The New Covenant and the Abrahamic Covenant.

I recently read an interesting article by R. Scott Clark, a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary of California. There were several aspects of his article I greatly appreciated. For one, he didn’t call Baptists “heretics.” He actually referred to them as his friends. Additionally, he acknowledged what anyone who has read the NT Scriptures ought to acknowledge, that the Mosaic covenant was a temporary covenant that has been fulfilled and passed away. I found much in his article with which I agreed. There were, however, a few area in which I found disagreement with his statements. I don’t intend to address all of them here, but the following are the most salient:

1. He wrote, “What was it that they did not receive? If we read Jeremiah 31 absolutely, the way some would have us read it, then we should should have to say that none of these received the forgiveness of sins.”

My response: I don’t know who would make such an outlandish statement, but certainly no one who holds to NCT would do so.

2. Concerning Hebrews 11: 39 he wrote: What they did not receive was the fulfillment of all of God’s promises in the new covenant. They had the realities by faith but they did not have the realities by sight. We have what was promised to them. We have the new covenant. We have semi-eschatological blessings. Heaven has broken into history and we, in Christ, have been taken up to heaven. The types and shadows have been fulfilled. What they only saw typologically, we see in reality. We are not yet bodily in glory, however, and thus we must persevere in faith. This is why we must “lay aside also every weight” (12:1).

My response: I believe this is exactly right. They believed the promises; we enjoy the reality. There is no doubt believers before the advent of Christ were declared righteous based on Christ’s redemptive work. The failure of the Law and its typical sacrificial system to quiet the guilty conscience caused them to look forward, based on God’s promises, to the one about whom the promises, types, and shadows of the OT Scriptures spoke. Though they were justified, God had not yet revealed to them the basis of that justification.

What we must realize is that even Abraham belonged to this group. It is not that we look back to him, but that he looked forward to us. Even he lived in the realm of promise; we live in the realm of fulfillment. Circumcision was a typical representation of regeneration. It belonged to the physical and material seed of Abraham as a typical representation of what would be true of his spiritual seed. According to Jesus’ words in John 8, it is possible to be “Abraham’s seed” and not Abraham’s seed at the same time. I think there can be no question that believers from both the circumcision and the uncircumcision belong to the same family of God. Still, the circumcised [physical] “seed” of Abraham descending either from Ishmael or Isaac did not, by virtue of their physical descent, belong to that family. There is a continuity between the Abrahamic covenant which Dr. Clark identifies as an administration of “the Covenant of Grace” and the New Covenant. The point of continuity between the Abrahamic covenant and the New Covenant is not circumcision, but Christ. He is the promised “SEED.” Circumcision was a physical rite and belonged to the physical seed of Abraham. Apart from its typical significance, it had nothing to do with the spiritual seed. Circumcision typically foreshadowed the New Covenant blessing of regeneration, not baptism. Unlike the Abrahamic Covenant, the New Covenant is not concerned with land promises and material blessings. It was possible to be part of the Abrahamic covenant apart from faith. That is to say, Abraham had merely physical offspring and spiritual offspring. Circumcision had nothing to do with the spiritual descendants apart from its typical significance. It was not children of believing parents under the Abrahamic Covenant who were circumcised; it was simply the children of parents, whether believing or unbelieving. The mistake of Covenant Theology is that they assume that all facets of the Abrahamic Covenant are continuous. The reality is, faith and union with Christ are the points of continuinty.

There are no heirs of the New Covenant who are not the spiritual children of believing Abraham. He no longer has any “seed” who are not united to Jesus Christ by faith. Paul wrote, “If you are Christ’s, then are you Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:29). Abraham now has no other seed apart from Christ and those who are in him by faith. The New Covenant has no merely physical heirs.

3. He wrote: My Baptist friends tend to talk about the new covenant in ways that do not actually conform to what Scripture says about the new covenant. My Baptist friends tend to make the new covenant more eschatological than it actually is. Were the new covenant as eschatological as they seem to think we would not expect to find the sort of language about the administration of the covenant of the new covenant that one finds in Hebrews 10.

According to Hebrews 10:26–31 members of the new covenant church may find themselves in even more jeopardy than existed under Moses. If the new covenant has the sort of characteristics some would have us believe we would not have expected this sort of language:

Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? (Heb 10:28–29)

My response: These words pertain to those who have professed faith in Jesus as the Messiah but were in danger of going back to Judaism. The Mosaic covenant prescribed physical death for those who disobeyed; those who turn their backs on Christ, the only sacrifice for sin, prove they were never in covenant with him and face certain eternal destruction. There is nothing in this statement that is out of character with new covenant teaching. Who is there that understands the Scriptures aright who denies there are false professors in the church?

4. He wrote: Reformed theology explains this phenomenon by observing that there are two ways of existing in the one covenant of grace (Rom 2:28; see also this booklet). Not everyone who is admitted to the visible covenant community actually receives the benefits of the covenant of grace.

My response: No joke. Who in his right mind and who understands biblical truth says they do? Of course, the visible assembly is comprised of believers and false believers, but as stated previously for the Baptist, this is by default not by design. We know unbelieving children are not partakers of the covenant from the outset.

5. He wrote: When Reformed folk look at v. 38 [Acts 2] and the command to the heads of thousand of households to “repent and be baptized” we see the analogy with Abraham, who was not an infant, but who was also the head of a household. He was initiated into the covenant community as an adult and his children were initiated into the covenant community as infants. Those heads of those households were in the same position as Abraham. The analogy with Abraham is only strengthened by the invocation of the Abrahamic covenantal formula: “for the promise is to you and to your children.” The essence of the covenant of grace remains unchanged: “I will be a God to you and to your children.” My Baptist friends object by pointing out the inclusion of Gentiles. I reply by saying, so what? The Reformed argument is not that Abraham was not typological. Of course Gentiles are being included. That is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, that God would make him the father of many nations. This is exactly what Paul argues in Romans 4. Abraham is the father of all who believe, both Jew and Gentile. The inclusion of Gentiles does not weaken the Reformed case; it strengthens it by completing the analogy with Abraham.

My response: The issue is not the inclusion of the Gentiles, but the addition of the phrase, “even to as many as the Lord, our God, shall call.” There is no promise to the uncalled [unregenerate] children of believers any more than there is a promise to unregenerate Gentiles. The promise is to you who are called and to your children who are called and to Gentiles who are called. There are no promises to unbelieving children of believers.

6. He wrote: In discussions with my Baptist friends it seems as if this question, eschatology, is a central element to the discussion. When Baptists speak about the new covenant they tend to speak in eschatological (consummation) terms rather than in semi-eschatological (inaugurated) terms.

My response: I don’t know to which Baptists he is referring, but those Baptists who believe in classic New Covenant Theology believe that though the New Covenant promises have been inaugurated, they have not yet been consummated. I have written on this subject extensively since the early 90’s. Anyone wishing to verify that this has been my view may do so at http://www.new-covenant-theology.org.

7. He wrote: Baptists know that they, like Reformed congregations, have unregenerate members but by administering baptism only to those who make a profession of faith they are doing what they can to ensure a regenerate church membership.

My response: As I have stated in a number of places in my writings, we Baptist know it is impossible to guarantee a regenerate church membership. Through the process of church discipline we seek to maintain that standard, still we know there will be some in the visible church who are unregenerate. The difference is,ours is, in part, an unregenerate membership by default; theirs is unregenerate by design. There is no evidence in the NT Scriptures that anyone other than professed believers were to be considered part of the visible church.

In reading Reformed writers, one would think they were seeking to explain all the incidences of infant sprinkling in the New Testament Church and the biblical commands to engage in such a practice. If such were the case, one could understand such feeble attempts to justify such a practice. The reality is, no such commands or examples exist. If they could offer just one command or example, perhaps one could understand why they feel the need to justify such a practice. Until they do, I plan to hold steadfastly to my belief that baptism is for believers only.


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