The Federal Vision

FV for the Average Joe

 

 

Federal Vision for the average Joe

By Luke A. Nieuwsma

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A lot of you out there have probably heard concerned Christians talking about the Federal Vision, and you may have heard words and phrases like 'heresy,' 'justification by works,' 'baptismal regeneration,' and 'Doug Wilson theology' bouncing around in the same conversations. And yet you might still not have a clear idea of what 'Federal Vision' really means. So I, a layman who has been around Federal Vision theologian-type people for 14 years, am taking a shot at explaining (in terms that we laymen use) just what having a federal vision means.

I hope this little essay blesses you and enables you to get a better idea of whether all this 'stuff' is indeed heresy. And hopefully it will whet your appetite to consider if the Federal Vision really is contrary to the Westminster Confession of Faith, and above all, whether it is consistent with Scripture, or contrary to the heart of the gospel.

First, I'll lay out what the Federal Vision is. Next, I'll consider what the Federal Vision is not. Not all Federal Vision theologians think exactly alike, let me warn you; but for now, I hope you won't mind that I paint with a broad brush. There will always be more details which can be filled in, and it won't be difficult for you to gain a deeper understanding of the issues than what I offer here.  And I hope you do.

I. What Federal Vision Theology Is

  • an emphasis on biblical definitions
  • an emphasis on the external Covenant: a different definition of “Christian”
  • an emphasis on strong church authority
  • an emphasis on the sacraments, particularly baptism
  • another aspect to the church: a global ecclesiology
  • another aspect to election

II. What Federal Vision is NOT:

  • salvation by works
  • justification by works
  • baptismal regeneration
  • a denial of assurance of salvation
  • The New Perspective on Paul
  • a denial of classic Reformed theology as found in the Westminster or Heidelberg
  • a denial of the imputation of Christ's righteousness
  • heresy taught by men who have been tried in an ecclesiastical court

I. What the Federal Vision is

An emphasis on Biblical definitions

First of all, you'll want to understand the interpretive assumption that these Federal Vision chaps are basing all of their thoughts off of. The Federal Vision is an attempt to describe doctrine and theology and dirt and wind and everything in terms of biblical categories, not necessarily 'theological' categories. In other words, theologians have come up with ways of saying things and defining things (which is a good thing), but being sons of Adam, these theologians are capable of screwing up, of missing nuances of Scripture and making plain old mistakes just like any other believer.

So  keep in mind that the Federal Vision is taught and believed by men who want sola scriptura to affect every idea they pull from the Bible. Whatever you end up concluding, these men ultimately appeal not to Frame, Calvin, Huss, or various Dutch theologians of great weight, but to Scripture itself (see the Joint Federal Vision Profession pg. 2, "Scripture Cannot Be Broken"). And this mindset has led these theologians to reconsider and re-define certain ideas.

An emphasis on the external Covenant: a different definition of Christian

When you ask someone whether his friend is a Christian, what do you mean? “Well,” you might say, “he believes in Jesus Christ and I think he's going to heaven, so I would say he's a Christian.” That seems to be the most common definition of Christian today: has this person repented of his sins, accepted Christ into his heart, and is he going to heaven when he dies?

But there's a couple problems with this definition: one, how do you know who really is going to heaven when they die? and two, what do you do with people who seem to be walking with God, but fall away into sin and die as an apparent unbeliever?

This definition is a subjective view of Christian, which means that your Christianity is rooted in your mind, rather than in the external world. Put another way, whether you are a Christian is defined by the state of your heart, which no man can really know; all we can do is guess if you're a Christian by the fruit that we see. And so if you live a good life, raise children, love your wife, and then spin wildly out of control and become an atheist-Bhuddist homosexual, then we say, “Oh, I guess he wasn't a Christian after all.”

By the common definition of Christian, you cannot truly know who your Christian brothers and sisters are; that is, in more theological language, you have no way of knowing who is a member of the invisible church. We know that some people out there, just like us, believe in Christ and rest on Him alone for our salvation, we just have no idea who they really are.

The Federal Vision theologians use a different definition of Christian. Whoa! Careful, now. They don't use a different definition of salvation; they believe that salvation comes through the death and resurrection of Christ, the incarnate God, and through His blood alone. Federal vision theologians would clearly state that we are saved by grace through faith alone, and that not of ourselves in any way whatsoever – it is the gift of God to be saved from your sins and given eternal life in the last day. It is not merited or earned in any way (see the Joint Federal Vision Profession or JFVP pg.4, "Reformed Catholicity").

So, salvation is the same; but their definition of 'Christian' is NOT whether you go to heaven when you die; rather, to a Federal Visionary, a Christian is someone who is a member of an  external covenant with the Christian church. Probably most or all Federal Visionaries (as I call them) believe that baptism is what brings you into the New Covenant, just as circumcision brought Israelites into the Old Covenant. So in other words, a Christian is someone who is baptized into Christ, and who is therefore accountable to the church and her ministers (JFVP pg. 4, "The Church, " and pg. 5, "The Sacrament of Baptism").

Now, using this definition, do all “Christians” go to heaven? No. This is because there are faithful Christians and faithless Christians. There are some people who become attached to the Christ-following church and baptized in the name of the Trinity, but who end up leading a morally degenerate lifestyle, and who will be burning in hell along with Hitler and Judas. We would call these people 'Christians,' but unfaithful Christians. This is not to say that the faithful Christian goes to heaven BECAUSE of his faithfulness, or vice versa for the faithless Christian, but that this is the fruit born in their lives. James says that faith without works is dead. Dead trees bear no fruit, but living trees, or saints with living faith, will bear fruit in their lives.

Nor is this saying that Christians can lose their salvation, or that Christ died in vain. Rather, it is the faithful Christians living a life of obedience who will reach heaven, and both the pagans and the unfaithful Christians who lead lawless lives will end up in hell. And this is not saying that the faithful Christians “earn” their salvation by leading good lives, but that faithful Christians believe and obey through the power of the Spirit alone, and are truly washed through Christ's justifying and cleansing blood. But while a baptized man is on earth, whether he obeys and believes in God and is admitted into heaven, or whether he breaks his vows to obey God's law and becomes a mass-murderer... he is still a Christian covenantally. He is still bound to obey the Triune God.

To put this whole discussion in an analogy, the relationship between the church and the Christian is rather like that of marriage. When a man marries a woman, he becomes a husband.

If a man has been married three years, and he starts lusting after the neighbor's wife or having an affair with the secretary at the office, is he still a husband? Well, he may not be acting like it, but he still has a ring on his finger, and his wife wears one on her finger. He is an unfaithful husband, but a husband nonetheless. His marriage covenant is objective – it exists outside of his mind. The husband's heart and actions do not erase the commitment he made to his wife at the wedding until they have a formal divorce (analogy borrowed from Douglas Wilson).

In the same way, if you have been brought into the new covenant, then whether or not you are leading an obedient life, you are bound to the terms of the New Covenant. Christ is your lawful Lord and King, and you are accountable to His ministers on earth whether or not you are willing to admit it. And just as only the Holy Spirit gives husbands the ability to be faithful their entire lives to their wives, He alone also gives Christians the moral ability to be faithful to the terms of the New Covenant, to the commands of Christ and His apostles. Faithful Christians who truly believe in Christ will always be faithful Christians, thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit; but Christians who join the church in unbelief are totally incapable of 'climbing' to God through their works.

To have a Federal Vision is to have an objective view of Christians; you view the word Christian in terms of the covenant relationship a person has with the church. Once again, there are two kinds of Christians: A) the faithful, who are baptized people who keep God's laws and live a life of obedience ending in eternal life, and B) the unfaithful, who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, but who fall away and crucify again the Son of God and put Him to shame (Hebrews 6).

And so joining the church with an unrepentant heart is a fearful thing: you taste the Holy Spirit without truly believing in Him (just as King Saul did), and you drink judgment on yourself every time you take the Lord's supper.

And by using this definition, you aren't always asking the question, “Is John reeeeally a Christian?” You ask the question once, and check the baptismal records. And if John was baptized, then his external relationship makes him obligated to obey the Bible and follow the Church's teachings. Do we know who are the truly faithful Christians? No, only God knows the hearts. But can we know everyone who is formally tied to the church? Yes, and they are covenantally bound as Christians to obey Christ and the Church.

An Emphasis on Strong Church Authority

Something which naturally flows from viewing Christians by their covenant bonds is that you respect the church's authority. In the Old Testament, the prophets and the priests held the people accountable for their obedience to the terms of the covenant; in the New Testament, the elders of the church hold that office, and do so with true authority and honor (Hebrews 13).

While this may not be a major emphasis of the overall Federal Vision, it naturally produces an ecclesiology of a strong church, and of strong membership ties. To the Federal Visionary, being a member of a church is not just being a member of a club that speaks Jesus-speak once a week. Rather, it is being a member of the living body of Christ, and if you do not bear fruit, you may be eventually cut off from the olive tree that you were grafted (Romans 11:17ff).

I've heard Federal Vision pastors preach about church discipline in a different vocabulary than we are used to hearing. When someone is falling into sin, hanging out with the wrong crowd, drinking too much at the bars, and starting to skip church, then the FV friends of the sliding Christian and/or the elders of the church meet with him and grab him by his baptism: “Look – you were baptized in Christ's name, and you were washed from these sins. You've been washed – stop your sin! You were baptized into Christ's flock, so you have no business doing these things!”

If the fellow doesn't turn from his sins after repeated appeals and a final trial, then he is excommunicated. Excommunicated – a nasty word to liberal ears, because it implies judgment and denouncing sins and dark and gloomy things like that. But what is the church for except to herd the sheep away from the wolves? Even if the sheep eventually wander into darkness, they still have the brand of the Christian ranch on their skin. And so you grab the stray by his baptism and tell him he belongs somewhere else.

To do this, to exercise discipline in those unpleasant times when it is needed, requires a strong church where the members realize that they are accountable to each other, to the elders, and ultimately to God. A sense of strong church authority organically springs from having a Federal vision of what it means to be Christian.

 

An emphasis on the sacraments, especially baptism

But this also requires that you have a high view of baptism and the Lord's supper, the 'means of grace.' And here is where things begin to get a little thick.

To a Federal Visionary, baptism and communion have deep meaning. They're not just physical washing of H20  and the digestion of bread and fruit sugars. Formal baptism actually does something: it visibly ties you to Christ, it washes you in some way and makes you part of the olive tree, a branch on the vine of Christ. Baptism isn't just a rite; it buries us with Christ (Rom. 6:4). However, it doesn't guarantee that we're saved. Rather it is an objective seal and sign upon a person, reminding them of the name they carry, and calling them to true faith and repentance, which are the only grounds for justification. If a baptized believer is given true faith, then he will be a faithful branch, and will be pruned; but if he is not given true faith, then his baptism is a sign and seal against him, and he will be are fruitless, resulting in being cut off (John 15:1-6, Romans 11:17-22). In this way we see that Baptism is an objective act of God on behalf of the baptized, while being neither Baptismal Regeneration, nor meaningless. Baptism is a powerful sacrament with a lasting effect; it is more than just a personal statement of your dedication to God. It objectively ties you to Christ:  “for by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit” 1 Corinthians 12:13. (See also JFVP pg. 4, "The Church," and pg. 5, "The Sacrament of Baptism").

And in the same way, the Lord's Supper is more than just a physical meal. It does something to you when you eat of it. When you first read this, you might think that this sounds superstitious and Roman Catholic, but we all believe this to some degree or another. Every Christian knows that if you eat and drink the Supper in an unworthy manner, you're cursing yourself and sending judgment upon yourself. The other side of the coin is that if you eat and drink the Lord's Supper, you're receiving a nourishment which is deeper than physical molecules. Your soul is being fed by the body and blood of Christ in a real and tangible way. However, this is in no way an affirmation of the papist doctrine of transubstantiation (JFVP pg. 5, "The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper").

With this heavy emphasis on the power of the sacraments, most Federal Vision theologians would probably hold to paedo-baptism, baptizing children into the New Covenant shortly after birth (just as Israelite boys were circumcised into the Old Covenant on the 8th day). Also, most Federal Visionaries would likely believe in paedo-communion, giving little children their own portions of the Supper of our Lord in the covenant hope that when they are old, these children will not depart from the way they should go.

If they are indeed covenant members, as classic, Reformed doctrine has always taught (e.g. the Heidelberg Catechism), then why should little children be denied the bread and the wine? The only people whom Scripture clearly states should be denied the Supper are covenant-breakers. I Corinthians 11, the classic credo-communion text, says nothing about denying anyone the Lord's Supper, but about training the congregation to receive it reverently and in order, and to discern the Lord's body. Why should this not be part of Christian child-rearing? We allow little children to pray to God, and we know that He overlooks the heresies they mumble. He Himself told us to let the little children come to Him. If we do not, we deny children the covenant meal and in effect tell them, "You have no share in Christ. You're not Christians." I have seen first-hand how many children who have been faithfully taught and have been raised partaking of the Lord's Supper walk with our Lord at a young age and obediently serve Him.

 

Another aspect to the church (Ecclesiology)

Now think about this for a moment; if baptism unites you with the entire body of Christ, his visible church, which consists of everyone else who was baptized in the name of the Triune God, then your baptism ties you together with an enormous body of believers! When you understand the Church to be everyone who is covenantally united through baptism, then your perspective on ecclesiology shifts dramatically.

It's like going from a geocentric model of the skies to a heliocentric model; before, you might have viewed 'Christian' to mean only those people within your denomination, or even your local church. But the Federal Vision has forced many Christians to suddenly realize that they have ties with a massive body of people on earth; the 'church' doesn't revolve around our denomination or particular doctrinal perspective. Rather, we are all just one branch on a mighty vine which extends past denominational fences to every single person who has been baptized in Christ's name.

This means that Roman Catholics are Christians. Whoa! Wait, wait, wait. I didn't say they were faithful Christians, or that we'd see them in heaven. But they have been baptized in Christ's name and into His body. This means that we have some level of unity with them which we do not have with Joe Pagan down at the Pigsty Night Club. And we have that same tie with the Eastern church, the Orthodox Church. Now, the nominalism in Russia and Spain and Mexico and other countries is famous, but so is American nominal Christianity. To an extent, all of these branches of Christianity are still Christianity, because they all still preach a triune Lord and administer the sacrament of baptism in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

In short, the Federal vision of ecclesiology quickly becomes a global vision of ecclesiology, a corporate ecclesiology. The church today spans the globe, though in many areas it is unhealthy and has dead branches. Yet, Christ's body stretches from continent to continent, and He will purge it of spot and blemish in time.

Another aspect to election

So how does this federal view of the sacraments and membership in Christ relate to the Pauline doctrine of election? Here in particular it has been easy to get confused about what the Federal Vision theologians teach. A rumor has gone around that Federal Vision theologians teach that you can be elect and still go to hell; do they really say this?

As you already know, the doctrine of election means that God chose from before the foundation of the world who would be His children among all the humans who would ever live on earth. God chose everyone who would become a Christian (using the Christian = person who goes to heaven). But if you have the Federal definition of Christian, then you have two kinds of Christians: the believing one, and therefore a covenant-keeper, and the unbelieving, who is incapable of being a covenant-keeper.

So then, there are two kinds of elect Christians which must be distinguished if we are going to use the same language as scripture. There are those whom God chose to be faithful covenant members (again, not faithful in themselves, but as a gift of God’s grace) from before the foundations of the world, and there are those whom God chose to be faithless covenant-breakers from before the foundation of the world.

In one sense, you can be an elect Christian and go to hell. What is this kind of person elect to? This person has been predestined to nominal Christianity, to hypocrisy, to be an apostate, a vessel of dishonor. In contrast, all of Christ's true sheep are actually those Christians who have been elected to faithfulness and eternal life.

The Federal Vision in no way contradicts the classic, Pauline, Augustinian, Calvinist doctrine of election; it simply carries out the implications of God's decrees and sovereign story-writing to those who break their covenant bonds with the church. So when we refer to those 'elect,' chosen by God to be a part of his church body, this word can mean a mixed bag; some covenant members are elect to be faithful covenant members, and others are elect to damnation, whose damnation would have been less harsh if they had not first joined the body of Christ (2 Peter 2:18-20). God uses this to refer to the OT Israelites as  "My people" (Exodus 3:10) or "Israel my elect" (Isaiah 45:4), many of whom are now burning in hell. Many of those who were called "God's people " in the Old Covenant were not His people in a spiritual sense, but only in a covenantal sense. Not all Israel are of Israel. In the same way, not all those "elect" (to covenantal union) are elect to salvation (e.g. Simon the Magus).

 

 

 

II. What the Federal Vision is not:

Salvation by works:

Having a Federal Vision in no way implies that a man is saved by his works, or justified by his works, or in any way elevated above any other man by his works. The signers of the Joint FV Profession state, "We affirm that justification is through faith in Jesus Christ, and not by works of the law, whether those works were revealed to us by God, or manufactured by man" (JFVP pg. 4, Reformed Catholicity). Also, "We affirm that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone. Faith alone is the hand which is given to us by God so that we may receive the offered grace of God. Justification is God's forensic declaration that we are counted as righteous, with our sins forgiven, for the sake of Christ alone" (JFVP pg. 6, "Justification by Faith Alone").

Rather, the terms of the New Covenant (obedience to the Bible and the Church) are a thermometer for how a person is doing spiritually. If a man is in sin, you can tell by comparing him to the law of Christ, for even a child is known by his actions, whether they are true and right. And how the man reacts to the ministry of the church also speaks about what is in his heart – faith and humility, or pride and deceit.

If anything, the New Covenant shows how much we must cling to the grace of Christ, for without Christ we can neither obey Christ's commandments in Moses or in the Gospels or in the Epistles. Instead, as Doug Wilson would say, we work out what God works in. We live by grace through faith alone, and only Christ gives us the strength to be faithful to the terms of His covenant; and everyone who tries to follow that covenant on his own strength falls short and brings judgment on his head.

 

Justification by works

In the same way as we are only saved through Christ, we are only justified through Christ. To a Federal Vision theologian, the only thing which makes us right with God and removes our guilt is the dead body of Christ hanging on the cross. The only thing which gives us hope is not our own behavior, for we all fall every day; rather, it is Christ risen above, and His Holy Spirit working in us to produce the good works which God prepared for us beforehand.

Now, whether you are right with your church body, whether you are being faithful to the covenant, is determined by your works; druggies and fornicators whose deeds become public will quickly find that their pastor and elders wish to meet with them. But neither Douglas Wilson, nor John Barach, nor Steve Wilkins, nor any other FV theologian would ever claim that the good deeds which can keep us in fellowship with our church have any canceling power on the wages and debt of our sins. Only Christ's blood alone.

 

Baptismal regeneration:

Also, the Federal Vision theologians don't believe that being baptized means being saved. They tell us, "We deny that baptism automatically guarantees that the baptized will share in the eschatological Church... that an "effectual call" or rebirth is automatically wrought in the one baptized. Baptism apart from a growing and living faith is not saving, but rather damning" (JFVP pg. 5, "The Sacrament of Baptism").

Being baptized means that you are united with Christ's body here on earth and are accountable to His commandments and His church body, but whether or not you are going to be in eternal glory depends on whether God has chosen to change your heart, give you faith, and forgive your sins in Christ.

Baptism makes you a Christian only in the Federal sense of the word: you have been externally united to the visible Church here on earth. A baptized Christian can also be a nominal believer – believer in name, not in the heart. The Federal vision in no way teaches that everyone who is baptized is automatically a faithful Christian. A Christian must be a Christian of the heart and by faith.

Now, on the other hand, Federal vision theologians may say that God does save people through baptism – that God uses baptism as part of the conversion method (just as people at Billy Graham crusades might have come to the front of the revival and prayed a prayer, or thrown a pinecone in the fire; neither the pinecone nor the prayer actually paid for your sins, but God may have used it to bring you to him). Some FV would also refer to the temporary state of self-deceived faith that a false Christian has as a sort of "regeneration" (such as the seed in the parable of the sower which "hears the word in joy and immediately receives the word with joy," but falls away when persecution comes).

But they are careful to distinguish this from true salvation. "Those covenant members who are not elect in the decretal sense enjoy the common operations of the Spirit in varying degrees, but not in the same way that those who are elect do" (JFVP pg. 3, "The Divine Decrees"). A good OT example of an unsaved covenant member temporarily receiving the benefits of the Spirit would be King Saul, who had the Holy Spirit for a time but later was left by Him.

All this to say, the Federal Vision emphasizes the reality of the covenant, but it does not equate baptism with eternal life. Those who claim that this is part of FV theology are either misled, confused, or being dishonest.

A Denial of the Assurance of Salvation

Federal Vision theologians have not taught that someone who truly believes in Christ and is filled with the kind of living faith in James 2 have can lose his salvation. Not once. As in never. "We affirm that those who have been justified by God's grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are saved to the uttermost and will spend eternity with Christ and his saints in glory forever" (JFVP pg. 6, "Assurance of Salvation").

Also, reinforcing the traditional, Reformed understanding of predestination, this eternal state of glory is fore-ordained through decretal election: "We deny that any person who is chosen by God for final salvation before the foundation of the world can fall away and be finally lost. The decretally elect cannot apostatize" (JFVP pg. 7, "Apostasy").

One way that a FV pastor might encourage someone who doubts his salvation (such as someone who fears he's committed the unforgivable sin) would be to point out, "Look, the very fact that you're worried about the state of your salvation means that you don't have a hard heart. The very fact you're concerned about whether or not you're saved shows that you haven't blasphemed the Holy Spirit. Someone who is going to hell doesn't care about whether or not he is right with God. Now, look to Christ and believe that you're saved!"

Another reminder God has given us that we are saved is our baptism - not that we trust in our baptism for our salvation, but rather that the baptism is like our wedding ring. It is a guarantee for us that yes, we are part of the redeemed bride of Christ. Although this sounds unfamiliar to us Protestants at first,  the Westminster Confession of Faith explicitly states this when it tells us that baptism is a "sign and seal" for the recipient of his "ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins..." (WCF Ch. 28.1).

At the same time, a person who is in deep sin and rebellion against the church needs to hear not "Jesus loves you and everything is good!" but a warning to consider whether he is saved or not. The gospel is both Repent and Believe. You cannot claim to serve God and yet persist in breaking God's law, the commands of Christ and the apostles. "For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God" (Ephesians 5:5).

Also, apostasy is a real thing, as you've probably seen for yourself if you've lived in a church community long enough. However, this is not an apostasy from saving grace, but from the grace of the covenant. Covenantal Christians who fall away do fall from a real connection to Christ (such as those in Hebrews 6 who trample the blood of the covenant underfoot). But the true sons of God will never fall away.

The New Perspective on Paul

Despite the PCA's apparent confusion on the matter, the Federal Vision is not the same thing as the teaching of N.T. Wright and other theologians who teach the New Perspective on Paul. Although there has been some communication between the two camps (particularly between N.T. Wright and Dr. Leithart), these are quite distinct theological movements.

The New Perspective on Paul teaches just that: a new perspective, a new view of Paul's teaching which deals in particular with justification by works and his war against the Hebraists of his time (such as those who appear  in Galatians). Part of this new perspective is the claim that Paul's reactions to the Judaists were not a response to  Jewish attempts to earn their way to heaven through the Mosiac code, but rather that Paul was attacking the Jewish ethnic pride, which tried to turn every convert into a Jew rather than a servant of God. The New Perspective might say that Luther's classic understanding of by grace alone misreads Paul's argument; the Pharisees were not trying to earn their way to God's favor. Rather, they thought they were already there, simply by nature of being descended from Abraham. It was the sin of ethnic pride, not works-righteousness, which the New Perspective folks would say Paul is so vehement against.

While some of the New Perspective gentlemen have similar sympathies to the Federal Visionaries (such as a common understanding of the corporate, world-wide nature of the church), these are really quite different discussions. For anyone to say that FV is NPP, or vice versa, simply means that they don't quite understand either group. Many, if not most proponents of the Federal Vision, are in disagreement with the New Perspective on Paul.

A denial of the classic Reformed theology as found in the Westminster or Heidelberg:

While the Federal Vision proponents believe in the Reformed notion of  semper reformanda (the church always reforming), and therefore believe the church will always be improving in its expressions of eternal truths, they do not reject the historic reformed confessions such as the Westminster Confession of Faith or the Heidelberg Catechism (see JFVP pg. 1). On the contrary, they seek to return to the solid foundations laid by the Reformers of the 16th century, and to build on that firm foundation.

 

A denial of the imputation of Christ's righteousness

Dr. Peter Leithart in particular has been accused of denying that Christ's active obedience in obeying the OT Law is imputed to Christians. In personal correspondence with him, I have discovered that Dr. Leithart actually would say that the problem isn't with  Christ's active obedience, but rather that the active/passive distinction doesn't hold any water itself. He would say that Christ's entire life of obedience is imputed to us, including his death on the cross, and in exchange, our sins are imputed to Him; that the Resurrection is God's thundering verdict of "Not Guilty!" This verdict is also the verdict of our innocence in Christ.

There are certainly some who do deny the "imputation of the active obedience" of Christ, but they are denying a particular theological interpretation of Christ's fulfillment of the Old Covenant, not the doctrine of the imputation of Christ's righteousness to us. Here again the Joint FV Profession is very helpful: "We affirm Christ is all in all for us, and that His perfect, sinless life, His suffering on the cross, and His glorious resurrection are all credited to us... We affirm not only that Christ is our full obedience, but also that through our union with Him we partake of the benefits of His death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and enthronement at the right hand of God the Father" (JFVP pg. 5, "Union with Christ and Imputation).

Heresy taught by men who have been tried in an ecclesiastical court:

One thing which the Federal Vision is definitely not is heretical teachings which have been condemned in an ecclesiastical court. If we look at how this story has played out, in 2002 a conference was held in Auburn, Louisianna entitled “The Federal Vision.” Since then, the label 'Federal vision' has been slapped on the theology which I have tried to describe above, and along with this label, the adjective 'heresy' has been pasted.

Whether or not you agree with some of the Reformed denominations who have rejected the Federal Vision, there has not yet been any sort of public trial or debate where denominations have charitably asked Federal Vision theologians to personally and publicly defend their theology based on Scripture, at least not such an event which has turned out in a conviction of heresy. Most reformed denominations seem to read the works of FV theologians and pass judgment on them from a distance without actually contacting the ministers and asking them to explain their writing.

An example of this is the PCA's treatment of FV teaching. The PCA in its General Assembly in June, 2007, heard the decision of their committee that the 'Federal Vision' and New Perspective on Paul theology did not match up with the Westminster Confession of Faith, but that was no trial. No, not even when R. C. Sproul defended the anti-FV membership of the committee by saying, “You do not put the accused on the jury,” during the open-mic part of the session. Why? The personal, in-court, recordable testimony of the people who teach this theology (including those within the PCA) wasn't presented to the general assembly in any form. Rather, the decisions and (sadly inaccurate) summary work of the Committee alone were presented. The General Assembly voted and accepted the committee's condemnation of FV theology without fully hearing those they were condemning.

As a result of the unfortunate PCA decision, there have been several recent PCA examinations/trials caused by accusations that PCA pastors were teaching "Federal Vision theology." Jeff Meyers was examined and exonerated by his presbytery in the spring of 2011. TE Greg Lawrence was tried and exonerated in the fall of 2011. Dr. Peter Leithart was tried in June of 2011, and the verdict (announced in October) was also exoneration of all charges. But it seems that certain PCA men have pronounced these men guilty and are very ready to use the machine of church politics to drive them out of the PCA at all costs.

Besides these trials (which assume the accuracy of the PCA's committee report), there has been little actual debate period, meaning head-to-head, face-to-face, between Waters and Wilson, or Sproul and Wilkins, or Clark and Barach. Some interaction was attempted in 2003 but without achieving any real results. I think it's clear that the Federal Vision is in no way heretical, but for the larger body of evangelical, reformed believers to really decide this, we need much more public debate, just as the early church needed the public confrontation of Arius by Athanasius, and as the early Protestants needed the debates between Luther and Zwingli. We need the most adamant opponents of the Federal Vision to actually face the Federal Visionaries  in open debate, not merely in long-range blog warfare, and we need this to happen soon.

In all this, I've tried to give you a picture of the Federal Vision theology. I sat under Doug Wilson's teaching for 14 years, and attended numerous classes at New Saint Andrews College. I have had many a recitation with Peter Leithart, and I have personally interviewed Steve Wilkins and Dr. David Field, besides corresponding with Rich Lusk. I believe I understand the majority of the issues, and hopefully, this little article may have cleared up some of your questions about the Federal Vision. I'm also leaving many implications, details, and narrower discussions out of the picture. So please study this more.

All glory be to God alone, and to His Son, by whose saving blood alone we are healed.

 

In Christ's name,

 

Author, Luke Nieuwsma

uilleannman@gmail.com

Editor, Daniel Foucachon

daniel@foucachon.com

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Comments (44) Trackbacks (8)
  1. This site is three years old; who knows if anyone is still maintaining it…

    By redefining the “visible Church” as the “real Christians,” ( defining it so that “real Christians” can go to hell), you are not “cleansing” the church. You are only confusing the little ones. Your definition of “Christian” is indeed heretical.

    This movement all seems very political and Eurocentric, just as many of the first-century Jews wanted Christianity to be Hebraic-centered and political. The Messiah was going to come into Israel as a political leader and help the Jews eradicate all those pagan nations, setting Israel up as the leader of a righteous world. Substitute Christians for Jews and America for Israel and you have the Federal vision.

    Ironically, this “federal vision” led the Jews away from Christianity in the first century, and I fear it will lead European derived people away from Christianity in our time.

  2. Very good and helpful summary. You’ve said it better than I can articulate it, so I’m sharing it with friends who want to know. Thank you!

  3. Maurice, we’re glad to be of service.

    -Luke

  4. Hi, Virginia – I’m not certain where you got the ‘Eurocentric’ idea at all. This movement has primarily been American and focused on problems in the American church. It does not call for a return to Roman Catholicism or to a European form of Christianity.

    Also, the Federal Vision does not equate the Visible Church with ‘real Christians.’ Rather it says that the Visible Church consists of two kinds of Christians: real Christians and fake Christians. Both are baptized, but the difference is that the real Christians have faith in God and are sustained by Him in a way that bears visible fruit, whereas the fake Christians do not have fruit because they do not actually have faith in God and are not regenerate. Another way to define it would be that ‘fake’ Christians are baptized but still nominal Christians; they do not live the faith they profess (James 1). Real Christians are baptized, faith-filled and therefore faithful Christians. They live the faith they profess.

    Sometimes there are true Christians who fall into rebellion for a time and become covenant-breaking Christians by breaking Christ’s commandments for a time. Sometimes these are disciplined to the point of being excommunicated, but if they are decretally elect, they will always repent and return to Christ. During that period of rebellion, we would refer to these people as unfaithful Christians or (if excommunicated) unbelievers, but if they are truly God’s children, they WILL return and repent (John 10:23-30, Hebrews 12:1-12).

  5. My child died at birth. The Catholic chaplain offered an immediate baptism as he was worried that the child might not be able to enter heaven without the sacrament. I was of the opinion that there is nothing magical in the sprinkling of water that would provide any additional grace to my daughter than the grace that had already been given to her. Reading through your website it would be quite possible for me to now fear that I hadn’t done the right thing. Then I read Galatians again and became convinced that if Paul had read of the doctrine as you describe it he would have changed his words from “It would be better that you go the whole way and emasculate yourself” to “It would be better that you go the whole way and drown yourselves”.
    By so completely replacing the role of circumcision with baptism this doctrine falls into the same failing as the early Judaizers who encouraged a trust in the outward sign rather than Jesus’ act of grace. For the confusion that you have sowed in my mind and in the mind of others I would beg you to repent.

    The sin amongst the Corinthians was the sin of a lack of love which ran completely counter to the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. The sin would be similarly awful if we put up a sign on the building announcing that we are holding a memorial for the death of Christ, and then similarly acted in a horrible unloving way with the rich taking the best seats down the front and the poor being left to stand in the aisles. Again there is no need to appeal to any magical or sacredotal aspects of the bread and wine to see that we shouldn’t partake of the Lord’s supper in an unworthy manner.

    I pray that in the end we may come to a point in love where we can forgive eachother’s hotheadedness, our defensiveness, and our eagerness to argue over doctrinal matters. I pray that we may both come to see the truth as revealed in scripture, and whilst we await that, we’d be very clear to those outside our grouping that in fact we still believe in God’s love, his righteousness, his grace. That we believe we are saved by faith which is evidenced in our works, and that even these works are only achievable by his grace. I pray that we’d not ever give the impression that single mum’s struggling to bring up their boys in the knowledge of God will be failures unless they can homeschool them.
    I know that the differences between FV and non-FV reformed doctrine are small and sometimes come down to semantics, but the impression given to outsiders can often be quite misleading. When the conferences that the local church is running tend to all be about home schooling rather than on the saving grace of Jesus Christ it is easy for the wrong impression to be given. When we emphasize in our sermons and practise the immense importance of baptism – it is easy for the wrong impression to be given. Let us all try again to preach nothing but Christ and him crucified.

  6. Dear Windy,
    I’d like to respond to a few things you said. Did you read the article above closely? You said “I was of the opinion that there is nothing magical in the sprinkling of water that would provide any additional grace to my daughter than the grace that had already been given to her. Reading through your website it would be quite possible for me to now fear that I hadn’t done the right thing.”

    But I’m not sure what in our website made you think that we would agree with the Roman Catholic chaplain, or that there is anything “magical” in the water. On the contrary, we state in the above article:
    “Also, the Federal Vision theologians don’t believe that being baptized means being saved. Being baptized means that you are united with Christ’s body here on earth and are accountable to His commandments and His church body, but whether or not you are going to be in eternal glory depends on whether God has chosen to change your heart, give you faith, and forgive your sins in Christ.”.

    There is nothing magical about Baptism. In this article we compared Baptism to a wedding ring – a wedding ring doesn’t make you “magically” married, or make someone a good husband – but it does represent a covenant, publicly given before the church and God. So also Baptism has no magic power, but is a visible sign and seal of what God does in the heart. But just like the wedding ring, it is a physical, tangible thing that DOES mean something. What the Federal Vision is saying is that we can go to someone baptized and say, “hey, you belong to Christ – you need to believe in Him!” just as one can go to a married man and say, “Look at the ring on your finger – you’re a husband – act like one!”

    You say that we confused you by suggesting that Baptism is something more than it is – surely you have not read what we have written, for it is so clearly the opposite. For example, we say, “However, [baptism] doesn’t guarantee that we’re saved. Rather it is an objective seal and sign upon a person, reminding them of the name they carry, and calling them to true faith and repentance, which are the only grounds for justification.

    This is quite clear that we are not saved magically by any rite. We are saved by the merit of Christ, by God’s grace, through the means of faith, which itself is a gift of God, lest any man should boast.

    There is much slander going on in the church these days, brother against brother, calling one another heretics, and such. And one of the frequent accusations against the Federal Vision is that they teach “salvation by faith plus works,” which is not true. We are not saved by works, nor faith+works, nor faith in cooperation with works. We are saved by the grace of God, by the means of faith, plus no works. Works are only the evidence and result of true faith.

    I encourage you to watch some of the videos that were recently posted on our homepage. Doug Wilson, who wrote the Joint Federal Vision statement, answers certain questions that clear up many such accusations and mis-understandings.

    I pray, as you do, for peace in the church, and for honesty among Reformed brethren in particular. There are many men who are eager to see Federal Vision pastors condemned as heretics. The primary purpose of this website is to help people who are willing to hear to understand that these pastors and shepherds of the church are not heretics, but rather men eager to preach the Word faithfully, and preach the free Gospel of grace.

    I’m not sure what you mean by conferences teaching “homeschooling” (I can’t think of a single “homeschool conference” remotely related to the FV…), but if you listen to Doug Wilson’s sermons (I go to his church) you will hear time and time again the free Gospel of grace preached with power Sunday after Sunday. Go to http://www.canonwired.com, and under “sermons” hit “brushstrokes”. Browse those sermon excerpts, and you will see an enormous collection of clips that preach the free Gospel of grace in a 100 different ways.

    Thank you for the opportunity to clarify things with you, and God bless!

    Sincerely,
    Daniel Foucachon

  7. Windy,

    regarding specifically the role of baptism in relation to circumcision, our views would be the same as the Westminster Confession of Faith, which states:
    WCF 27.5
    “5. The sacraments of the Old Testament, in regard of the spiritual things thereby signified and exhibited, were, for substance, the same with those of the New.”
    WCF 28
    “1. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church, but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life: which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in his Church until the end of the world.”

    So there is certainly continuity between circumcision and baptism, but neither confer salvation “magically.” Faith, given by God, in both the Old and New Testament, is the sole means of Salvation.

  8. Windy, one last thing,

    You might be interesting in this video, by Doug Wilson (author of FV joint statement), related to children who die in infancy:
    http://www.canonwired.com/ask-doug/youth-alone/

  9. Interesting stuff. I hadn’t clearly known what FV folk taught, except that RC Sproul and the PCA rejected it… (more or less). I’m a Cavinistical/Covenantal Anglican, and it sounds like I may well be FV without even realizing it.

    Infant baptism never made sense to me until I read a paper about the conditional nature of the New Covenant, which is just like every other covenant in the bible. Election–secret and known to God alone–is unconditional, but when the Evangelist says, “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” that IS a condition–from our (limited, finite) perspective. Richard Pratt, along with the faculty of RTS, pretty well argue there are 3 (not 2) kinds of people in the world, those who’ve never heard the name of Christ, those who have, but have not yet truly responded (they are baptized, generally) and the regenerate, who’ve heard, AND responded–and have genuine new life (and saving faith) in our Lord Jesus. This is the nature of biblical covenants, blessings and curses, those who respond negatively to Jesus (or don’t bother to respond at all…) are cursed–with hell, even though, on this earth, they may be regarded as “Christians” by the visible standards.

    Anyway, an admirable website. May you continue to follow in obedience God’s revealed Word faithfully.

  10. I am trying to learn more about FV and actually came across this stuff when I was trying to reconcile issues related to apostasy and how such a thing must play out – an issue that is becoming more and more frustrating as I find most of the mainline teachers out there skirting the issue or offering unimpressive responses.

    Anyways, I don’t think I have ever come across an issue that was so railed against and so often misrepresented than the FV one. I mean, I don’t have a dog here yet, but I cannot tell you how annoyed I have been lately reading responses such as those from Scott Clark and others which are either tinted with distasteful arrogance or outright fallaciousness. For every one potentially valid criticism, there are a half dozen embarrassing assertions that immediately make me wonder just how credible that one criticism really was. And as bad a taste as Clark left in my mouth, reading random blog comments – including a couple here – are at least as infuriating. It’s as if people are not even trying to understand, to read, to engage with what they are criticizing. In fact, too often it seems as though critics are merely regurgitating what someone else said instead of anything original and insightful – not to mention defensible. I mean, Windy, Virginia, did you read the article? Have you read any other articles?

    Forgive the rant. It has been a long day and I think I just needed to let loose for minute. Long story short, for whatever reason (Lord knows, thank Him), today has been a day when just about everything I believe in or lean towards has been challenged from all angles. I have never had a day like this. What’s worse – and this is totally applicable to my reading in FV lately – about 10-%-20% of the criticism seem possibly reasonable, with the other 80%+ being fallacious or just plain stupid. The worst part of that? There is just enough there to make me question myself, and far too much crap for me to think that the critic has anything viable to offer as an alternative. Conclusion? Days like this make me wonder what I can know to any significant degree. Days like this make me wonder if all of Christianity is a giant collection of intramural debates. The funny thing is, I would not call any of this a crisis of faith. As Peter said, who else is there? The world makes no sense at all apart from God. But the details are tearing my up right now.

    I’m sorry again. I’m just really struggling and I needed to say something to someone before I tried to go to bed and I don’t know who to talk to.

  11. Didn’t realize I was preaching this! I always heard FV as a curse word and slowly I have been preaching it over the past year or two. I have never read any FV books or writings. I was told not too because it was a false doctrine.

    Wow! The Lord does work in strange ways!

    Elder Brad Whitley

  12. My father found himself in the same situation. We had never heard of “Federal Vision” but when we actually moved to Moscow, Idaho (and Christ Church (Doug Wilson) being the local Reformed Church) we started to be accused of “Federal Vision Heresy.” But except for some minor things (we were amil, not post-mil, for example), it’s what he had been preaching for years as a PCA minister.

  13. I have spent a lot of time in dispensational churches over the last few years where they tend to talk about saved vs. unsaved. It appears to me that if we allow this as a valid way of referring to those going vs not going to heaven then according to FV terminology we could conclude that there are saved and unsaved Christians. Conversely, it would appear to me that there are also saved and unsaved non-Christians. In essence most people who come to Christ as an adult or as part of a Baptistic church would see some interval of time between the time they believe and the time they are baptized. Am I correct in understanding that from the time that an unbaptized person believes to the time they are baptized an FV person could call them a saved non-Christian?

  14. Hi Chris,

    So long as you only mean by “Christian” someone covenantally/externally bound to Christ, that would be correct; the person in your example would be regenerate but outside the covenant, Christian in heart and faith but not yet in covenant, like Abraham before his circumcision.

    I think you can find something like this in the Westminster Confession, which has an interesting way of addressing the question of salvation outside the church. The divines wrote that the sacraments were “to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the Church and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to His Word” (XXVII.I). Also, they wrote that the visible church “consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion… out[side] of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation (XXV.II).” (My own addition in brackets)

    What would the Westminster divines have called someone who had not yet joined the visible church, not yet made public profession, and not yet partaken of the sacraments, but only believed the gospel inwardly? In one sense, this person is truly a Christian (saved through faith); but in another, visible sense, this person isn’t yet wearing the uniform of a soldier of Christ. Not exactly the same scenario you were mentioning, but I think there’s a clear parallel here.

    Blessings, Luke Nieuwsma

  15. I’m glad I read this. I’m a current college student who has grown up in the PCA and I am so grateful for how God has blessed me through church membership. I had only ever heard elders I know talk about Federal Vision theology like they might talk about a cult. I see nothing wrong with the ideas behind this theology, but I must admit I am pretty confused about the benefit of changing the definition of the word “Christian.” From what I understand the purpose is to create a stronger view of the importance of the visible church. One of the things that grieves me most about the current state of American Christianity is the lax attitude towards active participation in and commitment to one’s local church.

    Could someone please tell me if I understand the purpose of this theology right? Am I missing part of the purpose of this new way of using the term “Christian”?

  16. Amy, I think you’re understanding the effect of the theology very well – true commitment to a life trusting and serving God personally and in the visible church community. However, using “Christian” in a federal sense is a Scripture-driven position – i.e. this seems to be how the Bible talks. There is a sense in which every baptized person bears Christ’s name – the Greek text says we’re baptized “into” the Triune name (Matt 28:19), and Paul writes that baptized people have put on Christ (Gal. 3:27). The author of Hebrews writes in Ch. 10 to warn against the covenant breaker who “has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” (V.29) This unbelieving person is still defined by his covenant status – he’s put on Christ, and is therefore heading to a graver judgment because he’s trampling the blood of the covenant under his feet. The implication of these pasasges is that this nominal covenant member/Christian actually has something to trample.

    In other words, the federal definition of Christian is driven by biblical exegesis, not just a desire to strengthen the church. The Federal Visionaries would also argue that this position is historic Reformed teaching; perhaps defining “Christian” only by a person’s invisible, unknowable (to us), eternal destiny is a much more modern, individualistic take. FYI, a pastor like Doug Wilson would perfectly fine using both definitions, properly defined, in the right contexts.

  17. I think that their sacramentology is probably the only real problem I have with the FV.

    The Christian church should understand that catechism is a condition for eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper; this completely contradicts paedocommunion (see Hebrews 5:12-6:2 for this).

    Also, baptism does not imply communion in the New Testament because it did not in the Old; only adult males received the Passover (see Ex. 12:4).

    The eating of the Lord’s Supper could almost be viewed as being the child’s inheritance. It is his while he is yet an unborn child; yet it is not for his eating until he is of age and discernment.

    It seems wrong to say that the believer partakes of anything really special at the eating and drinking of the supper except for the supper itself, the fellowship, and the salvation that is already his. The Lord’s Supper + faith is not a mixture for the experience of divine mysteries. The true divine mystery is that death and that resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord.

    I think an emphasis on the external covenant is great, btw (my position is not “craedocommunion” but “catacommunion,” and is completely objective).

  18. Alright, I am a baptist so my critique is one that strikes at something more basic than the argument between the FV and others who hold to the Westminster Confession. I like the way the objective definition of a Christian makes me feel, but it presupposes a wrong understanding of the New Covenant. The Old Covenant was made with a nation, and as we see all throughout the OT, there is a remnant (God’s elect) who are faithful to the covenant. The thing that makes the New Covenant “New” is its scope. “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord” (Jer. 31:33, 34). There will be no need for members of the covenant to tell each other to “know the Lord” because everyone in the Covenant will know the Lord. That is why regenerate church membership (thus believers baptism) is so important. It is so the local church will reflect the New Covenant in that every member of the Covenant (which we become members of by faith) is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and united to Christ. John conrfirms that this is the correct interpretation of the different natures of the covenant by his commentary on the apostates in 1 John 2: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth” (2:19-21); and again in v.27, “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.” New Covenant members are proven by their perseverence (implying that those who do not persevere are not members of the New Covenant), and there is no need for New Covenant members to teach one another (meaning that they each have the Holy Spirit, something that cannot be said of those who have been baptized but have never trusted Christ. Saul’s case is particular redemptive-historically and is tied to his annointing as King; thus, the presence and withdrawel of the Spirit in Saul’s life was not soteriological.) Therefore, as much as I would love to be as objective as the FV would have me be in my assessment of “Christians,” the nature of the New Covenant doesn’t allow me that luxury.

  19. Jonathan, Thanks for the good discussion and the thoughtful points. I’ve replied on your blog at http://joncavett.wordpress.com/2011/08/20/responding-to-the-federal-vision-pt-1/#comment-3, but briefly, Scripture clearly shows that the nature of the covenant exists outside of us. Jesus warned His disciples that fruitless branches *in Him* would be cut off and burned (John 15). Paul warned the Gentiles that they had been grafted into the same plant as the unbelieving Jews had grown up naturally, and that the Jews could be rejoined if they believed, and the Gentiles cut off if they became unfaithful themselves (Romans 11). Hebrews 6 talks about those who have been joined to the Holy Spirit and at some level experienced His blessings but then fall away. Hebrews 10 says that just as the Old Covenant contained the death penalty for rejecting Moses’ law, how much worse God’s vengeance will be on the man who tramples Jesus under his feet and dishonors the blood of the covenant! His fate is worse than death. This isn’t talking about salvation (John 10:27); this is talking about objective unity in Christ through the sacrament of baptism.
    I appreciate your position, but I don’t think it really bears up to these passages. However, all the things that you claimed solely apply to New Covenant believers do fit into the Federal Vision – they apply to the eternally elect sheep of God. God the Gardener will cut off fruitless branches from His Son, but God the Shepherd will never, ever lose His sheep.

  20. Everyone Protestant I know (reformed, eccumenical, Pentecostal, etc.) seems to be laboring under the misconception that Catholics believe in Justification by Works. We don’t. Every faithful, well-educated Roman Catholic (which is a depressingly small number these day — effectively zero) knows that we can NEVER, under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, MERIT our own redemption, salvation, or justification. We know that that it is ONLY through Christ’s death on the Cross, and his taking our sins upon His innocent shoulders that we have any chance of salvation. While our works can NEVER save us, they CAN damn us, as apparently you agree. This isn’t to propose a conditional election. It means that a person, baptized through water and the Holy Ghost, and thus OBJECTIVELY CONNECTED to the Body of Christ, can through his own fault, deny the gift that he has been given, and lead a faithless life. That means, of course, that he was never among the elect in the first place. He was a member of the Church, though, which meant that he was given the grace of justification. In no way did he merit it. But he turned his back on that grace, and sent himself to Hell. In EVERY way, did he bring that upon himself.
    A distinction that Protestant unanimously fail to make is between Justification and Sanctification. Justification is the grace that we are given through Faith, which allows grace to live in our souls. But Justification is only the beginning of our spiritual lives. The question of Baptism makes a perfect analogy:
    Baptism, in a very real manner, connects us to the invisible Body of Christ. Now that connection is NECESSARY in order that we MAY be saved. But it does not guarantee our salvation. Rather, it conditions our soul for the life of God (grace) to dwell in it. But we have an entire to live as a Christian after Baptism, and how we live that life is a sign of our predestination.
    Justification (a work of Faith), aligns our soul with grace. Our works cannot justify us, or make us in some way “worthy” of Heaven, and the gifts of God, which are His to dispense as He wills, and we can never “deserve,” even after we are justified. But what our works CAN do is sanctify us. They can make us holier, they can bring us closer to God, they can align our will more perfectly with His. And in an opposite manner, they can turn us away from Him, make us colder, less responsive to the His inspirations and guidance. They can ultimately make us hate God and choose Hell at the end of our life.
    Anyhow, I was asked to look at this article by a friend, and while doing so began thinking of this issue. God Bless you all, and hopefully He will enlighten your hearts and bring to the fullness of His grace and Truth in Traditional Roman Catholicism, the form of Christianity that’s been practiced for 2000 years now. ;)

  21. As a Lutheran, I find that our ‘reason’ muddies the waters of the ‘external’ Word of love and forgiveness. So we then make the whole thing into a project.

    The external Word is what truly liberates and frees. To whatever extent the FV allows that to happen…then I am for it.

  22. After reading ‘FV for the average joe’, I believe it hides the controversial aspects of FV.
    Nieuwsma makes it sound like the controversy is all just a misunderstanding over some new nomenclature.
    This is a blatant softening of what Leithart says.

    Leithart asserts in The Baptized Body p53
    “When the New Testament writers use the word ‘baptism’ they normally mean the water rite of entry into the church”
    rather than the baptism of the Spirit
    …and…
    “When the New Testament writers call the church the ‘body of Christ’, they mean the visible or historical church is the body of Christ.”
    rather than the invisible church.

    The major problem is the numerous passages such as Galations 3:27 ff: “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ……And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”

    Leithart has a very weak argument on p39 that verse 27 is actually talking about water baptism, AND WORSE, HE NEVER EVEN MENTIONS v29!!!

    Most of the rest of his argument is based on his own ideas. He even goes so far as to use idiosyncracies of the English language as metaphor, vis: do you have a body or are you your body, p66. FV is a perfect example of an intellectual outsmarting himself.

    Do not be lulled into complacency, there would not be so much controversy if this article was true.

  23. Matt,
    Thanks for your frank criticisms. The article is certainly not perfect. but when you say it ‘hides’ the controversial aspects of FV, I believe you are mistaken. Many of the crucial and certainly controversial issues are the power of the sacraments (mentioned above, and discussed in your quotes of Dr. Leithart’s), whether the New Covenant is objective like the Old Covenant, whether there is any sense of ‘corporate’ election, and whether young children should receive communion (all mentioned above).

    Now, you are correct that I neglected to state an FV element which causes controversy: unclear language. Dr. Leithart, Steve Wilkins, and others have used some very confusing, sometimes contradictory terms to explain their ideas in as biblical a manner as possible. Dr. Leithart was admonished for this very thing in his 2011 trial. This is certainly not a strength of the FV. However, some wish to take these statements and claim that they show heresy, salvation by works, baptismal regeneration – all of which the FV men certainly do not affirm or secretly teach. If you read Dr. Leithart’s trial transcript, I think you’ll find that some of his opponents refuse to read such statements charitably but assume that if they sound at all suspicious, they *must* be false doctrine. And that sort of assumption of guilt, combined with some FV unclearness, does generate controversy, but the fault is not simply on the part of FV theologians.

    There also are other discussions which are not considered the view of the whole; this article is not intended to summarize every single point that every single FV theologian has advanced; it is aimed at the general concepts behind the FV as a whole. The points of mutual disagreement are listed on pg. 6 of the Joint FV Profession, which concludes that “Issues in this last section cannot be fairly represented as the view of the whole.” My point in mentioning this is that to be sure, individual FV theologians can say some controversial things, but they are not necessarily the common concerns and themes of the general group of FV theologians, and neither have I found any to deny the heart of the gospel. I do believe this article does faithfully represent most of the primary themes and concerns of the FV theologians.

    And just a thought. I think you’ll find that almost all Christians recognize that water baptism has some effect on people – we affirm this every time we recite the Nicene Creed (quoting Acts 2 which refers to water baptism): “we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.” Acts 2 is not referring to spiritual baptism, but a physical one.

    Thanks for the interaction!
    In Christ,
    Luke Nieuwsma

  24. I believe I understand FV. However I believe and have the confidence in Scripture that it is plain who is a Christian. The biblical terminology is the elect or the chosen. The confusion created with the emphasis on baptism and its place as a mark of covenant is more than intellectually confusing. I love the Presbyterians, but at times they seem the higher the IQ the closer to God. The term ‘nominal Christian’ is defined as what? How can you be a nominal true believer. God’s elect will not turn away, they will not become apostate and they are eternally decreed to be sons of God. Romans 8:28-39 is confidence to the elect who have eyes to see. The book of Job reveals so much. It wasn’t Job’s righteousness that God professed to give honor to. It was the fact he was one of the elect which gives honor to God. His own wife, after the terrible tribulations that be fell Job told him to curse God and die. The elect don’t curse God and die. The devil mocked God and told him take his life or the things from Job and he will curse you. Through unimaginable trial Job faulters and demands audience with God. In Job 42:1-6 something happens to Job. His words, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear. But now my eye sees You. What happened? What did Job see? He had heard of God just like many do. But, he questioned God and His sovereignty. God had mercy on Job and ‘opened his eyes’ to see what? Verse 42:6 ‘Therefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes’. God allows the elect to see their own sin and the affront it is to a holy and perfect God. The elect response–repentance and abhoring oneself. God and God only has the answer to the sin of mankind —Jesus Christ. Christ died for Job as he did for all the elect. Job lived in a time not all was revealed as we have in Scripture today. He would have to wait until the captives were set free. Not so for us today with the revealed living Word of God opened to us by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us by God’s mercy and grace to us.

  25. This is rebranded Catholicism IOW it is church centred. As to the question “who are the real christians?” why should you know? certainly tying a real christian with a visible church attender is a heretical answer to a question that need not concern you or me. And, being church centred, it devolves to all the hings you deny it is, salvation by works etc. Being church centred it undercuts the sole mediatorship of Christ. Of course its view of the sacraments is catholic. And given the nature of sin church discipline is usually legalistic. FV focusses on the tangible for it lacks faith in the invisible God. Why should I be deemed a christian by having an association with as carnal church when carnal is by definition backslidden. Seek a spiritual church, you may say? There aren’t any

    You have shown me enough to show me that FV is indeed idolatrous rank heresy

  26. Steve,
    Forgive me for a rather blunt response, but did you read the whole article? Brother, if you did, I’m afraid it seems you understood very little of it. Your question, “Who are the real Christians?” shows you don’t quite get what we’re discussing here. What do you mean by “real Christians”?
    If by this you mean those who will go to heaven, then without a doubt I and the FV theologians agree with you – those with faith will be saved! But if you mean “Christians,” as FV theologians would say, to be those covenantally connected with Jesus by baptism (just like OT Israelites through circumcision), then there are many visible covenant members who do not walk faithfully. There are many members of the church here on earth who have been baptized into the Triune name but who walk as though Christ never lived, many people without faith who have been named “Christian” by baptism. That is what the FV means when it refers to a Christian. Does that make more sense?

    The thing is, for biblical Christians, salvation is supposed to be church-centered, not just about a quiet time at home with our Bibles. We’re saved by Christ’s blood so that we can all join together in fellowship as *one body,* the bride of Christ (I John 1:1-5)! That’s why God ordained Paul and Peter to evangelize and establish churches for our benefit and fellowship. You call church discipline usually legalistic? Then you’re calling the apostle Paul “legalistic” for writing I Corinthians 5. You call the church on earth a “carnal” church and therefore backslidden? Then why did the author of Hebrews require Christians to not neglect the gathering of the saints (Hebrews 10:25)? Why did he require Christians to obey the elders (Heb. 13:7,17)? Why does Scripture demand, over and over, that we have elders and deacons and create a community of believers here on earth (Ephesians 4:11-16, 1 Timothy 5:17, Titus 1:5, I Peter 5:5… etc)? It was Christ and the apostles who demanded a physical, “carnal” baptism (Matthew 28, Acts 2), after all.
    Steve, forgive me if I completely misunderstood you, but it appears your real problem is with the church, not with the Federal Vision. You’re ignoring the plain teaching of Scripture on the importance of Christ’s kingdom here on earth, the church — the pillar and ground of the truth.
    You don’t really have the right to label the FV “rebranded Catholicism” and “idolatrous rank heresy” until you first come to accept what God’s Word itself really teaches about the church. Right now it seems you want Plato and a bunch of monkish heavenly thoughts, not the biblical life of the church.
    Your brother in Christ,
    Luke Nieuwsma

  27. This is heresy, plain and simple. Hebrew Scripture means basically, that it is impossible for anyone who has truly tasted of Christ, and the Holy Spirit, through Salvation, to ever fall away. Let’s interpret Scripture correctly in the first place, so we don’t have to develop “new” or “different” gospels than what were first preached to us! I guess you all know the warning that comes with preaching a “new” or “different” gospel. Let them be accursed! Scary.

  28. A Christian is someone who has been saved BY GOD through the gifts of repentance and faith, period!! There is no other BIBLICAL definition and therefore no other type of “Christian”. This whole theology is ridiculous and is man-made heresy. Repent!

  29. The real issue here is the New Covenant and how people understand it. The problem is that reformed presbyterians have completely misunderstood it, and I’m not talking about FV people. All FV is doing is logically extending the fundamental errors that are already there. The foundational question that must be asked is: can u be in the New Covenant and NOT be a Christian? (christian = going to heaven, to make clear your convoluted language) Presbyterians answer YES. And they enter into this covenant by their BAPTISM, similiar to how CIRCUMCISION was the sign of entry into the Old Covenant. So the bottom line is the little baby who is being baptized, who has never heard of Jesus, who isn’t aware of where he is or what’s happening is in the New Covenant! Therefore members of the New Covenant = the baptized VISIBLE members of the church, just as the members of the Mosiac covenant were the VISIBLE circumcised Jews. And therefore, just as in the Old Covenant, there are members in the New Covenant who will grow up and become God-hatrers and fall away. Furthermore, if an infant enters the New Covenant by their baptism, why should they be denied the other sign of the New Covenant, communion? Thus paedo-communion.

    Of course, the only problem is this is a complete misunderstanding of the New Covenant! Entrance into the New Covenant is obtained not by circumcision, not by baptism, not by church membership. It is obtained through PERSONAL repentance and faith in the risen Lord Jesus Christ. (not your parents faith or your baptism). As a benefit of your New Covenant membership, you are justified, you have been regenerated, given the Spirit, and the law is written on your heart. The point is that this membership is INVISIBLE! Now AFTER we have personally repented and believed, in obedience to Christ we participate in the SYMBOLS/SIGNS of this new covenant, baptism and communion. By these signs and other testimonies we PROFESS to be CHRISTIANS = members of the new covenant.

    Please note that these signs are only PROFESSIONS/WITNESSES/TESTIMONIES of our entrance into the New Covenant having ALREADY occured! They are not the entry point itself. That is only through personal faith and repentance. Therefore if someone falls away, it is NOT because they were IN the New Covenant and now they are OUT because of disobedience. Instead it demonstrates that they NEVER were in the New Covenant! It demonstrates that their profession was FALSE.

    So this begs the question, if true membership in the New Covenant (i.e., being a Christian!) is invisible, how can we know who are the real Christians are? Well, if we are to take 1st John at his word, until the Last Day arrives, and the wheat and chaff are separated, we KNOW by the clear EVIDENCE of love and obedience that accompanies a profession of faith.

  30. Dear average Joe,

    Stop looking at yourself and whether or not you are saved, or who a true Christian is or what a Christian is or is not. Salvation is in Him, believe it, trust it, know it. If the heart of what everyone is squabbling over is true then the squabbling is of no value. It brings you no closer to the God that draws you close to Him.

    A continual introspection takes your eyes, your mind and heart off Christ and like Peter you will sink. Unto death? No, His perpetual and faithful hand is there, waiting for you to take hold. Faith as small as a mustard seed is all you might have, but faith however small is assured of what is hoped for, and certain of what is not seen. By this faith one can cry “I believe, dear Lord help my unbelief”, and be fully assured that He will hear, a bruised reed He will not break. He will turn no one away who comes to Him.

    Faith merits you nothing. The faith you have in your chair as you read this is not what holds you up, the chair does. Your faith does not save you, Christ did, believe it, for in believing it you have faith. Does a child jump into his fathers arms because he says to himself, “I know I have faith in my father and he knows I do so he’ll catch me”. No! The child simply knows without question the love of the Father for him and never looks back. Our earthly father’s love is imperfect, how much more can we trust in God! Believe the gift that is offered freely for all who would but take it! That is all dear one, that is all. Christ, Christ, Christ!

    Imagine a teenager sullen an in his room wallowing is self pity and anger. Will he have any part of the family dinner? No. Why? He simply will not partake of what is there for him to freely partake of. The gift of Christ is there, you need to do nothing! Know this! Does that son need to remove his nose ring and cut his hair to join the family? No, the parents want nothing but their son and his love, as they have loved him. In like manner, God simply wants your love, as He loves you.

    Dear reader, stop looking at yourself, your money, your neighbors wife, your 401K, your looks, drugs, pornography, your athleticism, your morality, your fruits, your sins, your doctrines. All they give you–purpose, peace, joy, hope, certainty in who you are, meaning for the vanity and pointlessness of everyday—will pass. You know this to be true! They and their comforts will pass, but He and His truth of salvation remains. You and all that you are merits nor detracts from who you are before God. Believe that this is true because of the gift freely offered in Christ. There is no condition, but you can’t have it if you won’t take it and your condemnation is just. Remain sullen and alone in the darkness of your room and your mind. Or believe that He loves you; that all the hurts in this world will pass away and every tear will be dried. You are safe and loved by the eternal Lord.

    If you want to want Him, if you know you need Him, but know your heart will not take His gift. Cry out, keep crying, “My God I believe, help my unbelief!” Seek through the fog of human existence and the darkness of your mind and you will find Him to be faithful.

    He will turn no one away who comes to Him; He loves you.

    Are you elect? Who cares? Christ has saved you, so yes. Are you a Christian? Who cares? Christ has saved you, so yes.

    If we now have salvation, what then is our relationship to the law? The law is no longer a condemnation to us! There is not condemnation for those who simply believe that the gift of Christ is real, because His gift is real and there isn’t any more condemnation. The law now is a way that we might become more like the God we love and less like ourselves!

    Imagine never envying, never lusting, never being anxious or depressed, unjustly angry, jealous, perpetually going from activity to activity to escape yourself and your tormented mind! All that you need is found in Him, he gives you a new name, a new identity, Child of God; you are now called by His name. Transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His Son.

    How can one go on sinning after being made alive like this in Christ? How? We love Him and all that He is, so how?! He is love. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. Is there anything not good in this?

    Imagine being free of everything that drives you to envy, lust and every other passion of the flesh and the fruit of enslavement unto death they bring! How then, tell me how if you love the Author of Life can you go on sinning? Look to Him and nothing else and there will be fruit you did not know you could or would ever bare!

    Paul planted, Apollos watered, but God caused to grow. You cannot bring forth fruit, but you can tend the garden. If you think you can bear fruit in you or any other, you are nothing but a white washed tomb, a cloud that brings no rain, there is no substance to you. Church discipline is for nothing but tending the garden of the hearts of people who come, not bringing forth fruit! Discipline in love and care not if they are in a covenant or not. If they come, love them! Christ came and offered himself unconditionally to all who would but raise their eyes to. The ministry of love is unconditional.

    Love them all and let God sort them out!

    -A brother by His blood

  31. What is the imperative for accepting FV theology? In other words, what benefit does it provide to the church? And conversely, what great problems do Reformed/Presbyterian churches face if they choose not to explicitly embrace FV theology?

    Thanks!

  32. Here is Calvin’s commentary on Hebrew 6:3-6

    http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom44.xii.ii.html

    Compare this with FV’s definition of falling away! A complete 180 degrees! Luke Nieuwsma, indeed you sugar-coated heretic interpretations of the Scripture in this blog, hence you must repent!

  33. Thank You!!! I just became reformed three years ago and I never really understood the concepts of the Federal Vision. Your explanation really help me. Im looking forward in discussing this more with the Elders of my church.

  34. Does FV theology view any baptism as valid? What I mean is that, in reference to the “saved non-Christian” comment above (the idea that a person can be regenerated and therefore saved, but not included in the covenant community of Christ until he is baptized), is a person who is baptized in any orthodox tradition viewed as a participant in the New Covenant, according to FV theology?

  35. Joseph, the short answer is yes, so long as it is a Trinitarian baptism.

  36. Wow, what a blast of fresh air! Federal Vision is indeed a refreshing recovery of a high view of the church, one that has been obscured by a particularly American flavor of subjectivism and individualism. Just one example of it in practice: if the term “Christian” means “one who is written in the Lamb’s book of life,” where’s the foundation for Christian fellowship? How do you know who is a Christian, so that you can have fellowship with them? Most of us instinctively call “Christian” those who are simply in our local congregation, without trying to judge our fellow brothers to see if they have “enough” good works. How ironic that FV is often accused of works-righteousness!

    I am still new to the concepts contained here, but so far I haven’t heard ANYTHING to warrant the extreme term of “heresy” that has been tossed around. It’s a shame that there hasn’t been a concerted attempt to reconcile or deal with the important issues raised.

  37. In the past we did not have so many heresies. Now after 2000 years of working through the scriptures and coming to clarity on them and opposing heresy by critical clear definitions, the FV want to set us back 2000 years by obscuring terms and making confusion at bare minimum for NO REASON.

    They say we want to use Biblical language. That is not a reason to bring confusion into the church. The job of the minister is to make that which God has left more obscure or ambiguous in scripture to clarity for the members.

    The term Christian was most likely a derogatory smear term use of the followers of God. It is not some vital definition to be preserved.

    The term members, saints, even elect could be used of all in the visible church just as brother would be. And then the term removed, as Paul does, upon their unrepentant gross sin. If any CALLED a brother, is the distinction Paul makes.
    Not that, he really was a brother in the outward visible covenant sense, just simply one who is called a brother. So we see that there are those called member, saint, brother Christian whatever who are not or may not be.
    the church corporately can be right addressed as Dear saints, elect, brethren, congregation etc.; this is no fighting disturbing disrupting matter to fight for ones on particular shade of color on, rather than submitting for unity sake to the long established terminology.

    So if these people really only have semantics in mind and are really in agreement with the Confessions and Historic faith, then why the need to press for freedom of acceptance of what they say, or their terminology of the brothers say it is confusing and unnecessary, why do they yet fight instead of submit for greater unity as they say they truly desire. They are the schismatics.

    It is clear to all except the most obstinate “believers baptist” that we do not baptized the elect only, and therefore many non-converted people and non-elect are baptized. So it is not for “true”believers only because we don’t know who they are. This is obvious, and plain in scripture that some who are in the visible covenant people of God, are not converted and will not go inherit eternal life whether they visibly apostatize or not.

    So that fact we now have heretics who teach baptismal regeneration and others errors means that we do need to be more clear and precise in language and not seek to muddy the scriptures unnecessarily with Biblical language like, baptism does save us. we need to use clear language that people understand the truth and cuts between error and truth, rightly dividing the word of God from error.

    The whole purpose of the FV is so I can have my freedom, it is me centered and not submissive to the body and greater good of the church and her 2000 years of working out doctrine and language and terminology.
    It is in direct opposition to their stated desire of more unity and recognition of the global church and submission to it.
    You smarter wiser men with this novel semantic, for the sake of the weaker brethren, give up this insignificant plight and return to historic confessional language for the sake of unity and the church.

  38. The confused justification/sanctification sounds like Jehovah’s Witnesses: “I’m saved by grace through faith alone, BUT . . . to prove my salvation, have I knocked on ENOUGH doors, ENOUGH doors, ENOUGH doors? Maybe just 100 more doors is enough. Maybe 110 more. Or 150? Have I knocked on enough . . . enough . . . enough?” They will never know for sure.

  39. I worked with Luke Nieuwsma for three years, teaching in classical Christian school. And yes, I did get to talk with him about his beliefs, although not nearly as much as I might have. Upon request, he told me several “older” church writings to read. Other people have given me other writings. So I’ve been reading through these lists for several months now, with years more to go if I continue. They’re at very little cost, as they’re in the public domain, and either 99 cents or free on Kindle.

    Earlier, I was in a PCA church pastored by one of the guys involved with the report on FV, Pastor Grover Gunn by name.

    I’m learning a lot now that I’ve opened my mind not to liberalism, which I detest, but to the views of different forms of Christianity. Guess what we’re missing? A Jewish perspective! I grew up Jewish, and got saved at age 19. And horrors, I made a conscious, logical, calculated, analytical decision for the gospel while in my unregenerate state. I accepted Jesus into my heart, and I used Revelation 3:20. Reformed people have told me that Rev. 3:20 is not about salvation, and that you can’t accept Jesus into your heart, or at least that that is not biblical terminology. Yet it worked for me. (This has NEVER been a point of contention between Luke and me.) So I’m already a heretic in the minds of some people.

    I recently preached on the fingerprints of the Maccabees in the New Testament. Think the New Testament doesn’t quote the Apocrypha? There’s a lot that Wes Callaghan either missed or left out in his good essay on “Spoiling the Egyptians”. Guess why the Jews rejected Christ? There’s more than meets the eye, and this “more” is something that the New Testament writers knew well, for intertestamental history was a bit fresher in their minds.

    Biblical truth is like a two-sided coin, and often multi-faceted. We look at Paul’s writings, fail to see both sides of the coin, and then interpret Jesus and the rest of the Bible through what we see in Paul. That is a bad approach to the Bible, yet that’s what I see as I read Luther’s “Bondage of the Will”, and as I talk to Reformed believers. The Reformation was a great revival in Augustinianism, and that’s not necessarily all a good thing.

    I don’t know much about NPP, but growing up Jewish, I probably have more knowledge through experience than the average Gentile. Were the Pharisees self-righteous, or was it ethnic? Probably both. I think you’ve got to grow up with this to fully appreciate this.

    Here are a few statements to make you think:

    1. Hitler learned from Julius Streicher, and HE quoted the early church fathers.

    2. Reformed theology cannot explain the existence of the State of Israel, a country whose existence is a threat to their theology. Last I read, some Reformed denominations were considering financial divestiture from Israel.

    3. Catholics are truly happy for me when I tell them I got saved. My salvation does NOT threaten their theology, although one Catholic told me that I got saved when I got baptized five months later, which was NOT the case.

    4. Reformed people aren’t always so happy for me. They don’t always believe HOW I got saved, for that is a threat to their theology. My salvation was NOT passive, as Luther has it in his “Bondage of the Will”. How they can tell me that I didn’t get saved as I claimed is unbelievable. Sometimes they get good and mad at me! Jesus sits on the right hand of God. Someone who doesn’t believe my testimony must sit on His left, for he knows more about how I got saved than I do. And I’m sick of hearing the scripture/experience dichotomy. Jesus used experience to prove who He was. I surely know my own salvation experience, and it contradicts NOTHING in the Bible, only the systematic theology that Calvinists live by.

    5. Revelation has “faith” four times and “works” 18 times. And James? Luther didn’t even think it should be in the Bible, because it contradicted HIS theology. No, I’m not claiming salvation by works, but we can go to ridiculous extremes to keep the gospel pure. Some sermons we just don’t hear.

    6. Theology needs to develop over time. Sola scriptura seems to turn into sola Westminster on occasion. Start to disagree with his denomination, and a pastor can lose his job. That’s a great motivation for thinking.

    So what’s all this rambling about? My point is that NONE OF US HAS IT TOGETHER COMPLETELY in our theological understanding. That won’t keep us from heaven, but this team sport mentality of defending one denomination or systematic theology against another seems dumber and dumber the more I get into theology. No systematic theology is fully consistent with the Bible, or probably even self-consistent.

    This isn’t football, where your team should win no matter what. Maybe it’s time we think a little more?

  40. And sorry for spelling Wes Callihan wrong.

  41. Ethan,

    Only adult males received the Passover? WHAT? No, the adult males took the lamb, but it was according to the number of souls. The whole family ate it!

    Even in today’s Passover, based not really on Exodus but on the Talmudic tractate of Pesachim, the father is in charge of the seder, as Jesus was in charge when the disciples ate.

    I used to think that Christians should visit the Holy Land, if only for a church tour, to help clarify in their minds the places that the Bible talks about. I’m getting to think that ordination candidates need to spend a year with a Jewish family, at least at their religious celebrations. There are New Testament customs that deviate from Old Testament Mosaic law, and this would help clear up some of the misunderstandings that we can have reading the New Testament, especially if we only know the Law of Moses and not the customs which were even used in Jesus’ time. Communion, in fact, was instituted by Jesus at a seder not conducted according to the Law of Moses but according to a tradition later written down in Pesachim, and still followed today.

    I suppose you know that the Bible, especially early on, concentrates its terminology on men. That doesn’t mean that the women and children looked on in Exodus while only the fathers ate, or we wouldn’t read “if the household be too little for the lamb…”, or “a lamb for an house” in vs. 3. A lamb is an awful lot for one man to eat, especially since the purtenance (internal organs) was also supposed to be eaten.

  42. Checking out these links, I see heresy trials. You’ve GOT to be kidding me. What next, burning heretics at the stake? This whole thing is bringing out the worst in Christianity. In itself, that doesn’t mean that it’s a false doctrine, and I’m not taking sides here. But I taught in an environment where this theology was in the background, and I was put on trial for a faculty devotional in which I taught something that was not really considered wrong (Luke 9:57-62), just something that they didn’t want the kids to hear.

    Take American industry. People such as Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, or Bill Gates start industries, then make others follow their rules. It’s the same with theology. Take religious leaders such as Luther, Calvin, Carl H. Stevens of New England and later Baltimore, or Doug Wilson of FV. They think outside the box, then others have to get into THEIR boxes. Without independent thought, we’d be back under Roman Catholicism with its teaching magisterium. I’m reading the Catholic Catechism right now after having communicated with dedicated Catholics, so I’m not just talking second- or -third-hand information. If we can’t think for ourselves, then all is lost in the world of theology.

  43. This might be my last remark. And I honestly can’t find those heresy trial links, but I saw them somewhere recently.

    This reminds me of the Judaism that I was brought up in. Really! Circumcise someone Jewish, give him a Hebrew name that day (not on the birth certficate), or, in the case of a girl, give her a Hebrew name when she is “named” several days after birth, and there you go, a Jew for life (unless the person converts later). Know what you’ve got? Sacramentalism based on circumcision, which John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul fought against. Sorry baby, I’ve been down this path before. It’s the heart, remember, not the circumcision, not the baptism. That’s not the whole story, but a facet to remember here.

    Maybe you should run this whole thing past a rabbi who got saved later in life, someone who really understands the Old Testament in what it meant to the Jews even before Paul. The Jewish perspective in Bible interpretation is missing in that line of theology that goes from Augustine to Luther to Calvin to Reformed theology today.

  44. Apart from paedocommunion and certain points of emphasis it appears to me that FV is for the most part just redefining terms. If I say my dad is not a Christian and Joe FV says that since he was baptized but has made no effort to associate with a church for 50+ years he is a faithless Christian. Is there any significant difference other than the use of the term Christian?

    I do question the FV definition of the term “elect” because there are certain promises about what God is going to do for the elect. (I just noticed that there aren’t any statements about what God is going to do to, for or with “Christians” in the verses that use that term, so I would tend to agree that .) The rhetorical question in Romans 8:33 about who will bring a charge against God’s elect seems to refer to the people whom God will justify rather than the people who are associated with the church through baptism but as long as baptism is only a sign which visibly ties the recipient to Christ and not efficacious for justification is there any real difference in substance?

    I may have just stepped on the sacred cow of FV- I don’t see a visible tie to Christ apart from faith as being of much significance in itself. If two people were thoroughly instructed in the gospel and both rejected it and one had been baptized and the other not is there any real significant difference between them? If one were well instructed in the gospel but never baptized and the other baptized but never taught what baptism meant would the latter have a greater degree of guilt? Sometimes I think that we manufacture synthetic ecclesiology to amplify the significance of the sacraments, not just FV people but reformed in general, but is FV really saying anything very different here?

    I’ll grant that FV may be confusing but if you get past the redefinition of terms and suspend judgement for the moment on paedocommunion (which is not exclusively advocated by FV proponents) what is the big difference?


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