Thursday, October 27, 2016

Dr. Renihan confesses New Covenant Theology to Be True

Well, it's official. The old guard for Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology is starting to crumble. Dr. James Renihan has ceded the NCT interpretation of Colossians 2:16-17. OK, perhaps I'm being overly hopeful. But back in 2005, Dr. Renihan unknowingly confessed that the fourth commandment, the Sabbath commandment, has been abolished. Allow me to quote the good Doctor below. What I have transcribed is an excerpt from his sermon, entitled, "New Covenant Theology" and can be found here. The sermon is centered mainly around a critique of the book "New Covenant Theology" by Wells and Zaspel. That book can be found here
Without further ado, let me allow Dr. Renihan make his case.

"Those of us who believe in the Sabbath principle do not wish to blink our eyes at texts like Col. 2:16-17 and I had the same kind of struggle with this text that I had with a text like 1 John 2:2 on the subject of the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ, wanting to be faithful with the text. Now what do you do?

Well I found something very interesting as I was reading and studying this text one day, and it's in J.B. Lightfoot's commentary on the book of Colossians. And Lightfoot points out something that is of great interest to me. He demonstrates that there are six places in the Septuagint, (which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT) there are six places where [one can see] the very words which Paul uses in Colossians 2:16; "festival" "new moon" and "sabbaths."

There are six places where those words occur together in the Septuagint translations, 2 Chronicles 2:4; 2 Chronicles 31:3; Nehemiah 10:33; Isaiah 1:13-14; Hosea 2:11; and Ezekiel 45:17.
And if you were to take the time and go and look at each one of those six occurrences of this same set of 3 words in the Old Testament, you will find that in every case the writers of the OT used these words as a package to refer to the fullness of time related days that were bound upon Israel to obedience.
And I think that Paul, who was trained in Old Testament theology and who understood the use of technical terms as they are found in the Old Testament. (I think we can even say at this point Rabbi Paul, who trained at the feet of the Gamaliel, the rabbi, understood how words were used in the Old Testament.) And when he uses these 3 words in the same way here in Colossians chapter 2, he is using these words in the same way that they are used elsewhere in the Bible.
This is the principle that our brother set out before us in the last hour when he said that we interpret Scripture by Scripture. A surface reading of the text seems to tell us that there are no Sabbaths and no one is to judge you on the basis of those Sabbaths, but everywhere else in the Bible, brothers and sisters, everywhere else in the Bible, where these three words are used together, they are used to describe the fullness of days that were obligatory for the nation of Israel.
And it's my conviction (and I think Lightfoot is right) that Paul uses these words in the same combination and in the same way. He refers to the package of "Jewish" days. That's what Paul is seeking to say, he's referring to the package of Jewish days.
And so you and I, as those who believe that there continues to be a day of observance under the NC, can alongside of Paul gladly assert with every possible boldness, that every characteristically Jewish day has been abolished. You don't have to keep a new moon, you don't have to keep any of the Jewish festivals, and on Saturday you can go to the football game and rejoice. And you don't have to go to worship on that day.

Now please allow me to interject Dr. Renihan. It seems to me that you just acknowledged that the 4th commandment was a "Jewish day" and that Colossians 2 puts forth the case that we as Christians no longer have to observe Jewish days, namely, the fourth commandment. Thus, we can ignore the commandment given to Israel and go to a football game on a Saturday.
Thus, Dr. Renihan, if you confess that Colossians 2 puts an end to the 4th commandment and its requirement to keep Saturday, then it seems that we're all agreed. The Sabbath commandment is abolished. You only follow 9 of the 10 commandments. I'm also curious as to why you changed the pattern of language you were using? To say, "on Saturday you can go to the football game" is just another way of saying, "you don't have to keep the weekly Sabbath." It seems to me that you have changed your language in an advantageous way which obscures the fact that the passage in question contradicts the Reformed Confessions. Instead of saying, "you don't have to keep a new moon, you don't have to keep a festival, and you don't have to keep a weekly Sabbath, you instead say, "you don't have to keep a new moon, you don't have to keep a festival and on Saturday you can go to the football game." But I digress. I will allow you to continue with your thoughts.


"We can say that with all the strength of our conviction, but saying that in no way undermines the possibility of the obligation of a distinctively Christian day, the Lord's day, as a memorial of Christ's work in establishing the new creation, the new exodus, and his eschatological triumph, which is the line of reasoning that we find in Hebrews 3 and 4.

Now Dr. Renihan, I'm sorry for interjecting so quickly, but if you would let me to do so I find what you have said as very troubling. It seems that you agree with me that there is no command in Scripture, and so you call it a "possibility of an obligation." That seems strange to me.
You said, that abolishing the Jewish Sabbath (the 4th commandment) "in no way undermines the possibility of the obligation of a distinctively Christian day [the obligation to have a Christian Sabbath]"
I have to agree. After all, anything is "possible." I suppose that the abolition of the 4th commandment in no way undermines the possibility of the obligation to keep a special Sabbath in the New Covenant. But you yourself do not see an obligation, you only see a "possibility." Thus, there is no Christian Sabbath. It will always remain just "a possibility." The "possibility of the obligation" is not the same thing as an obligation.
So while you have argued masterfully against the commandment which required 7th day observance, you have yet still failed to show that a new commandment has risen up and taken the place of the old one. Where is the commandment to observe a Sabbath on the first day of the week? You've shown that the Scripture kills the 4th commandment, but where is the Scripture that shows it rising from the grave and laying down new obligations upon Christians?
One cannot prove that the 4th commandment has died along with the dietary laws, only to argue that the 4th commandment returns with new demands and the dietary laws return with new restrictions. If I wanted to argue that there were new dietary restrictions, then I'd have to show a definite commandment from Scripture. Likewise, if you want to show the new obligation to observe a Sabbath for Christians, you're going to have to show a definite commandment from Scripture.
The new moons have not come back to us in a different form, the festivals have not come back to us in a different form, and the dietary laws have not come back to us in a different form. With all of this you agree. Yet, for some reason, (because the Reformed confessions say so) you wish to assume that the Sabbath DOES come back to us in a different form. Why would all the other commandments mentioned in the exact same breath be abolished forever, while the Sabbath comes back with new form? That's very tricky of Paul to throw in one perpetual command right in the mix with dozens of dead ones.
Sincerely Dr. Renihan, you're going to have to show that there is not just "the possibility" of a new Sabbath, you're going to have to show that the command was actually given. A possibility of a command, does not a command make. Since you have so masterfully proven that the Jewish Sabbath (the 4th commandment of the Decalogue) has been abolished, please show me where a new "Christian Sabbath" is commanded?

Thank you for allowing that interjection, I'll allow you to continue.
This day [the first day of the week] has substance, it has firmness, (it is the body) in the way that the Old Covenant days never could. Because the first day of the week honors the final consummate fulfillment in Jesus Christ. All of those Old Testament days could only look forward in a typical way to his coming, but the first day of the week which is the only day that we observe, in all of it's fullness has substance because on that day we rejoice in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. So you see? The fact that they (Wells and Zaspel) have not wrestled with an exegesis of a text, but 13 times have cited it is a serious flaw in the argument of the book. Incomplete exegesis means incomplete argumentation, and no treatment will carry the consciences of readers until it handles thoroughly all the exegetical questions that are relevant to the subject at hand. And up to this point in the publication of their book "New Convenant Theology," Wells and Zaspel have not done this. They have not provided a thorough exegesis of the text of scripture.
I must say that I agree wholeheartedly with your exegesis of the text. It is very clear that Colossians 2:16-17 abolishes any and all Jewish days, whether it be the Jewish observance commanded in Leviticus 23:9, the Jewish observance commanded in Numbers 29:1, or even the Jewish Sabbath commanded in Exodus 20:8-11, as recorded in the Decalogue. All Jewish observances are no longer binding upon Christians. So let's work on Saturday if necessary, or go to a sporting event, or whatever we wish. The commandment is no longer binding upon Christians. I also agree with what you said about "all of those Old Testament days" and how they could "only look forward in a typical way to Jesus' coming." An observance of a day can only be typical. It can only be shadow. And of course this is exactly what Paul says in the very text of Colossians 2. All Jewish day are only a shadow, and Jesus himself is the substance. This is why I'm confused, because I know that you agree with the nature of the Sabbath as just a shadow. You agree that the food laws were also just a shadow. Why then, in light of Paul's words, "but the substance belongs to Christ" do you resurrect a the 4th commandment and declare, "the substance belongs to the first day of the week?" It just doesn't make sense.
You have however exegeted Colossians 2:16-17 perfectly. Now, your next task is to find a passage to exegete that shows the resurrection of the 4th commandment, and the command to return to observing a Sabbath. Don't worry, I won't hold my breath. I know that the Seventh Day Adventists have been offering money for decades to anyone who can produce one single text that commands Christians to observe a Sabbath on the first day of the week. I know that no such text exists. Thus, I can't help but wonder why you teach that such a command exists? And I can't help but wonder why, you yourself referred to this command as "the possibility of the obligation" to observe a weekly Sabbath? Have you not just admitted that the Christian Sabbath is not actually a fact? It reminds me of the evolutionists who claim, "it's possible that men came from chimpanzees." Or, "it's possible that "life just began on its own." Yes indeed, that is the type of language one uses when he has no evidence for his position.
Thank you Dr. Renihan. I appreciate that you have taken the time to exegete the text of Colossians 2:16-17. I'm sure that Wells and Zaspel appreciate it as well. You did a fantastic job. I'll rest easy at night knowing that I am not obliged to observe any days which come to me from the Old Testament. But it does make me wonder why you still contend that there is one particular Old Testament command that must be followed, namely the Fourth commandment, albeit you do change the day from the last to the first of the week. But where do you get the authority to do such a thing? Did the Apostles teach that the fourth commandment changed from the last day to the first day? Obviously not, for if they had, Paul would have mentioned it here in Colossians 2. So where do you get the authority to resurrect a commandment that you yourself claim the Apostle has abolished?
Thank you for your time Dr. Renihan.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

How Reformed Baptists Err on Old Covenant Law


Last time, I proved that Presbyterian Covenant Theology is wrong on the Basis of one verse, Gal. 3:15. I told you that the following week, I would show the errors of Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology. That was four months ago. Welcome to the second "week." (Sometimes I get too busy) But without further ado, let's just jump right in shall we?

Part 2 Proving Covenant Theology wrong with one verse

When I cite Galatians 3:15 as proof that the entire Mosaic Code has passed away and become obsolete, the Reformed Baptists cheer. They couldn't agree more. In fact, seeing the Mosaic Covenant as a whole that has passed away entirely is the fundamental basis for the Reformed Baptist view.

So, Galatians 3:15 really only destroys the Presbyterian Covenantal position. But in our day, many Baptists have failed to understand the historical and theological nature of CT and thus many Baptists are pretending that they can be both Baptist and Covenental at the same time. The modern day Reformed Baptist will side with the New Covenant theologian and agree with the entire argument from last *week (that the whole of the Mosaic Code has passed away). They will state that God's covenants are unchangeable and Christ came to completely fulfill and abolish the Old Mosaic Covenant.

One of the most well regarded spokesmen for the Baptist form of Covenant Theology is Richard Barcellos.  In his classic work, "In Defense of the Decalogue" a work purposed to debunk NCT, he argues that the whole Old Covenant is gone.  In that wonderful work, he says:


 "Hearty agreement must be given when New Covenant theologians argue for the abolition of the Old Covenant. This is clearly the teaching of the Old and New Testaments (see Jeremiah 31:31-32; Second Corinthians 3; Galatians 3, 4; Ephesians 2:14-15; Hebrews 8-10). The whole law of Moses, as it functioned under the Old Covenant, has been abolished, including the Ten Commandments. Not one jot or tittle of the law of Moses functions as the Old Covenant law anymore and to act as if it does constitutes redemptive-historical retreat and neo-Judaizing."

Clearly, Barcellos and other Reformed Baptist recognize that Paul's argument from Gal. 3:15 is air tight and not one jot or tittle of the law can still be in force upon Christians. However, Barcellos immediately contradicts himself when he suggests that the Decalogue continues to have "abiding moral validity under the New Covenant." In the eyes of Reformed Baptists, the law is both abolished, and has abiding moral validity at the same time.

But this is THE Reformed Baptist Covenant position. The RB takes the law, proclaims that all of it has passed away, and then declares that the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) "doth  for ever bind all... to the obedience thereof" with a "universal and perpetual obligation." 

The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, and men like Barcellos who subscribe to it, make a terrible mistake by returning to the law when Christ has set us free from it. What the Reformed Baptists do is almost schizophrenic. The 1689 states, "neither does Christ in the Gospel in any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation [the 10 Commandments]." So the Baptist's declare that the ten commandments are "abolished" like Barcellos says above, and the obligation to keep them has been "strengthened."  So they are both abolished and strengthened at the exact same time? It sounds strange but I understand the reason for it. Let me explain.

Reformed Baptists believe that the Ten Commandments possessed two different characteristics when they were created. First, they were the summation of the Covenant that God made with Moses and the Israelites. Second, they were also God's moral, and timeless commands for the instruction of men. Thus, it makes sense to assert that once the Mosaic Covenant is fulfilled and gone, that that particular characteristic of the law would be "abolished" while the second characteristic (moral instruction) continues on. Here's a graphic I made to help see how they understand the Decalogue as both abolished and in force at the same time. 

In the Old Covenant dispensation, they had two purposes, first as a set of stipulations through which obedience would lead to reward, and second as a guide of morality. Since the Old Covenant is gone, so the promise of blessing for the obedient one is also gone (thankfully, the curses for the one who breaks a command is also gone. Praise God!) But since it also functioned as a guide for morality, they are also still in force. Thus, they are both abolished in one respect and untouched in another. It makes sense. There is however a problem with this view, and that is that the view perverts the Christian life in regards to "Sabbath" observance. 

Because the view declares all of the Ten Commandments to be moral guide for Christian living, it must declare that the Sabbath command is moral; when it is clearly not. This perverts the Christian's practice and seeks to place burdens upon believers that God never places upon them. The problems with Sabbath practice are myriad and cannot be addressed in one blog post, or even ten; but at the end of the day the Christian is required to bind upon his back aspects of law that Christ has freed us from.

Let's hear it straight from the 1689 London Baptist Confession.

"The sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering their common affairs aforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all day, from their own works, words and thoughts, about their worldly employment and recreations, but are also taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship 
and in the duties of necessity and mercy."  

Notice that as a believer, or even non-believer (since the command is universal) you are required to avoid employment on the first day of the week. You are required to avoid "words" about your employment on the first day of the week, and you are required to avoid "thoughts" about your employment on the first day of the week. So no talking or thinking about work on Sunday, thus saith the Lord, apparently. 

But we're not done yet. Notice that you cannot talk about, think about or do work on Sunday, but you also must avoid, words about recreation, and thoughts about recreation, and you certainly may not partake in recreation on Sunday. Instead, you must be "taken up the whole time in public and private worship" unless there is a duty of necessity or mercy. So no watching your team play football unless it's absolutely necessary, or if it's an act of mercy (which if your a Dallas Cowboys fan, it may be).
Flying a kite with your children on the Sabbath would be regarded as recreation unless you can justify it as an act of necessity or mercy. Any sort of recreation or entertainment is off limits, unless you can spin it to make it look like it's an "act of mercy or necessity." Thus, the claim that all ten commandments are of moral import obstructs a Christian's freedom in Christ and places burdens upon them in ways that God has never instructed, thus forbidding good and lawful things that God allows, simply because it's Sunday. The Reformed Baptist Catechism states:

Q. 66. How is the Sabbath to be sanctified?
A. The Sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days...

So you see? There are things that you can do for recreation on every other day, like play a game of basketball, but on Sunday, it is "unlawful" according to the Reformed Baptist view.

To summarize, the Reformed Baptist view is a bit complicated because they hold to a New Covenant view of the law in that they affirm that all of it has been abolished, but then they assume all ten commandments are of moral import and so they return to pick the Decalogue up out of the dust, brush it off, and bring it with them into the New Covenant; and in that error, they part company with the New Covenant theologian who wants to leave the Sabbath behind and cling to whom the Sabbath pointed, Jesus Christ. For the Sabbath was "a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ."  Col. 2:16b 

Next *week, I'll address how the Reformed Baptist's theology is inconsistent when he calls the Sabbath commandment moral and I'll prove that it's a ceremonial law that is no longer binding. 

*note: The word "week" can be relative when you're too busy for your own good. It may be a month or two... or three or four.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Proving New Covenant Theology with Only One Bible Verse

As I've grown in my understanding of Scripture, I've come to realize that the Bible can only be rightly understood when it is viewed through the lenses of the covenants that God has established. As I've examined what Scripture says about itself and how it is to be understood, I've come to the conclusion that New Covenant Theology is the truest and most accurate way to view the covenants of God and Scripture as a whole. (Some have begun to call NCT by the name of Progressive Covenantalism but I prefer the more popular New Covenant Theology)

Now NCT is a small group of men and women. When my previous pastor wanted to describe how small a group he belonged to he would say, " we could have our conference in a phone booth" and this certainly fits the NCT group. However, the NCT group is growing and I suppose it will continue to grow as more begin to realize the fatal flaw of classic Covenant Theology and are brave enough to call the Reformed confessions into question on some points.

Because of the growth of NCT, more and more people are asking questions about what it is and seeking to understand if it really accords with Scripture. This article will seek to answer both of those questions.


New covenant theology is a theology that sees the Mosaic covenant and law as completely fulfilled, thus having no binding significance on Christians. In other words, NCT says that we are no longer under the 10 Commandments, but we are under the "Law of Christ."  This sets NCT out as very distinct because both Baptist and Presbyterian forms of Covenant Theology state that we are in fact under the law of the 10 Commandments.

Covenant Theology divides the laws of the Old Testament into 3 parts, the civil law, the ceremonial law, and the moral law. The Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, are described as being "the Moral law" and thus are binding upon all people at all times. New Covenant Theology denies this division and says that all the Old Covenant laws are fulfilled and gone. If one is gone, the rest go with it, if one is still binding then they all are still binding. This is what NCT teaches because this is simply what Scripture says. Thus, the law can't be divided, one must take it all, or leave it all. New Covenant Theology doesn't want to take it all because the law is a heavy weight that is a "ministry of death" (2 Cor. 3) so we choose to leave it all behind because we have "been released from the law." (Romans 7)

That's New Covenant Theology in a nutshell.


Yes. In fact, it can be proven true by only one verse, Galatians 3:15. Now to be clear, just because it
can be proven in one verse does not mean that there is only one verse which affirms it, but rather, it's so plain that it needs only one verse to verify it. In Galatians 3 Paul is answering arguments that the Mosaic Covenant caused the Abrahamic Covenant to change. Paul wants to assure his readers that the Abrahamic Covenant has not been changed by the Mosaic covenant, and he does this by attempting to prove that it is impossible for one of God's covenants to change. So in verse 15 of chapter 3, Paul writes, "to give a human example brothers, even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified."  

At first glance, Galatians 3:15 may seem like an insignificant passage but it actually destroys any form of Covenant theology that would seek to divide some of the OT law claiming that some of it has been abolished and some of it continues on fully in force.

Paul is arguing in classic Hebrew form knows as "Kal Va'chomer"  which is to say, "if the lesser is true, then how much more-so is the greater true?"  Jesus did this often as well, remember when he asked his disciples "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more so will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask?"  

Notice the progression of logic, if the lesser and weaker is able to do such feats, how much more so is the greater and stronger able to do them?  This is exactly what Paul is doing. In Galatians 3 he is attempting to prove that the Abrahamic Covenant was not changed or annulled or altered in any way and he does this by arguing that God's covenants can't ever be altered, period. He argues in the classic Hebrew "Kal Va'chomer" style, the lesser to the greater. If a human covenant (the lesser) is unchangeable once it has been established, then how much more so is one of God's covenants (the greater) unchangeable? He just proved that the Abrahamic covenant was not altered or changed by way of Kal Va'chomer.

Let's consider what he's saying here. Imagine for a second that you sign a mortgage on a house. The interest rate is agreed upon, the details of loan amount, monthly payments, penalties, late payment fees, causes for repossession of property, etc. etc. Once you and all other parties sign on the line, you cannot decide that you want to change a part of the agreement. It is impossible to wake up the next morning and decide that you want to annul some of the requirements but keep others; "even with a man made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified." Now if you wish to pay off the mortgage by entering into another mortgage agreement, then you can refinance by taking out another loan with the new details that you desire and paying off the old one. But once you pay off the old one, it is fulfilled and is no longer in force, not one single letter of it. This is what Christ did essentially. He paid off the Old Covenant and established a New Covenant.

The Covenant theologian must answer the question, "how is it that some Old Covenant laws have been annulled and some have not?"  Paul explicitly says that this is impossible with a man made covenant and is even moreso impossible with a Divine covenant. The CT is essentially telling Paul that he is wrong, that parts of God's covenants can be annulled or added to even after they have been ratified. But this is wrong. God's covenants are unchangeable and unalterable once they have been ratified." (Especially since the Old Covenant was ratified with blood Ex. 24).

How can one argue that parts of the Mosaic covenant are annulled, (it's now acceptable to sow two different seeds in one field) that some are altered, (the Sabbath day has changed from a 7th day required observance to a 1st day required observance) and that some are still in effect and in force (the other 9 commandments)?  This tears Paul's argument to the ground and spits on it. If CT is true, then Galatians 3:15 is not. Paul's erred when he suggested that God's covenants were unchangeable. This is of course the crux of the matter. Either Paul was wrong and God's covenants can be changed and altered even after they are ratified, or the Covenant Theologian is wrong. There is just no way out of it for the Covenant Theologian, he must be right, or Paul must be right, but they cannot both be right. Either God's covenants can be altered or they can't be.

I throw my lot in with Paul. I believe that the only way to alter one dot of the Mosaic Covenant is if someone comes along and fulfills it completely (pays off the mortgage). Otherwise, all agreements are still in effect and unchangeable. But isn't this exactly what Jesus said, "not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is fulfilled." God's covenants are unchangeable until it's fulfilled, just like man made covenants. And if a man made covenant can't be altered or changed after it's been ratified, then how much more the case with a God made covenant?!


Next week, we'll look at how Reformed Baptists approach the covenants and establish their own brand of Covenant Theology. We will examine how they err in identifying our relationship to the law of Moses, how they too fail to grasp the splendid newness of the New Covenant; and how they mistakenly adopt a contradictory hybrid of a Baptist view and a Presbyterian view of Covenant Theology.

Baptists agree that the whole Old Covenant has been abolished, so how do they explain their return to the 10 Commandments as the summation of all moral law for Christians?  The 1689 Confession clearly teaches this, but does Scripture?

Christo et Ecclesiae