I’m not sure who’s still reading this, but here’s my final post on my early-21st-century email about New Covenant theology to my friend Seth…
New Covenant Theology differs from “Covenant Theology” (what we’ve primarily heard in the PCA) and Dispensationalism (What Baptists and Pentecostals tend to think). In regards to Covenant Theology, the NCT view asserts that the much-popularized idea of the “Covenant of Works” and “Covenant of Grace” cannot be found in Scripture. NCT agrees that God had a Gracious Purpose in placing the nation of Israel under the law as a covenant. However, this does not make the Old Covenant a covenant of grace. Scripture indicates that the purpose of the Mosaic Law was to bring deep conviction of sin to those under that covenant to lead them to Christ (Galatians 3:23-25 – which brings up an excellent question: Should we try to reason with unbelievers, outside of any covenant, on the basis of the Ten Commandments/Old Testament, that they are sinners and need Jesus? Can/does this convince people who have not grown up with these values?)
In NCT, the Ten Commandments (and the other 600) are not eternally binding “Moral Law” but are seen as a Unit applying only as the terms of the Old Covenant with Israel. The Christian, then, is no longer bound by the terms of the Old Covenant. The Law of Christ is banner – the summit – the standard – for the New Covenant believer. And it is the Royal Law of Love – Love God with all our hearts soul mind and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves. And even this we cannot do, not on our own – we are simply asked to rest and trust in God’s finished work in Christ, trusting the Holy Spirit to cultivate abundant & proper fruit in our lives.
This has to be true, not only because the bible plainly states it, but even logically. We return to Colossians. Paul tells the people of God not to worry about the observance of the sabbath. Really and truly, read Colossians chapter 2. Like circumcision, Paul regarded those wishing to get the Gentile churches to adopt Old Testament practices to be workingagainst God’s purposes, not for them! Yet, if the Ten Commandments were still “in effect,” then Paul would be guilty of gravest sin–violating one of the commandments, quite willfully and dogmatically—“remember [observe] the sabbath and keep it holy.” The typical “Covenant Theology” (Presbyterian) response would be to divide out the clauses (sorry, Model UN terminology) of the 600+ laws in the Old Testament that refer to ceremonial days and governmental laws. They’ll (rightly) say that these laws pointed to Christ and were fulfilled in Him, but that the other portion the “moral” injunctions, stand forever. So in a sense, you have 9 Everlasting Commandments.
So what’s the problem with this? Well, only that the line is imaginary: To the Hebrew tribes that worshipped Yahweh, there was no conceivable delineation between “Governmental,” “Moral,” and “Ceremonial” law. You’re calling the way to worship the proper way to worshiping the one true God ceremonial??Try that on any practicing Jew and see where that’ll get you. It’s more than ceremonial to them: The mode of worship and observance has everything to do with morality. And governmental? Every Christian who buys into this line of reasoning has a hard time separating out the moral laws from the governmental laws. Hence the confused and misguided ideas about “America being a Christian nation” and “The Ten Commandments” and “prayer” in public schools. And at its most consistent (you notice I don’t say “extreme,” but consistent) line of thought, an estimated 10% of conservative Reformed Presbyterian people believe completely in “Theonomy,” which I must admit I found attractive in while I was in the PCA. It is the idea that every single injunction in the Old Testament was necessary in modern, gentile government in order to have a truly “Christian society.” Thus you can consistently apply the “these laws are forever and ever, everlasting” injunction that appears over a hundred times in the Old Testament. Thus, the sabbath commandment should be observed, and the stoning of prostitutes should be observed (yes, Gary North advocates this! If we’re going to have the death penalty, it is argued by Theonomists, then why not re-institute it along biblical guidelines?) This tendency among intelligent, thoroughly studious Christians indicates that if you’re going to take the Old Covenant and its laws, you must take every last one of them! You really can’t poke a hole in their argument.
Except that it goes against everything that the New Testament and New Covenant stand for. Against everything that Jesus and the apostles stood for! Now, how can such tension exist, and how can it be reconciled? How can commands from Yahweh be both “everlasting” and “obsolete”? The answer, compadre, lies in the fact that Jesus ended the entire world-and created it anew. All of the Old Order, even its “everlastings,” perished in Christ, and He makes all things new in His resurrection. A new heart, a new identity–even a new, streamlined law that does all God ever intended “law” to be in Eden–“Love Me. Partake of My Life.” Eden is in Christ restored – and then beyond! As we are pressing forward to the New Jerusalem, where all the heavenly building materials of Genesis 1 and 2 can be found as the raw stuff for the finished creation of the New Jerusalem, New Heavens and Earth of Revelation 21 and 22. Read them back to back and make a list–its uncanny!
Thus Paul is not in disfavor with God for subverting His law, and neither are we when we insist that tithe is abolished and “sabbath” is a state of rest in Jesus. This is all a true reading of what has come before us in the Old Covenant–the shadows that have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ!
Here, then, is a practical question: Do we throw our Old Testaments away? Heavens, no! Like Colossians, and Matthew, and Hebrews and Peter insist–the Old Testament is indeed a guidebook! But how does it guide, that is the question! And I think that in the answer lies the difference between a defeated, sad, miserable life in religious bondage or a supernatural, joyful, incarnational, radically liberated and free life in Jesus Christ! If we regard the laws and people of the OT to be emulated en toto, we will be miserable and misinformed and misguided about Jesus, our life in Him, and the fellowship of the Godhead. But these things–the Law, Prophets, Wisdom Literature, Kings and Temples were ALL there for ONE thing—to typify, foreshadow, point the way to, prepare for, the Living Person of Jesus Christ. When you look at the New Testament, you will see the Old quoted 98% of the time in relation to Jesus and His fulfillment of what was written. And I’m not just talking about overt “prophecies”–those guys saw Jesus in the weirdest stuff in the OT. And I think we’re called to do the same. It’s gottabeat the alternative! If I hear one more “be mighty like Samson” sermon, I’m gonna hurl! Christ is more beautiful by far than law or emulation; His finished work and empowering presence are far greater motivators to holiness than the ‘weak and beggardly’ elements of religion.
I want the best for you, Seth – and for me too. And for the entire Body of Christ. I think that when we wake up to the fullness of New Covenant revelation, revival will break in the land. Not because we’re begging the Holy Spirit to come down off of some mountain, but because we realize that He’s been closer than our very breath all along.
Originally posted on October 12, 2007