Study Committee on New Perspective/Federal Vision issues report...

…it is evident that the version of covenant and election taught by the NPP and FV is incompatible with the views of the Westminster Standards. In fact, these two approaches to covenant and election are not complementary ways of looking at the biblical data, but irreconcilably contradictory alternative accounts of the biblical data. (from the Report of Ad Interim Study Committee on Federal Vision, New Perspective, and Auburn Avenue Theologies)

The PCA general assembly appointed a committee to study the New Perspective on Paul and the Federal Vision/Auburn Avenue theology. The report has just been issued and can be found here. Not to prejudge the matter, but the above quote is indicative of the fact that there are real teeth in the report's declarations and recommendations--teeth that, if the coming assembly adopts the report, will require a number of men to make some tough choices about their ecclesiastical commitments...

Here are the declarations and recommendations, in full:

Declarations

In light of the controversy surrounding the NPP and FV, and after many months of careful study, the committee unanimously makes the following declarations:

1. The view that rejects the bi-covenantal structure of Scripture as represented in the Westminster Standards (i.e., views which do not merely take issue with the terminology, but the essence of the first/second covenant framework) is contrary to those Standards.

2. The view that an individual is “elect” by virtue of his membership in the visible church; and that this “election” includes justification, adoption and sanctification; but that this individual could lose his “election” if he forsakes the visible church, is contrary to the Westminster Standards.

3. The view that Christ does not stand as a representative head whose perfect obedience and satisfaction is imputed to individuals who believe in him is contrary to the Westminster Standards.

4. The view that strikes the language of “merit” from our theological vocabulary so that the claim is made that Christ’s merits are not imputed to his people is contrary to the Westminster Standards.

5. The view that “union with Christ” renders imputation redundant because it subsumes all of Christ’s benefits (including justification) under this doctrinal heading is contrary to the Westminster Standards.

6. The view that water baptism effects a “covenantal union” with Christ through which each baptized person receives the saving benefits of Christ’s mediation, including regeneration, justification, and sanctification, thus creating a parallel soteriological system to the decretal system of the Westminster Standards, is contrary to the Westminster Standards.

7. The view that one can be “united to Christ” and not receive all the benefits of Christ’s mediation, including perseverance, in that effectual union is contrary to the Westminster Standards.

8. The view that some can receive saving benefits of Christ’s mediation, such as regeneration and justification, and yet not persevere in those benefits is contrary to the Westminster Standards.

9. The view that justification is in any way based on our works, or that the so-called “final verdict of justification” is based on anything other than the perfect obedience and satisfaction of Christ received through faith alone, is contrary to the Westminster Standards.


Recommendations

1. That the General Assembly commends to Ruling and Teaching Elders and their congregations this report of the Ad Interim Committee on NPP, AAT and FV for careful consideration and study.

2. That the General Assembly reminds the Church, its officers and congregations of the provisions of BCO 29-1 and 39-3 which assert that the Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms of the Westminster Assembly, while “subordinate to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, the inerrant Word of God,” have been adopted by the PCA “as standard expositions of the teachings of Scripture in relation to both faith and practice.”

3. That the General Assembly recommends the declarations in this report as a faithful exposition of the Westminster Standards, and further reminds those ruling and teaching elders whose views are out of accord with our Standards of their obligation to make known to their courts any differences in their views.

4. That the General Assembly reminds the Sessions and Presbyteries of the PCA that it is their duty “to exercise care over those subject to their authority” and “to condemn erroneous opinions which injure the purity or peace of the Church” (BCO 31-2; 13-9f).

5. That the Ad Interim Study Committee on NPP, AAT and FV be dismissed with thanks.

 That the Ad Interim Study Committee on NPP, AAT and FV be dismissed with thanks.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and fifteen grandchildren.

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Comments

Dear Tim:

Is there any place where a list of those who were on the committee can be found?

I just received the critique of the Federal Vision by Guy Waters and it looks like a really fine work.

David

Forgive a deep sigh. Siiigh.

Guy Waters' critique of the FV is horrible. Most of the people I consider major FV proponents say that it does not accurately represent or interact with their beliefs.

Here's that link I was looking for... the author's responses to Waters' book:

http://www.federal-vision.com/

Dear Austin:

It is interesting that you would say that.

FV proponents always seem to be changing their views. Doug Wilson writes a book and then changes his views and says, no, I didn't mean all that or some of all that.

FV proponents are prolific authors and speakers. Their sermons are online, their papers and articles are online. So Waters reads them and criticises them. Then the FV guys say, no, you didn't touch us, you don't understand us, you critqued the wrong stuff.

You know what, Austin? I smell a rat.

Either the FV guys don't know what they actually believe or they are forever revising what they believe or they don't like being evaluated and so when they are critiqued they do this little dance. I doubt the first. If the second possibility is true, then they should be quiet until they are sure. I believe the third is the case.

Let's tell them to be men and stand by what they've preached and written or just admit that they were wrong.

And Austin, let's leave the "sighs" out of this.

warm regards,

David

>I just received the critique of the Federal Vision by Guy Waters and it looks like a really fine work.

Haven't read his book but I heard an extended appearance he made on a Baptist show (naturally hosted by Baptists) where if memory serves the hosts and he seemed to view people like Doug Wilson as being bound for Rome. Goodness knows what his hosts would have said if he talked to them about infant baptism. At any rate his live appearance was so unimpressive I was left with little desire to read his book.

"Doug Wilson writes a book and then changes his views and says, no, I didn't mean all that or some of all that."

That is *such* a preposterous claim. Even for the anti-FV industry it stands out.

Basically, it is easy to condemn FV if you listen to every bit of internet gossip and then, when you see that FV doesn't match what you are told, take that as evidence they must be changing.

Doug's published a haiku someone wrote about that very thing.

David,

Let me see if I can help you. Here is one example using a quote from the PCA report:

*The point is that, for the FV writers, the elect can become non-elect, the elect can possibly fail to persevere.*

The implication, of course, is that FV writers are denying the doctrine of election and perseverance as traditionally understood in Reformed theology.

Now, I haven't read all the FV materials but have read a substantial portion of what's in print or on the Internet. I have seen people talk about two biblical uses of the word *elect*, one referring to the elect in the systematic theological decretal sense and one referring to all members of the visible church. But, I have never seen anyone assert that elect individuals, in the former sense, can fall away. In fact, I have seen this denied over and over again.

Every FV writer that I've read affirms decretal election as traditionally understood. They have been very careful to make this clear and to draw distinctions between the two uses of the word *elect*.

So, when the PCA report takes a word that is asserted to have two uses and then, draws a conclusion using only one of those definitions without acknowledging the distinctions that have been made by FV proponents, I smell a rat.

I have seen this type of thing again and again. I could understand it if I was seeing it from a bunch of bloggers but from reputed scholars in the church, I expect more.

Blessings,

Some of the theological conclusions were actually quite sloppy. In point 2, as has already been mentioned, there is equivocation on the term elect. This is a mistake that has been pointed out again and again, and so I don't understand why it keeps reappearing.

Point 3 is about the imputation of the active obedience of Christ, just in a round-about way. The idea that this is demanded by the WCF is flaty contradicted by Dr. Van Dixhoorn's historical findings, not to mention the earlier Missiouri Presbytery report.

Point 7 makes no sense, as perseverance is not a benefit of Christ's mediation, but rather a work of the Holy Spirit in maintaining the elect's faith. Furthermore, the use of the term "effectual union" rends the whole statement a tautology.

Dear Steven:

How can you say Christ did not win our total salvation (which includes perseverance) for us by His work on the cross?

Is that what you're really saying?

David

Well again, I think it is a confusion of categories.

Yes Christ won our "total salvation," but perseverance is what we do in relation to him. We persevere in our faith which is placed in Christ's total work.

Christ's mediation is the forgiving of our sins and working as a righteous representative before the Father, but the perseverance of the saints is their entire life of believing in him.

The Holy Spirit causes us to persevere in Christ.

We should be careful and precise about these sorts of things in order to provide a more consistent system and to prevent undue confusion.

Now that I read it again, point 3 might be intentionally a repitition of the bare language of the Confession. In this case it would be open to the various interpretations that were present at the Assembly itself. If that's right then I'd retract my prior criticism .

I like what Joyce Meyer at Joyce Meyer Ministries has to say about perseverance. She says that to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" means to take what God has already done in your spirit at your salvation to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in walking it out in your daily life. "Perseverance" has been a glorious word in my life.

Dear Steven:

God the Father planned our total salvation (including election, calling, regeneration, conversion, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance and glorification) in eternity past.

God the Son won for us our total salvation (including all of the above) by His work (including His sinless life, His obedience to the Father, His atoning death on the cross by which He propitiated the wrath of His Father, His resurrection, ascension, session and intercession). For example, faith can be granted to us as a gift, since it was won for us by Christ on the cross. The same goes for perseverance.

God the Holy Spirit applies the work of Christ to those whom the Father has given to Christ, i.e., the elect. The elect are those chosen by the Father from before the foundation of the world, not the members of the visible church.

This process doesn't exclude our involvement but rather secures it.

I always thought the above summary was Reformed Theology 101 and that all Calvinists believed this stuff. And the converse is also true: if you don't believe these things, you're not a Calvinist.

warm regards,

David

David,

I still just don't feel like you are trying to understand the distinction.

Yes, all things are planned out by God in his perfect fore-ordaining will, but this is not the same as to say that they are all the same class of things.

Christ's mediation before the Father is a specific thing, and we are called to believe in his person and his work. Christ's own believing (in himself?) is not imputed to us, but rather the Holy Spirit gives us a new heart by which we then believe. The same goes for perseverance, which is just the term for saying that this believing lasts our whole life.

This believing, which is coupled with repentance, is Spirit-wrought, which indeed makes it a gift, but it still is our response to the gospel of Christ's work. It is in a different category than the righteousness of Christ which is imputed to us. In traditional reformed theology we don't actually do the righteousness of Christ, but rather it is imputed to us, however, with perseverance we actually are the ones persevering throughout our lives. That's just what the word means.

I hope I have cleared things up a little, as this is merely an argument to take into account what terms mean, and not a challenge on whether or not Christ "did it all," because I affirm that heartily.

Steven,

David Wegener has served decades as a pastor and has spent the last several years of his life teaching theology and training pastors. I assure you that he understands the distinction that you are trying to make.

Well actually, years rather than decades. But yes, David Wegener trains pastors--the sons of our churches being among them--and I have high confidence in his knowledge of the Word, church history, and theology.

Archie,

I hope I wasn't coming across as condescending in tone. That was not at all my intention, and I have been reading David as coming off quite charitable. So if there is confusion in tone based on the medium, then my apologies.

blessings,

Steven

Steven:

Do you think there is any relationship between Christ's finished work and the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our hearts to enable us to believe and perservere? It sounds like you are saying that the Spirit so operates in a manner completely independent of the mediation of Christ on our behalf, when you say that "perseverance is not a benefit of Christ's mediation, but rather a work of the Holy Spirit in maintaining the elect's faith."

Dear Steven:

Precisely. Christ doesn't believe in Himself for us. We believe in Christ. But this faith that we exercise, was won for us by Christ and granted to us by the Holy Spirit.

Chris has explained my thinking. The Holy Spirit cannot apply what Christ has not won. This is what I meant that this doctrine of salvation does not exclude our involvement but rather secures it.

Similarly with perseverance: it takes blood, sweat and tears on our part. But this perseverance is ultimately the result of the Spirit's work in us because Christ has won it for us. He came into the world "to save sinners," and that includes it all.

Sincerely,

David

I understand that line of thinking now, I suppose, but I fear that it is bound to confuse Christ's objective accomplishments in the covenant of works, law-fulfilling, and wrath-bearing with the still subjective application in individuals. Faith and repentance, of which the life-total I understand to be perseverance, are the means by which union is acheived and the objective accomplishments applied.

To confound these two into one group seems to lead us into Kuyper/Hoeksema territory, which is no territory that I want to be.

I especially like recommendation #2. My PCA church has been violating the Westminster Standards in a number of ways. We occasionally have Lay Readers read Scripture from the pulpit, which is a clear violation of WLC #156. We also use grape juice in communion -- last time I checked, the WCF says "wine" and the Westminster Divines actually meant, well, "wine." Perhaps now that this report is out, my church will finally get back in line with our standards!

Dear Steven:

I don't really know what you mean by the "Kuyper/Hoeksema territory."

Somewhere from the dim recesses of my mind there is an echo that you're talking about hyper-Calvinism. At least that is what I associate with Hoeksema.

Can you spell it out for me?

David

With all due respect, this report will debate and passed in some form and then forgotten in a period of time. The post by Doug is a reminder that PCA churches do not practice what is in the Standards. Also, it will be brought up on the floor that we allow people to hold and teach a view(s) of creation in the PCA which is opposite of what the Standards clearly teach.

David,

Yes that's right. Kuyper (of whom I really do like when it comes to "worldview") started the problem by making everything center around the eternal decree of election. Thus he came to the conclusion that the elect were eternally justified, thus reducing all historical application. Hoeksema carries this further and says that because of this there is no grace for the reprobate (hence the denial of common grace) and that the free offer of the gospel is deceptive and illegitimate. The distinction between accomplishment and application is basically non-existent and most critics haved charged it with being hyper-Calvinistic.

There are various views on how this connects with certain views in the past (Beza and Owen are key figures), but I'm not well-read enough on those issues. I do know that if you read an English Puritan like Edmund Calamy the contrast is huge.

So it seems to me that there is a difference in the categories of redemption when it comes to Christ's mediation, his exhibiting his blood and righteousness to the Father, and the way in which this is historically appropriated in believers. I don't have my Calvin quotes at hand, but he will speak of an objective offer (this is similarily seen in his view of the Eucharist) that may or not be received. He will use illustrations like the rays of the Sun hitting closed eyelids and water being poured into either open or closed mouths.

I find this "free offer" approach to be more helpful, more biblical, and just more sensical when it comes to what words mean. As I mentioned earlier, we have to believe that Christ is mediating. Perseverance of the saints, as I've understood it, is more nuanced than the simple "Once saved always saved" in that it says not that the saints receive something that is called "perseverance," but rather by the Holy Spirit they will certainly persevere in their belief.

Tom, one more reason for my ongoing concern that the direction of FV men is Romeward, consider this excerpt from Bannerman:

>In former times, controversialists on the side of Rome were accustomed to deny the existence of an invisible Church altogether, and to affirm that the Christian society was singly and exclusively to be regarded as an outward and visible kingdom. And it followed as a necessary consequence from this assertion, that the terms of membership were not an interest in the covenant of grace, but an outward union to an outward church. By Romanists in former times, the question, "What is necessary for admission to the Christian Church?" was met by the simple reply: "A professed submission to the see of Rome." In more recent times, the denial of an invisible Church, as possessing a corporate existence and privileges, has been in some measure abandoned as untenable; and the extreme opinions of Bossuet and other Romish controversialists have been, to a considerable extent, modified by their successors. Perrone, the present Professor of Theology in the Jesuit College at Rome, admits in some sort the twofold character of the Church as invisible and visible, but denies that the members of the invisible Church are made up of the elect, and of them only. There is a twofold difference in this respect between his views and the principles already laid down. In the first place, he denies that the invisible Church is made up of *all* the elect, and affirms that such of them as have not yet obeyed the outward call of the Church, and are not found in its visible communion, although numbered with the elect of God, cannot be reckoned as members of the invisible Church; and, in the second place, he denies that the invisible Church is made up of the elect *only*, asserting that those who have ever received grace through the ordinances and communion of the Church, even though they should afterwards fall away and become reprobate, are nevertheless to be accounted true members of the invisible Church of Christ.

In both these respects, in which Romanists differ from the received doctrine of Protestants in regard to the members of the invisible Church, it is not difficult to trace the one ruling and predominating idea which runs through the whole of the Popish system,--namely, the necessity and virtue of the outward grace communicated by the Church, instead of the inward call and election by God. We see it in their denial o fhte name and right of members of the invisible Church to those who have been elected and chosen by God, but who, being still unconverted , have not yet joined themselves to the visible Church on earth, or become partakers of its outward ordinances. We see it, in like manner , in their ascription of the title and right of members of the invisible Church to those not chosen and not elected by God, but only joined to the visible Church, and sharing in its outward grace, notwithstanding that they shall fall away, and prove themselves to be reprobate. In both cases it is the grace given or denied by the Church to the sinner, that confers or withholds the title of a member of the invisible Church of Christ, and not rather the purpose and election of God, calling him to the adoption and privileges of a son.

Such principles as these, if they do not, as in the case of former Romanists, lead to an open denial of the existence of an invisible Church at all, yet plainly supersede it in reality, or make it virtually subordinate to and dependent on the visible Church. (James Bannerman, “The Church of Christ,” part I, chapter VI; emphases in the original)

Tim,

Does the invisible church exist today? I think that some folks, like Doug Wilson, strain to answer that question biblically and would like to purge thoughts of eternal justification from practical ecclesiology (or am I reading this wrong?).

When we gather on Sunday morning we gather as the true Church of God and find that the distinction between the visible and invisible is so very hard to see.

al sends

Al, I think you're right. And if you read on in Bannerman, you'll find him dealing handily with the Presbyterian/Independent controversy at the heart of this question of practical ecclesiology. Edwards was vehement in denying that he wanted any high hurdle for entry to the Lord's Table when he initiated the changes in Northampton. But I'm off to teach our pastors college (REPC) class.

And by the way, Lord willing, the Toledo and Bloomington churches will soon have Bannerman's two volumes up on the web for downloading.

Tim,

I could be wrong but I don't believe I've ever heard or read anyone associated with the FV deny the existence of the visible and invisible church. I have heard them (primarily Doug Wilson) argue that while this is one way of describing the church, it might not be the most helpful way ... primarily due to the tendency of some to downplay the role of the visible church and to see the church as two churches rather than one, holy, apostolic church.

I think Doug would prefer to speak of an historical church and an eschatological church (Augustine's terminology I believe). I believe both are accurate and biblical ways of speaking about the church but would probably prefer historical/eschatological if I was forced to choose a primary paradigm.

Now, it might be true that this is on the slippery slope leading to the confused views of Perrone as described in the Bannerman quote but *might* is the operative word. I can see why some might believe FV thinking is on the road to Rome but I think careful reading of FV authors would make it clear that this is not the case and that if they are, Calvin and other early reformers are traveling with them (which I obviously don't believe)

Blessings to you Tim,

Dear Steven:

You refreshed my memory on Hoeksema, but I didn't know all that about Kuyper.

I would disagree with Kuyper; election is from eternity, but justification happens in time.

Let's say my friend Ed the local Buddhist was a non-believer yesterday, but he became a Christian today. What do we say? He was elect from all eternity, but he was only justified and adopted today upon his coming to faith and repentance.

Time is a tough concept to grasp, but our redemption was planned in eternity past, accompished on the cross (at a point in time) and applied in our lives at particular points (calling at a particular time, regeneration, faith and repentance, justification, adoption, etc. ,,,).

I'm really not talking about what commonly is called eternal security. That phrase carries a fair amount of baggage with it, antinomian baggage. That is why I use other phrases like the perseverance of the saints.

David

Dear Tom,

John Murray is likely to have some compatriots within the FV community who would join him in calling the Church's definition in terms of 'visible' and 'invisible' "invalid." And I suspect they would mean much more than he did by it.

Warmly in Christ,

Tim Bayly

Of course some anti-FV author referred to John Murray as the "drunk uncle" of reformed theology.

Tim,

You might be right but I can only go on what I've read and while I've seen FV men cite Murray, primarily as evidence that questioning the helpfulness of the visible/invisible distinction does not make one heterodox, I've never seen anyone deny the validity or reality of that distinction. In fact, the person who I think has said the most on this particular topic is Doug Wilson and as David says in the post above this one, there must be room for people like Doug in the PCA theological orbit.

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