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 (6)

This series is written by Rev. Nathan J. Langerak. This is the last article in this series.

 

I continue my answer to a reader from the Canadian Reformed Churches who objected to some of my characterization of the conditional covenantal view of those churches. This view, as stated by the reader, is “that ALL our children are included in that covenant, both the elect and the reprobate.” I charged that this doctrine overthrows the doctrines of grace, specifically election and justification, and overthrowing them overthrows the salvation of many. Expressing her disagreement with this assessment, she professed her love for predestination and justification. I have proved that love for the Reformed doctrines of grace, specifically election and justification, is incompatible with espousing the conditional view of the covenant. The full confession of predestination includes confessing that it controls the membership and grace of the covenant. Love for predestination includes a rejection of that false covenantal doctrine.

I also want to address the final statement of the reader concerning her covenantal doctrine and that of the Liberated Churches that in it there is “no room for complacency.” This is an implicit charge against the doctrine of the covenant that is controlled by election that there is room for complacency, indeed, it is a form of the old charge against gracious justification and all the doctrines of grace, and of an election theology of the covenant that it makes men careless and profane.

Concerning the confession about her covenantal doctrine that there is “no room for complacency,” I respond that no one in his right mind would ever dream of charging the doctrine of the conditional covenant with leading to complacency among those who espouse it. In fact, its proponents today present it as the antidote to a perceived antinomianism and a powerful shot in the arm for the church’s life of holiness. For them it is the doctrine that will move men to a godly life by thinking that the promise of God—and their salvation—depends on their faith and faithfulness. In their promotion of this false notion, they charge that the doctrine of the unconditional covenant is antinomian and makes men careless and profane. This is the view of the conditional covenant and the condemnation of the unconditional covenant in the recent book by Mark Jones, Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? For him the conditional covenant is the only solution to antinomianism, and the unconditional covenant is to blame for antinomianism in the churches. This is part of the war of the conditional covenantal doctrine on the doctrines of grace and the unconditional covenant and a naked attempt to make the doctrine of the unconditional covenant odious in the eyes of the churches by those who are intent on teaching Arminianism in the covenant.

Further, in the conditional covenantal doctrine there is not only “no room for complacency,” but also no room for the precious Reformed doctrine of assurance. The doctrine of assurance and its necessity for the Christian life of godliness without complacency are described in the Canons 5.12: “This certainty of perseverance, however, is so far from exciting in believers a spirit of pride, or of rendering them carnally secure, that, on the contrary, it is the real source of humility, filial reverence, true piety, patience in every tribulation, fervent prayers, constancy in suffering and in confessing the truth, and of solid rejoicing in God.”

Here the Canons call assurance “the real source” of the entire godly life. Without it the godly life is impossible. Election—its unchangeableness and the faithfulness of the electing God—is the ground for that precious assurance. Canons 5.1 speaks of those whom “God calls, according to his purpose, to the communion of his Son.” Communion with God’s Son is to be united to him in the covenant of grace. This happens according to God’s purpose, or election. With respect to those so united, Canons 5.8 teaches: “With respect to God, it is utterly impossible” that those in communion with Christ totally fall from faith and grace, “since his counsel cannot be changed, nor his promise fail.” God’s election is the cause of the certainty of the preservation of the elect to salvation. Canons 5.10 makes this precious assurance the peculiar possession of God’s elect: “If the elect were deprived of this solid comfort…they would be of all men the most miserable.”

Many of the promoters of the conditional covenant deprive their disciples of this solid comfort by making assurance the lifelong quest of the believer, which he will usually only attain when he is very old. In my experience with some eighty-year olds, they usually do not have assurance even then, because the doctrine they have been taught all their lives did not give them assurance and deliberately withheld it from them. Because the conditional covenantal doctrine makes the act of faith and the faithfulness of the covenantal member that which makes one to differ from others equally furnished with the same grace, it vainly comforts him with his work, in which there is not comfort, and deprives believers of solid comfort. Because this doctrine takes away election as the source of covenantal grace, it takes away the source of covenantal assurance. “No room for complacency,” indeed, not because the love of God compels us, but out of terror concerning whether or not one has been faithful enough. Making salvation—covenantal salvation—dependent on the act of the child, the teachers of the conditional covenant introduce not only Romish works-righteousness into covenantal theology, but also all of Rome’s terrors of conscience. The covenantal child, young or older, must live with this thought: have I been faithful enough. No complacency and no assurance either.

This lack of assurance in the conditional covenant is the logical implication of denying that election governs membership and grace in the covenant. Denying that election controls the covenant, it is a covenant without election. A covenant without election is a covenant without assurance. Without assurance it is a covenant that according to Canons 5.10 makes its members “of all men the most miserable.” The child is oppressed with the thought that his eternal salvation depends on his response. Despair is the result. If someone espouses the conditional covenant and has assurance, the doctrine of the conditional covenant is not the source.

Without assurance the covenant has no source for a godly life. Despair is the great motivator of worldliness. “Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die,” so worldliness results. The covenant not controlled by election may be able to inspire some to terror and to work for their salvation or to move others to a certain outward conformity, but such works are displeasing to God. If someone espouses the conditional covenant and leads a godly life, the doctrine of the conditional covenant is not the source.

By contrast, a covenant controlled by election is a covenant with election. Having election it is a covenant with assurance, which assurance has “no room for complacency” and is the real source of the zealous godly life.

For the sake of “no complacency” and a real and genuine assurance as the source of the real and genuine godly life, I urge the reader and all of her convictions to reconsider their covenantal doctrine that includes ALL the baptized children, elect and reprobate alike—that it is totally incompatible with the Reformed doctrine of assurance; that it cannot be harmonized with any of the Reformed doctrines of grace; thus that stands outside the boundaries of the Reformed creeds; and reconsidering it, that they reject it in love for the Reformed truth of grace.

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Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (1)

Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (2)

Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (3)

Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (4)

Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (5)

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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.

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Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (1)

Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (2)

Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (3)

Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (4)

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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.

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Christian education and the Reformed baptism form (5): Meditation at the beginning of a new school year

What is a world view? It is an overall guide for life. However, a world view is particularly interested in our life on earth before the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is, our view of the creation. Prof. David J. Engelsma picks up on this point when he writes, "By world view, I understand a comprehensive, unified view of the whole of creation and its history, including the creation's origin, meaning, and goal and including my own life, in light of the triune, true, living God" (Standard Bearer, Vol. 74, no. 16).

As another school year is upon us, we pause in our treatment of the baptism form as an occasion to contemplate the Christian schools where our students are instructed in the "aforesaid doctrine" of salvation, that is, where they are taught the Reformed Christian world view. The need to instruct our covenant children gives the Christian school the right to existence. As the form says, we want our children to "eternally praise and magnify" our Lord. One of the most important places in which children praise and magnify the Lord is the Christian school where they are instructed in the Reformed Christian world view. There they are taught of the infallibility of scripture, the origins of creation, and the relationship between God and his redeemed, covenant people.

With that in mind, I would like to consider Engelsma’s definition of world view as taught in the Christian school. We teach our children that God is the only triune and living God. We teach them that he has revealed himself to us in his Son, the word. And because Christ reveals himself in his infallible and inspired word, we are to view all of creation through the scriptures. The world in which we live mocks and scoffs that the Bible is our only guide, especially regarding our belief of the creation of the world and man 6,000 years ago. The scriptures are the only guide and rule for our lives; they reveal the truth of God in every aspect of the creation.

We teach our children that God created man out of the dust of the ground and woman out of the rib of the man. God breathed into their nostrils the breath of life. That is, man is made up of body, soul, and spirit. This is an incomprehensible wonder of God. Moreover, we believe that God created man good and placed him in fellowship with himself. And as a rational and moral creature, man was created not only with the ability to fellowship, but also with the desire to fellowship with God. Man was created in the image of God, for he had true righteousness, holiness, and knowledge. In thanksgiving and service to God, man ought to serve him as prophet, priest, and king in his creation. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. However, man, by the instigation of the devil and his own willful disobedience, fell from his original state.  

The elect of God receive again the image of God in the new man in Christ (Col. 3:10). The reprobate bear the image of the devil, as Jesus told the Pharisees in John 8:44.

Let us teachers, parents, board members, and followers of Christian education resolve to instruct our covenant children in the truth of the Reformed world view. While a public school teaches only with this earth in mind, a Christian school must teach with both earth and heaven in mind. Our Christian schools must continue to equip our students to do battle against false doctrines like evolutionism. May we be given grace to train them up in this aforesaid doctrine.

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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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Book Review: The Reformed Baptism Form (3)

The Reformed Baptism Form: A Commentary, B. Wielenga, trans. Annemie Godbehere, ed. David J. Engelsma. Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2016, 425 pages. Reviewed by Rev. Nathan J. Langerak.

Wielenga throughout the commentary deals with the text of the baptism form. That is the strength of his commentary. The text as it was in use in his day differed at certain points from the official text adopted by the Synod of Dordt. At places he suggests emendations and changes to the text used in his day, in order to bring it into conformity with the official text. Of note is Wielenga’s comments on the words “or witnesses” in a question to the parents. This phrase is a remnant of Roman Catholic theology and practice in the administration of baptism. This phrase is also included in the English received text. The practical relevance of his comments is that in the administration of baptism today these words should be omitted as an intrusion into the form.

Wielenga also deals extensively with disputed phrases. By means of them those in the Dutch Reformed churches who disagreed with the doctrine of the form tried to foist another covenantal doctrine on the form. He devotes a particularly long section to the phrase in the question to parents, “sanctified in Christ.” In explaining this long-disputed phrase, he is at his scholarly, theological, and polemical best. He points out that in his day this issue was already two centuries old. It was not two centuries old because the baptism form was unclear on what it meant by “sanctified in Christ,” but on account of the exegetical dishonesty and dogmatical agenda of many theologians when they explained the baptism form. Wielenga proves that the baptism form can mean nothing else by this language than that the children of believers are really, internally, and savingly united to Christ and sanctified in him and that the phrase does not mean merely to be set apart in an outward way or placed in a better position to be saved.

He also contradicts and condemns as “Arminian” the opinion that this phrase means real, internal sanctification and that it refers to “all of the children” of believers, not only to the elect children of believers (311). This position that he criticizes as Arminian is a popular doctrine of the covenant promoted today in Reformed churches, in which all the children are said to be incorporated into Christ and sanctified internally by him. Necessarily this means that the promise of God, the grace of God, the Spirit of God, and the covenant of God ultimately fail in many cases.

Wielenga accuses those who taught these things of reading their own theology into the form. About this reading of one’s theology into the form in order to deny the clear teaching of the form, he says,

Some people may have a different view of the doctrine of baptism. They may call the position of the compilers [of the baptism form] untenable…Let them be frank and say, “I do not agree with it”…But do not fudge on the matter. Our exegetical [explaining the plain meaning of the form] conscience objects to someone’s eisegetical [reading one’s theology into the form] doctrine of baptism, in order to support it with the authority of this legacy of our fathers. This must be stopped. (320)

The dispute over the covenantal doctrine of the form has not and still today is not driven by simply explaining the words of the form, but by a “clash between system and system” (315). To interpret “sanctified in Christ” as referring to a mere objective, or outward, setting apart is the result of a dishonest imposition of a foreign system on the form. To interpret “sanctified in Christ” as referring to all children brought for baptism and not the elect only is the imposition of Arminianism on the form. These other views imposed on the form belonged to the church in her “decline” and were introduced in “the days of ecclesiastical backsliding” and espoused a sacramental and covenantal doctrine “that was openly detested and contested by our fathers,” a doctrine “that in the century of the Reformation was already held by the Socianians and Anabaptists and later by the Remonstrants and rationalists” (317).

That just such a covenantal doctrine, exposed by one’s interpretation of this crucial phrase as a mere setting apart, is in fact widely held in Reformed churches explains the strange phenomenon that churches with Reformed in their names and that use the baptism form have rapprochement with Baptists, who condemn the baptism of infants. And some of these Reformed churches even allow membership to those who do not bring their children for baptism. Long gone is the conviction of the Reformed faith toward Baptist theology as expressed in article 34 of the Belgic Confession: “Therefore we detest the error of the Anabaptists, who are not content with the one only baptism they have once received, and moreover condemn the baptism of infants”—a detestation that manifests itself in a visible separation from them and vocal condemnation of their false doctrine. Wielenga points out that the covenantal doctrine of these ecclesiastically backslidden Reformed churches and the Baptists is basically the same. By teaching that the phrase means merely an external setting apart in an external covenant, they regard baptism “as some kind of confessional act…It is nothing other than a symbol of transition from paganism to Christianity, a sign of faith and conversion or promise of obedience” (317).

Whoever would explain this phrase properly, Wielenga insists, “must consider the form from the situation in which it emerged and regard it against the background of the covenant view that it encompassed” (317). The situation out of which the form emerged was the Reformation’s and ultimately the Synod of Dordt’s teaching of salvation by sovereign and particular grace, a salvation governed by the truth of election and reprobation. Whoever will understand the form’s covenantal doctrine and will be faithful to it cannot espouse a covenantal doctrine that contradicts and ultimately overthrows the Canons’ teaching about sovereign grace, that God is gracious to his elect people alone. In the preaching of the gospel that precedes the sacrament and in the administration of the sacrament itself, God does not offer or promise grace to the reprobate, much less incorporate them into his covenant. That situation out of which the form came gave rise to the doctrine of the covenant found in the form. This doctrine Wielenga explains by quoting Herman Bavinck: “Election and church, the internal and external side of the covenant…held together as much as possible” (316). Wielenga explains this as the position of those “who sought as long and as closely as possible to maintain the unity of election and covenant (315). Covenant controlled by election is the covenantal doctrine of the baptism form. The question of one’s doctrine of the covenant is ultimately not a question only of a covenantal doctrine but a question of the doctrine of grace and the truth of God. Is the grace of God and thus also the God of that grace a failure who promises to all and fails to come through for many? Or is he the sovereign God of scripture who sits in the heavens and does all his pleasure?

I do not pretend that Wielenga confesses with perfect clarity all the points of doctrine about the covenant as they are now confessed in the Protestant Reformed Churches. The doctrine of the covenant has been developed since Wielenga, particularly through the fierce battle for the truth of sovereign grace in the covenant that was waged in the late forties and early fifties in the Protestant Reformed denomination against the very view of the covenant that Wielenga calls Arminian, that the promise of God is made to all the baptized. By means of that painful controversy the “unhappy and largely infertile baptismal dispute” and the “wicked confusion,” which it created for centuries in Reformed churches and which is noted and lamented by Wielenga, was settled and the truth won (321). The current unhappy dispute that exists and the wicked confusion that are being created today can be settled in no other way than by adopting the covenantal view of the form: the covenant is controlled by election.

No honest reader can possibly read this book and suppose anything else than that this basic doctrine of the covenant taught in the Protestant Reformed Churches is the basic doctrine of the baptism form and of the worthies who adopted it. One might disagree with it, but let him be honest and say that, as Wielenga exhorts. Any other view of “sanctified in Christ” than that espoused by Wielenga, Kuyper, and Bavinck and their spiritual heirs, who teach that the words mean internal sanctification of the elect children of believers, is “out of place in the baptism form and is also not in keeping with the doctrine of the covenant that predominated in the church of the Reformation” (326).

May the commentary serve the promotion of the covenantal theology of the Reformation and of the Reformed fathers, and let the reader judge whether his or her theology is Reformed, like that of the baptism form.

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Rev. Nathan Langerak is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Crete, Illinois. Rev. Langerak was asked by the RFPA to write a book review on this title.

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Book Review (Part 1)

Book Review (Part 2)

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Book Review: The Reformed Baptism Form (2)

The Reformed Baptism Form: A Commentary, B. Wielenga, trans. Annemie Godbehere, ed. David J. Engelsma. Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2016, 425 pages. Reviewed by Rev. Nathan J. Langerak.

For those who still love the truth of the covenant in the baptism form, the translation and publication of this commentary are significant. The commentary can be read with great profit. Wielenga in the main is sound in his exposition of the baptism form. Take for example his exposition of the form’s teaching of the antithesis: By his being incorporated into Christ, of which baptism is sign and seal, the world has become his enemy and he has become enemy of the world. The water of baptism was a sign to him of an irreconcilable antithesis (245). This thrills and instructs the Reformed believer. Throughout Wielenga gives new life to old, familiar phrases that, if they have not bred contempt through their familiarity, are frequently read over without much thought. His practical warnings against using baptism out of custom—parents who are so concerned about the baptism gown but do not exchange a single word about the significance of the sacrament—and against parents who wait for relatives and put off the sacrament so long that the baptized child might well reach up to shake the baptizing minister’s hand should be taken to heart and not rejected out of hand as mere opinion from a bygone era. Without doubt, the lover of Reformed covenantal doctrine who reads this commentary will come away with a new appreciation for and many fresh insights into the language of the form.

Once or twice Wielenga strays from the language of the form and gives his opinions. Then Wielenga makes statements with which the Protestant Reformed Churches and any right-thinking Reformed man would strongly disagree. Wielenga writes about Esau and God’s covenant, “The promise and seal in baptism of the washing away of sins through Jesus Christ was also to the Edomite, but he simply disregarded its admonition…God established the covenant with him also, but he brusquely broke this covenant” (54–55). This is bad and an anomaly in his commentary. Indeed, just prior to this statement and throughout the commentary, he makes clear that the object of the promise of baptism is the elect. In another instance when he explains the upbringing of children, he strays into the error of common grace: “Clothing, cleaning, taking care of the young child are outside the promise of baptism. They are all based on creation, not on re-creation. The life of human beings, as long as they have not come to the years of discretion, reveals itself exclusively as an animal life, which belongs to the realm of common grace” (350).

These stumbles bring up a particularly helpful feature of the commentary, the editor’s footnotes. Wielenga included some footnotes in his commentary. The translator provides a few footnotes. The editor includes many more. The footnotes are a worthy, worthwhile addition to the commentary. These notes are of differing kinds. In some the editor explains some obscure Dutch phrase, idiom, or person. In others, and these are by far the most helpful, the editor comments on the covenantal theology taught by Wielenga, making clear the issues and how they bear today on questions regarding the covenant. Adding to the value of the notes is that in many of them the editor does his own original translation work or brings his knowledge of the covenantal questions and contemporary controversies to bear on the issues raised by Wielenga. For instance, when the editor responds to Wielenga’s comment about the promise being made to Esau, he translates from Kuyper’s untranslated work, The Doctrine of the Covenants. Kuyper clearly contradicts the position espoused by Wielenga: “The covenant of grace is absolutely not an uncertain covenant, but on the contrary an absolutely certain covenant that only and exclusively has the elect in view.” Kuyper also criticizes as “Arminian” the idea that the promise of baptism is given to all the baptized children (57). In other notes the editor points the reader to helpful resources for further study. The notes are an invaluable aide for the reader. They allow him to grasp easily the arguments in more difficult places and point him to the contemporary relevance of the baptism form and its doctrine.

...to be continued

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Rev. Nathan Langerak is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Crete, Illinois. Rev. Langerak was asked by the RFPA to write a book review on this title.

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Book Review (Part 1)

Book Review (Part 3)

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Book Review: The Reformed Baptism Form (1)

The Reformed Baptism Form: A Commentary, B. Wielenga, trans. Annemie Godbehere, ed. David J. Engelsma. Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2016, 425 pages. Reviewed by Rev. Nathan J. Langerak.

The Reformed Free Publishing Association must be commended for publishing an English translation of the valuable commentary on the Reformed baptism form by Dutch, Reformed minister Bastiaan Wielenga. The original work was a thorough examination of the Reformed baptism form used by Reformed churches in the administration of baptism. He wrote the commentary in the first decades of the twentieth century. The work long existed in only its original Dutch. Thanks to the work of the translator, editor, and publisher the English-speaking church world can now read and profit from Wielenga’s excellent commentary.

If she were alive today, I would give Annemie Godbehere my hearty thanks for applying her considerable translation skills to this book. This is Dutch theological writing that is worthy of the time and effort she expended on it. As the English poet Ben Jonson wrote, “Such bookes deserve translators of like coate, as was the genius wherewith they were wrote. And this hath met that one.”

Wielenga, a disciple of Abraham Kuyper, taught the Reformed truth of sovereign grace. Wielenga wrote for his people not for scholars. He wrote to edify the churches not to garner laurels from his colleagues. His commentary is clear and faithful in its exposition, simple and poetic in its expressions, moving in its exhortations, scholarly in its comment and controversy, and generally sound in theology. All of these come out clearly in an English translation that is both accessible to the average reader and free of Dutch idioms that frequently can jar English sensibilities and obscure the plain meaning. Because of this the book reads well, and the chapters of this substantial book fly by as one reads.

I commend the editor for his excellent work in bringing the translation to completion and seeing it through to publication. There is an obvious attention to detail that went into and must go into publishing a book, a large book, a theological work, and besides all that a translation. There is an evident concern for the reader that he be able to follow the argument. His skill with the Dutch and thorough acquaintance with the subject matter are all easily discerned.

This extensive labor by translator and editor is enhanced by the attractive hardcover, gilded lettering, sturdy binding, fine fonts, and easy layout of the book by the publisher.

The publication of this commentary comes at an important time in Reformed church history. 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.

This commentary shows conclusively that there is only one covenantal doctrine of the Reformed baptism form, of the worthies who wrote and adopted the form, and of the churches that used it. The Reformed churches early taught this doctrine as their official doctrine of the covenant. The form is the oldest Reformed creed, and as such it carries great weight concerning the question of what covenantal doctrine is Reformed. The commentary proves that the Reformed covenantal doctrine is the doctrine that teaches that election governs the covenant and the promise of the covenant. The sovereign God of the covenant makes his covenant only with the elect children of believers. He incorporates them only into Christ Jesus so that they are sanctified in him, gives to them alone the promise of salvation in Christ, seals that promise to them by baptism, and effectually works that salvation in them until he presents them in heaven among the assembly of the elect in life eternal.

The commentary also demonstrates that this covenantal doctrine, which is the only one that harmonizes with the Reformed doctrine of salvation taught in the three forms of unity, was under constant assault from Baptists and especially from the abysmal Puritan theology that infiltrated the Dutch churches from England, especially through William Ames, Willem Teelinck, and other theologians of the nadere reformatie, whose basic and serious theological error is that assurance is not of the essence of faith. This false theology became lodged in the Dutch church world and waged constant warfare on the doctrine of the covenant taught in the baptism form, insisting always that it is Reformed and seeking to claim the distinguished Reformed pedigree of the baptism form.

The conflict became sharpest in the practical question of whether parents were to regard their children as regenerate or unregenerate. That conflict frequently masqueraded as a conflict over presupposed regeneration. The proponents of Puritan theology often accused the Reformed of the error of presupposed regeneration for teaching that the parent must raise his child as a regenerated believer and that God ordinarily regenerates the children of believers in infancy. Behind these disputes, which were cast in the form of what view of their baptized children parents ought to take, were deeply theological issues about the nature of the covenant of grace, the objects of God’s promise, and the reality of God’s saving work in the hearts of infants, who without their knowledge are received unto grace in Christ. Wielenga shows that this strange doctrine has no basis in the covenantal view of the baptism form.

The form’s covenantal doctrine is still under relentless assault today. The present-day disciples of the nadere reformatie and of the Puritans in their covenantal theology still plague the Reformed covenantal scene and still seek to latch onto the form for support and standing for their erroneous theology. In many places the covenantal view of the baptism form has been cravenly surrendered to its foes or mercilessly smothered by its enemies and replaced by a covenant of conditional promises made with elect and reprobate alike.

Perhaps this dreadful reality of the state of covenantal theology in the Reformed church world explains the astounding silence and lack of fanfare at the occasion of this significant publication, especially among the churches of NAPARC and their theologians, which have the baptism form as part of their Reformed heritage. Apparently, there is nothing to celebrate, because even Wielenga’s comparatively mild explanation of the form’s covenantal doctrine is far from the covenant doctrine of the majority of apostatizing Reformed churches and theologians. These churches have, officially in many cases, repudiated this covenantal doctrine and the creedal doctrine of grace with which it harmonizes.

...to be continued.

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Rev. Nathan Langerak is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Crete, Illinois. Rev. Langerak was asked by the RFPA to write a book review on this title.

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Book Review (Part 2)

Book Review (Part 3)

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Christian Education and the Reformed Baptism Form (4): Duty Bound

The Christian instruction of covenant children is a duty that is bound upon the Reformed parent. We read this in the third question asked of the parents in the Reformed Baptism Form. We now turn to this second section in the form that speaks of Christian education.  

In previous posts we have discussed that parents stand in the office of prophet, priest, and king with regard to their children. In this post, we look at the vow that parents take in the Reformed Baptism Form with regard to Christian education: “Whether you promise and intend to see these children, when come to the years of discretion (whereof you are either parent or witness), instructed and brought up in the aforesaid doctrine, or help or cause them to be instructed therein, to the utmost of your power?”  

To this question, the parents say a hearty, “Yes.” What happens here? Wielenga explains this on page 348 in his book The Reformed Baptism Form: A Commentary. He writes, “The promise here also bears the character of a pledge that the parents are indebted to pay the Lord out of the gratitude for the kindness shown to them.”

The story of Samuel immediately comes to mind when one reads this part of the form. In 1 Samuel 1 we read of godly Elkanah and Hannah giving Samuel unto the Lord. After Hannah had poured out her heart unto the Lord and asked God for a covenant child, the Lord granted that request. This name Samuel means, “asked of the Lord.” Then, in a moving scene, godly Hannah presented Samuel to the Lord in 1 Samuel 1:27-28: “For this child I prayed; and the LORD hath given me my petition which I asked of him: Therefore also I have lent him to the LORD; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the LORD. And he worshipped the LORD there.” Thanks be to God for his gift of covenant children!

The purpose of this blog has been the encouragement of godly parents as they perform their vows taken at baptism. As teachers, we see the sacrifice that parents make to perform their vows.  The vows that they take are solemn and weighty. As Wielenga states, “When the parents take the child to the place of worship, there is in the “offer” of the child to the Lord something of what moved Elkanah and Hannah to bring the young Samuel into the temple” (348). When this happens, godly parents are showing that the child belongs to God and not to them.

This is a source of deep humility on the part of parents, teachers, ministers, and the congregation who bring up the covenant children. While the covenant child is under the authority of the parents and especially the father, nevertheless that child is often under the supervision of others in the church. Many of those hours are in the Christian school.

Over the years of my teaching, I have had the honor of discussing Christian education with many parents. I have learned especially that the task of Christian school teaching is deeply humbling. For thirty-six weeks a year, six hours a day, we instruct the covenant children of godly parents. As one wise father told me, “You have my child six hours a day. You probably see my child more during a week than we parents do. I have to trust you that you will teach my child the truth.” Parents, we teachers know that we stand in your place for many hours and we are humbled that you trust us that we will teach your children the truth.

I write this blog as another year of covenant education has drawn to a close. The classrooms in school are bare of bulletin boards and the colors of education. I often wonder: “What keeps the children coming back each year for another year of covenant instruction?” The answer is that parents have made a vow which they willingly keep! When the form says that parents “promise and intend” to teach their children, the idea of “intend” is very strong. Wielenga states, “The text would be more in accordance with the original intention if it were to be replaced by, whether you promise and decide for yourself” (349).  The vow is intentionally taken by God’s grace. As parents and teachers we pray that God will bless our efforts in the godly instruction that is given in accordance with these weighty vows!

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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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