Bullinger and covenantal status…

Many in the Southern Presbyterian[1] tradition deny that infants born in covenant homes are to be welcomed in the full life of the church.[2] In fact, some even assume that they are not to receive any covenant privileges until they have reached an age where articulation of one’s faith is possible. This position seems to be a prevalent reaction to the high sacramental theology of various traditions. Unfortunately, this has led to the denial of the God-granted role for covenant children in the church. Infants are heirs of the promise simply because God in His free grace displays His holy affections to the family. As Bullinger writes:

…we consider children of parents to be children and indeed heirs even though they, in their early years, do not know that they are either children or heirs of their parents.

Baptized infants are the proper recipients of grace and are commanded to live in light of his/her covenantal commitment. To live in light of his baptism entails a sacred commitment to piety and holy living. If one is enlightened (baptized) and deny the work of grace, he is then in the same condemnatory status as Judas. Bullinger captures this idea:

They are, however, disowned if, after they have reached the age of reason, they neglect the commands of their parents.

So then, it is not a trust in the sacrament, but a life lived in light of the sacrament that grants assurance. The Jews thought they were secure because of their birth into the covenant family, but they did not live in light of that status, and thus, suffered the curses. The covenant Lord has entered into covenant with all baptized children, and infants are to grow in that covenant; repenting and believing that God’s grace is sufficient.


[1] For an excellent analysis of Southern and Northern Presbyterianism and how they understood sacramental efficacy, see Lewis Schenck: The Presbyterian Doctrine of Children in the Covenant.

[2] In the case of Baptist ecclesiology, infants are not even worth y recipients of the covenantal sign of baptism. Hence, there is a legitimate distinction between Southern Presbyterians and Baptists. Though both affirm that children do not receive any saving grace until they make a profession, Paedobaptists apply the sign of the covenant in faith that God will keep His promise.

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
This entry was posted in Covenant Theology, Family, Reformed Theology, Word/Sacrament. Bookmark the permalink.

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