Tuesday, 27 May 2008

The New Covenant And Believers' Baptism (part 4)

(Part one, part two, part three).

Dr. Field writes that any attempt (e.g. as in baptism as carried out by Baptists who believe in the perfection of the New Covenant) to say that a person has evidenced themselves to be one of the elect is "category confusion". The category of the elect operates in the realm of the "(to us) invisible and inaccessible", in contrast to Old Covenant membership, which was "at the level of historically observable categories of which we have knowledge and for which we have moral responsibility".

This assertion, though, flatly contradicts Scripture. Dr. Field has theologised himself into a hole. The Bible writers did not hesitate to declare that (certain of) their readers were elect:
4 Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. 5 For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. 6 And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost: 7 So that you were examples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. (1 Thessalonians 1:4-7)
1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,
2 Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied. (1 Peter 1:2)
Notice that Paul says that he was assured that the Thessalonians were elect, because of the results he had seen from the gospel in their lives. Similarly, Peter after mentioning election then mentions one of its inevitable fruits - obedience. It was not to them an illegitimate category mistake to talk about election in relationship to distinct people; rather, because election is part of a chain that includes definite results (Romans 8:28ff), it was legitimate to call someone elect when those results are seen. Dr. Field's argument excludes this kind of talk, because he has denied that election belongs to the realm of the "historically observable" - as we've seen, via importing the pre-requisite of absolute cast-iron certainty. If, though, Paul and Peter were happy to say that their readers were elect, then it is no longer feasible to say that it is a category confusion to say that the New Covenant sign is only for the New Covenant members, i.e. those who give sufficient evidence that they belong to God's elect.

Dr. Field's line of reasoning would have been a gift to the opponents of Paul in his letter to the Galatians. They reasoned that it was necessary to have an outward sign, namely circumcision, to mark one off as one of the true people of God. Faith in Jesus Christ was not enough. Paul, however, insisisted that faith itself was the New Covenant sign, sufficient to establish one's relationship to Abraham (e.g. Galatians 3:7). Dr. Field, though, should for consistency's sake label this as a category error. Faith resides unseen in the heart - only God ultimately knows who has true faith in the Saviour and who does not. Circumcision, however, is an outward and demonstrable sign that is indisputable before all men. Paul completely overlooked to make the kind of argument that a Federal Vision proponent would make: that baptism was now the sign that proved the reality of one's covenant relationship and inclusion with Abraham, and so to insist on a second such outward sign, such as circumcision, was to ask for a repeat of what had already been done. Paul instead insisted that under the New Covenant faith itself, nothing more and nothing less, is the dividing line, and that nothing more was required. Hence Baptists, understanding this logic, identify as covenant members whose who have faith - not those who've been through some outward ritual, whether circumcision or baptism. I wonder if Federal Vision advocates realise just how much their logic sounds and works like that of the Judaisers when they insist that there must be a definite, this worldly ritual that allows us to infallibly identify those who are in the New Covenant.

To be continued...

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