The kingdom of God will advance in time and history. There is no question about that. What is the kingdom of God? It is God's righteous reign in the earth.1 The Bible predicts a time on earth when a large segment of the population will be regenerated and profess faith in Christ, when the law of God as expressed in the Holy Scripture will govern in all areas of life, and when peace and tranquillity will prevail as a result of God's blessings on the obedience of the godly. This kingdom will occur before the Second Advent of Christ.2 The task of the people of God is to exercise dominion under God's authority using the Bible as their guide. This, in fact, is man's objective in being on earth in the first place. Man exerts godly dominion, beginning with himself, and by the power of the Spirit of God presses the claims of Biblical Christianity in all areas of life.3
The Covenant Mechanism
God has furnished a mechanism for this objective. It is the covenant. This should not surprise us. As the Westminster Confession states, the covenant is God's means of dealing with man:
The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God's part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.4
While the covenant between God and man operated from man's creation (Rom. 5:12-21) and the divine pledge after the universal flood (Gen. 9:1-17), it comes especially to the forefront in God's calling of a specific people for his name — ethnic Israel and all gentiles willingly united to that body. We see this covenant idea summarized in Genesis 17 in the covenant ratification with Abraham. A covenant is a sacred agreement, secured by oath, and often by a bloody oath.5 We recognize these elements plainly in the institution of the Abrahamic covenant. But there is another factor. Covenants bind successors; they are multigenerational pledges and agreements.6 This is a big part of what circumcision was all about under the old covenant administration. The children of covenant parents are bound by covenant to the God of their parents. They are subject to the same stipulations, and to the same covenant blessings and curses. One of the supreme covenant promises to Abraham was that his seed would "possess the gate" of its enemies (Gen. 22:17). "Possess the gate" denotes victory over and subordination of one's enemies. No doubt this was especially comforting to Abraham since his was a small clan amid large, fierce tribes and nations in Canaan. God fulfilled his promise by granting his seed the land of Canaan in subordinating the Canaanites to Israel as the people of God. But since the entire Bible is a new covenant book,7 when we read the New Testament, we discover that the principal Seed to which the Old Testament referred was Christ himself. This is the message of Galatians 3. Christ and all united to him by faith are the true seed of Abraham. The seed is not limited to ethnic Jews (just as it was not so limited in the Old Testament era), but includes all of the people of God of whatever race. All of them are granted the covenant pledge given to Abraham, including the covenant promise that their physical seed will inherit the earth (Rom. 4:13).
The Great Heresy
One of the most pernicious and evil doctrines ever to infest the church and sidetrack it from its dominion task is that of democratic individualism. This heresy has dominated American Christianity for the last 200 years or so and coincides with the democratic mentality gaining wide acceptance in about the same era. Simply put, it is the idea that nobody can decide for anybody else; every man (and eventually, woman and child), must decide for himself. Its most hazardous feature is perhaps the conviction that children are not bound by the covenant relation of their parents.
The heresy of democratic individualism assaulted the doctrine of original sin. In Christian soteriology (salvation doctrine), man stands judged of God because of his federal (covenantal) union with Adam; man is a sinner because his covenant representative Adam plunged the entire race into sin. In other words, Adam acted for the entire race whom he represented; this is the foundational teaching of Romans 5:12-21.8 The heresy of democratic individualism, however, held that this view was fatalistic and portrayed man in an excessively unfavorable light. While there are gradients of this heresy, it basically sees man as judged for his own experiential sins, and not for the sins of Adam. Of course, since the imputation of Christ's righteousness to the believer is analogous to the imputation of Adam's sin to all humanity (Rom. 5:15-19), soon the heresy led to the dismissal of Christ's imputed righteousness. Just as men were considered sinful because of their own sin, so they were considered righteous because of their own righteousness. This reintroduced the old Pelagian heresy of salvation by works.
No less pernicious, however, is what this heresy does to the solidarity between the redeemed and their covenant seed. It severs that bond and treats these precious lambs as little pagans. This heresy is rife among the evangelicals, fundamentalists, liberals, neo-orthodox, many Baptists, and even some Reformed, who should know better. God does not make covenants with individuals as individuals; God makes covenants with families as families. This is true from the records of both Testaments. Just think, for example, of the prominent household salvations recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. The covenant is a multi-generational matter.
Covenant Seed and Kingdom Advancement
On the whole, the kingdom of God does not advance by great leaps. Rather, as the parables of Matthew 13 teach us (see also Mk. 4:26-29), the kingdom advances gradually and incrementally. It advances generationally. God forces his people to be covenantal if they are to expect to do great exploits for him because an individual cannot accomplish much in a single lifetime. But a family can accomplish a great deal over several generations. Compound interest is an illustration of how this is accomplished. Investing a small amount of money on a frequent, consistent basis can generate a large amount of revenue over a period of twenty to forty years. This takes a great deal of patience and self-discipline, however, and the modern heresy of democratic individualism despises patience almost as much as it despises the covenant. Rather, it suffers from the lottery mentality — putting in just a little time and effort in one episode and hoping against hope to hit the "lottery" of an exponential kingdom advancement.
But the kingdom is not advanced that way. It advances gradually, over many generations. The cult of instant gratification is a chief mechanism of the heresy of democratic individualism. It wants great spiritual exploits and it wants them now. Because it takes time to train children into a mature and full-orbed Faith and because it is so much quicker to grab an unsuspecting sinner off the sidewalk and drag him down to the front of the church where he can weep and wail and profess to "take Jesus home with him," the democratic heretics opt for lottery religion.
Men are regenerated instantaneously, but the kingdom does not advance instantaneously, and the chief mechanism of its advancement is not proselytization. Individuals come into the Faith in one of two ways. They are either proselytized, or they are born into a covenant family, hear the gospel and are regenerated. A church or sector of the church that relies principally on proselytization will never make great cultural strides because it is forced to begin anew each generation. By contrast, covenantalists can enjoy actual progress. Succeeding generations need not start from ground zero, but can carry the baton in the race of kingdom advancement just where they picked it up from their godly parents.
Covenant Seed or Conservative Politics?
It is easy for even otherwise committed Christians to be lured away from this aspect of covenantal faithfulness. Conservative politics is a good example. Until the 1970s, most conservative Christians in the United States, carrying to the logical conclusion the heresy of democratic individualism, had retreated from the political and social spheres and had left these fields to the Devil and his troops. The Devil and his troops, of course, naturally obliged the Christians by appropriating this territory. In the 70s, as a result of the writings of men like R. J. Rushdoony, Christians began taking back the political and social fields. Unfortunately, most of them did not understand that if they were to achieve long-term accomplishment, they needed to recover not only a full-orbed Faith, but also a covenantal mechanism for kingdom advancement. Many of them seemed to adopt a right-wing version of one of the heresies of the Left, political salvation:9 if we can just get the right men elected, we can solve all or most of the nation's problems. This is a dangerous illusion. If we expect to be successful over the long haul, we need to understand that conquest comes by covenant, not by politics. By no means am I asserting that Christians should not be politically involved. To forsake the field of politics is to abandon a part of the world to Satan and return to the pietistic bunker of earlier this century. We must realize, however, that there are no long-term political solutions; there are only long-term religious solutions; and, from a strategic standpoint, the supreme long-term religious solution is covenant faithfulness. This means, preeminently, transmitting the Faith to our covenant seed.
In light of this, I will make several suggestions for parental action:
1. Treat your children as a gift of God (Ps. 127:3), his property (Ez. 16:8-21), and among the elect (Gen. 17:7; cf. Dt. 10:15-16). Some refer to this as presumptive regeneration; I prefer the term presumptive election. If we are to take the promises of the covenant seriously, we must take the promises of the covenant seed seriously. This means that we do not treat covenant children as little pagans, in need of four or five conversion experiences ("Maybe this time, they really mean it"), and as many baptisms ("Maybe this time, they'll tire of getting wet"). We teach them the Faith, including the gospel, from their infancy (2 Tim. 3:15), trusting God to regenerate their hearts. We train them in the ways of the Lord, that is, the ways of the covenant. That is our parental responsibility. Regenerating them is God's sovereign work. We have no part in that work (Jn. 1:12-13; 3:8). We must understand that child training is anchored in the promises of the covenant, not in the experience of the child. Until we have objective evidence otherwise, we presume our children to be among the covenant elect, and we treat them as such. As Andrew Murray observes:
Abraham had not believed for himself alone, but for his child; as a father he had believed and received the child in faith from God; the sign of circumcision in the child was the seal to the child of the father's faith. God dealt with father and child as one; the father believed for himself and his child as one; the child had the same place in the covenant, and the same claim on the seal of the covenant, as the father....10
Note that this does away with the idea that the covenant administration of the New Testament era is somehow qualitatively or substantively different from that of the Old Testament era. It is the same covenant in essence.11 Christian parents do not attempt to peer into God's eternal elective decrees; they stick faithfully to the covenant and let election take care of itself. In other words, they treat Christian children as Christian children.
2. Get your children out of pagan state schools and into home schools or, if home schooling is not possible, Christian day schools. Covenant people are not to learn the ways of the heathen (Jer. 10:2). The covenant seed is to learn the ways of God's law and covenant faithfulness all day long (Dt. 6:4-9). In the Devil's (i.e., government) schools, they will learn the ways of rebellion and covenant unfaithfulness all day long. With the plethora of Christian textbooks and curricula today, there is simply no excuse for covenant children's attending Satan's synagogues. There was never an excuse in the first place, but sending them there these days is doubly inexcusable. Christian children require covenant education. As Van Til notes, "If we want a God-centered and truly Christian education, we will have to break away completely from the educational philosophy that surrounds us."12 This is covenant counter-culturalism, and it is no option for Christian parents.
3. Make sure you attend a church that treats your children as covenant members. Churches that shuttle children off to "junior churches" and puppet shows and flannelgraph stories instead of inviting them to worship are not covenant churches. Churches that stress "youth programs" that exclude parents from covenant training are not covenant churches. Churches that do not direct preaching and teaching to covenant children are not covenant churches. Churches that do not stress family worship are not covenant churches. Join a church that reinforces the family covenant, not a church that competes with it (see Brian Abshire's column elsewhere in this issue).
4. Assure that your children are baptized and brought to the communion table. Baptism and communion are covenantal signs and seals;13 if children are covenant members, they need to receive the covenant signs and seals. Not to administer these signs and seals is in effect to excommunicate Christian children. This is just the opposite of what our Lord taught us to do (Lk. 10:13-16). I do not wish to incite a debate with my dear Reformed Baptist brethren or my dear Reformed anti-covenant communionist brethren.14 My point is simply that if we believe in the covenant, I am convinced that we should practice covenant baptism and covenant communion. One thing is certain, however: it is infinitely preferable to train children as the covenant seed without baptism and communion, than to neglect to train them while administering baptism and communion.15 By administering to covenant children the covenant signs and seals of baptism and communion, we are obeying God's commands and making a visible declaration about our children's covenant inclusion, as well as letting them know that they are accepted by our Lord.
5. Teach your children that their main job in life is to glorify God by exercising dominion in the earth (Gen. 1:27-28). This is why man is in the earth — to extend the kingdom of God by exercising godly dominion. From the standpoint of kingdom advancement, one main theme in that training is covenant training itself: in other words, we must train our children to train their children properly in the covenant. If we expect kingdom progress, we must practice multi-generational covenant training. The kingdom will not advance incrementally if we must begin anew in every generation; it will advance only if every generation can stand on the covenant shoulders of the last generation. This will not happen if we do not train our children to train their children in the Faith.
Thinking that we can advance Christ's kingdom quickly and painlessly (the lottery mentality), or by political means (messianic politics) is dangerous. The chief means of kingdom advancement is covenant faithfulness, and a prime aspect of covenant faithfulness is proper training of the covenant seed.
Families and churches interested in kingdom advancement should concentrate the bulk of their energies there.
1. George E. Ladd, Crucial Questions About the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids, 1952), 80.
2. Loraine Boettner, The Millennium (no loc., 1957).
3. Rousas John Rushdoony, Law and Society (Vallecito, CA, 1986), 428-430.
4. Westminster Confession of Faith (Glasgow , 1976), Ch. VII, Sec. 1 (41).
5. O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Phillipsburg, NJ, 1980), 3-15.
6. Ibid., 35-41. s
7. Joseph Braswell, "Interpreting Prophecy: The Canonical Principle," Chalcedon Report, July, 1997, 26.
8. John Murray, The Imputation of Adam's Sin (Grand Rapids, 1959).
9. Andrew Sandlin, "Messianic Politics," Chalcedon Report, November, 1996, 2-5.
10. Andrew Murray, How To Raise Your Children for Christ (Minneapolis, 1975), 42, emphasis supplied.
11. See Walter Kaiser, Toward an Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, 1987), 231-235.
12. Cornelius Van Til, "Antithesis in Education," in ed., Dennis E. Johnson, Foundations of Christian Education (Phillipsburg, NJ, 1990), 3.
13. James Bannerman, The Church of Christ (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada , 1991), 2:18-20.
14. For my views, see "In Defence of Reformed Paedobaptism," Christianity and Society, Vol. VI, No. I [January, 1996], 4-9, and "A Defence of Reformed Paedocommunion," Christianity and Society, Vol. VI, No. 2 [April, 1996], 21-24.
15. Though neglecting the signs and seals of the covenant is a grave matter indeed. See Gen. 17:14 and Ex. 4:24-26.