As stated in a previous study, amillennialism is the belief that there will be no literal millennium or future reign of Jesus Christ on planet earth. It’s also linked with what is called “Covenant Theology” because this system of theology follows the allegorization method of interpretation and embraces a non-literal approach to the millennium.
Covenant Theology rejects dispensationalism since dispensationalism believes in the literal approach to prophetic Scripture and sees a clear distinction between Israel and the church and also believes in a literal 1,000-year kingdom reign upon earth. Dispensationalism teaches that God still has a plan for national Israel and that God has not abandoned His covenant promises given to His people. Therefore, the system of Covenant Theology strongly rejects this system of interpretation, which threatens their spiritualized scheme of thinking on the Bible.
A SHORT HISTORY OF COVENANT THEOLOGY
Covenant theology is primarily a Post-Reformation teaching formulated in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries that was introduced to America primarily through the Puritans. This system of theology was not developed in the early church, the Middle Ages or by the prominent Reformers such as Luther, Calvin, Zwingli or Melanchthon.
Louis Berkhof says: “In the early Church Fathers the covenant idea is not found at all.”
According to Berkhof, Kasper Olevianus (1536-1587), a secondary Reformer, was the real founder of a well-developed Covenant Theology. Herman Witsius (1636-1708) was credited for teaching that this covenant of grace was created in eternity past when the Godhead agreed upon the terms for redemption. These were men whose influence was secondary to the great Reformers of the time. The main Reformers did not teach or develop a covenant scheme like other lesser-known men. A German named Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669) actually set forth the view of two covenants of works and grace in a work published in 1648. However, the teaching was spreading, since one year before the publication of Cocceius’s work the Westminster Confession’s covenant of works and grace appeared.
Renald Showers adds this important note: “The system started to be developed in the Reformed Churches of Switzerland and Germany and passed to the Netherlands, Scotland, and England. In 1647 the Westminster Confession of Faith in England became the first confession of faith to refer to Covenant Theology.”
Covenant theology came to America through the writings of Francis Turretin and Herman Witsius and was championed in the new world in the works of John Cotton and others.
THE THREE COVENANTS
Covenant Theology represents the whole of Scripture as being covered by two or three covenants. This theological system begins its allegorization scheme of interpretation by claiming that God only made two or three covenants.
Covenant of Redemption
The first covenant is a covenant of redemption between the Godhead in eternity past. This theological system claims that this covenant came about because of some secret agreement that was made between the Father and Son. God the Son agreed to provide salvation through His death upon the cross and the Father agreed that the Son would be the Redeemer and head of the elect.
Covenant of Works
Second, there is a covenant of works, which God made with Adam (Gen. 2:17). God promised life for his obedience and death for his disobedience. Adam was temporarily put on probation to see what he would do. When he failed he plunged the world into sin and spiritual death and became the head of a human race that would be separated from God.
Covenant of Grace
The third covenant consisted of a covenant of grace after Adam sinned (Gen. 3:15) which was the promise of salvation through a coming Redeemer. God offered the covenant to Adam in order to bring salvation to him through Jesus Christ. And today God is operating under this same grace-redemption covenant purpose, which is now being extended to the elect. The covenant of grace is actually based upon the covenant of redemption, which was made in eternity past.
Interpretation of Jewish promises
According to Covenant Theology, there is the need to simplify the national Jewish covenant promises, through the process of figurative/spiritualized language, since this makes the unifying concept of salvation and grace easier to be seen and understood throughout history. This leads them to nullify the covenant promises given to the Jews and spiritualize them. When the covenant programs of God are interpreted literally and the distinctions between God’s covenant programs are clearly seen, it will allow for a future kingdom for national Israel.
This is the crux of covenant theology and the amillennial position: The promises given to Israel about a land, a nation, a king and a kingdom (Gen. 12:2; 15:18-20; 2 Sam. 7:12-16) have been given to the church and take on a new spiritual dimension and meaning.
Since the old Israel rebelled against God’s conditional covenants and ultimately rejected Christ, she forfeited her right to enjoy any earthly kingdom. Calvin went so far to say that the literal interpretation of Israel’s earthly promises were not even to be interpreted by the Jews to mean a literal earthly kingdom. Rather, they were given to teach realities about their glorious prospect of heaven.
Calvin States: “The point of controversy between us and these persons, is this: they maintain that the possession of the land of Canaan was accounted by the Israelites their supreme and ultimate blessedness, but that to us, since the revelation of Christ, it is a figure of the heavenly inheritance. We, on the contrary, contend, that in the earthly possession which they enjoyed, they contemplated, as in a mirror, them, in heaven.”
Of course, this is an incredible hoax on the Bible. It is huckstering the Bible (2 Cor. 4:2) to try and fit a Platonic interpretive scheme that is contrary to belief in a literal Bible. This is called “Replacement theology.”
SQUEEZING GOD’S PLANS INTO A SINGLE BOX
Covenant theology views both history and prophecy through the lenses of this proposed covenant of grace and this is what directs their interpretation of Scripture, causing the prophecies about the millennium to be spiritualized and interpreted figuratively, as the present day church.
It’s very significant that there is no mention of these proposed covenants in Scripture. The first time the word covenant is used is with Noah (Gen. 6:18; 9:11). The covenant of works and grace are not Biblical covenants as Reformed Theology teaches. Covenant theologians base their entire system of theology on a deduction rather than a clear statement of Scripture.
Abraham no doubt understood that a covenant was being made when he cut the animals in half and when God passed through the pieces of the sacrifice (Gen. 15:17-21). But this cannot be said of Adam. Adam was not aware of some kind of covenant of works and grace taking place as Covenant theology assumes happened.
It must be understood that the covenants of redemption, works and grace are man-made theological covenants but not biblical covenants. God’s dealing with Adam was in the form of a test and the subsequent provisions given to Adam if he fails the test. It was not necessarily a covenant. Scripture never verifies that this was a covenant as it does with the other covenants (Gen. 6:18 = Noahic; Gen. 15:18; 17:2 = Abrahamic; Deut. 4:12-13 = Mosaic; Deut. 29:1 with 30:3-10 = Land; 2 Chronicles 21:7; Ps. 89:3 with 2 Samuel 7:8-18 = Davidic; Jer. 31:31; Heb. 8:8 = New). Thus, the whole premise of Covenant Theology crumbles because they argue for covenants that are not even directly or clearly mentioned and revealed in the Bible as covenants.
Even if one was to assume that a covenant of works was made to Adam and a covenant of grace was the result of Adam’s failure, it does not mean that every other covenant mentioned in the Bible must be spiritualized to fit into some kind of single covenant scheme of grace, which leads to nullifying other covenants of their literal promises to national Israel. Covenant Theology is in error because it tries to make all of the other covenants subservient to the one imaginary covenant of grace.
It’s true that other covenants contain a picture of God’s grace in that He acts on the behalf of the people. Even in the Mosaic Covenant there is the institution of the gracious sacrificial system. But this conclusion does not give the interpreter the permission to spiritualize the other covenants in an attempt to give them one common goal – salvation by grace. Covenant Theology has only one goal that it focuses on – salvation by grace. But this single goal throughout history is too narrow.
We must remember that God has other goals that He intends to fulfill during the course of history which contribute to His ultimate purpose for history. God has different goals for nations (Job 12:23; Isa 14:24-27) and rulers (Dan. 2:21, 4:17). God has judgment plans for planet earth (Revelation 6-19). He has plans for Satan (Rev. 12:7-10, 20:1-3) and even for the redemption of nature (Matt. 19:28; Rom. 8:19-22). Likewise, God has a plan for the Gentiles (Rom. 11:25) and for the Jews or national Israel (Romans 11:26-27). He promises the Jews a literal kingdom (Daniel 7:27; Luke 12:32). These goals cannot be overlooked or spiritualized in order to try and unify the working of the grace of God in some kind of generalized and spiritualized program of one common people and goal that embraces grace and salvation. To try and narrow the goals or plans of God by squeezing them into a single covenant of grace does not do justice to God’s other plans that He is working out in history.
Renald Showers observes: “Since God has many different programs which He is operating during the course of history, all of them must be contributing something to His ultimate purpose for history. Thus, the ultimate goal of history has to be large enough to incorporate all of God’s programs, not just one of them.”
Distinctions cannot be set aside without falling into grievous error. For instance, Paul makes a clear distinction between the Mosaic covenant and Abrahamic Covenant by arguing that the promised seed cannot be based upon both the Law and Abrahamic covenant at the same time (Gal. 3:18). One said, “Do this and you will be blest” where the other said, “I will do this for you so you will be blessed.” The Mosaic Covenant instituted conditions that were not required in any earlier covenants. There is also an expressed distinction between the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant (Jer. 31:32). Furthermore, the Mosaic Law was an administration of death (2 Cor. 3:9) whereas the New Covenant is an administration of righteousness (2 Cor. 3:9). In addition the Old Mosaic Law was written on tables of stone whereas the New Covenant is said to be written upon the tables of the heart (2 Cor. 3:3). The idea that all of the covenants have a single meaning, purpose and common goal attached to them (salvation by grace) is too narrow.
We have the Noahic covenant with the rainbow of promise (Gen. 9:11-15). We have the Mosaic covenant with the demands to obey for blessings and resulting curses for failure (Deut. 27:14-26). Then we have the Abrahamic, Land and Davidic covenants with the promises of a continuing people, future land and future kingdom. We have the New Covenant with the promise of the permanent indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit (Ezek. 36:27). The differences are more than minor as Covenant Theologians suggest. They are major differences that demonstrate the outworking purposes of God as being much more involved than just salvation by grace. (For this reason I get highly upset when Christians in a disrespectful manner refer to biblical aspects, other than salvation, as “secondary” or “non-salvic” issues, as if they don’t matter – to God they matter!)
Covenant Theology follows our earlier amillennial teaching, which claims that the church today has inherited the Old Covenant promises of Israel in a generalized spiritual way. The Covenant Theology of amillennialism views all the covenants of the Bible to be progressive revelations of the one covenant of grace. They are all squeezed into the same mold as the covenant of grace. And since there is only one general covenant that God is working with throughout history it is proposed that there can be only one group of people that He is working with in both the old and new dispensation – the church. And to keep the unifying principle of the covenant of grace intact there must be a spiritual or figurative transfer of the Old Testament covenant promises to the church today.
Covenant Theology attempts to simplify God’s sovereign program by combining different people into one entity and various dispensational economies into one generic phase of God’s work. Amillennialism opts for an oversimplification of God’s earthly plans and tries to avoid unwanted distinctions at all costs to keep what they term as “A more feasible working hermeneutic.”
The point of Covenant Theology is trying to make is that too many different covenants and different programs would steer us away from God’s common plan of grace and no longer create a common picture of redemption throughout history. This is why the church today is called “Abraham’s spiritual seed.” They have received or inherited the Old Testament promises in a spiritual or figurative way as evidence by the New Testament.
According to Covenant Theology and their New Testament analysis, those covenants that are mentioned in the Bible (Abrahamic, Palestinian, Davidic and New) are all viewed as being a spiritual or non-literal extension of the covenant of grace. Furthermore, it’s promoted by this interpretive system that all of the Old Testament covenants are in some way related to the promised salvation blessings given to the universal church down through the ages of time – even the New Testament church of today.
For many the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 12) is seen to be the official beginning of the covenant of grace and the institutional church. Abraham is seen as the head of the covenant of grace. Other amillenarians see Adam as fulfilling this role as head of the covenant of grace and view the church beginning back in Genesis chapter 3:15 with the promise of the Redeemer. Berkhof suggests that in Genesis 3:15 we see the revelation of this covenant but it was not until the time of Abraham that this covenant was officially established.
PRESENT DAY BELIEFS AND INFANT BAPTISM (ALSO CALLED PAEDOBAPTISM, COVENANT BAPTISM, AND HOUSEHOLD BAPTISM)
Reformed Theology of today continues to embrace this covenant of grace relationship with God and claims that the children of saved parents are born within the covenant of grace relationship. Like Old Testament Israel, those born to regenerate parents (the new Israel) experience a “legal relationship” with God within this covenant relationship.
These children become like the spiritual seed of the believers and enter this covenant of grace by physical birth. When they come to the age of accountability before God they are then expected to enter the “communion of life” aspect of this covenant, which involves salvation. As a rule, they believe God gathers the number of His elect out of those who stand in this legal covenant relationship with Him. Those who are born in the covenant of grace relationship have a privileged position and it is believed that God gives them special blessings such as the Spirit’s conviction, striving and common grace (Gen. 6:3; Mt. 13:18-22; Heb. 6:4-6). By the process of spiritual transfer and replacement the new sign of the covenant relationship between God and His people today (the new Israel) is baptism (sprinkling), which replaces the old sign of circumcision in the Old Testament Abrahamic covenant. This is the seal of the covenant of grace and the young children are considered the “children of the kingdom” to which the Gospel must be preached first of all (Matt. 8:12; Luke 14:16-24; Acts 13:46).
This Reformed way of thinking and baptismal practice of infants runs contrary to Scripture. The Bible never calls circumcision the “seal” of the Abrahamic covenant let alone baptism becoming the seal of the New Covenant. This is terminology not used in the Bible. The Holy Spirit is the seal of the present dispensation (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13; 4:30). Furthermore, nowhere in the Bible does it state that infant baptism and circumcision is the same thing. They cannot signify the same thing since children of believing parents are not Israelites and since circumcision was only performed on males whereas baptism was practiced on both males and females.
In addition, New Testament baptism followed the salvation of any person, no matter what age they had reached, whereas circumcision was performed on children eight days old (Gen. 17:12). To argue that baptism replaces circumcision and becomes a seal of the covenant of grace that we have with God is nowhere stated nor even assumed in the entire Bible. If the baptism of boys replaces the Old Testament practice of circumcision then what does the practice of infant girls replace?
Verses that are used by covenant theologians to support the notion that infant baptism replaces infant circumcision teach nothing about baptizing infants (Col. 2:11; Matt. 19:14). The supposed proof text of Colossians 2:11-12, which Reformed theologians use to support the idea of baptism replacing the sign of circumcision, says nothing of infants! However, this passage does teach that salvation is a spiritual operation of circumcision that does not involve the hands of man. It does teach that salvation takes place through the spiritual operation that God performs in our life when we are spiritually identified with the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and brought into new life with Him.
By comparison, where do we read that all the people within Old Testament Israel, who were in covenant relationship with God, were actually saved? Even today Paul says that all Jews, who are born as Israelites and circumcised, are not necessarily part of the true regenerated Israel (see Romans 9:6). This tells us that it is dangerous to assume that some person born into a covenant relationship with God possesses eternal life. These kinds of confusing statements made by Reformed Theologians result when failing to distinguish between membership in a covenant people and membership in the true church through faith in Christ (Heb. 12:23).
Reformed Theology also teaches that since Jesus is the Mediator of the New Covenant (Heb. 8:6; 9:15; 12:24), it’s reasonable to assume that Christ is the Mediator of the Covenant of Grace. It is Jesus Christ who goes between God and sinful man and brings man into right relationship with a holy God. But problems arise when churches begin to identify baptism as some kind of sealing agent into the covenant of grace. The dangers arise when people understand that the Mediator of the covenant transfers His actual saving work to their lives through the act of baptism. This is nothing more than a works salvation (Eph. 2:8-9).
Perhaps covenant theologians do not intend to teach that baptism regenerates little children but their statements would teach otherwise. The statements of covenant theologians seem to imply salvation by the act of baptism.
Murray says: “Baptized infants are to be received as the children of God and treated accordingly.” Bromiley, writing about the children of promise, says: “Baptism declares the inward regenerative cooperation of the Holy Spirit which makes us conformable to Jesus Christ.”
In his book entitled Baptism: It’s purpose, Practice and Power, Green wrote these words: “Baptism is the initiation of the Christian person. It is his inclusion in the salvation history of God. It is the incorporation into the church, the Body of Christ.”
Calvin, writing in his “Institutes of the Christian Religion” recorded these words: “The sign [of infant baptism] … opens to them a door into the church, that, adopted into it, they may be enrolled among the heirs of the Kingdom of heaven.”
This interpretive scheme leaves large areas of the Old Testament Scripture and prophecies without any generally accepted meaning or explanation by the Amillennialists. This is because when you advance your own mind upon the Scriptures there are a countless number of conclusions that will be promoted for the meaning of Scriptural texts. Amillennialism, with its multiplied spiritualized schemes to find hidden meanings behind literal texts in the Old Testament, is a blight upon the understanding of Scripture and causes wreckage to occur in the study of the Bible (2 Tim. 2:15). It comes to the Scripture with subjective reasoning where the meaning of a text is at the mercy of the interpreter instead of interpreting God-breathed Scripture objectively in its grammatical, ordinary and literal sense.
(Source: Pastor Kelly Sensenig)