Ideas Have Consequences

A week ago last Monday I attended the Reformed Ministers Fraternal in Glasgow. The address given was inconsequential, explaining how the Edinburgh School of Theology (formerly the Free Church College) trains ministers.

Much more important as far as I was concerned, was the announcement that we could purchase a copy of an important new book for a nominal sum. The book was A Sad Departure by David J. Randall, a retired Church of Scotland minister (Banner of Truth, 2015). Reporting the fact that about forty ministers and many members, including a number of complete congregations, have left the Church of Scotland in recent months, the author clearly attributes this sad departure to the grievously sad departure of the Church of Scotland from its biblical foundations. The reason these ministers and congregations have left the Church of Scotland is because the denomination no longer affirms the Bible to be the Word of God, and no longer regards it as the infallible standard for doctrine and practice. A whole series of catastrophic decisions by the Church Assembly, from ordaining women, through recognizing same-sex marriages, to the latest act of ordaining practising homosexuals, has forced many to leave the denomination.

I am reminded of a cartoon I personally did not see but which was described to me. It portrayed an Anglican procession led by a female Archbishop of Canterbury, arm in arm with her lesbian lover, followed by clergy waving Tibetan prayer flags, etc., etc. At the rear walked two evangelical ministers, muttering to one another, “One more thing, and we’ll leave.”

However, to return to the situation in the Church of Scotland, David Randall lays the blame for this sad departure from the faith at the door of liberal theology, which, over the last century, has eaten away at the foundations of the Church of Scotland.

But I believe there is another factor, not mentioned in the book, and which would, in any case, not be recognized by the author. The other cause of declension is surely the time bomb of infant baptism. In spite of the best efforts of sincere evangelicals in both the C of E and the C of S, multitudes of people grow up with the conviction that, as they were ‘baptized’ as infants, they are Christians.

Nor is this error merely the fault of an uninformed laity. Both denominations, at their roots, foster this belief.

I have on my shelves a copy of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, dated 1842. In the section dealing with the ‘Publick Baptism of Infants,’ we read that after ‘baptizing’ the child, the priest declares, “We receive this child into the congregation of Christ’s flock…” Then he adds, “Seeing now, dearly beloved brethren, that this child is regenerate, and grafted into the body of Christ’s Church, let us give thanks…”

Evangelicals, and perhaps some others, may adopt slightly different wording today, but there is the error right at the root of the church.

Presbyterianism (of which there are nine different denominations so far in Scotland) relies upon Covenant Theology. The idea is that once a child is ‘baptized’ he or she is ‘in the covenant.’ They simply have to continue attending the church, accepting its teaching and practices to be regarded as Christians. More than one Presbyterian theologian has described ‘baptized’ babies as ‘little Christians.’

Therefore, multitudes of churchgoers have grown up with the delusion that, having been baptized, and in the case of Anglicans have also been confirmed, they are Christians.

Inevitably it transpires that over the years some of these unregenerate church members have progressed into positions of leadership, influence and authority, some even becoming ministers. This may help to explain why such devastating decisions can be made at the highest level.

As far as liberal theology is concerned, any church can be affected by it if they let go of their biblical foundations, and so may end up with unregenerate members and even ministers. But evangelical churches that hold to believer’s baptism are much less likely to have unregenerate members because their theology of a regenerate church membership works against it, whereas in churches that practise infant baptism their theology works in favour of this error. These are also some of the reasons why the current interest in New Covenant Theology is so crucial.

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