In this fallen world, we have to anticipate what happens whenever a covenant is broken. When men and women marry, they exchange vows in public, promising to forsake all others. Why is this necessary? The answer is that we are a race of sinners, and we cannot assume that people will do what they say they will. And so we exchange vows, seeking to put the matter beyond dispute, as the author of Hebrews says.
When someone is baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, he is ushered into a visible covenant membership. Regardless of the state of his heart, regardless of any hypocrisy, regardless of whether he means it, such a person is now a visible saint. God has made a statement concerning this person, and the one baptized has an obligation to say amen to God’s statement through how he lives his life.
But a glance around at the nominal contemporary church shows that many do not understand this. They contradict what God said at their baptisms through various heresies, immoralities, and compromises. This certainly does not unsettle the heavens—“let God be true but every man a liar”—but it does create a problem. Unfortunately, the problem has not been addressed Biblically by those Christians who see the problem.
In the church, we have covenant communion with one another and with the saints who have gone before us to be with the Lord in heaven. We are all one, just as the loaf broken in communion is one loaf. This is a great consolation, as it should be, as we seek fellowship with other saints. But what are we to make of flagrant rebellion against God’s Word from within the church? Surely such rebels are not part of this communion, are they? What are we to make of the blemishes at our love feasts (Jude 12)? What are we to make of liberal clerics, who deny the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection, or of modern “evangelicals,” who deny that God knows the future, or of extreme charismatics, who claim that God regularly adds to His Word through them?
To answer these questions, we must begin by understanding the reality of the objective covenant. Whenever someone is baptized, something really happens that puts him into communion with all other visible saints. This does not guarantee he will be faithful to that communion, but he must be a participant of the communion in order to be able to betray it. An American can betray the United States, but a Canadian cannot betray it in the same way. A man who is married to a woman can betray her, but a man who never has met her cannot.