Written by R. Scott Clark | Thursday, September 12, 2019
A covenant theology is a churchly theology. Covenant theology draws the Christian into the church as the Christ-confessing covenant community, where burdens are shared, prayers are offered together, where the Word is preached, and the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper) are administered. The church is important but she is not the Lord. She is not the Savior. She is a servant of the Lord and a servant of his Word.
It is exciting to discover what are sometimes called “the doctrines of grace,” i.e., the teaching that even though by nature we are dead in sins and trespasses, we came to faith because God loved us in Christ from all eternity and the Holy Spirit powerfully brought us to new life and to true faith. It is exciting to know that God the Son loved us and laid down his life intentionally for me and for all his elect, that we are saved by God’s free favor (grace) alone, through faith alone and that faith, in salvation, is nothing but resting, receiving, and trusting Christ and it is a free gift of grace. It is thrilling to learn that through faith the Holy Spirit has united us to the risen Christ, that we are adopted as sons, and that our Savior shall never lose any of those for whom he laid down his life. It is wonderful to learn that our sanctification, i.e., our gradual and gracious conformity to Christ, our dying to sin and living to Christ, is the gracious work of the Holy Spirit. These are glorious biblical and Reformation truths. We rightly celebrate God’s abounding grace. AGR is devoted to making known these wonderful truths as far as the Lord carries the good news across the globe.
The Christ-Confessing Covenant Community
As marvelous as these truths are, however, they are only the beginning of the Christian life. Our new life in Christ must be lived somewhere and Christ has graciously provided even that. He calls that place where we live out and enjoy all these benefits “the church.” In Matthew 16:18 he promised to build “his church” and that the gates of hell would not prevail against his church. He gave the “keys of the kingdom” (16:19) to Peter as a Christ-confessor an anticipation of his office as apostle. In Matthew 18 our Lord instituted a process for dealing with sin in the church. In v. 17 he commanded “tell it to the church.” When he used this noun church he assumed that we all knew what he meant. He assumed a certain knowledge of the Old Testament, where the idea behind the church was first revealed and developed. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament (LXX), which influenced the language and thought of the New Testament, the word church (ἐκκλησία) is used. The noun is the very same one that is translated “church” in Matthew 16 and 18. In Deuteronomy 9:10 Scripture says that the Lord gave two stone tablets, on which were inscribed by the finger of God, and on which were written all the world which the Lord spoke to us on the mountain “on the day of the assembly” (ἐκκλησία).1 “The assembly” is the formal, official covenant assembly gathered at the foot of the mountain, at the foot of the Lord, as it were. This expression or a parallel occurs many times in the LXX (see Deut 4:9–10; 18:16; 32:1; Josh 8:35).