Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Response to Federal Vision Error

The following is taken from the Joint Statement on the Federal Vision (this is the statement to which many [Doug Wilson says "all" I think] of the leaders of the FV have subscribed):
Apostasy
We affirm that apostasy is a terrifying reality for many baptized Christians. All who are baptized into the triune Name are united with Christ in His covenantal life, and so those who fall from that position of grace are indeed falling from grace. The branches that are cut away from Christ are genuinely cut away from someone, cut out of a living covenant body. The connection that an apostate has to Christ is not merely external.
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.
(emphases omitted)
This statement is erroneous and objectionable for several reasons:

A) "Final Salvation"

Salvation is binary. There are different kinds of salvation to be sure, but salvation from hell is an either/or proposition. Christ saves "to the uttermost" not just for a time. To distinguish the salvation of one's soul into "final" and "something else" is to confuse salvation. Salvation is deliverance. There remains no condemnation to anyone who is justified, who has put on Christ's righteousness.

B) "The connection that an apostate has to Christ is not merely external."

1) Yes, it is merely external. The church is an external body. Union with the body of Christ via baptism provides external union: baptism of the Spirit (regeneration) is necessary for more than merely external union. They went out from us, because they were not of us. The apostate were only ever part of Christ outwardly and formally, not inwardly and really. Thus, apostacy is demonstration of a lack of real union with Christ.

2) Additionally, the verb tense is surely wrong. It should state "had."

In other words, surely the writers of the FV JS made a typographic error in stating that apostates presently have a connection to Christ. Even according only to the remainder of the paragraph, it should be clear that the connection that they had was cut off.

C) "Indeed falling from grace"

This terminology "fallen from grace" appears to be taken from:

Galatians 5:4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.

There it is used to convey the effect that those who seek justification from works are out of God's favor (grace), and Christ is of no use to such a person:

Galatians 5:2-3
2Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. 3For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.

It seems, however, that the FVists have misunderstood Galatians 5:4 as suggesting some sort of fall from a state of saving (or perhaps prevenient?) grace.

D) "Apostasy is a terrifying reality for many baptized Christians"

The term "baptized Christians" is one loaded with potential for error. A Christian is one that is one inwardly, and the baptism that matters is of the heart. Apostasy may be a legitimate concern for a weak Christian struggling with sin, but it is not a "terrifying reality." Christians (true Christians) do not apostatize, and just because someone is baptized does not make him a Christian.

The present author has been enjoying Hoeksema's "Righteous by Faith Alone" (link). His commentary on Romans 2 applies marvellously to defeat the FV error with respect to the effect of baptism.

To paraphrase Romans 2:

Romans 2:26-29 (modified to substitute baptism for circumcision)
26Therefore if the [unbaptized man] keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his [lack of baptism] be counted for [baptism]? 27And shall not [lack of baptism] which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and [baptism] dost transgress the law? 28For he is not a [Christian], which is one outwardly; neither is that [baptism], which is outward in the flesh: 29But he is a [Christian], which is one inwardly; and [baptism] is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

Baptism is a sign and seal of the covenant. My Baptist brethren err by denying that sign to unregenerate children of believers, while my FV brethren err by asserting that the sign ipse actually provides grace to the children (though whether that is alleged to be the grace of regeneration, I cannot discern from the FV's joint statement).

Conclusion

It's good that the FVists affirm that "The decretally elect cannot apostatize." Wonderful. Nevertheless, it is only the elect who are properly and inwardly Christians, whether or not they are baptized. Baptism is a sign and imprimatur of the covenant, but it is not the covenant itself. A man will be saved by faith in Christ without baptism, and no one will be saved who is baptized and does not have faith.

Is there any benefit to baptism? Certainly! The baptized are outwardly part of the church, they receive the benefit of the preaching of the word, the instruction and discipline of the elders, and so forth.

As it was with the church in the Old Testament:

Romans 3:1-2
1What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? 2Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.

These are advantages that accrued to the congregation (ekklesia) of the children of Israel in the Old Testament and to the church of the New Testament. Your baptized children receive this blessing that they have the word of God preached to them. They are under the ministry of the word, both - we hope - at home and among the congregation of the people of God.

This is a blessing of God, and it is - one might say - favor. It is, however, not the equivalent of saving grace. It is the outward and ordinary means, not the inward and effectual means, of salvation. It is valuable, and it is important - but it is as much overplayed by the FVists as it is underplayed by the Reformed Baptists.

I note that Andy Webb has posted some similar comments today on the Green Baggins(es) web site (link). I haven't read all that AW has posted yet, so there may be substantial overlap between our posts. I apologize for any unnecessary duplication.

-Turretinfan

5 comments:

Albert said...

Turretinfan,

As I have told you in one of your posts, I am studying the arguments from both sides in the baptism debate. Many weeks ago, a friend who is also a Reformed pastor, allowed me to borrow a book in defense of Reformed infant baptism. The title of the book is Children of the Promise by Randy Booth. In the book, Booth mentions the name of Doug Wilson, his friend.

Question:

I read from somwhere that Booth, like Wilson, is also an FV advocate. Is this true? Thanks.

Turretinfan said...

I'm not sure about Boothe, and I'd be hesitant to assume that because he was friends with Wilson, therefore he is FV.

He wrote on the topic here (link) without openly taking sides.

-Turretinfan

Turretinfan said...

But, on the flip side, the Wikipedia entry on Federal Vision lists him ... and he is one of the signers of the Joint Statement, to which I respond in the post above ...

So, perhaps the label is fair.

Doug Wilson would seem to think that it is.

-Turretinfan

Albert said...

I asked you the question because I saw Booth's name in that wikipedia article. If he is really an FV advocate, then he is no longer using the kind of language he used in his book, which is very Reformed. Thanks.

Turretinfan said...

Albert,

Thanks for the information!

-Turretinfan