Sunday, March 29, 2015

What You Believe Does Dictate How You Behave: Old Covenant Theology vs. New Covenant Theology

I've often said the greatest - and most overlooked - evangelical theologians of the past two millenniums were early 18th century English Baptists who penned the First London Confession of Faith. It's not my purpose in this blog post to go into all the details as to why this is so, suffice to say I am follower of Jesus Christ affiliated with a Baptist Church because of my agreement with these preeminent theologians. In short, they (and I) believe the New Testament to be the apex of God's self-revelation because in them is revealed how "the righteousness of God is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe" (Romans 3:22).

My wife and I recently enjoyed some fellowship with a woman in her seventies. She was raised Dutch Reformed and is now active in the Presbyterian Church of America. She is a delightful lady, one with whom we enjoyed visiting. However, through the course of our conversation there arose a stark and pointed difference between what she believes as a Presbyterian and what we believe as Baptists. She is a "Law person," and emphasized over and over that "God blesses obedience."

Of course, nobody would disagree with this statement. God does bless obedience. The question is "Whose obedience?" Our Presbyterian friend seemed to be emphasizing her and her husband's personal obedience. My wife and I only emphasize Christ's obedience (i.e. "His fulfillment of the Law"), and God's blessings freely given to us because of our faith in Christ. 

This is the fundamental difference between Old Covenant Christians and New Covenant Christians.

Baptists historically have been New Covenant Christians. The early 18th century Baptists were uninterested in turning sinners into Mosaic Law-keepers and solely concerned with turning sinners into Christ believers. When Jesus Christ told us He came to fulfill the Law and the prophets, He meant it (Matthew 5:17). He fulfilled the Law with His life, death and resurrection, and then He abolished it and became a new Law Giver for His people. He said:
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35).
Some might wonder about the practical differences between an Old Covenant believer as compared to the  New Covenant believer. One of the best illustrations of the differences between the behavior of Old Covenant Christians when compared to the behavior of New Covenant Christians is given by my friend Jon Zens.

Jon points out that the Puritans (Old Covenant Christians) came over to the New World and found themselves facing the Native Americans (Indians). Old Covenant typology dominated their behavior toward the Indians. The Puritans saw their exodus from England paralleling Israel's exodus from Egypt in the Old Testament. The Puritans viewed their crossing of the Atlantic as a parallel to Israel's crossing of the Red Sea. The Puritans believed that their arrival in the New World paralleled Israel's arrival and entrance into the land of Canaan. The Puritans hoped that the New World would indeed be a land "flowing with milk and honey."

But now came the mistake the Puritans made because of their emphasis on the Old Covenant.

The Puritans believed that the Native Americans they met in the New World paralleled Israel meeting the heathen nations in the land of Canaan. How should they respond?  Old Covenant typology pointed to casting out the Native peoples by force, precisely as Israel cast out the heathen nations in Canaan.  However, New Covenant theology commands believers in Christ to love their enemies. Should the Puritans follow the Law of Christ by loving and evangelizing the Indians, or should the Puritans follow the example of Old Covenant Israel and kill the native dwellers?  According to Zens, the Puritans behaved in a manner consistent with their Old Covenant beliefs. Over time they removed or exterminated the Indians, claiming the New World for God.

Now, back to the Presbyterian lady we met. Her husband was not a believer. She had been married to him for over fifty years, but it had been "exceedingly difficult." She so desperately wanted her husband to be 'obedient' to God's Laws (worshipping on the Sabbath, tithing on their income, etc...) because "God blesses our obedience." I was worn out listening to her.

I would suggest that what her husband needed was a wife who was so full of Christ, so appreciative of the perfect righteousness that has been given to her because of her faith in Jesus, that she loves her husband exactly the way Christ loves her. It seems to me that if the New Covenant was the foundation of her theology and philosophy of living, then she would set aside any emphasis on her husband's performance--or lack thereof -- and simply love him without expectations or conditions.

Obviously, this post has simplified some very complex issues, but my goal is not so much to convince anyone of this truth as much as it is to encourage the beginning of a journey toward truth. It's an axiom that if there is maladjustment in one's behavior toward people, it's usually because of a problem in one's beliefs about God.

We need more New Covenant theology preaching in our churches so that our behavior as believers toward others will match our beliefs of God's behavior toward us in Christ - as taught in the apex of God's self-revelation, otherwise known as the New Testament.


Bob Cleveland said...

I happened to teach on abundant life, this morning. To me, the bottom line is there's no rule I can follow to get more of God's grace, but if I'd like to have abundant life, I merely need to do what He tells us to do.

Matthew 6, among others, has some wonderful suggestions. God tells us those things so we can enjoy abundance of life, because we're sure not smart enough, ourselves, to figure out how.

When Jesus said He came so we could have life, and that more abundantly, he didn't use the same word used to describe God's breathing of life into Adam's nostrils. The word for life means something FAR above and beyond that. And then, He said we could have that superior life more abundantly!

Do we all experience that? No. And that's tragic, because He told us just how to go about it.

Randy Judd said...

Thanks Wade for taking a complex issue of which I am sure many of us are no where close to fully understanding and are mostly accepting by faith,and simplifying it so we at least get the general idea.

Anonymous said...

I think the LONDON BAPTIST CONFESSION has much agreement with "Old Covenant" practices of your Presbyterian friend, particularly in Chapters 13, 22, 26 and 28.


Wade Burleson said...

The Second London Confession is very similar to the Westminster Confession.

The First London Confession (1644) is dissimilar to the Westminster Confession in several areas, including the use of the Mosaic Law to bring conviction of sin before a presentation the gospel. The First London Confession states the use of the Law for such purposes is unnecessary.

The First London Confession was written nearly a half century before the Westminster Confession or the Second London Confession and is superior on many fronts. Of course, it is similar to the Westminster in terms of sovereign grace, but it is dissimilar in terms of the use of the Law.

Wade Burleson said...

Bob - great point. Appreciate your comments.

Randy - you are welcome! Appreciate you, too!

Vince said...

Brother Wade,
Thank you for your efforts in the building up of The Body. While I agree that we need more preaching in our churches so that our behavior as believers toward others will match our beliefs of God's behavior toward us in Christ, it is not New Covenant theology that is needed to be preached. Concerning The New Covenant, God says this, Jer 31:31-34 Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:

32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord:

33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.

34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

This is the New Covenant that God made with Israel, not with the Body of Christ today. Honest evaluation will reveal that this covenant, while established, has not yet been actualized since we are still teaching and preaching (vs 34).

However, what you quoted in Romans 3:22 is a part of what is needed to be preached for the salvation of mankind today. This is the mystery of Christ, revealed to the Apostle Paul, which he dispensed amongst the gentiles. To some, it doesn't matter if you mix up terminologies as long as your doctrine is correct. We are indeed justified apart from the works of the law, but you can't truly have sound doctrine without using proper terms.

The terms "Old Covenant Christians" and "New Covenant Christians" are misleading because gentiles have never been partakers of either of the covenants, but are now brought near. Eph. 2:12-13 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: 13 But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.

As individuals who lead, teach, and exhort, let us make sure that we are rightly dividing the word of truth and carefully handling that which we have been entrusted.

Grace and peace!

Wade Burleson said...


I am in agreement that at times terminology gets in the way of true Christology.

Thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

Again a very timely post for us. Yesterday in SS (SBC) the point was made there is NO DIFFERENCE between the old and new covenants. Nada. Zilch.

Some of us pushed back, pointing out the radical difference. We were pretty much told that "this is an Old Testament Church."

Hmm. I cannot change that. I can change where I worship.

I am a New Testament Christian, or New Covenant Christian. Personally, I find that even deeper and more challenging. Much easier to keep laws than to experience heart change.

And yet we are called to that.


Aussie John said...


"Old Covenant vs New Covenant"? Absolutely spot on!

So important for all who claim to be Christian.

So many cannot see the difference between the first ans second London confessions.

Thank you!

Gordon said...

If old 'Dutch' is relying on the sacrament of infant baptism and later 'confirmation' as a youth to ensure his salvation, then he is making a big mistake. But I have known many such people who have a true acceptance of the grace of God by faith in Jesus Christ, despite their unnecessary adherence to the laws in the book of Deuteronomy.
Some may lack the freedom and spontaneity of the Spirit, but many do strive for good works and the fruit of the Spirit in their lives as a consequence of them being followers of Jesus. As with Abraham, so for them faith without obedience is dead.(Gen. 12:4)

Andrew Murray is a Dutch Reformed parson who wrote a good booklet on the difference between the two covenants. This could lead your friends to a better understanding of the Scriptures.

Christiane said...

I would say that the 'apex' of God's self revelation would be Christ Himself, who came and spoke and acted in the very Person of God.
The New Testament is a part of sacred Scriptures, but not the entire revelation. The whole of the sacred Scriptures bear witness to Christ.

I think that is what you meant, but worded it differently from the way I would. Let me know if that is true. And thank you.

I hope you have a blessed Holy Week.

Rex Ray said...


You said your goal was to encourage the beginning of a journey toward truth. This is off topic but here goes.

A long time ago, your post was on wine, and you mentioned you surprised a woman by drinking wine that eventually led her to Christ.

It was mentioned by someone that drinking wine was OK because Jesus made wine.

Did Jesus make wine or grape juice? In the Old Testament there is not a name for grape juice other than wine. Grape juice had the name “new wine”:

“So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with NEW WINE.” (Proverbs 3:10)
A press squeezed grapes that were not fermented. Grape juice was a blessing of God and was ‘good’ until it fermented.

“Woe to him that gives his neighbors drink… making them drunk, in order to look at their nakedness!” (Habakkuk 2:15)
This was a warning against using wine (fermented grapes) as a weapon to manipulate someone.

Weapons hurt, mangle, and kill. Wine has the potential of making a person drunk, and binge drinking leads to death. This weapon should be labeled poison.

“Don’t gaze at the wine, seeing how red it is, how it sparkles in the cup, how smoothly it goes down. For in the end it bites like a poisonous snake; it stings like a viper.” (Proverbs 23:31-32 NLT)

This scripture describes fermented grapes. Would Jesus make a “poisonous snake” for the wedding party, or would he give the ‘blessings of God’ with freshly squeezed grapes? He had the ability to do either.

Gordon said...

On the authority of Scripture,it would be appropriate for Christians to observe this week of the year as 'New Covenant' week.
Part of every covenant ritual was the requirement that it be cut in blood for ratification. Jesus took the Passover cup of wine and presented it to his disciples as a symbol of His blood of the new covenant, which was about to be shed to ratify God's promise of sins forgiven (Matt. 26:28).
The New Covenant in Christ is right at the centre of the eucharist/thanksgiving ceremony. We would greatly benefit from remembering this every time we participate in this ordinance of the new order.

Just a short note to Rex : We might not want to drink wine now, but we sure will be drinking it in Heaven ! (Matt.26: 29)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the correction. I got the Confessions confused!


Rex Ray said...


Your comment was excellent for this week.

Our church will have (if not raining) a sunrise service in a park that is close to my house.

Instead of lights showing a 12’ star all year, this week will show an 8’ cross that’s 62’ high at my house. Which event is greater?

The birth of Christ puts a smile on our faces, but to me, the cross makes me sad to think that’s what God had to do in removing my sin.

As to which grapes we will drink in heaven, I’d prefer ‘fresh’ instead of ‘rotten’. :)

But if happiness is so great that marriage is insufficient, wouldn’t eating even be more so?

Rex Ray said...

The Manger, the Cross, and the Resurrection

Today, Christians celebrate the only ‘God’ of all religions that rose from the dead to be alive with His Father through eternity. GLORY

I think of the mystery of how God could love man and bear the pain enough to execute His Son for mankind that all that trusts in Jesus will be children of God.

To illustrate the pain that death causes, I think of three examples of dogs dying:

1. The story of a stranger that left while my brother buried his dog.

2. James Files could not bear to take his dog to the vet to be put down even though he was a ‘hit man’ for the Mafia and the only man alive that claims to have shot JFK.

3. My father-in-law asked, “Will you kill this dog or do you want to do it.” My wife and I were living with him at the time. The dog had been dumped on his farm three weeks before. On that day he had killed a chicken.

In those three weeks the dog had gone with me many times to hunt squirrels for eating. We had a partnership…I’d shoot them and he’d bring them to me. He followed me everywhere and had a happy face that seemed to smile.

Since he was ‘my dog’ I told my father-in-law, I’d do it. I chose a deer rifle and took him where we hunted, but I couldn’t look at him and pull the trigger. He trusted me completely…even let me scratch his head with the end of the rifle. I closed my eyes and shot. Can you picture a 26 year old guy that never looked back but ran through the woods crying his eyes out? The dog had not asked for his life to be spared or why he was forsaken.

Christiane said...

so much unhealed pain in your words, REX RAY . . .

but today is Easter Sunday, the Day of the Risen Lord and He will come one day and wipe away our many tears

Today is the Day of the Risen Lord,
"In Whose Hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind." (Job 12:10)

Christ Is Risen!

this for a loved one so very dear to me who passed away unexpectedly this week into the loving arms of Our Lord: (forgive is preceded by commercial, but the hymn is meant as a comfort to people who grieve, REX)

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the post. I believe it was Dallas Willard who said you could only go as far as your beliefs and not a step further. As I have come to understand more about the complete difference in the Old and New Covenant it leads to a greater hope for the here and now, as well as the future.

PS - I mean the here and now of the spiritual realm, not some material measurement.

Anonymous said...

Just got around to leaving this. Great thoughts that I will carry with me today.