Saturday, June 16, 2007

Federal Vision: For Kids 

Interested in what some of the FV proponents were saying as a result of the action by the PCA condemning the teachings of the FV, I found this statement on Peter Leithart's blog:

The Federal Vision has been about a lot of things, but one of the central pastoral issues has to do with the status of our children, what we say to them, and how we say it. From one perspective, the Federal Vision is an effort to articulate a consistent paedobpatist theology. Doug Wilson said awhile ago that this is all about children; I agree.

The pastoral import of the Federal Vision is that we can say to our children, without any mental reservation, "God is your God. Trust Him, and He will remain your God."

The critical edge of this is that the Federal Vision exposes the ambivalence that weakens the testimony of many Presbyterian and paedobaptist church - the ambivalence that says both "God is your God" and also "God is maybe not your God. We can't tell. We'll be able to tell later."

FV: You know, for kids.

My elder Ted Schieffelin, who knows Steve Schlissel personally, was the first to turn me on to this aspect of the FV. He told me that he thinks an awful lot of what's driving the FV is the need to be assured that our kids are saved. Now Rev. Leithart is calling this a pastoral issue, which I've noticed sometimes people do when they want to advocate speaking a certain way without wanting to say that they actually believe a certain way. They'll just say that they're speaking "pastorally", which I hope is not just camoflage for what their actual beliefs are.

One of the hardest trials for an awful lot of people is their children. A child dying, a child getting some terrible illness, or a child leaving the faith is enough to knock back anyone on their heels. Sometimes I think it's easier for me to trust God with myself than with my kids. If I were to contract some very painful disease or be assaulted by evil men, I would counsel myself to trust God and to know that all things work for my good, even in trial and hardship. But I must confess that my heart feels kind of tight whenever I think about those things happening to Katie or Titus.

When does God stop being God for you? When does God become unworthy of trust for you? This is where your idolatry is exposed. One of the central truths of Scripture, and key to understanding the truth of election, is that God has the right to do exactly as He pleases with us. Shall the pot say to the potter, "why have you made me thus?" I think the rubber hits the road here for an awful lot of people with your kids. Because your kids are often the people you care about the very most, those who seem the most vulnerable, and of whose election you cannot be sure. But if God has the right to do with me precisely as He pleases, then He has the right to do with my kids precisely as He pleases. My kids exist for His glory, not for my purposes. Predestination doesn't really require us to bite the bullet and admit His right in our own case, since obviously we're elect and it's just a bunch of people I don't care about who are reprobate and going to hell. But what if it's my own child?

But if I can say by receiving the sign of baptism they're probably elect, elect in some sense, most likely elect, ought to be elect, one day (after I'm dead maybe) will be elect, then maybe I can dodge this most uncomfortable question. But Jesus does not allow us to dodge it.

Luke 14:26 "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.
27 "And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple."

The kingdom of heaven is a relationship that transcends every earthly relationship. And in drawing us into this kingdom, we are drawn away from the earth, and all relationships with those of the earth will be severed. We are called to trust God with everything. If God is truly our God, then He is our children's God as well, whether they believe or not. He's everybody's God.

I am a committed paedobaptist. By baptizing our children, we take them out of the world and join them to the church; out of the nations and join them to Israel. All Israel was promised the land, but many did not enter, because they did not believe. Was God not their God? Was God not their God when He opened a crack in the earth and swallowed up thousands of them? When He sent snakes among them to kill them?

I say to my children- God is your God. He has promised to save you. He calls you to believe. If you do not believe, then your God will destroy you. So believe. Baptism marks them out as those who have heard this message, those who have been taught this promise by God, those who have been separated from the world and called to believe the promises.

It does not mark them as elect. We cannot know that. The only person I can know without a shadow of a doubt is elect is me. I am just going to have to trust God with the rest, including my children.

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It's interesting that Leithart admits that FV is about kids and what we can say to them. I don't have any mental reservation saying, "God is your God. Trust Him, and He will remain your God." To me it is similar to saying to my kids, "The house we live in is your house," even though it is my money that bought it and my name on the title. At some point when my kids move out of the house they'll refer to the house as mom and dad's house. Did that make me a liar when I told them it is their house?

You said it very well that our kids are God's and we cannot in any way be sure one way or the other, even though they're baptized into the covenant, what their ultimate fate will be.

- Ted

I come from a very different denominational background, so I'm interested in your opinion on a certain aspect of water baptism. While we don't practice infant or child baptism I am open to the concept as described by you (i.e., it does not signify election but a "marking"). In teaching a class, last year, I mentioned the practice of infant baptism (as I had heard by R.C. Sproul), and a woman spoke up expressing her dissatisfaction with the practice in her own life. She was baptized as an infant but had not made any free will decision to follow Christ until she was a young adult. As such, she desired to be baptized *again*.

So, I'm just wondering what your thoughts are regarding such a situation.
Thanks for the comment. We would not want to rebaptize in such a situation, since we view baptism primarily as something which comes from God, not something which we say. No infant makes a free will decision for Christ, yet they are members of the covenant nonetheless, and given the promises and called to the obligations of the covenant. Even an adult who was baptized but didn't really believe until later is essentially in the same position. There's no fault in the baptism, and the believer needs to be pointed to the promise made to them in baptism and called to believe it. To rebaptize every time someone lapses in faith obscures the message of baptism and turns it into an expression of our sincerity toward God, rather than what it is- an expression of God's sincerity toward us.

Hope this helps!
Matt, I am glad you found that posting. I and others have suspected this as a psychological aspect of this movement. Hence, infant & child communion amongst the majority of those leaders. But then if all the children are elect, what happens to God's promise? They end up back to some form of free-will/Roman Catholic/Arminianism, etc.
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