Thursday, May 18, 2006

DOES DISPENSATIONALISM DENY THE GOSPEL? - THE NEW COVENANT


The New Covenant is particularly problematic for the dispensationalist, as Jeremiah 31 is undeniably addressed to Israel. The New Covenant is the very heart of the Gospel, yet if the church is fulfilling the promise given to Israel under the New Covenant, dispensationalism is dead.

Ryrie, in his early writings, makes this significant statement:If the church does not have a new covenant, then she is fulfilling Israel's promises, for it has been clearly shown that the Old Testament teaching on the new covenant is that it is for Israel. If the church is fulfilling Israel's promises as contained in the new covenant or anywhere else in the Scriptures, then [dispensational] premillennialism is condemned. One might well ask why there are not two aspects to the one new covenant.

This is the position held by many premillennialists, but we agree that the amillennialist has every right to say of this view that it is a practical admission that the new covenant is fulfilled in and to the church.Dispensationalism has used various arguments to get around this insurmountable problem. Perhaps the boldest was the concept of two New Covenants. Chafer appears to be the originator of the idea:There remains to be recognized a heavenly covenant for the heavenly people, which is also styled like the preceding one for Israel a "new covenant." It is made in the blood of Christ (cf. Mark 14:24) and continues in effect throughout this age, whereas the new covenant made with Israel happens to be future in its application. To suppose that these two covenants -- one for Israel and one for the Church -- are the same is to assume that there is a latitude of common interest between God's purpose for Israel and His purpose for the Church.Consistent Dispensationalists have long recognized the problem.

E.W. Bullinger noted that the cup of the Lord's Supper was indeed the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31:31-33, directed to Israel and not the church, and for that very reason the "mystery" church should not administer it. Moderate (inconsistent) dispensationalists, not understanding the Sacrament, but still desiring to preserve their "memorial" sought to maneuver out of this predicament. John F. Walvoord, who became the president of Dallas Theological Seminary, and who appears to be the leading contemporary champion of the second new covenant, writes:The point of view that holds to two covenants in the present age has certain advantages.

It provides a sensible reason for establishing the Lord's supper for believers in this age in commemoration of the blood of the new covenant. The language of I Corinthians 11:25 seems to require it: "This cup is the new covenant in my blood: this do as often as ye drink it in remembrance of me." It hardly seems reasonable to expect Christians to distinguish between the cup and the new covenant when these appear to be identified in this passage. In 2 Corinthians 3:6, Paul speaking of himself states: "Our sufficiency is of God: who also made us sufficient as ministers of a new covenant."

It would be difficult to adjust the ministry of Paul as a minister of the new covenant if, in fact, there is no new covenant for the present age.Walvoord, discussing the Epistle to the Hebrews, contrasts the Mosaic (old) Covenant, the New Covenant, and his novel "Better" Covenant. The identification of the New Covenant which replaces the Old Covenant would seem to be certain by the lengthy quotation from Jeremiah 31 which the Epistle contains, and thus it is with some astonishment that one reads Walvoord's denial: The Epistle to the Hebrews by its title is addressed to the Jewish people. The epistle is planned to show that Christ and Christian doctrine supersedes Moses and the Mosaic covenant.

The argument in Hebrews eight proceeds on the revelation that Christ is mediator of a better covenant than Moses, established on better promises. At this point, the writer shows that the Mosaic covenant was never intended to be eternal (in contrast to other Jewish covenants) and that the Old Testament itself anticipated the day of its passing. To prove this point, the passage from Jeremiah on the new covenant is quoted (Heb. 8:8-12)...There is no appeal at all to the content of the new covenant with Israel as being identical with the better covenant of which Hebrews speaks. The very absence of such an appeal is as strong as any argument from silence can be.

Dispensationalists, determined to cling to their false distinction between Israel and the church are forced to abandon the New Covenant's application in any real sense to the church. Albertus Pieters, however, representing non-dispensational commentators in general, explains:This is entirely correct [that Israel is meant in Jeremiah 31], and it is to the house of Israel that the fulfillment came. The objection arises from a failure to perceive that the Christian church in its origin was an Israelitish body, full qualified to claim the promises made to Israel.... The Christian church once having been established many Gentiles came into it, but that did not make it a "church from among the Gentiles", any more than the naturalization of many Italians in our country makes it a nation from among the Italians.... they were all Israelite members of the Old Covenant people of God, to whom the promise had been made.

Strictly in line with the promise and with the prevailing principle of the covenant history, to them, the believing remnant, the promise of the New Covenant was fulfilled. That promise was, "To the House of Israel and the House of Judah," and to the designated parties the fulfillment came; to all who were, in the sight of God and according to a just interpretation of history, still worthy of the name: "Israel and Judah.".... In all this, are we spiritualizing the prophecy as some allege? Not at all. We are stating a historical fact, clearly contained in the sacred records, that in or about the spring of the year 30 A.D., the mass of those who then called themselves Israelites ceased to be such for prophetic and covenant purpose, having forfeited their citizenship in the commonwealth of Israel by refusing to accept the Messiah, and that after this event all the privileges of the Abrahamic Covenant and all the promises of God belonged to the believing remnant, and to them only; which remnant was therefore and thereafter the true Israel and Judah, the Seed of Abraham, the Christian church. Thus the promise was fulfilled strictly and definitely to the designated parties.

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