Tuesday, November 13, 2007

JP and our discussion
My friend JP is Reformed Baptist and he and I have been having a discussion via email. THe conversation was prompted by the post I wrote earlier about the early Reformed creeds and confessions. We have mostly been discussing baptism but that post is the catalyst that got this discussion moving. This is a first installment, because the discussion is on going.
It begins with his reply to my post which he received in an email from me. What follows is a series of back and forth emails.
I hope someone finds them interesting.

I don’t believe they are naked signs but to say that by baptism we are inserted into Christ and can lay hold of his righteousness? Baptism? Only for the believers (or elect babies) can this sacrament be food for the soul?

Too much credit goes to the sacrament as cause rather than its place as a privilege.

Hey JP,

Thanks for the comment to my email. In my email I simply gave quotes from some confessions on a very narrow spectrum of theology. They do give further detail elsewhere in their writings that explain these things better.

In baptism we are grafted into Christ (in some way). This is true of the unbeliever as well as the believer, otherwise the scriptures talk of being "cut off" and other such warns would make no sense. “Once Saved always saved” does not deal adequately those many passages, nor does the idea of Baptism being legitimate for believers only.

I do believe that baptism does, in some sense, make you a partaker of the benefits of Christ, but unbelief makes the covenant void even though it is a real covenant and you are responsible for "making the salvation pictured and promised to you in baptism" to be of no effect because of unbelief.

As I have said before on other occasions, baptism is a covenant sign and can be compared with both marriage and citizenship. A person can enter into a marriage with no thought of ever keeping the vow made to his wife and before God. Does this make the man not really a husband? Does his lack of sincerity make him less married? Does he not still receive true privileges from the marriage that he does not intend to be faithful in?

The answer to the first two questions is no and the answer to the last one is yes. He is really married and he does receive true privileges that come only in marriage. The covenant relationship and the privileges received because of it are both very real, but they will be squandered and lost because of his lack of covenant faithfulness.

The Reformers and the Early Church Fathers all spoke in way that we find in the confessions. The Apostles to spoke this way also. We are the ones who say, "Paul couldn't have meant that, therefore he must have meant this” etc... We do see statements like "And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." The washing away of sin is often tied to baptism and as Calvin and the other Reformers oft repeated "You can not separate the thing from the thing signified."

In a covenantal sense, all those who are baptised are now counted among the elect and as having their sins washed. In the end, some will prove to be covenant breakers and they will be cut off from the salvation into which they were baptised. They will not persevere in the faith.

Was their heart ever changed?

Did they ever believe?
Some did, in some way, but it was never a belief unto eternal life.

Were they counted as among the elect?

Could they fall away?
Yes, in baptism they were brought into God's covenant, which is the place of salvation and there is no salvation outside the covenant so they are counted as a member of the house hold of faith. But, if they do not take the many warnings in the Scriptures about being “cut off” seriously, and if they did not make their salvation that they have in baptism (covenantally speaking) sure, then they loose the very real benefits of their baptism by their lack of faith.

The same covenant relationship applies to our children, who are joined to household of faith when they are born into Christian homes. By their baptism they are made partakers of the Covenant promises of God and they too are members of Christ, but they too must make the salvation that is theirs by baptism effectual by a living and holy faith in Jesus Christ. To not do so is to betray one's baptism and to betray the Lord Jesus Christ for denying the salvation that was theirs covenatally by way of the generational promises of God.

I hope that makes sense. I will reread it later to check.

Coram Deo,
By the way, I do believe we must take seriously the warnings that we are not allowed to quit believing.

However disturbing, it is scripture! This is how must live and we will understand it better in heaven. But claiming righteousness of Christ as something we ourselves have to lose is a catholic teaching of grace. Impartation vs. imputation. Luther did not invent forensic justification.

Am I still completely missing the boat on baptism?


No. Not completely :-)

The Reformers were not rationalists and they still allowed that there was mystery the grace that was bestowed in the Sacraments (by faith). The Catholics make the grace to be present in the physical aspects of the sacraments and most modern Protestants have gone to the other extreme and deny that the sacraments are a means of grace at all.

The Reformers and early Protestants do not fit into either camp. They remained on the road and did not veer off into either of those ditches.

Coram Deo,


We cannot attribute saving grace to those who merely eat or drink or get wet. These sacraments only benefit in a mysterious way those who are under the protection of shed blood. It is one thing to do as we are told—such as in keeping with the covenant, baptize your children; and it is another thing to do it thinking God is obligated now to extend saving grace to my child. He didn’t make that promise. So why put this stress on the sacrament?


I'm reading a book on the Early Reformed view on the sacraments compared to Reformed views of the sacraments that developed later. The book was written in the 1840's by a guy named John Nevins. His book shows the differences that had already developed at that time (1840’s) between the original position of men like Calvin, Beza, Bucer, etc...

I think Calvin and company had thought these things through pretty well, and I think they have much to teach us on the Sacraments. They strongly disagreed with the Roman Catholics and they just as strongly disagreed with the modern view that makes it no more than a memorial.

Beza and Farel wrote, "The symbols are by no means naked; but so far as God is concerned, who makes the promise and offer, they always have the thing itself truly and certainly joined with them, whether proposed to believers or unbelievers.”

Baptism places the receiver of the sacrament into a covenant relationship with Christ. They enter into the visible Church of God, which is the only Church that we can know. The baptised person is responsible for his baptism. He is responsible to make his salvation sure by true faith in Jesus Christ. If he does not have faith then he will be held accountable for denying the covenant into which he has been baptised. By so doing, he proves himself to be an apostate and to be one who has rejected so great a salvation that should be his because of his covenant status of being “in Christ” (who's body is the church) by virtue of baptism.

The Supper is similar. In it Christ offers himself (His body and blood) to us as nourishment to our souls and we truly partake of him by faith. There is no magic. The bread remains bread and the wine remains wine, but there is mystery. The Sacrament is a means of grace and we are truly offered Christ and partake of Christ by faith. The unbeliever, though offered Christ, does not receive Christ because of the lack of faith, though his presumption and participation in the Sacrament will bring greater condemnation.

It became clear to me while reading the Fathers that all the Church, before modern times, believed that Christ was truly present in the Supper in some "mystical" way and the believer did partake of Christ when he partook of the Supper. I believe attempts to define "HOW" this was so has lead to great error. We should leave it alone and go no further than to confirm that in the Supper we do partake of Christ if we have genuine faith.

I hope that all makes some sense,


This I think is true. The supper is offered but no benefit to the unbeliever other than nutritional. No saving or sustaining grace. Same for the water, just gets an unbeliever clean of dirt, other than that nothing is different. The visible church matters in terms of our church order, discipline, etc., but in terms of what makes a child fit to stand before a holy God is of no help. Only by grace thru faith in Christ alone. We baptize our children not because they can as a result claim the righteousness of Christ. That can't be. It maybe an obligation on our part to baptize but…



I agree.

The Grace that is found in the Sacraments accrue only to those who ordained unto eternal life. Those who receive the sacrament, but do not have faith, receive it at their peril, because these are covenant acts, and God takes "covenant" very seriously. This is why the Covenant people (Jews) who heard Jesus and rejected him will be judged more severely than the people of Sodom and Gomorra. The folks in Sodom may have been (outwardly) more morally corrupt, but they were not covenant people and will not receive the judgment that will befall God's covenant people. This is even more important today, because we have an even better covenant than the people under the Old Covenant.

Coram Deo,

I don’t think anyone can explain what is the difference in the eyes of God between a child baptized and a child not baptized. Does the baptism make it easier for God to save him? Does God think one is in a better condition?
It is one thing to say we baptize because we are commanded. And another to say because it helps to get him saved. And even something else to say we baptize because it does in fact dress them in X's righteousness. Which is it? I agree its not empty for the elect, which begs the question as to why we are so careful about who takes communion.

We live in a day when ceremony and covenant are seen by men to be near meaningless institutions. They are not seen as binding and while they may be quant, they are little more than irrelevant. This is true of modern man, but it is not true of the Scriptural teachings where covenant and ceremony are held to have great substance.

Why is sex 30 minutes before marriage sin, but when preformed after the ceremony it is then seen as holy and sanctified before God and man? It is the same act. The feelings of those involved are the same. So what is the difference?

The difference is God has said you must have a covenant stamp on your relationship for it to be holy and not sinful. The act does not change and neither does the feelings, but in the sight of God there is a very radical shift in the relationship between the man and women.

Because God has said so.

Do we see a difference outwardly?
No, not necessarily, but God's Word says that there is a radical change in that relationship. This is true whether or not the person who goes through the ceremony is sincere or not.

Covenant ceremony may mean nothing to us, but God's ways are not our ways, and He says that they have very serious relationship consequences for His people and those who are not His people.

The same is true of baptism. There is a radical difference between the baptised person and the unbaptised person in the matter of covenant. The one is in a formal covenant with God and the other is not in a formal covenant with God.

This may not mean much to us, but when we look at the texts of Scripture and read what is said of baptism (especially in light of its relationship to circumcision) than it is clearly important in the sight of God.

Can someone be saved outside of Baptism? Yes, but this is outside the ordinary, just as it was in the Old Covenant. Ordinarily those saved are also in covenant (formally) with the Lord.

Can some one be unsaved in the Covenant? Certainly, it happens every day, but that does not mean we can ignore or play down God's established covenant signs and seals and they have consequences for those in covenant. They are a means of grace to those who believe and they are a witness against and bring increased judgment on those that reject their covenant relationship and trample under foot so great a salvation as belongs to them because of their Covenant status.

Coram Deo,

If God says we must baptize our children then we should take him seriously; regardless of how confusing. It is a sacrament. Of all things about worship this is one thing we should do just as we are told. I agree there is mystery and presence and more than empty signs. All the more reason to be more exact in what we say, so not to walk off a cliff into heresy. That is what concerns me about the silence of scripture in the area of baptizing children. I am inclined to believe it, but is it possible to one minute be clothed in Christ and the next be undressed by your own doing? Is it possible Christ shed blood to save you, and yet, you were beyond his reach? No. No. So how can anyone say baptism “mysteriously" clothes my child and later when he reaches an age of accountability is able to get outside of the reach of the blood and righteousness of Christ? This does not erase the threat in scripture that we are not allowed to quit believing. This does mean that baptism should not redefine even mysteriously so clear a teaching of forensic justification. This seems to change the gospel.


I don't believe that Calvin or his fellow Reformers would disagree with what you say in terms of forensic justification. All of these men believed firmly as you do there. All believed in the predestination and the sovereignty of God in our salvation just as the Bible teaches. Still the Language of the Scriptures is not the language of systematic theology.

Systematic theology is a fine tool that is a great help to us in our attempt to understand the Scriptures and I enjoy studying it, but it too can distort things. We make divisions in systematic theology that are correct and useful, but these same ideas may not be so clearly divided in the Scriptures themselves.

We see this in some parts of Scripture where works and salvation are discussed. Some folks stress the texts where works and salvation are clearly divided and others stress those verses where they are linked. So which is it?

I think our systematic theology (as does Paul) does a good job explaining how salvation is by Grace and not of works. Still I think some Protestants have taken this and run with it beyond the boundaries that are safe (toward antinomianism), because they over stress grace over works that the Scriptures go out of their way to avoid.

The Catholics and Arminians stress the texts that tie works and salvation together and mostly ignore the ones that clearly differentiate between them. We should take both sets of texts seriously. I think Calvin and the early Reformers were far better at doing this than the Catholics or modern Reformed Evangelicals. Calvin never confused perseverance with its distortion "once saved always saved" as has so many of his modern disciples.

The same is true of his handling of the sacraments. He does a great job dealing with them. And in doing so he avoids the ditches that we too need to avoid.

How do you say a baptized child is clothed with the righteousness of Christ and could one judgement day be rejected on account of his sin--without damaging the doctrine of forensic justification? Is it just these doctrines appear to be at odds but really aren't (such as sovereignty & responsibility)?


A baptised child is in covenant with Christ. He is a member of the body of Christ. He is part of the "visible" elect people of God. Is he elect unto eternal salvation? I don't know. God's eternal decree as to who is elect unto eternal life is known only to himself, yet He uses covenant language terms like elect, chosen, and called when addressing his Covenant people (visible church) which we know is made up of believers and unbelievers.

Let's look at some instances.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

Notice that Christ is the vine and His people are the branches. A branch, by definition is attached to the vine, which is Christ. Yet we hear that branches can be "he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered" (i.e. cut off) and even "cast them into the fire, and they are burned."

Can someone abide in Christ and still be "cast forth" and "burned" in the fire? It certainly appears to be so according to Christ words in John 15. I take this warning very seriously I don't think Christ is just giving us a hypothetical possibility.

We both believe those promises that Christ gives that are also recorded by St. John 6:37. Here Jesus said, "And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day."

Is there a contradiction between Christ words in John 6 and His words in John 15? I don't think so. Some folks concentrate on one verse and those similar to it that we have found in Scripture and others focus on the other verses that are akin to it. But the problem both sets of texts and found in the Scriptures. Our theology must be able to deal with both in such away that they make sense and fit the context.

I believe both these texts and others like them make perfect sense when we view them from a covnenantal perspective. All in covenant are branches. Are all in Christ predestined to eternal life and given to Him by the Father? No, some branches are not and they shall be cut off and cast forth and thrown into the fire.

All those outside the Covenant exist outside of the salvation that is offered in the covenant. Many will come into the covenant and receive eternal life, others will come in and only to be cut off again for unbelief. Let's look at what Paul says in his letter to "the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse." He writes, "And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister..."

What do we make of Paul's "If" in the verses above? Should we take it seriously? I certainly believe we should and I am a Solid Calvinist and believer in the absolute predestination of God in all things. Here is what Calvin says in his commentary, "Here we have an exhortation to perseverance, by which he admonishes them that all the grace that had been conferred upon them hitherto would be vain, unless they persevered in the purity of the gospel. And thus he intimates, that they are still only making progress, and have not yet reached the goal. For the stability of their faith was at that time exposed to danger through the stratagems of the false apostles."

I hope the above note answers your question. I look forward to your next email.


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