A Critique of the “Federalist Vision” and a Warning to the Reformed Community

Taken and adapted from, Critique of the Teachings of Barach, Schlissel, Wilkins, and Wilson
Written by Rev. Michael J. Ericson
Materials sourced from the Presbyterian Reformed Church Website

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A major controversy has developed over the past years in the Reformed community.

While there are often differences and debates in the camp, I believe, this particular matter, is a watershed issue that could shape the direction of Reformed and Evangelical churches. It strikes at the very heart of the gospel, namely, the application of Christ’s redemption, the new birth, justification by faith alone, and conversion. To elucidate of what I speak, permit me to offer a review of the history of the controversy.

Early in 2002, the annual Pastors Conference was held at Auburn Avenue PCA, in Monroe, LA. The speakers were John Barach, Steve Schlissel, Steve Wilkins and Doug Wilson. The scope of God’s covenant with man in Christ, its administration, and appropriation were the substance of the conference.

On June 22, 2002, Covenant Presbytery of the RPCUS issued a statement entitled “A Call to Repentance.” In the judgment by the RPCUS court, 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…. these teachings are heretical. We call these men to repentance.[1]

Following a near fire storm in the Reformed community, the 2003 Auburn Avenue Pastors Conference was set up seeking to clarify the issues and unify Reformed churches. Each of the four speakers from the earlier conference delivered a single lecture summarizing or clarifying the previous messages from 2002. This was followed in turn by a respondent.[2] After each presentation and response, there were discussion sessions, with a couple of question and answer times during the conference. While the respondents did an admirable job, I believe it will be helpful to highlight some central issues, with specific reference to what each man has taught.

The teaching of the four men addresses issues that are foundational to the application of Christ’s redemption. From that great objective work of Christ, as a covenant for the people, we find three main aspects concerning its application to the believer: 1) union with Christ; 2) justification by faith; and 3) experimental religion. In the light of Scripture, we will examine, as fairly as possible, critical errors in these three foundational areas.

All four men will be critiqued as a group. There are several reasons for this. While there are individual nuances, they often use ‘we’ when referring to their ‘new paradigm’ in theology. Furthermore, during all of the discussion, as well as question and answer times, there is a noticeable lack of critique of each other, or clarification of differences in some very crucial areas.[3] We also take them together for the sake of clarity, in order not to be sidetracked by all the varied nuances. Finally, by taking the four as a group, we can arrange our treatment topically.

Union with Christ

Christ’s person and work is foundational to any understanding of God’s dealings with fallen sinners. It is the basis of salvation, namely, election, effectual calling, justification and sanctification. The nature of Christ’s efficacious work of redemption does not appear to be brought into question by any of the four men’s teaching. The differences of view lie in the application of Christ’s redemption. We will first look at how all four men see union with Christ as salvation; second, to whom they think it applies; and, third, how this union is brought about.

Union with Christ is Salvation

The overarching theme summarizing the application of Christ’s redemption to sinners is the doctrine of union with Christ. The elect, comprising the universal, catholic, invisible Church, are united to Christ and, thus, share in the benefits of His work and glory. The elect, by the work of God’s grace (Eph 1:22 ; 2:6-8), are really joined to Christ (1 Cor 6:17 ; Jn 10:28 ; Eph 5:23, 30; cf. WLC #66; WSC ##31, 32). Those so united to Christ partake of the benefits, such as justification, adoption and sanctification (Rom 8:30 ). Union with Christ is, therefore, the application of Christ’s redemption brought to bear upon the sinner.

Most of the statements by the four men, as to what union with Christ is, seem to fall within orthodox bounds. While effectual calling never is discussed (it is only mentioned briefly in reference to those outside the covenant community), they evince the understanding that union with Christ is salvific, with the attendant blessings.

Wilkins adheres to the truth that “Salvation depends on being united to Christ.”[4] As with the Westminster divines, he holds that “there is no salvation apart from union with Him [Christ].”[5]Wilkins adds, “there is no such thing as a non-organic union.”[6]

Union with Christ is considered by Barach to entail salvation, with all its attendant blessings, as we see from the following:

All of our blessings, all the blessings of salvation are blessings that we experience in union with Christ. Because we are united with Christ, because he is our covenantal representative, when He was raised from the dead and vindicated by God, we were vindicated by God, justified … sanctification … we have new life in Christ … glorified.[7]

To be united to Christ is, therefore, to have eternal life.

Wilson quotes with approval WCF 28:1, which discusses what is signified in baptism as union with Christ, being ingrafted into Christ, regeneration, remission of sins, with other blessings.[8] To be united to Christ is to be of His body. Christ “is the Head of the Church, and the Church (in this sense) is the fullness of Christ.”[9] Thus, he at least alludes to the idea that to be united to Christ is salvation.

While union with Christ is not stressed by Schlissel, we do find references to ‘in Him,’ and the implication that to be in Christ is a state of salvation. For example:

We are the people of the atonement. We are the people who have been covered by God. We are the people whom God has given His Son and the portion of the Holy Spirit without measure through His Son and that he has given us sanctification and every grace in Him.[10]

Thus, we see that all four men would agree with historic Reformed theology that to be in union with Christ is salvation, with all the benefits. Stress must be place on the fact that there are numerous statements that the benefits of salvation, all the benefits, are found in union with Christ.

Temporary Union

The major point of deviation from biblical Calvinism comes when considering who shares in this vital, living union with Christ, with the four suggesting that all the baptized, head for head, regardless of their personal faith, share in this vital union. It isn’t until you realize unto whom they think this union applies that their use of terms such as ‘real’ and ‘vital’ show their colors. All four use language specifically stating that all within the visible church have this union with Christ, whether they be hypocrite or apostate.

Wilkins stresses that those in the visible church receive the benefits because “the church is salvation because it is the body of Christ” and all its children and all members participate in “redemption.”[11] In his session’s position paper we read:

8…. Included in His decree, however, is that some persons, not destined for final salvation, will be drawn to Christ and His people only for a time. These, for a season, enjoy real blessings, purchased for them by Christ’s cross and applied to them by the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament. 9. Salvation depends on being united to Christ. Clearly, those who are eternally saved are those who continue to abide in Him by the grace of God. There are those, however, who are joined to Him as branches in the vine, but who because of unbelief are barren and fruitless, and consequently are cut off from the vine and from salvation.[12]

According to Wilkins, the writers of the New Testament use “the 2nd person plural throughout, without any qualifiers;” what they say, “they say to the visible church,” “even though they couldn’t see and couldn’t know the hearts;” this applies to “all members of Christ’s body, and individually members of it” that “Christ died for their sins;” the blessings of the union with Christ are “objectively true of each of the members” “by virtue of their standing in the covenant;” “these very real things” are theirs in possession; “Being in Christ, they share in His wisdom, His righteousness, His sanctification, and His redemption. They have received the Spirit.”[13] The visible church, thus, is not a place of potential blessing, it is the place of salvation for all, and Wilkins even applies the truths of Ephesians chapter one, head for head, to every member of the visible church.

This applies, for Wilkins, equally to all who fall away or apostatize. “So, the point of covenant is this, one, you maintain, you maintain, the relationship established with the Savior, and if you did you, you enjoy the blessings of the Savior. If you break this relationship, you perish … as long as you’re faithful, you enjoy those blessings;” those that fall away “lose blessings that were actually theirs;” “they are cut off from Christ” “even though they were bought by the Lord;” “punished even though they were cleansed from their former sins;” they “forfeit all the blessings and benefits of the covenant of grace.”[14] To lose and forfeit, the apostate hell bound sinner, according to Wilkins, first has the blessings of union with Christ.

According to Wilson, the apostate can actually have real union with Christ: “Before God’s action cut Caiaphas out of the olive tree, Caiaphas was in the olive tree and a wicked man. The sap flowed through his branch, but he didn’t bear fruit.”[15] Of those that apostatize from the New Testament church, Wilson urges that “Sap flowed to them.”[16] He asserts that “the hypocrite is … genuinely in Christ” and that “he is as much a member of the vine as anyone else.”[17] This is because elect and nonelect “Both are equally in the covenant.”[18]

Schlissel speaks of the apostate being cleansed from their sins, citing 2 Pet 1:9 ; Heb 6 .[19]

John Barach teaches that “The new covenant can be and is broken by people,” citing Heb 10:29 and John 15 ,[20] without any qualifying of the persons involved. Of those cut off, he asserts that “these branches were genuinely in Christ” and that “some who are in Christ, they apostatize and they go to hell.”[21]

We may be confused as to what these men mean by ‘church,’ but ‘head for head‘ is very clear and particular language. For these men, the hypocrite and the apostate alike enjoy a real, vital union with Christ; a union which can be severed.

We will note two things at this point. First, Scripture does not teach, however, that every person, head for head, in the visible church participates in real union with Christ. Nor does the Word teach, second, that this union can be severed.

First, as to who participates in vital union with Christ, they often appeal to John 15 with the analogy of the vine and the branches, but they go too far in teaching that all are in the vine the same way, and that all share in that vital union with Christ. A careful look at John 15 , however, will show that all that are truly in Christ will bear fruit. Verse 5 makes this clear: “He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.” The branch cannot do so “except it abide in the vine” (v. 4). Those branches that bear no fruit are cut out. They are said not to abide in Christ, “for without me ye can do nothing” (v. 5); “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch” (v. 6). So, in one sense they are in the vine, and in another they are not. Here we have the relation of the internal and the external, or the visible and invisible aspects of the church. Those fruitless branches are in the visible body, the external covenant, but are not really united to Christ, drawing that life-giving, fruit-bearing sap. As the four often reference Calvin as a source of their thinking, his own comments are telling concerning the appearance of every branch:

I reply that many are reckoned by men’s opinions to be in the vine who in fact have no root in the vine. Thus in the prophets the Lord calls the people of Israel His vine because by outward profession they had the name of the Church.[22]

We must be careful not to push the organic analogy too far, by stating that every branch is in the vine in the same way. The analogy of the vine and the branches is not the only one found in the Scripture.

We also see references in Scripture in which personal distinctions of condition are drawn between those in the visible church. For example, we have the analogy of the sheep and the goats (Matt 25:32-33 ). Sheep are not goats and goats are not sheep. They may share the same pasture and barn, but they are of a different nature.

We also have the parable of the sower. In this parable there is the distinguishing characteristic of the soil, or ground. The difference between the effects of the seed, the Word of God, is attributed to the ground: “But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold” (Matt 13:8 ). This is the one that “heareth the word, and understandeth it” (Matt 13:23), which can itself be attributed to none other than the Holy Spirit’s regenerating and calling work. All in the visible church have a call, but not all have the effectual call.

We also read of the wheat and the tares (Matt 13:24-30 ; 36-43). It is clearly taught that not all in the visible church are wheat. From the world (v. 38), the wheat and the tares are called out externally by the preached word and constitute the visible church, along with their children. Tares may look very much like wheat, but they are not wheat. When, for example, Wilson speaks of the whole visible church as the omelette and the individuals as the eggs, he fails to take note that there are some things in the omelette that are not eggs.[23] Not all in the visible church are in real and inseparable union with Christ. They are in a federal relation, under His visible rule, offered the gospel, but they are not in a Spiritual, saving, real union. The wheat and tares are so closely bound in common association and appearance that you cannot pull the tares out without hurting the wheat. In other words, sessions do not make judgments about regeneration, but only judgments concerning credible professions of faith. The tares being treated like wheat doesn’t make them wheat, not does it hinder warning them of the dangers of being tares.

Part of the problem results because all four men deny the external/internal and visible/invisible distinction made in reference to the Church. Appeal to John Murray is of little help. While Murray didn’t like certain abuses of the terms, he affirmed the underlying doctrine. No orthodox Presbyterian has ever taught there are two churches, hence the four build a straw man.

Wilson, in referencing the church as our mother, speaks of honoring his mother, and suggests we should respond by asking whether he meant his visible mother or invisible mother.[24] His mother, however, is not a corporate entity made up of elect and nonelect individuals. You can only push an analogy so far. There are distinctions more fundamental than time between the members of the visible and invisible church., as we noted above in such texts as John 15 and Matthew 13 .[25]

Barach denies the distinction between external/internal or visible/invisible:

The Bible doesn’t know about a distinction between being internally in the covenant, really in the covenant, and being only externally in the covenant, just being in the sphere of the covenant. The Bible speaks about the reality, the efficacy of baptism.[26]

In turn, distinctions between corporate and individual election are either blurred or denied.

The invisible aspect of the church is invisible in principle. It is based upon the decrees of God and His uniting the elect with Christ in their effectual calling. Not all in the visible church are in the invisible church, nor will some ever be.

Scripture is very clear on the distinction between external association and internal reception of the blessings of the covenant. There is no other legitimate way to read Romans 2:25-29 , except with this distinction in mind. The main point of contrast is between those that are merely circumcised in the flesh and those that, by the operation of the Spirit, have a circumcised heart. Inward and outward have more to do than with just faithfulness or unfaithfulness. These point to Spirit’s work, or lack thereof.[27] The Apostle is not contrasting those who are flagrant covenant breakers, considered apostate and cut off. The contrast, rather, is between those whose confidence is in bare observance of the letter, without a work of regeneration, and those who have a heart made new and truly share in the blessings of the covenant. Any trusting in external rites, or actions, as somehow making one right with the Lord is what Paul refutes. He thus speaks of two types of Jew, inward and outward, and the outward in this sense is no true Jew (v. 28). The same is true in the New Testament administration. Those that merely have the outward sign of baptism are not true Christians. They are only Christians in an external sense.

Likewise with Romans 3:1-4 and ,especially, 9:1-6, where the Apostle forthrightly contrasts the Israel after the flesh (that is physically) and Israel after the Spirit and promise. Hence the example is given of Jacob and Esau, who, even though being raised by the same father, one was Israel after the Spirit and promise by election, and the other was of the flesh only. Abraham had sons of the flesh and those of the promise. Both were circumcised, but Esau was not individually elect and never was regenerated.

There are several key questions that are at issue here. With whom is the covenant of gracemade? With Christ and the elect (Gal 3:16 ), is the biblical and historic answer. Among whom is the covenant of grace administered? With all in the visible church (Rom 9:4 ). Unto whom is the covenant of grace offered? To every needy sinner, the world unto whom God would be pleased to send His ambassadors (Matt 28:19-20; Rom 10:11-15 ).

This leads us to a related problem as these men speak of union with Christ; that is, whether union with Christ can be severed. They clearly teach that it can, even the vital, real union. The Scriptures teach otherwise. While all Calvinists agree that the external relation can be severed, hence John 15 , Romans 11, etc., Scripture teaches that none that are in union with Christ can be cut away.

And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand (John 10:28-29 ).

There is an everlasting union that the elect have with Christ that nothing will sever. Nothing can separate the elect from the love of God in Christ. There is a sealing work of the Spirit, who is the earnest of the elect’s inheritance (Eph 1:13 , 14). While these men affirm that the elect will never be severed from this union, they teach that the nonelect may be in this union and subsequently severed from it.

The implications of the teaching presented by the four, considering that all in the visible church, head for head, even the apostates, share in the same vital union, is that those who are truly in vital union with Christ can be cut off, can lose their salvation. R.C. Sproul, Jr., asks “What is the sap?” Wilson answers: “Nobody ever said that the sap was the atoning work of Christ salvifically for the elect.”[28] Wilson doesn’t explain how this doesn’t contradict his teaching on union with Christ as being salvific.

Arminians teach that the apostate truly lose the union they had with Christ, but run into the problem of denying election and perseverance of the saints. The language used by the four suggests that all in the visible church, hence in union with Christ, share in all the blessings of the covenant except one – perseverance.

It may not be wise to call this “losing one’s salvation,” but it seems contrary to Scripture to say that nothing at all is lost. To draw such a conclusion appears to deny the reality of the covenant and the blessedness that is said to belong even to those who ultimately prove themselves reprobate (Heb. 10: 26ff).[29]

According to Wilkins, those that fall away do so because “God didn’t persevere with them.”[30]Or Wilson, “Nonelect covenant members neglect the means of their perseverance in a more fundamental sense, which is why they fall away.”[31] The biblical/historical doctrine is that the nonelect, however, cannot persevere because they were never brought into a state in which to persevere. For the four men to assert that this teaching differs from Arminianism because it was all predestined offers little help.

In wrestling with the issue of what it is that the nonelect partake of, these men run into difficulties because they overlook what has been historically referred to as the common operations of the Spirit. Both the Westminster Confession of Faith (10:4) and the Larger Catechism (#68) speak of the “common operations of the Spirit.” In these instances Matthew 7: 22ff; Matt 13:20-21; and Heb 6:4-6 are cited. The unregenerate can have operations of the Spirit by which they can know much about the faith, speak much about the faith, can feel deep conviction of sin (i.e. Judas “I have sinned because I have betrayed innocent blood,” Matt 27:4), can feel joy in hearing the Word (Matt 13:20,21 ; Herod, in Mk 6:20), and can even do mighty works (Mt 7:22f). The standard, Reformed understanding of Heb 10:29 has been with reference to the common operations of the Spirit.

The phrase “common operations of the Spirit” is a necessary inference to explain the difference between what the elect experience or the work on their heart, what the nonelect experience, and the different nature of the Spirit’s work in each. In reference to the nonelect, it acknowledges some type of work is going on, short of any effectual calling and union with Christ. At the same time it keeps the distinction clear that the elect receive something different: the vital regeneration of the Spirit in effectual calling and real, inseparable union with Christ. This avoids the confusion and suggestion that the elect and nonelect are in the same vital union or receive the same gracious work of the Spirit. It is an inference brought about by letting Scripture interpret Scripture.

Thus far I have presented, first, how all four men see union with Christ as salvation; second, that they teach that it applies to all within the visible church, though only as a temporary union for the nonelect; and now, third, let us examine how this union is brought about.

Effectual Baptism

How is our union with Christ brought about? How is it effectuated? The short answer here is that the four, in various forms, teach that vital, real union is effectuated by baptism.

Schlissel asks:

Why do we not accept God’s testimony is baptism? Look at how the Scriptures uniformly address the churches to whom the letters are written. Paul’s epistles are prodigious in describing that the people in these churches are, in fact, heirs of the kingdom, belong to Jesus Christ, and sanctified by Him; they will persevere and continue, and they have the Holy Spirit…. Calling is a key to understanding the covenant…. Such a calling is objective rests upon every baptized person.[32]

By virtue of the testimony of the covenant in baptism, “I’m not waiting for a conversion… this is a fact … our children are God’s.”[33]

Wilson states that “Baptism is our introduction to union with Him.”[34] While affirming that regeneration is a secret work of the Holy Spirit, that faith is necessary and that is conferred at the time of conversion, Wilson understands that infancy in conjunction with water baptism is the norm for this regeneration and union with Christ to occur.[35] He further believes, in a limited sense, that “Calvin held to baptismal regeneration.”[36] In addition, after quoting WCF 28:1, he writes “Raise your hand if you knew that the Westminster Confession taught baptismal regeneration.”[37]

For Wilson, this applies to everyone who is baptized: “Baptism to the one baptized, to everyone baptized, is a sign and a seal of his ingrafting into Christ.”[38] Thus, Wilson takes exception to the historic Reformed position that the nonelect do not receive what is signified in the sacraments.[39] Of the nonelect partaking objectively of what is signified, Wilson admits that “in this very narrow sliver of a sense you might say that there’s a Lutheran point here.”[40] There is some tension between this and his thought that the relation between the water baptism and the grace of salvation is not absolute, but it is the norm.[41]

Barach, as to how union with Christ is brought about, remarks:

In baptism we are united with Jesus Christ … union … died to sins … raised to new life. That is something that we can say to everybody in our congregation by virtue of their membership in Christ…. You can call that, if you want, covenantal baptismal regeneration.[42]

Again, this applies “to the whole church … to all of them head for head.”[43] By baptism, Barach asserts, one is brought into union with Christ and a possessor of all the blessings.

Wilkins also agrees that “By baptism one is joined to Christ’s body, united to Him covenantally, and given all the blessings and benefits of His work.”[44] He teaches that “when we are baptized, we are united to Him in His work, we receive His Spirit, even as He did in His baptism, and our baptism is a sign and seal of sharing in His baptism.”[45] Wilkins holds that everyone, head for head, person for person, “at baptism all the promises and blessings of the covenant are delivered over to you”[46] and that “everyone in Christ, however, has the same standing.”[47]

Wilkins also believes that what is signified is always present in the sign. What is signified “is a reality in all the sacraments that is always present”[48] Thus, he believes that “in this sense we can speak of baptismal regeneration.”[49] Fundamental to this discussion is, as noted above, that the four deny the distinction between the elect and nonelect receiving what is signified in the sacrament.

The basic confessions of the Reformed churches do not teach that all participants receive what is signified. The Belgic Confession, Article 33, teaches that the sacraments are “to nourish and strengthen our faith,” not impart it. The Heidelberg Catechism:

Q65: Since then we are made partakers of Christ and all His benefits by faith only, when doth this faith proceed? A: From the Holy Ghost, who works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel, and confirms it by the use of the sacraments.

The Second Helvetic Confession (1566) XIX:11, of the Word and the sacraments:

The wicked and unbelievers hear and understand the words, yet enjoy not the things signified, because they receive them not by a true faith; even so the sacraments… the unbelievers receive not the things which are offered.

The Canons of Dort state, “And as it hath pleased God, by the preaching of the gospel, to begin this work of grace in us, so He preserves, continues, and perfects it … by the use of the sacraments” (Head V, Article 14). And, finally, the Westminster Confession of Faith relates the grace signified in the sacraments to “worthy receivers” (27:3), in baptism “to such as that grace belongeth unto … in His appointed time” (28:6), and of the Lord’s Supper as “sealing all benefits unto true believers” (29:1). All the great creeds agree that only the elect, through faith, receive what is signified in the sacraments.

A sacrament is a seal in a twofold sense. The first is of placing an oath on the Word of God. The second sense is exciting and confirming grace already or to be afterward bestowed “to those to whom it belongs.”[50] The physical signs and seals of the covenant never were a means of initiating the covenant. The prime example of this in the Scripture is Abraham:

And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also (Rom 4:11).

Note two things here. First, it is clear that Abraham’s justified state existed before it was sealed. At least 14 years transpire between Gen 15:6 (“Abraham believed God…) and Gen 17:10-13(reception of the sign and seal of circumcision). This is known from Ishmael’s age, Gen 17:25. Circumcision did not initiate or confer the grace of justification. The instrument was faith. Second, circumcision, now baptism, is a “seal of the righteousness of the faith.” Notice how the seal of the sacrament is directly linked to the instrument of faith. Understanding the instrumental relation between grace and the covenant, we speak of the sacrament as a seal of the covenant of grace (cf. Rom 4:5). Without faith there is no sealing in the sacraments.

Even for those nonelect, who do not receive what is signified, there is judgment for partaking of the sign, as is pointed out in Hebrews 10:26-30. The language of this passage is sacramental in that what they profess and what the sign is to signify is spoken as being trampled upon. This does not imply, however, that they actually received these graces. An example would be someone going into the training compound of the Special Forces, burning and trampling on the U.S. flag. It is only a sign; there is no sacrament. The person doing such a thing, however, would, at the very least, incur the wrath of those who value that symbol.

The four men make frequent reference to the means of grace and God’s use of them in salvation. They, however, equivocate in speaking of baptism and the Word as a means of grace. Never once do they differentiate between the Word of the gospel and baptism, with the former as a converting means and the later as a confirming means. Baptism is not a converting ordinance. What brings a person into union with Christ is not baptism. It signifies and confirms but it does not bring about that union. Effectual calling is not by baptism.

Effectual calling “by His Word and Spirit” are the means of bringing a sinner into the covenant of grace, into union with Christ, enlightening their minds, renewing their wills, so that they embrace and receive Christ (cf. 2 Thess 2:13-14; WLC #67). Union with Christ is brought about by effectual calling (cf. 1 Pet 5:10 ; WSC #66). It is also of interest to point out that one of the texts cited by the Westminster standards to support the statements made on effectual calling is Tit 3:4-5 , which is a text repeatedly referred to by Wilkins, et al, to refer to all in the congregation, head for head, that have been baptized. It, to the contrary, as what is signified, only applies to those who are effectually called by His Word and Spirit. It does not apply to all those that receive the general gospel call (cf. WSC #31).

This is the clear teaching of all the standards of the Reformed and Presbyterian churches. The Westminster divines understood this to be the case. They believed they were in perfect harmony on this matter with the Reformed churches. This is not a variance between historic Dutch theology and Westminster theology. What is at variance is presumptivism and historic experimental theology.

In summary, under the topic of union with Christ, we have discussed three main aspects: 1) union with Christ is salvific with all the attendant blessings; 2) all four men hold that all persons in the visible church, person for person, participate in full, real union with Christ, even though some may lose it; and 3) that these men teach this union is wrought by baptism, either ordinarily or unqualified.

I am in full agreement that union with Christ entails salvation. To be united to Christ is to partake of every blessing (Eph 1), with Christ as Surety and Christ as our Head. Clearly in Romans 6the Apostle teaches that to be united to Christ is to be dead unto sin and alive unto God. Where I take strong exception to the teaching presented by these four men is who participates in this union, whether it can be severed, and how it is brought about.

All four of the men are deviant, or at least very unclear, in their teaching concerning union with Christ. The Reformed and evangelical understanding of union with Christ in (1) what it entails, (2) who shares in it and whether it can be lost, and (3) how it is brought about separates us from both Roman Catholics and Arminians. Gross error in any one of these three facets will place one out on the skinny branches indeed. The teaching of the four men concerning union with Christ is outside the pale of historic and biblical Calvinism.

Saving Faith

Scripture teaches that the instrument of justification is faith, and faith alone. It is a specific faith with the object as Christ crucified, “through faith in his blood” (Rom 3:25 ). The promised seed was Christ, and it is faith in Him that saves (Acts 13:23 ). Faith is “counted for righteousness” (Gen 15:6 quoted in Rom 4:3, 5). Faith is the instrument by which Christ and His righteousness is received and applied.

Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it, nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification; but only as it is an instrument by which he receives and applies Christ and his righteousness (WLC #73).

Faith is unique, and is treated so in Scripture. Faith is sharply contrasted with any works, any fruit or faithfulness; it is a hearing (contrasted to doing) and trusting in Christ alone, offered in the covenant of grace (John 1:12 ; Rom 3:27 ; 4:2, 6; Gal 3:2 , 12, 26).

All four men fail to explain 1) the nature of true saving faith, 2) the object of saving faith, and 3) they blur the distinction between faith and faithfulness in justification, with the result that they promote a new form of legalism, namely, justification by the instrument of faithfulness.

The Nature of Saving Faith

All four men fail to explain the nature of true saving faith. It is difficult to prove a negative. All that can be done here is to assert, from listening to and reading the available materials, that there never is a presentation of the nature and characteristics of saving faith. For example, in Wilson’s book “Reformed” is Not Enough, in the chapter entitled “Reformation Bona Fides” (which is, as he explains in the prior chapter, about sola fide), there is talk of faith as life, faith as responsive to God’s Word, and faith as not being alone.[51] There is, however, no explanation of what true, saving faith is. You will listen in vain to the other three men for any explanation of what saving faith is.

The Object of Saving Faith

All four men fail to explain the object of saving faith. After speaking of the general nature of faith, the Confession states: “But the principal acts of saving faith are, accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace” (WCF 14:2). The Larger Catechism asks (#72) “What is justifying faith?” The answer:

Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assents to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receives and rests upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.

All four men do not explain, but instead, blur the object of saving faith. Wilson speaks of the object of saving faith as “faith in all of God’s promises”[52] and that a person is “justified through faith in believing God’s declarations.”[53] Thus, rather than speaking of this as the general aspect of faith and then moving on to speak of the specific object of saving faith as Christ crucified, there is no clear statement given. In another place, saving faith is equivocated with historic faith:

The first [key responsibility] is to understand this covenant…. to accept and believe the terminology of the covenant … The second is to discover the laws of this covenant and live by them.[54]

You see how faith, justifying faith, is here viewed as an understanding of terminology, which is generally referred to by the Puritans as historic faith.

This blurring of the object of saving faith appears when the four speak of evangelism. For John Barach evangelism within the church consists of, teaching them to observe all that God has commanded in view of the hope that is laid out for those who love Christ. We teach them to respond to God’s Word in faith. We teach them to do what the Lord tells them to do and we warn them with the covenant warning lest they fall away. As Norman Shepherd says, “Discipline like discipling is a matter of teaching and encouraging one’s brother to observe all that God had commanded in view of this hope that is laid up for those who love Christ and keep His commandments.”[55]

Of those in apostate churches, he states: “So we call them to faithfulness…. We need to grab them by their baptisms.”[56] Finally, at one point, in the midst of other things, he mentions, “who put their trust in Christ,” but doesn’t mention this in relation to faith.[57]

Wilkins is a bit clearer, speaking about “the one who believes in Him [Christ].”[58] He then goes on, however, to speak of Christ receiving grace in this sense, and that we are recipients by union with Him, which puts us right back into baptismal regeneration, which is what he then talks about. He doesn’t discuss the nature or object of faith in Christ. What should be a call to faith in Christ becomes,

“We have to turn to the grace of God and that’s covenant, it’s a beautiful thing. God and mercy embraces sinners and calls them to be faithful and gives them everything they need to be faithful and assures them that He will never, He will never turn away from them.”[59]

Faith and Faithfulness

All four men blur the distinction between faith and faithfulness in justification. This distinction is of vital importance in maintaining justification by faith alone, as well as making clear that faith is unique and contrasted to the works of faith in faith’s role in justification.

Wilson, in a chapter that is stated to be about sola fide, does not have one single sentence devoted to the concept of justification by faith alone. A reference to sola fide does occur in the opening paragraph as something not to be abandoned, but is immediately followed by reasons for needing to make qualifications due to current abuses and “sola-mongering.” The phrase “faith alone” is used only twice and in sentences stressing that it is not alone.[60]

At the outset of his chapter “The Greatness of Justification by Faith” Wilson mentions that the Protestant view of justification is true in a limited sense regarding the Roman Catholic view, but he then proceeds to speak about works. There is a holding forth of works as the fruit of faith and justification in one sense as a demonstration of works, but then things are muddied, such as “We also have to say, using biblical language, that we are justified by good works.”[61] Also, that good works are “definitionally related to justification.”[62] He then ties this in with the concept of corporate justification.

Steve Schlissel seems to suggest that justification by faith (he doesn’t refer to faith alone that I can find) is something only for those not living faithfully in the covenant: “justification by faith would become shorthand apart from them needing to become Jewish.”[63] It appears that justification by faith was not a concern for the Jews, only the Gentiles: “you have to get these Gentiles in somehow and they’re a problem;” “it is always in association with this ministry to Gentiles that Paul speaks of justification by faith.”[64]

Barach suggests of the of the laws in the Old Covenant:

It wasn’t impossible for Israel to keep the Old Covenant. The Psalmists frequently plead for deliverance… appealing to their covenant faithfulness, to the fact that they have kept faith with God.[65]

All four often speak of conditions as part of the covenant, such as faith and obedience. While the Reformed community has often spoken of conditions, there has been great care taken to differentiate between conditions that bring one into a relation with Christ and conditions that follow necessarily from that relation. Faith has been spoken of as the former and holiness as the later. In the teaching of these four men, however, no such care is taken. They equivocate is their use of the term condition. Steve Wilkins, for example:

The unconditional decrees are worked out in a conditional covenant … but it works out in a conditional covenant where people come in and some fall out … everyone in Christ, however, has the same standing, the same promises, the same gifts are delivered over to them, but not everyone embraces these things by faith or perseveres in faithful reception of these gifts.[66]

Schlissel comments, “We are not seeking to take away glory from Jesus Christ for giving us conditions…. We have to live in the world that he has given us and his covenant comes with the requirement that it be obeyed.”[67] Wilson, concerning those who apostatize, states: “In other words, to assert that men fall away because their salvation was contingent upon continued faithfulness in the gospel is not to deny the sovereignty of God.”[68]

Reformed writers have always recognized the necessity of holiness, law keeping, to salvation. They have been extremely careful, however, to be clear that it is a condition that follows faith, and it is not the same kind of condition. They have also been careful to distinguish between faith and faithfulness. They have, furthermore, made a clear distinction between Christ’s work and our faith.

The lack of clarity between faith and faithfulness is also evidenced in the idea of evangelism, the relation of law and gospel, and whether sinners are called first to faith and then faithfulness. Wilson, on evangelizing those who attend no church, but have been baptized, saying to them “Now let me call you to faithfulness, to baptismal faithfulness”[69] He denies the law/gospel distinction[70] and speaks of “the instrument of a lively faith”[71] in justification.

Steve Schlissel proclaims:

Is the law repugnant to how we are made right with God?… This law/gospel dichotomy is a false one. It is unbiblical…. The keeping of the commands of God is identified as putting trust in God, it is contrasted with forgetting God and disobeying God. To be in the gospel is to be in the law, the law of God.[72]

According to Schlissel we are asking the wrong question. It is not ‘what must I do to be saved?,’ but:

The question has always been what does the Lord require? We’ve changed the question since Luther’s day. Perhaps imperceptibly to some, but quite drastically if you look at it. The question is commonly, “What must I do to be saved?” But that’s the wrong question. The question is, “What does the Lord require?” If we don’t begin to retool our churches, to turn around from the, “What must I do to be saved?” to “What does the Lord require?” we’re going to die. Because in answering one, “What must I do to be saved?” you move in the idea of sola, sola, sola, and then you have the sola fide…”[73]

He speaks approvingly of “the equation of both faith and obedience.”[74]

We see the same sort of problem in Norman Shepherd’s language that “living and active faith justifies” in which there has existed confusion of whether or not Shepherd teaches justification by faith, or justification by faithfulness.[75] Shepherd says that Christ’s faith, “was a living, active, and obedient faith that took him all the way to the cross. This faith was credited to him as righteousness.”[76] We see further confusion over faith and faithfulness in such statements as, “But just as Jesus was faithful in order to guarantee the blessing, so his followers must be faithful in order to inherit the blessing.”[77] To phrase it this way is to leave the door open, if not to suggest, that our faithfulness parallels Jesus’ faithfulness. The result is the conclusion that in the same way that Jesus secured the privileges and blessings of the covenant, we can, too. To the contrary, I would say that Jesus’ work merited his blessing. It is clear, however, ours is of grace, a gift freely given because of Christ’s work, and received by faith.

Another area in which faith and faithfulness becomes blurred is in relation to children raised within the administration of the covenant. This command to faithfulness as the instrument of one’s child’s salvation, as presented by these men, operates as the law of the covenant. By grace, it is asserted, through the work of the parent, in faithful covenantal nurture, as a condition of the covenant, a child will always come to saving faith.

Approximately six years ago, Robert Rayburn authored the article “The Presbyterian Doctrines of Covenant Children, Covenant Nurture and Covenant Succession.”[78] The first part of his paper is basically a summary of a work published in 1940 by Lewis Schenck, The Presbyterian Doctrine of Children in the Covenant. Schenck’s basic thesis is that historic Reformed theology and its creeds are clearly presumptionistic, with the vast majority holding to the presumptive regeneration of children in the visible church, usually by baptism.[79] In Doug Wilson’s newest work, “Reformed” Is Not Enough, in the chapter “Covenant Succession” Schenck is cited approvingly eight times (three times earlier in the work). Schenck’s work was recommended in the second discussion session of the 2002 conference by Schlissel, and is also offered at his web site.

A little over two years ago, in a section entitled “Quotations on Covenant Succession,” Credenda Agenda magazine, associated with Doug Wilson, published Rayburn’s ‘Covenant Succession Affirmation and Denials.’ Affirmation three states that “the promise made to believers and their seed is suspended upon conditions to be fulfilled first by parents.”[80] This condition of parental nurture develops the ‘seed of faith’ in all covenant children. It is thus denied that “Covenant children are to be evangelized like every lost sinner.”[81]

What distinguishes the current view of covenant succession from earlier forms of presumptive election or regeneration, is 1) the earlier views held that to presume is not the same as knowing that the child is in fact elect or regenerate, and 2) the development of the sufficient conditionality of parental nurture. From the importance and historic understanding of parental nurture as often used by God, the theology of covenant succession develops a ‘must be’ law applying to all cases. It goes beyond what has been understood as a presumption, to thinking of it as ‘we know’ by God’s promise they are regenerate, if we remain faithful.

In response to a question as to how his view differs from presumptive regeneration, Barach says:

The Bible doesn’t call us to presume or to live by presumptions. The Lord calls us to live by promises. When He speaks, the secret things are hidden from us, God knows them, but He speaks to us and He expects us to go by His word. What He has said is true. And so, when He speaks a certain way about our covenant children, when we believe what he says about them, we are not presuming anything, we’re trusting a promise and we’re living in terms of His promise.[82]

Or this from Steve Wilkins,

Children are growing up in the covenant. They grow up believing what you have taught them. And if you teach them the Bible and the gospel and tell them about the Lord Jesus, they’re going to believe it and they’re going to love it. That’s the way God made them and thanks be to God that he made them that way.[83]

Of baptized children he remarks: “They have to learn about Him and love him more and be more faithful. They have to learn how to do that. They are to be nurtured in the faith. Brought up in the grace and knowledge of Christ.”[84] In like manner, Schlissel comments,

What if we begin with the radical idea that He [God] has given it [grace] to us and the even more radical idea that He’s given it to our children? Then where do we begin? Teaching our children to doubt God afresh in every generation? Or to take what He has given us and to move it into action.[85]

He also believes that the ordo salutis “may be true on occasion… but it is not a norm. It is hardly applicable to normal covenant children who are raised faithfully in the covenant.”[86]

Wilson draws this conclusion “Can we fulfill our covenant responsibilities (by believing) and yet have God fail to fulfill His promise? It is not possible.”[87] A believing that works its way out in love is being referred to as insuring that no child will be left behind. This is the law of the covenant. In an earlier work he teaches, “A prominent feature of faithful covenantal thinking in the Old Testament is the salvation of offspring. The New Testament echoes this language.”[88]And then, “Faith is given as a gift, and when it is given by God, it appears to the world in the form of fruit. In the case of children, the fruit is diligent and careful parenting.”[89]

Thus, by the faith of the parents, which works out in faithfulness, covenant offspring are by necessity brought to salvation. The upshot is, therefore, justification by faithfulness – of the parents. A biological law of nurture, or another form of neonomianism, is developed.[90] By another name it is known as “covenant succession.”

I think, in the final analysis, what is pulling this train is the desire for paedo-communion. Of not letting a little child come to the table, who then later apostatizes, Wilson surmises “He died because you weren’t feeding him.”[91] The theology to attempt to explain it has come more slowly.

In conclusion, all four men 1) fail to explain the nature of true saving faith, 2) fail to explain the object of saving faith, and 3) blur the distinction between faith and faithfulness in justification, with the result that they promote a new form of legalism (neonomianism), namely, justification by the instrument of faithfulness, i.e. justification by faithfulness. It is, therefore, neonomianism hypercovenantalism.

III. Experimental Religion

All four men denigrate the historic, biblical understanding of experimental religion. They mock even the notions of individual regeneration or conversion for those already baptized. There is a continual misrepresentation of the Puritans on conversion, and the Puritans’ supposed equation of it with a single, momentous experience.[92] One remarks that “pietistic Calvinism is a meat grinder.”[93] After reading aloud a portion out of one of the finest works ever written on an examination of the Puritans’ quest for assurance, Schlissel refers to it as “claptrap” and stresses that all the assurance we need is that objective work and Word of God.[94] How it is applied to the subject and how we are to know is not part of the question – just believe. Concerning experimental religion, Wilson writes:

We do not deny the need for confession and repentance. But this is what we do at the entrance. We wipe our feet at the door. But there are other things to do inside God’s great household…. A man’s conversion is to be the point where the introspective conscience ends, not the point where it begins.[95]

The objectivity of the covenant and the work of God is so stressed, they neglect the subjectivity, the subject. This appears to be mostly a reaction against Reformed experimental theology and practice over the past 350 years.

In speaking of how the people in Galatia or Corinth are addressed as brethren or saints and stating that there is no qualification as converted or unconverted, they ignore, for example, Galatians 4:11 , “I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain” coupled with v. 19, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.” Or in reference to the church in Corinth, no mention is made of the warning and exhortation to “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Cor 13:5 ). Such a call for self-examination, to see if one is in the faith, is referred to as the preaching of doubt.[96]

There is, furthermore, great confusion between not prying into the secret things of God, and knowing the secret work of God by its fruits. Wilson states that “This is fundamental to the central point of this book. Election is one thing and covenant membership is another.”[97] In other words, for Wilson, election, as a secret thing belongs to God: “names are among the secret things.”[98] Wilkins, likewise states, “You can never know who’s in the body of Christ, because you don’t know who’s been effectually called;” how can we have infallible assurance, he asks, and then follows up with “how do you know that you are not deceived?”[99] “But if I don’t know if he chose me … I am left with some sort of agnosticism,”[100] Barach opines.

Rather than election being known by its fruits, “This is how assurance is possible, don’t do what they did,” namely, apostatize.[101] Oft repeated is that “Baptism is the assurance.”[102]

Scripture, to the contrary, speaks of the testimony of the Spirit (Rom 8:15, 16), with election being known by its fruit in one’s life, with the result that the invisible decree of God is made known (Rom 9:11 [election is known through effectual calling]; 11:7; 1 Pet 1:2 , “through sanctification of the Spirit;” 1 Thess 1:4, compared to v. 3). Assurance is, thus, possible beyond merely pointing to one’s baptism.

Experimental religion is the practical embodiment of doctrine, truth. To put it another way, experimental religion is the practical application of the doctrines of sacred Scripture to particular individuals by the Holy Spirit in vital union with Christ. It does not, therefore begin with nor degenerate into a mere emotionalism. A person may acknowledge by creed that God is to be worshipped; it is experimentally appropriated when that person worships the living God with heart, soul, mind and strength. Experimental religion concerns a personal heart and life appropriation of what is confessed, of what the Lord reveals, of what the Lord works into the hearts and lives of His new creations in Christ. It involves testing fruits, their lives, by the Word of God to see that they are in the faith and walking accordingly. It is making our calling and election sure, relying on the grace of God in Christ alone, by faith alone, to work His mighty work of salvation in us (2 Pet 1:5-11).

The Puritans, Reformed, and Presbyterian writers were zealous for a head and heart religion, for a faith the was objectively grounded and that was also experienced by the subject of election. A critique of the varied abuses of the system is not sufficient, nor should it be taken as such, to unseat the place of the experimental piety of the last five hundred years.

Rather than the caricature painted by these men, a more accurate portrayal of experimental religion is evidenced in the 1833 edition of Thomas Halyburton’s Memoirs. Archibald Alexander, with great praise, wrote the introduction to this volume. It also includes a hearty recommendation by both Samuel Miller and Charles Hodge. It may be remembered that Thomas Halyburton so loved the experimental piety of Samuel Rutherford that he requested to be buried next to him. A visit to Scotland will show his request was granted. Thus, we see the line running from Rutherford, in the 17th century, to Halyburton, in the 18th century, and then to Alexander, Miller and Hodge, in the 19th. Alexander writes, in his Thoughts on Religious Experience, “nothing tends more to confirm and elucidate the truths contained in the Word, than an inward experience of their efficacy on the heart.”[103]

In a similar fashion, the Dutch Reformed were of like heart and mind. Authors and pastors, such as Teellinck, Witsius and à Brakel, taught, preached, and prized the heart application of religious truth as revealed in the Scriptures. Of Witsius, Joel Beeke writes: “he grounded spiritual life in regeneration and covenantally applied the entire ordo salutis to practical, experiential living.”[104] As a friend of experimental religion, Abraham Kuyper held to the “experimental knowledge of God, which comes to us personally from spiritual experience, from communion of saints and secret fellowship with God.”[105]

These lines of association are clear evidence that the experimental religion mocked by these four men has been, in fact, part of the warp and woof of orthodox Christianity. The true line of Puritan, Reformed, Presbyterian experimental religion is a faith in Christ that is examined, tested, looking for its fruit as evidence, all the while resting in the grace of God. Let us keep to the old paths.

Conclusion

We now come to the end of the matter and there are a couple of observations I want to make. First, if, at the end of it all, this presentation is merely a result of not understanding what these men mean, then language itself is not a reliable medium of communication. If seemingly clear statements are made by these four men, and then when those such as I grow concerned, and they reply, “You don’t understand what I mean,” how are we supposed to know? When they change the meaning of every theological term from its common usage of the last several centuries, or more, how could they possibly teach?

Second, the more I listen to all this, the clearer it becomes that they are working with a Kantian mindset: the upper, unknowable story of the decrees, and the lower story of history/covenant. The two can even say things contradictory, but they reply, “let God be true and every man a liar.” Barach for example refers to the decrees as the unknowable “noumenal realm.”[106] Wilson contrasts the upper level and lower lever; the covenant and decrees.[107] Wilkins, likewise, speaks of “decretive theology” contrasted with how God “always addresses His people covenantally.”[108] In other words, something may be true in the decrees, and the seeming opposite may be true in the historic covenant, such as the salvation of the nonelect. At the end of the conference the attempt was made to say that Westminster was decreetal theology, while the Reformed creeds were covenantal. This is absurd. The secret things do belong to the Lord; what He has revealed belongs to us. To pit election and covenant against one another does not do justice to what God has revealed about both.

Even though Kantianism is an Enlightenment species, all four speakers frequently claim that their views are a paradigm shift from so-called enlightenment categories. Steve Schlissel appears to be the one most affected by this movement’s views of justification, but all four come out strongly against, in their view, the propositional and ‘Hellenistic’ nature of the theology of the Westminster Confession of Faith. Doug Wilson remarks that,

Particularly in Reformed circles,… For 350 years in this country, we have been getting some of the fundamental issues with regard to the Word of God, and the covenant, and the gospel, and what is a Christian, we have been getting them wrong.[109]

Westminster was approximately 350 years ago, which Wilson references a few seconds following this statement. Evidently, even in the fundamentals of the gospel the Reformed world has been in error. Schlissel comments that we “have abstracted the word of God … into various propositions … we have brought our Greek ideas and Greek categories to it.”[110] Among these abstractions, according to Schlissel, have been the solas of the Reformation. It seems to me, however, that these men are really the ones influenced by Enlightenment abstraction.

I trust it is now clear to you that with this new theology another gospel is being presented. Another gospel that is deviant in its teachings about union with Christ, the nature of saving faith, and experimental religion. I give warning to watch out for it and avoid it. May the Lord be pleased to sanctify us by His truth.

——————————————

1] http://www.rpcus.com/resolutions.pdf.

[2] Thus, in January of 2003, John Barach lectured on “Covenant and Election,” with Carl Robbins responding. Doug Wilson spoke on “The Visible/Invisible Church Distinction,” and Morton Smith gave response. Steve Schlissel titled his address “What Does the Lord Require” and R.C. Sproul, Jr. gave critique. The final lecture was Steve Wilkin’s “Covenant and Baptism,” and the rebuttal was by Dr. Joey Pipa.

[3] The one exception would be Steve Schlissel’s difference in not practicing paedocommunion, which he simply points out, without further qualification or explanation.

[4]” Summary Statement of AAPC’s Position on the Covenant, Baptism, and Salvation,” http://www.auburnavenue.org/Events_Announcements/Position%20Paper.htm.

[5] Steve Wilkins, “Covenant and Baptism,” (2003).

[6] Steve Wilkins, “Discussion Session 4,” (Monroe: Auburn Avenue PCA, 2003); hereafter all references to the various speakers and subject with the date are in reference to the Auburn Avenue Conference tapes here cited.

[7] John Barach, “Covenant and History,” (2002). Barach goes a bit further in laying a foundation for an understanding of union with Christ in relation to covenant. He first offers a definition of the Trinity in its essence, one, as a covenantal unity, or covenantal union. To define the essence of the Trinity as a covenant bond is false doctrine. The essence of the Trinity is ontological, not axiological. The latter follows the former; it is not the basis for it. This only demonstrates the hypercovenantalism of this theology. This is then applied to our union with Christ. With this line of thought, it is confusing whether this covenantal union is part of the essence of the Trinity as he has defined it.

[8] Doug Wilson, “Reformed“ Is Not Enough: Recovering the Objectivity of the Covenant (Moscow: Canon Press, 2002), 103.

[9] Doug Wilson, “Reformed”, 73.

[10] Steve Schlissel, “Covenant Reading,” (2002).

[11] Steve Wilkins, “Discussion Session 4,” (2003).

[12] http://www.auburnavenue.org/Events_Announcements/Position%20Paper.htm.

[13] Steve Wilkins, “Covenant and Baptism,” (2003).

[14] Steve Wilkins, “Covenant and Baptism,” (2003).

[15] Doug Wilson, “The Visible and Invisible Church Revisited,” (2002).

[16] Doug Wilson, “The Visible and Invisible Church Revisited,” (2002).

[17] Doug Wilson, “The Visible/Invisible Church Distinction,” (2003).

[18] Doug Wilson, “Reformed”, 136.

[19] Steve Schlissel, “Discussion Session 4,” (2003).

[20] John Barach, “Covenant and Election,” (2003).

[21] John Barach, “Covenant and Election,” (2003).

[22] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries: John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), 94.

[23] Doug Wilson, “Reformed”, 57.

[24] Doug Wilson, “Reformed”, 72.

[25] Cf. Doug Wilson, “The Visible/Invisible Church Distinction,” (2003).

[26] John Barach, “Covenant and History,” (2002).

[27] Barach has difficulties in recognizing the distinction made in Rom 2, cf. “Question and Answer Session #1, (2002); cf. Matt 23:25-28.

[28]” Discussion by all Participants,” (2003).

[29]” Summary Statement of AAPC’s Position on the Covenant, Baptism, and Salvation,” http://www.auburnavenue.org/Events_Announcements/Position%20Paper.htm.

[30] Steve Wilkins, “Covenant and Baptism,” (2003).

 [31] Doug Wilson, “Reformed”, 135.

[32] Steve Schlissel, “Covenant Hearing,” (2002); the quote is from the transcript posted at Messiah Congregation’s website, http://www.messiahnyc.org/webchunks/apps/MediaViewFile.asp.

[33] Steve Schlissel, “What Does the Lord Require?” (2003).

[34] Doug Wilson, “Reformed”, 168.

[35] Doug Wilson, “Reformed”, 105; “while we do not take the connection between water baptism and grace and salvation as an absolute, we do take it as the norm.”

[36] Doug Wilson, “Reformed”, 40; while acknowledging with Calvin at least that effectual calling could precede or follow baptism.

[37] Doug Wilson, “Reformed”, 103.

[38] Doug Wilson, “The Visible/Invisible Church Distinction, ” (2003).

[39] Doug Wilson, “Reformed”, 114.

[40] Doug Wilson, “Discussion Session 4,” (2003).

[41] Doug Wilson, “Reformed”, 105.

[42] John Barach, “Question and Answer Session #1,” (2002).

[43] John Barach, “Covenant and Election,” (2003).

[44]” Summary Statement of AAPC’s Position on the Covenant, Baptism, and Salvation,” http://www.auburnavenue.org/Events_Announcements/Position%20Paper.htm.

[45] Steve Wilkins, “Covenant and Baptism,” (2003).

[46] Steve Wilkins, “Covenant and Baptism,” (2003).

[47] Steve Wilkins, “Covenant and Baptism,” (2003).

[48] Steve Wilkins, “Discussion Session #4, (2003).

[49] Steve Wilkins, “The Legacy of the Half-Way Covenant,” (2002).

[50] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (Phillsisburg: P&R Publishing, 1997) III:364, VII. Turretin also teaches, “It is one thing to be purged from old sins sacramentally and conditionally; another really and absolutely. They (of whom Peter speaks, 2 Pet 1:9 ) were purged from sin in the former sense, but not in the latter, on account of a defect of the required condition (viz., faith)” (II:693 XXII).

[51] Doug Wilson, “Reformed”, 43.

[52] Doug Wilson, “Reformed”, 176; emphasis his.

[53] Doug Wilson, “Reformed”, 178.

[54] Doug Wilson, “Reformed”, 180-81.

[55] John Barach, “Covenant and Evangelism,” (2002).

[56] John Barach, “Covenant and Evangelism,” (2002).

[57] John Barach, “Covenant and Evangelism,” (2002).

[58] Steve Wilkins, “The Legacy of the Half-Way Covenant,” (2002).

[59] Steve Wilkins, “The Legacy of the Half-Way Covenant,” (2002).

[60] Doug Wilson, “Reformation Bona Fides,” “Reformed”, 41-48; the phrase ‘faith alone’ occurs on pages 45 and 46.

[61] Doug Wilson, “Reformed”, 172.

[62] Doug Wilson, “Reformed”, 173.

[63] Steve Schlissel, “What Does the Lord Require?”, (2003).

[64] Steve Schlissel, “What Does the Lord Require?”, (2003). At the RPCUS web site, see the relation to the “New Perspectives on Paul” ideology: “A Brief History,” http://www.rpcus.com/aapc.htm#chronological guide.

[65] John Barach, “Covenant and History,” (2002).

[66] Steve Wilkins, “Covenant and Baptism,” (2003). Similar equivocation is exercised by Barach in speaking of the conditions for Abraham as circumcision, a living and working faith, and a blameless walk, with no clarification (“Covenant and History,” [2002]).

[67] Steve Schlissel, “Question and Answer Session #1,” (2002).

[68] Doug Wilson, “Reformed”, 138.

[69] Doug Wilson, “The Visible and Invisible Church Revisited”, (2002).

 [70] Doug Wilson, “Reformed”, 166.

[71] Doug Wilson, “The Visible/Invisible Church Distinction, ” (2003).

[72] Steve Schlissel, “Covenant Reading,” (2002).

[73] Steve Schlissel, “Covenant Reading,” (2002).

[74] Steve Schlissel, “What Does the Lord Require?”, (2003). At the present time, Schlissel’s web site offers Shepherd’s book The Call of Grace. On a related note there is a denial by the four of the covenant of works, preferring, like Shepherd, to speak of the grace enabling and giving Adam life that he would keep on condition of faithfulness. Turretin speaks of this ancient error “that of Scotus and his followers, who pretend that good works proceeding from grace are not meritorious from condignity by reason of the work, but only by reason of the divine covenant and acceptance.” (II:713). Barach remarks, “there is no hint in the passage that Adam in the passage that the Lord requires Adam to earn or to merit anything” (“Covenant and History,” [2002].) He could loose blessedness, but he couldn’t earn it. Wilson speaks of only one covenant historically, the covenant of grace (“Reformed”, 64). For a discussion of the relation of the ideology of Fuller and Shepherd as to works, merit and covenant, see Joe Morecraft, III, “Justification By Faith Alone: The Heart of the Gospel of God,” The New Southern Presbyterian Review Vol 1:1 (2002), 52-165; especially pp. 76-78.

[75] Norman Shepherd, “Thirty-four Theses on Justification in Relation to Faith, Repentance, and Good Works,” presented by the Rev. Norman Shepherd to the Presbytery of Philadelphia of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, November 18, 1978, at http://www.hornes.org/theologia/content_shepherd/the_34_theses.htm.

[76] Norman Shepherd, The Call of Grace: How the Covenant Illuminates Salvation and Evangelism (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2000), 19.

[77] Norman Shepherd, The Call of Grace, 19.

[78] Published in Presbyterion 22/2 (1996), 76-112; this is available at his website: http://www.faithtacoma.org/covenant2.htm.

[79] For a refutation of A. Kuyper’s doctrine of presumptive regeneration in relation to historic Calvinism, see William Young’s article, “Historic Calvinism and Neo-Calvinism,” Westminster Journal of Theology 36 (1973-74), 48-64, 156-173.

[80] Credend Agenda, Vol. 13:2, at http://www.credenda.org/issues/13-2verbatim.php.

[81] Credend Agenda, Vol. 13:2, at http://www.credenda.org/issues/13-2verbatim.php.

[82] John Barach, “Question and Answer Session #1,” (2002).

[83] Steve Wilkins, “The Legacy of the Half-Way Covenant,” (2002).

[84] Steve Wilkins, “The Legacy of the Half-Way Covenant,” (2002).

[85] Steve Schlissel, “Covenant Reading,” (2002).

[86] Steve Schlissel, “What Does the Lord Require, (2003)

[87] Doug Wilson, “Reformed”, 187.

[88] Doug Wilson, Standing on the Promises, (Moscow: Canon Press, 1997), 32.

[89] Doug Wilson, Standing on the Promises, 36.

[90] This judgement is shared by Alan Strange, “Sacraments, the Spirit, and Human Inability,”Mid-America Journal of Theology 12 (2001): 223-46; his critique runs from 240-45.

[91] Doug Wilson, “The Visible/Invisible Church Distinction,” (2003).

[92] See Doug Wilson, “Reformed”, 197; Steve Wilkins, “The Legacy of the Half-Way Covenant,” (2002).

[93] Doug Wilson, “The Curses of the New Covenant,” (2002).

[94] Steve Schlissel, “Covenant Hearing,” (2002).

[95] Doug Wilson, “Reformed”, 177, 197, emphasis his.

[96] Cf. Steve Schlissel, “Covenant Hearing,” (2002).

[97] Doug Wilson, “Reformed”, 175.

[98] Doug Wilson, “The Curses of the New Covenant,” (2002).

[99] Steve Wilkins, “Discussion Session #4,” (2003).

[100] John Barach, “Covenant and Election,” (2003).

[101] Doug Wilson, “The Curses of the New Covenant,” (2002).

[102] John Barach,”Question and Answer Session #1,” (2002).

[103] Archibald Alexander, Thoughts on Religious Experience, (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust: 1998), xvii.

[104] J. R. Beeke, “The Writings of Herman Witsius,” The Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth (January 2003, Vol 11:1), 5; see also his article “Willem Teellink” in which Teellink’s experimental emphasis and influence on the Dutch Second Reformation is viewed in harmony with English Puritanism (The Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth [March 2003, Vol 11:3), 72-75.

[105] Abraham Kuyper, To be Near unto God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1925), 224; quoted from William Young’s article, “Historic Calvinism and Neo-Calvinsim,” Westminster Journal of Theology 36 (1973-74), 53.

[106] John Barach, “Covenant and Election,” (2003).

[107] Doug Wilson, “Question and Answer Session #2,” ( 2003).

[108] Steve Wilkins, “Question and Answer Session #2,” ( 2003).

[109] Doug Wilson, “The Visible and Invisible Church Revisited,” (2002).

[110] Steve Schlissel, “Covenant Reading,” (2002).

2 thoughts on “A Critique of the “Federalist Vision” and a Warning to the Reformed Community

  1. lotootusofborg

    A very important article for guy like me who has heard of the Federal Vision several times but did not know much about it nor understand what I had heard. THANKS for posting!

    • I probably should have pointed out the differences between this and the “Seventeenth-Century Reformed Orthodox Federalism” which I hold to. But that will be another post. 🙂

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