trespassing

Exploring Reformed Theology: The Fallacy of Covenant Equality Between the Church and Israel

On Monday, I published an article I wrote called “Exploring Reformed Theology: Why the Church is Not Israel,” which was an extension of my previous blog post R.C. Sproul, Jesus, and the Doctrine of Active Obedience.

All this was started because a video snippet of Sproul’s teaching on “active obedience” was posted by someone I know on his Facebook page. He responded to my putting the above-mentioned link to my “Exploring” blog post in the relevant Facebook conversation thread thus:

Doesn’t bother me that you don’t agree entirely with how Reformed theology characterizes Israel… I don’t either. I was simply trying to point out that the objections to Sproul’s position–as expressed in the video snippet, and not expanded beyond it–was based on a misreading. I wish I had time to engage the two things you’ve written recently, as I believe there is much I could point to that would remove the necessity to see yourself as so “other.” B’ezrat HaShem, I may…

Frankly, I wish he would. I’d love to hear how Christianity and Judaism could be reconciled relative to the covenants and understand how he comprehends this process working out. But I just don’t see it in the Bible. I just don’t see how Church= Israel and Israel = Church, particularly without totally devaluing Hashem’s covenant relationship with national Israel and the Jewish people.

Reformed Theologians, as far as my meager understanding of them goes, don’t believe they are involved in Replacement Theology, the idea that the Church replaces Israel in all of God’s covenant promises. They believe, since Church = Israel and Israel = Church, that they simply become participants of those covenants equally with Israel. Israel doesn’t lose its identity as such, but if I comprehend what Sproul was teaching correctly, once Jesus “fulfilled” all of the Torah commandments perfectly, and had the righteousness he gained by doing so transferred to all of his believers, there was no need for Jews (or Gentiles for that matter) to make any further attempts at performing the mitzvot.

In other words, post-crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, the entire Torah goes “poof” and vanishes in puff of metaphoric smoke.

The problem with that is the significance and uniqueness of Israel and the Jewish people goes “poof” as well. They either have to convert to Christianity in order to gain righteous standing before God, or they vainly continue Jewish religious practice after Jesus made it obsolete.

And as my regular readers will attest, I have a real problem with that idea.

Nearly three years ago, I wrote a multi-part review of David Rudolph’s and Joel Willitts’ book Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations (by the way, it’s a fabulous book offering up a wide variety of perspectives, both Christian and Jewish, on the Messianic Jewish movement, so if you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend that you do).

One of those reviews is called Introduction to Messianic Judaism: The Silo Invasion.

trespass
Photo: sialicencehub.co.uk

Basically, it goes like this. Let’s say that I believe I am my next door neighbor and my next door neighbor is me. Keep in mind that my neighbors have different jobs, lead different lives, have a different family constellation, are of a different age, and aren’t a lot like me at all.

But if I believe I am them and they are me, then everything I have belongs to them and everything they have belongs to me.

Except they don’t know this, only I know this.

So one evening after work, instead of going back to my house, I go into their home. Without so much as a by-your-leave, I breeze into their kitchen, make myself a sandwich, grab a beer, plop myself on their sofa, and start channel surfing looking for a show I want to watch (they have Netflix and I don’t, so this should be a move up for me).

I’m barely acquainted with my neighbors in real life, so if I actually did all this, I’m sure they would be astonished and outraged. Imagine how you’d feel and what you’d do if you were on the receiving end of this “visitor” acting like he owned your place and believing that he did.

Remember, I’m not replacing my neighbors. I’m not evicting them from their house. This is still their home. I just believe Jesus also gave me everything he gave them because I and my neighbors are now one in the same. God said so.

But he failed to tell my neighbors that, and they’re probably on the point of physical violence or getting ready to call the police and have me arrested for trespassing.

Now imagine how Jewish people feel when Christian Reformed Theologians say that Jesus fulfilled the Law and made it so that the Church = Israel and Israel = Church, that it has always been that way going all the way back to the beginning of the Bible, and that everything that ever made the Jewish people distinct, unique, and precious to God has been watered down to the point of non-existence by a worldwide population of Christians being thrown into the bucket.

Is it any wonder that Christians make Jews nervous?

I decided to go back to Theopedia.com and look up Covenant Theology, since that seems to be at the core of Reformed Theology’s claim of total equivalency with Israel:

Covenant Theology (or Federal theology) is a prominent feature in Protestant theology, especially in the Presbyterian and Reformed churches, and a similar form is found in Methodism and Reformed Baptist churches. This article primarily concerns Covenant Theology as held by the Presbyterian and Reformed churches, which use the covenant concept as an organizing principle for Christian theology and view the history of redemption under the framework of three overarching theological covenants: the Covenant of Redemption, the Covenant of Works, and the Covenant of Grace. These three are called “theological covenants” because although not explicitly presented as covenants, they are, according to covenant theologians, implicit in the Bible.

Mount SinaiLet’s take a look at part of the last sentence of that paragraph:

These three are called “theological covenants” because although not explicitly presented as covenants… (emph mine).

You can click the link I provided above to read the entire content (it’s rather long), but I’m going to cut to the chase:

Criticism of Covenant Theology

Several primary weaknesses that are often attributed to Covenant Theology as a system are that, first, it requires an allegorical interpretation of many Scripture passages, including prophecy that relates to God’s future plans for Israel. Second, critics claim it does not draw a sufficient distinction between the conditional Mosaic covenant of the Law, the other unconditional covenants established by God for Israel, and the “better covenant” established by Jesus (cf. Hebrews 7:22; 8:6-13). Third, it equates the nation of Israel with the New Testament Church. Fourth, the two (and possibly three) primary covenants of Covenant Theology are no where named in Scripture as such.

Again, let’s look at part of the last sentence in the above-quoted paragraph:

the two (and possibly three) primary covenants of Covenant Theology are no where named in Scripture… (emph mine).

In order to make this system work, you have to use a lot of imagination, first by applying allegorical interpretations on various portions of scripture, and also substituting your imagination for what’s missing in scripture, since the so-called Covenant of Redemption, Covenant of Works, and Covenant of Grace don’t exist in the Bible at all!

Now I want to take a look on what this theology says about the New Covenant:

The New Covenant, predicted by the prophet Jeremiah in the eponymous book, chapter 31, and connected with Jesus at the Last Supper where he says that the cup is “the New Covenant in [his] blood” and further in the Epistle to the Hebrews (chapters 8-10). The term “New Testament,” most often used for the collection of books in the Bible, can also refer to the New Covenant as a theological concept.

I went nuts when I realized there was no direct connection between the New Covenant language we find in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 and the “Last Supper” (Mt. 26:17-30, Mk. 14:12-26, Lk. 22:7-39 and Jn. 13:1-17:26). None. I couldn’t figure out how to bridge the gap.

new heartIt took me months and months of studying and banging my head against a proverbial brick wall, but piece by piece, I finally put the puzzle together. I wrote nearly a dozen separate blog posts chronicling my journey of discovery, and how I finally came to a sort of peace about how non-Jews can at all participate in some of the blessings of the New Covenant.

I’ve summarized that journey in a number of places including in The Jesus Covenant: Building My Model (that’s what I called it, “The Jesus Covenant,” because it’s a covenant that, as much of the Church understands it, doesn’t exist).

Subsequent to all this, I got my hands on a copy of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon series What About the New Covenant on audio CD, which filled the few small gaps in my knowledge base but otherwise mirrored my conclusions pretty closely.

Bottom line is that although Hashem has always intended the non-Jewish people to be part of His Kingdom, to worship Him, to honor Him, and to serve Him, apart from the Noahide Covenant (see Genesis 9), all of the significant covenants He made were with the descendants of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob. Period.

The only connection the rest of us have is because of God’s grace and mercy upon the world. We can attach ourselves to Israel, specifically through Israel’s firstborn son, Rav Yeshua, and through faith, trust, and devotion, God allows us to benefit from some of the blessings of the New Covenant, without us actually being named participants in said-covenant.

That doesn’t make the Church equals with Israel, it makes believing non-Jews beneficiaries of Israel. Put bluntly, we are in the “one-down” position, subservient relative to the covenants, because we have no actual right to them. We benefit from God’s mercy upon us. We should be grateful.

So instead of just waltzing into someone else’s house, eating their food, drinking their beer, and taking over the TV remote, we should be thankful that we have been invited in as humble guests.

And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 14:7-11 (NASB)

If God wants to exalt us, that’s God’s decision. We don’t get to exalt ourselves by taking a place that doesn’t belong to us.

JourneyI can only imagine that Reformed Theology gives its followers a great deal of emotional and spiritual comfort, but in a way, it also doesn’t take much mental exercise (except exercising your Biblical fantasy life). What do we get from God? Just look at all the covenants He made with Israel. That’s what belongs to the Church, too.

Except when you dig a little deeper, you come up with a tremendous mystery, especially if you don’t let allegory and imagination get in the way of what the Bible actually says.

I know that what I’m writing will make some people unhappy and maybe even angry. I know if you take what I’m writing seriously and you start your own exploration, you will find your faith challenged and your “comfort bubble” popped.

Every spiritual discovery of worth is preceded by a crisis of faith. It’s really uncomfortable. Sometimes it leads to apostasy and walking away from God altogether. Other times, Christians (of one variety or another) decide Judaism is the better option, because we know the Jewish people, all of them, are named participants of the covenants. No mystery there.

But if you just hang in there and keep digging, you’ll find there’s a lot more of value in understanding who we are as “people of the nations called by His Name” than you ever would have imagined.

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25 thoughts on “Exploring Reformed Theology: The Fallacy of Covenant Equality Between the Church and Israel”

  1. James said:
    So instead of just waltzing into someone else’s house, eating their food, drinking their beer, and taking over the TV remote, we should be thankful that we have been invited in as humble guests.”

    Here again the problem arises. We haven’t been invited by them to be guests.

  2. James, your story is not what Christians believe. Christians believe *everything* belongs to the Father and he has given it *all* to his son, (the seed singular) as an inheritance. After his atoning work “all authority in heaven and earth was given to him” and he sat down at the right hand of the Father while the Father puts all enemies under his feet.

    The Father does a sovereign work of choosing individuals from the world (Jews first, and Gentiles) and gives them to the Son. This group is being made corporate “one body” and is called in modern terms “the Church”, or in older terms “the assembly of called out ones”. This assembly is also called “the body of Christ”. He gives HIMSELF for the Church and *all that he has to give* including the Holy Spirit and Eternal Life, although we do not yet see all, but have the earnest.

    Nothing belongs to Israel *outside* of Christ. So, you have it exactly backwards. Unbelieving Jews think they own what only belongs to the Son. They could share it if they do not refuse.

  3. I dunno why, but I couldn’t connect to your “Jesus Covenant” model essay. So I’m not sure what you meant by saying that you found no direct connection between the “new covenant” references in Yirmiahu and Yehezkel, and Rav Yeshua’s invocation of the notion in his comments during his final meal with his disciples before Passover that year and just before his arrest. It is only the term itself that connects them, and it is up to the reader to infer how Rav Yeshua meant to apply the prophetic reference, and how his impending martyrdom may connect with the writing of Torah onto Jewish hearts. You are right, of course, that he was addressing a solely Jewish audience about a solely Jewish covenant, and later gentile participation is indirect and a gracious gift. I think Rav Yeshua’s new covenant connection becomes a little clearer once one absorbs the duality of earthy and heavenly sanctuaries in the Hebrews letter, and his symbolic sacrifice and priestly service in the latter.

  4. @Steve Petersen: Well, not exactly. We do have numerous prophesies in the Tanakh (Old Testament) stating that God’s House (Temple) will be a house of prayer for all nations. We also know that in Messianic Days, men from the nations will take the tzitzit of a Jew (arguably Rav Yeshua) and say, “let us go with you.’ Also, Isaiah 56 is clear that the non-Jew also has a portion of God.

    As PL said in his comment, we are included in some of the blessings of the New Covenant simply because of God’s mercy and grace, not because it was promised to us, and not because we are entitled.

    @Steven: I think you’re missing the point of all of those covenants God made with Israel. They didn’t just disappear because of Jesus. In fact, Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant, which God made with “the house of Judah and the house of Israel, which means that the New Covenant and Jesus are inseparable.

    Unless you want to re-write significant portions of the Bible, Israel can’t simply be eliminated from the covenants because many or most Jews don’t currently receive the revelation that Jesus is the Messiah.

    @PL: Works fine for me. Here it is again: https://mymorningmeditations.com/2013/03/01/the-jesus-covenant-part-11-building-my-model/

    I think Christianity does Christians a disservice by attempting to forge a connection between the Church and the covenants that doesn’t exist. If we simply accepted that the only reason we merit any of the New Covenant blessings is because of Hashem’s grace and mercy, our lives would be a lot easier, we’d have a lot fewer of these “religious arguments, and all of those Christians who say they “love Israel” would realize that “love” has a lot more dimension to it.

  5. I love studying theology. I wouldn’t have returned to college if I didn’t. There are some things that just make me shake my head, though. Scripture clearly teaches that Jesus is the Messiah, period, for everyone. Why can’t that be enough? Why do people have to freak out over whether or not the Church is Israel and how the promises apply and all of that?

    Maybe I’m too simple to understand this one, but I’m content to trust that God knows who His people are and isn’t concerned about this issue. We’re all one but we’re different. We’re the same but the one doesn’t replace the other. There’s no one group dominating. It may not make sense to us, but it makes sense to Him.

    Of course, I’m not Reformed, so I’m not really Christian anyway. 🙂

  6. “In other words, post-crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, the entire Torah goes “poof” and vanishes in puff of metaphoric smoke.”

    Oh, I forgot to point out Christians do not believe the Torah went “poof” but believe the letter of the law kills, and the spirit of the law gives life.

  7. “That doesn’t make the Church equals with Israel, it makes believing non-Jews beneficiaries of Israel. Put bluntly, we are in the “one-down” position, subservient relative to the covenants, because we have no actual right to them. We benefit from God’s mercy upon us. We should be grateful.”

    In the world to come, I will be happy to be a reverent guest when I am in Israel, and in my place in the Nations, wherever that happens to be, I will be happy to have my ‘elder’ brothers in the New Covenant visit me, and have the place of honor. And as far as the current age allows, that will be no different for me now.

    I am becoming more and more convinced that those who truly love Yeshua will be gradually adding on the New Covenant (which includes all the previous Covenants) in ways that will work for non-Jews, and thus copying Yeshua’s actions without exactly copying his Jewish halachah.
    I think that will be a minimum of following all G-d honoring laws, and those that cause us to never cease in loving our neighbors…of the Nations, or of the Covenant Bearers, and in being in submission to Yeshua as King of Israel, and King of Kings of the entire globe.

    Thus we will be in obedience to those things that are not specific to Jewish praxis, except when in Israel for the Feast of Tabernacles, or other feasts, where the laws on Purity must be kept to allow entrance to the Temple.

    Consequently, I am beginning to look at all the 613 Mitsvot, and am attempting to divide them up accordingly…as to what is owed to G-d in reverance and honor of Him, what is owed to our neighbor and even the planet and it’s denizens in a moral sense, and what establishes the separation of the Jews from the remainder of the world…as a priestly class, so to speak.

    I don’t think the honoring of G-d or of our neighbor will ever need to be in a particularly Jewish manner, but what the Jews are given to do in regards to halachah in the Kingdom, whatever that turns out to be, will inform our manner of obedience then, even if we studiously refrain from acting as Jews might. Of course, Yeshua may not want any difference in behavior in those that are resurrected to a glorified body with the requirements of G-d carved into our hearts, and made second nature to us, but until Yeshua actually makes it so, I am neither going to imitate Jewish praxis, nor assume equivalent rank and honor with the Jews G-d chose to be a light to the Nations.

    One hopes that in the Kingdom, there will be no more barrier between the resurrected Nations and the resurrected Jews, anymore than there is or was a barrier between the Cohen and Levites, and the rest of Israel…simply a distribution of authority and responsibility within Israel, and over the Nations. Surely levels of honor or rank can accompany the higher levels of authority and responsibility without lessening anyone’s essential right to be in the Kingdom, or for that matter, within the concept of salvation and obedience in the present time.

    When the Nations no longer feel the need to press for equality with those in the Mosaic Covenant, particularly in Covenant space, life as a Talmid Yeshua will no longer be a solitary journey. Until then, we will just have to accept that this is the way things are, and somehow get through to all the myriad of supersessionist Christians that they are not, and cannot be the vine of Israel without taking on the Covenant in this life, and will always remain merely a tolerated branch grafted on in faith through Yeshua until the Kingdom comes in full.

  8. @Steven — Ah, yes … not “poof!” to disappear, but rather toxic and deadly. Not much of a resemblance with its description in Ps.19:8-12, is it?

  9. Christians believe what Paul said “But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully” and that according to the “spirit of the law”.

    Here is what Christians believe about the Torah:

    “Thus, my brothers, you have been made dead with regard to the Torah through the Messiah’s body, so that you may belong to someone else, namely, the one who has been raised from the dead, in order for us to bear fruit for God. For when we were living according to our old nature, the passions connected with sins worked through the Torah in our various parts, with the result that we bore fruit for death. But now we have been released from this aspect of the Torah, because we have died to that which had us in its clutches, so that we are serving in the new way provided by the Spirit and not in the old way of outwardly following the letter of the law.”

  10. @Marie: Most non-believing Jews would probably disagree with you about how clear scripture is regarding the identity of Messiah. There are whole organizations such as Jews for Judaism that are dedicated to refuting the claim that Jesus is the Messiah.

    That said, yes, all believing Jews and non-Jews believe Jesus is the Messiah who came once and who will come again in power and glory. But between Christianity and Judaism, there’s a debate as to just exactly what that means. Ever since the inception of the (Gentile) Church, Christianity and Judaism have existed at odds with each other. Each group has developed theological perspectives that place “ownership” of Messiah within their respective camps.

    For those of us who want to find out what the Bible really says, we have to get past the history of each religious perspective and attempt, as best we can, to discover the overarching narrative of the Bible as it was originally intended to be read.

    That’s an extremely difficult task, especially for the layperson, since it involves different languages, different cultures, ancient cultures and customs, and a bunch of other things we no longer have direct access to.

    Since, contrary to Christian tradition, there is no direct linkage between the New Covenant language we see in Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36 and what Jesus says about the New Covenant and his blood, we need to find a different way to explain not only how non-Jews are associated with the New Covenant through Jesus, but what that means about our role and relationship with God, with each other as non-Jews, and with the Jewish people.

    The Church has been pretty arrogant, in my opinion, and I think we have a lot to repent for.

    But you’re right. Last month, I wrote What Defines the People of God to illustrate that, in the end, it is our faith and trust in God and behaving out of that faith and trust that shows our role and responsibilities to God and to humanity.

    @Steven: We’ve gone down this road together before, and we both know where it ends. You have a very traditional Christian viewpoint about how to interpret certain portions of the Bible, while I have a different perspective.

    You are correct that the Torah doesn’t go “poof” from a Christian point of view, it becomes the source of death to those who believe they are obligated to perform the mitzvot. You already know I disagree with that opinion.

    As far as you’re quoting from Romans 7 goes, my understanding, based on other portions of the Epistle, is that Paul was writing about the law of sin that leads to death, not Torah observance.

    @Questor: I think in the current age, drawing distinctions between Jewish and non-Jewish disciples of our Rav tends to rub non-Jews the wrong way, at least some of them. However, I also believe that in the Messianic Age, each of us will be delighted in God and in our role relative to Him and to each other, both Jews and Gentiles. I don’t think anyone will feel like they are the underdog, lesser, or inferior. I think we’ll be who God created us to be, and that will be not only sufficient, but will come with abundant blessings.

    PL referenced Psalm 19. Here’s the relevant portion of it:

    The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
    The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
    The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
    The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
    The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
    The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
    They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
    Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
    Moreover, by them Your servant is warned;
    In keeping them there is great reward.
    Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults.
    Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins;
    Let them not rule over me;
    Then I will be blameless,
    And I shall be acquitted of great transgression.
    Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    Be acceptable in Your sight,
    O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

    Psalm 19:7-14 (NASB)

    I can’t see how Paul could be referring to the Torah as causing death when the Psalmist revered the Torah of Moses. The only conclusion that I can draw is that the Church, either in ignorance or in malice, has grossly misunderstood the Apostle to the Gentiles, causing nearly two-thousand years of enmity between the Jewish people and Christianity.

    This is exactly why we have books such as the Nanos and Zetterholm volume Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle as one of many attempts to restore the true meaning to the Apostle’s letters, and heal the rift between Israel and the Church.

  11. Christians believe the gospel is not “you have to keep the law” although they know they need to keep the spirit of the law.

    We believe we are fallen and lawbreakers. The good news to us is (and I’m sure we do not disagree on this):

    “Praised be Adonai, Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, who in the Messiah has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in heaven. In the Messiah he chose us in love ***before the creation of the universe*** to be holy and without defect in his presence. He determined in advance that through Yeshua the Messiah ***we would be his sons*** — in keeping with his pleasure and purpose — so that we would bring him praise commensurate with the glory of the grace he gave us through the Beloved One.

    In union with him, through the shedding of his blood, we are set free — our sins are forgiven; this accords with the wealth of the grace he has lavished on us. In all his wisdom and insight he has made known to us his secret plan, which by his own will **he designed beforehand*** in connection with the Messiah and will put into effect when the time is ripe — his plan to place everything in heaven and on earth under the Messiah’s headship.

    Also ***in union with him we were given an inheritance***, we who were picked in advance according to the purpose of the One who effects everything in keeping with the decision of his will, so that we who earlier had put our hope in the Messiah would bring him praise commensurate with his glory.

    13 Furthermore, you who heard the message of the truth, the Good News offering you deliverance, and put your trust in the Messiah were sealed by him with the promised Ruach HaKodesh, 14 who guarantees our inheritance until we come into possession of it and thus bring him praise commensurate with his glory.

  12. I found the following quotes in a blog post at the Rosh Pina Project to be relevant to the current conversation:

    Jews who put their faith in Yeshua learned, meanwhile, that the righteousness of God was reflected in Torah, yet they could not become righteous by practising the Torah. The Torah functioned as a mirror, reflecting both God’s holiness and also man’s uncleanliness and inadequacy before Him.

    Yeshua affirmed God’s covenant love towards Israel throughout his ministry, and indeed, came to provide hope for Israel. His promised return indicates that God will never abandon His chosen people Israel, for the deliverer will come out of Zion, and Yeshua’s feet will be triumphantly placed upon the Mount of Olives.

  13. And not only Jews:

    “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

    I love the “whosoever” part. Of course that is a two-sided coing. There are the “whosoever will not” part too.

  14. Three levels, James, of looking at this topic come to my mind just “off the top” of my head: the sense of attitudinal entitlement and theological wrangling you’ve addressed, the greater dimension to love that you’ve brought up (woefully, maybe even on a spiritual level fatally in some respects, lacking), and — it seems to me — the indisputable fact “the church” (or, adding gravitas, The Church) decided on their own part (and habitually forgets or minimizes the reality that such active decision was taken) Jews shall not be part of Christianity or considered among the people of God. This was decided in more than an attitudinal or confused or intellectually lazy way, but determinedly.

    Marie, I appreciated your additional thought in this thread that since you aren’t of the Reform mindset, you’re ostensibly not Christian. What a bunch of silliness goes on in our current culture (though certainly not without precedent, and more manifestly dangerous precedent that we need to be careful to remember and avoid). I don’t know whether a lot of Evangelicals consider themselves Reformed, but someone else in this blog thread I think pointed out a difference between “Reformed” and “Evangelical.” I find it to be a position almost unapproachable when people think they are in such a perfect or precise position that they can point and say other Christians aren’t real Christians.

    It’s not necessary to be a Christian; that word is not difinitive of the people of God (while some people of God can be Christian). But there is a historical and societal function that has become part of our world. It would be nice if various people who call themselves Christians could be more informed and not behave along the disingenuous warping of the terms they use (the way they hear they should use them). So, for instance, evangelicals who accept Mormon spokespeople or representatives but then dissect their own personal and religious preferences to distance themselves from people of faith with Catholic background, should really begin to learn and face what is.

  15. Hi James, I’m raised as a Reformed Christian in the Netherlands. I like your article and understand it. Just want to say that there are two prominent covenants which the theology makes: covenant of works and covenant of grace. The first is hypothetical, just to inform that we can not keep the whole law and do everything perfect, like Adam showed us. Adam broke that first covenant. The covenant of Grace was fixed in Jesus and “was much better” (Hebr.) and could not fail. Now, the covenant of grace is indeed something what is not mentioned in scripture. But it is such a clear expression of the manner how God works, that it is understandable to use this.
    It’s stunning to see that it was also used before Christ at Qumran. The dead sea scrolls give: “We shall admit into the covenant of grace all those who have freely devoted themselves to the observance of God’s precepts, that they maybe joined to the counsel of God and may live etc. etc.” (1QS 1.7-11) So it is very interesting that this “covenant of grace” was already a Jewish understanding.
    Shalom! Jos

  16. @Jos — I wish to point out to you that the dichotomy between a “covenant of works” and a “covenant of grace” is entirely alien to the Torah. The Sinai covenant embodied many works that were all to be administered by grace; and the very nature of its sacrifices and cleansings is representative of grace in response to failures and shortcomings relative to its works. The Reformed theology that invents these two kinds of separate covenants is not deriving them from the text of the Torah. Adam did not have a covenant of any kind, therefore he could not break one. Noah was given a covenant, on behalf of the whole earth and all its inhabitants — including plants, animals, and humans — but it was not a breakable one. Later references in scripture, and in other Jewish literature such as from Qumran, to a “covenant of grace”, are referring to the Torah covenant — though at Qumran this was also viewed as part of their community agreement to adhere to a disciplined life that was based on their interpretation and application of Torah. It was because they submitted to this voluntarily that they referred to a “covenant of grace”. The “new” covenant to which Rav Yeshua referred during his final meal before his arrest was a reference to Jeremiah 31:31, which would inscribe the ancient Torah precepts onto Jewish hearts, hence they could not fail or be ignored or forgotten. This is why it is considered a “better [version of the] covenant”. Because acceptance of the free-gift of Rav Yeshua’s symbolic sacrifice in his martyrdom is also voluntary, it also could be called a “covenant of grace” (meaning thereby a “voluntary agreement”), though technically it is never identified as a distinct formal covenant.

    Shavua Tov

  17. Jos, I have to agree with PL. The Bible doesn’t record a “covenant of works” and a “covenant of grace”. Those are theological constructs based on how certain groups choose to allegorically interpret the Bible, not literal covenants we can find in scripture.

  18. Hi James and Proclaim Liberty,

    I also agree that it isn’t mentioned in scripture. The only reference that I found before Christ, is in the Dead Sea Scrolls, as I mentioned. The question remains, as PL said, what Qumran means by “covenant of grace”. Probably nothing more then the Sinai covenant.

    For me, the most important thing is what Reformed Theology really would say with covenant of grace. Forget the covenant of works by the way, that would rather draw you off the way. Works go along with faith, and faith without works is nothing. (James the Apostle)

    I think it’s ALL about the covenant of grace. But the point is how do we understand it. Reformed Theology stressed the personal part of it. If your parents are christians, then you are not automatically a saved christian. You have to make that personal. Internalize the personal calling of God.

    Who is called? I think the problems we face in church theology begin here. It is in the first place Israel, the Jewish people who are called, who are chosen. Who are in the covenant. But then, non-jews also can become part of Israel. Here the dividing lines are blurred, if not completely wiped out. The apostle Peter said in Acts2:39: “The promise is for you and your children [Israel/jews] and for all who are far off [non-jews], for all whom the Lord our God will call.” The church (neither Catholic nor Protestant) did not distinguish between the Sinai covenant and “those who are far off”. And in fact Reformed Theology put it all into one covenant, the covenant of grace. The dividing line then is to be IN or OUT. They failed to distinguish other covenants, especially the Sinai covenant of the Jews.

    I think it’s okay to call it the covenant of grace, but when you draw in the Jews and their covenant (the Torah) then reformed theology will fail to have that on the right place. Because they ruled out the Sinai covenant by replacement theology.

    They have to be aware that non-jews have to be fit in the established covenant with the Jewish people. The New Covenant (Jer.31) is not a new start, but a renewal of the first, the covenant with the Jews. Now in the church a Jew has the become a christian. But it’s the other way around: a christian must fit in the Covenant with Israel, the base of the Covenant of Grace. Then we are part of the commonwealth of Israel.

    Like what you said James, above: “We can attach ourselves to Israel, specifically through Israel’s firstborn son, Rav Yeshua, and through faith, trust, and devotion, God allows us to benefit from some of the blessings of the New Covenant, without us actually being named participants in said-covenant.”

    So, Reformed Theology has a lot of work to do.

    Jos

  19. @Jos: I believe how PL and I think of a “covenant” is different from how Reformed Theology sees it. They seem to use the term metaphorically, and I prefer to use “covenant” in terms of how the Bible actually records it/them. To that degree, there is literally no such thing as a covenant of grace the way there is the Abrahamic covenant, or the Sinai covenant, or the Davidic covenant, or the New Covenant.

    From my perspective, God’s grace isn’t a covenant, it’s an expression of His essential being, it is God being merciful, and I believe God is merciful to all who call upon Him, not because it’s specifically outlined in a covenant, but because it’s the nature of God.

    I agree that Israel, that is, the Jewish people, are chosen and that Jews are the only people group who are born into a covenant relationship with God (whether they want to be or not).

    Ephesians 2:13 speaks of those of us who were far off being brought near (metaphorically and symbolically) by the blood of Rav Yeshua. Being brought near to something, in this case Israel and the covenants, isn’t the same as being brought into something.

    The way I see it, being brought near to Israel can be expressed as being brought alongside Israel, as if we are “resident aliens” among national Israel. We reap certain benefits and have certain responsibilities by possessing that status, but it’s not the same as being “Israeli citizens” so to speak. I think that’s what it means for us to be “attached” or “grafted in” to Israel. The only mechanism that allows this, since we are not literally named members of the covenants (except the Noahide covenant which God made with all living things), is God’s grace and mercy upon the human race.

    Reformed Theology can metaphorically or symbolically refer to a “covenant of grace” to refer to those attributes of God that embody grace and mercy, but since I take a more “Hebraic” view of the scriptures including the actual covenants, I classify what a covenant is quite differently.

  20. @James: I agree that you and PL sees a covenant quite different than Reformed Theology does. And I like you drawing it back to the mere “Hebraic” view. So doing, the Reformed Theological metaphorical “covenant of grace” becomes symbolically stand for “grace and mercy” as you mentioned. True. But what about the relationship of God with a non-jew who attached himself to God and Israel? Does the grace of God attach him also to the covenant with Israel? In some sense they are attached and also his children.

    In Reformed Theology the dealing with a covenant caused many problems through all times. Infant baptism didn’t align with the covenant of grace. They learn an objective part and a subjective part of the covenant. And so on. It is difficult.

    It is not possible to say the church has a covenant, without referring to Israel.

    In that sense I agree, the covenant of grace is something other than a biblical Hebraic covenant.

  21. One of the difficulties, Jos, that Christian theologies have not really grasped, is that Rav Yeshua’s gentile disciples don’t actually participate in any covenant whatsoever. Perhaps that is why they invent fictitious covenants. What they have instead of a covenant is an individually-based responsibility to rely on HaShem’s unchanging character and graciousness. They must trust HaShem Who wishes all humanity to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, as Rav Shaul wrote to Timothy in 1Tim.2:3-4. They, and their children, and their children’s children, each must approach HaShem as trusting individuals. They may pass to their children a heritage of knowledge about how to trust HaShem, but each must choose to embrace and employ that knowledge afresh in their own lives. They may form collective communities of faith-filled individuals, and they may covenant with each other to serve HaShem, but they do not possess a collective responsibility under a covenant *with* HaShem in which HaShem has bound Himself by His Oath.

    Curiously enough, because HaShem is faithful to those who place their trust in Him, and because He values the voluntary commitment of people who cling to His precepts without the demands of a covenant (as described of the foreigners in Is.56), gentile disciples may benefit practically in a manner that is very similar to the benefits promised to Jews under the covenant. The advantages possessed by Jews, which Rav Shaul described to the Romans in the third chapter of his letter, are still very much valid and effective, and “grafted-in” wild gentile olive branches have no reason to boast of their position relative to native acculturated Jewish branches on his metaphorical olive tree of faith, but the wild branches are no longer merely fodder to be fed into a fire. One does not require a covenant to accept HaShem’s benefits, but one should not be jealous merely because someone else (namely the Jewish people) does have one. In fact, one may be grateful that HaShem’s covenantal faithfulness toward Jews demonstrates that He may be trusted even without a covenant. And this enables gentile disciples also to pursue faithfulness in response to HaShem’s gracious provision of all manner of blessings.

  22. @PL In fact you see such a correction from broader covenant to personal faith in church. The protestants began to stress personal relationship with God, (but didn’t leave the covenantal infant baptism) and later on the so called Reveil in the 19th century, especially the Puritans, put a very big deal on personal faith and personal knowledge of salvation. And interestingly it was a Puritan custom to make a personal covenant between God and the very self, the soul, to establish an everlasting relationship based only on the graciousness of God. See the book of William Guthrie (1668), chapter 3, part 9. (http://www.covenantofgrace.com/christians_great_interest.htm)

  23. I haven’t read the book, so it is possible to miss some subtle piece of intriguing thought on the author’s part. But aside from that — and regardless — while it is true it seems church people have moved toward personal awareness of faith (and a level of acknowledgment, even if not clarified and faced, away from a covenant for the Church), Puritanism or anyone deciding to have a personal covenant with God is not what I think of as consistent with what a covenant is. A covenant is between two or more parties (or persons) and agreed to by each.

    A human can’t presume God is in on what we come up with, as a person can’t presume another agrees to a mutual covenant. So, it wouldn’t be advisable for a group of people to tell everyone that each should make a covenant with God or that any and all persons who believe in God or Jesus and God should make their own covenant… with God. That’s not to say God never makes a covenant with anyone other than those already made. But we have to be careful not to make rules or assumptions that are off course, and pass them on.

    That’s not to stop a person from making a promise to God. (Be careful about making such a vow! Saying “yes” or “no” without a vow is serious in itself, or should be.) And, as PL said, people can covenant with each other. With each other; that can be in group form (! — be careful) or pairs (I can pretty well rest assured most know to be careful with that). A vow and a covenant are not the same thing, although we often use those words interchangeably when we speak of two persons marrying.

    I happen to think a vow (whether done in some formal manner or simply by resolving in your heart) to raise your child (children) in faith (which is often what is happening at the time a child or baby is baptised) can be blessed by God in a way along the lines of what PL said per the benefit being indistinguishable as to having covenant even where there isn’t covenant and even when the baptism isn’t required. Such dedication may not really need “a vow” but a devoted heart and soul.

  24. The blessings I speak of are a sound mind, kindness and decency toward others, application of talents, family closeness, etc.

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