by Brandon Ash
The Bible is an organic whole that works together to reveal the one plan of God for the salvation of His people, through the person and work of His Son. God desires us to worship Him through practicing and enjoying His blessings. A question that may arise is how does God desire us to enjoy His blessings under the New Covenant in Christ? To answer this question, we must look back before time into what theologians call the Covenant of Redemption (CoR).
The Bible teaches that the Triune God agreed upon a covenant based on the Fathers election of a special people. These chosen ones were those whom the Son was to redeem through the gospel of His life. Louis Berkhof, a Dutch Reformed theologian, defines the CoR as “the agreement between the Father, giving the Son as Head and Redeemer of the elect, and the Son, voluntarily taking the place of those whom the Father had given to Him.” This means that the doctrine of election is paramount to our understanding of the plan of God for salvation as revealed in the Word. Eph. 1:4 says “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” This verse and many others (Eph. 3:11; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 2:9; Jas. 2:5; 1 Pet. 1:2, etc.) point to the doctrine of election which logically precedes the CoR. It required someone to come and redeem those whom would fall short of the glory of God.
John 6:38-40 points to an agreed upon covenant between the father and the Son. It says, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Likewise, many other verses point to a covenant between the Father and Son (Jn. 5:30; 17:4-12). Jesus agreed to a covenant with His Father whereby He would come and obey particular statutes for the redemption of His people. This makes God the Father the covenant head of God the Son in that he gave Him commandments to obey (1 Cor 15:22-24) and promised blessings for obedience (1 Cor. 15:27; Jn. 17:1-2,5). This covenant made in eternity past (Jn. 5:43) is the foundation for the New Covenant.
The New Covenant, as Sam Renihan says, “goes no further than the [Covenant of Redemption], not only because Christ specifically said that his mission was purely to redeem the elect, but also because the New Covenant is made in Christ’s blood, redeeming blood whose salvific benefits have never been and will never be applied to any but the elect.” This means that God’s plan of redemption was always meant to effectually redeem all that the Father has chosen without exception. Because of this fact, the New Covenant is therefore the practical outworking of the CoR.
The Particular Baptist of the 17th century taught that the Old Covenant (Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic) progressively revealed the New Testament through types and shadows (Heb. 8:5; 10:1-4). The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (2LBCF) says “This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament; and it is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son”. The New Covenant being founded in the CoR implies that all of the membership of the NC must be believers only, since the Father immutably chose all whom Christ came to redeem. Unlike the OC which had a mixed membership (Gen. 17:9), the NC mirrors the CoR in its membership. This is done through the Father revealing the elect to Christ (CoR) and Jesus reflecting those choices back to the Father through His sacrifice for their sins (NC). The genesis of our redemption is found in the Father’s sovereign choice, revealed in space and time when by faith we are united to Christ and brought into the NC. Before we were ever regenerated by the power of God’s Spirit, all NC members we covenantally generated according to the will of God. The mark of regeneration is an application of the promised redemption in the Son. God desires that all true members of the NC enjoy its promised blessings primarily in the context of a local church. Our Baptist forefathers believed this and as a result they practiced the following:
1.) Regenerate Church Membership. Reformed Baptist believe that the membership of the NC is made up of believers only, therefore the local church should reflect that as much as possible. We believe that all that God has promised in the CoR will be brought into the covenant of grace through Union with Christ and therefore regenerated (law written on a new heart). R. Stanton Norman, the associate professor of Theology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary says, “The church is to be a holy, spiritual body of people. Only people who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit should be admitted into the membership of the local church. The teaching and pattern of the New Testament overwhelmingly supports this.” Both the CoR and the NC of grace inform us that local churches should seek to protect the heart of our redemption through the practice of regenerate church membership. By practicing regenerate church membership, we open ourselves up to the enjoyment of NC blessings by sharing our spiritual gifts with one another for mutual edification.
2.) Church Discipline. Historically, Baptist have taught the church that discipline is necessary in order to protect its sanctity. Church discipline is not a Baptist distinctive, but we find that the practice of it is consistent with practicing regenerate church membership. Again, the 2LBCF says, “To each of these churches therefore gathered, according to his [God] mind declared in his word, he has given all that power and authority, which is in any way needful for their carrying on that order in worship and discipline.” When we admit a member into the local church, we are judging them based upon their profession of faith. We are saying “by the testimony of your life” you prove to have a credible profession of faith. Likewise, when we discipline a professing believer out of the church, we are judging the pattern of their life and making a judgement that their profession of faith is no longer credible. We are not making a definite pronouncement on their soul. Again, Stanton says, “Any church that intentionally allows through doctrine or practice, unregenerate persons into membership violates the teachings of Scripture and perverts the very nature of the gospel itself.” We practice church discipline in an effort to enjoy the NC blessing, in the context of the local church, by excising those who disrupt the unity of the church through persistent and unrepentant sin.
3.) Baptism of Disciples Alone. Baptism is a sign of NC membership. Unlike the OC where the sign of the covenant was given to every son of Abraham no matter their spiritual condition (Gen17:11), we know that all the recipients of baptism should be members of the NC since it is a reflection of the CoR. Baptism is a positive law given under the NC meant to be both a means of grace, and a sign that you have been brought into new life with Christ (Rom. 6:3-4). In the OC, circumcision was the sign of the covenant with Abraham and a promise of new but temporal life in Canaan for physical Israel (Gen. 12:1-3; 17:9-14). Baptist practice credobaptism because we believe it accurately reflects the commandments of the NC and is consistent with a Biblical understanding of covenant theology. Again, God gave Baptism to His people as a means of nourishing our faith and welcoming us into His covenant for the enjoyment of all of His promises.