To what extent is the head his household responsible for the faith of the household?

Discussion in 'Covenant Theology' started by Amy Green, Dec 19, 2019.

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  1. Amy Green

    Amy Green Puritan Board Freshman

    Hey everyone!
    I come from a Reformed (Paedobapist) background and have been defending that front against a growing number of friends from the same background who have become Baptist. Recently, however, the implications of my theology have hit home rather hard and I am considerably less convinced of my stance on this point. My questions relate to the understanding of infant baptism being carried over from circumcision in the OT. My current biggest concern is: To what extent is the head of a household responsible for the faith of the people within that household?
    Is he responsible for all the people in his house (including adult children, adopted children and domestic workers) to the point where they will be baptised too? Or are only biological children who are still infants baptised? Why?
    Is he primarily responsible for the teaching of those under him (Can the church/other believers teach them contrary to the head of that household)?
    What are the implications of this on evangelism? Should one only evangelise heads of households? Can one evangelise children apart from their parents? What about young adults still in the same household?
    I am really battling with these questions at the moment and would really appreciate some strong, scripturally based answers. I am not currently finding my previous reading (à Brakel, Three Forms of Unity, Zwingly, etc) strong enough to answer these questions without contradicting what I find in scripture, or not seeming to say anything at all on the subject.

    Your views on the subject would be much apreciated.
  2. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    Welcome to the board, Amy.

    Baptism is a hot button topic on PB. Your questions are very broad and might elicit a wide variety of answers. You might think about narrowing things down.

    Also, do you want opinions from both paedobaptists and credobaptists at the same time? There are separate subforms for each if you want to get more specific.
  3. Amy Green

    Amy Green Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you very much for bringing that to my attention. Would you suggest I rephrase my questions and post them as different threads on the various forums they relate to?
  4. Reformed Bookworm

    Reformed Bookworm Puritanboard Colporteur

    I would suggest reading "To the Christian Reader, Especially Heads of Families" in the Westminster Standards. Here is an excerpt:
    The first concerns heads of families in respect of themselves; That as the Lord hath set them in place above the rest of their family, they would labour in all wisdom and spiritual understanding to be above them also. It is an uncomely sight to behold men in years babes in knowledge; and how unmeet are they to instruct others, who need themselves to be taught which be the first principles of the oracles of God! Heb. 5:12.
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  5. Reformed Bookworm

    Reformed Bookworm Puritanboard Colporteur

    Here is another excerpt from the same source:
    How much the serious endeavours of godly parents and masters might contribute to an early seasoning the tender years of such as are under their inspection, is abundantly evident, not only from their special influence upon them, in respect of their authority over them, interest in them, continual presence with them, and frequent opportunities of being helpful to them; but also from the sad effects which, by woful experience, we find to be the fruit of the omission of this duty.
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  6. Reformed Bookworm

    Reformed Bookworm Puritanboard Colporteur

    Below are some of the best resources on this topic, in particular, the three volumes of Gouge's Building a Godly Home.

    William Jay's address to the masters of families in the volume below is also excellent.

    An excellent little book discussing the facets of family worship:

    How Should Men Should Lead Their Families?
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  7. Rutherglen1794

    Rutherglen1794 Puritan Board Junior

    That’s a lot of questions.

    In my opinion, paedobaptist covenantal theology is the wrong starting point.

    You should begin with the plain and clear commands that God gives to fathers, instead of trying to reverse engineer fatherly duties from paedobaptist covenantal theology.

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  8. JTB.SDG

    JTB.SDG Puritan Board Sophomore

    There have been other threads on PB with similar questions. This one has to do with the question of whether wives of believing husbands should automatically be baptized on the same grounds you are asking about (having a believing husband), but also hits on the question of Abraham's household slaves:

    In Genesis 17:10-13, we find God commanding Abraham to circumcise both 1) his sons and 2) his household slaves; that is, everyone who belonged to his household and lived under his authority. The sons were to be circumcised as infants. The slaves were circumcised either as infants (if they were born into the house, born of residing household slaves) or as adults (when they were bought with money). The point again, is that everyone who belonged to Abraham's household and lived under his authority were to be circumcised. Exodus 12:43-49 clarifies that there was a difference between a household slave and a domestic servant/worker that you hired for work. Abraham was not to circumcise these kinds of people, only the slaves that had been bought with money and thus had been taken in as part of his household. Hope this helps. Some of the footnotes in this resource may also be helpful: https://f5b3affa-3815-4a9f-8ecc-bd3...d/be37d2_9b43f9d6bf644fd08edae296e25f8d24.pdf
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  9. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    You can do what you like. I wasn't sure how far you wanted to 'immerse' yourself in the topic.
  10. Amy Green

    Amy Green Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you very much! I will read that. It should help clarify.
  11. Amy Green

    Amy Green Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you very much for the videos. I will go check them out.

    My problem is that when I look at it objectively my views seem to be more credobaptist than peadobaptist.
    And it bothers me, because I've always had very strong peaobaptist views. The answers I find in scripture to my questions seem to contradict what I previously believed about peadobaptisim. Consequently I begin to wonder if either my stance on peadobaptisim was incorrect, or of I have just misunderstood what peadobaptisim is.
  12. Amy Green

    Amy Green Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you for your time in answering this. I will read the thread and PDF!

    Don't you think that salvation and more importantly theological beliefs does not rest upon what the head of the household believes (as an example: if the head of the household becomes Catholic, I would disagree because my mediator is Christ not Mary). Isn't each person responsible for his/her own faith, regardless of the head of that household?( there are examples of people being saved outside of their 'head', such as Timothy and Lydia.) If we believe that salvation comes to a family only through heads of households, should we (only) evangelize heads of households?
    Is it then true that my connection to the church is not through the head of the household, but through me being a part of the body of Christ?(else, I don't see why I should take part in communion or even how the communion of the saints within the body of Christ happens).

    I hope that makes better sense...
  13. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Senior


    Genesis 17:7,9

    And 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.

    And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations.

    Acts 2:39

    For the promise is unto you, and to your children...
  14. RPEphesian

    RPEphesian Puritan Board Junior

    And, in covenantal context, Deuteronomy 6, and just after Genesis 17...

    Genesis 18:19 (KJV 1900): For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.

    Discipleship of children and expectation of blessing has precedent in the Abrahamic Covenant. Here is the very original institution, means, and context of discipleship--numbering them as members of the visible church and teaching them as members.
  15. Jeri Tanner

    Jeri Tanner Moderator Staff Member

    On your 5th (or 6th) question: the church certainly can teach a believer’s household contrary to his teaching. Discipleship is in its greatest sense a function of the church, not of the father and mother per se. Ideally there would be no real conflict; that was the beauty of the church clinging to a confession of faith handed down.

    In our unsettled day, it may and will happen that children will be evangelized apart from their parents (think of VBS’s, Sunday Schools, etc where parents drop off their children). God has used this, I think, even to reach the parents. But it’s not ideal, again it is the state of things in our unsettled times.

    Amy, it’s not unusual to find yourself being challenged in something you’ve believed without question up until now. The fruit of digging in and coming to a better understanding will be good. Be patient. :)
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  16. Ben Zartman

    Ben Zartman Puritan Board Sophomore

    This reply may spark many angry remarks from my peadobaptist brethren, but I ask them not to derail the thread into another endless debate: I'm simply trying to respond to the OP with a Baptistic view.
    The head of household is responsible to set the religious tone in his house. It is his duty to establish family worship; his duty to instruct (and oversee) the religious instruction his household; his duty to see that everyone under his authority attends church; his duty to correct, rebuke, and instruct; his duty to fence their lives, as much as is in his power, from evil influence (what TV or movies are allowed; what activities are acceptable, etc). All of there are human means that God can use for their great blessing, and ordinarily blessings follow upon their faithful use.
    What the head cannot do is give them new hearts: God has reserved that to Himself alone (salvation is of the LORD). Sometimes a father can use all means in his power and his children live and die unconverted: their blood is on their hands. Sometimes a head is indifferent in his duties, or is a downright reprobate and heathen himself, and God saves the children by bringing them in contact elsewhere with the means of grace.
    In Baptist understanding, though, salvation is an individual thing: each person must be born again, and unless they are, they are not members of the new covenant. Of course paedos believe as well that the parents cannot believe on behalf of the children--we are born again not of the flesh or of the will of man but of God--but their scheme of automatic inclusion in the covenant community makes things a little blurry. Baptists are a lot more clear-cut: if you are born again, you are a member of the New Covenant. If you're not born again, no amount of what your parents are or lineage is matters: you're not a member of God's people. Simple. Biblical. Beautiful. Ye must be born again. Amen.
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  17. Amy Green

    Amy Green Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you very much for the answer. It is means a lot to me.
    While I do agree with you, I remain uncertain if the church would be overstepping the sovereign sphere of family if it did that? And if an individual in such a house were to follow the teachings of the church are they then not disregarding the headship of their house?

    ...I do hope this will grow me. At the moment it is confusing and feels like it is breaking down more than building up...thank you for the encouragement though!
  18. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Senior

    (I do not intend to derail the thread; I think the subject quite relevant to the OP.)

    This is the same issue that so frequently arises in these discussions. The Baptist has not solved anything, as much as he would like to think he has, by baptizing professors only. There is still going to be a visible church and an invisible church. Baptists (unless I can be shown otherwise) are no better at discerning the elect than anyone else.
  19. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member


    I was a Reformed Baptist for many years. I have seen good Parents on both of the theological isle raise faithful children in there homes. Part of it is theology but a lot of it is parenting. As far as what I have experienced I have seen more faithful PKs come from my Church in particular. But it was parenting along with theology. I do know good RB's children who remained faithful and followed in the path of their parents also. All of their children and not just 2 out of 3. And that is on both sides.

    I will post a blog post here I have on my site. My buddy Russ Pulliam wrote it for Table Talk magazine many years ago.

    He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which He commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.

    —Psalm 78:5–6

    A HARD TEST OF A father’s Christian faith is his capacity to pass it on to his children. It is a test that challenges any Christian and drives fathers and mothers to the Scriptures and prayer. Further wisdom is available through the pages of Christian history. How did some parents prepare their children for service to Christ’s kingdom? Where did others seem to fall short and why, and how?

    In the nineteenth century, several influential theologians and church leaders were also influential fathers. Their example provides a perspective for parents who want to learn from the success of others.

    In the United States, Charles Hodge (1797–1878) is well known as a theologian, the dominant teacher at Princeton Theological Seminary and author of a three-volume systematic theology. He was involved in the training of an estimated 3,000 pastors, but he should also be famous as a father and grandfather.

    His two sons, Archibald Alexander Hodge and Caspar Wistar Hodge, followed in their father’s footsteps at Princeton Theological Seminary. Archibald first served as a missionary in India, then a pastor and teacher in the United States. Near the end of his father’s life, he joined the Princeton faculty, succeeding his father when he died. He also was the author of Outlines of Theology, which is still being published. The other son, Caspar Wistar Hodge, served as a pastor for several years before joining the Princeton faculty.

    From the second son’s marriage came a grandson and third-generation teacher at the seminary, also named Caspar Wistar Hodge. All three generations shared the same basic orthodox Christian faith, based on the authority of the Scriptures, in a time of intense pressure to shift into modernism or theological liberalism.

    Charles Hodges’ own personal walk with the Lord must have been a crucial factor in the lives of his children, as well as his careful attentiveness to them. His story, told by his son, Archibald, in The Life of Charles Hodge, reveals the flexibility that his father developed: “They were at every age and at all times allowed free access to him. If they were sick, he nursed them. If they were well, he played with them. If he were busy, they played about him.”

    Another important nineteenth century American theologian was Augustus H. Strong (1836–1921), author of Systematic Theology and president of Rochester Theological Seminary. There is some contrast between Strong and Hodge, in their intellectual development and perhaps in their attentiveness to their children. Yet Strong, a Baptist, and Hodge, a Presbyterian, would agree on so many of the classical Christian doctrines.

    In the 1880s and 1890s, however, Strong wrestled with modernist views of relativism which had undermined much Christian scholarship in that era. To an extent, Strong accepted it yet retained some conviction about the truth of the Christian faith. As a result, both fundamentalists and modernists claimed Strong as one of their own. Which was he? Probably some of both.

    Was he able to pass his faith on to his children? Yes and no. One son, John, was an evangelical theologian, like his father, and was not allowed to succeed his father as president of Rochester Theological Seminary. The modernists had control of the seminary by the time his father had retired. Yet many of those modernists had been appointed by his father.

    Another son, Charles Augustus Strong, a teacher of psychology at Columbia University, repudiated the Christian faith, and wrote A Creed for Skeptics. In his autobiography, A. H. Strong suggests that he reacted too much to the philosophy his son learned at Harvard. But could the content of the Harvard education have been the problem? One of Strong’s grandsons, Richard Sewell, remembers that his grandfather did not have time to spend talking to children. Perhaps the open study door for his young children was missing, or at least was not as open as the door to the study of Charles Hodge.

    With respect to doctrine, did A. H. Strong play with the modernistic spirit a little, only to see one son carry that indulgence to an extreme? As seminary president, Strong practiced a kind of theological pluralism, appointing both modernists to the faculty, as well as evangelical teachers.

    What we tolerate a little bit of in our lives, our children may carry to an excess. King David indulged in some polygamy, then his son Solomon had 700 wives, with devastating consequences. Can we see a warning about sins we tolerate? And can we see the importance of opening the door of our study, or business, or mission, to our children and grandchildren? If the door is shut, or we are too busy, the children may turn to other influences.

    Across the ocean in Scotland, William Symington (1795–1862), was a pastor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church. Symington and his wife taught their seven children at home. “The evenings are devoted to family reading,” he wrote. “Besides, I give the children a part of every forenoon and afternoon. Now that I have got into it, I do not dislike teaching them.” Why did his children continue in the Christian faith of the father? His willingness to teach his own children may have been a factor, like the open door to the study of Charles Hodge.

    Contrast this with J. C. Ryle (1816–1900), bishop of Liverpool, a leading evangelical in the Church of England. Ryle’s son Herbert did not abandon all faith in Christ or openly reject Christ. But he accepted much of the liberal modernist thinking of his time. Higher criticism appeared to be more progressive, more respectable, compared to traditional belief in the trustworthiness of Scripture.

    Why did he part company with his father over the authority of Scripture? Turning the education of the children over to others, far away from home at boarding school, may have played some part. “Poor little Herbert cried most bitterly at parting,” Ryle wrote after he put Herbert on the train to boarding school at the age of 9. “Herbert’s life … has been so easy and happy hitherto that he naturally feels this first wrench. And he has been so accustomed to look up to me and be always with me … that the separation strikes him more. It is sad work, and nothing but the sense of positive duty and the wisdom of it would make me go through it.”

    What about fathers and daughters? Lyman Beecher and his daughter, Harriet Beecher Stowe, offer a family history worthy of study. Her novels reveal a clear Christian worldview and grasp of vital Christian character qualities, such as her depiction of the cynicism of Aaron Burr contrasted with the Christian faith of other characters in The Minister’s Wooing. Her most famous novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was a major inspiration in the movement to abolish slavery.

    What can we as parents, potential parents, or as grandparents learn from these family histories?

    1) CONSISTENCY—at least one parent in these families had a consistent and faithful walk with the Lord. The parents were growing and changing Christians, based on regular, daily personal Bible study and prayer.

    2) PRAYER IS SO CRUCIAL—we need a consistent time in prayer for the children, for the church, for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. St. Augustine’s mother, Monica, is famous for her prayers for her son. But a pattern of parental prayer reveals itself in so many of the biographies of Christians who were prepared well for kingdom service by their parents.

    3) A GOOD AND GROWING relationship to the local church also has been used by God in the lives of the children over the long run. An indifference to the church, in contrast, must send a wrong message on to subsequent generations.

    4) PSALM-SINGING WAS A part of the family worship in several of these families. You cannot measure the impact of singing God’s Word over the years, especially the early years of a person’s life (see Isaiah 55:11).

    5) THE OPEN DOOR that Charles Hodge kept in his study for his children suggests the attentiveness our children need. The point is to provide concentrated time with our children, reading to them, talking with them, being especially attentive to the development of their minds and hearts.

    The purpose of this kind of research is not to point a finger of judgment across the generations. But the lesson is to discern what has worked well, through the Scriptures, as well as through people who have sought to apply the Scriptures in passing their faith on to the next generation.

    And who is equal to such a task?

    Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves; our competence comes from God (see 2 Corinthians 2:16; 3:5). ▲

    Russ Pulliam is an editor for The Indianapolis Star and a longtime Ligonier student.
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  20. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    BTW, all of Russ's Children cling to Christ with the faith he raised them in. So have all of my previous RPCNA Pastor's children. I can only say that is true for one of my Reformed Credo Baptist Pastors. And I have had a few of those.
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2019
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  21. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    One more thought as I have pondered this a lot over the past years. How a child is raised understanding their position and regard for the Covenant and Community have played a big part in the outcome. How the Church views their responsibility and children's position is important. Even into the later teen years. Loving Discipline and Discipleship are very important. The best results I have examined have been on the solid Reformed paedo side. I know a lot of people in both camps across our Nation.
  22. Jeri Tanner

    Jeri Tanner Moderator Staff Member

    We could start with a situation in which, say, the father may not have a full grasp of theological issues- let's say he's somewhat dispensational still in his understanding- so if he is in a Reformed church the teaching of the church will conflict with some things he may be teaching his family. Whenever a head of household finds that happening he should (ideally) be open to being taught more accurately and should not teach his family contrary to the church/the confessions. His children are definitely, and rightly, being taught contrary to the father's views through the ministry of the church. So that's an example. But there are all kinds of situations and we live in confused times for church and society. A head of household may find himself in a situation where he is reforming, and sees that the dispensational teaching of his church is harmful, so in that case he would need to find a more reformed church where the teaching conforms to Scripture. So all kinds of situations are possible. It would have to be judged on a case by case basis.

    I'm not quite sure where the breakdown is-- can you elaborate a bit more?
  23. Rutherglen1794

    Rutherglen1794 Puritan Board Junior

    I hope those men would acknowledge that the profession of their children is all of grace, even if others will not.
    But that can’t be! It’s too clear!
  24. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    Obviously. We are truly Reformed in our Theology.
    Deu 29:29 The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.
  25. Jeri Tanner

    Jeri Tanner Moderator Staff Member

    I think a lot of people who grow up in paedobaptism don't really see how it is derived from Scripture (which of course makes all the difference). That can be the case I think with many other doctrines- predestination, for example- that people grow up with as an assumption in reformed churches.
  26. RPEphesian

    RPEphesian Puritan Board Junior

    Many really don't. I was a convinced Reformed Baptist who studied it out and changed his mind. I sadly probably can explain it better than many in my city who grow up as paedos.
  27. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    Which is precisely why Presbyterians have historically taught the Shorter Catechism to their children! When heads-of-households do not teach their children, families are particularly endangered. Half-truths and assumptions take hold: I was reared in the faith, therefore I'm fine with God.
  28. Rutherglen1794

    Rutherglen1794 Puritan Board Junior

    Yes, and yes.

    Yes, the husband and father is the only one who is the primary teacher of his family. He is to bring his children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord—no other man.

    Yes, the elders of the local church can teach contrary to what any particular person in the church believes.

    Without knowing more information, your case can’t really be addressed fully on the internet. Godly elders should be the ones you seek answers from.

    If that’s not a possibility, then this is definitely a bigger issue than the internet can fix.
  29. Herald

    Herald Administrator Staff Member

    Amy, others have provided more detailed and comprehensive responses. Mine will be short and address the question at hand. I don't think that the head of a household is responsible for the faith of any member of their household. There is an old saying, "You can bring a horse to water but you can't make it drink." It doesn't matter whether the head of the household is a paedo or credobaptist, they cannot make anyone believe. That said, there is a responsibility to make sure members of the household are exposed to the gospel, Christian worship, and a commitment to Christian teaching and principles in the home. I am speaking as a Baptist, so take my comments from that point-of-view.
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