Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Paedo Communion

Just read Visible Saints- The History of a Puritan Idea by Edmund S. Morgan.

First of all, I have library cards in my books and this one had a prior reader, my son Zachary, dated May 11, 2005. What is amazing about this is that Zach is now 21, so at that time he was 11. Huh? Must be those weird homeschoolers, Omnibus parents. Actually, at that time he was in my school, Pactum Boys Academy. We were doing Omnibus and that was one of the assigned books. I can't believe he got through it.

Somehow, I did not read the book back then but did read it yesterday.  For a minster of 49 and 11/12ths, it was an excellent read. Not so much for an 11 year old!

The upshot of the book and thus the title, is that the Puritan (non-Separtists)  idea (including the Separtists) was to flatten out the difference between the invisible and visible church. They were Puritans, after all. In seeking to enforce the marks of the church: 1. Preaching of the Word and Sound Doctrine, 2. Right Administration of the Sacraments, and 3. Discipline, they went too far.

Particularly, where they went too far was to require proof of the Spirit's working with saving faith in one's life BEFORE they could become members of the church. This innovation occurred in New England in the 1630s.

The result of this requirement was a test of one's experience of saving faith. Over a short period of time, less than 10 years, the Puritans developed a morphology of saving faith. They contended that it necessarily followed a particular order. Since everyone knew what was expected of them, the story of their conversions, their testimonies, became remarkably similar. Any deviation from this narrative was considered invalid and one could not join the church.

However, these Puritans had babies, lots of them. And as these children grew up into adulthood, they were supposed to give the same narration. I grew up in the church, I thought I was a Christian, but I was assailed by doubts and sins to realize that I did not possess saving faith. I finally learned to abhor my sins and turn from them to the living Christ and thus received saving faith. The problem with this narrative is that it was not the practical realization of many children. Some simply followed in faith as their parent's did. If they were honest and faithful Christians, they could not come up with a litany of doubts, rebellions and sins and so were not considered to have saving faith. These kids were already baptized but were now refused the Lord's Supper. Some came to tell the story of saving faith but often not until their mid-20s. Some never told that story.

Others openly rebelled. I have no doubt that this situation would cause kids to openly rebel. If they were taught to doubt their belief and salvation from early childhood, that doubt would only grow. Instead of encouraging them in the faith, their parents and pastors discouraged them in the faith.

Those baptized children growing up without a testimony of conversion were looked at as unregenerate. No doubt some of them were. But no doubt a lot of them were regenerate but were also honest enough to not lie about how it happened.

When these children had children, a huge controversy arose in the churches. Can we baptize the children of non-communicant members? Can we baptize the children of parents we openly believe to be unregenerate? Keep in mind that these unregenerate adults were not openly rebellious or leading scandalous lifestyles. In those cases, the offender could be censored or excommunicated. They simply could not come up with right testimony to convince their elders that they had obtained saving faith.

A synod finally decided to let the church baptize these children, even though their parents were not FULL members of the church. This was called the Half-way covenant.

A better understanding of the morphology of saving faith is mystery. Some receive saving faith in the womb like John the Baptist. Some know the things of God from a little child, like Timothy. Some receive the Spirit of Regeneration at Baptism. Others find in themselves rebellion and hatred against their parents and against God and must despise their sins and turn to Jesus and thus receive saving faith. But it is misguided to demand exactly how and when God is going to do this in the lives of His people.

The Westminster Confession of Faith wisely places this time table in the able hands of the Lord. In 28.6 it says, "The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God's own will, in his appointed time."

The efficacy here would be understood as God' saving grace resulting in saving faith.

We should simply believe God and take Him at His promises. At the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Peter said, "For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call."

The promise was the Spirit and it was there for the 3000 at Pentecost AND their children and all those who are far off AND for their children. It is not presumptuous to believe in God's promises for our children. It is not presumptuous to believe that they are His, that they have His Spirit, that they are regenerate, that they possess saving faith.

Now, it would be presumptuous to believe this in the face of clear evidence to the contrary. If they are in rebellion, openly disdain Christ and their own parents, fall into regular and scandalous sins and will not hear correction, then the church should act.

But the normal expectation in the life of the church is that the children of true believers will themselves be true believers. This requires regeneration and saving faith, faith as a little child, a paedo, an infant.

And this is why we should treat our littlest members as members, indeed. Give them the bread and wine so that they grow up into Jesus, always knowing that His body and blood was given for them, to cover their sins and to draw them to His Table.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Great summary, Virgil, thanks!