So far in our present studies in “Biblical Covenantalism” we have seen that what is known as Dispensationalism is not very well named. Not that dispensations are foreign to Scripture, but the name does not describe the distinctive approach to the Bible and Theology that is quintessential to the system. On the contrary, it brings to prominence things which are of far less importance than the matters we have been discussing with regard to the Covenants of Scripture. It is the covenants, not the dispensations, which are crucial to this viewpoint. One may argue back and forth about the dispensations; their number and features, without abandoning “Dispensationalism.” But one cannot ignore the biblical covenants without destroying the whole system itself.
I have tried to argue that what I call, for want of a better name, “Biblical Covenantalism” defines our position with far more accuracy, and also sets the agenda for exploring this exciting theology in all areas of thought – thus qualifying it as a world and life view.
Another thing I have done is to show that a biblical covenant is God’s contract with a particular party, be it an individual or people group. Because a covenant is a contract its language is extremely important. When one makes a contract one must try hard to avoid any ambiguities and possible misconceptions. It is vital that the party agreeing to the contract (e.g. Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Phinehas, David or Israel) understand the terms of the contract. This means that the contract or diatheke (“testament” or covenant) cannot change (cf. Gal. 3:15).
But it is important to understand what we have just said. Among other things, it means that any alteration or replacement of terms would violate the covenant. Although augmentation of the covenant within the parameters of the original conditions would be allowable (e.g. God augmenting his covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12 with amplifications and stipulations in chapters 15, 17 and 22), it would be wholly impermissible to expand the terms of the covenant beyond the naturally understood meaning of those terms. This would debar the “expansion” of “Israel” as understood by the Patriarchs and Prophets, to mean “Church” since it would involve replacing (and that is the right word) a particularly defined national people group with geopolitical and ethnic identity, with a spiritual organism with no geopolitical or ethnic identity.
Thus, the original terms of the covenant would be altered by the replacement (yes, friends, that is the word) of one specified party with another. And further, this would require an “expansionist” re-reading of the covenant that would look remarkably similar to the reinterpretations of the Constitution of our nation by contemporary progressive judicial law courts. In either case, the specific unambiguous terminology of the original document is treated as if it could mean anything. Although our brothers and sisters who practice this kind of interpretation of the biblical covenants in the name of “Covenant” theology are conservative and well-meaning, we are persuaded that their performances, when all is said and done, oppose the terms of these biblical covenants insofar as their re-readings and consequent alterations take hold among their churches.