Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Paul Manata and the Exclusion Principle of Paedobaptism

Paul Manata writes, in the second section of his argument for Paedobaptism, “It is my contention that in the biblical notion of the “Exclusion Principle” (EP, hereafter) we have, as it is found in the NT, warrants us in concluding that there is still an external/internal aspect to the covenant and, therefore, people can break the covenant.”

Manata essentially argues that because the apostle Paul quotes Deuteronomy 17:7 when he commands the excommunication of the Corinthian man, the external/internal aspect which was a component of the Old Covenant must also be a component for the New Covenant. The language used in 1 Cor. 5:13 is virtually identical with Deut. 17:7. Manata argues that the language of the apostle indicates that the Corinthian man was in fact a covenant breaker. If the New Covenant can be broken, then it must have the same internal/external aspect the Old Covenant had. But is Manata correct to conclude that the apostle affirmed that the New Covenant was actually broken by the Corinthian man? Manata then goes on to claim that this serves as the basis for why he thinks there is a basic continuity between the Old and the New Covenant. The warrant for this belief is supposedly observed in the “breakability” of both covenants. But is the New Covenant breakable? Is the New Covenant a Covenant of grace or a covenant of works? Is the New Covenant conditional or unconditional? The very best place to start, and perhaps the only place we need to look is located in Jeremiah where the nature of the New Covenant and its discontinuity with the Old Covenant is laid out more clearly than anywhere else in Scripture. When we say that Scripture is self-interpreting, we mean to say that the obscure passages of Scripture must be interpreted in the light of the clear passages of Scripture. Jeremiah 31:31-33 is about as clear a passage as we have for the nature of the New Covenant. So it is to Jeremiah 31:31-33 that we must go.

The first thing we notice in Jer. 31:31 is that God said that He will make a ḥādaš berît, new covenant, with the house of Israel. The covenant that God will make is different and new. Then we see the discontinuity spelled out as clearly as it could be with the Hebrew expression, lō(ʾ) ke- berît, not “like the covenant” which I made with their fathers. Not only is this a new covenant, a different covenant, it is unlike the covenant that God had previously made with Israel and Judah. And then we see what I believe is the major difference between the two covenants, that which created the discontinuity: berît pārar, the covenant which they broke. The Old Covenant is a covenant that was broken, but the new covenant is not like that covenant. The contrast is clearly between a covenant that was breakable and one that will be written on the heart, and as such, is unbreakable. The Old Covenant did not contain the power of ability to resist breaking while the New Covenant, writing on the heart by the blood of Christ is eternal, unconditional, and as such unbreakable.

I think the apostle Paul shapes how we should think about the work of Christ in the New Covenant clearly in Romans 5:12-19. Man is either in Adam, subject to the Covenant of Works or he is in Christ under the New Covenant and not subject to the Covenant of Works. In Adam we all die, while in Christ we are all made alive. To be in Christ is to have our sins forgiven and our iniquities removed. To be in Christ is life without end. As Johnson puts it, “People are either in the first Adam or the second Adam. They are either lost or saved, in light or in darkness, under law or under grace.” [Johnson, The Fatal Flaw, 180.] Christ is the legal head of all those under the New Covenant. As the legal head, Christ is efficacious in all He does.

I want to come back to 1 Corinthians 5:1-13. Clearly there is a problem with a man in this community. But the community is itself spiritual in nature, not external, naturalistic, or based on religious forms. Participation in religious forms and rites such as baptism does not provide entrance into a spiritual covenant. Only the new birth can accomplish that. There is no language in the text indicating that the apostle considered the man to be a new covenant member. His hope was that excommunicating him would provide proof positive whether or not the man possessed genuine faith or not. Paul had previously written to the Corinthian Church ordering them not to associate with immoral people. But it was not immoral people in general, but immoral people who were also ean tis adelphos onomadzomenos, if anyone is calling himself “brother.” In other words, immoral behavior in the community cannot be tolerated. It does not follow that because this was also the case in Israel that both Israel and the Church must be the same entity. There is no logical argument to support such conclusions that does not commit numerous fallacies along the way. The process of church discipline not only serves as a “one another” tool to help us in our struggles with immorality, but it also serves to keep the community pure where it is executed properly. The Problem for Manata is that there is nothing in this text, a text addressed to a Gentile Church mind you, to suggest that the apostle believed this man was a member of the New Covenant in any way whatsoever. So when Manata spills pages and pages of ink trying to make a case that the apostle considered this man a member in the New Covenant, he simply wastes his time. I could link one irrelevant line of evidence after another ad infinitum and that would still fail to make the case. There is nothing in 1 Corinthians 5, or any place else in the NT to suggest that the New Covenant has two components; one internal and one external. Moreover, nowhere in the NT do we find people who are actual unregenerate members of the Church, a visible Church, but not the invisible Church. This is because there is no such thing as an actual visible church. There is only what we are doing as we employ the tools of human language when we talk about a visible church. The NT recognizes membership into the body of Christ, the Church of the Living God, and nothing more. Those members are only the elect whom God has chosen and covenanted with to be His own. The NT refers to those who claim Christ with their mouth but deny Him in their works as wolves, hypocrites, false apostles, false teachers, and false converts. They are not members in the Church and they certainly are not benefiting from the New Covenant in any way. John called them liars and liars they are. John said they were NEVER really of us.

So then, it does not follow that the Exclusion Principle requires a strong continuity between the covenants. All that is required for the presence of the Exclusion Principle is a holy community. Because the language in 1 Corinthians 5 is so clearly similar to that of Deuteronomy 17, it is only reasonable to explore the relationship between the two texts. What Manata fails to articulate, if not recognize, is that the Old Covenant had its purpose and place in the redemptive history and plan of God and one of those purposes was to point us forward to something greater, something better, something superior. And that something is the New Covenant, established in the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Note that I am not really putting up the Credobaptist covenant theology argument at this time. I will post such an argument, distilled as it may be, at the end of these review. I am simply offering up some critical thoughts of Paul Manata’s argument/notes at this time. I highly respect and appreciate Manata’s labors. I cannot say that enough. If life were a war, and I believe it is, Paul and I would be wearing the same colors. And if we were going into battle, I cannot think of a more noble and able soldier that I would want on my line. This is a small area of disagreement and Manata represents an excellent thinker who happens to take a different position than I. I hope to learn a good deal in the discussion.

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