Cashing the Cheque
Recently, over at Yinkahdinay, Pastor Wes Bredenhof wrote a blog post about issues facing the Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRC.) It was met with mixed reaction, as some people thought it was too negative. His first point was that nominalism and Christ-less Christianity are a challenge for us as a federation of churches. As a former nominal Christian myself, I appreciated this article, and not unlike a recovered cigarette addict (which I also am), I would like to passionately address this point, possibly to your irritation.
I trust that is OK.
Pastor Bredenhof states,
“[For some in the CanRC]Jesus is more of a concept to think about and debate, than a person with whom you relate and to whom you may even speak. To complicate matters, an emphasis on “covenant obligations” misunderstood only as strict moral imperatives has sometimes led to a twisted conception of Christianity as a system of law-keeping. Law and gospel become hopelessly confused. For these reasons, and others, the spirituality of some in the CanRC has far less vitality than one would hope for.”
While I do not think this issue is endemic to only the CanRC – a lot of churches struggle with nominalism among the ranks – it certainly exists within her. How many of us only go to church on Sunday because that is what we are supposed to do? My wife once said something like,
“For most of my life, being Canadian Reformed was only a part of who I was – it was a Sunday thing, going to church twice on Sunday was just what we did. But now being a child of God is who I am. It is everything.”
What she was saying was that she was raised to think a certain way and act a certain way, she professed her faith at the same age as all her friends did because it was expected of her. Jesus was just a nice idea, and the doctrine was in her head, but it was not in her heart.
Are we showing our children that Jesus is more than a mere doctrine and that He is a real person? That He wants to have a relationship with us? Are we discipling our children? Do we pray about specific sins we struggle with, about issues facing our kids, do we thank God for the real blessings in our lives? Or do we just say rote prayers at dinner time and sing the same cutesy lullaby prayer every evening at bedtime because that is just what we do? Do our lives reveal the truth of the doctrine of the antithesis? Do our lives show that we are different from the World? For how many of us has the Christian life become, as Pastor Bredenhof stated, just a “system of law keeping?” Do we, by our lives, show that Lord’s Day 1 actually means something to us? That in Jesus we truly do find our only comfort?
Baptismal Regeneration and Presumptive Regeneration
“Baptismal Regeneration” is the Roman Catholic teaching that baptism is necessary for salvation. Specifically, that through baptism, a person is forgiven of original and actual sin, and is spiritually regenerated. Once baptized, a person is then able to receive the other sacraments and come to faith. In short, this is the belief that baptism saves.
The Kuyperian view of “Presumptive Regeneration” is that baptism takes place based on the presumption that the child being baptized already has the seed of regeneration.
The CanRC does not teach either of these views. It is doubtful that there are many, if any, among the CanRC who would say that baptism saves. Nor would we say that we baptize our children based on the belief that they are already regenerate. But if we are honest, it does seem to be an issue that some of us are functional Kuyperians when it comes to baptism.
Why would this be an issue?
Possibly because there is so much comfort to be found in the promises of the covenant. The covenant is a beautiful thing. I believe in the covenant and that this is God’s means of communicating with his people the truth of the gospel and engaging in relationship with them. I defend the covenant and its promises. It is true that by virtue of the Covenant that a baptized child belongs to God. But perhaps sometimes we, as Canadian Reformed parents, presume that our children are regenerate and will grow to be faithful believers, simply because of the covenant promises stated at baptism.
It would be easy to do!
And if we do, then we may see no need to actually disciple our children. We may see no need to tell our children that they must be born again and come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. The promises of the covenant that are stated at baptism are true, but the obligation of the covenant is to take responsibility for your faith.
My pastor, Abel Pol, describes this as the difference between having a cheque written for you and cashing it in at the bank. With the covenant come the promises of God. These promises are like a cheque written out with your name on it and given to you as a covenant child. But if you keep that cheque in your wallet and only take it out and look at from time to time – it does you no good! You can’t buy anything with. You have to take the cheque to the bank and cash it in. Only then will it be of any value to you personally.
William Young, a retired minister in the Free Church of Scotland, wrote an article entitled, Historic Calvinism and Neo-Calvinsim. This is a Scottish Presbyterian’s view of the Kuyperian line of the Reformed churches in the Netherlands with regard to “experimental religion.”
Wait. What is “experimental religion?”
“Experimental” does not indicate experimenting with Christianity. Nor does it imply trying out other churches or denominations until we find one that suits our taste. Experimental is an old word, which essentially indicates that if we belong to Christ, we not only read and confess the truth of Scripture, but we are also enabled by the Holy Spirit to verify and enter into those truths in our own Christian experience. This experience is not a mere emotion or feeling, or sobbing of tears, or clapping of hands, but an experience of daily conversion, of heartfelt grief at offending a holy God, of seeking our covering in the blood of Jesus Christ, and of growing in sanctification by the Holy Spirit. It is engaging in a real and personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ as he is revealed in the Word.
What I found interesting is that in a portion of his article, a charge of what Young calls “hyper-covenantism” is levied against those who are descendants of the liberation led by Klaas Schilder (which would also include the CanRC). This article is 40 years old, which is a generation and a half ago, so things may be different now, but I think it is still somewhat relevant. If you enjoy history and theology, this article is worth a read.
“Hyper-covenantism” is described as the view that children are regenerate by virtue of being born and raised in the covenant community. Perhaps we are guiltier of this more so than any unspoken error in our view concerning baptism. Young writes that in a system of “hyper- covenantism,”
“Doctrinal knowledge and ethical conduct according to the Word of God are sufficient for the Christian life without any specific religious experience of conviction of sin and conversion, or any need for self-examination as to the possession of distinguishing marks of saving grace.”
As a result, for some in CanRC circles, experimental Christianity is often considered to be unimportant. In fact, we tend to accuse those ‘other’ Reformed churches around us of being wrong for being too experimental by demanding some form of “experience” or “proof of conversion” prior to profession of faith. Now I certainly agree that experience is not necessary for profession of faith, but a living relationship with Jesus Christ certainly is. The question could be asked, “Is it possible to have a living relationship with Jesus Christ, and to have the Holy Spirit indwell a person, without having any experience whatsoever?”
I would say no.
The Bible clearly teaches that if the Holy Spirit indwells a believer, he will be changed and bear fruit. There will be evidence. As a result of the view that experience is not important, for some the Christian life has been boiled down to simply being a member of the church, engaging in church activities, and living a moral life, rather than in engaging in a personal, covenantal relationship with God in Jesus Christ.
Young goes on to say that,
“A sharp theoretical cleavage may be drawn between regeneration and conversion, but in practice the child will be regarded as already converted or as being gradually and imperceptibly converted. The practice of the Christian school and catechetical training will be determined by this view, and will terminate in the expectation that the young adult will automatically make confession of faith and go to the Lord’s table. A system for breeding Pharisees, whose cry is “We are Abraham’s children,” could hardly be better calculated.”
That is a sobering allegation to say the least. I feel it is a harsh criticism as it is not true for all of us to be sure, but we do well to consider it and examine our hearts. Satan is the deceiver after all, and this would be one slick tactic to use on his part. Are we raising our kids to be Pharisees? Are we raising our kids to be nominal Christians? Or are we raising them to love the Lord Jesus?
I must clarify, that there are certainly pitfalls to embracing experimental Christianity. For instance, those members who are weaker in the faith may not find comfort in the promises of God because, perhaps, they have not had an identifiable conversion experience. Or perhaps in order to fit in they make up a story about having an experience, or they feel that God does not love them. In this system a person may become too inward focused, looking for evidence of salvation within themselves, rather than looking to Christ as he is revealed in the Word.
I am not saying that we need to throw out the baby with the baptismal water. What I am saying is let’s ensure that the way we raise our children is in line with what we read in the Bible and that we point to Christ as we raise them. Our kids are not saved simply because we had them baptized, raised them in the covenant community, had them catechized, and they professed their faith once upon a time. We are not saved simply because we keep the covenant obligations as a system of law keeping.We are saved because of Jesus. We are saved because we believe that Jesus Christ took our sins upon himself and died and rose again in order to restore us to life and relationship with him. We are saved because he wants to have a personal relationship with us.
So what is the solution to this issue of presumptive regeneration and the charge of hyper-covenantism? To quote Pastor Wes Bredenhof again,
“It starts with each of us examining ourselves and our attitude towards the Word. Do we really love the Word of God? Is it delightful for us to read and study it personally? Do we love to hear the voice of our Saviour speaking through the preaching? Do we humbly submit to that Word as children respecting their exalted Father, as subjects respecting their majestic King, as creatures respecting their sovereign Creator? Healthy, joyful, gospel-centered, outward-looking, God-honouring churches are produced by the Word of God and its impact on individual believers. No good for ourselves or others will ever come from neglecting the Scriptures.”
Do we love the Word of God?
Do we delight in Jesus?
Do we pray in solitude?
Do we have healthy, joyful, gospel-centered, outward-looking, God-honouring homes?
If we do, let’s demonstrate this to our kids. Let’s make the Christian life real for them. Let’s live it. Let’s disciple them. Let’s encourage them as they grow to take responsibility for their faith and to cash in the cheque that the Lord has written them, and live out the covenant obligations out of thankfulness for what Jesus has wrought for them.