1. Welcome to Baptist Board, a friendly forum to discuss the Baptist Faith in a friendly surrounding.

    Your voice is missing! You will need to register to get access to all the features that our community has to offer.

    We hope to see you as a part of our community soon and God Bless!

What is Covenant Theology?

Discussion in 'Baptist Theology & Bible Study' started by Reformed, Jan 19, 2020.

  1. Reformed

    Reformed Well-Known Member
    Site Supporter

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2012
    Messages:
    4,626
    Likes Received:
    1,541
    Faith:
    Baptist
    There is an active thread titled “Who Holds to Covenant Theology Here?” While that thread is concerned with who holds to Covenant Theology, I think it will be helpful to discuss what is Covenant Theology?

    First, let us state something Covenant Theology is not. Covenant Theology is not Replacement Theology, a pejorative term used to make the accusation that Covenant Theology replaces Israel with the Church. Covenant Theology places Israel in the role that the Bible places it, as the covenant people of God in the Old Testament. Perhaps you have heard the Covenant Theology term “The Old Testament Church” and wondered what that means. The term is not ecclesiastical in nature. It is soteriological. Typically, as Baptists, when we use the word “church” we are referring to a local church. The local church is an assembly of believers with an ecclesiastical structure of a pastor, elders, and deacons. When used soteriologically, “The Old Testament Church” refers to the whole number of elect persons in the Old Testament. Old Testament saints were saved the same way New Testament saints are saved, by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Whereas New Testament saints are saved by grace through faith in Jesus revealed; Old Testament saints were saved by grace through faith in the promised Messiah. Even though the Elect are saved in Christ, that in no way removes the covenant nation of Israel from its biblical role. However, Covenant Theology does not see the New Testament church as a parenthesis in God’s plan for Israel. God’s eternal covenant has always been with His elect. More on this later.

    How is Covenant Theology defined? The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms defines Covenant Theology as, “A theological perspective most developed by 17th-century Reformed theologians. It focuses on the ways in which the divine-human relationship has been established by "covenants." These include God's covenant of grace and works, though the latter is not recognized by all Reformed theologians."

    Baptist Federalism (also called 1689 Federalism) is the Baptist form of Covenant Theology. It is the perspective of Covenant Theology articulated by the framers of the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession of Faith. It is different from Westminster Federalism, which is commonly held by Presbyterians and by other paedobaptist (infant baptism) denominations. While I am not going to spend too much time on Westminster Federalism, I do want to point out the difference in both. The diagram in this post provides an accurate visual representation of the differences between the two perspectives.


    [​IMG]

    Sent from my Pixel 2 XL using Tapatalk
     
    • Informative Informative x 1
  2. Reformed

    Reformed Well-Known Member
    Site Supporter

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2012
    Messages:
    4,626
    Likes Received:
    1,541
    Faith:
    Baptist
    One of the most controversial aspects of Baptist Federalism is the Covenant of Works. The Covenant of Works is defined as a, "Theological term, found in some streams of Covenant Theology, used to describe God's initial covenant with humanity ("Adam") before the fall into sin. A perfect relationship with God could be enjoyed if humans maintained a perfect obedience to God's law." The Covenant of Works does not teach a works-based salvation. It only describes the covenant God established with Adam on the condition that he did not sin. This is seen clearly in Genesis 2:16-17. Of course, we know how this covenant fared.

    In Baptist Federalism, the Covenant of Grace is the covenant of God's redemptive plan for His elect. The Covenant of Grace is defined as, "The relationship into which God entered to provide, by grace, the promise of salvation to sinful humanity. It extends throughout the Old Testament and into the New Testament." That definition was written to describe the Covenant of Grace from a Westminster Federalist position and is mostly accurate. The only change Baptist Federalism would make is the Covenant of Grace is actually the New Covenant. The New Covenant was not inaugurated until Christ announced it (1 Corinthians 11:25), but it existed in the Old Testament in types and shadows until fully revealed in the New Testament. Some of those types and shadows were other Old Testament covenants, such as the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants.

    These opening posts are not meant to be exhaustive but to provide sufficient information to spark discussion.
     
    • Like Like x 1
    • Winner Winner x 1
    • Informative Informative x 1
  3. Marooncat79

    Marooncat79 Active Member
    Site Supporter

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2014
    Messages:
    836
    Likes Received:
    141
    Faith:
    Baptist
    Very very good Thank You
     
    • Friendly Friendly x 1
  4. JonC

    JonC Moderator
    Moderator

    Joined:
    Aug 28, 2001
    Messages:
    16,527
    Likes Received:
    1,652
    Faith:
    Baptist
    Wonderful post and good topic. Many of us who do not hold a position here have not taken the time to study Covenant Theology in depth (myself included). I hope that this will be a thread where people can ask questions and come to a better understanding of the position (I assume you affirm Covenant Theology?).

    I understand why the Covenant of Works is controversial. It seems to assume the inverse of a consequence for disobedience to not only express a true potential but to constitute a covenant (this would probably be the only “covenant” that is implied where as the others presented directly as covenants). Is it controversial within Covenant Theology as well?

    And if I understand correctly (that is a big “if”) it seems that Covenant Theology extends biblical covenants to mankind rather than to the persons or person groups to whom the covenants were given. This seems (by the illustration you offer) to be more specifically stated with WCF Federalism but also at least implied in 1689 Federalism). Am I understanding correctly, that Covenant Theology views these covenants extend to mankind as a whole rather than the people groups to whom the covenants are given?
     
  5. Marooncat79

    Marooncat79 Active Member
    Site Supporter

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2014
    Messages:
    836
    Likes Received:
    141
    Faith:
    Baptist
    Remember

    There are 2 types of covenants found in scriptures: bi-lateral and unilateral

    Bi-lateral
    In the OT, there is the “if ..... then I (meaning God) will....,. We see this most evidentally in The promises of Deuteronomy. There are conditions placed on the situation which are dependent upon man.

    Unilateral
    Think more of the promises of God where God states “I will (regardless of mans position) do this and such”. There are no conditions placed here.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  6. Reformed

    Reformed Well-Known Member
    Site Supporter

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2012
    Messages:
    4,626
    Likes Received:
    1,541
    Faith:
    Baptist
    I typically would not be posting on a Lord's Day morning but I'm under the weather. Hopefully, it is just allergies (orange blossoms are starting to bloom) and not a cold.

    Unequivocally.

    Yes. That was what I meant in post #2 when I wrote, "the most controversial aspects of Baptist Federalism." A covenant in scripture is, "A formal agreement or treaty between two parties that establishes a relationship and in which obligations and mutual responsibilities may be enacted." The Covenant of Works qualifies according to this definition. While the Covenant of Works is never stated as such in scripture, you are right to deduce that is implied, but it is implied (in my opinion) clearly through what the LORD told Adam.

    Genesis 2:15-17 15 Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. 16 The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

    If Adam never disobeyed the LORD by eating of the tree, he would have remained in his sinless state and enjoyed a perfect relationship with God. The Covenant of Works contained a severe consequence on the part of Adam if he broke it. That consequence was death; both physical and spiritual. When Adam sinned that consequence was realized. Thankfully, God showed both Adam and Eve mercy and grace and promised both them and Adam's posterity a future Redeemer (Genesis 3:15).

    Since Baptist Federalism is mostly stated in the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, let me post what Chapter 7 of the Confession states regarding God's Covenant (which is the Covenant of Grace):

    Chapter 7: Of God's Covenant
    1._____ The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience to him as their creator, yet they could never have attained the reward of life but by some voluntary condescension on God's part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.
    ( Luke 17:10; Job 35:7,8 )

    2._____ Moreover, man having brought himself under the curse of the law by his fall, it pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace, wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.
    ( Genesis 2:17; Galatians 3:10; Romans 3:20, 21; Romans 8:3; Mark 16:15, 16; John 3:16; Ezekiel 36:26, 27; John 6:44, 45; Psalms 110:3 )

    3._____ This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament; and it is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect; and it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality, man being now utterly incapable of acceptance with God upon those terms on which Adam stood in his state of innocency.
    ( Genesis 3:15; Hebrews 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 11;6, 13; Romans 4:1, 2, &c.; Acts 4:12; John 8:56 )

    There is an intramural debate among Baptist Federalists and Westminster Federalists as to who the Covenant of Grace is made with. It depends on how one defines the Free Offer of the Gospel. The Free Offer of the Gospel is not contingent on whether a person is Elect or not. Of course, while this thread is not about Calvinism, Calvinists believe that only elect persons will believe the gospel message. In that sense, the Covenant of Grace is made only with the Elect, but it also freely proclaimed to all people everywhere. Indeed, the Apostle Paul proclaimed in Acts 17:30, "Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent".

    Now, as far as the other Old Testament Covenants, they were all made with the covenant nation of Israel but they also contain types and shadows of the promised New Covenant. All Jews were bound by these covenants whether or not they were of the true seed of Abraham (by faith). It was possible for a Jew living during the time of David to zealously keep the law but be spiritually dead. Religious rituals are often just an exercise in self-righteousness. So, the Old Testament covenants were made with only one people group, the covenant nation of Israel.
     
  7. Marooncat79

    Marooncat79 Active Member
    Site Supporter

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2014
    Messages:
    836
    Likes Received:
    141
    Faith:
    Baptist
    Acts 17 takes care of a lot of issues once it is read and studied. We would all do well to meditate on it for an extended period of time (several months and an hour each time).

    ::raising my hand guilty as charged::

    If we really want to see how the early Church and Apostles evangelized people - this is the part of scripture to really really really study
     
    • Like Like x 1
  8. JonC

    JonC Moderator
    Moderator

    Joined:
    Aug 28, 2001
    Messages:
    16,527
    Likes Received:
    1,652
    Faith:
    Baptist
    Thank you for taking the time. And I hope you are feeling better.

    As an outsider to both Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism they appear remarkably similar - especially if applied to redemptive history (which I assume is where this is largely applied), to include a bit of diversity within the ranks of each system.
     
  9. Reformed

    Reformed Well-Known Member
    Site Supporter

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2012
    Messages:
    4,626
    Likes Received:
    1,541
    Faith:
    Baptist
    Since you are an outsider to Covenant Theology, I can see how both Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism can look similar. Reformed Theology Seminary professor, Richard T. Belcher, put together a detailed explanation of the differences between Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism. Professor Belcher is explaining Covenant Theology from a Westminster Federalist position, so I have some minor disagreements, but in the main, he gets this right. Since I cannot improve upon his explanation, I offer his comparison here:

    Comparing Covenant Theology and Dispensational Theology
    BY RICHARD BELCHER
    An Overview of Covenant Theology:

    • Covenant theology centers on one overall covenant known as the covenant of grace. Some have called it the covenant of redemption. This is defined by many as an eternal covenant among the members of the Godhead including the following elements: (1) the Father chose a people to be His own; (2) The Son was designated, with his agreement, to the pay the penalty of their sin; and (3) the Holy Spirit was designated, with His agreement, to apply the work of the Son to this chosen people.
    • This covenant of grace is being worked out in history on earth through subordinate covenants, beginning with the covenant of works and culminating in the new covenant, which fulfills and completes God’s work of grace to man on earth. These covenants include the Adamic covenant, Noahic covenant, Abrahamic covenant, Mosaic covenant, Davidic covenant, and new covenant.
    • Covenant theology does not see each covenant as separate and distinct. Instead, each covenant builds on the previous ones, including aspects of the previous ones, including aspects of the previous covenants and culminating in the new covenant.
    An Overview of Dispensational Theology:

    • Dispensational theology looks on the world and history of mankind as a household over which God is superintending the outworking of His will. This outworking of His purpose and will can be seen be noting the various periods or stages of different economies whereby God deals with His work and mankind in particular. These various stages or economies are called dispensations. Their number may include seven: innocence, conscience, human government, promise, law, grace, and kingdom.
    God’s People in Covenant Theology:

    • God has one people, represented by the saints in the OT and the saints of the NT era.
    God’s People in Dispensational Theology:

    • God has two peoples—Israel and the church. Israel is an earthly people, and the church is a heavenly people.
    God’s Plan for His People in Covenant Theology:

    • God has one people—the church—for whom He has one plan, in all ages since Adam: to call out this people into one body, in both the Old and New Testament ages.
    God’s Plan for His People Dispensational Theology:

    • God has two separate peoples—Israel and the church—and also has two separate plans for these two distinct peoples. He plans an earthly kingdom for Israel. This kingdom has been postponed until Christ’s coming in power since Israel rejected it at Christ’s first coming. During the church age God is calling out a heavenly people. Dispensationalists disagree over whether the two peoples will remain distinct in the eternal state.
    God’s Plan of Salvation in Covenant Theology:

    • God has one plan of salvation for all his people since the time of Adam. The plan is one of grace, being an outworking of the eternal covenant of grace, and comes through faith in Jesus Christ.
     
    • Like Like x 2
    • Winner Winner x 1
  10. Reformed

    Reformed Well-Known Member
    Site Supporter

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2012
    Messages:
    4,626
    Likes Received:
    1,541
    Faith:
    Baptist
    part II...

    God’s Plan of Salvation in Dispensational Theology:

    • God has only one plan of salvation, though this has often been misunderstood because of inexactness in some dispensational writings. Some have wrongly taught or understood that OT believers were saved by works and sacrifices. However, most have believed that salvation has always been by grace through faith, but that the content of faith may vary until the full revelation of God in Christ.
    Eternal Destiny for God’s People in Covenant Theology:

    • God has but one place for His people, since He has but one people, one plan for His people, and one plan of salvation. His people will be in His presence for eternity.
    Eternal Destiny for God’s People in Dispensational Theology:

    • There is disagreement among dispensationalists regarding the future states of Israel and the church. Many believe that the church will sit with Christ on His throne in the New Jerusalem during the Millennium as He rules over the nations, while Israel will be the head of the nations of the earth.
    The Birth of the Church in Covenant Theology:

    • The church existed prior to the NT era, including all the redeemed since Adam. Pentecost was not the beginning of the church but rather the empowering of the NT manifestation of God’s people.
    The Birth of the Church in Dispensational Theology:

    • The church was born on the Day of Pentecost and did not exist in history until that time. The church, the body of Christ, is not found in the Old Testament, and saints are not part of the body of Christ.
    The Purpose of Christ’s First Coming in Covenant Theology:

    • Christ came to die for our sins and to establish the New Israel, the NT manifestation of the church. This continuation of God’s plan placed the church under a new manifestation of the same covenant of grace. The kingdom that Jesus offered was the present, spiritual, and invisible kingdom.
    • Some covenantalists (especially postmillennialists) also see a physical aspect to the kingdom.
    The Purpose of Christ’s First Coming in Dispensational Theology:

    • Christ came to establish the messianic kingdom. Some dispensationalists believe that this was to be an earthly kingdom in fulfillment of the OT promises to Israel. If the Jews had accepted Jesus’ offer, this earthly kingdom would have been established immediately. Other dispensationalists believe that Christ did establish the kingdom in some form, in which the church participates, but the earthly kingdom awaits the second coming of Christ to the earth. Christ always intended the cross before the crown.
    The Fulfillment of the New Covenant in Covenant Theology:

    • The promises of the new covenant mentioned in Jeremiah 31:31ff (verses 31-34, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”) are fulfilled in the NT.
    The Fulfillment of the New Covenant in Dispensational Theology:

    • Dispensationalists differ over whether only Israel is to participate in the new covenant, at a later time, or whether both the church and Israel participate jointly. Some dispensationalists believe there is one new covenant with two applications: one for Israel and one for the church. Others believe that there are two new covenants: one for Israel and another for the church
    How The Millennium is Viewed in Covenant Theology:

    • Historically, covenant theology has been either amillennial, believing the kingdom to be present and spiritual, or postmillennial, believing the kingdom is being established on earth with Christ’s coming as the culmination. In recent years some covenant theologians have been premillennial, believing that there will be a future manifestation of God’s kingdom on earth (Historic Premillennialism). However, God’s dealings with Israel will be in connection with the church. Postmillennialists believe that the church is bringing the kingdom now, with Israel ultimately to be made a part of the church.
    How The Millennium is Viewed in Dispensational Theology:

    • All dispensationalists are premillennialists, though not necessarily pretribulationalists. Premillennialists of this type believe that God will again turn to the nation of Israel, apart from His work with the church, and that there will be a 1,000-year period of Christ’s reign on David’s throne in accordance with and in fulfillment of the prophecies of the OT.
    How The Second Coming is Viewed in Covenant Theology:

    • Christ’s coming will be to bring final judgment and the eternal state. Those who are premillennial assert that a millennial period will precede the judgment and eternal state. Postmillennialists believe that the kingdom is being established by the work of God’s people on the earth until the time when Christ will bring it to completion at His coming.
    How The Second Coming is Viewed in Dispensational Theology:

    • Most dispensationalists believe the Rapture will occur first, then a tribulation period followed by the Second Coming of Christ with the saints and a 1,000-year reign of Christ, after which there will be a judgment and the eternal state.
     
    • Like Like x 2
    • Winner Winner x 1
  11. JonC

    JonC Moderator
    Moderator

    Joined:
    Aug 28, 2001
    Messages:
    16,527
    Likes Received:
    1,652
    Faith:
    Baptist
    @Reformed, I notice Covenant Theology presents the church existing prior to the NT era. Is this a universal/ invisible church?
     
  12. Jerome

    Jerome Well-Known Member
    Site Supporter

    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2006
    Messages:
    9,004
    Likes Received:
    570
    Faith:
    Baptist
    Presbyterian James Orr's assessment of Covenant Theology:

    books.google.com/books?id=BpSpOng0mDkC&pg=PA303

    "an artificial system of typology, and allegorising interpretation, sought to read back practically the whole of the New Testament into the Old. But its most obvious defect was that, in using the idea of the Covenant as an exhaustive category, and attempting to force into it the whole material of theology, it created an artificial scheme"
     
    #12 Jerome, Jan 19, 2020
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2020
  13. Reformed

    Reformed Well-Known Member
    Site Supporter

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2012
    Messages:
    4,626
    Likes Received:
    1,541
    Faith:
    Baptist
    The 1689 Second London Baptist Confession of Faith speaks to this (all emphasis is mine):

    Chapter 26: Of the Church
    1._____ The catholic or universal church, which (with respect to the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace) may be called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.
    ( Hebrews 12:23; Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 1:10, 22, 23; Ephesians 5:23, 27, 32 )
     
    • Like Like x 1
  14. JonC

    JonC Moderator
    Moderator

    Joined:
    Aug 28, 2001
    Messages:
    16,527
    Likes Received:
    1,652
    Faith:
    Baptist
    Ok....the "Bride".
     
    • Agree Agree x 1
Loading...