Westminster 28.6

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Greenbaggins attempts to answer my challenges on Westminster 28.6 here. Before engaging with that response, let me say express some disappointment that Lane also says that this will be his “final statement on it.” When it comes to the efficacy of baptism, I get to have the last word. The problem with this is that it is a double standard. When questions are raised about Wilkins and Leithart, and their conformity to the Westminster Standards, do they get to simply call a halt when they are tired of trying to explain? If the issue is a confessional one, and reasonable questions in good faith are raised, then shouldn’t the discussion continue until there is some kind of resolution? The standard with which you judge, you shall be judged.

Those who read through the posts on this thread will see that Lane is very much out of conformity with the teaching of Westminster 28.6, however much he would like that lack of conformity to go away. In this last response, he tries to nuance his position just a bit, but it is still entirely unsatisfactory.

First, I agree with Lane on the meaning of the phrase “in His appointed time.” This is clearly speaking of the moment of regeneration for one of the elect. And I agree with Lane about the importance of WCF 27.2. Sign and thing signified are distinct but inseparable, and the names and effects of one can lawfully be attributed to the other, which is not the same thing as being equated with the other. Well and good.

Lane argued previously that the efficacy of baptism was resident in its role as sign and seal, and not because it had anything to do with accomplishing the thing signified. Now he is adjusting somewhat, saying that the sign-and-sealness of baptism comes to its full efficacy when faith comes. “Baptism has its full effect as sign and seal when a person comes to faith.” “When that promise becomes fulfillment, the promise has its full meaning.” “But the sign and seal do not have their full efficacy until faith comes” (all emphases mine). But what does this mean? The thing signified can plainly come later than the baptism, but how can the sign and seal get any fuller?

The PCA BCO clearly takes the referent of the “efficacy of baptism” the same way I do, and this is contrary to Lane’s argument.

“That the inward grace and virtue of Baptism is not tied to that very moment of time wherein it is administered; and that the fruit and power thereof reaches to the whole course of our life; and that outward baptism is not so necessary, that through the want thereof, the infant is in danger of damnation” (PCA BCO 56-5.1).

“The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time” (WCF 28.6)

The efficacy of baptism refers to that which baptism signifies and seals, which is to say the inward grace and virtue spoken of in WCF 28.1. Sure, baptism in water is a sign and seal, but a sign and seal of what?

“Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world.” (WCF 28.1).

It is a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of a man’s ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up to God in order to walk in newness of life. That is what is signified in baptism. Now 28.6 says that for those to whom this grace belongs, at the appointed time, the Holy Spirit of God uses baptism as one of His instruments for bringing all this about. That is the teaching of the Confession, and Lane does not hold to it. This does not make him any less of a Christian, for there are many fine Christians who don’t hold to the Westminster Confession of Faith. But it does make him significantly less of a confessionalist, and it disqualifies him from bringing accusations against others for their lack of conformity to the Confession.

He is tying himself in knots here because he is trying to protect sola fide, but the Reformers had a clear understanding of Word and Sacrament as means of grace, and they did not deny sola fide. For example, Lane says this — “Baptism, however connected it is to faith, is not faith itself. We are not justified by baptism. We are justified by faith alone.” But there are secondary instruments involved. Faith as the sole instrument of justification refers to faith as the sole primary instrument. There are plenty of lesser instruments, lesser means — preachers, tracts, sermons, mothers, mission agencies, the Lord’s Supper, soup kitchens, baptism, and bumperstickers.

The identification of Word and sacraments as media gratiae does not intend to exclude a general or common operation of grace but rather to indicate the function of both Word and sacraments in the regeneration . . . and sanctification . . . of man as the instruments or objective channels of special or saving grace (gratia specialis). Word and sacraments are thus instrumental both in the inception of salvation and in the continuance of the work of grace in the Christian life. In addition, Word and sacraments are the sole officially ordained or instituted instruments or means of grace. God has promised the presence of his grace to faithful hearers of the Word and faithful participants in the sacraments” (Richard Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, pp. 187-188)

Muller is describing the historic Reformed position, which is not the contemporary bapterian position. American bapterians are trying to protect sola fide while keeping the language of means of grace, but they do this by isolating it from regeneration and justification, applying it solely to secondary aspects of the Christian experience, like sanctification. Thus faith is the sole instrument of justification, while things like baptism and the Lord’s Supper can be a great help somewhere else in your Christian life, like in your on-going sanctification. This is not how the Reformers thought at all. They made faith the sole instrument for receiving justifying grace, but they were quite happy to employ numerous other secondary instruments, all subordinate to faith alone, and all made effectual by faith alone.

In short, the historic Reformed faith saw faith as the primary instrument of justification, the one essential thing that made all secondary instruments of that same justification (e.g. sermons and sacraments) worth anything at all. Those in the Reformed tradition who have sought to accommodate the anti-magisterial bent of the American system of theology have done this by means of making sacraments the means of secondary graces, instead of secondary means of grace. They got the adjective in the wrong place is all.

Fine. Let them do that. But then when they go on a rampage, and start accusing those people who still hold to Westminster the way it was written of denying the gospel, denying sola fide, and denying the Three Silmarils, it gets a bit thick and a response is required. As I said earlier, many fine Christians don’t hold to Westminster. Great. Fine. But if you don’t hold to Westminster, it is not possible to still use it as a club.

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