Saturday, November 20, 2010

Theonomy Does Not Promote Salvation By Works: Part 3: Theonomy Denomination First Denomination to Condemn Federal Vision

(posts in this series: part 1, part 2, part 3)

It is interesting how many who are very vocal in arguing that theonomy leads to the heretical Federal Vision (FV) movement (which teaches salvation by works), are not so vocal about the fact that the theonomic Reformed Presbyterian Church of the United States (RPCUS) was the first denomination to condemn the FV,[1] and, that it is the largely non-theonomic Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) (the two largest ostensibly conservative Presbyterian denominations) that have tolerated the FV and allowed it to fester within their ranks.

(On this latter point, see, for example, Brian Schwertley’s piece “The Gospel Crisis in the OPC and PCA,” as well as an audio version.)

In fact, the RPCUS—which condemned the FV the very year of its inception, in 2002—was accused of condemning the FV too hastily.[2]

Compare the timid, mealy-mouthed pronouncements many non-theonomic pastors and theologians make against the FV with the strong language used by the RPCUS against the FV in its “Call to Repentance”:
“Covenant Presbytery of the RPCUS declares that the teaching presented in the 2002 Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Pastors Conference involves a fundamental denial of the essence of the Christian Gospel in the denial of justification by faith alone.

“That the teaching of the various speakers: Douglas Wilson, Steve Schlissel, John Barach, and J. Steven Wilkins, has the effect of destroying the Reformed Faith through the introduction of false hermeneutic principles; the infusion of sacerdotalism; and the redefinition of the doctrines of: the church, the sacraments, election, effectual calling, perseverance, regeneration, justification, union with Christ, and the nature and instrumentality of faith.

“That the rejection of the Bible as propositional and the introduction of an illegitimate post-exilic Jewish mindset as an interpretive scheme, denies the role of Scripture in interpreting itself. This view, while affirming the written word, yet gives license to reformulate and reinterpret that word
through the glasses of an unrevealed and antipropositional mindset that is closely akin to the old liberal higher criticism of the early 20th century.

“That the denial of the distinction of visible and invisible church and the introduction of an historical and eschatological church, opens the door to new and mystical meanings being applied to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper that are sacerdotal in orientation; makes justification an eschatological process instead of a definitive legal act; obscures the reality and necessity of the new birth; and corrupts Gospel preaching by eliminating the call to repentance and faith within the congregation.

“That baptismal regeneration constructed upon the principle of linking the sign and the reality in effect differs little from Roman Catholicism.

“That the doctrine that maintains union with Christ is an external position and place in the church confounds regeneration, union with Christ, and the outward ordinances.

“That the maintenance of the language of Calvinism in these speakers is superficial and misleading: their doctrine of perseverance is made to deny effectual calling; their doctrine of corporate election is made to deny particular redemption; and the native depravity of man is made to be removed in the outward administration of water baptism which thereby sufficiently qualifies the recipient for the Lord’s Supper.

“We therefore resolve that these teachings are heretical. We call these men to repentance. We call upon the church of Jesus Christ to hold these teachings in contempt. We call upon the courts of the churches that are responsible for these men to institute judicial process against them and to vindicate the honor of Christ and the truth of the Christian Gospel by bringing judgment upon them, suspending them from office, and removing them from the communion of the church should they not repent.

“May God have mercy upon their souls.”

- Adopted unanimously by Covenant Presbytery, Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States, June 22, 2002.[3]
And so based on the very logic of those who claim that theonomy leads to the FV, perhaps we should argue that being a theonomic denomination leads to condemning the FV, while being a non-theonomic denomination leads to tolerating the FV.

Of course, it would be uncharitable and simplistic to paint such a broad brush. Just as there are several theonomic critics of the FV, there are several non-theonomic critics as well. Just as there are many theonomists too timid to condemn the FV, there are many non-theonomists too timid to condemn the FV as well.  And the FV itself has proponents in both theonomic and non-theonomic camps.

But the fact that the theonomic RPCUS was so swift and sure in condemning the FV while so many non-theonomic denominations didn’t should cause theonomic critics to rethink their position that theonomy leads to FV.


[1] Daniel F. N. Ritchie, A Conquered Kingdom: Biblical Civil Government (Saintfield, Northern Ireland: Reformed Worldview Books, 2008), 736.

[2] John M. Otis, Danger in the Camp: An Analysis and Refutation of the Heresies of the Federal Vision (Corpus Christi, TX: Triumphant Publications, 2005), 5.

[3] The Council of Chalcedon, “A Call to Repentance” (Cummings, GA: July/August 2002), 13.


Roy Miller said...

This piece is a year and a half out of date for the OPC. Our paper on Justification clearly rejected Federal Vision. Further, the PCA's GA has also adopted a similar paper.

I know of no minister in the OPC who holds to Federal Vision. However, I have no personal knowledge of the situation in the PCA.

Steve C. Halbrook said...

Hi Roy,
Is there a link to the OPC report?

I think we would agree that just because you don't know of any OPC minister who holds to FV, it doesn't mean that there aren't any--unless you know every OPC pastor, and well enough to know that they aren't wolves.

Of course, if there are no FV ministers in the OPC, that would be great. I hope at this point the OPC is willing to defrock FV ministers if there are any.

Does the OPC paper condemn the Federal Vision as a damnable heresy? Some condemn the FV in this way, while others simply voice disagreement with FV, without holding that FV denies any fundamental tenet of Christian orthodoxy.

The latest PCA position that I am aware of does not take a firm stand against FV.

The report to the 35th PCA General Assembly (I believe it was 2007) from the Ad Interim Committee Report did a thorough investigation, and declared that the New Perspective on Paul and the Federal Vision teaches salvation by works.

Ironically, the PCA report also declares that Federal Vision and New Perspective on Paul Proponents are brothers in Christ, which means the PCA has itself compromised the Gospel.

The report states:

1. “The committee also affirms that we view NPP and FV proponents in the PCA as brothers in Christ.”

2. “The fourth section sets forth nine features of NPP and FV teaching that the committee finds to be contrary to the Westminster Standards.”

3. One of the nine features (declaration #9) adopted by the PCA Assembly affirms that NPP and FV proponents deny justification by faith alone:

“The view that justification is in any way based on our works, or that the so-called “final verdict of justification” is based on anything other than the perfect obedience and satisfaction of Christ received through faith alone, is contrary to the Westminster Standards.”

The PCA is infected with FV and NPP heretics; to what exact extent, I'm not sure, but it is serious. I recently left a PCA where the "pastor" was pushing N.T. Wright, and the "pastor" himself did not hold to Christ's active obedience.

A good site for following the FV situation in the PCA, as well as the FV in general, is Wes White's site:

White is a PCA pastor who has been battling the FV in his denomination for some time, and he has gotten a lot of flack for it.