Monday, June 13, 2011

Dispensationalism: A Critical Look At The New Covenant part 8: Pastoral Concerns

Pastoral Concerns

First, men need to understand the nature of original sin. We all need to understand the hopelessness of achieving righteousness or perfection in ourselves. The Bible plainly condemns and shuts the mouths of all men in their attempts to fulfill the Covenant of Works. It doesn’t matter what system men find themselves, whether it be Buddhism or Islam or Judaism or Mormonism or Roman Catholicism, all systems of works, no matter how much grace may accompany one’s attempts will fail in utter defeat.

We must understand that it is Christ who has fulfilled the Covenant of works in our place as our Substitute and as our Representative. It was Christ and Christ alone who accomplished the salvation of all men from Adam to the present. And it is through faith alone in Him that brings a man into right relations with God. Therefore, we must call all men, both Jew and Gentile, to repentance and faith in Christ.

The New Covenant is the ultimate fulfillment of the purposes of God in saving a people for Himself in Christ. This covenant is not for one group of people over against another. But as the Apostle Paul rightly declares, Christ has made one new man by uniting both Jews and Gentiles in one Covenant. Gentiles do not merely share in New Covenant blessings. Instead the New Covenant everywhere teaches that Gentiles along with their Jewish brothers are full members with all of the New Covenant blessings. The entire Old Testament was a shadow or a type of what was to come in Christ.

The question that arises is the nature of the Law written upon the hearts. The New Covenant as described in Hebrews 8 never distinguishes between Jew and Gentile. The Law is written upon the hearts of all believers. There is no such thing as a “Carnal Christian” or a Gentile who only has forgiveness of sins but does not repent of his sins. The early church is made of believers and is considered the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament. This is where starting with the New Testament’s description of the New Covenant is vital. We must not allow inferences from the Old Testament override the plain teaching of the New Testament. Jesus and the Apostles must be allowed by the power of the Holy Spirit to be the final interpreters of the Old Testament and its promises. If they say it is fulfilled, then we ought not to challenge it but understand how it is fulfilled in a proper way.

The people of God in the church are not an afterthought or some secret not revealed to us in the Old Testament. The Church of Jesus Christ was always in the mind of God as typified throughout the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New. Although in this present age Christians struggle with their sin, she is always able to look to and find solace in her perfect Redeemer, who has bought her with His own blood. She presently possesses the forgiveness of sins and the righteousness of the Savior. She has been changed to be holy and to live holy in this world even with all of her abiding sin. Thanks be to God through Christ who has established His perfect Covenant that will never end and is completely unbreakable.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dispensationalism: A Critical Look At The New Covenant part 7

Conclusion of the Arguments

Throughout the New Testament, starting with Christ himself, we see the New Covenant instituted for a people that Christ has chosen. It is Christ that is building His church. It is Christ that is the true Seed of Abraham both physically and spiritually. It is Christ who unites both Jews and Gentiles into one body. The New Testament everywhere speaks of the New Covenant as fulfilling the Old Testament types and shadows. To go back to a National Israel hermeneutic is to go backwards in redemptive history and miss the meaning of the promises given to the church in what Christ has done for His people.

We can see that how we start in our interpretive methods is important. Do we start with the New Testament and allow the Apostles to explain to us the nature of the Old Testament prophecies or do we practice an inconsistently applied method of inferences from an overly literal approach of the Old Testament being forced upon the New?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Dispensationalism: A Critical Look At The New Covenant part 6: Hebrews 8

Hebrews 8

The Dispensationalist hinges their argument that the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy of the New Covenant is still yet future. The church was never prophesied to be in this covenant. But are we to understand that Israel does not include Gentiles in the New Covenant fully?

If there was ever a place to explain that this text was originally for Jews would not Hebrews 8 be the place? Instead, what we find is the author explaining that the promise of a New Covenant was established with the Church. Only inferences from a false hermeneutic can we force upon the text to be a separate fulfillment with National Israel in a future Millennium. Instead, what we see is the typological fulfillment of Israel in Christ, not a future covenant in some future Millennium. Even Dispensationalists recognize this to some extent. As Dr. Ice notes,
“We have seen how the New Covenant will be fulfilled for Israel, but an often ask question is does this covenant relate in any way to the church? A New covenant is mentioned a number of times in reference to the church in the New Testament. It appears to be the basis for the forgiveness of sins and a spiritual dynamic that is not just reserved for the nation of Israel.”[1]
But due to their presuppositions they miss the obvious. As Vlach explains in  “What Is Dispensationalism?,
“…the spiritual sense of the title [seed of Abraham] does not take over the physical sense to such an extent that the physical seed of Abraham is no longer related to the biblical covenants.”[2]
Of course this misses the point. Jesus is the physical seed of Abraham in which He unites a people, both Jew and Gentile, into one particular people. This is why the writer to the Hebrews makes no distinction among member of the church as to their status in the New Covenant. All are equally in the New Covenant. As John Owen exegetes in his masterful commentary on the book of Hebrews the New Covenant does come to the Jews first,
“So Peter tells them, in his first sermon, that ‘the promise was to them and their children’ who were then present, that is, the house of Judah; and ‘to all that were afar off,’ that is, the house of Israel in their dispersions, Acts 2:39.”[3]
But then goes on to explain that Gentiles are also equally in the New Covenant.
“And this was all the privilege that was now left to them; for the partition-wall was now broken down, and all obstacles against the Gentiles taken out of the way. To that end this house of Israel and house of Judah may be considered in two ways: [1.] As that people who were the whole entire posterity of Abraham. [2.] As they were typical, and spiritually symbolic of the whole church of God.”[4]
And later on the same page,
[2.] In the second sense the whole church of elect believers is intended under these denominations, being typified by them. These are they alone, being one made of two, namely Jews and Gentiles, with whom the covenant is really made and established, and to whom the grace of it is actually communicated. For all those with whom this covenant is made will as really have the law of God written in their hearts, and their sins pardoned, according to the promise of it, as the people of old were brought into the land of Canaan by virtue of the covenant made with Abraham.”[5]
 Now the objection raised at this point by the Dispensationalist is the same as that of some paedo-baptists. The New Covenant cannot be fulfilled since the promise in verse 11 seems to require a future fulfillment. However, Owen also deals with this objection. After much sound argumentation too long for space here, Owen states,

“But in the New covenant, there being an express promise of an internal, effectual teaching by the Spirit of God, by writing His law in our hearts, without which all outward teaching is useless and ineffectual, it is here denied to be of any use;”[6]
In other words, Owen is explaining that we would have a blatant contradiction. The writer to the Hebrews is saying this covenant is established not in part, but in whole. Therefore we must understand these words properly. We must allow for the purposeful intention of the New Testament to keep a tension of the Now verses the Not Yet aspects of the phases not only of the Kingdom, but the fulfillment of the promises of the New Covenant. For both the New Covenant and the Kingdom of God as expressed among God’s people are intimately united.

Fred Malone also deals with this argument against paedo-baptists,
“If one takes the mention of Israel and Judah with strict literalism from Old Testament priority over New Testament revelation, then one is driven to believe that the New covenant is meant only for the Jewish nation in the New Testament. This is exactly the position of the older Dispensationalists. They concede to Gentiles the forgiveness of sins from the New Covenant but rarely mention, if at all, the law written on the heart for them.”[7]

[1] Ice, “Covenants and Dispensations”
[2] Vlach, “What Is Dispensationalism?”
[3] Owen, From Adam To Christ, An Exposition of Hebrews 8:6-13, page 236
[4] Ibid., page 236-7
[5] Ibid., page 237-8
[6] [6] Owen, From Adam To Christ, An Exposition of Hebrews 8:6-13, page 290
[7] Malone, Baptism of Disciples Alone, 84

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Dispensationalism: A Critical Look At The New Covenant part 5: Only Two

Only Two

According to Covenant Theology there are only two basic covenants, the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. It is understood that the Covenant of Grace is an over-arching covenant that is expressed in sub covenants throughout the history of redemption. As Walter Chantry wrote,

“God does not have multiple schemes for blessing sinners. He does not frantically crank out covenants in reaction to human decisions, until one happen to work well, thanks to man’s accepting it. From eternity past there was but one well-conceived way for sinners to be recovered. All covenants since Eden embody this one divine plan of redemption through a divinely appointed Mediator.”[1]

The New Covenant is the ultimate fulfillment of the Covenant of Redemption and there are no further Covenants or promises needing to be fulfilled. God Promises the New Covenant through the promises found throughout the old Testament. As Chantry also states,
“Even the availability of the Covenant Grace must not be misunderstood. When the Lord spoke Genesis 3:15, it was not because he saw with surprise and frustration that the earth was perverted in sin. God did not decide to give men a second chance with some wholly different alternate plan for blessing. Once the Lord instituted the first covenant becomes woven into the second.”[2]
 As also noted by Chantry, a man may only be in one of these two Covenants.
“If you have not trusted Christ (God’s mediator for sinners) you are at this moment under the Covenant of Works. All of us were born in Adam, that is, under the divine arrangement made with the entire human race. At the judgment seat God will demand that the terms of this covenant be fulfilled. Multitudes are now living under the Covenant of Works. Only those who have entered the Covenant of Grace have escaped the hopelessness of being still in Adam, born guilty, born under a curse.”
Malone also argues that there is not some kind of third position with respect to the two covenants. A person is either fully in the Covenant of Works or he/she is in the Covenant of Grace which is now expressed in the New Covenant established by Jesus Christ. In arguing against the paedo-baptist position Malone wrote,
Marcel actually says that the baptized children of believers are removed from the Covenant of Works, are no longer under the condemnation of God, and are restored to an ability to decide for or against the covenant blessings. It is as if they are a third category of people neither under the Covenant of works nor full participants of the life of the Covenant of Grace [ie: New Covenant].”[3]
 The point Malone makes is equally applicable to the Dispensationalist. As noted above, the Dispensationalist wants to make Gentiles to participate in some lesser way in the New Covenant. It is as if there is a third category. Yet when we allow the New Testament to interpret for us a proper view of the Covenants, we see this is not possible.

[1] Walter Chantry, “The Covenantss of Works and of Grace”
[2] Ibid.
[3] Fred Malone, The Baptism of Disciples Alone, 166

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Dispensationalism: A Critical Look At The New Covenant part 4: CT Assumptions

Covenant Theology Assumptions

It must be stated with clarity up front that Covenant Theology starts with the assumption that the New Testament is the final interpreter of the Old Testament. It also understands that the Holy Spirit is the interpreter of Scripture in keeping with the principle of the “analogy of faith”. Scripture interprets Scripture and each successive Covenant has the right to define itself. As Fred Malone states in his book, The Baptisms of Disciples Alone,
“The New Testament is the authoritative exposition of what the Holy Spirit meant in the Old Testament prophectic passages. As written revelation, it carries a higher weight and priority than a supposed good and necessary inference deduced from the Old Testament.”[1]
By this hermeneutic, Malone communicates that any inferences that one may see, such as National Israel being the primary recipient of the Promises, must bow to the clear understanding of the Apostle’s interpretation of the prophecies concerning Israel and the New Covenant.

[1] Fred Malone, The Baptism of Disciples Alone, 35

Friday, June 03, 2011

Dispensationalism: A Critical Look At The New Covenant part 3: Dispensationalism and the New Covenant

Dispensationalism and the New Covenant

Dr. Thomas Ice states,
“The New Covenant provides for the yet future spiritual regeneration of Israel in preparation for the millennial kingdom. This is an unconditional covenant and is made between the Lord and the nation of Israel and has not yet been enacted for the nation of Israel.”[1]
Professor Larry D. Pettegrew, Vice President of Shepherds Theological Seminary, states in his article The New Covenant,
“For Israel the New Covenant promises her transformation through providing her a new heart, her final and permanent forgiveness, and the consummation of her relationship with the Lord. Through Israel God will also bless the Gentiles because of this covenant.”[2]
As can be seen, the approach of the Dispensationalist is to see that the original prediction of the New Covenant as seen in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36 was meant for National Israel only and appears to yet be future! Any role Gentiles have in the New Covenant is simply by proxy. Gentiles are blessed but not full members of the New Covenant. As Pettegrew says on page 253 of the same article,
In parallel passages, the parties involved [in the Covenant] are always with the Lord and the nation of Israel. Some blessings relate to the Gentile nations, but even these are ‘spill-over” blessings from Israel.[3]
Due to the literal approach and starting with the Old Testament interpreting the New Testament, it is easy to see why this understanding pervades Dispensationalism. But also due to their literal approach, a claim is made that the New Covenant is not truly fulfilled yet. The argument is strikingly similar to the paedo-baptist interpretation of Hebrews 8:8-12 in order to get around the current complete fulfillment of the New Covenant. Dr. Ice concludes his article, Covenants and Dispensations,
“If anyone attempts to say that the New Covenant is being fulfilled today, during the current church age, through the regeneration of the holy Spirit, then it would mean that we should not evangelize any more, that every Jew would be saved, and that we should have the Law of God written on our hearts. This is not the case within the church today.”[4]
Although John Darby’s understanding may have been different in some respects, he agrees with the principle that the New Covenant was for National Israel in the Millennium.
“This covenant of the letter is made with Israel, not with us; but we get the benefit of it.”[5]
Charles Ryrie states something similar as cited by Grover Gunn,
This interpretation holds that the one new covenant has two aspects, one which applies to Israel, and one which applies to the church. These have been called the realistic and spiritual aspects of the covenant, but both aspects comprise essentially one covenant based on the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.”[6]
I find it interesting that most of these men probably practice taking the Lord's Supper. Keep in mind the words of Christ:

"This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."

What does this mean, if we are not actual partakers of the New Covenant?!

[1] Dr. Thomas Ice, “Covenants and Dispensations”
[2] Larry Pettegrew, “The New Covenant”, page 251,
[3] Ibid., page 253
[4] Dr. Thomas Ice, “Covenants and Dispensations (part 4)”
[5] As cited by Grover Dunn, “Dispensationalism: The New covenant, Part 2” http://groverdunn/andrew/disp05.htm
[6] As cited by Grover Dunn, “Dispensationalism: The New covenant, Part 2” http://groverdunn/andrew/disp05.htm