There is something odd about the topic of New Covenant membership. Most Christians would agree that those truly united to Christ in eternity will only be revealed in the last day of judgment. Yet, when we equate covenant membership with the elect on this side of heaven, we lose any real ability to discern God’s people marked out in history.
Take for instance, Steve Wellum when he says:
That is why a Baptist view of the church, what is unique about the nature of the new covenant community is that is comprises a regenerate, believing people, not a mixed people like Israel of old. Therefore, Baptists only view as true members of the new covenant community those who have actually entered into union with Christ by repentance and faith and as such are partakers of all the benefits and blessing of the new covenant age. Furthermore for Baptists, it is for this reason that baptism, which is the covenant sign of the new covenant church, is reserved for those who have entered into these glorious realities by the sovereign work of God’s grace in their lives.[i]
But how can baptism be reserved for “those who have entered into these glorious realities by the sovereign work of God’s grace in their lives” if God is the only one who knows this? We have their confession and the way they live their lives as evidence, but we do not have the knowledge of their regenerate status before God. Therefore we baptize on the basis of confession. By doing this we still have no knowledge of their regenerate status and so we have a membership that we know is “mixed”. What Wellum seeks is impossible to attain in a visible, historical institution.
I would put forth that without a firm understanding and application of how God marks out his covenant people in time and space, we end up in Calvin’s “sightless darkness”.
I call it “seeking outside the way” when mere man attempts to break into the inner recesses of divine wisdom, and tries to penetrate even to highest eternity, in order to find out what decision has been made concerning himself at God’s judgment seat. For then he casts himself into the depths of a bottomless whirlpool to be swallowed up; then he tangles himself in innumerable and inextricable snares; then he buries himself in an abyss of sightless darkness. For it is right for the stupidity of human understanding to be thus punished with dreadful ruin when man tries by this own strength to rise to the height of divine wisdom. And this temptation is all the deadlier, since almost all of us are more inclined to it than any other.[ii]
[i] StephenJ.Wellum,“Baptism and the Relationship Between the Covenants,”Believer’sBaptism:Signof the New Covenant in Christ(Nashville,TN:B&HAcademic,2006),113.
[ii]John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford L. Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975), Book III, Pg 968.