Covenant Baptism is not merely a symbol (Zwingli) or a “wet dedication service” where water is used. If anyone is dedicating himself in covenant baptism, it is God who is dedicating himself to keep the promises he has made to Christian parents. This is a high view of the efficacy of covenant baptism. It is not a doorway to Federal Vision. It is simply the teaching of the Westminster Confession of Faith.
A word of thanks to The Aquila Report for enduring this small sparring debate on the issue of Theonomy and Federal Vision.[i] Readers need to hear both sides of contrary positons taken by teaching elders in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). This is my last rebuttal on this topic.
I do have a “high view of the efficacy of baptism.” I do not hesitate to use this phrase because I affirm the statement of the Westminster Confession of Faith on Baptism in Chapter 28, Section 6.
The efficacy of baptism is not tied to the time of the administration of baptism, but it is tied to the administration of baptism itself. There is a huge difference. No Christian parent should expect that grace be “conferred” (Confessional language) on their children apart from their children being recipients of the sacrament of covenant (infant) baptism. The same can be said of adult baptisms. The grace promised in the ordinance of baptism is actually conferred in God’s appointed time “by the right use of this ordinance” (Confessional language). Grace is conferred because the ordinance is used. God uses means to accomplish his ends. This in no way conflicts with the sovereignty of God or the independent work of the Holy Spirit.
Certainly, the grace is conferred to those to whom it belongs as the Confession clearly states. I am certainly not denying the doctrine of election. However, the doctrine of election was never given to negate the hope of the promises that are given to Christian parents. It is interesting to note that the doctrine of election taught in Romans 9 does not stand alone in the Bible. It exists because there was a need to explain the departure of Israel from the faith (Romans 9: 1-5). It was necessary to explain why there was unbelief among the covenant people of God. It was intended to be an explanation — not a qualification to the promises of God. Sadly, in some reformed circles it has become just that — a constant qualification.
Some preachers are haunted by what I call the “if clause.” For example, it is often said to Christians that the promises of God are for you “if you are saved” or “if you are a true believer.” The very promises that give hope to Christians often die a slow death by a thousand qualifications. See my recent book on raising covenant children.[ii] Likewise, the doctrine of predestination in the first chapter of the Book of Ephesians is given in a context to comfort the people of God, not to make them doubt the promises of God in their baptisms.
Covenant Baptism is not merely a symbol (Zwingli) or a “wet dedication service” where water is used. If anyone is dedicating himself in covenant baptism, it is God who is dedicating himself to keep the promises he has made to Christian parents.[iii] This is a high view of the efficacy of covenant baptism. It is not a doorway to Federal Vision. It is simply the teaching of the Westminster Confession of Faith.
Larry E. Ball is a retired minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is now a CPA. He lives in Kingsport, Tennessee.
[ii] Ball, Larry E., Unto You and Your Children, The Promises of the Covenant – A Primer, Victorious Hope Publishing, 2016, page 87-88.
[iii] Ibid., p. 63