Poster Boy of Apostasy – Part Two

pope wilson

For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee – Romans 11:16-21.

Discussing the vine and the branches, or the vine and the vinedresser, or anything with the word vine in it, is a favorite pastime for FV types, not least of all Doug Wilson. Concerning the above, let me state it as plainly as it can be stated, Doug Wilson believes he sees in the above passage members of the Covenant of Grace, Christians, who face the very real prospect of being broken off, tossed into the fire and eternally damned. He does it not by inferring anything from the passage, for that would invoke the rule that any idea found in the conclusion must already be present in at least one of the premises. Instead, he accomplishes his eisegetical magic trick by playing a shell game using manufactured senses of the word “elect.” So, let me also state as plainly as I can; I reject the FV game of linguistic gymnastics that attempts to draw a distinction between the “covenantally” or “corporately” elect and the “decretally” or “individually” elect. The elect — individually, covenantally, corporately, and decretally — are those for whom Christ died, those chosen by God from eternity and the rest are not. Non-elect baptized members of the visible church are not and never were — even for a time — the spiritual seed of Abraham and are not the intended recipients of the covenant blessings won by Christ on the cross and for His people.

If FVers wanted to say that non-elect members of the visible church are covenant members in name only and are really just “nominal Christian,” i.e., Christians in name only, there would be no argument, and, arguably, no Federal Vision. Unfortunately, Wilson and many other Federal Visionists deny the very idea of “nominal Christians.” Here is but one example from Wilson’s FV manifesto, Reformed Is Not Enough:

[T]here is no such thing as a merely nominal Christian any more than we can find a man who is a nominal husband. There are many faithless husbands, but if a man is a husband at all, then he is as much a husband as a faithful one. He is a covenant breaker, but this is not the same as saying that he has no covenant to break. In the same way, there are multitudes of faithless Christians, who do not believe what God said at their baptism [96].

According to Wilson, “both the true and false son are brought into the same relation” with Christ by virtue of baptism. Hypocrites, liars and false teachers are united to Christ through baptism. In Wilson’s theology everyone from Judas Iscariot to the pope to the Apostle John is a “visible saint, a Christian.” However, as John Robbins points out, “baptism no more makes a person a Christian than dressing an ape makes it a man.” So what is the determining factor that separates the sheep from the goats? Wilson explains that “faith in the biblical sense is inseparable from faithfulness. . . But when we have faith that works its way out in love, which is the only thing that genuine faith can do, then the condition that God has set for the fulfillment of His promise has been met” (186-187). The ones who work “meet the condition that God has set for the fulfillment of His promise” and become sheep, those who don’t are lopped off as dead branches and are thrown into the fire.

Consider Wilson’s reply to Pastor Keister on the question of apostasy:

“Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not high-minded but fear” (Rom. 11:20) . . . [This] example brings us to the question of hypothetical warnings . . . The decretally elect are not just kept on the straight and narrow by propositional warnings. They are also kept there by the actual condemnation of covenant members as warning examples. The Roman Christians who were warned to stay in the olive tree by faith did not just have the warning on paper . . . But whatever we do with the doctrine of decretal election, we must not manipulate it such that we become what Paul is warning against here — high-minded. Saving faith trembles “at the threatenings” (WCF 14.2).This means that saving faith shivers at the spectacle of fellow Christians falling into the hands of the living God. “The Lord shall judge his people” (Heb. 10:30). It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:32). We look at the master gardener sawing a branch off right next to us, and we should think yikes. This is not a denial of decretal election – [emphasis mine].

Wilson’s distrust and dislike of propositions is well known. In RINE Wilson tells us, “Propositions without works are dead — even if the propositions are true [44]. ” Of course, he contradicts what the Lord said through Isaiah and that His word “shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” He also contradicts Jesus who said the words He spoke “are spirit and are life.” Hardly a dead thing that needs our good works in order to live and achieve their sovereign purpose. Yet, Wilson contends that the propositions of Scripture are insufficient to keep the elect “on the straight and narrow.” He explains “Roman Christians . . . did not just have the warning on paper,” but also had condemned covenant members as “warning examples” – poster boys of apostasy.

While I never thought I would see Wilson top his arguments in RINE and that some Christians go to Hell, I was wrong. He has outdone himself.

In addition to sending Christians to Hell, and in spite of his protests, the above is a denial of election. Consider Romans 11. Wilson simply does not know what to do with election in relation to the warnings of Scripture. Wilson thinks Paul is providing us with warnings against the dangers of “manipulating” election, which he tells us leads to high mindedness. But, the passage has nothing to do with election at all, even its manipulation. It has to do with the danger that Gentiles as Gentiles becoming “high minded” because of the temptation to think they have something over the Jews, “the natural branches.” Instead Wilson uses this passage to pit the doctrine of election over and against the warnings of Scripture that allows him to affirm the one while obliterating the other. Wilson simply cannot understand the warnings of Scripture unless they result in real Christians — true members of the covenant — going to Hell.

Wilson’s response is typical of those who do not understand election and explains why he downplays, redefines, or denies election since in his mind it leads to any number of sins including “high mindedness” and that hobgoblin of all Neolegalists, antinomianism. He wants his readers to believe, as he does, that the actual condemnation of“Roman Christians”occurs as unfaithful covenant members are broken off and are thrown into the hands of the living God and to their judgment. Yet, along with election, the verse says nothing whatsoever about covenant members either, although it does have application to the visible church, another concept that Wilson has trouble with and has sought to destroy.

WLC 31 tells us that “The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.” Covenant members do not fall into the hands of the living God and come under His judgment, that’s reserved for hypocrites, liars, false teachers and the self-deluded. Why? Because Jesus said; “he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” No Christians, Roman or otherwise, will be cut off.

Concerning Romans 11, Calvin says:

But it seems that he throws in a doubt as to salvation, since he reminds them to beware lest they also should not be spared. To this I answer, that as this exhortation refers to the subduing of the flesh, which is ever insolent even in the children of God, he derogates nothing from the certainty of faith. And we must especially notice and remember what I have before said, that Paul’s address is not so much to individuals as to the whole body of the Gentiles, among whom there might have been many, who were vainly inflated, professing rather than having faith. On account of these Paul threatens the Gentiles, not without reason, with excision, as we shall hereafter find again. For if God has not spared the natural branches, etc. This is a most powerful reason to beat down all self-confidence: for the rejection of the Jews should never come across our minds without striking and shaking us with dread. For what ruined them, but that through supine dependence on the dignity which they had obtained, they despised what God had appointed? They were not spared, though they were natural branches; what then shall be done to us, who are the wild olive and aliens, if we become beyond measure arrogant? But this thought, as it leads us to distrust ourselves, so it tends to make us to cleave more firmly and steadfastly to the goodness of God.

And here again it appears more evident, that the discourse is addressed generally to the body of the Gentiles, for the excision, of which he speaks, could not apply to individuals, whose election is unchangeable, based on the eternal purpose of God
[Commentary on Romans – emphasis mine].

Calvin has no trouble at all harmonizing election with the biblical threatenings found in passages like Romans 11. Notice too he doesn’t even have to invent stupid and artificial distinctions like “covenantally” and “decretally” elect in order to explain this passage and pretend he is affirming election even while denying it. The reason is simple; Calvin is not trying to manipulate the passage by discarding election and inferring things that aren’t found in the passage in order to support his own theology.

Wilson doesn’t understand the biblical metaphor of the vine and the branches and who it is that is being cut off. Jesus said in Matthew 15, “Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.” Then Jesus immediately adds something that applies directly to Wilson and all other false teachers and those who would follow them; “Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.” As Calvin said, those who are cut off are those “who were vainly inflated, professing rather than having faith.”

Wilson says, “We look at the master gardener sawing a branch off right next to us, and we should think yikes.”

Yikes is exactly what many of us think and say every time we read the stuff coming from Wilson, Wilkins, Leithart, Jordon and the rest of the FV men. I confess it is terrifying to see men who I once thought were Christian teachers now openly teaching the kind of works righteousness Wilson and his other FV cohorts are selling. These men have been called to repentance so many times that I think, finally, even their most sympathetic and optimistic critics have finally realized that their ears are plugged. These men don’t even get the message when entire denominations issue reports condemning their doctrines as deadly and aberrant. Instead of repenting, they say “we don’t see ourselves” in these reports. Well, of course they don’t, see Jesus’ words from Matthew 15 above.

That is reason enough for all Christians to tremble and cling all the more to Christ who alone is our righteousness. The master gardener is sawing off a dead branch right next to us and Wilson & company can’t even feel the saw teeth.

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4 Comments on “Poster Boy of Apostasy – Part Two”

  1. rgmann Says:

    Excellent post, Sean. However, the problem of viewing non-elect members of the visible church as genuine members of the covenant of grace is unfortunately far more widespread than the FV movement. This seems to be the standard position of quite a few Reformed theologians and pastors. A perfect example is Lee Irons’ blog comments on Meredith Kline’s view of the covenant:

    “If the covenant of grace is folded into or equated with the pactum salutis, it is hard to avoid the implication that the covenant of grace is made only with the elect. Many covenant theologians have had difficulty trying to harmonize this with their view that the children of professing believers are also members of the covenant, even though we do not know if they are elect. Typically, the solution has been to distinguish between “internal” and ”external” membership in the covenant of grace. Kline isn’t happy with this solution and argues rather that the membership of the covenant of grace is a larger circle than the circle of election. The membership roster of the covenant of grace is the same as the visible church, which consists of professing believers and their children (at least until they are put out of the visible church due to their unbelief).” (http://www.upper-register.com/blog/?cat=10)

    The FV crowd has simply taken this conditional view of the covenant of grace one step further and added “covenantal faithfulness” (or the “works produced by faith” rather than “faith alone”) to the condition that covenant members must fulfill in order to obtain final justification.

  2. magma2 Says:

    I’ll have to read the Iron’s article when I get some time, thanks. I agree the problem is much more widespread. I think the covenant of redemption or pactum salutis informs the CoG and both have the same end or goal in mind. I’ve even had Pastors tell me that the Confession has only the covenant of redemption in mind when it restricts the covenant to the elect alone. The problem, which I think you’ve hit on, is that it is not the reception of a sign that makes one a covenant member, rather it’s belief alone. Since belief is a gift of God, JBFA implies an unconditional covenant unilaterally administered. A conditional covenant would seem to imply something more. FV men have provided the “more.” I guess if I were to trace it out it might go something like; the WMO implies human agency, human agency implies covenantal conditions, covenantal conditions imply a denial of JBFA.

  3. rgmann Says:

    I think the covenant of redemption or pactum salutis informs the CoG and both have the same end or goal in mind.

    My own view is that there is only one redemptive covenant, the covenant of grace. To be sure, it has distinct phases — an eternal planning phase, execution phase, and administration phase — but it is only one eternal covenant: “the blood of the eternal covenant” (Heb. 13:20). Both A.A. Hodge and Robert Shaw articulate this position quite well in their Exposition of WCF 7.3, and both can be found and read online.

    I’ve even had Pastors tell me that the Confession has only the covenant of redemption in mind when it restricts the covenant to the elect alone.

    How convenient. Unfortunately WLC 31 explicitly states that the “covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed,” not a separate covenant of redemption. So that “dog don’t hunt.”

    The problem, which I think you’ve hit on, is that it is not the reception of a sign that makes one a covenant member, rather it’s belief alone.

    Amen.

    Since belief is a gift of God, JBFA implies an unconditional covenant unilaterally administered. A conditional covenant would seem to imply something more. FV men have provided the “more.” I guess if I were to trace it out it might go something like; the WMO implies human agency, human agency implies covenantal conditions, covenantal conditions imply a denial of JBFA.

    Ok, I know this is going to sound like a really ignorant question, but what does JBFA and WMO stand for? By the way, I believe the covenant of grace was a conditional bilateral covenant for Christ, the second Adam (He fulfilled the conditions of the covenant of works on behalf of His elect seed), while it is an unconditional unilaterally administered covenant for us, the elect (with faith, repentance, and new obedience being blessings of the new covenant).

    Roger

  4. magma2 Says:

    Ok, I know this is going to sound like a really ignorant question, but what does JBFA and WMO stand for?

    I’m sorry. WMO – well meant offer and the idea that God desires the salvation of those He has ordained for perdition. The inference is that if God desires the salvation of both elect and reprobate, then it’s not God’s sovereign desire that determines the one from the other, since God desires both to be saved. So, why is one elect and the other reprobate? Seems to me to leave only the will of man standing. Defender will argue that God desires the salvation of both the elect and reprobate alike is a matter of His preceptive will, but they make the same error as the Arminian who tries to infer something in the indicative from something written in the imperative, i.e., like the biblical command to believe the gospel. I think this is basically the error of the FV only within the structure of their “objective” and conditional covenant. Both are implicitly Arminian

    JBFA – justification by faith alone.

    By the way, I believe the covenant of grace was a conditional bilateral covenant for Christ, the second Adam (He fulfilled the conditions of the covenant of works on behalf of His elect seed), while it is an unconditional unilaterally administered covenant for us, the elect (with faith, repentance, and new obedience being blessings of the new covenant).

    I agree. No argument at all. 🙂


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