by John G. Reisinger
(New Covenant Theology)
Background and Reason for Writing
This book originated as a short presentation for public discussion. A group of Amils and Premils got together (along with some of us who are not convinced of any prophetic position) and discussed each other’s view in the same session. Three different men spoke on the subject “Who is Abraham’s Seed.” This was followed by a long and profitable discussion period. I was one of the three speakers (I was assigned the “middle” position) and my preparation led to the start of this book.
Several years later I gave a twenty page paper entitled “Abraham’s Four Seeds” at a Reformed pastors’ meeting in Toronto, Canada. I was encouraged to enlarge it and develop some of the applications to Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology. The result is as much a study of the basic presuppositions of these two systems of theology as it is a clear cut study of Abraham’s seed. This accounts for the lack of logical flow at times and the long digressions. However, since the real purpose of the book is not Abraham’s seed for its own sake, but rather to demonstrate how a correct understanding of that subject is a key to harmonizing Scripture, it seemed wise to digress as far as was necessary when either Dispensationalism or Covenant Theology was directly involved. This approach sometimes made necessary a lengthy discussion of the basic position of either, or both, of these systems of theology. Some of these digressions appear as an appendix.
Appendix number one is a very brief outline of Covenant Theology using the Westminster Confession of Faith as a source. Appendix number two does the same thing with Dispensationalism using the Scofield Reference Bible and Major Bible Themes by Lewis Sperry Chafer and edited by John F. Walvoord. If the reader is not familiar with those systems, it might be well to read these two appendices first.
Appendix number three deals with Covenant Theology’s insistence on using theological terms instead of Scripture texts. This appendix repeats some of the material in the main text. I am not suggesting that we must never use theological terms, but I am urging that we not use theological terms as the foundational blocks of our system as both Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism do. The basic presuppositions of any system of theology must be established with specific texts of Scripture and not with theological terms. If this is not done, then our basic building blocks will be the product of logic and not the Word of God itself. We must not produce a theological lingo arrived at only by “good and necessary consequences” deduced from our system and then force those theological terms into the Scripture and refuse to allow the words used by the Holy Spirit to mean what they actually say. Human logic must never become a tool more valuable than texts of Scripture in either establishing or teaching truth. Logic is a good mistress but a very bad master.
Appendix number four is a short exposition of Acts 2:39 showing how it cannot be used as a proof text for infant baptism.
We believe that historic Dispensationalism, as a system, is not Biblical (even though it contains truth and is held by many godly men) simply because its basic presuppositions are either assumed or wrongly deduced from their theological system. We are also convinced that Covenant Theology, as a system, is just as unscriptural (even though it also has truth and many godly exponents) for the same reasons. Until recently most people felt that you had to believe one or the other of these two systems.
Many people today, especially young pastors from various backgrounds, are exegeting the Word of God and discovering that you do not have to be locked into either Dispensationalism or Covenant Theology. They are also discovering that the Reformation, great as it was, never totally got rid of all of Rome’s errors. Some great men brought some “priestcraft” over into their basic presuppositions at the time of the Reformation. Their view of the relationship between Church and State (the doctrine of Sacralism) is the logical conclusion and application of their Covenant Theology. It was this view that kept the Puritans from establishing churches that could live and worship consistently in the spirit of the New Covenant. Their view of the ordained ministry (“holy orders”) made any practical use of the “priesthood of believers” impossible. This is also the reason that present day Presbyterian groups, such as the P.C.A., cannot effectively deal with the issue of Theonomy within their ranks. The Theonomists have both the Westminster Confession and Puritan history on their side.
Reformed Baptists are among the leaders in the present day revival of Calvinistic literature. On the one hand, we gladly acknowledge our debt to the Reformers and Puritans and do not hesitate to own them as our forefathers in certain aspects of our faith. However, on the other hand, we also know that those same men, almost without exception, bitterly persecuted, and in some instances, actually killed some of our other forefathers among the early Baptists. We find ourselves in the odd position of being stepchildren of both the Reformers and the Anabaptists, but the true heirs of neither.
Our clear-cut view of the Doctrines of Grace and the unity of the Scriptures aligns us with the Reformers and the Puritans. The Anabaptists will never teach anyone the Doctrines of Grace. Our view of the unity of the Scriptures make it impossible for us to accept the Dispensationalism set forth in the Scofield Reference Bible. On the other hand, our Baptistic view that the New Covenant in Jesus Christ has replaced the Old Covenant at Sinai makes it just as impossible for us to accept the Covenant Theology set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith. It was that very Covenant view of Scripture that was used by the Puritans to justify the use of the steel sword against our Baptist forefathers. The true heirs of the Puritan view of Covenant Theology are those who today espouse what is called Theonomy. Some people feel that if the Theonomists were to gain control, Baptist blood along with other kinds would once more be shed in the name of “God’s holy truth.”
More and more writers and preachers are demonstrating that both historic Dispensationalism and classical Covenant Theology are bankrupt as far as being complete systems. Both systems are being greatly modified today, and there is a move toward “seeing some truth in both systems.” In no sense does this mean there is an attempt to “synthesize” the two systems. It means that people in both camps are starting with the Scriptures and discovering two things. They are seeing that (1) their own system is not totally consistent with many texts of Scripture, and (2) those same texts are forcing them to accept some things held by the other system. This is happening simply because honest men are admitting that they simply cannot prove some of their basic presuppositions with actual texts of Scripture. They realize that they “assume” the basic system before they ever get to the Word of God itself. Many young men are seeing that both of these systems “assume as facts” their basic presuppositions without any clear Biblical proof.
The Word of God itself is once more becoming the final authority in the conscience of Christians. The footnotes in Bibles, the pronouncements of men with papal personalities, and the creeds of our fathers no longer exercise unqualified control over the minds and hearts of many sheep. The cry, “What saith the Scriptures themselves?” is being heard in the land as it has not been since the days of the Reformation. Some of us dare to believe that this may be the generation that shall see the remaining vestments of Rome removed from our Calvinistic churches.
There is no question that we are seeing a reformation of the church. It is the prayer of many that our generation will emulate the great things that the Puritans and Reformers did and avoid the tragic mistakes they made. We need a “reformed” reformation and not just a repeat of the sixteenth century. I would say here what I wrote in my booklet When Should A Christian Leave A Church?:
Let us not make the same mistakes that the Reformers made. They thoroughly reformed the gospel message of justification by faith but failed to reform some other doctrines. They threw out justification by the works of the law, but held on to sanctification by the law. They rejected the Church’s authority over your soul, but hung on to the Church’s authority over your conscience. They discarded priestcraft and substituted clericalism. They rejected the authority of Church tradition (which taught Papal infallibility) but replaced it with man-made creeds that soon became as authoritative as Scripture. In reality they replaced a two-legged Pope with a paper Pope. They cried sola Scriptura while waving a creed in one hand and a sword in the other.