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Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (1)

Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (1)

This series of blog posts are written by Rev. Nathan J. Langerak.

Coosje Helder, a member of the Canadian Reformed Churches, responded via the RFPA email to my review of the book, The Reformed Baptism Form. I contacted Coosje, and she agreed that I may use her name in my response, and she asked me to send a copy of my response to her. I intend to do this when the various installments of my response have been posted to the RFPA blog.

The Reformed Baptism Form, written by Reformed theologian and minister Bastiaan Wielenga in the early twentieth century, was recently translated from Dutch and published by the RFPA. The book is a thorough and generally sound exposition of the language of the Reformed baptism form.

Coosje wrote:

Good morning! I was piqued by the above review so read it carefully. However, I do have to say that I disagree with the following portion: “Many Reformed churches are overrun by false covenantal theology, which is being and has been used to overthrow the gospel of saving grace and the salvation of many. That covenantal theology at its essence teaches that God makes his covenant with all the children of believers, elect and reprobate. Its proponents hate predestination and now have revived the old Arminian war against predestination, especially and emphatically denying that predestination must govern the covenant of grace. Besides the gross false doctrine involved in their erroneous covenantal theology, the end result of this doctrine is that the gospel truth of justification by faith alone is overthrown and the damning heresy of justification by faith and works is taught.”

In response to this portion of the review she continued:

I belong to a Canadian Reformed Church and we certainly do not overthrow the gospel of saving grace, and love the doctrine of predestination! We preach that justification is by grace alone through faith, and not at all by our own works! Where we do differ is that we believe that ALL our children are included in that covenant, both the elect and the reprobate. We are clearly comforted and warned. Comforted by the promises when the covenant is responded to in faith, and warned when it is met with disbelief and/or carelessness. Because of that covenant we pray for each and every one of our children and call them to respond to it in obedience. We warn our children that lukewarm treatment can lead them into judgment, and will be the heavier because they are covenant children. Predestination tells us that our children’s futures have been determined by the Lord. We are thankful if they go to church and sit under the preaching for that is where the Holy Spirit does his work, but we also know that there is no room for complacency either. Just wanted to clarify this difference. Respectfully, Coosje

I thank Coosje for carefully reading my review and writing to express her disagreement and to clarify her difference. I invite her to respond to anything in my answer to her.

It was the conviction of Rev. Herman Hoeksema when the Reformed Free Publishing Association started the Standard Bearer that it would be a forum in which those who disagreed with the writing could write in to express their disagreement to which the writer was free to respond. Rev. Hoeksema held to that view throughout his editorship of the magazine and especially during the covenantal controversy of the Protestant Reformed Churches in the early 1950s over the very same issues raised by the reader.

I am happy that this same conviction rules the blog managed by the RFPA today, for we live in a church world that does not value theological debate at all. The consequence of this distaste for theological debate is either that many write so blandly that no theological debate could ever arise from their writings, or many actively seek to squelch debate. The truth dies in such a climate. Debate is especially necessary today because the truth is being vigorously opposed.

For such necessary theological discussion there is no greater subject than the covenant, particularly the right view of the covenant and the theological consequences of the wrong view of the covenant, which subjects the reader raises. This is especially true because the doctrine of the covenant has been and is being targeted by opponents of the truth.

I also thank Coosje for coming right to the heart of her disagreement. Very few are willing to do this and instead discuss all sorts of peripheral issues. The heart of the matter is the place of election and reprobation in the covenant. She recognized that the covenantal theology that I identify as being responsible for the overthrow of the doctrines of grace and the salvation of many is taught by the Canadian Reformed Churches. These churches were founded by post Second World War Dutch immigrants to Canada, who came from the Liberated Reformed Churches. They were the theological disciples of Dutch Reformed theologian Klaas Schilder, who is the theological father of this particular theology of the covenant. The Protestant Reformed Churches did mission work among some of these immigrants, which precipitated a deadly clash of covenantal doctrines in the Protestant Reformed Churches during the late 1940s and early 1950s.

In that clash the view of the Canadian Reformed Churches was definitely condemned as false doctrine by the Protestant Reformed Churches. Specifically, that condemnation was that the covenantal doctrine of Klaas Schilder and the Liberated Reformed Churches was Arminianism in the covenant and does not harmonize with the Reformed creeds; in fact it contradicts and overthrows them.

That covenant doctrine of Klaas Schilder, the Liberated, and the Canadian Reformed Churches, which the reader readily confesses, teaches that God makes his covenant with ALL the baptized children of believers, both elect and reprobate. In this covenant with elect and reprobate God gives grace to all the baptized children. It is a covenant of universal grace that extends beyond election. In his grace God promises covenantal salvation to all the baptized children. That grace and promise are conditioned on their faith. Conditionality is a hallmark of the Schilderian view of the covenant, as it must be if both elect and reprobate receive the covenant, grace in the covenant, and the covenantal promise. According to Schilder and his followers, in his covenant God promises to be the God of every baptized child and promises to sanctify these children in Christ and to present them without spot or wrinkle in heavenly glory, conditioned on the children’s faith and covenantal faithfulness. As the reader wrote, “ALL are included in that covenant, both elect and the reprobate.” To be included in the covenant certainly means to be a member of the covenant, to receive grace from God in the covenant, and to receive a gracious promise from God in the covenant.

Implicit in that covenant doctrine and as stated by the reader is that some of God’s children in the covenant respond “with disbelief and/or carelessness.” Thus they will perish even though God made a promise to them, gave grace to them, and promised to be their God. It is a covenant in which the grace of God given to all fails in some children to save them as objects of that grace. Those who are the objects of grace resist it. It is a covenant of resistible and ineffectual grace.

I will turn to an examination of the reader’s contentions about that covenant next time.

Read the next article in this series: Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (2)

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