Christ's Children of Promise:
A New Covenant Theological Rebuttal to Covenant Theology

By Mike McHugh
Originally posted on Patriarch Magazine
Statement on offsite articles

Phil Lancaster's recent Patriarch article Children of the Promise: God's Plan to Save Our Children sets forth the teachings of Covenant Theology. Covenant Theology teaches that baptism is administered as the sign and seal of an infant's membership in the Covenant of Grace, when at least one parent of the infant is a believer. Phil's article espouses that God has a plan to save the children of Christian parents and that infants and children, prior to the regeneration of faith in Christ in their hearts, are to be baptized as a sign and seal of their inclusion in the new covenant promises.

New Covenant Theology is similar, yet quite different than Covenant Theology. This article is written to provide the scriptural foundation for New Covenant Theology. It is also written to expose the critical issues at stake regarding our view of God, the scriptures, and fellowship with other brethren.

I thank Phil for having the courage to debate this issue in his magazine. It is a testament to his sincere desire for truth and godliness that this forum even exists.

Background

Covenant Theology came forth during the Reformation era. The Reformers did a great job of bringing the church back into the light and away from the darkness of Roman theology. However, much of the Papal confusion of mixing Old Testament shadows and type with New Testament reality was not fully discarded. New Covenant Theology's task is to finish the job of ongoing reformation that Covenant Theology espouses, but fails to embrace.

This article will address the following areas of truth that are contrary to the teaching of Covenant Theology:

(1) The Promise to Abraham: The fulfillment of the promise to Abraham's seed is not dependent on physical relationships, but is completely dependent upon one's calling as a child of promise. There is a promise of salvation only to the children of promise whom God actually and without fail saves. Not one of them shall perish.
(2) Baptism: Water baptism is not the sign and seal of the New Covenant and there is no scriptural support for such a claim.
(3) Salvation for Children of Believers: God frequently uses the family as means of drawing believers to Christ; yet there is no promise that the physical children of believers will be saved - only the children of promise among their physical children.
(4) Logic and Necessary Consequences: The consequences and fallacies of Covenant Theology are unacceptable.

The Old Covenant - A Mere Shadow

The nation of Israel served as a mere shadow of the covenant that Christ would make in his blood. The nation of Israel illustrates the church - a holy nation set apart for God's purpose (Exodus 19:6; Matthew 21:43; 1 Peter 2:9). The High Priest once offered the lamb sacrifice on behalf of the nation, but Jesus stands as the lamb of God and High Priest as he makes intercession for the elect (Hebrews 9:6-14). God once dwelled in the Temple and Tabernacle, but now the believer is the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). The people of Israel were made partakers of the covenant by birth. The children of promise are made partakers of the covenant through the electing grace and effectual calling as sons of Christ (Acts 2:39). It is through the regeneration power of being born again that they are effectually called. The Passover deliverance was based upon the blood of the lamb and was observed by the physical seed - old and young. The believer's deliverance is based upon the blood of Jesus Christ and only those that profess faith in Christ are partakers of Christ. The Old Covenant had fault because it was a mixed multitude of believers and unbelievers. The New Covenant is better because it is comprised of only those who know the Lord (Hebrews 8:6-13).

Christ is Abraham's Seed - Not Physical Israel

The Abrahamic Covenant Seed is not defined in scripture as equivalent to the physical seed of Abraham. Paul declares Christ as the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant blessing (Gal 3:13-14). He proceeds to explain why in verse 16 when he says Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. He proceeds to explain that the Mosaic Covenant that came later did not cancel the earlier covenant made with Abraham, but was merely a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ - Abraham's Seed (Galatians 3:19). The law had the gracious purpose of convicting and preparing Israel for the gospel of grace but nowhere does scripture say it is part of a covenant of grace. Galatians 3-5 and Hebrews 8 compare and contrast the covenant of works and death (the Old Covenant) with the New Covenant. The terms of the Old Covenant were keep my statutes, and my judgments, which if a man do, he shall live.. (Leviticus 18:5; Romans 10:5). The terms are clearly based upon works not grace. The New Covenant is based upon grace (Ephesians 2:8-10). The Old Covenant law word is a gracious word but not fulfilled by God's grace.

Paul clearly limits the true Seed to those that belong to Christ when he says, And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:29). In the next chapter, he again limits the Abrahamic Covenant to the brethren, Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.

New Covenant theologians will press the logic of the Covenant Theology idea that there is continuity unless the scripture expressly changes something (a hermeneutic with which we agree). We will say to our Covenant friends, why then do you not just baptize little boys. They will point to Galatians 3:28 and say, that is one area where there is change because in Christ there is neither male nor female, you are all sons.

That is when you say, true, but then why do you ignore the rest of the passage. Galatians 3 also says Know ye therefore, that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham (3:7). So then they which are of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham (3:9)…that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith (3:14). Note - the promised blessing involves the reception of the Spirit and is only for those who have faith.

In baptism into Christ, one has put on Christ (3:27). Note - one is not just put into a covenant community where some don't know the Lord; one is actually clothed with Christ.

The people of Israel were made partakers of the Mosaic Covenant by birth. The children of promise are made partakers of the New Covenant through the new birth. Christ is THE Seed of Abraham. Jesus has no grandsons - only sons. We are made Christ's heir through the adoption as sons. We are told in John 1:12-13 that we do not have the power or authority to become his son until we receive him.

Covenant Theology hopelessly confuses Old Testament shadow and New Covenant reality. The physical children of Jacob are a shadow of the children of Christ. The physical distinctions of the Old Covenant are abolished in the New Covenant (Galatians 3:28) and we are now children of the promise as an adopted child of the true seed of Abraham - Christ.

God's Holy Nation - True Israel

The true Israel of God is a new reality brought to light through the apostles (Ephesians 2:11-16; 3:3-6; Galatians 6:15-16). The question naturally arises what happened to the ethnic nation of Israel? The new holy nation (1 Peter 2:9) is the nation gathered together (John 11:52) into one new nation of Jew and Gentile. It is the nation which fulfills and receives that which ethnic Israel failed to receive. Romans 9:6 makes it clear that ethnic Jews are not the only members of the new Israel of God. Romans 11:11-25 makes it clear that gentiles are made part of this new Israel (part of the olive tree) by faith.

The olive tree of Romans 11:17-24 represents our covenant relationship with God. The unbelieving Jews have been cut off from the olive tree. Wild olive branches, believing Gentiles, were grafted in. If the unbelieving branches wish to be included, they have to be grafted back in by faith in Christ. Notice - faith is the only means of being grafted into the tree. Romans 2 states that a Jew is a Jew because of his heart, yet many want to apply the New Covenant based on physical relationships. If a person has not been grafted into the tree by faith, they are not part of the covenant. Faith is the only vehicle to graft an individual into the tree.

The Promise Pertains Only to the Called

God's promise will not fail in relation to even one child of promise. God's promises to begin and finish the work of salvation in those whom he has begun a work will infallibly be brought to completion (Philippians 1:6). The covenant between the Father and Son (Isaiah 49:8) is fulfilled in the blood of Christ and salvation is secured for those that are called.

At the outset of the Apostles ministry, Peter stated that the covenant promise was limited to those that God would call. Peter said in Acts 2:39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. In Greek grammar, the last phrase of the verse is known as a Conditional Relative. A Conditional Relative modifies the entire list preceding it. Peter is stating that the promise is given only to those that are called from among both the Jews (you and your children) and the Gentiles (them that are afar off). See also Hebrews 9:15 and Romans 9:24.

I repeat. The promise is only for those who are called. In the Old Covenant, many were called but few were chosen (Matthew 22:14) because it was a mixed multitude. However, in the New Covenant, all who are called are justified and glorified (Romans 8:28-30) because all know the Lord.

Phil fails to quote the whole text or even mention how the Conditional Relative affects the meaning of the Acts 2:39 text. Peter redefines the covenantal family as those that are called. Phil again stumbles over Matthew 12:47-50, which radically redefines the covenantal family as those that do the will of the God.

There is no scriptural support in the New Testament to support Phil's claim that God has a plan to save all the children of believers. In fact, Jesus said in Matthew 10:34-36 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.

There are not two promises of salvation - one to the unregenerate children of believers and another the unregenerate children of unbelievers. There is one promise of salvation to all everywhere who will believe. In Acts 2:21, Peter is quoting Joel 2:32. The promise is for all those, irrespective of physical birth, who call upon the Lord. These are those whom God calls.

In prior covenants, there was a mixture of believers and unbelievers. In the New Covenant, God unfailingly writes His law upon the hearts of all within the New Covenant and all those in the New Covenant know the Lord (Hebrews 8:11). Yes, God has a plan to save every one of our spiritual children and He has promised to do so. If Covenant Theology's contention is that the promise of salvation is to all the physical children of believers, then we are forced to the abominable, but inevitable, conclusion that God's promise often fails.

The New Covenant - A Better Covenant

The New Covenant is better because there are no unbelieving members. Hebrews 8:10-11 says For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.

Hebrews 8:6 states that God would establish a better covenant based on better promises. It would not be a covenant like that of the Israelites that left Egypt (verse 9). It would be a covenant where God would write his laws on their mind and hearts. Verse 11 states that every single member of the covenant, from the least to greatest, would know him!

The new covenant is a covenant in Christ's blood and his blood was offered for a particular people. The Father gave the children of promise (Hebrews 2:13) to the Son and he has lost none (John 6:37-39). Therefore, only those who were baptized into Christ at his death and with him at Calvary as Paul was (Galatians 2:20) are members of the New Covenant secured with His blood.

The reason the promise is sure and will not fail for even one of the seed of Abraham is that it is by faith, and therefore in accordance with grace, not physical birth (Romans 4:16).

The entire system of Covenant theology is built upon the logic that infallibly follows from reading words into the scripture that were not used by the Holy Spirit. Covenant Theology stands or falls on the notion of a covenant of works with Adam in Genesis 2-3 and a new administration of eternal gracious purpose of God in the new Covenant. The word covenant is not used in reference to Adam in Genesis 1-3. Nor is the word administration used in Galatians 3-5 and Hebrews 8.

Covenant theologians will reply that the scripture does not use the word Trinity. That is true, but the word Trinity is shorthand for doctrines that are easily exegeted from the scriptures using words the Holy Spirit chose for the passages exegeted.

As John Reisinger has said in Abraham's Four Seeds (pages 133-4) , Covenant theology depends on putting the word covenant in Genesis where the Holy Spirit had not put it, and they refuse to let the word covenant really mean covenant when the Holy Spirit does use that specific word in passages like Hebrews 8. Amazing! It is amazing that those who say they hold to the verbal plenary inspiration of scripture depend upon a starting premise that cannot be exegeted from the Bible using words the Holy Spirit used.

Circumcision Remains the Seal of the New Covenant

Baptism is not a replacement for circumcision as the sign and seal of the New Covenant. On the contrary, the seal of the New Covenant is a circumcised heart through the regenerating and renewing work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of every believer. Ask a Covenant theologian to show you a text where baptism is explicitly said to be the sign and seal of the Covenant. It is disturbing to listen to them argue that all continues unless explicitly changed and then listen to them declare baptism as the new sign and seal without any exegesis to back it up!

Covenant theologians frequently use Colossians 2:11-13 to try and argue that baptism is now the sign and seal of the covenant. The text simply does not say that. In fact, it is our baptism into Christ that creates the circumcision not with hands that the text is talking about. Take a moment and read the text and see if it says that water baptism replaces physical circumcision. The text is not even talking about physical circumcision but rather circumcision of the heart.

Physical circumcision was the sign and seal given to Abraham for the covenantal manifestation of the eternal covenant of grace. As salvation history moved forward, circumcision was continued as the sign and seal of the temporary, shadowy and inadequate Mosaic Covenant until Christ should come (Galatians 3:19). Fleshly circumcision always pointed to the fulfilled reality of a circumcised heart through new birth, the baptism of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and God's law written on our hearts.

Paul says in Romans 2 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God. Again, in Colossians 2:11-12 Paul says, In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ

In the New Covenant, you are not a Jew unless you are inwardly circumcised (Romans 2:28-29). In the New Covenant, circumcision is made WITHOUT HANDS when we participate in Christ's baptism (Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:11-13) and are actually raised to new life. That is why Paul is so adamant that physical circumcision is no longer necessary. In the New Covenant, it is only the circumcision of the heart that makes a person a covenant member.

The Holy Spirit is the seal of the New Covenant. Paul said In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise (Ephesians 1:13). It is the Holy Spirit who circumcises our hearts. Fleshly circumcision was a shadow of the fulfilled New Covenant reality. It is baptism into Christ (Romans 6:1-5) through the baptism of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13) that circumcises our hearts and marks us as being born again. As John 3 teaches, you cannot see the wind of the Spirit, only its results.

One Baptism

New Covenant Theology teaches that there is only one baptism (Ephesians 4:5). Covenant Theology inevitably leads to the conclusion that there are two baptisms. One for the inclusion into their outward fleshly covenant in which some are never actually saved, frequently referred to as the Visible Church, and another for the inward work of salvation.

Just as there is one God but three persons, there is one baptism but three realities. There is Christ's baptism of the cross (Luke 12:50; Romans 6:3-4), in which He unfailingly actually accomplishes salvation for all who are with Him on the cross (Galatians 2:20). There is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit who applies salvation to our hearts, (1 Corinthians 12:13 and 1 Peter 3:21) and causes us to make an appeal in faith for a good conscience. There is the command of water baptism for those who have been made disciples (Matthew 28:19-20).

Our Hope as Parents

First, our hope for salvation for our children is that God always has and continues to use the family as a means to bring about salvation. God's promises are everywhere in scripture worked out through the family. When God brings a division in the family (Matthew 10:34-35) it is because he is saving some and not others. God works apart from the family, but the family is His primary means. Biblical faith is a family affair. We can expect God to work out His promise to save many in the context of faithful believing families.

Second, the physical children of believers, like the Israelites of old, have been given the word of God (Romans 3:1-3). Faith only comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17). There is increased opportunity for salvation to children of faithful parents.

Third, the physical children of believers, like their unbelieving spouses, are in a sanctified (set apart) and special place (1 Corinthians 7:14). If an unbaptized and unbelieving spouse can be, in some sense, sanctified without being a member of the New Covenant, why is it so hard for Covenant brethren to understand that association of an unbelieving child sets them apart into a special sanctified place, even though they are not a member of the New Covenant? Remember, all who are justified are sanctified, but not all who are sanctified are justified.

Fourth, even though we do not know the identity of the Children of Promise until they manifest faith, we know that God has promised to save them, whoever and wherever they are. Our hope is rooted in the sure promise of God who will not fail those He has called.

Consequences of Covenant Theology

Covenant Theologians must admit that God is not faithful to his promises. If God made a promise to save even one child and fails to do so, then God has obviously failed. However, God did not promise to save all the physical children of believers. He promised to save his sheep, the children of promise! As a matter of fact, Christ promised that he would create division in the family (Matthew 10:34-36).

Fallacies of Covenant Theology

Covenant Theology has no direct scriptural support and must resort to arguments of informal fallacy. Questions are directed at difficulties in implementation rather than the legitimacy of the truth at hand. Questions such as, How do you really know when a child believes? are raised in defense of their belief. The question itself should not be part of the debate until the foundational premise regarding the covenant is understood. Premises, once understood, have serious consequences. They must be worked out, but not before resolving the premise at hand. This is the informal fallacy known as ignoratio elenchi or argumentum ad misercordiam.

Covenant Theologians put themselves in a box by asking how we are to know that our child is a believer prior to baptism. The Covenant Theologian makes the assumption that the parent of the child is a believer. How do they know the parent is a believer? Let's be honest. Both Paedobaptist and Credobaptist rely upon the credible profession of those that claim Christ.

Covenant Theology robs new believers of publicly identifying themselves with Christ. In Acts 2:38, Peter commanded the Jewish listeners to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. He then walked down the street to the Temple and preached to the Jewish listeners to repent and be converted. It was well understood that baptism was the means of departing Judaism and identifying oneself with the forbidden Christians.

Questions for Covenant Theologians

The following questions are tools New Covenant theologians can use in their interaction with Covenant Theologians.

(1) Is it not true that if the original promise was made to Abraham and his seed, then Ishmael, who was circumcised the same day as Abraham, has every covenant claim that Isaac had?

(2) If it be objected that Isaac and Ishmael had two different mothers, then what about the twin sons of Isaac, Jacob and Esau? If ever there was two 'blue blood' covenant children, it was Jacob and Esau.

(3) What specific promise does a believing parent today have in respect to their children's salvation, that Isaac, as a believing parent, apparently did not have in respect to Esau, as a covenant child?

(4) Are all 'covenant children' loved by God as Jacob was, or are some 'covenant children' hated by God as Esau was?

(5) Is it an accident, or deliberate, that when the Holy Spirit wants to prove emphatically that physical birth has absolutely nothing to do with being in the New Covenant, He does not use a 'pagan' child and 'covenant' child but He uses two blue blood Old Covenant children (Romans 9:6-13)?

Conclusions

1. The theory of Covenant Theology is not based on evidence, but the lack of evidence. Covenant Theology requires theological gymnastics and the mixing of Old Testament shadows with New Testament reality. Covenant Theology is more a system of philosophy than it is a system of scriptural exegesis.

2. The promise of salvation is given to the adopted sons of Christ as determined in the eternal covenant between the Father and the Son. The children of Christ are called from the Jews and the Gentiles.

3. The seal of the New Covenant is the circumcision made without hands. It is accomplished through the baptism of the Holy Spirit that dwells within the believer.

4. We are baptized as an act of obedience that manifests our union with Christ in His death. It is the first duty of obedience for a new convert.

5. New Covenant Theology invites all our believing, baptized, Covenant brethren to the Lord's table to celebrate His work on our behalf.

Final Appeal

Consistent Covenant theologians will inevitably create walls of division between those for whom Christ died. To be consistent they must inevitably end up espousing excommunication for those who do not baptize their infants. If New Covenant members are commanded to baptize infants then to disobey is sin. To publicly sin invites church discipline when one refuses to repent.

Consistent Covenant theologians must eventually give their infant children the Lord's Supper.

Why is this? I would state it like this: Old Covenant unbelieving children ate the Passover Meal. Since the New Covenant does not specifically bar them from the New Covenant Passover meal they must be allowed to partake. How can you wash them and not feed them?

There are many pastors in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church of America who see the logic of this and would practice it if they could, but their denominational standards will not let them. Others are horrified at the idea, but only because they have not thought consistently through the implication of their belief that all continues unless explicitly changed. They are willing to see radical change in the New Covenant Passover but not membership. One could only wish that the need for consistency would force them to make their New Covenant membership practice consistent with their view of New Covenant Passover.

It is my sincere hope that all paedobaptist readers will allow the clear teaching of Scripture and the Lord's Supper to challenge and correct their theology of baptism.