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Posts Tagged ‘Covenant Theology’

The Decalogue as a Unit (All Ten Commandments)

May 3, 2016 6 comments

Further thoughts from continued study in the 1689 Confession series, regarding the Law of God as a unit – we cannot separate one from the rest and say that only nine are still in effect.  It is a package set, not individual parts that we can “pick and choose” from.

In response to those who try to claim that Jesus’ summary statement regarding the two “greatest commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40)  is NOT actually a summary of the Ten Commandments (but really something else unrelated to the Decalogue): further New Testament scripture does provide that direct connection, with Paul’s words in Romans 13:8-10, where he first mentions several of the Commandments from the second table (the 7th, the 6th, the 8th, and the 10th) to show what he has in mind, adding “and any other commandment,” are “summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

The claim that all of the commandments are repeated in the New Testament “except the fourth” also does not hold up to sound hermeneutics.  As noted in this lesson from the 1689 Confession exposition series:

No, the fourth commandment is not omitted in the New Testament.  There are some who would say that the ten commandments are all reiterated in the New Testament, except the fourth   one.   You can only say that if you believe that the first four books of the New Testament are not the New Testament.  You can only say that if you make Matthew, Mark, Luke and John something other than applicable to Christians today.  That is impossible to do hermeneutically, because the disciples were being trained by Jesus to be WHAT? To be authoritative teachers in the New Testament church.  He was laying the foundation of the New Testament church.  And so the question is, why would Jesus have spent SO MUCH TIME, talking about the Sabbath day and its Pharasaical abuses, merely to say, a few months later, ‘well, guys, all that teaching I gave you was really for nought, because it’s over and done with now, there’s no such thing as the fourth commandment.’ That doesn’t make sense.

It’s like what J.C. Ryle says, it’s sort of like a person who cleans off the roof of their house, takes all that time and energy to make sure that he has a pristine roof–only to burn his house down the next day.  Why would he do that?  The Sabbath day IS very clearly reiterated, and taught very extensively and perhaps even more so than the others in the New Testament.

The J.C. Ryle reference comes from this J.C. Ryle article, Sabbath: A Day to Keep, a helpful resource that points to many scriptural reasons for the continuing 4th commandment, including observations from the book of Ezekiel, what I had noted from my own reading through that prophet:

I turn to the writings of the Old Testament Prophets. I find them repeatedly speaking of the breach of the Sabbath, side by side with the most heinous transgressions of the moral law (Ezek. 20:13, 16, 24; 22:8, 26). I find them speaking of it as one of the great sins which brought judgments on Israel and carried the Jews into captivity (Neh. 13:18; Jer. 17:19-27). It seems clear to me that the Sabbath, in their judgment, is something far higher than the washings and cleansings of the ceremonial law.  I am utterly unable to believe, when I read their language, that the Fourth Commandment was one of the things one day to pass away.

The contrast between someone cleaning their roof and destroying their house:

I turn to the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ when He was upon earth. I cannot discover that our Savior ever let fall a word in discredit of any one of the Ten Commandments. On the contrary, I find Him declaring at the outset of His ministry, “that He came not to destroy the law but to fulfil,” and the context of the passage where He uses these words, satisfies me that He was not speaking of the ceremonial law, but the moral (Matt. 5:17). I find Him speaking of the Ten Commandments as a recognized standard of moral right and wrong: “Thou knowest the Commandments” (Mark 10:19).  I find Him speaking eleven times on the subject of the Sabbath, but it is always to correct the superstitious additions which the Pharisees had made to the Law of Moses about observing it, and never to deny the holiness of the day.He no more abolishes the Sabbath, than a man destroys a house when he cleans off the moss or weeds from its roof.

Much more could be said, and has been said by others, but the above observations and references are for today’s consideration.

Study: The Christian and the Moral Law

April 12, 2016 25 comments

The topic of the Law of God and its relationship to the Christian has come up frequently in my recent studies and daily life. Currently in the 1689 Confession Exposition series I’m in chapter 19, the Law of God, and now in the sixth commandment section of the “Ten Commandments” study from Tom Chantry.

Since last week, the blogosphere has been reacting to Stephen Furtick’s recent claim that “God broke the law for love.”  For reference here, I find Tom Chantry’s post the most helpful in response to the overall evangelical celebrity scandal issue.  His post includes links to several other responses, including the most helpful for the issue as this one from the “Mortification of Spin” blog, as well as Tim Challies’ response.

As I continue through the lessons in both the 1689 Confession and Ten Commandments series, studying various aspects in some detail, I am especially struck by the shallow and superficial (and just plain wrong) arguments and rhetoric of the New Calvinist / New Covenant Theology group, with its anti-Reformed view of the law.  As just a few examples, from a recent local-church NCT conference and some anti-Tim Challies / anti-covenant theology comments at a blog post:  1) rejection of any type of covenant made with Adam in Genesis 2, because “I don’t see the word covenant there” (really? is the word “Trinity” ever found in the Bible?), 2) dislike of Covenant Theology as “those baby baptizers” (will you ever consider that CT includes a credobaptist version, and decide to meaningfully interact with THAT form of CT?  No, it’s easier to resort to name-calling and broad-brushing about how CT is wrong because they’re baby baptizers…), and 3) the stated claim that the moral law was something that started (and ended) with Moses, and thus the only moral law for Christians is what is stated in the New Testament.

As just an aside on point #3:  I find this hermeneutic, that something can only be true for us in the NT era if it’s explicitly stated or “confirmed” in the New Testament, quite frankly, bizarre.  On the question of premillennialism and Israel’s future, dispensationalists (as well as classic/historic premillennialists) recognize the problem with this NT-priority hermeneutic and its implications: a God who changed His plan and changed His promises and His revelation, such that Old Testament believers did not have the same understanding of scripture as we do.  My problem with the NCT group is doubly-compounded in that they get both parts wrong: they apply the NT-only hermeneutic to the moral law (in agreement with dispensationalism) AND apply the NT-only hermeneutic to the question of Israel, rejecting anything of God’s future plans for Israel.  At least dispensationalists get half of it right; and confessional/CT amillennialists get the other half, about the moral law, correct.

Anyway… here are some interesting points from my studies on this topic:  scriptural considerations for why the Ten Commandments are different from the rest of the Mosaic law.

  1. The Ten Commandments were introduced before the rest of the law. They were given directly from God, literally inscribed by God onto the tablets.  These two tablets alone were placed into the Ark of the Covenant.  The civil and ceremonial laws were not put in the Ark.
  1. The summary content of the Ten Commandments is found in existence prior to Moses, going all the way back to creation.  The creation ordinances contain, at least implied, the basics of God’s moral law.  Marriage as a creation ordinance relates to the 7th commandment (adultery and other sexual sins), as well as the 8th commandment (not to steal another man’s wife) and the 10th commandment to not covet your neighbor’s wife.  Dominion over the earth pertains to the 5th commandment: God’s authority and our authority structure, in families and all of life’s social structures.  The seven day week pattern establishes the matter of a time for worship, which is the essence of the 4th commandment; and implied in the 4th commandment, of the schedule/time for worship, are the first three commandments about Who we are to worship, how to worship Him, and with what attitude.  The other part of the 4th commandment, the six days of labor, was also in place in the garden.  Adam was there to work the garden.  The part about working “by the sweat of the brow” was added after the fall, but work itself began before that.  Related to the labor part of the 4th commandment, comes the 8th commandment again:  work to provide your daily needs, and do not steal.  The 6th commandment is specifically referenced in Genesis 9, in God’s covenant with Noah after the flood, with the institution of capital punishment for murder.
  1. God’s moral law, as codified/summarized in the Decalogue, was always concerned about the heart. It was never just about the mere letter of the law.  Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount was not adding anything to that law, but was expositing and restoring the understanding of the law back to what it had always been–away from the Pharisees’ mistaken notion of an external compliance only.

Note here:  when the Israelites had so apostasized that God ejected them from the land, as described in the later prophets including Jeremiah and Ezekiel, it was their violation of the moral law (what is summarized/codified in the Ten Commandments) that angered God.  In fact, the Israelites in the time of Jeremiah (and even earlier, Isaiah’s day also)  were fully complying with the ceremonial law—in outward form.  It was their outward performance of the ceremonial law, without having the right heart attitude, that was the problem.

This point can also be seen in the Pentateuch, in God’s application of the moral law to the Israelites and their civil law.   Immediately after the giving of the Decalogue in Exodus 20, comes Exodus 21 with an interesting, detailed section of laws for Israel’s government.  Exodus 21:12-36 contains specific laws regarding cases where one person  is killed by another – application of the sixth commandment —  and distinction is made between killings done where the one person meant harm to the other, versus truly accidental deaths, including the provision of the cities of refuge which a person who had killed another could flee to—before the avenger of blood killed the man, and for the priest to judge the situation.  Understood throughout this section is that Israel would need a system of courts and judges, and that they would need to be able to investigate a crime and its circumstances.  This investigation would need to involve considering motives:  the motives and thoughts of the person who had killed another, as this is necessary information for determining if a death was accidental, or a case of what we would call 1st or 2nd degree murder.

The above is but a sampling, of scriptural issues to consider regarding the question of the moral law: what it was in the Old Testament era, and why it is God’s unchanging moral law from creation–and not something “only for Israel and the Mosaic administration” and thus no longer relevant to Christians in the New Testament age.

More next time:  the different usages/meanings of the term “law” in the New Testament.

 

Covenantal Premillennialism: Author Michael P.V. Barrett

March 15, 2016 3 comments

I’m now back from vacation earlier this month and mostly caught up on normal, everyday life, and starting to return to the normal study routine. I haven’t had much time for the blog — now starting back to it.

I am enjoying the kindle book (half-way through) of Michael P.V. Barrett’s “Beginning at Moses: A Guide to Finding Christ in the Old Testament” (available on Kindle for 99 cents here). It’s written at a layperson level, and a lot of it is basic content about looking at the attributes of God and what to look for in the OT in reference to Christ – written by a covenantal premillennialist who affirms the future wide-scale salvation of ethnic Israel at Christ’s Return.  Among current-day authors this is quite rare – many current-day HPs are non-covenantal, often of the NCT or progressive covenantal variety, and/or of the one-text Rev. 20 view; and many see nothing for future Israel. Most of today’s CT proponents are amillennial/postmillennial, again with no future restoration of Israel. Barrett comes from a dispensational background–former professor at Bob Jones University, now at Puritan Reformed Seminary—so arriving at the historic/classic premillennial view from a different background than the standard Reformed teacher.

Contrary to what some dispensationalists may think (in a knee-jerk reaction to the title, Finding Christ in the Old Testament), this author does not get into allegorical teaching about how we can “spiritualize” the Old Testament to find Christ in “every verse.” The book description even states that we don’t find Christ in every verse. Instead, this author presents various attributes of Christ, including His roles as prophet, priest and king, including a good section on understanding the Old Testament references to the “Angel of the Lord” and the different features of the many theophanies and Christophanies throughout the Old Testament. The book also looks at the historical covenants (Adamic, Noahic, Abrahamic, Davidic, and so on), as well as the prophecies about Christ’s First and Second Coming.

I like what I’ve read so far, and now have purchased another of Barrett’s 99 cent Kindle books — God’s Unfailing Purpose: The Message of Daniel. Amazon has several other books from Barrett, including one looking at the gospel in Hosea and another about the post-exilic era. A look at Sermon Audio also shows quite a few audio lectures available, including quite a few on the minor prophets.

 

Israel and the Church, Part 3: Progressive Dispensationalism

April 8, 2015 1 comment

Continuing in “Perspectives on Israel and the Church: 4 Views,” Robert Saucy’s essay provides a good description of Progressive Dispensationalism as it relates to hermeneutics, partial fulfillments and “already/not yet,” and PD’s ideas concerning Israel and the Church.

Part of the essay addresses the question of Israel’s future restoration and the millennial age, and here I observe that the PD view, on this point, is similar to classic historic / covenantal premillennialism. Addressing Romans 11, Saucy also includes quotes from non-dispensationalist, CT author John Murray, that affirm Israel’s future, as with Murray’s commentary on Romans 11:12, “Gospel blessing [for Gentiles] far surpassing anything experienced during the period of Israel’s apostasy… occasioned by the conversion of Israel on a scale commensurate with that of their earlier disobedience.”

Saucy emphasizes on the one hand, unity and “one people of God,” while on the other hand stressing that the church is not Israel, with discussion of the NT texts which indeed never describe the church as “Israel” or “New Israel,” as he further notes that this idea only began with Justin Martyr in the 2nd century.  As with other non-CT views, PD thinks of the church as beginning in Acts: the standard discontinuity view rooted in the notion that Old Testament saints did not have the indwelling Holy Spirit. In this essay at least, Saucy denies to the OT saints anything of regeneration, indwelling of the Holy Spirit, or descriptions such as “born again” or “a new creation” to believers prior to Pentecost. My study on this issue agrees with the historic Reformed view, as noted in this previous post and well expressed in John Gill’s commentary on John 7:39: the apostles, and others, that had believed in Christ, and had received the Spirit, as a spirit of regeneration and sanctification; as a spirit of illumination and conversion; as a spirit of faith and adoption; but on the day of Pentecost they were to receive a larger, even an extraordinary measure of his gifts and grace, to qualify them for greater work and service. 

One serious blunder Saucy commits, is his incorrect assumption that CT only exists in paedo-baptist form, such that he asserts that the distinction between Israel as a nation and the church leads to a clear distinction with regard to entrance into the covenantal communities. The obvious problem here is that the 17th century Covenantal Baptists figured this out (who should and should not be baptized), long before dispensationalism arrived on the scene–and they didn’t need any special understanding about Israel and the Church to do so.

Responses:

Robert Reymond’s CT response is again, predictably, a disappointment: not interacting with the specifics of Saucy’s essay, but repeating his denial of premillennialism, only showing his own ignorance by his claims that only one text (Revelation 20) teaches premillennialism (even referencing premillennialists who agree with that idea, a limited group). His response sets forth the standard scripture interpretations for amillennialism including amillennial ideas regarding the “first resurrection.”  Again, though, the essay Reymond is responding to treats issues far more specific than the basics of premillennialism.  Seriously, this book should have had a better representative for CT, at least someone at the level of the many confessional CT believers (found in online Reformed groups) who recognize that the covenantal approach allows for three millennial views, one of which is (historic) premillennialism. Given the abilities of the other three writers, this is a serious drawback to this book. A solid CT writer could have interacted with the other positions and given good response concerning, for instance, the dispensational idea about OT saints not having the Holy Spirit.  Instead, such answers must come from other sources, and I continue to find these out in the reading of covenantal premillennialists.

The other two responses are adequate enough, from the viewpoint of each of their views and addressing areas of difference: for Thomas (traditional dispensationalist) the hermeneutical inconsistencies of PD; for Brand/Pratt, the presuppositions of PD they disagree with, in their idea that focuses on Christ as the fulfillment of Israel.

Next: the last essay, for the Progressive Covenantalism view.

 

 

Israel and the Church (Book): The Covenantal View And Responses

March 26, 2015 3 comments

Following up on this previous post, my summary thoughts on the presentation of – and responses to – the first view, of (paedobaptist type) Covenant Theology.

I found this essay disappointing in several ways, most notably in its presentation of only one particular variation of CT (of which there are a few other variations) and its interaction with a non-standard version of dispensationalism.

As previously noted, this book omits the Baptist CT view. However, the CT view presented here is more specifically the paedobaptist, amillennial with no future for Israel (Romans 11 refers only to the salvation of Jews during this age) variety. This may be the most common view today (since most who hold to CT are paedo and amill), but more knowledgeable readers are aware of the variations within each of the systems, including the views held earlier in Reformed history. Yet this essay gives no indication of other variations, instead presenting just the one view and grouping together unrelated issues including even arguments against premillennialism itself (which is really a separate topic unrelated to the question of Israel and the Church).  Indeed, given that separate essays are provided for the three other views, all of which have a common starting point and certain things in common, I suggest that this book would have been better done as “Six Views,” with three “Covenant Theology” views: Paedobaptist CT, Baptist CT, and Covenantal Premill (its features unrelated to whether infant or believer’s baptism).

The CT essay further hinders its case – in terms of acceptance by those from a dispensational background – by addressing only a non-standard view of dispensationalism: the John Hagee view that current-day Israel is the fulfillment of OT biblical prophecy. Several paragraphs “refute” Hagee’s idea with the “answer” that those OT prophecies were fulfilled in the post-exilic period. The mention of Hagee, and no mention of or interaction with other notable dispensational teachers (as for instance John MacArthur), is a likely turn-off to the majority of dispensationalists, who do not agree with Hagee’s dispensationalism to begin with.

Responses to the CT essay

I find Robert Saucy’s response (Progressive Dispensational) the best written, both in its explanation of what PD believes and in addressing the CT essay misrepresentations. His scriptural references related to the future for ethnic Israel and basic premillennialism are explained well, and without reference to a “system” with “standard responses” – as contrasted with the Classic Disp response, which includes many such “standard response” statements, of “events” that “will transpire after the rapture of the church.”

Of interest, Saucy has no problem with the actual construction of the theological covenants of CT in and of themselves —  and further identifies the problem with the current-day paedo-construct of CT: the problem comes up when these theological covenants, which are essentially timeless—they apply to all human history—are made to level out all of the history of salvation. Though not dealt with in more detail, as I understand this is indeed the current-day paedo-CT approach, going beyond even what is stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith (which references only the Old, Mosaic covenant): that all of the biblical covenants of the Old Testament are administrations of the covenant of grace, thus flattening all of Old Testament history to put undue emphasis only on soteriology. I do not agree with all of Saucy’s views, including what is implied in his statements about what OT saints did or did not understand, but his response-essay is excellent in its explanations regarding several topics of what PD believes, including the future restoration of Israel, premillenialism itself, and the PD understanding of Israel and the Church with emphasis on their functions (instead of strict and exclusive reference to salvation of both groups) within God’s purposes.

The “Progressive Covenantal” (New Covenant Theology) response was the least helpful, as it mainly focused on the issue of infant baptism, providing scriptural reasons in support of believers’ baptism and rejecting CT for its “genealogical principle,” a topic that the CT essay only briefly mentioned.  This response does briefly state its position regarding the church as neither a replacement nor the continuation of Israel “but as something unique, which requires that we think of ethnic Israel as distinct from the church,” an idea undoubtedly developed more fully in their own essay later in the book.  Still, with the main focus on refuting infant baptism, this group continues a pattern I have observed (as have others): a persistent unwillingness to engage the Baptist Covenant Theology view, an incorrect idea that CT is synonymous with paedobaptism (and thus CT does not exist apart from infant baptism), refusing to acknowledge that CT also exists in the credo-baptist form yet with the same basic ideas regarding the one people of God and continuance of the moral law.

Perspectives on Israel and the Church: 4 Views (New Book Available)

March 19, 2015 6 comments

4viewsbookA new book on an interesting topic, which I recently purchased for my Kindle:  Perspectives on Israel and the Church: 4 Views

The four views dealt with in this book: traditional (paedobaptist) Covenant Theology, classic dispensationalism, progressive dispensationalism, and a type of “New Covenant Theology” variation, the “Progressive Covenantal” view. The book consists of four essays, one from the proponent of each of the views, along with three responses to each essay, one from each of the other three scholars. The scholars are not all that well-known, though Robert Saucy for the progressive dispensational view is a well-known name.

So far I have only read through the introduction and part of the first chapter; more posts to follow concerning any interesting points in the later reading.

It would have been nice to see the Baptist Covenant Theology view included: a traditional covenantal view that does not include the “genealogical principle” often mentioned in this book. As usual, the dispensational and NCT views here only interact with the paedo-baptist type of CT, with valid points in response to the covenant-child / infant baptism theology – yet ignoring the just as well-developed Baptist covenant theology. Other sources must supply the answer to that question (Israel and the Church) for CT baptists, such as the writings of Charles Spurgeon for one view, or Pascal Denault’s “The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology”  (which does briefly present an amillennial replacement idea, the Baptist CT “system” that rejects the literal fulfillment of the land promises).

Aside from the noted shortcoming, the book so far appears to be a good resource for general overview of this question: how do each of these “four views” think of Israel and the church and their relationship to each other?

Premillennialism, the Historical Covenants, and Typology

February 24, 2015 1 comment

A recent article from a progressive dispensational viewpoint lists 12 points regarding the biblical (historical) covenants and how they should be understood. In a few online discussion groups, some people have interacted with the various points, citing their own responses to some of the points or noting areas of agreement and difference. From the question asked in a group for historic (classic) premillennialism, as to how historic premillennialism would agree or disagree with these points, come the following general observations regarding where historic (covenantal) premillennialism differs from this (at least what is stated in this particular post):

  • Difference regarding the “church age” (point 10).  The description here reflects dispensational ideas (contrary to the covenantal view) such as no indwelling of the Holy Spirit before Pentecost; this description implies that the Old Testament age did not have Holy Spirit indwelling or anyone with a new heart, and no Gentiles (non-Jews) ever saved before the “church age.”
  • Understanding of the historical covenants needs to start before the Noahic covenant – going all the way back to Genesis 3:15 (the proto-evangelium) and the basic covenant of works that Adam transgressed (reference Hosea 6:7).

The concluding statement certainly holds true: “Theological covenants should not be imposed on the biblical historical covenants in any way that alters the meaning of the biblical historical covenants.”  The term ‘historical covenants’ is preferred, the term used by teachers including S. Lewis Johnson — to distinguish these from the theological covenants, which also have biblical basis in the same manner as the word ‘Trinity’ is biblical though not explicitly stated as such in scripture.

The 19th century era of covenantal premillennialism certainly included some covenant theologians who used a full replacement “spiritualizing” hermeneutic, as seen in Horatius Bonar’s responses to spiritualizing Patrick Fairbairn.  Yet, as noted by at least a few historians, that era did not put as great of an emphasis on a system of covenants as today (as for instance, today’s paedo-style CT that has every historical covenant as an administration of the Covenant of Grace).  19th century covenantal premillennialists taught that Abraham and other OT saints were part of the church, the one body of Christ, and placed emphasis on other aspects of Covenant Theology, such as sanctification per the Puritan Reformed model (including observance of the fourth commandment, the Christian Sabbath).

The following amillennial response (to the above linked article) is a common generalization and part of a “system” that goes beyond actual scripture and the proper use of typology, reflecting the issue noted above, of theological covenants being imposed in a way that alters the meaning of the historical covenants.

“7. Collectively and individually, the covenants consist of dozens of specific promises including spiritual, national (Israel), international, and material blessings. These elements are all important and intertwined. All elements will be fulfilled literally through two comings of Jesus (no need to typologically interpret or spiritualize the covenants).”

You’re going to be incredibly confused if you don’t recognize typology in the Old Covenant. The material blessings were typological of the spiritual blessings in the New. They do not continue and they will not be fulfilled “literally.”

Here I recall S. Lewis Johnson’s lessons on typology and its definition — which includes specific correspondences between an OT person, event or institution, and a corresponding New Testament fulfillment.

A good example of typology related to the historical and theological covenants will provide specific point-by-point comparisons, instead of a general concept (without specific scripture texts) that “Israel is a type of the church,” therefore “the material blessings… will not be fulfilled ‘literally’.” I conclude with a Spurgeon sermon which illustrates such specific “type” comparisons: recognizing the historicity of the Noahic covenant, yet noting many ways in which it is similar to, a picture or type of, the (Baptist definition) Covenant of Grace:

Genesis 9, Rainbow:

  • reference Revelation 4:3 “rainbow around the throne.”  The rainbow is not a temporary symbol for earth only, but is a symbol of everlasting and heavenly things!
  • and Revelation 10:1, the mighty Angel whose head is crowned with a rainbow: our Lord Jesus Christ, in His mediatorial capacity, wears the symbol of the Covenant about His brow; and in the other passage, our Lord, as King, is represented as sitting upon the Throne, surrounded with the insignia of the Covenant of Grace which encompasses the Throne, so that there are no goings forth of His Majesty and His Power and His Grace, except in a covenant way, and after a covenant sort

The Tenor of the Covenant (features in common to both the Noahic covenant and the Covenant of Grace)

  • Pure grace
  • All of promise
  • Has up to now been faithfully kept
  • Does not depend in any degree upon man
  • An everlasting covenant

 

Regarding the Old Testament: Covenantal, Dispensational and NCT Views

November 18, 2014 3 comments

A little over a year ago (summer 2013), a passing comment in David Murray’s blog post caused a bit of uproar from Calvinist Dispensationalists. Included in a list of 7 reasons why the Old Testament is neglected was this 4th reason: “Although unintended, the dispensational division of Scripture into different eras tends to relegate the Old Testament to a minor role in the life of the Church, and of the individual Christian.” The Cripplegate blog, and a guest post from Dan Phillips at David Murray’s blog addressed some reasons why dispensationalists do study the Old Testament.

From my studies concerning dispensationalism, and covenant theology (including Baptist covenant theology and covenantal premillennialism) and its contrasts with New Covenant Theology, here are some further reflections on the overall issue of people’s interest in the Old Testament – and how it relates to their theological reference system.

Dispensationalism

Murray’s original comment noted what was introduced with classic dispensationalism, “the division of Scripture into different eras,” and thus greater supposed differences between OT saints and the church age. Though current-day dispensationalists tend to downplay the specific number of dispensations, often they will emphasize the historical covenants that relate to the different time periods – especially the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, and thus study that part of the Old Testament. “The division of Scripture into different eras” also includes, as with NCT (discussed below), the traditional definition of antinomianism (Christ taught a new “higher law” beyond the original Mosiac Ten Commandments, and regarding law, only what is taught in the NT is for “church age” believers). Generally, though, dispensationalists put more emphasis on the prophetic word – of which there is much content from the Old Testament. This includes study of the historical covenants, as well as all that the Old Testament scriptures say related to promises for Israel’s future. The dispensationalist’s interest in the Old Testament also overlaps with that of overall premillennialism in study of the many Old Testament prophecies regarding the future millennial age, an intermediate phase followed by the eternal state, as well as the prophecies that speak of a future regathering and restoration of the people of Israel.

Covenant Theology

The CT view sees much more unity (than the other two groups) in the Bible as one people of God, with much in common between the believing community of Israel and the NT church. Old Testament saints had the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide them (though in less measure) and we can learn from their examples, from what is often referred to as “the Jewish church.” Also, the moral law, the natural law which was summarized in the Ten Commandments/ Decalogue, goes back to creation, as law from God for all peoples living in all times – not just something that began with Moses and only for Israel through the 1st century. All believers, from all ages, understand the same precepts and delight in God’s law, and we learn from everything in God’s word, the unity of the scriptures. Within covenant theology, some teachers emphasize the law, grace, and sanctification, while others (such as covenantal premillennialists) teach on this issue as well as eschatology.

NCT (New Covenant Theology)

The third group, NCT, combines some elements from dispensationalism and other ideas associated with Covenant Theology, to end up with something that could be considered (as others have expressed it) “the worst parts” from these two systems. Here I refer primarily to the “majority view” within NCT, that seems to “get both things wrong” in reference to both the nature of law AND their eschatology. (There are a few exceptions; one well-known NCT proponent holds to historic premillennialism and thus more interest in the Old Testament for that reason.) It is this group that appears to take the least amount of interest in the Old Testament; and I have observed “hard-core NCT” proponents actually say this, that the OT has so little value and that from now on they only do their evangelism from the New Testament.

On the one hand, NCT teaches – and emphasizes — the discontinuity of dispensational theology: a sharp division between Old and New Testament believers. The Decalogue was only for Old Testament believers, and moral law for us is only true if it is repeated in the New Testament. This group further maintains (again, at least some of its adherents) that OT Israel was never really a believing community, apart from the very few characters set forth for us, essentially the prophets, King David and a few other godly kings.

NCT also takes very little interest in eschatology, as a secondary issue not worth much consideration, but a “default” position of amillennialism generally associated with extreme “partial preterism” (all prophecy except Christ’s return, the general resurrection, general judgment, and eternal state, was completed by A.D. 70). Given their view of OT Israel as not really a believing community, it is not surprising to hear the claim, as I recently heard at an NCT local church, that “Israel never had any sovereign election to begin with, it was only a type of our individual election in the NT age” – in complete ignorance of what even the NT teaches, such as in Romans 9:4-5 (They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.)

* * * * * * * * *

In summary, both “systems” of covenant theology and dispensationalism can find at least some benefit in studying the Old Testament, whether from a viewpoint of continuity or an interest in the prophetic word.  However, when both of these ideas (CT and DT) are rejected — in favor of sharp discontinuity regarding OT and NT saints and overall sanctification, law and grace, combined with very little (if any) interest in eschatology/millennialism– the resulting theological system becomes something that sees little if any benefit in studying the Old Testament.

 

The Baptist ‘Covenant of Grace’: The New Covenant

September 25, 2014 5 comments

Something that was previously unclear to me, that I had wondered about especially in reference to my Spurgeon sermon reading: what is meant by the term ‘covenant of grace’? The common idea, in reference to Presbyterian-type infant baptism, is of one continuous covenant throughout the Old and New Testament, “under two administrations” such that the Old (Mosaic) covenant was also part of the “covenant of grace.”  This idea blends and confuses Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church, to come up with a “new testament” equivalent of circumcision, namely, infant baptism.  Yet this Westminster-style Covenant Theology is better known, and commonly presented as the only type of CT — such as at the local church several years ago, which briefly presented this form, followed by the (only other choice) favorable presentation of “New Covenant Theology” such that NCT “must” be the correct choice.

Yet whenever Spurgeon mentioned the “covenant of grace,” in context he appeared to really be talking about the New Covenant and what Christ has done for us. Spurgeon even described the Old, Sinaitic covenant, as the “covenant of works” to be contrasted with the “everlasting covenant” also called the “covenant of grace.” Now, after studying the matter, with reading including several articles, online group discussions, and the descriptions of the covenants in the Westminster and 1689 confessions, I realize that Spurgeon was referencing the now lesser known definition. A comparison of the Westminster and the London confessions will show that, indeed, the Westminster confession includes several additional paragraphs defining the “covenant of grace,” where the 1689 London confession is much shorter, with this basic paragraph:

This covenant is revealed through the Gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by further steps until the full revelation of it became complete in the New Testament. The covenant of salvation rests upon an eternal covenant transaction between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect. It is solely by the grace of this covenant that all the descendants of fallen Adam who have ever been saved have obtained life and blessed immortality, because man is now utterly incapable of gaining acceptance with God on the terms by which Adam stood in his state of innocency.

Though some “Reformed Baptists” use the Westminster Confession construction of one covenant with two administrations – and only change the part relating to baptism, to believers instead of infants – another group (including Pascal Denault and Richard Barcellos) have returned to their apparently previously forgotten heritage, with the recent publication of books that explain the difference between the Westminster and 1689 versions of covenant theology. An excerpt from Pascal Denault:

By rejecting the notion of a Covenant of Grace under two administrations, the Baptists were in fact rejecting only half of this concept: they accepted, as we have previously seen, the notion of one single Covenant of Grace in both testaments, but they refused the idea of two administrations. For the Baptists, there was only one Covenant of Grace which was revealed from the Fall in a progressive way until its full revelation and conclusion in the New Covenant… If the Westminster federalism can be summarized in “one covenant under two administrations,” that of the 1689 would be “one covenant revealed progressively and concluded formally under the New Covenant.”

The Baptists believed that no covenant preceding the New Covenant was the Covenant of Grace. Before the arrival of the New Covenant, the Covenant of Grace was at the stage of promise.

This makes sense and agrees with Charles H. Spurgeon’s usage of the term. A few selections from other early writers: “Sermons by Samuel Rutherford, with a preface by A.A. Bonar”

The use of this is, to show us the misery of all those who are not within this covenant, for they are in another covenant, even in a covenant which may be broken. Jer. xxxi. 31, 82; there are two covenants mentioned there ; the one whereof is broken, that covenant that He made with them when He brought them out of the land of Egypt ; and then there is the covenant of grace called the new covenant that cannot be broken.

Also, reference selections from Benjamin Keach regarding the covenant of grace.

In closing, a selection from Spurgeon, “The Blood of the Everlasting Covenant”  (Oct. 1859)

ALL God’s dealings with men have had a Covenant character. It has so pleased Him to arrange it that He will not deal with us except through a Covenant, nor can we deal with Him except in the same manner. Adam in the Garden was under a Covenant with God and God was in Covenant with him. That Covenant Adam speedily broke. There is a Covenant still existing in all its terrible power—terrible I say, because it has been broken on man’s part and, therefore, God will most surely fulfill its solemn threats and sanctions! That is the Covenant of Works. By this He dealt with Moses and in this does He deal with the whole race of men as represented in the first Adam.

Afterwards, when God would deal with Noah, it was by a Covenant, and when in succeeding ages He dealt with Abraham, He was still pleased to bind himself to him by a Covenant. That Covenant He preserved and kept and it was renewed continually to many of his seed. God dealt not even with David, the man after His own heart, except with a Covenant. He made a Covenant with His anointed. And, Beloved, He deals with you and me this day still by Covenant! When He shall come in all His terrors to condemn, He shall smite by Covenant—namely, by the sword of the Covenant of Sinai—and if He comes in the splendors of His Grace to save, He still comes to us by Covenant—namely, the Covenant of Zion; the Covenant which He has made with the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head and Representative of His people. And mark, whenever we come into close and intimate dealings with God, it is sure to be, on our part, also by Covenant.

Hermeneutics and Old-New Testament Revelation

September 22, 2014 Leave a comment

In my recent studies — different aspects of covenant theology, NCT, the law and types of antinomianism — I have noted one interesting aspect of hermeneutics and continuity/discontinuity between the Old and New Testament, a common element in two unrelated teachings that challenge the clarity and sufficiency of the Old Testament for OT saints: 1) full “replacement theology” and amillennialism with the NT revelation changing the meaning of the Old Testament land and literal kingdom promises; and 2) “doctrinal antinomianism” that teaches that Christ gave new law in the Sermon on the Mount, law that was unknown to Old Testament saints and that “expanded” the original meaning beyond a supposed “legalistic and ceremonial-only understanding”.

Premillennialists have rightly pointed out this hermeneutical problem with the spiritualized re-interpretation of what the Old Testament described regarding a future literal kingdom of God upon the earth, in which Israel as a nation would play a role (along with a few other nations specifically mentioned, ref. Isaiah 19:23-25), and a literal future restoration of the people of Israel to the land promised to Abraham in Genesis. As Paul Henebury has observed, “this maxim would mean that Christians without the NT – and there were many of them in the First Century – could not comprehend the scripture they had – the OT.”

Interestingly enough, a similar issue comes up in articles discussing antinomianism as contrasted with the Reformed/covenantal view of the moral law (that Christ came to fulfill the law, and that meant restoring it to its original high level, from the lower level that the Pharisees had reduced it to). Note that here I am specifically addressing the “full” teaching of “New Covenant Theology” in its extreme view that places a sharp division between the Old and New Testaments, rejecting any understanding of true moral law pre-Christ, such that very few people pre-Christ were saved (the prophets and the few godly kings), and whose adherents even declare (as seen recently in an online discussion group for NCT) how unimportant the Old Testament is and that for evangelism they are now only using the New Testament. (Really?! But how did the apostles evangelize, per the book of Acts?  They used the only Bible they had, the Old Testament. They proclaimed Christ from the Old Testament scriptures, proving that the promised Messiah was Jesus of Nazareth.)

If the “law of Moses” was really a more primitive type, strictly legalistic, ceremonial and civil, with no true moral intent — and Christ actually gave “new law” that was not known in the OT — then how does one explain the true faith and spirituality of OT saints, such as the psalmists, including their descriptions of delighting in God’s law and desiring to do His law (Psalm 119 and elsewhere)? Further, to suggest that people before Christ did not have the full revelation of God’s law, also contradicts the many Old Testament passages that make it clear that all along, even then, God delighted more in their obedience and their heart attitude, than in sacrifices; sometimes even God declared that He hated their ceremonial feasts and sacrifices, because they were not done from a sincere heart motivation. Reference Hosea 6:6, “For I desire steadfast love (mercy) and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings,” also Samuel’s words to Saul in 1 Samuel 15:22, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” But if Christ somehow added to the law, that which was not known before He came, that also means that the Old Testament believers had a different method of salvation and did not have the same basic belief in the same God as we New Testament believers. Also according to this idea, the Old Testament saints were inferior in quality; and we could call them hypocrites for their appearance of showing great love for God and His law and their great devotion to God: since the OT law did not really require that of them and it had not even yet been revealed to them.

Some closing words from J.C. Ryle regarding the Old Testament and its importance (from his commentary on Matthew 5):

Jesus came to fulfill the predictions of the prophets, who had long foretold that a Savior would one day appear. He came to fulfill the ceremonial law, by becoming the great sacrifice for sin, to which all the Old Testament offerings had ever pointed. He came to fulfill the moral law, by yielding to it a perfect obedience, which we could never have yielded – and by paying the penalty for our breaking of it with His atoning blood, which we could never have paid.

Do not despise the Old Testament under any pretense whatsoever. Let us never listen to those who bid us throw it aside as an obsolete, antiquated, useless book. The religion of the Old Testament is the embryo of Christianity. The Old Testament is the gospel in the bud. The New Testament is the gospel in full flower. The saints in the Old Testament saw many things through a glass darkly. But they all looked by faith to the same Savior and were led by the same Spirit as ourselves.

Also, beware of despising the law of the Ten Commandments. Let us not suppose for a moment that it is set aside by the gospel or that Christians have nothing to do with it. The coming of Christ did not alter the position of the Ten Commandments in the least. If anything, it exalted and raised their authority (Romans 3:31). The law of the Ten Commandments is God’s eternal measure of right and wrong. By it, is the knowledge of sin. By it, the Spirit shows men their need of Christ and drives them to Him. To it, Christ refers His people as their rule and guide for holy living. In its right place it is just as important as “the glorious gospel.” It cannot save us. We cannot be justified by it. But never, never let us despise it. It is a symptom of an ignorant and unhealthy state of religion when the law is lightly esteemed. The true Christian “delights in God’s law” (Romans 7:16-20).