The Fundamentals of New Covenant Theology – Part 10: NCT Described (IV)

The Fundamentals of New Covenant Theology

Part 10: NCT Described (IV)

“NCT challenges the theological presuppositions of the one overarching covenant of grace teaching of CT, including its understanding of the “moral law” of God and the nature of the Church.” (Long, New Covenant Theology, NCT Described [http://www.ptsco.org/NCT%20Brochoure%20Text%202013.pdf])

 

Explanation:

This blog post will focus upon Covenant Theology’s understanding of the nature of the Church, an understanding which, like Covenant Theology’s view of the“moral law,” is wholly dependent upon the theologically-constructed covenant of grace. Recall that since the biblical covenants, as taught by Covenant Theology, are outworkings of this one over-arching covenant of grace, certain covenantal characteristics are understood to be transcovenantal. That is to say, these aspects apply to multiple, if not all, biblical covenants. Put another way, Covenant Theology tends to overemphasize the continuity between the Old and New Testament Scriptures to extent of blurring vital, biblical distinctions. This can be particularly seen in Covenant Theology’s understanding of the people of God.

Covenant theologians essentially equate Old Covenant Israel with the New Covenant Church. Simply put, they read the Church into the Old Testament Scriptures, though they lack the exegetical foundation for doing so. Theologically speaking, the net result of such teaching is that the Church is understood, like Old Covenant Israel, to be a mixed multitude – that is, a covenant people consisting of both believers and unbelievers. Such teaching buttresses the practice of paedobaptism, at least for those covenant theologians which uphold the aforementioned practice. Although New Covenant Theology agrees with Covenant Theology that the people of God consists of all the elect of God throughout time, it rejects Covenant Theology’s understanding of the Church on at least two grounds: (1) the New Covenant Church is not a mixed multitude, and (2) the New Covenant Church cannot and should not be equated with Old Covenant Israel.

Under the Old Covenant, Israel was a mixed multitude. While there always existed a believing remnant in the nation of Israel, the vast majority of Israelites were unbelievers. Consider Jeremiah 9:26b: “all the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart.” Other Scripture passages which evince this fact are Hebrews 4:15-19, 1 Corinthians 10:1-10, Isaiah 1:9; Romans 9:29, etc. Unlike the New Covenant, the Old Covenant did not guarantee to its recipients the ability to keep the Law of Moses, live righteously, and please God. In His sovereign grace, the Lord bestowed salvation on relatively few Israelites – individuals like Moses, Joshua, David, Hezekiah, etc. In contradistinction, the New Covenant does guarantee to all its recipients the ability to live righteously and please God. All members of the New Covenant are spiritually regenerate (Ezek. 36:25-26), have full forgiveness of sins (Jer. 31:34b), are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Ezek. 36:27), intimately know the Lord (Jer. 31:34a), and have God’s law written on their heart (Jer. 31:33). If these New Covenant promises are realized for each individual member of the New Covenant, how can the Church be a mixed multitude? In short, it cannot.

Another reason why the New Covenant Church cannot and should not be equated with Old Covenant Israel is that the Church did not exist in the Old Testament prior to the giving of the Holy Spirit (John 7:39; 17:21; Heb. 11:39-40). The Church, the spiritual body of Christ, could not exist before the death, resurrection, ascension, and enthronement of its Head, Christ Jesus (Col. 1:26-27). Consider Matthew 16:18 where the Lord Jesus Christ declares: “and upon this rock I will [i.e. future tense] build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.” The Church was fashioned into a spiritual body when the Lord Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:33) following His heavenly enthronement at God’s right hand. The Holy Spirit (via Spirit Baptism – which occurred at Pentecost), unites God’s elect (believing Jews & believing Gentiles) with Christ in one corporate spiritual body, the Church. For example, 1 Corinthians 12:13 declares: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (see also Eph. 2:19-21; Col. 1:18, 24).

2 Comments

  1. brandonadams

    As I mentioned in a previous post in this series, 1689 Federalism agrees that Old Covenant Israel was not the church, but was instead a type of the church. However, we have disagreements with NCT regarding OT saints being indwelt with the Holy Spirit. It is inconsistent to claim that they can be regenerated by virtue of Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and enthronement, but that they cannot receive the other spiritual benefits. We agree, whoever, that the visible institutional church did not exist until Pentecost. This is because of our understanding of the New Covenant as promised and established. When it was only promised, it’s benefits were applied retroactively to OT believers (just as Christ’s atonement was). Only when it was formally and legally established did it become the foundation of the visible church and it’s institutions of worship and practice.

    1. zmaxcey (Post author)

      Brandon, thanks for this note as well. NCT does agree with 1689 Federalism that Old Testament Israel was typological with the Church. Providence Theological Seminary, an NCT theological institution, would generally define Israel in the following manner: the ethnic descendants of Jacob (Gen. 28:13-15) formed into a geopolitical entity at Sinai via the Old Covenant (Exod. 19:5-6), comprised of both believers and unbelievers (1 Cor. 10:1-5; Heb. 3:16-4:2), typological of Christ (Hos. 11:1; Matt. 2:15) and His Church (Exod. 19:5-6; 1 Pet. 2:9), the believing remnant (Rom. 9:27; 11:5) of which was transformed into the Church at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-10,41), and which awaits a future spiritual restoration (Amos 9:8) in the form of a massive, end-time ingathering of elect Jews into the Church at Christ’s Parousia (Rom. 11:12, 15, 25-27).

      As you have pointed out, NCT and 1689 Federalism do disagree as to whether the Old Testament saints were indwelt by the Holy Spirit. 1689 Federalism’s position that OT saints were indwelt by the Holy Spirit aptly demonstrates that it as a theological system still ‘flattens’ the redemptive-historical distinctions of the biblical covenants – though significantly less than traditional Covenant Theology. I would assert it is not inconsistent to claim that OT saints could be “regenerated by virtue of Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and enthronement, but that they cannot receive the other spiritual benefits.” NCT also holds that 1689 Federalism’s position is at odds with Scriptures such as Ezekiel 36:25-27, John 7:38-39, and John 14:16-17.

      In the Old Covenant era, the Spirit was primarily given in a non-redemptive sense to kings, priests, prophets, elders, and judges to accomplish specific purposes or missions of the Divine Will. [For examples of the Spirit coming upon kings, see the following: 1 Samuel 10:6 (Saul); 10:10 (Saul); 11:6 (Saul); 16:13 (David); and 2 Samuel 23:2 (David). For an example of the Spirit coming upon a priest, see 2 Chronicles 24:20 (Zechariah). For examples of the Spirit coming upon prophets, see the following: Numbers 24:2 (Balaam), 27:18 (Joshua); 1 Samuel 19:20, 23; 2 Chronicles 15:1 (Azariah); Luke 2:25 (Simeon); 1 Peter 1:10-12. For an example of the Spirit coming upon elders, see Numbers 11:17, 25, 26, 29. For examples of the Spirit coming upon judges, see the following: Judges 3:10 (Othniel); 6:34 (Gideon); 11:29 (Jephthah); 14:6 (Samson); 14:19 (Samson); and 15:14 (Samson).] This working of the Holy Spirit was not only not permanent, lasting only as long as it suited God’s purpose, but it also typologically anticipated the Spirit’s future New Covenant ministry when the Spirit would indwell all believers in a redemptive sense (John 14:17). For example, in response to Joshua’s complaint that Eldad and Medad, two of the elders upon whom the Spirit came, were prophesying in the Israelite camp, Moses declares, “Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them!” (Num 11:29). So, since King Saul was indwelt by the Holy Spirit (see 1 Samuel 10:6-10; 11:6), would 1689 Federalism view him as being “regenerated by virtue of Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and enthronement?”

      Also, Recall that God promised to make “a new covenant” which not only would not be like the Old Covenant (Jer 31:31-33) but would also be founded “on better promises” (Heb 8:6). Among the promises of the New Covenant was the permanent gift of the Holy Spirit to all the members of the New Covenant. Ezekiel 36:27 declares: “I will [future tense] put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (cf. Isa 44:3; 48:16; Ezek 11:18; 37:14). Isaiah 59:21 foretold that the promised gift of the Spirit would be permanent: “My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth…from now and forever.” God promised to pour out His Spirit not only upon “the house of Israel” (Ezek 39:29; cf. Isa 32:15) but also “on all mankind” (Joel 2:28). John the Baptist prophesied that the promise of the Holy Spirit would be fulfilled with the coming of the Messiah: “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt 3:11; cf. Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33). Furthermore, the Spirit’s descent upon Christ when He was baptized by John (Matt 3:16-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34) typified in part Christ’s future pouring out of the Spirit upon believers after His ascension (John 3:34).

      The Lord Jesus taught His disciples a great deal regarding the Holy Spirit and His ministry (e.g. John 15:26; 16:13-4). In John 14:16-17, Jesus told them, “And I will ask the Father, and He will [future tense] give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will [future tense] be in you” [emphasis mine]. If the disciples, who were clearly saints under the Old Covenant – until the establishment of the New Covenant, were indwelt by the Holy Spirit as Old Covenant saints (which 1689 Federalism appears to argue), why does Jesus tell them that the Holy Spirit will [future tense] be in them.

      When would the advent of the Holy Spirit occur? John 7:38-39 states: “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” This passage declares that the Spirit would be given after Jesus’ glorification, that is to say, after His ascension. When Christ returned to His disciples after His resurrection, Jesus “breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:22). This event was most likely an advanced partial fulfillment of Spirit baptism for the eleven disciples to enable them to understand the instruction of the resurrected Christ prior to His ascension (cf. Luke 24:49; John 15:26; 16:13-14). Again, why did Jesus do this for the disciples if they already had the Holy Spirit?

      Jesus also commanded the disciples, “Behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). Christ reissued this directive at His ascension in Acts 1:4-5, 8: “And gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me; 5for John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now,…but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” On the day of Pentecost, the ascended Christ poured out the Holy Spirit upon His followers: “Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He [i.e. Christ] has poured forth this which you both see and hear” (Acts 2:33).

      In short, NCT affirms that 1689 Federalism’s position regarding the indwelling of the Holy Spirit ‘flattens’ the redemptive-historical distinctions of the biblical covenants.

      In Christ,,
      Zach

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