The origin of the Reformed baptism form can be traced both to England and to the European continent, During the years after the coronation of Bloody Mary in 1553, the pages of church history record the heartrending stories of ruthless persecution and martyrdom of faithful Protestants in England. Many Reformed saints who had first fled from the Lowlands now had to flee for their lives from England to parts of continental Europe.
Thus begins the second part of our story that traces the origin of our Reformed baptism form. In the year 1555, Petrus Datheen became a minister in Frankfurt, Germany at a church that John à Lasco initiated for refugees from the London Refugee Church. Under the gracious hand of God’s providence God again led Datheen to follow John à Lasco for the good of his church. We remember that Datheen would use à Lasco's liturgy to form and craft the beautiful lines of our Reformed baptism form. In Frankfurt the Lord blessed Datheen and his wife with a daughter named Christiana. But this time of peace did not last very long. In 1561 Datheen had to flee again as a Reformed exile, this time because the Lutherans in Frankfurt would not allow a Reformed congregation in their midst.
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. 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.
T is for Tree
The riches of God’s promises are, indeed, especially for young children; God specifically includes them in his everlasting, unconditional covenant of grace: “...and to thy seed after thee” (Gen. 17:7). Our little ones may not be neglected. Even in the books we choose to read to them, we can and we must keep the vows we made at the time of baptism to “help and cause them to be instructed” in the “true and perfect doctrine of salvation” (the Reformed baptism form).
USA Book Club: $11.67
International Book Club: $12.56
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.
This post was written by Mike Feenstra, a 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.
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.
This post was written by Mike Feenstra, a member of the Protestant Reformed Church in Crete, Illinois. Mike also teaches fifth grade at a Christian school in Indiana.
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!
This post was written by Mike Feenstra, a member of the Protestant Reformed Church in Crete, Illinois. Mike also teaches fifth grade at a Christian school in Indiana.
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.
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.” 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.
 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)
- ← Previous
- Page 1 of 3
- Next →