Paedo-Baptism Answers What exactly IS a covenant child?

Discussion in 'Paedo-Baptism Answers' started by Pergamum, May 14, 2019.

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  1. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    I am a baptist looking (again) into covenant theology. One obstacle is the concept of a covenant child. What exactly is a covenant child?

    I agree with the household principle, by the way. All in our household that we bring to church hear the Gospel and so sit under the covenant blessings. But Presbyterians say they are "in" the covenant instead of just under the covenant blessings.

    So who qualifies as a covenant child?

    If I have a biological child but my wife and I die at their birth and that child is raised as a he a covenant child?

    If I adopt a child, is he a covenant child?

    If the Muslims capture Balkan Christian kids and use them as Janissaries and indoctrinate them in the muslim fate during the middle ages, were those covenant children?

    If I own slaves, do those slaves become part of my household such that they are now covenant children?

    If I run an orphanage, are those kids covenant children if under my care?

    If a child is raised in the church by parents who claim to be Christian but are actually hidden apostates, is that child a covenant child?
  2. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    Perg, the general question is rather easy to answer, but your "case law" questions are much more difficult, as I imagine you know already. The biblical definition of a covenant child, according to 1 Corinthians 7, is that one or both parents of a child are believers (it is assumed that the believing parent or parents are members of the local church). The child is born into a family that exists in a covenantal relationship to God. The covenantal relationship is not one granted by the church per se, but it is solemnized and ratified by baptism. I like to think of this situation as parallel to people who earn doctorates. They are technically a doctor when they have defended the thesis. But public recognition of that happens at graduation, and that is when most people will start to call the person "Dr. so and so." So it is with covenant children. They are in the administration (and if already regenerated, they have the substance, too) of the covenant. That distinction might be similar to what you're saying about covenant versus covenant blessings. The covenantal status is publicly recognized and ratified at baptism.

    That might help with some of your other questions, but not all. For instance, we could define "parent" or "parents" as the person or persons who raise the child, and may not be the biological parent(s) of the child. I would say that if the headship of a child passes to people who are not Christian, then the child is no longer under the administration of the covenant, even if they are baptized, though they don't lose the status of being baptized. For the new parents have brought the child under the covenantal sanctions by ignoring the import of the baptism. The Lord can, of course, bring that child back to the covenant in any way he chooses. I think the category of covenantal sanctions helps with a lot of your questions. As to an orphanage, that is certainly a gray area, and a lot would depend on whether the children call you a parent. Most orphanages are temporary situations, with the children expected to be adopted, or go into foster care (another sticky question!). I think if the child is in a church but is raised by apostates, the child will not be in the church for long! A lot depends on the individual situation, however. The parents did not undertake the covenantal promises except to bring the child to church. The parents are certainly covenant breakers, but the child may not be. Again, a regenerated child partakes of the substance of the covenant, not just the administration, so the status of the child's heart must be taken into consideration as well. Tough questions, but I think most of them would have to be dealt with on a case by case basis.
  3. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Ok, thanks.
  4. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    Properly speaking, covenant children are our elect seed as only the elect are really in the covenant of grace (Galatians 3:16). The children of believers indiscriminately may be referred to as covenant children in an improper sense as they all belong to the external administration of the covenant of grace (see Genesis 17).
  5. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Senior

    I don't have time to elaborate now, but Rom. 3:1-4a should be helpful in understanding God's covenant to unbelievers in the covenant.

    "What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God. For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly not!"
  6. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Why not just say that all children taken to church or baptized are under the administration of the covenant?
  7. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    But that is about the Jews, not about covenant children.
  8. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    Seems reasonable enough to me. The Westminster Catechisms, however, following scripture, define the covenant of grace as being made with Christ and the elect. Thus, it is necessary to make certain distinctions.
  9. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Yes, I believe those In Christ only are IN the covenant of grace, but all who go to church are under the external administration of the covenant. The lingo of covenant child seems a magic charm like a cloak of protection or something. In reality, it seems that baptist parents who take their kids to church have covenant children, too.
  10. Johnathan Lee Allen

    Johnathan Lee Allen Puritan Board Freshman

    They do. The children are holy (set apart as distinct from unbelievers) under the faith of one or both parents. It’s a matter of the parents being submitted to what we as Presbyterians see as evidence of command to baptize those under your parental care (your children biological or adopted) according to Scripture.
  11. SolaScriptura

    SolaScriptura Puritan Board Doctor

    Personally, I don't like the term. And I believe in baptizing our babies. I tend to find an overly sentimentalized notion of the "preciousness" of our children associated with the use of the term that is odious to me and to (my understanding of) the biblical view of how we should view and raise our children.

    (No... "covenant child" doesn't simply mean "covenant member who is a minor"... otherwise we'd speak of covenant adults or covenant men or covenant women. We mean something uniquely emotionally sentimental that we slap a theological label on to (ahem) justify our sappiness.)

    I *think* the concept originates from passages such as Rom 9:8 and Gal 4:28 which employs the language of "children of promise." (Except in both cases, Paul uses the phrase in a context in which he is actually arguing against an understanding of a covenant people based on fleshly origination... and using charitable judgment he seems to be referring them as present tense believers, (i.e., elect).

    I realize that we sometimes need to use extra-biblical terms as designators for what we believe the Bible to teach, i.e., the use of the word "Trinity." But I don't think "covenant child" falls into that category.

    I prefer to simply refer to our children as members of the visible church, or the "household of faith". Or, if you want to stress the idea that children too can be covenant breakers, just refer to them as members of the covenant community.
    Last edited: May 14, 2019
  12. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    I like your terminology better. The term has been a road block for me in studying pedobaptism and is one of the reasons I've not made a jump over. It almost seems magical. As if the child is blessed by virtue of birth into the right geneology.

    Does anyone know when the term originated? Is it of Medieval origin, or post-Reformation?
  13. SolaScriptura

    SolaScriptura Puritan Board Doctor

    I’d be shocked if this isn’t a term developed within the last 200yrs.

    Interestingly, I don’t believe the term is in either the Westminster Standards nor in the PCA’s BCO, though both speak of the children of believers.
  14. RWD

    RWD Puritan Board Freshman

  15. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    I can't speak to the historic origin, but the OPC DPW uses the terms "covenant children" 2X [1.B.4.a & 4.a.6] and "covenant child" 1X [2.B.2.e].

    Pastor Ben is free to (much) prefer another term. For my part, I don't think the words are sentimental at all, but perhaps I lack his experience in dealing with sheep who have a skewed perspective.

    Church members are people who we regard, and treat like Christians, even extending the term "Christian" to them. I don't know what else we would call our children, or what other they would call themselves if they were asked for their religious identity. This designation is, of course, open to qualification. "Disciples" and "Christian" are synonyms per Act.11:26. And we recognize that there may be people who will lose that designation over time. Judas, for instance.

    But to be a member at church, to be a disciple, to be a Christian, is to belong to the visible administration of the kingdom. No one can "see" the invisible church, the invisible kingdom citizenships, the hidden covenant-identity of anyone. We can only judge--however imperfectly--by the external. The covenant, kingdom, citizenship, membership: it is all the language we make use of to define us.

    I am a covenant child, still. I'd say a grown man becomes a covenant child when he's born again as a convert from outside Christianity. We're all nothing but covenant children, "sons and daughters" of the Most High (cf. 2Cor.6:18). But it's also true that we take up duties as a true "son of the covenant" when we embrace our identity in full, and the privileges and duties of a responsible adult.

    And in that, we ten to regard those little ones who are learning the faith as the covenant children under formation, and the personal recognition of that identity as marking the completion of that stage. He/she has come to the place of full sonship, complete formation. He starts a new stage, we may say, joining covenant men (and covenant women), all whom are people of the covenant.

    Anyone is free to prefer other language. But this is offered as a decidedly non-sentimental treatment of the term.
  16. SolaScriptura

    SolaScriptura Puritan Board Doctor

    I appreciate this, though I will say that since the OPC DPW employs the term, of course I'd expect an OPC guy to defend its use! ;)

    I'm glad that you try to show how the concept applies to church members in general by referring to even yourself as a covenant child... but that's virtually never how I've read or heard it used. It almost always is used exclusively to refer to minors. Even if you say you've never (or not commonly) encountered sentimentalism in regards to children (which seems odd to me, because I've found it almost ubiquitous in every American church I've ever attended), there is something inherently symptomatic of sentimentalism if/when we use a label that emphasizes their uniqueness/value that we don't use for others. Again, I virtually NEVER hear someone say, as you did, that we are "all" covenant children. But, I agree in principle that our children are members of the church, of the covenant community, of the household of faith. Thus, I refer to them as such.
  17. RPEphesian

    RPEphesian Puritan Board Junior


    In my pre-paedo days I didn't like the term "covenant child" either. Sounded sappy. To a Baptist mind it almost feels like a step behind presumptive regeneration. However, I didn't know what was meant by it either.

    Were I to use it, I'd just mean those that God has chosen to be part of the visible church by birth, in respect to the covenant in Genesis 17. Seems like the difference between Isaac and Ishmael should be enough to sap away the unbiblical romanticism we might attach to the term. Go to Genesis 19 ("he will command his children after him") and Deuteronomy 6 and see what all responsibilities are laid upon those with covenant children, and what's expected of the children, and you'll become a little more realistic about what all covenant attachment entails.

    I think "paedobaptist" ought to go out too and be replaced with something like "household Baptist." It communicates far better the position--baptizing based on households of believers, and avoids the potential mistake of thinking we baptize an infant on the basis of their being an infant, or a child by virtue of being a child.
  18. Johnathan Lee Allen

    Johnathan Lee Allen Puritan Board Freshman

    My wife and I always refer to it as “covenant baptism” to emphasize the root of adopting such a view. I think it disarms people who get skittish about paedobaptism (especially when they wrongly associate it with the false view that Rome holds).
  19. BLM

    BLM Puritan Board Freshman

    Do Presbyterians consider the baptized infants of parents belonging to the below list of churches/denominations as "covenant children"?

    - Roman Catholic Church
    - Eastern Orthodox
    - Assyrian & Coptic Christians
    - Methodists
    - Lutherans

    I've always wondered how far the Presbyterian definition of "covenant children" extends. Is it just the baptized infants of families who hold to the Reformed view of covenant theology who enjoys these privileges or do the children of other traditions gain this status even though the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, (fill in the blank) family attributes a completely different meaning to baptism as does the Presbyterian?
  20. RWD

    RWD Puritan Board Freshman

    Probably analogous to whether a Calvinistic Baptist would regard the parents of such as these believers.
  21. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    @SolaScriptura makes a very interesting point about the use of such extra-confessional terminology as covenant children. I wonder if it has emerged from a certain form of "conditional covenantalism" that divorces the covenant of grace from election and views the children of believers as all equally covenant children?

    To be truthful, I do not think the use of such terminology is a hill to die on, though I have also seen it used in a sentimental sense that would lend weight to presumptuous regeneration. But not all uses of the phrase would necessarily imply this error.
  22. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    For my part, I agree with Thomas Boston that it only extends to the immediate offspring/household of true believers. Other Reformed divines took different approaches to Boston, so you are probably not going to get a uniform answer to this question.
  23. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    What exactly IS a covenant child?

    For once, I agree with Bill Clinton: It depends on what the meaning of is is. ;):stirpot:
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  24. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    My answer is a little bit different from Ron's, but not contradictory. I think the children of the Baptist believer are typically covenant-children (abstractly considered). What makes them covenant-children doesn't have to do with whether they are baptized or not. Baptism, in Presbyterian theology, belongs to the children of believers, whether of one or both parents.

    From my Presbyterian perspective, the Baptist parent (and the corresponding church) is removing a proper assignment from a child for whom it is due. I hope all are reading carefully--I didn't say that this is the way Baptist theology and conviction regards the matter, when I know that is a very different thing. But the question was asked: how are certain children to be regarded?

    The reason this preliminary Q&A is useful: the way the question is framed, only various baptized-children are put in view, which then restricts the response in such a way as "covenant-children" becomes a designation for the baptized-infant. Which is backwards. Covenant-children, because in Presbyterian baptismal theology "the children of believers have an interest in the covenant," also then have "a right to the covenant sign and to the outward privileges of the covenant people." (OPC.DPW III.B.1.b.(4))

    So, when we consider the question of those persons of other church affiliation who have been baptized as children, we are first interested in whether the baptism has been done according to the simple but full biblical rite: in water, in the Triune Name, by some true branch of the church (even if decrepit or deformed) with the intent to baptize.

    Second, before we should fully regard such a child as a covenant-child, we would want to know if the theology of that church is evangelical (in the old sense). In other words, it is possible to regard a baptism as valid, while regarding the theology offered in justification for the baptism defective. If a church has hardly any teaching that corresponds to our notions of covenant theology, it's hard to justify calling such folk "covenant people," or "covenant children" as a result. How much energy will I give an argument over the esoteric question of whether those who do not share certain theological commitments should see their children as I think believers' children should be seen?

    But, suppose these same parents come to one of our churches, and receive and accept a new covenant-justification for what they already practiced. Since we do not teach that the rite must follow a complete understanding of the gospel, but may also follow it (and need no repetition), the baptisms are understood as valid, and now those same people, and those same children, see baptism as covenant-markers.
  25. RWD

    RWD Puritan Board Freshman

    It was only after I came to see that the CoG was made with the incarnate Son and the elect in Him did I come across WLC #31. The WLC could have cut down a lot of work for me had I known about it earlier.
  26. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    Even though I have been a paedobaptist since 2001, it is only in the last couple of years that my thinking has clarified on this point. I am amazed that I stumbled over the clear teaching of the Westminster Catechisms for so long.
  27. RWD

    RWD Puritan Board Freshman

    Well, they even teach it wrong in seminaries.

    Horton once wrote: "God did not make the covenant of Grace with the Elect, but with believers and their children."

    But it appears to have been altered to:

    “As a result, the covenant of grace is made with believers and their children on the basis of both the covenant of redemption (unconditional election) and the surety's fulfillment of the covenant of works (active/passive obedience).”

    Still wrong.
  28. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    I'm trying to be charitable; Horton subscribes to the 3FU, not to WS; and there is variety in the tradition. But I have to agree; that new, dual expression can hardly be mapped to the dual administration of the CoG (inward/outward). The inclusion of "basis" with respect to the CoW puts works on equal footing with grace, when grace (a redeemed forever-people) is the original purpose in decree. At best, one has to equivocate on the term "basis."
  29. OPC'n

    OPC'n Puritan Board Doctor

    I think of it the same way that the OT saw their children when they practiced circumcision. Anyone brought into an Israelite household (including slaves) were circumcised and thus brought into the covenant of God. There were those who were not of the elect, those who married outside of the Jewish people, those who started worshipping idols etc, but God still held them as his people under his covenant and dealt with their sins.

    Just bc someone is baptized doesn’t mean they are saved, but they are within his covenant which affords them all the outward blessings. This brings a whole heap of judgment on them since they have tasted of the good things of God but refused him in the end. Everyone who is in the church must be in his covenant in order for the church to be unified properly. Even the reformed Baptist’s children are covenant children they just don’t realize it ;)
  30. RWD

    RWD Puritan Board Freshman

    Yes, it’s very confusing. I suspect handing over the analytical discipline of systematic theology to church historians isn’t the cleverest of ideas.
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