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Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (5)

Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (5)

This series is written by Rev. Nathan J. Langerak.

I have responded to Coosje Helder, a member of the Canadian Reformed Churches, concerning her objection to my contention that the conditional view of the covenant as taught and maintained in her churches cannot be harmonized with and overthrows the Reformed doctrines of grace in the creeds, specifically predestination. I have proved that the creeds teach that the grace of God is controlled by election. It follows from this that the covenant of GRACE and the grace of that covenant, including the gift of faith and the promise, must likewise be controlled by election. To teach otherwise is to deny election, specifically the aspect of the doctrine of predestination that it controls the grace of the covenant. A love for predestination must include rejection of the conditional view of the covenant.

She also objected to my contention that the conditional covenantal doctrine denies the gospel truth of justification by faith alone. She professed to hear this doctrine preached: “We preach that justification is by grace alone through faith, and not at all by our works.” I am thankful that she hears the preaching of justification by faith alone. Without it there is no gospel; without the gospel there is no salvation. If the preaching of a covenant made with elect and reprobate alike is at jarring dissonance with the teaching of justification by faith alone, will she choose to hear justification by faith alone and refuse to give ear to the conditional covenantal doctrine that cannot be harmonized with it? I ask this not only of her but also of all who ascribe to a similar view.

If she wishes to hear justification for much longer, she should reconsider her covenantal view, which is the source of the greatest present-day threat to that doctrine in the form of the federal vision heresy. Not content to deny all of the other doctrines of grace, the men of the federal vision are using the covenantal doctrine of Klaas Schilder to overthrow the doctrine of gracious justification by faith alone. This is a legitimate development and faithful outworking of the covenantal doctrine of Klaas Schilder and the Liberated Churches by the men of the federal vision. That covenantal doctrine teaches works-righteousness, even if some inconsistently may teach the doctrine of justification by faith alone alongside it.

The doctrine of justification by faith alone does not follow from the covenantal doctrine of the Liberated, but the heresy of justification by faith and works naturally follows from that covenantal doctrine. With their denial that predestination controls who are and who are not covenantal members and who receive covenantal grace, they necessarily make something in the child responsible for his or her covenantal salvation. This something is the child’s response of faith and obedience of faith. Faith and the obedience of faith are acts of the child and reasons for the ratification of the covenant with that child and for his or her continuing in the covenant. For the men of the federal vision, the reason the child receives the covenantal blessings, covenantal salvation, and eventually eternal salvation in the covenant is emphatically not predestination, which does not control covenantal membership. Neither is the reason the grace of God, because they teach that God gives his gracious promise to ALL the baptized children, elect and reprobate alike. The reason is the child’s work, especially the work of distinguishing himself or herself from others, who received the very same covenantal grace, by responding in faith and being faithful.

Since it is the child’s response and not God’s election and grace that is the reason one is saved and another perishes, they also necessarily imply that on the basis of that response in the covenant—faith and faithfulness—the child will be judged in the final judgment regarding his or her eternal salvation. How could that not be the basis of God’s judgment in the final judgment of covenantal children, some of whom will perish in hell and some of whom will go to heaven, but all of whom, according to Schilder’s conception, were equally given grace, equally given the promise, equally received the church’s instruction and the Spirit’s work? Wherein do they differ if one is saved and another perishes? They differ only in this: one responded in faith and the other did not. They differ only in what one did and the other did not do. They differ only in their works, which many reassure us are works done by grace, as though an appeal to grace at this point saves the theology from the obvious charge of works-righteousness. According to this covenantal idea, the covenantal salvation of the baptized child is the result of his or her deeds or the lack of them unto damnation. This is the old heresy of works-righteousness, masquerading as a theology of grace. This is the introduction, via a covenantal doctrine, of Romish works-righteousness.

The conditional covenantal doctrine and its proponents do with the covenant what Luther long ago in his The Babylonian Captivity of the Church charged against the Romish doctrine of baptism (the seal of the covenant): “To such an extent have they exerted themselves to turn the sacrament into a command and faith into a work. For if the sacrament [and covenant sealed by that sacrament] confers grace on me because I receive it, then indeed I receive grace by virtue of my work, and not by faith.”[1] The conditional covenantal doctrine, like Rome in her baptismal doctrine, ultimately teaches the depressing and damnable doctrine of salvation by the works of the sinner.

I say that this is the legitimate implication of Schilder’s covenantal doctrine, and the federal vision theologians teach this openly and emphatically insist, and they are right, that this is the necessary development of the covenantal doctrine of Klaas Schilder and the Liberated. The conditional covenant teaches that the baptized child’s justification depends on his or her faith and faithfulness.

If a Reformed man loves justification by faith alone, he will reject as completely incompatible with that doctrine, indeed as the enemy of that doctrine, the doctrine of the conditional covenant of Klaas Schilder, which teaches covenantal children that their response of faith is the condition of their salvation, that their response of faith is what makes them to differ from others equally furnished with the same grace, and ultimately that their covenantal faithfulness makes them to differ from those who perish, for this means that their faith and faithfulness—not the righteousness of Jesus Christ alone, received by faith alone—is the basis of their salvation in the final judgment.

This denial of the doctrines of grace, specifically election and justification by faith alone has a terrible consequence in the conscience. That terrible consequence is a loss of assurance.

To this I turn next time.


[1] Martin Luther, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, ed. Paul W. Robbinson (Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 2016), 3:69.

Read the next article in this series: Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (6)

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