1689 Federalism Revisited

Discussion in 'Covenant Theology' started by Herald, Feb 2, 2019.

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  1. Herald

    Herald Administrator Staff Member

    About a year ago (or more) there was a vigorous discussion on Baptist Federalism, which is better known simply as 1689 Federalism. I was intrigued by it but decided not to fully embrace it. Its relative newness concerned me. Whenever something new hits the theological scene the first thing I see are warning flags. I was also concerned with, as I saw it at the time, an attempt to reassemble covenant theology to make it more palatable for Baptists. Does covenant theology inexorably lead back to paedobaptist authorship or did Baptists have their own take on it even as far back as the 17th-century? Among Baptists, covenant theology before 1689 Federalism was basically paedobaptist covenant theology with the main dividing point being the discontinuity of the Abrahamic Covenant. 1689 Federalism took that view head-on and made the point that Baptist Federalism had its own distinct view independent of paedobaptist Covenant Theology (Westminster Federalism), even as far back as the 1689 LBCF. If so, why has this view not been widely articulated until recently? That was one of my burning questions when I first heard of 1689 Federalism.

    I have now had some time to more closely look into Baptist Federalism and have been satisfied with the answers given to my earlier questions. In the 17th-century, Baptist Federalism was not considered a thing, or least not the main thing. During that time, English Particular Baptists were more concerned with the freedom to practice their faith. John Bunyan's persecution was a contemporary reminder that Baptist theological distinctives were looked at with suspicion in England. The 1689 LBCF was an attempt to legitimize Particular Baptist beliefs and to allay the fears of paedobaptists as to what they believed. While the differences of baptism and church polity were real, there was much that both sides agreed on. Lost in all of that noise were other theological beliefs, including the systematic way of ordering both the redemptive and eschatological aspects of scripture. When the Reformed Baptist label began to gain traction in the United States back in the 1960's, there was not a lot of contemporary scholarly work on covenant theology from a Baptist point-of-view. It was convenient to modify Westminster Federalism in those places where it differed from Baptist theology. This status-quo understanding did not sit well with more than a few Reformed Baptists theologians, so they put in the work to research what early English Particular Baptists believed about covenant theology. Had they wrtten about it? Did they have a clear and convincing voice? More to the point - is the 1689 LBCF a covenantal document that stands on its own two feet apart from Westminster Federalism? My answer to these questions is "yes".

    The issue here is not to debate Westminster Federalism vs. 1689 Federalism. The main areas of disagreement between paedobaptists and credobaptists continue to exist. Nothing has changed in that regard. The issue is really a debate between traditional Baptist Covenant Theology (as I call it) and 1689 Federalism. It is an interesting debate because it is causing Reformed Baptists to wrestle with their identity. It seems as though the main clearinghouse for information on 1689 Federalism is found at the 1689 Federalism website: 1689 Federalism. There are more and more books being published on the topic. There is a recommended reading list on the 1689 Federalism website.

    While I was malleable on 1689 Federalism a year ago, I am now more comfortable affirming their main points. I no longer believe it is a knee-jerk reaction against Westminster Federalism, in either its paedobaptist or Baptist renditions. I believe early Particular Baptists did have a decided covenantal view that was well articulated in the 1689 LBCF. I am looking forward to discussing this futher in the coming weeks and months.
  2. Harley

    Harley Puritan Board Sophomore

    I was reconsidering baptism a year ago and passed by the Federalist view, but I appreciate the work of the scholars. One school of Reformed Baptist seems to think that covenant continuity issues are totally irrelevant to the question of the nature and constitution of the church now (that's not a misrepresentation), and it's like they thought /think the Baptist had no obligation at all to consider the PB's covenantal arguments, and any PB who attempts to argue from covenants is just ducking clear New Testament condemnation for his position. The 1689 Federalists have put in extensive time to understand the covenants and the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament; and even if one disagrees with their final conclusion, they have worked to put the New Testament church in context of the whole history of redemption, which is what a PB covenant theologian is doing. I disagree with the conclusions of the Federalists, but the breadth of study forces us to look at all the Scriptures more comprehensively.
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2019
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  3. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)


    Do you believe in the following:

    (1). That there is not one covenant with Abraham but two?

    In Denault's book on the "Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology: he writes that there is not one covenant with Abraham but two. Others writers repeat this as well, that there is a physical covenant and a spiritual covenant. That there is a physical people and then there is a spiritual people. This seems like warmed-over Dispensationalism-lite.

    Denault writes, "The padeobaptist refused to separate the dualities of the Abrahamic covenant in order to preserve their model of the covenant of grace which integrated these dualities… Their system was self sufficient, but it could not harmonize itself naturally with the Biblical data, and, in particular, to the fact that there was not one, but two covenants in Abraham” (loc 1863, 1929).

    (2) Do you believe that the Mosiac Covenant was established with physical Israel only and not with Spiritual Israel?

    One 1689er writes, "The Mosiac Covenant was established with physical Israel not with spiritual Israel. Paul made this clear in Romans 2 and 9. This is why your understanding of covenant theology works better for presbyterians who believe the covenant of grace is a mix between believes and unbelievers."

    (3) Do you believe that the Mosaic Covenant was given so that its members could use the law as a means of obtaining life?

    One 1689er wrote: "When Paul says we are no longer under law but grace, he means we are no longer under the law as a requirement for justification and eternal life. As I said, I affirm the third use of the law as a rule of obedience for the Christian. But the members of the Mosiac Covenant were under the law as means of eternal life, which it was only able to bring forth death and condemnation."

    (4). Do you believe that Presbyterians created their whole system of Covenant Theology as a means to defend infant baptism? That is what Denault seems to say in his book. In an effort to justify this particular doctrine, Presbyterians formed their whole system of covenant theology so that they could preserve pedobaptism.

    That is an awful lot of work just to preserve baby-sprinkling!

    (5). Do you believe the New Covenant IS the Covenant of Grace and do you deny that the Covenant of Grace is broader than the New Covenant?

    Do you affirm these five points?

    I cannot. And I am a baptist.
  4. Herald

    Herald Administrator Staff Member

    Which is all any serious student of the Bible can ask for. When I joined the PB in 2005 I was struggling with the baptism issue. I did not realize it at the time but my struggle was misdirected. It really was not about baptism, it was how I ordered biblical theology. I began to see the problems inherent with Dispensationalism long before I embraced covenant theology. For a period of time, I was rudderless. It was not a fun place to be. While I eventually hitched my wagon to covenant theology, it was repackaged Westminster Federalism. I wish I could say that I took the initiative to research how early Particular Baptists viewed the covenants but I took that prevalent view among contemporary Reformed Baptists as the final word on the issue. I am glad I was challenged to rethink my position.
  5. Herald

    Herald Administrator Staff Member

    P.S. Which does not mean that "rethinking" is settled. I am still trying to think things through; both praying and leaning on the works of my betters in order to understand more fully.
  6. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    I think you are falling into the 1689er trap of believing that you must either choose between 1689 Federalism or become a Presbyterian. They argue this way all the time. They will assert that you might believe you are baptist but your covenant theology SHOULD lead you towards Presbyterianism if you were consistent. Therefore, embrace 1689 Federalism and really be a baptist.

    Don't fall for it.
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2019
  7. Harley

    Harley Puritan Board Sophomore

    Just from simple Bible study I rejected all five parts. #4 is the worst of the bunch, and for any paedo who knows his stuff it's perceived (quite correctly) as breaking the ninth commandment.

    And indeed you may stay a Baptist if you believe that the church doesn't continue from Israel, the New Covenant is fully distinct even from the Abrahamic Covenant regardless how similar they are, and there is no way that an infant was baptized in any of the household baptisms. That's very general and simplified, but the New Covenant just needs to be "different enough" to disallow infant sprinkling.

    @Herald I started listening to one of the podcasts on the 1689 Federalist website you linked to and the interviewee said even said that chapter 7 of the LBC is intentionally broad to fit a number of different covenant models. What is now called Federalism might have been the majority view, but it doesn't seem that being of that stripe was indispensible. Funnily enough I read the sectlon about "farther steps" to a proficent Presbyterian friend of mine and at first glance he didn't even disagree with the language.
  8. Herald

    Herald Administrator Staff Member

    First, the one thing that binds all Baptists together is professor-only baptism (credobaptism). Would you say that dispensationalists cannot be Baptists because they eschew covenant theology completely? Let us be careful not to create a purity test for the right to call ourselves a Baptist.

    What I am finding out about Baptist Federalism is that it is an attempt by 21st-century Baptist theologians to understand 17th-century Baptist covenantalism. The canopy underneath many of these theologians are working is necessarily broad. Pascal Denault may not be in complete agreement with Sam Renihan on everything and vice versa. I have been very clear to point out that, while I am amenable to Baptist Federalism, I still consider my own covenantal theology to be a work in progress. For that reason, I do not feel the need to choose between two options like you challenged me to do in your post.

    One of the most criticized parts of Baptist Federalism is how the Covenant of Grace operates. Rich Barcellos states that the Covenant of Grace was promised in the Old Testament but not formally covenanted until the New Covenant. Another way of saying it is that the Covenant of Grace is the New Covenant, so the Covenant of Grace could only have been promised in the Old Testament but not inaugurated. I think this is a basic agreement among Baptist Federalists.

    This was one of the first concerns I had over a year ago. Is this some sort of loyalty pledge in order to be a covenantal Baptist? Is Baptist Federalism a contrived system just so we can have a cudgel in order to fight back against paedobaptists? That is precisely why I have taken a slow-and-steady approach to their claims. I am not saying that is not the thought of some. Each side of any issue is always going to have its more radical elements. I do not fear being defined by them. When I joined the PB I wanted so much to belong to the paedobaptist side. I prayed and studied the issue until I could not pray or research anymore. My screen name at the time (Baptist-in-Crisis) was a not-so-veiled attempt at announcing where I was in my thinking. So, I while I appreciate your concern, by God's grace I remain an independent thinker.
  9. Shanny01

    Shanny01 Puritan Board Freshman

    Just a few points that I would adjust in this presentation of 1689 Federalism.

    1. Just to clarify is that there was the Covenant of Circumcision (i.e. Abrahamic Covenant) and the promise of the New Covenant. There was no formal administration of the New Covenant but only a further revealing of the seed of the woman and the means by which we partake of that seed, i.e. faith.

    2. The majority of 1689 Federalists would say that the Mosaic Covenant was made with Physical Israel, but also including Spiritual Israel within Physical Israel. Just quibbling with the "only". But this may be tied in with the next point.

    3. This claim stems from the fact the Pascalt Denault in his first version of his book espoused that the Mosaic Covenant was a republication of the Covenant of Works properly considered, whereby if a person perfectly performed the commands of Mosaic Law, he would inherit eternal life. He has since revised his book and rejected this view in favor of the majority view that the Mosaic Covenant republished the terms of the Covenant of Works (Do this and live), but that the reward and punishments of that covenant in itself related only to life in the land of Canaan and blessings there. Since his revision, I know of no 1689 Federalists that say the Mosaic Covenant was given for eternal life, but rather that the covenant was earthly and subservient to the Covenant of Grace in the promulgation of the New Covenant.

    4. I wouldn't paint all 1689 Federalists as saying this, since Covenant theology in general developed out of the Reformed understanding of Law and Gospel, the overarching Covenant structure of Scripture, and Baptism was defended out of this structure. Just because Denault said something doesn't mean all Baptists would see Presbyterian Covenant theology as the only reason they still baptize infants.

    5. This is a fair point but perhaps could just be clarified that all saints throughout all time are saved by the New Covenant and its promise (under promises, types, and shadows in the Old Covenant, thereby retaining the Covenant of Grace understanding of only one way of salvation since the fall).
  10. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    So Old Testament believers were added into what covenant?

    Are OT believers added into the New Covenant, which had not yet come? Or the Covenant of Grace? If the New Covenant is the same as the Covenant of Grace, there is no place for OT believers to be added into until after Christ's work. And if they are added into the Covenant of Grace during OT times, then how can we say that the Covenant of Grace is not yet in effect until the New Covenant, because obviously members are being added to it, even in the OT. It seems very much in effect because every believer from all time periods are addded into it.
  11. Shanny01

    Shanny01 Puritan Board Freshman

    The understanding would be that since the New Covenant was the formal administration of the Covenant of Grace. Only with Christ's life, death, and resurrection and the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost, the spiritual communion of the church (regenerate believers) has been formally given, having ordinances for worship, duties, church governance, and all peculiar things to a covenant people. Before this formal administration, people were still partakers of the grace of the New Covenant but by way of promise of its accomplishment in Christ's coming. The church had not been formally constituted though they were materially part of it. The Spirit applied the various benefits of the New Covenant to Old Testament saints via that which the Old Covenant looked to, which considered in of itself (abstracted from the typological and subservient relation to the New Covenant) was a covenant of works, but because of that subservient role pointed forth to the substance that it was merely a shadow of.
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2019
  12. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    You write:

    "The Spirit applied the various benefits of the New Covenant to Old Testament saints via the Old Covenant, which considered in of itself (abstracted from the typological and subservient relation to the New Covenant) was a covenant of works, but because of that subservient role pointed forth to the substance that it was merely a shadow of."

    But many 1689ers speak of the Old Covenant as only bringing death. But here you write that the OT saints are saved "via the Old Covenant"?

    It makes more since to admit that the Covenant of Grace was operative from the very first OT believers (Adam and Eve, I believe) and then came to its climax in the New Covenant to which all the previous covenants point.

    That is a lot better than stating that anyone could be saved through the Old Covenant.
  13. Herald

    Herald Administrator Staff Member

    We need to represent each other's arguments fairly. Adam did not say OT saints are saved "via the Old Covenant".
  14. Herald

    Herald Administrator Staff Member

    Adam, this is the way I understand it. OT saints enjoyed the benefits of being part of covenant Israel but their true inheritance was not in Abraham or David, it was in the promised Messiah. The types and shadows of the Old Testament covenants pointed forward to Christ and the New Covenant.
  15. TheInquirer

    TheInquirer Puritan Board Freshman


    Thanks for sharing this update. I am going through the same process myself albeit much more slowly than I'd like due to other projects.

    Any works that were especially helpful to you?
  16. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)


    I still reject 1689 Federalism over these issues:

    (1) The fact that OT believers actively participate in the blessings of the Covenant of Grace even while being in the OT.

    Thus they were not merely participating in a promise but the actual presence of the Covenant of Grace.

    The substance of the New Covenant must be active even in the OT or else OT believers have no Mediator. In effect, they are participating in the blessings of the New Covenant while living in the OT, so why not simply say the Covenant of Grace was active in the OT for the Elect?

    (2) We ought not to separate Israel and the Church. We cannot say that only physical promises were given to the people, nor can we say that there were two separate promises for two separate people.

    The prophets did not say, "Now to you Physical Israel I promise to keep you in the land, etc, but to you Spiritual Israel I promise to give you eternal life." He merely addressed "Israel" as a whole. The church was a mixed assembly of both the saved and the lost, all who held the covenant sign.

    (3) The Bible is (ALL of it) a unified book primarily about spiritual things, not a book of discontinuity largely about mere physical promises in the OT and spiritual promises in the NT.
  17. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    What would you see as being the major differences between contemporary RB theology and those holding to the 1689 version?
  18. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    What type of Reformed Baptist theology do you hold with then, as who would be a good author to give a summary of it?
  19. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    Another way to see this would be that the new Covenant was the fullness of the Covenant of Grace, as that final manifestation of it required the Lord Jesus to actually be born, die, and be raised up and ascended before it could go into effect.
  20. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    Were the OT saints added into it when Jesus rose from the dead and took captivity back with Him unto heaven?
  21. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    So the Church proper did indeed get started up on the day of Pentecost?
  22. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    The basis by which God could ever save any lost sinner was always due to the Cross of Jesus Christ. Saved by Grace alone, received through faith alone, as the reformers loved to keep pointing out.
  23. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    There were mixed saved and lost in the old Covenant such as the Mosaic aspect of it, but only the redeemed among the New Covenant, correct?
  24. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Maybe a new thread should address this. Many of the early Church believed this and called it the "Harrowing of Hell" - Christ's descent into hell to claim victory and take the souls of the saints back with him to heaven. In Luke 16 we see Abraham's Bosom and a tortured soul within sight but separated by a chasm, and some say this condition no longer holds true since Christ. What do you think?
  25. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Only the Elect are in the New Covenant, but there are many unbelievers under the outward administration of the New Covenant (preaching, and the ordinances). These non-Elect may be under the covenant administration but not properly "in" the Covenant. Only those in Christ are in the New Covenant, properly speaking.
  26. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    I think that there is actually none in real Hell yet, as I see that as the lake of Fire, but that until Jesus actually came, the dead lost and saved went to Hades/Sheol, and that there was indeed a good and bad side, and Jesus emptied the good side out and took them back to heaven with himself.
  27. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    Yes, I can agree with that, as there are still the lost among the saved when any assembly of the church happens, but those actually in the NC are only the saved.
  28. Herald

    Herald Administrator Staff Member

    Jim, Pascal Denault's book, "The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology" was insightful. "The Covenant of Works: Its Confessional and Scriptural Basis" by Richard Barcellos is another good read. "Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ", a compilation by Nehemiah Coxe and John Owen is helpful.
  29. Herald

    Herald Administrator Staff Member

    Based on my understanding of Baptist Federalism, the blessings of the New Covenant were promised-only until the New Covenant was inaugurated. So, were Old Testament believers truly "participating in the blessings of the New Covenant"? Was the Holy Spirit given to the church the way that it was at Pentecost? Had the outward requirements of the Law been abrogated? The justification by faith of Old Testament believers was rooted in the Cross, which had not yet taken place. There was never a time when Christ's incarnation, death on the cross, and subsequent resurrection was ever in doubt. God's promise of redemption for His elect was made in Genesis 3:15, so the promise was as good as God's word. In some ways, we are living with a similar expectation. The promise of eternal life is a "now and not yet" situation. We know that we have the promise of eternal life (1 John 5:13) but we will not fully enjoy that blessing until we are in the eternal state.

    I do not believe there is a separation. Old Testament saints were saved by the Promised One who was yet to come. New Testament saints are saved by the Promised One who has already been revealed. The only difference is that the Jewish Old Testament believers were still under the requirements of the Law, whereas there is no longer any distinction between Jew and Gentile. The Law did not impart life, but obeying its precepts was a requirement of life as a Jew under the Old Covenant. This is why I believe the dispensational charge that some have made against Baptist Federalism is erroneous.

    It is also a book of history. The fact that a sound view of biblical theology represents how God reveals His redemptive and eschatological purpose throughout human history does not mean it is not part of a cohesive whole.

    How would an Old Testament saint have understood all of this? If they were Jewish, they knew the Law. They were obligated to observe it. Like Abraham, who believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6), the Law was intended to draw people to God. However, the Law could not save - only condemn. It served as a tutor (Galatians 3:24) to point us to the One who would do what the Law could not. Life under the Old Covenant found its blessings within the covenant community. These blessings were not always spiritual. Consider Deuteronomy 28. So, I agree with you that the Bible is a book primarily about spiritual things and not a book largely about physical promises. It is a book with a redemptive message that begins in types and shadows, and is finally revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.
  30. Herald

    Herald Administrator Staff Member

    I will re-engage with this thread after the Lord's Day.
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