Questions for the CanRC (10-A)

Scott's tenth question is: "In the Nine Points, the URCs said, “we reject the errors of those…who teach that all baptized persons are in the covenant of grace in precisely the same way such that there is no distinction between those who have only an outward relation to the covenant of grace by baptism and those who are united to Christ by grace alone through faith.” At least one current CanRC minister has, in the past, preached publicly a sermon teaching that, at baptism, every baptized person is united “head for head” with Christ. What is the range of teaching in the CanRCs regarding “baptismal union with Christ”?"

I'm quite sure that Scott is referring to me in this question. When I pastored in Kansas City, I preached a sermon on baptism in which I said, "God joins us to Christ through water baptism." Scott and his wife happened to be in attendance that evening. After the service my wife and I hosted them in our house and we had a lovely time. Months later I discovered from friends of mine who were students at Westminster Seminary that Scott had been publicly badmouthing me at the seminary. I was hurt by this and I immediately contacted him and what followed was a wave of email exchanges, involving several others, not least my own consistory in Kansas City.

To make a long story short, I retracted some things I said in the sermon and indicated regret for my lack of clarity and Scott promised not to bring up the sermon again. Though I found that Scott was often less than charitable in his assessment of my theology and though we never did come to complete agreement, I did appreciate some of his insights and tried, as best I could, to learn from him.

I now wish I had just stuck with Paul's own language in Romans 6, such as: "We are buried with Christ through baptism" though I'm not sure that would have helped either. The problem, as I see it today, was not so much the language of my thematic statement, but the way in which I worked it out. After all, the language I used has been used by countless Reformed notables, including Cornelis Trimp who writes, "It is baptism that grafts us into fellowship with Christ" (in Preaching and the History of Salvation, p.107). Hughes Oliphant Old begins a chapter on baptism by saying, "The saints enter into union with Christ through baptism" (in The Communion with Saints, ed. Phil Ryken). The Scots Confession (1560) says, "We assuredly believe that by Baptism we are engrafted into Christ." In the baptismal service followed by John Knox the question was posed, "Do you present this child to be baptized, earnestly desiring that it may be ingrafted in the mystical body of Jesus Christ?"

John Calvin, commenting on Matthew 3:13, tells us that Christ "received baptism with us in order to assure believers that they are ingrafted into His body, and that they are buried with Him in baptism." In his sermon on Galatians, he writes, "You see then that the way for us to get out of the dungeon of death wherein we were drowned is to be united to our Lord Jesus Christ by the bond of faith. Now Saint Paul saith, that that is done in Baptism" Sadly, Calvin continues, "many that are baptized do wipe away the grace of God" (Sermons on Galatians, 484-485).

Then there's the Reformed formulary for baptism which says, "When we are baptized into the Name of the Holy Spirit, God the Holy Spirit assures us by this sacrament that He will dwell in us and make us living members of Christ, imparting to us what we have in Christ."

In my sermon then I made much of John 15, arguing that Jesus underscores a union with Him in which all covenant members, head for head, partake. There is, after all, a whole host of Reformed theologians in the Afscheiding tradition who emphasize that all covenant member enjoy a union with Christ, head for head, in terms of John 15. Faber writes of William Heyns, for example, in American Secession Theologians (pp.40ff), "In John 15 the unfruitful branches --- covenant members--- are branches 'in Christ,' organically united to him. Romans 11 designates the covenant members as branches which had become partakers of the root and the fatness of the olive tree . . . Already in his earlier articles, Heyns said that a 'certain measure of life' in ALL covenant members cannot be denied" (emphasis mine). Even Herman Hoeksema, Faber points out, argued that the branches of the vine which were cut off (John 15) "drew their life-sap out of that vine."

Schilder was quite critical of Heyns, but Faber faults him for this: "Schilder did not sufficiently acknowledge Heyn's intention in his Catechiek and therefore did not do full justice to this American Secession theologian . . . Schilder should and could have more strongly defended his seceded brother Heyns over against Hoeksema's supralapsarianism."

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