Baptism and "the children of God"

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Scholten

Puritan Board Freshman
My wife and I are members of the Christian Reformed Church in the United States. From the early days of our marriage, before we had kids, we were troubled by the wording of our forms for the baptism of infants. They spoke of the infants of believers as being "children of God." While studying at Calvin Theological Seminary I asked a professor there about this terminology. One comment he made was that these forms dated back to the Reformation. At that time the Reformers sometimes in penning their theology were almost writing to the Catholics as it were and saying we're not like the Anabaptists.
I am currently carrying on a dialog with Baptists and one of them has brought up Romans 8 and 9 and made the claim that the New Testament teaches us that the only children of God are those who have accepted Christ. In studying that phrase at this time I searched the Old Testament to see if the Israelites were ever referred to as the children of God. They are often referred to as the people of God. I could not find one clear instance where they were referred to as children of God. They are referred to at least 82 times as the people of God. (Reference below.)

Is it correct to say that God never refers to those in the Abrahamic covenant or in an external covenant as His children and He reserves that familial language for believers?


The following are references I have found where God refers to the Israelites as His people: Ex. 3:10, 6:7, 7:4, Lev. 26:12, I Kings 8:6, II Kings 20:5, I Chron. 11:2, 17:7, 9, 21:3, 21:17, 22:18, II Chron. 6:5, 6, Is. 10:2, 10:24, 26:20, 43:20, 51:22, 57:14, 63:8, 65:19, 22, Jer. 2:31, 4:11, 7:12, 23, 8:19, 22, 9:7, 11:4, 12:14, 16 (3 references), 15:7, 23:2, 32, 24:7, 29:32, 30:3, 31:1, 14, 31:33, 32:38, 50:6, Lam. 2:11, 3:48, 4:3, 6, 10, Ez. 11:20, 13:9, 10, 18, 21, 14:11, 33:31, 36:12, 28, 37:12, 23, 37, 38:16, 44:23, 45:8, 46:18, Dan. 9:19, Hos. 1:10 “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.”, 4:6, 11:7 Joel 2:26, 27, 3:2, Amos 7:8, Micah 6:5, 16, Zeph. 2:9 (2 times), Zech. 2:11, 8:7, 8
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Ezekiel 16:20-21, "Moreover thou hast taken thy sons and thy daughters, whom thou hast borne unto me, and these hast thou sacrificed unto them to be devoured. Is this of thy whoredoms a small matter, That thou hast slain my children, and delivered them to cause them to pass through the fire for them?"

The children of the covenant are always regarded as belonging to God. It is only on this basis that one can make any sense of the blessings and curses of the covenant.

With respect to the Old Testament people of God, something more than a search on "children of God" is needed. The theology of "sonship" as a whole should be examined. The place of Israel as God's son is unmistakeable. Further, the apostle Paul, in Romans 9:4 explicitly claims "the adoption" pertains to the Israelites. In Galatians 4 he refers to Israel as a child under governors. This suffices to account for any obscurity in the Old Testament with reference to the privilege of sonship, seeing as a child under age differs little in appearance from a servant.

Concerning Romans 9, it is obvious that the apostle limits the internal and eternal privileges of Israel to those who are children of the promise and excludes those who are merely children of the flesh. He uses Jacob and Esau as specific examples. He refers to them as the oracle of God refers to them -- as children. That should settle the matter as to whether the election of God extends to infants.

A major conflict is created in antipaedobaptist theology by equating "election" with "an age of accountability." It has the effect of leaving infants in a state of condemnation without any remedy.
 

Scholten

Puritan Board Freshman
Ezekiel 16:20-21, "Moreover thou hast taken thy sons and thy daughters, whom thou hast borne unto me, and these hast thou sacrificed unto them to be devoured. Is this of thy whoredoms a small matter, That thou hast slain my children, and delivered them to cause them to pass through the fire for them?"

This is definitely a verse that needs to be considered.

The children of the covenant are always regarded as belonging to God. It is only on this basis that one can make any sense of the blessings and curses of the covenant.

I have no objection to the children of the covenant belonging to God. There is great comfort in that. My concern was whether God refers to them as His "children" specifically.

With respect to the Old Testament people of God, something more than a search on "children of God" is needed. The theology of "sonship" as a whole should be examined. The place of Israel as God's son is unmistakeable. Further, the apostle Paul, in Romans 9:4 explicitly claims "the adoption" pertains to the Israelites. In Galatians 4 he refers to Israel as a child under governors. This suffices to account for any obscurity in the Old Testament with reference to the privilege of sonship, seeing as a child under age differs little in appearance from a servant.

Israel as a son in my mind is different than an individual being called a child of God. The adoption of Israel could make them the children of God, but the OT doesn't outside of one instance use that terminology?

Concerning Romans 9, it is obvious that the apostle limits the internal and eternal privileges of Israel to those who are children of the promise and excludes those who are merely children of the flesh. He uses Jacob and Esau as specific examples. He refers to them as the oracle of God refers to them -- as children. That should settle the matter as to whether the election of God extends to infants.

I don't have any issue with the election of God extending to infants.

A major conflict is created in antipaedobaptist theology by equating "election" with "an age of accountability." It has the effect of leaving infants in a state of condemnation without any remedy.

No issue here. Thanks again, Rev. Winzer. I always find your responses helpful!

Aside from the one instance above, all things considered, is there a distinction to be made here or is such a delineation of those in the external covenant not typically being called the children of God going too far?
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Israel as a son in my mind is different than an individual being called a child of God. The adoption of Israel could make them the children of God, but the OT doesn't outside of one instance use that terminology?

Well, an individual Israelite did not think in the individualist terms of modern society. To be an Israelite meant that all the privileges belonging to Israel belonged to you. Isaiah 63:16, "Doubtless thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O Lord, art our father, our redeemer; thy name is from everlasting." Isaiah 64:8, "But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand." The apostle's exposition in Romans 9 does not take in Israel merely as a corporate body but "Israelites" individually. It is on this basis, no doubt, that a difference can be posited between different Israelites, namely, those of the promise and those of the flesh. Again, any obscurity in the Old Testament itself is sufficiently explained by the fact that the child was as yet under age and did not differ in appearance from a servant.
 

AlexanderHenderson1647

Puritan Board Freshman
It also may be helpful to note the language of the Westminster Directory for Publick Worship in regards to paedobaptism:

"Before baptism, the minister is to use some words of instruction, touching the institution, nature, use, and ends of this sacrament, shewing,
“That it is instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ: That it is a seal of the covenant of grace, of our ingrafting into Christ, and of our union with him, of remission of sins, regeneration, adoption, and life eternal: That the water, in baptism, representeth and signifieth both the blood of Christ, which taketh away all guilt of sin, original and actual; and the sanctifying virtue of the Spirit of Christ against the dominion of sin, and the corruption of our sinful nature: That baptizing, or sprinkling and washing with water, signifieth the cleansing from sin by the blood and for the merit of Christ, together with the mortification of sin, and rising from sin to newness of life, by virtue of the death and resurrection of Christ: That the promise is made to believers and their seed; and that the seed and posterity of the faithful, born within the church,
have, by their birth, interest in the covenant, and right to the seal of it, and to the outward privileges of the church, under the gospel, no less than the children of Abraham in the time of the Old Testament; the covenant of grace, for substance, being the same; and the grace of God, and the consolation of believers, more plentiful than before: That the Son of God admitted little children into his presence, embracing and blessing them, saying, For of such is the kingdom of God: That children, by baptism, are solemnly received into the bosom of the visible church, distinguished from the world, and them that are without, and united with believers; and that all who are baptized in the name of Christ, do renounce, and by their baptism are bound to fight against the devil, the world, and the flesh: That they are Christians, and federally holy before baptism, and therefore are they baptized: That the inward grace and virtue of baptism is not tied to that very moment of time wherein it is administered; and that the fruit and power thereof reacheth to the whole course of our life; and that outward baptism is not so necessary, that, through the want thereof, the infant is in danger of damnation, or the parents guilty, if they do not contemn or neglect the ordinance of Christ, when and where it may be had.”

Neither the Confessors of the second reformation nor any of the 1st Reformation on the Calvinist side ever shied away from strong language when presenting the idea of covenant children and where they fit in relation to the Church. While this doesn't add force to a Biblical argument, I hope it does demonstrate the solidarity with which the Reformed voice has spoken on the matter.
 

AlexanderHenderson1647

Puritan Board Freshman
The suggestion from earlier are masterful and capture the heart of it. Also, note these passages in terms of Biblical argument
Acts2:38 "Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39For 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."
as partnered with
Gen. 15: 6 "And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.
7And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. 8And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God."

It is hard to imagine that any of the Jews listening in that day would have assumed anything but what had always been stated about believing parents and their children. No less than God's Word to Abraham was His Word to those at Pentecost. No change in expression - every bit as much force.
 

jandrusk

Puritan Board Sophomore
Acts 2:39 (ESV): "For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." Italics added for emphasis.

I Cor 7:14 (ESV): "For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy."

If children of believing parents are not baptized then we treat them as spiritual bastards and they have no identification with the church.
 

Scholten

Puritan Board Freshman
Israel as a son in my mind is different than an individual being called a child of God. The adoption of Israel could make them the children of God, but the OT doesn't outside of one instance use that terminology?

Well, an individual Israelite did not think in the individualist terms of modern society. To be an Israelite meant that all the privileges belonging to Israel belonged to you. Isaiah 63:16, "Doubtless thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O Lord, art our father, our redeemer; thy name is from everlasting." Isaiah 64:8, "But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand." The apostle's exposition in Romans 9 does not take in Israel merely as a corporate body but "Israelites" individually. It is on this basis, no doubt, that a difference can be posited between different Israelites, namely, those of the promise and those of the flesh. Again, any obscurity in the Old Testament itself is sufficiently explained by the fact that the child was as yet under age and did not differ in appearance from a servant.

Rev. Winzer, you have established that God calls us His children in the OT and Is. refers to God as our father. I understand that the Hebrews were not individualistic as we are today. All this considered, isn't it still noteworthy that there are about half a dozen verses (4?) in the OT that refer to this kind of relationship in comparison to the 82 where God calls Israel His people? I have searched for other references where God is called our father in the OT and could not find any more than the two you quoted. A quick search I have found eleven passages in the NT that call Christians children of God.
Thanks for your persistence in this!
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Rev. Winzer, you have established that God calls us His children in the OT and Is. refers to God as our father. I understand that the Hebrews were not individualistic as we are today. All this considered, isn't it still noteworthy that there are about half a dozen verses (4?) in the OT that refer to this kind of relationship in comparison to the 82 where God calls Israel His people? I have searched for other references where God is called our father in the OT and could not find any more than the two you quoted. A quick search I have found eleven passages in the NT that call Christians children of God.

Yes, it is noteworthy, but I believe the significance is explained on the basis that they were children who had not yet come to the age of maturity (as we who have the fulness of the Spirit), and because they were under the government of the Law they differed little in appearance from a servant.
 

Scholten

Puritan Board Freshman
Rev. Winzer, you have established that God calls us His children in the OT and Is. refers to God as our father. I understand that the Hebrews were not individualistic as we are today. All this considered, isn't it still noteworthy that there are about half a dozen verses (4?) in the OT that refer to this kind of relationship in comparison to the 82 where God calls Israel His people? I have searched for other references where God is called our father in the OT and could not find any more than the two you quoted. A quick search I have found eleven passages in the NT that call Christians children of God.

Yes, it is noteworthy, but I believe the significance is explained on the basis that they were children who had not yet come to the age of maturity (as we who have the fulness of the Spirit), and because they were under the government of the Law they differed little in appearance from a servant.

I want to be sure I do my homework on this so that I can have a fair degree of confidence that I have gotten it right. You have established your point, Rev. Winzer, that there are a couple instances on the Old Testament where the Israelites are referred to as the children of God. So I have turned my attention back to the New Testament. The passages I have found that refer to the children of God are as follows:

John 1:12
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God . . .
John 11:51-53
51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.
Romans 8:16-18
16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Romans 8:20-22
20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

Romans 9:8
This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.

Philippians 2:14-16
14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

1 John 3:1
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

1 John 3:10
By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

1 John 5:1-2
5 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.

Here we have nine instances of the use of “children of God” in the New Testament. It seems quite clear that each of these uses refers to believers, not the broader covenant community. Do you know of any that refer to the covenant community?

So from both Old and New Testaments we have two instances where God’s covenant community is referred to as His children. Both in the Old Testament, none in the New (unless I missed any). So in the New Testament age we now have the fulness of the Spirit, but the New Testament does not seem to use this language of all covenant members. I think highly of covenantal theology and spend a fair amount of time advocating it. I do wonder, though, is it wise to use a phrase like “children of God” for covenant members who have not accepted Christ yet? It seems like that could contribute to church members thinking we’re OK, we’re God’s children and they may not have accepted Christ yet. I am saying this humanly at the moment; not fully taking election etc. into account when I phrase it this way. That is done somewhat to make the point.

Peoples’ thoughts are appreciated!
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
First, if one omits infants from those references the salvation of infants is effectively denied, because those references tie the status of "children of God" to the saving work of Christ. If one omits infants from the saving work of Christ the alternatives are Pelagianism (every man stands his own probation), an extreme form of hyper Calvinism (salvation by election without means), or nihilism (there is no hope for infants). Secondly, the reference in Romans 9 explicitly relates to infants, and the reference in Romans 8 cannot be understood to exclude infants without excluding them from glorious freedom of the children of God in the consummation. Thirdly, some of the references do not refer to "being" children so much as "evidence" of being children, which no doubt creates a difference, but does not speak to the issue at hand.
 

Scholten

Puritan Board Freshman
First, if one omits infants from those references the salvation of infants is effectively denied, because those references tie the status of "children of God" to the saving work of Christ. If one omits infants from the saving work of Christ the alternatives are Pelagianism (every man stands his own probation), an extreme form of hyper Calvinism (salvation by election without means), or nihilism (there is no hope for infants). Secondly, the reference in Romans 9 explicitly relates to infants, and the reference in Romans 8 cannot be understood to exclude infants without excluding them from glorious freedom of the children of God in the consummation. Thirdly, some of the references do not refer to "being" children so much as "evidence" of being children, which no doubt creates a difference, but does not speak to the issue at hand.

Either I do not completely understand where you are going with this, or we are going somewhat in two different directions. I see no need to omit infants from the group of "children of God" - I am wondering if we should call ALL covenant infants children of God. I believe there's a difference there. Would it be good theology to refer to all covenant members as the people of God (as the OT does frequently) and reserve the phrase children of God for those we have reason to believe are saved?
I was raised in a Christian home, attended church from years before I can recall, went through catechism, got a two year degree from Calvin Seminary and have been studying the covenant now over 30 years. This (your comments above) is the first I have seen any reasonable evidence for referring to all covenant members as children of God. (Although, as you can see, I'm not totally sold on it yet!) Should people in the church have to go to those lengths in order to be able to understand the use of such terminology? If we do use that terminology, what can be done to help avoid misunderstandings in this area? Wouldn't the suggested usage I gave above help in that direction and be less likely to contribute to confusion?
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Herb, what if the misunderstanding wasn't meant to be avoided? Think of the parable of the wheat and tares. The refusal to give all the souls of the Lord's planting the nourishment they need might lead to their malnourishment and destruction. Therefore the Lord allows the true and the false to grow together and to receive the same nourishment. Those who are not the true children of the promise will take false assurances to themselves in the same way they abuse all of God's good gifts to their own demise. Those who are the true children will be brought to faith and repentance. Denying the privilege is not the answer. If some do not believe, Let God be true and every man a liar. What is the chaff to the wheat? There are many passages of Scripture which speak to us of the need of trusting in the infallible truth of God and thereby recognise and accept our own fallibility and failings.
 

Scholten

Puritan Board Freshman
Herb, what if the misunderstanding wasn't meant to be avoided? Think of the parable of the wheat and tares. The refusal to give all the souls of the Lord's planting the nourishment they need might lead to their malnourishment and destruction. Therefore the Lord allows the true and the false to grow together and to receive the same nourishment. Those who are not the true children of the promise will take false assurances to themselves in the same way they abuse all of God's good gifts to their own demise. Those who are the true children will be brought to faith and repentance. Denying the privilege is not the answer. If some do not believe, Let God be true and every man a liar. What is the chaff to the wheat? There are many passages of Scripture which speak to us of the need of trusting in the infallible truth of God and thereby recognise and accept our own fallibility and failings.

That is an interesting thought. Allow me to pursue it further. In the parable the wheat and the tares are allowed to grow their full life and then the wheat was harvested which I've always taken as judgment. In that parable they both go their full lives. However, in our church order in the CRC it is stated that if an individual has grown up and has not made profession the consistory needs to work with him or her. In that sense the church is responsible to encourage the individual in a sense to "show their true colors" (hopefully not a bad choice of words). Is this thought taking your comparison to the parable too far? If so, how can we know that?

P.S. I realize you are down under, but do you ever sleep???? It seems it doesn't matter when I post, usually in a relatively short time you respond!
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Herb, I am on and off at different times depending on what I am doing. If I am doing research work online, I tend to use PB as a happy distraction, so you might find me available more often. If I am preparing sermons or writing I tend to stay away as I don't like to be distracted. So you might get a quick reply or no reply at all. :)

Certainly "covenant nurture" is a responsibility which grows out of the relation created by "covenant children." I think the Dutch tradition has a formalised way of dealing with covenant youth that we do not find in the Scottish tradition. The tendency in Presbyterianism is to trust them to the Lord in the means of grace and let them come to the point where they are ready to make a profession. I am not convinced that either is better than the other. It is probably the case that different cultural expectations create a preference for one over the other. In our day of merging cultures it is very difficult to come up with a system that suits all.
 
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