Children (Minors) in Covenant, Part I

How do “minor” members of the church fit into all this (i.e. the “covenant”)?  In theory they play such an important part that sometimes the “tail seems to wag the dog”.  Eg – minor members are called “baptized” ones, as though the “full” members are not.  We speak of “covenant education”, as though it were limited to youth, when it is a lifelong process.  People who join a church as adults are sometimes called “non-covenantal” members, and at least one baptismal fount has on it the quote, “Suffer the children to come unto me”, as though others were the exception by way of admittance to that rite.

That which – like any type – is supposed to be a source of assurance or enlightenment to “children” of any kind or age, is in the case of covenant membership quite baffling.  On the one hand they are baptized as tender infants and told thereafter they belong to the church; then in adolescence they are expected to “join” church.  (At that point they are assured that all the “privileges” of such membership are now theirs, but such privileges vary mightily with the individual churches.) “Baptized” membership is supposed to guarantee Christian education of what is called a “covenantal” kind, but there is often no discernible difference between it and a “non-covenantal” Christian school next door, or even the public one across the street that has prayer and Bible reading, or even a Christian teacher.  They are told in one breath to act like Christians (sometimes the label of “covenant-member” is invoked if they don’t, or even “covenant-breaker!”) but in the next breath they are told that they are prone to sin against God and society in thought, word, and deed almost constantly, and that it is heresy to think of themselves in any other “presumptuous” terms.

Well, let’s look at the “type”.  (As always, great care must be taken not to confuse the essence of the type with what logicians call the accidents or incidentals (which would make allegories out of types.) This is true, for example, of the fact that in the Old Covenant (whether with Abraham or Israel) only males received the initiation rite; women-folk were “included” in covenant the way that they are in male church-voting even today in some churches.  (Female ordination involves other principles than church membership and its privileges.)

  1.  Children were undeniably participants in covenant in the Old Testament.  Boys were circumcised the eighth day after birth, and both sexes (an important point) took part in Passover from infancy.
  2. Children shared in “covenant” only as secondary participants, not as principals.  Scripture has no examples of God making covenant with minors.  Children shared as beneficiaries (and/or the penalties, the baneful results) of the various covenants, and, insofar as they were capable, did have minor active roles to play to the extent of their ability.  But, as to covenant made “to thy seed after thee” the reference is to the renewal or reaffirmation “in their generations”, when the children reached an age of accountability.
  3. Some “minor” members in some situations, an entire generation through its leaders – or even a whole genealogy through unfaithful ancestor(s) – broke covenant in adulthood.
  4. Nothing is said as to the internal or eternal condition of the participants of the covenants, especially infants.  The type (picture) had to do with membership in the “chosen” community; some who did not physically leave it were false members, as Paul indicates in Romans 9-11; on the other hand we are not to assume that all the children of Achan or Korah, Dathan, and company were eternally lost.

In the light of the foregoing, we may make the following assumptions as to children of professing Christians today (in or “under” the “new covenant”, the New Testament).

  1.  We obviously cannot assume that every such child is born again and certain of heaven; circumstances plainly indicate otherwise when some of them (too many) reach the “age of discretion” and simply repudiate their baptism, “church membership”, etc.  On this score alone the practice of infant baptism is on weak ground.  If it be said that all (male) children received the Old Testament covenant initiation (membership) sigh and all youngsters took part in Passover, let it be reminded that nothing was said in the type as to spiritual salvation.   As to unbaptized “Christian” children who die in “minority”, some Scripture indicates that this part of God’s providence was also to their eternal salvation, which may be equally true of unbelievers’ children who die in infancy.  To think that baptism or the lack of it, per se, has anything to do with salvation is superstition of the worst water.
  2. So-called New Testament “covenant membership”, apart from baptism or anything else, has little practical meaning for children if the parents are not conscientious in the Christian tutelage, example, and parental prayer life that their professed new life entails for them.  Example:  If a missionary child were kidnapped and raised by heathens, its Christian ancestry (for generations) and/or baptism would have little significance.  This calls for some sharp thinking.  Some strongly “covenant” churches are half-hearted about baptism of adopted children from unknown parentage.  This makes the miracle of regeneration (or at least predisposition to it) a matter of genes.  What is more, a single Christian parent entitles to infant baptism in some churches on the strength of I Cor 7:14, but nobody baptizes the “unbelieving husband” because he is sanctified.  In fact, if he is an impediment to his wife’s sanctification of the children (as they often are, silently or actively) the significance of their baptism is more sentimental than sensible.  Completeness demands the statement that countless Christian parents are committed to the Christian training of their children, but to whom the word “covenant” is completely unknown in word or concept.  Many will dedicated their children to God in a church ceremony that includes the same promises as in churches that practice infant baptism; others do not even do that.  The results of godly example and instruction in all these instances are largely the same.
  3. While it is presumptuous (facts proving otherwise) to assume that all children born to Christian parents will themselves become Christian, if history and the Scripture type of “covenant” mean anything we may assume as to each one of them, until they give evidence to the contrary, that they are and have been born again.  (Once again, this warranted assumption does not give warrant for baptizing.  Adults are baptized not on the basis of their presumed regeneration, but profession of faith.)

It is obvious that point #3 is a far cry from raising a child (in a Christian home or school) with the attitude that until he gives evidence to the contrary he is a lost sinner.  The conflicting or contradictory fact is that such a child often is a born-again Christian, of the same immature level that his intelligence, personality, or sex are.  No wonder such children grow up with as many, if not more, spiritual problems and identity crises than a child raised in an admittedly non-Christian home, none of whose members is unduly concerned as to their spiritual condition.

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