An “election theology” of covenant demands a distinction between being in living covenant fellowship with God by covenant grace and merely being in the sphere of the covenant by natural birth. Believers and their genuine children, the elect children of promise, are included in the covenant of grace. Hypocrites and the children of the flesh are not in the covenant in the same way. Dr. DeJong as a faithful defender of “Liberated” covenant theology is extremely critical of this distinction:
Here the truth of his position finally appears. The children of believers are included in the covenant, but actually they are also excluded from the covenant. What is anyone to make of this reasoning? What does it mean to be included in the sphere of the covenant? Here Engelsma’s language suddenly becomes vague. And there is a clear reason for this turn to the vague concept of the “sphere of the covenant.” When one closes the door to the simple teaching of Scripture, one begins to reach for whatever might fit the occasion in order to salvage the situation. . . . The sad part of all of this is that the theory of the “sphere of the covenant” as propounded by Engelsma is foreign to the Scriptures (cf. DeJong’s letter in the March 15, 1991 issue of The Standard Bearer).
He pleads for the only alternative, namely, that all the children of believers alike are really in the covenant. This is the implication of his criticism of the Protestant Reformed Churches: They “do not really (emphasis his – DJE) include all the children of believers in the covenant of grace.”
However one may choose to name it, the distinction is biblical. The Old Testament stresses the difference between the remnant that is the true Israel of God and the mass of Israelites among whom the remnant is found (cf. Isaiah 10:20-23, Jer. 31:7, Joel 2:32, Mic. 2:12; cp. Rom. 9:27 and Rom. 11:5). Paul clinches the distinction in Romans 9:6: “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.” Some – the elect children of promise – are “Israel,” that is, God’s covenant people, sustaining a relationship of friendship and service with God by faith in Jesus Christ. The others – the reprobate children of the flesh – are merely “of Israel,” that is, adhering to the outward manifestation of the covenant and belonging to the sphere of the covenant.
This relationship to the covenant is serious enough. Because of it, such children sin as do no others. They violate the covenant, treading under foot the Son of God, counting the blood of the covenant an unholy thing, and doing despite to the Spirit of grace (Heb. 10:29). They bring upon themselves the wrath of God that avenges contempt for the covenant. Their punishment is the sorest (cf. Matt. 11:20ff.; Heb. 10:26ff.). Nevertheless, their position in relation to the covenant is essentially different from that of the children of promise: They are not included in the bond of love and friendship created by the regenerating Spirit and enjoyed by a true faith in the Son of God. The difference is due to particular, sovereign, covenant grace shown to the elect children and to them only.
I would like to have Dr. DeJong demonstrate that the assertion that all the children of believers are “really” in the covenant, presumably in the same way, does not necessarily involve him in a denial of limited (covenantal) atonement; in a denial of the irrestibility of (covenantal) grace; in a denial of the perseverance of (covenant) saints; and, ultimately, in a denial of (covenantal) election.
Especially would I like Dr. DeJong to show that the “Liberated” doctrine of a conditional covenant promise to all the children and of a conditional position of all the children in the covenant does not involve the “Liberated” in a denial of election.
Imbedded deeply in the very heart of “Liberated” covenant doctrine is a fatal weakness regarding God’s eternal election. This comes out in “Liberated” theologian and founding father Benne Holwerda’s astounding teaching that virtually every New Testament mention of election, including Ephesians 1:4and Romans 9:11, refers, not to God’s eternal decree, but to an act of God in time.
(Holwerda) was of the opinion that whenever the New Testament mentions “election,” an act of God in time is usually meant. He was convinced that he, pointing to these matters, could contribute to the discussion on the relation between “election” and Covenant (“election” namely as the historical and divine-sovereign introduction into the Covenant). (Cf. J. Kamphuis, An Everlasting Covenant, 1985, pp. 65, 66.)
Holwerda went so far as to suggest this paraphrase of Ephesians 1:4: “He has us now, in time (my emphasis – DJE), chosen in Christ according to his purpose of before (sic) the foundation of the world” (J. Kamphuis, p. 109).
The “Liberated” problem with election, because of their covenant conception, comes out in their denial that Christ is the Head of the covenant and that the Triune God has established the covenant with Christ as covenant Head. The reason for this denial is simply that viewing Christ as Head of the covenant necessarily implies that God has established the covenant of grace only with the elect who are represented by Christ. The “Liberated,” however, are determined to argue that many others besides the elect are really and properly members of the covenant (cf. J. Kamphuis, pp. 70ff.).
This denial involves the “Liberated” in a controversy with Holy Scripture of enormous proportions. Is Christ indeed not Head of the new covenant? What then ofRomans 5:12ff.? Has God indeed not established the covenant with Christ as covenant Head? What then ofPsalm 89:3, 19ff.? And what of Galatians 3:16 which explicitly identifies the seed of Abraham that always was the object of the covenant promises as Christ Himself?
By this denial, the “Liberated” take issue with Q. 31 of the Westminster Larger Catechism: “With whom was the covenant of grace made? A. The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.”
The “Liberated” hostility to election comes out in Canadian Reformed theologian Dr. Jelle Faber’s cruel slander of the covenant doctrine of the PRC as “fatalism”:
The Protestant Reformed Churches. . . had chosen in an official declaration for an extra-scriptural binding along approximately the same dogmatic lines as a fatalism grounded in election (quoted in Rudolf Van Reest, Schilder’s Struggle for the Unity of the Church, translated by Theodore Plantinga, 1990, p. 428).
Because the covenant doctrine of the PRC is grounded in God’s election of sovereign grace, the doctrine of the PRC is “fatalistic,” according to Faber. But the enemies of predestination raised this very calumny against the doctrine of predestination confessed by the Synod of Dordt (cf. the “Conclusion” of the Canons). Dr. Faber violates truth, equity, and charity in wishing to persuade the Reformed public that the PR “election theology” of covenant is nothing more than fatalism. As little as election leads to a careless and profane life, so little does an “election theology” of covenant lead to carelessness in instructing the children in the ways of the Lord Jesus; in calling the children to repent, believe, and walk in a holy life; or in warning them of God’s anger and judgment upon disobedience.
Is not the “Liberated” weakness regarding election evident in the very fact that Dr. DeJong supposes” ‘election theology’ of covenant” to be a charge that disqualifies the covenant doctrine of the PRC, rather than the highest praise that commends it to all who love the truth of sovereign grace?
Whatever have Reformed churches come to, that “election theology” is a term of disgrace, rather than a banner of glory?
The PRC accept the “charge” with humble gratitude to God. It is our boast.
Let Reformed and Presbyterian churches everywhere give heed! Here we stand in the midst of all Christendom! This is our confession before Christ and the holy angels! Ours is an “election theology” of covenant!
We ask Reformed and Presbyterian Christians to consider carefully this covenant doctrine, since even its enemies publicly testify that it is distinguished by that which has ever been the hallmark of Reformed Christianity: election.
By his charge, Dr. DeJong has come close to describing the heart of PR doctrine.
He has missed doing so only by a little.
He wrote, “election theology (of covenant).”
He should have written, “covenantal theology of election.”
But this is another editorial story.