Posted by: Grover Gunn | August 11, 2007

Election, Covenant and the Center of the Road

There is a ditch on each side of the road. Christ was crucified between two thieves. You can fall out of the saddle on either side of the horse. The point of all these illustrations is that the truth usually has an error on either side of it, each error taking part of the truth to an opposite extreme.

One of the major issues in the current controversy over the new Federal Vision theology is the relationship of the eternal decree of election to the historical administration of the covenant of grace. Regarding this issue, I think that there are indeed two ditches, an error on each side of the truth.

In the ditch on one side of the road, people define the historical administration of the covenant in terms of election. Some teach that baptism is a sign and seal of the promise of the covenant only for the elect. Some teach that only the elect among the covenant people possess the promise of the covenant. In other words, when Peter made the statement to the Jewish crowd on Pentecost, “The promise is to you and to your children,” he was addressing only the elect among them.

In the ditch on the other side of the road, people define election in terms of the historical administration of the covenant. In other words, if you are a part of the covenant people, a member of the visible church, then you are elect, regenerate, justified, adopted, sanctified, but only as long as you remain in the covenant. Everyone in the visible church, head for head, possesses not only the promise of the covenant but also the salvation promised.

On one side, people teach that only the elect in the church possess the promise of the covenant of grace. On the other side, people teach that everyone in the visible church without exception has not only the promise but also the salvation promised.

Now here is what I think is the center of the road. The elders try to administer the church not in terms of the decree of election but in terms of God’s revealed will. Yet we also acknowledge that the Holy Spirit does not share this human limitation; He works in hearts in terms of the decree of election. The promise of the covenant belongs to everyone in the covenant community. Yet only those who meet the obligations of the covenant receive the promised salvation. The obligations of the covenant are saving faith in Jesus and that faith’s inevitable and necessary fruit, repentance and new obedience. The minister regularly exhorts all the covenant people to believe in Christ, to repent of sins, to obey God. Faith is not a one time act but a way of life. “As you have received Christ, so walk in Him.” The minister’s passion for all to fulfill the obligations of the covenant mirrors God’s desire for obedience rooted in His revealed will. The minister treats each one in the church as the Christian he professes to be. He treats the covenant children this way with the qualification that he doesn’t expect them to profess their faith or to take upon themselves certain responsibilities until they reach the point in their spiritual and mental development where they can do so meaningfully and responsibly. The minister also regularly challenges all the covenant people to examine themselves that they are indeed inwardly what they profess to be outwardly. When people meet the obligations of the covenant, the minister points them to God’s sovereign grace and exhorts them not to boast but to praise God, who has enabled them to meet the obligations of the covenant. When people fail to meet the obligations of the covenant, the minister points them to their own responsibility. God has shined the light of the gospel message upon them. They have seen the power of the gospel at work in the church. They have perhaps themselves escaped for a season the pollutions of this world through the knowledge of the Lord. Yet now they are turning away from the light, and the responsibility is fully theirs. They love the darkness and don’t want to be delivered from their sins. God is genuinely and sincerely grieved by their disobedience, even though He ordains all that happens and will work their disobedience to the glory of His justice. People who thus fall away manifest that they never had inwardly what they at one time professed to have.

That is what I consider to be the center of the road regarding decretive election and the historical administration of the covenant of grace. By the center of the road, I mean the true teaching which avoids the ditch of error on either side.

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Responses

  1. Pastor Gunn,

    I’m in the center with you my brother :).

    I have a question for you in light of the very balanced calvinism that I have seen you express here and in other places. Would you say that you represent the majority or the norm in the reformed churches today?

    Blessings in Christ,
    Terry W. West

  2. Terry, thank you for your kind and encouraging words.

    My sense is that I am in large agreement on doctrine with many other ministers in my own presbytery. I also enjoy attending each year right after Easter the Twin Lakes Fellowship conference sponsored by First PC, Jackson, MS. At those conferences, I always find myself surrounded by people of like or similar mind. For more information, go to http://www.fpcjackson.org/general/Twin%20Lakes%20Fellowship/Ligon%20Duncan%20TLF%20Info.pdf.

    May God bless!
    Grover

  3. Mr. Gunn,

    Excellent post. You mentioned Berkhof’s_Dual Aspect Of the Covenant_ at Greenbaggins and I just read that section this morning. It was very helpful. I appreciate it.

  4. I too agree with your middle road position. Thanks. Fred


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