The Reformation brought the church again to the Apostolic faith by emphasizing the 5 “onlys” (Solas) but really there are 6! The one often set aside is central to all the purposes of God namely, the Covenant Alone.
We are saved by Faith alone,
by Grace alone,
In Christ alone,
because of the Covenant alone,
which is revealed in Scripture alone,
and all to the Glory of God alone.
The covenant “formula” oft repeated throughout Scripture is “I will be your God and you will be my people”. God dwells in love as three persons and extends that covenant of love to include his people in all of history, through his Son. God’s friendship with elect sinners is its essence. It is a huge privilege to be a covenant friend and child of God! Treasure it!
At this year’s Reformation Day Conference in the CERC (Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore), Rev Andy Lanning gave three speeches under the theme “The Forgotten Sola Of the Reformation: Solus Foedus”.
Was the Covenant a forgotten Sola? Which doctrine of the covenant is true? How does the covenant affect our lives as God’s people?
Click to listen to the 3 RDC speeches!
If you cannot give the time to listening to these speeches to which I highly commend , here are three summaries:
Message One-The Covenant and Reformation History
The 5 “Solas” by their nature rule out all human meriting with God (Pelagianism)
Covenant means relationship, a bond of friendship (Psalm 25:4-where secrets (literally pillow-talk) are revealed). The formula make clear it is made with believers and their seed (gen 17:7). Christian marriage, indeed all marriage, is meant to reflect that covenant (Eph.5:26).
Teaching on God’s covenant relates to marriage, family, infants, worship and church membership.
The Anabaptists (part of the Reformation) anathematised Roman Catholic baptism of infants as the grossest of errors they opposed. They also held to recognizing no civil authority, no military, no oaths, direct revelation by dreams, extreme communal living. Their cause meant great suffering and harm for the true Reformed people who were lumped with them by the RC authorities and severely persecuted with over 100,000 deaths. They were the reason the Belgic Confession was written and providentially no Reformed died in the Dutch lowlands. We see the same bad name given the cause of Christ today by their successors in the excesses of Pentecostalism and charismaticism. The answer to their erroneous doctrines is the truth of God’s covenant formulated mainly in Zurich by Zwingli and his successor Bullinger. In summary:
- The covenant is with God’s people AND their seed (hence each generation get the sign of the covenant applied). Baptism is based on God’s promise NOT man’s ex
- The covenant is eternal (it stretches back in the history of Old Testament as well as New Testament).
Is Roman Catholic baptism valid?
Yes according to Calvin and the Reformers as is any baptism that is:
a) Done in the name of the Trinity
b) Done with water.
c) Done by a lawfully called clergyman.
Regarding Adam and God’s covenant with him we can say:
- He was typical of Christ. He was a covenant head and was a covenant-breaker. He could never have merited with God. The covenant with him was gracious. We, in Adam, are also covenant-breakers and as such, we all died in him (Romans 5:12).
- Christ as the Second Adam, in contrast to the first Adam, merited for us, and we, his elect, also all died in him. As a result we are brought into covenant friendship with the Triune God on a higher plane than even Adam experienced.
Message Two-The Covenant in Modern Debate
Mutual ownership. “I will be your God and you will be my people”-God belongs to us and we belong to God.
Intimate relationship. The tabernacle and temple were where God dwelt with his people just as a married couple dwell together. Marriage reflects the covenant between Christ and his church. Yet he has no need of us.
Structured. It is his covenant. He orders, He promises, He is Father. We have obligations e.g. the sign to be given, he orders, we are children.
Unconditional. He establishes it unilaterally with the elect of which Christ is the federal head (Gen.17:7). The promise is to the elect seed only (Acts 2:38, Rom.8:30, 9:7-8).
Unbreakable. (Gen.17:7) “everlasting”.
False view is the conditional covenant. Klaas Schilder of Liberated Reformed Churches of Netherlands.
- Based on a universal promise to every baptised infant.
- Condition is faith. They must believe and obey i.e. salvation depends on man.
- Breakable.The resultant heresy is “Federal Vision” theology held by the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches who teach salvation by faith and works which can be lost and so they deny election.The danger of this to the souls of men and their children is that it eventually leads to Roman Catholicism which is Pelagian, denies the solas, robs God of his glory, is sin (Rom.6:23) and means damnation to those who follow it.Infant baptism is based on this Biblical teaching of the covenant:
- Abraham’s children were included in the covenant and church.
- Unity of church in all time, therefore sign must be given in N.T.
- Household baptisms.
- Parent(s) promise to teach and admonish their children.
- Is no guarantee of regeneration.
Message Three- The Application of Covenant Theology
- Family-marriage reflecting God’s covenant is a GOOD institution as also is the single life. The covenant teaches us our Biblical roles in marriage (Eph.5) The covenant, and therefore the marriage bond likewise, is UNBREAKABLE, lawful divorce does NOT break the bond therefore divorce (only allowed for adultery) does NOT allow remarriage. Only death breaks the bond. The covenant mandates covenant baptism of the infant children of a believer. The covenant mandates Christian parental teaching and admonition.
- Church-the key expression of covenant life where Christ speaks to his people and they respond, is public church worship (John 10:27). Church life is covenant life with brothers and sisters in covenant communion (Lord’s Supper and fellowship).
- Personally-our priority over all else is our relationship with our covenant head and this is fostered by using the personal means of grace in devotions.