Can One Be a Credo-Baptist and Still Hold to a Nuanced Reformed-Covenantal View of Children?

Posted: April 1, 2009 by Rick Hogaboam in Baptism, Children, Covenant Theology, Fatherhood

rick-kira-easter

Greetings blog-readers!!! I have not touched on a subject that is very dear to my heart, children. A couple of years ago I took a sabbatical to research the theology of both baptism and children. I came away more intrigued in developing a theology of Children that was faithful to Scripture…albeit a convinced Covenantal Credo-Baptist.

Suffice it to say that some of my colleagues have stated that my theology of children and passion to nurture them in the faith seems more zealous than their pastoral colleagues within their Reformed Paedo-Baptist denominations. What puzzles them most is that I am still a Credo-Baptist though I speak Covenantal language with regards to children of believers.

Anyhow, I continue to research and grow in my understanding of Scripture on the issue of children on relation to Covenant parents. I hope to discuss this issue further in future entries. I want to share my thoughts one tid-bit at a time.

For this first entry, I want to state that the ideal conversion of children should be stated, like the Psalmist: “For thou, O Lord, art my hope; my trust, O Lord, from my youth” (71:5). As such, I believe that God’s grace operates preveniently through the loving nurture and instruction of the parents to child. Though affirming the doctrine of original sin, I would also state that it would be difficult to resist such grace in its 24/7 ethos of the home. I would also affirm that God’s grace is extended through the Church to the child, binding them to God’s Word, promising great blessing upon their trust in the Savior. I would also state that the Church has jurisdiction over the entire household, where believing parents are present. Now some are asking the question, “Why then would you withhold baptism from these children?”. I will answer that question at another time, but will minimally state that though God’s grace is operative towards the child through both parents and church, it is no guarantee of an inward working unless such instruction is received in faith. I believe that my 2 and 4 year old daughters have shown signs of faith that is comparable with their age…I don’t minimize or disdain their childlike faith. Such was commended by our Lord. I’m not waiting for some radical conversion experience before bestowing the sign of baptism, but rather confirming fruits of what I already suspect to be present within their hearts. I acknowledge the tension in defining what that burden of proof should be before admitting one to baptism…am I looking for 2 year old faith, 6 year old faith, 10 year old faith? I also struggle with the other sacrament of communion. To be honest, speaking from my gut (which isn’t the final arbiter in truth, thank goodness), I want my little girls to receive the supper because it feels right to include them in this symbol of the Body of Christ, and His saving benefits to all who believe. The words of Jesus, “Suffer not the children come to me”, may be relevant on this issue…I want them to understand that they do in fact belong to Jesus, even if their faith is at 2 and 4 year old levels. After all, Kira and Lexi are encouraged to pray during our family prayer times and often lead out in prayers that I must presume are being heard by our Savior and mediated by Him. I have no good reason to say that their prayers are deficient. True they pray for candy at times, etc, but they have shown heartfelt concern in praying for the health and wellbeing of certain family members when sick, etc. They are also leading us in prayer through the Lord’s Prayer daily now. Perhaps Kira should soon be baptized, perhaps we should wait. She doesn’t want to be baptized though because it looks scary to her and she has stated that “older people get baptized”. Her faith isn’t being damaged by withholding the sign, so I am content to wait till she is eager for it and hungry for the Supper.

Anyhow, I just want to be honest about the tension I feel in these areas. I am trying to reconcile my theology of children and the sacraments and acknowledge it isn’t easy. I am not alone. Most of my Presbyterian-Reformed friends are also struggling with these very same issues and all acknowledge that there is pastoral tension in defining to what extent baptized infants-children are part of the “Covenant”, whether they should be entitled to the Supper, or what is actually sought after in a “profession of faith” before being admitted to the Lord’s Supper, and how their “Covenant” status changes, if at all, when public profession is made, etc. 

At the end of the day, my Presbyterian friends will say to the little ones, “You are fully in…if you have faith”. The efficacy of the Covenant is conditioned upon faith and no assurances are offered apart from faith. I, too, essentially say the same thing. We both agree that faith is a neccesarly instrument in the salvation of God’s elect. Most Reformed churches don’t fully incorporate a child into the church untill public profession has been made (although there are varying views). At the very least, we are all agreed that where faith is absent, assurances of salvation are also absent. 

I have said far too much for a “tid bit”, but I want to leave you all with some words spoken by John Piper, which emphasize some of the things shared here by myself. The bold italics are my additions:

 

But what I want to do is use some specific Scriptures to spell out in more detail these two admonitions: 1) help the children, and 2) be like the children. Let’s begin with the first: Children come into the world utterly helpless and God commissions us to meet their needs. He does not do it apart from us, but only through us.

The first thing to get before us is the cruciality of the younger years. Ecclesiastes 12:1 says, “Remember also your creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw night, when you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them.’” Truly I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for an old man to be converted and enter the Kingdom of God . It is very hard to teach an old dog new tricks. It is even harder when one of those tricks is admitting you have thrown your life away.

On the other hand, what strength of soul can emerge in a person who cuts his teeth on the Christian faith, whose hope is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob from as far back as he can remember. Psalm 71 is written by an old man looking back over a lifetime with God. He says:

O God, from my youth thou hast taught me, and I still proclaim thy wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, till I proclaim they might to all the generations to come … Thou who has done great things, O God. Who is like thee? Thou who hast made me see many sore troubles wilt revive me again…” (verses 17-20).

It is a magnificent thing when an old man can stand and say, “God has been my hope from my youth on. I have seen sore troubles, but have never been forsaken, and by God’s grace have never forsaken Him.” That is what I want my sons to say in 70 years. I don’t want them to have to give any glowing conversion story. I want them to say, just like I hope to say myself with the Psalmist, “For thou, O Lord, art my hope; my trust, O Lord, from my youth” (71:5).

After that goal for the children becomes clear, then we hear God’s commission to us to train the children in the faith. Here I am going to leave a big hole in my message to be filled up at another time, namely, the responsibility of parents—especially fathers—to train their children in the faith at home. Suffice it now to hear Moses say, “These words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by that way, and when you lie down and when you rise” (Deut. 6:6,7). These words cannot honestly be paraphrased as, “You shall drop your children off at Sunday school for religious training.” Parents who do only that are simply disobeying God. But more on that another time. (http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/TopicIndex/116_Children/1954_The_Children_The_Church_and_the_Chosen/).

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Comments
  1. Scott Kistler says:

    Rick, thanks for posting your reflections on this topic. I’ve been curious too about how parents ought to communicate the gospel to their children and how children’s understanding of these truths develops.

  2. David Taylor says:

    Rick

    God seems to providentially bring our paths together every so often! I saw Joe Lamay in CA and asked about you. Good post. Since moving from LA to Hoemr, AK I have purchased five guns. Two 30-06 rifles two 22’s 9for my older boys) and my newest and maybe funnest gun, a Sprinfield XD45 ACP. It is an automatic and fun to shoot.

  3. Pastor Rick,

    Thanks for sharing your reflections on this. As a parent of 5 kids ages 8-13 I have struggled with these very same things. My wife and I want to do the right God directed things and like you wait for our kids to make the step of obedience to be baptized. My younger ones are not excited about doing this in front of people (like your kids) as it seems a bit too scary. In time, they’ll prayerfully come around and we’ll rejoice in there baptism with them. Keep up the good work as a parent, husband, and pastor. May God continue to work through you as you serve Him and grow in the wisdom and knowledge of Him.

    In Christ alone and for His glory,

    Randy

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