Because of Transgressions

Doug Wilson’s Imaginary Covenant


Wilson: Who’s Harvey?
Miss Kelly: A white rabbit, six feet tall.
Wilson: Six feet?
Elwood P. Dowd: Six feet three and a half inches. Now let’s stick to the facts.
(Harvey, 1950)

It is a pity that this imaginary Covenant-of-obligations cannot be photographed and fingerprinted, let alone identified in the New Testament. Oh wait, it is mentioned in the New Testament. It is called the Law.

The best place to learn about biblical Covenants—what they are, what they look like, and how they operate—is the hallowed halls, past and present, of Reformed Theology. Strangely, this is also the worst place to learn about the New Covenant. It seems somebody did not get the system upgrade.

When most Reformed theologians speak about “the Covenant” as it applies today, what they are referring to is nothing more than an imaginary friend, a puck or pookah1”The pookah takes many forms, but is most famous when he appears as a giant, six-foot white rabbit — which is the form most Americans know from the play and film, Harvey. Whatever form the pookah takes, he retains the special ability of his species, which is like that of Thoth in Egyptian legend, Coyote in Native American myth or Hanuman the Divine Monkey in Hindu lore – he can move us from one universe, or Belief System, into another, and he likes to play games with our ideas about ‘reality.’” Robert Anton Wilson, Cosmic Trigger, Volume II. that stands in for some imagined deficit. For sacramentalists, what is missing is the Law of Moses. They know they cannot have it back, so they peddle moral standards as “Covenant obligations” for a segregated community. The problem they have is that the New Covenant is an entirely different animal.

Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made. (Galatians 3:19)

“The Covenant” is no longer the imagined security of a “gated estate” like the nation of Israel or the Jewish identity as it built synagogues across the empire. The Covenant is now a Man,2See Jesus and Covenant – 1 which means that just about every reference to it by sacramentalists is entirely erroneous.

Doug Wilson’s pastoral heart is always apparent in everything he writes, but unfortunately this leads him to set up the New Covenant as a picket fence, a stand in for the wall which separated Jew from Gentile. The blurb for his 2002 book Reformed Is Not Enough: Recovering the Objectivity of the Covenant, gets to the heart of the matter on the main arguments he presents, and allows us to nip them in the bud rather than dealing with their well-intended but terribly misguided fruits.

 Covenant Breakers

Suppose a husband is committing adultery. Is he still a husband? Being a husband is not just a state of mind; it’s not just a private decision. Being a husband is a public relationship made from a public exchange of vows, an objective covenant. An adulterous husband is a covenant-breaking husband but still a husband. Being a husband is what makes his infidelity so horrendous.

So good, so far. The problem is that paedobaptists continually use marriage vows as an illustration of baptismal vows. The only time marriage vows are taken by proxy by one’s guardians is for the purpose of betrothal, in arranged marriages. My Reformed friends are very bright people, but when it comes to some of their fundamental assumptions, they entirely fail to think things through. They resort to the Old Testament to turn baptism into an “objective” sign, like a revised unisex circumcision, yet never mention the fact that the infants of Israel were exempt from the Mosaic Covenant vows taken at Sinai. This leads to some stunning misunderstandings, the most gobsmacking of which is that the next generation of Israel surviving the wilderness and entering the Land is seen as evidence for the importance of “Covenant children” rather than evidence for the exemption of infants from the Covenant vow. Go figure.

But my main point here is that a betrothed baby is not a husband. There is a promise and an intention, and a training up to come, but the only public relationship a paedobaptism can ever be is a superstitious “sanctification” of one which already exists. Parents and “god parents” make promises to keep obligations which they already had, so this is nothing like a marriage. And this brings us to the real reason for this renewed focus on “Covenant.” It is a magic marker used in exactly the same way the Lord used the Law to preserve the nation of Israel. The Law cannot bring life, but it can certainly highlight our sin. And the sin which “Covenant” highlights is our culture’s horrendous failure to raise our children in the nurture of the Lord.

So “Covenant” is used to put a burden on people who do not have the Spirit of God, to make their sin more apparent. Why not just point them to the Law of Moses? That is the purpose it serves today. It is to bring us to Christ. The only reason the Law was introduced is because the children of patriarchs in many instances were nothing like their faithful father Abraham. The Law was like the “gutter guards” used by children at the ten pin bowling alley, or trainer wheels on children’s bicycles. The law was a leash that Israel might not stray. The point of the New Covenant is that dogs who have the Spirit of God hear their Master’s voice and stay by their Master’s side without a leash. Douglas Wilson’s “Covenant” is nothing more than a Mosaic leash, and the online testimonies of those who have misunderstood his love for them as a brutal legalism is evidence of this fact. They are considered to be “Covenant breakers” when in fact they already were, simply by being in the old Adam. For somebody so well versed and insightful in other areas, this is an enormous blindspot. An ex-Baptist abusing the New Covenant in such a way is simply falling off the other side of the horse. The dark side.

Christian Identity

In the same way, when people are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, they are ushered into an objective, visible, covenant relationship.

It is a good thing to “recover the objectivity” of the Covenant, but what Pastor Wilson has recovered is not what he thinks it is. He just has an old boot on the end of his fishing line, and it seems he will keep kicking us with it for years to come.

Apparently, the New Covenant is something outside of us, something done to us that does not require any response, including our permission. (The reaction of some paedobaptized unbelievers in Europe has been to get themselves rebaptized in bull’s blood to undo the rite and thus the claim of the Church, which they never asked for, but which still obviously troubles their consciences.) And Wilson is exactly right. But he thinks it is that old boot.

This objective act which replaced circumcision was not the establishment of a “bap-cision.” God did not simply replace our old trainer wheels with newer, shinier trainer wheels, and ones which the girls can use too. Circumcision was fulfilled and made redundant once-and-for-all in the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, enthroning Him above all the kingdoms of the world, making the Jew-Gentile distinction utterly irrelevant. But the flesh wants to go back to Egypt. In their misguided Lord’s table, sacramentalists mistake the “manna” of obedience for a sacrificial meal of carnal identity. There is no longer any such identity, which means clubbing people with it cannot produce the righteousness of God.

It amazes me how sacramentalists cannot seem to get their highbrow heads around the idea that everyone is already “in” or “under” the New Covenant. A sprinkling of water cannot put you into something you are already under—an obligation to repent and believe in Christ. And a reverse baptism of bull’s blood cannot take you out of it, either. There is simply no escape from Jesus, so sacramentalism is incredibly small-minded. The New Covenant is bigger than any exhumed Abrahamic construct can ever be. Such an imaginary fence merely creates sacramentalist zombies who can only stay alive by eating Jesus’ flesh and blood. This is not the new life which Jesus spoke about. The New Covenant is about the dead living, not the living dead.

The “Covenant relationship” is already there, which is what the Great Commission is all about—the claim of the true God for priestly submission from Jews only now extended to all nations. So “Covenant membership” in Abrahamic terms no longer exists. Everyone is under the Covenant, but not everyone is a member of the Body of Christ. Only those who hear and answer the call. It is worth noting that these exact distinctions existed within Israel after the establishment of the Levitical priesthood, and Peter Leithart even wrote a book about that. But the logical consequences for baptism as a priestly ordination rather than a new circumcision somehow did not occur to him.3Peter Leithart, The Priesthood of the Plebs.

Visible Saints

Regardless of the state of their heart, regardless of any hypocrisy, regardless of whether or not they mean it, such people are now visible saints, Christians. A Christian is one who would be identified as such by a Muslim. Membership in the Christian faith is objective—it can be photographed and fingerprinted. In baptism, God names us and imposes gracious obligations upon us.

It is a pity that this imaginary Covenant-of-obligations cannot be photographed and fingerprinted, let alone identified in the New Testament. Oh wait, it is mentioned in the New Testament. It is called the Law. Muslims know all about the Law, and the fact that it brings death. They deal in death all the time. They revel in the sword, both in the home, in their cursed lands and abroad. The sword is the answer to everything.

The Christian sword is the same as that of Christ, since baptism is a knighthood. It is testimony. A Muslim will identify a Christian on Islamic terms: obligation and coercion. And it is sad that Pastor Wilson believes a Christian can be identified in this way.

No, a Christian is one whose heart gives God pleasure, which is exactly what occurred at the baptism of Christ. When we believe, and only then, does God put us into Christ, and in Christ He is also pleased with us. This is why the claim that paedobaptism puts an infant “in union with Christ” just about makes me physically ill. (It’s a good thing the blows of a friend are faithful, because it makes me want to punch many of my friends when they spew forth this anti-Christian bilge.) Nothing could be further than the truth. What the infant is under is the worldwide objective call to repent and believe the Gospel. That is the ONLY gracious obligation for the unregenerate regarding access to God.

While Pastor Wilson’s “Covenant” is nowhere to be found, the Bible never speaks of the Church as being either visible or invisible. It simply does not make that distinction. The whole point of Pentecost was that sacrificial flesh (visible, like circumcision) and holy fire (the invisible Spirit of God) were united, resulting in an audible testimony.4See School of the Prophets. While a deluded Muslim can only identify a Christian with social criteria (baptism as circumcision, and don’t Muslims love circumcision!), saints are actually identified by their testimony. The true Christian is an audible one. While Pastor Wilson loads unkeepable demands upon the unregenerate, he also maintains that if they are baptised, they are saints. Paedobaptism causes this sort of stupid confusion wherever it goes, simply because circumcision of flesh and circumcision of heart are entirely different things.

Against Pietism

Paedosacraments are merely a social identity, and the Old Testament, which is no friend to them at all, reveals them to be a superseded commodity.

The sacred, triune architecture of the Garden Sanctuary (Most Holy Place – Adam and Eve), the Land (their offspring as firstfruits) and the World (the intermarriage of Abelite priesthood and Cainite kingdom resulting in diverse nations united by one Spirit) runs throughout the Bible. Consequently, it reveals to us the purpose of both circumcision and baptism. Circumcision was a split between the later Cains and Abels, preventing the intermarriage which resulted in an eclipse of worship, that is, kingdom without priestly submission to God. It was a fundamentally Social demarcation, whereas “Christian” is fundamentally Ethical.

Sacramentalists condemn pietists for making the New Covenant all about personal faith, and they have a point. Doug Wilson likes to make fun of the song which speaks of spending time alone with Jesus in the Garden “while the dew is still on the roses.” Many evangelicals and others are certainly stuck in the Garden, retreating to be with Jesus in private devotion, but the solution is not to resurrect the Land of Canaan as paedosacramentalists do and get stuck there, waiting around in the maternity ward for the promised Seed to come. This is actually more misguided than pietism, because it is only those serving as Prophets in the World who have access to the Garden.

Baptism as a rite is the induction of the saint as a ruler like Noah, one who is able to bless and to curse. It is the individual who rises from the Flood and begins a life of submission to heaven and rule on the earth, creating a new Social order through prophetic words, in our case, the Gospel of Christ. The solution to pietism is to get out of the Garden like Mary and the other women did, and tell everyone about the resurrection, everyone in the World. The Abrahamic Gospel was about the firstborn from the womb. The Christian Gospel is about the firstborn from the dead. Pastor Wilson maintains there are two kinds of Christians (those by birth and those by faith)5See Doug Wilson, One Kind of Baptism Means Two Kinds of Christian but, theologically, he is really just trying to keep a foot in both Covenants, which means one foot is in the grave.

So while Doug is quite rightly trying to get the baptists out of the Garden and into the Land (under Mosaic-style obligations “because of transgression”), Jesus has already ripped the Land in two, dividing between those circumcised in flesh from those in heart. I want to get Doug out of that Jewish fable and into the World, theologically-speaking.

But What Did God Say?

Multitudes of faithless, corrupt Christians show that they do not believe what God said at their baptism. They live like adulterous husbands. But the tragedy is that many conscientious conservative Christians also do not believe what God said at their baptism.

God did not say anything at your paedobaptism. Like circumcision, it just said you were the child of your father. Jesus’ baptism is our model. He went and preached straight away, with the authority of the Father in heaven. Baptism is a delegation of authority, which involves accountability to the Church.

So what did God say? Repent and believe. And that call is for every man, woman and child on the planet. Pastor Wilson and others preach the Gospel faithfully, but alongside it, they tolerate this perverse rival, one which maintains that “Judas was a Christian.”6Reformed Is Not Enough, ch.1. No, Judas was a Jew (Social) but he was not a true Jew (Ethical). His father on earth was Abraham (circumcised flesh), but his “father in heaven” was the devil (uncircumcised heart). Baptism is about vindication by the Father in heaven. Just because Judas was baptised does not mean we have to redefine what a Christian is.7Any more than we have to redefine marriage because a couple of guys went through the ceremony. So how do we handle false professions? I know! Let’s baptise everybody, and disconnect baptism from conversion altogether. Smart move. If you are the devil.

Do we not have the Spirit of God? Are we not called to discern the spirits as God does? When the Son of God comes and shines His light, the demons all start crawling out of the woodwork. The New Covenant brought about a move from Social identities to the Ethical animus in every individual. It got to the heart of the matter. Attempting to prove that a) every baptised person is a Christian, and b) that because there is one baptism there must be two kinds of Christians, the once-born and the twice-born, misses the purpose of the end of circumcision. Baptism is only about circumcision of heart. Jesus’ heart was circumcised before God, and this bore fruit. Judas’ bowels were spilled across the Land, prefiguring the fate of all those who maintained they possessed a Covenant identity by mere inheritance.

The opposing error is that of straight hypocrisy. This is the idea that mere covenant membership can replace covenant faithfulness as the one thing needful. The lips draw near while the heart is far removed from God. But such snakes within the covenant have the worse lot of all.8Wilson, Reformed Is Not Enough, 21.

There is no longer any such thing as “Covenant membership” in Abrahamic terms, so the “Reformed” which is “not enough” is not in fact anything at all. Attempting to bolster it up with “Covenant obligations” makes it even worse. It becomes a substance similar in nature to the skubalon which Paul detested.

Everyone is under obligation to repent and believe, and thus be faithful. But only those who do so are actually “members” of Christ. There is no Covenant with men any more. These all grew old and failed. There is now only a Covenant with one Man. We are either in Him and the Law is fulfilled, or outside of Him and it is unfulfillable, but all are under obligation to Him to repent and believe. This means that the “Covenant people” are not so much “in here” as “out there.” The New Covenant is not “Hear, O Church!” but “Go and tell!” There is an enormous difference.

So your “Covenant” is a six foot rabbit, an Easter bunny contrived to keep you in line by making you feel special.

Frank: I’ve been watching you.
(Donnie Darko, 2001)

Elwood P. Dowd: You see, science has overcome time and space. Well, Harvey has overcome not only time and space, but any objections.
(Harvey, 1950)

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1. ”The pookah takes many forms, but is most famous when he appears as a giant, six-foot white rabbit — which is the form most Americans know from the play and film, Harvey. Whatever form the pookah takes, he retains the special ability of his species, which is like that of Thoth in Egyptian legend, Coyote in Native American myth or Hanuman the Divine Monkey in Hindu lore – he can move us from one universe, or Belief System, into another, and he likes to play games with our ideas about ‘reality.’” Robert Anton Wilson, Cosmic Trigger, Volume II.
2. See Jesus and Covenant – 1
3. Peter Leithart, The Priesthood of the Plebs.
4. See School of the Prophets.
5. See Doug Wilson, One Kind of Baptism Means Two Kinds of Christian
6. Reformed Is Not Enough, ch.1.
7. Any more than we have to redefine marriage because a couple of guys went through the ceremony.
8. Wilson, Reformed Is Not Enough, 21.

2 Responses to “Because of Transgressions”

  • travis Says:

    1. Arguing that infants were excluded from the vows at Sinai is like arguing that the Ethiopian eunuch proves believers’ baptism. It’s a non sequitor. Baptists make the sign imbalanced by arguing it is exclusively confessional. It is that, but it is also ordinational and monergistic: baptism is first and foremost what God says about the recipient and that is, “Go and discipline the nations.” All the baptized are priests for the life of the world.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Thanks Travis.
    It’s very clear that God works through representation – images and representatives – and foremost in His own Son. The infants were not excluded from all the consequences of their parents’ failures any more than the infants of Adam and Eve were exempt from the consequences in the Garden. And my argument is that baptism is clearly only for representatives. Israel was only baptised when ready to “enter the ministry” at Sinai, and within Israel, only those who represented Yahweh as priests were washed in the Laver. On baptism being exclusively confessional, see my new post “Justified in His Sight”
    The sign isn’t imbalanced at all. It is about witnesses, as you say: first the men at the Lord’s Supper and then the women at the grave. Not an infant in sight.