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I recently read a post by a frustrated woman on the outcome of some decisions made in different PCA Presbyteries. Among many things, this individual observed that she was deeply concerned for the well-being of the people who attend PCA churches. She urged them to leave the denomination. Many of them have bought into the “Federal Vision theology,” and are possibly doomed to a “Christ-less eternity,” she wrote. They also are grace-less, because they emphasize a robust faith that is not dead. Among the other things mentioned, apparently Federal Vision advocates do not care about personal relationships, but only church business, because we put so much emphasis on the church. And to top off the list of accusations, we have traded “a relationship with Jesus for religion.”
I am not a PCA pastor, but as someone who served in the PCA for several years, I do want to defend those brothers who are referred to as Federal Vision. Suffice to say, these accusations are childish in every way.
At the same time, I know there is a lot of misunderstanding out there. And in case you are either curious or tempted to visit one of these so-called Federal Vision churches, I would like to prepare the bold visitor for ten things he/she is to expect as they enter into one:
1) Apart from using the term to clarify ideas and misunderstandings in friendly conversations and the occasional men’s study, the term Federal Vision will most likely never be used in the pulpit. Further, opponents and even advocates of the Federal (Covenant) Vision differ on many points. The closest thing to a consensus is found here, but there are still are sorts of distinctions and qualifications that need to be made.
2) Be prepared for that archaic practice of singing the Psalms. Yes, we confess to singing from Yahweh’s songbook, as well as some old time religion music from the 4th century. Expect very vibrant singing; the one that roars!
3) Be alerted that we are a very friendly congregation, and contrary to what you have heard (if you have ever heard such a thing) we will greet you and likely invite you to lunch after church.
4) Also, do not be alarmed by the little cries in the congregation (Ps. 8:2-3). We really love our little ones and we encourage parents to train them up in worship, and the best place to do that is…in worship.
5) You may be asked to kneel (Ps. 95:6). We believe posture is important to God. Obviously, you do not have to kneel. It is optional, though everyone will.
6) The pastor may get a bit theological at times, he may take the time to explain the text in detail, but he usually explains his theologizing and biblicizing and is very consistent in applying his text and theology to the life of the body.
7) This may truly shock you, but we have the Lord’s Supper every week. And furthermore, we offer bread (real bread) and wine (real wine). This may take some adjustment, but I promise it will make sense after a while.
8) And I know the red flags are all over the place by now, and this is not going to help, but we also believe that baptized children are called to partake of the table of the Lord. Here is where we confess we have strayed from broad Reformed practices. But we have only done so because we believe that the early Christians practiced this. We further believe that I Corinthians 11 actually confirms our practice.
9) The ministers may wear an alb and a stole (though many others may simply wear a suit and tie). This practice serves to point out the unique role the man of God has in proclaiming God’s truth in Word and Sacrament. This may appear very Roman Catholic to you, and you are right. Of course, it is also very Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, and yes, even Reformed (see data on clerical collars).
10) Finally, you are correct to assert that we love the Church. We love her because Christ died for her. Our Reformed forefathers were clear. But the Church is no substitute for Christ, the Church is called to build on her firm foundation, which is Christ. You cannot separate Groom and Bride. And what does this Christ demand of his Church? He demands repentance, and in repentance you will find fullness of life.
I trust you will visit us, but if you do so, we want you to be prepared.
Though Dr. Peter Leithart was effectively exonerated by the Standing Judicial Committee of the PCA in March, he may come under judicial scrutiny again after the General Assembly in June. Three PCA presbyteries have unanimously voted to overture the General Assembly to take original jurisdiction over the PNWP vs. Leithart case on the Federal Vision. They claim a mistrial because the prosecutor, former PCA TE Jason Stellman, converted to Roman Catholicism shortly after a negative verdict.
More details can be found here:
And, as this controversy picks up steam yet again, Dr. Leithart has decided to restate his views on baptism:
May the Lord bring peace and justice to His church.
In this excerpt, Peter Leithart addresses the question Is the Reformation Dead?
Is the Reformation dead? It may be a surprising question to us, especially since we’re commemorating Reformation Day this morning. But it’s a question worth asking. When we assess Protestantism honestly, we find that there are good reasons to wonder.
Over the past couple of centuries, many of the Protestant churches in Europe and the US have abandoned the Reformation faith in favor of a modernized form of Christianity, a heresy known as liberalism. Liberalism turns theology into anthropology, treats the events of the gospel as symbols of religious experience or human aspiration. Liberalism’s ethos is shaped more by the ethos of modern pluralism and tolerance than by adherence to Scripture or the Reformation confessions. H. Richard Niebuhr summarized liberal theology this way: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” Even if the Reformation slogans continue to be mouthed, there is no room for the real Reformation gospel to be preached within liberalism.
The Pacific Northwest Presbytery of the PCA has posted the minutes of the Leithart Trial:
PCA’s Pacific Northwest Presbytery Finds TE Peter Leithart Not Guilty of Federal Vision Charges. More details HERE.
On June 3–4, the Pacific Northwest Presbytery (PNW) of the PCA is conducting a trial to determine whether or not Dr. Peter Leithart, pastor of Trinity Reformed Church, in Moscow, Idaho (CREC) has views contrary to the Westminster Standards. Please pray that God would be glorified through these proceedings.
Specifically, please pray that:
- If there is indeed heresy, the accused would see it clearly, and repent.
- If the concerns raised are unfounded, and no heresy is found, that this would come clearly to light, and that all may walk away giving thanks to God.
- If it comes to light that false accusations were made, please pray that those men would acknowledge it, repent, and remedy the affects of their false accusations to the best of their abilities.
- That all those involved in this trial would honor the authorities over them, allowing for a fair trial, and respecting the outcome, even if in disagreement.
Sola Deo Gloria.
For background on the Federal Vision, read the Joint Federal Vision Profession.
The Bayly Blog published some keen observations on the current state of the Federal Vision. A highly recommended read for all those following the Federal Vision debate in the PCA.