Some Areas of Agreement

Doug and I are showing some signs that there is some ground at least, on which we can meet. I had to laugh at his dragging in Sarah Palin to the discussion (see, I can do it, too!). His waiting for me reminds me of the definition of infinity I came across a while back: two Midwesterners, one going north, and one going east, meeting at an intersection.

We agree that the Lord’s Supper is the fulfillment of various feasts and rituals, not just Passover. Venema agrees with that as well. What conclusions we draw from that may go out like two different tangents from a circle, but we do agree there.

We also agree that we should not presume a child to be unregenerated. I never presume that. However, I do not presume the other way, either. How many in the church have shown themselves to be unregenerated? Maybe even more than half, if you include all denominations of the visible church. The question is this: how should we treat children? Do borrow Doug’s own language in the Strawbridge book on infant baptism, we do not regard our new infant as the newly arrived Amalekite sitting at the table (a phrase I have always liked). Nevertheless, we still have to stress repentance and faith for each person. What is required for being present at the Lord’s Table?

Is representation part of the Lord’s Supper? Could we go that route? I am of two minds. I have never considered this particular question before. On the one hand, it feels right. Federal headship is absolutely the way to go on quite a few things, and this would fit right in with that. On the other hand, the requirements for participation in 1 Corinthians 11 seem to me to be addressed to all who would participate. We can say that small children can participate by watching and learning. But of course, that isn’t the same as actually eating and drinking. Is it true, then, that the only way of considering non-participating children as not excommunicated is by seeing them as represented by federal participation? I am not so sure about this. The federal principle is very strong indeed when it comes to baptism. Indeed, covenantal continuation and federal headship are the linchpins of the argument for baptizing children, and in so doing, we reckon them as part of the visible church. Is this not sufficient all by itself for saying that children are not excommunicated? Why would participation in the Lord’s Supper, whether actual or representative, be needed over and above baptism to say that they are part of the visible church? Besides, I thought excommunication was related only to sins that force the church to expel said member. This could not happen (or at least, it is extremely rare if not non-existent) or be said to happen about children. I think I understand the concern here: the concern is to make children feel included in church. This is entirely laudable. We don’t want them to feel excluded. But we can still say something like this: “Here is something special to which you can look forward,” just as we might say that about driver’s licenses, or voting, or drinking.

As to unbelievers partaking, the confessional position has always been that unbeliever do not partake of the thing signified in the Supper, since faith is necessary for proper partaking of the Supper. Is this Doug’s position? There are certain signs that say no, but it would be nice to clarify.

73 Comments

  1. Jack Bradley said,

    July 8, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    Yes, that is of course Doug’s position: faith is necessary for proper partaking. There is nothing in his last post to make one believe otherwise.

    Regarding your post, we can bring our children up never remembering a time when they did not partake of the Supper, and instill just as great (greater?) a sense of its ‘specialness’.

  2. Frank Davies said,

    July 9, 2009 at 6:45 am

    I agree, Jack. Doug’s position all along has been that faith is necessary for proper partaking of the Supper. I’m confused as to why this is even an issue for Lane. Doug has always been clear on this.

  3. GLW Johnson said,

    July 9, 2009 at 7:41 am

    Lane
    Doug once made the remarkable statement ‘How many of you know that the WFC teaches baptismal regeneration?’ And course, he proudly declared that it did …to his way of thinking that is. But when it comes to the issue of paedocommunion no appeal can be made to the Westminster Standards because they most emphatically are ‘again it’ .(See Question 177 in the Larger Catechism – which ,by the away also shoots holes in Wilson’s claim about baptismal regeneration). I really hope someone brings this whole ball wax to the attention of John Piper.

  4. rcjr said,

    July 9, 2009 at 7:44 am

    Would it be the case, if you adopt the representative position, that no father should partake on the chance that his children haven’t sufficiently examined themselves? To put it another way, if you reject pc because you can’t let non-examiners in, then how you you let them “in” via representation, if they still can’t examine themselves?

  5. Virginia Roark said,

    July 9, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    I have been “lurking ” on your sight for a little while. I do not subscribe to Covenant Theology but am trying to understand it because my daughter and son-in-law, do, after both were brought up in a non-denominatiional (noncharismatic) “believer’s baptism” tradition. Please forgive me if this is an intrusion.

    Where is the Biblical evidence that the Lord’s Supper is taken from other festivals besides Passover? The Jews celebrated the Day of Atonement for confessing their sins as a nation, and made individual sacrifices all year long for their own personal sins. To make Passover the focus of atonement for sin seems to be a new thing instituted by Jesus.

    How does Covenant Theology interpret John 3, specifically being born again, or born spiritually? Does that happen in the womb, or at baptism, or at some other time? Your discussions seem to indicate there may be some debate on this.

    How is the Covenant position different from baptismal regeneration?

    Do you make a distinction between being indwelt by the Holy Spirit and being filled with the Spirit? In 1 Samuel 19, Saul was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, but God’s favor had already left him. My point is that activity of the Holy Spirit in a human’s life does not automatically assume the presence of faith or God’s favor.

  6. July 9, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    Gary, the reason I don’t appeal to the Westminster Standards on paedocommunion is that I agree with you that Q177 rejects the paedocommunion position, quite clearly. But the peculiar species of baptismal regeneration I had in mind is actually referred to in Q177. Water seals our regeneration, right? And Westminster teaches elsewhere that through a right use of water, to worthy receivers, regeneration is really exhibited and conferred.

  7. Jack Bradley said,

    July 9, 2009 at 7:55 pm

    Douglas, I think your point is what Robert Godfrey is getting at (Blue Ridge Bible Conference, 6/97):

    “To protect the importance of faith we do not have to deny His presence, which is what many people, in opposition to formalism, want to do. They say, ‘No, we don’t want to find Christ in the water, we want to find Him just by faith.’ But Luther and Calvin’s point is that the water bears Christ to us. The water makes Christ present for us because the water contains and visibly declares the promise of God.

    . . . Baptism is the sacrament that testifies to the definitive work that God has done in saving His people. . . Calvin, Institutes: “It is a sign of our spiritual regeneration, through which we are reborn as the children of God.” Does baptism relate to regeneration? Sure it does. When we look, in faith, to our baptism, we are sure we are regenerate. . . you see, when I worry about my regeneration, in faith, then baptism tells me I am regenerated. . . Baptism stands there as the great pledge, the great encouragement. Calvin says, ‘Baptism is a sure testimony to us that we are united to Christ Himself, that we become sharers in all His blessings. For He dedicated and sanctified baptism in His own body in order that He might have it in common with us as the firmest bond of the union and fellowship which He has deigned to form with us. Hence Paul proves that we are children of God from the fact that we put on Christ in baptism.'”

  8. GLW Johnson said,

    July 10, 2009 at 6:16 am

    DW
    ‘Sign and seal’ Doug, ‘Sign and seal’. It is emblematic of the baptism of the Spirit.It represents spiritual baptism and the washing of the Holy Spirit. It is a visible symbol. It does NOT by virtue of being a sacrament convey the thing it depicts ‘ex oere operato’. If you say that the efficacy of the sacrament of baptism is directly linked to the valid performance of the sacrament itself then you are lining up with the Council of Trent .See A.A. Hodge,’Commentary on the Confession of Faith’.

  9. GLW Johnson said,

    July 10, 2009 at 6:17 am

    ‘ex opere operato’-sorry, missed the ‘p’.

  10. Ron Henzel said,

    July 10, 2009 at 6:59 am

    Doug,

    Gary is correct. A “seal” in the Westminster Standards is not analogous to an adhesive that secures the contents of an envelope, which is the way we use the word today. The sacraments do not secure anything for us in that sense, nor was that the significance of wax seals, which were affixed to the outside of envelopes and documents going far back to ancient times. In fact, to equate the function of a “seal” with that of an adhesive is to completely misunderstand the term, since the seal itself was actually the image impressed into the wax which served only in a quite secondary capacity (if at all) as a securing adhesive. Thus a seal was, as Williamson puts it, “something which authenticates or confirms that to which it is affixed or appended” (The Westminster Confession of Faith For Study Classes, 200). For the person who broke the seal and opened the letter, the impress in the wax “sealed” the authenticity of what he or she then read. It was designed to certify to the reader the legitimacy of the document.

    This is what Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are designed to do. They do not give us anything we did not already have, but rather confirm to us the righteousness by faith we already had before receiving them (cf. Rom. 4:11). And just as seals in ancient times could be stolen and used to confirm false messages, so we have also seen the signs and seals of the sacraments misappropriated for false gospels down through the ages.

  11. GLW Johnson said,

    July 10, 2009 at 7:35 am

    Here is A.A. Hodge
    ” The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments,rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them”(Conf.Faith,chap.xxxvii.,*3). Hodge then says that “the sacraments have no inherent power or virtue at all,but that the right use of the sacrament is by divine appointment the occasion upon which the Holy Ghost conveys the grace to those to whom it belongs. So that this grace-conferring virtue depends upon two things: (a.) The sovereign will and power of the Holy Spirit. (b,) The lively faith of the recipient. The sacrament is a mere instrument; but IT IS AN INSTRUMENT OF DIVINE APPOINTMENT.”(p.451)
    Thus, if Hodge is representative of the Reformed tradition – and I think he is-the FV is off track on baptism, covenental election and paedocommunion to mention only three of their distinctives.

  12. Frank Davies said,

    July 10, 2009 at 7:49 am

    Ron, I’m pretty sure Doug knows what “seal” means historically and in the WCF. And I’m pretty sure he agrees with you. The baptism regeneration of which Doug speaks is the kind that the WCF teaches. You know, the kind that authenticates, confirms and legitimizes.

    Anyway, you said, “This is what Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are designed to do. They do not give us anything we did not already have, but rather confirm to us the righteousness by faith we already had before receiving them.” I noticed that you italicized the words “we already had.” So you’re saying that infants have faith?

  13. watchblack said,

    July 10, 2009 at 8:08 am

    Perhaps another way of getting to the heart of the matter concerning baptismal regeneration is this: does baptism exhibit, confer, convey initial grace (i.e. the grace of regeneration in the narrow sense)?

  14. Jack Bradley said,

    July 10, 2009 at 8:54 am

    Robert Godfrey (Blue Ridge Bible Conference, 6/97):

    “I read Luther’s large catechism, in which he has pages on baptism, and I kept waiting for that point at which I would see that he’d gone over the edge, gone too far—and was amazed to find out I agreed with every word of what he said in his statements on baptism in his large catechism, which made me worry, so I went back and read it again, and no, I really think he’s Reformed. But listen to what he says: ‘Thus faith clings to the water and believes that in baptism is pure salvation and life.’

    Now, are you comfortable saying that? ‘Faith clings to the water.’ He does go on: ‘Not in the water, as we have said plainly enough, but in the Word and institution of God incorporated therein, and the name of God which inheres in it.’

    You see, what Luther is saying, it’s not water as some magical thing that saves us, but it’s water that bears the promise of God, it’s water connected to the Word and promise of God. I think this is what Calvin is saying as well: God’s institution is to link the promise with the water so that if our confidence in the promise begins to waver we can look to the water, which we have seen, which we touched, and can be renewed in the promise.

    So, we musn’t be wiser than God—one of my favorite phrases from the Heidelberg catechism. We must not be wiser than God. And when God says we need water to bear His promise to encourage us and to assure us, we need it. And, therefore, faith does cling to the water—not water as bare water, but water as sacrament which bears the promise of God. . . It’s the Word in the water. It’s the promise with the water. . . But it profits us only when we receive it by faith.”

  15. July 10, 2009 at 9:09 am

    Gary, what Jack and Luther and Godfrey said. I hope to have a broader response up on my blog later today, but in the meantime, let me join with you in rejecting the kind of ex opere operato efficacy that you reject. I reject it also. But it is “sign andseal” not “sign orseal.” I agree — for worthy receivers only, those who have lively, evangelical faith. Those who have the reality signified, and only those, also have that reality sealed. But it is sealed, according to Westminster, by the water of their baptism.

  16. watchblack said,

    July 10, 2009 at 9:59 am

    Jack,

    What else would you expect from those Lutherans at WSC? :) Just joking!! Seriously, I think Luther definitely goes too far in his teaching on baptism, which I argue in a paper that is scheduled to appear this month in Themelios. But let me ask you, do you believe that initial grace is conveyed in baptism? This is what I hear Doug Wilson saying with regards to elect infants.

    Patrick

  17. Jack Bradley said,

    July 10, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    Patrick, Good to hear from you, brother. I’m a bit rushed right now, but while I’m formulating an answer, let me again quote Godfrey (same lecture):

    “I am more and more convinced as the years go by that the genius of Reformed theology is the way in which it balances the issues related to regeneration with issues related to covenant—and that the danger that Reformed theology faces is that it can put to much stress on regeneration and undervalue to covenant, or, put to much stress upon the covenant and undervalue regeneration. And in a revivalist world that’s worried about formalism, Reformed theology, I think, tended to get skewed into thinking a great deal about regeneration and saying over and over again, ‘Our children are not automatically regenerated. We have to worry about the spiritual state of our children. We have to get them converted.’

    Now let me be clear, our children need to be regenerated. And there is some legitimate concern that Christian parents should have about their children. . . those concerns need to be maintained. But I think they go too far when we conclude because we’re not sure that our children are regenerated, we must treat them as unregenerate, and strangers to the covenants of grace, until we’re sure they are regenerated. And I’ve known some very consistent Baptists, thankfully not many of them, who won’t let their children pray, who won’t let their children sing ‘Jesus loves me, this I know’, not because they’re exclusive Psalm-singers, but because they don’t want their children involved in formalistic exercises that may not truly reflect the state of their heart.

    Now the danger on the other side has sometimes been manifested in a hyper-covenantalism, occasionally occurring amongst the Dutch, but amongst Presbyterians too, where parents just blithely assume that because they’re their children they’ll be fine, they’ll grow up to be good Christians, and if they run amuck as teenagers, well, boys will be boys. That’s a very dangerous attitude. That’s a kind of hyper-covenantalism.

    . . . But then, how are we to think about children? How are we to relate to children? And there, I think, baptism stands at the very heart and center of what the Lord is saying to us and how we ought to think. . . because baptism says, ‘I will be a God to you and to your children. You are in covenant with Me. I have made promises to you. . . and you don’t need to have any doubts about that.’”

  18. Jack Bradley said,

    July 10, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    Patrick, I appreciate the question, because I think it is a matter of recovering our true Reformed/Covenantal heritage. I agree with Godfrey that “the genius of Reformed theology is the way in which it balances the issues related to regeneration with issues related to covenant.”

    The question is: are we Baptist or are we Covenantal? I submit that the answer to that question is answered by how we answer this question: What is a Christian?

    In the Covenantal sense a Christian is someone (adult or child) who has been *baptized* in the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit. Many have put an “FV” label on that definition of a Christian, but that is simply historic, reformed covenantalism.

    We certainly should not hold, with the hyper-Calvinists, that the covenant is the direct historical *embodiment* of election, and therefore assert without qualification that our children are believers at any given age. Neither should we hold, with Reformed Baptists, that covenant and election are virtually *unrelated* and therefore never have any real confidence in our children’s spiritual status.

    Let me express my thoughts another way: election is unconditional, the covenant is not. In other words, from eternity God chose those who will be eternally His, and, of course,
    that choice was not in the least based upon something He foresaw in them. The covenant, however, requires faith and faithfulness. That is how we see election realized in our lives (2 Peter 1:10-11).

    Dordt, FIRST HEAD: ARTICLE 12. “The elect in due time, though in various degrees and in different measures, attain the assurance of this their eternal and unchangeable election, not by inquisitively prying into the secret and deep things of God, but by observing in themselves with a spiritual joy and holy pleasure the infallible fruits of election pointed out in the Word of God – such as, a true faith in Christ, filial fear, a
    godly sorrow for sin, a hungering and thirsting after righteousness, etc.”

    Again, the covenant is a conditional promise of an unconditional election. Yet there is no mistaking, from Scripture, that the covenant is *closely* associated with election. The visible Church is the covenant community and the apostles were not afraid to address this community as elect:

    “[God] chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).

    “Peter, the apostle of Jesus Christ, to the elect pilgrims of the dispersion….” (1 Peter 1:1).

    “. . . to the Church of God which is in Corinth, sanctified in Christ Jesus, chosen saints” (1 Corinthians 1:1-2).

    “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved. . .” Colossians 3:12

    Of course, eternal life belongs to the elect, only. Now, the question: Who
    are the elect? Answer: ‘Secret Counsel’ department. May we then find fault with Paul, who addresses the *visible covenant* community as “the elect”? “Come on, Paul, only God knows who the elect are!”

    Paul is obviously not claiming to know who are the elect are. He IS claiming that by virtue of baptism those in the visible covenant community are PRESUMED (not asserted) to be elect, and he addresses them accordingly, with all of the promises, as well as conditions.

    I strongly believe that we need to teach our baptized covenant children to read the promises of Scripture as addressed to them, and to say, “That’s me: ‘elect, chosen.’ How do I know? I’ve been baptized into the Church, I believe in Christ, I belong to Christ’s people.” That is not secret-counsel peering. That is revealed-will claiming.

    As Godfrey puts it: “… baptism stands at the very heart and center of what the Lord is saying to us and how we ought to think. . . because baptism says, ‘I will be a God to you and to your children. You are in covenant with Me. I have made promises to you. . . and you don’t need to have any doubts about that.’”

  19. watchblack said,

    July 10, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    Jack,

    I trust you are you doing well. So is that a yes, no, or maybe? the issue is not who we regard as christians but what does baptism do. Btw the westminster directory says that covenant children are christians BEFORE baptism.

    Patrick

  20. Ron Henzel said,

    July 10, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    Frank,

    You wrote:

    Ron, I’m pretty sure Doug knows what “seal” means historically and in the WCF. And I’m pretty sure he agrees with you.

    No offense intended here, but I would prefer if Doug spoke for himself on this point.

    You wrote:

    The baptism regeneration of which Doug speaks is the kind that the WCF teaches. You know, the kind that authenticates, confirms and legitimizes.

    Again, I think Doug should speak for himself. But in the meantime I’ll point out that while definitions of the phrase “baptismal regeneration” are a bit hard to locate in the standard dictionaries, they do exist. In the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Bromiley indicates that “an equation between baptism and regeneration…is most strongly made in the phrase ‘baptismal regeneration,'” but then he dances around the issue of precisely what such an “equation” actually means and contents himself with concluding merely that “the actual phrase ‘baptismal regeneration’ is much better avoided.” I think this is a very weak entry in an otherwise fine work.

    I prefer what The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church has to say. Although it does not have a separate entry for baptismal regeneration, I think it defines it more precisely in its entry on baptism when it says that the doctrine of baptismal regeneration asserts that in baptism, “a man is washed and sanctified with the Holy Spirit, delivered from the wrath of God, received into the ark of Christ’s Church, accorded remission of sins, and made an heir of everlasting salvation.”

    While there is no doubt that various people have used the term “baptismal regeneration” in senses of their own choosing, especially of late, the fact is that there is no other “kind” of baptismal regeneration than the kind that makes baptism the cause of regeneration. This is what it has always meant in the debates over the efficacy of baptism. This is what Spurgeon meant by the term in his many sermons on the subject. This is what it means now. To insist on applying the term to things that do not qualify for it is a dubious, divisive, and potentially deceptive procedure.

    You wrote:

    Anyway, you said, “This is what Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are designed to do. They do not give us anything we did not already have, but rather confirm to us the righteousness by faith we already had before receiving them.” I noticed that you italicized the words “we already had.” So you’re saying that infants have faith?

    As is clear from my context, I was considering both sacraments together when I made these remarks, and I was applying Romans 4:11—the verse from which we get the “sign and seal” language—to them. The reason I highlighted the clause, “we already had” is because those are the words that Paul uses to demonstrate that Abraham’s justification was not effected by his circumcision but was a separate event—in this case, a prior event. Although I do not rule out the possibility that some infants are already regenerated before they are baptized, and thus also have the other aspects of salvation (justification, saving faith, etc.), I probably should have stressed Paul’s actual point that an individual’s experience of salvation occurs apart from the sign and seal rather than stressing the sequence in Paul’s particular argument. So the short answer is: no, I am not saying that all baptized infants have saving faith.

  21. Ron Henzel said,

    July 10, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    Doug,

    Regarding your comment #15: once again the interpretation of your point hinges entirely on what you mean by the word “seal.” It seems to me that you’re using the word in the sense of something that secures salvation for those who have saving faith rather than something that certifies their salvation to them. Am I interpreting you correctly?

  22. July 10, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    Patrick, covenant children are called Christians before baptism because they are federally holy. Federally holy, federally Christian. And so we baptize them, saying amen.

  23. July 10, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    Ron, I am taking “sign and seal” as very close in meaning to “exhibited and conferred.” But I do think that a seal certifies also. Perhaps I am not getting your question.

    On baptismal regeneration, I agree with your definition. But in that definition, the grace goes in when the water goes on. In Westminster, the efficacy of baptism is not tied to the moment of administration. This means that there is an efficacy that shows up sometime (for worthy receivers). For worthy receivers, at the moment of their effectual call, the Holy Spirit uses the water of their baptism to exhibit and confer the grace signified by that baptism. This fits with the definition you cited, but with an important evangelical rider attached– it does not do this indiscriminately, and it does not do this anchored to the moment of baptism. This is the teaching of Westminster, and it fits with your definition above. At the same time, it is not what most people understand by baptismal regeneration.

  24. July 10, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    Sorry. Confused garble in sentences 2 and 3 above. I agree with the definition, but with an important Westminsterian qualification.

  25. watchblack said,

    July 10, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    Re. #22: Agreed. But Jack had said that a Christian is someone who has been baptized.

    Again the point is not federal holiness or who is in the covenant or why we baptize. The point is what does baptism do. Is initial grace conveyed via baptism? Is the grace of regeneration that leads to faith given in baptism? If so, as Luther taught, then baptism is efficacious apart from faith.

  26. Jack Bradley said,

    July 10, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    Patrick, I agree with you and Douglas about the federal holiness of covenant children. But I also like Calvin’s Strasbourg Catechism:

    Q. Are you, my son, a Christian in fact as well as in name?
    A. Yes, my father.
    Q. How do you know yourself to be?
    A. Because I am baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son
    and of the Holy Spirit.

    I also like Calvin’s Geneva Catechism regarding your question about initial grace:

    M. But do you attribute nothing more to the water than that it is a figure of ablution?
    S. I understand it to be a figure, but still so that the reality is annexed to it; for God does not disappoint us when he promises us his gifts. Accordingly, it is certain that both pardon of sins and newness of life are offered to us in baptism, and received by us.

    Further, in the “Form of Administering Baptism at Geneva” (for infants), we read concerning their salvation: “All these graces are bestowed upon us when he is pleased to incorporate us into his Church by baptism; for in this sacrament he attests the remission of our sins. And he has ordained the symbol of water to figure to us, that as by this element bodily defilements are cleansed, so he is pleased to wash and purify our souls.”

    I also highly recommend: Joel Garver, Baptismal Regeneration and the Westminster Confession 28.6 http://www.joelgarver.com/writ/sacr/wcf.htm

    Some cogent excerpts:

    The WCF does in fact assert that grace is “exhibited” and “conferred” in and by the sacraments through “the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution” (27.8). Likewise, the Westminster Larger Catechism states that sacraments are, in this way, “effectual means of salvation” (161) whereby, in the words of the Shorter Catechism “Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers” (92). The Standards, moreover, consistently teach that “regeneration by the Spirit” is among the benefits thus represented, sealed, exhibited, conferred, and applied.

    “The grace” that the WCF understands to be promised in baptism is the grace outlined in WCF 26.1 and includes, “solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church…a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up to God through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life.” The Larger Catechism (Q. 165) also includes “adoption” and “resurrection unto everlasting life” in that grace, as well as “professed engagement to be wholly and only the Lord’s.”

    . . . As far as the teaching of the WCF is concerned, it may well be, for instance, that elect covenant infants who receive baptism (as those to whom “that grace belongeth unto”) enjoy the grace of regeneration at the time of administration (as God’s “appointed time”), at least in its seed and root and even if that grace must later come to fruition in effectual calling through the word, the exercise of actual faith, and then be lived out and improved. Just such a position was held by a wide array of 17th century English Reformed theologians, including several who were members of the Westminster Assembly or, in some cases, served on the committee that framed the chapter on baptism (e.g., Cornelius Burgess, Anthony Tuckney, Stephen Marshall, Daniel Featly).

    Likewise, it is well within the bounds of the WCF to hold that the grace of regeneration is signified and sealed, exhibited and conferred in the sacrament of baptism, so that a baptized adult convert can be assured of his regeneration by looking to God’s promise in faith as that is held out to him in baptism and, moreover, can receive a greater measure of regenerating grace through baptism by faith in order that he might continue to put sin to death and live in newness of life.

    Thus, the basic affirmation of WCF 28.6 is not to be lost in the qualifications, that is to say, the basic teaching of the Confession is that by baptism “the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Spirit” since baptism is (in the words of Larger Catechism Q. 161) “an effectual means of salvation.” We should also note that in the Standards the term “exhibited” has the meaning it bore in its 17th century context (emerging from the Latin root), which is “conveyed” or “applied” rather than merely “shown” or “displayed” (as we tend to use it in contemporary English).

    . . . In light of these observations, we can again consider the initial statement in WCF 28.6 that baptism’s efficacy is “not tied to that moment of administration.” Whatever else this may imply on some understandings of the Confession, it should primarily be understood as an affirmation of the relevancy and effectiveness of baptism to the whole Christian life and not just its inception, which also entails that the regenerating grace offered in baptism may, in some cases, await a later time until it becomes savingly effectual.

  27. Ron Henzel said,

    July 11, 2009 at 3:16 am

    Doug,

    In comment 23, you wrote:

    On baptismal regeneration, I agree with your definition.

    Just so that we are both clear on my definition here: in comment 20, I defined baptismal regeneration as the doctrine that makes baptism the cause of regeneration. So when you express agreement with me on this definition, I assume that this is what you are referring to when you indicate that the Westminster Confession of Faith teaches baptismal regeneration—i.e., that the WCF makes baptism the cause of regeneration. Furthermore, I assume (based on your comments 6, 15, and 23) that the only thing that makes WCF baptismal regeneration a “peculiar species” of that doctrine is that “the efficacy of baptism is not tied to the moment of administration,” which I assume to mean that in your view, baptism still causes regeneration, only not necessarily at the precise moment it is administered.

    Am I interpreting you correctly here?

  28. Ron Henzel said,

    July 11, 2009 at 3:27 am

    Patrick,

    In comment 16, you wrote:

    …I think Luther definitely goes too far in his teaching on baptism…

    On the other hand, according to David Steinmetz, Luther taught that,

    It was through the preached Word that God justifies sinners and pardons sin. Even the sacraments of baptism and eucharist were redefined as the visible Word of God.

    [Luther in Context, 2nd ed., (Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Baker Books, 2002), 134.]

    Assuming that Steinmetz has accurately summarized Luther’s view of the sacraments, how is that view any different from what Calvin taught when he wrote,

    Therefore, let it be regarded as a settled principle that the sacraments have the same office as the Word of God: to offer and set forth Christ to us, and in him the treasures of heavenly grace.

    [Institutes 4.14.17; Battles trans. 2:1292]?

  29. Ron Henzel said,

    July 11, 2009 at 3:43 am

    Jack,

    Garver is not using the term “baptismal regeneration” in its historic sense, in which it denotes the view that baptism causes regeneration. All the effects which Garver points out that the WCF attributes to baptism—signifying, sealing, exhibiting, conferring—fall far short of what the term actually means. They even fall short of Bromiley’s rather limp definition of an “equation” between baptism and regeneration. Needless to say, Garver chooses not to heed Bromiley’s advice that “the actual phrase ‘baptismal regeneration’ is much better avoided.’

    Perhaps the most problematic term to modern ears in the WCF is the word “confer,” which simply means to “give.” But to say that baptism gives grace sounds very Roman Catholic, very medieval, and to some ears very much as though grace may have been construed as a sort of substance mixed in with the baptismal waters that could be siphoned through some sort of spiritual tap line connected to heaven. But in the context of Calvin’s statement in the Institutes 4.14.17, which I cited in my previous comment, it is clear that, for those who followed Calvin at least, the sacraments only conferred grace in the same manner that the Scriptures confer grace. Thus baptism “saves” us by “offer[ing] and set[ting] forth Christ to us.”

  30. Jack Bradley said,

    July 11, 2009 at 4:50 am

    Ron,

    Garver and I agree with you: baptism “saves” us by “offer[ing] and set[ting] forth Christ to us.” His paper seeks to demonstrate that baptism is a genuine offering forth of Christ, according to the Westminster Standards, i.e., that sacraments are “effectual means of salvation” whereby, “Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.”

    Both Garver (according to my reading of his paper) and I also agree that “the actual phrase ‘baptismal regeneration’ is much better avoided.’”

  31. watchblack said,

    July 11, 2009 at 7:53 am

    Ron,

    That quote is true as far as it goes. But Luther’s doctrine of baptism is much more than that. As is generally recognized, Luther did teach baptismal regeneration. But his version was different from the Thomist one, which is why we do need to be careful to distinguish between different forms of baptismal regeneration.

    Patrick

  32. July 11, 2009 at 8:41 am

    Ron, a subordinate, instrumental cause, but yes, a cause. It is not a cause of regeneration ex opere operato, like putting the eight ball in the corner pocket. But the WCF assigns causal properties to it, with all qualifications remembered. The non-linkage to the time of administration is to make room for the principal instrumental cause, which is always necessary, that cause being God-given, evangelical, instrumental faith. Baptism is a cause of regeneration in a similar way that a sound preaching of the gospel is a cause of regeneration. Not without the Spirit’s working, not without faith, but how will they hear without a preacher?

  33. Ron Henzel said,

    July 11, 2009 at 9:14 am

    Jack,

    You wrote:

    Garver and I agree with you: baptism “saves” us by “offer[ing] and set[ting] forth Christ to us.” His paper seeks to demonstrate that baptism is a genuine offering forth of Christ, according to the Westminster Standards, i.e., that sacraments are “effectual means of salvation” whereby, “Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.”

    Perhaps you really do agree with me (although I have very strong reservations about Garver), but that seems quite beside the point. The purpose of Garver’s paper is not to set forth his own view of baptismal efficacy, but to squeeze as wide of a spectrum of views on the subject as possible into the list of those acceptable under the Westminster Standards. Thus Garver seeks to demonstrate that “the Westminster Confession allows for views link baptism to the bestowal of regenerating grace,” and by that he means that “someone holding to the Confession as his or her doctrinal standard is certainly free to hold to several sorts of fairly strong views of baptism’s regenerational efficacy, so long as they remain in keeping with the broader consensus of Reformed divines, as described above” (emphasis mine)—i.e., in keeping with his presentation of that consensus, and his own apparent attempt to soften of the term “baptismal regeneration.”

    One major problem with Garver’s article is that he is so intent on finding room for something he feels justified in calling “baptismal regeneration” in WCF 28.6 that he completely ignores the hermeneutical principle that the Confession includes 27.2 to guide us in such discussions: viz., that the sacramental union between the sign and the thing signified explains why “the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other.” He quotes only the first half of 27.2 in order to appropriate the the phrase “sacramental union” and read his own concept of what that term means into WLC 163 to give himself license to conclude that “The sign and thing signified thus are held together ‘in the sacrament’ and constitute the sacrament in their union.” When he writes this way not only is he misrepresenting the Westminster Standards, but he is clearly using what he himself calls “the language of baptismal regeneration” in a manner which fits its regular meaning as the doctrine that makes baptism the cause of regeneration. His argument that there are various kinds of baptismal regeneration and that some are not objectionable begins to look like a diversionary tactic at this point.

    I recommend that anyone trying to make heads or tails of Garver’s mishandling of this subject first consult A.A. Hodge’s commentary on WCF 27 (which also includes WLC 163) in his book The Confession of Faith, the text of which is available on the Reformed Theology Resource Center web site. There Hodge confirms the proper definition of “baptismal regeneration” that I have insisted upon here:

    …Romanists and Ritualists have inferred that the sign is inseparable from the grace signified, and that these spiritual effects are due to the outward ordinance. Hence the doctrine of baptismal regeneration.

    [The Confession of Faith, (London, UK: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1958), 330.]

    It seems pretty clear to me that Garver’s eagerness to make room for “several sorts of fairly strong views of baptism’s regenerational efficacy” must represent a desire to include those who hold that the spiritual effects of baptism are due to (i.e., caused by) the outward ordinance, which is, of course, totally outside the bounds of the Westminster Standards, regardless of what Garver says. I think his whole article is en exercise in verbal sleight-of-hand.

    You also wrote:

    Both Garver (according to my reading of his paper) and I also agree that “the actual phrase ‘baptismal regeneration’ is much better avoided.’”

    I’m not from Missouri, but you’ll have to show me anyway. The closest thing I could find to such an opinion is Garver’s exceedingly oblique (in more ways than one) declaration: “While one could raise questions about the pastoral advisability of using the language of ‘baptismal regeneration,’ my focus here is upon the theology that lies behind such ways of speaking.” As far as I can tell from the article you have referenced, Garver himself is a crypto-baptismal regenerationist, and he’s trying to move the pegs of the Westminster Standards far enough apart so he and others like him can fit under its tent.

  34. watchblack said,

    July 11, 2009 at 9:18 am

    If baptism, like the Word, is an evangelical cause of regeneration then baptism is indeed efficacious apart from faith. The benefit of justification is still received by faith in baptism but the benefit of regeneration is not.

    It is inconsistent to hold to this view and affirm that faith is necessary to receive all the saving benefits that baptism conveys.

  35. Ron Henzel said,

    July 11, 2009 at 9:54 am

    Doug,

    In your point 4 under “On Baptism” in your article “Credos” in Credenda Agenda, Volume 15, Issue 5, you wrote:

    I believe that the phrase baptismal efficacy may be helpfully used to describe an ex opere operato connection to the new covenant, with its attendant and standing responsibility to repent and believe.

    How does this allegedly helpful “ex opere operato connection to the new covenant” differ from “wooden ex opere operato sense” that you blame for “rank superstition and idolatry” in point 1, or that you now compare with “putting the eight ball in the corner pocket?”

    In point 8 you wrote:

    I believe that baptism in water establishes the one baptized as a member of the Church, and the Church is one with Jesus Christ, bone of His bone, flesh of His flesh.

    Why did you not specify that one is baptized as a member of the visible church in keeping with WCF 28.1? Are you saying that baptism causes a person to be in union with Christ? If not, what are you saying?

    And when you write, “Baptism is a cause of regeneration in a similar way that a sound preaching of the gospel is a cause of regeneration” (emphasis mine), instead putting it more as Calvin did when he wrote, “the sacraments have the same office as the Word of God” (Institutes 4.14.17), are you positing a difference? Does baptism do something that the Word of God does not?

  36. Jack Bradley said,

    July 11, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    Ron,

    I think it is significant that you expressed concern not just with Garver’s interpretation, but with the Confession itself: “Perhaps the most problematic term to modern ears in the WCF is the word ‘confer,’ which simply means to ‘give.'”

    I think Garver clearly answers that concern, and your related concerns about his interpretation: “… there is no notion here that the water of baptism or its application, in itself, produces the intended effects. Rather, as the Westminster Confession teaches, the grace of the sacrament “is not conferred by any power in them” nor does the efficacy of that grace “depend upon the piety or intention of him that doth administer it.” Rather, the whole efficacy of the sacraments in exhibiting and conferring grace depends “upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution” in which the promise of the Gospel is held out to all who receive the sacrament in faith (WCF 27.3).”

    In other words, however inconsistent you think Garver is, he does give this clear qualifier about his view of baptismal efficacy, clearly denying that the sacrament has any saving power in and of itself.

    I’m off to preach out of state, so I’ll catch up when I get back tomorrow night. I appreciate the interaction, brother.

  37. July 11, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    Ron, I am okay with Calvin’s identification of the two, although I prefer to leave myself a little more room to make distinctions. Baptism functions like the Word does, but to make them identical turns the water into a sermon that splashes. But they both have an identical subordinate role to faith — I would say that.

    On your first question, water baptism brings someone into the visible church, ex opere operato. But this is not the same thing as bringing them into the company of the (strong sense) regenerate. In my theology, the visible church is the body of Christ — which is why that body still has blemishes that will be removed by the last day. So water establishes a relation to Christ, period. But never a saving relation apart from faith.

  38. Joshua W.D. Smith said,

    July 12, 2009 at 12:51 am

    I’m actually going to go back to something said in the original post, jumping over all the extra commentary.

    The issue, Lane, as I have said several times, is not about what the children “feel.” You misunderstand the PC position if you think that it is concerned with whether children “feel” included. The issue is whether they are actually included, not how they feel (although those things should go together). The issue is what is the actual status of those children in the covenant and its activities.

  39. Ron Henzel said,

    July 12, 2009 at 2:54 am

    Jack,

    You wrote:

    I think it is significant that you expressed concern not just with Garver’s interpretation, but with the Confession itself: “Perhaps the most problematic term to modern ears in the WCF is the word ‘confer,’ which simply means to ‘give.’”

    I did not intend to express concern with the Confession itself, only that modern readers sometimes express concern over its choice of language with respect to baptism. I specifically intended to indicate that the idea of “conferring grace” sounds highly mystical to modern ears, but this expression was not intended in any such sense by the Reformers or their successors.

    You wrote:

    I think Garver clearly answers that concern, and your related concerns about his interpretation: “… there is no notion here that the water of baptism or its application, in itself, produces the intended effects. Rather, as the Westminster Confession teaches, the grace of the sacrament “is not conferred by any power in them” nor does the efficacy of that grace “depend upon the piety or intention of him that doth administer it.” Rather, the whole efficacy of the sacraments in exhibiting and conferring grace depends “upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution” in which the promise of the Gospel is held out to all who receive the sacrament in faith (WCF 27.3).”

    In other words, however inconsistent you think Garver is, he does give this clear qualifier about his view of baptismal efficacy, clearly denying that the sacrament has any saving power in and of itself.

    I think you may be deriving a false comfort from this. Baptismal regenerationists do not necessarily locate the source of the power that regenerates in either the water, the procedure, or the piety of the person administering it. I believe Luther could agree with everything Garver is pointing out here, and yet he is frequently labeled as a baptismal regenerationist.

    I’m off to preach out of state, so I’ll catch up when I get back tomorrow night. I appreciate the interaction, brother.

    May the Lord bless your ministry and keep you safe.

  40. GLW Johnson said,

    July 12, 2009 at 5:48 am

    Doug
    It would be extremely helpful if (like you did in you recent analysis of Wright’s response to Piper) you would clearly spell out your specific disagreements with your fellow FVer’s. I am speaking primarily of individuals like Lusk and Wilkins. I sense, however, that your reluctance to do so stems more from semamtics than real substantial disagreements-otherwise why would you wish to be associated with a group that can’t see its reflection in a mirror.

  41. Ron Henzel said,

    July 12, 2009 at 6:44 am

    Doug,

    My first question in comment 35 was,

    How does this allegedly helpful “ex opere operato connection to the new covenant” differ from “wooden ex opere operato sense” that you blame for “rank superstition and idolatry” in point 1, or that you now compare with “putting the eight ball in the corner pocket?”

    And you responded,

    On your first question, water baptism brings someone into the visible church, ex opere operato. But this is not the same thing as bringing them into the company of the (strong sense) regenerate. In my theology, the visible church is the body of Christ — which is why that body still has blemishes that will be removed by the last day. So water establishes a relation to Christ, period. But never a saving relation apart from faith.

    I’d like to break this paragraph into chunks as follows:

    On your first question, water baptism brings someone into the visible church, ex opere operato.

    So in your view, when water baptism brings someone into the visible church it simultaneously puts them under the New Covenant?

    But this is not the same thing as bringing them into the company of the (strong sense) regenerate.

    Please define what you mean by “(strong sense) regenerate,” as well as the corresponding “(weak sense) regenerate” that I presume is required by the former. What are the attributes of each?

    In my theology, the visible church is the body of Christ — which is why that body still has blemishes that will be removed by the last day.

    So then Christ indwells everyone in the visible church, including unbelievers, per Colossians 1:24-27?

    So water establishes a relation to Christ, period. But never a saving relation apart from faith.

    The only kinds of relations to Christ of which I am aware are two: one in which Christ relates to the sinner as Judge, and the other in which He relates to the sinner as Savior. Since you exclude the possibility that baptism establishes “a saving relation apart from faith,” the only other possibility is that it establishes a condemning relationship. But that relationship is already established, since, according to Scripture, the one who does not believe is condemned already. So it would seems that baptism is unnecessary to establish it. Where do you find such redundancy indicated in Scripture?

    In your first paragraph, you wrote:

    Ron, I am okay with Calvin’s identification of the two, although I prefer to leave myself a little more room to make distinctions.

    Identical but distinct? Hmmm…

    What kind of distinctions are you referring to here?

    Baptism functions like the Word does, but to make them identical turns the water into a sermon that splashes.

    Why caricature it as “a sermon that splashes?” Why not “a pronouncement from God’s word depicted with water?”

    But they both have an identical subordinate role to faith — I would say that.

    So earlier you wanted to make distinctions, but now you say “they both have an identical subordinate role to faith.” This would seem to be a contradiction. Did you intend to use the word “identical” as an adjective of “subordinate” instead of as an adjective coordinate with it of the word “role?” In that case you should have chosen the adverb “identically,” and you would merely have been saying that baptism’s role is subordinate to faith in the same way that Scripture’s role is subordinate to faith (although thinking of God’s word as subordinate to our faith seems a bit infelicitous).

    But this would seem to imply that baptism itself is not subordinate to Scripture, but stands alongside it with equal authority. Did you mean to imply that?

    Calvin, on the other hand, says they have the same “office”—i.e., the same function. I believe Calvin summarized that office or function when he wrote that, “…a sacrament is never without a preceding promise but is joined to it as a sort of appendix, with the purpose of confirming and sealing the promise itself, and of making it more evident to us and in a sense ratifying it. … Yet, properly speaking, it is not so much needed to confirm his Sacred Word as to establish us in faith in it.” (Institutes 4.14.3.) So, according to Calvin, the sacraments are not designed to supply any deficiency in the Scriptures themselves, but to supply a deficiency in us.

    Thus, by the same “office,” Calvin means that just as the word of God calls us to faith, so do the sacraments. So I think Calvin would agree with Luther here that faith is the real instrument that God uses, while the job of word and sacrament is to call us to faith. Faith is the real instrument that God uses to put us into Christ, Christ into us, and thus us into Christ’s body, the church—which I believe Calvin would say means the invisible church.

    But you have said that the function of putting people into Christ’s body actually belongs to baptism in an ex opere operato way, which is a very different office from that of God’s word. I believe it contradicts Calvin’s teaching that any efficacy baptism has derives solely from its confirmatory relationship to Scripture. The inherent ability to put someone into the body of Christ is clearly an efficacy that Scripture itself does not have. For another thing, it totally bypasses faith, rendering it unnecessary and irrelevant. The moment you invoke ex opere operato you have excluded any role for faith whatsoever (other than perhaps faith in the ex opere operato notion itself).

    And I think you have also allowed baptism to usurp the role of the Holy Spirit Himself. Paul wrote:

    For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

    (1 Cor. 12:13, NASB)

    As I see it, this shows that the notion that water baptism puts us into the body of Christ is simply all wet.

  42. rfwhite said,

    July 12, 2009 at 7:44 am

    Taking a stab at narrowing the focus a bit: If it is the case that water establishes a relation to Christ that is never a saving relation apart from faith, what is the nature of that relation established apart from faith? If the nature of that relation is covenantal, then what is the nature of a covenantal, non-saving relation? We’re back to the question of what is the nature of the relationship that non-elect covenant members have to Christ. Is a covenantal relation to be equated with a saving relation? Is covenant membership coextensive with salvation?

  43. David Gray said,

    July 12, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    >If it is the case that water establishes a relation to Christ that is never a saving relation apart from faith, what is the nature of that relation established apart from faith?

    What was the relationship to Christ of an Israeli in the Old Testament who was not regenerate?

  44. fralin said,

    July 12, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    Why are you looking for ground that you and Doug WIlson can meet on anyway? It seems that GLW Johnson has the right approach.

  45. riorancho said,

    July 12, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    “What was the relationship to Christ of an Israeli in the Old Testament who was not regenerate?”

    This question demonstrates the problem. In biblical typology, the elect (saved) are the fulfillment of OT Israel, not the visible church. Trying to draw a line straight across from OT Israel to the NT visible church is a mistake. Those now “My People” of Rom 9:25 are the elect; those who are recipients of the new covenant are those with their sins forgiven (Jer 31). You cannot apply all that was true for OT Israel to all those who are baptized, saved or not.

  46. David Gray said,

    July 12, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    >In biblical typology, the elect (saved) are the fulfillment of OT Israel, not the visible church.

    So you believe all Old Testament Israel were elect? Not all Israel was true Israel. What is your basis for rejecting the reformed understanding of the continuity of Israel and the Church?

  47. riorancho said,

    July 12, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    “So you believe all Old Testament Israel were elect?”

    No, that’s not the point. In biblical typology, OT Israel was a picture. The question is, how does the New Testament explain what Israel pictured? The physical descendants of Abraham pictured those who are sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ, the true Israel (Gal 3). This doesn’t answer all the questions about the non-elect who are baptized, but our typology must start with the Scriptural connections, and the New Testament never considers the non-elect a part of the true Israel which OT Israel (elect and non-elect) pictured.

    “Not all Israel was true Israel. What is your basis for rejecting the reformed understanding of the continuity of Israel and the Church?”

    If by church you mean the invisible church, then that is the reformed understanding. The FV tends to see the visible church as the fulfillment of OT Israel, which idea is not reformed at all, at least in the historical sense.

    As Calvin wrote of Gal 6:16:

    “`And upon the Israel of God.’ There are two classes who bear this name, a pretended Israel, which appears to be so in the sight of men, — and the Israel of God. Circumcision was a disguise before men, but regeneration is a truth before God. In a word, he gives the appellation of the Israel of God to those whom he formerly denominated the children of Abraham by faith, (Galatians 3:29,) and thus includes all believers, whether Jews or Gentiles, who were united into one church…. this led the apostle to argue in the Epistle to the Romans, that “they are not all Israel which are of Israel, neither because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children.”

    The “church” Calvin refers to here is the invisible church.

    Todd

  48. Paige Britton said,

    July 12, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    Re. #42: Dr. White wrote:
    “Taking a stab at narrowing the focus a bit: If it is the case that water establishes a relation to Christ that is never a saving relation apart from faith, what is the nature of that relation established apart from faith? If the nature of that relation is covenantal, then what is the nature of a covenantal, non-saving relation? We’re back to the question of what is the nature of the relationship that non-elect covenant members have to Christ. Is a covenantal relation to be equated with a saving relation? Is covenant membership coextensive with salvation?”
    My thought:
    If the children in a mixed marriage are “considered holy,” and the unbelieving spouse of a Christian is considered so as well (as per 1 Cor 7), might we see here a hint of what you are calling a “covenantal, non-saving relation” to Christ which could be associated with the baptism of one (such as an infant) who could not profess saving faith? This would be like common grace only more so: it involves close association with those who really are God’s children, and the very real benefits and blessings of that company, short of salvation.

  49. July 12, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    Ron, you are right — identically is the word I should have used. For the rest, here it is again. Water baptism ratifies a formal, public relationship to Christ, and such a baptized person is part of the visible church, the body of Christ. Water baptism always ratifies this formal relationship, ex opere operato, whether the person baptized is elect or not, regenerate or not. The body of Christ will be without spot or wrinkle or any such thing at the last day, meaning that such blemishes are part of the visible church now. They are in the company of the regenerate, but they are not regenerate themselves. They are in the regeneration, but the regeneration is not in them. If they are not elect, if they never come to true faith, the regeneration is never in them. A person baptized who never comes to faith is doubly condemned.
    Baptism is not comparable to Scripture. It is comparable (causally) to the preached Word. It is a subordinate, instrumental cause, used by the Holy Spirit, subordinate to faith. It is fine to differ with this, as many fine Christians do, but when they do, they are being fine Christians who differ with the Westminster confession.

  50. GLW Johnson said,

    July 13, 2009 at 6:08 am

    Doug
    Your last remark- ” It is fine to differ with this,as many fine Christians do, but when they do,they are being fine Christians who differ with the Westminster confession”- is a real jaw dropper given your candid admission that your position on paedocommunion is clearly out of step with the WTS. By the way, has it occurred to you that the reason the Westminster divines rejected paedocommunion is actually part of their understanding of the nature of the covenant of Grace and as such the divines would has declared the FV and all of its distinctives to be persona non grata (much like the boatload of Reformed denominations have done)?

  51. Ron Henzel said,

    July 13, 2009 at 6:28 am

    Doug,

    You wrote:

    Ron, you are right — identically is the word I should have used. For the rest, here it is again. Water baptism ratifies a formal, public relationship to Christ, and such a baptized person is part of the visible church, the body of Christ.

    But where do the Westminster Standards indicate that water baptism places anyone in any kind of relationship to Christ, rather than simply to the visible church? And where do the Westminster Standards equate the visible church with the body of Christ?

    You wrote:

    Water baptism always ratifies this formal relationship, ex opere operato, whether the person baptized is elect or not, regenerate or not. The body of Christ will be without spot or wrinkle or any such thing at the last day, meaning that such blemishes are part of the visible church now.

    But this simply begs the question of whether the visible church is the body of Christ, and hence the bride of Christ. This seems to be out of keeping with the Westminster Standards.

    You wrote:

    They are in the company of the regenerate, but they are not regenerate themselves.

    Which, in the terms of the Westminster Standards, makes them part of the visible church, but not the body of Christ.

    They are in the regeneration, but the regeneration is not in them.

    “In the regeneration?” Where do the standards apply this kind of language to anyone who is unregenerate?

    If they are not elect, if they never come to true faith, the regeneration is never in them. A person baptized who never comes to faith is doubly condemned.

    Please cite the portion of the Westminster Standards that affirms this.

    Baptism is not comparable to Scripture. It is comparable (causally) to the preached Word. It is a subordinate, instrumental cause, used by the Holy Spirit, subordinate to faith.

    This is a clarification that you did not need to make for my sake, but there is no problem in making it.

    It is fine to differ with this, as many fine Christians do, but when they do, they are being fine Christians who differ with the Westminster confession.

    Now I have to discern what exactly you are referring to with the word “this” in your phrase “to differ with this”—the previous sentence (which is unobjectionable), or everything in your comment (which, in my opinion, is only objectionable to those who affirm the Westminster Standards in their intended sense). If you meant the latter, it reminds me of the time a Jehovah’s Witness told me that I was not so much disagreeing with him, but disagreeing with the Bible, when I affirmed the Deity of Christ.

    From a different angle, it also reminds me of something I once read in the Westminster Confession in 25:1:

    The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.

    Are you saying that the Westminster divines defined “the catholic or universal Church” differently than “the body of Christ?” If so, on what basis?

    I think it would also be helpful if you clarified the difference in your thinking between the “weak sense” and the “strong sense” of the word “regenerate,” as I requested earlier. I would also appreciate it if you explained Colossians 1:24ff., which seems to indicate that everyone who is in Christ’s body is indwelt by Christ. Are you saying that unregenerate people can be indwelt by Christ?

  52. Ron Henzel said,

    July 13, 2009 at 7:23 am

    Doug,

    Regarding what I just wrote in comment 51, I quoted you as saying,

    Baptism is not comparable to Scripture. It is comparable (causally) to the preached Word. It is a subordinate, instrumental cause, used by the Holy Spirit, subordinate to faith.

    And then I responded,

    This is a clarification that you did not need to make for my sake, but there is no problem in making it.

    Please note that I was thinking of the first two sentences in that paragraph when I wrote this. As for your third sentence, “It is a subordinate, instrumental cause, used by the Holy Spirit, subordinate to faith,” I should have pointed out that I take strong exception to any implication that baptism causes regeneration, which is a thought that I believe lies behind your words here. Baptism is an instrument the Spirit uses to strengthen our faith, not to regenerate us.

    I was in a bit of a hurry when I glossed over that third sentence. I apologize for any confusion or inconvenience.

  53. July 13, 2009 at 8:50 am

    Gary, where I am out of conformity to Westminster, I say so openly. If such an exception is in the Confession itself, and not just in the broader Standards, that exception is formally noted with the appropriate ecclesiastical authority.

    And if the Westminster rejection of PC is in conflict with what I am saying about baptism, then why did the Westminster theologians say what they did about baptism? And why won’t more North American Reformed take an exception to their teaching on baptism instead of creatively reinterpreting it?

  54. David Gray said,

    July 13, 2009 at 8:53 am

    Pastor Johnson,

    What ecclesiastical authority does your church answer to?

  55. July 13, 2009 at 9:06 am

    Ron, I’ll try to get to some of the other stuff later, but this will do to start with. Christ is the head of the invisible church, His body (WCF 25.1). The visible church is the kingdom of Jesus Christ (WCF. 25.2). Some visible churches degenerate to the point where they are no longer churches of Christ (WCF 25.5). The only head of the visible church is the Lord Jesus Christ (WCF 25.6). There is no head without a body.

    We can say of the visible church that the Spirit works effectually in it, that it is the kingdom of Christ, that visible churches (more or less visible) are most of them true and genuine churches of Christ, and that it is not lawful to pretend that they may have any other head than the Lord Jesus. I conclude that the visible church is the body of Christ also, but not yet pure and spotless as it will be on the great day. The body of Christ is being sanctified in history; the pilgrim church will be the eschatological church. And on that glorious day, we will all of us have a good laugh over these debates of ours.

  56. David Gadbois said,

    July 13, 2009 at 11:25 am

    DW said Ron, a subordinate, instrumental cause, but yes, a cause. It is not a cause of regeneration ex opere operato

    Everyone of course wants to avoid the dreaded ex opere operato efficacy, but this misses the point. I don’t see how it is any large improvement to say that baptism regenerates *some* of the time rather than that baptism regenerates all the time. We wouldn’t let our Arminian friends get away with saying that about decisional regeneration (‘our decisions for Christ regenerate us some of the time, but not all of the time’).

    And FV isn’t just saying that baptism is efficacious in a similar way that the preached Word is (a subordinate instrumentality to faith). Lusk and Leithart both make that crystal clear.

  57. Ron Henzel said,

    July 13, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    Doug,

    You wrote:

    Ron, I’ll try to get to some of the other stuff later, but this will do to start with.

    Thank you. I especially hope that you explain your “(strong sense) regenerate” reference in comment 37, along with the question of how unregenerate people in the visible church could be indwelt by Christ as seem that Colossians 1:24ff. requires your theology to affirm.

    You wrote:

    Christ is the head of the invisible church, His body (WCF 25.1). The visible church is the kingdom of Jesus Christ (WCF. 25.2). Some visible churches degenerate to the point where they are no longer churches of Christ (WCF 25.5). The only head of the visible church is the Lord Jesus Christ (WCF 25.6). There is no head without a body.

    OK, pardon my reaction here, but which is better: complete happiness or a ham sandwich? Obviously it’s the ham sandwich, because nothing is better than complete happiness, and a ham sandwich is better than nothing.

    Anyone can play with words, and that’s what you appear to be doing when you try to make WCF 25 teach that unregenerate people are part of Christ’s body with a verbal maneuver based on the word “head.” You seem to have given us nothing but a word game here.

    Every time Christ is called the “head” of something, that thing of which He is head must be identified as His “body?” So when Paul wrote, ” the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3 ESV) he was saying that each man is “Christ’s body,” each wife is her “husband’s body,” and Christ Himself is “God’s body?” Someone may counter that we run into a problem at this point with the fact that the collective sense of the word “body” requires that more than one person occupy it, making this verse a bad example. So what about when Paul calls Christ, “the head of all things” (Eph. 1:22)? Are all things in His body? Can we not also say that He’s the “Head of the universe?” So let’s just say the whole universe is in His body!

    Scripture does not do this kind of thing with the word “body” when it uses it as a metaphor for the church. Nor does the confession. The word simply does not have the theological elasticity you presume when you try to stretch it to fit around everyone in the visible church.

    A brief comparison of WCF 25.1 and 25.2 shows that (a) Christ’s body is explicitly limited to the elect in 25.1, (b) Christ is not called the “Head” of anything in 25.2, nor is the word “body” used there, and (c) 25.2 explicitly depicts a king/subject relationship rather than a head/body relationship. Methinks the Westminster divines intentionally chose their vocabulary with a great deal of deliberate care.

    While it is certainly admissible to speak of Christ as the “Head” of the visible church, it does not logically follow from this that everyone in the visible church is part of His body as biblically and confessionally defined, and it is noteworthy that the head/body imagery is conspicuous by its absence when the WCF discusses the visible church.

    Pretty much everything you wrote in your next paragraph simply extrapolates from the premises and conclusion of your first paragraph. Do you perhaps have any other arguments to support your case? If not, I’d like to move on to your term “(strong sense) regenerate” and Colossians 1:24ff.

  58. July 13, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    Ron, what I meant by strong sense regenerate was simply going-to-heaven-when-they die regenerate, not that I was trying to contrast this with a weak tea regeneration that reprobate covenant members have. What reprobate covenant members do have is the common operations of the Spirit, the presence of the Spirit’s work all around them, the body of regenerated humanity, of which they are unworthy members, eventually to be removed from it.

    With regard to Col. 1, remember that I am a postmillennialist, and I believe that Christ is established as the head over all things in heaven and earth, and the reality of this unfolds in time. This does not mean that He indwells evil men now, but that this is the teleology or direction of all things.

    I’ll deal with Christ as head of the visible church in a separate post.

  59. July 13, 2009 at 8:04 pm

    Ron, I agree with you that every time the word head appears in the Bible, it would be stretching things to assume a body comparable to the sense we have with the body of Christ. Several of your counterexamples were to the point. We get into real trouble if we assume that such words have a certain fixed value, like they would if they were a problem in algebra. So I am with you in principle.

    But when Christ is described as the head of a church, this seems to be different. It seems to me to be the most reasonable thing in the world to say that this church is a body. I grant that someone can be the head of a corporation, an army, a line, and so forth. But the the WCF says that Christ is the sole head of the visible church, it seems to me to be a reasonable inference that the body is assumed. And so I assume it. But I don’t just do this in the Confession. I have the same take on Christ and the church in Eph. 5 — I see that as a description of the visible church, loved through history until one day she is the eschatological church.

  60. Joshua W.D. Smith said,

    July 14, 2009 at 12:05 am

    Re: #42

    Yes, there certainly can be a covenantal relationship that is non-saving. Covenants have both blessings and curses, and that includes the new covenant.

  61. Ron Henzel said,

    July 14, 2009 at 6:28 am

    Doug,

    In comment 58, you wrote:

    […] What reprobate covenant members do have is the common operations of the Spirit, the presence of the Spirit’s work all around them, the body of regenerated humanity, of which they are unworthy members, eventually to be removed from it.

    Again, we have a problem: “reprobate covenant members” are also “members” of “the body of regenerated humanity?” I find that a bit hard to reconcile with the Scriptures and the standards.

    You wrote:

    With regard to Col. 1, remember that I am a postmillennialist, and I believe that Christ is established as the head over all things in heaven and earth, and the reality of this unfolds in time. This does not mean that He indwells evil men now, but that this is the teleology or direction of all things.

    I do not think this problem disappears by simply waving an escahatological wand over it. I’ll explain what I mean. On page 194 of Reformed Is Not Enough, you wrote:

    So again, when someone is baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, they are ushered into an objective, visible, covenant membership. Regardless of the state of their heart, regardless of any hypocrisy, regardless of whether or not they mean it, such a person is now a visible saint, a Christian. God has made a statement concerning this person, and the one baptized has an obligation to say amen to God’s statement through how he goes on to live his life.

    [The bold is mine; the italics is yours.]

    When I lay this paragraph alongside Colossians 1:24-27, I run into a real problem. In verse 24, Paul refers to the church as Christ’s “body” (which you say includes unregenerate people), then he says in verse 25 that the purpose of his ministry to the body includes making God’s word fully known to them (the “them” here, of course, including unregenerate people), and then in verse 26 he indicates that part of that full disclosure is to make known a previously-hidden mystery to “his saints” (which you have declared is a title that applies to unregenerate individuals). So, if I’m tracking with your theological perspective here, everything in Colossians 1:24-26 applies equally to both regenerate and unregenerate people in the church.

    But then I come to verse 27. There is no hint of disjunction at the beginning of this verse—quite the opposite, in fact. The same church, the same body of Christ, the same saints Paul had been addressing up to now are the ones he addresses as “you” in verse 27 when he tells them that the content of this now-revealed mystery is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Therefore, if I follow your view, baptized-but-unregenerate church members must have Christ dwelling in them. I see no way around it.

    In comment 59, you wrote:

    Ron, I agree with you that every time the word head appears in the Bible, it would be stretching things to assume a body comparable to the sense we have with the body of Christ. Several of your counterexamples were to the point. We get into real trouble if we assume that such words have a certain fixed value, like they would if they were a problem in algebra. So I am with you in principle.

    So, you’re with me in principle, but not in practice? It seems so, for you wrote:

    But when Christ is described as the head of a church, this seems to be different. It seems to me to be the most reasonable thing in the world to say that this church is a body.

    But that precisely misses my point, Doug: Christ is not described as the head of the church in the WCF when the referent is the visible church, but He is described as the head of the church both in the WCF and in Scripture when the referent is the invisible church. Therefore, it is improper in the context of both Reformed theology and Scripture to say that the visible church is Christ’s body.

    You wrote:

    I grant that someone can be the head of a corporation, an army, a line, and so forth. But the the WCF says that Christ is the sole head of the visible church, it seems to me to be a reasonable inference that the body is assumed. And so I assume it. […]

    But, as I’ve just pointed out, the WCF does not even refer to Him as the head of the visible church, much less refer to the visible church as His body. Instead it says that the visible church is “the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.” The Westminster divines deliberately avoided calling the visible church Christ’s “body” when they had every opportunity to do so and for a very obvious reason: they had already defined Christ’s body as “the whole number of the elect,” and they knew that the visible church included non-elect members. I don’t think anything could be more clear.

  62. Todd said,

    July 14, 2009 at 7:17 am

    No Joshua,

    There are no curses in the covenant of grace. Christ took our curse on the cross. That’s why it’s called “grace.” The non-elect, baptized or not, are already cursed and condemned under the covenant of works that in Adam they are responsible for breaking. In other words, the Law is not the gospel.

  63. GLW Johnson said,

    July 14, 2009 at 7:42 am

    Scott Clark has posted an interesting item concerning one time FV defender Joseph Minich and his recent change of mind.

  64. rfwhite said,

    July 14, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    60 Joshua D. W. Smith: we agree. Christ, as Lord of the covenant, is Savior and Judge of the visible covenant community.

  65. Todd said,

    July 14, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    Dr. White,

    Yes, the Lord will judge his church first and purge it of hypocrites on the Last Day, and those who have been given much, much more will be required, but the hypocrites will not be judged because they were actually in the covenant of grace, but broke it and thus are under it’s curse. There is a reason that the New Testament never even once describes our faith and obedience as the keeping of a covenant.

    Todd

  66. rfwhite said,

    July 14, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    66 Todd: I’d be happy to take up this line of discussion, but it’s not quite on topic for this post. I offered my comment in 42 to supplement what I take to be a hole in Ron Henzel’s #41 comment that “The only kinds of relations to Christ of which I am aware are two: one in which Christ relates to the sinner as Judge, and the other in which He relates to the sinner as Savior.” My point: Ron’s statement is correct if, but only if, we construe covenant and salvation as coextensive. If we do not, there is another relation.

  67. Todd said,

    July 14, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    # 67

    Stay on topic….hmmm…I guess I could try that one time.

  68. Ron Henzel said,

    July 16, 2009 at 5:17 am

    Doug,

    Two days later it appears that you do not have a reply to my comment #61.

  69. Ron Henzel said,

    July 16, 2009 at 6:14 am

    Dr. White,

    I’m in a bit of a hurry as I write this (I promised my son that I’d take him fishing this morning), and so I apologize if I seem to fumble around here (or get the formatting wrong again—btw: thanks for fixing my last comment Lane!). You wrote:

    I offered my comment in 42 to supplement what I take to be a hole in Ron Henzel’s #41 comment that “The only kinds of relations to Christ of which I am aware are two: one in which Christ relates to the sinner as Judge, and the other in which He relates to the sinner as Savior.” My point: Ron’s statement is correct if, but only if, we construe covenant and salvation as coextensive. If we do not, there is another relation.

    I didn’t realize when I read your comment 42 that you had discerned a hole in my argument in comment 41. I thought you were proposing a series of questions in keeping with your desire for “narrowing the focus a bit.”

    You first question was:

    If it is the case that water establishes a relation to Christ that is never a saving relation apart from faith, what is the nature of that relation established apart from faith?

    Since I have been arguing against the position that water (a metonymy for baptism here) establishes any kind of relation to Christ, I wasn’t sure where you were going. I believe baptism establishes a relation to the visible church, but not to Christ. That may sound problematic, given that Christ is king over the visible church, so I think I should back up here and clarify what I mean by “relation to Christ.”

    I define “relation to Christ” as the answer to two questions: “How do I relate to Christ?” and “How does Christ relate to me?” To borrow a word from the Federal Vision playbook, we cannot answer these questions subjectively; we must answer them objectively. It does not matter what I think or feel my relation to Christ; all that matters is what God’s word says.

    God’s word says that Christ is already king over the cosmos, even though all things have yet to be put under His feet. Baptism does not change that relation. The fact that baptism is a “sign and seal of the covenant of grace” does not mean the act of baptism effectively makes me a member of the covenant of grace, unless we want to throw WCF 28.6 out the window. And the fact that I have come into a relation to the visible church through baptism does not change the fact that if I am not one of the elect, I am condemned already. Though we may say that, through baptism, I may have been admitted into the kingdom of Christ in a way others have not, in the ultimate sense He was really no less King over me and my destiny before my baptism than He was after it.

    You wrote:

    If the nature of that relation is covenantal, then what is the nature of a covenantal, non-saving relation?

    I think it depends on which particular biblical covenant you’re referring to. Meanwhile, I do not believe there is any such thing as a “covenantal, non-saving relation” under the New Covenant. When a baptized non-elect person who spent his life in the visible church appears before the throne of judgment, he or she will experience additional condemnation for coming so close to salvation and still rejecting it. So I suppose he is even more “non-saved” than others at that point. But, contra the Federal Vision, I think it flies in the face of Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 8 to say that such people “broke” the New Covenant.

    We’re back to the question of what is the nature of the relationship that non-elect covenant members have to Christ. Is a covenantal relation to be equated with a saving relation? Is covenant membership coextensive with salvation?

    Perhaps a monocovenantalist would answer “Yes” to both questions. Hence the dilemmas inherent in FV soteriology and sacramentology. I, on the other hand, would say it depends upon which covenant you are referring to. I take the New Covenant to be the ultimate expression of the covenant of grace. If you’re referring to the New Covenant, my answer is “Yes,” otherwise, not so much.

  70. rfwhite said,

    July 16, 2009 at 8:02 am

    70 Ron Henzel: thanks for the interaction and know that, in general, I support your concerns about the FV position. As I say, I’m just hoping to focus and sharpen the discussion. I may well fail at it! Anyway, it struck me that, as stated to this point, your approach to the covenant of grace, the new covenant administration of the covenant of grace, and baptism opens you up to some criticisms. For example, when you say “I believe baptism establishes a relation to the visible church, but not to Christ,” I wondered if this wasn’t a false disjunction. That is, isn’t the visible church the covenant community over which Christ rules and to whom He applies the sign and seal of baptism? Isn’t the visible church baptized precisely because, as the people of the covenant, they have a relation to Christ as Lord of the covenant? On your approach, how should we interpret baptism into Christ? Also, I agree that the new covenant is the ultimate expression of the covenant of grace. At the same time, however, the present administration of the new covenant doesn’t require us to identify the visible church as those in a saved relation to Christ — unless we interpret covenant as an administration of salvation only and unless we’re baptistic in our thinking about the new covenant community. Those were examples of the questions I had in mind.

  71. JPC said,

    July 17, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    Ronnie: “I believe baptism establishes a relation to the visible church, but not to Christ,”

    Dr. White: “On your approach, how should we interpret baptism into Christ?”

    Dr. White,

    Let me assist. The early church, those who received Paul’s documents to be read aloud, understood all soteriological language (e.g. “baptism into Christ”) to refer to the elect only. The elect is the group among the receivers of the document who were truly regenerate (thus invisible, though visible) and who would persevere until the end.

    If any baptized Christian claimed Christ’s benefits by virtue of his baptism, these elect would remind him that the elect, though reserved in the OT for the tangible Hebrews who endured visible, temporal judgment, has now been changed to scholastic theological categories. It now refers to those (invisible to us) who will be in heaven when it’s all said and done but it has nothing to do with those who we think by wise, public assessment, are stated by God to be among the elect.

  72. Cetaslalf said,

    November 2, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    Hello everyone,

    Im new to the forum and just wanted to introduce myself, my name is Donald and I’m form Australia. I’ve been a long time lurker who has finally decided to make an account and contribute.


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