Monday, February 27, 2012

The Federal Vision threat to Reformed Baptists

by Steve C. Halbrook

Many Reformed Baptists 
might think that the Federal Vision heresy is mainly just a problem for Presbyterians; after all, the Federal Vision has found the most fertile ground in certain Presbyterian circles, probably due to the Presbyterian belief in paedobaptism (that is, infant baptism) and other aspects about the covenant. 

In any case, as the thinking goes, Reformed Baptists are immune to Federal Vision theology since Reformed Baptists do not practice paedobaptism, an important feature of Federal Vision theology. 

Unfortunately, however, the Federal Vision is much more of a threat to Reformed Baptists than they might think.

But first, we must note that, even
if the Federal Vision posed no threat to Reformed Baptists, Reformed Baptists should be nonetheless willing to condemn the Federal Vision for the sake of their paedobaptist/Presbyterian brothers. Indeed, some Presbyterians even attend Reformed Baptist churches, especially in cases where the local Reformed Baptist church is stronger than the local Presbyterian churches.

Now, as for the Federal Vision threat to Reformed Baptists: in their shared views of Reformed theology in general, and of the doctrines of grace in particular, Presbyterians and Reformed Baptists tend to follow the same theologians. For instance, you have Presbyterians following the Baptist John Piper, and Reformed Baptists following the Presbyterian R. C. Sproul. 

Also, you have the resurgence of theonomy (a biblical doctrine, when properly understood), which initially came mainly from Presbyterian circles, but has since affected Reformed Baptist circles. On the other hand, you have the resurgence of patriarchy (also a biblical doctrine, when properly understood), which seems to have come mostly through Reformed Baptist Circles, and has since affected Presbyterian circles.

And so, what affects one camp can--and tends to--affect the other. This
can be for good (as in the previous examples). But, it can also be for ill, such as in cases where Reformed Baptists who are exposed to professing Presbyterians who advocate Federal Vision theology. 

The fact that Reformed Baptists do not advocate paedobaptism does not mean that they are immune to Federal Vision theology, for 
the Federal Vision's denial of justification by faith alone is not limited to a baptismal regeneration form of paedobaptism. (The Federal Vision's doctrine of baptismal regeneration is in contrast to historic Presbyterianism, which rejects baptismal regeneration.) The Federal Vision does not just hold that the work of baptism (whether applied to infants or adults) saves (as heretical as that is), but it also holds that salvation is an ongoing process that all works play a role in. Thus a Baptist could retain his baptism distinctives while still rejecting the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone for the Federal Vision's overall doctrine of justification by works.

Moreover, it is not too far fetched to believe that some Baptists could adopt Federal Vision baptismal regeneration theology to their own theology, with the main difference being that baptismal regeneration would be restricted to those old enough to articulate a profession of faith. Such a view is not unheard of. The Campbellites (which includes those in the professing "church of Christ"), who hold that water baptism saves, like Baptists, advocate "believers-only" baptism, via immersion. 

Of course, besides the fact that Federal Vision theology could be adapted to Baptist theology, Baptists exposed to the Federal Vision might just repudiate being a Baptist entirely and embrace Federal Vision theology to its full extent, including a 
baptismal regeneration form of paedobaptism. After all, it is not as if there has never been an instance where a Baptist has rejected his theology for paedobaptism. Likewise, it is not as if there has never been an instance where a Baptist has rejected the biblical gospel for a false gospel.

In my own experience, I once met a young man who was one day a Baptist, and on the very next day he announced he was a paedobaptist. My concern is not that he became a paedobaptist in and of itself, for I believe the Presbyterian view of paedobaptism--which rejects any role of water baptism in salvation--is biblical. My concern is that he may have embraced Federal Vision theology, for I came to learn that he regularly promotes Federal Vision proponents, and is especially an advocate of the
Federal Visionist Doug Wilson. And once I even showed him heretical statements made by Doug Wilson, and he didn't even see them for what they were.

Now, back to the overlap between Presbyterians and Reformed Baptists. Not only do the camps share the same theologians, but the theologians speak at conferences together. The Baptist John Piper and Presbyterian 
Doug Wilson are a case in point. (Naturally, as a Federal Visionist, Wilson really holds to a perversion of Presbyterianism.) A while back, John Piper, prior to having Wilson speak at one of his conferences, gave Wilson glowing approval (see the video below). Piper dismissed the fact that Wilson's Federal Vision theology was heretical. 

Since Piper is well-respected in Reformed Baptist circles, i
t doesn't take much to see how Piper's endorsement of Wilson can positively affect the perception some Reformed Baptist have of the Federal Vision.

Also, the Federal Vision-influenced denomination itself, the CREC (formerly called Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches, now called Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches) allows Reformed Baptist and paedobaptist churches alike into its denomination. As one CREC site states:

5. Why does the CREC allow both Baptist and Paedobaptist churches to become members of the denomination? Aren’t the two schools of thought based on different scriptural paradigms?
The topic of baptism of infants has been a topic of much discussion and debate in the history of the Christian Church. Although we embrace and support gracious faithful discussions and debate, we also recognize that this particular topic is one which we hope maintains the unity of the Spirit and pursues unity of the mind with like-minded faithful churches. The paradigm difference you mention is part of the larger debate. But within the CREC we share a covenantal paradigm.[1]
Note that it says that the CREC Baptist and Paedobaptist churches "share a covenantal paradigm." This is frightening, knowing the Federal Vision's heretical view of the covenant. 

On the Federal Vision's influence in the CREC, it was Doug Wilson's church (called Christ Church) that played a major role in the CREC's formation. From the same CREC website:

The Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches began as a formalization of the relationship which existed between three churches, Christ Church (formerly Community Evangelical Fellowship) in Moscow, Idaho; Trinity Church (formerly Wenatchee Evangelical Fellowship) in Wenatchee, Washington; and Trinity Church (formerly Eastside Evangelical Fellowship) in Bellevue, Washington.[2]
And the CREC is infested with Federal Visionists. Besides Wilson, it includes such notorious Federal Visionists as Steven Wilkins, John Barach, Rich Lusk, and Randy Booth

Wilkins, Barach, and Wilson (along with
Steve Schlissel) made up the infamous Monroe Four which brought the Federal Vision out of the closet in 2002--and were subsequently called to repentance by the RPCUS. Lusk is also a long-time Federal Vision proponent, and Booth uses the website Covenant Media to peddle the Federal Vision heresy. 

(For more about some of the men involved in the Federal Vision controversy, see
Danger in the Camp by John Otis, as well as the RCUS Study Committee Report.)

And so as we can see, the Federal Vision is a real and present danger to Reformed Baptists. 
Reformed Baptists are no more immune to succumbing to damnable heresy than Presbyterians are. In being exposed to Federal Vision theology, Reformed Baptists cannot expect to be unaffected. Scripture says, "A little leaven leavens the whole lump" (Galatians 5:9). 

And bad leaven threatens to spread like gangrene and lead people astray: 
"But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene" (2 Timothy 2:16, 17a). 

And so w
e urge Reformed Baptists--individuals, elders, seminary professors, heads of parachurch organizations, etc.--to warn and protect their fellow Reformed Baptists from the dangerous, soul-damning Federal Vision heresy. As Paul instructed Timothy, "Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers" (1 Timothy 4:16).

For several resources about the Federal Vision heresy, visit Theonomists against the Federal Vision on Facebook.

     [1] Christ Covenant Reformed Church, "About the CREC." 
     [2] Ibid.

John Piper's glowing endorsement of the heretic Doug Wilson


The Schaubing Blogk said...

It would be interesting to know what FV in a RB context would look like. I'm one of those people that have generally figured that 'we don't have a dog in that hunt.'

Are you familiar with any RB FV confessions?

Steve C. Halbrook said...

Not familiar with any RB FV confessions, but it is easy enough for wolves in sheep's clothing to simply adopt historic confessions and redefine terms. Doug Wilson is a master of redefining terms.

Unknown said...

I am a Reformed Baptist and a member of an ARBCA church. I was formerly a member of a FIRE church with a more loose view of confessional subscription and some of the elders were promoting FV advocates such as Douglas Wilson and Peter Leithart. I have posted some reformed baptist responses to the Federal Vision along with Reformed Paedobaptist responses on my blog for anyone interested:

Steve C. Halbrook said...

Thanks so much for fighting this heresy, and for the resources. We definitely need Baptists calling the FV out for what it is.

Unknown said...

I forgot to include one other point in my previous comment. John Piper would not be considered a reformed baptist since he is not confessional. He is a Calvinistic baptist, but his views on several issues such as his view of the law of God and the Lord's day would place him outside of a reformed/confessional view. I know that it can be sometimes confusing since some Calvinists will claim to be reformed when they only affirm TULIP, but aren't confessional.