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?