Saturday, 26 September 2009

New Covenant Theology by Tom Wells and Fred Zaspel Part 3 The Law of Christ

Wells believes that the New Covenant Community is governed by the law of Christ (1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 6:2) and not directly by the law of Moses. If Christ is the God-man and all authority in heaven and earth belongs to him, then the Christian church must hold to the logical priority of Christ (p67).
This means they [Christians] have no moral and ethical allegiance to anything, including the OT and its laws that is logically prior to Jesus Christ.(p68)
This means in practice that we must read our Bibles with the NT having the final say on every issue it addresses (p6) and giving it logical priority over the OT. There are numerous problems when we give the OT a logical priority. Wells illustrates:
What will happen if we start at Genesis and build our doctrine of the people of God from consecutive readings of the OT? Among other things, we will have a pretty thorough and extensive idea of who the people of God are, long before we come to the NT. The people of God is Israel, the physical descendants of Jacob and, before him, Abraham.

...What would be the consequences of this reading?...We might easily assume that since there is one people of God, God would only have one covenant with them and one sign of the covenant, circumcision. When we arrived at the Major Prophets, if we were particularly perceptive, we might make some small adjustments. Of course the NT, when we came to it, would change our convictions on these matters, but we would have a predisposition to find as little change as possible. After all, we know there is one people, one covenant, and one covenant sign. (p9)
What would then follow would be the inclusion of the Gentiles in Israel; a flattening out the two covenants so that they become two administrations of the same covenant; and finally an identification of the old covenant sign (circumcision) with the new (baptism). A similar problem is faced when Sabbath observance becomes a binding ordinance for Christians, despite the NT insistence to the contrary (see Romans 14:5).

Despite efforts by Reformed theologians, the Decalogue cannot function as a compact summary of all moral law. The contrived efforts of the Westminster Divines to shoe-horn an implicit command for obedience to every human authority under the fifth commandment is an example of this (see Shorter Catechism q64 and 65)

No, the law that governs Christians is the 'law of Christ' i.e. the teachings, warnings and commands of Christ embodied in the New Testament writings (gospels and epistles). The law of Christ must have absolute priority in the church and even OT commands must not be read apart from it's authoritative glory. What of the OT? Wells recommends:
...the re-examination of the OT with the idea in mind of finding those things that are moral laws in the light of the NT and that are in keeping with the explicit demands of the Lord Jesus Christ in the NT. (p75)
In the light of what's been said about Israel and the law, Wells defines what he means by the New Covenant:
The New Covenant is the bond between God and man, established by the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, under which all who have been effectually called to God in all ages have been formed into the one body of Christ in NT times, in order to come under his law during this age and to remain under his authority forever. (p75,76)
Next, what about not one jot or tittle passing from Moses in Matthew 5:17-20?

5 comments:

Donald Ferguson said...

Given the above definition - on what basis are OT saints saved?

Nick Mackison said...

By grace through faith as always. I don't see how the definition changes anything.

Donald Ferguson said...

It appeared to me that the definition wanted to have its cake and eat it! It seems to both include OT saints [The New Covenant is the bond between God and man, established by the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, under which all who have been effectually called to God in all ages] and exclude OT saints [have been formed into the one body of Christ in NT times, in order to come under his law during this age and to remain under his authority forever]. Perhaps I am missing something. Is this saying that there is one covenant under which all saints have been saved through one sacrifice sharing in the same hope of experiencing the glory of God as one people? How can those saved in ‘all times’ come under ‘his law during this age’? I might well be misunderstanding this and would be grateful for your help.

Nick Mackison said...

I agree that it does appear somewhat contrived in the cake eating sense! Yet I think this is reflective of the complexities of redemptive history.

Donald: "Is this saying that there is one covenant under which all saints have been saved through one sacrifice sharing in the same hope of experiencing the glory of God as one people?"

Nick: I think so. Which means that the Old Covenant was not saving at all. If we are looking at it from eternity future, then OT saints were saved by the New Covenant work of Christ and united with his church as formed in NT times. If we are looking at it from a historical angle, then the OT saints were saved by anticipating the work of Christ through faith.

Nevertheless during the OT era in redemptive history, these saints were not part of the church age marked by the eschatological Spirit. I think the example of John the Baptist is illuminating in this regard, i.e. he belonged to the old era such that even the least in the kingdom of God (manifested in the church) was greater than he.

Donald: "How can those saved in ‘all times’ come under ‘his law during this age’?"

Nick: They can't! This statement only applies to New Covenant saints. I think his definition could have been a little tighter on this and opens Wells to unnecessary criticism from covenant theologians.

JohnGreenview said...

I find myself in basic agreement with NCT, however, I do think they suffer from clarity of expression (listen to who is talking).

It is cleare to me that the NC is in direct continuity with the Abrahamic covenant - it is effectively the fulfilment of it - and direct contrast the Mosaic covenant - thus the terminology 'old' and 'new'.

Again, believers from Pentecost are part of the OT promised eschatological people with whom it was predicted God would make a new eschatological covenant.

NT believers belong to the time of salvation and of fulfilment - to the eschaton (the End). OT believers looked forward to that day but enter it only in resurrection at the Second Coming when the eschaton is fully realised.

This, I think,is what NCT teaches. Correct me if I am wrong. Having said this, I suspect many moderate CT adherents may agree with this - those with a more biblically nuanced covenant of grace.