The Sacraments are one of the contentious issues of the current controversies. Do the Federal Vision men believe sacramentalism, and if so is it outside of the Reformed Norm? I would argue yes to both points. Baptism is a good place to start. The Federal Vision men always raise their voices in protest when they are accused of believing in Baptismal Regeneration or that “baptismal efficacy is affirmed...of every recipient of the sacrament" (lines 42-44 FV section of the MVP report). They always deny it. And here is an example of how they do it. Joel Garver says:
If the report means to say that I believe that all the baptized truly receive Christ and all his benefits as those are offered in the sacrament of baptism, then this is most certainly not the case. I do not believe that every baptized person receives Christ and all his benefits as those are offered by the sacrament of baptism. Receiving the sacrament, for instance, in hypocrisy and unbelief will not benefit the recipient unless he later comes to faith.
If the report, however, means to say that I believe that what is signified and sealed by the sacrament of baptism is truly offered to all in its administration, then I do, in fact, believe that. But, as far as I can see, this is simply classical Reformed doctrine, consistent with the Westminster Standards.
Auburn Ave Church makes this statement:
By baptism one is joined to Christ's body, united to Him covenantally, and given all the blessings and benefits of His work (Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:1ff; WSC #94). This does not, however, grant to the baptised final salvation.
Again Garver gives clarification of AAPC statement:
The AAPC Statement, however, is perfectly consistent with final salvation being "offered" or "given" but not being "received" in such way that would grant final salvation. Otherwise, the statement would be flatly contradictory since "all blessings and benefits" would have to include "final salvation" since surely that is the chief blessing and benefit of Christ's work.
Regarding Saul the AAPC Statement says, "he did not receive the gift of perseverance." But the language here is that of "receiving," not being "given" or "offered."
Thus we see a lot of word parsing being done by the Federal Vision men that is not picked up on in the MVP report or many of the discussions about the subject.
On the contrary the Classical Reformed Position is stated in the Heidelberg Catechism.
Q. 61 Why do you say that you are righteous by faith only?
A. Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, but because only the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God; and I can receive the same in no other way than by faith only.
Q. 72 Is then the outward washing with water itself the washing away of sins?
A. No, for only the blood of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sin.
Here it is extremely important to note the discussion of how we are righteous immediately proceeds the discussion on sacraments in the Heidelberg. We are righteous by faith, and then the sacraments ‘confirm’ it to us, as the catechism plainly teaches.
Allow me to summarize. The Classic Reformed or Old Reformed Position is that those who receive the sacraments by faith receive the benefits signified by them. Thus our faith is confirmed by the sacraments and salvation and righteousness come only by faith. Without faith the sacraments are of no hope or use to you. The Federal Vision position appears to be those who receive the sacraments receive the benefits of them unless they frustrate the grace by unbelief. Another way to say it is they receive the benefits of the sacrament as they receive it in continuing faith. These two positions are not the same. The Old Reformed position has faith as the instrument and the Federal Vision position has the sacrament as the instrument and faith is just a manner of receiving. The sacrament itself contains grace and offers it to all, and unless it is prevented by unbelief, then it is conveyed or received. The Old Reformed Position states faith is the only way to gain benefit, and constantly reminds us that the sacraments are signs and tokens. They do nothing in and of themselves.
However, it must be admitted that the MVP report is wrong in saying that they believe all who receive baptism are saved because the Federal Vision makes allowances that people can frustrate grace through unbelief, and thus fall out of the covenant with God to which they were joined. The baptized have true union with Christ, but can then later frustrate that union and lose it, through unbelief or a lack of continued faithfulness. This is why I wish the MVP report had taken the time to be detailed. The Federal Vision men rightly have a complaint about the report, but their teaching is still contrary to the Reformed Faith. A clearer report might have helped close the loopholes that the Federal Vision position slips through.