articles in this series: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8
by Wes White
This series was originally posted in 2011 atJohannes Weslianus, the former site of PCA Pastor Wes White. Reprinted with permission]
It may come as a surprise to many that the , authored by Doug Wilson and signed by PCA Pastors Jeff Meyers and Peter Leithart, teaches a doctrine of baptismal regeneration.
Now, you may say to me, “Wait a minute! Don’t they deny teaching baptismal regeneration in that very document?”
Well, let’s examine their claim. They state:
We deny the common misunderstanding of baptismal regeneration — i.e. that an “effectual call” or rebirth is automatically wrought in the one baptized.
Now, I want to ask you to think for a moment. If someone asked you, “Do you believe in baptismal regeneration?”, what would you say? I assume you would say, “No.” You would not say, “I deny the common misunderstanding of baptismal regeneration.” You would not say, “I repudiate the notion of baptismal regeneration — that simply by the rite of baptism one has the new birth that is reserved only for the elect.” You would not say these things. You would say, “No.” The fact that these men do not say, “No.” indicates that what they really want to say is “yes” to the question, “Do you believe in baptismal regeneration?”
It is very interesting to note that when this controversy began, Steve Wilkins stated that he believed in baptismal regeneration. He said:
He affirmed that his teaching was a doctrine of baptismal regeneration.
The Federal Visionists quickly realized, however, that such language would get them into too much trouble. So, they stopped using that term. The General Assembly’s Federal Vision Committee picked up on this. It stated: “Subsequently, Wilkins and other FV proponents have backed away from using ‘baptismal regeneration’ as a category, even while they might defend ideas that suggest the same” (2223). In other words, the theology stays the same, but the terminology that would get them in trouble is jettisoned.
Your average Reformed layman hears what the FV is teaching, and they say, “This is baptismal regeneration.” Then, the FV guys say, “I do not believe in baptismal regeneration! How dare you accuse me of that?” Then, their allies within the Presbytery, instead of investigating the Teaching Elder under their jurisdiction, say, “How dare you slander a minister of the Gospel like that? You may be brought up on charges yourself for saying something like that.” Then, the timid layman (not understanding that his Session is his court of original jurisdiction) backs down, terrified.
So, let me just say this. Federal Visionists teach baptismal regeneration. They teach baptismal regeneration. Yes, I said it, they do, in fact, teach baptismal regeneration. These men are teaching baptismal regeneration.
Don’t be afraid to say it. Don’t back down from it. That’s what these men are teaching.
Now let me illustrate this fact.
The Joint FV Profession says, “We affirm that God formally unites a person to Christ and to His covenant people through baptism into the triune Name” (p. 5). Now, what does being united to Christ mean for these men? They state it this way:
We affirm not only that Christ is our full obedience, but also that through our union with Him we partake of the benefits of His death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and enthronement at the right hand of God the Father. (Ibid.)
Remember, they do not hold to the visible/invisible Church distinction as Protestants do. That would enable them to speak of union with Christ in two different senses. They redefine this distinction as the historical/eschatological Church. Thus, there is only one kind of union with Christ. It is a union in which the baptized receive the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection.
Now, compare this to the :
1003 United with Christ by Baptism, believers already truly participate in the heavenly life of the risen Christ, but this life remains “hidden with Christ in God.” The Father has already “raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Nourished with his body in the Eucharist, we already belong to the Body of Christ. When we rise on the last day we “also will appear with him in glory.”
This is precisely what the Joint FV Profession says.
Second, note that they further explain the efficacy of baptism this way:
Baptism formally engrafts a person into the Church, which means that baptism is into the Regeneration, that time when the Son of Man sits upon His glorious throne (Matt. 19:28).
Many might wonder what in the world this means. Happily, they define this “regeneration” elsewhere:
In establishing the Church, God has fulfilled His promise to Abraham and established the Regeneration of all things. God has established this Regeneration through Christ — in Him we have the renewal of life in the fulness of life in the new age of the
(p. 4). kingdom of God
This “regeneration” is the renewal of life in Christ. That’s what all the baptized receive at baptism.
Again, listen to the :
1275 — Christian initiation is accomplished by three sacraments together: Baptism which is the beginning of new life; Confirmation which is its strengthening; and the Eucharist which nourishes the disciple with Christ’s Body and Blood for his transformation in Christ.
The Federal Vision agrees with
that baptism is into the regeneration, which means
the renewal of life. Thus, for Rome and the Federal Vision, “Baptism . . . is the
beginning of new life.” Rome
Third, note also what they say in their section on apostasy. They state:
All who are baptized into the triune Name are united with Christ in His covenantal life, and so those who fall from that position of grace are indeed falling from grace.
Now, many may wonder what the phrase “united with Christ in His covenantal life” means. According to the Federal Vision, this means the love relationship of the Holy Trinity! Thus, all who are baptized are made partakers of the love relationship of the Holy Trinity. As Jeff Meyers stated:
From eternity the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share a fullness of covenantal life, love, glory in their personal relations with one another; and it is this covenantal personal fellowship of the Trinity that is the life of the covenant into which we are graciously admitted. ().
According to Meyers and the rest of the FV men, all who are baptized are saved into a life of covenantal fellowship with the Holy Trinity that is the same bond that is shared by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in their union together. And, according to the FV, this happens by baptism!
Once again, is in agreement with the Federal Vision:
1997 Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life: by Baptism the Christian participates in the grace of Christ, the Head of his Body. As an “adopted son” he can henceforth call God “Father,” in union with the only Son. He receives the life of the Spirit who breathes charity into him and who forms the Church.
The Federal Vision speaks in the same way
does about baptism. That is because they hold to
virtually the same view. Rome
If the Federal Vision does not teach baptismal regeneration, then nobody does. But the Roman Catholic Church does teach baptismal regeneration, and the Federal Visionists use virtually the exact same phraseology to describe their views. The reason is that there is such a thing as baptismal regeneration, and both
The numbered statements below are all from the Roman Catholic Catechism. The other quotations are from Federal Vision men.
- 977 — Our Lord tied the forgiveness of sins to
faith and Baptism: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the
whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” Baptism is
the first and chief sacrament of forgiveness of sins because it unites us
with Christ, who died for our sins and rose for our justification, so that
“we too might walk in newness of life.”
Rich Lusk: On the one hand the Confession says no one is actually justified until Christ is applied to them (11.4). But the Shorter Catechism specifically says one function of baptism is to apply Christ to the believer (92). Putting these two statements together yields this conclusion: Baptism is the instrument through which Christ is applied to us unto justification.
- 985 — Baptism is the first and chief sacrament of
the forgiveness of sins: it unites us to Christ, who died and rose, and
gives us the Holy Spirit.
Rich Lusk: [P]reaching alone is insufficient to make them [believers and their children] participants in Christ’s work of redemption. . . . Baptism, not preaching per se, is linked with forgiveness and the reception of the Spirit. Clearly, Peter believes God will give them something in baptism that they have not received through preaching alone. Baptism will consummate the process of regeneration begun by the Word preached. (“Some Thoughts on the Means of Grace”)
Joint FV Profession: “We affirm that God formally unites a person to Christ and to His covenant people through baptism into the triune Name. . .We affirm not only that Christ is our full obedience, but also that through our union with Him we partake of the benefits of His death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and enthronement at the right hand of God the Father” (p. 5).
- 1003 — United with Christ by Baptism, believers
already truly participate in the heavenly life of the risen Christ, but
this life remains “hidden with Christ in God.” The Father has already
“raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in
Christ Jesus.” Nourished with his body in the Eucharist, we already belong
to the Body of Christ. When we rise on the last day we “also will appear
with him in glory.”
Doug Wilson: “baptism is covenantally efficacious. It brings every person baptized into an objective and living covenant relationship with Christ, whether the baptized person is elect or reprobate.” (“Credos: On Baptism #8”)
- 1275 — Christian initiation is accomplished by
three sacraments together: Baptism which is the beginning of new life;
Confirmation which is its strengthening; and the Eucharist which nourishes
the disciple with Christ’s Body and Blood for his transformation in Christ.
Joel Garver: “we do not baptize because the one to be baptized is already regenerate. Rather we baptize in order that the one who is baptized be made regenerate. By baptism the Spirit regenerates since baptism turns us away from the old Adam and inserts us into the covenant, identifying us with Christ — the One born from above, raised from death, renewed in the Spirit, in whom is new creation — and identifying us with his covenant people — the new-creation people, born from above on Pentecost.” (“A Brief Catechesis on Covenant and Baptism”)
- 1279 — The fruit of Baptism, or baptismal grace,
is a rich reality that includes forgiveness of original sin and all
personal sins, birth into the new life by which man becomes an adoptive
son of the Father, a member of Christ and a temple of the Holy Spirit. By
this very fact the person baptized is incorporated into the Church, the
Body of Christ, and made a sharer in the priesthood of Christ
Steve Wilkins: “And you see, reading the Bible in this way, in this sense, we can speak of baptismal regeneration in this sense, not in the sense that there is some mystical power in the water of baptism that automatically transforms men if the water has been sufficiently sanctified. But, nor is it saying that God is bound to the water of baptism, that God, somehow, his blessing is always bound to that and can’t come part from that. . . What we, what I mean by this is we can speak of it in the sense that by the blessing of the Spirit, baptism unites us to Christ and his church and thus in him gives us new life. . . By our baptism we have been reborn, in this sense, having died with Christ, we have been raised with him.” (
Auburn Avenue Conference, 2002)
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.