Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Finding the Middle: Part 3 What's wrong with Administration Theology?

Abraham's Four Seeds
by John G. Reisinger
(New Covenant Theology)
Appendix Number Three 
Covenant Theology's "Two Administrations
Of One Covenant."
     Some time ago I discussed the basic theme of this book with a group of Reformed ministers that was about equally divided on the subject of Covenant Theology, Dispensationalism, and the view that I hold.  Several of those who held strongly to Covenant Theology insisted on using the term "covenant of grace" as if it had the authority of a verse of Scripture.  They made no attempt to prove their assertions from Scripture texts.  They kept speaking in terms of logic and theology.  

     I finally said:  "We agree that the Bible is structured around two covenants. However, the two covenants that you keep talking about, namely, a covenant of works with Adam in the garden of Eden and a covenant of grace made with Adam immediately after the fall, have no textual basis in the Word of God.  They are both "theological" covenants and not Biblical covenants. They are the children of your theological system.  Their mother is Covenant Theology and their father is logic applied to that system.  Neither of your two covenants had their origin in Scripture texts and Biblical exegesis.  Both of them were invented by theology as the "necessary consequences" of your theological system." 

     The one brother asked: "Where are the Bible texts that establish the two covenants that you feel are the two major covenants in the Scripture?" 

     We looked up Hebrews 8:6-13 where the Holy Spirit clearly states a "new" covenant replaces an "old" covenant. I pointed out that these verses speak about two distinct and different covenants, and the "old," or first one, has nothing to with Adam in the Garden of Eden. The "Old Covenant" is specifically identified as the law covenant made at Sinai with Israel. The "new" covenant that takes the place of the "old" covenant is the covenant that Jesus ratified on the cross with His atoning blood and which we remember at the Lord's Table. It is impossible to push the New Covenant back to Adam when he fell. 

     I then said: "This passage in Hebrews clearly speaks about the two major covenants in Scripture.  It just as clearly identifies one of these covenants as the law covenant that God made with Israel at Sinai "when he took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt;" and yet your system will not even admit that Sinai is a legal covenant, let alone admit that it is the "first or old" covenant that is replaced by the "new covenant." The Scripture always identifies the legal covenant made at Sinai as the "old" covenant and also always contrasts it with the "new" covenant established by Christ. This whole section in Hebrews is built entirely on the comparison of a new covenant that is "better" than an "old" covenant that it replaces." 

     The brother immediately said: "But there is only one covenant with two administrations.  Sinai cannot be a separate legal covenant.  There can be no legal covenants made with the church, and Israel is the redeemed church.  The foundation of the system of Covenant Theology is the fact that there is only one covenant with two different administrations. There simply is no possibility that Sinai was a legal covenant." 

     I replied: "You just said it all. The basic foundation blocks of your theology cannot be established with specific texts of Scripture. The non-Biblical terminology that you keep using grows out of your system of theology instead of texts of Scripture. Why will you not discuss the actual words that the Holy Spirit used in Heb 8:6-13?  Why do you insist on using theological terms that are not found in the Word of God and keep refusing to discuss the actual terms that are consistently used by the Holy Spirit in the Word of God?" 
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     "It is impossible for you to read into these texts of Scripture in Hebrews the terms that you keep using, and it is just as impossible to get out of the verses the theological concepts that you hold concerning one covenant with two administrations. In fact these particular verses clearly contradict your view by specifically comparing two different covenants to each other.  Let us look at the actual texts of Scripture themselves and see if the Word of God will allow for the "one covenant/two administrations" view that you admit is the foundation of your whole system of theology.  Let me read a few verses from the Book of Hebrews and substitute the word "administration" for the word "covenant," since that is what you say the word really means, and see how it fits."

     I then read the following verses and substituted or added the appropriate words: But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also is the Mediator of a better administration of the one covenant of grace . . . For if that first administration of the one covenant of grace had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second administration of the same covenant of grace . . . I will make a new administration of the same covenant with the house of Israel . . . not according to the administration that I made with their fathers . . . Jesus has become the Surety of a better administration of the same covenant . . . Heb 7:22; 8:6-10 (adjusted to fit Covenant Theology). 

     I pleaded with the man to attempt to read either the terms "one covenant with two administrations," or the theological meaning of those terms, into the whole eighth chapter of Hebrews.  Of course, he could not and would not even try.  Why will men who sincerely hold to "verbal" inspiration insist on using terms that are not only not found in Scripture, but also cannot be made to fit into Scripture? In the case of Covenant Theology, their terms often force the Scripture to say the exact opposite of what it clearly does say!  Do they really believe that the Holy Spirit would deliberately say "covenant" when He did not mean covenant?  Would He move men to write about a contrast between two different covenants, a "new" and an "old," when there was really only one covenant? 
We then turned to Gal. 4:24,25 where the Holy Spirit specifically speaks about "the two covenants:" 
. . . which things are symbolic.  For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar - for this Hagar is Mount Sinai . . . Gal. 4:24,25. 

     These texts not only fail to mention either of the two covenants that these men were insisting was the foundation of all Scripture, but these texts do clearly identify one of the two major covenants in Scripture as the law covenant given at Sinai to the Nation of Israel.  

     The men refused to discuss the texts and kept repeating: "But Sinai cannot be a legal covenant.  There is only one covenant with two administrations." 

     And I kept repeating: "What do these texts of Scripture mean?  Please, please, tell me what the words in these texts mean." 

     The whole argument in Galatians 3 through 5 and Hebrews 8-10 clearly proves that there are two distinctly different covenants around which the major part of Scripture is built, namely, the "old" covenant made at Sinai with the Nation of Israel which was based on works and obedience, and the "new" covenant established at the cross based on grace and faith. These brethren would not deny clear Bible texts so they said nothing.  

     I then said: "Now that I have given you two Biblical passages to clearly prove my view, you give me one text of Scripture that proves your `covenant of grace' with its `two administrations' that you keep talking about." 

     There was dead silence for several minutes.  

     Finally one man said: "Well, we do not exactly have a specific text of Scripture." 

     We moved on to the next point!  
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     By the way, Professor John Murray in his later writings disagreed with many modern Covenant Theologians concerning a supposed "covenant of works" with Adam.  He even chides them for using the phrase "covenant of works" in connection with Adam and also for attempting to connect the Mosaic covenant with Adam in any way.  Murray also admits that one of the favorite texts used by covenant theologians as their key proof text to prove a covenant of works with Adam does not prove that at all.  I have yet to read a modern covenant theologian, besides Murray, that admitted this! Earlier writers did not use Hosea 6:7 the way modern writers do.

     This administration [Adamic] has often been denoted the Covenant of Works . . . It is not designated a covenant in Scripture.  Hosea 6:7 may be interpreted otherwise and does not provide the basis for such a construction of the Adamic economy . . . It should never be confused with what the Scripture calls the old covenant or first covenant (cf. Jer.  31:31-34; 2 Cor. 3:14; Heb.8:7,13).  The first or old covenant is the Sinaitic. And not only must this confusion in denotation be avoided, but also any attempt to interpret the Mosaic covenant in terms of the Adamic institution.  The latter could only apply to the state of innocency, and to Adam alone as a representative head.  The view that in the Mosaic covenant there is a repetition of the so-called covenant of works, current among covenant theologians, is a grave misconception and involves an erroneous conception of the Mosaic covenant . . . From: Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol. 4, pg 49,50, Banner of Truth. 

     It amuses me to hear modern writers quote John Murray as the final authority on Covenant Theology and in the same breath deny that the law covenant at Sinai was the "first" or "old covenant."  Most of Murray's devotees vehemently defend what Murray himself calls an "erroneous conception of the Mosaic covenant."  When I quoted the above statement of John Murray to the pastors mentioned earlier, they said nothing.  There is absolutely no doubt that John Murray believed that the "first or old covenant is the Sinaitic." 

     I recently read a pamphlet by a Reformed Baptist pastor insisting that the so-called Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace are the foundation stones for understanding Scripture. The author never mentioned the two covenants in Galatians four or Hebrews eight; and worse yet, neither of the two covenants that he was talking about are ever mentioned one time in Scripture.  Here is the way the booklet begins: 

     Genesis 3:15 "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." 

     Genesis 3:19 "By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return." 

     ". . . In Genesis chapter three we observe two covenants in action.  Two very different covenants are in force at the same time . . ." 31 

     The very first page "assumes" as a fact what cannot be established with texts of Scripture. Nowhere in the booklet does the writer attempt any textual exegesis for either of the two covenants that he "observes" to be at work in Genesis.  Can you find "two covenants in action" in the texts which the author quoted?  This is the typical method used by Covenant Theologians.  They just assume there are two covenants in Genesis without any textual evidence.  This is exactly what the Dispensationalist does with his charts. 

     Why do men insist on ignoring the two major covenants that the Holy Spirit continually speaks about, and then proceed to build a whole system of theology on two covenants never once mentioned by any writer of Scripture?  And remember, in order to do this, they have to read verses like those from Hebrews eight and refuse to let the word "covenant" mean "covenant."  These men must say, "I know the Bible says new covenant, but it really means new administration of the same covenant." Covenant theology insists on putting the word "covenant" in Genesis where the Holy Ghost has not put it, and then they refuse to let the word covenant really mean "covenant" when the Holy Spirit does use that specific word in passages like Hebrews 8.  Amazing!

     31 The Two Covenants, Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace, by Walter Chantry, Published by Grace Baptist Church, Carlisle, PA.  
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     I left Dispensationalism simply because I could not find its basic presuppositions in the Word of God.  Writers would make statements that were not actually in the texts of Scripture, but these things "had to be true" simply because the system demanded it.  Later, when I began to honestly study the Westminster Confession of Faith and look up every proof text, I was just as horrified as when I honestly investigated Dispensationalism.  As a Baptist, I expected to find the texts on infant baptism to be totally irrelevant, but I did not expect the same thing to be true of the proof texts used to prove the whole covenant concept as well as the Confession's view of the law. 

     Covenant theologians are forced into inventing the terms "covenant of works" and "covenant of grace" simply because they fail to see the uniqueness of God's dealings with Israel as a special nation put "under law" as no other nation ever was before or ever will be again.  According to this system of theology, Israel (the "Church" in the Old Testament) simply must be under the same covenant that we (the same "Church" in the New Testament) are under.  You cannot put believers (and Israel is "the redeemed people of God") under a legal covenant.  The system just will not allow for that. Most covenant theologians, in order to be consistent with their system, must deny the clear Biblical fact that the covenant Israel was put under at Sinai was really a conditional and legal covenant of works.  Their system demands that Sinai be a covenant of grace since there can be "no law covenants made after Gen.3:15." 
We wholeheartedly agree that God had a gracious purpose in putting the Nation of Israel under the law as a covenant, but that fact cannot change the law covenant into a covenant of grace.  The law, as a covenant, was intended to be the "needle that pierced the conscience so that the thread of the gospel could follow and heal."  However, to be able to accomplish that ministry of death, the law had to have the teeth of a true legal covenant with the power of life and death. If the Decalogue could not make men feel lost in sin and condemned by God, then how could it "prepare the sinner for the gospel?" And how could it accomplish such a ministry without having the authority of a covenant of life and death. 

     Covenant Theology consistently confuses God's eternal purpose in electing grace with the specific and different covenants that God made, in time and history, with specific people or nations. They are forced to bleed the word "covenant" of its Biblical meaning and make it impossible to give the word a uniform definition. They will sometimes let it mean "covenant" and other times insist it cannot mean covenant but means "administration." They then force the word "covenant" into places where it does not belong.  
Covenant Theology literally builds its whole system on two deliberate mistakes. It puts two covenants into Genesis 2 & 3 even though those chapter never mention either of the two covenants. The two unproven covenants then become the foundation of the whole system of covenant theology! If there is no "covenant of works with Adam" in the garden whereby Adam could have "earned eternal life by his obedience" then there is no covenant theology. If God did not make a formal "covenant of grace" with Adam immediately after the fall, then the system of theology set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith is without any Biblical foundation. These are not wild statements. Any honest and knowledgeable covenant theologian will readily admit to what I have just said. He knows that his whole theological system hangs on the "two major covenants" which he calls "the covenant of works with Adam before he fell" and "the covenant of grace made with Adam after he fell." (See the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 7, Sections 2,3.) 

     The Covenant Theologian also knows (but is slow to admit) that both of his major covenants are Biblico-theological covenants and are not derived from specific texts of Scripture. Both of these non-textual covenants are the "good and necessary consequences deduced" from the very system that they are supposed to support! The covenant of works and the covenant of grace are the foundation blocks of the very system that is used as the basis for deducing, as "good and necessary consequences," the very same two covenants used as the foundation that it is trying to establish. This is circular reasoning at its worst.  
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     The word "covenant" cannot mean covenant in Hebrews 8 even though the Holy Spirit says "covenant." There must be two covenants in Genesis chapter 2 and 3 even though the Holy Spirit does not mention either one of them, and there can only be one real covenant in Hebrews 8 even though the Holy Spirit says there are two. Such "interpretation" is essential when you start a system of theology with basic presuppositions that have themselves been "deduced" by logic as the "necessary consequences" of the very system you are trying to prove.  However, such interpretation is both non-Biblical and illogical. You cannot use the so-called Biblical-theological method to "deduce" two non-textual covenants from a system of theology that is built four square on accepting as facts the two covenants that you are trying to prove. 

     Once you read the two non-Biblical covenants into Genesis 2 & 3, you are then forced to deny that the Biblical "Old" and "New" covenants spoken of in Heb. 8, II Cor. 3, and Gal. 3 & 4 are actually two distinctly different covenants. Of theological necessity, these two covenants simply must be two different administrations of the same covenant. Covenant Theology must then commit its second deliberate error. After forcing two non-Biblical covenants into Genesis 2 & 3, it must now delete from Scripture the true Biblical covenant of works (the "Old covenant") made at Sinai and turn it into a covenant of "grace," and they must also delete the Biblical covenant of grace (the "New covenant") established in the blood of Christ and turn it into a "new administration" of the same legal covenant that was given to Israel at Sinai. From this point on, the covenant theologian will use the non-Biblical phrase "covenant of grace" as if he were quoting a text of Scripture. 

     When a covenant theologian uses the term "covenant of grace," (Hodge quote) what he really means is the "gospel of grace," or God's one and only method of saving men.  This is why he calls the promise of "the seed" in Genesis 3:15 and 12:3 the "covenant of grace." He means that God has always saved men by one method, and that method is by grace through faith.  On this point we are in total agreement.  We do not question for a moment the truth that men have always been saved by grace alone.  The Bible calls that "the gospel."  Why do Covenant Theologians insist on calling it "the Covenant of Grace"?  Why distort Acts 2:39, and its clear declaration of the one gospel message to all men, into a supposed "covenant of grace" with Christian parents. 

     The answer to these questions is easy.  The Biblical word "gospel" will not do for the covenant theologian what the non-Biblical phrase "covenant of grace" will do for him.  If he says, "God preached the gospel of grace to Abraham and promised to save him by faith and also promised to save all of his children who would also believe the gospel," he is speaking Biblically and we will agree with him.  However, such Biblical terminology gives him no grounds to baptize a "covenant child."  Even Hodge could not find "justification" for infant baptism without inventing a non-biblical terminology. 

     When the covenant theologian is speaking about the "gospel of grace," he is using Biblical terminology, but when he speaks of "the covenant of grace," he is speaking in purely theological terms with no textual proof.  Why not stick with Biblical terminology and avoid a lot of confusion?  Why add to the Word of God things that are not there?  Why make Paul's statement that "God preached the gospel to Abraham" mean "God put Abraham under the covenant of grace"?  Nothing is gained by ignoring Biblical words and substituting theological terms. However, a lot of confusion and error would be avoided if everyone used the same terms that the Holy Spirit put into the Scripture. Why distort the Scriptures that clearly state that "God preached the gospel to Abraham," and try to make it say that God put "Abraham under a covenant of grace"? 

     A Covenant theologian seeks to establish his basic presuppositions without using specific texts of Scripture simply because he has no clear texts to use.  He must load a word or phrase with the preconceived concepts of his system and then use the loaded word or phrase as if he were quoting an actual text of Scripture. Check how often the Westminster Confession of Faith will use the phrase "commonly called" to establish a point instead of quoting a Bible verse.  They do not use a verse of Scripture simply because they have no verse to use. The "truth" they are seeking to establish did not grow out of texts of Scripture but out of their theological system. By the phrase "commonly called," they really, "We do not have a text of Scripture, but theologians use this word or phrase all the time."  
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     Several other statements found with annoying repetition in the writings of covenant theologians are, "The Standards of our Church declare . . .," or, "The Framers of our Larger Catechism correctly state . . ." I am amazed at how often writers will assume that they have actually proven their point simply because they have quoted the Confession or Catechism! If what they are trying to prove is really Scriptural, then why not use Scripture texts to prove it?  Why not say, "As the Holy Spirit said . . .", and then quote the Word of God? 32 

     The fact that God preached "the gospel to Abraham" does not mean that he was "under a covenant of grace" any more than the fact that the whole city of Nineveh heard the gospel would mean that God put them "under a covenant of grace." The clear truth that God has always saved men "by grace through faith," and it is a clear truth, in no way proves that Israel as a nation was under a "covenant of grace."  Hebrews 3:15 - 4:2 proves beyond question that the Nation of Israel alone was under the great privilege of having the gospel promises. However, most of them died in unbelief and went to hell.  It is one thing to be under the preaching of the gospel of grace, but it is quite another to be under the grace promised in the gospel.  No one "under grace" ever perished!  To be "under a covenant of grace" and "to be secure forever in Christ" are one and the same thing in the Scriptures. The Word of God knows nothing of people perishing in hell who were "under the covenant of grace." 33 

     Israel was under unique privileges that no other nation had.  They had the gospel preached to them as no other nation. The legal covenant at Sinai was given to Israel alone: 

     The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The Lord made NOT this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day. The Lord talked with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire... Dt 5:2,3 
The second giving of the Ten Commandments (Old Covenant) then follows (Dt. 5:4-20). The NT Scriptures are crystal clear that the primary function of that legal covenant was to act as a "schoolmaster" to convict Israel of their sin unto justification (Gal. 3:24,25; Rom. 5:20; 7:1-11).  The covenant of law was the handmaid of the gospel of grace to the Nation of Israel, and as such, was one of the greatest blessings that God gave to them.  However, there is a great difference between "a gracious purpose" and "a covenant of grace."  There is no grace in the Law Covenant made at Sinai when it says, "do or die," but it was very gracious of God to give it.  The law covenant served the purpose of grace by killing any hope of salvation by works.  

     The NT Scriptures are very clear that this was the very purpose God had in mind when He put Israel "under law" (Rom. 5:20; Gal. 3:24). The confusion caused by trying to turn the legal covenant at Sinai into a "covenant of grace" becomes glaringly evident when you try to understand what Paul meant by insisting that the primary God-ordained function of the law was death by conviction of sin (II Cor. 3). The contradictions among Covenant Theologians interpreting Paul's view of law are astounding. Just read their many and conflicting views on what Paul meant in Rom. 6:14 when he said "You are not under the law, but under grace."