Sacramental Union/Sealing: Another FV Dilemma

Commenting on Wes’ Part IV post of Lane’s Reply to TE’s Moon and Lawrence , I (Reed DePace) posted some comments that the FV demonstrates some weaknesses in terms of its understanding of both sacramental union and sealing in baptism. Let me explain a little more what I mean.

Sacramental Union: there is a spiritual relation between the sign of the sacrament and the thing to which the sign points, such that the sign can be used a shorthand for the thing. Sealing: the sign is used as a seal that confirms the grace in view, and in this way strengthens the possession of that grace. These biblical nuances are essential for distinguishing between the sign (water) and the thing (grace in view). Note that in both of these the Spirit is the critical component. He is the union in the spiritual relation between the sign of water and the grace in view in baptism. The Spirit is the Effector in the seal (Eph 1:13-14).

The FV will affirm both sacramental union and the sealing function in baptism. Yet it seems to not quite understand the nature of the Spirit’s role in these. This leads to at least the appearance of baptismal regeneration and ex opera operata in the FV’s system. The FV is not susceptible to these charges on the basis of its decretally based understanding of baptism (tier-one of Lane’s two-tier analogy). At this level the FV maintains the critical reformed nuances that biblically avoid these errors.

Yet the FV also proposes a covenantal based understanding of baptism (tier-two of Lane’s analogy). The FV argues that whenever baptism is administered it always results in the reception of an experience of the benefits of the covenant of grace. This, at the very least, gives a strong appearance of a form of baptismal regeneration/ex opera operata understanding for the water rite of baptism.

The FV may argue that these errors are not in view because the Spirit is understood as the One Who effects the reception of these covenantal benefits. Yet bring into view that these benefits, as formulated by the FV, are a variation of inward spiritually transformative ordo salutis benefits. They are not merely outward, external, only applicable to an unregenerate man. E.g., the FV’s notion of covenantal union with Christ means that the person really and truly participates a spiritually transformative experience.

To be consistent then the FV must argue for a covenantal version of the sealing function for baptism. This may not be a problem for some FV’ers, as it is logically consistent with the two-tier, dual system it proposes. Yet it will be hard (impossible in my view) for the FV to demonstrate that when the Bible speaks of the sealing function it speaks dually, decretally and covenantally. Just take a read of the primary sealing passage, Eph 1. It is only with an a priori decision to read this chapter covenantally that one can miss that it demands an exclusive decretal reading.

Of course, if the FV is willing to forgo a dual sealing function in baptism, then it faces a dilemma. If the covenantal benefits (FV defined as inward, spiritually transformative), that are purportedly effected by baptism, are not the result of the Spirit’s sealing work, then the only option available is that the water rite itself is the source of the sealing effect. Yet this is a form of baptismal regeneration/ex opera operata.

Posted by TE Reed DePace

Defective, Diminished, and Truncated; a challenge to the FV on Baptismal Regeneration

This is a post offering a small challenge to the FV’s understanding of baptismal regeneration.

First, I recognize that the FV has denied it believes in the common misunderstanding of baptismal regeneration (BR). As described in the FV Joint Statement, I disagree with that BR position as well.

Second, the language here of the Joint Statement can be understood to mean that the FV does not reject all BR positions. Indeed, as one proponent demonstrates (outlining the “common” FV BR position), it is clear that the FV does indeed affirm a form of BR.

I have no intention to be pejoratively maligning here. You can take the most egregious of terms, and if you sufficiently redefine them, make them fit for use and agreement with Biblical truth.

No, I’m not interested in a detailed drawn out refutation of the FV BR position. Rather I want to offer one biblical challenge to it. Thus, for the sake of discussion here, I am going to deal with the FV on its own terms.

The FV’s BR position is best described as covenantal baptismal regeneration (their). That, not all baptized are presumed to be vitally regenerate (inwardly regenerated as in when the Spirit vitally unites the decretally elect to Christ). Rather they are to be presumed covenantally regenerate. Consistent with the FV’s “we-can-only-see-the external, i.e., covenantal” hermeneutic, the FV argues that the vital perspective does not come into play. All we have is the external, the covenantal perspective.

(I’m leaving aside the question of functional-equivalency, the appearance that the FV’s distinctionse between covenantal vs. decretal perspectives effectively disappear, so that the latter is in effect equivalent to the former).

Applying the FV’s BR position leads to the presumption that all baptized children are presumed (covenantally) regenerate. This (and some other reasons according to the FV) qualifies them for participation in the Lord’s Supper (LS). If the LS is for the Family of God, and baptized children are (covenantally) regenerate, then they are right recipients of the LS.

At least this is how the FV argument goes. Now to my challenge:

I think I’m safe in saying that the FV agrees that at least in terms of sacramental functionality, circumcision in the OT equals baptism in the NT. Given this, it would follow that if a baptized child in the NT is covenantally regenerate, then a circumcised child in the OT is also. (The FV support for padeo-communion from the OT practice of padeo-passover tangentially at leasts supports that this is a fair logical inference of the FV’s position).

Given this, then we should find evidence in the OT that circumcised children were presumed to be (covenantally) regenerate. Or at least, we should not find evidence challenging this presumption.

I refer you to 1 Samuel 3:7, “Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD,”

This is the passage in which Samuel, under the age of 13 at least (possibly much younger, still pre-K) was called by the Lord to the ministry of a prophet. Here is a par excellent example of an OT covenant child. Not simply circumsized, but raised from weening (3 or 4) in the tabernacle as an “adopted” son of the high priest. If anyone could be presumed to be covenantally regenerate, it was Samuel.

It is interesting to note that the language here is unambiguous. No FV “covenantal perspective” reading is allowed. In view in “knowing the Lord,” is expressly the decretal perspective. Samuel did not yet know the Lord as his Redeemer who had decretally regenerated him.

Now unless the FV wants to borrow from our credo-baptist brothers a discontinuity between circumcision and baptism, I offer that this biblical text effective contradicts the FV BR position.

If Samuel was to expect decretal, vital-regeneration before it could be said that he “knew” the Lord, how can we say that we are not to expect the same for our baptized children?

This, coupled with Romans 10:9-17 (profession of faith), is why I teach my children, and our congregation, to expect a profession of faith, that moment when they are able to voice their own affirmation, just like Samuel, that they have heard the voice of the Lord.

Note that this balances the covenantal and decretal perspectives as well. Of course we cannot know that the baptized child’s profession of faith does indeedflow from decretal regeneration. Yet this is the Bible’s way of coordinating the decretal and the covenantal perspectives. Baptized child are expected to offer a profession of faith because this is what the decretally regenerate children of God do. That reprobate baptized children can do the same does not eliminate the value of requiring this from our children.

In that the FV (at least) ignores this requirement it robs our children of an act of faith that God blesses. In that it has our children come to the Lord’s Table without such requirement, the FV exposes our children to the disciple (judgment) of the warnings associated with the LS.

In that the FV presumes (covenantal) regeneration, and ignores the need for evidence of decretal regeneration, it proposes we raise our children in a defective manner, at best offering them a diminished and truncated faith.

Samuel would be shocked and saddened.

Reed DePace