Responsibility to Covenant Children

Discussion in 'Church Order' started by RWD, May 13, 2019.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. RWD

    RWD Puritan Board Freshman

    I wrote in another thread:

    Not to quibble but the elders did not become more responsible for these lambs nor did these lambs become more accountable to their elders. Given stages of life and all that can entail, how accountability and oversight plays out will surely change over time. When children are very young, the elders responsibility toward them is less obvious. It’s primarily discharged by ministering to the parents, thereby equipping them to train up their little ones in the ways of the Lord. Also, in praying for the lambs under their care. The elders are not more or less responsible for shepherding their sheep; it just looks different over time.

    Circumstances commensurate with a member’s age and the various occasions of life (doubts, marriage, old age and everything in between) will make way for different ways in which the elders will demonstrate their responsibility, but I would not want to say they become more responsible.​

    That post was met with:

    I’d like to pick this up here. My response:

    The chapters you reference bolster my point. The pastoral oversight for little ones is no less than enormous. How it is to be discharged over time changes, but the awesome responsibility is the same. It’s one of under shepherd. In fact, with respect to children, to neglect pastoral duties is to become complicit should a covenant child be led astray. With respect to young adults, biblical instruction on a life’s mate might take center stage as foundational years give way to adulthood. The point being, pastoral responsibility for the sheep is unalterably awesome throughout a member’s life. (Whether we want to say that the responsibility is altered can get into semantics but let’s not lose sight of the awesome responsibility elders have to children. That’s the meat and potatoes.)

    Children are entitled to pastoral oversight, instruction and even church government - all with a view toward the child’s conversion. What can be more sobering than that? In a word and as a general rule, the child’s formative years will set the solid foundation for his or her spiritual journey. The elders responsibility is enormous in this regard, just as the BCO plainly teaches.

    Often missed is that parents have a responsibility not just to God but to the Church for faithful discharge of their vows to raise their children in the Lord. Sure, we get that but what’s oftentimes overlooked is that “It is a principal duty of the Church to promote true religion in the home.” That’s a labor intensive charge whether taken seriously or not.

    As I noted in my first post, the responsibility of sessions is no less awesome when members are children. It’s the way in which that awesome responsibility is fulfilled that changes over time. Semantics aside...

    “The Session shall encourage the parents of the Church to guide their children in the catechising and disciplining of them in the Christian religion.”

    It’s apparent that the prime responsibility of parents has eclipsed in the minds of some the unalterable responsibility of elders to strive to influence parents in this regard.

    But such influence the elders are to exercise is not a far distant one but rather must have an intimate quality as well. NOTE: “The Church should maintain constant and sympathetic relations with the children. It also should encourage them, on coming to years of discretion, to make confession of the Lord Jesus Christ and to enter upon all privileges of full church membership. If they are wayward they should be cherished by the church and every means used to reclaim them.”

    I know very few elders who take that charge seriously. How many elders even go on regular visitation, or invest in the church’s covenant children? How many regularly show hospitality or build appropriate relationships with children through parental oversight? (I’m not so much talking about pastors here but ruling elders.)

    Sometimes we see covenant children fall away in college years. When that happens and assuming the elders even contact the wayward member(!), is there already an elder-member relationship in place to build upon? The answer to that question will speak to whether the church has fallen asleep on the question of whether the elders responsibility somehow increases over time, or whether they indeed do have an awesome responsibility to children that is sadly neglected.
     
  2. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    I will tack on some application: Since elders are "able to teach" and are likely to be some of the most capable teachers in the church (plus they are given the charge of spiritual oversight), it should be common to see elders involved in classes for children.

    Sadly, in most churches I know, it is uncommon.

    Parents and the church both have important roles in the Christian nurture of children. It is a mistake for either to neglect their duties.
     
  3. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    No, it isn't. There is a qualitative difference between how church discipline is to be administered to those who have been admitted to the table and to thosse who haven't. (For simplicity, I omitted the third category - adult non-members who are regular attenders).

    Since the morning commute was looming, I didn't have time to cut and paste, figuring that interested folks could look for themselves, but perhaps that was a luxury I shouldn't have taken this morning.

    Chapter 28 is entitled "Disciplining of Non-communing Members"

    Paragraph 1 starts: "The spiritual nurture, instruction and training of the children of the Church are committed by God primarily to their parents.
    They are responsible to the Church for the faithful discharge of their obligations" (emphasis supplied throughout).

    Paragraph 2 then gets into the duty of the church: "make special provision for instructing the children in the Bible and in the church Catechisms" and then gets to the duty of the session: "Sessions should establish and conduct under their authority Sunday schools and Bible classes, and adopt such other methods as may be found helpful." In addition to making these provisions, "
    The Session shall encourage the parents of the Church to guide their children in the catechising and disciplining of them in the Christian religion." Yet again, the emphasis is on the Session's role with regard to the parent, not the non-member child.

    Paragraph 3 is entirely silent as to a special role for the session - it sets out a duty to the entire church (and this is consistent with the vows at Baptism. The parents make vows, and the congregation makes vows. The session is not asked to make separate, additional vows). "The Church should maintain constant and sympathetic relations with the children. It also should encourage them, on coming to years of discretion, to make confession of the Lord Jesus Christ and to enter upon all privileges of full church membership. If they are wayward they should be cherished by the church and every means used to reclaim them"

    Paragraph 4 Deals with adult non-communicants.

    Paragraph 5 deals with both adult and child non-communicants.

    Chapters 29 and 30 deal with actions dealing with communing members (including officers) by church courts. While an admonishment (30-2) of a communing member might be confused with the warning to non-members in 28-4, but a closer examination quickly reveals the distinction. As for 30-3 and 30-4, one can't very well suspend or excommunicate from the table one who has never been admitted.

    So a claim that the same sessional duties exist toward a communicant member and a non-communicant just isn't supported by the Rules of Discipline. This is further supported by Chapter 6, that distinguishes between the obligations of the Church and those of the Session. (Odd paragraphs deal with the Church, even with the Session, although one might try to argue that the government of the church is through its courts, and thus 3 might empower the session).
     
  4. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

  5. RWD

    RWD Puritan Board Freshman

    In your post you made several applications all based upon the same principle. I have opted to deal only with the heart of the confusion from which the same missteps were repeated.

    You wrote:

    “So a claim that the same sessional duties exist toward a communicant member and a non-communicant just isn't supported by the Rules of Discipline.”

    You’ve innocently conflated what I have been calling responsibility with what you’ve now labeled “duty.” The two meanings as they have been employed here are vastly different. That is easily demonstrated by the intelligibility of the following proposition: “An elder is responsible before God to discharge his various duties - duties toward non communing members, which differ from those toward communing members.”

    Clearly in that proposition the specific duties of discharge can be distinguished from the responsibility to God to discharge. Indeed, that’s what you’ve done. You’ve zeroed in on the various duties toward different categories of sheep, whereas I’ve been talking about the responsibility of exercising those duties before God - the responsibility the elder has to shepherd Christ’s sheep.

    In that construct I just highlighted, the elder is ultimately responsible to God (vertically / singular) for how he discharges his plurality of duties (horizontally) toward communing and non communing members under varying circumstances. Clearly, duty and responsibility do not mean the same thing.

    I referred to horizontal duties here in the context of the elder’s responsibility:

    “How it [responsibility] is to be discharged over time changes, but the awesome responsibility is the same. It’s one of under shepherd. In fact, with respect to children, to neglect pastoral duties (plural and horizontal) is to become complicit should a covenant child be led astray.

    I also wrote:

    “Circumstances commensurate with a member’s age and the various occasions of life (doubts, marriage, old age and everything in between) will make way for different ways in which the elders will demonstrate their responsibility...”

    The “different ways in which the elders will demonstrate their responsibility” is precisely what your use of “duty” denotes. (And it’s how I used “duty” as well.)

    But as I’ve repeated now several times in different ways, how the elder exercises responsibility “just looks different over time.” The elder is responsible for various duties, but he’s no less responsible to God in all those duties.

    The elder is responsible to God to shepherd the flock. To Him he will give an account for how he performed his various duties - the “different ways in which the elders will demonstrate their responsibility...”
     
  6. RWD

    RWD Puritan Board Freshman

  7. RWD

    RWD Puritan Board Freshman

    This is rather remarkable.

    I wrote: The chapters you reference bolster my point. The pastoral oversight for little ones is no less than enormous. How it is to be discharged over time changes, but the awesome responsibility is the same.

    And you replied, “No, it isn't.” And then tried to defend, “No, it isn't.”

    So, the pastoral oversight for little ones is not an enormous responsibility? Jesus doesn’t think the elders have enormous responsibility for His lambs? Moreover, the way in which that oversight is discharged over time doesn’t change? Shepherding a seven year old is no different than shepherding a woman under hospice care?

    "The Church should maintain constant and sympathetic relations with the children. It also should encourage them, on coming to years of discretion, to make confession of the Lord Jesus Christ and to enter upon all privileges of full church membership. If they are wayward they should be cherished by the Church and every means used to reclaim them"
    You operate as though the elders are exempt from the responsibility of the church, when it is they who have the greatest sphere of influence, for it is they who have been ordained to this call.

    What I’ve put forth is hardly controversial. In fact, it’s pretty plain vanilla.
     
    Last edited: May 13, 2019
  8. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    Yes really enjoyed it. It is a practical work for paedobaptist parents, but pastors/elders can use it with spiritual profit.
     
  9. RWD

    RWD Puritan Board Freshman

    Excellent. Beeke is on a roll! I’ll check it out.
     
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page