Alien Fantasies of the Federal Vision

FV Invaders

There is very little doubt that Doug Wilson is a confused man. In a recent blog he pokes fun at a fellow Theonmomist, Daniel Ritchie, for using the above 1950’s style sci-fi movie poster spoofing the Federal Vision – a spoof created by another FV advocate and teacher, PCA Pastor Jeffery Meyers. Wilson chides Ritchie for swiping the poster, but he completely ignores the substance of Ritchie’s post. Not only does Ritchie have Wilson’s heretical doctrine of justification on target, but he clearly recognizes the implicit Arminianism entailed in the FV’s corrupt scheme of salvation.

Consider this quote Ritchie provides from E. Calvin Beisner:

Original Arminianism affirmed that Christ died as a substitute to pay for the sins of all people. The Federal Visionists will affirm that Christ died to pay the penalty for the sins of all in “the covenant”, including some who will end up in hell. One’s “election” ultimately depends on whether he is “faithful” to “the covenant”, and one can be “justified” and wind up in hell through apostasy. Foreword to G.P. Waters, The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology, Presbyterian and Reformed, p. viii

The Beisner quote, along with the Ritchie post, do a very succinct and accurate job of exposing the deadly heresy of Wilson’s false gospel. Yet, instead of interacting with the substance of the post and the charges made by Ritchie, Wilson uses his friend Meyer’s poster in another vain attempt to deflect attention. Wilson writes:

We have not objected (at least not too much) when you all swipe the original intent of the Westminster divines, and acted like it lined up with what you teach. Civility in theological debate means that you have to overlook certain things like that. But when one theological party swipes the alien horror movie posters of the other side . . .

Did you catch that? Wilson is claiming that he and the rest of the false teachers disrupting the peace of the church and corrupting its purity to the destruction of many, are really the ones defending “the original intent of the Westminster divines.” That means all of his critics, even fellow Van Tilian Theonomists like Ritchie, are simply posers who are the real false teachers twisting and distorting the Confession to their own errant ends.

One might be tempted to think that one of those aliens depicted in Meyer’s poster above sucked out Wilson’s brain and replaced it with the alien FV heretic now inhabiting his skull. However, even a quick scan of the Confession reveals how completely deluded and confused Wilson really is.

Consider Wilson’s false doctrine of the Covenant of Grace. Wilson believes that both elect and the reprobate are members of the covenant and are brought into union with Christ by baptism.

. . . when someone is baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, they [sic] are ushered into an objective, visible, covenant membership. Regardless of the state of their heart, regardless of any hypocrisy, regardless of whether or not they mean it, such a person is now a visible saint, a Christian” (RINE 194).

And,

A problem is created when we affirm a belief in two Churches at the same moment in time, one visible and the other invisible. Are they the same Church or not? If they are, then why are “membership rosters” different? If they are not, then which is the true church? We know that Christ has only one bride. The natural supposition is that the invisible church, made up of the elect, is the true church. But this leads to a disparagement of the visible church[RINE, 74].

Of course, the Confession has no problem at all with the idea of the invisible and visible church and to the disarrangement of neither. Both are taught clearly and affirmed without confusion in the Confession. Nowhere in the Confession does it teach that baptism makes a person a covenant member, a saint, or a Christian. This is another alien fantasy of the FV. The Confession writers consistently teach that “The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.” Concerning the CoG the Confession states:

Man by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was please to make a second, commonly called the Covenant of Grace; whereby he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.

The requirement of covenant membership is belief alone which is conferred to all — and not some — of “those that are ordained unto life.” Nowhere do we find the CoG conditioned on our faithful obedience to unspecified demands of the covenant as if belief and personal faithfulness were one and the same thing. Oh, wait, they are one and the same thing in Wilson’s alien soteriology, because for Wilson believing means doing.

Yet, despite such obvious departures from the basics of Calvinism, Wilson continually attempts to assure the perpetually gullible that he really is a Calvinist. In a recent reply to me at Green Baggins, Wilson complained:

I hold to all five points of Calvinism running on all eight cylinders, and all five of the solas on stilts, and I am a heretic according to Sean for denying them.

Even aliens from another planet can see that the very things Wilson professes with one side of his mouth, he contradicts with the other. Maybe instead of clever sci-fi movie poster mock ups, the creative minds of the FV can come up with something for the acronym S.T.E.M. because all of the petals of T.U.L.I.P. have been stripped of all their meaning in the neolegalism of the FV.

Faith means faithfulness.

Covenant members go to hell.

Justification happens in two stages, initial and final. Those who receive the former may not get the latter if they misbehave.

Election is a tentative and changing category. See faith above.

Reprobates with wet heads are united to Christ.

There are plenty more, but you get the picture.

The one encouraging thing about Wilson’s recent post is that at least he is admitting that his understanding of the WCF, and that of the other FV invaders, is at serious odds with the rest of the Reformed community. I consider this progress and more evidence that FV men need to leave the PCA.

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27 Comments on “Alien Fantasies of the Federal Vision”


  1. Thanks for this post brother. The crying of the FVers amazed me when I posted this originally, yet it turns out that they are guilty of precisely what I accuse them off, as one of them has come on and explicitly asserted that Christ died for reprobates.

  2. magma2 Says:

    My pleasure. I just saw those posts:

    By His blood, our Lord Jesus Christ redeems many to a firm and eternal salvation. He redeems and sanctifies others with that same holy blood but in a different way, that they might be members of His people for a time and yet finally fall away.

    Puts a whole new meaning on the old hymn, “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet.” I guess for some the failure of Jesus’ blood is just a matter of time.

    If that wasn’t bad enough, he then takes it one step further:

    I must say with all the Scriptures that some who are sanctified by the blood of Christ are not sanctified unto eternal life.

    I like how he accuses you of letting “your resolute Calvinism to distort or push to the side some of the clear statements of Scripture.” Spoken like a true Arminian.

    Not surprisingly, his pastor is Doug Wilson.

    I find it interesting that the victims of these false teachers, who are clearly not as skilled in the art of obfuscation and deception, express the ideas of their neolegalist teachers and pastors so clearly and unambiguously. A whole lot scarier than any horror film. — Blessings.


  3. Yes, that is an interesting point; it would appear that the honest people sitting under the FV men are a lot less slippery than their teachers.

  4. rgmann Says:

    Nowhere in the Confession does it teach that baptism makes a person a covenant member, a saint, or a Christian. This is another alien fantasy of the FV. The Confession writers consistently teach that “The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.

    Sean, I completely agree with the above statement. However, I was wondering how you would explain WLC 166, which seems to teach that all the children of believers are “within the covenant” by birth?

    “…but infants descending from parents, either both, or but one of them, professing faith in Christ, and obedience to him, are in that respect within the covenant, and to be baptized.”

  5. magma2 Says:

    If the FV men stuck with what is meant by “in that respect” I hardly think there would be any controversy.

  6. rgmann Says:

    So what do you think “in that respect” means? If the covenant of grace was only made with “Christ” and “all the elect” in Him, then in what respect can our non-elect children be “within the covenant?”

  7. magma2 Says:

    “In that respect” is a reference to believers and their children. I think it is a presumption based on the fact that God generally works out His covenant through believers and their spiritual seed, which is not to be confused with their natural seed. Only FV men think that God’s covenant extends to the elect and non-elect offspring of believers, but God said Jacob I have loved and Esau I have hated. Even before that He said that He would establish His covenant with Isaac, not Ishmael. While there is a presumption here based on God’s promises, no one has the right to presume that all their natural children are also their spiritual offspring. Yet, from what I’ve read from Wilson and others, not only are we to presume that all our natural children are God’s chosen, His beloved, but it is a virtual requirement. I read Wilson somewhere that he would not baptize his own grandchildren unless their parents really believed that their children were God’s elect and even regenerate (I’ll have to find that reference for you, but I’m on the road right now typing from my hotel room and with a lousy wifi connection). Hence, paedocommunion follows quite naturally.

  8. rgmann Says:

    Thanks, Sean. That’s pretty much the way I understand WLC 166 as well. In fact, I’ve been in a fairly lengthy debate regarding “Who’s in the Covenant” at another blog, where I argued along similar lines. If you care to take a look or jump into the discussion, it’s at:

    http://jybnntt.blogspot.com/2007/10/whos-in-covenant.html

    Take care,

    Roger

  9. magma2 Says:

    Very well argued. Not only is the question of apostasy covered clearly, nominal Christians accounted for, and the visible/invisible distinction maintained, but, at root, you maintain that belief alone is the sole divider between covenant members and those who might be considered covenant members but who are not. For this you’re attacked as “baptistic.” These men are so sensate in their theology that Rome cannot be far behind. Also, I’m curious how these men handle non-baptized church members, people who profess Christ, give lip service to the true religion, and are members of the visible church. Aren’t these folks also included among those who have “tasted” the good things of God? Why must Hebrews 6 be interpreted solely on the basis of baptism? Ironically, aren’t these men the ones who are being “baptisitic”?

  10. jybnntt Says:

    Hi Sean,

    I found your blog through the comment you left at Solus Christus.

    You wrote:

    “you maintain that belief alone is the sole divider between covenant members and those who might be considered covenant members but who are not.”

    Would you say Isaac wasn’t a covenant member until after he believed? What biblical support would you give for that view? I would also ask the same about Jacob and his sons.

    Thanks,

    Jay

  11. magma2 Says:

    Hi, Jay. Good question. Only the elect are parties of the CoG and faith is given to all those ordained for life. So, Isaac was always a party of the covenant, even before he believed. Since the CoG rests on the eternal decree it would follow that membership precedes belief which occurs in time. OTOH, since faith is not given to all baptized members of the visible church, it follows that baptism doesn’t make one a covenant member. The only way I can see around this is to say that only some members of the covenant are given the gift of faith, but then you would have gone outside of the bounds of the Confession and Scripture and have venture into Arminianism, which is exactly where the FV men have gone.

    So, when I said that for Roger faith is the divider, I meant as opposed to baptism. Faith is the necessary result of being a covenant member. After all, God keeps all his promises and He has made no promise to all baptized persons, even all baptized children of believers. I think this is a fatal problem for those who think all baptized members of the visible church are members of the CoG. Admittedly, the FV men go considerably further than you seem to (at least from what I’ve read, so I don’t want to put you in their class — unless, of course, you want me to 😉 ), but they do share your premise that baptism brings a person into the covenant.

    So, if all baptized persons are members of the covenant, are they also united to Christ?

  12. magma2 Says:

    Jay, if you don’t mind, I’d like to continue my reply, because while skimming your blog I came across this quote that focuses a bit more on the problem I have with your view:

    For instance, was the promise [of the covenant] for Esau? Yes, in a sense it was for him insofar as he was a party of the covenant. Did that mean that Esau was elected to fulfill the stipulations of the covenant by grace and, therefore, see the promise come to fruition in his life? No, in that sense the promise was not for him.

    With those categories in mind, let’s answer the questions one by one.

    (1) What is “the promise” in Acts 2:39?

    The promise is salvation, which includes forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. These elements boil down to the initial promise stated in the Abrahamic covenant: “I will be your God and you will be my people.”

    You say there is a “sense” in which the promises of the covenant were not for Esau. But what sense is this? You say the promise is salvation, etc., but if Esau does not receive salvation, the Holy Spirit, forgiveness of sins, what’s left? Good Christian friends? A place to go on Sunday? I would say the the promises of the covenant were not for Esau at all, simply because he was never a member of the covenant. Circumcision is of the heart, not the flesh, is what the sign signifies in true (i.e., actual) members of the covenant. But you have God making promises to some that He doesn’t keep. You don’t see a problem with this?

  13. jybnntt Says:

    Hi Sean,

    Thanks for clarifying. I wonder, on your view, can you ever know whether someone else is a covenant member or not?

    You wrote:

    The only way I can see around this is to say that only some members of the covenant are given the gift of faith, but then you would have gone outside of the bounds of the Confession and Scripture

    I wonder if you might quote a portion of the confession that says all members of the covenant are given faith?

    You wrote:

    Admittedly, the FV men go considerably further than you seem to (at least from what I’ve read, so I don’t want to put you in their class — unless, of course, you want me to 😉 ), but they do share your premise that baptism brings a person into the covenant.

    No, I’m not a proponent of FV. But your deduction with regard to my view of the covenant, that it leads one toward FV and Arminian thought is a bald non sequitur. If that is true we would have to say that great Reformed divines like Jonathan Edwards, Louis Berkhof, John Murray, Geerhardus Vos, and Cornelius Venema embraced a view of the covenant that should have led them, if they were really paying attention, to Arminianism. I am not willing to do that. And I think it is a shame that so many are willing to be so divisive so quickly on this issue when it has a strong witness within our tradition by men who were certainly Westminsterian in their theology.

    You asked:

    So, if all baptized persons are members of the covenant, are they also united to Christ?

    The Confession, as far as I have come to understand it, reserves the language of union with Christ for the invisible church only (cf. WCF 26).

    You asked:

    But you have God making promises to some that He doesn’t keep. You don’t see a problem with this?

    No, these are those who taste the heavenly gift and have some common operation of the Spirit but do not truly believe. The promises are held out to them in a way distinct from the hardened unbeliever (see again the parable of the soils Matt. 13), and yet they are not elect and so they do not receive the promises by faith. The promises never come to fruition in their lives.

    Let me know if I can clarify further, however, I highly recommend Berkhof on “The Dual Aspect of the Covenant.”

    Blessings to you,

    Jay

  14. magma2 Says:

    . . . on your view, can you ever know whether someone else is a covenant member or not?

    In my view? The Confession repeatedly states, and in a number of different ways, that the covenant was made “with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.” I’m still trying to find out where the Confession teaches that a profession of faith, feigned or otherwise, brings someone into a covenant relationship with Christ, even temporarily? Where does God make any promises to the self-deluded, the hypocrite, and all those who merely profess faith but are lacking its substance?

    FWIW I think it would also be helpful for you to define what the word covenant means in your scheme?

    At least in my understanding of the covenant, which is a biding agreement and promise made by two or more parties, there is a definite agreement and promises made between God the Father and Christ the mediator and as the representative head of his people, the elect. Consequently, the administration of the covenant is unilateral. God says in Jeremiah 31: “. . . this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying “Know the Lord,” for they all shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

    I wonder if you might quote a portion of the confession that says all members of the covenant are given faith?

    “This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in the scripture by the name of a Testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ the testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belong to it, therein bequeathed.

    What are some of the things “therein bequeathed”? Faith is one of the blessings covenant member are “bequethed” and God promises “to give unto all those that are ordained unto life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.

    What I think you need to show is where God makes any promises to the non-elect members of the visible church.

    No, I’m not a proponent of FV. But your deduction with regard to my view of the covenant, that it leads one toward FV and Arminian thought is a bald non sequitur.

    I think you are mistaken Jay. If the CoG is made with believers and unbelievers alike, elect and non-elect (i.e., all the members of the visible church), then it follows its fulfillment is conditioned ultimately on something within man. Further, God did not establish His covenant with Ishmael, but with Isaac. God made no covenant with Ishmael and it seems to me that you are making the same categorical error as Abraham when he said to God; “Oh that Ishmael might live before Thee!”

    If that is true we would have to say that great Reformed divines like Jonathan Edwards, Louis Berkhof, John Murray, Geerhardus Vos, and Cornelius Venema embraced a view of the covenant that should have led them, if they were really paying attention, to Arminianism.

    Then it should be easy for you to provide the citations from Edwards, Berkof, Vos and Venema where they each contend that all professing believers, whether hypocrites, false teachers or even the self-deluded are in covenant with God and are the recipients of benefits won by Christ in the CoG. I left off Murray because given his arguments in defense of the so-called “sincere offer” of the gospel which imputes irrationality to God, I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t apply the same defective reasoning and exegesis to the covenant as well. Of course, Berkof too was a defender of this same irrational doctrine, so I guess I should have perhaps left him off the list too.

    From my POV the above names merely confirm that there has been considerable confusion as to the limits and parties of the CoG, something (and I hope you agree) that the FV men have been able to capitalize on very effectively.

    I am not willing to do that. And I think it is a shame that so many are willing to be so divisive so quickly on this issue when it has a strong witness within our tradition by men who were certainly Westminsterian in their theology.

    I didn’t think I was being divisive at all, only that I don’t agree with your understanding of the covenant. God made no promise to all Israel, or all baptized members of the church, or all professors of the Christian faith.

    So, if all baptized persons are members of the covenant, are they also united to Christ?

    The Confession, as far as I have come to understand it, reserves the language of union with Christ for the invisible church only (cf. WCF 26).

    Thank goodness. Not knowing you from Adam and only skimming your blog site, you had me scared. 😉 However, it’s not much of a leap from the idea that elect and reprobate are in covenant with Christ that they are both in union with him as well, even if that union in the case of the latter is losable.

    But you have God making promises to some that He doesn’t keep. You don’t see a problem with this?

    No, these are those who taste the heavenly gift and have some common operation of the Spirit but do not truly believe. The promises are held out to them in a way distinct from the hardened unbeliever (see again the parable of the soils Matt. 13), and yet they are not elect and so they do not receive the promises by faith. The promises never come to fruition in their lives.

    Frankly, I don’t see how you go from common operations of the Spirit or the outward call to covenant membership? I think this is quite a leap. Also, what does it mean that the “promises are held out to them”? Given that the promises of the covenant include faith, forgiveness of sins and eternal life, are you saying these promises are held out like a taunt?

  15. jybnntt Says:

    Hi Sean,

    Let me rephrase my question, according to the view of the covenant you hold, can you ever know whether anyone today is in a covenant member or not?

    You asked:

    FWIW I think it would also be helpful for you to define what the word covenant means in your scheme?

    I think O. Palmer Robertson, who by the way understands a dual aspect of covenant membership, has defined the concept of covenant well in his book The Christ of the Covenants: “A covenant is a bond in blood sovereignly administered.” Unilateral administration neither precludes the dual aspect understanding of covenant membership nor conditionality.

    On whether the Confession says that all covenant members are guaranteed to come to faith: Neither of the portions you quoted say that. You make a deduction about what they may mean, which is an interpretation. But my question was specifically, does the Confession say it? Could you at least admit that the view of covenant membership you hold is an interpretation of the Confession and not what the Confession explicitly states?

    But going a little further on that issue, let’s look at what the Confession says in Chapter 7 section 3 “Of God’s Covenant with Man.”:

    “Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant [of works], the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace;”

    Let’s stop at the semicolon, since the semicolons are used to break up complete units of thought in sentences. What is the thought communicated by these words? I think we would agree that the thought is this: All of humanity has fallen into sin and become incapable of saving himself through the covenant of works, so the Lord, by his sovereign pleasure has administered a second covenant, which we call the covenant of grace. Notice that here is an affirmation of the sovereign unilateral administration of the covenant from God to fallen humanity. Moving on . . .

    “wherein He freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ;”

    We’ve reached a second semicolon. What is the thought communicated? I think we would agree it is this: The offer of the covenant of grace is life and salvation by means of the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. That offer of salvation is free. Christ payed the full price for it. There is nothing left to pay that we might offer. Going further . . .

    “requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe.”

    Here’s the final thought. Quickly before we dive into it, what have we read so far? We have read about the sovereign divine administration of the covenant of grace. We have also read about what God offers to sinners in the covenant. Now we read of the condition required in order for the offer of the covenant to be fulfilled. The condition is faith in Christ unto salvation. We also read about who God is promising to give the Holy Spirit so that they are willing and able to believe. Who is it? It is the elect. It is “all those that are ordained unto eternal life.” Now that is interesting to me. Why did the framers not just say “promising to give all covenant members” or “promising to give all those within the covenant” the Holy Spirit? I think it could be because they understood that covenant membership is wider than election. But I also think they may have ingeniously worded this section so that it could be interpreted the way you have interpreted it as well. If one understands that covenant membership is simply another way of saying election, then what they have written here could certainly fit. Sometimes those who frame Confessions of Faith do so with intentional ambiguity in places in order to accommodate multiple viewpoints on what they regard as adiaphora. I admit, I don’t have hard evidence to prove that that is what was happening at this point, but it seems to fit.

    Sean, fundamentally, we are saying very similar things in different ways. You are saying we should regard the children of believers and all professors of the true religion as covenant members. I agree. we should regard them that way. So in practice what we will do in baptism should be identical. You also say that those people are members of the covenant community. I agree. Therefore, the way we treat these people will be no different from anyone else. Here is the difference:

    You have these two categories of people within the covenant community: (1) the elect who are covenant members and will at some time become true believers, and (2) the non-elect who are not covenant members and will not ever become true believers but should be regarded as if they were anyway. That leaves you with the inability to know with certainty who is in the covenant. But that’s okay because you treat all as if they were anyway, excepting those who reject the faith of course.

    I have these two categories of people within the covenant community: (1) the elect who are covenant members and will at some time become true believers, and (2) the non-elect who are covenant members and will not ever become true believers. That leaves me with the inability to ever know with certainty who is elect. But I still regard all as covenant members, because, in my view, they really are.

    So, fundamentally the difference is not how we perform the sacrament or how we treat others in the community. We are agreed on that. The difference is why we do what we do. You treat believers and their children as if they are covenant members although you can’t know with certainty whether it’s true or not. I treat believers and their children as if they are covenant members, because, in my view, they really are.

    Now, while I don’t mean to minimize the importance of our disagreement, I do think that our two understandings are not so different that they warrant the accusation you made earlier that my view is venturing into Arminianism or FV thought. And I can certainly imagine that the framers, may have indeed meant to allow for either view, since, in practice, our views are so similar.

    You wrote:

    I think you are mistaken Jay. If the CoG is made with believers and unbelievers alike, elect and non-elect (i.e., all the members of the visible church), then it follows its fulfillment is conditioned ultimately on something within man.

    See Sinclair Ferguson, John Owen on the Christian Life. There Ferguson explains that Owen understood the covenant of grace to be conditional. Surely you aren’t suggesting John Owen was teaching Arminianism?

    You wrote:

    Then it should be easy for you to provide the citations from Edwards, Berkof, Vos and Venema where they each contend that all professing believers, whether hypocrites, false teachers or even the self-deluded are in covenant with God and are the recipients of benefits won by Christ in the CoG. I left off Murray because given his arguments in defense of the so-called “sincere offer” of the gospel which imputes irrationality to God, I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t apply the same defective reasoning and exegesis to the covenant as well. Of course, Berkof too was a defender of this same irrational doctrine, so I guess I should have perhaps left him off the list too.

    Again Shawn, you’re making false deductions from my assertions (see my last comment here). I have nowhere said that false teachers are covenant members. I am Westminsterian. Westminster qualifies the content of the profession by which one may enter the covenant as “the true religion” (WCF 25.2). Nonetheless, I’ll be happy to post some citations from the office tomorrow morning.

    Quick question: If Berkhof is such a threat to true Westminsterian doctrine, why is his systematic listed on the WTS bookstore website as a staff pick? Should I be expected to trust Westminster Seminary or Sean Gerety?

    You wrote:

    I didn’t think I was being divisive at all, only that I don’t agree with your understanding of the covenant.

    Sean, when you infer that someone in the Reformed tradition is venturing into Arminianism you are being divisive. And since the Lord Jesus Christ is very very committed to the unity of his Church, divisive comments like that should be backed with serious substance and only come from groups of seasoned ministers. This should not be about winning an argument. If your charge is correct, this should be about church discipline of the most serious sort carried out by those with the authority to do it in the appropriate venue.

    You asked:

    what does it mean that the “promises are held out to them”?

    I’ve commented on this under this blog post.

    Blessings to you,

    Jay

  16. jybnntt Says:

    Sean,

    Here are the citations you requested:

    Jonathan Edwards: “This covenant that God and the visible Christian enter into at his admission can’t in strictness be called a distinct covenant from that which [is] established between God and a soul in his invisible justification, but yet may be distinguished from it” (Miscellanies No. 689) Here we see Edwards affirming a dual aspect of the covenant.

    Louis Berkhof: “The Dual Aspect of the Covenant”

    On Geerhardus Vos: He discusses the “dual aspect” view of covenant membership in “The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology,” 258-67. I currently don’t have access to that volume.

    John Murray: See his full discussion on theis issue in Christian Baptism, p. 51-53.

    And finally Cornelius Venema speaks of this sense in the chapter “Covenant Theology and Baptism” from The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism, ed. Gregg Strawbridge, p. 214-15:

    “Many Reformed theologians have maintained that the covenant embraces all believers and their children, not all of whom are elect in the strict sense. These theologians, while acknowledging that the life and salvation promised in the covenant of grace are inherited only by the elect, argue that the covenant promise, together with its accompanying obligation, is extended to Arbaham and his seed. In the administration of the covenant of grace throughout the course of redemptive history, there are many in the covenant community who break covenant with God and become liable to his covenant wrath. In the Old and New Testaments, members of the covenant community are warned against the danger of unbelief and impenitence. Such unbelief and disobedience among the people with whom God covenants carry the fearful prospect of God’s judgment. The blessings promised in the covenant belong to those who believe and obey. However, the curses of the covenant will undoubtedly fall upon those who despise their covenant birthright and refuse the gracious promise and invitation extended to them (Hebrews; 1 Peter 4:17). The only way to avoid the false presumption that all those with whom God covenants are guaranteed salvation (because they are presumably elect) is to recognize that there may be covenant breakers who ought to be cut off from the number of God’s people. Such covenant breaking and its consequence, though it may contradict the saving purpose for which the covenant of grace was instituted by God, reminds us that the circle of the covenant is in this respect wider than the circle of election.

    In order to resolve this question, Reformed theologians have sought to distinguish in a variety of ways between all those with whom God covenants (believers and their children) in the wider sense of the covenant’s administration and those in whom the covenant comes to fruition (the elect) in the narrower sense of the covenant’s communion of life. This distinction aims to acknowledge that the covenant embraces all believers and their children as recipients of the gospel promise and obligation, on the one hand, while simultaneously acknowledging that some fall away in unbelief and disobedience, on the other hand. Although the unbelief and disobedience of some with whom God covenants are anomalous–they prevent the covenant breaker from entering into that life and salvation which the covenant aims to impart–they are nonetheless real and undeniable. There are nonelect persons in the covenant who do not respond to the promise in the way of faith and obedience. The presence of such persons “under” the covenant, however, should not be viewed as evidence of failure on God’s part in communicating his grace to his own. For it is through the covenant that God grants life and salvation to those whom he has elected to save.”

    Thanks Sean,

    Jay

  17. jybnntt Says:

    Hi Sean,

    Her are the sitations you asked for:

    Jonathan Edwards, Miscellanies No. 689, “11. The covenant that God and the visible Christian enter into at his admission can’t in strictness be called a distinct covenant from that which [is] established between God and a soul in his invisible justification, but yet it may be distinguished from it, as well as the former dispensation of the covenant of grace may be called another covenant from that under the new testament as it is in Scripture. This covenant therefore may for distinction’s sake be called the visible covenant, for want of a better name to call it by.

    12. There is just so much difference between this covenanting and the invisible covenanting with a believing soul, and no more, as will naturally and necessarily arise from God’s acting in the one case as the searcher of hearts, and in the other not, supposing God in both cases to proceed on the same foundation and with the same drift.”

    Here we see Edwards distinguishing two aspects of the same covenant of grace. A visible aspect and an invisible. Visible Christians do indeed enter covenant membership, in the sense of the visible aspect.

    Louis Berkhof

    Geerhradus Vos, see discussion on the dual aspect in “The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology,” 258-67.

    John Murray, Christian Baptism, 51-53.

    And finally, Cornelius Venema has a wonderful description of this sense in the chapter “Covenant Theology and Baptism” from The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism, ed. Gregg Strawbridge, p. 214-15:

    “Many Reformed theologians have maintained that the covenant embraces all believers and their children, not all of whom are elect in the strict sense. These theologians, while acknowledging that the life and salvation promised in the covenant of grace are inherited only by the elect, argue that the covenant promise, together with its accompanying obligation, is extended to Arbaham and his seed. In the administration of the covenant of grace throughout the course of redemptive history, there are many in the covenant community who break covenant with God and become liable to his covenant wrath. In the Old and New Testaments, members of the covenant community are warned against the danger of unbelief and impenitence. Such unbelief and disobedience among the people with whom God covenants carry the fearful prospect of God’s judgment. The blessings promised in the covenant belong to those who believe and obey. However, the curses of the covenant will undoubtedly fall upon those who despise their covenant birthright and refuse the gracious promise and invitation extended to them (Hebrews; 1 Peter 4:17). The only way to avoid the false presumption that all those with whom God covenants are guaranteed salvation (because they are presumably elect) is to recognize that there may be covenant breakers who ought to be cut off from the number of God’s people. Such covenant breaking and its consequence, though it may contradict the saving purpose for which the covenant of grace was instituted by God, reminds us that the circle of the covenant is in this respect wider than the circle of election.

    In order to resolve this question, Reformed theologians have sought to distinguish in a variety of ways between all those with whom God covenants (believers and their children) in the wider sense of the covenant’s administration and those in whom the covenant comes to fruition (the elect) in the narrower sense of the covenant’s communion of life. This distinction aims to acknowledge that the covenant embraces all believers and their children as recipients of the gospel promise and obligation, on the one hand, while simultaneously acknowledging that some fall away in unbelief and disobedience, on the other hand. Although the unbelief and disobedience of some with whom God covenants are anomalous–they prevent the covenant breaker from entering into that life and salvation which the covenant aims to impart–they are nonetheless real and undeniable. There are nonelect persons in the covenant who do not respond to the promise in the way of faith and obedience. The presence of such persons “under” the covenant, however, should not be viewed as evidence of failure on God’s part in communicating his grace to his own. For it is through the covenant that God grants life and salvation to those whom he has elected to save.”

    Thanks Sean,

    Jay

  18. magma2 Says:

    Let me rephrase my question, according to the view of the covenant you hold, can you ever know whether anyone today is in a covenant member or not?

    You didn’t rephrase your question, you just repeated it. You equate membership in the visible church with covenant membership and that “all professing believers from paganism become covenant members, regardless of whether they are regenerate (i.e. true believers) or not.” Hypocrites, liars and false teachers are therefore all included as real members of the covenant of grace – at least until such time as they are exposed for what they are or fall away – and the promises of the covenant are as much theirs as they the elects. In my view this is to render the very idea of a covenant devoid of all meaning.

    I continue to comb through the Confession and all I can find is that the covenant of grace includes, as far as members of the visible church, the elect alone.

    The Larger Catechism asks:Q. 30 Does God leave all men to perish in the estate of sin and misery?

    A. God does not leave all men to perish in the estate of sin and misery, into which they fell by the breach of the first covenant, commonly called the Covenant of Works; but of his mere love and mercy delivers his elect out of it, and brings them into an estate of salvation by the second covenant, commonly called the Covenant of Grace.

    Once again, it is the elect alone who are members of Christ, and through him, partakers of the Covenant of Grace. Chapter 8 of the Westminster Confession is even more clear: The Lord Jesus, by his perfect obedience and sacrifice of himself, which he through the eternal Spirit once offered up unto God, has fully satisfied the justice of his Father; and purchased not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of Heaven for all those whom the Father has given unto him.

    I think O. Palmer Robertson, who by the way understands a dual aspect of covenant membership, has defined the concept of covenant well in his book The Christ of the Covenants: “A covenant is a bond in blood sovereignly administered.” Unilateral administration neither precludes the dual aspect understanding of covenant membership nor conditionality.

    I think Robertson’s definition is a good one, but where exactly does Robertson say in “The Christ of the Covenants” anything like “all professing believers from paganism become covenant members, regardless of whether they are regenerate (i.e. true believers) or not”? Dr. C. Matthew McMahon has an overview of the book and, for example, concerning the sign of circumcision, and, by extension baptism, that it “has no real positive value unless it is joined to the true righteousness that is represents and is fulfilled in the death of Christ.” Even in Dr. McMahon’s overview, I can find nothing to support your thesis, so I’m curious how Robertson is now an aid in your cause?

    On whether the Confession says that all covenant members are guaranteed to come to faith: Neither of the portions you quoted say that. You make a deduction about what they may mean, which is an interpretation. But my question was specifically, does the Confession say it? Could you at least admit that the view of covenant membership you hold is an interpretation of the Confession and not what the Confession explicitly states?

    Of course I am making deductions based on what I think the Confession means. Could you at least admit that nowhere does the Confession include as members of the CoG “all professing believers from paganism become covenant members, regardless of whether they are regenerate (i.e. true believers) or not”? That should be easy since over and over the covenant is said to include the elect alone to the exclusion of the reprobate.

    Why did the framers not just say “promising to give all covenant members” or “promising to give all those within the covenant” the Holy Spirit? I think it could be because they understood that covenant membership is wider than election.

    First, if you are unclear about what they mean, or think they mean that covenant membership is wider than election, why haven’t you been able to confirm this from other statements they’ve made concerning the blessings of the covenant, specifically in the catechism? There is one notable exception and that has to do with infant children of believing parents and that has already been discussion and you don’t even agree with me on this point. However, with your considerably broader inclusion of anyone who makes a profession, feigned or otherwise, we’re well beyond that.

    But I also think they may have ingeniously worded this section so that it could be interpreted the way you have interpreted it as well. If one understands that covenant membership is simply another way of saying election, then what they have written here could certainly fit. Sometimes those who frame Confessions of Faith do so with intentional ambiguity in places in order to accommodate multiple viewpoints on what they regard as adiaphora. I admit, I don’t have hard evidence to prove that that is what was happening at this point, but it seems to fit.

    So why couldn’t I just accuse you of reading your own covenantal theology into the Confession? If there is any ambiguity in Chapter 7 one would think that the supporting evidence from the catechisms – that explain the confession in Q&A form – would have cleared that up. FWIW I don’t see the ambiguity, but then again I am willing to also allow the entire confession to speak for itself.

    So, fundamentally the difference is not how we perform the sacrament or how we treat others in the community. We are agreed on that. The difference is why we do what we do. You treat believers and their children as if they are covenant members although you can’t know with certainty whether it’s true or not. I treat believers and their children as if they are covenant members, because, in my view, they really are.

    I snipped most of the proceeding, because I agree how we treat folks and the presumptions that we make toward both wheat and chaff are largely the same since we often cannot tell one from another, and in the case of our children we might always hold out hope that our Ishmaels are really Isaacs. The problem I have with your conditional scheme is that it changes the focus from what Christ has actually accomplished and secured as mediator and covenant representative of His people, to what people may or may not do, in this case believe or not. Consider it akin to those who hold out the idea of universal atonement as if Christ’s death hypothetically secured the salvation of all men universally distributed on the condition that they repent and believe. The only major difference, as I see it, is that you limit the promises made and the blessings won in the CoG as being conditionally applied to all members of the visible church. Yet, the promises made and blessing won are not for all the members of the visible church and I would think this is something even you will grant. Again, I think you greatly diminishes the meaning of the covenant as expressed so clearly in passages like Jeremiah 31. God promises to do certain things by way of the covenant and if reprobates can “really” be parties in this covenant, then in their case God does not keep his promises. Well, you’ll say, God promises are offered on the condition of faith. OK, but isn’t faith a gift of God and one of the blessings of this same covenant? Kind of a circular mess.

    Now, while I don’t mean to minimize the importance of our disagreement, I do think that our two understandings are not so different that they warrant the accusation you made earlier that my view is venturing into Arminianism or FV thought. And I can certainly imagine that the framers, may have indeed meant to allow for either view, since, in practice, our views are so similar.

    And all this hangs on the supposition that the framers meant to allow for either view and I contend that the supporting references clearly and unambiguously limit the blessings of the covenant to the elect alone and this should mitigate against this latitude you’re arguing for. Isn’t this exactly the kind of supposed confessional latitude that has allowed the creative minds of the FV to expand their covenantal scheme in the much the same direction and completely demolish justification by faith alone in the process?

    So while you may see some wiggle room in Chapter 7 that I’m not seeing, it’s even tougher for me to grant you the benefit of doubt when I consider some of the other confessional statements already adduced from the LC and SC.

    See Sinclair Ferguson, John Owen on the Christian Life. There Ferguson explains that Owen understood the covenant of grace to be conditional. Surely you aren’t suggesting John Owen was teaching Arminianism?

    I think much has been made about Owen in this regard, and, ironically, it is the FV men who trot him out every time their conditional covenantal scheme is questioned. I think if you want to get a better idea of what I have in mind concerning the implicit Arminianism of a conditional covenant, read Schilder.

    Again Shawn, you’re making false deductions from my assertions (see my last comment here). I have nowhere said that false teachers are covenant members. I am Westminsterian. Westminster qualifies the content of the profession by which one may enter the covenant as “the true religion” (WCF 25.2). Nonetheless, I’ll be happy to post some citations from the office tomorrow morning.

    You keep saying I’m making false deductions, but you said “all professing believers from paganism become covenant members, regardless of whether they are regenerate (i.e. true believers) or not.” Now wolves in sheep’s clothing look like sheep. Antichrists look like Christ. Now, at some point all such persons will be exposed for what they truly are, but you said such men, those who are not true believers, are “really” members of the covenant of grace. But, look, it’s you who is making the false deduction, for WCF 25:2 says nothing whatsoever about all those in the visible church entering into the covenant of grace. Hypocrites and others false professors are interlopers in the covenant community. They have no *real* place in – or even claim to – the covenant promises of God. Why? Because they are not included as the intended parties in the covenant.

    Quick question: If Berkhof is such a threat to true Westminsterian doctrine, why is his systematic listed on the WTS bookstore website as a staff pick? Should I be expected to trust Westminster Seminary or Sean Gerety?

    That’s easy. Trust Sean Gerety. 🙂 Besides, I never said Berkof was necessarily a threat and while I haven’t read his systematics, I have read some of his arguments in defense of the so-called “well meant offer” and found them incoherent. My former pastor loved Berkof and recommended his systematics, but I ended up reading Reymond’s instead. Berkof is still on my list though. Also, the fact that the WTS staff pick his book should cause anyone pause. This is the same staff that debated the false gospel of Norm Shepherd for seven years (see Palmer Robertson’s “The Current Justification Controversy”) and then let him go with barely a slap on the hand. Most of Shepherd’s staunchest defenders are still teaching there and are even running the school. So, as far as I’m concerned, a WTS endorsement means buyer beware. But don’t believe Sean Gerety, read Palmer Robertson. Or, read this.

    Sean, when you infer that someone in the Reformed tradition is venturing into Arminianism you are being divisive. And since the Lord Jesus Christ is very very committed to the unity of his Church, divisive comments like that should be backed with serious substance and only come from groups of seasoned ministers.

    Where is there any biblical command that drawing out the implications of a particular theological view is reserved only for “groups of seasoned minsters”? This is new to me. I thought the Bereans were supposed to be our example and they didn’t even take the Apostle Paul’s word for it.

    Besides, implicit Arminianism is rampant within Reformed circles and even among groups of seasoned pastors. I’m just surprised this is even new to you. The Reformed faith is anemic and it’s defenders routinely make many allowances for Arminianism on any number of fronts since in the minds of many such allowances are conducive to missions and evangelism.

    FWIW I think Roger was trying to raise a couple of red flags for your considerations and so am I. If you want to keep on swimming in the direction I think you’re headed, don’t let me stop you.

    This should not be about winning an argument. If your charge is correct, this should be about church discipline of the most serious sort carried out by those with the authority to do it in the appropriate venue.

    I agree this is not about winning arguments. I like to think of it as sharpening irons. But faulty views of the covenant have some very real consequences in the lives of many people as the FV controversy should make clear to everyone. Also, as far a church discipline goes, that’s a joke and I wouldn’t hold my breath. It seems the major Reformed denominations, specifically the OPC and PCA, are completely impotent to do anything about the much more serious breaches of covenant theology within their denominations. OK, they both have nice reports then can hold up and say, “see, we really believe in the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone,” but it seems that men like Kinnaird, Gaffin, Wilkins, Liethart, Meyers and the rest have nothing whatsoever to fear. The differences you and I are having are nothing in comparison to the false doctrines advanced by these men.

    I’ve commented on this under this blog post.

    Blessings to you,

    I’ll check it out. Thanks for the citations above. FWIW, I said I didn’t want to get embroiled in a big debate and I did anyway. So, blessings to you too.

    Sean

  19. jybnntt Says:

    Hi Sean,

    Again I ask whether you, according to your view of covenant membership, can ever know now whether someone is in the covenant or not.

    You wrote:

    I agree how we treat folks and the presumptions that we make toward both wheat and chaff are largely the same since we often cannot tell one from another,

    I wonder, do you mean by this that you can sometimes tell who is elect and who is not?
    I don’t think I’ve ever read any divine in the Reformed tradition admit such a thing. In fact Owen called that idolatry. It is claiming to be able to do what only God can do.

    Anyway, I’ve enjoyed dicussing this with you very much. In your last comment, correct me if I’m wrong, you didn’t ask for any further clarification regarding my view. And, in my estimation, you’ve offered no new rebuttals.

    I have demonstrated that I appreciate your view, and I believe it is acceptable. I highly respect many of the great divines who have held it. Honestly, I’m not trying to convince you that you must hold my view to be right. I would be content with the affirmation that it is legitimate. I’ve offered citations from well-respected divines of the Reformed tradition that share my view. But at this point, I don’t know what more I could say.

    Thanks Sean,

    Jay

  20. magma2 Says:

    I really don’t have anything to add either at this point. I honestly thought your question, which you’ve repeated three times now, has been answered since I maintain election is part and parcel of the CoG and claiming to know who is or who is not elect is an obvious impossibility apart from those already identified as such in the Scriptures.

    I might be hard headed, but I’m not clairvoyant. 😉

    Thanks.

    Sean

  21. jybnntt Says:

    It was a pleasure Sean.

    May the Lord bless your ministry among his flock.

    Jay

  22. magma2 Says:

    For what it’s worth.


  23. Sean,

    I will make some points here but ask that you peruse my blog http://postdeliberatuslux.wordpress.com/
    to find other points for us to discuss. Here is where I will begin.
    I think if we quote the WCF we will only run in circles and prove each other’s points only to ourselves. Let me ask you a question,

    Why is infant baptism the practise of presbyterian churches?

  24. magma2 Says:

    Because it is an imperative of Scripture.


  25. Why is it a Scriptural imperative?

  26. magma2 Says:

    We baptize our children because God tells us to. Suffer not . . . . We do so because God generally works out his covenant through the seed of believers. OTOH because we baptize our children that doesn’t mean that they are, head for head, in union with Christ or are Christians in anything else but in name only. We pray that all our children might be granted the gift of faith, before or even after they’re baptized, but it is no more a guarantee for Christian parents today than it was for Abraham or Isaac. God knows who are His and our spiritual offspring may not all be our natural offspring. Hope that helps.


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