Transcription of Question & Answer Session from lecture; The Coming of the Kingdom: “Christianizing the World?”
The following is a transcription (Edited by Prof. David Engelsma) of the Q & A session from the October 4, 2013 lecture on The Coming of the Kingdom: “Christianizing the World?”
Q1. Are you saying that Abraham Kuyper said that God gave a mandate to the church to transform the culture?
A1. Yes, that was exactly what Abraham Kuyper said part of the calling of the church is: transform the culture of the world of men and women who are and remain ungodly into a Christian culture. This is the message of his three volumes on common grace (which as yet remain untranslated in the Dutch language: De Gemeene Gratie, Amsterdam: Hoveker & Wormser, 1902-1904). And he attempted to bring this about in the Netherlands, with results that leave something to be desired.
Q2. Are you saying that Abraham Kuyper is condemned for his teaching of common grace and that the wrath of God lies upon him?
A2. I did not say that. I did not say that Abraham Kuyper is condemned for his teaching of a common grace of God. I said that Abraham Kuyper’ s doctrine of common grace is condemned by Scripture and by the Reformed confessions. That great man, to whom we Reformed Christians are indebted for some significant blessings, erred grievously with regard to the doctrine of common grace. He has done a great deal of damage to many nominally Reformed churches and confessing Reformed believers by his doctrine of a common grace of God. The judgment of God upon false doctrine, namely, giving churches and theologians over to more and worse departure from the truth, follows the teaching of common grace wherever this teaching appears. Already in the Christian Reformed Church, which officially adopted Kuyper’s doctrine of common grace in 1924 and wickedly disciplined ministers who dissented from that false doctrine, have appeared the public teaching of universal atonement and the public teaching of a denial of predestination, which explicitly appealed to the Christian Reformed doctrine of common grace in support of the heresies. And the Christian Reformed Church refused to condemn the heresies and to discipline the heretics. In his theory of common grace, Kuyper built stubble upon the foundation. This aspect of the work of that great man of God will be burned, and thus Kuyper suffers loss. Indeed, the evidently unanswerable critique of Kuyper’s theory of common grace by the Protestant Reformed Churches is already God’s burning of that stubble in the consciousness of the Reformed community of churches. But Kuyper himself shall be saved, “yet so as by fire” (I Cor. 3:10-15).
Q3. Is there still a problem with common grace if it isn’t attached to Christianizing the world?
A3. The purpose of common grace as taught by Abraham Kuyper was exactly to Christianize the world. It is hard to separate that purpose from the doctrine of common grace itself. What other purpose would there be for the teaching of a doctrine of common grace? My judgment upon that doctrine is that, with regard to Christianizing the world, it is mistaken. It has done great damage to Reformed churches and Christians where it has been adopted and practiced, because it leads to illicit and corrupting fellowship and cooperation between the church and the wicked world. The doctrine of common grace teaches that by virtue of the world’s supposedly possessing this common grace, in common with the Reformed believers, Reformed believers and the church itself may cooperate with the world in bringing about a supposedly good and Godly society. That’s fatal to the church, which is called by God to be separate from the world, not to cooperate with the world in building the world’s earthly kingdom. There is no biblical basis for the doctrine of common grace; there is no biblical teaching of any purpose served by a common grace of God; there is no biblical warrant for the cooperation of the church and the world of the ungodly in building an earthly kingdom of God, whether by a common grace of God or by any other means.
Q4. Where does the great commission fit in your kingdom?
A4. The great commission is Christ’s mandate to his disciples, upon his resurrection, to go into all the world and teach all nations (Matt. 28:18-20). By this mission work of the church everywhere among all nations God gathers his elect people out of all nations, and thus gathers his church, so that Christ may come again. Neither in its wording nor in its implication does the great commission have anything to do with a common grace of God, or with a purpose of God with a common grace. The great commission purposes the conversion and salvation of God’s elect people among all nations, tongues and tribes. The great commission concerns the gathering of all the citizens of the spiritual kingdom of the risen Jesus Christ and, thus, the establishment and extension of the kingdom of Christ which is, as I have demonstrated from the Heidelberg Catechism, the church (Heid. Cat., Q. 123: “Thy kingdom come…preserve and increase Thy church”). The great commission realizes the purposes of God by means of the Spirit and (saving) grace of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. It gathers the Christian church. It does not build a “Christianized” society. The great commission requires baptizing the converts in all nations in the name of the triune God. Not even the most committed advocates of common grace suggest baptizing the unbelieving recipients of common grace.
Q5. If we are not to Christianize the world, are we called to be “Christianizers”? That is, are we still obligated to preach and witness in all places and in that way be “Christianizers”?
A5. “Christianizers” is the term of the one who wrote the question. It is not my term. The Bible nowhere calls us to “Christianize” the world. And the thing is impossible. By definition, the world is the unregenerated, unbelieving and unholy society of ungodly men and women. They can’t be “Christianized.” They may possibly be converted to Jesus Christ, by the preaching of the gospel and by the operation of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, individually, but that is different from “Christianizing” them. “Christianizing” refers to a superficial, outward resemblance of Christ on the part of those who are and remain haters of Him and His God in their hearts. This veneer of Christianity is then supposed to motivate these unbelievers to cooperate with genuine Christians in building a society, a nation, and a world that are outwardly Christian. Such a society, nation, and world would have a certain love for Jesus Christ, even though they are and remain the slaves of Satan. The idea of a Christianizing of the world, which lies in the evil one, is not only unbiblical. It is absurd. Christ has sent His church into all the world to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to all the nations. The individual Christian is to witness to Christ and the gospel to everyone who asks him or her the reason of the hope that is in him or her (I Pet. 3:15). In these ways, the church and the individual believer function, as this questioner puts it, as “Christianizers.” I would prefer to say that in the way of testifying to the truth of God in Jesus Christ we show ourselves to be Christian witnesses. We are certainly called to preach and witness to all persons and in all places, as we have opportunity. The preaching gathers the elect of God out of the nations and makes true believers out of God’s chosen people. We witness individually as we have opportunity in the normal course of our everyday, earthly life. God may use this Christian witness to gain some to Christ (Heid. Cat., Q. 86). He also uses our witness to confound and shut the mouth of the ungodly. But it is neither God’s purpose, nor the calling of the Christian, nor the effect of the witness, that the world is “Christianized.”
Q6. Is it correct to reserve the term “grace” for the covenant relationship between God and man and to understand so called “common grace” as the operation of Gods providence?
A6. Reserve the term “grace” for the covenant relationship between God and man? Yes. And understand so called “common grace” as the operation of Gods providence? In the past, there have been Reformed theologians who occasionally have inaccurately described God’s providence, that is, his government of the lives of all humans and of the entire creation, by the term “common grace.” Describing God’s government of His creation and of all His creatures as “common grace” was a mistake. It was obviously and undeniably a mistake. The creation includes the devil, and history includes the works of the devil. History prominently includes the erection of the kingdom of the devil under Antichrist. Who would describe such works of Satan, under the government of God, as “common grace”? Was the betrayal of Jesus by Judas a work of “common grace”? Was the assassination of William the Silent the working of God’s “common grace”? Is the dreadful development of sin in our day in the approval of the perversion of homosexuality the operation of a grace of God? To say so is blasphemy. Reformed theologians must correct their language. God governs all creatures, including the devil, by his providence. Providence is simply “the almighty and everywhere present power of God whereby…He upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures,” including the sinful deeds of devils and humans (Heid. Cat., Q. 27). Grace is different from God’s almighty power. Grace is the attitude of favor that God has towards His elect in Jesus Christ, expressing itself in His mighty work of saving them from their sins. God’s moving of Pharaoh’s daughter to spare the baby Moses and to raise him as her own son was His providence. God’s change of Saul the persecutor of the church into Paul the great apostle of the church was His grace. We are to use the word “grace” as the Bible does, to refer to God’s saving operations in Christ within and upon his elect people. With regard to his government of the devil, the world of the ungodly, and the direction of history, we speak of God’s providence. That Reformed churches and Christians confuse providence and grace is inexcusable. Article 13 of the Reformed creed, the Belgic Confession, clearly describes providence and its sphere of operations: “God, after He had created all things, did not forsake them, or give them up to fortune or chance, but…rules and governs them according to His holy will, so that nothing happens in this world without His appointment…He restrains the devil and all our enemies that, without His will and permission, they cannot hurt us.” There is nothing in this description of providence concerning its being grace to all those who are governed by it.
Q7. Why do people like Chuck Colson and other dispensational premillennialists push for a cultural Christianity, like the Reconstructionists?
A7. Interest in a cultural Christianity by Colson and other dispensational premillennialists is a remarkable, recent development among some dispensationalists. In the past, dispensationalists have been concerned with only one thing: the deliverance of themselves from earthly life and its activities—from culture—by the rapture. Recently, Chuck Colson has emphasized cultural activities by Christians, for which he appealed to the power of common grace. On behalf of these cultural activities, including his prison ministry, he appealed to the teaching that’s prevalent in the Reformed churches, namely, that there is a common grace of God upon all human beings without exception. I can only speculate what moved Chuck Colson to embrace and promote cultural Christianity. He never explained exactly why, differing from other dispensationalists, he enthusiastically embraced cultural Christianity. I suppose that he saw both in Scripture and in experience that there’s more to the Christian life than merely waiting for the rapture to take one out of this life and to put an end to one’s insignificant earthly activities. Therefore, he began to emphasis the importance of certain cultural acts on the part of Christians. With regard to Colson, as also with regard to Reformed persons, these activities need not, and ought not, be ascribed to a common grace of God. If the cultural activities of Christians are legitimate, these activities in earthly society are to be explained as the working of God’s uncommon, saving grace in His people, producing genuine good works and movements of genuine good works. Such movements of genuine good works, originating in the faith of believing Christians, may in the providence of God sometimes commend themselves to unbelievers as just and useful to society at large, so that also unbelievers support the movement and promote the outward influence of the movements. Although Christians are spiritually separate from the wicked world, they are not commanded to be inactive in society. Although unbelievers, who do nothing to the glory of God, cannot perform a good work, they are sometimes so ruled by divine providence as to support the good works of believers and outwardly to promote the cause of honesty and fairness in a nation. Although a society or nation is never the kingdom of Christ on earth (the true church is the kingdom of Christ), it has pleased God at certain times so to govern societies and nations, usually by the influence of gifted, powerful men and women of God, that the external functioning of societies and nations was a more or less close approximation to the law of God, at least in some respects. Joseph had influence on idolatrous Egypt. Daniel had influence on pagan Babylon.
Q8. Those who say, “we must Christianize the world,” and that this is the context of the coming of the kingdom, are they not saying that the kingdom has not yet come? Galatians 1:13. Is not Christ then victorious? Is Christ not then helpless?
A8. Those who are advocating the Christianizing of the world probably would not deny that the kingdom has begun to come. But they would insist that the kingdom must come before the end of the world in a much more dramatic and complete way than the kingdom has come so far. Certainly they would have to acknowledge that the kingdom has come already in the obedient life of each child of God. But they want a coming of the kingdom that is more dominating and widespread, so that at least outwardly the kingdom of God controls all the earthly life of a nation and all the earthly life even of all the nations of the world. Their mistake is that the full and perfect coming of the kingdom of Christ, which will dominate all creatures in all the renewed creation of heaven and earth, is appointed by God to take place at the second coming of Jesus Christ (Rev. 21, 22; Heid. Cat., Q. 123: “till the full perfection of Thy kingdom take place”). At present, prior to the second coming of Christ, the coming of the kingdom consists of the rule of grace in the heart of the individual child of God, so that the individual child of God lives in obedience to the will of God in every area of life. The coming of the kingdom in the present age consists also of the forming, preserving, and increasing of the church (Heid. Cat., Q. 123). The bearing of Galatians 1:13 on the issue is not clear to me. Perhaps, the reference to this text intends to call attention to the truth that in the present age, prior to the second coming of Christ, the true church does not go from strength to strength until finally it includes a majority of the world’s population and achieves earthly dominion over all nations. On the contrary, the church is often persecuted and wasted, as the filth of the world and the offscouring of all things (I Cor. 4:13). This will be the case shortly in the time of the appearance of Antichrist. Then, if the coming of the kingdom of God is a matter of numbers and of earthly power and prestige, Christ will certainly be exposed as defeated and helpless.
Q9. How did Kuyper reconcile Christ’s kingdom coming through Christianizing the world with his statement that common grace would bring forth the antichrist?
A9. Kuyper did in fact teach both that common grace would Christianize the world as the earthly kingdom of Christ and that this earthly kingdom would, in fact, prove to be the kingdom of Antichrist. “The closing scene in the drama of common grace can be enacted only through the appearance on stage of the man of sin…’Common grace’…leads to the most powerful manifestation of sin in history…’Common grace’ will continue to function to the end. Only when common grace has spurred the full emergence of all the powers inherent in human life will ‘the man of sin’ find the level terrain needed to expand this power” (“Common Grace,” in Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998, 180, 181). I doubt that Kuyper ever reconciled these two things, because these two things are irreconcilable. How can a grace of God, even though a common grace of God, produce the Antichrist? The teaching that a grace of God produces the Antichrist borders on the blasphemous. It is certainly absurd. God’s grace does not produce the Antichrist. The grace of God gives Christ. The grace of God establishes the kingdom of Christ. The grace of God delivers from Antichrist. And one day the grace of God will destroy Antichrist and his kingdom. If the proponents of a common grace of God cannot be convinced of the grievous error of their doctrine by anything else, this teaching of the author of their doctrine ought to persuade them: common grace produces the Antichrist. I have not seen any comment on this aspect of Kuyper’s teaching concerning common grace on the part of those churches and theologians that have adopted Kuyper’s theory of common grace. I call on them to explain that, according to Kuyper, common grace will produce the Antichrist and his kingdom. And then they should account for such a grace of God—a grace that brings forth and evidently sustains for a while the kingdom of Satan. In the meanwhile, they will excuse me for a lack of enthusiasm for such a grace and its workings. Revelation 13 teaches that the dragon—Satan—will produce the beast (v. 2: “And the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority”; “the dragon…gave power unto the beast”). God certainly governs the appearance of the Antichrist at the end of history, but in his almighty power, not as an operation of his grace. Herman Hoeksema and the Protestant Reformed Churches have been the most vigorous opponents of Kuyper’s and, following him, the Reformed community’s theory of common grace. Vehement as our criticism has become, no one has so clearly, sharply, and effectively exposed the project of common grace as Kuyper himself, when he declared for all the Reformed world to read that common grace produces the Antichrist. All those churches, theologians, and church members who continue to promote the cause of common grace are, by the judgment of their master, allies of Antichrist in establishing the world kingdom of the dragon, Satan. Some project for Reformed churches and professing believers!
Q10. The American Revolution has also been termed the “Presbyterian Revolt.” The early Americans were heavily Calvinistic, but they did not submit and pay taxes. Instead, they revolted. Were they wrong to do so?
A10. I don’t deny that some Presbyterians were involved in the American Revolution, but I am not at all sure that the American Revolution was mainly a Presbyterian revolt. Many, if not most, of the leading revolutionaries, including Franklin and Jefferson, were Deists, not Presbyterians. They disagreed with my judgment, that the biblical calling of the citizen of a nation is to submit to those in authority in a nation, even to unjust officers, and to pay taxes. But that is certainly the calling of the Christian citizen in Romans 13. This passage also forbids revolting on the part of the citizens. Whatever may have been the thinking of the Presbyterians at the time of the American revolution, they erred in engaging in civil revolution, including refusal to pay taxes. To the Christian citizen of a nation comes the admonition: “Ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For this cause pay ye tribute [the required taxes—DJE] also: for they are God’s ministers…” (Rom. 13:5, 6).
Q11. Rapture? Nonsense?
A11. “YES! EXCLAMATION POINT!”
Q12. Does anything restrain evil?
A12. There are many things that restrain evil. Policemen restrain evil. Parents who supervise their children’s lives restrain evil. The fear of the physically destructive effects of sexual promiscuity restrains the evil of licentious sex—to some extent. A well lighted back porch restrains the evil of a marauder’s breaking into one’s home in the night. These are only a few examples of the restraint of evil. All of these examples of a restraint of evil are merely hindrances to the performance of evil deeds. None is the inner revulsion at the prospect of doing evil because of a love of the neighbor rooted in the love of God. None of these examples is explained as a turning away from sin because of love of the neighbor rooted in a thankful love of God. None of these examples, therefore, is a good work on the part of the one who was restrained from the performance of an evil deed. That none of the examples I have cited, or any similar hesitation to perform some evil deed, or indeed any deed by an unbeliever, is a good work is the clear, official doctrine of the Reformed faith. Question 91 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks, “But what are good works?” The answer, not of the Protestant Reformed Churches, but of the Reformed faith itself and, therefore, of all Reformed churches is: “Only those which proceed from a true faith, are performed according to the law of God, and to His glory, and not such as are founded on our imaginations or the institutions of men.” Attributing good works to men and women who lack true faith, who are not subject to the law of God (Rom. 8:7), and who do not seek the glory of God, the theory of common grace openly and boldly contradicts the Reformed confession (specifically, Q. 91 of the Catechism), corrupts the truth of the good (only God and that which glorifies God is good), and destroys the Christian life with regard especially to the antithesis (if the ungodly perform what is good by a grace of God, the believer may and should have fellowship with the ungodly and, indeed, cooperate with the ungodly in their common grace projects). On the rare occasion, Herman Hoeksema allowed himself the use of irony in his defense of his rejection of a common grace of God. Such an occasion was his critique of the Christian Reformed Church’s ascription of the restraint of a would-be robber from robbing by the threat of punishment to a common grace of God. Said Hoeksema, “In adopting the doctrine of common grace, the Christian Reformed Church was unable to distinguish the inner, renewing work of the Holy Spirit from the threat of punishment by a policeman.”
Q13. Could evil in the world be greater?
A13. Theoretically, the open outbreak of evil in the world could be greater. If the restraint of government and the threat of punishment were removed, there would certainly be a greater outbreak of evil. The point is that this restraining of the outward expressions of evil is not to be identified with the work of grace upon the hearts of ungodly people that makes them better than they otherwise would be. This was my concern in my speech on the “Christianizing of the World”—the teaching of a common grace of God that restrains evil in such a way that unregenerated, unbelieving people are not as totally depraved as they otherwise would be, indeed that unbelievers are somewhat good. The truth is that every unregenerated person is totally depraved, even though one may express that depravity differently than another, and even though the lives, the outward behavior of many, are restrained by the threat of punishment and police and the like. With regard to the reality of the wickedness of the world of the ungodly, the Reformed truth of total depravity does not deny the development of sin in the course of history. Even though the world of the ungodly was totally depraved one thousand years ago, incapable of any good and inclined to all evil, according to Question 8 of the Heidelberg Catechism, it was not as developed in wickedness as is the world of the ungodly in AD 2013. There is development of sin as there is also development of the goodness of the Christian life. According to Jesus, the last days of history, in which we are now living, will be a time of the abounding of lawlessness (Matt. 24:12). Paul expands on this truth in II Timothy 3:1ff.: “In the last days perilous times shall come.” This means conflict between the true church and the world of the ungodly, not only in countries dominated by Islam but also in the formerly Christian nations of the West. The theory of common grace, with its message of the oneness of church and world in the common cause of building an earthly kingdom of God, minimizes this conflict, if it does not deny and avoid the conflict altogether. Churches and professing Christians confess and show themselves to be friends of the world. Thus, they declare themselves “the enemy of God” (James 4:4).
Q14. Could you explain your comment on the kingdom, that the kingdom is not to have influence, considering the parables of the kingdom of Matthew 5:13-16?
A14. I am afraid that somebody misunderstood what I said, or that I didn’t make myself clear. The kingdom of Christ established in our hearts by the Holy Spirit certainly has influence on the child of God, and not only influence, but it governs the thinking and behavior of the born again child of God, so that, as I have attempted to point out, in every area of life we live the life of the kingdom of Christ in obedience to the word of God in Scripture. The kingdom of heaven also has influence on the wicked world of ungodly men and women. The ungodly see the light of the citizens of the kingdom of heaven as it shines in this dark world of unbelief and disobedience. This light, shining brightly in our dark world, is our witness to the true and living God and our behavior of reverence toward God, love toward our neighbor, and obedience to the commands of the law of God. This light, however, does not illumine the ungodly, so that they also shine with this light, or even with the paler, unsubstantial light of a common grace of God. Unless they are regenerated by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, they are and remain spiritual darkness, haters of the light that is God’s truth and holiness in His people. II Corinthians 6:14 describes unbelievers—all unbelievers—as “darkness,” only and wholly darkness. That Matthew 5:16 states that ungodly men see our good works “and glorify your Father which is in heaven” does not describe ungodly men’s positive response to the shining of the light of truth and holiness in the citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Rather, the text describes God’s work, by means of the shining of the light in the lives of His people, of convicting the wicked of His good work of salvation in His people, so that in the judgment they are without excuse. For example, by the fidelity and love of Christian married persons God convicts the fornicating and divorcing and remarrying ungodly of His good work in His people of causing them to honor the institution of marriage, and God compels the immoral unbelievers to glorify Him by recognizing and acknowledging, no matter how grudgingly, that it is the holy God of these married people who produces in them this marital fidelity and purity.
Q15. And if it [the kingdom] does have influence (albeit not without persecution), will this not be manifested in all spheres of life, when it does have gospel influence?
A15. Amen. The establishment of the kingdom of Christ in the heart of the individual child of God, will show itself in every area of our life, and it must: our personal life; our marriage; our raising of our children; our work; our behavior in the state; everything. The kingdom-life of every true believer is described, and prescribed, not only in Matthew 5-7, but also in all the description of the holy, thankful life of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven in the entire Bible.
Q16. Did God establish a covenant with Noah and all his descendants after the flood? Did God establish the world to be ruled by kingdoms, earthly according to natural law?
A16. The covenant with Noah and his sons, in Genesis 9:8-17, was misunderstood by Abraham Kuyper as a covenant of common grace. Kuyper denied that the covenant with Noah was the covenant of (special, saving) grace established in Jesus Christ. Kuyper was mistaken, and his error was serious. The covenant with Noah, and in Noah ultimately with all the nations, is the covenant of God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ. Prior to the common grace explanation of the covenant with Noah by Abraham Kuyper, the orthodox Reformed theologians explained the covenant with Noah as the covenant of special, particular grace in Jesus Christ. The 17th century Reformed theologian, Heidegger, viewed the covenant with Noah as a revelation of God’s one covenant of (special) grace: “(The economy under the patriarchs) is the free divine administration of a pure covenant of grace right from its beginning down to Moses, by which God notified the promise of a covenant to the first parents in Paradise, also published it abroad and explained it in the covenant entered into more solemnly with Noah and Abraham” (quoted in Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, London: Allen & Unwin, 1950, 396; emphasis added). According to the Reformed theologian, and the Reformed tradition which Heidegger represented, the covenant with Noah was not a unique, new, and strange covenant of common grace, but a revelation of the one covenant of grace in Jesus Christ that God had first revealed in Paradise, according to Genesis 3:15, and that God more fully revealed to Abraham. Even more compelling against the popular view of the covenant with Noah as a covenant of common grace is the explanation of the Noahic covenant in I Peter 3:20, 21. Peter views the salvation of Noah and his family by the water of the flood as typical of the spiritual salvation of believers and their children from sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The deliverance of Noah, his family, and all the cargo on the ark was not a saving work of God that was different from His saving work in Jesus Christ, as represented in Christian baptism. It was not a temporary preservation of humanity and its habitation by a common grace of God. In the ark, “eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now saved us…by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The covenant with Noah was a revelation of the covenant and its salvation that is fulfilled in and realized by Jesus Christ. It was a manifestation of the covenant of the saving grace of God in the Savior from sin and death, Jesus the Christ. What God especially made plain in the history of Noah was that his covenant would eventually extend to and embrace all nations and peoples. Indeed, the covenant would even include representatives of the animal world. In that God purged the earth of the wicked and their works by the cleansing waters of the flood, the flood foretold that the Savior would die for the creation (John 3:16, “world”; Greek: “Kosmos”), so that it might be the home of Christ and the redeemed human race out of all nations. The baptism which is a “like figure” to the flood (I Pet. 3:21) not only cleanses the elect children of God, but also the creation itself, so that it may be the home of Jesus and His church. What the covenant specifically with Noah, signified and sealed by the waters of the flood, was and revealed is the grand truth of Romans 8:19-22. The full saving work of God in Jesus Christ will be the lifting of the curse on creation itself so that the creation will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. By the Noahic flood, God typically responded in mercy to the misery of creation—not to the misery only of beleaguered elect saints, but to the misery of the creation. And the response was not some superficial, merely temporary relief. It was the cross of Jesus Christ and the covenant of that cross. In Jesus Christ, slain for the redemption of the creation as well as for the redemption of the elect in all nations, the creation of the heavens and the earth is now travailing in pain to bring forth the new heavens and the new earth in the day of Christ. The covenant with Noah was not a covenant of common grace with all human beings without exception, quite apart from Jesus the Savior and the cleansing of His purifying blood. Reformed churches and members are warned against the recent, novel, Kuyperian understanding of the covenant with Noah and of the flood also by the Reformed baptism form. In the prayer before baptism, the Reformed church acknowledges the salvation of Noah and his family by the water of the flood as essentially the same as the salvation of believers and their children by the blood of Jesus Christ, of which the water of baptism is the sign and seal: “O Almighty and eternal God, Thou, who hast according to thy severe judgment punished the unbelieving and unrepentant world with the flood, and hast according to thy great mercy saved and protected believing Noah and his family…we beseech thee, that Thou wilt be pleased of thine infinite mercy, graciously to look upon these children, and incorporate them by thy Holy Spirit, into thy Son Jesus Christ, that they may be buried with him into his death, and be raised with him in newness of life” (“Form for the Administration of Baptism,” in The Psalter, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1927; 13th printing, June 1988, 86). With regard to the second question, whether God established the world to be ruled by earthly kingdoms according to natural law, God’s purpose with the creation is that it become the heavenly kingdom of Jesus Christ, ruled by Jesus Himself personally on God’s behalf and according to the revealed will of the triune God (Psalm 72; Matt. 25:31; Ephesians 1:20-23; Rev. 5:12, 13; Rev. 21, 22). The elect saints will rule over all the new creation with Jesus Christ (Rev. 3:21; Rev. 22:5). Until the second coming of Jesus Christ, God establishes various kinds of earthly governments and kingdoms, usually headed by ungodly humans, and calls Christians to submit to the authority of the civil rulers, regardless of their wickedness, without revolution, as to the authority of God Himself who vests these rulers with His own authority (Rom. 13:1-7; I Pet. 3:17-25). God calls all Christians to be subject to their earthly governments. He does not call us to transform them into a world-wide kingdom of Christ. Much less does He assure us that this is possible, prior to the second coming of the Lord Jesus.
Q.17. Are you saying that the New Testament Church has replaced Israel as God’s chosen people? What about the teaching in Romans 11?
A.17. I am saying, and it is the authoritative Reformed confession, that the New Testament Church is the reality today of Old Testament Israel. Old Testament Israel was the figure, or historical type, of the church of the New Testament. The church has not “replaced” Israel. The church has fulfilled Israel. The New Testament church of believers and their children, most of whom are Gentiles, is Israel in fulfillment and in spiritual, biblical reality. The New Testament church is God’s Israel, as Jesus is the reality of Old Testament King David. To regard Jews in Palestine as the Israel of God of Scripture is grievous error, as is the entire system of theology that expects a restoration of the Old Testament, earthly kingdom of God in the future conversion of the present-day nation of Israel. No Reformed person may regard the earthly nation of Israel as God’s chosen people and as the kingdom of God. In its explanation of the second petition of the Lords’ Prayer, concerning the coming of the kingdom, the Heidelberg Catechism identifies the church as the kingdom of God: “preserve and increase Thy church” (Q. 123). Article 27 of the Belgic Confession of Faith calls Jesus the “eternal King” of the church, not of an earthly nation of Jews. The Bible teaches that what identifies a genuine Jew in the New Testament era is not any merely physical characteristic. Rather, the identification is spiritual characteristics. “He is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Rom. 2:28, 29). Decisive is Peter’s application to believing Gentiles in I Peter 2:9 of that which was spoken originally to the Old Testament nation of Israel in Exodus 19:5, 6: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” The New Testament congregation, largely of Gentile believers and their children, are the reality of Old Testament Israel. Not the “replacement” of Old Testament Israel. But the New Testament, spiritual reality and fulfillment of Old Testament Israel! And this can be because already in the Old Testament the reality of Israel was Jesus Christ, the promised seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16). What determines that one is Abraham’s seed, therefore, is not physical descent from Abraham, but belonging to Christ Jesus: “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29). Belonging to Christ has nothing to do with physical descent from Abraham and carnal membership in a race of Jews. But belonging to Christ is the matter of eternal election in Christ and faith in Christ as the Savior from sin. The New Testament church of mainly Gentile believers and their children is the “Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16). Romans 11 does not teach a future conversion of many Jews, much less a restoration of the Old Testament, earthly kingdom of Israel. Rather, the chapter teaches that throughout the present, New Testament era, as God saves all the elect Gentiles, He is also saving some Israelites (v. 25). “And so [that is, ‘thus,” or ‘in this way’] all Israel shall be saved” (v. 26). Throughout the present gospel-age, God is saving some elect Jews, as He brings in the fullness of the Gentiles. That the present age of the saving of the largely Gentile church will be followed by a time in which God returns to the nation of Israel in Palestine, restores that nation as His kingdom, and rules the world by that nation for a millennium is doctrinal error and false. It is certainly confessionally unreformed.
Internet submitted Q.18. Why do you always say ; “believers and their children?” How can you know what child or children of a family of believers are “children of promise? Rom 9:8 Certainly Isaac and Rebecca were believers but Esau was not saved Also your understanding of water baptism answering to O.T. circumcision is incorrect. The circumcision of the heart (the cutting of the foreskin of the heart, spiritual) Deut 10:16 & answers to the cutting to the foreskin of the flesh ie. circumcision O.T.
A. 18 My frequent mention of “believers and their children” characterizes me as a Reformed Christian. A Reformed Christian believes and confesses, with heartfelt gratitude, that God establishes His covenant of grace in Jesus Christ with believers and their children in the line of generations. In this faith, we baptize our infants and rear them to fear God and keep His commandments. We base this belief on the teaching of the Bible. Genesis 17:7 is one of many texts in the OT that teach that God establishes His covenant with believers and their children and that God on His part is gracious to be the God of the children of believers as well as of believers themselves. That the same holds true in the NT, and thus that God does not change from OT to NT, is the message of Peter on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:39: “The promise [which in the context is the Spirit of Jesus Christ and therefore union with Christ and salvation–DJE] is unto you, and to your children…” One may understand the apostle to say that the promise is still to the children of believers, as it was in the OT. Jesus taught the inclusion of the infant children of believers in God’s covenant then being realized by Himself, and the salvation of these infant children, in Luke 18:15-17. About infants being brought to Him in their mothers’ arms, Jesus said that in this way, namely, by being brought to Him in their mothers’ arms, such infants are to be allowed to come to Him, and not prohibited, for of such infants is the kingdom of God made up, that is, these infants belong to the kingdom already in their infancy. You recognize, of course, that in a similar, indeed, virtually identical, way, the infants of believers today are brought to Jesus in infant baptism for Him to bless them. You recognize also that the Baptist objection to infant baptism very much resembles the objection of the disciples in Jesus’ day, for which He rebuked them. The explanation of all this is that God has always saved His people in the line of the generations of believers: believers and their children. This is an important aspect of the reality of the covenant of God with His people in Jesus Christ. This does not imply that God saves all the physical offspring of believing parents. Predestination, as you point out, cuts through the physical line of believing parents sometimes. There is an Esau as well as a Jacob. Romans 9 has much to say about this. I remind you that predestination also makes a distinction among persons baptized as adults. Not all baptized as adults are elect and saved. But the Baptist does not for this reason cease baptizing adults who confess their faith in Jesus Christ. The elect children of believers are the true children, as Romans 9 clarifies: “They are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (v. 6). These true children of believers must have the sign and seal of their salvation: circumcision in the OT and baptism in the NT. God prominently and significantly elects and saves His own children in the covenant lines of believers’ children and grandchildren. For the sake of the elect among the children of believers, God will have all the children baptized and then given the upbringing that membership in the church requires. This works faith in the elect. It also exposes the unbelief of the reprobate, who are then cut off, as the unbelieving and godless among OT Israel were to be cut off. Hence, the apostles baptized, as the rule, not only adult believers but also their “house,” as the book of Acts and I Corinthians 1 make plain. Hence, the apostle said to the Philippian jailor that his believing would mean the salvation of the jailor himself and of his house (Acts 16:31). Circumcision in the OT had the same significance as does water baptism in the NT: spiritual cutting away of or cleansing from sin. Infants were to receive the sign in the OT, and the infants of believers are to receive what is essentially the same, spiritual sign today. Contradicting your differentiating circumcision and baptism is the testimony of Colossians 2:11, 12: “In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism,” etc. The apostle identifies circumcision and baptism as to their spiritual meaning. Therefore, the Gentiles to whom the apostle wrote were circumcised, being baptized, even though a knife never touched their foreskin. As the intensely spiritual sign and seal of circumcision belonged to the infant male children of OT believers, so does the sign and seal of baptism belong to the children of believers today. Christ died for the (elect, genuine) infant children of believers. This is implied by the words of Jesus in Luke 18, referred to above. The Spirit of salvation indwells (elect) infant children of believers already in their infancy, as a rule (Luke 1:41, 44). Children of believers are counted by the Bible as members of the church with their parents and have a calling that only saved persons receive and are able to fulfill (Eph. 6:1-4). When the apostle was addressing various categories of members of the church at Ephesus, he included the children of believers. He did not limit himself to adult believers. Children of believers are not to be converted from unbelief to faith when they are no longer children, but adults, and only then received as members of the church. Rather, they are to be brought up, or reared, from youngest childhood, as already members of the church, in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4), a thing impossible if they are not born again and saved already.
I recommend to you that you read further in this matter in two books that are available from the Evangelism Committee of the Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Redlands, CA: Believers and Their Seed: Children in the Covenant, by Herman Hoeksema, and my book, The Covenant of God and the Children of Believers.