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])
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).