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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Friday, November 01, 2013
I think they're all tools.
You know what I mean?  Probably not...

When I hear people talk about the covenants of works, grace, life, redemption, etc.  (the labels are not germane for the moment), I recognize that while the scriptures do not mention any such covenants explicitly,  couching what is clear from the scriptures in implicit covenantal language, certainly makes expounding the underlying truths a great deal more tidy.

And we all love what is tidy, don't we?

I prefer the text of the second edition of the First London Baptist Confession of faith (1646) to the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689) for this reason, the former makes no mention of any covenants that must be implied by and through one's theology.  Both confessions express a decidedly "reformed" orthodoxy, but the latter includes explicit language that presumes Covenant Theology as its foundation.

To be sure, the first edition of the LBCF was made public in 1644 because there were seven "Calvinistic" Baptist churches in London England that were being painted by some as being of the same stripe as those central European revolutionaries a century before, who having run amok with reformed doctrine, had, contrary to anything Luther had ever thought or suggested, woven the threads of reformed theology into the fabric of a call to revolution that ended in a war that saw hundreds of thousands die.

While certain notable persons of a reformed persuasion gave some direction to the revolution, the movement wasn't organized enough to describe any one as a leader in the military sense.  The movement was more of a series of insurrections amongst the peasant class fueled in part by the doctrine of the first reformers (Luther was excommunicated, and went into hiding in 1521, the peasants war broke out in 1524).  Luther wasn't the only reformer.  His colleague at Wittenberg, Andreas Carlstadt was a professor, and the Chancellor of the university, being the person who awarded Luther with his doctorate.  Having come under Luther's influence, and having seen such corruption in Rome personally, he wrote his own 151 Theses a year (1516) before Luther wrote his 95 Theses (1517).  He was excommunicated in the same Papal Bull that excommunicated Luther (1520), mentioned not by name, but as one who was a supporter of Luther's doctrine.

To be sure, in the first few months following Luther's escape and while Luther was still hiding out at Wartburg castle, Carlstadt, though excommunicated, continued to minister in Wittenberg introducing such reformations to the weekly services as the Catholic church condemned.  Carlstadt saw infant baptism as a doctrine that could not be supported from the scriptures, and as such he rejected the practice.  Where Luther felt that the epistle of James was less authoritative, Carlstadt believed it to be as inspired as the rest of the New Testament. 

But Carlstadt came to regard personal inspiration as equal to, or even a higher authority than the scriptures, and along this sad path, he faltered.  Though he himself took no active part in the peasant uprising, He was influenced in part by men like Thomas Muntzer and the Zwikau prophets, who themselves confuse into the same tangled lump, Marxism, mysticism and reformed theology.   These men, preaching that the end was nigh, that God was speaking to them personally, and speaking through them, etc.  laid the foundation for what would eventually become the core beliefs of the Anabaptists, a small radical sliver of whom, were blamed almost entirely, for the peasant war of 1524.

You can imagine what it must have been like to be a member of one of those seven Baptist congregations in London at a time when you could be persecuted (to the death) for your religious views.   At the time, a rumor was being circulated (through printed pamphlets and word of mouth) that these Baptists were dangerous, revolutionary-minded Anabaptists, who would certainly and eventually produce such insurrections in England, as had been seen a century before in central Europe.

These seven churches reacted to this slanderous libel (and gossip) by presenting parliament with a written confession of what they actually believed.  The first edition (1644) was criticized as being written in such a way as to sound orthodox, while obfuscating an underlying Anabaptist sentiment, and several paragraphs from the confession were cited as being sufficiently ambiguous to allow both an orthodox and an Anabaptist sentiment.  So to quell the fears that these ambiguities allowed, a second edition of the confession was written, taking care to clarify (and thereby remove) these ambiguities (1646).

What I like the most about the 1646 version is that it was a genuine apology.  Not apology in the sense that they were voicing regret or sorrow over something they had sad or done, but apology in the theological sense - they had been accused of believing something they did not believe, and they gave an answer to their accusers.  They motivation for this document was two-fold : to state clearly exactly what they believed the scriptures taught, and to have this same articulation define their beliefs for those who would otherwise put words and motives into their mouths.  Their is an ... efficiency in this document that I admire.  A clarity born of a sober and careful necessity that is lacking in the 1689 version, which really, wasn't so much a re-write of the LBCF, as it was a co-opting of the language and form of the WCF (1644) with provision made to distinguish Baptist distinctives.

It makes great sense for a Presbyterian confession to include covenantal language, because Covenant Theology, if one is faithful to it, leads one to conclude that both Baptism and Circumcision are signs of the same, over-arching covenant.  Circumcision is the Old Testament (under the over-arching Covenant of Grace) sign of "covenantal membership", just as Baptism is the New Testament (under the same over-arching Covenant of Grace) sign of the "covenantal membership".  Because both are under the same over-arching covenant, you can implicitly equate things that the bible itself (without the unifying notion of an underlying covenant that equates the Mosaic covenant and the new covenant in Christ's blood) does not equate.

The paedobaptist says that just as a male infant was circumcised under the Mosaic covenant, as a sign of both that covenant, and by extension the undergirding covenant of grace, so also infants ought to be baptized under the new covenant, since it is only the latest expression of the same undergirding covenant of grace.

But this all has to be read back into the act of baptism, not from the scriptures, but from the theological precept of an undergirding covenant...  If infant baptism were explicitly taught in the New Testament, we would all be baptising infants, and early reformers, many of whom felt that infant baptism was just another item that needed reformation, would never have come to that conclusion.  The fact that it cannot be proven, but must be implied, suggests that if God intends infant baptism, he necessarily intends men to build their theology upon implied precepts... yet Isaiah writes, that the error of those Jews who had gone astray, was that they built precept upon precept - and with each layer they drew farther away from the truth.

So when I see the language of Covenant Theology written into the 1689 LBCF, I find myself put off a little.  I understand that Adam certainly sinned, and that one can choose to express that sin in terms of a covenant between Adam and God... but I also understand that it is less invasive (and theologically risky) to simply take the matter at face value.

In Abraham's day, when you made a covenant, you would cut an animal in two, leaving room between the two halves of the animal for you and the other person in the covenant to walk through.  You would then walk around each half of the slaughtered animal, and through the midst of it (in a figure eight) as you each, in turn, declared aloud the particular benefits you were promising, and intending to receive, and it was understood that if you failed in your obligation, you were calling upon the powers to be impute to you the death and dismemberment of the slaughtered animal.

Not that every covenant was like that.  When God made a covenant with all of mankind through Noah that he would never again destroy the world by way of a flood it was not the kind of covenant that could be broken, since it was in no way dependant upon men to keep their end of the deal.  They had no end to keep.  It was a covenant that God made, really, with Himself.

So there is room to muse that when God determined, before the foundation of the world, to redeem mankind, that this also was a promise that God made to Himself.  Nothing is added or gained by drawing this conclusion.  God does not change - if He determined to do something, it will be done: no covenant required.  God is not a man, He does not go back on His word, nor is He ever hindered or kept from completing His purpose.

So when I read that God told Adam not to eat fruit from the only tree in the garden that would make Adam aware of his sin - I take that at face value.  Obviously God commanded Adam to keep and cultivate the garden.  Had Adam failed to keep and cultivate the garden to God's standard, there would have been transgression, but Adam wouldn't have understood it as such, since he lacked the knowledge of good and evil.  It seems obvious then that the only transgression that Adam could commit that would cause him to be culpable would be the one transgression that robbed him of his innocence. 

Not that I am presently willing to suggest that Adam would have been sinless even had he disobeyed God on some other point.  I say only that had he done so, it wouldn't have been the same, since it would (necessarily) have been done in utter ignorance of good and evil.

What God said was sufficient.  If you eat this, you will die.  What parent hasn't cautioned their own children in a similar manner.  Kids? Listen up./  This is Daddy's chocolate bar.  I am putting it in the fridge for when I get home from work on Friday.  Nobody eat it.  If anyone eats it, they will spend the whole weekend in their rooms regretting their decision to eat Daddy's chocolate bar.  This is not a covenant that I am making with my children - it me informing them that this particular disobedience will earn them a particular punishment.  I am not promising a weekend where they are free to do what they want if they obey - goodness no!  I am promising them a weekend of solitude if they don't, and that is the only promise that is taking place - a provisional promise of punishment.

I am not saying that this is what God did with Adam, but I am saying that taking what God says at face value doesn't require me to invent a covenant that isn't explicitly stated.

I say, I understand why a Presbyterian needs Covenant Theology.  How are you ever going to justify the practice of baptising unwilling unbelievers?  I am have never found a convincing argument for infant baptism that was based entirely and solely on the scriptures.  Neither have you.  In fact, if you're convinced of infant baptism is for the same reason that Catholics are convinced of the mass - your theology demands it.  Covenant Theology to the precept upon which the precept of infant baptism rests.

You see, if you believe that "original sin" is something that passes from parent to child, like Augustine did, you must conclude that Mary, the earthly mother of our Lord incarnate, Jesus, likewise inherited the "stain" of original sin.  Since Jesus clearly did not have this same "stain" it follows that either the whole "stain" notion is faulty, or alternately that Mary wasn't thus stained.

The Catholics go with the latter.  The immaculate conception is a "forced" theological conclusion.  Since everyone must inherit original sin - Mary must inherit it.  Since Mary could not have inherited it (lest she infect Jesus with it), God must have (in a singular act of grace) , not only allowed Mary to be born avoiding original sin, but God must have kept Mary from personal sin until the birth of Christ (at the very least), and likely all her life (depending on which flavor of Catholic myth innovation you care to swallow). 

Not everyone can get behind an all too convenient, made to order,  theological loop-hole like the Immaculate Conception of Mary, but if they cling to the notion that original sin is something that passes from parent to child, they have to come up with something that explains the discrepancy.

Some suggest that Mary was a surrogate mother to the Lord, and not a natural one.  That the Holy Spirit sort of implanted the fetus in Mary's womb.  Others say that Mary was the natural mother of Jesus, but that the sin nature did not pass from her to our Lord because only the father, as the federal head, can pass along the sin nature - forgetting I suppose that Mary would have received her father's sin nature, and would have passed on at least her father's share of the sin nature even if the sin nature could only be passed down through males.

If we translate the two word phrase ἐφ᾿ ᾧ in Romans 5:12 as having consecutive force, meaning that one thing is the result of another, we read that, "death spread to all men with the result that all sinned.".  That is, not how Augustine understood the passage.  Augustine thought the best way to translate the passage was to understand the pronoun (ᾧ) as referring back to Adam: "death spread to all men [in whom] all sinned in Adam",   Grammatically, that's a mess, and frankly, it is a poor translation.  Yet others see the phrase as suggesting one thing causes another , such that "death spread to all men because all men sin".

No matter how you translate Roman 5:12 (and people have argued about how to best translate it even to this day), one thing is certain: Adam's sin brought death into the world...

Think that through for a second.  When Adam was just a lump of dirt, transformed by God's creative hand into a lifeless body of flesh and blood - Adam wasn't "dead".  You cannot be dead unless you have first been alive.  In order to die, Adam would have to lose his life.  Until Adam sinned, nothing that had been given life had ever lost it.  Adam's sin brought something new into the world - but it wasn't an addition, it was a subtraction.  I like to use light and darkness to picture this, because light is something - it can be measured, but darkness?  It isn't a thing in and of itself - it is rather the utter absence of a thing (light).  So it is with death.

Just as light has substance, and darkness is just the concept we use to describe the absence of that substance; so life has substance, and death is just the word we use to describe what happens when that life is taken away.  Death has no substance, it isn't a "thing" like life is.  Adam didn't bring a "thing" into being, as his sin was by no means equal to God's power of creation.  He did not create death, but he did give God just cause to remove it.

If death isn't a "thing" what is it?

Let me make this simple for you...  Name all the things you know that have life in them, that cannot die or be put to death.  You're left with God, and only God, and the reason this is so is because everything that has life and is not God, derives/receives their life from God.  Said another way, if you have life, what you have is something that God Himself is sustaining in you.  If you do not have life, what you do not have is something in you God is sustaining.  To have life is to have something God supplies, and death is the word we use to describe not having God supply the same.

If physical death is to have God stop sustaining this life - where we have access to Him through repentance and faith, spiritual death means that we no longer have any avenue to God, he sustains our life apart from the availability of His presence, in eternal torment in the lake of fire.

Death is not something you get, it is the description of being incapable of getting life for yourself.

Knowing this, we go back to Romans 5:12 - why are men separated from the life of God?  Our three translational options are:
[a] all men are separated from the life that God sustains in them in Adam
[b] all men are separated from the life that God sustains in them because all men sin
[c] all men are separated from the life that God sustains with this result: all men sin.

Of the three the first one doesn't make sense grammatically, but it is nevertheless an opinion held by those see our death as being explained by virtue of our being pre-guilty (as it were) on account of Adam's sin.  We die because we are born guilty of "original sin".  That is one of the reasons why Catholics suffer infant baptism - because it "cleanses" the babe from the stain of Adam's sin.

The second is the common view amongst most evangelicals explains death as the consequence of personal sinfulness - we die because we sin.  This does not and cannot explain the death of sinless infants, so infants are said to be sinful in order to make that work.  Of course, sin is rebellion, and in order to rebel against God you have to be able to form a rebellious thought... but let's leave that hanging.

The third option, and this is the one I am inclined to believe, is that Adam's sin cut mankind off from experiencing the life of God ("death"), and that is why we sin.

Can there be righteousness apart from God?  Think carefully.  The sinless babe is not "righteous" - righteousness is not something that can be earned, it is a state of being - like virginity.  You cannot gain it if you do not have already possess it.  Jesus was not born "neutral" only to become righteous when He was old enough to start obeying God.  He obeyed God (perfectly) because He was righteous.  Said another way, He demonstrated that He was God by living a perfectly righteous life - a life that was never, at any time (until He was united on the cross with the sin of the elect) disconnected/separated from the life of God.

Do you understand the link between the life of god and righteousness?  Christ was righteous because the life of God was in Him.  He was God, and in one sense it was His own life that was in Him - but He lived as a human, and as such He lived like Adam before the fall - He was both alive, and aware of God's presence.  He was righteous.

If we understand Romans 5:12 to be saying that when Adam sinned, mankind was cutoff from God - the only source of righteousness, it follows that the consequence of this separation will be our being cut off from the possibility of righteousness in the same stroke.  This was the point Paul was making all along - there is none righteous, not even one.  It was Adam's disobedience that brought this universal, inescapable unrighteousness into being, and we all partake of it - not because we inherited it from our parents, but because Adam snuffed out the sun, as it were, and everyone has been born in darkness ever since.

We don't need to invent the concept of original sin - we just need to understand that Adam's disobedience made actual righteousness an impossibility.  Adam' sin made it impossible to come to God.  Adam cut all of mankind off from God, from righteousness and from life.  If Adam did this, Christ restored all this, made life possible, made righteousness possible (since it flows from life), and made salvation possible.  That is where Paul is going.

He is on his way to Romans six, to show that being united to the source of righteousness and life does not lead a man to continue in sin, but by virtue of that life causes a man to pursue righteousness.  The gospel does not free a man to sin, it enslaves a man to righteousness.

Sin is not a disease that passes to children from their parents it is a condition that everyone is born into by virtue of being born without a relationship to God through Christ. It isn't rocket science, but an over-developed theology can go a long way to complicating what is essentially a very simple thing.

As a Baptist, when I read the language of Covenant Theology in the 1689 LBCF I see convolution.  I see a framework that was put in place to try attempt to answer, biblically why it is that innocent babies die.  I see the fear of babies dying and going to hell, unless they get baptized to wash away this original sin that otherwise condemns them, and I see latter day theologies that have accepted infant baptism for so long, they no longer are capable of wresting the baby from the bathwater.  I see a theology that historically presumed infant baptism only to later develop itself to the place where it could sort of justify it also.

One of the reasons I prefer the 1646 LBCF to the 1689 LBCF is because it was a confession of faith intended to describe what the bible taught, rather than the personal theology of these seven churches.  It was a document that described what orthodoxy had always looked like.  They were reformers, not innovators.  They weren't trying to convince people that they were theologically on the same page as everyone else - they were trying to convince people that they were reformed, and this was what reformed looked like.

In penning the 1646 LBCF these seven churches intended to show parliament (for so the document was addressed) that Particular (i.e. Calvinist) Baptists were orthodox (meaning that they conformed to an image of what a corrected Catholic church would and should look like).  The 1646 LBCF on the other hand was written primarily as a stylistic update intended to show (with greater precision) what distinguished London Baptists from other reformed churches, adopting the words of the Westminster Confession wherever possible, by replacing the doctrine of infant baptism with the doctrine of believer baptism.  In this way Covenant Theology found its way into the LBCF.

I understand Covenant Theology, but I don't agree with it. I don't agree with Dispensationalism either.  I am leery of any theology that requires me to accept as true a precept that is built upon another precept which itself is only implicit if you squint just right, and mine and gather verses together that really aren't talking about the same things at all.  There are a great many godly men who have no problem with CT, men who are far godlier than I, far better read than I, and certainly more pleasing to God than I.  Nevertheless, I am not going to be judged on that last day for what better men than I have done with what God has given them.  The one thing I can do is strive to be honest with the scriptures, to not treat them like a puzzle to be solved, or a mystery that suddenly makes sense if you just have the right assumptions.  My assumptions are simple: scripture is true; it means what it says, and those who call on the name of the Lord ought to turn away from their rebellion, and surrender their way to Christ.

posted by Daniel @ 4:15 PM  
3 Comments:
  • At 9:10 AM, November 02, 2013, Anonymous David Kjos said…

    So, you really guard your chocolate, don't you?

    This was interesting. I wasn't aware of the differences between those two confessions. Now I have a question: comparing the two, is there anything you like better about the 89?

     
  • At 9:39 AM, November 03, 2013, Blogger Daniel said…

    David - I admire the precision of the WCF, which (copied verbatim) is likewise found in the LBCF 1689. Better language but not "better" in any other sense

     
  • At 8:00 AM, November 04, 2013, Blogger Daniel said…

    I was on my phone when I made that last comment, we were on our way to church, and got stopped behind a train, and I heard my iPhone beep to tell me there was new mail. I punched out a terse reply, and reading it now, though it captured what I intended to say, I have a concern that it may sound a little blunt.

    What I meant when I said, not 'better' in any other sense, might have been expressed in this way - better use of language, but not better language or doctrine. In fact, While I think the language of the WCF 1644 expresses Presbyterianism aptly enough, and even beautifully, the same language, imposes a covenantal theological assumption that is not present in the original LBCF.

    It cannot be doubted that at least some of the original authors (or certainly some of those people whom these authors represented) would have held to a modified version of Covenant Theology. Yet it strikes me that the original LBCF, being free from language that derives from, and necessarily assumes a Covenantal Theological position, is all the stronger for it. I would suggest that the earlier confession, for all the polish it lacks, is actually more "reformed" in tone and substance, than the latter, as the original is concerned with expressing a reformed orthodoxy in faith and practice, while the latter (though ostensibly aiming at the same) in borrowing its language from the WCF, inherits (as it were) the underlying assumptions in that document - assumptions which are there in part to lend credibility to the claim that infant baptism is biblical.

    The Trinity is a theological doctrine, not a biblical one, in the sense that God never describes Himself in such terms in the scriptures. Yet Christ is described as God, and the Holy Spirit also, each a separate personality, and each the same God. The bible does not describe the Trinity as such, but it inescapably implies what the Trinity defines.

    In the same manner, infant baptism is not a biblical doctrine, but a theological one. Unlike the Trinity however, this doctrine is entirely "escapable" - since it depends upon precepts which themselves rely upon precepts.

    I prefer therefore a confession of faith that reduces or eliminates altogether any doctrine or language that isn't either biblical, or an inescapable theological opinion.

     
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