Repeatedly over the last several years a variety of characters have accused the so-called “Federal Vision” of being “monocovenantal.” Many other wild and unsubstantiated accusations against the “Federal Vision” have been made, of course. Recently I learned that two of the men on the Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s study committee on “Federal Vision” did not even know that there was a book called The Federal Vision. These men had read next to nothing, if anything, about the “Federal Vision,” but actively wrote a report full of lies and misrepresentations of it.
The lies about the “Federal Vision” early on took on a life of their own. Those repeating them, marching mindlessly in lock step, never bother to consult any “FV” representatives. They just issue report after report repeating the same lies. After a while it becomes, “Well, how could so many churches be wrong about the Federal Vision? Hey look, ALL the denominations have condemned it!”
The answer is simple: the people on the committees are mindless marchers. They march in step with the mindless marchers who have told them these lies. Seldom do they read anything written by the people they supposedly are investigating. They publish wild reports, filled with amazing lies, and when called to account they say this, “Well, those men say that they don’t believe these things; but we know that they really do.”
How do you answer such evil men? They cannot find that you’ve ever written XYZ, and they cannot find that you’ve ever said XYZ, but they accuse you of it anyway. When you say you don’t believe XYZ, they call you a liar. I wish I were wrong about this, but it seems that these are the kind of men who staff the theological committees of pretty much all the “conservative” “Reformed” denominations these days. There is no charity, no benefit of the doubt, not even a phone call. The attitude is pretty clear; as Luther put it: They proudly say, “Now, where is he That shall our speech forbid us? By right or might we shall prevail; What we determine cannot fail; We own no lord and master!” (Luther, Psalm 12)
Among the lies constantly reiterated by the unthinking marchers is the charge of “monocovenantalism.” According to them, “Federal Visionaries” deny that there are two covenants in human history. Since nobody has ever said this, the charge is a lie. Somebody started up this lie, and the mindless marchers, too lazy to check into it for themselves, simply repeat it over and over.
Reformed theology does say, of course, that the three persons of God exist in covenant with each other. They exist with each other in other ways also, but they are indeed covenantally united. This follows from the Biblical doctrine of creation. There is nothing in the creation that does not have its archetype in God, because there is nothing outside of God that God could look at when making the creation. Covenants exist in human life because the three persons of God are in covenant with one another. This is standard, garden-variety Calvinistic teaching, and anyone who denies it is not Reformed in any way, shape, or fashion.
So, ultimately, in God there is one covenant. This is an inescapable fact that anyone with the least knowledge of systematic theology should know. In history, however, there are phases in God’s administration of His relationship with man and there are two overarching covenants. (Oh by the way, “Federal Visionists” despise systematic theology as “inherently rationalistic” we are told!)
The human race was created in covenant fellowship with God, but in a child form of that relationship. Human beings were under “law” administered by angels until they grew up. When the human race was ready, God entered into a new covenant, an adult covenant with humanity. The first covenant was in Adam and in the human beings that came from him, including Jesus the Christ. Jesus was born into the first covenant, and then through death and resurrection brought the new covenant, the covenant of maturity or glory. So, there are two overall covenants.
Nobody denies this. To say that “Federal Visionists” deny this is a lie. Nobody has ever denied it.
Of course, beyond this, we recognize a succession of covenantal administrations in history: the Adamic, Noahic, Patriarchal, Sinaitic, Kingdom, Prophetic, and Oikumenical covenants, which precede and lead down to the New Covenant. Each of these previous covenants reiterates the “angel/law” world of the childhood covenant, but each also reveals and progressively partly manifests the adult world of the mature covenant. And, because of the fall of man into sin, each of the older covenants reveals the coming salvation of the world from death and sin, which will make possible the entrance into the New Mature Covenant.
Beyond this, each of these eight covenants has an initial and then a full form. The Adamic covenant is “not good” until Adam has gone through a kind of death-sleep and then been glorified with a bride; then the covenant is “very good.” Similarly, the Sinaitic covenant has a first phase, in which the Ten Words are written on stone and in which the bride is merely part of the husband’s house in the Tenth Word; and then after the death and resurrection of Israel in the wilderness comes the full phase of the Sinaitic covenant, in which the Ten Words are now put in flesh through the voice of Moses and in which the bride is elevated in the Tenth Word to co-rule with her husband over the house. The same kind of move from initial to full form can be seen in each of the covenant administrations, once it is recognized that the “bride” is the community. Hence, again, the Prophetic covenant starts with Elijah as soloist, but after his departure, Elisha is seen always in community.
The point of this essay is not to give a full explication of genuine Biblical and Reformed covenantal theology. The point is that there are no monocovenantalists. As far as I know, there never have been any.