Covenantally and Spiritually Generated

The Bible is an organic whole that reveals the one plan of God for the salvation of His people, through the person and work of His Son. God desires us to worship Him through practicing and enjoying His blessings. A question may arise about how God purchases these saving blessings under the New Covenant (NC) in Christ. To answer this question, we must look back before time into what theologians call the Covenant of Redemption (CoR).

The Bible teaches that the Triune God agreed to form a covenant based on the Father’s election of a special people. These chosen ones were those whom the Son was to redeem through the gospel of His life. Louis Berkhof, a Dutch Reformed theologian, defines the CoR as “the agreement between the Father, giving the Son as Head and Redeemer of the elect, and the Son, voluntarily taking the place of those whom the Father had given to Him.” [1] This means that the doctrine of election is paramount to our understanding of the plan of God for salvation as revealed in the Word. Ephesians 1:4 says “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” This verse and many others (Eph 3:11; 2 Thess 2:13; 2 Tim 2:9; Jas 2:5; 1 Pet 1:2, etc.) point to the doctrine of election which logically precedes the CoR. God’s election required someone to come and redeem those who would fall short of the glory of God.

John 6:38-40 points to an agreed-upon covenant between the Father and the Son:

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Here we see a covenant between the Father and the Son in which the Son agrees to do the “will” of the Father. Likewise, many other verses point to a covenant between the Father and the Son (Jn 5:30; 17:4-12). Jesus agreed to a covenant with His Father whereby He would come and obey particular statutes for the redemption of His people. This makes God the Father the covenant head of God the Son in that He gave Him commandments to obey (1 Cor 15:22-24) and promised blessings for obedience (1 Cor 15:27; Jn 17:1-2,5). This covenant, made in eternity past (Jn 5:43), is the foundation for the NC.

The NC, as Sam Renihan says, “goes no further than the [Covenant of Redemption], not only because Christ specifically said that his mission was purely to redeem the elect, but also because the NC is made in Christ’s blood, redeeming blood whose salvific benefits have never been and will never be applied to any but the elect.” [2] This means that God’s plan of redemption was always meant to effectually redeem all that the Father has chosen without exception. Because of this fact, the NC is therefore the practical outworking of the CoR.

The Particular Baptists of the 17th century taught that the Old Covenant (OC), which included the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic Covenants progressively revealed the NC through types and shadows (Heb 8:5; 10:1-4). The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (2LBCF) says, “This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament; and it is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son”. The NC, being founded in the CoR, implies that all of the membership of the NC must be believers only, since the Father immutably chose all whom Christ came to redeem. Unlike the OC, which had a mixed membership (Gen. 17:9), the NC mirrors the CoR in its membership. This is done through the Father revealing the elect to Christ (CoR) and Jesus reflecting those choices back to the Father through His sacrifice for their sins (NC). The genesis of our redemption is found in the Father’s sovereign choice and revealed in history when by faith we are united to Christ and brought into the NC. Before we were ever regenerated by the power of God’s Spirit, all NC members were covenantally generated according to the will of God. The mark of regeneration is an application of the promised redemption in the Son. God desires that all true members of the NC enjoy its promised blessings primarily in the context of a local church. Our Baptist forefathers believed this, and as a result, they practiced the following:

Regenerate Church Membership

Reformed Baptists believe that the membership of the NC is made up of believers only (Heb 8:11); therefore, the local church should reflect that as much as possible. They believed that all that God has promised in the CoR will be brought into the covenant of grace (NC) through union with Christ and therefore regenerated (the law written on new hearts). R. Stanton Norman, the associate professor of Theology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary says, “The church is to be a holy, spiritual body of people. Only people who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit should be admitted into the membership of the local church. The teaching and pattern of the New Testament overwhelmingly supports this.” [3] Both the CoR and the NC inform us that local churches should seek to practice of regenerate church membership. By practicing regenerate church membership, we open ourselves up to the enjoyment of NC blessings by sharing our spiritual gifts with one another for mutual edification.

Church Discipline

Historically, Baptists have taught that church discipline is necessary in order to protect the church’s sanctity. Church discipline is not a Baptist distinctive, but we find that the practice of it is most consistent with practicing regenerate church membership. The 2LBCF says, “To each of these churches therefore gathered, according to his [God’s] mind declared in his word, he has given all that power and authority, which is in any way needful for their carrying on that order in worship and discipline.” When we admit a member into the local church, we are making a judgment about their profession of faith. We are saying, “by the testimony of your life you seem to have a credible profession of faith.” Likewise, when we remove a professing believer from the church by discipline, we have judged their pattern of life and determined that their profession of faith is no longer credible. We are not making a definite pronouncement on the state of their soul. Again, Norman says, “Any church that intentionally allows through doctrine or practice, unregenerate persons into membership violates the teachings of Scripture and perverts the very nature of the gospel itself.” [4] We practice church discipline in an effort to enjoy the NC blessing, in the context of the local church, by excising those who disrupt the unity of the church through persistent and unrepentant sin.

Baptism of Disciples Alone

Baptism is a sign of NC membership. Unlike the OC where the sign of the covenant was given to every physical son of Abraham, no matter their spiritual condition (Gen 17:11), all the recipients of baptism should be members of the NC since it is a reflection of the CoR. Baptism is a positive law given under the NC, meant to be both a means of grace, and a sign that one has been brought into new life with Christ (Rom 6:3-4). In the OC, circumcision was the sign of the covenant with Abraham and a promise of new, but temporal life in Canaan for physical Israel (Gen 12:1-3; 17:9-14). Baptists practice believer’s baptism (also called “credobaptism”) because we believe it accurately reflects the commandments of the NC and is consistent with a biblical understanding of covenant theology. God gave baptism to His people as a means of nourishing our faith and welcoming us into His covenant for the enjoyment of all of His promises.

[1] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth Trust, 2005), 271.

[2] Samuel Renihan, 2012. Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology. https://thelogcollege.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/rb-cov-theo-renihans.pdf

[3] R. Stanton Norman, The Baptist Way: Distinctives of a Baptist Church (Nashville, Tn: B&H Publishing Group,2005), 55.

[4] Ibid., 55.

Brandon is a student a Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary and is a member at Morningview Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He has been married to his lovely wife, Abby, since 2014.
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