Borrowing Brains: Deterministic Parenting and Presbyterians

We’ve had a profitable discussion over here regarding the error of deterministic parenting—the idea that a child will know and follow Christ if only his parents do a good job of raising him. Many of the problems with that teaching are mentioned in that post.

What I wonder is this: if the idea that parents can guarantee the salvation of their children by pushing the right buttons is an Arminian error (and I believe it is), how does it relate to the Presbyterian idea that parents have a promise from God that relates to their children? I’m thinking particularly of this defense of paedobaptism from Lig Duncan:

1. God, in both the Old and New Testaments, explicitly makes a promise to believers and to their children (Genesis 17:7; Acts 2:39).

2. God, in both the Old and New Testaments, explicitly attaches specific signs (respectively, circumcision [Genesis 17:10] and baptism [Acts 2:38, cf. Colossians 2:11-12], to this promise that he gives to believers and their children.

3. Therefore, since God has given an explicit promise to believers and their children, in the New Testament, and attached a sign to this promise, and enjoined us (in the new covenant) to administer that sign [baptism, Matthew 28:19-20], then we should give the sign of the promise he has made to believers and their children, to believers and their children, in humble obedience to biblical command and example.

What do Presbyterians believe the exact content of that promise to be? Specifically, how does that promise relate to the salvation of their children? And how does it square with their belief in the total depravity of all humans and the absolutely sovereignty of God in salvation?

For the record, I’m genuinely asking, not baiting.

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7 Responses

  1. Justin Taylor gives more explanation of paedobaptism and the idea that children are included in the covenants here.

  2. Chris,

    I too don’t understand the arguments from Ligon Duncan and even checked out your link from Justin Taylor. How is that they argue for a continuity of covenants when God explicitly says the new covenant will be dissimilar from the old covenant in this area in Ezek. 18?

  3. Hi Chris

    Our mutual friend, MPVCB, one day when pushed in class on this point admitted that his children wouldn’t need a later ‘confirmation’ or ‘reconfirmation’ experience. They were children of the covenant. It is one of my biggest disagreements with him.

    It is a serious error, and led the New England Puritans into the abominable Half-Way Covenant among other things.

    Regards,
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  4. Baptism, in the Lutheran tradition (ref the “Concordia”), is the first presentation of the Gospel to a human being. Luther taught that since the Gospel was the prime teaching and focus of the church and parents, it behooves parents to present the Gospel to their newborn infants immediately at birth. We do not understand what the result of the seed of the Gospel is on the human heart at that age, but Luther said that the individual needs to be bathed in the Gospel from the very moment of his/her life. The Gospel is the only way to salvation, and grace is the gift of God, unmerited, and by his will. Baptismal regeneration it is NOT. The presentation of the Gospel it IS. The child is raised to receive the promise of baptism (faith), and it is faith alone which saves by grace through Christ alone. Can a person be baptized as a baby and grow up to be eternally lost? Yes, as it is unbelief alone which damns, and grace through faith which saves. Baptism is one of the means whereby the Gospel is presented as early as possible to the infant so it may grow in the environment (godly parents in a godly church) in which it may learn of faith and recieve the grace of God unto salvation.

  5. Oh…one other issue: a person still needs to make a public confession of faith to be a member of the church. “Confirmation” is a public testimony and witness of faith akin to the baptism of young folks (say 11-15) who proclaim their faith at their baptism. A public confession of faith at “confirmation” is one way of giving testimony to one’s salvation.

  6. Sorry, Chris. I know this doesn’t specifically address the presby aspect of your posting, but the “Book of Concord” does predate some of the Reformed confessions by almost one hundred years or so. If my history is correct, Calvin did sign agreement to the Augsburg Confession. I may be mistaken, tho’.

  7. Good stuff, Chris.

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