Summary Statement of AAPC's Position on the Covenant, Baptism, andSalvation (Revised)
The following is a revised edition of our statement. We have been greatly blessed by the discussions,disagreements, and questions that have been raised about our initial statement. It was intended as a“summary” of our views and never intended to be anything other than a summary of our views (i.e., it was notintended to erect some new standard of orthodoxy or to imply that we were settled on these points and couldnot be challenged or dissuaded from them, and it was certainly not intended to erect another wall to dividethe Church or as a means to denounce or exclude from fellowship our brothers who might disagree with us).These statements represent some degree of theological exploration in regard to the significance and meaningof covenant, baptism, and in the way we think of salvation. This revision is a response to the critique andinstruction we have received and is an effort to make our position more clear and (we trust) more easilyunderstood. We continue to study and learn and continue to be open to further correction and instruction.
1. Salvation is by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and not of works. It is foundedupon the obedience, death, and resurrection of the faithful Second Adam, Jesus Christ.Justification is an act of God’s free grace wherein sinners are accepted as righteous in God’ssight by virtue of the righteousness of Christ imputed to them and received by faith alone (WSCQ. 33). This justifying faith is always accompanied by all other saving graces and virtues (WCF11.2). Justifying faith, therefore, is never vain but one that works by love (Gal. 5:6).
2. From before the foundation of the world, God has sovereignly chosen a multitude no man cannumber for salvation. The basis of His election was solely His grace and mercy and nothing inthe creature. The number of the elect can neither increase nor diminish. All who were chosen byGod from the beginning will be surely saved eternally. Not one will be lost.
3. God works out His eternal decree of salvation in history by means of His covenant. Salvation,therefore, may be viewed from two basic perspectives, the decretal/eternal and thecovenantal/historical. The Bible ordinarily (though not always) views election through the lens ofthe covenant. This is why covenant members are addressed consistently as God’s elect, eventhough some of those covenant members may apostatize, proving themselves in the end not tohave been among the number of those whom God decreed to eternal salvation from before thefoundation of the world. Thus, the basis for calling them God’s “elect” was their standing asmembers of the Church (which is the body of Christ) and not some knowledge of God’s secretdecree. The visible Church is the place where the saints are “gathered and perfected” by means of“the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God” (WCF 25.3).
We cannot separate covenant and election, but, to do full justice to the Biblical teaching, we mustdistinguish them. Following the Biblical model, it seems that we must view fellow churchmembers as elect and regenerate and, at the same time, hold before them the dangers of fallingaway. This does not contradict the decretal/eternal perspective, because our knowledge of God’sdecree is only creaturely. We can never, in this life, know with absolute certainty who are electunto final salvation. For this reason, we have to make judgments and declarations in terms ofwhat has been revealed, namely, the covenant (Dt. 29:29). The covenant is the visible, historicalcontext in which the eternal decree of election comes to eventual fruition.
4. This covenant is made with believers and their children (Acts 2:39; WLC Q. 166). It ispublicly manifested in the Church, the body of Christ to which we are solemnly admitted bymeans of baptism (WCF 28.1). The Church is not merely a human community, and the Church’senactments of the means of grace are not merely human works. God works through theadministration of the sacraments by the power of His Spirit and His word of promise (WCF27.3). The Church herself is God’s new creation, the city He promised to build for Abraham. TheChurch is not merely a means to salvation, a stepping-stone to a more ultimate goal. Rather, theChurch herself is the historic manifestation of God’s salvation (WCF 25.1,2), the partially-realized goal in history that will be brought to final fulfillment at the last day. When someone isunited to the Church by baptism, he is incorporated into Christ and into His body; he becomesbone of Christ’s bone and flesh of His flesh (Eph. 5:30). He becomes a member of “the house,family, and kingdom of God” (WCF 25.2). Until and unless that person breaks covenant, he is tobe reckoned among God’s elect and regenerate saints.
5. Those who have been solemnly admitted to the Church by baptism (WCF 28.1) are bound toreceive and rest upon Christ by faith, repenting of their sins, yielding obedience to hiscommands, making diligent use of the outward means of grace, and thereby persevering by faithto the end of their days. This perseverance is itself a gift of God and not a result of the “willing”or the “running” of the people of God.
6. God uses means by which His Spirit works salvation in the hearts of His elect: the preachingof the Word, the faithful administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, andthe communion of the saints (WSC #85,88,91). These means have been entrusted to the Church(WCF 25.3). By these, through the blessing of the Spirit, the Church becomes the “mother of allbelievers” (Gal. 4:26). Apart from the Church and its ministry of these means of grace, there isordinarily no salvation (WCF 25.2).
7. By baptism, one enters into covenantal union with Christ and is offered all his benefits (Gal.3:27; Rom. 6:1ff; 2 Cor. 1:20). As Westminster Shorter Catechism #94 states, baptism signifiesand seals “our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace.”Baptism in itself does not, however, guarantee final salvation. What is offered in baptism maynot be received because of unbelief. Or, it may only be embraced for a season and later rejected(Matt. 13:20-22; Luke 8:13-14). Those who “believe for a while” enjoy blessings and privilegesof the covenant only for a time and only in part, since their temporary faith is not true to Christ,as evidenced by its eventual failure and lack of fruit (1 Cor. 10:1ff; Hebrews 6:4-6). By theirunbelief they “trample underfoot the Son of God, count the blood of the covenant by which theywere sanctified an unholy thing, and do despite to the Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:29) and thusbring greater condemnation upon themselves.
8. God has decreed from the foundation of the world all that comes to pass, including who wouldbe saved and lost for all eternity. Included in His decree, however, is that some persons, notdestined for final salvation, will be drawn to Christ and His people only for a time. These, for aseason, enjoy real blessings, purchased for them by Christ’s cross and applied to them by theHoly Spirit in his common operations through Word and Sacrament (Hebrews 6:4-6; Matthew25:14ff; etc.).
9. Salvation depends upon being united to Christ. Clearly, those who are eternally saved are thosewho continue to abide in Him by the grace of God. There are those, however, who are joined toHim as branches in the vine, but who because of unbelief are barren and fruitless andconsequently are cut off from the vine and from salvation. Jesus says these “believe for a while”but do not bear fruit unto salvation. Why God would do this is a mystery, but the teaching ofScripture is clear: some whom He adopts into covenant relation, He later hardens (Rom. 9:4, 18,11:1ff). In such instances God has not changed His decree regarding such people; to the contrary,He carries out His sovereign purposes in and through their unbelief and rebellion. Those electunto eternal salvation are always distinguished by their perseverance in faith and obedience bythe grace of God.
10. Once baptized, an individual may be truly called a “Christian” because he is a member of thehousehold of faith and the body of Christ (I Cor. 12). However, not all who are “Christians” inthis sense will persevere to the end. Some will “fall from grace” and be lost (Gal. 5:4; 1 Cor.10:1-5). Though the difference between those who are predestined to eternal life and those who“believe for a while” is not merely one of duration (i.e., God works “effectually” in those whomHe has predestined to eternal life so that they do not fall away in unbelief), the Bible does notexplain the distinction between the nature of the work of the Spirit in the reprobate and the natureof His work in the elect, and even uses the same language for both.
For example, the same language that describes the Spirit coming upon Saul (1 Sam. 10:6) is usedwhen the Spirit comes upon David (1 Sam. 16:13), Gideon (Jdg. 6:34), Jephthah (Jdg. 11:29),and Samson (Jdg. 14:6, 9; 15:14). Yet in four of these five cases (David, Gideon, Jephthah, andSamson), the man in question was clearly given persevering faith and brought to final salvationby the Spirit’s work (cf. Heb. 11:32). The Biblical narrative, however, appears to draw nodistinction between Saul’s initial experience of the Spirit and the experience of those whoobtained final salvation. While God, no doubt, predestined Saul’s apostasy (since He foreordainsall that comes to pass), God was not the author of Saul’s apostasy (cf. WCF 3.1). Saul seems toreceive the same initial covenantal grace that David, Gideon, and other men who persevered infaith received, but he did not persevere in that grace. Though this was according to God’s eternaldecree and though God could surely have preserved him in faith, Saul fell in unbelief. Theresponsibility for his failure, however, is his alone. Saul’s failure to persevere was due to his ownrebellion. Herein lies the great mystery of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility (cf. WCF3.1, 8). 
11. None of those elect unto final salvation can lose that salvation, however much he maybackslide (John 10; WCF 17). God preserves all those whom He has chosen to eternal salvationin covenant faithfulness. The Biblical language regarding salvation, however, is morecomplicated. Sometimes the term “salvation” is used in an eschatological sense with reference toits ultimate goal of eternal life. In that eschatological and final sense, of course, it would be mostimproper to speak of anyone “losing their salvation.” All whom God has ordained to eternal lifewill surely be saved. But there is also another sense in which all those in the covenant are“saved.” They have been delivered out of the world and brought into the glorious new creation ofChrist (thus, the Scripture speaks of those who had “known the way of righteousness,” “beencleansed from their former sins,” “have tasted of the heavenly gift,” etc.), but not all willpersevere in that “salvation.”  Jesus spoke of those in the new covenant who were united toHim, but then cut off because they did not persevere in the fruit-bearing that is the evidence of alively faith, by which we abide in Christ (John 15). Whatever the precise complexion and contentof that union for those who do not persevere, nonetheless, if Jesus Himself is salvation, must wenot conclude that being cut off from Him means being cut off the from source of salvation and, inthat specific sense, from salvation itself?
12. The Bible often speaks of salvation in relational and covenantal categories. “Salvation” is amatter of being rightly related to God through Christ. But relationships are not static, unchangingentities. They are fluid and dynamic. Our salvation covenant with the Lord is like a marriage. Ifwe continue to rest upon Christ in faith, we will live with Him happily ever after. If we break themarriage covenant, He will divorce us. It is probably unwise and pastorally inept, especially fortender consciences, to speak of this in terms of “losing one’s salvation,” but it seems contrary toScripture to say that nothing at all is lost. To draw such a conclusion appears to deny the realityof the covenant and the blessedness that is said to belong even to those who ultimately provethemselves reprobate (Heb. 10:26ff).
13. With this understanding, the “five points of Calvinism” are still preserved, but they have beenenriched by a nuanced covenant theology following the tradition and teaching of Augustine andCalvin. Framing the issues in this way, in no way compromises God’s absolute sovereignty andgracious initiative in salvation. At the same time, however, it holds covenant breakersaccountable for their apostasy. As such, this position appears to uphold the Scripture’s teachingon the nature of the Church and the efficacy of the sacraments together with the genuineness ofthe covenantal promises and threats. Moreover, it does so in a way that is fully consistent withReformed and Westminsterian theology. This is not to say that it is the only way in which thefullness of Reformed and biblical doctrine may be maintained. Nevertheless, on thisunderstanding of the application of God’s sovereign and covenantal grace, we lose nothingaffirmed by our Westministerian tradition and yet maintain a rich, workable, and pastorallyuseful understanding of how the sovereign God applies His salvation in history.
1. We recognize, as the Canons of Dort point out, that the difference between those who arepredestined to eternal life and those who “believe for a while” is not merely one of duration. Goddoes work “effectually” in those whom He has predestined to eternal life so that they do not fallaway in unbelief. In this sense, we may say that there are things which are true of the “elect”which are never true of the reprobate. But these distinctions normally manifest themselves overtime and, thus, are impossible to recognize at the beginnings of one’s Christian experience withinthe visible Church. As they manifest themselves over time, they certainly become a matter forconcern and pastoral care, exhortation, and intervention, as we continually call people to faithand repentance. But it is only in the face of final apostasy that we can know with certainty whowas and was not “effectually called.”
In their reading of Heb. 6:4-5, some theologians try to draw subtle distinctions to make highlyrefined psychological differences between blessings that do not secure eternal salvation and trueregeneration, which does. For at least two reasons, it is highly unlikely the writer had suchdistinctions in mind. First, it is by no means certain that those who have received the blessingslisted in 6:4-5 will fall away. The writer merely holds it out as a possibility, a danger of whichthey must beware. In fact, he expects these people to persevere (6:9). If, however, the blessingscatalogued imply something less than regeneration, and these people might persevere after all, weare put in the awkward position of saying that non-regenerate persons persevered to the end (cf. 2Cor. 6:1)! Second, the illustration immediately following the warning in 6:7-8 indicates thesepeople have received some kind of new life. Otherwise, the plant metaphor makes no sense. Thequestion raised does not concern the nature of the grace received in the past (i.e., realregeneration vs. merely common operations of the Spirit), but whether or not the one who hasreceived this grace will persevere.
Thus, Hebrews 6 does not call upon us to develop two psychologies of conversion and faith, onefor the “truly regenerate” and one for the temporary believer destined to apostatize. Nor does itcall upon sinners to discern their own deceitful and inconstant hearts, for even the elect wouldfall away were it not for the continued grace of God (cf. Canons of Dort, 5th Head, Articles 3 &8; cf WCF 17.2). Rather, Hebrews calls upon us to turn from ourselves and to keep our eyesfixed on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:1ff). Such a faith perseveres andbears fruit in keeping with repentance.
2. Illustrations of this abound in the Scripture: In Jude (5) the Israelites are said to have been“saved” and then destroyed, because they did not persevere. In the preface to the TenCommandments Israel is addressed as God’s redeemed people. However, many of those whowere “redeemed” did not continue trusting their Deliverer and perished. Peter (2 Peter 2) speaksof a similar class of people. Redeemed by Christ, they then deny Him and are destroyed. All ofthese are given as warnings to new covenant believers lest they follow these examples ofapostasy. Paul specifically says the record of the Israelites who failed to persevere and weredestroyed was “written for our admonition” in the new covenant era (I Cor. 10:11).
Summary: God, in eternity past, elected in Christ a great multitude to salvation. This election waswholly gracious and unconditional, having its source only in the free mercy and good pleasure ofGod. In the fullness of time, the Father sent His Son to die as the propitiatory substitute for thosewhom He elected to eternal salvation. The atoning work of the Son is fully sufficient for theirsalvation and completely accomplished their redemption. The Holy Spirit works in these samechosen ones to apply Christ’s saving work to them and to keep them faithful to the Savior theirentire lives. Because of the hardness of their hearts, this work of grace must be, ultimately,irresistible. No one chosen to eternal salvation can be lost, and no non-elect person can attaineternal salvation.
God’s eternal decree to gather His elect into a people for His name is worked out in history.Election is in no way a “process” nor is it at all dependent upon our obedience either foreseen oractual, but it does becomes manifest in the administration of Word and Sacrament as oneresponds to the preached gospel and enters the Church in baptism. Christ is present in HisChurch by His Spirit to see to it that all His elect ones are brought to faith in Him.
God, however, mysteriously has chosen to draw some into the covenant community who are notelect unto eternal salvation. These non-elect covenant members are truly brought to Christ, unitedto Him in the Church by baptism and receive various gracious operations of the Holy Spirit.Corporately, they are part of the chosen, redeemed, Spirit-indwelt people. Sooner or later,however, in the wise counsel of God, these fail to bear fruit and fall away. In some sense, theywere really joined to the elect people, really sanctified by Christ’s blood, really recipients of newlife given by the Holy Spirit. God, however, has chosen not to uphold them in the faith, and all islost. They break the gracious new covenant they entered into at baptism.
Thus, the covenant is a true revelation of God’s salvation, for, in the covenant community, allGod’s people, even those who are only temporarily counted among their number, find graciousblessings. The covenant really is gospel-good news-through and through. Yet only those who, byfaith alone, continue to persevere in the covenant, trusting and resting upon the Lord of covenant,inherit final salvation. Those who fall away lose the temporary covenantal blessings they hadenjoyed. Ultimately, this is because God decreed that these covenant breakers would not share inthe eschatological salvation of Christ. Of course, these apostates cannot blame God for theirfalling away. It is their own fault, since God’s overtures of love towards them in the context ofthe covenant were sincere. Conversely, those who do persevere to the end cannot claim any creditor make any boast. All they have done has been because of God’s grace which preserved themand kept them faithful.
All covenant members are invited to attain to a full and robust confidence that they are God’seternally elect ones. Starting with their baptisms, they have every reason to believe God lovesthem and desires their eternal salvation. Baptism marks them out as God’s elect people, a statusthey maintain so long as they persevere in faithfulness. By looking to Christ alone, thepreeminently elect One, the One who kept covenant to the end and is the Author and Finisher ofthe faith of God’s people, they may find infallible assurance (WCF 18.1-2). Those who take theireyes off Christ in unbelief, who desert the Church where His presence is found, will find thattheir false hopes and carnal presumptions have perished (WCF 18.1), having made a shipwreckof their faith and proven themselves to have received the grace of God in vain.
Unanimously adopted by the Session of Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church on April 3, 2005.
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