Covenant (or Federal) Theology : A Central Issue of Difference with Roman Catholicismby J. Parnell McCarter


Date: 1/8/2018



In the Westminster Larger Catechism we read this:


Q. 30. Doth God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?

A. God doth not leave all men to perish in the estate of sin and misery,[111] into which they fell by the breach of the first covenant, commonly called the covenant of works;[112] but of his mere love and mercy delivereth his elect out of it, and bringeth them into an estate of salvation by the second covenant, commonly called the covenant of grace.[113]

Q. 31. With whom was the covenant of grace made?

A. The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.[114]



Underlying these statements in the Catechism is Biblical covenant (or federal) theology of Reformed Protestantism, which is a central issue of difference with Roman Catholicism.These statements not only imply that God relates to man by way of covenant, but they also imply that the persons within the Trinity relate to one another covenantally. In other words, covenant relations characterize God Himself. If covenant (or federal) theology is true and Biblical, then a controversy with covenant (or federal) theology is really a controversy with the nature of God Himself. Thus we read:


"I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God."- I Corinthians 11:3


"ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's." - I Corinthians 3:23


As Dr. Charles Hodge notes in his commentary on I and II Corinthians relating to the first passage above, such "order and subordination pervade the whole universe, and is essential to its being."Regarding the second passage, Dr. Hodge comments: "As the church is subject only to Christ, so Christ is subject only to God.The Scriptures speak of a threefold subordination of Christ.1. A subordination as to the mode of subsistence and operation, of the second, to the first person in the Trinity; which is perfectly consistent with their identity of substance, and equality in power and glory.†† 2. The voluntary subordination of the Son in his humbling himself to be found in fashion as a man, and becoming obedient unto death...3. The economical or official subjection of the theanthropos.That is, the subordination of the incarnate Son of God, in the work of redemption and as the head of the church..."


Although these passages do not themselves address the relation of children to parents, or the relation of the Spirit to the Father and Son, yet other passages speak of the federal headship of the latter over the former in each case.It then follows that the sin of father Adam got imputed to all his seed by ordinary generation.In covenant theology, the act of a federal head is attributed not only to the federal head himself, but also to the seed or subordinates of the federal head.It is the opposite of (absolute) individualism, which treats each individual person without respect of covenantal relations.Since the guilt of Adam's sin was imputed to his seed by ordinary generation, it hence followed that all of this posterity was subject to death as Adam, since the 'wages of sin is death':


"as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." - I Corinthians 15:22


"as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life." - Romans 5:18


This is very relevant, because a denial of imputation (whether relating to Original Sin or Justification of the elect believer) logically follows from a denial of covenant theology.A chief controversy of Reformed Protestantism with Romanism is this matter then of covenant theology and imputation from federal head to seed, Romanism rejecting covenant theology and imputation.