Saturday, February 20, 2010

Follow-Up on Infant Baptism

In response to my previous post, Arthur wrote:

So based on your line of reasoning, someone who is elect but not baptized by their believing parents is not part of the covenant community but someone who is not elect and will spend eternity in hell is part of the covenant community because their parents sprinkled them with water as an infant?

In short, yes. But in order to avoid possible confusion, let me add a word of explanation. By “covenant community” in the prior post, I mean the visible church. There are, as it were, two churches of God: the invisible church, “which consists of the whole number of the elect,” and the visible church, which “consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion, and their children.” (For a fuller, but brief statement, see the Westminster Confession of Faith, ch 25, available with appended Scriptures at Baptism, as a sign of the covenant properly belongs to all those who are legitimate candidates for membership in the visible church; that is, those who profess the true religion and their children. The children have the right to the sign, which God considers very important. But if the parents withhold the sign from them, God considers them no part of his visible church. On the other hand, a child of parents who profess the true religion may be baptized. In that case he is legitimately a part of the visible church, with all the rights and responsibilities of its members, and subject to its discipline, even though he may not be elect. Nonetheless, because he has rightly received the sign of the covenant, God considers him to be rightly a member of the visible church.

Just to make it clear, the visible church is not identical to the invisible church. That there is overlap between them is certainly the case, as in those intersecting Venn diagrams that plagued us all as children in early math classes. But one may legitimately be a member of the visible church, even if non-elect. Likewise, an elect person, for various reasons, may not have received the covenant sign of baptism.

Now to give a couple of illustrations. Jacob and Esau both received the sign of the covenant, and were legitimately members of the visible church. Esau, however, was not of the elect (see Mal 1:2-3 and Rom 9:13), hence not a member of the invisible church. Judas Iscariot had received the sign of the covenant, and was legitimately a member of the visible church. He was even legitimately one of the twelve apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ (see Matt 10:1-4). But he also was not elect, and his betrayal of Jesus and subsequent suicide proved that he was no member of the invisible church.

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