Re-defining Covenant

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wsw201

Puritan Board Senior
The way we define "covenant" is paramount in Covenant Theology. Deviations have significant consequences and can and do result in a "different Gospel".

The following ia a link to a very good article by Richard Phillips on the re-definition of covenant and its impact on the Law/Gospel, Covenant of Works/Covenant of Grace dichotomy resulting in another Gospel.

CLICK HERE for the article

[Edited on 5-15-2004 by webmaster]
 

C. Matthew McMahon

Christian Preacher
Phillips is no doubt following Neo-Presbyterianism, though he is helpful in overthrowing the "Wilson's" to some extent, he digs his own hole.


[quote:2bc9dde10c]
What we must not do, however, is presume regeneration or salvation.
[/quote:2bc9dde10c]

ERRRRRRR. Buzzer goes off. He departs from the Reformers and the Puritans here(YES the WCF), and quotes Hodge without quoting all of Hodge. Interesting to me that he did not quote the Reformers or Puritans. He kept the debate current. He did quote Witsius, but just basically in defining "covenant". He is following the post-awakenings theology on the issue of children. That stems from NOT following Witsius and the Reformation, but giving into a new form of presbyterianism that we are plagued with today.

Other than that typical theological mishap, it was OK.

I am working on a harmony of the WCF on this issue and the nature of the church - how they define the CoR and CoG and their relationship. They follow Turretin's outline.
 

wsw201

Puritan Board Senior
Though presumptive regeneration is interesting, I was wondering if anyone had come across the idea of an "inter-trinitarian covenant" (not the CoR) that was discussed in the article. Was he accurate in his assessment of what this covenant is and its implications regarding all covenants? I noticed in Leithart's chapter in the Knox Colloquy, he talked about a "Trinitarian Covenant".
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Wayne:
It is interesting that there is a similarity here with the views held by the Canadian Reformed Churches in the past. I don't think they have quite the same idea anymore, but their denial of an invisible church promotes the membership in the local church to an uncomfortable level for me. It may or may not have been their official policy, but it has been made clear to me by CanRC people that they did not recognize the invisible church; that the universal church was an existing body, manifested by their denomination.

(NOTE: In my area there exists the narrow line of CanRC churches, the ones that followed more closely the lines of demarcation between themselves and the other Reformed churches. I am not at all familiar with CanRC churches that have not taken that hardline view. )

Though it may not come from the same emphasis on analogy of covenants to the nature of the Godhead, yet the result tended to be the same, as I am given to understand: there is an overdue emphasis on church membership.

Though church membership is important, and though a right relationship with the authority of the church is important as well, it cannot be that one is automatically excluded from the Body of Christ on account of being excluded from the local assembly; it must be the other way around, namely that one is to be excluded from the local assembly when he shows determinativley that he is no longer of the Body of Christ, by failing to show the fruits of faith and rather showing fruits of unrighteousness. Notice, it must be both showings, and not just one. For many of us can go through times of unfruitfulness or backslidings, but return to our moorings and retain our faith. But an undue emphasis on local membership can create incidents of exclusion for lesser reasons. One can indeed be excluded, and regarded as a Gentile, on the basis of disagreement with the teachings of the church without investigation of the source of controversy. One just does not countenance allegations against an ordained person or body by one person, and no one else is willing to cross that "social" line.

Though our Book of Order requires allegations against elders to be in the order of not less than two witnesses, yet to simply assume bad intentions when one does raise an objection, without an effort to understand why the person objects, is also manifestly wrong. This requirement is only official, and not ministerial.

So what is only possible in our Reformed churches because of a dereliction of duty could at one time have easily become the rule in the Canadian Reformed Churches because of their view, or lack of it, of the invisible church. I was never a member in the CanRC, so I cannot say that this has actually happened.

The CanRC, however, is now taking a different path, which will eventually lead to a new approach concerning the invisible church. There is a need for consistency in recognizing members of other churches in other denominations as also being true members of the Body of Christ, which has direct ramifications on their doctrine concerning the invisible church. The Church is one body, manifested in at least two denominations. Thus, membership in the Body of Christ cannot be defined any longer by membership in the local body, whether a wide regional body or a narrower regional body. One denomination cannot any longer define membership in the universal church by membership in a temporal church by equating them.

In respect of the Auburn Avenue controversy, I would agree with Matt's assessment, though also for different reasons. It seemed clear to me that the extracts from Smith that Phillips cited were sufficient to prove that Smith was making a false analogy concerning the nature of the Trinity. Phillips also makes clear that there are direct results upon soteriology. Phillips rightly calls us back to the witness of faith. But it seemed to me that when it counted most to do so, he did not call us into a possibility of a true relationship with a real God, rather than just a religious observance as a fruit of it. He did note it, I admit. But to me there still seemed to be a hesitancy to call us to know God, with certainty. He did not restore, in my view, a right ontology.

There seems to be no direct effects of the Auburn Avenue influence in my area. I don't know of any followers. But there are indirect effects, I think. The "this is over my head" mentality keeps many from being interested in the debates, and many too quickly judge it as a waste of time to indulge, and even sinful, to stir up trouble. Therefore the "equivocation for the sake of peace" attitude seems to allow an eroding of the pespicuity of Scripture. Whether or not they follow Auburn Avenue, they will follow Auburn Avenue, (to borrow from Aristotle ) one way or another.
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I would like to add: How is it possible to deny the Covenant of Works, or to even downplay it, and not have an equal failure in the Covenant of Grace? Phillips is quite right in pointing this out. Whereas I think that Theonomists make the opposite mistake, by over-emphasizing the role of legal obedience in the definition of righteousness, even so Auburn Avenue seems to be willing to give up the legal requirements resulting from fallenness to redefine righteousness.

To take Paul's example, if we covet, it is because we are in sin. There is then a law forbidding covetousness. We may refrain from coveting, but that only fulfills the law against coveting; it does not make us righteous, for we are still under the curse. No amount of keeping of law can rescue us from that, for it cannot erase the past. But it is also true that because we are in sin we cannot keep the law. Even in the redeemed state we are hard pressed to keep only a few of the requirements of the law. Salvation is by grace, apart from law. This is keeps us from error in either direction: from presuming salvation based on works of law, and from requiring works of law to presume salvation.
 

C. Matthew McMahon

Christian Preacher
[quote:e1b8e64b83]
Though presumptive regeneration is interesting, I was wondering if anyone had come across the idea of an "inter-trinitarian covenant" (not the CoR) that was discussed in the article. Was he accurate in his assessment of what this covenant is and its implications regarding all covenants? I noticed in Leithart's chapter in the Knox Colloquy, he talked about a "Trinitarian Covenant".
[/quote:e1b8e64b83]

I think it is novel. Something new? Stick with Witsius.
 

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
[quote:f671791766][i:f671791766]Originally posted by wsw201[/i:f671791766]
Though presumptive regeneration is interesting, I was wondering if anyone had come across the idea of an "inter-trinitarian covenant" (not the CoR) that was discussed in the article. Was he accurate in his assessment of what this covenant is and its implications regarding all covenants? I noticed in Leithart's chapter in the Knox Colloquy, he talked about a "Trinitarian Covenant". [/quote:f671791766]
Wayne,
Phillips talked about this at the Greenville Conference too. I think he made a remarkable observation. He said, "Whenever you get rid of the covenant of works, your covenant of grace becomes a covenant of works." That is what the Auburn Ave, especially Leithart has done. They remove the contractual bi-party scheme for a covenant faithfulness scheme in which the burden of faithfulness is placed on us, just as the Three Persons of the Trinity remain faithful to each other. Problem is, we don't remain faithful.
 

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
I split off the PR comments into their own thread, "Presumptive regeneration more..."

Sorry for the divergence Wayne.

[Edited on 5-17-2004 by puritansailor]
 

C. Matthew McMahon

Christian Preacher
[quote:4cc863f5bb]
"Whenever you get rid of the covenant of works, your covenant of grace becomes a covenant of works."
[/quote:4cc863f5bb]

He is right on that. In my opinion, all theological error in CT derrives from misunderstanding how the CoW is formulated. If you mess that up, the rest of theology goes down the drain.
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
[quote:b5dd47c643][i:b5dd47c643]Originally posted by webmaster[/i:b5dd47c643]
[quote:b5dd47c643]
"Whenever you get rid of the covenant of works, your covenant of grace becomes a covenant of works."
[/quote:b5dd47c643]

He is right on that. In my opinion, all theological error in CT derrives from misunderstanding how the CoW is formulated. If you mess that up, the rest of theology goes down the drain. [/quote:b5dd47c643]

I'm not as well versed in the broad range of controversies within the Covenant Theology borders, but it does seem to boil down to either broadening or narrowing the Covenant of Grace, and it usually has in it a misconception of the Cov. of Works.

But I don't think it has to even be confined to Covenantal questions. A liberal church that has left the Cov. of Grace altogether, may not have done so on questions about Cov. Theology; it may well have been due to the fact that there were no questions being raised at all about the Cov. of Grace in the midst of their driftings, or that they were ignored if they were raised. But yet it comes down to the right understanding of the Covenant of Works; or in this case, not understanding it at all.
 

wsw201

Puritan Board Senior
[quote:0ac2445b1d]
and quotes Hodge without quoting all of Hodge.
[/quote:0ac2445b1d]

If I remember my "Schenck" correctly, Hodge believed in presumptive election not presumptive regeneration.

John,

From a covenant question, if you define a covenant based on "relationship" vs. "agreeement" as the A4, Wright and Shepherd do the CoW has to go, which means imputation goes right out the window. That is why how we define a covenant is pivotal.
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
[quote:3eed6d27b0][i:3eed6d27b0]Originally posted by wsw201[/i:3eed6d27b0]
[quote:3eed6d27b0]
and quotes Hodge without quoting all of Hodge.
[/quote:3eed6d27b0]

If I remember my "Schenck" correctly, Hodge believed in presumptive election not presumptive regeneration.

John,

From a covenant question, if you define a covenant based on "relationship" vs. "agreeement" as the A4, Wright and Shepherd do the CoW has to go, which means imputation goes right out the window. That is why how we define a covenant is pivotal. [/quote:3eed6d27b0]

Wayne:

I don't disagree. It's just that we have gone through times when Justification by Faith was pivotal (the Reformation, ) when a right relationship between science and faith was pivotal (more recently, ) and so on. I think that we can agree that these are pivotal in theology. I think that it is also true that a right understandng of the Cov. of Works comes into play every time; whether it is either assumed, or whether it plays a secondary role, or is in the forefront in the discussionss.

I have been through a liberalizing church, in which the Cov. of Works was never mentioned at all througout the discussions and disputes (at least as I remember. ) I have been through a church that was laissiz-faire in practice, and no-one ever complained about the Cov. of Works being misapplied. I have been through a one-sided Reconstructionist church, and again the Cov. of Works was not at issue.

But yet I can see how it should have been at issue each time. Why did the Bible mean so little to the liberizing church (that was the real issue )? Why did the lax church disregard the Biblical standard for office? Why was the Reconstructionist agenda so important? At every turn one can point to the Bible, and particularly to a very short-sighted and shallow commitment to the Bible. They had other things in mind. And yet, because all these men at one time were more zealous for the true written Word, I believe they lost their moorings because they did not understand the relationship of the original covenant, nor the true agreement that culminated in the Covenant of Grace to their redemption and salvation.

We can point to more fundamental things, like the Word itself, or the Spirit's indwelling, or even election. But none of this takes anything away from the central importance of the Cov. of Works.

Many poor theologians are as saved as you or I. Good theology does not save. But men of duty, who hold the offices, must, of necessity, have a good and sound foundation to their responsibility in the Word, or they will run in vain; and they may even be leading others down the path of destruction.

So I think we need to qualify the central part the the Cov. of Works plays in theology with the statement that it is central to good theology, not central to every one's faith. Many have passed on without that soundness of doctrine, but yet held a firm faith. At least, I would not be the one who would say that they had missed out on election because they floundered on the Cov. of Works.

But I am struggling through all this as yet. I am not near as well studied as many of you. I really don't know that much yet about the Auburn Ave. controversy, because what I have learned so far has come almost exclusively from this Board. I have read a couple of on-line papers, but my man interests at present lay elsewhere, as you can imagine.

What I am saying is that all the controversies combined take nothing away from your's and Matt's assertion on the Cov. of Works. I agree with it. But I think we need to keep a perspective about it too. In this case I think it is line we need to draw in the sand for those would-be theological revolutionaries of our time.
 
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