A Concern About Infant Inclusion in the Covenant of Grace - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahonCovenant Theology - God's Master Plan to Give His Son Jesus Christ a Bride
Today, many Christians are turning back to the puritans to, “walk in the old paths,” of God’s word, and to continue to proclaim old truth that glorifies Jesus Christ. There is no new theology. In our electronic age, more and more people are looking to add electronic books (ePubs, mobi and PDF formats) to their library – books from the Reformers and Puritans – in order to become a “digital puritan” themselves. Take a moment to visit Puritan Publications (click the banner below) to find the biggest selection of rare puritan works updated in modern English in both print form and in multiple electronic forms. There are new books published every month. All proceeds go to support A Puritan’s Mind.
Check out these books on Covenant Theology.
When dealing with Covenant Theology “simple” is a good thing. After the Bible, this work is the FIRST that you should read, or one that you should introduce to a friend if they are struggling with covenant concepts.
There is no better succinct, concise, precise and exegetically irrefutable work on infant baptism than Harrison’s work. It is not just about baptism – it’s about infant inclusion in the covenant of grace. It’s about church membership.
I have posted this in order to keep straight some heretical teaching in comparison to the Reformed Doctrine on the issues of infants.
I received an email from a concerned brother that the New Catechism on Infant Inclusion in the Covenant I have posted here may have “connotations” of the Auburn Four’s theology. I want to express a deep concern here. The Auburn Four’s Theology is heretical. If they do not repent of it, they will be damned for believing it. I repudiate their “works salvation.” The New Catechism I have out, though, in no way represents or purports the same ideas as the Auburn Four.
It should also be noted that my good brother who emailed me is a Baptist, and that already creates some tension on doctrinal differences around this subject as well. But I love him nonetheless.
Brian Schwertly has summarized the Auburn Four position in six points:
1. The Auburn system perverts the doctrine of the atonement by rendering the blood of Christ non-efficacious in most cases and by separating the foundation or ground of salvation (the active and passive obedience of Jesus) from its application. Further, a number of statements at the Auburn conference can only be interpreted as a denial of justification alone.
2. The Auburn speakers repeatedly violate standard orthodox principles of biblical interpretation.
3. The Auburn paradigm destroys the biblical understanding of assurance by placing man’s hope in a baptism that “regenerates” but does not really save anyone unless they receive the additional gift of perseverance.
4. The Auburn “theologians” adhere to a non-Reformed (i.e., Lutheran—high church Episcopalian style) understanding of baptism. These men would say that they totally reject an ex opere operato understanding of the sacraments. Nevertheless, their position places them squarely in the Romish camp because they repeatedly assert that baptism is efficacious apart from faith.
5. The Auburn theology rejects the orthodox distinction between the visible and invisible church in favor of the idea that everyone baptized is saved, forgiven, elect, and united to Christ; but many of the loved, forgiven saints end up in the pit of hell because they are not given the gift of perseverance.
6. The Auburn paradigm makes continued faithfulness to the covenant an instrument of justification along with faith.
According to the Auburn theology, people who are baptized and united to Christ are forgiven and loved by Him even though they are not elect and fall away. Another feature of the Auburn theology that perverts the doctrine of the atonement is the idea that non-elect people who are baptized are said to have their sins forgiven even though they do not persevere and thus go to hell. Baptismal regeneration is one of the pillars of the whole Auburn system.
Doug Wilson writes: “But the Reformed have their own set of problems here.” Doug Wilson, Reformed Is Not Enough: Recovering the Objectivity of the Covenant (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2002), 132.
Wilson is acting and teaching in contrary to the Reformed view. That is why he is partaking in a “new” perspective. He is teaching something different than Reformed orthodoxy and reinterpreting the Westminster Confession of Faith as a Roman Catholic document by inserting new meaning.
This heretical view is complete nonsense, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the New Catechism I have posted.
My good brother who emailed me posted these statements that seemed similar to the ones on the New Catechism. He thought I should be concerned:
1. “Following the Biblical model, it seems that we must view fellow church members as elect and regenerate and, at the same time, hold before them the dangers of falling away.”
2. “This covenant is made with believers and their children.”
3. “When someone is united to the Church by baptism, he is incorporated into Christ and into His body; he becomes bone of Christ’s bone and flesh of His flesh (Eph. 5:30). Until and unless that person breaks covenant, he is reckoned among God’s elect and regenerate saints.”
4. “Once baptized, an individual may be truly called a “Christian” because he is a member of the household of faith and the body of Christ.“
Though these seem as though they are similar, the context of their theological stance is quite different – i.e. heretical. Let me explain.
Statement one is an orthodox statement taken by itself. Every church views their fellow church members as elect and regenerate, otherwise they would not allow them in their church as members. Baptists and Presbyterians agree on this. Presbyterianism makes a distinction between the visible and invisible church so that the unregenerate who covenant with the church actually do not partake of the benefits of election as the Covenant of Grace is only efficacious with the elect alone (See the last 5 questions of my Catechism). However, the Auburn Four believe them to be SAVED NO MATTER WHAT because of their baptism. They believe in baptismal regeneration. That makes this first statement quite different in one perspective than the Reformed Position.
Statement 2 is correct as well. Baptists disagree, and Presbyterians, again, see a two-fold division between the invisible and visible church. There is no problem here. The Auburn Four, though, believe their children are in the Covenant of Grace efficaciously, not presumptively. Quotes below demonstrate they reject presumptive regeneration (the Reformed and Calvinist view).
Statement 3 does not mean that they presume the person to be in fellowship, but that they actually are partakers of the covenant of grace = they are accounted, or reckoned righteous by their baptism, and further works along the way. This is contrary to anything in the New Catechism.
Statement 4 seems to be what is said in the Catechism, but the term “truly” is the giveaway. Presuming a Christian and making a judgment call that they are in fact TRULY a Christian are two completely different things. The Auburn Four, and likeminded heretics, are purporting a salvation by works Gospel, and have gone back to Rome to some type of infused grace. From the historical quotes alone that I pose after the Catechism, it should be readily apparent that I do not hold their views and that I am being consistent with historical Calvinism.
Here are some of the quotes on the new perspective as well as on the Auburn Four’s theology:
“…covenantal nomism is the view that one’s place in God’s plan is established on the basis of the covenant and that the covenant requires as the proper response of man his obedience to its commandments, while providing means of atonement for transgression … Obedience maintains one’s position in the covenant, but it does not earn God’s grace as such … Righteousness in Judaism is a term which implies the maintenance of status among the group of the elect” (Sanders, Paul, 75, 420, 544, quoted in J. Dunn, ‘The New Perspective on Paul’ in Jesus, Paul and the Law, 186).
In talking of ‘being justified’ here [i.e., Gal. 2:15,16] Paul is not thinking of a distinctively initiatory act of God. God’s justification is not his act in first making his covenant with Israel, or in initially accepting someone into the covenant people. God’s justification is rather God’s acknowledgement that someone is in the covenant – whether that is an initial acknowledgement, or a repeated action of God (God’s saving acts), or his final vindication of his people… ‘To be justified’ in Paul cannot, therefore, be treated simply as an entry or initiation formula; nor is it possible to draw a clear line of distinction between Paul’s usage and the typically Jewish covenant usage. (J. Dunn, Jesus, Paul and the Law, 190).
In his summary chapter on justification in What St. Paul Really Said, Wright says: “Justification… is not a matter of how someone enters the community of the true people of God, but of how you tell who belongs to that community… ‘Justification’ in the first century was not about how someone might establish a relationship with God… It was not so much about ‘getting in,’ or indeed about ‘staying in,’ as about ‘how you could tell who was in.’ In standard Christian theological language, it wasn’t so much about so harmartiology as about ecclesiology; not so much about salvation as about the church (p. 119, author’s italics).”
“But we also know from our Bibles that there is only one church, one Lord, one faith, one baptism. So we’ve got two churches with two different rosters of names…. Now if you’ve got two churches existing at the same time with different names on their membership rolls, the question that comes up, and it may not come up consciously, but the question is: which one is the real church?” (Doug Wilson, “Visible and Invisible Church Revisited,” tape 2).
When we say visible and invisible, we divide into categories, visible is down here [i.e., on earth] and invisible is an ethereal church in the heavenlies [i.e., in heaven]. We create an ontological [i.e., self-contained or totally separate] division between visible down here and invisible in heaven” (“Visible and Invisible Church Revisited,” tape 2)
“How could you know you are in Him? God gave you the seal and sign of baptism. He gave you that rite that brought you into Christ and you can look and you can trust that God’s promises are objective” (John Barach, “Covenant and Election,” tape 6).[
“The Bible doesn’t know about a distinction between being internally in the covenant and really in the covenant, and being only externally in the covenant, just being in the sphere of the covenant. The Bible speaks about reality, the efficacy of baptism” (John Barach, “Covenant History,”
“Raise your right hand if you knew that the Westminster Confession taught baptismal regeneration…. Baptism means that the one baptized has a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, the one baptized has been grafted into Christ, he has the sign and seal of regeneration, forgiveness of sins, and the obligation to walk in newness of life.” Doug Wilson, Reformed Is Not Enough (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2002), 103.
“Traditionally, the Reformed have said, we have to view our children as presumptively elect or presumptively regenerate, and therefore, Christian, if we are willing to take the Scriptures as face value, there is no presumption necessary. Just take the Bible. And this is true, of course, because by the baptism, by baptism the Spirit joins us to Christ since he is the elect one and the Church is the elect people, we are joined to his body. We therefore are elect. Since he is the justified one, we are justified in him. Since he is the beloved one, we are beloved in him. Since he was saved from his sin in death…so are we” (Steve Wilkins, “Halfway Covenant,” tape 11).
“The Bible teaches us that baptism unites us [Wilkins believes that baptism is efficacious to everyone baptized] to Christ and by his, and to his body the power of the spirit. By one spirit we were all baptized into one body whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, we’ve all been made to drink of one Spirit. Paul says that at baptism you are clothed with Christ Jesus. For as many of you as are baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. Union with Christ is a real, vital blessed union. The clothes make the man. With our union with Christ, we have all spiritual blessings. Union with Christ is union with the church, his body” (Steve Wilkins, “Halfway Covenant,” tape 11).
In light of the above atrocity to sound doctrine, here are some points to consider:
1) The New Catechism on Infant Inclusion in the Covenant does not teach the Roman version or Auburn version of baptismal regeneration. Reformed Theology teaches that the benefits of the covenant of grace are only efficaciously conferred by the Holy Spirit to the elect. The elect are presumed upon when they are baptized. End of story.
2) At the same time that the benefits of the Covenant of Grace are only efficaciously conferred by the Holy Spirit to the elect, Genesis 17 is plain that Abraham presumed God’s salvation on Isaac before he was ever born. That was based on promise, not circumcision. That was by faith in the Word, not by works in circumcision. Consequently, we know from Scripture, Isaac was elect.
3) Circumcision and baptism do not save. Period. They are outward signs that are efficacious only for the elect through the ordinary working of the Holy Spirit who regenerates who he wants. But the promise is to be stood upon during baptism when we presume election based on the act of baptism.
4) Christian parents do not know who the elect are. In view of this, instead of resting on pessimism, they rest on the hope of the promises to their children. The New Catechism on Infant Inclusion in the Covenant presumes children are saved, as Abraham did, but do not know whether they will be when they come to years of age.
5) The New Catechism on Infant Inclusion in the Covenant does not teach that infants of believers are infallibly saved.
Hopefully this will keep things in perspective. Sometimes the truth mixed with error is harder to discern and takes time to weed out. The New Catechism on Infant Inclusion in the Covenant purports the Reformed Position that was held formally from the time of the Reformation, up and through English Puritanism, and by the Princeton Divines.
The Puritans made many posters, even in their day, to aid church members in understanding Scriptural truth. I created this new poster to cover the Covenant of Redemption, Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace.
Check Out these Books on Covenant Theology
Presumptive Regeneration, or, the Baptismal Regeneration of Elect Infants by Cornelius Burges (1589-1665)
A Discourse on Covenant Theology and Infant Baptism by Cuthbert Sydenham (1622-1654)
Infant Baptism of Christ’s Appointment by Samuel Petto (1624-1711)
Covenant Holiness and Infant Baptism by Thomas Blake (1597-1657)
The Manifold Wisdom of God Seen in Covenant Theology by George Walker (1581-1651)
The Covenant of God by Thomas Blake (1597-1657)
A Chain of Theological Principles by John Arrowsmith (1602-1659)
The Covenant of Life Opened by Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661)
The Covenant of Grace Opened by Thomas Hooker (1586-1647)
The Covenant of Redemption by Samuel Willard (1640-1707)
The Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace by Edmund Calamy (1600-1666)
The Doctrine and Practice of Infant Baptism by John Brinsley (1600-1665)
God’s Covenant and Our Duty By Samuel Willard (1640-1707)
God’s Glory in Man’s Happiness by Francis Taylor (1589-1656)
Infant Baptism God’s Ordinance by Michael Harrison (1640-1729)
Jesus Christ God’s Shepherd by William Strong (d. 1654)