Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Reply to the Joint Federal Vision Profession: Part 1: Introduction

articles in this series: part 1part 2part 3part 4part 5part 6part 7part 8

by Wes White
[Editor's note: This series was originally posted in 2011 at Johannes Weslianusthe former site of PCA Pastor Wes White. Reprinted with permission]

I have decided to write a reply to the Joint Federal Vision Profession. This is a summary of Federal Vision beliefs signed by the most prominent proponents of this Federal Vision theology, including PCA Pastors Jeff Meyers and Peter Leithart.

In this reply I want to both address the concerns of the Federal Vision and point out where and how I believe that this profession is contrary to Scripture. As with nearly all heresies, there are legitimate concerns that need to be addressed. I hope to address those in this series.

Now, some may wonder why I am doing this. Why worry about the Federal Vision? There are two reasons. First, I think the Federal Vision is a serious departure from the Biblical faith and Gospel. It introduces a sacramentalist system along the lines of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. The result is described well by our General Assembly’s FV Report:

The Committee views the FV position as ultimately leading to presumption or despair, not assurance. At the heart of their belief is the view that water baptism serves as the means for uniting each participant to Jesus; those baptized receive all the benefits of Christ’s mediation except final perseverance. Our concern is that some of those who are baptized will simply presume on God’s grace, “continuing in the covenant” without “apostatizing” but also without justifying faith (cf. Matthew 22:1–14); others will be driven to despair, working for a salvation out of “covenant faithfulness” instead of resting and receiving Jesus alone for their salvation.

The FV represents a completely different doctrinal system contrary to the Biblical system of doctrine summarized in the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Many people thought that we were done with the FV when the committee of the General Assembly reported condemning the Federal Vision theology. Many other denominations joined with the PCA in condemning the FV errors. Many thought that this was enough.

It is not enough. The Federal Vision theology is alive and well and entrenched on Planet PCA. It is clear to me that this problem will only be dealt with when those who love the truth stand up, act like men, and literally remove the men who are teaching these errors from the PCA. Evangelicals have loved to make statements throughout the past 150 years, but they have hated the idea of actually kicking anyone out.

The Apostle Paul is clear on what happens when we tolerate such awful errors. “A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (Gal. 5:9). “Their message will spread like cancer” (2 Tim. 2:17).

But we don’t believe this can happen in the PCA. I have heard several prominent leaders in the PCA speak as if the battle for Biblical orthodoxy is over in the PCA. They have spoken as if these are not great problems for us.

But every denomination in the 20th century had to deal with liberalism, sacramentlism, feminism, and many other problems. Most of them failed. What makes us think that we are immune to these things? What gives us such great confidence that we will stand?

Now, I would like to give a few anecdotes to demonstrate that FV is alive and well on Planet PCA.
  1. I would point to my own Presbytery. We have been dealing with Federal Vision issues for over four years now.
  2. There is the Peter Leithart case in Pacific Northwest Presbytery. After the GA FV Report, Peter Leithart reported his views to the Presbytery, and the Presbytery, led by TE Rob Rayburn of Tacoma, Washington, stated that his views were acceptable. A series of appeals followed. This finally resulted in a panel of the SJC declaring that there was a strong presumption of guilt. However, TE Leithart is still in the PCA and another round of appeals and complaints is sure to follow.
  3. Then, there is the case of Jeffrey Meyers. Jeffrey Myers is an open Federal Vision advocate. He signed the Joint Federal Vision Profession that we are going to consider on these pages. TE Meyers has a unique place of influence. He is a Pastor in St. Louis, and he is very active in reaching out to seminary students from Covenant Seminary. You can see in this post on his Church’s web site that he holds retreats for seminary students. From his point of view, I think this is very wise. That’s what I would do if I was in his place. However, since I consider the FV to be an aberrant theology, I am alarmed. TE Meyers is on record as having said that he believes that our whole system of doctrines needs to be revised:
I do think the latest scholarly work in biblical theology demands that we go back and redo a great deal of the Westminster standards. They were written when people still thought of the covenant as a contract and believed that “merit” had some role to play in our covenantal relations with God. The whole bi-polar covenant of works/grace schema has got to go. And if that goes, the whole ‘system’ must be reworked.
  1. TE John Piper has done many good things for the evangelical world. I have appreciated his stand on many points. However, he has done incalculable damage by asking Doug Wilson to speak at his Pastor’s conference and then digging in his heels when he was called out on it.
To give an example of the problems that this creates, I was speaking with a Calvinistic Baptist friend the other day. He brought up John Piper. I said that I was disappointed about him inviting Doug Wilson to his conference. He said, “Well, John Piper says that Doug Wilson is orthodox.” And that was the end of that. Never mind that all sorts of other Reformed theologians have condemned him as heterodox, including entire denominations. (By the way, check out a good critique of Wilson here).
  1. Many in the PCA like N.T. Wright and the New Perspective on Paul. They might not be specifically linked to the Federal Vision, but they are promoting similar tendencies through the advocacy of the New Perspective. Interestingly, the so-called flagship of the PCA, Redeemer PCA in NYC is having N.T. Wright come and speak at one of their conferences, as you can see here.
  2. No doubt there are many others who hold to FV or are generally sympathetic within the PCA. James Jordan, who should know, based on his secret Federal Vision email list called Biblical Horizons, said this:
Some men remain in the PCA because God has told them they have a duty to help the 7000 who have not yet bowed the knee to antichrist. They hatred of the Kingship of Jesus, which characterizes so much of the PCA, is with fighting. The Reformed faith is that faith includes fiducia, and this is still worth fighting for, regardless of how many antinominian blogs hate it (All spelling errors in original).

What you will find, though, is that many who defended the FV in the past have gone silent. You won’t find many people besides Mark Horne openly defending the Federal Vision. The Federal Vision is not a badge that people want to wear in the PCA. So, what would you do if you were pro-FV? You would not defend it publicly. You would bide your time. Eventually, you can come back with the same views under a different name, and the debate will once again open up. (This has been done in the past. Shepherdism simply morphed into Federal Vision.) This time, however, you will be much better prepared to withstand the onslaught of your opponents.

It’s a good strategy, if you’re Federal Vision. If you think Federal Vision is a harmful and erroneous system of doctrine, you should be concerned. Once they have consolidated their position, they will not be in a mood to tolerate confessionalists. The sacramentalist system and the Gospel of justification by faith alone cannot co-exist in the same denomination. One or the other will have to give.

Editor's note: Signers of the 2007 Joint Federal Vision Profession include:
Douglas Wilson (minister, CREC), Peter Leithart (minister, PCA), Jim Jordan (minister, teacher at large), Steve Wilkins (minister, PCA), Randy Booth (minister, CREC), John Barach (minister, CREC), Rich Lusk (minister, CREC), Jeff Meyers (minister, PCA), Tim Gallant (minister, CREC), Ralph Smith (minister, CREC), and Mark Horne (minister, PCA). 
Credentials were those held by the signers when the profession was released.

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