Compositions of Covenant Theology Examined
One declares with accuracy that there are components of truth in Covenant Theology; however, my concern here is the theological guesswork and scant evidence of sound biblical exegesis one finds in their schemes and systems. It is a bit befuddling that those who are currently crying for more “expositional preaching” (defined strictly as verse by verse study of the whole Bible) have composed such a grand system founded on speculative assumption. One can not claim to be true to expositional preaching while ignoring sound methods of extrapolating from the Bible what truly is there and inventing ideas from meager biblical premises; adding what is not there by supposition or speculation. I’m sorry, but it just can not be. Covenant Theologians admit in there own writings that some of their most important points are not clearly stated in Scripture. For example the covenant of works has no biblical foundation; it is a contrived philosophy of which there is no statement in the Word of God concerning it (cf. F.W. Dilliston, The Structure of the divine Society, p.134).
I am further amazed at the singularity of the purpose of God as expressed by Covenant Theology. For reasons that escape the realm of my comprehension, many if not most of insist that the purpose of God is largely soteriological (having to do with salvation). This affects their hermeneutics (how they interpret Scriptures) and narrows the activity of God. This is evident in their presentations of the covenant of redemption and covenant of grace. Accordingly, being consistent in their own thinking in every age the primary purpose of God is bringing individuals to saving faith. Yes, there are some who attempt to maintain that they are seeking the glory of God, but then they divulge that what brings Him glory is mainly the salvation of the lost. What does the Bible reveal? It seems to me, that the Bible reveals multiple works of God in bringing glory to Himself. He brings glory to Himself in the way He deals with heavenly hosts, Gentile nations as well as Israel as a nation, His plan and outworking of the church, including exalting Christ in worship, edifying the saints by following His methods of biblical discipleship and training, the way Christians are to encourage one another as a community of believers, and yes, of course evangelizing the lost as we go out from our meeting houses. God even glorifies Himself in how he deals with those who refuse to trust in Him alone for salvation. Personal salvation is only ONE of the many purposes of God described in the Bible.
Another concern one should have is that Covenant Theology leads one to accept the idea that all the major covenants* of Scripture are reduced to mainly one covenant. They are viewed as diverse features of one eternal covenant, the covenant of grace. Consequently, major covenants of the Bible and their unique distinctives are generally not recognized by Covenant Theologians. This is another result of not interpreting the Bible in its plain, normal, ordinary sense consistently. Instead, texts are “spiritualized” and the application to the “literal” nation of Israel is abandoned. This is a very grievous matter.
Not only does Covenant Theology skew the major covenants but the evident differences of God’s work in various dispensations are forsaken. Dispensations are mainly defined by Covenant Theologians as merely a variety of ways God administers the one covenant of grace. For example the dispensation of law is just one phase of God’s gracious dealings with man bringing him to salvation. This confounds the principles of law and grace, and leads to the legalism found in many Reformed groups.
I realize there are Dispensationalists as well as Covenantists who hold to the federal headship of Adam and I may be treading where angels dare not trod, but this is one of my peeves. It calls into question the justice of God! If Adam was “the” representative head of all mankind and if all mankind did not actually sin when Adam sinned, then in what way is God righteous to hold accountable those who have not actually sinned? Does it make sense that God would hold others responsible for Adam’s sin when they had no part in it? Also, Federal Theologians, who maintain that God, in view of Adam’s sin, immediately creates each soul in corruption, are wide open to the charge of making God the author of sin. Why not just agree with the Bible? “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned…” (Rom. 5:12) We are sinners both by nature (because the sin nature was passed on to us through Adam) and consequently also by choice (we choose to sin because that is our nature) as such we are each responsible before God for our own sin. This is known as the Natural approach as opposed to the Federal approach and seems to integrate with the whole council of God.
Why can’t we all just get along in the church? The question has been raised on a number of occasions about qualifications of church membership. Is believer’s baptism necessary? What about infants? Once again there is no Biblical evidence that Christ’s commission included infant baptism. This is a Roman Catholic rite invented for convenience which is another assumption that has not been shed by most “reformers”. Thus, stemming from Covenant Theology is the idea that the church is made up of both believers and their children. This ignores the fact that New Testament churches are assemblies of the redeemed. For this reason Reformed churches have opposed the doctrine of saved church membership. Could this be one reason why they have not historically been centers of evangelism? It really steams me that untold thousands have gone to their grave believing that they were OK with God because they were baptized as a baby and have a certificate that tells them they were grafted into the covenant community as children of God when regeneration has not taken place!
Since Covenant Theology of course does not see the church as having a distinct purpose for this age, why then should we be surprised that legalism on one hand and liberalism on the other are both rampant within this system and both seem very comfortable with each other. Not being satisfied, some come out from among them to be what God has called us to be, separate from apostasy, and those who compromise with it. Others just accept anything within the “covenant” structure, holding hands with Christ deniers, Bible rejecters, sin celebrants, and creation scoffers; such as the World Counsel of Churches of Christ and the National Counsel of Churches of Christ. Why would a local body of believers be so gullible in allowing any of this to go on within their fellowship of saints? My bible says “come out from among them and be ye separate…”
To conclude this tirade, I must point out that when infants are baptized and told they are in a community of believers (as some, and I dare say most, in the mainline Covenant churches teach) this does violence to the parents, to the child and to the Word of God. The proud parents become frustrated with the church, the child and/or God when a child who was “received in Jesus’ name” begins to be rejected for one reason or another by those who made a promise to train him up. Parents can become incensed at God and the child (because God was the One who presumably pre-regenerated the child) and the child seems to rebel and shows no signs of the being a good Christian boy or girl.
A child being laughed at for believing the Bible literally, including the creation account and the record of Noah’s arc, feels rejection and confusion in the worst way. This is becomes worse when further pastoral counseling complete with a follow-up book on Understanding Evolution by Time/Life Books is presented as “…the way God created everything”. All the while prissy little church girls are viewed as those who can do no wrong and are embraced by the “church”.
Within the Covenant structure the Bible can lifted to the level of being a super spiritual book which only the super spiritual can correctly interpret and it must be viewed on a human historical level, a human moral level, and the deeper spiritual level. Within the same structure the Bible can also be reduced to a purely human book that only the wisdom of “the Jesus seminar” can determine what parts of it are true. Here we find such views as: Jesus was a great person but not God… Christ was raised from the dead metaphysically only (NOT bodily) and lives on in our hearts… we will best atone for our sins (if we are sinners at all) as we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps… salvation is to those who feed the hungry, save a wale, abort a baby for the sake of a mother who would be better off without the responsibility… and joining hands with any group or individuals that claim to be Christian.
*This is a list of the major biblical covenants:
1. The Edenic Covenant (Gen. 2:16)
2. The Adamic Covenant (Gen. 3:15)
3. The Noahic Covenant (Gen. 8:20-22).
4. The Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12:1-3).
5. The Mosaic Covenant (Ex. 19:3-40:38).
6. The Palestinian Covenant (Deut. 30).
7. The Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7:5-17).
8. The New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34; Matt. 26:28).