Tuesday, June 23, 2009

2. Covenant Theology

A distinctive mark of dispensationalism which distinguishes it from covenant theology is its disjointed view of Scripture. Since each dispensation represents different ways in which God deals with man, logically there can be little applicability of Scripture from previous dispensations to New Covenant believers.
While this may be the view of Scofield and Chafer, this is not the view of Jesus Christ. Jesus believed in the unity of Scripture and He applied all of God's words in His teachings. Jesus said that the Scriptures cannot be broken (John 10:35). In a nutshell, this is the fundamental difference between covenant theology and dispensationalism. Dispensationalists break Scripture into discreet units; consistent covenant theologians do not.
To discuss in detail the fact that Jesus taught from all portions of the Old Testament, establishing their continued applicability, would exceed the bounds of this essay (The reader is encouraged to note the extent to which our Lord used the Old Testament). Not only did Jesus teach from all portions of the Old Testament, His whole life and work was captive to Scripture. Matthew continually notes that the life and teaching of Jesus was in fulfillment of prophecy.
Jesus taught that His life and work was the fulfillment and the substance of all the Old Covenant shadows. For example, in that great passage in Matt. 16 following Peter's confession of Jesus as the Christ of God, Jesus responds in terms of the provisions of the Abrahamic covenant. Jesus says that the gates of Hell cannot prevail against His church as she stands upon the rock of Messiah (vs. 18). The perceptive Bible student is immediately cognizant of the fact that Jesus' words are very similar to the words of God's promise to Abraham in Gen. 22:17. "That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies." God's promise to Abraham was that his seed shall possess the gates of his enemies. In stark contrast to the pietistic retreat from society by many dispensationalists, Christ commands His servants to storm the gates of Hell. Jesus guarantees His Church success if she stands on the Rock.
A thorough discussion of how the Church of the 20th century lost her world and life view is another subject. Suffice it to say that because of the loss of a correct understanding of optimistic Covenant Theology, the Church of the 20th century has worked hard for defeat — and she has received what she worked for.

Christ's well known (but little understood) Great Commission is given in terms of the Abrahamic Covenant. The fundamental provision of the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 12 is that it is through Abraham's seed that all the nations of the world are to be blessed. In the Great Commission of Matt. 28, Jesus tells His disciples that because all power has been given to Him, His Church is to go out in all the world and bring the nations under the discipline of God's law.
As the Church becomes faithful in preaching the gospel in all the world, entire nations will be blessed as they are brought under the whole counsel of God.11
Jesus also set the stage for another characteristic of Covenant Theology: infant baptism. Although Jesus never taught infant baptism as a polemic, He did tell His disciples in Matt. 19:14 not to prevent the children from coming to Him because "the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." Since the Church makes up the citizenship of the Kingdom established by Christ and since children received the sign of circumcision as the sign of entry into the commonwealth of Israel, it is highly illogical to believe that Jesus' work established a new order in which covenant children were excluded from the visible church structure. In addition to this, Jesus' audience had the background of centuries of Jewish history. They would have been horrified at the thought of their children being left out of God's covenant and not entitled to the bestowal of the covenant sign. I have deep respect for many of my Baptist brethren, I was one myself, but the fact remains that in the Baptist view, children of believers are trapped in some kind of limbo between the Church and the world until they make a verbal profession of Christ. They are not members of the visible Church but neither are they total pagans.
Finally, Jesus' establishment of the New Covenant showed that He knew nothing of a dispensational view of the covenant. In Matt. 26:26-28 as Jesus ate the Passover meal with His disciples, He stated that His blood and body constituted the true passover. Jesus was not establishing something radically new, He was establishing Himself as the fulfillment of all the Old Covenant shadows. Jesus did not abrogate the Old Testament passover but rather fulfilled it. Old Testament Saints celebrated passover once a year through the bloody sacrifice of a lamb. New Covenant believers are to celebrate passover often through the bloodless elements of wine and bread. Jesus' whole life, work and ministry was very much captive to God's covenant.

  1. See the excellent article: "The Greatness of the Great Commission" in Still Waters Revival Books upcoming book by Ken Gentry, Light for the World: Studies in Reformed Thought..


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