I rarely take the time to respond to another writer on another blog. It’s not my favorite thing to do; I just think it looks bad. However, exceptions must be made and the time has come to graciously, and humbly respond. Over on Soveriegn Grace Theo[blog], Maverick Witlouw wrote a post expressly saying that Westminster doesn’t work. According to him, Westminster is practicing a replacement theology not a fulfillment theology. Per his post, Westminster just botches the relationship between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.
But this cannot be so. I get that 1689 Federalists, Progressive Covenantalists, and New Covenant Theologians are trying to take historic Reformed Covenant theology and align it to their view. But this isn’t the way we come to theology or the Scriptures. All it is is theological New Coke, a changing and rebranding of what has been held to historically.
So let’s discuss Mavericks critiques and see if they hold sway.
Witlouw seems to be upset that Westminster states that there is continuity in the covenants. He calls it “inference” and argues that the Divines forced this in order to make room for infant baptism. At the end of the day I think it is fair to sum up Witlouw’s argumentation as this: “What’s new about the New Covenant?” And this is the common objection among all Reformed Baptists. Dr. Stephen Wellum makes the same case in “Believer’s Baptism”. This isn’t unfamiliar territory. Witlouw tips his hand when he cites Hebrews 10:16, the restatement of Jeremiah 31 New Covenant passage.
We can sum up the NCT logic behind this passage very easily. The New Covenant is “not like” the Old Covenant. As they see it, there is a transition from external membership to internal membership. Membership is no longer based on families, but is rather based on faith alone. Therefore, they argue, infant baptism is not valid because infants cannot express faith.
The problem they run into is this: Circumcision is not founded in the Mosaic Covenant, but rather the Abrahamic. Here’s the issue. In the New Testament, the term Old Covenant is always looking at Moses, not Abraham. It’s always looking at the Law from Sinai, not the Ram in the Thicket. The error of Reformed Baptists is that they conflate Abraham and Moses together as well as the New Covenant and the Covenant of Grace. That is not to say that they are not united, but they would state that God’s covenant with Abraham is radically different than the New Covenant, divorcing God’s promises from the Covenant of Grace.
However, Scripture does not teach this. Abraham is our Father because he was faithful. He believes God and is given the covenant sign of circumcision to be given to him and to his children after him. But Reformed Covenant theology is not arguing for salvation ex opere operato. We are in no way stating that an infant is secure based on their baptism. Federalists are once again confusing the sign with the thing signified. Baptism, like circumcision is a sign. Signs point to something. And even way back in Deuteronomy 10:16 where people are called to circumcise their hearts. It is not a saying of “Oh you’re for sure in”. Regardless if the sign was circumcision or baptism, the call has always been “cleanse your heart, reach out to Christ by faith.”
“But New Covenant membership is based on faith and regeneration, not baptism.”
But again, this is a conflation of terms. The Covenant of Grace has always said that faith was needed. Children in both the Abrahamic (Gen 17) and New (Acts 2:8-10) Administrations of the Covenant of Grace have been included. This is why the Philippian jailer’s family is baptized “because of his faith”. But faith was always a covenant requirement. True sons of Abraham have always had faith. So yes we look hopefully for our children to come to faith. But we know that if they do not reach out in faith, they are covenant breakers.
So what IS new? At the end of the day it is this: The New Covenant is better and different because we have the substance of Christ instead of the shadow of the Law. We do not have to come to God through a priestly mediator because Christ Himself is that mediator. We do not have to appease God through sacrifice and ceremony, because Christ is the sacrifice and ceremony. The difference is that we have what the Old Covenant veiled. This does not make it meaningless. But let’s trace Federalism to its conclusion by a simple question.
If the New Covenant is the Covenant of Grace as Federalists say, how were people saved before Christ? Was Abraham saved by faith? Was he regenerated? If so, we have a regeneration, a so called “New Covenant” prior to the New Covenant. Yes they have the same substance because salvation has always been found in Christ alone by faith alone. Abraham, Moses, and Peter were all saved the same way. The difference is one had merely type and shadow, but today we have fulfillment.
Therefore, my recommendation is that Maverick go back and look again at what Covenant Theologians are saying. That he go read O Palmer Robertson’s “Christ of the Covenants” or “Far As the Curse is Found” by Michael Williams. I’d recommend dealing with what we’re really saying. And I’d strongly recommend he ditch the New Coke Theology for Classic Westminster.