Friday, November 22, 2013

Baptist Distinctives (Chapter 4)

After reading Pascal Denault's The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology:  A Comparison Between 17th Century Particular Baptist and Paedobaptist Federalism, I decided to collect my thoughts and make some chapter-by-chapter observations.  You can find my post on the Introduction here, Chapter 1 here, Chapter 2 here, and Chapter 3 here.  For a general overview of the covenants found in the Bible, see my post on Redemptive History here.  Now let's look at Chapter 4 called 'The New Covenant'.

Jeremiah 31:31-32 depicts two distinct covenants and describes the unconditional nature of the New Covenant (emphasis mine):

"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was a husband unto them, said the Lord:"

It's important to note that the New Covenant is unconditional for all of its members, but it was conditional for its Mediator, Christ Jesus, who kept all of the law and is the perfect sacrifice for God's elect.

An obvious characteristic of the New Covenant is that it is new.  The Baptists agree that it is new because of its unconditional nature and the fact that its members participate in the substance (the salvation in Jesus Christ) of the Covenant of Grace.  However, as we saw in Chapter 1 on 'The Covenant of Works', Presbyterians believe that the New Covenant is a new administration of the Covenant of Grace and not a substantially different covenant.  They believe that the New Covenant, like the Old Covenant, includes regenerate and unregenerate members; therefore, members should baptize all of their infants under the New Covenant just like members should circumcise their male infants under the Old Covenant.

Pascal Denault writes:  "The Scriptures declare that the substance of the New Covenant can be summarized in three blessings:  the Law written on the heart (regeneration), the personal and saving knowledge of God, and the forgiveness of sins which constitute the basis of the other two blessings and of the whole New Covenant."

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As I read this chapter, I struggled with Mr. Denault's statement on pages 152-153:  "The Scriptures do not provide any possibilities of being visibly in the New Covenant without participating effectively in its substance."  The parable of the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13:24-30 immediately came to mind along with John's statement that 'they left us because they were not of us' in 1 John 2:19.  I had difficulty reconciling his statement to God's word.  The dichotomy of the visible church on earth and the invisible Church made up of true Christians loomed large in my thoughts, so I decided to dig further.  In Webster's 1828 dictionary, substance is defined as the essential part, the main or material part.  The key to understanding Mr. Denault's sentence rests in his short, but profound statement that the substance of the New Covenant is salvation in Jesus Christ.  Therefore, attendance and/or membership in a church does not guarantee or imply membership in the New Covenant.  A member of the New Covenant has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit to faith in Jesus Christ and repentance of sins.  Conversely, Presbyterians believe that their baptized infants are not saved by baptism, but the infants are members of the New Covenant; therefore, the covenant is mixed in nature.  I do not believe that the Bible supports this view.

"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast," (Eph. 2:8-9)