Thursday, May 06, 2004

More on: Who is in the New Covenant?

Sometimes things just fall into place, theologically. I struggled for a long time with eschatology, having a gut-level preference for post-millennialism. But there were too many inconsistencies until I viewed postmillennialism from a partial preterist perspective. Then everything (well, at least most things—which ain’t bad when it comes to end-times) finally seemed to fit.

I am getting the same feeling when it comes to covenant theology. Scriptural passages that seemed slightly wrong in light of the treasured doctrine of eternal security are suddenly making sense when understood covenantally.
  • There is a group whom God refers to as "His people."
  • Another name for this group is "the church."
  • Those who are members of the church are in the covenant.
  • They receive special blessings.
  • Not all are regenerate, and some will ultimately be lost.

Exactly like the Jews and Israel in the Old Testament.

Now the classic proof texts for eternal security still stand. Verses along the lines of:
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:28)

But now we can make better sense of passages such as:
17But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, 18do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19Then you will say, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." 20That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. 21For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. (Rom 11:17-22)

This passage always nagged at me in a background thread. If I have eternal security, how am I in danger of being cut off? Whether it is individually or collectively with my fellow gentiles?

However if this passage refers to gentiles having been grafted into the covenant, but not necessarily saved, then the passage makes complete sense.

And if there is not a group of covenant members that might include unregenerate persons (unbelievers) then what to make of:
For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (1 Cor. 7:14)

Here holy (set aside, sanctified) cannot imply saved, for the husband is an unbeliever. But both the husband and the children have a status that differs from a garden-variety unbeliever—for the children's status—described as the same as the husband's—is contrasted with other children, unclean children.

This one passage alludes to all three groups. Unbelievers (and unclean children), unbelievers who are holy (and children who may or may not be believers but are holy) and believers.

The first group is not in the covenant. The second group (spouses and children of believers) and the third group (believers) are in the covenant. Nothing else explains this passage so well.

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