What is New Covenant Theology?

Part Three

John G. Reisinger

I should have started this series of studies on New Covenant Theology by stating that the first and basic premise of NCT concerns the New Testament Scriptures being the documents upon which the life and worship of the Church is built. B. H. Carroll, president, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote an excellent book entitled Baptists and Their Doctrines (Broadman Press, Nashville, TN, 1913). In the following article, Dr. Carroll has stated very clearly the historic view of the Baptists concerning the "The New Testament - The Law of Christianity."

We thank God for the revival of the Doctrines of Grace in our day, especially among the Baptists. However, we fear that many 'Reformed Baptists' today are little more than immersed Presbyterians. Dr. Carroll's article sets forth a biblical truth that is basic to any clear understanding of the life and worship of the ekklesia, or church, of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is strange indeed that the worst condemnation and caricature that I have received from many of my Reformed Baptist brethren has been over the very truth that Dr. Carroll sets forth. It is even stranger when that condemnation and caricature comes from Calvinistic Southern Baptists who are seeking to go back to their own founding fathers.

This article is part of a section titled "Distinctive Baptist Principles" and it sets forth the basic distinctive biblical principles of true historic Baptists. We plan to publish all of these distinctives. Our generation needs to hear the truths that cost some of our forefathers their lives.

If this first Baptist distinctive were understood and believed it would settle a lot of disagreements among Christians today. For instance, there would never be another baby sprinkled if the New Testament were accepted as the Law of Christianity.



B.H. Carroll

"A declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us" Luke 1:1.

"It was needful for me…to exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints" Jude 3.

The distinctive principles of the Baptists are those doctrines or practices which distinguish us from other Christian denominations. It is held by some that no doctrine or practice should be classed as distinctive which has at any time been shared, in whole or in part, by any other denomination. But this limited sense of the word distinctive is too narrow for ordinary speech or common sense. For example: The Greek church and the Baptists both practice immersion, but their doctrine of baptism is widely different from ours. Authority, subject, and design all enter as much into the validity of this ordinance as the act itself. More than mere immersion is necessary to constitute New Testament baptism. Again, the Congregationalists agree with Baptists in the form of church government, but their doctrine of the church is widely different from ours. Yet again, the statement of Chillingworth, "The Bible, and the Bible alone, the religion of Protestants," is widely different from the Baptist principle, "The New Testament, the only law of Christianity."

Moreover, this entire subject has an historic aspect, which may not be ignored. There has been great progress in Baptist principles since the Reformation of the sixteenth century. Throughout the Protestant world there has been steady approximation by nearly all other denominations to many Baptist principles, very materially narrowing the once broad margin dividing us from other people. So that the distinctive in history is much more marked than the distinctive of the present day. Notable among the Baptist doctrines towards which there has been this steady approximation are "Freedom of Conscience" and "Separation of Church and State." It is one of the best established facts of history that Protestants equally with Romanists once held to the unchristian and horrible maxim: "Whose is the government—his is the religion. "Geneva, Germany, Holland, Old England and New England shared it with Italy, Spain and France, as Baptists found to their cost. While, therefore, the more recent approximations towards our principles are warmly welcomed, and while the hope of still greater approximation is fondly cherished, we are not thereby estopped [hindered] from entrance into the domain of history in discussing distinctive principles.

Before coming to affirmative statements, allow me to clear away the brush obstructing a fair view by disclaiming as distinctive the only two doctrines which in the worlds estimation constitute the sum of our distinctive principles:

(1) Immersion is Baptism

Immersion is not disclaimed as a Baptist doctrine, but it is disclaimed as a distinctive tenet. Think of it. For the first thirteen hundred years all Christendom held this belief. Even today other Christian denominations, aggregating nearly one hundred million people, believe and practice it as the only baptism. How, then, can it be our most distinguishing tenet? If, indeed, it be distinctive of our people, it is the least distinctive and the least important of all our principles. In this discussion it will not even be named as a distinctive principle.

(2) Baptism is Essential to Salvation

So far from being distinctive, this is not now and never has been a Baptist doctrine. More than all other people do they repudiate it. Indeed on the contrary, the Baptists are the only people in the world who hold its exact opposite: Salvation is essential to baptism.

On these premises and disclaimers we may now announce in order the distinctive Baptist principles:


Doubtless many of my fellow-Christians of other denominations may be disposed to smile at the announcement of this as a distinctive Baptist principle. But let us not smile too soon. Patiently await the development of the thought. To expand the statement: All the New Testament is the Law of Christianity. The New Testament is all the Law of Christianity. The New Testament will always be all the Law of Christianity. This does not deny the inspiration or profit of the Old Testament, nor that the New is a development of the Old. It affirms, however, that the Old Testament, as a typical, educational and transitory system, was fulfilled by Christ, and as a standard of law and way of life was nailed to the cross of Christ and so taken out of the way. The principle teaches that we should not go to the Old Testament to find Christian law or Christian institutions. Not there do we find the true idea of the Christian church, or its members, or its ordinances, or its government, or its officers, or its sacrifices, or its worship, or its mission, or its ritual, or its priesthood. Now, when we consider the fact that the overwhelming majority of Christendom today, whether Greek, Romanist or Protestant, borrow from the Old Testament so much of their doctrine of the church, including its members, officers, ritual ordinances, government, liturgy and mission, we may well call this a distinctive Baptist principle. This is not a question of what is the Bible. If it were, Baptists would not be distinguished from many Protestants in rejecting the apocryphal additions incorporated by Romanists in their Old Testament. Nor is it a stand with Chillingworth on the proposition, "The Bible, and the Bible alone, the religion of Protestants." If it were, Baptists would not be distinguished from many Protestants in rejecting the equal authority of tradition as held by the Romanists. But when Baptists say that the New Testament is the only law for Christian institutions they part company, if not theoretically at least practically, with most of the Protestant world, as well as from the Greeks and Romanists.

We believe that the church, with all that pertains to it, is strictly a New Testament institution. We do not deny that there was an Old Testament ecclesia, but do deny its identity with the New Testament ecclesia. We do not deny the circumcision of infants under Old Testament law, but do deny their baptism under New Testament law. We do not deny that there were elders under the Mosaic economy, nor even deny the facts of uninspired history concerning the elders of the Jewish synagogue. We simply claim that the New Testament alone must define the office and functions of the elder in the Christian church. Christ himself appointed its Apostles and its first seventy elders. We not only stand upon the New Testament alone in repelling Old Testament institutions, in repelling apocryphal additions thereto, in repelling the historic synagogue of the inter-biblical period as the model of the church, but to repel the binding authority of post-apostolic history, whether embodied in the literature of the ante-Nicene fathers or in the decisions of councils, from the council at Nice, A.D 325, to the Vatican Council, A.D. 1870. We allow not Clement, Polycarp, Hippolytus, Ignatius, Irenus, Justin, Tertullian, Cyprian, Origen, Jerome, Eusebius, Augustine, Chrysostom, Erasmus, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Henry VII, Knox or Wesley either to determine what is New Testament law or to make law for us. In determining the office and functions of a bishop, we consider neither the Septuagint episcopos, nor the Gentile episcopos, nor the developed episcopos of the early Christian centuries.

We shut ourselves up to the New Testament teaching concerning the bishop. But recently the Christian world has been invited to unite on the historic episcopacy of the early Christian centuries. We made no response to this unscriptural invitation. Yet more recently, the eccentric, and I may add, the heretical, higher critic, Dr. Briggs, seeks, it seems, to unite the Christian world on the word katholikos (universal) as applied to the church and as defined in these same early Christian centuries. We utterly disregard this invitation, not only because his word katholikos is found nowhere in the Greek of either Old or New Testament, but because the idea of catholicity must not be learned from post-apostolic fathers, but from the inspired Testament, and because it was this word, katholikos, which led to the idea of the church as an organized general body having appellate jurisdiction over the particular congregations, and led to the union of church and state under Constantine. We are willing enough to enter the domain of uninspired history as a matter of research, and ready enough to concede all its fairly established facts, whatever sound proof may show them to be, but we recognize as the only ground of union, now or hereafter, the impregnable rock of the New Testament.

And mark you the first form of the expanded statement: All the New Testament is the law of Christianity. To apply this thought: One Christian denomination, in determining the law of pardon, would shut us out of the four Gospel narratives up to the resurrection of Christ and shut us up to the latter half of the New Testament. Here we say, give us all the New Testament. The cases of forgiveness of sin, at the mouth and hand of our Lord himself, must be considered in determining the law of pardon.

The New Testament is the law of Christianity. All the New Testament is the law of Christianity. The New Testament is all the law of Christianity. The New Testament always will be all the law of Christianity. Avaunt [Begone], ye types and shadows! Avaunt, Apocrypha! Avaunt, O Synagogue! Avaunt, Tradition, thou hoary-headed liar. Hush! Be still and listen! All through the Christian ages—from dark and noisome dungeons, from the lone wanderings of banishment and expatriation, from the roarings and sickening conflagrations of martyr fires—there comes a voice—shouted here, whispered there, sighed, sobbed, or gasped elsewhere—a Baptist voice, clearer than a silver trumpet and sweeter than the chime of bells, a voice that freights and glorifies the breeze or gale that bears it. O Earth, hearken to it: The New Testament is the law of Christianity! Let the disciples of Zoroaster, Brahma, Confucius, Zeno and Epicurus hear it. And when Mahomet comes with his Koran, or Joe Smith with his book of Mormon, or Swedenborg with his new revelations, or spirit-rappers, wizards, witches and necromancers with their impostures, confront each in turn with the all-sufficient revelation of this book, and when science—falsely so called (properly speculative philosophy)—would hold up the book as moribund, effete or obsolete, may that Baptist voice rebuke it. Christ himself set up his kingdom. Christ himself established his church. Christ himself gave us Christian law. And the men whom he inspired furnish us the only reliable record of these institutions. They had no successors in inspiration. The record is complete. Prophecy and vision have ceased. The canon of revelation and the period of legislation are closed. Let no man dare to add to it or take from it, or dilute it, or substitute for it. It is written. It is finished.

Copyright 2004 John G. Reisinger. New Covenant Media