Instruction with a Goal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Instruction that is Governed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To this I turn next time.

 

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

 

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The Reformed Baptism Form

The Reformed Form for the Administration of Baptism is one of the most important of all the secondary confessions of many Reformed churches worldwide.
The commentary sets forth the Reformed doctrine of baptism as sign and seal, the doctrine of the covenant of God with the children of believers.

Order your copy today!

 

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IN REVIEW: The Reformed Baptism Form

The Reformed Baptism Form: A Commentary, by B. Wielenga (Edited by David J. Engelsma and translated by Annemie Godbehere). Jenison, MI: RFPA 2016. 448 pages. $39.95 Hardcover. [Reviewed by Rev. Martyn McGeown]

The publication of this book will interest—and even excite—all those who love baptism, and in particular, all those who love the Form for the Administration of Baptism used in Reformed churches. Many church members and officebearers have heard the Form read, or have used the Form, hundreds of times as baptism has been administered to the covenant seed. But have we sufficiently pondered the beautiful language of the Form?

Bastiaan Wielenga (1873-1949) was a Dutch Reformed minister who not only studied the Form, but who loved the Form, and delighted in its clear, Reformed, biblical, devotional, and pastoral language. He wrote the commentary on the Form not for scholars, but for the ordinary child of God who loves the covenant and the God of the covenant. The RFPA has done the Reformed church world a great service by offering this book—the first English translation of a commentary on this priceless liturgical form—to the reading public.

Wielenga carefully explains (even exegetes) the language of the Form, dividing his material according to the divisions of the Form itself, the doctrinal section (misery, deliverance, and gratitude), a defence of infant baptism, the prayer before baptism, the questions to the parents, and the prayer of thanksgiving after baptism. However, he does not treat the section on the baptism of adults, which, although used on the mission field, is used less frequently in the established church.

Some of the outstanding features of the commentary are the following.

First, Wielenga’s writing is devotional. Wielenga is a very capable theologian and exegetes with the heart and language of a pastor, and even of a poet. The beautiful and moving passages in Wielenga’s writings are so numerous that a reviewer could not possibly do justice to them. Credit for this, of course, must also go to the translator, Mrs. Annemie Godbehere, with whom the reviewer was personally acquainted. Undoubtedly, it was her skill that helped bring Wielenga to life for an English readership. One example of Wielenga’s beautiful turns of phrase will suffice. In this quotation, Wielenga is explaining the need believers have for assurance and the richness of God’s supply in holy baptism:

Do we still need another seal? Does this confirmation need to be confirmed again? The seal sealed?
Yes, it must—because the Lord knows his people. He knows how they lack courage and how feeble they are. He knows that man, because he is in his own existence deceitful, distrusts and disbelieves others, even God.
Hence the Lord God, if he will ever see the mansions filled in his paternal home, cannot be stingy with promises, oaths, and seals. An overflowing source of assurances must let its streams of grace overflow the weak believer. Indeed, our covenantal God repeats his manifold declarations so many times that man, if he were less pathetic, with a dark purple blush of shame about his obstinacy would call out, “Lord, I do believe you; yes, Lord, it is enough, I know it already.”

Because it is exactly the opposite, and the godly constantly ask for stronger assurance, the cry of “Help thou mine unbelief!” does not grow silent before death closes their lips. Thereby God, who takes more pity on us than an earthly father, seals the covenant of grace in baptism. Even with this, he does not account the measure of his undergirding grace full, for in the Lord’s supper he has joined a second and no less royal and divine seal to the covenant (72-73).

Second, Wielenga’s doctrine of the covenant is (mostly) orthodox and mainly in line with our Protestant Reformed understanding. Although he does slip into “agreement” language on occasion, and although he does make a few statements on conditionality within the covenant with which we strongly disagree, Wielenga does view the covenant as an intimate relationship between God and his elect people. “That the Father establishes a covenant with us and adopts us as his children is intimate. That Christ makes us members of his spiritual body is even more intimate. But that the Spirit comes to dwell in us is the most intimate conceivable intimacy” (103).

But baptism, this holy baptism, is a seal and indubitable testimony that we have an eternal covenant with God. It is a covenant not entered into for a time, but rooted in an eternal election. It is a covenant not established on the proof of and dependent on the goodness of men, but anchored in the mediatorial heart of Christ who paid for all the sins of his people and accomplished all obedience.

Note, this is the power and beauty of Reformed doctrine as it shines brilliantly in our form: salvation not promised conditionally, but absolutely guaranteed! (143).

There are places where Wielenga slips into conditional language, but they do not appear so frequently as to mar the book. The astute reader will take note of them.

Third, Wielenga defends that view of covenant children which regards them as regenerate in infancy, and as partakers of a real, spiritual, and not merely external, holiness. This view does justice to God’s promises, rightly explains the language of the Form, and gives great hope to Reformed parents in the rearing of their children. “Just as the children, included in Adam, their covenantal head, are partakers of an internal depravity, so also are the children, included in Christ, partakers of an internal regeneration and holiness” (155). “The compilers of this form also did not regard the children of the congregation as spiritually dead but as spiritually alive” (220). “We are certain that any view other than that of an internal sanctification 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).

If this child, shortly after baptism, came to die, the parents, if they have come to understand something of the eternal comfort in life and death, may find in this baptism a ground for the hope that their early-deceased darling entered into glory. If the child grows up, the parents may proceed with the rearing from the supposition, or if this word displeases you, from the hope, the quiet expectation, that the God of the covenant has already laid the new germ of life into the child’s heart (407-408).

Wielenga regards the opposite view as Methodism, a Methodism increasingly common in Reformed circles today:

In contrast to the Methodist, who in the rearing only focuses on conversion, making of Sunday school and Christian education a conversion institute, the Reformed parent, who has learned to live out of the covenant, prayerfully looks to the God of the covenant. He pleads the promises of the covenant for his child so that he increases and grows up in the Lord Jesus Christ (408).

Fourth, Wielenga discusses a good number of practical questions concerning the ceremony itself, and there are times when he is unsparing in his criticism of certain practices that had arisen in the churches of his day: should baptism be delayed until the mother recovers or until relatives from out of town can arrive; who should hold the baby; how many times should the water be applied, once or thrice; and should the minister say “Amen” after the baptism? Although some of these matters are historical curiosities to us, some of them are still serious issues today.

Not out of custom! May this reverberate in our ranks. Let us battle against the great enemy of all spiritual life, called custom; against this large monster, which in its cold embrace spiritually smothers thousands—and by its icy breath spiritually murders thousands (286).

Every young parent—especially the fathers, who seek baptism for their children in the consistory room—would do well to read this book. It would be worthwhile for married couples to read this book as they rear the covenant seed. And it would warm the hearts of all Reformed church members to read this book carefully and devotionally, whether they have children or not, for the doctrine of the covenant and of salvation is the joy of our souls.

Reader, may the fruit of the joint contemplation of our precious baptism form be that the word with which this prayer and thus our entire form concludes may find in all our hearts a warm echo. That is to say, on all these truths, promises, and admonitions, may your whole soul pray and worship. Amen (425).

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