Misdirection and Misapprehension

In my teens I was interested in conjuring.  I used to perform at church concerts and socials.  However, when I was converted at the age of sixteen I gave up conjuring.  I felt it sat uneasily with my new-found faith. Conjuring is all about deception.  One of the main techniques in conjuring is misdirection.  The performer directs attention away from what he is really doing.  He pretends to be doing one thing but is really doing another.  This misdirection is intentional and deliberate.

Whether it is realized by its adherents or not, Covenant Theology involves misdirection.  This is not deliberate and is not intended.  The believers in  Covenant Theology are not engaged in deception, far from it.  They are very sincere.  But they themselves are being deceived by misdirection, and so come to misapprehend what the Bible teaches.  Sometimes, Baptist and  Covenant theologians, influenced by the 1689 Confession, which is largely based upon the Westminster Confession, will use Covenant terminology, such as “the covenant of grace”.  But this is misleading and can lead to misapprehension.

Here are three examples of misdirection:

  1. The misunderstanding of Genesis 3:15.  Covenant theologians refer to this verse as a “covenant promise.”  But this is erroneous and so is misleading.  It is a case of misdirection leading to misapprehension.  Why is this so?  First, because these words are addressed to Satan not Adam.  Second, because the context is curse not covenant.  The word “covenant” is nowhere mentioned in this passage.  Third, this is a threat, or rather a prediction, not a promise.  Certainly, of course, believers recognize in these words to Satan the first hint of the cross, but that is not its main thrust.  Fourth, God does not establish His covenants via Satan; the serpent is not an intermediary between God and man.  Fifth, when God establishes a covenant he always addresses those with whom he is making the covenant, or their representatives.
  2. The misunderstanding of Acts chapter seven and verse 38.  Here, in the AV is a reference to “the church in the wilderness.”  The word translated “church” is ekklesia.”  It expresses the idea of ‘called out ones’, and is properly translated ‘assembly’.  By the translation of this word as “church” in Acts 7:38 it is assumed that the church existed in the wilderness.  But this is another case of misdirection leading to misapprehension.  To see this, note that the same word, “ekklesia” is used of the assembly of citizens in Ephesus in Acts 19:32, 39 and 41.  Should we then call them the church also?  Of course not.  If we translate the word consistently as “assembly, then there is no necessary ecclesiastical connection.  The context then decides which assembly is being referred to.  The church of Jesus Christ, the Christian assembly, was formed at Pentecost.  The Lord Jesus Christ said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18) clearly indicating that this was a future activity.
  3. The third misdirection leading to misapprehension concerns the use of the phrase, “covenant of grace.”  This phrase was coined to refer to God’s overarching purpose of redemption, but it has become misleading.  It gives the impression that there is only one covenant, and so it “papers over the cracks” in Covenant Theology.  But “covenant of grace” is not a biblical phrase.  It is found nowhere in the Bible.  Yet people refer to it as though it were an established fact of history, rather than a theological construct.  In fact it misdirects people’s attention away from the biblical teaching that there is a clear distinction between the various covenants.
    1. For example, the covenant with Abraham was about the land, and God promised a multiplicity of descendants.  That is why the sign of circumcision is relevant to that promise.  A small operation on the male organ of reproduction will be a permanent reminder that God has promised many descendants.
    2. The covenant made with Israel at Sinai was not the same one.  Moses expressly declared that the covenant made at Horeb was not made with the “fathers” (Deut. 5:2, 3).  The distinctive sign of this covenant was the Sabbath (Ex. 31:12-18; cf. Ezekiel 20:12, 20).
    3. In Jeremiah’s prophecy God declares that the New Covenant would be “not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers” (Jer. 31:31-34).  In the New Testament this New Covenant is ratified by the Lord Jesus at the institution of the Lord’s Supper.  The distinctive sign is the cup representing Christ’s blood.  Hebrews 8:7 implies that the old covenant was faulty, while verse 15 states that it was obsolete, growing old and ready to vanish away.  The New Covenant is not to be identified with the Old Covenant made with Israel (Compare also 2 Cor. 3”7-18; Gal. 4:21-31; Heb. 7:22; 9:15ff.).

Clearly there is a definite distinction between these covenants, and to gather them together and call them aspects of one covenant using a non-biblical phrase to do so, is misleading.  We must beware of theological misdirection that leads to misapprehension.

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