New Covenant Theology - A False Gospel
By Pastor Chalan Hetherington
(Pastor, Bethel Reformed Baptist Church, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire)
It is not an understatement to say that many Christians, Churches, Bible Colleges, Seminaries, and Church Associations have fallen prey to ‘New Calvinism’ or the 'New Perspective on Paul'. Many are now also embracing what has come to be known as ‘New Covenant Theology’ and we shall demonstrate in this article that ‘New Covenant Theology’ is a false Gospel.
As Christians, we all believe in the New Covenant, also called the New Testament, which is Christ's shed blood for the remission of His people's sins. Matthew 26:28 "For this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins". In Hebrews 10:1-10 the Apostle explains that with the coming of the New Covenant, the "sacrificial Law" or "ceremonial Law" has now passed, because; Christ Who being the substance of those things, has now fulfilled the great debt on behalf of His people. As Christians we also all believe that every sinner is only ever justified before God by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ's atoning death for His people's sins, and that His perfect righteousness earned under the Law of God is imputed to their account for their everlasting righteousness. (see Isaiah 54:17, Jeremiah 23:6 and Romans 1:16-17). However, this is not what we are addressing under the subject of "New Covenant Theology". One may be asking, what then is ‘New Covenant Theology?'
New Covenant Theology positions vary, but essentially, it is the notion that with the coming of the shed blood and the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, that the Moral Law of God or the Ten Commandments, have no reference to, or are in no way, the enduring standard of righteousness for the believer to Glorify God.
Let us firstly be clear that the Word of God does clearly state that we are not "under the Law but under Grace", see Romans 6:14, but the same Apostle in same epistle in the Word of God states that the Law of God is not made void to the believer. Romans 3:31 says "Do we then make void the Law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the Law"
So what exactly then does "Not under the Law but under grace", mean then? Simply put; we are not under the condemning power of the Law, and thus we are not under fear of the threatening terrors of the Law. Moreover with our new status in Christ, we are given grace and power through the Holy Spirit to obey God's Law. This is of course is not to merit eternal life, but rather to walk in newness of life, in holiness and so to walk pleasingly before God. Whereas to be under the Law, is to be under the dominion of sin because 1 Corinthians 15:56 says "the strength of sin is the Law". The Word of God teaches that without saving grace, which accompanies the new birth, the carnal mind is at 'enmity with the Law and with God', (see Romans 8:7) thus without Grace, the Law therefore, instead of releasing our bondage to sin only intensifies it. So to be under the Law is to be under the dominion of sin.
Whereas the Grace of God that saves in the Gospel, now reigns in the believer (see Romans 5:21) and commands us to obey the same Lord who gave us His Law. Remembering that God had long before promised to write His Laws upon hearts of flesh. See Jeremiah 31:33 and later confirmed in Hebrews 10:16. In other words "Grace" does not lead the believer to transgress God's Law but rather the Grace and the Gospel leads us to frame our lives by the Law. Thus the Gospel establishes the Law, in the believer's heart and life. Romans 3:31
Samuel Bolton (1601-1654) wrote “The Law sends us to the Gospel for our justification; the Gospel sends us to the Law to frame our way of life”.
As Strict Baptists whilst we may disagree on certain points and specific terminology with our Gospel Standard brethren and good men such as William Gadsby, J.C Philpot, but on close examination there is little difference on this matter of the place of the Moral Law and its out workings in the life of the believer. Moreover it must be clearly stated at the outset of this article that we do not believe for a moment that these men are antinomians. These dear brethren would seek to keep the sanctity of the Lord's Day Sabbath and have no desire to break the remainder of the Ten Commandments of God. However throughout the age of Christendom it appears that there has always been a practical antinomianism which the epistle of Jude warns about, and that "turns the Grace of God into lasciviousness" Jude 4.
New Covenant Theology is not a new heresy but an old one cloaked under a new name. Under “New Covenant Theology” Christians believe that they can glorify and love God, and fellow men without any reference to the Moral Law of God. Naturally, one is left asking “how is such love to God and fellow men to be defined, regulated, and where is the moral compass and reference point to this love”? Having asked these serious theological questions, we immediately discern the danger of the doctrine. One can only begin to imagine that in these days leading up to the Lord's return in judgement, the dire consequences which it shall have left in it’s destructive path.
First, let us be clear that the Reformed Faith has always demonstrated that without the Moral Law of God, there can be absolutely no basis, warrant, or authority for defining what sin is. Neither can there be a measuring of what holiness, sanctification, and righteous standards are. The Word of God teaches that sin is ‘Lawlessness’ anomia, ἀνομία, against Law. The Apostle John under the inspiration of God writes in 1John 3:4 “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the Law: for sin is the transgression of the Law” It stands therefore that; as sin is the transgression of the Law, righteousness is conformity to the Law.
The Apostle Paul in Romans 2:14-15 informs us that, the Moral Law, is that with which every human conscience has been endued with, and answers to, and will be finally judged by. "For when the Gentiles, which have not the Law, do by nature the things contained in the Law, these, having not the Law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another."
Furthermore, final Judgement, Divine Retribution, and Everlasting punishment pronounced and exacted on the human race can not be conceived apart from the Moral Law of God. However the Christian is now free from the condemning power of the Law on account of our Lord Jesus Christ’s atoning work and His righteousness imputed to them for their justification. Nevertheless, as we have already established, the Law remains the abiding standard of righteousness to frame their lives by and to glorify God.
Before we examine this new doctrine further, one may ask “what about our forefathers and the Reformed Historical Confessions of Faith?” What do they cite and instruct concerning the Decalogue or Moral Law? Unquestionably, the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Savoy Declaration, amongst many other Reformed Confessions, all present a very clear and coherent teaching regarding the perpetuity of the Moral Law of God as the enduring standard of righteousness for the Christian’s life.
There are those who confess the 1644 or 1646 London Baptist Confessions of Faith rather than the 1689 London Baptist Confession because they believe that they are identifying with Baptists who did not hold to the perpetuity of the Moral Law, as it is expressed in the 1689 London Baptist Confession. Some would even suggest that those men who penned the two earlier confessions held to New Covenant Theology. However when those Confessions and their appendixes are examined, it is clear that there is no difference between the views in all three ratified London Baptist Confessions concerning the Moral Law of God.
After the publication of the First London Baptist Confession in 1644, certain criticisms and inquiries were levelled against the Baptists concerning their positions on certain issues. In reply, they revised the Confession and republished it in 1646. Benjamin Coxe, father of Nehemiah Coxe, published an appendix to the Confession after that in order to give clarity to some of the issues in question. In the Appendix to the 1646 Confession Benjamin Coxe wrote:
“In a book lately reprinted, entitled, A Confession of Faith of Several Congregations or churches of Christ in London, etc. This is a plain and sincere expression of our judgment in the things therein spoken of, in 52 Articles: and if our judgment touching some particulars, wherein we seem, or are supposed, to dissent from some others, do not appear clearly enough in that confession, I hope that same shall somewhat more clearly appear in this ensuing Appendix”.
App X. “Though we be not now sent to the Law as it was in the hand of Moses, to be commanded thereby, yet Christ in His Gospel teacheth and commandeth us to walk in the same way of righteousness and holiness that God by Moses did command the Israelites to walk in, all the commandments of the Second Table being still delivered unto us by Christ, and all the commandments of the First Table also (as touching the life and spirit of them) in this epitome or brief sum, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, etc."
Matt.22:37-40; Romans 13:8-10.
It is therefore without dispute from Benjamin Coxes’ statements that their stance on the perpetuity of the Law was certain in both the 1644 and 1646 Confessions. The First London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1644 and it’s revised version in 1646 states: “The believer presseth after a heavenly and evangelical obedience to all the Commands” (Chapter 29 line 6).
So the appendix gave the needed clarity to remove any suspicion on this crucial doctrine. The claim that the early Baptists excluded the Law of God, because they held to a form of New Covenant Theology is completely untenable. Also we know that Benjamin Coxe served with William Collins as Co-elder at the Church in Petty France, and it also must be remembered that it was the same Churches, Southwark, Wapping, Devonshire Square, Petty France, Glasshouse, Crutched Fryars, the last having two representatives, Joseph Phelpes and Edward Heath. These Seven London congregations published the 1644 and 1646 Confession. The 1689 Confession was completed in 1677 and representatives of four of these Churches also publicly signed the 1689 Confession. The other three either ceased to exist, or had merged into the remaining Churches. If their theology on the Law of God in the two earlier Confessions changed, one would have to prove that all these Churches and all these men went through dramatic theological changes, but no evidence for that exists, in fact the very opposite is true.
William Kiffin, whose name is at the fore of the list of those who published the 1644 Confession, stated in his 1642 book entitled ‘Certain Observations upon Hosea, the Second the 7. & 8. Verses”, Page 16: "in Scripture men are said to forsake God when they forsake the Law of God, the Commandments of God, or the worship of God" (page 4), "to keep close to God is to keep close to the Law of God, the Commandments of God... it is best both with persons & churches, when they do so"
Moreover Hanserd Knollys, who signed the second edition of the Confession in 1646 wrote in his 1646 book “Christ Exalted : A Lost Sinner sought and saved by Christ”, page 24: "The difference between these two schoolmasters, the Law and Christ, is this, Moses in the Law commands his Disciples to do this, and forbeare that, but gives no power, nor communicates no skill to perform anything: Christ commands His Disciples to do the same moral duties, and to forbeare the same evils, and with His command He gives power, and wisdom, For He works in us both to will and to do according to His good pleasure"
We can thus see that these men went to great lengths to clear all suspicions of antinomianism or New Covenant Theology.
Coming back to the title of this article: “New Covenant theology is a false Gospel” It is a false Gospel because it attacks the very heart and saving purposes of the true Gospel. The very Name and virtue of The Lord Jesus Christ is He Who “shall save His people from their sins” and deliver them out of bondage from them. As sin is the transgression of the Law, the Gospel does not dispose of God’s Law, but delivers us from a life of sin. To be ‘under the Law’ is to be unsaved, and it is to be under the power and dominion of sin. This is why we read “the strength of sin is the Law” 1 Corinthians 15:56.
In the Words of Professor John Murray (Law and Grace) Payton Lectures 1955.
“The Law excites and incites sin to more virulent and violent transgression. Law, of itself so far from renewing and reforming the depraved heart, only occasions more intensified and confirmed expression of its depravity. ‘But sin taking occasion through the commandment wrought in me all manner of concupiscence’ (Romans 7:8; cf. verses 9, 11, 13). The law, therefore, instead of relieving or relaxing our bondage to sin, intensifies and confirms that bondage. The more the light of the Law shines upon and in our depraved hearts, the more the enmity of our minds is roused to opposition, and the more it is made manifest that the mind of the flesh is not subject to the Law of God, neither can be.”
However when a man is regenerated, Grace reigns in the heart, Romans 5:21, and Paul teaches that to be under grace is to be under the same Law of God “to Christ”. Conversely New Covenant Theology proponents teach that Christians are now under a different Law altogether, not the Law of God but ‘the Law of Christ’. This nevertheless is a woefully mistaken concept. The Apostle in 1 Corinthians 9:21 speaks of us being “under the Law to Christ” (A.V.) and not “of Christ”. “To them that are without Law, as without Law, being not without Law to God, but under the Law to Christ, that I might gain them that are without Law”.
However the Apostle Paul never speaks of us being “under the Law of Christ” as the ESV and other modern translations render. The Apostle Paul demonstrates that this Law to Christ, is the Moral Law, which we now serve by grace “to Christ” Please see, Romans 7:4-7. Once again the modern translations introduce new doctrine by their corrupt manuscripts and poor translation, and in this particular case giving way to New Covenant Theology. It is important to remember that because the Holy Scriptures contain the doctrines of God, they have been the object of attack ever since they were first given.
Can we refute Christ’s Words given through His angel in Revelation 14:12 “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the Commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” What a wonderful delineation and distinction made plain for us.
Another reason why we can be sure the Moral Law, has not been abrogated is that the Law, is essential for the conversion of a soul. Psalm 19:7 says “The Law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul” and Romans 3:20 says ‘for by the Law is the knowledge of sin’. The Apostle also informs us in Galatians 3:24 that it is the Law, as a schoolmaster which brings us to Christ. If the Law, no longer is, how can a sinner be convicted of sin, by the Spirit Who gave the Word, and be saved by grace through Faith in believing the message of the Gospel?
What is more, meditation on God’s Law is distinctly the mark of all of God’s people. The Psalmist in Psalm 1:2 writes about the godly “But his delight is in the Law of the LORD; and in His Law doth he meditate day and night” “The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away” Psalm 119:97 ‘O how I love Thy Law, it is my meditation all the day’ Romans 7:22 “I delight in the Law of God after the inward man”. It is by meditation on God’s Law that we see God’s righteousness, holiness and beauty, as well as our sin and our need to repent and conform to His will. So as we examine our hearts and lives by His Law we repent and we seek the grace of His Spirit to help us to become more conformed to His likeness. The Lord Jesus Christ, the very embodiment of virtue, He who is the Supreme and perfect example, said, ‘I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, Thy Law is within my heart’ (Psalm 40:8)
Finally our Lord Jesus Christ warns us that departure from the practice of the Law of God amongst professing Christians is the sign of the end of the age. See Matthew 24:12-13
“And because iniquity (anomia - ἀνομία Law-lesness) shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” Here our Lord Jesus Christ tells us that the end of the age is discernible by iniquity “anomia” lawlessness abounding in the world, permeating throughout all echelons of society and as a result the Lord warns us that there is a very direct effect upon ‘the many’ these are they in the Church who merely profess to be Christians; and the professed love of these ‘many’ shall wax cold and they shall consequently fall away.
We may ask why does our Lord speak about their ‘love’? Well because ‘love’ is the moral directive and essence of the Law of God. (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:36–40). Therefore surmounting pressure from the world in an age of abounding iniquity makes New Covenant Theology very attractive and palatable to the empty professor who is content with his nebulous self defined love as opposed to delighting in and obeying God’s abiding Law’s of righteousness. Ultimately, when the Law of God is jettisoned from the Church, God’s presence departs from the midst. Why? Well because the Law is the reflection of the Moral Essence, Character and Nature of God and what He requires of all His children to Glorify and please Him. 1 John 2:3 “hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His Commandments”
Many Churches are now reaping what they have sown by forsaking God’s Law, and in particular the 4th Commandment. The honouring of the one Day which we are called by Almighty God to set apart from the world, work, and worldly recreation, and for the occupation of the whole person in the worship of the Lord under His Word. It is a fact that more and more Churches now either only have one service on a Sunday or have very few attending the evening services.
May the perilous times we are in, drive us to pray more earnestly, so as to watch our lives and doctrine more vigilantly, as the faith once delivered unto the saints is proving to be under a most vehement assault. William Kiffin, Hanserd Knollys and Benjamin Coxe all contended earnestly in their day for the Law of God and so must we now.
Once again we may disagree with good men such as the late William Gadsby, and J.C Philpot and our beloved Gospel Standard brethren, on a few terms but they are certainly not antinomians. They keep the sanctity of the Lord's Day and God's commandments. However as we have said throughout the ages there has always been an attack on these Commandments of God and there is present a practical antinomianism which "turns the Grace of God into lasciviousness", Jude 4.
The Lord Jesus said that He did not come to “abolish the Law” Matthew 5:17 but He came to “fulfil it” and to “magnify the Law and to make it honourable” Is 42:21, and Peter exhorts us that we should walk in the path and example that the Lord Jesus Christ did.
Last but not least, unlike any other of the Ceremonial or Mosiac Judicial Laws, it is surely very striking and noteworthy that the Ten Commandments were placed in the Ark of the Covenant, and written by the very finger of God, and spoken from heaven by the voice of God Himself . Thus confirming their perpetuity!
If our Lord “delighted in the Law” and if Christ’s Spirit is in us, (Romans 8:9) surely this will be our desire also. Paul says in in Romans 7:22 “For I delight in the Law of God after the inward man”.
Romans 3:31 ‘Do we then make void the Law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the Law’.
I close with the words of Samuel Bolton (1601-1654) “The Law sends us to the Gospel for our justification; the Gospel sends us to the Law to frame our way of life”. “If Christ has freed us from the penalties, how ought we to subject ourselves to the precepts! If He has delivered us from the curses, how ought we to study the commands! If He paid our debt of sin, certainly we owe a debt of service.”