Posts Tagged ‘Covenant Theology’

Paul’s Own “Replacement Theology”


The term “Replacement Theology” is a pejorative term used to describe some aspects of Reformed Theology and so it is usually said with a slight sneer like in the clip above. I believe the scare quotes are inferred so I’m going to use them consistently in this post. What “Replacement Theology” means and Reformed Theology doesn’t mean is that the church replaces Israel in God’s plan. Well, Reformed Theology kind of means that but not in the way that would necessitate scare quotes. Or the word “Replacement”. But “Theology” is fine.

What we Reformed types do mean is that the true Israel, the Israel of God is the Church which is made up of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation, not just ethnic Jews. Where do we get such scare quote inducing theology? Mostly from St. Paul. We get it from his explicit statements like Colossians 3:11, “Here there is not Greek and Jew…but Christ is all, and in all.” Or from Romans 11 where he is talking about the gentiles being grafted in, “until the fullness of the gentiles is brought in.” Brought in to what? Can’t be grafted into Christ, otherwise, how did the unfruitful branches get there? They get grafted into the group known as “God’s people” or Israel/the Church.

So it isn’t like the church “replaced” Israel as God’s people. Rather, as was promised in Isaiah 54:1-3, Israel is expanded as the nations come in to her. This was pictured in Noah’s blessings on his sons in Genesis 9 where he blesses the LORD, the God of Shem, and his blessing on Japheth is that he would dwell in Shem’s tents. That sure sounds like the nations come in to the Shemites or Semites or Jews. And the other part of Romans 11 is that unbelieving Jews are cut off and removed, after all, “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.” (Rom. 9:6)

I recently came across another example of Paul’s “Replacement Theology” and this one jarred even me at first. As I waded thorugh websites that listed the “errors” of “Replacement Theology”1Obviously, I’m not persuaded by their arguments. Some portrayed “Replacement Theology” in a manner I would not even recognize as my theology on the issue. One site, though, was honest enough to acknowledge that this “error” was introduced when the first gentiles were converted to Christ and that it, in one form or another, had dominated the church for 1,900 years. That is to say, the universal Church was wrong on this doctrine until J. N. Darby invented Dispensationalism. I did not see anyone address this verse so it looks like it might have slipped under the radar.

In Galatians 4:21-31 Paul uses an allegory to sum up all that he’s spent two chapters defining and defending: the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Here’s a quick recap of that exposition. At the end of chapter 3 he said the law was like a prison guard holding all things captive (Gal. 3:23). Then he compared the law to child-minder, an attendant who would get the kids off to school and back home safely and ensure they behaved themselves (Gal. 3:24). Then he explained that while the heir is a child, he looks like a slave in the house since he has these people looking over him, telling him what to do. That lasts till the day the heir comes of age then he no longer looks like a slave (Gal. 4:1-3). That happened, Paul said, when Jesus came. Then we received adoption as sons and heirs.

Nothing jarring there, but that’s just the set up. Where it gets interesting is in the allegory. He says that present Jerusalem is in slavery (Gal. 4:24, 25). And what is the fate of the children of the slave? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” (Gal. 4:30, cf. Gal. 3:29) Whoa. So those who Jesus set free were the children of the free women. They looked like the slaves in the house while they were under law but once Jesus came they were shown to be heirs. Where does that leave those Jews who rejected Jesus? Cast out. So to Paul, the Jerusalem of his day, like Ishmael, would not inherit the covenant promises made to Abraham. What is amazing is to think that it was not that many years since Paul was in the group. He was a “Pharisee of Pharisees” and persecuted the church. So his “Replacement Theology” was personal.

As long was we want to establish our right staining before God on the basis of our performance rather than Jesus’, we are children of Hagar, members of the covenant made at Sinai, we’re Ishmael, cut off and sent away, inheritance-less.

So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. (Galatians 4:31)

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1. Obviously, I’m not persuaded by their arguments. Some portrayed “Replacement Theology” in a manner I would not even recognize as my theology on the issue. One site, though, was honest enough to acknowledge that this “error” was introduced when the first gentiles were converted to Christ and that it, in one form or another, had dominated the church for 1,900 years. That is to say, the universal Church was wrong on this doctrine until J. N. Darby invented Dispensationalism.

A Covenant of Promise


The above quote is from an anonymous 17th century Particular Baptist. “The wha?” you say. In the 17th century there were Baptists who were Calvinists and they were referred to as “Particular Baptists” because they believed in particular redemption rather than the General Baptists who believed that Jesus died for the sins of everyone. Today, we’d call them Reformed Baptists because they believed a lot more Reformed theology than just particular redemption. This chap probably chose to be anonymous because for a while in the 17th century it was illegal to be a Baptist in England.

Anyway, this particular Particular Baptist (sorry) denied that the covenant of circumcision in Genesis 17 was the Covenant of Grace. Now, as far as that goes, I’m fine with it. The two covenants are not the same. However, that doesn’t make the covenant of circumcision a covenant of works either. I would put it in the category of a covenant of promise (Eph 2:12). Here’s why:

In Galatians 3, Paul pits the law against the promise of the covenant of circumcision. You can tell that he has Genesis 17 in mind because in verses 15-18 he cites it when he says “and to your offspring” which he explains is talking about Jesus. According to verses 2, 5, 14 and 4:6 the promise is the Holy Spirit. So Paul’s understanding of the covenant of circumcision is that it promised and pictured the Holy Spirit. That makes a lot of sense biblically since in Deut 30, God promises to circumcise Israel’s heart. In Col 3:11 we are told that we have received Christian circumcision done without hands. In Romans 2:29 circumcision is called “a matter of the heart.” And Paul asked the Galatians in verse 2, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” Since the promise of the covenant of circumcision is the Spirt and we receive the Spirit by faith, not works, the covenant of circumcision cannot be a works/law covenant.

What of the fact that it can be broken (Gen 17:14) which our anonymous Baptist cited in his quote? The way a child is said to have broken the covenant if he was not circumcised. This helpless infant is not relying on his own works but the faithfulness of his father. Since we receive Christian circumcision in the same way, while we were helpless and by the faithfulness of our Heavenly Father, this condition pictured God’s grace.

What of God’s command to Abram “walk before me and be blameless” (Gen 17:1)? Isn’t that a law of the covenant of circumcision? No, it isn’t. God explained why he required this of Abram, “that I may make my covenant with you” (Gen 17:2) and then immediately says “Behold, my covenant is with you.” (Gen 17:4) so Abram had already met those requirements. How? He’d met them the first time God established this covenant: “And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” (Gen 15:6). This covenant of circumcision was a gracious covenant.

What of Galatians 5:3 which says that if you’re circumcised you’re under obligation to keep the entire law? That cannot be speaking of Genesis 17 since Paul has already contrasted that covenant with the law in chapter 3. Also, when Abram entered the covenant of circumcision, the law had not yet been given. Abram couldn’t have been under obligation to keep the entire law since it would be another 500 years before God would give it. In Galatians 5, Paul is talking about the Mosaic covenant which was a law/works covenant.

The Impossibility of No Sabbath

The Sabbath was a holy sign of the covenant bond between God and His people. It was as much a part of the order of creation as was creative labor, and in being obedience in the work and rest, Israel would demonstrate its total allegiance to God.

As the Sabbath (like work and marriage) is rooted in the nature of creation, it is certain that the Sabbath (like work and marriage) was part of the cultural expression of Eden. While we have no explicit mention of human observance of the Sabbath in the first chapters of Genesis, the arguments made in passages such as Exodus 31 about the nature of the Sabbath indicate that God’s sanctifying of it (Genesis 2:2ff.) was from then on part of how creation functioned. The intimate fellowship between God and man in the Garden presupposes that man would honor what God had established as holy. Since the Fall is the first occurrence of human disobedience to the divine order established in creation, it is impossible that man would not have observed the Sabbath in the original culture of Eden. – Ken Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes

To Jerusalem with Jesus

sheep-market-outside-herod-s-gateWe all have to go to Jerusalem with Jesus even though we know it means death. With Thomas, we all can say, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16). This is the king’s path through the Gospels on the way to Revelation by way of the Epistles. And as dark as that third Passover is, there is purpose in it. Well, purposes really. Of course, without the crucifixion we have no salvation. No question there. If Jesus didn’t take our sin to the cross and the grave and rise victorious over them, we’d be most to be pitied. But something else happened in Holy Week that made kingdom expansion possible.

Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” – John 19:14-15

While the crowd’s response to Pilate’s taunting is shocking, it wasn’t unprecedented or unanticipated by God. Israel had previously leaned on their oppressors rather than on God.

In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. For though your people Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. – Isaiah 10:20-22

When the crowd rejected Jesus as their king they didn’t claim independence, they claimed Caesar. It was the Romans who were oppressing them and it was the Romans whom they were trusting in. According to what God said through Isaiah then, this crowd wasn’t the remnant that would return. Furthermore, God’s promise to Abraham was that his offspring would be as numerous as sand and Isaiah is saying that even though the number of Israelites was like that, it was only a small portion who would actually return.

So how would God’s promise to Abraham be fulfilled if the majority of Israel has rejected Jesus? Paul asks that question himself in Romans 9:6-7, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.” Okay, so the promise didn’t fail because of Israel’s failure, but how then was it fulfilled? Paul answers that question in Galatians 3:29,”If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”

This is why we all go to Jerusalem with Jesus even if we’re not Jews. Among the Jews a remnant was saved and the Gentiles were brought in to fill up Israel. That’s what the illustration of the olive tree having wild branches grafted in means in Romans 11. When Paul say “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved.”

In the end, we don’t get to enter earthly Jerusalem triumphantly. Jesus did and then was taken out and nailed to a tree. We’re brought in not to earthly Jerusalem but the Jerusalem that is above. (Galatians 4:26) That Jerusalem is the bride of Christ (cf Revelation 21:9 and 10). Until that Jerusalem comes down from heaven, we go with Jesus to earthly Jerusalem to die and be glorified.

What The Sabbath Looks Like in the New Covenant

“So we see that the sabbath can be broken, not only by those who walk away from it in contempt, but also by those who swing it around in such a way as to bloody the noses of others. The problem of sabbatarian sabbath-breaking can begin very subtly. It has taken hold when the first question asked is, ‘What am I not allowed to do on Sunday?’ The desire for such direction is a very natural one, but if we are not careful, the end result will be a rabbinical ruling on whether it is lawful to shoot hoop in the driveway, or push buttons on the microwave. Of course, we will at some point choose to avoid certain things on the Lord’s Day, but we must ensure that it is the natural result of what we have embraced — the sabbath is a positive ordinance” – Doug Wilson, A Primer on Worship and Reformation, p. 66

My Problem with Paedocommunion

Part 3 in a series.

Paedocommunion (the act of giving baptized children and infants communion) is an outcropping of the Federal Vision . Since baptism places the individual in the covenant, unites them to Christ and makes them full members of the church, what reasons are there to not give them communion infant or not? Or so they reason (roughly).

In order to explain why I am saddened by paedocommunion, I need to explain my view of communion. The central text on the rite of the Lord’s Table is 1Co 11:23-31. Here Paul gives us the most detailed discussion of the ceremony and even then it isn’t as much as we might have hoped for. The phrase I feel is most important here is not “who eats and drinks without discerning the body” (v. 29) though it is important and will come in later. The phrase that I think says the most about the meal is “you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (v. 26).

There are then two time elements in the Lord’s Supper. There is the backward look in faith to Jesus’ death and a forward look to his return which also speaks of his resurrection. Communion is a gospel pronunciation.

One of the things the Reformed have said about Communion is that it is a “means of grace”. This means that God gives us grace when we take part in the sacrament. The 1689 London Baptist Confession speaks of it like this “The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls…by the administration of baptism and the Lord’s supper, prayer, and other means appointed of God, it is increased and strengthened” (BCF 14.1, similar to WFC 14.1). The grace that is communicated in the sacrament is not a “new grace” it simply feeds the grace we received that enabled us to believe to begin with.

There are, I suppose, a number of ways of formulating how this strengthening takes place. The way I understand it is that since the Lord’s Supper is a gospel proclamation in physical form, it communicates grace through the gospel. It isn’t subjective where the pastor has to do a really good devotional in order to get you emotional enough to receive the grace, the act of eating broken bread and poured out wine communicates beyond the devotion. It reaches your soul whether you’re paying attention or not.

The reason this won’t work with infants is that the saving faith that is to be fed is not necessarily present in them. Furthermore, for the meal to be the gospel communicated, the recipient must be aware of what the gospel is. I agree with Jonathan Edwards, this sacrament is not a converting sacrament. Conversion ordinarily takes place through the preached word.

At this point, the dire warning of verse 27 comes into play. Hebrews 10:29 pronounces a more severe punishment on those who trample under foot Christ’s blood and that is what would be happening. A person who does not believe the gospel eats judgement upon himself. Non-believers must not participate in the Lord’s Table but should use the time to reflect on what keeps them from closing with Christ, asking God to remove that impediment and to look forward to participating the next time.

So that is briefly my take on Communion. Notice that gospel is central to the rite and faith to apprehend this gospel pronouncement is essential.

There are a number of ways paedocommunionists respond. Passover was the precursor to the Lord’s Table and Passover was intended to include the children (Ex 12:26). They point to 1Co 10 and notice that all ate the same spiritual food which would necessarily include the children. Why then would be deny our covenant children this means of grace? Their response to 1Co 11:28, where self-examination prior to the meal is required, is likely to be that strictures such as these are not intended for children. For example, in 2Th 3:10 Paul commands “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” Clearly this did not apply to the infants.

These objections seem reasonable, as far as they go. But they are lacking. While Passover was a precursor to the Lord’s Table, it is significantly modulated in Christ. Jesus didn’t simply change Passover, he fulfilled it (1Co 5:7, 1Pt 1:19). Passover was the shadow and while we can look back at it for the significance of the Lord’s Table we shouldn’t look to it as regulative for the Table. How do we determine which elements come forward? Instead we are best to stick with what we are taught about the Lord’s Supper in its fullness rather than in its shadow.

First Corinthians 10:1-6 is an important text for understanding redemptive history and I think it helpful in the discussion of the relationship of the Old Covenant to the New. There baptism is not linked with circumcision but with a passage through water. The “spiritual food” in that passage is not Passover but the manna. Jesus is not eaten or drunk, he is a Rock that follows them and provides. It seems to me that what the water may signify is the Holy Spirit (see John 7:38-39) that Jesus gives to his church.

Finally, while it is clear that 2Th 3:10 cannot apply to children, it is not equally as clear that 1Co 11:28 does not. One must presuppose that children are supposed to be given Communion in order to read the 1Co 11 passage the same way as the 2Th 3 command. Otherwise, there are no commandments that apply to children! Furthermore, there are explicit commands for a man to provide for his family (1Ti 5:8) and so children are provided for in the commandment via their father.

So why is paedocommunion sad to me? First of all, because it seems to lessen the impact of what communion is. In other Christian traditions that place a high value on communion (Anglican, Lutheran, Roman Catholic) there is a process of confirmation and First Communion. In other words, they have a similarly high view of the sacraments and yet recognize that there is something about communion that bears waiting. When children who haven’t a clue what communion is about partake simply because they are “covenant children” any distinction between those who have examined themselves and who discern the body and those who have not is lost. Even among the adult members of the covenant community there is supposed to be this difference, an adult who is “unworthy” or who does not “discern the body” (however we define those terms) is not to partake. Yet the children are ushered to the table without this distinction. Some of the exegetical gymnastics paedocommunionists do to get around 1Co 11:28 make me dizzy.

Next, and more crucial in my mind, is that the fulfillment of “covenant seed” is diminished and confused. Consider this quote from Tim Gallant’s book Feed My Sheep:

[Discussing Matthew 19.13-14] Covenant children are the epitome of the kingdom of God. And the kingdom of God must be understood in new covenant terms. Children of believers are received by Christ as His, notwithstanding all the language elsewhere about the necessity of faith. Covenant children, to the very youngest, are partakers in what the new covenant is all about. If it is correct to say that conversion is necessary for salvation, it is also correct to say that conversion is precisely becoming like a covenant child (Mt. 18:3). (pp. 25-26)

There is a lot I could comment on in that paragraph that I am going to let it slide and instead make my point about covenant seed. I have a lot to say about it but in summary let me point to this:

1. All of the promise of the Davidic Covenant, especially his seed, was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Acts 13:23).
2. It is generally agreed that the Seed of Eve promised in Genesis 3:15 was a promise of the coming Christ.
3. Paul is explicit on this in Galatians 3:16, in at least one aspect, the seed of the Abrahamic is fulfilled in Christ.

The above observations show that the concept of covenant see can be fulfilled. It is my contention that the concept of “covenant seed” or “covenant children” was pointing toward and was therefore fulfilled in Christ. Yes, in God’s covenants there was a promise of and to covenant children but those covenants were all looking forward to a promised One who would come from amongst the covenant people of God. Now that Jesus has come, what other seed are we looking forward to?

Calling our children members of the covenant just because they are our children is to read the New Covenant as if it contained the unfulfilled promises of older covenants in their same unfulfilled form. Baptizing them makes the issue hazy but most Reformed paedobaptists don’t consider baptized children to be full participating members of all that the New Covenant (and therefore the Covenant of Grace) offers. They still look forward to a time when their children will offer signs of a genuine faith of their own. Admitting them to the Lord’s Table blurs the lines even worse.

Okay, this post is quite long enough.