Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Blessings of the New Covenant

During bible study tonight we spoke about infant-baptism. This is of interest to me as we have not formerly decided to baptise Noah just yet. I'm of the reformed position that believes that because Sarah and I are members, my children will receive the blessings of the New Covenant. However, the discussion went beyond baptism and to what it actually means to receive the blessings of the covenant. Some were strongly maintaining that children do in fact receive the blessings of the covenant, but that that does not include salvation. The blessings are love, prayer, and a biblical upbringing (among other things), but definitely not salvation.

I have to admit it makes me a little confused. I don't understand how one can receive the blessings of the new covenant and not have salvation. This means they do not actually know Christ. This seems to me to be the biggest and most fundamental blessing we receive under the new covenant. However, how can children receive salvation in Christ yet fall away when they are older? That has implications that my theology does not seem to coincide with either.

Much thinking to do over this one.

14 comments:

reuben// said...

Sounds like an interesting night!

love to hear your thoughts as you have them...i find this one tricky too.

Do you mind me asking - on what was your group basing their conclusions about the extent of inclusion in the covenant for children?

geoffc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
geoffc said...

Thanks Reuben. I don't mind you asking at all.

It is typical of reformed theology that children are included. Briefly, I think the argument is based that the way God works salvation in the New Covenant corresponds with the Old covenant. The status of children of Israel under the Old covenant was as recipients of the blessing.

In short the aim is to see the continuity between the two covenants in the way God wors within families unto salvation.
Pressies I think are more hardline and firmly believe children of believers are saved, while I think Reformed Anglicans tend to see them as recipients of the blessings, but not saved. I'm generalising, but I think thaat's the gist of it.

If you guys have kids, will you baptise them? How do you view them in relation to the kingdom of God?

Dave Miers said...

just having this convo this evening.

i think that a Christian family kid is a Christian until they show otherwise. i'd want to say that the Christian family kid is saved - but - what of the 20 year old kid who was raised in a Christian family and has now turned their back on Jesus??

John 6 - would lead me to think the reformed anglican position (at least as you've described it)...

i grew up in a baptist family - but i've been won by infant baptism. i think it better reflects the new covenant of grace.

Dannii said...

Honestly, I find covenantal theology just bizarre. In my understand it contradicts many strong and clear biblical statements, and has only weak biblical support itself. If it reflects the new covenant of grace it can only do so by destroying faith.

I don't believe that the children of Christians (of any age) are Christian until they decide to be themselves. But that doesn't mean they're lost. I trust God will deal justly with them and that he won't condemn them forever for something they do not understand.

geoffc said...

Thanks Dannii.

I going to have to rethink a lot. Saying that my children are to receive the blessings of the new covenant, which is the Spirit, forgiveness of sins, and a new life in Christ is going a too far. They receive love, and prayer, and are taught the word of God, but to say these are the blessings of the new covenant is like saying you eat McDonald's but only have Coke. You're missing the real thing.

On the other hand I want to raise Noah and any further children I have as Christians, not pagans. I want to pray with them "Our Father in Heaven", and I will teach them they belong to Jesus, and that God is their true Father to be obeyed above all things. If I baptise Noah it would be to say, we are going to raise him as a Christian. But this poses the question, why baptise him at all? Why not wait till he makes the decision?

I will treat my children as Christians until they demonstrate they are otherwise. Whether or not they are of the elect is God's doing, not mine.

reuben// said...

Hey Geoff,

noticed that I didn't reply to this question. sorry!

I think Jodes and I see this similarly, but we had the discussion a while ago!

Q>If you guys have kids, will you baptise them?

Yep.

Q> How do you view them in relation to the kingdom of God?

I'd assume that they are members of the covenant community, and therefore deserving of all privileges of such a status including baptism.

fuller reasons below, If you're interested (although i'm guessing i've missed the boat!)

I assumed infants of believing parents to be members of the cov. community because:

1. God makes covenants with families, or individuals within families (gen 6:18, 12/15/17, and particualy Acts 2:1-4). often we approach baptism with an unbiblical individualism. I believe that God's promise of the holy spirit is not just to me but to my children also. (ac 2 ref above)

2. Jesus recognises children as belonging to the "kingdom of God" (Mk 10:13-16, Mt 19:13-15, Lk 18:15-17). Comprehension is not necessary for salvation since salvation is by grace alone. Though comprehension will (in the case of the infant) follow in due course (as they grow and are able to). I disagree with you danii: children might be saved before they confess. God knows if they are from the moment he chooses to save them... we know (as far as is possible) when they confess to us.

3. Jesus commands us to baptise the people of all nations (Mt 28) no proviso is given that they be adults or capable of making a credible confession.

I'd argue that baptism is the NT equivalent of circumcision (col 2:11-12 equates the two). circumcision was not to be denied to members of the covenant community in the OT (gen 17:14), and was performed on infants (gen 17:12). basically, i'd see my refusal to baptise infants as a denial of their rights as (presumed) members of the covenant community.

That being said, I don't believe that the act of baptism is able to save someone (infant or adult!), the Holy Spirit alone is able to unite to christ and regenerate.

Therefore I'm not surprised that some baptised infants will grow up and deny Christ.

My basic assertion is that God covenants with families, but still elects individuals to salvation. This has been the case throughout biblical revelation!

Dannii said...

Hi Reuben,

You said that you "believe that God's promise of the holy spirit is not just to me but to my children also" and also that you "don't believe that the act of baptism is able to save someone (infant or adult!), the Holy Spirit alone is able to unite to christ and regenerate" and that you're "not surprised that some baptised infants will grow up and deny Christ."

When someone is saved God sends his spirit to live in that person, and that person is taken into full fellowship with the Godhead, which is truly amazing. I believe that God knows who are his and will keep them for all eternity. I don't understand then how you can say that the spirit is promised to our children: how can they be in fellowship with a God they don't know and/or understand? How can they reject God if his spirit is living within them?

You also said "I disagree with you danii: children might be saved before they confess." I too believe that children can be saved, in fact I believe that all very young children are saved, but not that they are part of any covenant or indwelt by the spirit.

reuben// said...

Hi Dannii, thanks for the reply - language can be slippery I think!!

Let me try to clarify what I meant:

1. Promise to children in Acts 2 and elsewhere

I take the promise to have the same force as promises have had throughout the biblical revelation. That is they will be fulfilled to families, but not necessarily to every member of the family. The covenant with Abraham is a suitable example. God promises blessing to Abraham's descendants (gen 17:7ff) particularly v8 "...i will give [Canaan] as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God."

Abraham is father of Isaac who has two sons Jacob and Esau. Esau's descendants go on to become the Edomites (Gen 36). God was all for Jacob, but to Esau and his descendants the same is not true. so you get the famous "I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau" (Mal.1:2-3).

what I'm saying is that God did fulfill the promise to Abraham's descendants, he was just selective as to the particular descendants.

So I'm proposing that God's promise of the Spirit is to my family generally but may not be to each individual. However since there is no way of knowing (at birth) for which children God's promise will be effective It seems better to presume in favour of each. If I make such a presumption that they are indeed one of God's, then they ought to be given the full rights of belonging to God's family including baptism. To withhold baptism in my view would be wrong.

2. Responding to your last paragraph:

"You also said 'I disagree with you danii: children might be saved before they confess.' I too believe that children can be saved, in fact I believe that all very young children are saved, but not that they are part of any covenant or indwelt by the spirit."

Our disagreement seems to be specifically about God electing to salvation. You say "God knows who are his". I'd go further to say that God knows who are his because he elects them to be his.

So my statement about children was specifically a statement that God may elect a child, even an infant (or a mentally disabled person for that matter) to be his (saved, indwelt by the spirit and so on) in the absence of their capacity to comprehend or confess that this has taken place. In due course, in the case of the infant, comprehension and confession will certainly follow as they grow older.

The basis for my claim is that salvation is wholly a work of God. Eph 2 makes this pretty clear I think. We are only able to confess if God by his spirit has enabled us to do so.

On what are you basing the claim that all very young children are saved? I hadn't thought this to be true, but am happy to be corrected.

It seems to me that from birth we are condemned sinners in need of God's mercy since we have all inherited Adam's sinful nature (Rom 5:12-14).

You'd also need to justify how very young children can be saved if, as you say, they are not indwelt by the spirit.
What do you think??

Cheers,
Reuben

reuben// said...

Sorry, one more thing I mean't to ask:

Dannii (or others) what do you make of promises such as the one in Acts 2?

Dannii said...

Hi Reuben,

I assume you're referring to Acts 2:38-39? I understand Peter to be explaining God's promise of salvation and the sending of his spirit, and that the promise is offered to every generation and not just those those listening at the time. Verse 38 says "and each of you be baptised" and verse 41 "those who had received his word". It's the scope of the promise that applies to everyone, not the results of the promise.

You said "If I make such a presumption that they are indeed one of God's, then they ought to be given the full rights of belonging to God's family including baptism. To withhold baptism in my view would be wrong." Someone who God has elected to salvation is not part of God's family until they decide for themselves to accept Jesus as their saviour and lord. Romans 8:9 makes this clear I think. Faith, salvation, receiving the spirit and being adopted as God's children all go together.

Also, how is baptism a right?

Abraham's covenant was indeed on a family basis, but I think God has always considered salvation on an individual basis (Ez 18.)

Now for young children, I should first clarify that I mean that if they die they will be saved, and not that they are somehow saved while still alive.

"Our disagreement seems to be specifically about God electing to salvation. You say "God knows who are his". I'd go further to say that God knows who are his because he elects them to be his." No disagreement here.

"So my statement about children was specifically a statement that God may elect a child, even an infant (or a mentally disabled person for that matter) to be his (saved, indwelt by the spirit and so on) in the absence of their capacity to comprehend or confess that this has taken place. In due course, in the case of the infant, comprehension and confession will certainly follow as they grow older." This is something I've never considered before, though my first thought is that God will save the mentally disabled though they will not be indwelt by the spirit in this life.

"It seems to me that from birth we are condemned sinners in need of God's mercy since we have all inherited Adam's sinful nature (Rom 5:12-14)." I agree completely - all people need to be saved, and indeed, all people can only be saved by the sacrificial substitution of Christ. I believe that those who understand sin and have a correct knowledge of God and Jesus can only be saved by the new covenant. But I also believe, though there's no direct Biblical argument, that God can and does choose to save through his grace those who have died without having an understanding of sin and God, but he does this outside of the new covenant. As the salvation is conferred at death those people will not receive the spirit in this life.

Now the Biblical evidence for this is thin, but I think Romans 2 suggests this idea. There is also 2 Samuel 12, where David says he will be reunited with his dead son, a son who died seven days old (I think) and would not have been circumcised and therefore not even under Abraham's covenant.

I think our overarching assurance must be Genesis 18:25: "Shall not the judge of all the earth deal justly?" I may be wrong about this all, but I know that God will be completely just on that final day.

Thanks for your continuing discussion. :)

reuben// said...

Hi again, sorry for the delayed reply...

I've been taking my time to think some more on these things.

Dannii, your point that

"Someone who God has elected to salvation is not part of God's family until they decide for themselves to accept Jesus as their saviour and lord. Romans 8:9 makes this clear I think. Faith, salvation, receiving the spirit and being adopted as God's children all go together."

is well taken. Having thought some more I don't like where presumptive election ends up anyway. I don't think that it works well considering Ishamael and Esau in particular. So scratch that thought!

Still, I've been trying to make sense of the relation of baptism to circumcision (col 2). Here's where I'm at...

1. Circumcision was performed on infant males, at God's command, with no human consideration as to whether the one circumcised would actually prove to be members of the covenant community. That is, the parent would consider the child to be a member of the covenant community by birth and in obedience to God would signify the child as such by circumcision.

2. The children of belivers are 'holy' (1 cor 7 - and no, i do not think that this means that they are saved in the context of the passage and given Dannii's helpful comments). I take 'holy' to mean that they are included with their sanctified parents in the covenant community.

3. Baptism, if it is the equivalent sign of inclusion in the covenant community for NT believers should then be performed on such 'holy' children in obedience to God who commanded signing of covenant children.

I am supposing that such a significant command as the one to apply a sign to children of the covenant (see ex 4:24-26!!) ought to be explicitly reversed or else assumed to have an ongoing force. (This i agree is an argument from silence, however).

This is what i mean by saying that baptism is a right. perhaps not precisely the right word. A proper response to God's command, perhaps.

I think this relieves the tension about when the child is actually saved/receives the spirit. It also appropriately gives less salvific significance to the act of baptism.

As the child grows, like any member of god's covenant community they ought to participate in the body, pray, be taught to believe the scriptures and to trust God looking to Jesus for salvation. They should with all all of us be urged to (2 pet 1:10)

"be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, 11and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

Dannii said...

Thanks for letting us highjack your blog Geoff, though you really should post again!

Regarding Colossians 2, although I don't understand it all that much, I'm fairly certain that the covenant community is not a major point of the passage as neither the covenant nor the community is mentioned. I'm not saying it's completely unrelated, but to use this passage to link the community of the new covenant with that of Abraham's covenant or the Sinai covenant is stretching it. Paul is definitely making a link and comparison between circumcision and baptism, but I don't think he's writing about communities here.

There is something else to consider about circumcision: God instructed Abraham to circumcise all his (male) servants as well, people who although perhaps in some sense part of the covenant community, were not beneficiaries of the covenant. Many of them were likely pagans, but they were still to be circumcised. Therefore I find it hard to see circumcision as a sign of covenant community inclusion. Not being circumcised was a definite sign of exclusion, but I think circumcision was more of a sign of the patriarchs' faith than any sign of the child.

Is there much scriptural support for saying the new covenant actually has a community aspect? Not all covenants had a community aspect, David's doesn't seem to have one to me. Though of course we are to be in fellowship with other believers, and one day will be united to Christ as his bride, I don't actually believe the covenant is communal. Instead our churches are made of people who have individually accepted God's covenant.

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