Home from the CREC...

(Tim) A few weeks ago, David and I attended the national assembly of the Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches. The CREC meets every three years so this was a special occasion. Among other things, the denomination multiplied from two to seven presbyteries this year. God is blessing the work and David and I both greatly enjoyed our fellowship with the men and women there.

What did we enjoy? Well, any list is somewhat arbitrary, but for starters, the directness of communication. There were no Emergent ear-tickler types, so declarative statements were very much in order and welcomed. When disagreements surfaced, they were dealt with forthrightly. Men spoke their minds without acrimony or petulance. Passive-aggressiveness didn't show its face.

Scripture was honored by being used to support particular positions. Church fathers, catechisms, and confessions were cited regularly, too, but in a way that demonstrated they were subordinate standards--subordinate to the Word of God, that is. The singing was robust--even loud. The "Amens" were almost shouted.

David and I had several conversations with Federal Vision men...

When we raised substantial matters where we believe Federal Vision views are in error, calm plaindealing was the norm and it caught us somewhat off guard. In-person communication is usually more graceful, isn't it? But also, those holding Federal Vision views were in the majority here. We came away remembering the old saw that it's very difficult to hold a minority position with equanimity.

So now that most conservative Reformed denominations in North America have condemned Federal Vision theology, it would be good to re-engage. It would be time well spent to take an evening, weekend, or week eating and arguing together. Yes, there was the Knox Colloquium, but one swallow doesn't make a summer.

Maybe we're watching this sort of healthy iron-sharpening-iron in Northwest Presbytery now, as Peter Leithart and Rob Rayburn answer their opponents. On the other hand, maybe not. Time will tell. Certainly having Rob on Peter's side will force some to listen to the Federal Vision men more carefully. Rob's got his PCA credentials nailed, at least to this point. Keep in mind, though, that his popularization of Schenk's, The Presbyterian Doctrine of Children in the Covenant, has been very influential in the development of Federal Vision theology, remembering Doug Wilson's comment, "It's all about the children."

Rob himself has a pony in the race.

David and I are opposed to paedocommunion. We're not fond of clerical garb that makes pastors look like a period costume exhibit. We're not opposed to our children attending public school when there's good reason to do so, although I freely admit to hankering after a good alternative here in Bloomington. (It's a long sad story.) We think the people of God should not simply be reminded of Scripture's covenant promises, but also of Jacob and Esau still in the womb (which somehow never got mentioned in Rob's essay on covenant succession--in the womb, that is). We were never Baptists so we're not on an endless pilgrimage to repent of it with a commitment to stop just shy of the Tiber. We don't envy the Anglican's smells and bells and we've regularly spoken to brothers in Christ, including those identified with the Federal Vision, that we must never stop guarding against man's natural inclination to superstition. And yet...

We believe these men (and other CREC men who are not Federal Vision) have unique gifts needed by the Reformed church today, and so, as iron sharpens iron, we expect both sides will be humbled and strengthened. If we sniff our noses and dismiss them, thinking "We are rich. We need nothing," we may wake up one day to find that God has sanctified our own families and flocks through these brothers' work. David and I already notice this, as we're sure many Reformed men would also, if they could bring themselves to be honest about it.

After our week with the CREC, I was telling one anti-Federal Vision brother of the good time we'd had. Responding, he wisely observed there are some feminists within the PCA he'd be willing to engage, and others not. And similarly with Federal Vision men--some he'd happily engage, and others not.

I suspect Federal Vision men would have a similar list.

We wish you all could have shared the week with us. Thank you, brothers of the CREC, for your kind hospitality and the good Christian fellowship.

Comments

While I'm sure there are some good folks in this, such as RC Sproul, Jr, I can't get past the fact this group:

1)accepts federal vision theology

2)and to that extent confuses the gospel, at best

3)and denies the gospel at worst

4)nothing is more precious than the gospel

5)also is a place where people have escaped to avoid discipline of other denominations

6)this is not good for the peace and purity of the Body of Christ at large

>this is not good for the peace and purity of the Body of Christ at large

Certainly failing to have the courage of your convictions by hiding behind a pseudonym isn't good for the peace and purity of the Body of Christ.

1)accepts federal vision theology

re: it would be gracious of you to provide a summary of what you think F.V. entails, as it is so often misrepresented by its opponents, and even its advocates fall along a spectrum.

2)and to that extent confuses the gospel, at best

re: it would be good also to distinguish where you think F.V. does this, and exactly how you define the Gospel. I know of at least one theologian (Gordon Clark) who in one plays says that the Gospel is the whole of Scripture. So it is good to identify what in particular you find disagreeable or in error.

3)and denies the gospel at worst

re: Again, by making such a wide-sweeping condemnation--a very serious one indeed--it is gracious to provide something more precise with regard to the error.

4)nothing is more precious than the gospel

re: Perhaps, but we don't even know what you think the Gospel is now do we?

5)also is a place where people have escaped to avoid discipline of other denominations

re: another substantial claim that should be backed by evidence.

6)this is not good for the peace and purity of the Body of Christ at large

re: Well your conclusion may follow from the reasons you give, but you give no reason for anyone to believe that your reasons are true. Your opinion is yours, but provides nothing substantive to a public forum.

Why not follow the example that Tim and David found prevalent at the CREC meeting and offer some direct representation of your opponent with direct refutation of the claims with which you disagree?

We had a great time also, and were blessed by all the speakers. Thank you for your salt and light, your kindness and courage.

I'm a Southern Baptist, but I have found the CREC to be full of honest, godly, thoughtful men. Some of my best friends are in the CREC (really!).

May their tribe increase, I say.

"...it's very difficult to hold a minority position with equanimity."

How true- here I am, a Reformed Baptist (well, mostly- I am credo at least) who is also an elder in a Church recently received into full-membership in the CREC. While I do have a few concerns with some of the FV theology, there are a great number of reasons that we as a Church pursued the CREC and not another group. As we were praying and considering our options regarding greater accountability for our local body, we realized that there was a good dose of confessional latitude that was both gracious and seriously reformed- no other group of biblical churches had anything close to this option. If we were going to allow for both credo and paedo positions to be held within the church (as we had constituted- even extending to the session) then it quickly became clear as to which reformed denomination (sorry- only word I had left) would be a good 'fit'.

Very early on, we were struck by how quickly and graciously our questions were answered by those in our (now new) presbytery, and how willing they were to help us out, even when we were not yet officially a church and struggling in a once-reformed-church-gone-modern.

I have similar thoughts regarding clerical garb (among other popular CREC-culture distinctives) and I'm STILL a baptist- "small-b" baptist, but a credo baptist nonetheless. That being said, I am blessed and glad to be a part of the CREC and to work shoulder to shoulder with this group of godly men.

Tim,

First of all, let me say that it was a real pleasure meeting both you and David at Council. I was blessed by your humility and the way y’all disagreed with what is the "majority position" in the CREC. I am glad that you found your various conversations edifying if not convincing on all points.

Being a former Baptist it is easy for me to see paedocommunion as simply consistent covenant theology. So, it was good to get some tough questions while looking the questioner in the eye. As you noted here, it is amazing how breathing the same air changes the tone of a conversation.

God bless you both. Keep the faith and fight the good fight where you are. May your tribe increase and your labors prove fruitful for the kingdom.

al sends

Al Stout

Pastor, Providence Church Pensacola, FL

Tim,

It was a delight for us to host you and David at Conroe last month. We hope we were able to make you feel at home.

And thank you for your lecture at the Ministerial Conference. It was very edifying.

Tom

Well your conclusion may follow from the reasons you give, but you give no reason for anyone to believe that your reasons are true. Your opinion is yours, but provides nothing substantive to a public forum.

Amen

Hi, I came across this article on Wikipedia, which seems to me to provide a good introduction to the topic:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Vision

I note it here in the interests of informed debate (I don't have a dog in this particular fight, as I'm baptistic)

I'm relatively new to this whole F.V. thing, can someone point me to any decent resources about the topic?

tg - This blog has a ton of them. I'm not sure why they don't have a "Federal Vision" link on the left... maybe if you click "Reformed World" you'll see a few.

A thorough review of federal vision and the Gospel at stake is the PCA study paper on this:

http://www.pcahistory.org/pca/07-fvreport.html

If "it's all about the children", as Doug Wilson says, then perhaps the best response to the issues which FV raises, would be for all of us to go back to what Scripture says - and doesn't say - about children in Christian families (covenantal or not). May I suggest that we could frame the debate like that?

Ross, it is about Scripture, but the debate is really about Paul's intent when he says things like, "He chose us... He predestined us to be adopted... In Him we have redemption... Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit..." (Eph 1) and "he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." (Col 1) and so on.

FV holds that these statements are undifferentiated claims about all members of those local churches, applying even to those non-elect future apostates within the churches. This necessitates an expanded definition of many terms in the ordo salutis so that one can be predestined, regenerated, redeemed, justified, adopted, and reconciled to God strictly by virtue of one's church membership, obtained through baptism. It also becomes necessary to stipulate that all those benefits (under their new definitions) are lost when someone apostasizes. So all those ordo terms would have two meanings: one for elect members of the visible church (though the term "visible church" is not one that FV is fond of, since it draws attention to the distinction between how we humans see the church and how God sees it) and one for future apostates. This is the "parallel system" criticized by the PCA FV report.

Thus Leithart says, "there are some who are made sons by baptism who fall away." And "The baptized are implanted into Christ’s body, and in Him share in all that He has to give." And, speaking of church members who later apostasize, "they do receive benefits from Christ through the Spirit and may enjoy real, personal, and deep communion with Jesus for a time."

All this springs from a misapprehension of Paul's meaning. Paul is not speaking universally of the members of the local church, but generally and normatively, with the expectation that on the whole (but not without exceptions) the local church is made up of true saints who will perservere. This is why Paul includes perseverance among the attributes of those who belong to the church (Phil 1:6).

Dear Tim B. (et al):

A great pleasure to meet you in Conroe and have lunch with you (at the Mexican place: ha, ha! seriously: with the brother from MN, where we talked a bit about Tyndale, etc.). Your talk at the conference was a great encouragement to us (and as a former Presbyterian, I appreciated all of the WS references!). You are a man of great conviction and compassion, a combination we desperately need in the Church today.

For those seeking FV resources, I would recommend D. Wilson's _"Reformed" Is Not Enough: Recovering the Objectivity of the Covenant_ (Canon, 2002) and www.federal-vision.com, and the FV issue of Credenda/Agenda.

Blessings,

Brian N., pastor

Christ the Redeemer Church

Pella, IA www.ctr-pella.org

Tim & David,

I'm delighted to read you enjoyed your time at our meeting of Council & Presbyteries. I also deeply appreciate the graciousness of your post.

I'm one of those men in the minority position in the CREC when it comes to the Federal Vision--I am most definitely not an FV man. I and my Session both have strong objections to FV, particularly when some of its proponents claim "initial justification is by faith; but final justification is by works." As best I can tell, no amount of qualification can make the addition of human efforts, human activities, or "evangelical obedience" (WCF XI, 1) to the imputed righteousness of Christ received through the sole instrument of faith anything but a giving away of our Protestant farm. And I have said so publicly.

But the men who hold to such a defective view of justification are in the minority in the CREC, as best I can tell, and not every FVer would subscribe to such a synergistic construct.

What I do find among the men of the CREC are gracious hearts and a willingness to work through and discuss such issues--while holding to one's views strongly without witch-hunts, prelates operating behind the scenes to enforce orthodoxy (not all bishops wear red shirts), or back-room dealing. There is an integrity of character among the men of the CREC which is imensely refreshing. Let's keep talking.

IHS,

Dave Queener

Covenant Reformed Presbyterian Church

Knoxville, TN

"We're not fond of clerical garb that makes pastors look like a period costume exhibit."

This is not a hill to die on but I just want to say: I believe in robes! Okay, totally off-subject, of little significance compared to some battles that face the church, not something to stir up dissention about, but I think they serve their place and I wish more pastors wore robes.

I know that the origin is not biblical but from an academic tradition, but they are a healthy reminder to the congregation that the pastor has been given special authority from God and that he is serving in an office.

When we were visiting a seeker-sensitive church here, a casual guy in jeans strolled on stage, referred to himself as Matt, (not pastor Matt) and proceeded to give some suggestions. It would have been hard for him to take his office so lightly if he had been wearing a robe. Maybe the robe would have helped him to put a little more meat into his sermons.

I'm not saying that robes are the magic fix for the church in crisis, but they can serve their place as a reminder to the pastor and the congregation that the preaching of the word is serious matter.

Brothers,

I'm truly sorry I didn't meet either of you at Presbytery/Council. I came into the CREC from the PCA and have found it to be a highly forthright, good-natured and manly lot. It's been a pleasure to serve with these men.

On another note, you write:

"We're not fond of clerical garb that makes pastors look like a period costume exhibit."

Oh well, sorry to hear that. I wear clericals out here in Los Angeles because its about as counter-cultural as you can get...bow ties, on the other hand, would probably make people think I was an extra on a 1930's Southern movie set taking a coffee break. ;)

A blessing upon your house!

Garrett Craw

Pastor

Christ Church, Santa Clarita, CA

Dear Brothers,

Thank you all for your kindness and warmth. David and I appreciate it very much.

By the way, there are times when comments are eaten up by our TypePad's spam filter and we don't notice for several days. Sorry to those of you who sometimes get your comments eaten by the machine. Almost always, if we decide to pull or prohibit a comment, we'll communicate our decision to your e-mail address directly.

In Christ,

Tim (with David)

Peter Leithart, letter to his presbytery stated clerk, about his "federal vision" beliefs 6/14/07

"3. Imputation of obedience: This is an issue I am still thinking about, and on which I don't have a settled position. I affirm that Christ's obedience was necessary for our salvation, and affirm too that Christ's history of obedience becomes the life story of those who are in Christ. I'm not sure that "imputation" is the best way to express this. It's not clear to me that the Westminster Standards require belief in the imputation of Christ's active obedience. "

This is unacceptable for one who teaches God's people. When all the sophisticated theological arguments and double meanings of words are stripped away, "federal vision" at best, confuses the Gospel.

The simplicity of the Gospel and rightly, clearly teaching it is the right of every member of the Body of the Christ, and the responsibility of the church to preserve it.

Though there may be many dear brothers and sisters in it, and though their doctrine may be right in other ways, the CREC's official countenancing of federal vision, and allowing safe harbor for those escaping discipline for harming the church with it, is unacceptable.

"We're not fond of clerical garb that makes pastors look like a period costume exhibit."

This is not a hill to die on but I just want to say: I believe in robes! --Leslie

Speaking of fashions for worship and period costumes, I am not very familiar with the CREC, and so was wondering what their view was of headcoverings. That is a form of attire that the Scriptures do say should be part of acceptable worship [for women].

Thanks.

No memory of this, Michael.

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