Sola Scriptura?

I ran across an article that is written by a guy who claims to be Calvinistic and Reformed. In his article, he argues that the only reason those who espouse New Covenant Theology do so is to find an excuse for denying baptism to children. In reality, none of us would deny baptism to children if those children were believers and gave a credible profession of faith. I suspect what he really meant is that we deny “baptism” to infants. Here we must plead guilty, if guilt it can be called. In his book, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren, Leonard Verduin was bold enough to assert that even Luther has misgivings about the practice of infant baptism, but lacked the political will and courage to oppose the practice. So much for Sola Scriptura. The truth is, the Reformers dragged this bit of furniture out of the Roman Catholic system, then scurried about to find justification for it. Such justification is found in their view of the continuity of the covenants. There can be no doubt there is a continuity between the covenants of the Old Testament and the New Covenant, but that continuity is one of type to antitype. Consequently, it flows from inferior to superior, from external, material, and physical to internal and spiritual, and from temporary to permanent. What the Bible does not teach is that every covenant made after the fall is merely an new and different administration of an over-arching covenant of grace.

Every child born into the nation of Israel was considered by an “accident of birth,” to belong to the covenant community. As members of that community, they were circumcised according to the law. Yet, that rite had nothing to do with the condition of their hearts before God. That community was largely made up of unregenerate rebels whose history was littered with numerous examples of their infidelity to Jehovah. It would have been altogether proper in such a situation for a person to say to his neighbor or to his brother, “Know the Lord.” In the new covenant community, such an exhortation would be inappropriate unless that “brother” was acting in a way that indicated he was a false professor. Of life under the New Covenant we are told “And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (Heb. 8:11). The new covenant community is comprised of professing believers, not believers and their children. Apart from faith, there is no evidence a person belongs to Christ. Baptism is our outward confession that we have died with Christ to the reigning power of sin and that we have risen with him to a new life. This is clearly not the case with infants.

Not only are new covenant believers never commanded to moisten their infants, but there is not a single New Testament example of an infant being thus moistened. If this practice is so important, why is no believer ever commanded to perform it. What I am saying is that we don’t need a theological system devised for the sole purpose of denying “baptism” to infants. All we need to do is practice everything the New Testament Scriptures command us, and ONLY what they command us. That in itself excludes the practice.

This same man actually asserts that anyone who does not embrace Covenant Theology is unconverted. He writes,

For those who are trying to be Calvinists without the covenant, including the covenant of works, this is a call to you to finish your Reformation journey. Stop standing at the boarder gazing into the city; come in and take your seat. All those inconsistencies that you have been trying to make sense of will make perfect sense in the context of the covenant. Most of all, you will finally sense the wonder of having Jesus’ fulfillment of the covenant of works credited to you, a covenant-breaker. Perhaps you’ve missed the forest for the trees. In your attempt to run from covenant theology, you’ve missed the Christ of the covenant and are even now unconverted. If you’ve heard Christ calling you in these pages, cast your anchor on Him. Then you’ll be able to say with J. Gresham Machen, “So thankful for the active obedience of Christ; No hope without it.”

I know I am getting old, but I can’t recall reading that text of Scripture that states, “Whosoever doth not embrace the tenets of Covenant Theology shall be damned.” Perhaps, it is tucked away in the Apocryphal literature somewhere. If this brother [perhaps he wouldn’t want me calling him a “brother” since he regards me as unregenerate] would simply provide an avenue to respond to his outrageous claims, I could write and ask him. Maybe it is just me, but I find it cowardly to post something on the internet without providing any means to respond.

Now, I can’t speak for everyone who rejects covenant theology, but I for one am thankful for Christ’s active obedience, and I don’t think I have “missed the Christ of the covenant.” I firmly believe Christ’s obedience to a covenant of works has been credited to me, a covenant breaker. The difference between our positions is that the covenant I believe Christ obeyed is, in the Scripture, actually called a covenant. I know, there is the lone proof-text in Hosea 6:7 that reads, “they like Adam have transgressed the covenant.” The thing is, these are ostensibly educated men, who know well that the word translated “Adam” can simply refer to a man. “Adam” and “Man” are translated from the same word. Do you suppose Hosea could have been saying these people have acted just like sinful man always acts when confronted with God’s demands and have transgressed his covenant?

That aside, is Hosea saying these people have transgressed the same “covenant” Adam transgressed, or is he merely saying they have acted like men made in the image of their father, Adam, in transgressing the law? The question is, which covenant have they transgressed? There can be no doubt that Hosea is charging them with unfaithfulness to the Mosaic code. Covenant Theologians are quick to insist that the Covenant God established with Israel on Mt. Sinai was merely a different administration of an overarching “covenant of grace.” How does one transgress a covenant of grace? A covenant of grace requires nothing of us as a condition of enjoying its blessings. A covenant of grace is a covenant of promise in which all the conditions have been fulfilled for us. Believers receive God’s covenant blessings by promise, not by works of obedience.

When the New Testament writers refer to “the two covenants” there is no evidence whatsoever that one of them is a pre-fall “covenant” God made with Adam. Instead, it is clear they were writing about the law of Moses and the new, gospel covenant.

Let me be clear that I am not denying that God made a unilateral demand on Adam and Eve in the garden. Nor am I denying that Adam stood as the representative of the entire race so that his act of disobedience was, in God’s reckoning, their act of disobedience. Additionally, I freely confess that if Adam had remained in his integrity, he and all his offspring would have remained in their original state of righteousness and would not have died [There is a difference between eternal life and unending life]. There is no promise that Adam would ever have been confirmed in his state of righteousness. The issue is, this is as far as the Scripture takes us. Everything else must be drawn from our ingenuity. Do we really believe in sola Scriptura, or do we believe in the Scripture and our own imagination. This man boldly states that God promised Adam eternal life if he continued in his integrity during the probation period that he had imposed on him. Thus, eternal life for himself and all his offspring was to be earned by perfect obedience under this covenant of works about which the Scripture says absolutely nothing. I continue to search the Scriptures in vain looking for the verse or verses that describe the probationary period described above. Certainly, if this man is going to be so bold as to declare that any who do not believe his theory are unregenerate, he must have clear texts, taken in their proper context to support his contention.

Is there a covenant of works? Of course, the answer is yes. Though it is not designated that way in the Scriptures, it is clear the old covenant or the law of Moses is that covenant. The law is clearly called a covenant and it is clear that its most salient feature is its demand for works of obedience. Listen to the way Paul describes the Law in the Epistle to the Galatians. He wrote, “But the law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them.'” (3:12). He wrote much the same thing in Romans 10:5, “For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.”

Now, it is true, the Scriptures never state that a person can earn eternal life, per se, by obedience to the law. Paul does tell us, however, that those who keep the law will be justified by it.

For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” ( Romans 2:12-13).

It was under this covenant Jesus was born (see Galatians 4:4), it was under this covenant he lived, and it was under this covenant he died. It is his active obedience to that covenant that is imputed to believers for justification.

There used to be a commercial for a fast food restaurant that asked the question of their competitors, “Where’s the Beef?” That is all I am asking from this dear gentleman who has been so ready to consign me to hell because I disagree with his system. You claim to be guided in matters of faith and practice by the Scriptures alone–“Where’s the Beef?”


2 Responses to “Sola Scriptura?”

  1. March 4, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    Quite an interesting quote on several levels:

    1. ‘Trying to be Calvinists without the covenant’ betrays the assumption that there are followers of ‘men’, yet it seems to ignore Paul’s admonition against ‘personality cultism’ in 1 Cor. It also seems to assert that one cannot be a true Calvinist without understanding the ‘covenants’. Since the author mentions the covenant of works, I assume he is speaking of three covenants (redemption/works/grace) rather than the covenants defined with specific people (Adam, Abraham, etc.).

    2. Is Calvinism the truest expression of Reformation theology? Just a question that needs not be answered. The actual Reformation began before Calvin developed the Institutes, and the topic of the sovereignty of God runs throughout scripture. For this old guy, who does not claim to be a Calvinist, but rather seeks to understand the many aspects of the sovereignty of God, understanding expressions of doctrine written by men runs a distant second (or third, fourth, etc) to understanding what God has revealed ‘directly’ about Himself in scripture.

    3. Not embracing covenant theology could mean ‘missing’ Christ and not being regenerate? Balderdash! Those of us who subscribe to the doctrines of grace believe that ‘while we were yet sinners’ God gave us life (regeneration). Study of, and understanding all the nuances (some of which can be difficult to grasp) of various covenants comes later, if at all, and hopefully enriches our understanding of who God is.

    Once again, I rejoice in the simplicity of the Gospel as Paul did, and at the same time seek to know Him, and His Son, more fully while I’m still down here.

    • March 4, 2012 at 5:45 pm


      I appreciate your comment about the simplicity of the gospel. A friend of mine once observed that people often get more excited about what the Scripture doesn’t say than about what it does say. It will take us an eternity to delve in to the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God as we contemplate his glory and the glory of His good news.

      Thanks for stopping by. I always appreciate your wisdom and contributions to the blog.

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