Friday, December 21, 2012

Covenant Theology and the Salvation of Covenant Kids - Part I

The essential query of this blog relates to the pedagogy of covenant theology regarding the children of Christian parents. Does covenant theology teach divine election of children born to Christian parents? In other words, does God bind Himself to the salvation of my children if I am a Christian? If He does not, if there is no promise of salvation to my children under the covenant, then why do covenant folks baptize their children? Does not such an act treat the sacrament of baptism contemptuously? I am going to address two questions in this blog. First, does covenant theology teach that covenant children are elect? Second, does the NT provide exegetical support for such a fundamental doctrine? While there are many subjects in theology that would be classed as infinitesimal, paedobaptism, and its subsequent teaching on covenant children is not one of them.

Not so very long ago, I was a member in a PCA church here in NC. I recall on numerous occasions the pastor explaining to the congregation that baptizing their children did not save them, nor did it guarantee their salvation. What it did, according to this PCA pastor was bring them under the protection and multifarious benefits of the covenant. I admit that I never really understood that, nor have I ever subscribed to infant baptism. It always seemed to me that this practice abridged the significance of baptism, not to mention the very covenant it signifies. I have come to realize that this particular pastor was doubtless not the best delegate for covenant theology.

The argument from continuity is of course, a favorite of paedobaptist proponents. Robert Reymond argues that “The Old Testament practice of reckoning children among the covenant people of God and having the covenant sign administered to them in infancy is nowhere repealed in the New Testament.” [Reymond, Systematic Theology, p. 940] Reymond is right, that in the Old Testament, under the Old Covenant, the children were ipso facto included in that covenant. Quoting David C. Jones, Reymond continues, “Are [these little ones, by virtue of their parents relationship to Christ,] also brought into a new relationship with Christ even though they are too young intellectually to apprehend the gospel and to appropriate it for themselves in the conscious exercise of repentance and faith?” [Reymond, p. 935] As the argument goes, by virtue of the parents’ relationship with Christ, the children are afforded a place in the covenant, a new relationship with Christ. No doubt this is an argument from inference. Reymond contends that antipaedobaptists argue in similar fashion. “Biblical principles have the force of commands by good and necessary inference.” [Reymond, p. 936] While I agree that both sides include a degree of inference in their arguments, the idea that we can legitimately excavate commands from principles strikes me as backwards and comes dangerously close to legalism. To my way of thinking, we extend principles from commands via application within a given context.

In answer to the question, “Are infants to be baptized?” the Heidelberg Catechism answers, “Yes: for since they, as well as the adult, are included in the covenant and church of God; and since redemption from sinb by the blood of Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult; they must therefore by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, be also admitted into the christian church; and be distinguished from the children of unbelieversd as was done in the old covenant or testament by circumcision, instead of which baptism is institutedf in the new covenant.”[1]


The HC answers emphatically that the basis for paedobaptism is that the children are included in the covenant AND in the church of God. Moreover, redemption from sin and the Holy Ghost are promised to them no less than to the adult, they must be baptized. In addition, they must be admitted to the church.


The Canons of Dordt I article 17 states the following regarding the salvation and redemption of covenant children, “Since we are to judge of the will of God from His Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature, but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they together with the parents are comprehended, godly parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom it pleases God to call out of this life in their infancy (Gen. 17:7; Acts 2:39; 1 Cor. 7:14).”[2]


The Canons of Dordt instruct parents not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom it pleases God to call out of this life in their infancy. It seems abundantly clear from the sources, that covenant theology clearly, emphatically, and adamantly contends that children born to covenant parents are included in God’s elect.

In his project on Systematic Theology, Louis Berkhof teaches  “Baptism is a sign and seal of the covenant of grace. It does not signify one thing and seal another, but sets the seal of God on that which it signifies. According to our confessional standards and our Form for the administration of baptism, it signifies the washing away of our sins, and this is but a brief expression for the removal of the guilt of sin in justification, and for the removal of the pollution of sin in sanctification, which is, however, imperfect in this life. And if this is what is signified, then it is also that which is sealed.”[3] Berkhof is quite adamant that baptism seals what it signifies. What does it signify? It signifies the washing away of our sins and the removal of guilt. There can be little doubt that covenant theology not only teaches the salvation of Christian parents, it teaches this doctrine quite emphatically without ambiguity.

To be fair, not every covenant theologian embraces this view with the same gradation of principle. For example, the nomenclature in R.L. Dabney’s project on Systematic Theology exhibits a more liberal grasp on the question than those quoted above. However, prevarication by some within the covenant system on the query of paedobaptism does not ipso facto mince the normative standards on which the system is constructed. Every system has protagonists whose locus is not quite as steady as the system itself.

[1] Historic Creeds and Confessions, electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
[2] Historic Creeds and Confessions, electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
[3] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 641.


  1. Hebrew children in the Old Testament were born into God's covenant, both male and female. Circumcision was the sign of this covenant for boys, but the sign was not what saved them. Faith saved them. Rejecting the sign, circumcision, for boys, either by the parents or later as an adult himself, was a sign of a lack of true faith, and therefore the child was "cut off" from God's promises as clearly stated in Genesis chapter 17:

    "Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

    What was the purpose of this covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? God tells us in the beginning of this chapter of Genesis:

    "And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you."

    This covenant wasn't just to establish a Jewish national identity or a promise of the inheritance of the land of Caanan, as some evangelicals want you to believe. In this covenant, God promises to be their God. Does God say here that he will be their God only if they make a "decision for God" when they are old enough to have the intelligence and maturity to decide for themselves? No! They are born into the covenant!

    If Jewish children grew up trusting in God and lived by faith, they then received eternal life when they died. If when they grew up, they rejected God, turned their back on God, and lived a life of willful sin, when they died, they suffered eternal damnation. Salvation was theirs to LOSE. There is no record anywhere in the Bible that Jewish children were required to make a one time "decision for God" upon reaching an "Age of Accountability" in order to be saved.

    Therefore Jewish infants who died, even before circumcision, were saved.

    The same is true today. Christian children are born into the covenant. They are saved by faith. It is not the act of baptism that saves, it is faith. The refusal to be baptized is a sign of a lack of true faith and may result in the child being "cut off" from God's promise of eternal life, to suffer eternal damnation, as happened with the unfaithful Hebrew in the OT.

    Christ said, "He that believes and is baptized will be saved, but he that does not believe will be damned."

    It is not the lack of baptism that damns, it is the lack of faith that damns.

    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals blog

  2. At what age is a child "grown up" and how much sin is required for a person to "lose" his salvation and be "cut off."

    1. I think you are missing the point of the New Covenant arrangement. Unlike the Old Covenant, the New Covenant cannot be broken. See Jeremiah 31:31-34; 32:37-41; Ez. 36:22-38. As for the age at which point a child is deemed "grown up," that is a good question. It depends on the child so far as we are concerned. Since I hold to a credo-baptist covenant position, I believe it will always depend on the specific child in question. Those who went out from us demonstrate that they were never members of the New Covenant from the start. Unlike the paedo-baptist, I reject the idea of unregenerate in the covenant.


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