John 1:12-13 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, (13) who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
How does anyone become a “child of God” according to the Apostle John? By being physically born to flesh and blood parents? Of course not. Not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man.” We must be born of God. The new birth. Born again. Regenerated. Entirely a work of God.
Joh 3:6-8 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (7) Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ (8) The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Now, I have good friends who are Presbyterians. We welcome them in our church even though we know that our view of baptism is quite different than theirs. And I know one or two faithful Presbyterian pastors I highly respect. This does not mean however that I think this difference is not extremely important. It is. Let me show you how.
Some Protestant Christians such as Presbyterians practice infant baptism. And if you talk with them, you will notice that they use the term “covenant children.” What they mean by that phrase is that children who are born to at least one Christian parent are “covenant children.” That is to say, they hold that just as it was in the Old Testament era when babies were born to Israelite parents and thus were to be (the boys) circumcised as a sign of the covenant. so it is in the church today. In other words, that somehow these “covenant children” are “in the realm of the covenant” and thus they are to be baptized as a sign of that covenant standing.
[Note: Baptists make a similar error quite frequently as I will mention in a moment. My goal here is not to pick on Presbyterians].
Now, we would ask them this question: “What covenant are you saying these children are in? Because there are only two covenants in Scripture: the Old Covenant made with Israel, and the New Covenant established by Christ which we enter not by birth, not by the will of man, not by being born of flesh, but by the new birth which is a work of God in which the Holy Spirit regenerates us through faith alone. So which covenant are these “covenant children” in? we ask. While most pedobaptists (Christians who baptize infants) will point to a few verses in the New Testament as support, that New Testament argument is very weak. And a leading pedobaptist of old, B.B. Warfield, acknowledged that the fundamental biblical argument for infant baptism/covenant children is derived from the Old Testament, not from the New.
But, here is my point in this article. Anytime we teach that someone is “in the covenant” or “in the realm of the covenant” or somehow “in the church,” we are opening the door to pronouncing unregenerate people as being Christians. Let me be quick to say here that Baptists can have the same error, but just come at it a bit different way. They don’t baptize infants, but they do rather quickly call children and others who have walked down the church aisle and then been baptized, “Christians.” Baptist or Presbyterian – both tend toward this error. Lutherans travel much further down the path toward Rome in their teaching on baptism, proclaiming that water baptism regenerates the soul. Rome of course goes all out here and actually teaches that water baptism, including the baptism of infants, accomplishes justification before God (although as soon as you mess up and sin, bye-bye justification and hello works and purgatory).
Whenever we have these kind of low views of who a Christian is (ie, of what people are in the New Covenant in Christ), we are opening the doors of the church to evil. We tend toward lightly pronouncing unconverted people as “converts.”
And what I have noticed over the years as a result is that churches who make these kinds of errors (and there are MANY) readily tend toward calling wicked people “Christians” even though such people show NO fruit of the Spirit in their lives, no real love for Christ or for His Word, no love for the people of Christ. You see the thing in how domestic abusers in the church are dealt with. “Oh, now, Mrs. Abuse victim, it takes time to determine if your husband is saved or not. Sure, he has been abusing you for decades (though you surely have to wear some blame for that too), but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t be saved.” Yeah. Right.
As my fellow elder said to me recently, “The gospel is actually quite simple. Only a theologian could get it so screwed up.”