Federal Vision

False Claims About Baptismal Theology

False Claims About Baptismal Theology

I heard Cal Beisner in critiquing the Federal Vision affirm that to declare to infants that baptism puts them in the covenant and that in the covenant Christ is is to declare a false gospel. This, ultimately, leads children to despair, he argues. But I cannot imagine a more false representation of Federal Vision theology. I know every major member of the so-called Federal Vision. Most of them are actually close friends. So, to hear such a simplistic understanding of what these men have been saying for years is actually quite offensive. No FV proponent would stop at such a statement. What Beisner failed to state is that Federal Vision advocates will encourage their children to trust in Christ and His Gospel as a necessary evidence of their covenant status.

FV does not presume, they believe in consuming the Gospel in word and deed. Baptism is the mere initiatory rite that gives access to the life of faith. The baptized life is not trust in baptism, but trust in the God of baptism. Anti-Covenant Vision thinkers usually state just enough to condemn FV advocates while rarely giving the full picture. “FV advocates believe in salvation by works,” they say. But what FV advocates say is what St. James says. James is saying, to use Reformed language, that “faith alone saves, but  faith is not alone.” In other words, what FV proponents are asking is what kind of faith saves. Is it an empty faith or a living faith? The answer is only a living faith is a persevering faith. Baptism means nothing apart from a living faith. This is why Beisner and caricatures of Federal Vision theology are becoming rather childish.

10 Things to Expect in a Federal Vision Church

10 Things to Expect in a Federal Vision Church

I recently read a post by a frustrated woman on the outcome of some decisions made in different PCA Presbyteries. Among many things, this individual observed that she was deeply concerned for the well-being of the people who attend PCA churches. She urged them to leave the denomination. Many of them have bought into the “Federal Vision theology,” and are possibly doomed to a “Christ-less eternity,” she wrote. They also are grace-less, because they emphasize a robust faith that is not dead.  Among the other things mentioned, apparently Federal Vision advocates do not care about personal relationships, but only church business, because we put so much emphasis on the church. And to top off the list of accusations, we have traded “a relationship with Jesus for religion.”

I am not a PCA pastor, but as someone who served in the PCA for several years, I do want to defend those brothers who are referred to as Federal Vision. Suffice to say, these accusations are childish in every way.

At the same time, I know there is a lot of misunderstanding out there. And in case you are either curious or tempted to visit one of these so-called Federal Vision churches, I would like to prepare the bold visitor for ten things he/she is to expect as they enter into a typical one:

1) Apart from using the term to clarify ideas and misunderstandings in friendly conversations and the occasional men’s study, the term Federal Vision will most likely never be used in the pulpit.  Further, opponents and even advocates of the Federal (Covenant) Vision differ on many points. The closest thing to a consensus is found here, but there are still are sorts of distinctions and qualifications that need to be made.

2) Be prepared for that archaic practice of singing the Psalms. Yes, we confess to singing from Yahweh’s songbook, as well as some old time religion music from the 4th century. Expect very vibrant singing; the one that roars!

3) Be alerted that we are a very friendly congregation, and contrary to what you have heard (if you have ever heard such a thing) we will greet you and likely invite you to lunch after church.

4) Also, do not be alarmed by the little cries in the congregation (Ps. 8:2-3). We really love our little ones and we encourage parents to train them up in worship, and the best place to do that is…in worship.

5) You may be asked to kneel (Ps. 95:6). We believe posture is important to God. Obviously, you do not have to kneel. It is optional, though everyone will.

6) The pastor may get a bit theological at times, he may take the time to explain the text in detail, but he usually explains his theologizing and biblicizing and is very consistent in applying his text and theology to the life of the body.

7) This may truly shock you, but we have the Lord’s Supper every week. And furthermore, we offer bread (real bread) and wine (real wine). This may take some adjustment, but I promise it will make sense after a while.

8) And I know the red flags are all over the place by now, and this is not going to help, but we also believe that baptized children are called to partake of the table of the Lord. Here is where we confess we have strayed from broad Reformed practices. But we have only done so because we believe that the early Christians practiced this. We further believe that I Corinthians 11 actually confirms our practice.

9) The ministers may wear an alb and a stole (though many others may simply wear a suit and tie). This practice serves to point out the unique role the man of God has in proclaiming God’s truth in Word and Sacrament. This may appear very Roman Catholic to you, and you are right. Of course, it is also very Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, and yes, even Reformed (see data on clerical collars).

10) Finally, you are correct to assert that we love the Church. We love her because Christ died for her. Our Reformed forefathers were clear. But the Church is no substitute for Christ, the Church is called to build on her firm foundation, which is Christ. You cannot separate Groom and  Bride. And what does this Christ demand of his Church? He demands repentance, and in repentance you will find fullness of life.

I trust you will visit us, but if you do so, we want you to be prepared.


A Father’s Day Exhortation

Happy Father’s Day!

There is a hunger out there. It is not a hunger for food, money, power; it is a hunger for fathers. This is what Douglas Wilson referred to as “Father Hunger.” Sons and daughters are craving for them. And they do not come neatly packaged. They usually come with imperfections and without an instruction manual.

But this is all right. They usually have a pretty good sense of what is right and wrong, and when they make mistakes they don’t justify themselves, but they seek forgiveness.

Where are these fathers today? They are nowhere to be found. We can find their shell in their homes, but we can’t detect their fatherly souls. This is tragic. And we do want to emphasize the important roles that fathers play in the home. But in order to do so, they must be present.

So to fathers who are present, what we want to do is to encourage you to be servants in the home, lovers of truth, carriers of joy, and examples of repentance and faith. Our children will mirror our worst traits, and this is frightening indeed. But God has not left us hopeless. He has provided Himself as an example of true fatherhood. Even those without a father today know that you have a heavenly father; One who does not leave the orphan or widow, but who cares and proves his perfect fatherhood each day.

Fathers, I urge you to take dominion over your role. You only have one shot at it, but remember that no circumstance is too late or too far gone. Every prodigal is within reach. Every prodigal still would prefer dad’s table to the table of doom. Be encouraged and hopeful.

Fathers, you are what you worship, and your children will worship joyfully the God you worship most joyfully. So worship most joyfully the God of your Father Abraham. Do not idolize your children, but teach them to crush idols. Do not serve mammon, but teach them to use mammon wisely.

This is the charge to fathers in this congregation. It is a noble and mighty charge: to love your children and to conquer their hearts, before others conquer them. Learn early and often that you are a servant of your heavenly father. If you do not serve him alone, you will be another absent father in our culture. May it never be! May God grant you strength and wisdom as you lead your families, and may He lead you to your knees, beautify your words with truth and grace, strengthen your faith with biblical conviction, and renew you daily. Amen.

Prayer: O God, our Father, we have at times failed you. We have viewed ourselves as too mighty. We have repented too little, and suffered for it. May we be fathers that delight in You, our great Father. Do not leave us to our own resources, but be our present help in times of trouble. May our hearts be aligned with yours, even as your heart is aligned with your Son, Jesus Christ, in whose Name we pray. Amen.

John 15, Election and Covenant

John 15 is a covenant passage. We can never be too cautious about using this type of language, but at the same time I often wonder why people miss something so simple. Opponents of Norman Shepherd argue that John is addressing simply an external covenant. This is the only way to make sense out of this conundrum.  But there is a more direct way to look at this passage. Man can claim faith, but not live the life of faith. Shepherd argued (Trust and Obey by Ian Hewitson, 196) that “election does not mean that we can live by sight.” Election means that though we have no insight into God’s decrees (Deut. 29:29), nevertheless it calls us to “live by faith in Christ, to walk in the Spirit, to be in fact the people of the covenant.” The branches live because they are being nurtured by the vine. At the point they cease to trust and follow the vine, they lose their branch status and are cut off. As John Murray once stated: “Covenant privilege always entail covenant responsibility (197). To be in covenant with God is to receive a call to faith. This call is of grace. Not even one iota of our works can be claimed as our own.

Confession Anyone?

Here is a piece I wrote some time ago on the relationship between confessions and the Scriptures.

Imaging the Triune Life; or Living Perichoretically

Because we are made in God’s image, God is the model for humanity. The Father, Son, and Spirit mutually indwell one another’s lives (Jn. 13-17). The theological term for this is “perichoresis.” “Peri” is Greek for “around.” We get the word “choreograph” from “choresis.” The idea is that the three persons of the Godhead “dance around” or “dance within” one another. Their lives are totally intertwined. They move in lockstep with one another because they abide within one another. But this is precisely how we are to live in Christian community. We are to open our lives to others so they can indwell us, but we are also to seek to “move into” the lives of others, abiding in them. In this kind of community, as we indwell one another and live “perichoretically,” we image the life of the Triune God. —Rich Lusk

Steve Wilkins vs. Mr. Anti-FV

I have discussed FV in various places on this blog.  People are tired of hearing me say, “yes, we love babies!” or “yes, we like bread and wine,” or “yes, we like serious church worship, etc.” But some out there make a living (btw, it doesn’t pay too well, in case anyone wants a new job) out of criticizing and chastising and other “c’s” all the FV proponents. The anti-FV bloggers/pastors have taken a positive step forward by actually talking to one of “them” or as we Losties like to call ourselves, “THE OTHERS.” So, Mr. FV answers a few questions from Mr. Anti-FV…and the result ain’t pretty. HEAR HERE

Summarizing The Federal Vision, Part V

Part IPart IIPart III, Part IV

After several preliminary comments, Wilson recommends the Federal Vision Joint Statement. The statement provides a series of points in which all FV proponents are in agreement, and it concludes with some areas in which there is intramural disagreements.

Though Wilson did not mention this link, I’d recommend it to those who would like to delve a bit deeper:

The Federal Vision Resource site is federal-vision.com.  The website provides a wealth of documents and does a fairly good job at keeping up with current blog debates over the FV.

Both Theopedia and Wikipedia do a poor job in allowing FV proponents to defend themselves. Those links provide an obviously biased perspective on the issue.

The Federal Vision in Two Minutes or Less, Part IV

Part IPart II, Part III

On this fourth post in a series of introductory remarks on the Federal Vision, my intention is to summarize Douglas Wilson’s two lectures on the Federal Vision, while adding a few salient remarks of my own. For a more in-depth study of this issue, one can visit http://www.federal-vision.com.

Wilson argues that in this controversy it is very easy to assert certain propositions and treat them as the final and sole arbiter of what is true reformed theology.  But, asserting these doctrinal propositions as the final word on what reformed theology is is too simplistic. There is too much nuance in theology to narrow 400 years into a few propositional statements. Further, as Wilson observes, no one who is connected with the FV controversy has been censured, excommunicated, or defrocked. This is an important point to make. Of course, denominations have made accusations, but those sympathetic to FV concerns are still in the PCA, OPC, and other Reformed denominations. As Doug points out: “No denomination has said ‘Smith, you’re out!'”

Wilson concludes by asking that those observing and analyzing the FV consider the entirety of the debate. In other words, do not look at the first three months of the debate, but rather, to the last eight years. A lot has happened in eights years, and in eight years positions are refined and clarified.

The Federal Vision in Two Minutes or Less, Part III

Part I, Part II

Douglas Wilson makes an important point that I would like to briefly expand. He says that “ad hoc alliances among evangelicals vary from country to country.” His point being that evangelicals in different nations have different set of assumptions. As an example, Doug mentions the Amyraldian position in the UK, which is very popular among Calvinistic circles. In the US, he argues, the same people suspicious of the FV would be suspicious of a four-point Calvinist.

I would also add that there are different alliances even in the same country. The FV has caused quite a stir among Southern Presbyterians, however, not all presbyteries aer created equal. Young men pursuing ordination in one part of the country (in the South) would be condemned for having Paedocommunion inclinations, but another young man in the Pacific Northwest (I have the PCA in mind, as opposed to other smaller presbyterian denominations) might receive a warm welcome for being inclined toward paedocommunion. These types of contrasting reactions are unfortunate, but yet they form the make-up of the present FV controversy.