Lutheran and Reformed Differences on the Covenant of Grace

Discussion in 'Calvinism & The Doctrines of Grace' started by MW, Jan 30, 2011.

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  1. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Geerhardus Vos ('The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology,' in Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos, 234, fn1):

    (Ibid., 255, fn1):

  2. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    What I tried to show in the thread re Bavinck, is also true here. When Vos gave this inaugural he was very young. He had been teaching dogmatics for a few years at the school that would become Calvin Theological Seminary. His intention in giving this lecture was to refute a version of covenant theology that seems to have been not utterly distant from that taught later by Klaas Schilder. At any rate, he learned a good bit of his dogmatics and history of dogma from Bavinck, with whom he corresponded in Dutch.

    This is a great lecture and one of the few accurate accounts of the history of covenant theology in the period but these comments are over-stated. Vos was a great scholar, one of my favorite writers, but he was not a great scholar of Lutheran orthodoxy and this passage in the lecture reflects more of the prejudice of the time that genuine scholarship of the Lutheran tradition.
  3. SolaGratia

    SolaGratia Puritan Board Junior

    Rev. Winzer,

    Does this make Lutherans antinomians? And/or to be in serious error?

    Are Lutherans therefore not preaching the whole Bible?

  4. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    "This is the will of God, even your sanctification." Any failure to properly teach the nature of sanctification, its intricate distinction from yet connection with justification, and its necessity in terms of positive, believing effort, is a failure to testify to the will of God revealed in the Bible and is therefore an error. The error will be as serious as it results in failure to strive after holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.
  5. mvdm

    mvdm Puritan Board Junior

    “Perhaps most striking is the difference in emphasis on justification between Luther and Lutheranism on the hand and Reformed theology on the other. For the former, justification is central to the whole of theology. It is the doctrine by which the church stands or falls. It functions as a kind of critical methodological tool by which any aspect of theology, or theology as a whole is to be judged….However, there is hardly an instance in Reformed theology placing justification in the center. Not that Reformed theology opposed justification by faith alone, or salvation by pure grace. On the contrary, they saw salvation in its entirety as a display of the sovereign and free mercy of God. The explanation lay in the fact that, for Reformed theology, everything took place to advance the glory of God. Thus the chief purpose of theology and of the whole of life was not the rescue of humanity but the glory of God. The focus was theocentric rather than soteriological. Even in the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), where soteriological concerns are more prominent (one of its authors, Zacharias Ursinus [1533-1587] was formerly a Lutheran) the famous first question ‘What is your only comfort in life and death?’ is answered w/ reference to the action of the Trinity, beginning, ‘I am not my own but belong… to my faithful savior Jesus Christ.

    Following from this was an attempt by Reformed theology to grasp the unity of creation and redemption. The whole of life was seen in the embrace of God’s revelatory purpose. With the covenant at its heart, the whole of life was to display God’s glory. Naturally, that included at its heart the restoration of sinners to fellowship w/ God. It also entailed, however the reconstitution of both civil and ecclesiastical affairs. Lutheranism, in contrast, showed less developed interest in the application of the gospel to political life and focused more narrowly on soteriology. Possibly this stemmed from Luther enjoying the patronage of his Elector, which freed him from having to safeguard the Reformation in a political sense in quite the same way as his Reformed counterparts. The net result was that while for Lutheranism justification by faith was the heart of theology, for the Reformed theologians it was subordinate to an overarching sense of the centrality of God and his covenant. Yet, for both, the underlying concern for the gratuitous nature of salvation, its objective reality extra nos, was the same.

    Robert Letham
    The Work of Christ – pg. 189-190
  6. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Yes; this is brought out very clearly in the beginning of Vos' essay. The two systems coincide at many points, but they differ in centricity.
  7. mvdm

    mvdm Puritan Board Junior

    Anthony Burgess on the difference between Lutheran and Reformed views of the covenant and law/gospel:

    "Wee have confuted the false differences, and now come to lay downe the true, between the law and the Gospel taken in a larger sense.
    And, first, you must know that the difference is not essential, or substantiall, but accidentall: so that the division of the Testament, or Covenant into the Old, and New, is not a division of the Genus into its opposite Species; but of the subject, according to its severall accidentall administrations, both on Gods part, and on mans. It is true, the Lutheran Divines, they doe expresly oppose the Calvinists herein, maintaining the Covenant given by Moses, to be a Covenant of workes, and so directly contrary to the Covenant of grace. Inded, they acknowledge that the Fathers were justified by Christ, and had the same way of salvation with us; onely they make that Covenant of Moses to be a superadded thing to the Promise, holding forth a condition of perfect righteousness unto the Jewes, that they might be convinced of their owne folly in their self-righteousnesse." (Vindication of the Morall Law, 241)

    Notice how Burgess defines the views that are "characteristic" of the Lutheran view, in which the Mosaic is a "covenant of works", thus setting the law and gospel in dichotomous relationship with each other.
  8. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor


    Does this mean that the Reformed theologians referred to by Bavinck wanted the evidence of new obedience in order to include adults in the visible Church and commuincant membership? Or that God does not include people in the Covenant without new obedience i.e. that produce new obedience as a result of faith? But they're in the Covenant before God before they produce new obedience?

    Is this just another way of saying that salvation is broader than justification by faith alone and includes e.g. adoption, and sanctification and new obedience

    I'm sure Berkhof just posits faith, without mentioning new obedience or anything else, as the condition of the Covenant, but I'll check on that.
  9. mvdm

    mvdm Puritan Board Junior

    Richard, this excerpt from Berkhof's Systematic Theology pp. 612-615 is relevant to your question:

    "Others, however, correctly maintained that even the law of Moses is not devoid of promises, and that the gospel also contains certain demands. They clearly saw that man is not merely passive, when he is introduced into the covenant of grace, but is called upon to accept the covenant actively with all its privileges, though it is God who works in him the ability to meet the requirements. The promises which man appropriates certainly impose upon him certain duties, and among them the duty to obey the law of God as a rule of life, but also carry with them the assurance that God will work in him "both to will and to do." The consistent Dispensationalists of our day again represent the law and the gospel as absolute opposites. Israel was under the law in the previous dispensation, but the Church of the present dispensation is under the gospel, and as such is free from the law. This means that the gospel is now the only means of salvation, and that the law does not now serve as such. Members of the Church need not concern themselves about its demands, since Christ has met all its requirements. They seem to forget that, while Christ bore the curse of the law, and met its demands as a condition of the covenant of works, He did not fulfill the law for them as a rule of life, to which man is subject in virtue of his creation, apart from any covenant arrangement."

    Note his emphasis on the "consistent dispensationalists" who wish to posit law and gospel as absolute opposites.
  10. Myshkin

    Myshkin Puritan Board Freshman

    This might be helpful to the discussion in that here is a Lutheran speaking for himself; perhaps this could clarify as to whether or not certain Reformed adherents are properly understanding the Lutheran position and how it differs from the Reformed author in the given link who is himself incorrectly seen as "leaning towards Lutheran":

    Does the Covenant of Works / Covenant of Grace Schema Confuse the Law / Gospel Distinction?

    I agree with moderator Rich (Semper Fidelis), who in another thread states his belief that the confusion in these recent threads is due to a difference in terminology. The continental Reformed and British Reformed operated in different contexts, the latter developing upon the former. I don't see the discontinuity between them, but rather different ways of speaking. I see the law-gospel distinction as the bedrock for the later development of covenant theology. Where the Lutherans went wrong was in denying this Reformed covenant theology. Where I think some in the Reformed world are misunderstanding is in starting with covenant theology without regard to its foundation of the law-gospel distinction. In other words Lutheran and Reformed agreed on the law-gospel distinction, but the Reformed developed this with the biblical categories of covenant (thereby also keeping the distinction that is in common), and on the other hand the Lutherans, to the degree they deny Reformed covenant theology, distort the agreed upon distinction.

    I don't know, maybe this helps the discussion?
  11. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    Well in one sense we would only need to say that faith is the condition of the Covenant, since where true faith is all else follows.

    But at another level there is a visible legal cast to the New Covenant, in the sense that a person visibly in the Covenant can be rightly excluded from the visible Covenant and Church if he/she behaves presumptiously against any of the 10 Commandments. In the Old Covenant period this exclusion could sometimes be by death.

    When someome comes to the Session wanting baptism for him/herself (and her children) the Session are looking for a credible profession of Christian faith. When they come to partake of the Lord's Supper for the first time, the Session are looking for the higher standard of an accredited profession of faith.

    The Session will be looking for a degree or more of new obedience, as evidence of the faith the person says they have, before admitting them to the signs and seals of the Covenant.
  12. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    How are they overstated Dr. Clark? I only see your accusation here and that seems rather odd. BTW, would you comment on Dr. Cornelius P Venema's concerns about the Law is Not of Faith sometime?
  13. Sola Fide

    Sola Fide Puritan Board Freshman

    Just thinking out loud - I wonder whether the commonly heard equating of CoW/CoG with Law/Gospel is part of the problem. If both Law and Gospel play a role in the CoG, so that the Christian's new obedience (strictly, Law) occurs within the context of the CoG, does not that deal with some of the recently-expressed concerns?
  14. tcalbrecht

    tcalbrecht Puritan Board Junior


    Not to sidetrack from the OP, but how do you distinguish biblically or confessionally between baptism and the Lord's table in terms of profession? Are you instituting a time period between baptism and coming to the Lord's table for "fruit inspection?"
  15. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    I'll start a new thread on this one Tom, otherwise the conversation will be side-tracked.

    Here it is
  16. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    As far as I understand Lutheran theology you are coorect. According to Robert Kolb, a very good conteporary Lutheran scholer, in his response to Richard Pratt Jr. in Understanding Four Views On Baptism, he basicaly lays out Luther's reasons for not using the concept of Covenant (in fact at one point he says that Lutherans would be "confused" by the Reformed use of the word covenant). As far as the OP goes I wonder how fair it is to frame the question in this way since they don't, it seems, have a Covenat theology?
  17. jogri17

    jogri17 Puritan Board Junior

    I'm still trying to figure out where I come down on this subject (I have Horton ST on the way). So when John Murray wrote: ''The law does not more in sanctification as it did in justification'' was he wrong or right.
  18. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    To put Vos in context, he was answering the trendy idea of the time that covenant theology was as much the domain of the Lutheran as of the Reformed system. Vos shows it was a single-tracked idea within Lutheranism and quite an articficial framework to place on its remedial theology.
  19. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    He was right, of course. The Holy Spirit uses the law in different ways. In justification man is passive; in progressive sanctification he is active.
  20. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    I'm confused are you saying it was, in Vos' words, an appropriate Luthean theological category to frame theology in or a illconceived notion that they engaged in covenant theology too?
  21. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    The latter. Vos was saying it was artificial and does not naturally fit into their remedial scheme.
  22. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    John Owen from Chapter 14 of the Mortification of Sin in Believers:
  23. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    Ah okay! That makes sense.
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