One Covenant Why be Concerned?

By Frank Jamerson

If we do not have a pattern for worship in the New Covenant, how do we know when or how to worship? According to this gentleman the example of those disciples in Troas is not a pattern for us (they were not even a church), nor could they have had a pattern for observing the Lord’s supper on the first day of the week because “they didn’t have the 27 books of the NT!”

It is always good to try to determine where a road is leading before you travel it. Some are impressed with any-thing “new” and which seems to give them more “freedom.” From my correspondence with three of the advocates of this theory, I want to offer these suggestions of why the theory is dangerous.

First, its application to the divorce-remarriage issue. Jim Puterbaugh teaches that what God commanded in Deuteronomy 24 is God’s universal marriage law and has been in effect since creation. (He denies that there is a connection between the “one covenant, no change in the law” theory and his position on divorce and remarriage  because he had come to his position on divorce before he learned the theory on one covenant.) It does not take a Solomon to see that if God’s moral law cannot change, and it was moral under the law of Moses for a woman who had been given a bill of divorcement to marry another, the same is moral today. This is what he believes and teaches. He believes it is a sin to “put away,” but not to “give a bill of divorce.” He said, “Yes, we’re still under Deuteronomy 24, because it’s moral law . . . Morals don’t change. What is moral at any given time is moral at all times.” During an ex-change with him, one of his disciples said, “when I understood Jim’s teaching, what a relief it was!” When the disciples of Christ heard his teaching, they said  Horrors! if there is only one reason for divorce and remarriage “it is better not to marry” (Matt. 19:9, 10).

If any divorced person can remarry, regardless of the reason for the divorce, Jesus’ statement “whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery” cannot be true. When asked about polygamy and concubines, Jim likened these to slavery, and said they “do not precisely violate moral law as God revealed it,” but disappeared when Christianity came.

If you are willing to accept these consequences, or even like them, the “one covenant/no change in the law” doctrine will appeal to you, but there are also other consequences that you need to consider.

Second, if the old law was not taken away at the cross and the new law given for us, we have problems with how to worship. In response to my article on the law, in which I said “whatever applies to the law applies to the prophets” (Matt. 5:17-19), one replied, “We agree. The law is binding, and so are the prophets.” When I asked him about instrumental music in worship, he said: “This is ceremonial and not valid for covenantors of today, in the sense you use the term `worship.”‘ The Old Covenant says that instruments were used “in the house of the Lord . . . for thus was the commandment of the Lord by his prophets” (2 Chron. 29:25). These brethren say that “the law and the prophets” did not cease when they were fulfilled, but are unwilling, thus far, to accept what the prophets said in the law! In response to my question about Sabbath observance, one respondent, who claims to believe in “one covenant” said that the Sabbath was part of the first covenant, but we should not keep it! (They say that the Sabbath was typical of the rest we enjoy in Christ, but that does not solve their problem! The first covenant taught seventh day observance and those under it had to keep the Sabbath holy. If we are under the same covenant, we must do the same, or be violators of God’s law.) I asked him if he observes the Lord’s supper on the first day of the week, and if so why? He said, “Yes, I do observe the LS on the first day of the week because of 1 Cor. 11:23,24, and the time element is in verse 26. A close examination of Acts 20:7 will show that this `first day of the week’ gathering was not a gathering for collective worship, for the simple fact that no church had been established in Troas at that moment in time (cf. Acts 16:6-10).” He also said, “We are to observe the Lord’s supper `as often as’ and for Christians during the weeks after Pentecost of Acts 2, this might have been daily.”

If we do not have a pattern for worship in the New Covenant, how do we know when or how to worship? According to this gentleman the example of those disciples in Troas is not a pat-tern for us (they were not even a church), nor could they have had a pattern for observing the Lord’s sup-per on the first day of the week because “they didn’t have the 27 books of the NT!” We certainly can-not determine the day or frequency from the precept in 1 Corinthians 11:26, because it gives neither! Our brother said: “None of my theology is derived from necessary inference, no, not even the frequency of my par-taking of the LS.” I suggest that the only way he can apply any Bible teaching (pattern) to himself is by necessary inference! Not one verse was written directly to him. How does he know any of it applies?

Third, there is a rejection of the New Testament as a pattern for anything. Our brother said the church “did not have the 27 books of the NT. Thus, no patterned theology! They did have `the Lord’ and positive authentic traditions about Him as he amplified the moral and ethical teachings of God’s law given in OT times principally (by no means exclusively) to Israel.” In an-other letter he asserted, “Our relationship is with a Person, not a system. And that’s what’s wrong with patternism.” He said that he had received many responses from brethren who appreciate his defense of “freedom” because “Covenant theology leads to life, while legalism only brings forth not righteousness but death.” This is the identical argument made by “new hermeneutics” advocates in Nashville in December 1988. It is the use of the Bible to try to prove that we should not use the Bible as a pattern, and will result in abandoning New Testament Christianity. James Bales wrote: “One of the signs of error and confusion which can lead into modern-ism or other types of error, is the charge of `legalism’ when someone insists on teaching people to do what Jesus commanded. . . . These confused individuals, however, do not abandon law. They firmly believe and may even fiercely proclaim, `Thou shalt not be a legalist. It is wrong to be a Pharisee! … One is not being a legalist in maintaining that we are in some sense under law to Christ. There are commandments which we are to keep (Matt. 28:20; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 9:21; Heb. 8:10)” (Modernism :Trojan Horse in the Church 112).

It is not my purpose in this article to defend precept, example, and necessary inference as God’s way of teaching (which is what my brother and others mean by “legalism” and “patternism”), but brethren need to realize that this new theory is simply a rejection of the New Testament as a pattern  not only for divorce and re-marriage but for everything! Brethren have asked how anyone can read “these are two covenants” (Gal. 4:24), and conclude that there is “one covenant in five phases”? It does seem incredible, but when brethren are enamored with denominational scholarship, sometimes they are influenced without even realizing it. This “covenant theology” is not new. If you are interested in further research, I would suggest beginning with What the Bible Says About God the Redeemer by Jack Cottrell. The chapters on the “Righteousness” and “Holiness” of God present arguments for this theology and respond to them. (Jack Cottrell is a fairly conservative professor in the Christian Church.) I will conclude this with a quotation from pages 269, 270 of this book.

The sinful heart is hostile to-ward law; but even many Christians, as the result of a misunderstanding of the relation between law and grace, are quite indifferent toward law (i.e., God’s commands as they apply today) and do not consider it to be binding upon them. They disdain the so-called “letter of the law” and embrace a false freedom in which the only “imperative” is a nebulous subjectivity euphemistically known as “love.” Such an approach may begin as an honest misunderstanding, but it is always secretly fed by the heart’s sinful tendency toward lawlessness. What must be understood is this: since God’s law is the outward expression of his own holy nature, any rebellion against law is also a rebellion against God personally.

Guardian of Truth XLI: 23 p. 10-11
December 4, 1997