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Covenant Child-Rearing Versus Gnostic Humanism

In August, 1996, on a trip back from the airport, Rush reminded me of a telling and tragic fact about nineteenth- and twentieth-century Arminian revivalists epitomized by Billy Sunday and D. L. Moody: their children tended to deny the Faith, and in some cases committed their lives to external evil and debauchery.

  • P. Andrew Sandlin,
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In August, 1996, on a trip back from the airport, Rush reminded me of a telling and tragic fact about nineteenth- and twentieth-century Arminian revivalists epitomized by Billy Sunday and D. L. Moody: their children tended to deny the Faith, and in some cases committed their lives to external evil and debauchery. Rush noted that the nineteenth-century revivalists abhorred Calvinistic child-rearing practices and derided them with the contemptuous jingle, "Calvinist parents baptize, catechize, and chastise." The revivalists' twisted vision included the view that children of Christians should be intentionally not trained so that, when they had grown older, they could taste of the "'true grace of God' as an adult."

This sentiment, of course, is blasphemy.

I then related to Rush that over the last several years I have received from revivalist Arminians "gospel tracts" or other intimations that I reside in an unregenerate state since I claim no Arminian "conversion experience" and since I startle the revivalists with the comment, "I never recall 'getting saved.'" The fact that I was trained in a godly family from my youth (1 Sam. 12:2; Jer. 1:5; Lk. 1:15) and assert with Paul, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day" (2 Tim. 2:12) only infuriates humanists in the church. For these enemies of the covenant, salvation is the work of man, not God. If man cannot claim credit for his "experience," they want nothing to do with it.

These and other humanists hate God's grace, hate the covenant, hate the dominion commission. For them, God is the great and generous genie in the sky, waiting breathlessly to respond to man's every beck and call; in effect, they pervert the answer to the first question of the Shorter Catechism to, "God's chief end is to glorify man and enjoy him forever."

Salvation by Knowledge, Not by God
They are implicit Gnostics, since for these revivalistic Arminians, salvation is by knowledge. Strangely, though they are anti-intellectual to the core most of the time, they become almost pure rationalists in the matter of salvation, quite in distinction from Calvin, who has been seriously misrepresented along this line:

Over the centuries, Calvin has been accused of having intellectualized, legalized and doctrinized the Gospel to the point that the salvation of Christ became a formula, something held in the head rather than in the heart. This charge represents not only a gross oversimplification, but also a diversion from the real issue. The issue, certainly in North America, is not whether the Gospel is perceived by the head or by the heart, but whether the Gospel, however perceived, is an objective cosmic reality or a subjective knowledge (emotion) of the individual soul. On this question, Calvin is not in the least ambiguous. Everything for him rests on what God has accomplished in history. As to the individual's mode of grasping the event, Calvin is indifferent. Nowhere does he indicate that an experience of conversion is necessary for salvation. The marks of salvation are the same as the marks defining the Church itself: doctrine, sacrament, and discipline. [Philip J. Lee, Against the Protestant Gnostics (New York, 1987), 102]

Because, however, the Arminian humanists deny God's monergistic work in salvation (Eph. 1), they insist on "subjective knowledge [read: emotion] of the individual soul." They must therefore invent the spurious classification "age of accountability" to justify their view that all those lacking full knowledge (like children and the mentally retarded) are automatically regenerate or "safe" from damnation, despite the fact that St. Paul posits only two classifications of men — those in Christ and those in Adam (Rom. 5:12-21). Because they hate the doctrine of covenantal representation and its correlate, imputation, they do not recognize that all not united to Christ by faith are dead in sins and headed for Hell. They deny that faith is a gift of God (despite Eph. 2:8), assert that children cannot exercise faith (despite 2 Tim. 3:15, where "child" [brephos] signifies an infant, often unborn!), and thus posit a new spiritual classification of mankind.

Anti-Covenantal Gnostic Churches
They reshape their churches to conform to their false doctrine, creating "junior churches" for the covenant children and "adult worship" for covenant adults, despite the fact that all covenant members are enjoined to worship unitedly (Dt. 29:10-12; Ezra 10:1ff.; Ac. 2:38, 39; Heb. 10:25). They deliberately sequester family members from the covenant community, forming "youth groups," "golden agers," "singles ministries," "divorce recovery groups," etc. They require of covenant children "adult" "conversion experiences," despite the plain teaching of the Bible that adults must become as children to be converted, not vice versa (Mt. 18:3). They despise the faith of children because the faith of children highlights the grace of God in salvation. Since they stress man's belief, man's choice, man's knowledge in salvation, they hold covenant children in contempt. In other words, on this point they are implicit humanists.

This is an epistemologically self-conscious anti-covenantal ecclesiology. It is calculated to war against the covenant.

God's design includes the bloodline as the main sphere of his salvific purposes (Gen. 17:7-14). The Puritans declared, "God casts the lines of election in the loins of godly parents"; and, as B. M. Palmer noted in 1876, "when the Church came to be more distinctly constituted, with enlarged promises and with new seals, in the days of Abraham, it was still founded in the house of the patriarch" (in The Family in its Civil and Churchly Aspects, Harrisonburg, VA, 1991 printing). This does not imply all children born to Christian parents are surely elect; God alone determines man's salvation (Eph. 1:4-6). It does imply, however, that the great majority of Christian children are among the elect, and denotes that covenant children should be treated as elect unless they give visible evidence otherwise — that is, unless they begin to depart from the Faith. This is not presumptive regeneration, but presumptive election.

Why God Unites a Man and Woman in Marriage
Biblically, the production of children is one of the principal reasons God unites a man and woman in the marriage covenant (Mal. 2:14, 15). The covenant seed is granted parents for the express purpose of glorifying God by crushing his enemies and extending dominion in the earth (Dt. 4:37, 38; 11:8,9 ; 2 Chr. 20:7; Ps. 127:3, 4). To Christians, children constitute the covenant seed (Gen. 17:7 f.), the main implement in God's hands to subvert Satan's kingdom and Christianize the world (Gal. 3:29; cf. ROM 4:13 ). We Christian covenantalists train our seed to be godly dominionists, that the earth is the Lord's (1 Cor. 10:26, 28), and that we and they are his vicegerents (2 Cor. 5:19-21).

The Culmination of Gnostic Humanism
The culmination of the Gnostic humanists in the church is impotence and death. They intentionally sever their seed from the signs and the seals of the covenant, and for 5-10 years train that seed to be pagan (while I dissent from the Baptist view of baptism, I nonetheless applaud all Baptists who train their seed in the Faith, and much prefer them to the inconsistent paedobaptists who are confident that baptism alone secures a faithful covenant seed). Not surprisingly, then, according to a recent statistic cited by a leading evangelical, the majority of evangelical youth have no discernibly different views on obedience and morality than their obviously unconverted counterparts in the world.

We reap what we sow. Gnostic humanists have sown paganism in their seed; is it any wonder when they reap the pagan whirlwind? By contrast, covenantalists train godly dominionists.

The future belongs to covenant parents and their children. The covenant seed will inherit the earth (Ps. 37:28 and passim).


  • P. Andrew Sandlin

P. Andrew Sandlin is a Christian minister, theologian, and author.  He is the founder and president of the Center for Cultural Leadership in Coulterville, California.  He was formerly president of the National Reform Association and executive vice president of the Chalcedon Foundation.  He is a minister in the Fellowship of Mere Christianity.. He was formerly a pastor at Church of the Word in Painesville, Ohio (1984-1995) and Cornerstone Bible Church in Scotts Valley, California (2004-2014).

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