Covenant Theology, RPW, and Musical Instruments

As part of this discussion with the Covenants I’d like to work in (no pun intended) a discussion of the changing economy as regards to worship goes with the disestablishment of the Temple and all that goes with it. I have not yet figured out where exactly I want to begin that discussion so if you have any suggestions and or things you would like to see discussed then please let me know I’ll try and accommodate you. Monday will be a continuation of the Post on the Mosaic Covenant.

As an aside buy this book.

Old Light on New Worship

by John Price

The Mosaic Covenant; Works, Grace, or Both?

In this third post on the Covenant of Works I want to begin looking at the different “administrations” of the Covenant. We have already looked at the Adamic Covenant and I want to for right now skip Noah and go on to Moses (we’ll come back to Noah later). There has been some debate as to how we should look at the Covenant given to Moses at Sinai within Reformed circles so this post is more a of an intramural debate then a proof text either way for how we should look at the Mosaic Covenant since Covenant Theology imparticular is a Reformed thing nearly explicitly. So with this in mind I want to post a few Scripture texts that will be our main focus in this post. Firstly God has already made a little “c” covenant with Moses way back in chapters 3 and 4 in the Book of Exodus. God through the burning bush told Moses that he would free his people from bondage in Egypt and bring them first to Sinai to worship Him then on to the Promised Land they will go. So here in the beginning of Exodus we have God promising to Moses deliverance from Egypt for the people of God from bondage to freedom. Now we ask at this point what has Israel done to deserve deliverance? Some say we must be careful how we read into the text the “glory story” but here in Chapter 3 we see the type of the salvation that we are to receive. In other words those of us in the Covenant of Grace have been saved from bondage to sin (cf: Rom 8:15, 21) just as the Israelites were saved from bondage in Egypt, through no work of their own but by being the chosen people of God (Ezek 36:28, John 6:65). Back to Exodus 24 we go for now.

Exodus 24 is chock full of all kinds of scrumptious morsels for us to chew on but we must limit ourselves to the question at hand. However I exhort you to take a look at verses 4 and 16 especially in depth at another time. This chapter begins with Moses, along with Aaron and his sons Nadab and Abihu (who are to feature prominently in the book of Leviticus) being called to go up to the LORD and then Moses is to worship and then go back and recount these things to the people. This he does. In verse 3 Moses goes to the people and in verses 3 and 7, “Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the LORD and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do!'”, “Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!’.” This sounds like the Covenant of Works we all know and love. God presents to Moses the Law and the “ordinances” and the people say with one voice “I Will”. The people have promised to obey and live by God’s Law. Now what is their motivation for doing so? What shall they gain by following the words of God? Well here in Exodus 24 the people, moving off Moses promise that they shall receive the promised land, believe that by following the Law to its completeness they will be given entrance to Canaan, the land of their ancestors. We know from the rest of the story that Israel fails and are punished by not being allowed to enter the promised land, they are punished for their failure to live up to the Covenant. So as we can see in this short and somewhat stilted look at the Mosaic Covenant there are elements of both the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace in this particular Covenant.

I could go on for days just in this chapter but this being a blog it does not lend itself to long drawn out explanations so we will stop here for right now and pick this up later.

The Covenant of Works vs. The Older Testament

Many have a false understanding of the Covenant of Works that tries to say that we can neatly divide up the Covenants with their “respective” Testaments. The Covenant of Works is analogous to the Older Testament and the Covenant of Grace with the New. This is a false way of looking at the Covenants in many ways including the fact that it sets the Older and New Testament against one another as if the are different expressions of God’s Will and have no real relation. This belies a Marcian understanding of the God of the Older Testament and the God of the New Testament, whether purposefully or by unclear language. We cannot place a gulf of responsibility between the people who lived during the times of the Testaments as if they have different ways of salvation. The Covenant of Works is just as much “alive” today as it was for Moses. Paul makes it clear that the people in the Old Testament were saved the same way that you and I have received the gift of eternal life, through the imputation of Christ’s Active Obedience, his righteousness, by his death on the Cross, resurrection, and ascension.  Look at Romans 4:14-16. Paul says:

For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation. For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.

As we see here Abraham and all his descendants were saved by Faith, just as we are today. For Abraham was saved by Faith in that which was to come and by this faith Christ’s Righteousness was imputed to him just like it was to you. Therefore the Covenant of Grace “existed” prior to Christ’s coming in time. As well as those who are not under the Covenant of Grace are still going to be judged by the Covenant of Works (as we all will be, this will be explained more fuller in a later post).

Another misunderstood way of looking at this is that the Law has been destroyed or abdicated in favor of a Gospel that has no law, for in this administration of the Covenants their is no Gospel in the Law and no Law in the Gospel. This is a false way of understanding the place of Scriptural commands in the two Covenants for one because God is the “CEO” in both Covenants. He is the chief administrator so his law does not change substantially but what does happen in the Covenant of Grace is that we have now been freed to follow God’s Law as a sign of Love not as a sign of Duty. This is a thing we will look more closely at when get into discussing the Covenant of Grace imparticular but it is something that it is good for us to recognize now in speaking of the Covenant of Works.

Next we will look at how the different Covenants are “administered” throughout Scripture.

The Covenant of Works, Part One

This post will begin a series on the Covenant of Works that will look at the different administrations and “dispensations” (used in a different manner than how our dispensational arminian brothers use it) of the Covenant. This series will lead into a discussion of how this Covenant reacts and interacts with the Covenant of Grace and how they both look and work with the Covenant of Redemption. As anyone who reads this blog regularly knows I have a tendency to “skip around” so if we go a couple of days without a post just look for the COW posts on the left hand side numbered accordingly.

In my mind the chief mark of Reformed theology is the way in which we understand the various “covenants” in the Scriptures and how those Covenants work in history. While all Christians believe that there are differences between the way the Jews of the Older Testament are judged and how the Christians of the New Testament are judged exactly how that is exegeted from Scripture is hotly contested. In the following post I will define the Covenant of Works. Then in coming posts I will show how it is false to understand the CoW as “ending” in the Older Testament and as the Covenant of Grace “beginning” in the New Testament.

The  Covenant of Works is best defined as the agreement between God and Adam in the Garden that as long as Adam followed the Law that had been given to him he  would attain eternal life and live accordingly in the Garden for eternity (cf: Gen 2:16-17). As long as Adam did as God asked by fulfilling the Law then Adam would be rewarded with his eternal existence in the Garden. However we all know what happened next.

Romans 5:12Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.”

Which will lead us to tomorrow’s post.

Mediate Doing It Again at the British Open

Unfortunately we decided to go camping (wish I knew at the time) during the Open Championship and I’ll miss the next three rounds but oh well.

There are few better things than Championship Golf. Greg Norman is doing well (until he just hit in the front-side bunker at 17).

Rocco Mediate is 1st right now at -1. Been an awesome tournament so far. Unfortunately no matter what anyone does they will be forever marred by the “well Tiger was not there” label. Which in my opinion is ignorant not to mention ridiculous.

Enjoy the Golf and I’ll see you Monday.

Spoils of Birthday

With the money I received for my birthday (July 4th) I was able to empty my wish list at Reformation Heritage Books and picked up the following:

The Death of Death in the Death of Christ by John Owen

Bringing the Gospel to Covenant Children by Joel Beeke

Meet the Puritans ed. by Joel Beeke & Randall Peterson

Redemption: Accomplished and Applied by John Murray

(Unabridged) Letters of Samuel Rutherford by Samuel Rutherford

Rutherford’s Catechism (Containing the Sum of Christian Religion)
by Samuel Rutherford

Lex, Rex or The Law and The Prince by Samuel Rutherford

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Also was able to purchase these on Amazon:

The Epistle to the Romans by John Murray

The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions

By: Arthur G. Bennett (Editor)

Memoirs And Remains Of Robert Murray M’Cheyne by Bonar, Andrew A.

Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God: What Every Christian Husband Needs to Know
By: C. J. Mahaney (Author), Carolyn Mahaney (Contributor)

Session-Controlled Communion: Another View

Restricted Communion in One OPC Congregation
William Shishko

Extracted from Ordained Servant vol. 3, no. 4 (October 1994)

“…or be admitted thereunto.”

So ends the Westminster Confession of Faith’s chapter on the Lord’s Supper (XXIX). The Westminster Standards do not teach that people admit themselves to the Lord’s Supper, but that they are to “be admitted” to it. “All ignorant and ungodly persons, as they are unfit to enjoy communion with (the Lord), so are they unworthy of the Lord’s table, and cannot, without great sin against Christ, while they remain such, partake of these holy mysteries, or be admitted thereunto.” (section VIII, emphasis mine). We demonstrate our allegiance to this confessional standard by not admitting covenant children or new Christians to the Lord’s Table until they have publicly professed their faith in Christ, c.f. OPC Directory for Worship, V:4. We also apply this standard by the step of church discipline known as “suspension,” cf. OPC Book of Discipline, VI:B:3.

But how do we apply the confessional standard “…be admitted thereunto” with respect to visitors at a service when the Lord’s Supper is being observed as part of our worship? A warning is read, c.f. OPC Directory for Worship, IV:C:2, and the elements are distributed indiscriminately by Session members across the pews, etc. The decision is left to the visitors (adults and children) as to whether or not they may partake of the elements. They “admit themselves thereunto.” Over against the old Scottish tradition which took the confessional standard so seriously that “communion tokens” were issued to those who were permitted to come to the Lord’s Supper, the hallowed American tradition is that “it’s left up to the individual.” Which tradition is closer to the pattern of both the Scriptures and the Reformed confessions?

Over a decade ago the Session of the OPC, Franklin Square considered this question, and came to the conclusion that what is commonly called “restricted communion” was decidedly more in line with the standard implied in the Westminster Confession of Faith, and Larger Catechism #173. We were struck with the fact that our church visitors were treated with a different standard than our own covenant children, who often knew more about the Gospel than many visitors! We were also convicted that the traditional American practice of “letting people make the decision for themselves” eviscerated any upholding of the discipline of other churches (a situation we would periodically face). From that time we have applied our conviction with this practice:

1. The week prior to the Lord’s Supper (which is observed monthly) we announce in the church bulletin that: “The Lord’s Supper will be administered next week as part of our morning worship service. The Lord’s Supper is for those who have been baptized in the Name of the Triune God, have publicly professed their faith in Christ, and are members of an evangelical church. Those visiting with us who desire to partake of the Lord’s Supper should speak with one of the church elders before doing so.” A similar announcement is placed in the bulletin on the Sunday of the Lord’s Supper.

2. Regular visitors (who have not already done so) speak with one of the elders either during the week prior to the Supper, or on that Sunday morning. We try to have one or more elders available near the entrance of the church so that visitors may consult with an elder. In most cases we know enough about the churches people come from so that individual elders may represent the Session by either giving permission to visitors to partake of the Lord’s Supper with us, or asking that they refrain from partaking with us “this time.” We see even the denial of permission to partake of the Lord’s Supper as an opportunity for ministry.

3. The standard warning is given prior to the administering of the Lord’s Supper, along with a statement such as this: “In order to preserve the integrity of our oversight of the Lord’s Table, if any of you visiting with us have not spoken with one of the church elders regarding your participation in the Lord’s Supper, we would ask that you refrain from partaking today.”

4. During the actual distribution of the elements the session members withhold the respective plates from those who have not spoken with of the session members.

I hasten to point out that this system is not “foolproof.” We frequently have many visitors, and it is difficult to enforce this as we would like. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that people do not actually come up to the communion table to be served, and also because the plates with the elements must, of necessity, be passed down entire pews from person to person. It would be far better if the elders gave the elements personally to each person “admitted” to the Lord’s Supper…but that’s hard to do in a congregation of over 200 people seated in pews!!! It’s also sometimes difficult to discern whether the congregation the visitor is from is genuinely “evangelical.” The term itself is becoming meaningless in our day. But, as with every other area of church discipline, we keep on working to be faithful to the standard of the Word of God. Our view has been to give a judgment of charity and admit persons who profess to be members of churches that are in some way conformed to a biblical pattern of doctrine and life.

What are the responses to this practice? Some take umbrage and (in true New York fashion!) let the elders know it. Others are more or less bothered by it, or are simply unfamiliar with it, and submit (the OPC is different than other evangelical churches in a number of ways, isn’t it?). Still others will say that even if they didn’t fully understand why we do things this way, they appreciated the care we had to preserve the integrity of the Lord’s Table. I’d like to think that’s the response that is the most genuinely sensitive to the administration of holy things in an unholy world.

How does your Session grapple with the phrase “…or be admitted thereunto”? Ponder the question and honestly ask yourself if the American evangelical pattern most of us are familiar with really squares with our confessional standard and the historic practice of the Reformed churches. For further reading on the question, see Professor John Murray’s thought provoking little article entitled “Restricted Communion” in his Collected Writings (Banner of Truth), 2:381-384.

Rev. Shishko is pastor of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church of Franklin Square, New York