In a PuritanBoard thread, Sam Renihan kicks off a discussion of Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology. He specifically explores how the concept of God’s Kingdom is closely connected with God’s covenants. It is an excellent, concise piece that is well worth your time. In the conversation that follows, Renihan ably handles objections, misunderstandings, and misrepresentations of his views, marshaling quotes from historic Covenant Theologians of all stripes. Here are some highlights to whet your appetite:
Discussions of covenant theology swirl round and round because they tend to be somewhat abstract. The terminology used in such discussions has not always helped either. For example, the terms “administration” and “covenant community” are frequently nebulous in their meaning. The theme of kingdom and covenant helps to concretize and clarify these words. It also helps to get to the core of questions like “is the Abrahamic Covenant, in its substance and essence, in continuity with the Covenant of Grace,” “is the Mosaic Covenant a covenant of works,” and “what’s new about the New Covenant?” Relating Kingdom to Covenant is not simply a helpful method of organizing the data of the debate, or a “well it just works” solution, but rather it is a scriptural and theological reality which demands incorporation into considerations of covenant theology.
Centuries passed before John the Baptist appeared on the scene and began preaching that all must repent because the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. The Messianic King, Son of God and Son of David, was born in Bethlehem, and when he came onto the scene he began to preach the gospel of the Kingdom, to teach about the Kingdom in parables, and to demonstrate the power of the Kingdom in miracles. What becomes clear is that this Jesus was the seed of the woman, and that he was manifesting in history a clear picture of the Kingdom of God, an eschatological Kingdom of perfect righteousness (Matt 4:17).
The Jewish people, including Jesus’ family and disciples, thought that Jesus’ message was about the Kingdom of Israel even into the testimony of the Acts of the Apostles. However, this was their fundamental error, and it was not until the Apostles came to understand the true nature of the kingdom that they began to go forward and preach the gospel to all mankind without regard to the boundaries of the Kingdom of Israel.
Jesus Christ inaugurated the eschatological Kingdom of God and the New Covenant in his own blood through his sacrificial propitiatory death on the cross. This Kingdom is everything that the Kingdom of Israel was not. It is a Kingdom of people circumcised in heart, a Kingdom with an eternal inheritance, a Kingdom with a perfect King, a kingdom with a perfect Priest, a Kingdom with a perfect Prophet. In comparison to the Kingdom of Israel, it is entirely new and thoroughly eschatological.
No one can enter the Kingdom of God and later leave it. The Kingdom of God is circumscribed by regeneration. The New Covenant is unbreakable. Either Christ made you a part of his Kingdom through his death or he did not. At no time was an apostate ever united to Christ or made a partaker of any of his benefits. They may have been enlightened, they may have been affected by the common operations of the Spirit, they may have sprouted with counterfeit faith, and they may have been considered to be a child of God, but ultimately all was a lie. Nevertheless, apostates are held accountable for their lies and false claims. If a spy is discovered in a kingdom, he is not released because he belongs to another kingdom. He is answerable to the King and is punished accordingly. The warning passages of scripture serve the purpose of causing the sheep to persevere and declaring retributive judgment on the goats. In a Kingdom where no one can betray the King, warnings against betrayal are ultimately directed towards those spies and impostors who clothe themselves in sheepskins. Just as it is incumbent upon ministers to preach the gospel indiscriminately, so it is incumbent upon them to warn all indiscriminately. All men must be made to know the price of rejecting the gospel of the Kingdom and thus its King.