indicates that participation in the supper has a great deal to do with belonging to the body of Christ. So, while it is not the only marker, part of its function is indeed to mark those who are in the body of Christ.

  29. Joshua W.D. Smith said,

    May 1, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    As for the citizenship analogy, it should be noted that having a driver’s license, for example, is not intrinsic to being a U.S. citizen. Nor is voting. I think this analogy highlights an assumption that I keep hearing stated when I have conversations on the Supper: that the communion meal itself is essentially redundant to the word, and therefore unnecessary. One can still be a citizen and never get a driver’s license. I really don’t see how one can be a member of the body of Christ and never receive the Supper…

  30. Jeff Cagle said,

    May 1, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    Jeff, I’m not sure what your turn-around does, since, as far as I know, no PCers advocate not giving the word to children…

    Oh goodness no, of course not. My point was to examine the analogy for aptness. Are we really starving the kids? Or sending them into the kitchen to eat?

    Or are we sharing much of the meal with them (sermon, liturgy), less the wine that the older folk drink?

    I think on balance that non-PC positions try to ensure that kids are fed; they just don’t think that kids are ready for every component of the meal.

    Sure, the benefits of communion are only received by faith … and the benefits of the word are received by faith, but that doesn’t make the benefits of communion and the benefits of the word identical or interchangeable.

    I’d need to think about that some. My first reactions are

    (1) The word is used by the Spirit to strengthen my faith, which unites me to Christ; communion does the same, though perhaps differently for people who are less verbally oriented.

    (2) Calvin seems to take the opposite view from you:

    First, we must attend to what a sacrament is. It seems to me, then, a simple and appropriate definition to say, that it is an external sign, by which the Lord seals on our consciences his promises of good-will toward us, in order to sustain the weakness of our faith, and we in our turn testify our piety towards him, both before himself and before angels as well as men. We may also define more briefly by calling it a testimony of the divine favour toward us, confirmed by an external sign, with a corresponding attestation of our faith towards Him.

    From the definition which we have given, we perceive that there never is a sacrament without an antecedent promise, the sacrament being added as a kind of appendix, with the view of confirming and sealing the promise, and giving a better attestation, or rather, in a manner, confirming it. In this way God provides first for our ignorance and sluggishness and, secondly, for our infirmity; and yet, properly speaking, it does not so much confirm his word as establish us in the faith of it.

    This is commonly expressed by saying that a sacrament consists of the word and the external sign. By the word we ought to understand not one which, muttered without meaning and without faith, by its sound merely, as by a magical incantation, has the effect of consecrating the element, but one which, preached, makes us understand what the visible sign means.

    The thing, therefore, which was frequently done, under the tyranny of the Pope, was not free from great profanation of the mystery, for they deemed it sufficient if the priest muttered the formula of consecration, while the people, without understanding, looked stupidly on. Nay, this was done for the express purpose of preventing any instruction from thereby reaching the people: for all was said in Latin to illiterate hearers. Superstition afterwards was carried to such a height, that the consecration was thought not to be duly performed except in a low grumble, which few could hear. — Calv. Inst. 3.14.1,3,4

    As I understand it, the sacraments speak in physical sign the same promises given in the word. It was important for Calvin that understanding of the promise accompany the sacrament, else it was of no value — and here he was combating the popish practice of entirely incomprehensible administration of the sacrament, with its attendant superstition.

    So the argument is not “both are received by faith, so both must be the same.” Instead, the argument is “both say the same thing in different ways, so that removing the physical sign does not remove the message; but removing the message from the sign makes the latter of dubious effect.”

    Now here’s an interesting set of test cases. We all agree that communion ought not be offered without first the preaching of the word. What if …

    (1) The sermon and liturgy at a service were in Danish or some language unknown to you. Would you take communion?

    (2) The word were preached in English to a child too young to understand words at all — say, 1 year old. Is that different from (1)?

    (3) What about partial understanding at age 4? 8? 12? 38?

    As I think about the test cases, it strikes me that (a) there is a line of comprehensibility that we ought to draw, but (b) we need to acknowledge that it isn’t a clear and bright line.

    Whereas transition from death to life is a definite process, conversion of the understanding is not.

  31. Andrew said,

    May 1, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    This post does not seem to me to be up to Lane’s usual standards of quality.

    There is precisely zero explanation as to why PC is such a grevious exception to the standards that it cannot be tolerated among elders (even when held submissively and quietly, and in theory only). Pointing out some (wooden) similarities with baptistic views may show a similar sort of fault in the mode of thinking, but doesn’t show that the conclusions are equally serious. Otherwise, one could fill pages with such arguement: Both six day creationists and catholics make a faulty exegesis in a literal way; therefore we should treat Catholics and six day creationists the same. Or, both non-six day creationists and deniers of a bodily resurrection misconstrue the Scriptures in a symbolic manner, therefore the errors are equally serious.

    Lane gives but one example from the confession itself where he alleges PC demands an exception – WCOF 28:7-8 by its mentioning of ‘ignorant’ partakers. For the record, the sections say:

    VII. Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements, in this sacrament, do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally but spiritually, receive and feed upon, Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death: the body and blood of Christ being then, not corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet, as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.

    VIII. Although ignorant and wicked men receive the outward elements in this sacrament; yet, they receive not the thing signified thereby; but, by their unworthy coming thereunto, are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, to their own damnation. Wherefore, all ignorant and ungodly persons, as they are unfit to enjoy communion with Him, so are they unworthy of the Lord’s table; and cannot, without great sin against Christ, while they remain such, partake of these holy mysteries, or be admitted thereunto.

    The confession talks of the ‘ignorant and wicked’ and the ‘ignorant and ungodly’, but does not address the question of the mentally disabled whose metal knowledge we are unsure of, but have no grounds to call wicked.

    That ‘ignorant ‘in the confession has moral overtones is demonstrated by the the fact that the reason given is that such are ‘unfit to enjoy communion with Christ’.

    Not ‘unable’ but ‘unfit’. The Westminster divines (if not all their descendents) held that infants could be part of the kingdom, so lumping them with the ‘ungodly’ as unfit makes no sense.

    As well, the ignorant partaker is said to commit a great sin, but surely Lane would say the sin is with the permissive elders, not the infant?

    This shows that the wilful ignorant are in view. PC was not a topic a the time of Confession’s writting- reading back current controversy just results in anachronistic and dodgy understandings.

    One other thing makes this post disappointing. So far in the posts we have had no reflection on Scripture or on theology. We have got as far as definitions and some historical background. But already we are being told that PC is a serious error, sufficient to exclude people from teaching office (and perhaps, hound them out of it?) I appreciate we are constrained to follow the order of Venema’s book, but this is hardly conducive to a fruitful discussion.

    I would rather someone explained why I was wrong before being told how grace the error was. After all why I was wrong might effect how serious my error was.

  32. Joshua W.D. Smith said,

    May 1, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    Well, Jeff, I’m not sure Calvin is taking the opposite view: I’m not advocating the kind of superstition that he is arguing against in 16th century Rome. What do you mean by the opposite view? I would still say that the supper does not stand alone without the word, but I would also say that the reverse is true: the word does not stand alone without the sacrament. The word is not said to be a seal, but the sacrament is. I think that’s where we need to begin, going beyond just the language of signification, as though the main purpose of a ritual is as a visual aid (again, see Leithart’s Blessed Are The Hungry). There is also an eschatological element: the final state is not pictured as a sermon, but as a meal. The word can explain the basis of the fellowship, can exhort us to pursue it, etc., but the word is not the fellowship (cf. Exodus 24:11). The ritual enacts the life of the body: we receive what God gives, but also share it with those around us. This is one of those places where I think Calvin is still too influenced by Platonism, as though physical realities are just unfortunate necessities because of these darned bodies we have.

    Christ did not say that the supper was just for those more visually oriented, but for all of them. This is not a learning styles issue.

    As for your test cases, I would answer yes to number one, assuming that I had found out enough about the church and denomination to have bothered attending there (if there were indications that it was liberal, I probably wouldn’t even attend). For number two, that’s exactly the question under consideration in the PC debate. I don’t think it is quite similar to 1, since I would be able to reflect myself on the words of promise attached to the Supper in my own language, even if they weren’t understandable to me in Danish. As for number three, exactly. If we have an intellectualist standard, by which one must understand certain things before one can participate, what is that standard? What is enough doctrine? That’s why Wilson has said this is a form of works-righteousness: my participation in salvation is not a matter purely of what God says about me extra me, but of how much I know (not that I’m accusing you or anyone of that, but just pointing out what the perspective is that says such things).

    Is growth in grace and the transformation of the understanding required in the Christian? Of course. But is it the prerequisite for “lifting the cup of salvation,” or for participating in the “fellowship of the body and blood”? I would say no. The supper is the symbol or sign of salvation par excellence, and there is a real union between that sign and the thing signified, to the point that we could legitimately–albeiti in a properly qualified sense–say the supper is salvation (as, e.g., circumcision was the covenant in Gen. 17).

  33. Joshua W.D. Smith said,

    May 1, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    Again, it seems that the supper is redundant, since you say that it can be taken away without affecting the message. Here’s the problem: the message is “God is reconciled to sinners in Christ.” But the supper is the enactment of that very reconciliation, the actual enjoyment of that fellowship that the message is about. Thus, the supper is much closer to being the res ipsa than the message is–but the thing is dispensible while the message is not? That’s like explaining recipes without cooking them, or like reading a book on tying knots without ever picking up a piece of rope, or…Explanation and action are always incomplete without each other.

  34. greenbaggins said,

    May 1, 2009 at 5:20 pm

    Andrew, a couple of points. Firstly, the chapter of Venema’s book (which is the basis for the debate between Doug and me) being discussed is the chapter on Reformed confessions. Venema talks plenty about the Bible later on in the book.

    Secondly, you don’t seem to acknowledge that I have referenced WLC 169-175, or the impact that WLC has on WCF 29:7-8.

    Thirdly, your interpretation of “wilful ignorance” does not do justice to the language of the Confession. For one thing, the word “unfit” does not have any moral overtones necessarily. I am unfit for military service, because of my eyesight. Is that moral unfitness? The confession in the place mentioned clearly makes ignorance a distinct category from moral failure. Being ignorant or being ungodly will both make one unfit for participation. Making ignorance a wilful ignorance has absolutely zero textual basis in WCF 29, and is pure eisegesis. The contrast between 7 and 8 is the contrast between worthy receivers and unfit people. That is not a purely moral category. WLC 171 indicates that knowledge is part of worthy reception. And lastly, and most convincingly, the same categories of ignorance and wickedness are found in WLC Q 173, where the cure is “receive instruction” or “manifest their reformation.” So, your interpretation simply does not hold wine.

  35. Andrew said,

    May 2, 2009 at 12:32 pm


    Thanks for the response.

    I have checked my copies of the confession and they definitely say ‘ignorant and ungodly’, not ‘ignorant or ungodly’, as you suggest. Perhaps you simply mean that is a possible understanding, and perhaps grammar can be construed in such a way.

    But at the same time, I can’t understand why someone who understands ‘ignorant and ungodly’ to mean ‘ignornant and ungodly’ should be forced to take an ‘honest exception’.

    The problem for your reading is that you have to say that an infant given communion is by his ‘unworthy coming thereunto are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, to their own damnation.’ Do you:

    a) say that an infant ‘comes’?

    b) say the child is thereby damned?

    Q173 of the LC doesn’t help either since it explicitly addressing those who are making a profession of faith, not infants.

    Perhaps I am slow, but you are not actually suggesting that the authors of the confession had paedocommunion in mind when writting of the Lord’s Supper?

    If so, I am flabbergasted that anyone so educated could maintain such a thing. If not, you will surely conceed that you are at best banning an activity by analogy and consequence, which may explain the awkardness of the Confession’s language in adapting it to your thesis.

  36. Jeff Cagle said,

    May 2, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    Joshua (#32,33):

    I’m trying to wrap my mind around where we connect and disconnect.

    First, yes: I do think that the word and communion are redundant, in that both create faith in the same promise. Redundancy, however, does not imply superfluity.

    A parachutist would tell you that his backup chute is redundant, but not superfluous. A composer would tell you that the same melody in the violins, flutes, and cellos is redundant, but not superfluous.

    So word and sacrament are redundant and complementary.

    In re Calvin:

    By the “opposite view”, I meant two things:

    (1) It appears that Calvin viewed communion as ineffective or superstitious if the partaker did not receive it with faith in the promise given by the word.

    For Calvin, the object of faith is, well, Christ — but specifically, the promise of Christ proclaimed in the word.

    I think the BCO follows this when it requires that communion always be accompanied by the preaching of the word, not merely the saying of the words of institution. And the WCoF likewise requires that communion not be done privately.

    So pragmatically, this view is somewhat opposite yours in that Calvin appears to require an understanding of the preached promise.

    I think we agree that “understanding” is on a sliding scale, so that we should not push this to a “requirement of intellectualism.”

    Nevertheless, it does seem that understanding is a factor in communion for Calvin.

    (2) For Calvin, the redundancy I affirmed is central to his thought. I refer again to Inst. 4.14.3 above in which the sacrament is referred to as “an appendix” that confirms our faith in the promise — not that the promise, he says, needs any better attestation than itself! But we in our weakness might need an aid to faith, and the sacrament is that aid.

    Perhaps I’m misunderstanding, but it appears to me that “redundancy” is precisely what Calvin has in mind. And also, that the sacrament is for the aid of those who cannot trust the promise by itself. “Learning styles” might be too trendy a term, but it moves in the direction that I’m reading Calvin.

    So does the “opposite view” comment make more sense?

    Jeff Cagle

  37. Jeff Cagle said,

    May 2, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    As for your test cases, I would answer yes to number one, assuming that I had found out enough about the church and denomination to have bothered attending there (if there were indications that it was liberal, I probably wouldn’t even attend). For number two, that’s exactly the question under consideration in the PC debate. I don’t think it is quite similar to 1, since I would be able to reflect myself on the words of promise attached to the Supper in my own language, even if they weren’t understandable to me in Danish.

    What I had in mind is a situation where I visited a Danish church with a friend and was unable to understand the sermon and liturgy. In that case, I would actually probably pass up communion, not having any promise from the word to attach it to.

    Yes, I could attach it to the word of institution itself (also in Danish, unfortunately :lol:). But in that case, why not receive communion at a liberal Protestant church? All the elements are there, so what’s the problem? The problem is that at a (truly) liberal church, Christ is not proclaimed, quite apart from the word of institution.

    If communion is only connected to the words of institution, then I think some of Calvin’s strong connection of word and sacrament in the promise is undermined.

  38. Joshua W.D. Smith said,

    May 4, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    Okay, so it’s a matter of definition…I was thinking of redundant as, for example, “Exceeding what is necessary or natural; superfluous (!),” which is what one dictionary gives. Perhaps I’m more in line with your musical example, but that’s not what I normally think of in redundancy. Yes, they are redundant in that they both point to the same promise, but that does not make either one superfluous (which is given by several sources as a synonym for redundant).

    I should go ahead and say that I disagree with Calvin: the supper is not an appendix, for those who find the promise by itself difficult to hold onto. That view makes the supper superfluous, as far as I can tell. Again, this is the same principle that can be found in the Richmond declaration which establishes the Quaker view of the sacraments. So, in the sense that I oppose Calvin’s view of the supper, yes, I hold an opposite view. But that could be taken to mean that I deny the connection between the promise and the sacrament, which I don’t.

    I would re-iterate what I said before: the supper does not attest to the promise, but rather does something with the promise. It seals, it enacts that very promise. The word promises fellowship with God, the supper IS (in a proleptic way) that fellowship with God, Christ, and the body, in the Spirit and through faith.

    As for the understanding issue, that’s a vexed question in epistemology. I would argue for a kind of embodied understanding: an infant might not be able to explain to you on what grounds he trusts his father, but the infant reaches for the father’s hand–this is enacted understanding of the father’s trustworthiness. In the same way, someone with limited intellectual capacity can enact their faith, even if they don’t understand it propositionally. The requirement of a certain theologically-accredited level of participation excludes not only children, but also the mentally handicapped or senile, from the central fellowship of the New Covenant. Blessed are the smart, for they shall have a seat at the table…

  39. Jeff Cagle said,

    May 4, 2009 at 4:43 pm


    Thanks for the interaction.

    I’m interested in the word “seal” also. For Calvin, “sealing” is a matter of attaching a royal attestation — like a wax seal — of validity to a message. So communion “seals” the message by affirming it, making it more concretely real for those whose faith needs help.

    You seem to be using “seal” in a different way. Perhaps you could spell that out more? It seemed that you might be using it in a more modern way, like the application of a sealant. But with the last post, I’m not so sure.

    So: what does “seal” mean as you are using it?

    Jeff Cagle

  40. tim prussic said,

    May 4, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    As to the question regarding taking Communion at a body speaking another language, I don’t think I’d write that off so quickly myself. It’s not as though I’d be entering that worship with NO notion of what God’s gospel promises are. I’d be worshiping with my brethren (unity in Christ, but diversity in language) and if I knew they were a gospel-preaching, Bible-believing church, I don’t think I’d hesitate to show forth that unity by eating and drinking with them in worship. I dunno.. just a thought.

  41. Jeff Cagle said,

    May 5, 2009 at 7:21 am

    Tim, that’s fair. Considering that I would not really know *what* had been preached, I would probably err on the side of caution, with the understanding that you have the freedom to make the opposite choice.

  42. Joshua W.D. Smith said,

    May 7, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    “Seal” can be taken in two senses: as a noun (the authoriative symbol or image of the sender) or a verb (the act of applying such a symbol).

    1. The noun: a “seal” is that it is a distinct thing from the promise or message itself. Let’s take an official letter, say one from the king that authorizes the person holding it to own and benefit (e.g., collect the rents) from a particular fief. The seal on the letter is not just another statement of the handing over of that ownership tranfer, but rather a separate action with its own function and purpose. That’s one point with the seal: it does something that the message by itself does not. In fact, the message without the seal is not authoritative, and thus in some sense incomplete: thus, a seal by its nature is not redundant or superfluous, but actually adds authority to message, objectively (not just for those who are weak, or more visual).

    2. “Sealing” as a performative act, not just the relict of that act (cf. WSC 92 & 94, where “sealed” is clearly a verb), thus seeking to move beyond static or visual notions of the supper (like “signs” that “show”) to the performative aspects (eating, drinking, passing, serving…), beginning with the idea of sealing.

  43. Lauren Kuo said,

    May 8, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    According to Doug’s response, an infant in utero possesses such a spiritual condition that qualifies him or her to partake of communion. If I understand him correctly, he believes that a child in utero actually partakes (in a worthy manner?) in communion at the same time the mother takes communion.

    Is he saying that a child’s spiritual condition is such that he is born again before he is born? And, is he saying that this child’s spiritual condition is such that in some mysterious incognizant way the child knows how great his sin and misery are, he knows that he has been set free from all his sins and misery, and that in his prenatal state he can thank God for such deliverance, and thereby be a worthy recipient of the Lord’s Supper?

    What exactly is the spiritual condition of a covenant child in utero that makes him a worthy recipient of the Lord’s Supper? Romans 3:23 says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – when is the covenant child ever considered a sinner in need of salvation – is there ever a time in his life when he is considered an unworthy recipient? Why should the covenant child ever be held responsible for being cognizant of his sin and misery when he is never regarded as a sinner at any point in his life?

    Is a child justified by virtue of his covenant status? Are those born outside the covenant justified by a cognizant faith while those born in the covenant justified by an incognizant faith? Is there such a thing as incognizant faith in Christ? In other words, can a person possess a trusting saving faith in Christ without knowing it?

  44. Lauren Kuo said,

    May 9, 2009 at 11:21 am

    Luke 1:41 And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe (John) leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

    1. How can we equate “leaping in the womb” to regeneration?
    2. According to this verse, who was filled with the Spirit? Elizabeth – or John – or both?

    If John was regenerated in the womb, isn’t it rather ironic that God called him to preach a message of repentance? I know this question seems to be rather absurd, but if any women who were with child went to the Jordan to hear John preach repentance and received his message, does that mean that the child in their womb also received this message into their hearts?

    When I was pregnant with my three children, all of them leaped in my womb on occasion and sometimes in church in the middle of a sermon! Am I to take a flying theological “leap” (sorry, I couldn’t resist!) and conclude that they were all regenerated in response to the Word of God being preached? And, when taking communion, should I have done anything special or different when I was carrying them? Maybe take two sips of wine and two pieces of bread – since there are two “worthy receivers”?

    I know some of you may think these questions to be absolutely ridiculous, but they are followup questions to what I thought was a ridiculous response to Venema’s book on Paedocommunion.

    My final question and then I will let you have at it or just ignore me. Do the words “covenant” and “Christian” mean the same thing?

  45. J.Kru said,

    May 9, 2009 at 4:06 pm


    1. Because Luke goes on to quote Elizabeth in v. 44: “As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” And we know that people do not have joy in the Lord if they are not regenerate. If it was NOT regeneration, you would have to account for John’s leaping for joy in some other way.

    2. Both.

    No, you are not to conclude that. Because the Holy Spirit has not revealed if they were leaping for joy or kicking, as He did to Elizabeth.

    No, one bite/sip was enough. Little babies don’t eat much.

  46. Jeff Cagle said,

    May 10, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    Lauren (#44):

    In the case of John the Baptist, Scripture positively affirms that he was filled with the Spirit “from the womb”:

    “For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. — Luke 1.15 (NAS, ESV — NIV has “from birth” which doesn’t really change anything for the purposes of this discussion)

    Now, was JtB exceptional because he was John the Baptist, or because he was the inaugurator of the new era of the Spirit?

    I can’t say.

    Jeff Cagle

  47. Jeff Cagle said,

    May 10, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    Considering the case of John the Baptist further:

    Since God was able to do a supernatural work in the case of John the Baptist, this raises the question of how often this occurs. Was it a unique event in the history of mankind? Or was it something that happens in other cases as well?

    Obviously, Scripture doesn’t give us enough information to make a slam-dunk case one way or the other.

    When I consider John the Baptist in conjunction with the Confession’s statement that elect infants are regenerated (citing John 3.3 in the prooftexts), it appears plausible that the Westminster divines thought that the experience of John the Baptist was not unique.

    I’m not so certain about this that I would want to be dogmatic; but I am persuaded enough that I can see the “infant faith” view as plausibly orthodox.

    Jeff Cagle

  48. Joshua W.D. Smith said,

    May 11, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    Can I just point out that the term is not “worthy receivers,” but “worthily receive”? It’s an adverb: the whole point of the supper is that there are no worthy receivers. We eat because we cannot give life to ourselves and thus are dependent upon God’s absolute mercy, which He has promised to believers and to their children. Again, what are all these qualifications and prerequisites for receiving the grace of regeneration? How can we know that our infant children are regenerated? We can trust God’s promise.

  49. Joshua W.D. Smith said,

    May 11, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    “can a person possess a trusting saving faith in Christ without knowing it?”

    I would hope so, or else there can be no such thing as a saved infant. If the child of believers dies in the womb, can that child be saved? Well, certainly, if it is elect. But the elect are only saved through faith, which means that either faith can be implicit or even unconscious, or else infants cannot be elect.

  50. Joshua W.D. Smith said,

    May 11, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    Oh, and 49 goes for the severly mentally handicapped, too.

  51. Lauren Kuo said,

    May 11, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    One church invites all believers who have put their trust in Jesus Christ to share in the Lord’s Supper.

    Another church invites those who have been baptized to share in the Lord’s Supper.

    Is there a difference between these two groups of people or are they the same? In other words, are both invitations referring to the same group of people?

  52. Lauren Kuo said,

    May 11, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    When is a person considered in the covenant? Before or after they put their trust in Jesus Christ?

    Why is it that those children “outside the covenant” are required to come to Christ the way the Bible instructs us, while those children supposedly “in the covenant” by physical birth to believers seem to get an automatic pass into the kingdom? One group is considered presumably unregenerated and the other presumably regenerated by virtue of being physically born to believing parents. Doesn’t this violate John 1:13 that says we are born not of blood (believing parents), nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God?

  53. Jeff Cagle said,

    May 12, 2009 at 6:36 am

    Lauren (#51,52):

    Is there a difference between these two groups of people or are they the same? In other words, are both invitations referring to the same group of people?

    Those two groups are definitely different. Not all baptized persons are regenerate; not all regenerate persons are baptized.

    But they *should* be the same. All regenerate persons *ought* to receive baptism as a sign of the promise of washing of sins. All baptized persons are under special obligation to believe the gospel (just as all circumcized persons were considered “God’s people”, though many were not).

    So what we have is a problem of knowledge. God knows who is truly regenerate. From the outside looking in, we do not. Even some hypocrites are deceived about themselves.

    When is a person considered in the covenant? Before or after they put their trust in Jesus Christ? Why is it that those children “outside the covenant” are required to come to Christ the way the Bible instructs us, while those children supposedly “in the covenant” by physical birth to believers seem to get an automatic pass into the kingdom?

    Actually, it’s not that way, whether under the Old Covenant or the New. Salvation is by grace through faith, period. No one is ever saved by birth; they are always saved through faith.

    But God’s grace runs in families (this is true in the Scripture, as in Gen 17 and Acts 2 and is validated by statistical observation), and so we have been instructed to consider the children of believers to be members of the covenant, just as descendants of Abraham were considered members of the covenant. Cf. WCoF 25.2.

    Are they really members of the covenant? God knows. Esau received the sign, but was rejected because of his unbelief in accordance with God’s eternal decree. Nevertheless, he remained within the covenant community until he fell away.

    That fact did *not* give him temporary salvation! Rather, it gave him “covenant membership” as far as his parents could tell.

    So you ask this question: “When is a person considered a member of the covenant? Before or after he places his faith in Jesus Christ?”

    If one thinks about your question carefully, it turns out to be unanswerable. The first part, considering someone to be a member of the covenant, is man-related. The members of the church have to affirm “Joe Smith is a member of the Church.”

    The second part is something that only God knows.

    So in the case of some who come to faith before joining a church, they will be considered members of the covenant sometime after they actually come to faith. In the case of others, like John Wesley, who came to faith after being ordained a minister, they will be “considered” (by men) to be members of the covenant long before coming to faith.

    The problem with your question is that it mixes man’s point of view and God’s point of view and tries to fit them together. They don’t fit perfectly, which is why we have the problem of knowledge, which is why we must speak of the visible and invisible aspects of the Church.

    Jeff Cagle

  54. Jeff Cagle said,

    May 12, 2009 at 6:42 am

    Let me qualify something here:

    …this is true in the Scripture, as in Gen 17 and Acts 2 and is validated by statistical observation

    The way I put this makes it seem as if Scripture needs external validation. It most emphatically does not.

    However, our theological ideas derived from Scripture (such as the idea that God’s grace runs in families) are not infallible and need validation.

    Jeff Cagle

  55. David Gadbois said,

    May 12, 2009 at 11:55 am

    Joshua said I would hope so, or else there can be no such thing as a saved infant. If the child of believers dies in the womb, can that child be saved? Well, certainly, if it is elect. But the elect are only saved through faith, which means that either faith can be implicit or even unconscious, or else infants cannot be elect.

    The flaw in the logic here is in the premise ‘the elect are only saved through faith.’ That certainly is not self-evident, if we confess that God can and does sometimes save His elect outside of the normal means (‘being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word’).

  56. J.Kru said,

    May 12, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    I think it would be more accurate to say that God sometimes works faith in ways other than the ministry of the Word. I don’t think I’d want to go on record saying that there is an exception to salvation by faith alone.

  57. Lauren Kuo said,

    May 12, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    The bottom line is this: John 1:37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.

    It does not matter whether you are a pagan in the jungles of Africa or whether your parents presume you are regenerated, or whether you have been baptized in the visible church and have been a member for 20 years, a person does not come to Christ unless the Father gives him to Christ. So, it seems to me that all our speculation, all our presumptions, all our guessing and formulating as to who is in or out of the covenant – all amount to nothing in reality. The Scripture is clear – John 6:40 – …everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life… regardless of status.

    A person is in the covenant when he or she sees the Son and believes in Him. Presumptions and outward observances by the visible church authorities do not place a person in covenant with God. Sinners give birth to sinners. Redeemed sinners give birth to sinners who need to be redeemed. The promises of redemption have been given to our children. But the possession of them is soley the work of God’s grace in their hearts.

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