It Is A Curious Thing! More on the Republication Controversy

Faith is the sole instrument appropriating the perfect righteousness of Christ, the Second Adam, imputed to the elect of God.

What exactly is at issue in these several mutations of “evangelical” theology? Central to the debate is the biblical (Reformed) doctrine of the Covenant of Works established by God with Adam as federal head of humanity and reestablished in modified form under Moses (i.e., adjusted to the post-Fall context, consistent with the progressive unfolding of the Covenant of Grace). There is only one way of salvation in the old and new economies of redemption–that is by faith in Jesus Christ as Mediator of the covenant made with God’s elect (and with them alone). Faith is the sole instrument appropriating the perfect righteousness of Christ, the Second Adam, imputed to the elect of God.

 

Scott Clark addresses the problem of the misinterpretation of the relationship between Old and New Testaments (or the matter of the contrast between Moses and Christ with regards to the diverse administrations of the single, ongoing Covenant of Grace in redemptive history). Curiously, Clark confronts the erroneous teachings of Dispensationalism, and not a word is said about the theological confusion today in the Reformed schools and churches closer to home. Foremost I have in mind the dispute in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, most recently addressed in the 2017 General Assembly report on “Republication”.

In the April 24, 2017 The Aquila Report, Clark writes:

Paul contrasts the Mosaic and Abrahamic covenants in Galatians chapters 3 and 4. In Galatians 3:15–18 Paul observes that the Abrahamic covenant is permanent but the Mosaic covenant, which Jeremiah 31:31–34 contrasted with the “new covenant,” which Paul called the “old” and “fading” covenant in 2 Corinthians 3, and which Hebrews calls the inferior and “obsolete” covenant (7:22; 8:13), was intentionally temporary. There are two cities, the earthly city and the heavenly (Gal 4). The new covenant is the new administration of the Abrahamic covenant.

The specific issues in the dispute that has consumed so much time and energy over the past four decades demand a better analysis and defense of historic Reformed teaching. For starters, old-school Dispensationalism has largely passed from the scene; surely it has no influence in Reformed orthodox circles. In its place is the rise of progressive Dispensationalism, which has strong affinities to the teachings of the New Perspective on Paul and the law (more broadly, to the growing appeal for a modified Barthianism). Ligon Duncan correctly points out how John Murray was receptive to Barth’s criticism of the Reformed doctrine of the Covenant of Works (“Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace”). Donald Macleod wisely took strong exception to Murray’s interpretation.

What exactly is at issue in these several mutations of “evangelical” theology? Central to the debate is the biblical (Reformed) doctrine of the Covenant of Works established by God with Adam as federal head of humanity and reestablished in modified form under Moses (i.e., adjusted to the post-Fall context, consistent with the progressive unfolding of the Covenant of Grace). There is only one way of salvation in the old and new economies of redemption–that is by faith in Jesus Christ as Mediator of the covenant made with God’s elect (and with them alone). Faith is the sole instrument appropriating the perfect righteousness of Christ, the Second Adam, imputed to the elect of God.

The law of Moses–the covenant made at Sinai with theocratic Israel–imposes the works-inheritance principle operative in the original covenant with Adam. This time, however, the works-principle pertains ONLY to the temporal occupation of the land of Canaan, originally given as an act of divine grace to theocratic Israel (the theocracy exemplifying a time of national election, rather than decretive election to salvation). The expulsion of Israel from Canaan in the time of her Babylonian captivity was due to covenant transgression; the return to the land was an act of God’s grace, not based on Israel’s merit (including repentance from sin, though requisite). Had the governing principle of the covenant with Moses been that of grace, Israel’s sins would have been fully and entirely covered by the sacrifice of the Messiah who was to come. Israel WOULD NOT have been exiled. Clearly, a different principle of inheritance was at work, a principle antithetical to that of faith (redemptive grace). This teaching is summed up in the opposition of the Law and the Gospel, the unanimous tenet of historic, orthodox Protestantism.

I am one of only a few who has engaged with the OPC “Report of the Committee to Study Republication” (submitted to the 83rd General Assembly). Apparently, a moratorium has been in set in place restricting, perhaps even prohibiting, discussion of this paper–and the subject more generally. This seems to be the latest strategy adopted by the administration of the OPC and of the Westminster Seminaries. So much for a denominational “study report” bequeathed to the OPC constituency! We who stand outside the denomination can do better. Again, I refer interested readers of The Aquila Report to my fuller critique of the republication report, entitled “Troubler of Israel: Report on Republication by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church Assessing the Teaching of Professor Meredith G. Kline.”

Of historical note: the congregation of First Presbyterian Church, North Shore (Ipswich, MA) has transferred to the Presbyterian Church in America. This may well be the beginning of another exodus out of the OPC, a rupture well justified. The division within the Westminster community (including that between the Westminster Seminaries, East and West) originates out of the heterodox teachings of Norman Shepherd and Richard Gaffin, not from the differences between John Murray and Meredith Kline on the covenants (the latter differences pale to insignificance in comparison with the new, unorthodox teaching that continues to gain advocacy in the Reformed camp today). The Shepherd-Gaffin theology has jettisoned the Reformed doctrine of the Covenant of Works (wherein the works-merit principle is operative) and the doctrine of justification by faith (apart from the good works of the believer). On the eve of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, such erroneous teaching as this must be eradicated from our schools and churches. The OPC study on republication has done a great disservice to the denomination and to the Reformed community at large. Needed are a few brave, and faithful men (“courageous Calvinists” as they have of late been dubbed) to lead at this critical time in the history of the Reformed churches in America and world-wide.

Dr. Mark W. Karlberg lives in Warminster, PA, and is an author and teacher in the Philadelphia area. He also serves on the staff of Bethany Presbyterian Church in Havertown, Penn., as a minister of worship and music.