Can the Unregenerate Be Part of the Body of Christ? Can the Unregenerate Baptize?

Have you ever wondered how the unregenerate could say to Jesus on the judgment day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” (Matthew 7:22). Could this power have been real, and from God, and yet not be a sign of new birth? I think so.

via Can the Unregenerate Heal the Sick? – Desiring God.

So if you were healed by an unregenerate person are you permitted to thank Jesus for healing you by his power? Or do you have to thank Satan?

Here is something the Apostle Paul wrote about miracles in the Church:

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.

This is from First Corinthians 12, which is the classic passage to explain the Ministry of the Church in Reformed Theology, going back to Calvin’s Institutes.  In the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 25, “Of the Church” we find this summarized in chapter 3. I quote it with the attached prooftexts (in the original archaic English version):

III. Unto this catholic visible Church Christ has given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and does, by His own presence and Spirit, according to His promise, make them effectual thereunto.

1CO 12:28 And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. EPH 4:11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. MAT 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. ISA 59:21 As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever.

Naming Christ and being assigned to represent him as part of his Body and Kingdom is not dependent on the subjective and secret state of one’s heart in relation to Christ and salvation. Paul knows that not all of his readers may not be regenerate. That is not his business. He doesn’t bring it up until the appropriate time: Church discipline after repeated chances to repent (see 2 Corinthians 13.5).

God works through the body of Christ, his visible church with visible members who function therein. And how does Paul know that his readers are members of the Church?

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

What if this why, if a pastor apostatizes from the Faith, we don’t have to rebaptize anyone whom he has baptized. They were truly baptized into Christ by God. Here is the Westminster Larger Catechism again with the prooftexts:

Q. 161. How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation?

A. The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not by any power in themselves, or any virtue derived from the piety or intention of him by whom they are administered, but only by the working of the Holy Ghost, and the blessing of Christ, by whom they are instituted.

1 Peter 3:21. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Acts 8:13, 23. Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done…. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity. 1 Corinthians 3:6-7. I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. 1 Corinthians 12:13. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

What does this mean?

First of all, it means that you can take God’s warnings against unbelief seriously. This is good news. Paul warns the Corinthians as a father reproves his children. This is how the elect persevere in faith.  As Charles Hodge wrote about one of these warnings in his commentary on First Corinthians:

Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall (First Corinthians 10.12).

…There is perpetual danger of falling. No degree of progress we may have already made, no amount of privileges which we may have enjoyed, can justify the want of caution. Let him that thinketh he standeth, that is, let him who thinks himself secure. This may refer either to security of salvation, or against the power of temptation. The two are very different, and rest generally on different grounds. False security of salvation commonly rests on the ground of our belonging to a privileged body (the church), or to a privileged class (the elect). Both are equally fallacious. Neither the members of the church nor the elect can be saved unless they persevere in holiness; and they cannot persevere in holiness without continual watchfulness and effort. False security as to our power to resist temptation rests on an overweening self-confidence in our own strength. None are so liable to fall as they who, thinking themselves strong, heedlessly run into temptation (p. 181, Banner of Truth, emphasis added).

By warning you, Christ is showing that he loves you. Jesus even assured the Laodicean Church of this love:

I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.

To respond to these warnings, as well as being drawn to the positive promises, is simply the exercise of saving faith. As the Westminster Confession states, in addition to “accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace,” Faith

believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself speaking therein; and acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come (chapter 14).

Secondly, we can be confident that God is ministering to us in the Church, no matter what the secret spiritual state of others, even ministers and elders. Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the preached word, the prayers for the sick, and all the other ways in which God has established the Church to care for you do not depend on the piety or intention of the other members of the Church. You are as much the beneficiary of the grace of God as much as any blind man who was given sight by Judas.

I hope you are not in a situation where you need this kind of comfort, but there it is. The visible church is an objective ministry of the Triune God. Whether or not someone is regenerate does not obstruct Christ’s body.

Thirdly, it means you are called to care for others in the Church in self-sacrificial ways. Paul told the Ephesian elders, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20.28). He appeals to the Corinthians, “And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died (1 Corinthians 8.11). None of this works with us wondering who really counts as the body of Christ. Paul doesn’t think we should wonder. He thinks we know who they are and we need to start treating them better!

And of course, none of this is inconsistent with real calvinism. As Charles Hodge wrote on 1 Corinthians 8.11:

There is great power and pathos in these words. Shall we, for the sake of eating one kind of meat rather than another, endanger the salvation of those for whom the eternal Son of God laid down his life? The infinite distance between Christ and us, and the almost infinite distance between his sufferings and the trifling self-denial required at our hands, give to the apostle’s appeal a force the Christians heart cannot resist.

The language of Paul in this verse seems to assume that those may perish for whom Christ died. It belongs, therefore, to the same category as those numerous passages which make the same assumption with regard to the elect. If the latter are consistent with the certainty of the salvation of the elect, then this passage is consistent with the certainty of the salvation of those for whom Christ specifically died. It was absolutely certain that none of Paul’s companions in shipwreck was on that occasion to lose his life, because the salvation of the whole company had been predicted and promised; and yet the apostle said that if the sailors were allowed to take away the boats, those left on board could not be saved. This appeal secured the accomplishment of the promise. So God’s telling the elect that if they apostatize they shall perish, prevents their apostasy. And in like manner, the Bible teaching that those for whom Christ died shall perish if they violate their conscience, prevents their transgressing, or brings them to repentance. God’s purposes embrace the means as well as the end. If the means fail, the end will fail. He secures the end by securing the means. It is just as certain that those for whom Christ died shall be saved, as that the elect shall be saved. Yet in both cases the event is spoken of as conditional. There is not only a possibility, but an absolute certainty of their perishing if they fall away. But this is precisely what God has promised to prevent (pp. 148-149).

There is, however, a sense in which it is scriptural to say that Christ died for all men. This is very different from saying that he died equally for all men, or that his death had no other reference to those who are saved than it had to those who are lost. To die for one is to die for his benefit. As Christ’s death has benefited the whole world, prolonged the probation of men, secured for them innumerable blessings, provided a righteousness that is sufficient and suitable for all, it may be said that he died for all. And in reference to this obvious truth, the language of the apostle, should any prefer this interpretation, may be understood, “Why should we destroy one for whose benefit Christ lay down his life?”… (p. 149).

The doctrines of double-foreordination, absolute predestination, unconditional election, and monergistic salvation are all taught plainly in Scripture, and are essential to understanding God’s sovereignty and mercy in our lives. But whenever they are used to undermine the reality of the Visible church, those doctrines are being misused. I pray the Reformed tradition will be known for people who are confident in God’s objective work in their lives through His Church, in his love for them, and in the need to reject unbelief and continue in faith.

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