Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (6)

This series is written by Rev. Nathan J. Langerak. This is the last article in this series.

 

I continue my answer to a reader from the Canadian Reformed Churches who objected to some of my characterization of the conditional covenantal view of those churches. This view, as stated by the reader, is “that ALL our children are included in that covenant, both the elect and the reprobate.” I charged that this doctrine overthrows the doctrines of grace, specifically election and justification, and overthrowing them overthrows the salvation of many. Expressing her disagreement with this assessment, she professed her love for predestination and justification. I have proved that love for the Reformed doctrines of grace, specifically election and justification, is incompatible with espousing the conditional view of the covenant. The full confession of predestination includes confessing that it controls the membership and grace of the covenant. Love for predestination includes a rejection of that false covenantal doctrine.

I also want to address the final statement of the reader concerning her covenantal doctrine and that of the Liberated Churches that in it there is “no room for complacency.” This is an implicit charge against the doctrine of the covenant that is controlled by election that there is room for complacency, indeed, it is a form of the old charge against gracious justification and all the doctrines of grace, and of an election theology of the covenant that it makes men careless and profane.

Concerning the confession about her covenantal doctrine that there is “no room for complacency,” I respond that no one in his right mind would ever dream of charging the doctrine of the conditional covenant with leading to complacency among those who espouse it. In fact, its proponents today present it as the antidote to a perceived antinomianism and a powerful shot in the arm for the church’s life of holiness. For them it is the doctrine that will move men to a godly life by thinking that the promise of God—and their salvation—depends on their faith and faithfulness. In their promotion of this false notion, they charge that the doctrine of the unconditional covenant is antinomian and makes men careless and profane. This is the view of the conditional covenant and the condemnation of the unconditional covenant in the recent book by Mark Jones, Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? For him the conditional covenant is the only solution to antinomianism, and the unconditional covenant is to blame for antinomianism in the churches. This is part of the war of the conditional covenantal doctrine on the doctrines of grace and the unconditional covenant and a naked attempt to make the doctrine of the unconditional covenant odious in the eyes of the churches by those who are intent on teaching Arminianism in the covenant.

Further, in the conditional covenantal doctrine there is not only “no room for complacency,” but also no room for the precious Reformed doctrine of assurance. The doctrine of assurance and its necessity for the Christian life of godliness without complacency are described in the Canons 5.12: “This certainty of perseverance, however, is so far from exciting in believers a spirit of pride, or of rendering them carnally secure, that, on the contrary, it is the real source of humility, filial reverence, true piety, patience in every tribulation, fervent prayers, constancy in suffering and in confessing the truth, and of solid rejoicing in God.”

Here the Canons call assurance “the real source” of the entire godly life. Without it the godly life is impossible. Election—its unchangeableness and the faithfulness of the electing God—is the ground for that precious assurance. Canons 5.1 speaks of those whom “God calls, according to his purpose, to the communion of his Son.” Communion with God’s Son is to be united to him in the covenant of grace. This happens according to God’s purpose, or election. With respect to those so united, Canons 5.8 teaches: “With respect to God, it is utterly impossible” that those in communion with Christ totally fall from faith and grace, “since his counsel cannot be changed, nor his promise fail.” God’s election is the cause of the certainty of the preservation of the elect to salvation. Canons 5.10 makes this precious assurance the peculiar possession of God’s elect: “If the elect were deprived of this solid comfort…they would be of all men the most miserable.”

Many of the promoters of the conditional covenant deprive their disciples of this solid comfort by making assurance the lifelong quest of the believer, which he will usually only attain when he is very old. In my experience with some eighty-year olds, they usually do not have assurance even then, because the doctrine they have been taught all their lives did not give them assurance and deliberately withheld it from them. Because the conditional covenantal doctrine makes the act of faith and the faithfulness of the covenantal member that which makes one to differ from others equally furnished with the same grace, it vainly comforts him with his work, in which there is not comfort, and deprives believers of solid comfort. Because this doctrine takes away election as the source of covenantal grace, it takes away the source of covenantal assurance. “No room for complacency,” indeed, not because the love of God compels us, but out of terror concerning whether or not one has been faithful enough. Making salvation—covenantal salvation—dependent on the act of the child, the teachers of the conditional covenant introduce not only Romish works-righteousness into covenantal theology, but also all of Rome’s terrors of conscience. The covenantal child, young or older, must live with this thought: have I been faithful enough. No complacency and no assurance either.

This lack of assurance in the conditional covenant is the logical implication of denying that election governs membership and grace in the covenant. Denying that election controls the covenant, it is a covenant without election. A covenant without election is a covenant without assurance. Without assurance it is a covenant that according to Canons 5.10 makes its members “of all men the most miserable.” The child is oppressed with the thought that his eternal salvation depends on his response. Despair is the result. If someone espouses the conditional covenant and has assurance, the doctrine of the conditional covenant is not the source.

Without assurance the covenant has no source for a godly life. Despair is the great motivator of worldliness. “Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die,” so worldliness results. The covenant not controlled by election may be able to inspire some to terror and to work for their salvation or to move others to a certain outward conformity, but such works are displeasing to God. If someone espouses the conditional covenant and leads a godly life, the doctrine of the conditional covenant is not the source.

By contrast, a covenant controlled by election is a covenant with election. Having election it is a covenant with assurance, which assurance has “no room for complacency” and is the real source of the zealous godly life.

For the sake of “no complacency” and a real and genuine assurance as the source of the real and genuine godly life, I urge the reader and all of her convictions to reconsider their covenantal doctrine that includes ALL the baptized children, elect and reprobate alike—that it is totally incompatible with the Reformed doctrine of assurance; that it cannot be harmonized with any of the Reformed doctrines of grace; thus that stands outside the boundaries of the Reformed creeds; and reconsidering it, that they reject it in love for the Reformed truth of grace.

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Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (1)

Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (2)

Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (3)

Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (4)

Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (5)

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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.

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

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Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (1)

Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (2)

Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (3)

Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (4)

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Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (4)

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

 

A reader from the Canadian Reformed Churches wrote to me concerning her objection to my statements in a book review that the covenantal doctrine of her churches denies and overthrows the doctrines of grace in the Reformed creeds. I have proved that the idea that ALL the baptized children of believers, elect and reprobate alike, are given grace in the covenant is contrary to the Reformed confessions, which teach that the grace of God is for the elect alone. This is not the only issue with the Canadian Reformed covenantal doctrine.

One of the hallmarks of that doctrine is that faith is the condition of the covenantal promise that God makes to ALL the baptized children, elect and reprobate alike.

About the covenant with ALL the children, Coosje wrote, “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.” For her, the response of faith is not part of the covenantal gift and work of grace in the covenant. Faith cannot be such a gift and work of grace, because ALL baptized children are included in the covenant. Even though ALL the children “go to church and sit under the preaching…where the Holy Spirit does his work,” not ALL who receive the grace of the covenant and the powerful, gracious work of the Holy Spirit “respond in faith.” Some respond “with unbelief and/or carelessness.” This makes the response of faith a work of the child, which makes him to differ from others in the covenant who are equally furnished with the gracious covenantal promise and are under the powerful, gracious work of the Holy Spirit. This makes faith a condition of the covenant and unto salvation in the covenant. I contend that to make faith a condition denies the truth about faith in the Reformed creeds.

The Canons of Dordt make faith the gift of God. It is wholly the gift of God. According to Canons 1.9, faith is a gift of God rooted in election: “Therefore election is the fountain of every saving good, from which proceed faith, holiness, and the other gifts of salvation, and finally eternal life itself, as its fruits and effects.” Faith was purchased by the cross of Christ. According to Canons 2.8, the saving efficacy of the death of Christ, which includes the gift of faith, is for the elect alone. Faith is a gift because it is effectually bestowed upon God’s elect by the Holy Spirit: “Faith is therefore to be considered as the gift of God…because he who works in man both to will and to do, and indeed all things in all, produces both the will to believe and the act of believing also” (Canons 3–4.14). If faith is wholly the work of God and is to be considered his gift, it cannot also be a condition that man must perform unto salvation. The Reformed faith calls faith a fruit and an effect of election and teaches that it belongs to the gifts of salvation. It cannot then also be a condition unto salvation.

This kind of conditionality the Canons place in the mouths of the Arminians and condemn as false doctrine and as a denial of the doctrines of grace. The Canons deny that Christ merited for the Father only “the authority…to prescribe new conditions” and repudiate as Arminian those “who teach that the good pleasure and purpose of God…[consists in this] that he chose out of all possible conditions…the act of faith, which from its very nature is undeserving, as well as its incomplete obedience, as a condition of salvation” (2, error 3; 1, error 3). The Canons put conditionality, especially the idea that faith and faithfulness are conditions, in the mouth of the Arminians and condemn it as contrary to the true doctrine.

Canons 3–4.10 denies that faith is a condition:

That others who are called by the gospel obey the call and are converted is not to be ascribed to the proper exercise of free will, whereby one distinguishes himself above others equally furnished with grace sufficient for faith and conversion, as the proud heresy of Pelagius maintains; but it must be wholly ascribed to God, who as he hath chosen his own from eternity in Christ, so he confers on them faith.

The Canadian Reformed theologians may avoid the offensive language about free will, but their covenantal doctrine at bottom teaches nothing different than the Pelagians and Arminians, whose doctrine Dordt condemned in this article. The Schilderian covenantal doctrine is that ALL the elect and reprobate in the covenant are furnished with sufficient grace for faith and conversion and that some distinguish themselves from others by accepting—responding, they say—that grace in faith and by remaining faithful by grace. Upon that response the promise, grace, and covenant of God depend. Such thinking the Canons call a proud heresy, Pelagian, and Arminian.

Following from the idea that faith is a condition the Canadian Reformed covenantal doctrine teaches that the promise of God in the covenant is general, to elect and reprobate alike. Being a general promise to ALL, elect and reprobate, it is also a conditional promise. Because it is a conditional promise, these churches necessarily teach that God’s promise in the case of many children fails to save them and thus that the promising God frequently fails to keep his word.

The Reformed creeds teach that God’s promise is particular, that is, for the elect alone. They also deny that the promise is conditional and fallible, but make the promise unconditional and infallible. The particular promise is God’s almighty and unchangeable oath to save his people from their sins and to bring them to heavenly glory. That promise depends on the promising God and does not at all depend on the one to whom the promise is given. That promise is powerful and never fails. Canons 2.8 teaches this when it makes all the blessings of the promise the fruits of Christ’s death on the cross and thus for the elect alone because he died for them alone. God cannot promise to a reprobate what Christ did not purchase at the cross.

Because the promise is for the elect alone it never fails, since election is an infallible decree and God is a faithful God. Canons 5.8 denies that the promise can fail and that some to whom it is given fall away: “It is utterly impossible, since His counsel cannot change, nor his promise fail.” This very idea that the promise of God could fail the apostle Paul rejects in the strongest terms in Romans 9:6: “Not as though the word [the covenant promise] of God hath taken none effect.” He explains why the promise cannot fail: “They are not all Israel, which are of Israel.” That is, everyone who was born of the natural offspring of Israel and circumcised (baptized) was “not all Israel” as elect members of God’s covenant and recipients of the promise.

The doctrine of the covenant taught by Klaas Schilder and maintained in the Canadian Reformed Churches is completely at odds with the Reformed doctrines of grace as taught in the three forms of unity; indeed, it overthrows these doctrines at every turn: grace is not particular, the promise is not infallible, and faith is not a gift.

The covenantal doctrine that ALL children of believers, elect and reprobate, are included in the covenant teaches that one child can make himself to differ from another child who is equally supplied with covenantal grace and equally a recipient of a covenantal promise from God. This denies that God eternally made the children to differ in the decree of election and reprobation and that in time God executes that decree in a most perfect manner by giving grace and the covenant to one baptized child and not to another.

Love not only for predestination but also for the good name of the predestinating God and love for the power of his promise, love for the reality that faith is a gift, and love for all the doctrines of grace as clearly taught in the creeds must induce a Reformed man to reject the Arminian conception of the covenant that makes covenantal membership and grace wider than election, the promise fallible, and faith a condition.

This Arminian conception of the covenant also necessarily denies the gospel truth of justification by faith alone. To this truth I turn next time.

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Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (1)

Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (2)

Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (3)

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Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (3)

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

 

I continue to answer a Canadian reader who objected to my contention in a book review that “the proponents [of a conditional covenant] hate predestination and now have revived the old Arminian war against predestination.” The reader professed her “love [for] the doctrine of predestination” and her belief “that ALL our children are included in that covenant, both the elect and the reprobate.”

The view that both elect and reprobate children of believers are members in the covenant denies predestination because it denies that predestination controls the covenant. Denial that election controls the covenant is basic to the theology of the conditional covenant and to my contention that it cannot be harmonized with the Reformed creeds. Thus espousal of a conditional covenant is incompatible with the reader’s professed love for predestination.

This covenantal doctrine—which has its origins in James Arminius, was formulated by Klaas Schilder, and is taught in the Canadian Reformed Churches—is totally at odds with the Reformed doctrines of grace as confessed especially in the Canons of Dordt, specifically the doctrines that teach that the grace of God in salvation is to the elect alone.

Canons 1.6 teaches that God gives grace to his elect alone and that the grace of God is controlled by election. “That some receive the gift of faith from God and others do not receive it proceeds from God’s eternal decree…According to which decree he graciously softens the hearts of the elect, however obstinate, and inclines them to believe.” Faith is the outstanding work of grace in the heart of man, and the Canons say that the reason some receive faith and others do not is predestination. According to that decree of predestination God acts in time.

Canons 1.7 explicitly speaks of the covenant in connection with election. The covenant is communion with God, fellowship in his house, to be a son or daughter of God, and salvation itself. “This elect number…[God] hath decreed to give to Christ, to be saved by him, and effectually to call and draw them to his communion by his Word and Spirit.” This is the same as saying that God’s covenant and membership in that covenant—communion with the living God—is controlled by election.

Even if someone would disagree with my definition of the covenant, communion with God, and say the covenant is merely the way or means to be saved, Canons 1.9 says that God “hath chosen us from eternity, both to grace and glory, to salvation and the way of salvation, which he hath ordained that we should walk in them.” The Canons make grace, glory, salvation, and the way of salvation, which is the covenant for many, the particular possession of the elect alone.

The Reformed creeds breathe not a single syllable about grace to the reprobate. Canons 1.15 teaches about the reprobate that God “hath decreed to leave [them] in the common misery into which they have willfully plunged themselves, and not to bestow upon them saving faith and the grace of conversion.” God sovereignly, justly, and eternally said no grace to the reprobate.

Because God’s grace is for the elect alone and not for the reprobate at all, the grace of God is also an effectual grace that infallibly and irresistibly accomplishes God’s saving purpose of election.

The Canadian Reformed covenantal doctrine teaches that the grace of God in the covenant is given to elect and reprobate. Such a doctrine may pay lip-service to predestination, but in reality denies it. It may mention it from time to time as that which belongs to the hidden things of God, but not as that which determines membership in and controls grace in the covenant of grace. Denying the crucial aspect of predestination that it determines who receives grace in the covenant, it denies the truth about election and reprobation.

The proponents of the conditional covenantal doctrine today—as the Arminian theologians, whose war they are reviving and carrying on—hate the doctrine of predestination. They manifest this hatred both by their ridicule of those who teach the truth about predestination—that it controls the covenant—and by their false teaching that predestination does not control the covenant. Such a doctrine as makes grace, covenantal grace, and the covenant itself the possession of reprobates and not the special possession of God’s elect children alone is at war with and cannot possibly be harmonized with the view of election and grace found in the Reformed creeds.

Those who suppose they can hold to both the love of predestination and the conditional covenantal doctrine are currently being disabused of that erroneous notion in a frightening way by the federal vision controversy and the appalling apostasy from the truth of grace and justification that is its inevitable fruit.

A professed love for predestination, including both election and reprobation, must include a rejection of the conditional covenantal doctrine and the condemnation of it as Arminian. For as the Arminians of old taught, it teaches that salvation—covenantal salvation—is not determined by the decree of God and that grace and salvation are offered wider than that decree.

If her love for predestination will not lead her to reject and condemn the conditional covenantal doctrine, perhaps a consideration of the other attacks of this covenantal doctrine on the truth of grace as confessed by the Reformed creeds will induce her to.

To this I turn next time.

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Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (1)

Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (2)

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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.

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

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Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (1)

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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.

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