by Peter Ditzel
I want to start this article by saying that I am publishing it to set the record straight about my dealings with Dr. George Ella and his dealings with me. To do this, I am fully disclosing our correspondence. The reason I am doing this is because Dr. Ella has made untrue accusations about me and what I believe. I want to be clear, however, that I am not publishing this article out of personal vendetta or hurt feelings. Dr. Ella’s remarks are not only defamatory to me personally but are potentially damaging to this ministry. They are thus divisive and stumbling blocks or snares (what the King James Version means by “offences”) to those who are seeking the truth. I have nothing against theological discourse where someone accurately represents what I believe and then gives a reasoned response as to why he disagrees. He may even be passionate as long as he sticks to the facts. A reader can then weigh the facts and make his or her own decision. But Dr. Ella has not taken such an approach.
The Bible tells Christians to be longsuffering, but it does not tell us to be so to the detriment of the truth. In such cases, the Word of God instructs us to “mark [skopeite—”keep an eye on,” “watch”] them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid [ekklinate—”turn aside from”] them” (Romans 16:17). With this article, I am doing both. I am telling you, the reader, to keep an eye on this man and be careful, and I am giving you the evidence for why I am doing this. I am also serving notice that, following his absurd accusations that I am a Marcionite heretic and that I attempted (purposely tried) to distort his doctrine of justification (both accusations are in this article), I am finished having any contact with Dr. Ella. If he writes to me to debate me, he will receive no reply. I am convinced that, until he sees the error of his way and repents, any debate is a waste of time. I believe the only thing to be done now is to publish this record of our correspondence to expose who has been attacking whom.
Dr. George Melvyn Ella is a historian, biographer, and theologian. He lives in Mülheim, Germany. He has written biographies on William Cowper, William Huntington, John Gill, James Hervey, and Augustus Montague Toplady. He has also written a book called, The Covenant of Grace and Christian Baptism. In this book, he attempts to refute Baptist theology and defend infant sprinkling and Reformed theology. But instead of being known as an enemy of Baptists, English-speaking people familiar with Dr. Ella’s works seem to assume him to be a Baptist. This appears to be due to two facts. First, the above book has had limited circulation only in continental Europe (largely Germany), so that most English-speaking Baptists have never heard of the book. And, second, Dr. Ella writes for New Focus magazine. New Focus‘s other writers are frequently Baptists. Among them are Sovereign Grace Baptists, such as Don Fortner, Henry Mahan, Chris Cunningham, Joseph Terrell, and Clay Curtis. Clearly, New Focus seems to be geared to a Baptist readership.
In 2007, Dr. Ella began writing a series of articles in New Focus attacking New Covenant Theology. These articles were of concern to me for the following reasons: 1) I am a New Covenant Theologian who believes that New Covenant Theology expresses the biblical truth of the distinction between the Old and New Covenants; 2) Dr. Ella called New Covenant Theology a heresy and a false religion; 3) Dr. Ella seemed not to have a firm grasp of the teachings of New Covenant Theology and had made wild accusations against its proponents; 4) Dr. Ella often attributed to all New Covenant Theologians minor teachings that are held by only individuals among them; 5) Dr. Ella was approaching the subject, not from the viewpoint of another Baptist, but from a Reformed/Covenant Theology perspective, something I found disturbing for a magazine that otherwise seemed to be catering to Baptists; 6) Dr. Ella seemed to be unaware that New Covenant Theology has its roots in historic Particular Baptist theology and is thus closer to the teachings of New Focus‘s other writers than it is to the Reformed Theology Dr. Ella was espousing. Thus, it was Dr. Ella who, in writing these articles against New Covenant Theology, publicly attacked and misrepresented beliefs that I hold and espouse.
Because I believed Dr. Ella’s articles were portraying an inaccurate picture of New Covenant Theology and was presenting Reformed/Covenant Theology to New Focus‘s Baptist readers as the biblical alternative, I did not simply sit by. I very properly wrote an email to the editors of New Focus with a CC to Dr. Ella. This resulted in an email exchange between Dr. Ella and myself. Even though, at the end of his first email (see below) Dr. Ella gives me permission to publish this correspondence on the web (albeit using sarcasm), I refrained from doing so in the hope of maintaining peace and not exposing Dr. Ella to the public as a man who does not address the issues but instead indulges in what I might call “verbal violence”—words that I hoped he might come to regret. But, unfortunately, the time has come to set the record straight. I leave you, the reader, to determine whether Dr. Ella ever truly and without distortion addressed the issues I raised, and to weigh which of us is the one who indulged in offensive, divisive name-calling. We start with my email to New Focus:
Subject: Dr. Ella & New Covenant Theology
I am pressed in the spirit to address, at least briefly, George M. Ella’s recent series of articles attacking New Covenant Theology (NCT).
In reading Dr. Ella’s articles criticizing NCT, I have to wonder whether Dr. Ella has actually read the works he is criticizing. His evaluation of what these books say, and what my (and others’) evaluation of what they say are at times very much at odds. I also wonder whether Dr. Ella has ever contacted any of the NCT writers and given them a chance to explain and defend themselves.
The charges Dr. Ella makes against the teachers of NCT are very serious indeed. In just the first installment, Dr. Ella calls NCT a heresy with a new gospel and ends by calling it a false religion. Of course, if true, this implies that its teachers are accursed (Gal. 1:8-9). Yet, I find much of Dr. Ella’s “Critical Evaluation” muddled at best. I get the distinct impression that Dr. Ella simply does not know what NCT is. Some of his charges, for example, that NCT is “dyed-in-the-wool Dispensationalism of the most extreme kind under the guise of New Speak,” and that NCT adherents are both Antinomian and Neonomian are simply absurd.
I am truly sorry to sound so harsh. I would like to consider Dr. Ella a brother, have enjoyed his biographies, but from his anti-NCT writings, he apparently would not return my brotherly feelings. It is, after all, Dr. Ella who has started shooting wildly at anything that does not bear his stamp of approval.
Concerning some of his other points, while it is true that some NCT theologians espouse peculiar doctrines, so do some Covenant Theologians. But these particular teachings should be addressed as they apply to their particular teachers instead of painting with so broad a brush as to imply that all adherents to a school of theology believe all of these teachings. I am also at a loss as to why Dr. Ella seems to be critical of the fact that NCT theologians, such as John Reisinger and Fred Zaspel, “invite constructive criticism and have altered, if not corrected, their views openly since the late nineteen-nineties.” Is not inviting constructive criticism and changing when proved wrong a good thing? Apparently not to Dr. Ella as he likens it to having a dialogue with a piece of wet modeling clay. But such changeability is nothing new on the face of the earth, and Dr. Ella surely knows that the Reformers frequently changed their views.
For the sake of the record, New Covenant Theology’s distinctive and core features are these: The Old and New Covenants are distinct covenants, and that all whom Jesus has saved are loosed from and dead to the law. The Abrahamic Covenant is a covenant of promise. Abraham’s physical descendants fulfilled it in type, but it ultimately has a spiritual fulfillment in the New Covenant. In this covenant, God promised Abraham a great number of descendants, a land, and that Abraham would be a blessing to many people. Abraham’s physical descendants fulfilled these promises in type by becoming a large nation that occupied the land of Canaan. But Jesus Christ is the ultimate Seed of Abraham. All those for whom Christ died are the children of Abraham by faith. Abraham’s blessing to the nations is the preaching of the Gospel to all nations and the saving of the elect out of those nations. The promised land is the eternal, heavenly inheritance of the saints. The Old Covenant was made with Israel in Horeb (Sinai). He did not make this covenant with anyone else previously or otherwise. The Ten Commandments are central to the Old Covenant. Although God had a gracious purpose in giving the Old Covenant (much as He had a gracious purpose in foreordaining the Fall of Adam), this covenant was not a covenant of grace, but of works. It demanded perfect obedience. Transgression of the covenant brought God’s curse. The purpose of the Old Covenant was to make those under it see their continual sinfulness and to help them and those who read or hear about them see their need for the Savior. The Old Covenant was a covenant of shadows in an immature age. The Old Covenant was clearly temporary. The New Testament calls this covenant old and passing away. It lasted only until the Seed promised in the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants came. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ ended the power of the Old Covenant. The New Covenant is the ultimate fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham about his Seed. God makes the New Covenant with His elect. Jesus Christ is central to the New Covenant. The New Covenant is completely a covenant of grace, not works. The New Covenant—because of Christ’s perfect obedience to the law, as well as His bearing its curse—promises only blessings to all those who belong to it. Those under the New Covenant are not under the bondage of the law. In contrast to the Old Covenant, the New Covenant is founded upon better promises and mediated by a better Mediator. The New Covenant is a covenant of light in a mature age. The New Covenant is eternal. Unlike the Old Covenant, when the law of Moses was written on tablets of stone, believers under the New Covenant have the law of Christ written in their hearts. The Old Testament is “able to make” us “wise unto salvation” only “through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” That is, its types and shadows (including the Law) point to Christ. This understanding of its New Testament fulfillment in Christ is the way that it “is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” The Bible, therefore, must be viewed and interpreted from the viewpoint of Jesus Christ’s new revelation, that is, the New Testament. The New Testament interprets the Old.
What makes me really curious is the fact that, despite his work as a church historian and biographer, Dr. Ella seems not to realize that NCT is closer to historic Particular Baptist theology, and therefore closer to the theology of many of New Focus‘s other writers (and to the 1644/46 London Baptist Confession of Faith that New Focus uses) than [to] Reformed Theology. Has Dr. Ella never read Thomas Patient’s The Doctrine of Baptism and the Distinction of the Covenants (written in 1654)? It is essentially a treatise in NCT. Does Dr. Ella not realize that the doctrine of believer’s baptism is solidly founded in the Biblical teaching that the Old and New Covenants are two distinct covenants (one made with a physical nation of people born into it at physical birth, and the other with a spiritual nation of people born into it at regeneration), and that the Reformed concept of one covenant/two administrations was made necessary by the political expedient of continuing infant sprinkling and excusing it as the new administration form of infant circumcision?
I have for some time suspected that there are two nations struggling in the womb of New Focus. It seems that Dr. Ella has now taken the first shot and, now that he has done so, we Sovereign Grace Baptists are not going to just sit here without defending ourselves. Is Dr. Ella, who describes himself as “keeping to old Reformed patterns of doctrine, exegesis and hermeneutics,” aware that Don Fortner has written, “There is one form of religion that is even more subtle than Arminianism and just as deadly, one form of religion which more subtly promotes the mixture of works with grace than any other. That is what men call Reformed Theology, or the Reformed Faith, or Reformed Doctrine”? My intention is not to put Pastor Fortner into the middle a fight he has not picked (at least, not in the pages of New Focus). I bring this up only to show the disparity between other writers for New Focus and Dr. Ella. As long as no one said anything, this might have been okay. But now that Dr. Ella has begun to shoot, I think New Focus had better decide where it is going to stand. Pastor Fortner goes on, “I want you to understand at the outset that we (The men and women of Grace Baptist Church of Danville) are not Protestants. We are not reformed. We are Baptists. Baptists are not, never have been, and simply cannot be either Protestant or reformed.
“When I speak of Reformed Doctrine, the Reformed Faith, or Reformed Theology, I am basically talking about Presbyterianism as set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith. In recent years a denomination has arisen called Reformed Baptists. In reality, for the most part, they are not Baptists at all, but just ducking Presbyterians. They hold to reformed theology in all areas except baptism…. So for the past several weeks I have been carefully studying those confessions of faith most commonly accepted as the doctrinal standards of both Presbyterians and Reformed Baptists: The Westminster Confession and The 1689 Baptist Confession. You will be shocked to discover the heresies cleverly packaged in them. I am bringing this message to you because these things are not matters of indifference. They are matters vital to the gospel.” The full text of this message can be found on this webpage: http://grace-for-today.com/858.htm [Note: That link no longer works, but the message can now be found here].
In conclusion, I believe it is high time that New Focus either stop Dr. Ella’s confused attacks, which are often attacks on the beliefs of New Focus‘s Baptist readers, or allow open and equal rebuttal to them in its pages, or openly declare that Baptists are welcome only as long as they don’t mind being insulted and tow the Reformed line (in which case, I think that many of us will let our subscriptions lapse).
Thank you for your time.
By His grace alone,
Copyright © 2012 Peter Ditzel