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Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (2)

Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (2)

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

I continue to answer Coosje Helder concerning her disagreement with my contentions that a conditional covenant is incompatible with the Reformed doctrines of grace and is used to overthrow the gospel of saving grace and the salvation of many. I charged that its proponents hate predestination and have revived and carry on the old Arminian war against predestination, especially by denying that predestination must govern the covenant of grace by controlling who is a member of that covenant and who receives grace in that covenant.

The reader confessed that she believes the conditional covenant and loves predestination. In the confession that she loves predestination I rejoice. I feel an immediate kinship for anyone who loves predestination, because I also love it. But does she love the teaching that predestination governs and controls membership in the covenant of grace? If the Reformed creeds teach that predestination governs and controls the covenant of grace, will she express her love for predestination by renouncing her confession that God makes his covenant with “ALL our children…both the elect and reprobate” and confess that this in fact denies predestination? I ask that not only of her, but of all who espouse this view.

Love for the doctrine of predestination and the covenant was not the response of many Liberated immigrants to the preaching of election and reprobation during the covenantal controversy in the 1950s in Canada. They expressed their disapproval for that kind of preaching in one congregation by deposing the minister, rejecting the Protestant Reformed preaching of that truth, and joining a denomination committed to teaching that election does not control the covenant.

To teach predestination one must confess the whole truth about it. To love predestination one must love the whole truth about it. If Coosje loves predestination, she should examine her covenantal doctrine. The covenantal doctrine that “ALL our children” are in the covenant and receive a gracious promise from God undermines the doctrine of predestination that she loves. Indeed, it overthrows the whole gospel of grace rooted in divine election as confessed in the Reformed creeds. Overthrowing that doctrine of grace it threatens the salvation of many.

This is true of that covenantal doctrine not only as Klaas Schilder taught it, which doctrine the Protestant Reformed Churches judged to be Arminianism, but also and especially in the form developed by certain disciples of Klaas Schilder. The reader must be aware by now of the divinely sent plague on the Reformed and Presbyterian church world that goes by the name federal vision. Its name federal indicates that it is concerned with the doctrine of the covenant. The covenantal doctrine of the federal vision is the root of all of its heretical theology.

The leading theologians in this movement, Norman Shepherd, John Barach, Douglas Wilson, Peter Leithart, James Jordan, and others openly admit that the covenantal theology of Klaas Schilder and the Liberated Reformed Churches is the theological starting point for their heresy. At a symposium of Reformed theologians and these federal vision theologians, one of the critics of the federal vision said the following about John Barach’s speech, which espoused the conditional covenant of Klaas Schilder and the Liberated and especially taught that the covenant is not controlled by election:

I finally grasp that he [John Barach] is simply restating the distinctive [covenant theology] of the “Liberated” Reformed Churches. Therefore, it must fairly be pointed out that Pastor Barach cannot be charged with “theological novelty,” for his view was first propounded by Klaas Schilder in the 1940s and before him Calvin Seminary Professor Heyns from the early 1900s. In fact Pastor Barach has simply and faithfully restated those covenantal understandings.[1]

Indeed, the doctrine is not novel because Barach’s covenantal doctrine goes back to two Dutch Reformed ministers, Pieters and Kreulen, who troubled the Afscheiding churches in the nineteenth century with their conditional covenantal theology. In fact, the doctrine goes back to James Arminius, whose covenantal doctrine had the hallmark of conditionality and a denial of election and reprobation.

What are these heresies that the men of the federal vision now teach on the basis of that old conditional view of the covenant?

They teach that in baptism God really and spiritually unites ALL baptized children, elect and reprobate, to Jesus Christ by true faith and gives to ALL of them the promise of salvation in the covenant, grace, and salvation in Christ. That promise is conditioned on the children’s faith and covenantal faithfulness. On the basis of that covenantal doctrine they have systematically denied all the doctrines of grace as they are found in the three forms of unity, from election to the preservation of the saints.

They abhor the teaching of election and do everything in their power to demolish it. In its place they usually substitute either a temporal choice of God or a choice of the church generally as elect.

From that covenantal doctrine they teach that one is justified by faith and the covenantal obedience of faith, and they ridicule the doctrine of justification by faith alone. If faith and faithfulness are the condition of the covenant, they are also the condition of salvation and the work that the sinner must perform to be justified before God.

On the basis of this same covenantal doctrine, they openly teach—indeed seem to revel in teaching—the falling away of saints. Those who are united to Christ by faith, incorporated by that union into the covenant, and receive a promise of salvation from God, and who fall away from that covenant into perdition are fallen saints. The promise of God fails in many cases, and sinners resist the grace of God and fall away to perdition.

Following from these heresies they also deny the limited atonement of Jesus Christ. Whatever God promises in the covenant must have been purchased by the cross of Christ. If God promises anything to the reprobate, Christ must have purchased at the cross everything that God promises to the reprobate. In addition, they add to their heresy about the cross by denying that Christ obeyed for the believer. If the believer’s faith and obedience are the conditions of covenantal salvation and his righteousness before God, he does not need Christ’s obedience.

They also teach universal grace to elect and reprobate alike, both in the preaching of the gospel and in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper. If God makes a promise to ALL the children of believers in baptism that promise is grace. Thus elect and reprobate receive grace and the same is true in the Lord’s supper. There are reprobate in the covenant who eat and drink Christ Jesus and receive grace from him in the sacrament, but later fall away from Christ.

All of these heresies are well documented. About some of them there has been a weak and ineffectual response in the Reformed and Presbyterian church world. Especially this is true concerning the federal vision’s denial of justification by faith alone.

What almost no one will deal with—or even admit—is the root of these heresies in the covenantal doctrine of the federal vision. The men of the federal vision state that all of these heretical doctrines are the direct fruit and natural implication and development of the covenantal doctrine of Klaas Schilder that God makes a covenantal promise to ALL the children at baptism and that ALL of them, elect and reprobate, are included the covenant.

I intend to deal with this root next time.


[1] Carl D. Robbins, “A Response to ‘Covenant and Election’” in The Auburn Avenue Theology: Pros and Cons: Debating the Federal Vision, 157.

Read the next article in this series: Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (3)

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