The first "item" of the Federal Vision Joint Statement is:
Our Triune God We affirm that the triune God is the archetype of all covenantal relations. All faithful theology and life is conducted in union with and imitation of the way God eternally is, and so we seek to understand all that the Bible teaches—on covenant, on law, on gospel, on predestination, on sacraments, on the Church—in the light of an explicit Trinitarian understanding. We deny that a mere formal adherence to the doctrine of the Trinity is sufficient to keep the very common polytheistic and unitarian temptations of unbelieving thought at bay.
The Trinity (the triune God) is not the archtype of all covenantal relations. This is something close to the Eastern Orthodox error of theosis ("God became man, so that man could become god(s)"). The relation between God and man is other and unlike the relation among the persons of the trinity. It is not an analogy, it is simply other. Marriage, slavery, monarchy, and the like are typical of the relation of the church and Christ. Adoption is typical of the relation of the church and the Father.
The idea that "all faithful theology and life is conducted in union with and imitation of the way God eternally is," is both vague and imprecise. Knowledge of God is a logical prerequisite for a faithful life and (obviously) of theology, but to mention "union and imitation" is simply to invite imprecise thinking.
Keeping the nature of God (as Trinity, but also as Infinite, Eternal, and Unchangeable in his Being, Wisdom, Power, Holiness, Justice, Goodness, and Truth) in mind is important when understanding theology (especially theology proper).
Obviously mere formal subscription to Trinitarianism is insufficient to ensure proper thinking in theology. Unless there is something behind the denial presented, it is simply trivial.
The second item is:
As the Waters Cover the Sea We affirm that God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but rather so that the world through Him would be saved. Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world—He is the Savior of the world. All the nations shall stream to Him, and His resting place shall be glorious. We affirm that prior to the second coming of our Lord Jesus, the earth will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
We deny that eschatological views are to be a test of fellowship between orthodox believers, but at the same time we hold that an orientation of faith with regard to the gospel’s triumph in history is extremely important. We deny that it is wise to imitate Abraham in his exercise of faith while declining to believe the content of what he believed—that through him all the nations of the world would be blessed, and that his descendants would be like the stars in number.
The title of this section is based on:
Habakkuk 2:14 For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
Isaiah 11:9 They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
The claim that the prophecy of Isaiah 11:9 precedes the second coming would seem to contradict the context of the verse:
4But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. 5And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. 6The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. 7And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den. 9They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
Smiting the earth with a rod of iron and slaying the wicked with the breath of his lips would seem to be a reference to the final judgment at the second coming. What follows would seem to be a description of heaven.
The context of Habakkuk 2:14 is slightly less clear, yet:
2And the LORD answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it. 3For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry. 4Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith. 5Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine, he is a proud man, neither keepeth at home, who enlargeth his desire as hell, and is as death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people: 6Shall not all these take up a parable against him, and a taunting proverb against him, and say, Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his! how long? and to him that ladeth himself with thick clay! 7Shall they not rise up suddenly that shall bite thee, and awake that shall vex thee, and thou shalt be for booties unto them? 8Because thou hast spoiled many nations, all the remnant of the people shall spoil thee; because of men's blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein. 9Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house, that he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the power of evil! 10Thou hast consulted shame to thy house by cutting off many people, and hast sinned against thy soul. 11For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it. 12Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city by iniquity! 13Behold, is it not of the LORD of hosts that the people shall labour in the very fire, and the people shall weary themselves for very vanity? 14For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. 15Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness! 16Thou art filled with shame for glory: drink thou also, and let thy foreskin be uncovered: the cup of the LORD'S right hand shall be turned unto thee, and shameful spewing shall be on thy glory. 17For the violence of Lebanon shall cover thee, and the spoil of beasts, which made them afraid, because of men's blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein. 18What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols? 19Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it. 20But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.
This as well would seem primarily to point forward to heaven.
It's good that they do not make their eschatological view (presumably post-millenial?) a test of orthodoxy, but their assertion that "we hold that an orientation of faith with regard to the gospel’s triumph in history is extremely important" coupled with the fact that they included an eschatological position in their joint statement seems to betray a different position. Furthermore, I'm not sure that the statement "extremely important" can be substantiated exegetically.
"We deny that it is wise to ... declin[e] to believe the content of what he believed—that through him all the nations of the world would be blessed, and that his descendants would be like the stars in number."
The thing of which Abraham believed that was of greater significance was the Messiah. The "all nations being blessed" was fulfilled principally in Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. We will not bear Messiahs. Abraham is the father of the faithful, we are not. There are some similes between us and Abraham, but we should not believe the "full content" of what he believed, because not all the promises made to him are made to us.
The Next Christendom We affirm that Jesus Christ is the King of kings, and the Lord of lords. We believe that the Church cannot be a faithful witness to His authority without calling all nations to submit themselves to Him through baptism, accepting their responsibility to obediently learn all that He has commanded us. We affirm therefore that the Christian faith is a public faith, encompassing every realm of human endeavor. The fulfillment of the Great Commission therefore requires the establishment of a global Christendom.
We deny that neutrality is possible in any realm, and this includes the realm of “secular” politics. We believe that the lordship of Jesus Christ has authoritative ramifications for every aspect of human existence, and that growth up into a godly maturity requires us to discover what those ramifications are in order to implement them. Jesus Christ has established a new way of being human, and it is our responsibility to grow up into it.
The main point of this section (that it is impossible to be neutral with respect to Christianity in virtually any sphere of endeavor: politics included) is correct, but it is also important to remember Christ's own words, that his kingdom is not of this world, for if it were, he would not be crucified. Also, "Jesus Christ has established a new of being human," is just wrong. There's no basis for that claim. Furthermore, the emphasis on baptism is odd. They are chiefly called to submission in the form of repentance and faith: baptism is primarily a sign.
Scripture Cannot Be Broken We affirm that the Bible in its entirety, from Genesis to Revelation, is the infallible Word of God, and is our only ultimate rule for faith and practice. Scripture alone is the infallible and ultimate standard for Christians. We affirm further that Scripture is to be our guide in learning how to interpret Scripture, and this means we must imitate the apostolic handling of the Old Testament, paying close attention to language, syntax, context, narrative flow, literary styles, and typology—all of it integrated in Jesus Christ Himself. We deny that the Bible can be rightly understood by any hermeneutical grid not derived from the Scriptures themselves.
Scripture, of course, cannot be broken: meaning that prophecy cannot fail to be fulfilled. Furthermore, the positive statement of Sola Scriptura is generally accurate. The denial is a bit of an overstatement: after all, even a blind squirrel can occasionally find a nut. The fact that a hermeneutic is erroneous does not ensure error, at least not uniformly so.
The Proclamation of the Word We affirm that God's Spirit has chosen the best ways to express the revelation of God and reality, and that the divine rhetoric found in Holy Scripture is designed to strike the richest of all chords in the hearers of the Word of God. For this reason, we believe that it is pastorally best to use biblical language and phrasing in the preaching and teaching of the Bible in the Church.
We deny that it necessarily unprofitable to “translate” biblical language into more “philosophical” or “scholastic” languages in order to deal with certain problems and issues that arise in the history of the Church. At the same time, we do deny that such translations are superior to or equal to the rhetoric employed by the Spirit in the text, and we believe that the employment of such hyper-specialized terminology in the regular teaching and preaching of the Church has the unfortunate effect of confusing the saints and of estranging them from contact with the biblical use of the same language. For this reason we reject the tendency to privilege the confessional and/or scholastic use of words and phrases over the way the same words and phrases are used in the Bible itself.
This condemnation of specialized language is a bit silly, particularly when the writers have already employed such scholastic terms as triune and hermenuetic(al) in their statement. Preachers have the duty, according to Scripture, of explaining the sense. It is lawful, and it may be expedient, to use "hyper-specialized" terminology to do so. From time to time Scripture itself employs specialized terminology, such as when it makes reference to difficult issues such as God's love of the elect before their existence ("foreknowledge") and the like.
The Scriptures were not written in English, and the Old Testament Scriptures were not written in Hebrew. While a faithful translation (note the lack of quotation marks) is important, it is less important to maintain the precise expressions than to convey the sense. A skilled pastor having provided the precise expressions in the reading of the Word, will also provide the sense, which may involve words and phrases that are not used in the Bible itself: including words like "triune" and "hermeneutic" and even "grid."
Creeds and Confessions We affirm that all who subscribe to creeds and confessions should do so with a clean conscience and honest interpretation, in accordance with the plain meaning of words and the original intent of the authors, as can best be determined.
We deny that confessional commitments in any way require us to avoid using the categories and terms of Scripture, even when the confessional use of such words is necessarily more narrow and circumscribed. We deny that creedal or systematic understandings of scriptural truth can ever be given a place of parity with Scripture, or primacy over Scripture. In line with this, we continue to honor and hold to the creeds of the ancient Church and the confessions of the reformational Church.
The term "reformational" is clearly wrong; whether intentionally wrong or not, I'm unsure. The word should be "Reformed." Other than that, the statement itself is innocuous, although (in view of the previous item) the reason for its inclusion begins to be suspect.
The Divine Decrees We affirm that the triune God is exhaustively sovereign over all things, working out all things according to the counsel of His will. Because this necessarily includes our redemption in Christ, God alone receives all the glory for our salvation. Before all worlds, God the Father chose a great host of those who would be saved, and the number of those so chosen cannot be increased or diminished. In due time, Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross, and in that sacrifice He secured the salvation of all those chosen for salvation by the Father. And at some time in the earthly life of each person so chosen, the Holy Spirit brings that person to life, and enables him to persevere in holiness to the end. 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.
We deny that the unchangeable nature of these decrees prevents us from using the same language in covenantal ways as we describe our salvation from within that covenant. We further deny this covenantal usage is “pretend” language, even where the language and terminology sometimes overlaps with the language of the decrees. The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children, that we may keep the words of this law. We affirm the reality of the decrees, but deny that the decrees “trump” the covenant. We do not set them against each other, but expect them to harmonize perfectly as God works out all things in accordance with His will.
The comment "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," is the odd comment. It is simply unclear what the FVists mean by "common operations of the Spirit." The non-elect members of the covenant do not receive any different inward working of the Spirit than those outside the covenant. The proof is the Pharisees.
The denial is pejorative. Outward membership in the covenant is not "pretend" and the decrees do not "trump" the covenant in the conventional sense. Thus, it's not clear what precisely the FVists are trying to say here.
We suspect something because of the comments of the FVists in other places in the statement, but we'll address those things in their proper places.
The Church We affirm that membership in the one true Christian Church is visible and objective, and is the possession of everyone who has been baptized in the triune name and who has not been excommunicated by a lawful disciplinary action of the Church. We affirm one holy, catholic and apostolic church, the house and family of God, outside of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. In establishing the Church, God has fulfilled His promise to Abraham and established the Regeneration of all things. God has established this Regeneration through Christ—in Him we have the renewal of life in the fulness of life in the new age of the kingdom of God.
We deny that membership in the Christian Church in history is an infallible indicator or guarantee of final salvation. Those who are faithless to their baptismal obligations incur a stricter judgment because of it.
There are a number of oddities to this statement. The baptism need not be "lawful," but the disciplinary action must be. There is no room for post-excommunication reconciliation in the poorly-worded statement.
"The Regeneration of all things," is also a bit of an odd statement. It's not clear what the FVists mean by it, or how it connects with conventional regeneration. The "new age of the kingdom of God" seems to be based on a misunderstanding (possibly eschatological) about what the kingdom of God is. The kingdom of God is salvation from sins. There is a sense in which the New Testament era is a "new age," but it is not the primary "age" to which we look forward: that is heaven.
Those who apostatize after sitting under the preaching of the word, the sacraments, and so forth receive a greater punishment, because they were given more outward blessings.
Membership, however, in the one true Christian Church is invisible and spiritual. Union with visible church is necessarily union with unbelievers, because there are and will be unbelievers amidst the believers in the visible church.
The Visible and Invisible Church We affirm that there is only one true Church, and that this Church can legitimately be considered under various descriptions, including the aspects of visible and invisible. We further affirm that the visible Church is the true Church of Christ, and not an “approximate” Church.
We deny that such a distinction excludes other helpful distinctions, such as the historical church and eschatological church. The historical Church generally corresponds to the visible Church—all those who profess the true religion, together with their children—and the eschatological Church should be understood as the full number of God’s chosen as they will be seen on the day of resurrection.
This is a very odd way of expressing the matter. The visible church is an approximation of the invisible church. Thus, while the visible church is a church of Christ, it is only approximate to the true, spiritual church of Christ: the church redeemed by the blood of Christ.
Unless the FVists mean something non-traditional by "invisible church," then "invisible church" and "eschatalogical church" are one and the same thing. I suppose we might make one exception. That is to say, the eschatological church includes the elect that do not known exist, whereas - one might argue - the invisible church only (so far) includes the elect that exist and have been justified already.
Likewise, the historical church (unless the FVists are using the term "visible church" non-traditionally) is essentially equivalent to the visible church. Again, one exception may be permitted. That is to say, the historical church might be said to include those who have now died, and who died professing the faith, or as children of those professing the faith.
But the truly strange part of the statement is the assertion that there is "only one true Church" as the lead-in to the discussion. The one true Church is the Catholic, invisible church - which will be complete on the day of judgment.
Reformed Catholicity We affirm that justification is through faith in Jesus Christ, and not through works of the law, whether those works were revealed to us by God, or manufactured by man. Because we are justified through faith in Jesus alone, we believe that we have an obligation to be in fellowship with everyone that God has received into fellowship with Himself. We deny that correct formulations of the doctrine of sola fide can be substituted for genuine faith in Jesus, or that such correct formulations can be taken as infallible indicators of a true faith in Jesus.
The first sentence of this statement is orthodox. The second sentence is disjoint and borderline incoherent. It is disjoint because our manner of justification (to wit, by faith alone) does not directly relate to our duty of fellowship to the brethren. Thus, the "because" seems to be misplaced.
The statement is borderline incoherent, because we do not know the number of the elect: we do not know "everyone that God has received into fellowship with Himself." Thus, we cannot do as the FVists ask. Now, we may presume (from the context) that the FVists mean to suggest that all members of the visible church are those "that God has received into fellowship with Himself." Now, it is generally the case that we ought to have fellowship with the brethren, the members of the visible church. If that is all that the sentence means, then it conveys an orthodox sentiment.
The denial in this section is a rhetorical truism.
The Covenant of Life We affirm that Adam was in a covenant of life with the triune God in the Garden of Eden, in which arrangement Adam was required to obey God completely, from the heart. We hold further that all such obedience, had it occurred, would have been rendered from a heart of faith alone, in a spirit of loving trust. Adam was created to progress from immature glory to mature glory, but that glorification too would have been a gift of grace, received by faith alone. We deny that continuance in this covenant in the Garden was in any way a payment for work rendered. Adam could forfeit or demerit the gift of glorification by disobedience, but the gift or continued possession of that gift was not offered by God to Adam conditioned upon Adam’s moral exertions or achievements. In line with this, we affirm that until the expulsion from the Garden, Adam was free to eat from the tree of life. We deny that Adam had to earn or merit righteousness, life, glorification, or anything else.
The first two sentences of the statement are unobjectionable. The next sentence is clearly mistaken: "Adam was created to progress from immature glory to mature glory, but that glorification too would have been a gift of grace, received by faith alone." Adam was created to fall. That was always God's plan. If Adam had eaten of the tree of life, he would have lived forever, even after the fall. Thus, he was cast out of the garden, and the garden was guarded by an angel bearing a flaming sword.
The next sentence is just strange: "We deny that continuance in this covenant in the Garden was in any way a payment for work rendered." The covenant was: do this and live. Thus, the wage of obedience was life. Of course, perhaps the reference is not to mere life but to some completely speculative "glorification" that the FVists appear to have added into Scripture.
The following sentence is similarly strange: "Adam could forfeit or demerit the gift of glorification by disobedience, but the gift or continued possession of that gift was not offered by God to Adam conditioned upon Adam’s moral exertions or achievements." Again, the covenant was simple: do this and live. No gift of glorification is mentioned, nor was any such glorification planned (since God had decreed the fall). Adam's continued life in the garden was based on Adam's obedience via moral exertion/achievement.
The strangeness continues in the next sentence: "In line with this, we affirm that until the expulsion from the Garden, Adam was free to eat from the tree of life." Adam could have eaten from the tree of life at any time and lived forever. Before the fall, God permitted man to eat from that tree, if man liked. However, after the fall, God prevented many from eating from that tree.
The final sentence is erroneous: "We deny that Adam had to earn or merit righteousness, life, glorification, or anything else." Adam initially received life as a gift from God. Adam, however, was placed under the covenant of life, in which Adam had to obey in order to merit continued life. If Adam had obeyed the command not to eat the forbidden fruit, God would not have been just in punishing Adam with death.
The Sacrament of Baptism We affirm that God formally unites a person to Christ and to His covenant people through baptism into the triune Name, and that this baptism obligates such a one to lifelong covenant loyalty to the triune God, each baptized person repenting of his sins and trusting in Christ alone for his salvation. Baptism formally engrafts a person into the Church, which means that baptism is into the Regeneration, that time when the Son of Man sits upon His glorious throne (Matt. 19:28). We deny that baptism automatically guarantees that the baptized will share in the eschatological Church. We deny the common misunderstanding of baptismal regeneration—i.e. that an “effectual call” rebirth is automatically wrought in the one baptized. Baptism apart from a growing and living faith is not saving, but rather damning. But we deny that trusting God's promise through baptism elevates baptism to a human work. God gives baptism as assurance of His grace to us personally, as our names are spoken when we are baptized.
The first few sentences of the section are orthodox. Then comes the sentence: "Baptism formally engrafts a person into the Church, which means that baptism is into the Regeneration, that time when the Son of Man sits upon His glorious throne (Matt. 19:28)." The first phrase of this sentence is accurate (if "the Church" is understood as the visible church). The explanation is bizarre. Baptism is a symbol of regeneration.
It's unclear what the FVists are trying to assert here. They speak of Regeneration as though it were an event in the life of Christ, but (oddly) not to Christ's resurrection (a regenerative event). Christ is now seated on the right hand of God the Father, but baptism is not "into" a time. The explanation is not really coherent.
Aside from the obviously FVist nomenclature employed (e.g. eschatological church), the paragraph of denials seems generally sound. There is one quite odd turn of phrase: "we deny that trusting ... elevates Baptism to a human work." Baptism is a human work. It is something a minister of the gospel performs, and a person (either a believer or a child of a believer) receives. I'm not sure how something being a human work "elevates" it in any sense. How can it be something less than a human work? It is not an accident.
The final statement is also odd: "God gives baptism as assurance of His grace to us personally, as our names are spoken when we are baptized." Baptism is a sign and seal of the covenant of grace. There is no Biblical reason a person's name has to be spoken during the baptismal rite. Presbyterian churches name the person's name because that is in the book of church order, not because of a Scriptural requirement. Although it is traditional to name the person, the important name is the triune name of God. Furthermore, many people are baptized as infants, and consequently ought not to have "assurance of grace" (in the sense of assurance of saving grace) simply on account of being baptized. Of course, it is not even clear whether the FVists are speaking of saving grace, common grace, or some other category of grace of their own making.
The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper We affirm that by faithful use of the humble but glorious elements of bread and wine (remaining such), we are being grown up into a perfect unity with our Head, the Lord Jesus. Unless there has been lawful disciplinary action by the Church, we affirm that any baptized person, children included, should be welcome at the Table. We deny that the Supper is merely symbolic, but we also deny that any metaphysical changes are wrought in the bread or wine. We believe in the real presence of Christ with His people in the Supper, but we deny the local presence of Christ in the elements.
This section does not start out well. There is an eternal union between Christ and the elect. Furthermore, the forensic union between Christ and the elect occurs at justification. There is nothing imperfect about either of those unions. What believers grow in is in sanctification: in imitation of Christ.
This section also does not continue well: children who cannot discern the Lord's body ought not to be welcome at the Table. Likewise, those people who are rebels, outside any body of discipline ought not to be welcomed to the table. Furthermore, those who are members in good standing of bodies that notoriously do not exercise Godly discipline (or who are faultlessly not currently under Godly discipline) ought not to be unconditionally welcomed to the table. Ministers of the word have a duty to the fence the table.
The second paragraph is poorly worded, though it seems to be headed in the right direction. The sacrament is not merely symbolic, and yet the elements are physically unchanged (both as to their essence and substance). Christ is really, spiritually present. Christ's body, however, is in heaven. I don't think the FVists are trying to affirm (via denial) anything other than that.
Union with Christ and Imputation 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. Christ is the new Adam, obeying God where the first Adam did not obey God. And Christ as the new Israel was baptized as the old Israel was, was tempted for 40 days as Israel was for 40 years, and as the greater Joshua He conquered the land of Canaan in the course of His ministry. This means that through Jesus, on our behalf, Israel has finally obeyed God and has been accepted by Him. 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. We deny that faithfulness to the gospel message requires any particular doctrinal formulation of the “imputation of the active obedience of Christ.” What matters is that we confess that our salvation is all of Christ, and not from us.
The positive side of this section seems mostly correct. One error exists: Christ's resurrection is not credited to us. It was not act of Christ, but of the Father. The Father raised Christ.
The negative side of this section appears to be essentially aimed at anti-intellectualism. However, the cynical person might argue that this denial section is aimed adopting the errors of Norman Shepherd with respect to denial of the doctrine of the imputation of Christ's active obedience. (Compare this defense of the doctrine of the imputation of Christ's active imputation.) Indeed, sometimes Norman Shepherd is blamed for the FVist heresy (FVist leader James Jordan, for example, apparently studied under Norman Shepherd).
Law and Gospel We affirm that those in rebellion against God are condemned both by His law, which they disobey, and His gospel, which they also disobey. When they have been brought to the point of repentance by the Holy Spirit, we affirm that the gracious nature of all God’s words becomes evident to them. At the same time, we affirm that it is appropriate to speak of law and gospel as having a redemptive and historical thrust, with the time of the law being the old covenant era and the time of the gospel being the time when we enter our maturity as God’s people. We further affirm that those who are first coming to faith in Christ frequently experience the law as an adversary and the gospel as deliverance from that adversary, meaning that traditional evangelistic applications of law and gospel are certainly scriptural and appropriate.
We deny that law and gospel should be considered as a hermeneutics, or treated as such. We believe that any passage, whether indicative or imperative, can be heard by the faithful as good news, and that any passage, whether containing gospel promises or not, will be heard by the rebellious as intolerable demand. The fundamental division is not in the text, but rather in the human heart.
This is an interesting section. The key potential source of controversy is the statement: "We deny that law and gospel should be considered as a hermeneutics, or treated as such." Hermeneutic means:
HERMENEU'TICS, n. The art of finding the meaning of an author's words and phrases, and of explaining it to others. (source)
Paul pretty clearly explains that the law is a schoolmaster. It is hard to see how the law and the gospel could not be used in hermeneutics. Of course, what they may mean to say is something else, such as that the law and the gospel should not be used to rigidly carve up the text into verses in red highlighting (law verses) and blue highlighting (gospel verses) or the dispensational error of throwing out the Old Testament as "law" in favor of the New Testament "gospel." Who knows what they meant ... they don't manage to communicate themselves clearly.
The phrase, "The fundamental division is not in the text, but rather in the human heart," is a nice sentiment, but doesn't really convey any useful information. We assume the FVists do not mean that the law/gospel distinction is entirely subjective, although that is one possible understanding of this phrase. If they did mean that, then we would reject it as erroneous.
Justification by Faith Alone We affirm 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 Jesus Christ alone.
We deny that the faith which is the sole instrument of justification can be understood as anything other than the only kind of faith which God gives, which is to say, a living, active and personally loyal faith. Justifying faith encompasses the elements of assent, knowledge, and living trust in accordance with the age and maturity of the believer. We deny that faith is ever alone, even at the moment of the effectual call.
The first sentence is clearly orthodox. The second sentence is generally orthodox, and appears to be borrowed from Cyril Lucar or a similar theologian (ironically, the "faith is a hand" metaphor is not a Biblical metaphor). The third sentence is also clearly orthodox.
The remaining sentences are mostly orthodox. The idea that "faith is [not] ever alone, even at the moment of the effectual call" is a bit odd. It is not necessarily the case that at that moment there will already be works to testify to the faith, which is the normal sense in which we speak of faith that is not alone. Nevertheless, since the effectual call is a work of the Spirit, therefore, inherently faith at the time of the effectual call is not alone, in the sense that it is accompanied by God's grace.
Assurance of Salvation 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. We affirm also that though salvation is granted through the instrument of faith alone, those who have been justified will live progressively more and more sanctified lives until they go to be with God. Those believers for whom this is true look to Christ for their assurance—in the Word, in the sacraments, in their fellow believers, and in their own participation in that life by faith.
We deny that anyone who claims to have faith but who lives in open rebellion against God and against his Christ has any reason to believe that he will be saved on the last day.
This section appears to be generally orthodox.
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.
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:
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).
(see my original post on this particular section - here)
Some Points of Intramural Disagreement The “Federal Vision” is not a monolithic movement. It has been variously described as a conversation, a broad school of thought, a series of similar questions, and so on. As the statements above would indicate, there are a number of common themes held by those who signed this statement.
But there are also important areas of disagreement or ongoing discussion among those who are identified as “Federal Vision” advocates. Some of these areas would include, but not be limited to whether or not the imputation of the active obedience of Christ (as traditionally understood) is to be affirmed in its classic form. Some of us affirm this and some do not. Another difference is whether or not personal regeneration represents a change of nature in the person so regenerated. Some of us say yes while others question whether we actually have such an “essence” that can be changed. All of us would affirm that we should have a high view of covenant renewal liturgy, but this does not necessarily mean that we all agree on how “high” the liturgy should actually be. Some of us are comfortable using the language of justification to describe the “deliverdict” of the last day, while others would prefer to describe it in other ways. That said, we are all agreed that no one is justified at any time because they personally have earned or merited anything. Some of us robustly affirm Christ's unique merit in His person and work as the answer to our demerit. Others think there are better words to describe the value and worthiness of Christ's sacrifice without recourse to the term "merit" because it is not biblical language and its use in the history of the church and currently shows that it can cause confusion.
Any doctrine mentioned in the sections before this one can be fairly represented as part of the Federal Vision. Issues in this last section cannot be fairly represented as the view of the whole. Our prayer is that this statement will help to bring clarity to a subject that been confused because of the noise of controversy. “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace . . .” (Eph. 4:3).
The last line is the most offensive aspect of the document, precisely because the FV movement is not endeavoring to keep unity, but is actually dividing.
Leaving that aside, the disclaimer is useful. Some FVists are further from the truth than others. Having this statement, as poorly worded and - in places - as vague as it is, is helpful. It helps to provide a basis to decide whether something is or is not "Federal Vision" per se. It also makes it possible to identify some of the critical errors in FVism, although we suspect that there may still be FV distinctives lurking behind the statement.
For those concerned about the accuracy of the quotations from the statement, here's a link (link to fvstatement (pdf)). The men who signed this statement were originally:
John Barach (minister, CREC)
Randy Booth (minister, CREC)
Tim Gallant (minister, CREC)
Rich Lusk (minister, CREC)
Ralph Smith (minister, CREC)
Douglas Wilson (minister, CREC)
Jim Jordan (member CREC)
Peter Leithart (minister, PCA - serving in a CREC church now)(Pacific Northwest Presbytery)
Steve Wilkins (minister, was PCA when he signed, now CREC)
Mark Horne (minister, PCA) (Missouri Presbytery)
Jeff Meyers (minister, PCA) (Missouri Presbytery)
One really wonders whether the PCA will turn next to the Missouri Presbytery to address Ministers Horne and Meyers. The Missouri Presbytery's report seems generally sound, but it does not seem to really address the Federal Vision problem, or the issues identified above (here is a link to the MO Presbytery report on Federal Vision in (pdf)).