Last Thursday June 28 I posted a question concerning an apparent contradiction between the Gospel Coalition's confessional statement and the Westminster Confession of Faith. Today I received a reply. Here is that post in full (reply at end of post):
The Gospel Coalition (GC) website is up and running. I just finished perusing it. Of particular interest was the confessional statement. As I was reading through it I came across the beginning article 10 "The Kingdom of God" and was somewhat perplexed. It reads:We believe that those who have been saved by the grace of God through union with Christ by faith and through regeneration by the Holy Spirit enter the kingdom of God and delight in the blessings of the new covenantMy perplexity came due to the fact that the GC includes both Baptists and Presbyterians. I don't understand how a Westminsterian-Covenantalist could affirm the GC's statement at this point. To affirm that only the regenerate "enter the kingdom of God," which sounds like covenant membership language, is contra Westminster. WCF Chapter XXV.2 reads:The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.
The two statements seem to be in clear contradiction to one another. The GC says that those who enter the kingdom are the regenerate. The WCF says that the kingdom includes the children of "all those throughout the world that profess the true religion."
There seems to be two possible ways out of the contradiction:
(1) Give the concept of the kingdom a different sense in each statement (This could also be achieved by giving the terms "saved by the grace of God," "union with Christ," "faith," and "regeneration" different senses than have been traditionally understood by Reformed theologians, but I think that may be a bit out of bounds as the Federal Vision guys have proven quite well). Perhaps one could say that the sense in which the kingdom is understood by the GC is with respect to the invisible church while the sense of it in the WCF is explicitly noted as being with reference to the visible church. That could work since the GC doesn't specify either way.
(2) Recognize the contradiction and move the word "delight in" in the GC statement so that it comes just before "the kingdom" and replaces the word "enter." Then it would read:We believe that those who have been saved by the grace of God through union with Christ by faith and through regeneration by the Holy Spirit delight in the kingdom of God and the blessings of the new covenant.
Covenantalists are at odds with Baptists over the issue of kingdom (i.e. visible church) membership, which the word "enter" implies. However, both are in agreement on the fact that only the regenerate truly delight in their membership and enjoy the blessings thereof.
I am surprised that the Covenantalists in the GC did not see this as a major problem. I can only suspect that they opted for (1) above. But if so, why not add the specification that "the kingdom" is being used in the sense of the invisible church. Baptists should have no problem affirming that and it would clear up the apparent contradiction.
I've sent this article via email to the GC. I look forward to their response.
Today I received a reply. Here it is:
Dear Mr Bennett:
Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I have not done an actual headcount, but I suspect that there is a preponderance of paedobaptist covenantalists on the Council. I would not like to speak for all of them, but I suspect that their understanding falls under your (one): nowadays virtually all sides recognize that “kingdom” language must be a bit flexible because it is used in several distinct ways within the pages of Scripture.
With all good wishes,
Warmly yours in Christ Jesus,
Research Professor of New Testament
So (1) wins the day. But I still wonder why the Covenantalists failed to insist that the kingdom be explicitly defined as the invisible church? That would have cleared up the apparent contradiction without denying any Baptist doctrine. Oh well, so much for precision.