Thursday, February 22, 2007

Federal Vision and the Three Forms of Unity: Faith and Apostasy

Now that we have seen the Federal Vision with its new understanding of Baptism, let us continue to trace the discussion by continuing on to what logically comes next: faith and apostasy. To show the growing difference between the Three Forms and the Federal Vision, we shall continue to posit quotes from both exposing the difference.

Summary of previous subjects: The Federal Vision advocates Baptism engrafts one into Christ, really and truly, while the Three Forms speaks only of being engrafted into the Church.

Auburn Ave. Presbyterian Church:

5. Those who have been solemnly admitted to the Church by baptism (WCF 28.1) are bound to receive and rest upon Christ by faith, repenting of their sins, yielding obedience to his commands, making diligent use of the outward means of grace, and thereby persevering by faith to the end of their days. This perseverance is itself a gift of God and not a result of the “willing” or the “running” of the people of God.
7. . . . What is offered in baptism may not be received because of unbelief. Or, it may only be embraced for a season and later rejected (Matt. 13:20-22; Luke 8:13-14). Those who “believe for a while” enjoy blessings and privileges of the covenant only for a time and only in part, since their temporary faith is not true to Christ, as evidenced by its eventual failure and lack of fruit (1 Cor. 10:1ff; Hebrews 6:4-6). By their unbelief they “trample underfoot the Son of God, count the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified an unholy thing, and do despite to the Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:29) and thus bring greater condemnation upon themselves.
8. God has decreed from the foundation of the world all that comes to pass, including who would be saved and lost for all eternity. Included in His decree, however, is that some persons, not destined for final salvation, will be drawn to Christ and His people only for a time. These, for a season, enjoy real blessings, purchased for them by Christ’s cross and applied to them by the Holy Spirit in his common operations through Word and Sacrament (Hebrews 6:4-6; Matthew 25:14ff; etc.).
9. Salvation depends upon being united to Christ. Clearly, those who are eternally saved are those who continue to abide in Him by the grace of God. There are those, however, who are joined to Him as branches in the vine, but who because of unbelief are barren and fruitless and consequently are cut off from the vine and from salvation. Jesus says these “believe for a while” but do not bear fruit unto salvation. Why God would do this is a mystery, but the teaching of Scripture is clear: some whom He adopts into covenant relation, He later hardens (Rom. 9:4, 18, 11:1ff). In such instances God has not changed His decree regarding such people; to the contrary, He carries out His sovereign purposes in and through their unbelief and rebellion. Those elect unto eternal salvation are always distinguished by their perseverance in faith and obedience by the grace of God.

Notice then some points here in these statements. The apostate has faith, but it is faith that does not stay true to Christ. It is true faith, just faith that does not continue long enough. The apostate also is truly engrafted into Christ, truly participates in the blessings of that union, and has the blessings of Christ’s cross applied to him, but those things end when he fails to produce fruit.

Doug Wilson:

In shorthand, he [the apostate] falls away from Christ; he falls from grace (Reformed is Not Enough pg. 132).

Now let us see what the Three Forms of Unity have to say about the subject of apostasy and faith.

Heidelberg Catechism:

18. A. Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is freely given unto us for complete redemption and righteousness.

20. Q. Are all men, then, saved by Christ as they have perished in Adam? A. No, only those who by true faith are ingrafted into Him and receive all His benefits.

Here we see the catechism speak of Christ as our complete redeemer. For those engrafted into Him, he has given them complete redemption and righteousness. Only those who have a true faith are engrafted into him and receive all His benefits. This is contradictory to the above claims of Wilkins and Wilson who say those who have faith that fades away were engrafted into Him and received all His benefits. In case any doubt the meaning of the catechism Ursinus after discussing temporary faith states, "Justifying faith, again, differs from all other kinds of faith, in this, that it is by it alone that we obtain righteousness, and a title to the inheritance of the saints. . . Neither is it temporary faith; for Christ rejects this" (Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, Ursinus, pg. 111).

One also could point to the Canons of Dort Fifth Head of Doctrine Rejection of Error #7, which says Justifying faith and temporary faith are different in more ways than just duration. Wilkins and the Auburn Ave. church make room for this in a foot note of their statement, but seem to use a lot of language that implies the difference is ‘believing for a while.’ Since Rev. Wilkins claims temporary faith does unite one to Christ, it seems as if he needs to do more to explain the difference.

Thus, the differing view of baptism has led to a differing view of union with Christ, and outright disagreement on whether or not one can fall out of Christ and of grace. Next we will see the different opinions on the Lord’s Supper and the church.


Matt Powell said...

How do you suppose that the FV men would deal with John 10, with its language of sheep who are known by Christ, those who receive His benefits and who never perish? It seems like John 10 very much equates those who experience Jesus' real benefits with those who also are preserved to the end.

Lee said...

I am exactly sure what they would say since I have not seen anyone deal specifically with John 10. If I were guessing, I would say that they would have two responses. One would be to say that Jesus is speaking of the elect. They do still make a difference between the elect and those who were 'in Christ' for a time. They do think that there is no way for us to know if we are elect or not except by whether or not we stick it out until the end, but I guess one could always pull out that card. The other, and I think more likely is that they would claim John 10 does not disagree with their position. Jesus would know and lay down his life for even those who fall out of grace. They do claim the benefits of the cross for the apostate, so those phrases may not trouble them. They would just say that he is not specifically addressing the possibility of apostacy in this passage, and they might note he is not necessarily forbidding it either. I am 100% certain that they would point five chapters down to John 15, which seems to be where they always end up.