Friday, April 22, 2005

Westminster LC Q.68 and Federal Vision

Mark Horne, who temporarily removed his blog, is now back on the web. Rev. Horne is an intellectual PCA minister who I enjoy reading, even though I sometimes disagree with him. This is one of those times.

His most recent post talks about the Mississippi Valley Presbytery report, specifically their use of Westminster Larger Catechism Question #68. That question reads:

Q. 68. Are the elect only effectually called?
A. All the elect, and they only, are effectually called; although others may be, and often are, outwardly called by the ministry of the word, and have some common operations of the Spirit; who, for their willful neglect and contempt of the grace offered to them, being justly left in their unbelief, do never truly come to Jesus Christ.?

The MVP Report uses this question to discredit the teaching of Doug Wilson:

"The Bible teaches clearly that in the historical Church there are fruitless branches (but real branches nonetheless) which will not be there in the eschatological Church," "The Church: Visible or Invisible," 268. (Quoted from Rev. Horne’s blog, which he took from the MVP Report.)

The rest of Rev. Horne’s blog is dedicated to showing how he holds to question 68 of the WLC. Yet, he never really deals with the antithesis that exists between these two quotes. Here is the problem made plain. Rev. Wilson says that those who fall away from Christ were really united to him, they were "real branches nonetheless." The Westminster Larger Catechism says those who fall away "never truly come to Jesus Christ". Thus the problem. How can someone really be united to Christ and never truly come to Christ?

I have stated elsewhere that the MVP report has its imperfections, specifically that its not in-depth enough and too broad, but in this instance with Q68, I believe they raise a legitimate point. First of all, how can one be united to Christ, but never truly come to Christ? Second, what is the difference in the faith of those who are truly united to Christ, but do not stay in him? Third, is this failure to remain united to Christ a problem with Christ's union with man or is it a problem in the man when he fails to persevere? Here is as close an answer as I could find in Rev. Horne’s blog:

I can't escape the conclusion that here there is a gift to those who persevere that is not wrought in those who don't. This faith perseveres because it is qualitatively different than that of temporary believers. However, if the committee is going to insist this must make some great practical difference, and attempt to disfellowship anyone who thinks the secret things belong to the Lord but that this covenant is for us and our children forever, then they are simply overstepping the bounds of Scripture and the Westminster Standards, as well as their own jurisdictional boundaries.

It seems to me that if Christ is withholding a gift from some people that he gives to others, then Rev. Wilson is wrong to say that they are truly branches because they would be branches that do not receive the life-giving benefit of Christ. If, on the other hand, the qualitative difference is man’s fault and not Christ’s, then how do we avoid saying that we are saved by our own strength? For the record, the idea that there is no real difference between temporary believers and the elect was rejected long before the Westminster came around. The Canons of Dort, in the 5th Head of Doctrine, reject the following error:

Who teach that the faith of those who believe only temporarily does not differ from justifying and saving faith execpt in duration alone.

Thus the Synod of Dort thought that teachings like those of Rev. Wilson should be rejected as wrong, and in a sense, that 'disfellowshipping' with those who hold to such beliefs would be appropriate. Granted, Rev. Horne does say that true faith is 'qualitatively' different from temporary, but that leads us back to the 3 questions I would have Rev. Horne answer. How is one united to Christ without coming to Christ? What is the difference between those united forever and those united for a time? Is the failure of those temporary believers a problem with their union in Christ or with their own strength?


Andrew McIntyre said...


I hear your point, and I think I agree. However, if non-persevering confessors were not a branch of Christ in some sense, then how do we explain John 15? The problem is compounded by the fact that we are here speaking in metaphor, which is not the reality itself. So, the entire argument is located in the explanation of the metaphor.

Peace to you,

DrFunk said...

I think in many ways this is one of the paradoxes of the faith. The Bible definitely teaches that of those who are called, Jesus will lose none (John 6:39), but it also teaches that there are branches that do not bear fruit and will be pruned and thrown into the fire (John 15:2, Romans 11:21). In plain English, there are people in the visible church who are not elect. They are "part of Christ" in that they receive common grace, and are "sustained by the root," but in the end they are not true branches and will not persevere. I think this is why Paul instructs us to work out our salvation in fear and trembling (Philipians 2:12) and Peter advises that we make our election sure (2 Peter 1:10)--just being part of the visible church, and involved in its ministries, and receiving some measure of grace, does not mean you are truly engrafted into Christ.

I am not a great student of the MVP controversy, but I think we may be arguing at cross purposes. The times I have seen this argument in C/A, Doug Wilson uses his belief that the non-elect are still (temporarily) branches on the Vine of Christ as a basis for why we should use Biblical church discipline against those branches. So he is not trying to deny limited atonement, the efficiency of Christ's sacrifice, or irrestible grace--he is trying to argue that the response to these false branches is not to separate from them, ("syncretists are not true believers"--which they aren't, BTW) but to try to accept them at their claim of being "brothers" and try to reform them ("if you say you are Christian, why do you follow other idols?").

ilona said...

The questions go in interminable circles with unsatisfactory incongruent answers because of trying to make the gospel fit the doctrine. If Christ called to "whosoever" and it is true that God is not willing that any should perish, then many of these points in the discussion are moot.

Andrew McIntyre said...

No offense intended, but declaring topics that have engrossed the best Christian minds in all of history "moot" is simply nonsense. You cannot just engage in a little prooftexting and declare victory. You will have to do much more than that to defeat such men as St. Augustine, John Calvin, Francis Turretin, Martin Luther, B.B. Warfield, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge...shall I go on?

Lee said...

John 15 is one of the passages that is in question in the Federal Vision debate. The metaphor of Jesus being the vine and we the branches is a beautiful picture, but in my opinion, it is a metaphor that must let the rest of Scripture explain to us. Is a fruitless person who is bound for hell in true union with Jesus Christ? The answer is no for Christ loses none of those who are given to Him (John 6), and those who depart are not truly a part of us (I John) and faith is what unites us to Christ (John 11, Matt. 16, Eph. 2:8-9, etc.). It seems to me that the Federal Vision men want to make the metaphor the center instead of allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture. Peter Leithart argues that “metaphor is not an adornment to thought and speech, but a primary medium of both” (Federal Vision pg. 203). He continues on to say, “Theologians, of course, are called to submit to the root metaphors that Scripture provides” (pg. 204). It seems a legitimate worry that the metaphors are beginning to govern how we understand the didactic passages, rather than vice versa. I believe that Mark Horne and Doug Wilson are following the Leithart and making the metaphor of the vine and branches the governing passage about salvation rather than clearer passages that speak to nature of union with Christ.

Dr. Funk,
I disagree. Yes there are non-elect in the Church, but I don’t think it is a paradox whether or not they are engrafted into Christ. Doug Wilson clearly argues that membership in the Christian faith or in Christ can be “fingerprinted” and “photographed” and it is through baptism (Reformed is Not Enough pg. ). He goes on to tell us that Baptism engrafts us into Christ. The whole point of his original quote that they are “real branches” means that they are really united to him. You say, “just being a part of the visible church . . . does not mean you are truly engrafted into Christ.” I think this is exactly the opposite of what Wilson is saying. Being a part of the visible church makes you a part of Christ for Wilson and many other Federal Vision people. Membership in Christ is “objective”, can be “fingerprinted” and “photographed” because of baptism. Thus, the question for me is how can membership in Christ be like this and then still argue that Christ loses none of us, as you pointed out.

And I agree with Andy, this is a very important discussion.

Andrew McIntyre said...

Could we say that the baptized unbeliever takes part in the Spirit in accordance with Hebrews 6:4, not in a salvific sense, but in some lesser sense? Is this what your opposition is getting at? I am not well versed in their "perspective."


Lee said...

They often say that baptism unites one to Christ and all his benefits, including the benefits purchased on the cross. This is where I really have a problem. The baptized unbeliever has forgiveness from the cross of Christ yet somehow loses this benefit later. This is what I believe Horne and Wilson and others are talking about when they talk about union. Baptism unites us to the cross of Christ, and the forgiveness that comes with it, but some only get it for a time. Hard to reconcile with John 6:39.