Covenant Theology and Ephesians 1 and 2

Discussion in 'Covenant Theology' started by Stephen L Smith, Nov 27, 2019.

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  1. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    I have been thinking of ways of defending Covenant Theology when discussing theology with dispensational friends. I have argued that Eph 2 clearly teaches one way of salvation and thus Eph 2 itself undermines dispensationalism. But it seems to me that Eph 1 strengthens this argument. Firstly we see that God the Father chose a people before the foundation of the world. 2:4. This is significant because it shows that God's sovereign plan in eternity past was to choose a people for Himself, not to make a distinction between Israel and the Church. Secondly, the passage goes on to describe how all the members of the Trinity work together for our salvation. Salvation is Trinitarian, Covenantal, a Sovereign plan to redeem ONE people of God.

    I am specifically thinking of Calvinistic Dispensationalists here, ones influenced by John MacArthur and/or the Masters Seminary. They would affirm a 5 point Calvinism but would try to argue that Eph 2 does not deny a distinction between Israel and the Church. However, as I have sought to argue above, Eph 1 and Eph 2 work together to undermine dispensationalism and affirm Covenant theology because Eph 1 clearly is Trinitarian and Covenantal, thus laying the foundation for the argument in Eph 2.

  2. smalltown_puritan

    smalltown_puritan Puritan Board Freshman

    Ephesians 1:10, ‘That in the dispensation of the fullness of the times, He might gather together in one all things, both which are in heaven, and which are in earth, even in Christ’.

    That phrase, ‘in one’, certainly demonstrates that all the elect are brought together as one in Christ. This also lends aid to the doctrine of a single covenant of grace with two administrations view, as opposed to dispensationalism or new covenant theology.
  3. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    Good point Drew. Do you think the phrase in the text "He might gather together in one all things, both which are in heaven, and which are in earth" is reference to the living saints on earth and also those who have died and gone to glory? It seems to me this interpretation is reinforced by the comment "even in Christ" Eph 1:10.
  4. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    It seems simple to me that he is referencing the reconciliation of men to God and the future hope. Am I reading this too simplistic?
  5. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    I think you are right broadly speaking. I did a skim of both Matthew Henry and Calvin's commentaries and they argue the big issue is God's purpose/plan in bringing all the elect to Himself. This is where I think Covenant Theology understands this better than Calvinistic Dispensationalists as I noted in my first post.

    Though I am not sure where you find future hope in the verse unless you are speaking broadly?
  6. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Puritan Board Doctor

    They might respond that they agree that all of the elect of all ages (and Jews and Gentiles alike) are one in Christ but they would deny that this necessitates that they are all in the church, which they teach exists only between Pentecost and the rapture.
  7. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Puritan Board Doctor

    They won't deny this, at least not if they really embrace what I have termed MacArthurism as opposed to being folks who simply admire MacArthur but who really have views closer to Scofield's.

    The thing to understand about MacArthur's dispensationalism is that he doesn't think that it has anything to do with soteriology. He and his proteges (such as Vlach and Waymeyer) think it has to do with eschatology and ecclesiology and that is all. Perhaps the definitive or at least the most succinct expression of this is in an appendix to "Faith Works" which was later republished as "The Gospel According to the Apostles." (It is probably in their recent theology text too, but I haven't gotten into that. The idea is restated in Vlach's little book on dispensationalism.)

    The Lordship Controversy was basically about MacArthur completely rejecting the idea that there is some kind of distinctive dispensational view of salvation (and sanctification specifically.) So at the time both the traditional DTS type Dispensationalists and non-Dispensationalists thought that he seemed to be attacking dispensationalism itself.

    For what it's worth, James Montgomery Boice was also premil and pretrib and had earlier published a volume ("Christ's Call to Discipleship") where he basically made the same argument, but perhaps in somewhat more of a pastoral way, or aimed more at laypeople. MacArthur's was more academically oriented and much more direct in naming names, and thus set off a wider controversy. Because (presumably) Boice upheld the unity of the covenant of grace, he cannot be considered a dispensationalist himself regardless of his eschatology. Those views seem to have been fairly common among fundamentalist and broadly evangelical Presbyterians in the mid-20th Century, including Buswell, Mcintire, Schaeffer, and others. Michael Barrett (now of Puritan Seminary) is also premil and pretrib the last I knew, but strongly opposed to dispensationalism.

    You may wish to say that devotees of MacArthur's teaching are seeing things in bits and pieces or that they are holding to contradictory views on one thing or another. But insisting that they really teach two ways of salvation a la Scofield and Chafer will cause the conversation to go nowhere and perhaps end rather quickly. ("Yes you do!" "No I don't!") Plus, by the 1960s or 1970s, most covenant theologians accepted the likes of Ryrie (and the New Scofield Reference Bible) insistence that they didn't believe in two ways of salvation even if they didn't accept Ryrie's argument that Scofield and Chafer didn't really believe in two ways of salvation either. (And it should be noted that even Chafer didn't believe there were two ways of salvation today. The question is how OT Saints were saved.)

    I think the insistence on there being a heavenly people (the church) and an earthly people (Israel) (I think the "classic" Dispensationalists taught that it was that way even in glory) was rejected by Ryrie and his contemporaries also. But I still see Reformed people accuse any and all dispensationalists of believing things like that and refusing to take no for an answer.
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2019
  8. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    I wrote:
    You replied:
    Sorry I caused confusion here. I meant to say Eph 2 clearly teaches one people of God. Because Calvinistic Dispensationalists (the ones influenced by MacArthur) are generally Baptists, I think the 1689 Baptist Confession 7:2, and 7:3 helpfully illustrates what I am trying to say:

    7:2 "Since humanity brought itself under the curse of the law by its fall, it pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace. In this covenant he freely offers to sinners life and salvation through Jesus Christ. On their part he requires faith in him, that they may be saved, and promises to give his Holy Spirit to all who are ordained to eternal life, to make them willing and able to believe."

    7:3. "This covenant is revealed in the gospel. It was revealed first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation through the seed of the woman. After that, it was revealed step by step until the full revelation of it was completed in the New Testament. This covenant is based on the eternal covenant transaction between the Father and the Son concerning the redemption of the elect. Only through the grace of this covenant have those saved from among the descendants of fallen Adam obtained life and blessed immortality. Humanity is now utterly incapable of being accepted by God on the same terms on which Adam was accepted in his state of innocence."

    Surely this is the argument of Eph 1 and 2 and also John 17. Also I ask, if the MacArthur people are Calvinists, do they agree with 7:2 and 7:3 of this confession; especially the bolded section.
    I have read this book. MacArthur says that he is defending the Reformed Doctrine of Perseverance of the saints which is a soteriological issue. Further, he argues that the ordo salutis in Reformed Theology is the reason why Reformed Theology does not have a 'fragmented sanctification', again a soteriological issue. Therefore I don't think their argument of limiting their Dispensationalism to eschatology etc is convincing.
    I have never been able to work out how someone can be covenantal and pretrib? How does this work?
  9. smalltown_puritan

    smalltown_puritan Puritan Board Freshman

    I think that you are correct, brother, in your assertion that this includes those how have died and gone to glory. Undoubtedly, though, there would have been some within the New Covenant Church, as well as all the Old Covenant, who have died since the resurrection/ascension/Pentecost and gone to be with the Lord. And in view of the rest of the letter, Paul's statements on unity/all the saints seem to indicate yet again unity within the covenant of grace.

    I would simply posit that this text does, indeed, support covenant theology as defined in the reformed confessions - particularly as it is interpreted along with the whole counsel of God's Word.
  10. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Puritan Board Doctor

    They would say that this is simply what the Bible teaches, that the Reformed are right about this but wrong about ecclesiology and eschatology. (In other words, they don't teach it or affirm it out of some desire to identify with Reformed theology.)

    I'm not sure why you say that their argument of limiting their dispensationalism to eschatology etc is unconvincing since they are A) Explicitly rejecting the views of those who have taught that there is a dispensational take on soteriology and B) They are offering nothing new themselves.

    I've never quite worked it out either. As far as I know, Boice never went into much detail on it with regard to his system of theology as a whole, with his big theology book basically skirting over the issue despite its size. I listened to a lot of Schaeffer lectures years ago. I think the idea was basically that pre-trib was necessary on exegetical grounds, that there are certain passages that make no sense otherwise. Ironically, many dispensationalists, including Walvoord, have said that there is no real proof text for pre-trib, that it is arrived at via the idea that the church and Israel are separate, that the church isn't mentioned after Rev 3, etc.
  11. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    It comes back to my first post. If Eph 1 teaches there is one people of God, then that provides a solid foundation for a Reformed argument that Eph 2 also teaches one people of God.
    My point in my earlier post is that in MacArthur's book "Faith Words", in order to refute an older Dispensational view of sanctification which effectively denies the Reformed doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints, MacArthur used soteriological arguments. In other words MacArthur did not keep Dispensationalism and a discussion of soteriology totally separate.
    A you sure these guys are not post Trib Historic Premills? A pre trib rapture argues that the church has to be raptured so God can continue his program with Israel. But if a person is Reformed and Premill, he will deny the idea that God has a separate purpose for Israel. I would have thought that ALL Reformed people were thus post trib.
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