Our Position On Covenant Theology
(Also Known As Reformed Theology)
A Rock of Offence Commentary
The Following Information Is Provided
By "Got Questions Ministries"
What is Covenant Theology and is it Biblical?
Answer: Covenant theology is based on the theory that God has only one covenant with men (the covenant of grace) and only one people, represented by the Old and New Testament saints—one people, one church and one plan for all. These beliefs require the adherents of covenant theology to interpret prophecy in a nonliteral way. Dispensationalism, on the other hand, is a system of theology with two primary distinctives: (1) a consistently literal interpretation of Scripture, especially Bible prophecy, and (2) a distinction between Israel and the Church in God's program.
Those who hold to covenant theology believe that there is, and has always been, only one people of God. They believe that Israel was the Church in the Old Testament, and the Church is Israel in the New Testament. The promises of land, many descendants, and blessing to Israel in the Old Testament have been “spiritualized” and applied to the Church in the New Testament because of Israel’s unbelief and rejection of their Messiah. Those who hold to covenant theology also do not interpret prophecy in a normal sense. As an example, in Revelation 20, the thousand-year reign of Christ is spoken of. Covenant theology would say that the number 1,000 is symbolic and really does not mean a literal 1,000 years. They would say that we are in the millennium right now, that the reign of Christ with His saints is going on in heaven right now, and that the 1,000-year period is symbolic, beginning with the first coming of Christ and ending when He returns.
Scripturally, covenant theology is wrong in both how Israel is viewed and how prophecy is interpreted. The proper method for interpreting Scripture is to read it in a normal sense. Unless the text indicates that it is using some kind of figurative language, it should be taken literally. When Scripture speaks of Israel, it is not referring to the Church, and when the Church is spoken of, it is not referring to Israel. God has one plan for Israel and another for the Church. Also, with reference to prophecy, all prophecies that have been fulfilled were fulfilled literally, not figuratively. Christ literally fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah when He came 2,000 years ago. There is no reason to think that unfulfilled prophecies are to be understood in a figurative sense. As with those in the past, future prophecy will be fulfilled literally in the future.
In Romans 11:1, Paul poses the question of Israel’s future and answers it definitively: “I ask then: ‘Did God reject his people?’ By no means!” The rest of the chapter makes it clear that Israel has been “hardened” or temporarily set aside “in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25). Israel did not become the Church; rather, the Church was “grafted in” (v. 17) to the root of God’s family, creating one body out of the two, while they remain separate in origin, although united in the faith. If the Church was to replace Israel, the imagery would be as a tree (Israel) uprooted and replaced by another (the Church). But the imagery of a branch grafted into a tree is perfectly clear. This is the “mystery” Paul speaks of in verse 25. A mystery in the New Testament refers to something previously not revealed, and the idea of another group of people becoming part of the chosen people of God was unheard of to the Jews at that time.
Will God cast away His people Israel? No, God will not cast away His people. On the contrary, verse 25 and following says, "God will save his people." At some future point, “the deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.” Here is God’s promise to His chosen people for their future restoration. What a glorious plan! No wonder the contemplation of it caused Paul to burst forth with “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” God is faithful, He is merciful and His plans are perfect, and one day both Jew and Gentile will worship the Lord Jesus Christ as one body.
(This quote is from Got Questions Ministries. Our inclusion of their information should not be interpreted as a "universal" agreement with all of their doctrinal positions. However, their response to this complicated question addresses a major source of false information circulating through most of the modern church.)
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Our goal at "Rock of Offence" is to discuss Biblical issues clearly and simply. After many years of observing religious life it becomes apparent that few church members will arrive at that place the Bible calls "coming to a knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Timothy 3:7). Many will find religious tradition and denominational doctrine that is presented as "Biblical truth", but is actually established on out-of-context Scripture. The Bible isn't that hard to understand. It's the thousands of man-made doctrines and traditions that make it difficult to sort out. Some preachers and theologians take full advantage of this confusion. With the pressures of our modern society, it's difficult for believers to discover the facts beneath the surface. I apologize about some of the more complex topics discussed on this website. It violates my desire for simplicity. Yet, I can either cover some of these issues or contribute (through silence) to the massive and mainstream misinformation campaign operating in the world-wide Christian Church.
Recently, it was said that some of our articles appear to be contradictory. The controversy involves our teachings concerning the importance of the historic institution of the blood covenant in the Holy Scriptures vs. the doctrine of "Covenant Theology" related to the teachings of Calvinism and Reformed Theology. The principles of Covenant (or Reformed) Theology can be traced back to Augustine - a prominent Roman Catholic theologian (354-430 A.D.). Augustine’s theology became the foundation for modern-day Roman Catholicism. Unfortunately, major elements of this Augustinian doctrine were transmitted to the early Protestant Reformation by leaders who left the Roman Catholic Church and were "protesting" its distorted teachings. This "protest" movement was later simply called "Protestant". Covenant theology is foundational in many influential mainline denominations and in various forms of Presbyterianism, Episcopalianism, holiness congregations – and many (but thankfully not all) churches that refer to themselves as “fundamentalist”. The common thread that links all these church organizations together (in varying degrees) is the teachings of John Calvin, a prominent leader of the Protestant Reformation – and a devoted disciple of Augustine. Yet, in modern times the principles of Covenant (or Reformed) theology has quietly crossed all denominational lines and operates under countless different and misleading names and labels, usually without the knowledge of the congregation.
Additional information is available
at the following link:
Why The Term 'Christian Fundamentalism'
Causes So Much Confusion
On the surface, it appears as if the ministry of Rock of Offence is teaching Covenant theology. I want to assure our readers that this is not the case. Our ministry has strong disagreements with this popular denominational doctrine. After a thorough examination of the facts, Covenant (or Reformed) theology represents one of the most serious threats to the truth of the Gospel within the Christian Church. Why? It mixes Old Testament Law with the New Testament Grace of Christ, which is a forbidden practice after the cross. This mixture is then often called “Christian fundamentalism” - meaning that the mixture represents God's original intentions concerning the fundamentals of Christian faith. However, the Apostle Paul warned that the mixing of these two radically different Biblical programs "perverts the Gospel of Christ" and carries a curse (Galatians 1:6-9). It's unfortunate that such an important Biblical word like "covenant" can be applied to a group in such a way that if you use the same term -- it appears you agree with the theology of that group. It also explains why believers aligned with all the different variants of Covenant (or Reformed) Theology find information on this website offensive.
The reader should know that Calvinism, Covenant theology, Reformed theology, The Institutes of Christian Religion and Replacement theology are all interrelated belief systems that are foundational to many Christian denominations.
What Is Covenant Theology?
It's not my goal to debate these principles in this article. For that reason, my comments will be generalized and limited. If the thousands of Christian books, sermons and teachings that exist on this topic failed to end the sometimes hostile dialogue - we will not solve much in this brief commentary. The hostilities between Reformed Theology (which includes various popular forms of Calvinism) - and other Christian beliefs, such as Dispensationalism have existed for many years. Endless debates and vicious religious arguments continue to this day.
Two major forms of religious thought exist in Orthodox Christianity: Covenant Theology and Dispensational Theology (also known as Dispensationalism).
Covenant Theology generally views Biblical history as one continuous "uniform" flow that does not disagree and is expressed in two basic "Covenants" known as:
The covenants listed above are more like "religious ideologies" that enable Calvinism and Covenant (or Reformed) theology to make sense of their fundamental "uniform flow" doctrine.
At this point, the reader might ask; "What does "uniform flow" mean?" It's another way of saying that the Bible only has one spiritual program and message. It's a clever way to combine the program of Old Testament Law with the principles of the New Covenant of Christ. It is called "uniform" ("uni" meaning one) because it represents the merging of two different Biblical programs into one. Attempting to describe something as complex as Covenant Theology is difficult. It's an area of intense spiritual warfare that has deceived the institutional church since the first century. Simply understood, it's a belief that "the New Covenant in Christ's blood", which didn't start until after the cross, is just a continuation of the Old Testament program based on the Mosaic covenant made between God and the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. The key word here is "continuation". If the New Covenant is a continuation of the Old Testament program, then both systems are binding upon the New Testament believer. Yet, the New Testament warns that the program of Old Testament Law IS MADE OBSOLETE (meaning it isn't continued or extended) by the finished work of Christ at the cross (also called "The New Covenant" - Hebrews 8:6-13).
The New Covenant is also called "the new and living way of Christ" established on His blood (Read: Matt. 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, 1 Cor. 11:25, 2 Cor. 3:6, Heb. 7:11-22, Heb. 8:6-13, Heb. 9:15, Heb. 10:19-23, Heb. 12:24).
Covenant Theology teaches that God deals with the entire human race today "in the same or similar manner" as He dealt with Israel under the program of Old Testament Law. It's called "uniform" because Covenant (or Reformed) theologians and their followers suggest that the cross caused no significant change to take place. They believe little or no change takes place because it's all part of the same "unified" Biblical program that started in the Old Testament. Later, we'll see how they bring all of this under their redefined covenants of “Works (the Law) and Grace”, empowered by a very misleading allegorized interpretation of Scripture. The Bible has a lot to say about these two covenant-based systems of faith. The New Testament book of Hebrews refers to them as "the first covenant and the second covenant" (Hebrews 8:6-13). However, the way the New Testament defines the covenant programs of "Works (the Law) and Grace" is totally different than the way it is taught under Reformed theology. The names are the same, but the definition behind the names is very different. It's unfortunate that such confusion is being introduced on these important subjects.
The word "uniform" is generally defined as "the same." If you stir a can of paint until its consistency is "uniform" - that means it’s the same throughout. However, applying this analogy to the Bible is both misleading and spiritually disastrous.
The New Testament strongly condemns this kind of "uniform theology". When Jesus describes the redemption His blood provides - He called it a NEW COVENANT. The words "uniform" and "new" hold different meanings. When something is said to be NEW, it is immediately understood that something OLD is being replaced. Otherwise, the word NEW becomes nonsensical, which is what Hebrews 8:6-13 is warning about. It also means that instead of only one spiritual program to consider - there are actually two. This is why the Apostle Paul commanded that God's Word is to be "rightly (or correctly) divided” in order to correctly teach its truths (2 Timothy 2:15). When you divide something - it is separated into two parts. If the Bible is divided into two programs, as stated in Hebrews chapter 8, then insisting that Scripture must be treated as only one uniform program becomes a spiritually dangerous false teaching that redefines Christ’s salvation. In this situation God made the previous Covenant of Law that ruled the Old Testament religion of Judaism - OBSOLETE. He then established a "New Covenant" that represents a totally different and revolutionary type of redemptive system for the human race. Hebrews 10:19-23 calls it "a new and living way". . .
"But now hath he (Jesus) obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second."
"IN THAT HE (JESUS CHRIST) SAYS, "A NEW COVENANT," HE HAS MADE THE FIRST OBSOLETE. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away." (Hebrews 8:13 NKJV)
"Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest BY THE BLOOD OF JESUS, BY A NEW AND LIVING WAY WHICH HE (JESUS) CONSECRATED FOR US, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, FOR HE WHO PROMISED IS FAITHFUL." (Hebrews 10:19-23 -- Emphasis Mine)
Saint Paul refers to these two covenants when he said. . .
“For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: FOR THESE ARE THE TWO COVENANTS; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.” (Gal 4:22-26)
If you put these things together you can see that the "first covenant" of Old Testament Law from Mount Sinai had "faults" and other problems. The book of Hebrews uses the word "faults" to describe the previous covenant. By using the word "faults", we are only repeating what the Bible says. We're not creating some kind of new teaching in this commentary. God considers this covenant as something that causes death and bondage. In Romans 8:2-4, Paul referred to it as "the law of sin and death". It is for this reason God sought to establish a brand new covenant, which He calls "a better covenant established on better promises" (Hebrews 8:6-7). Again, the book of Hebrews uses the term "better covenant" to describe Christ’s “New Covenant” that makes the previous Old Covenant of the Law obsolete (Hebrews 8:13). The New Testament Church is now ruled by Christ’s New Covenant established on the blood He shed at the cross. The New Covenant (not the Old Covenant of Law) is the one that God now uses in His Grace-based relationship with the modern-day believer in Christ. When you see the whole picture it’s simple to understand. Yet, a vast majority of the institutional Christian Church fails to live in this liberating truth because of the existence of a dominant and misleading theology. This failure carries serious eternal consequences.
Covenant theologians allegorizes (spiritualizes) the Scriptures, especially Bible prophecy. This allows the practice of applying extra-biblical interpretations. The reason there can be no solution in the ongoing debate with Calvinists and those that embrace Covenant Theology is because of their methods of Bible interpretation. You can never discuss the principles of gravity or thermodynamics with a person who does not respect the "literal" laws of Physics. For the same reason, you can never discuss the details of salvation or Bible prophecy with someone who does not respect the literal interpretation of Scripture. It's an excercise in total frustration.
According to Covenant Theology, the church has always existed. It teaches that the "invisible church" began with Adam and later became "visible" during Abraham's life. They believe the Church didn't begin on the day of Pentecost - but pre-existed since the creation of man. Covenant theologians see Old Testament history (specifically during the age of the Law) as God's interaction with the entire human race, rather than only with Israel. They tend to see Israel as representing "the church" of the Old Testament, while The Church of the New Testament (made up of mainly Gentile believers in Christ) is "the new Israel". It teaches that national Israel is cursed and eternally rejected by God because of her sin. The New Testament Church, which they call "the new Israel", has taken national Israel's place and inherited all her laws and promises. This wrong way of believing the Bible is also found within "Replacement theology". Replacement theology is established on the understanding that the New Testament Church REPLACES national Israel in God's prophetic program. It is not a "minority" belief held by a fringe group. This dangerous theology results in various expressions of anti-Semitism toward the modern state of Israel re-established in 1948. It's one reason we see major Christian denominations and their members take the side of terrorist organizations who are committed to the destruction of the Jewish state. This unbiblical position (actually its a serious spiritual sin) is quite appalling. Since the New Testament Church is considered the "new Israel" (according to their doctrine), national Israel is viewed as "evil and counterfeit" - something that needs to be destroyed. Those that preach Covenant theology tend to see themselves as an extension of God's judgment upon Israel for her sins. This is a very dangerous and toxic doctrine that does not come from our Heavenly Father and needs to be firmly confronted and exposed. (See our commentary on "Avoiding the Error of Replacement Theology" in the index at the end of this article)
Important Note: To simplify things, we tend to combine Covenant Theology, Calvinism, Reformed Theology and Replacement Theology together in our discussion because they are interconnected doctrines that makes the Bible appear to have only one message - in contradiction to the warning of the apostle Paul that God's Word must be "rightly divided" (2 Timothy 2:15). It is not my intention to misrepresent these different beliefs. They are all embraced by various different churches and denominations that may not teach them exactly the same way. According to our research, the principles presented above are common within this group.
Rather than the "uniform view of history", Dispensationalists see Biblical history as different dispensations or administrations. In each dispensation God accomplishes something totally different. Covenant theologians teach a "sameness" or uniformity of God's program in the Bible for man throughout history, while Dispensationalists reveal the unique differences between each Divine administration. Covenant (or Reformed) Theology spiritualizes Scripture to achieve agreement with the Biblical text. Dispensationalists use a "literal" interpretation of the Scripture, which makes it difficult to "theorize" their own interpretation to achieve Scriptural harmony.
Dispensationalists also disagree on issues because there are so many different "flavors". We attempt to keep things simple for the sake of brevity.
Dispensationalists believe Biblical history is divided into seven periods:
- Innocence - Adam
- Conscience - After Adam sinned, up to the flood
- Government - After the flood
- Promise - Abraham to Moses (the giving of the Law)
- Law - Moses to Calvary
- Grace - Calvary to the Millennial Kingdom
- Millennial Kingdom - The literal 1000 year reign of Christ on earth
Note: Since this article is not intended as a defense, but an examination of the differences -- we will restrict our discussion to the two dispensations of Law and Grace.
During the dispensation of Law, God deals only with Israel as his chosen people. He gave them the Mosaic Law, an exclusively Jewish institution. Only circumcised Jews as the seed of Abraham are permitted to practice its rituals. As a rule, Gentiles are not welcomed into this religious system even though there were some notable exceptions in the Old Testament. It wasn't designed for the entire human race, but only for Israel as Abraham's offspring. In the Old Testament, God was known by the name of "The Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel" (1 Kings 18:36, 1 Chron. 29:18, 2 Chron. 30:6). God's original intention was for Israel to be the custodians of His Law and for salvation to flow from them to the rest of the Gentile nations of the world (Isaiah 49:6). Yet, because they were disobedient and crucified their Messiah, God went around their failure and extended salvation directly to the Gentiles through Grace (unmerited and undeserved favor). Old Testament prophets foretell this outcome. With teaching from the Pauline Revelation, we can now see that the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ is part of God's design to provide the legal foundation for the next part (dispensation) of His plan. The blood of Christ fulfills the just requirements of the Law and pays the price for the redemption of not just the Jews, but also the remaining non-Jewish part of the human race.
Under the dispensation of Grace, God no longer exclusively deals with Israel through the Mosaic Law. He is now dealing with all nations of the world through "Grace" (free unmerited and undeserved favor) now provided by the New Covenant. Paul tells us about this important change after Calvary:
"Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith." (Rom 3:27-30 KJV)
"...BEING JUSTIFIED FREELY BY HIS GRACE THROUGH THE REDEMPTION THAT IS IN CHRIST JESUS, whom God set forth as a propitiation BY HIS BLOOD, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:24-26 -- Emphasis Mine)
For this reason, obedience to the exclusively Jewish Law can never be part of Gentile salvation. Through the Pauline Revelation, God unveiled the Gospel of Grace, which the New Testament declares to be "a mystery". Saint Paul called it "The Mystery of Christ". This gospel is known as the Gospel of Christ, or "Paul's gospel". It outlines salvation by Grace (unmerited favor) through faith in Christ alone - without the need for the works of the Mosaic Law. Under the dispensation of Grace, the earned merits of obedience to Law are eliminated and salvation is granted as "the gift of God" on the basis of the believer's confession of faith in Christ alone (Rom. 10:9-10, 13--Also see Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 3:24-25, Romans 4:1-8, Titus 3:5-7).
Saint Paul sheds some light on why it is illegal to make the exclusively Jewish Law part of Gentile (New Covenant) salvation in his various epistles (letters) to the Churches. Read these Scriptures carefully.
"Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands—that at that time you were without Christ, BEING ALIENS FROM THE COMMONWEALTH OF ISRAEL AND STRANGERS FROM THE COVENANTS OF PROMISE, HAVING NO HOPE AND WITHOUT GOD IN THE WORLD. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, HAVING ABOLISHED IN HIS FLESH THE ENMITY, THAT IS, THE LAW OF COMMANDMENTS CONTAINED IN ORDINANCES, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. NOW, THEREFORE, YOU ARE NO LONGER STRANGERS AND FOREIGNERS, BUT FELLOW CITIZENS WITH THE SAINTS AND MEMBERS OF THE HOUSEHOLD OF GOD, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit." (Ephesians 2:11-22)
"And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, HAVING WIPED OUT THE HANDWRITING OF THE REQUIREMENTS THAT WAS AGAINST US, WHICH WAS CONTRARY TO US. AND HE HAS TAKEN IT OUT OF THE WAY, HAVING NAILED IT TO THE CROSS." (Colossans 2:13-14 NKJV -- Emphasis Mine)
"FOR AS MANY AS ARE OF THE WORKS OF THE LAW ARE UNDER THE CURSE; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” BUT THAT NO ONE IS JUSTIFIED BY THE LAW IN THE SIGHT OF GOD IS EVIDENT, for “the just shall live by faith.” YET THE LAW IS NOT OF FAITH..." (Galatians 3:10-12 -- Emphasis Mine)
"Therefore BY THE DEEDS OF THE LAW NO FLESH WILL BE JUSTIFIED IN HIS SIGHT". (Romans 3:20 -- Emphasis Mine)
"You have become estranged (separated) from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; YOU HAVE FALLEN FROM GRACE." (Galatians 5:4 -- Emphasis Mine)
"Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man. THEREFORE, MY BRETHREN, YOU ALSO HAVE BECOME DEAD TO THE LAW THROUGH THE BODY OF CHRIST, THAT YOU MIGHT BE MARRIED TO ANOTHER -- TO HIM WHO WAS RAISED FROM THE DEAD, that we should bear fruit to God. For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit AND NOT IN THE OLDNESS OF THE LETTER (OR OLD COVENANT LAW)." (Romans 7:1-6 -- Emphasis Mine)
To summarize: Under the dispensation of the Law (and the Old Testament Jewish covenants on which it was established), God dealt exclusively with the nation of Israel. Only under the dispensation of Grace, which didn't start until after Christ's crucifixion in the New Testament - does God deal with the entire human race (which also includes the Jewish race) as a whole. The New Testament refers to this "entire human race" grouping as "the Gentiles". As a result, the New Testament Church (or all Holy Spirit indwelled believers in Christ) is commonly referred to as being "Gentile", which is a universal all-encompassing racial term. The "uniform history theory" of Covenant (or Reformed) theology, which teaches that God only dealt with the human race as a whole in the Old Testament is in error. This can be proven by an honest study of the Old Testament using a literal interpretation of Scripture. In order to make their "uniform theory" of the Old Testament work, Covenant (or Reformed) theologians must spiritualize the Scriptures.
The "Church" is mentioned on the day of Pentecost and later in the Epistles of Saint Paul when the Holy Spirit came to indwell believers. While the word "church" is used in the Old Testament before Christ, it generally meant; a religious congregational gathering. In The New Testament writings of Paul, the term "Church" means - believers in Christ, who are indwelled by the Holy Spirit. There are up to seven different definitions attached to the English word “church” in Scripture. Yet, Christians often make the mistake of thinking the word means the same thing every time it is used. God's Holy Spirit, sent to indwell all His believing people is an exclusive characteristic of the New Testament Church. This unique administration of indwelling was not in operation before the day of Pentecost, which occurred 50 days after Christ’s crucifixion. It means that the Church, representing Holy Spirit indwelled believers didn't exist in the days of Adam, Abraham or Moses. It also means that Israel and the New Testament Church are two separate and distinct entities in Scripture, WHICH MUST NEVER BE CONFUSED OR MIXED TOGETHER. Contrary to popular fundamentalist teaching, Israel is not "the Church" of the Old Testament and "The Church" of the New Testament is not the "new Israel".
The Theology of Rock of Offence
What is generally referred to as "Christianity or the Christian faith" is sub-divided into over 2200 different denominations and groups. This alone is a testimonial to the institutional church's inability to agree on the teachings of the Bible. As a result, it's not hard to understand why the world rejects God. The issues that divide us will never be resolved until Jesus Christ returns. Because so many divisions and groups exist, there must be a method to distinguish between all the different doctrines and beliefs. The following is a list that describes the beliefs of this ministry in common theological terms.
EVANGELICAL: Since the early days of the Protestant Reformation (and even as far back as the first century) an unbiblical salvation doctrine began to corrupt and dominate the institutional Christian Church. It essentially teaches the following; In order to receive Christian salvation from God an individual must first "clean up their life", repent from all sin and commit their life to Godly obedience and conduct. Yet, according to the New Testament Scriptures, this is actually an impossible precondition to satisfy. It strips a believer of the ability to have any "assurance of salvation" and places them in a state of intense fear and doubt. Dealing with personal sin (often called repentance) is necessary for the right reasons. However, the New Testament teaches that this act is not a prerequisite for obtaining our initial salvation (receiving God's gift of eternal life). We are instructed to “believe on Jesus Christ and be saved” regardless of the spiritual condition we are in at the time. This is clearly outlined in Romans 6:23, Romans 10:8-13, Ephesians 2:8-9, 1 John 5:9-13, Romans 3:24-26 and Romans 5:18-21.
Our Heavenly Father, through His indwelling Holy Spirit, only begins to deal with personal sin and other character issues in the believer's life after salvation is received (the Bible calls this process - sanctification). Otherwise, eternal life as "the unmerited gift of God" becomes nonsensical. The Evangelical movement generally came into existence to confront popular, yet misleading forms of theology, which redefines Christ's unmerited and undeserved Grace-based salvation - into a works and merit-based system of religion. This counterfeit religious system, which also calls itself "Christianity”, is condemned in Paul's New Testament "Epistles to the Church". The Evangelical movement's early roots is found in the ministries of such men as George Whitfield (1714–1770), John Wesley (1703-1791), D.L. Moody (1837–1899), R.A. Torrey (1856-1928), Dr. Harry Ironside (1876-1951), William R. Newell (1868-1956), Billy Sunday (1862-1935), Chuck Smith (1927-2013), Jack Hayford (1934-*), Chuck Swindoll (1934-*), - and most notably; Dr. Billy Graham (born in 1917 and still alive at the time of this writing). This listing is not exhaustive and leaves out many other names. The movement's theme is based on the hymn "Just as I Am" written by Charlotte Elliott in 1835. It is estimated that the Evangelical movement has changed the lives of billions of people the world over and is specifically designed to be non-denominational in nature.
TRINITARIAN: Scripture teaches that God exists in three personages; The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The "three-in-one" existence of God is often referred to as "The Trinity".
DISPENSATIONAL: The Bible consists of 7 unique dispensations or administrations. Two of these are major administrations, which dominate both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. They are; the dispensation of Old Testament Law -- and the dispensation of the Grace of God (established by the New Covenant). Mixing these two administrations together (as practiced by most churches and denominations) creates a very deceptive "works-based salvation" established on the Law (also known as meritorious salvation), which is rejected by our Heavenly Father after the cross. Meritorious salvation is a foundational doctrine within Roman Catholicism and countless expressions of Christian fundamentalism. The Apostle Paul commanded that God's Word is to be "rightly (or correctly) divided" to avoid this dangerous error (2 Timothy 2:15). Since they share the same goals and objectives, "rightly dividing God's Word" and the more modern theological term "Dispensationalism" are often used interchangeably.
FULL GOSPEL: Scripture teaches that the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is an empowerment (Jesus called it "an enduement of power from on high" in Luke 24:49), which is generally received only after an individual is saved. It is not to be confused with the "sealing of the Holy Spirit", which occurs at our initial salvation, when the Holy Spirit comes to indwell the believer (Ephesians 1:13-14). Both impartations can occur at the same time in unique situations. Yet, the pattern in the New Testament indicates that they are two separate events. A ministry that carries the "Full Gospel" designation correctly believes that all nine "gifts of the Holy Spirit" (listed in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11) continue to operate in the Church of Jesus Christ today. All of these gift ministries, used by the Holy Spirit to properly govern the Church, continue until the Church Age ends at the rapture.
PRE-TRIBULATIONAL: Scripture teaches that Jesus Christ bore all of the believer's judgment for sin (past-present-future) at the cross. As a result, His redemptive act exempts the Church (and all its true believing members) from the future time of God's global judgment known as the Tribulation, which is 7 years in length. In his Epistles to the Thessalonians", Paul describes how God removes His entire Church from the earth (they are caught up to meet the Lord in the air - 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18) shortly before this global judgment begins. Contrary to popular church teaching, the rapture is not a reward for good works, righteous behavior or Christian service. Jesus called it "an escape" and Paul gives more detail by referring to it as the Church's exemption and rescue from God's wrath and judgment against the world's sin (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10).
PRE-MILLENNIAL: We believe in the New Testament teaching that the 1000 year (millennial) reign of Jesus Christ on the earth is a literal Divine administration, which only officially begins after Christ's Second Coming at the end of the Tribulation period. However, another theology known as Amillennialism currently dominates both the Catholic and Protestant sides of the institutional church. Simply understood, it falsely teaches that we are currently in "the millennium of God" (not considered to be a literal 1000 year period of time); and that Jesus Christ is governing it from heaven - not the earth. Amillennialism is part of a theology introduced by the 4th century Roman Catholic theologian Augustine, also known as "the Father of Amillennial Theology". Over the years it has become an accepted "foundational doctrine of the church", which was brought into the Protestant Reformation by prominent preachers, such as John Calvin. Church history reveals that Calvin was a devoted disciple of Augustine. It is why many Protestant congregations today continue to embrace the misleading theology of Amillennialism. It corrupts countless church teachings, which are said to originate from the Bible.
Dispensationalism vs. Reformed Theology
We are "Dispensational" in our interpretation of Scripture - also described by the Apostle Paul as "rightly dividing the Word of God" (2 Timothy 2:15). God's major dispensations didn't just start out of thin air. He didn't decide one day, "I think I'll start a new dispensation of Grace". The Scriptures teach that each dispensation (or administration) is initiated by something called “a blood covenant”. All the major dispensations of the Bible begin with a unique and physical blood covenant ceremonial event. Don't confuse this position with the teaching of Covenant (or Reformed) Theology. They may look and sound similar, but they are very different. One purpose for our writings is to reveal what Jesus did at the cross in the light of the historic and cultural institution of the blood covenant and its principles (the Bible calls it "The New Covenant"). Our efforts are not related to Covenant (or Reformed) Theology.
These unique dispensations and the blood covenants that govern their operation provide the reasons why Israel can never be the Church and the Church can never be "the new Israel". Covenant theologians (also known as "Reformed theologians") believe Israel is divinely cursed and eternally rejected from God's program. We see from the Scriptures (specifically the epistles of Saint Paul) that God is not finished with Israel (Rom. 11:25-36). Very soon this present dispensation of Grace will end with the departure (or the catching away) of the New Testament Church (1 Thess. 4:16-17). Following this event, Israel will be at the center of God's purposes once again during a seven-year period known as "The Tribulation" (also known as "Jacob's Trouble"). During this time Saint Paul declares that "all of Israel will be saved".
"I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew..." (Rom 11:1-2)
“For I do not desire, brethren, that you (Christian believers living today) should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. AND SO ALL ISRAEL WILL BE SAVED….” (Romans 11:25-26 NKJV - Emphasis Added)
The Grace of God
The problems with the "uniform" nature of Covenant Theology become clear as we look at the topic of God's Grace. Most attacks and distortions against Saint Paul's Grace Gospel come from Covenant (or Reformed) Theology and its close relative; Calvinism. We've done a number of studies on this topic and won't repeat these teachings here. Our comments are generalized and the reader can go to our website for more information. (See the links at the end of this article)
The Apostle Paul preached the Gospel of Grace in his “Epistles to the Church” from the position of "the unmerited and undeserved favor of God". When unmerited favor is extended to an individual, it means spiritual benefits and resources are given freely without requiring payment, performance or work. Another name for it is "free gift" (See Romans 9:31-33, Galatians 2:16, Romans 3:24-25, Romans 5:15-18, Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:8-9, Ephesians 4:7, Hebrews 6:4, Romans 4:1-8, Titus 3:5-7). The authentic Gospel of Christ, established on the New Covenant, allows the unmerited favor of God to be expressed in the giving of spiritual benefits on the basis of faith only. Some Bible teachers, church leaders and evangelists attempt to discredit this New Testament Gospel message by calling it "cheap grace or greasy grace". Other’s like to call it “the watered-down gospel”. I listened as one angry fundamentalist pastor referred to those who believe in God’s Grace as belonging to "the grace cult". Yet, in these self-righteous tirades, they're actually calling the blood of Christ; cheap. I fear greatly for the many preachers in this “anti-grace” camp. These slanderous labels reveal a total ignorance of the sufficiency of Christ's blood that now operates through the New Covenant. Grace (God's unmerited and undeserved favor) makes salvation totally free to us, but it cost Jesus Christ everything. If a friend went out and purchased an expensive sports car and gave it to you - would you thank him by saying, "What a cheap gift?" Just because you got it free doesn't make it cheap. It cost your friend a lot of money. So it is with God's Grace.
"Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." (Rom 3:27-28)
"AND IF BY GRACE, THEN IT IS NO LONGER OF WORKS; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work." (Romans 11:6)
“Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. BUT TO HIM WHO DOES NOT WORK BUT BELIEVES ON HIM WHO JUSTIFIES THE UNGODLY, HIS FAITH IS ACCOUNTED FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man TO WHOM GOD IMPUTES RIGHTEOUSNESS APART FROM WORKS: "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; BLESSED IS THE MAN TO WHOM THE LORD SHALL NOT IMPUTE SIN." (Romans 4:4-8)
"...not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life." (Titus 3:5-7)
Jesus Christ paid the full price of our salvation, WHICH INCLUDES THE FUTURE REDEMPTION OF OUR BODIES AT THE RAPTURE OF THE CHURCH. This allows our heavenly Father to bestow all the benefits of salvation upon the Christian believer according to His "unmerited and undeserved favor" of Grace.
The blood of Jesus permits Divine unmerited favor to be expressed because He perfectly fulfilled the Law for us - so that we could be liberated from its requirements (Matthew 5:17). Chapters 4-8 of Paul's epistle to the Romans give us the legal details of how it works. He explains how the law is only binding upon a person as long as they live. Yet, when anyone dies, they are freed from the Law. Saint Paul continues by saying that "we've become dead to the law through the body of Christ" (Romans 7:4). Jesus satisfied the judgment of the law against all human sin by taking our place. An ancient spiritual mandate was satisfied when Christ, the perfectly righteous and sinless Son of God, voluntarily died for the unrighteous human race. Through this act, our heavenly Father "imputes" our old cursed, sinful life onto Jesus as he hung on the cross - so that when Christ died, we died in Him (Romans 6:6, Galatians 2:20, Colossians 3:3) and was later "resurrected with him" (Ephesians 2:5-6). This is the legal foundation for our redemption through Grace: When Christ died, God reckons (considers it to be true) that we died too - and the requirements of the Law that were against us while being alive, died with Him (Colossians 2:14). This is the reason God deals with believers in Christ through unmerited favor. Paul reinforces this truth by making the following statement :
"I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain." (Gal 2:21)
Covenant Theology Redefines
During Saint Paul's ministry there were some Jewish evangelists, who waited for him to establish a church. They would then enter the fellowship after Paul left to "educate" the new Gentile Christians. They were known as "Judaizers". Jesus called them "wolves in sheep clothing" -- Saint Paul referred to them as "grievous wolves" (Acts 20:29). They were highly skilled in Jewish theology and instructed believers that, in addition to faith in Christ, they needed to keep the Old Testament Mosaic Law in order to be saved. Saint Paul had strong words for these teachers that he referred to as "false brethren" and "The Devil's ministers disguised as apostles of Christ" that preached a message of righteousness (Gal. 1:8-9 Gal. 2:4 Gal. 3:1-3, 2 Cor. 11:12-15).
Unfortunately, some denominations have their own brand of highly skilled modern-day Judaizers, who replace the teachings of Saint Paul with their own "covenant of grace theology", which is often wrongly referred to as "the true apostolic doctrine". Their Bible teaching and salvation message is said to be based on Grace. Yet, on closer examination we find that their doctrine represents a spiritual counterfeit (a look-alike or close copy). Under this gospel you may be initially saved by Grace, but can only keep your salvation through a certain regiment, or system of religious works and merit. This is commonly referred to as the "Jesus plus works gospel" - or the error of Christian legalism. Some Bible scholars refer to it as “meritorious salvation”. The supporters of Covenant/Reformed theology will not always be able to describe what these works are so that you can satisfy the requirements - because the rules vary from group to group. This sets the stage for what we call "treadmill religion." It occurs when the Christian believer is constantly "working and performing", yet never knowing if their efforts are enough to satisfy God - so they keep performing. It also creates a religious dependency where believers attend church services out of fear that they will "backslide" and possibly lose their salvation if they don’t. This is why you see an obsession with some Christians concerning church attendance. In their mind, a person's salvation could be jeopardized if meetings are missed (a form of "salvation by works and merit"). This is a result of Covenant/Reformed/Calvinistic teachings - rather than New Testament/New Covenant salvation. Suggesting that an individual’s salvation could be at risk by failing to regularly attend church services is inserted into Covenant and Reformed theology to guarantee the continuation of the religious institution. There’s no better way to motivate an individual to attend all services of the church than to make the activity a necessary part of “keeping salvation”. In all fairness, an individual can “get saved” under this kind of legalistic preaching. Yet, for the rest of their life they will constantly struggle (and suffer) under a counterfeit grace message, which brings them back under the bondage of the Law from which Christ set them free (Galatians 2:4 and Galatians 5:1). THIS COUNTERFEIT MESSAGE IS ALWAYS PRESENTED AS FUNDAMENTAL TEACHING FROM THE BIBLE THAT USES THE HOLY SCRIPTURES OUT-OF-CONTEXT.
This is how it works. There is a secondary usage for the word "grace". It's referred to as "Divine enablement". If someone is suffering through a crisis - they might say something like, "I pray God gives me the grace to see this thing through"; or "I pray God enables me with the strength to see this thing through". The word "Grace" used in this way suggests a "supernatural ability to perform or endure". Supporters of Covenant/Reformed theology allow their salvation doctrine to be influenced by this definition. The degree of influence varies among congregations. To base their beliefs "literally" on the Grace teachings (God's unmerited favor) of Saint Paul would wreck their doctrine. Remember the two Covenants of Works and Grace? Covenant Theology view these as two expressions of the same thing, while Dispensationalists see works (the Law) and Grace (unmerited favor) as unique administrations or dispensations with totally different objectives - and operating principles.
According to the foundational beliefs of Calvinism and Covenant/Reformed Theology, the Gospel of Grace conforms to the characteristic of Divine enablement, rather than unmerited favor. As a result, the following common saying will be quoted during a sermon or Bible teaching:
"Grace always exceeds the requirements of the Law."
This statement represents a deceptive and persuasive maneuver that completely undermines the New Covenant teachings of Saint Paul. Yet, most church members hardly notice. The preachers, who embrace this doctrine, claim that it is God's Grace - and not eternal life that is the real "gift of God". These preachers then insist that this "gift of grace" enables you (or gives you the grace) to perform religious works in a way that exceeds the Law's original requirements, and thereby secures salvation and Divine favor. It is a cloaked way of saying that my religious performance or devotion contributes to salvation because God "enabled me" (or gave me the grace) to obey and live up to God's high standards. This is the way their Covenants of Works and Grace are "unified" and declared to be two aspects of the same truth. But, Saint Paul calls this popular way of believing the Bible; "Handling the Word of God deceitfully" (2 Corinthians 4:2). It redefines and perverts the Gospel of Grace (established on Christ's New Covenant) and subtly reinstates Old Testament Law into the requirements for Christ's salvation. Yet, it "technically" continues to appear to be based on grace. But, it's not the Grace of Christ found in the New Testament Pauline epistles. This is the same kind of distortion and deception the Judaizers used to propagate their “different gospel of Christ” in Paul's day. There's really no difference. The error primarily operates through Protestant theology. We don't have to look at the various doctrines of Roman Catholicism to see wrong teaching. The Protestant side of Christianity has plenty of its own. This is the reason we need to closely examine the doctrine of various teachers and theologians, who claim that they preach a "Grace Salvation message”. A lot of dangerous teachings hide behind the label of this redefined form of "Grace".
Covenant (or Reformed) Theology is popular. Do not underestimate its influence. It is a doctrine (existing in countless different flavors and expressions) held by many professing Christians and church leaders. Beginning in the first century, it has infiltrated not only mainline denominational churches, but also many Pentecostal and Charismatic churches and groups. This same influence destroyed a successful youth for Christ revival in Washington, DC during the 1970's. I was deeply involved in this revival effort and witnessed, first hand, the destructive power of this theology. It has expression through the New Order Later Rain, Discipleship and Christian Restoration movements and often travels under the generic label of Christian fundamentalism. It is also the covert influence behind what's known as Christian Reconstructionism; a fundamentalist belief system (theology) found in certain Protestant denominations.
Christian Reconstructionism: A popular movement that seeks to impose God's Law on the civil governments of the World (primarily the United States) and attempts to bring back a form of "Old Testament theocracy", which is contrary to the New Covenant of Christ. It is also known as the "Kingdom Now movement", which has become popular because of the dominance of immoral and godless lifestyles that have destroyed family values and traditional marriage. Reconstructionism is a misguided effort to physically bring the "Kingdom of God" to earth, which is something that Jesus specifically said was not a characteristic of His kingdom (Luke 17:20-21). Jesus establishes His kingdom on earth only after His Second Coming - and not before. Yet, theologians and adherents of the movement believe that civil governments must be made subject to the Kingdom of God (or Old Testament Law) before Jesus Christ will return. Another name for this belief is "Post-millennialism", which has its roots in a toxic and radical form of Calvinism/Reformed theology, yet is embraced as Biblical truth by many professing Christians.
Rock of Offence does not support any of these movements or ideologies. We discuss the historic institution of the blood covenant, especially Christ's New Covenant, recorded in the Bible.
The New Covenant, is also called "the new and living way of Christ" established on His blood (Read: Matt. 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, 1 Cor. 11:25, 2 Cor. 3:6, Heb. 8:6-13, Heb. 9:15, Heb. 10:19-23, Heb. 12:24).
It's unfortunate that some groups within the Christian church have distorted such a wonderful term as "covenant". This article is not designed as an exhaustive defense against Covenant Theology, but as a demonstration of the differences between our beliefs and their doctrine.
Additional Studies And Commentaries
Calvinism's Surprising Catholic Connection
By Dave Hunt (PDF format)
Avoiding The Error of Replacement Theology
The Assault on the 1000 Year Reign of Christ
Why I Disagree With All Five Points of Calvinism
The Gospel of the Grace of God