Monday, February 22, 2010

The Children in the Hands of the Arminians

"The children certainly must be a source of gravest concern to a consistently Arminian reasoner. The fundamental principle of Arminianism is that salvation hangs upon a free, intelligent choice of the individual will; that salvation is, in fact, the result of the acceptance of God by man, rather than of the acceptance of man by God. The logic of this principle involves in hopeless ruin all who, by reason of tenderness of years, are incapable of making such a choice. On this teaching, all those who die in infancy should perish, while those who survive the years of immaturity might just as well be left to themselves until they arrive at the age of intelligent option...

And that is to say, those who die in infancy, if they are saved at all, must be saved on the Calvinistic principle of monergistic grace."

B.B. Warfield

Continue here.

Friday, February 12, 2010

VIII. Means of Grace: The Maturation Rite

VIII. Understanding the Means of Grace: The Maturation Rite

Why do I label this the "maturation rite"? It is thus dubbed in order to highlight the Presbyterian understanding in opposition to the paedocommunion position. Paedocommunion so emphasizes the objective element of the sacraments that the subjective and reflective demands are watered down. Infants, toddlers, and young seven-year-olds are encouraged to partake of a meal that requires spiritual discernment as a cornerstone of participation. To "discern" the Lord's body is a spiritual activity that moves beyond simply balancing the church budget. In fact, death is specifically attached to this Meal for those who flippantly or in ignorance partake thereof.

But I get ahead of myself. Let me define the Lord's Supper or the Eucharist (the thanksgiving):

SCQ96: What is the Lord's supper?
A96: The Lord's supper is a sacrament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine, according to Christ's appointment, his death is showed forth;[1] and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment, and growth in grace.[2]
1. Luke 22:19-20 2. I Cor. 10:16

The long and short of this summary is that 1) Christ's death (not his resurrection) is especially set forth in visible and tangible elements. This is the sign-signification aspect of the Supper. Thus, in common with Memorialists (who believe the Meal is only a mere recollection of what Christ accomplished), Presbyterians affirm there is a memorial aspect to the Supper.

But there is more. 2) "worthy receivers" receive the body and blood of Christ. The work of the cross as accomplished through his body and death is received by faith alone (WCF 29.7), There may be real spiritual growth that may accompany or follow the taking of the Supper. This is the seal, the confirmation of our faith and increase of our faith in Christ. This is denied by the Memorialists (most Charismatics and Baptists).

On the other hand, the Romish doctrine of transubstantiation is denied because Presbyterians deny the bread and wine become the body and blood o f Christ. Nor do we so affix grace to the Supper that it attends every administration of it almost regardless of the spiritual state of the recipient (some Federal Visionists). There is a proper proportion of the Supper in its objective and subjective dimensions in classical Presbyterian dogma (see Words of Life, here).

This view of the Supper has been taught and is known by many of us--but how many know of the requirements for the Supper? It is not to be taken by just anyone. In fact, the preparatory aspect (both before, during and after the Meal) was taken so seriously during Calvin's time that the session or pastor interviewed the members before administering the sacrament. This seriousness is reflected almost one hundred years later in the Shorter Catechism:

Q97: What is required for the worthy receiving of the Lord's supper?
A97: It is required of them that would worthily partake of the Lord's supper, that they examine themselves of their knowledge to discern the Lord's body, of their faith to feed upon him, of
their repentance, love, and new obedience; lest, coming unworthily, they eat and drink judgment to themselves. (cp. Larger Catechism Q171 for more detail).

Before coming to the Lord's Supper examination is required: discernment of Christ's body (what He did for us), exercising faith and repentance (as daily activities), loving our neighbors (especially the church) and striving in obedience. This is quite a list.

However, the catechism is not stating that perfection is required (cp. LCQ 172), but it is differentiating between the ignorant (children) and the worthy recipients (LCQ 173).

2 Chronicles 30:18-20 brings the issue of proper preparation for the Supper into the foreground. Israel was sick because they had not cleansed themselves (or prepared themselves) for the Old Testament sacraments. After a prayer of forgiveness, the sickness was removed. In like manner, 1 Corinthians 11:30 notes that "For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep." This is a sober warning. And our Confession takes it seriously.

What this means in practice is a proper mediation, a self-reflection about the state of our souls. Perhaps on a Friday or Saturday night, one could find a quiet time and pray, examine the Bible passage and ask the Lord for more grace. Reflect upon life: are there relationships that need reconciliation? Are you clinging to Christ as your righteousness? Are you seeking repentance? Are you fighting sin, however incomplete your success? This is not an exhaustive nor minimal list. One cannot give a 1-2-3 step as a law to bind all consciences.

The Lord's Supper is a special time not unlike attending a suit-and- tie meal with one's family. Yes, every day you should eat with your family (not unlike weekly preaching), but on occasion a special time requiring special instruction and preparation is required to celebrate the family. Here, we are celebrating Christ and His death. It is a solemn occasion requiring holy awe; yet a humble boldness is also required lest we think too much about ourselves and withdraw from the Supper.

I will quote from J. W. Alexander (from Remember Him) as a proper balance to pre-Communion examination:

"But special counsel is necessary for those who tend to form adverse judgments of their own state. Realize that you are looking for the reality and not the perfection, or even eminence of piety. Life exists in the infant as well as the robust man. Remember that all graces are not always developed in the same degree. Do not be misled by the experience of others. There is infinite diversity in the operations of the Spirit. Do not yield to alarm because you do not have the feelings which others have, or any certain order of exercises; but let the sure Word of God alone be your scales, standard, and touchstone." (p.15)

Understanding the Means of Grace Series:

I.   What Are They?
II.  Passion for the Word
III. Benefits of the Word
IV. Power of God
V.  Foolishness of God
VI. What is a Sacrament?
VII.The Initiatory Rite

Monday, February 1, 2010

VII. Means of Grace: The Initiatory Rite

VII. Understanding the Means of Grace: The Initiatory Rite

Having explained that a sacrament is a sign and seal of the Covenant of Grace--a sign outwardly displaying what the inward reality should be and a seal testifying of God's faithfulness and encouraging our faith--we proceed to Baptism.

As an initiatory rite, Baptism brings one into the Church visible. This is not seriously debated by any Protestant. As a sign of regeneration, it portrays the truth of the Spirit's work in the lives of His people. As a seal, it confirms our adoptions as children of God. These truths are less known. So, as the goal is more instructional than polemic, let us define our terms:

Q94: What is baptism?
A94: Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,[1] doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace,[2] and our engagement to be the Lord's.[3]
1. Matt. 28:19; 2. Rom. 6:3; 3. Rom. 6:4

It is 1) a "washing with the water"-meaning that the mode presumably should follow the Biblical pattern. Historically, the Reformed (both Presbyterian, Anglican and Congregational) have understood that mode to follow the prophecies of the Older Testament, pouring or sprinkling (just as the Spirit was promised, Ez. 36, Acts 2). This "washing" 2) signifies, or symbolizes or points to our engrafting into Christ, partaking of His benefits and the demand to be the Lord's own in thought, word & deed. In parallel with the signifying (at least for the elect), there is 3) a sealing aspect to baptism (as just explained in part 6). It more confirms our consciences (increases our subjective awareness) of our part in Christ & all His benefits. As a seal it does not transmit grace, it confirms what is already ours. It highlights what is already ours. It strengthens what is already ours. That is why it is dubbed a "means of grace," for it increases saving faith (cp. WCF 14:1).

Naturally, just as baptism may be meaningless to some adult converts who publicly profess Christ (but inwardly are full of dead man's bones), so too, children may never be regenerate (cp. WCF 28.5). Yet in both instances, they were baptized. This is because baptism does not regenerate nor transmit saving faith to the recipient. That is the work of the Spirit. And the Spirit may work spiritual life before, during or after baptism because His ways are inscrutable (John 3:5, 8). Again, this is a Presbyterian dogma: "Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it; or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated" (WCF 28.5).

The fact that children are given the sign of Baptism in many Protestant churches (Anglican, Congregationalists & Presbyterians) is because of Abraham (Gen. 17:7) & Peter. Yes, I said Peter. Note Acts2:38-39:

Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call."

The promise-the Gospel-is "to you and to your children." Just as the Gospel call is given to all, yet only those who are born-again will respond (John 3), so the call is especially given to those children of Covenant households, yet only the elect will respond. The children have greater illumination; hence, they have greater responsibility. To whom much is given much is required. They must own their baptism through public confession.

And that moral truth is the basis of question 167 of the Larger Catechism:

"How is our Baptism to be improved by us?
Answer: The needful but much neglected duty of improving our Baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others..."

What this entails is the fact that our baptism is not a relic of our past. Although objective insofar as God is publicly declaring our entrance into the Church, it is also subjective insofar as it is part of our past and conscience. Our baptism (whether as an infant or an adult) is for our comfort ("in the time of temptation") & our encouragement as we are faced with "the administration of it to others..."

The answer continues in detail how both of these are accomplished (with a plethora of verses!): by considering what baptism signifies and seals; by humbling ourselves for not living faithfully; by "growing up to assurance of pardon of sin..."; by clinging to our spiritual baptism into Christ's death and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-5); by living in faith; by obeying the call to holiness; by walking in the brotherly love because of our unity in the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13).

Although justification and regeneration should not be confused with baptism, baptism is for our own good. It should encourage us as part of our overall sanctification in righteousness. It should be part and parcel of our living in obedience (1 John 2:3ff.). The Spirit uses this tool to point to His work; confirm our faith; thus having begun in grace, we should continue in grace.

Understanding the Means of Grace Series:

I.   What Are They?
II.  Passion for the Word
III. Benefits of the Word
IV. Power of God
V.  Foolishness of God
VI. What is a Sacrament?
VII.The Initiatory Rite