When we say that FPC is “Reformed” that doesn’t mean only that we believe the Five Points of Calvinism. It refers also to how we read the Bible and understand its storyline—we hold to what is called “Covenant Theology” (CT).

This entry will ask and answer two questions: WHAT IS COVENANT THEOLOGY?and HOW DOES COVENANT THEOLOGY SHAPE FPC?

WHAT IS COVENANT THEOLOGY?

CT understands the storyline of the Bible and history to be ordered by a series of covenants, bonds-in-blood by which God establishes and maintains relationship with his people.

Here’s a simple picture illustrating the Bible’s covenants.

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What’s important to note is that the covenants are not given independently; rather, each one builds upon the foundation of the previous ones, progressively revealing God’s plan of salvation unto the coming of Jesus. CT teaches that ultimately there are not many covenants, but one Covenant of Grace unfolded incrementally.

Let’s look at each covenant and see how each progressed God’s unfolding plan of redemption.

  1. Garden of Eve. God’s Covenant of Grace, his plan to reverse the curse and save a people for himself, is first spoken in mid-sentence of his cursing Adam, Eve, and the Serpent for their sins. What theologians call the “First Gospel” is in Genesis 3:15:

And I will put enmity between you (the Devil) and the woman (Eve), and between your offspring and hers; he (the offspring of the woman) will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.

The offspring of the woman will deal a mortal head-blow to Serpent, just as a person would kill a snake by stomping on its head. Despite this the Serpent will be allowed to wound the offspring of the woman but only with a bite on the heel—a non-mortal wound. This is a covenant promise fulfilled on Calvary, as Jesus is given over to death (his heel struck) but three days later rises (Satan’s head crushed).

  1. Noahic Covenant. After the flood God expands his covenant by promising never to flood the world again. We call this a “covenant of preservation,” because it serves to preserve the world until the final judgment.

The promises of the covenant to Noah are given with a sign: a physical symbol that reveals and reminds of the covenant’s promises. The rainbow is now to be a reminder of God’s promise to withhold judgment until the end of time.

  1. Abrahamic Covenant: In Genesis 12, God narrows his salvation plans to one man—Abraham. God reveals himself to Abraham, calling him to leave his homeland and go to a place he will show him. Along with this command, he gives incredible covenant promises:

“I will make you into a great nation  and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing; I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth  will be blessed through you (Genesis 12:2-3).

The promised offspring of Adam and Eve, the One who would crush the head of the Serpent, would come through Abraham’s body. By this offspring, the entire world and all the families of the world, who now live under God’s curse, will be blessed.

God formalizes his covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15 through a bloody ceremony and gives circumcision as the visible sign of the covenant in chapter 17.

  1. Mosaic Covenant. God’s covenant with his people through Moses is a gigantic step forward in God’s unfolding covenant. He saves his people from slavery in Egypt and leads them out into the wilderness where on Mt. Sinai he reveals his Law to them.

It’s tempting to contrast the Law and the promises as if they are utterly distinct, but truth is (as Paul reminds repeatedly in his letters) that the Law doesn’t nullify the promises made to Abraham. Rather, it is added because of sin—to show our total depravity and God’s holy hatred of sin, a combination that makes us wholly unable to save ourselves.

The Mosaic covenant is a complicated development in God’s plan and is accompanied by tons of outward signs. Lots of regulations, laws (civil and moral), elaborate sacrifices to deal with sin, a series of feasts and festivals, etc. All these are meant to humble the people and cause them to feel their need for the promised Savior.

  1. Davidic Covenant: That salvation will not come through God’s people keeping his Law is illustrated by the history of the nation (not good!). As always it’s through the promised offspring of Eve and Abraham, and now—we learn—David.

 ‘The Lord declares to you (David)  that the Lord himself will establish a house for you:  When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’(2 Samuel 7:11-16)

Some of this is fulfilled in and specific to Solomon, but the ultimate fulfillment will be in a coming Davidic Messiah, one who will have a Kingdom of universal scope and eternal duration. God will make this happen in spite of his people’s sin. All the prophets from this time on look for and long for the coming Son of David.

  1. New Covenant. Through this Davidic king, God would fulfill his ancient covenant promises and establish his new, final covenant. By this new covenant all families of the earth would realize the blessings promised to Eve, Abraham, and David.

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,  “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant  I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me,  from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more”(Jeremiah 31:31-34).

It goes without saying that Jesus of Nazareth is this promised one, the mediator of this new covenant. The new covenant is established in his blood, as he fulfills the Law of God and takes the curses of the covenant upon his body. Now, Satan’s head is crushed and it is only a matter of time until all things will be remade according to God’s blessing.

HOW DOES COVENANT THEOLOGY SHAPE FPC?

First of all, CT shapes the way we preach and teach the Bible. As I (Ryan) am preparing to preach I always consider the question, “Where does this passage fit in the covenant structure of the Bible?” The answer to this question is crucial to the right understanding of any particular passage, especially in the Old Testament.

On that note, we are not afraid to teach the Old Testament because we don’t see it as the text of another faith—it is Christian Scripture! Since there is one Covenant of Grace we believe that everyone who has ever been saved, from Adam to you, has been saved through faith alone in Christ alone. We have the fullest revelation of that faith and so are especially blessed, but salvation has never been a matter of being ethnically Jewish or doing your best to obey the Law. For me personally this perspective has brought the Scriptures together and made them come alive.

Another way CT shapes us is in our understanding and practice of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We understand Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as signs God gives to us to establish and confirm his covenant promises, and not first of all as actions we take to express our commitment to God.

God promises to cleanse us of our sin through Christ and has given the sign of Baptism as a token of that promise. God promises to sustain and nourish through the broken body and poured out blood of Christ, and has given us the Lord’s Supper as a token of that promise.

We believe that as Circumcision was in the old covenants, so is Baptism in the New Covenant. We see this connection is Colossians 2:11-12:

In (Christ) also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

“The circumcision of Christ” is Jesus’s death on the cross, by which he bore the penalty of our sin. Jesus fulfilled the bloody, Old Testament sign of circumcision by his bloody, sacrificial death. This is why circumcision is no longer a covenant sign. Rather the sign of baptism now takes the place of circumcision, symbolizing the blessing his “circumcision” on the cross brings to us. By baptism we (and are sins) are “buried with him” and have come out the other side of death cleansed and filled with the Holy Spirit. Now, instead of circumcising those who enter the covenant, God commands us to baptize them (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 2:37-39).

Grounded in CT, we believe baptism, as circumcision, is to be given both to those professing faith and also to their households (Acts 11:14; 16:15). As in the Old Covenant, God graciously welcomes our children into his family by virtue of their relationship to us as believing parents and commands us to put his sign on them. We are to view our children as set apart from the children of unbelievers and heirs to the covenant of grace. By faith we believe that God is at work in their lives in a special way. As Paul would say of ethnic Israel so would we say of the New Covenant church—there is much advantage in every way being the offspring of believing parents (Romans 3:1-2)!

Nevertheless, as circumcision was of no saving benefit to individual Israelites unless that responded personally to faith in God, so is baptism of no saving benefit to children born into the New Covenant unless they have faith. Baptism doesn’t save automatically any more than circumcision did. Rather, circumcision was and baptism is a outward sign of an inward transformation. It is to serve our children as a means of grace to them—a symbol of God’s claim and their identity, compelling them to embrace the promises in faith.

The Lord’s Supper similarly takes deeper meaning when understood as a covenant sign. The Supper is not a mere “remembering;” it is a communion with Christ together in his death. God feeds us in the bread and wine and is present with us in the elements in a unique way. Communion is a meal of covenant renewal, calling us back to embrace God’s promises and provision.

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