February 17, 2003 Q & A

Baptism of Covenant Children


What are the OPC's beliefs regarding the position of baptized covenant children. What role do you believe the training they receive from their parents plays in their salvation? Do you view and address them as Christians until they prove otherwise? Your help in this matter would be much appreciated.


Thanks for your questions. Let me first address the question as to those in authority in their training in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Scripture places primary responsibility on the parents. Consider Deuteronomy 6:1-10, 20-25 (with special emphasis on verses 6-9). See also Ephesians 6:1-4.

Please notice that both teaching (exhortation and discipline) and living example are needed. It is good to use the OPC baptismal vows as an outline: "Do you believe that, although our children are conceived and born in sin [not meaning that conception is a sinful act, but that they inherit our fallen nature in Adam] and therefore are subject to condemnation, yet they are holy in Christ, and as members of his church ought to be baptized?" (I'll come back to "holy in Christ" in answer to your second question.) "Do you promise to instruct your child in the principles of our holy religion as revealed in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and as summarized in the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of this church; and do you promise to pray with and for your child, to set an example of piety and godliness before him/her, and to endeavor by all the means of God's appointment to bring him/her up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?"

You can see that, in the second vow above, emphasis is laid on instruction, discipline, and prayer. We cannot demand that God save our children. Even the best upbringing often times does not result in the salvation of a child because the best we can do falls far short of perfection. Praying, first, FOR your child, later WITH him or her, "says" that we are dependent on divine mercy to bring our children to saving faith because we can't save our children, neither can the church; but God alone saves (see John 1:13 and Ephesians 2:8-9). So we must answer that baptized children MAY be saved, but NOT NECESSARILY!

That leads me to the second question you ask. "Do you view and address them as Christian until they prove otherwise? There have been different answers given that question among Reformed churches, but the OPC position is that from birth our children are regarded as COVENANT children. God said to Abraham (Genesis 17:7), "I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendents after you throughout their generations after you for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you." And that covenant was sealed in circumcision until Pentecost, and in baptism thereafter, for it was an EVERLASTING covenant.

Notice that the first baptismal vow requires parents to agree that the children are "holy in Christ." The word used here has two meanings. For example, in the 4th Commandment these words appear: "...therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath and hallowed it (or made it holy)." We know that the Christian Sabbath is not always a near-perfect day. Sometimes it is hot, it rains or there are blizzards. Or even hurricanes can take place on God's holy day. But He set it apart from creation for holy purposes - resting from worldly toil that we might worship and enjoy him.

So our children are, by parental choice in obedience to our Lord, SET APART from the children of the world. Look at 1:Corinthians 7:13-14: "And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her husband, for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy."

Here the Apostle is dealing with people newly converted from pagan idolatry. He says that, for the now-Christian spouse, the marriage is still valid unless the other spouse refuses to live with the believer (verse 15). But the believing partner must continue the marriage unless the unbelieving one leaves of his own choice.

And if the unbeliever stays with the marriage, he/she is "sanctified" or "holy"! In what sense is the unbeliever holy? Surely not in his or her own relation to Christ, because belief and unbelief (in the saving sense) cannot inhere in the same heart (2 Corinthians 6:15)! These words merely say that a mixed marriage (which should not be willingly entered into), when it exists, is not that the believer is living in adultery. God regards the unbelieving spouse as part of a valid marriage (though not a happy one).

So the children of that union are not to be regarded as children of the world. They may and should be baptized. Admittedly, the task is more difficult, but not impossible. I have known many men and women, reared in such homes, to become wonderful servants of God.

So the Bible's answer to your question, "how do we view and address our children?" is that we view and address them as covenant children, deserving of all your training, discipline, and loving care as children of the covenant. God is THEIR God. Remind them of the fact. Teach then to pray to him. Then look for the first signs of saving faith in them.

Don't rejoice too quickly. Early childhood in normal homes leads little ones to mimic the faith of their parents. But when they begin to think for themselves, as normal adolescents do, you may begin to rejoice if they, wholly on their own, evidence a living faith in our living Lord. Some parents wait long to see that results; others see them in very early years. But God acts on his own time-table.

One more thing needs emphasis: Though primary responsibility rests on parents, the church is in there too. When we tragically see a covenant child, come to adulthood and reject his or her parents' God, parents should not to be quick to assume all the blame. God's promise never fails. But when there IS failure (as often there is) all we can be sure of is that it is HUMAN failure. Perhaps parental, perhaps someone in the church (a Sunday school teacher, or even a pastor). And it may be the heart of the child, in spite of the best nurture and loving discipline.

A covenant is contractual by nature (though God's covenants are not negotiated). God on his part is faithful; "he cannot deny himself" (2 Timothy 2:13). If there's failure it's human failure, coming from our still-fallen natures - a most humbling thought. Moreover, I personally believe that when parents sometimes experience the tragedy of an infant miscarried from the womb, or dying soon after birth, we may cling with reasonable hope that our little one is in heaven with the children's Savior. Worldlings have no such hope.

Please feel free to return with further questions.



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