The Reformed Baptism Form: The Author

Our Reformed baptism form has a glorious history sealed in the fires of persecution. Most church historians agree that the father of the form is Petrus Datheen, a Dutch reformer who lived from about 1531 to 1588.[1] Despite the oppression he and many Reformed believers faced from the Roman Catholic Church, including threats of terrible persecution at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition, Datheen worked tirelessly for the cause of those who loved the Reformed faith both of his own time and those in the generations to come.

As we celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of the Synod of Dordt this year, we focus our attention on one aspect of Datheen’s extensive work as a reformer: the Reformed baptism form, which was approved for use in the Dutch Reformed churches by the great Synod of Dordt.

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Instruction with a Goal

Christian Education and the Reformed Baptism Form (10): Instruction with a Goal

The instruction of covenant children is the rearing of royal children of King Jesus. In this blog, we have treated several passages of the baptism form that deal directly with Christian education. Now we come to the goal of that education. Wielenga concludes his commentary on the form with a section on the glorious prayer of thanksgiving. The prayer in the form is that our Triune God will govern our royal children to the end that they may eternally praise and magnify him who is king of kings and lord of lords. Let us look at several phrases of this thanksgiving prayer as we conclude our treatment of “Christian Education and the Reformed Baptism Form.”

The first goal of pious and religious education is that the child “increase and grow up in the Lord Jesus Christ.” The figure is that the child is like unto a living plant that must mature in the grace of Christ. Wielenga states that the “Christian and godly rearing. . . is not a self-creating, not a giving-oneself-life, but only a developing of a seed of life that is already within. The purpose and fruit of the rearing of a child of the covenant is not to make a bad child good, but to cause a child who is good in principle to mature in the good” (p. 405). This is humbling to the parent and educator. We do not “have to give or apply something, but take away and improve something” (p. 406). Indeed as regards to parents, “the pure life, the good principle in your child is not your work but God’s work. Under the blessing of the Lord, your rearing can at most serve that your little child grows and increases in the Lord Jesus Christ” (p. 406). All of the education given by parents, educators, ministers, and the church is because the covenant children are living spiritually. Wielenga exclaims to parents: “What a wonderful principle! Your child is not a withered cutting but a living little plant. Not a piece of dead wood but a living seed. That is your hope!” (p. 409).

The second goal is that covenant children acknowledge God’s fatherly goodness and mercy. We desire that the children “one day awake to the realization, to the wealth of knowing God, if baptism will reach its goal. The seed of faith is in the regenerated child, but that seed must develop into the act of faith. For such a child, believing would mean becoming aware of the fatherly good that God has already showed to him” (p. 410). Christian rearing has the purpose that our children become mature Christians who take their place as confessing members of God’s church.

The third goal flows out of the second goal in that we want our children to mature in their faith so that they consciously live in the three-fold office of all believer. Namely, that they “live in all righteousness under our only Teacher, King, and High Priest, Jesus Christ.” Wielenga sums this up this way: “Through the head, wherewith man thinks, he reveals himself as prophet. Through the heart, wherewith he loves, he reveals himself as priest. With the hand, with which he fights and labors, he reveals himself as a king” (p. 415).

As the Christian young person grows in his or her faith, they are called to live the antithesis. In the form we ask God to govern our children so that they “manfully fight against and overcome sin, the devil, and his whole dominion.” The idea of battle is prevalent in this petition of the form. The commentary states: “Wherever opposing forces meet each other, a battle is ignited. In life the Christian meets enduring forces that are hostile to his principle, his ideal, his God” (p. 417). In this battle of the antithesis, the mature believer has a goal. That Christian warrior loves life (p. 419). “For him the fight is never the goal, but always the means. The reason that during this time he is not fainthearted is surely because the hope lives in him” that he will receive the crown of life (p. 421).

What a blessed hope that we pray for with regard to our covenant children. We end with the beautiful phrase of the form: “to the end that they may eternally praise and magnify Thee, and Thy Son Jesus Christ, together with the Holy Ghost, the one only true God.” We praise Triune God, under whom our children receive the sign of baptism. What a blessed goal for all of their instruction! Our children are reared by parents, ministers, teachers, and the whole covenant community, not only that they may live as mature Christians on this earth but also that they may eternally praise God. Covenant instruction in the Christian day school must have this as its goal! Otherwise Reformed Christian instruction is a worthless cause.  We have a goal for Christian education that is very high. That goal humbles the educator. We pray to our Triune God that all of the education of our covenant children may be to his glory alone!

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This post was written by Mike Feenstraa member of the Protestant Reformed Church in Crete, Illinois. Mike also teaches fifth grade at a Christian school in Indiana. If you have a question or comment about this blog article for Mike, please do so in the comment section on the blog.

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Instruction that is Governed

Christian Education and the Reformed Baptism Form (8): Instruction that is Governed

The instruction of covenant children is governed by God himself. In the thanksgiving prayer of the form for baptism we pray for the covenant children “that they may be piously and religiously educated.” This rearing was first mentioned in the form at “the end of the doctrinal part, where it was said, ‘parents are in duty bound to instruct their children further herein while they grow up.’ This was the confession of the congregation regarding the obligation of rearing” (Wielenga, p. 404). The second time was during the baptismal question to parents where they promise to take up the duty to instruct (p. 404).

Why mention rearing a third time? Wielenga explains that the church prays in thanksgiving for a blessing from God and for a “providential and gracious governance of the Lord” (p. 404). In this blog post, we look at Wielenga’s insightful comments on that gracious governance of the education of the covenant child.

In the world, education of children is governed for earthly and carnal goals. The rich and elite of this world make sure that their heirs are properly trained so that they can have prestigious positions among men. Sports stars desire that their sons follow in their footsteps to “stardom.” Among men, parents control and guide the future of their children by education. The children have a governed path to the goal that their parents have for them. The goals of the wicked are always profane because God is not in all of their thoughts. The opposite is true for the righteous in Christ. We have a Governor of the education of our children of the covenant!

Wielenga aptly states, “If the rearing of the child is a matter that, in most cases, decides the entire future of the child, and if that instruction is in no part dependent on the choice or worthiness of the child, we see here an election, according to God’s good pleasure” (p. 403). What election is spoken of here? Certainly we must believe that election governs the covenant and that it is an unconditional election unto salvation. However, Wielenga focuses on the aspect of election as it has to do with the governance and path in the appointment for how the covenant child will be instructed. He states that God decides the following questions: “Who rears the child, where and how is he reared? (p. 403). The direction of a child’s education is chosen by parents (and should be done christianly to the utmost of their power), but we must remember that it is God who directs that exact path of education. That is of great comfort to the Christian parent. These children are privileged and blessed children of the great king of kings and they are heirs of the covenant.

In that path of education, there are many milestones. We ask in the thanksgiving prayer that at each milestone, the instructors chosen be appointed by God so that the child be piously and religiously educated (or in a “godly and Christian way,” pp. 403–405). This is humbling to the Christian educator because they are mere instruments and appointees to teach covenant children on their God-governed path of education at that particular time in a child’s life. The parent of that child is chosen by God to be a steward of the whole of the child’s education. Wielenga even warns parents against laxity in this regard in that they do not delegate the entire task of education to parents and ministers (p. 404). We pray that God will bless the instruction given by faithful parents, teachers, ministers, and fellow saints, and that that instruction will bear fruit. We pray to God that he govern and appoint the path of the instruction of covenant children so that they will be instructed in a Christian and godly way to his glory.

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This post was written by Mike Feenstraa member of the Protestant Reformed Church in Crete, Illinois. Mike also teaches fifth grade at a Christian school in Indiana. If you have a question or comment about this blog article for Mike, please do so in the comment section on the blog.

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Govern this Child



Christian Education and the Reformed Baptism Form (8): Govern this Child 

Our covenant children are royal children of King Jesus and as such we ask God to govern them. The prayer at the end of the baptism form explains all of our instruction as flowing out of this governance: “We beseech thee, through the same Son of thy love, that thou wilt be pleased always to govern these baptized children by thy Holy Spirit.” In The Reformed Baptism Form: A Commentary, Bastiaan Wielenga explains why this is “implored for this child from the almighty, merciful God and Father….Namely, that thou wilt be pleased always to govern this child by thy Holy Spirit. All that is further requested is made dependent on this petition by the little word[s] so that” (p. 399). Thus we begin our treatment of the prayer’s petitions as they flow out of the main request that God govern baptized children.

Who is being governed? The answer to this question is critical because there is much misunderstanding in the Reformed church world with regard to how teachers and parents are to approach the instruction of covenant children. On the one hand, we are not to view these children as unconverted, but neither are we to presuppose their regeneration.  Wielenga puts both of these false ideas to rest with patient and direct instruction on what the Reformed churches have always confessed about the instruction of covenant children: It is our prayer that God govern them, implying that our baptized children must be instructed as royal children of the light. Wielenga states, “Let us pause for a moment while pondering this expression. [The form] does not say convert or regenerate, but govern the child” (p. 399). It is also abundantly clear that Wielenga does not fall into the error of presupposed regeneration because he clearly states that the purpose of governance is that baptized children grow up in Christ (400). Further, the commentary lays out that election governs the covenant, and that this view is deeply rooted in the Reformed heritage. We do not presuppose our children are regenerated; rather, we believe by faith they are members of the sovereign, unconditional covenant of grace through the eternal election of God.

Wielenga then turns to a fascinating study of what it means that the Spirit govern these children. Wielenga points to Psalm 32:9: “Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, else they come near unto thee.” He goes on to say, “You clearly see the difference. God does not will to force you as one forces an animal, but governs as one governs man” (p. 401). In Christian education, this study of governance is important. As parents and educators, we realize that all of our instruction is worthless without the work of the Spirit in the hearts of our covenant children; we teachers can teach the Word of God in every subject until we are blue in the face, but without the Spirit we must humbly admit that our work amounts to nothing. Yet, at the same time, when we see fruits of righteousness, we know that those fruits flow directly from God’s election of the children and his governance of them.

As an educator, I thank God for these fruits. It is a source of great encouragement to see former students take their places in the church, fulfilling their callings as mothers, fathers, teachers, ministers, and many other important roles in the church. As many have said, Christian educators may need to wait ten years or more to see the fruit of their labor. In other occupations, the Lord may give the fruit the same day or very quickly.

At the same time we educators often get to see glimpses of God’s governing hand in young children that parents do not always see. We see children of their own volition pick up a pencil without prompting and take notes during a chapel on a great Reformer simply because they want to learn about God’s grace through that man. At other times, we witness children helping a special needs child, not because they have to, but because God is governing them to want to.

We as educators and parents instruct children of the covenant, and we have two common goals: we want our children to graduate and serve the Lord their God on earth and in heaven, and we pray that God will guide and govern them to that heavenly goal. They are kingdom citizens of the Most High God. Wielenga even states, “Enemies one overcomes; only subjects are governed” (p. 400).  We give thanks to God for this beautiful truth: God governs his children in the way of our faithful rearing and instruction. In that way, they will listen and they will grow up in Christ. To God be the glory.  

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This post was written by Mike Feenstraa member of the Protestant Reformed Church in Crete, Illinois. Mike also teaches fifth grade at a Christian school in Indiana. If you have a question or comment about this blog article for Mike, please do so in the comment section on the blog.

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Christian Education and the Reformed Baptism Form: According to Ability

The book entitled The Reformed Baptism Form: A Commentary by Bastiaan Wielenga, is clear that the establishment of Reformed Christian schools is deeply rooted in the Reformed tradition. In the past few blog articles, we have treated this commentary in connection with the third question of the Reformed baptism form. In this installment, we will treat the words “to the utmost of your power.”

These are such powerful words—“to the utmost of your power.” When Reformed parents vow at baptism to teach their children, these words are humbling. We rely alone upon God our rock in all of the instruction of covenant children. Godly Hannah showed this when she prayed at the birth of Samuel: “My heart rejoiceth in the LORD, mine horn is exalted in the LORD: my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; because I rejoice in thy salvation. There is none holy as the LORD: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God” (1 Samuel 1:1-2).

With Hannah’s prayer in our heart, let us meditate on the third question of the Reformed baptism form and specifically the words, “to the utmost or your power.” Wielenga includes in his commentary an interesting section on these words, and it would be good for us to read the quote in its entirety:

I need to point out one other phrase that one easily overlooks when reading and that yet contains an important lesson: according to your ability [to instruct], . . . or cause it to be instructed therein (I have omitted the words or help on previously indicated grounds). These words express the principle of Christian education. The father is the teacher ordained by God, and the mother is the natural teacher of the God-given seed. But where it is clear that their own ability is lacking, because of time or strength, they must look for an establishment or organization where these baptized children are taught in accordance with the said doctrine (p. 362).

Wielenga’s point here is that the phrase “to the utmost of your power” has the idea of “according to your ability.” In other words parents are called to instruct their children to the best of their ability. With all of the complexity of life in the modern age, few parents have the capacity to instruct their children in all subjects according to the light of God’s word. Therefore, Christian schools must be established to help the parents to keep their vows. The following are some examples of where I have seen this in my own experience.

The first example is special education. I give thanks to God that parents today see the amazing benefit of having special needs students (as well as children with learning disabilities) as belonging in the regular classroom. As one parent noted to me, “The parents are accepting the fact that teachers can’t just teach with one lesson plan. The teachers must teach all the children. Now if the parents accept this, then the children will also accept these children.” As a teacher, I have seen this idea develop over the last fifteen years. All glory be to God! At present, many of our Christian schools have invested in special education support systems. These educational systems provide special needs children with countless opportunities for academic growth that parents can’t supply at home. In this way, the school helps the parents to instruct the special needs child to the best of their ability.

A second example is high school education. In the past ten years, I have seen great interest in high school education among our parents.  It is evident that in order for a young person to live as a Christian in our modern society, the parents need the assistance of teachers. Just think of the math that our young people must know in order to proceed in their education. Few of us could instruct our children in that discipline. We thank God for our high school teachers. Their ability is put to use as servants of godly parents. What a great blessing.

We give thanks to God for he alone is willing and able to provide us all our needs. We have no ability as parents and teachers to teach these covenant children. Day after day at our grade schools and high schools, the Lord is faithful to provide parents and teachers with the ability to instruct covenant children. As 1 Corinthians 12 instructs us, we are all part of a covenant community that works together to provide Christian instruction to our covenant seed. All praise and thanks be to him.
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This post was written by Mike Feenstraa member of the Protestant Reformed Church in Crete, Illinois. Mike also teaches fifth grade at a Christian school in Indiana. 

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Christian Education and the Reformed Baptism Form (6): Causing to Instruct Children with Sola Scriptura

The third question of the Reformed baptism form states that parents are called to “instruct” their children in the “aforesaid doctrine” to “the utmost” of their power.  The aforesaid doctrine is comprised of the teachings of the Bible and the Reformed Confessions. This year we celebrate the five-hundredth anniversary of the great Reformation. One of the five “solas” of the Reformation was sola scriptura or “Scripture alone.” Glory to God alone (soli Deo Gloria) that at this late date in history we can still establish and maintain Reformed Christian schools based on the Bible!

My purpose in these blog articles has been to highlight the new book entitled The Reformed Baptism Form: A Commentary by Bastiaan Wielenga. In our study, we have focused on the sections of the form that treat Christian education directly. As Wielenga writes, “The foundation and preservation of the school with the Bible is the causing to instruct, to which the parents have committed themselves with an oath” (p. 363, my emphasis). Today, let us take the time to thank the school associations, boards, and teachers—the founders and preservers of our Reformed Christian schools—for their work in  “causing” our children to be instructed in the truth of the Bible and the Confessions.     

First, we are thankful to God for past boards and associations who had the foresight to found Reformed Christian schools with clear mission statements that include the Bible and the Confessions as the basis of instruction. It is a comfort to know that our teachers create Biblical, confessional unity among our children by fulfilling the promise they made when they signed their teaching contracts: to teach the same truths that are taught in the home and at church.  For those boards which are starting new schools, I encourage you to press on in the difficult work of establishing curriculum and hiring teachers. There are often difficult setbacks. Teachers may move away early in the formation of a school, or there may be difficulties with establishing a firm mission for the school. Pray to our heavenly Father for strength; your work will have fruit by his grace.      

Second, we thank our current boards who work tirelessly not only to found new schools, but also to “preserve” them in the truth of God’s word. Men who work on the boards, we teachers, and parents are aware that you sacrifice your time in the preservation of covenant schools. As a teacher, I have seen your late nights at school, working without any remuneration. We are aware of the countless hours that you spend approving curriculum on Saturdays, hiring godly teachers (at a time where there are few teachers), and fielding difficult disciplinary questions, faithfully using scripture as the guide for your labors and decisions. Your hard work has been used by God in the preservation of covenant education about our Triune God.  

Third, I want to thank my colleagues who diligently infuse all of their teaching with the Bible and the creeds. Ours is a great task to teach the covenant children in the truth of our Triune God. I write this blog post after the annual Protestant Reformed Teacher’s Institute Convention. At this convention, we heard the keynote speech by Prof. Barry Gritters about the importance of the scriptures as a means of grace alongside the chief means of grace, the preaching. Truly our Reformed Christian schools are preserved when all of our teaching is based on the Word!

Above all, we thank our heavenly Father because he alone forms and preserves the Christian School with the Bible at the center. In this five-hundredth  anniversary year of the Reformation, let us parents, teachers, and supporters of Christian education be inspired in our resolve to have sola scriptura firmly before our minds in the instruction of covenant children in this school year!

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This post was written by Mike Feenstraa member of the Protestant Reformed Church in Crete, Illinois. Mike also teaches fifth grade at a Christian school in Indiana. 

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Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (5)

This series is written by Rev. Nathan J. Langerak.

I have responded to Coosje Helder, a member of the Canadian Reformed Churches, concerning her objection to my contention that the conditional view of the covenant as taught and maintained in her churches cannot be harmonized with and overthrows the Reformed doctrines of grace in the creeds, specifically predestination. I have proved that the creeds teach that the grace of God is controlled by election. It follows from this that the covenant of GRACE and the grace of that covenant, including the gift of faith and the promise, must likewise be controlled by election. To teach otherwise is to deny election, specifically the aspect of the doctrine of predestination that it controls the grace of the covenant. A love for predestination must include rejection of the conditional view of the covenant.

She also objected to my contention that the conditional covenantal doctrine denies the gospel truth of justification by faith alone. She professed to hear this doctrine preached: “We preach that justification is by grace alone through faith, and not at all by our works.” I am thankful that she hears the preaching of justification by faith alone. Without it there is no gospel; without the gospel there is no salvation. If the preaching of a covenant made with elect and reprobate alike is at jarring dissonance with the teaching of justification by faith alone, will she choose to hear justification by faith alone and refuse to give ear to the conditional covenantal doctrine that cannot be harmonized with it? I ask this not only of her but also of all who ascribe to a similar view.

If she wishes to hear justification for much longer, she should reconsider her covenantal view, which is the source of the greatest present-day threat to that doctrine in the form of the federal vision heresy. Not content to deny all of the other doctrines of grace, the men of the federal vision are using the covenantal doctrine of Klaas Schilder to overthrow the doctrine of gracious justification by faith alone. This is a legitimate development and faithful outworking of the covenantal doctrine of Klaas Schilder and the Liberated Churches by the men of the federal vision. That covenantal doctrine teaches works-righteousness, even if some inconsistently may teach the doctrine of justification by faith alone alongside it.

The doctrine of justification by faith alone does not follow from the covenantal doctrine of the Liberated, but the heresy of justification by faith and works naturally follows from that covenantal doctrine. With their denial that predestination controls who are and who are not covenantal members and who receive covenantal grace, they necessarily make something in the child responsible for his or her covenantal salvation. This something is the child’s response of faith and obedience of faith. Faith and the obedience of faith are acts of the child and reasons for the ratification of the covenant with that child and for his or her continuing in the covenant. For the men of the federal vision, the reason the child receives the covenantal blessings, covenantal salvation, and eventually eternal salvation in the covenant is emphatically not predestination, which does not control covenantal membership. Neither is the reason the grace of God, because they teach that God gives his gracious promise to ALL the baptized children, elect and reprobate alike. The reason is the child’s work, especially the work of distinguishing himself or herself from others, who received the very same covenantal grace, by responding in faith and being faithful.

Since it is the child’s response and not God’s election and grace that is the reason one is saved and another perishes, they also necessarily imply that on the basis of that response in the covenant—faith and faithfulness—the child will be judged in the final judgment regarding his or her eternal salvation. How could that not be the basis of God’s judgment in the final judgment of covenantal children, some of whom will perish in hell and some of whom will go to heaven, but all of whom, according to Schilder’s conception, were equally given grace, equally given the promise, equally received the church’s instruction and the Spirit’s work? Wherein do they differ if one is saved and another perishes? They differ only in this: one responded in faith and the other did not. They differ only in what one did and the other did not do. They differ only in their works, which many reassure us are works done by grace, as though an appeal to grace at this point saves the theology from the obvious charge of works-righteousness. According to this covenantal idea, the covenantal salvation of the baptized child is the result of his or her deeds or the lack of them unto damnation. This is the old heresy of works-righteousness, masquerading as a theology of grace. This is the introduction, via a covenantal doctrine, of Romish works-righteousness.

The conditional covenantal doctrine and its proponents do with the covenant what Luther long ago in his The Babylonian Captivity of the Church charged against the Romish doctrine of baptism (the seal of the covenant): “To such an extent have they exerted themselves to turn the sacrament into a command and faith into a work. For if the sacrament [and covenant sealed by that sacrament] confers grace on me because I receive it, then indeed I receive grace by virtue of my work, and not by faith.”[1] The conditional covenantal doctrine, like Rome in her baptismal doctrine, ultimately teaches the depressing and damnable doctrine of salvation by the works of the sinner.

I say that this is the legitimate implication of Schilder’s covenantal doctrine, and the federal vision theologians teach this openly and emphatically insist, and they are right, that this is the necessary development of the covenantal doctrine of Klaas Schilder and the Liberated. The conditional covenant teaches that the baptized child’s justification depends on his or her faith and faithfulness.

If a Reformed man loves justification by faith alone, he will reject as completely incompatible with that doctrine, indeed as the enemy of that doctrine, the doctrine of the conditional covenant of Klaas Schilder, which teaches covenantal children that their response of faith is the condition of their salvation, that their response of faith is what makes them to differ from others equally furnished with the same grace, and ultimately that their covenantal faithfulness makes them to differ from those who perish, for this means that their faith and faithfulness—not the righteousness of Jesus Christ alone, received by faith alone—is the basis of their salvation in the final judgment.

This denial of the doctrines of grace, specifically election and justification by faith alone has a terrible consequence in the conscience. That terrible consequence is a loss of assurance.

To this I turn next time.

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[1] Martin Luther, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, ed. Paul W. Robbinson (Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 2016), 3:69.

Read the next article in this series: Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (6)

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Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (3)

This series of blog posts are written by Rev. Nathan J. Langerak.

I continue to answer a Canadian reader who objected to my contention in a book review that “the proponents [of a conditional covenant] hate predestination and now have revived the old Arminian war against predestination.” The reader professed her “love [for] the doctrine of predestination” and her belief “that ALL our children are included in that covenant, both the elect and the reprobate.”

The view that both elect and reprobate children of believers are members in the covenant denies predestination because it denies that predestination controls the covenant. Denial that election controls the covenant is basic to the theology of the conditional covenant and to my contention that it cannot be harmonized with the Reformed creeds. Thus espousal of a conditional covenant is incompatible with the reader’s professed love for predestination.

This covenantal doctrine—which has its origins in James Arminius, was formulated by Klaas Schilder, and is taught in the Canadian Reformed Churches—is totally at odds with the Reformed doctrines of grace as confessed especially in the Canons of Dordt, specifically the doctrines that teach that the grace of God in salvation is to the elect alone.

Canons 1.6 teaches that God gives grace to his elect alone and that the grace of God is controlled by election. “That some receive the gift of faith from God and others do not receive it proceeds from God’s eternal decree…According to which decree he graciously softens the hearts of the elect, however obstinate, and inclines them to believe.” Faith is the outstanding work of grace in the heart of man, and the Canons say that the reason some receive faith and others do not is predestination. According to that decree of predestination God acts in time.

Canons 1.7 explicitly speaks of the covenant in connection with election. The covenant is communion with God, fellowship in his house, to be a son or daughter of God, and salvation itself. “This elect number…[God] hath decreed to give to Christ, to be saved by him, and effectually to call and draw them to his communion by his Word and Spirit.” This is the same as saying that God’s covenant and membership in that covenant—communion with the living God—is controlled by election.

Even if someone would disagree with my definition of the covenant, communion with God, and say the covenant is merely the way or means to be saved, Canons 1.9 says that God “hath chosen us from eternity, both to grace and glory, to salvation and the way of salvation, which he hath ordained that we should walk in them.” The Canons make grace, glory, salvation, and the way of salvation, which is the covenant for many, the particular possession of the elect alone.

The Reformed creeds breathe not a single syllable about grace to the reprobate. Canons 1.15 teaches about the reprobate that God “hath decreed to leave [them] in the common misery into which they have willfully plunged themselves, and not to bestow upon them saving faith and the grace of conversion.” God sovereignly, justly, and eternally said no grace to the reprobate.

Because God’s grace is for the elect alone and not for the reprobate at all, the grace of God is also an effectual grace that infallibly and irresistibly accomplishes God’s saving purpose of election.

The Canadian Reformed covenantal doctrine teaches that the grace of God in the covenant is given to elect and reprobate. Such a doctrine may pay lip-service to predestination, but in reality denies it. It may mention it from time to time as that which belongs to the hidden things of God, but not as that which determines membership in and controls grace in the covenant of grace. Denying the crucial aspect of predestination that it determines who receives grace in the covenant, it denies the truth about election and reprobation.

The proponents of the conditional covenantal doctrine today—as the Arminian theologians, whose war they are reviving and carrying on—hate the doctrine of predestination. They manifest this hatred both by their ridicule of those who teach the truth about predestination—that it controls the covenant—and by their false teaching that predestination does not control the covenant. Such a doctrine as makes grace, covenantal grace, and the covenant itself the possession of reprobates and not the special possession of God’s elect children alone is at war with and cannot possibly be harmonized with the view of election and grace found in the Reformed creeds.

Those who suppose they can hold to both the love of predestination and the conditional covenantal doctrine are currently being disabused of that erroneous notion in a frightening way by the federal vision controversy and the appalling apostasy from the truth of grace and justification that is its inevitable fruit.

A professed love for predestination, including both election and reprobation, must include a rejection of the conditional covenantal doctrine and the condemnation of it as Arminian. For as the Arminians of old taught, it teaches that salvation—covenantal salvation—is not determined by the decree of God and that grace and salvation are offered wider than that decree.

If her love for predestination will not lead her to reject and condemn the conditional covenantal doctrine, perhaps a consideration of the other attacks of this covenantal doctrine on the truth of grace as confessed by the Reformed creeds will induce her to.

To this I turn next time.

 

Read the next article in this series: Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (4)

 

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Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (2)

This series of blog posts are written by Rev. Nathan J. Langerak.

I continue to answer Coosje Helder concerning her disagreement with my contentions that a conditional covenant is incompatible with the Reformed doctrines of grace and is used to overthrow the gospel of saving grace and the salvation of many. I charged that its proponents hate predestination and have revived and carry on the old Arminian war against predestination, especially by denying that predestination must govern the covenant of grace by controlling who is a member of that covenant and who receives grace in that covenant.

The reader confessed that she believes the conditional covenant and loves predestination. In the confession that she loves predestination I rejoice. I feel an immediate kinship for anyone who loves predestination, because I also love it. But does she love the teaching that predestination governs and controls membership in the covenant of grace? If the Reformed creeds teach that predestination governs and controls the covenant of grace, will she express her love for predestination by renouncing her confession that God makes his covenant with “ALL our children…both the elect and reprobate” and confess that this in fact denies predestination? I ask that not only of her, but of all who espouse this view.

Love for the doctrine of predestination and the covenant was not the response of many Liberated immigrants to the preaching of election and reprobation during the covenantal controversy in the 1950s in Canada. They expressed their disapproval for that kind of preaching in one congregation by deposing the minister, rejecting the Protestant Reformed preaching of that truth, and joining a denomination committed to teaching that election does not control the covenant.

To teach predestination one must confess the whole truth about it. To love predestination one must love the whole truth about it. If Coosje loves predestination, she should examine her covenantal doctrine. The covenantal doctrine that “ALL our children” are in the covenant and receive a gracious promise from God undermines the doctrine of predestination that she loves. Indeed, it overthrows the whole gospel of grace rooted in divine election as confessed in the Reformed creeds. Overthrowing that doctrine of grace it threatens the salvation of many.

This is true of that covenantal doctrine not only as Klaas Schilder taught it, which doctrine the Protestant Reformed Churches judged to be Arminianism, but also and especially in the form developed by certain disciples of Klaas Schilder. The reader must be aware by now of the divinely sent plague on the Reformed and Presbyterian church world that goes by the name federal vision. Its name federal indicates that it is concerned with the doctrine of the covenant. The covenantal doctrine of the federal vision is the root of all of its heretical theology.

The leading theologians in this movement, Norman Shepherd, John Barach, Douglas Wilson, Peter Leithart, James Jordan, and others openly admit that the covenantal theology of Klaas Schilder and the Liberated Reformed Churches is the theological starting point for their heresy. At a symposium of Reformed theologians and these federal vision theologians, one of the critics of the federal vision said the following about John Barach’s speech, which espoused the conditional covenant of Klaas Schilder and the Liberated and especially taught that the covenant is not controlled by election:

I finally grasp that he [John Barach] is simply restating the distinctive [covenant theology] of the “Liberated” Reformed Churches. Therefore, it must fairly be pointed out that Pastor Barach cannot be charged with “theological novelty,” for his view was first propounded by Klaas Schilder in the 1940s and before him Calvin Seminary Professor Heyns from the early 1900s. In fact Pastor Barach has simply and faithfully restated those covenantal understandings.[1]

Indeed, the doctrine is not novel because Barach’s covenantal doctrine goes back to two Dutch Reformed ministers, Pieters and Kreulen, who troubled the Afscheiding churches in the nineteenth century with their conditional covenantal theology. In fact, the doctrine goes back to James Arminius, whose covenantal doctrine had the hallmark of conditionality and a denial of election and reprobation.

What are these heresies that the men of the federal vision now teach on the basis of that old conditional view of the covenant?

They teach that in baptism God really and spiritually unites ALL baptized children, elect and reprobate, to Jesus Christ by true faith and gives to ALL of them the promise of salvation in the covenant, grace, and salvation in Christ. That promise is conditioned on the children’s faith and covenantal faithfulness. On the basis of that covenantal doctrine they have systematically denied all the doctrines of grace as they are found in the three forms of unity, from election to the preservation of the saints.

They abhor the teaching of election and do everything in their power to demolish it. In its place they usually substitute either a temporal choice of God or a choice of the church generally as elect.

From that covenantal doctrine they teach that one is justified by faith and the covenantal obedience of faith, and they ridicule the doctrine of justification by faith alone. If faith and faithfulness are the condition of the covenant, they are also the condition of salvation and the work that the sinner must perform to be justified before God.

On the basis of this same covenantal doctrine, they openly teach—indeed seem to revel in teaching—the falling away of saints. Those who are united to Christ by faith, incorporated by that union into the covenant, and receive a promise of salvation from God, and who fall away from that covenant into perdition are fallen saints. The promise of God fails in many cases, and sinners resist the grace of God and fall away to perdition.

Following from these heresies they also deny the limited atonement of Jesus Christ. Whatever God promises in the covenant must have been purchased by the cross of Christ. If God promises anything to the reprobate, Christ must have purchased at the cross everything that God promises to the reprobate. In addition, they add to their heresy about the cross by denying that Christ obeyed for the believer. If the believer’s faith and obedience are the conditions of covenantal salvation and his righteousness before God, he does not need Christ’s obedience.

They also teach universal grace to elect and reprobate alike, both in the preaching of the gospel and in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper. If God makes a promise to ALL the children of believers in baptism that promise is grace. Thus elect and reprobate receive grace and the same is true in the Lord’s supper. There are reprobate in the covenant who eat and drink Christ Jesus and receive grace from him in the sacrament, but later fall away from Christ.

All of these heresies are well documented. About some of them there has been a weak and ineffectual response in the Reformed and Presbyterian church world. Especially this is true concerning the federal vision’s denial of justification by faith alone.

What almost no one will deal with—or even admit—is the root of these heresies in the covenantal doctrine of the federal vision. The men of the federal vision state that all of these heretical doctrines are the direct fruit and natural implication and development of the covenantal doctrine of Klaas Schilder that God makes a covenantal promise to ALL the children at baptism and that ALL of them, elect and reprobate, are included the covenant.

I intend to deal with this root next time.

_______________

[1] Carl D. Robbins, “A Response to ‘Covenant and Election’” in The Auburn Avenue Theology: Pros and Cons: Debating the Federal Vision, 157.

Read the next article in this series: Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (3)

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Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (1)

This series of blog posts are written by Rev. Nathan J. Langerak.

Coosje Helder, a member of the Canadian Reformed Churches, responded via the RFPA email to my review of the book, The Reformed Baptism Form. I contacted Coosje, and she agreed that I may use her name in my response, and she asked me to send a copy of my response to her. I intend to do this when the various installments of my response have been posted to the RFPA blog.

The Reformed Baptism Form, written by Reformed theologian and minister Bastiaan Wielenga in the early twentieth century, was recently translated from Dutch and published by the RFPA. The book is a thorough and generally sound exposition of the language of the Reformed baptism form.

Coosje wrote:

Good morning! I was piqued by the above review so read it carefully. However, I do have to say that I disagree with the following portion: “Many Reformed churches are overrun by false covenantal theology, which is being and has been used to overthrow the gospel of saving grace and the salvation of many. That covenantal theology at its essence teaches that God makes his covenant with all the children of believers, elect and reprobate. Its proponents hate predestination and now have revived the old Arminian war against predestination, especially and emphatically denying that predestination must govern the covenant of grace. Besides the gross false doctrine involved in their erroneous covenantal theology, the end result of this doctrine is that the gospel truth of justification by faith alone is overthrown and the damning heresy of justification by faith and works is taught.”

In response to this portion of the review she continued:

I belong to a Canadian Reformed Church and we certainly do not overthrow the gospel of saving grace, and love the doctrine of predestination! We preach that justification is by grace alone through faith, and not at all by our own works! Where we do differ is that we believe that ALL our children are included in that covenant, both the elect and the reprobate. We are clearly comforted and warned. Comforted by the promises when the covenant is responded to in faith, and warned when it is met with disbelief and/or carelessness. Because of that covenant we pray for each and every one of our children and call them to respond to it in obedience. We warn our children that lukewarm treatment can lead them into judgment, and will be the heavier because they are covenant children. Predestination tells us that our children’s futures have been determined by the Lord. We are thankful if they go to church and sit under the preaching for that is where the Holy Spirit does his work, but we also know that there is no room for complacency either. Just wanted to clarify this difference. Respectfully, Coosje

I thank Coosje for carefully reading my review and writing to express her disagreement and to clarify her difference. I invite her to respond to anything in my answer to her.

It was the conviction of Rev. Herman Hoeksema when the Reformed Free Publishing Association started the Standard Bearer that it would be a forum in which those who disagreed with the writing could write in to express their disagreement to which the writer was free to respond. Rev. Hoeksema held to that view throughout his editorship of the magazine and especially during the covenantal controversy of the Protestant Reformed Churches in the early 1950s over the very same issues raised by the reader.

I am happy that this same conviction rules the blog managed by the RFPA today, for we live in a church world that does not value theological debate at all. The consequence of this distaste for theological debate is either that many write so blandly that no theological debate could ever arise from their writings, or many actively seek to squelch debate. The truth dies in such a climate. Debate is especially necessary today because the truth is being vigorously opposed.

For such necessary theological discussion there is no greater subject than the covenant, particularly the right view of the covenant and the theological consequences of the wrong view of the covenant, which subjects the reader raises. This is especially true because the doctrine of the covenant has been and is being targeted by opponents of the truth.

I also thank Coosje for coming right to the heart of her disagreement. Very few are willing to do this and instead discuss all sorts of peripheral issues. The heart of the matter is the place of election and reprobation in the covenant. She recognized that the covenantal theology that I identify as being responsible for the overthrow of the doctrines of grace and the salvation of many is taught by the Canadian Reformed Churches. These churches were founded by post Second World War Dutch immigrants to Canada, who came from the Liberated Reformed Churches. They were the theological disciples of Dutch Reformed theologian Klaas Schilder, who is the theological father of this particular theology of the covenant. The Protestant Reformed Churches did mission work among some of these immigrants, which precipitated a deadly clash of covenantal doctrines in the Protestant Reformed Churches during the late 1940s and early 1950s.

In that clash the view of the Canadian Reformed Churches was definitely condemned as false doctrine by the Protestant Reformed Churches. Specifically, that condemnation was that the covenantal doctrine of Klaas Schilder and the Liberated Reformed Churches was Arminianism in the covenant and does not harmonize with the Reformed creeds; in fact it contradicts and overthrows them.

That covenant doctrine of Klaas Schilder, the Liberated, and the Canadian Reformed Churches, which the reader readily confesses, teaches that God makes his covenant with ALL the baptized children of believers, both elect and reprobate. In this covenant with elect and reprobate God gives grace to all the baptized children. It is a covenant of universal grace that extends beyond election. In his grace God promises covenantal salvation to all the baptized children. That grace and promise are conditioned on their faith. Conditionality is a hallmark of the Schilderian view of the covenant, as it must be if both elect and reprobate receive the covenant, grace in the covenant, and the covenantal promise. According to Schilder and his followers, in his covenant God promises to be the God of every baptized child and promises to sanctify these children in Christ and to present them without spot or wrinkle in heavenly glory, conditioned on the children’s faith and covenantal faithfulness. As the reader wrote, “ALL are included in that covenant, both elect and the reprobate.” To be included in the covenant certainly means to be a member of the covenant, to receive grace from God in the covenant, and to receive a gracious promise from God in the covenant.

Implicit in that covenant doctrine and as stated by the reader is that some of God’s children in the covenant respond “with disbelief and/or carelessness.” Thus they will perish even though God made a promise to them, gave grace to them, and promised to be their God. It is a covenant in which the grace of God given to all fails in some children to save them as objects of that grace. Those who are the objects of grace resist it. It is a covenant of resistible and ineffectual grace.

I will turn to an examination of the reader’s contentions about that covenant next time.

Read the next article in this series: Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (2)

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