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Dr. Sperry Chafer on Covenant Theology
(This article taken from ©

Dear dispensational friend

Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer understood that Covenant Theology constitutes a danger to the Church, and he warned accordingly. Dallas Theological Seminary, founded by Dr. Chafer, has failed to warn the Church of that danger.

True, when Covenantism attacks Dispensationalism polemically, there is still a dispensational leader here and there who will stand up and meet the challenge.  See John A. Witmer's strong two-part refutation of John Gerstner's Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth, Bib Sac, April-June and July-Sept., 1992.

But when Covenantism is presented in soft, irenic tones, as does Dr. Vern S. Poythress in his book, Understanding Dispensationalists, it becomes an afternoon of the fawn--dispensationalist leaders fawning over the formidable foe.  For example, see Bock and Blaising's Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, as well as "Dispensational Study Group," in Grace Theological Journal, Fall, 1989, pp. 123-182.

Dallas Seminary is warning neither her students nor the Church of the doctrinal, and therefore personal, menace of Covenant Theology. Actually, the school is producing many Covenant-oriented graduates.  Heed Dr. Chafer in what he wrote about Covenant Theology below.  Then, anyone who is not convinced that it constitutes a danger to the Church, he himself is in danger!

Resting in Him,
Miles J. Stanford

SANS PAUL -- A clear recognition of that which, through divine grace, the Church is, of the supreme position she occupies as the Body of Christ, and of the glory and exaltation which awaits her as the Bride of the Lamb, is indispensable if a worthy perspective of God's plan and purpose is to be gained. The all but universal disregard on the part of theologians for the Pauline revelation respecting the Church has wrought confusion and damage to an immeasurable degree.

REFORMATION RESTRAINT -- Two factors serve as paramount causes of this deplorable neglect of Paul, namely: (a) the Reformation did not recover this truth as formerly it was held by the early Church; (b) that attitude of the theologians, being bound and confined within the limitations of Reformation truth, has been one of avoidance of what to them seems new.

J.N. DARBY - UNLIMITED -- While there were occasional references to the Church universal in post-Reformation literature, it was not until the middle of the last century (1830-50) that this extensive and important body of teaching was formed into a doctrinal declaration.  It was given to J.N. Darby of England to achieve this distinctive ministry.

From the teachings of John Darby and his associates what is known as the Plymouth Brethren movement sprang.  These highly trained men produced an expository literature covering the entire Sacred Text which is not only orthodox and free from misconceptions, but assays to interpret faithfully the entire field of Biblical doctrine--that which theology confined to the Reformation failed to do.

REFORMATION REPLENISHMENT -- At the same time other men in America and foreign countries were awakened to the fact that the Bible presents a much larger range of doctrine than that released by the Reformers, and, as a result, a widespread Bible exposition movement developed which incorporated all that the Reformers restored, and very much more.

HAVES, AND HAVE NOTS -- There is, then, a division in the ranks of orthodox men. On the one hand, there are those who, being trained to recognize no more than that which entered into Reformation theology, are restricted in their doctrinal viewpoint and who look upon added truth as a departure from standard ideas and therefore dangerous. On the other hand, there are those who, though as jealous to preserve the purity of the divine revelation, are constructing an unabridged system of theology, and finding the way into full-orbed harmony of truth and into the limitless fields of Biblical doctrine (Systematic Theology IV:36,37).

APOCRYPHAL COVENANTS -- The essential error of Covenant Theology is mentioned at this point only as it bears on human responsibility before God. The theological terms, Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace, do not occur in Scripture.  If they are to be sustained it must be wholly apart from Biblical authority.

What is known as Covenant Theology builds its structure on these two covenants and is, at least, a recognition--though inadequate--of the truth that the creature has responsibility toward his Creator. Covenant Theology has Cocceius (1603-1669) as its chief exponent.  He taught that before the Fall, as much as after it, the relation between God and man was a covenant.  The first was a Covenant of Works. For this was substituted, after the Fall, the Covenant of Grace.

UNDISCERNMENT -- Upon this human invention of two covenants Reformed Theology has largely been constructed. It sees the empirical truth that God can forgive sinners only by that freedom which is secured by the sacrifice of His Son--anticipated in the old order and realized in the new.  However, that theology utterly fails to discern God's purposes for the ages; the varying relationships to God of the Jews, the Gentiles, and the Church, with the distinctive, consistent human obligations which arise directly and unavoidably from the nature of each specific relationship to God.

RETARDATION -- A theology which penetrates no further into Scripture than to discover that in all ages God is immutable in His grace toward penitent sinners, and constructs the idea of a universal Church (continuing through the ages), and the one truth of immutable grace, is not only disregarding vast spheres of revelation but is reaping the unavoidable confusion and misdirection which part-truth engenders.

The outworking of divine grace is not standardized, though the Covenant idea of theology would make it so; and as certainly as God's dealings with man are not standardized, in the same manner the entire field of the corresponding human obligation in daily life is not run into a mold of human idealism (IV:156,157).

ONE-TRACK LIMITATION -- Judaism has its field of theology with its soteriology and its eschatology. That these factors of a system which occupies three-fourths of the Bible are unrecognized and ignored by theologians does not demonstrate their nonexistence, nor does it prove their unimportance. A Covenant Theology engenders the notion that there is but one soteriology and one eschatology, and that ecclesiology, such as it is conceived to be, extends from the Garden of Eden to the Great White Throne. The insuperable problems in exegesis which such fanciful suppositions create are easily disposed of by ignoring them.

DUALITY DEMANDED -- On the other hand, Scripture is harmonized and its message clarified when two divinely appointed systems--Judaism and Christianity--are recognized, and their complete and distinctive characters are observed.   No matter how orthodox they may be in matters of inspiration, the Deity of Christ, His virgin birth, and the efficacy of His death, Covenant theologians have not been forward in Bible exposition (IV:248).

ROMAN RESIDUARY -- It is common practice with some theologians to brand millennialism as a modern theory, forgetting that, in its restored form, even justification by faith and millennialism were taught in the New Testament and were therefore the belief of the early Church. These doctrines, like all other essential truths, went into obscurity during the Dark Ages.

The Reformers did not restore all features of doctrine, and along with justification by faith retained the Romish notion that the Church is the Kingdom, fulfilling the Davidic covenant, and appointed to conquer the world by bringing it under the authority of the Church. This idea has prevailed in spite of the clear, uncomplicated testimony of the New Testament that this dispensation must end in unprecedented wickedness (IV:257).

COVENANT AMALGAMATION -- Israel has never been the Church, is not the Church, nor will she ever be the Church. A form of Covenant Theology which would thread all of Jehovah's purposes and undertakings upon His one attribute of grace could hardly avoid confusion of mind in matters related to His varied objectives.

Covenant Theology, in consistency with its man-made premise, asserts its inventions respecting an Old Testament Church, which, it is claimed, is an integral part of the New Testament Church and on the ground that, since God's grace is one unchanging attribute, its accomplishments must be the realization of one standard ideal.

The Covenant theory does retain Israel as such to the time of Christ's death.  The Church is thought to be a spiritual remnant within Israel to whom all Old Testament blessings are granted, and the nation as such is allowed to inherit the cursings.

The fact that the Bible recognizes an Israel within the nation itself--sometimes termed "the remnant"--has been seized upon by Covenant theologians as a ground for their contention that the Church is the true Israel of the Old Testament (IV:311,312).

RETARDED RESURRECTION -- As traced by Covenant theologians, the death of Christ is given a place of large significance but His resurrection is accounted as little more than something for His own personal convenience, His necessary return from the sphere of death back to the place which He occupied before.   In other words, as viewed by Covenant theologians, there is practically no doctrinal significance to Christ's resurrection [and me identified with Him!]

That Christ by resurrection became what in Himself He had not been before--the federal Head of a wholly new order [creation] of beings and these the primary divine objective, as this is set forth in the Pauline Epistles--cannot be incorporated into a system of which the cherished and distinctive feature is one unchangeable divine purpose from Adam to the end of time.

RESCINDED RESURRECTION -- If it has been said Covenant Theology ignores the doctrinal aspects of the resurrection of Christ, it is due to the fact that according to that idealism the Church is not a new creation with its headship in the ascended Christ, but has existed under a supposed uniform covenant from the beginning of human history.  Thus for that system the great reality of a heavenly purpose peculiar to this dispensation is ruled out completely.

The doctrinal aspects of Christ's ascension and present ministry in heaven mean but little to those who are committed to the theory of an unchanging covenant.   According to this assumption, the Church existed without a headship in heaven, even before Christ came; therefore, the inauguration of that headship as something sprung out of His resurrection could not be of any great moment.

The Covenant theory cannot be broadened to allow for Christ's new priesthood in heaven, nor for His immeasurable ministry as Advocate, and for the same reason.  Therefore, all this incalculable truth is not included in their system by Covenant theologians.

SLIGHTED SPIRIT -- Wherever the Covenant theory is stressed, there must go along with it a neglect of the most vital truths respecting the present age-characterizing ministries of the Holy Spirit. The same reason may be assigned for this neglect, namely, that if the Church existed and progressed in Old Testament times apart from these ministries of the Spirit, they cannot be of vital import in the present dispensation.

The disannulling of all Jewish purposes and distinctive features for a dispensation renders a continuous-covenant conception objectionable. The Old Testament history leads on to its consummation in a glorious earthly kingdom in which the elect nation, Israel, will realize her covenants as promises fulfilled.  It is, therefore, disruptive to a one-covenant theory to the last degree that a situation should be set up as it has been in this dispensation in which it is said respecting Jew and Gentile that "there is no difference" (Rom. 3:9; 10:12).

FORFEITED TRUTH -- The introduction of a dispensation as an intercalation into the midst of the predicted ongoing Jewish and Gentile programs, and the new heavenly purpose which characterizes this dispensation, cannot be made to conform to a supposed single covenant.  Thus it is seen how, to maintain the basic idea of a Covenant theology, much that is vital in the whole divine purpose must be renounced and excluded in the interest of that which at best is only a theory; and among the neglected truths is the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

INCALCULABLE LOSS -- However, in spite of an almost universal influence of the Covenant theory upon theological thought, the resurrection of Christ is, when seen in its true Biblical setting, properly recognized as the very ground of all the purposes of this dispensation, and the basis upon which the new positions and possessions of those in Christ are made to rest.  There is a wide doctrinal difference between those who see no special consequence in Christ's resurrection and those who see its momentous significance (V:231-234).

TOTAL DEPRIVATION -- Serious thought should be given to the need of divine wisdom in introducing to earnest men the successive steps in the greatest transition the world has ever experienced, namely, one from Judaism to Christianity.  The stupendous change which demands the new birth of Nicodemus and the regeneration of Saul of Tarsus is not clarified or even approached by a Covenant theology which, while embracing a unifying idealism respecting a supposed single divine purpose, can ride unconsciously over these mighty changes as though they did not exist (V:249).

PSEUDO-SABBATH -- It was to be expected, when Covenant Theology has so neglected the fact and meaning of Christ's resurrection, that there would arise much misunderstanding about the reason for the celebration of the first day of the week rather than the seventh.  A recent article in a reputable religious journal is entitled, "The Sabbath Permanent but Moveable."

By this caption the writer intends to draw attention by stating what after all is a contradiction. The impossible task to which he has appointed himself is to prove that the Jewish Sabbath idea remains intact even though the precise day of the week is changed.

His thesis, as for all Covenant theologians, is that the structure of the Jewish Sabbath remains in force--for they have but one covenant--whether it be observed on one day or another.  Such blindness respecting the discriminating teaching of the Bible can be accounted for only on the ground that a man-made scheme of supposed continuity is embraced and followed without an unprejudiced examination of the Scriptures (V:253).

REFORMATION RESTRICTION -- To many the only body of interpretation which is orthodox is that which was recovered by the Reformers, or that contained in an ancient doctrinal statement.  There is, however, a great body of truth which the Reformers were unable to consider and which is lacking in ancient creeds.  It is this which worthy expositors have brought to light in subsequent days.  Since these expositors are as capable in the field of analysis of revealed truth as were the Reformers, the results of their labors should at least have some consideration.

SCHOOL OF PARANOIA -- Two schools have developed among orthodox men: one which restricts all doctrine to the findings of men from the very early days of Protestantism, and one which while accepting the sound teaching of the Reformers, recognizes that much added light has fallen (by reason of the Spirit and His continued ministry) upon the Word of God in later days and that this is as worthy of consideration as the findings of men of former times.  Of these two schools (Covenant and Dispensational) the first-named has too often looked upon the essential truth presented by the other as speculative, precarious, or perilous (V:261,262).

ESCHATALOGICAL ERROR -- A phenomenon exists, namely, that men who are conscientious and meticulous to observe the exact teaching of Scripture, the ruin of the race through Adam's sin, the Deity and Saviourhood of Christ, are found introducing methods of spiritualizing and vamping the clear declarations of the Bible in the one field of Eschatology.

The cause is not difficult to identify. When one is bound to a man-made covenant theory there is no room within that assumption for a restoration of Israel, that nation with all her earthly covenants and glory having been merged into the Church.  There is but one logical consummation in that advanced by Whitby with all its reckless disregard for the Biblical testimony, namely, that a hypothetical grace covenant will eventuate in a transformed social order, and not by the power of the returning Messiah but by the preaching of the gospel.

BUILD THE BODY -- In the present time there are those who, misapprehending the prediction that the Gospel of the Kingdom must be preached in all the world (Matt. 24:14), assert that Christ cannot return until the missionary enterprise has reached to all the inhabited earth.  They do not recognize that the passage in question is found in a context belonging to the future Great Tribulation, and that because of the unending cycle of birth and death there could not be a set time in this dispensation when the missionary endeavor would be complete (V:282).

KINGDOM MISCONSTRUED -- Although the Millennial Kingdom occupies so large a place in Scripture, the theme of the Kingdom has been more misunderstood and its terminology more misapplied than any other subject in the Bible.   This is directly due to the failure, so inherent and far-reaching in Covenant Theology, to recognize the dispensational aspect of divine revelation (2 Tim. 2:15).   Truth concerning the Messianic expectation as that is set forth in the Old Testament does not imply that the Kingdom is the Church, nor does the New Testament, with its objectives centered in heaven, teach that the Church is the Kingdom.

Similarly, the earthly Kingdom that according to the Scriptures had its origin in the covenant made with David--which is mundane and literal in its original form, and equally as mundane and literal in uncounted references to it in all subsequent Scriptures which trace it on to its consummation--is by theological legerdemain metamorphosed into a spiritual monstrosity in which an absent King seated on His Father's throne in heaven [now David's heavenly throne, according to Neo-Dispensationalism] is accepted in lieu of the theocratic monarch of David's line seated on David's throne in Jerusalem (V:315).

DEADLY RULE OF LIFE -- Covenantism, which has molded the major theological concepts for many generations, recognizes no distinction as to ages, therefore can allow for no distinctions between law and grace.  This dominating attitude of Covenantism must account for the utter neglect of life-truth in all their works of theology.

No more representative theological dictum from the Covenant viewpoint has been formed than the Westminster Confession of Faith, which valuable and important document recognizes life-truth only to the point of imposing the Ten Commandments on Christians as their sole obligation, this in spite of the teachings of the Pauline Church Epistles which assert that the law was never given to Gentiles or Christians, and that the latter has been saved and delivered from it--actually dead to it (Gal. 2:19) (Vl:.167).

INFANTILE BAPTISM -- It is believed by a large percentage that there is some connection between the rite of circumcision as required for the Jewish child according to the Old Testament and the baptism of children according to the New Testament. In the attempt to establish and magnify its one-covenant idea, Covenant Theology has contended for the supposed relationship between the two dispensations.

KINGDOM GOSPEL VS. GRACE GOSPEL -- Strong objection is offered by Covenant theologians to a distinction between the Gospel of the Kingdom as preached by John the Baptist, Jesus, and the Disciples, and the Pauline Gospel of the Grace of God.  One Covenant theologian states that to make such a distinction is "unfortunate," and "dangerous."

He with others contends that the Kingdom Gospel is identical with the Gospel of divine Grace.  Here nevertheless will arise an absurdity which does not deter this type of theologian, namely, that men could preach the Pauline Grace Gospel based as it is on the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ when they did not believe Christ would die or be raised again (Lu. 18:31-34) (VII:176).





EXTENT OF BIBLICAL REVELATION -- Israel occupies nearly four-fifths of the text of the Bible.  As to primary application, the Church occupies slightly more than one-fifth of the Word.

THE DIVINE PURPOSE -- Every covenant, promise, and provision for Israel is earthly, and they continue as a nation on the earth when it is created anew.

Every covenant or promise for the Church is for a heavenly reality, and she continues in heavenly citizenship when the heavens are recreated.

BIRTH -- Israelites become what they are by physical birth.  Each one is begotten of human parents and their inheritance is transmitted by human generation.

Christians become what they are by spiritual birth.   They are begotten directly by God and are therefore His legitimate offspring.   Their inheritance is immediate in that each is a child of God.

NATIONALITY -- Israel belongs to the earth and to the world-system.  Though above all nations in Jehovah's reckoning, they are still in the world as one of its nations.

The Church is composed of all nations, including Israelites, and sustains no citizenship here, but instead the believers are strangers and pilgrims.

MINISTRY -- Israel was appointed to exercise an influence over the nations of the earth, and this she will do perfectly in the coming kingdom age.  Previously she undertook no missionary work, and proclaimed no gospel.  She maintained her self-centered worship--she faced inward toward the tabernacle or temple, and all her benevolence was consumed on her own worship.

Immediately upon her formation, the Church is constituted a foreign missionary society.  It is her obligation to face outward, and to those of her company is given the task of evangelizing the people of the world in each generation.

THE DEATH OF CHRIST -- That nation which demanded the death of Christ and who said by their officials, "His Blood be on us, and on our children," is guilty of that death; yet they will be saved as a nation on the ground of that sacrifice.

A present and perfect salvation to the praise of God is the portion of the Church through the offering of the Lamb of God.

THE FATHER -- To Israel God is known by His primary titles, but not as the Father of the individual Israelite.

The Christian is actually begotten of God and has every right to address Him as Father.

CHRIST -- To Israel, Christ is Messiah, Immanuel, and King.

To the Church, Christ is Saviour, Lord, Bridegroom, Head, and Life.

THE HOLY SPIRIT -- Only in exceptional instances and for unusual service did the Holy Spirit come upon an Israelite, and He withdrew as freely as He came, when the purpose was accomplished.

The Christian is permanently indwelt by the Spirit; and actually, he is not saved apart from this relationship to the Spirit (Rom. 8:9).

GOVERNING PRINCIPLE -- For fifteen centuries the Law of Moses was Israel's rule of daily life (Ps. 103:17,18).

Members of the Body of Christ, being wholly perfected in Him, are under the beseechings and directions which grace provides.

DIVINE ENABLEMENT -- The Law system provided no enabling power for its achievement.  There was constant failure because of the weakness of "the flesh" to which it was addressed (Rom. 8:3).

To the Church is provided, by the indwelling Spirit, enablement for every requirement.  The Apostle Paul could say, "Sin shall not have dominion over you"; the reason being, "Ye are not under law, but under grace" (Romans 6:14).

CHRIST'S RETURN -- He returns as King to gather Israel into the land (Deut. 30:1-8; Jer. 23:7,8; Matt. 24:31).

The Lord Jesus Christ returns for His Bride and takes her with Him into heaven's glory (John 14:1-3).

POSITION -- Isaiah declares, "But thou, Israel, art my servant" (Isa. 41:8). Though individuals in Israel attained to great usefulness, as did the prophets, priests, and kings, yet they never reached a higher distinction than that they were the servants of Jehovah.

Christians compose the Church, forever in Christ, and are members of the family and household of God.

CHRIST'S EARTHLY REIGN -- Israelites are appointed to be subjects of the King in His earthly kingdom.

Members of the Body of Christ are to reign with the King as His Consort in that kingdom.

PRIESTHOOD -- Israel has a priesthood. The Church is a priesthood.

JUDGMENTS -- Israel must yet come into judgment (Matt. 25:1-13).

The Church has been judged, and will not come into judgment (John 5:24; Rom. 8:1)

(Systematic Theology IV:47-53).


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