If the historical aspect of the Baptist pastor, William Oosterman’s, objection to my explanation of the Reformed doctrine of the covenant is mistaken, the theological aspect is surprising. (See the “Letters” column of the July 1, 1990 issue of The Standard Bearer. The first installment of my response to this Baptist objection also appeared in the July 1 issue ofThe SB.) Oosterman takes issue with my statement that Baptists deny church membership to the children of believers, with the result that there are no children in a Baptist church. This analysis of Baptist ecclesiology is “wrong,” according to Oosterman, a setting up of a “false position,” a “misrepresentation.” As my spiritual ancestors are alleged to have slaughtered Baptists literally, I am charged with slaughtering them theologically.
On the contrary, this analysis of the Baptist doctrine and practice of the church is a sober statement of fact. It cannot even be challenged. By definition, a Baptist church, whether friend or foe of the doctrines of grace, denies membership in the church to the children of believers, much more to the children of unbelievers. Being a child of believing parents does not qualify one for church membership in a Baptist church. Only a confession of faith by one old enough and mature enough to make such a confession qualifies one for membership in a Baptist church. This is the issue, as everyone understands perfectly well. The issue is not whether a Baptist church permits a very young human being to make a confession of faith and thus become member of the church. But the issue is whether a Baptist church recognizes that Jesus Christ, the Ring of the church, requires that not only believers be admitted into the church, but also the children of believers, and that by virtue of their being children of believers, altogether apart from a prior confession of faith. “Allow the infants to come to Me by being brought to the baptismal font by their parents, and forbid them not: for the church—the kingdom of God in the present age—is made up of such infants” (Luke 18:16). This, every Baptist church refuses to recognize. If a Baptist church would recognize this, it would, by virtue of this fact, cease to be Baptist. It is, therefore, fundamental Baptist doctrine that children are excluded from church membership.
And is it really common for Baptist churches to allow five-year olds to make confession of faith and thus to come to the Lord’s Table? If so, I have another objection against Baptist church practices. To permit five-year olds to confess their faith and to come to the Lord’s Supper is ecclesiastically irresponsible and a threat to the holiness of the Supper.
A comparison of the Presbyterian creed, the Westminster Confession, with the Baptist Confession of 1689 makes clear that the Baptists deny membership in the church to the children of believers. In Chapter 25.2, Westminster describes the visible church as consisting “of all those, throughout the world, that profess the true religion, and of their children” (my emphasis—DJE). The Baptist Confession of 1689, an adaptation of the Westminster Confession to Baptist purposes, limits membership in the congregations to persons who profess the faith of the gospel (26.2). Deliberately, it excludes the children of believers from church membership, excising the covenantal phrase from Westminster. In keeping with its banishment of believers’ children from the Body of Christ, the Confession of 1689 also keeps from the children the sign of church membership, namely baptism (cf. 29.2). Westminster, on the other hand, maintains that “not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also :the infants of one or both believing parents are to be baptized” (28.4:).
Pastor Oosterman has no reason to question the perfect accuracy of my statement that “every Baptist church denies membership to all children. Only sheep belong to the Baptist fold, no lambs.”
But it is exceedingly hard for .a Baptist to face up to the implications of Baptist doctrine, as indeed it should be. Would God that the implications force some of them to reconsider their rejection of the children of believers.
I persist in holding every Baptist to the implications of his doctrine. If our children are outside the church, they are outside the sphere of salvation. They do not differ from lost heathens. For the church “is an assembly of those who are saved, and…out of it there is no salvation” (Belgic Confession, Art. 28).
Baptists have no ground for any hope of the salvation of their children who die in infancy or childhood, i.e., before their personal confession of faith and baptism. I know very well that Baptists claim hope for the salvation of such children. Nor is it the case that I deny the salvation of the children of Baptists. But on his own, peculiarly Baptist doctrines, the Baptist himself has no ground for hope in such cases. If he appeals to the natural innocence of the children, he is contradicted by the biblical doctrine of original sin. If he appeals to the theory that all children who die in infancy are saved, the children of unbelievers as well as the children of believers, as does Pastor Oosterman, he is refuted by the fact that this theory is not biblically revealed truth. It is sheer human invention. God nowhere has promised to be the God of the children of the ungodly. On the contrary, sacred history, e.g., that of the Flood, of Sodom, and of Israel’s destruction of the Canaanites, as well as biblical doctrine, e.g., the Second Commandment, warn unbelievers that they take their children to hell with themselves.
There is one ground for the hope of godly parents that their children who die in infancy are elect and saved. This is the solidly biblical truth that the children of believers are comprehended in the covenant of grace, as the Reformed creed, the Canons of Dordt, teaches in I/17. But this is exactly the truth that every Baptist repudiates. In doing so, every Baptist destroys all hope for the salvation of his children who die before confession of faith and baptism. Were I a Baptist, I would live in mortal terror at the possibility of the early death of one of my children—outside the covenant, outside the church, and outside the sphere of salvation of God in the blood and Spirit of Jesus.
Oosterman’s confusion of the Reformed view of the salvation of covenant children with the Roman Catholic doctrine of baptismal regeneration (“The child died a pagan for lack of a few drops of water,” etc.) is inexcusable and deserves no refutation.
In rejecting the doctrine of the one covenant of grace, basic to which is the inclusion of the children of believers in the covenant and their baptism as infants, all Baptists part company with the Reformed faith. Pastor Oosterman finds this judgment objectionable, inasmuch as some Baptists today call themselvesReformed. They suppose that they have a right to this glorious name, because they confess, more or less soundly, the “Five Points of Calvinism.”
But is it lawful for Baptists to claim the name Reformed when they reject a doctrine and corresponding practice that both the Reformed tradition and the Reformed creeds designate as essential to the Reformed faith? May a church then also deny, let us say, the doctrine of sovereign, eternal predestination and yet claim to be Reformed on the ground that it does maintain other doctrines that are taught in the Reformed tradition and confessed in the Reformed creeds? May I similarly reject the teaching so precious to Baptists, namely “believer’s baptism,” but still present myself to the world as a Baptist?
Here we come to the practical necessity of the Reformed faith’s sharply distinguishing itself today from the Baptist faith in whatever form. This practical necessity is the calling of the Reformed church to maintain the truth of the covenant of grace in its full, rich reality; to warn Reformed believers against abandoning this truth; and to exhort others to embrace the truth of the covenant and practice its requirements.
Leading preachers in the “Calvinist Baptist” movement subject the Reformed doctrine of infant baptism, and thereby the Reformed doctrine of the covenant, to scathing denunciation. They castigate it as false doctrine. Nevertheless, these men are publicly welcomed by prominent Reformed and Presbyterian associations, conferences, and theologians as genuinely Reformed preachers. They are given positions of honor in promoting and defending “the Reformed faith.” Rare is the spirited defense of infant baptism against these “Calvinist Baptists” by the Reformed and Presbyterians who receive them as genuinely Reformed. Rarer still is the blunt condemnation of their Baptist rejection of infant baptism and their Baptist rebaptism of Reformed church members who defect to the Baptist church in the language of the Reformed creed: “we detest the error of the Anabaptists” (Belgic Confession, Article 34).
The effect of this uncritical acceptance of the “Calvinistic Baptists” as Reformed is the jeopardizing of the Reformed doctrine of the covenant. At best, its importance is minimized—it is not essential to the Reformed faith. At worst, the adherence of Reformed people to the covenant is weakened—Reformed men and women forsake the Reformed churches for the “Calvinistic Baptist” churches, or even for free will Baptist churches.
There must be a clear, uncompromising testimony to the essential importance of the covenant of God in Christ with believers and their children. There must be a sharp, unmistakable warning that rejection of this covenant-doctrine constitutes departure from, or op position to, historic, creedal Reformed Christianity.
We give this testimony and warning.
It is not that we desire to slaughter Baptists.
But we desire their conversion to the Reformed faith.