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Federal Theology

(Föderaltheologie; from Lat. foedus and theologia). Covenant theol.; roots traced by some to concepts in Epistle of Barnabas (see Apostolic Fathers, 6), Irenaeus,* Clement* of Alexandria, and Augustine* of Hippo; reached its apex in the theol. of J. Cocceius.*

H. Zwingli* speaks of a covenant of God with Adam, renewed with Noah and Abraham. He emphasizes esp. the covenant with Abraham in which God promises grace and requires righteousness of life. This covenant is one and the same as the NT covenant. The sacraments are signs of the covenant. Zwingli's thought is developed by J. H. Bullinger.* Both emphasized the covenant role of sacraments. P. Melanchthon* in Examen ordinandorum made baptism a mutuum foedus and mutua obligatio bet. God and the person baptized. J. Calvin* also makes the covenant a part of his system. Other Ref. theologians followed the lead of Zwingli, Bullinger, and Calvin. The covenant idea is found in early Ref. confessions and is prominent in the Heidelberg Catechism (see Reformed Confessions, D 2) and the Westminster Confession (see Presbyterian Confessions, 3–4). M. Martini* and J. Cloppenburg,* teachers of Cocceius, distinguished a “natural covenant” (old covenant of the Law) and a “covenant of grace” (new covenant of the Gospel).

The classic treatment of fed. theol., is J. Cocceius' Summa doctrina de foedere et testamento Dei. A foedus is a covenant in which both parties (conjurati) bind themselves; it has visible signs (signa notabilia) and command and promise. When God establishes a covenant it involves Law and promise. The covenant is initially not mutual, as human covenants are, but is est. by God. It becomes mutual when man agrees to it. The covenant of works (natural covenant) was made before the Fall; its Law was written in Adam's heart. The command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is the beginning of all of God's commandments; the promise of life bound man to believe and love God. The tree of life is a sacrament of justification by works. There are 5 nullifications (Abschaffungen) of the covenant of works. The first 2: sin and the covenant of grace. The covenant of grace commands contrition and faith. In eternity the Father made a compact with the Son in which the Son binds Himself to obedience unto death and the Father promises Him a kingdom and a spiritual seed. Salvation is offered the elect by the command to believe in Christ and by the promise of life. After the fall man is by nature dead in sin; rebirth is wrought by Christ. This new covenant of grace is immutable and eternal. The final goal of the covenant is the glory of God. The 3d nullification of the covenant of works is by the proclamation of the New Testament. The covenant of grace is divided into 2 economies: in expectatione Christi (OT) and in fide Christi revelati (NT). OT sacraments: circumcision and the Passover lamb. NT sacraments: Baptism and the Lord's Supper. The 4th nullification of the covenant of works is the death of the body. The 5th is the resurrection of the body.

Anabaptists used the term covenants for brotherhoods whose mems. dedicated themselves in faith to the Lord's service.

Covenant theol. of Luth., Ref., and Anabap. origin was later modified.

See also Braun, Johannes; Burman, Frans; New England Theology.

G. Schrenk, Gottesreich und Bund im älteren Protestantismus (Gütersloh, 1923); P. Y. De Jong, The Covenant Idea in New England Theology, 1620–1847 (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1945). EL

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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