In your article on Domestic missions [in the] December 15 issue of the SB you stated that “The unchurched are those who in their generations belonged to the church but have fallen out of the covenant.” Can you please explain exactly how one “falls out of the covenant”? In my years in the PRC this has never been a phrase embraced by the church. It is, in my mind, a direct contradiction of 1953. Words have meaning.
I appreciate your question. It is important that we give accurate expression to the truth.
It is obvious that you are struggling with the idea I set forth of “falling out of the covenant.” You are concerned that the language of my article brings us back to the error that our denomination rejected in 1953. It seems you understand me to say that an individual can belong to God’s covenant and then fall out. This was not what I was trying to convey. Perhaps I can clear this up by rephrasing the sentence. “The unchurched are those who are found in the generations that once belonged to the church but have since fallen out of the sphere of the covenant.”
Let me explain.
In 1953 we contended with those who divorced the covenant from God’s eternal decree of election. According to this view, God’s covenant is an agreement made with all the children of believers, both elect and reprobate alike. In this agreement God at baptism promises salvation to all children of believers. But there is a condition. And the condition is that the child must believe on Jesus as his Savior. Those who meet the condition by believing keep God’s covenant and receive the promised salvation. Those who refuse to believe break the covenant and perish in their unbelief. With this understanding of the covenant, there are many individuals who are truly in the covenant and fall out of the covenant. We properly reject such a view with its general promise of salvation as introducing Arminianism into the covenant.
The proper, biblical view that has prevailed in our churches through the controversy of 1953 and to the present is that God’s covenant is with the elect alone. This covenant is not an agreement with a general, conditional promise. It is an intimate bond of friendship and fellowship that God establishes with His elect in Jesus Christ. Within that covenant God promises His salvation to the elect alone. Because God sovereignly works faith in His elect, the elect are known and identified by their faith in Jesus Christ. God’s particular promise of salvation to the elect believer is to be proclaimed without distinction to all nations with the call to repent and believe. This same promise is also signified and sealed in baptism. With this proper view of the covenant and a particular covenant promise, there is no promise of God that fails and there are no individuals that fall out of the covenant. One cannot have the covenant salvation of God in Christ and lose it.
Now it is true that a reprobate, carnal seed is also found in the generations of the covenant. But these individuals are not true members of the covenant. Because according to God’s eternal decree and their own willful disobedience they remain in unbelief all their life long, the covenant promises are not for them. Nor do they enjoy the salvation of God that brings His elect into the sweetness of God’s friendship and fellowship. They are only nominal members of the covenant—in name only, but not truly. They are in the sphere of the covenant but do not have the essence of the covenant. Some have expressed this idea by saying this carnal seed is only outwardly in the covenant, that is, as the covenant comes to outward expression in the world. These usually leave the church visible and wander off into the world.
But, whereas no true member of God’s church and covenant can fall away to perdition, generations can and do. Western civilization is dominated by those whose generations once belonged to the covenant of God but have since fallen out. This too is according to God’s eternal decree of double predestination. We find this happening in churches that slowly drift away from the truth and eventually become apostate. In the process, entire generations go lost. This can also happen in churches that are faithful to God’s Word. Covenant homes with serious weaknesses that are not effectively addressed often find that the children will run where the parents only walked. And within a few generations that family is no longer found in the church and covenant of God. This is what I meant by “those who in their generations belonged to the church but have fallen out of the covenant.”
It also appears that you are uncomfortable with the language of “falling out of the covenant.” I suppose that the terminology most often used by us is that the covenant runs dead in generations. I mean nothing else than that. But these are the “unchurched” of which the Domestic Mission Committee’s Constitution speaks as being proper objects of mission work.
And a warning is in place here. As we do mission work, we must be warned to be faithful to the truth of God’s Word both as churches and as families, lest our future generations become part of the “unchurched.” The warning of the apostle Paul in I Corinthians 10:12 is very much to the point: “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”
Rev. J. Slopsema