(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.