Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Baptist Covenant Theology

In the comments of the last post, Ryan asked for a positive and basic biblical argument for Baptist covenant theology. Here are the basics, and we can get more thorough as necessary. Ryan, please comment!

Though there are different versions of covenant theology, all covenant theologians emphasize the unity of three strands of biblical revelation. They say, (1) there is one moral law summarized in the decalogue; (2) there is one gospel way of salvation for all men; and (3) there is one people of God (and the one people are saved by the one gospel). There is obviously more to it than this, but this is a good place to start.

1. Prove there is one moral law. A good place to start is the book of Hebrews, specifically the new covenant revealed in Hebrews. Hebrews 8:10 records that in the new covenant, God says, "I will put my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts." The only law written immediately by the finger of God was the decalogue. This is the same law that is written on the hearts of new covenant believers. 2 Corinthians 3 shows that in the "new covenant" (1 Cor 3:6), the law of God is not written on "tablets of stone," (1 Cor 3:3), but that it is written "on tablets of human hearts" (1 Cor 3:3). The reference to "tablets" indicates the decalogue. Therefore, the one moral law of the Old Testament, summarily revealed in the decalogue, is the moral law of the new covenant. The difference between the two covenants is not a change in moral law, but the fact that in the new covenant, the law is written on the heart. This one law is what covenant theologians see as the moral precept under all the covenant administrations of the Bible.

2. Prove there is one gospel. Hebrews 9:15 says, "Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant." The death of Christ is the way men were saved under the old covenant and under the new covenant. Hebrews 9:26 says, "But as it is, he has appeared once for all [time!], at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." Hebrews 10:4 says, "It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins." So, men under both testaments were saved by grace through faith in Christ (cf. Gal. 3:7-9). There is no other way of salvation. This one gospel is what covenant theologians call the covenant of redemption and/or grace.

3. Prove there is one people. This is where Baptist covenant theology is distinct from both paedobaptist covenant theology and dispensationalism. The "one people of God" have always been the believing elect and have never included unbelieving infants. Dispensationalists and paedobaptists agree that the true Israel of the Old Testament to whom the promises were made included all physical/generational Israelites. But, Romans 9:6 says, "Not all Israel is Israel." That is, the whole nation of Israel is not actually Israel. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament teach that those who inherit the promises of the Old Testament are believers and that only believers in all ages are God's people. Isaiah 45:25 says that "in the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall be justified and shall glory." The book of Deuteronomy makes it clear that only those who repent of their sins and believe to the end will inherit the promises of the old covenant (Deut chs. 27, 28, 29, 30). Philippians 3:3 says, "For we are the real circumcision who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus." The new covenant is made with Israel and only with Israel, "For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel" (Heb 8:10). We who are in the new covenant are "Israel" along with the believing Israelites.

But, you may say, "God chose the nation of Israel." Yes, and he chose Assyria and Babylon to perform certain functions as well. National Israel was chosen as a nation, but not to inherit all of the promises God made to it. Those promises were conditioned upon the faith of individual Israelites and on the faith of the nation as a whole. Those national Israelites who failed to believe forfeited their right to the promises, and we Gentiles who believe will one day inherit all the land, health, and wealth God promised to Israel when our King comes to deliver us out of exile (we are strangers and aliens in a foreign land) and to restore us to the full blessing God promises to all who believe. We will enjoy the land of Canaan on the new earth with all its prosperity for all eternity! So, why did God choose to deal with the physical nation? Israel was chosen for a specific service and now that her service is complete, God isn't dealing with that nation as a unit any longer. God dealt with the nation of Israel as a nation to perserve the physical offspring of Abraham until Christ would come from them (Gal 3:23-27). Christ was the only reason God ever dealt with the whole physical nation. His coming was the reason for Israel's election.

Now that Christ has come, there is no need to preserve the physical nation. In fact, Israel no longer exists as a nation. The 10 tribes of Israel (north Canaan) were taken off to Assyria and have never been heard from since. Those who inhabit Canaan today are Jews, or Judeans, from the tribe of Judah who dwelt in southern Canaan. The rest of the Israelites are forever lost. But, Judah was preserved because Christ, the lion of Judah, had to come from that tribe. God allowed the rest the tribes to die off, but he preserved Judah to keep his promise to bring the messiah through that tribe. The result is that since national Israel no longer exists, the promises God made to the 12 tribes of Israel cannot be given to the group as a whole.

Furthermore, the difference between the Baptists and the paedobaptists is that unlike the old covenants, the new covenant does not include a "purely legal aspect," which can be broken. The old covenants were breakable because God did not write his law on the hearts of all covenant members. But the new covenant is different! Hebrews 8:9 says that the new covenant is "not like the covenant that I made with their fathers . . . for they did not continue in my covenant." The word "for" is critical. The new covenant is not like the old covenant for, or because, the old covenant was breakable. Everyone in the new covenant has God's laws written on his heart (Heb 8:10), knows God savingly (Heb 8:11) and has his sins forgiven (Heb 8:12). Thus, there is no room for unbelievers or reprobates in the new covenant. God unilaterally provides faith to all who are in it. Therefore, the paedobaptists are wrong to insist that infants are included. Infants were only included in the OC because there was a need to demonstrate that God was keeping his promise to bless the nations through Abraham's seed, and his seed was Christ.

Thoughts?

Monday, October 15, 2007

My Statement of Faith

Here is a statement of faith I prepared awhile back. Any and all comments or questions are welcome!

I. Scripture

The 66 books of the Bible are the complete inscripturated special revelation of God. The Bible is necessary for, wholly sufficient to, and clear in all matters of faith and practice. It is the breath of God, verbally inspired in all its parts, and inerrant in the autographs. A faithful exegete arrives at the correct meaning of Scripture by studying the words, grammar, syntax, and genre of the biblical text in its original language in light of its historical background and with reference to the theology of the whole Bible, such that Scripture is its own interpreter. Higher critical methods of interpretation do not yield additional authorial meaning, and are therefore not useful in the study of Scripture. Both the Old and New Testaments are authoritative and applicable in the life of the believer and the church, but the New Testament has hermeneutical priority over the Old.

II. God

The Lord our God is one God, and there is no other. He is infinite, eternal, and immutable Spirit, limitless in knowledge, power, goodness, righteousness, love, and holiness, and He is absolute in justice and truth. God is the self-existent, self-sufficient, uncreated Creator who made all things out of nothing by the word of His power, both material (physical) and immaterial (spiritual), in order to manifest the glory of the full range of His own character. Since God created each distinct kind of life from the beginning, macroevolution is a false and confused theory of the origin of the species. God absolutely and sovereignly rules and governs whatsoever comes to pass for His own glory by the wise intention of His unconditional, effectual, and eternal decree, which cannot be thwarted or changed. God’s decree is the foundation of His exhaustive and definite foreknowledge of the future, including His foreknowledge of the future choices of free moral agents. God sustains, determines, and governs all things by His meticulous providence, from the roll of dice, to the appointment of rulers, to the wicked activities of Satan, and the sins of men, yet God remains blameless in all He does, perfectly upright and holy, and is neither the author nor approver of sin.

III. The Trinity

God's one nature eternally subsists in three persons: the Father who is of none, the Son who is eternally begotten of the Father, and the Holy Spirit who eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son. Each person of the Godhead is co-equal and co-eternal, possessing the whole divine essence. The three persons of the Trinity love one another infinitely, and God’s creation of the universe is an expression of that love. The church of God is the gift of the Father to the Son, and after her purification by the Holy Spirit, of the Son back to the Father to the glory of the Trinity.

IV. Predestination

God, out of the kind intention of His will, graciously and unconditionally elected some individuals to salvation from sin for the display of the glory of God’s grace and unconditionally chose the rest to leave in their sins unto their destruction in order to display the glory of God’s retributive justice. The number of the elect is so certain and fixed that it cannot be increased or diminished. All who were chosen for salvation before the foundation of the world are most certainly and efficaciously brought to salvation at the appointed times and will be raised to glory on the last day.

V. The Covenant of Works

God created Adam upright, established a covenant of works with him, and made him the federal head of all his posterity, promising life for the fulfilling of the covenant and threatening death for its violation. Adam rebelled against God, ate of the forbidden tree, and fell from the original righteousness in which he was created. As a result, all men descending from Adam by natural generation have his first sin imputed to them, and on that legal ground, they are cursed with a corrupt nature incapable of desiring or doing any true good whatsoever. The fallen nature increases in wickedness throughout life, growing in the knowledge and practice of evil. As a result of their totally depraved and fallen natures, unregenerate human beings are unwilling and unable to incline themselves to embrace Jesus Christ freely offered to them in the gospel.

VI. The Covenant of Grace

In eternity past, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit entered into a covenant of grace to redeem the elect from their sins. In that eternal covenant, Jesus Christ acts as the mediator, surety, and substitute for the elect, both enduring the curse of the law and meriting its blessing on their behalf to save them from the guilt and power of their sins. Though formed and established in eternity, the covenant of grace was executed in time through the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension and intercession of Christ. In the covenant of grace, Jesus Christ, the only and eternally begotten Son of God was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He is true God and true man and was tempted in all things as we are and yet was without sin. Out of obedience to the Father’s commands and in the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ lived a life of perfect obedience to the law of God, died a penal substitutionary death, and thereby fully satisfied the justice of God for the sins of the elect, whose sins alone were imputed to Him on the cross. Christ rose again in His physical body on the third day accomplishing the total redemption of those for whom He died. He then ascended into heaven where He sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, ruling with Him and making intercession for the saints. Jesus is the Christ. He is the only Mediator between God and men. As prophet, He reveals the will of God by His Word and Spirit. As priest, He offered Himself as a sacrifice for the elect and prays for them. As king, He gives His people commands for their own good and subdues all their enemies.

VII. The One Way of Salvation under all of the Historical Covenants

At the times appointed by God’s decree, the elect are saved by the Holy Spirit's effectual application of Christ’s accomplished redemption through the biblical-historical covenants (Post-Lapse, Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New). The Spirit’s saving work is to unite all of the elect, and them only, to Jesus Christ, their federal/covenantal head, and to His righteousness, which includes both Christ’s positive and negative obedience to the terms of the covenant of grace. Christ’s historical righteousness is the legal basis and cause of the double blessing of justification and sanctification. Without the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, God would not be justified in saving hell-deserving sinners. At the moment God sovereignly applies the righteousness of Christ to the elect through federal union with Christ on God’s part, they are necessarily effectually called, regenerated, converted, justified, and adopted as sons of God. The unbeliever is passive at the time of regeneration and does not "cooperate" with the work of the Spirit, but is moved upon such that his responses of faith and repentance are worked in him by God, yet he comes to Christ most freely and apart from any compulsion.

In justification, God declares elect sinners to be “not guilty” and “righteous,” and thereby grants them the right and title to eternal life. The only naturally fit qualification for justification is faith, which rests in Christ alone for right standing before God. Justifying faith grasps Christ as an “empty hand,” and so receives Him and His righteousness as the only meritorious and moral ground of the possession of eternal life. The believer’s good works, which are the inevitable fruits and accompaniments of faith, are in no way an instrument, means, qualification, or cause of justification because justification is by faith only, and not by the love, repentance, and good works that are present with faith.

In sanctification, faith works itself out in loving and joyful obedience to the law of God as the believer looks to the cross of Christ, is moved to love Christ more, and is thereby increasingly conformed to His likeness. As the Holy Spirit makes the believer more and more like Christ, sinful habits of mind and life are mortified and godly habits of holiness are vivified through the believer’s faithful loving obedience to God’s law. This progressive sanctification is gradual, taking place over the course of the believer’s whole life, and is never entire or perfect, since believers can never be free from sin on this side of heaven. Believers are never perfect but they want to be.

True believers may stumble into grievous sins, but always rebound and persevere in the knowledge of truth, love to God, joy in Christ, and obedience to His law. No one who has been regenerated by the Spirit can fall finally away from the grace of salvation; therefore, all who are born again are eternally secure in God’s saving mercies. As a result of union with Christ all the rewards and blessings that belong to Jesus also belong to the believer, and those blessings bring about regeneration, conversion, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification.

VIII. The Moral Law

The moral law of God is the same in both Testaments, the summary of which is found in the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments. Though the New Testament abrogates the Jewish Sabbath, together with the whole Jewish expression of the moral law, it does not do away with the moral law itself, or the moral Sabbath, which requires us to rest and worship one day out of every seven, and which in the New Testament is observed on the first day of the week. There are three uses of the moral law. First, the moral law restrains sin by its threatenings, and encourages obedience by its temporal blessings. Second, it crushes pride, reveals sin, teaches of the need of redemption, and drives human beings to trust Christ to save them from the condemnation it promises those who fail to obey it perfectly. Third, Jesus points the believing sinner back to the law as a rule of walking and enables the believer to love the law and to keep it by the power of the Holy Spirit, such that the believer may reflect the character of Christ more and more. All Christian obedience on this side of heaven is imperfect and falls far short of what the naked law requires. Therefore, all Christian obedience is non meritorious. God’s moral law is a gracious law of love to believers, intended by God to be kept out of a heart of faith and joy in Christ for our own good, and was never given to sinners as a law of works to earn salvation. In Christ, the rigor of the law is extinguished inasmuch as God is pleased with our efforts to keep the law perfectly since perfect performance of it is impossible due to remaining sin.

IX. The Exclusivity of Christ

There is no other name given among men by which we may be saved but the name of Jesus Christ. Apart from specific knowledge of the historical Christ revealed in Scripture there is no salvation. The light of nature in creation is sufficient to condemn those ignorant of the gospel of Christ but is not sufficient to lead to salvation. Atheists and members of pagan religions and cults do not worship the true God, but are false worshippers, who are members of man made religions, and are therefore condemned to hell forever if they do not trust Jesus Christ revealed in Scripture.

X. Universal Responsibility to the Gospel

Because all human beings are made in the image of God and because they have the natural capacity and power to obey the imperatives of the gospel, every human being who hears the gospel is obligated to obey all that the gospel commands. The lack of moral ability in the unregenerate in no way diminishes their responsibility to trust and obey Christ who calls all men everywhere, without exception or distinction, to come to Him for salvation. Therefore, the gospel of Jesus Christ must be preached promiscuously to every man, and preachers are obligated to make direct appeals to the lost, pressing upon them and their consciences their responsibility to submit themselves to Christ. God ordains not only the end that the elect will be saved, but also the means to that end, which is that salvation comes through the proclamation of the Word of Christ, the faithful witness and testimony of Christians, and the saving operations of the Holy Spirit.

XI. The Church

The universal Church of Christ is composed of all believers everywhere, both in heaven and on earth, but is specifically manifested in individual local churches, which are new covenant institutions revealed in the New Testament. Their members are under the instructions and conditional promises of the new covenant. Local churches are established, not by the authority of any form of successionism (apostolic, baptismal, or churchly) but solely by the authority of Scripture (sola Scriptura). Therefore, local churches are formed when credibly professing disciples of Christ voluntarily covenant with one another to believe and obey the gospel of Christ on the basis of a common confessional statement. A local church’s confession of faith is a summary of Scriptural doctrine in small compass, and is to be used both for the instruction and discipline of church members.

The local church is autonomous, free from any hierarchy of organization. Its governing officials include elders (or bishops, overseers, pastors) and deacons. Both officers must meet the qualifications set forth in the Bible. Local church government is congregational, which means that under the authority of Jesus Christ and His Word, the highest authority and court of appeal is the church membership.

A true church consists of any group of disciples covenanted together and centered upon the true gospel of Jesus Christ. But, a healthy local church is one in which the preached Word of God is central in the corporate worship service, the ordinances of professing believers baptism by immersion and communion are rightly administered according to the prescription of Scripture, and the pattern of church discipline revealed in the Bible is faithfully practiced.

Corporate worship is central in the life of the church, involving the preaching of God’s Word, the reading of Scripture, the giving of financial resources, the offering of prayers, and the singing of Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, as well as any other elements revealed in the Bible alone. We are required to worship God in the corporate worship service only according to what He has prescribed in sacred Scripture or by what may be deduced from Scripture and not by our own wisdom or innovation. Circumstances of worship should be ordered according to the light of nature so that they facilitate and support the elements prescribed by Scripture. The proper effects of corporate worship are the mutual edification of believers and evangelism of the lost.

While every gospel church has the same biblical charge and end, God gives churches members of varying spiritual gifts, such that the particular ministries of every local church will differ according to the gifts given.

XII. New Covenant Ordinances

The only two ordinances of the new covenant are baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism is a sign of union with Christ, of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection for the salvation of His people, and of the putting off of the old nature and putting on of the new in the party baptized. It depicts cleansing, and its only proper mode is immersion. Baptism is to be administered to credibly professing believers only. It is prerequisite to local church membership and to admission to the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is a sign of union with Christ and with one another in Christ, which functions to strengthen the faith of believers and the life of the community. Eating the bread and drinking the fruit of the vine in faith is symbolic of faithful feeding on the body and blood of Christ as the only way to eternal life. Only baptized members in good standing with a local church may partake of the Supper. Both baptism and the Lord’s Supper signify (1) the promise of God to save those who believe and (2) the participant’s promise of genuine enduring faith. The ordinances of the new covenant are a means of grace insofar as the believer contemplates and is strengthened by the gospel they preach in visible form.

XIII. The Cessation of Revelatory Gifts

Because the Bible is sufficient special revelation of God to men, the revelatory gifts mentioned in the Scripture, including apostle, prophesy, knowledge, and tongues, have ceased, and are no longer necessary now that the biblical canon is complete. Christ is the final word and there is no other mediator (prophet, priest, theocratic king) between God and men. Furthermore, Christians should make their decisions by wise and prayerful application of the written Word of God, not a subjective sense of direction, since the heart of man is desperately wicked, unknowable and deceitful. In cases where a number of right choices might be made consistently with the Bible, the believer is free to do as he pleases, trusting that God's sovereign providence will effectually lead him in what is best.

XIV. The Individual Christian

Individual Christians ought to seek constant communion with God the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit by setting their minds on the gospel of Jesus Christ revealed in Scripture. We are motivated to live by faith every day as we consider the greatness of our sins and the boundlessness of God’s grace lavished upon us in Jesus Christ, as we meditate on the loveliness of the humility and grandeur of Jesus Christ, as we remember that God disciplines those He loves, and as we consider that He blesses obedience to His law with unspeakable joys of fellowship. In order to make progress in faith, individual Christians must seek to live disciplined lives of regular Bible reading, study, and meditation, exercises of prayer, and church attendance. They must endeavor to live their lives in a balanced and Christlike way at home, at church, and in the world.

XV. The Home

The home is a covenantal arrangement in which the husband is the servant head, married to one woman for life. Divorce in the cases of sexual immorality and desertion (which dissolves the marriage covenant) is only permissible because of the hardness of the human heart, but what God has joined together, let not man tear asunder. A husband is responsible to lead the home in godliness by setting an example of faith in Christ, love, and holiness in word and deed. The husband and wife together are obligated and privileged to rear their children in the love and instruction of the Lord, teaching them the Scriptures and the gospel of Jesus Christ revealed in it, praying with them, applying corporal discipline when necessary, and fulfilling their duties to act consistently in all they do in order to shepherd the hearts of their children to be worshippers of the one true God. Family worship should be a regular occurrence in a Christian home in which the Word of God is opened and prayers are offered that the family might be well equipped to enter the world as witnesses of His name.

XVI. Vocational Labor

God calls believers to various kinds of labor, usually termed “vocations,” as a means of ruling and subduing the earth. There is a threefold labor: work in the home, work in the church, and work in the world, all of which are honoring to God. Work is a gift of God’s grace, and it includes both intellectual and manual labor, which God provided for our enjoyment and His glory. Work was instituted in the garden, and will continue in heaven, when believers will rule with Christ and work for Him throughout all eternity. Pain in work is the result of the fall, but work can be partially redeemed and enjoyed prior to heaven, as the believer works from faith in Christ and love to Him. Work must always be balanced with sufficient rest and recreation in accordance with the Sabbath principle. Scripture commands believers to submit to their superiors at work, laboring for the Lord and not in the way of “eye service” or as “people pleasers.” God positions and equips human beings with specific gifts that are well suited for specific kinds of work in this world; so, believers should take care to discern the gifts of God within them and to listen to the wise counsel of others when choosing to labor in a particular vocation.

XVII. Civil Government

Believers must submit to the rule of civil government except where the law of men comes into conflict with the law of God, in which cases the Christian is required to engage in civil disobedience for the sake of the gospel. Governments are obliged to rule justly in a manner consistent with the moral law of God, guarding the rights of men to worship according to the first table of the law and enforcing the outward aspect of the second table of the law pertaining to the proper relationships of men to one another. Governments may never obligate or coerce men in matters of faith or conscience since God alone is the Lord of conscience.

XVIII. Death

At death, the souls of men do not sleep in the grave, but either go to have fellowship with Christ in heaven or are sent to sheol where they are kept under punishment until the day of judgment. All these souls await the general resurrection at which time they will be reunited to their bodies.

XIX. The Return of Christ and General Judgment

At a time known only to the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ will return physically in power and glory after the kingdom/millennial period, which is present, spanning from Christ’s first coming to His second coming. After Christ’s return, He will judge every man at the great white throne according to his deeds. The love and good deeds of believers are proof and evidence of genuine belief, without which none may enter into heaven. Though Christ’s objective work infallibly secures the ownership of heaven for the elect, good works are an evidential means of entering into the experience and enjoyment of heaven, but God graciously provides all the good works He requires through the Spirit’s application of the work of Christ. Therefore, when God blesses those who have good works with the experience of heaven, He is merely “crowing His own graces.” God will condemn the unbelieving and disobedient mass of humanity to eternal conscious torment in hell, which was prepared for Satan and the demons, and He will welcome believers to heaven where they will enjoy God forever, worshipping Him in perfect bliss.