As mentioned in the last post , Adventism's covenant progression is not well known either to us, our inquirers or our critics. Some cr...

The Hole in Adventism (part 2)



As mentioned in the last post, Adventism's covenant progression is not well known either to us, our inquirers or our critics. Some critics even go as far as to suggest that Adventism's covenant progression is an unheard of heresy that has never existed before and from this they reason that the Adventist faith is inherently an old-covenant faith. Part of the difficulty in responding to these charges is that, while Adventists have historically written on scriptures covenant thought it has tended to be rare. To make matters worse, the few available resources tend to be from an isolationist perspective (from Adventist to Adventist) that does not help a seeker determine where Adventism sits in the continuum of Protestant covenantal thought. 


Identifying where Adventism falls in this continuum will be helpful in a number of ways. First, it will enable students of Adventism to see how Adventist covenantal thought fits into the broader historical picture. Second, it will help students identify points of agreement between Adventist theology and other covenantal traditions. Third, it will enable us to identify what unique contributions we bring to the table. Fourth, it will enable us to communicate our narrative in a language that can be understood by other Protestant traditions. And fifth, it will conclusively refute the charge that Adventist covenant thought is both "old-covenant" and an "unheard of" heresy.

The chart below outlines the major systems of covenantal thought in protestant Christianity. For the sake of simplicity, I have split the systems into two different categories. As will be demonstrated, the views under the first category embrace the perpetuity of the law and the Sabbath. This alone shows that Adventists are not the only ones to believe in and uphold these truths and severely mitigates against the charge that Adventism is an old-covenant faith (if this were true we would have to label the vast majority of reformed tradition the same way which is clearly problematic). The views under the second category reject this perpetuity. As our exploration evolves this distinction will make more sense.

Category A
Category B
Covenantalism
1) Westminster Confession
2) 2nd London Baptist Confession
(Embrace Perpetuity of Law and Sabbath)
Alternate views to Covenantalism
1) Dispensationalism
2) New Covenant Theology
(Reject Perpetuity of Law and Sabbath)

Category A: "Covenantalism"
We begin our exploration of the continuum of Protestant covenantal thought with Covenantalism. Covenantalism is by far the oldest system of covenantal thought within Protestantism and is also known as Federalism[2]. It affirms sola scriptura, the interpretive priority of the NT over the OT (ie. the OT can only be properly interpreted via the NT), Trinitarian doctrine, holds to all the principles of the Protestant reformation[3] and holds to a Calvinist soteriological tradition[4]. It also contends that the imparted and imputed righteousness of Christ are essential elements of the gospel and that good works are the natural outflow of genuine faith. From there this theological system takes two routes. The first is the view defined by the Westminster Confession (A.D. 1647-49). The second view is defined in the 2nd London Baptist Confession (A.D. 1689). Below is a brief overview of both.

Westminster Confession Covenantalism
Salvation: According to Westminster Confession Covenantalism (henceforth WCC) salvation depends entirely on the sovereignty of God, who in time eternal elected who would be saved and who would be lost. Thus, at no point in human history has anyone been saved outside of this eternal decree. This includes even those under the Mosaic covenant who were saved, not by works, but by grace. Due to man's total depravity in sin, salvation by works has never, nor could ever, be even remotely possible. This view is essentially a Reformed/ Calvinist soteriology.

Covenant Narrative: From there WCC introduces us to two overarching covenants in all of scripture. The first is the Covenant of Works which teaches that man, in an unfallen state (Adam and Eve) were to maintain their relationship with God by obedience to his commands. The second is the Covenant of Grace. According to this view, once man fell into sin he could only be saved by grace and thus, as soon as the fall took place there was grace. Every covenant that appears in the OT (Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic) are all administrations of the Covenant of Grace (by "administration" it is meant that each of the OT covenants are means by which the elect can experience reconciliation with God). Therefore, WCC sees all of the OT covenants are the same as the New Covenant only dressed in ceremonies. By adhering to the ceremonies the OT saints could be brought into contact with grace and thus a saving relationship with God. Modern WCC also adheres to the Covenant of Redemption in which God predestined his elect to salvation before the creation of the world thus giving it three overarching covenants, as opposed to just two.

Covenant Continuity/ Discontinuity: Consequently, WCC teaches that there are aspects of the OT covenants that are still in effect. The fist is the Abrahamic Covenant of circumcision. While WCC agrees that circumcision was done away with they hold that it's blessing upon the entire family - including children - remains. Therefore, baptism - the New Covenant circumcision - is also for children. In the same way that children were included in the covenant promises of the Abrahamic Covenant so they are included in the New Covenant promises via baptism. This view is known as pedobaptism in that it affirms the baptism of infants and children as a continuing reality from the Abrahamic Covenant into the New Covenant. Recall that, in this view, none of the OT Covenants are isolated. They are all administrations of the overarching Covenant of Grace. Therefore we can expect continuity and discontinuity from them.

Another aspect of this is seen in the way in which Covenantalism interprets the Mosaic Covenant. According to WCC, the Mosaic Covenant law is a tripartite law. This tripartite Division is proposed to be 1) The Moral Law, 2) The Ceremonial Laws, and 3) The Civil Laws. Because Israel is no longer in covenant with God as a nation (more on this later) its Civil Laws are abrogated. In addition, the death of Jesus fulfilled the Ceremonial Laws all of which pointed to him as the savior. However, according to WCC, the Moral Law remains as a perpetual law that cannot be abrogated. This includes all of the 10 commandments including the Sabbath which WCC identifies with the first day of the week, Sunday. WCC goes a step further by affirming that all OT commands are still relevant unless canceled by the NT and identifies the law of Christ as none other than the Decalogue (10 Commandments). 

Those familiar with Adventist theology will see an immediate similarity between this view and the Adventist view thus demonstrating both harmony with Protestant covenantal thought and mitigating against the idea that the perpetuity of Gods law - including the Sabbath - is somehow legalistic, "unprotestant", or a concept present only in SDA theology. While there are more similarities (and of course difference) these will be explored in part 3. For now, we continue with WCC.

Israel/ Church Relationship: According to WCC the church has always existed. Therefore, the OT version of the church was Israel and the NT version is the church. The Church is, therefore, Israel and always has been. However, national Israel has also met its end as a "people of God" and the church has effectively continued in its place. As a result, national Israel plays no specific role in end time events. 

Eschatology: Classical proponents of WCC were Historicists in their understanding of Bible prophecy. They held to a visible return of Jesus and saw the fulfillment of the antichrist as the office of the Papacy. WCC rejects the millennial rule of Jesus on earth for a literal 1,000 years and sees it as symbolic of the interadvent period (the period between the ascension of Jesus and his second coming - Amillennialism). It also holds to eternal hell for the reprobate and heaven for the elect. Modern proponents of WCC agree with all of these views with exception to the Papacy as antichrist due to the adoption of a Preterist hermeneutic for eschatology.

Other: In closing, here are some brief mentions of other elements inherent to WCC. 1) Sign of the New Covenant is baptism. 2) Sprinkling is an acceptable method of baptism. 3) Cessation of spiritual gifts. 4) Church and state are united (state enforces correct theology). 5) Lords Supper is an act of remembrance and communion with God.

Note: WCC is the view held by the Presbyterian denominations.

2nd London Baptist Confession
Salvation: In keeping with its ancestor WCC, 2nd London Baptist Confession (henceforth 2LBC) holds to a Reformed/ Calvinist soteriology.

Covenant Narrative: 2LBC believes in the three overarching covenants of Redemption, Works, and Grace. 2LBC also affirms that once man fell into sin salvation could only ever come by grace and never by works. Thus, Genesis 3:15 introduces the Covenant of Grace which becomes ratified in the New Covenant through Jesus death. 2LBC also affirms that the OT Covenants were means by which God communicated his grace in the OT. However, 2LBC differs from WCC in that it does not see the OT covenants as the Covenant of Grace "dressed in ceremonies" but as separate and temporary covenants whose only purpose was to progressively reveal the plan of salvation until that plan would be actuated with the death of Jesus. So while the OT covenants pointed the practitioners to, and advanced the Covenant of Grace they were not the same as the Covenant of Grace. This means that, for 2LBC, none of the OT saints were reconciled to God via the OT covenants. Rather, they were saved in anticipation of the death of Jesus.

Covenant Continuity/ Discontinuity: Because of this, 2LBC teaches that the OT covenants are no longer in effect. Consequently, 2LBC rejects pedobaptism and instead holds to credobaptism which teaches that baptism is only for mature believers who have made an informed decision to follow Christ. While children may have been included in the rite of circumcision, due to the Abrahamic covenant being done away with, we cannot carry this practice into the New Covenant rite of baptism. While it is true that circumcision overlaps with and gives us insight into the meaning of baptism, they are not the same thing because they are not of the same covenant. In short, because the OT covenants were temporary covenants we are not to expect continuity from them into the New Covenant.

This covenant abrogation view also impacts how 2LBC views the civil, ceremonial, and moral laws of the Mosaic covenant. According to 2LBC, even the moral has been abrogated. In other words, the whole law of Moses, as it related to the Old Covenant, has been done away with. However, (and here is a big however) this does not mean that 2LBC rejects the Decalogue. According to 2LBC the Decalogue is trans-covenantal. In other words, it transcends the covenants in that it existed prior to them. As a result, while New Covenant believers are not under the 10 Commandments to obey them and relate to them as those under the Mosaic Covenant did, they are still under the Decalogue as it came before the Mosaic Covenant[5]. As a result, 2LBC continues to affirm the 10 commandments as perpetually binding. This includes the Sabbath which they identify with the resurrection of Jesus on Sunday. 

Israel/ Church Relationship: 2LBC affirms that the church was typified by Israel but disagrees with WCC in rejecting that notion that they are the same thing. Nevertheless, 2LBC agrees that national Israel plays no specific role in end time events.

Eschatology: Classical proponents of 2LBC were also Historicists in their understanding of Bible prophecy. They held to a visible return of Jesus and saw the fulfillment of the antichrist as the office of the Papacy. 2LBC rejects the millennial rule of Jesus on earth for a literal 1,000 years and sees it as symbolic of the interadvent period (Amillennialism). It also holds to eternal hell for the reprobate and heaven for the elect. Modern proponents of 2LBC agree with all of these views with exception to the Papacy as antichrist due to the adoption of a Preterist hermeneutic for eschatology.

Other: In closing, here are some brief mentions of other elements inherent to 2LBC. 1) Sign of the New Covenant is baptism. 2) Immersion is the only acceptable method of baptism. 3) Cessation of spiritual gifts. 4) Separation of church and state. 5) Lords Supper is an act of remembrance and communion with God.

Note: 2LBC is the view held by the Confessional Baptist denominations.

Conclusion
As can be clearly seen, there are a considerable amount of similarities between Adventist theology and the Protestant covenantal traditions of WCC and 2LBC. These similarities will be explored in much more detail in part 3. In the next post we will turn our attention to Category B and explore the two major covenant systems that present alternate views to those espoused by Covenantalism and which differ quite largely from Adventism. 
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[1] For an exploration of Adventism's place in the realm of theology see "The Reformation and the Remnant" by Nicholas P. Miller, "A Search for Identity" by George R. Knight, and "A Brief History of Seventh-day Adventists" by George R. Knight.
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Covenant_theology
[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_solae
[4] https://carm.org/calvinism
[5] One example of this is the Sabbath. Under the Mosaic covenant breaking the Sabbath was punishable by death. Under the New Covenant it is not. Thus, while 2LBC affirms the perpetuity of the Sabbath it sees the Sabbath, under the New Covenant, as liberated from the restrictions and punishments connected to it via the Mosaic Covenant. By way of another example, the same can be said of adultery. Under the New Covenant a believer caught in adultery can face church discipline but under the Old Covenant it was punishable by death. So while the law still applies, it has been liberated from its Mosaic Covenant restrictions. It is still a sin to commit adultery and believers are still under obligation to obey this command, but it is not punishable by death as it was under the Mosaic Covenant.