Wednesday, March 2, 2011

John Otis on the Federal Vision's Distortion of Saving Faith

Pastor John Otis, one of the most able critics of the Federal Vision, recently wrote the following comments in response to Wes White's insightful piece about the Federal Vision's advocacy of salvation by works:

Wes has brought out a very important point in FV theology – the crucial point of the nature of saving faith. FV adherents have been very “slippery” here, and it has been the point where they keep pleading that they are “so misunderstood.” It is now approaching 9 years since the 2002 AAPC conference. Heretics have historically been guilty of assigning new meanings to long established meanings of words, concepts, etc.
I highly recommend everyone to read “Doctrinal Integrity: The Utility and Importance of Creeds and Confessions and Adherence to Our Doctrinal Standards” by the great Presbyterian of the 19th Century, Samuel Miller. This is must reading for all of us! You can read the book free online, though I have had a hard copy for years.
This rings so true what Miller wrote nearly 200 years ago. See if this is not what the FV is doing today:
“Besides, all experience admonishes us to be upon our guard against those who, in publishing erroneous opinions, insist upon it that they differ from the old orthodox creed “only in words.” This plan has been often pursued, until the language became familiar, and the opinions which it naturally expressed, current; and then the real existence of something more than a verbal difference was disclosed in all its extent and inveteracy. Such was the course adopted by Arius, in the fourth century. He and his followers strenuously maintained that they differed in no material respect – nay in terms only – from the orthodox Church. But how entirely was their language changed when they had gained a little more power and influence! The same plea precisely was adopted by Pelagius, and his leading adherents in the fifth century, and also by Cassian, and other advocates of the Semi-Pelagian cause, about the same time.”
Steve Wilkins, Steve Schlissel, and I will put Jeffery Meyers into this group as well, have all sought to redefine historically understood terms in light of their heretical views. Wilkins has done it with his differentiation between “decretal election” and “covenantal election.” Of course, when examined closely, his “covenatal election” is nothing more than Arminian theology to the core.
I will never forget in my radio debate with Steve Schlissel where Steve wanted me to find OT justification for espousing “faith” as not being defined as “the obedience of faith” where covenantal faithfulness is the essence of faith, as Schlissel contended. I mentioned Genesis 15:6, and Schlissel got real excited that I would mention it. We went to a radio commercial and when we came back we never had much time to debate it. The FV men actually believe that Abraham was justified by his “covenantal obedience.” Read Norman Shepherd and his book, “Call of Grace,” and it is clear that he espouses this view.
One of the listeners to that debate was Dr. James R. White, and he told Chris Arnzen, the host of the radio show, off the air that if he didn’t know Steve Schlissel personally (which he does) he would have sworn he was listening to a Roman Catholic priest.
One of the ministers in our denomination, Pastor Henry Johnson, heard Steve Wilkins at the east coast student worldview conference in 2002 just after the RPCUS “Call to Repentance” hit the fan, so to speak. Henry told Wilkins personally and I paraphrase, “Steve, you cannot call faith the ‘obedience of faith’ implying that there is faithfulness as the core meaning of faith.”
The so called “obedience of faith” in the FV is no different than Roman Catholicism’s view of justification by works. Wilkins and company’s exegesis of “obedience of faith” in Romans 1:5 and Romans 16:25 as “covenantal faithfulness” is a thoroughly incompetent exegesis of the passages. The passages clearly refer to the gospel message where those who trust in Jesus demonstrate “the obedience of faith,” meaning that to exercise faith in Christ is obeying the Gospel message. There is a vast difference between obeying the call to repent and believe from “faithfully obeying the law” as the essence of “saving faith.”
In Mark 1:15 Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” There you have it! We are commanded to obey the command to “repent and believe.” But this is NOT practicing “covenantal faithfulness” as the nature of our justification. We see the command to do the same in I John 3:23, “And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded.” Loving one another is not the essence of the principal act of saving faith. Yes, it is inescapably joined to it as James 2 brings out, but this union is as Wes White states in mentioning the Westminster Confession – our “works” are the evidence of a true faith. “Evidence of” and “essence of” are two entirely different concepts.
The greatest refutation of the FV’s view on the essence of faith is John 3:14-16 where Jesus alludes to his impending death with the incident in the OT where sinning Israelites had been bitten by poisonous serpents. Moses did not tell people to “practice the law” in order to be healed. All he said was, “look to the bronze serpent held up by Moses and you will be healed.” That is saving faith! The looking is NOT covenantal faithfulness but trusting in Christ alone for salvation.

No comments: