I am posting here the response of Dr. Mark Beach to the recent Nampa critique of our URCNA committee report on the FV. You can find more discussion and follow-up at Wes White's Blog, since this is only part one .PART ONE
Comments on the Paper of the Consistory of the United Reformed
Church of Nampa, Idaho
“Interaction with the ‘Report of the Synodical Study Committee on the Federal
Vision and Justification’ ”
by J. Mark Beach
Comments on the Paper of the Consistory of the United Reformed
Church of Nampa, Idaho
“Interaction with the ‘Report of the Synodical Study Committee on the Federal
Vision and Justification’ ”
by J. Mark Beach
This paper is a response to a recent study produced by the Consistory of the United Reformed Church of Nampa, Idaho (3 June 2010) interacting with the “Report of the Synodical Study Committee on the Federal Vision and Justification.” Inasmuch as I am a minister in the United Reformed Churches, but not a delegate to Synod 2010, this reply, I suppose, is my only opportunity to offer some observations about the Study Committee Report and more particularly about the Nampa Consistory document, which invites the churches to consider the critique of the Study Committee Report “as they prepare to deliberate on these issues at Synod.”
As an official consistorial document, it is not clear to me why the Nampa URC paper was not processed through ecclesiastical channels, which seems to be the protocol for an official reply to a synodical Study Committee. Rather than post this document over the internet, it seems to me that it would have been a brotherly duty to correspond with the Study Committee directly so that this Committee could evaluate and weigh the validity of the concerns enunciated in the Nampa document, or at the very least submit this document to Classis as an overture, and if Classis refused to adopt the overture as its own, then send their report to Synod. As it stands, the procedure the Nampa Consistory has followed in this regard may be construed to show a low view of the church, an uncharitable approach to the Study Committee, and to be setting an unwise, even a kind of politicizing, precedent for ecclesiastical debate and discussion. (The Study Committee Report has been available to the churches since mid-summer 2009.) No doubt, some consistories and interested individuals will study this document while others are free to ignore it since it is not a document properly processed through the assemblies of the church. For this reason, given the public nature of the Nampa document, I feel compelled to offer some analytical comments of the Nampa study, though I wish the whole discussion had been left within official ecclesiastical boundaries.
The stated goal of the Nampa URC paper “is not to defend the orthodoxy of the FV” (the Federal Vision). Instead, the goal is to consider “some problems in the Report [of the Study Committee] that ought to be addressed regardless of the orthodoxy of the FV.” More specifically, the goal is “to address whether or not the Report, given the evidence and arguments it provides, has sufficiently and fairly made its case against the FV.” (In addition, readers should be made aware, the Nampa report does not attempt or aim to present the tenor and texture of the Study Committee Report, which is a 62 page document.)
The Nampa Consistory document, then, is designed to show that perhaps the Study Committee Report has not made its case (given the sources they cite or fail to cite) against FV and that the report is therefore not altogether fair to FV proponents. The Nampa Consistory is concerned that “the process” by which we arrive at conclusions regarding the orthodoxy of FV “be accurate, careful, and fair.” In short, the Nampa Consistory presents this paper in order to show that at various points the Study Committee Report is either inaccurate or not careful in stating FV views and therefore not fair to FV advocates. This means by implication that if it is determined that the Study Report has not “sufficiently and fairly made its case against the FV,” then it would be premature for Synod 2010 to adopt the recommendations of the Study Committee. This implication is confirmed when readers arrive at the conclusion of the Nampa document. After marshaling what it judges to be sufficient evidence (which we will examine below), the Nampa Consistory suggests that the Study Committee Report “has not sufficiently described and wrestled with the views of the FV.” Noteworthy in the conclusion is the manner in which the Nampa document reiterates that we avoid judging out of hand “theological emphases and pastoral ways of speaking that—however misguided they may be—ought to be permitted within the boundaries of the Confessions.”
The Nampa document believes that the Study Committee Report exhibits three problems: First, there is the problem of misrepresentation of FV views, mostly by over-simplifying FV positions or not capturing the nuance and qualifications that FV proponents make in explaining their views. According to the Nampa Consistory, the Study Committee’s Report presents FV views “in the worst possible light.” Over against misrepresentation, the Nampa document aims to show “the more orthodox statements of the FV men” which the Study Committee Report ignores. Nampa particularly focuses upon the “Joint Federal Vision Profession,” which is said to present a clearer and more accurate representation of points of doctrine to which FV proponents all agree and which they use to answer critics. The Nampa document also maintains that the Study Committee Report should have made greater use of Doug Wilson’s book,“Reformed” Is Not Enough, and the Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church Summary Statement.
Second, there is the problem of proving too much. Here the issue is that the Study Committee Report seems to overstate its own position in contrast to FV views, which leads to a forfeiture of classic Reformed positions and pastoral modes of speech. The Study Report “often sounds as though it is condemning the practice of speaking of God’s people in terms of God’s promises.” Here the Nampa Consistory offers an example, distinguishing between “a systematic theological position (that not all members of the covenant are truly forgiven in Christ) and a pastoral mode of speaking to the congregation (calling every member to believe God’s covenant promise that his or her sins are forgiven).” In condemning the FV’s high sacramental views, the Study Report, says Nampa, “comes perilously close” to a low view of the sacraments, reducing them to mere signs. Meanwhile, the Report seems to impose a standard of orthodoxy on topics like the covenant of works and the nature of law and gospel not articulated in the confessions. Moreover, in fending off certain theological emphases of the FV, the Report overreaches and rejects these theological points as such. Thus the Report gives the impression that it is wrong to adhere in any way to the objective character of God’s covenant promises, or to view the sacraments as signs and seals of those promises, or to believe in the necessity of sanctification and new obedience.
Third, the Study Committee Report is to be faulted for failing to distinguish between confessional and non-confessional errors. The Nampa Consistory document maintains that errors that are clear violations of the Confessions are the only legitimate errors to be made the subject of the church’s judicial condemnation. If the Confessions do not address a particular error clearly, then this is not subject to the church’s official adjudication. Likewise, there are errors of theological or pastoral emphases or balance. Though ministers and elders propagate theological or pastoral accents that are out-of-balance, these do not constitute grounds for the church’s condemnatory adjudication. “These latter two sorts of error, insofar as they are not addressed by the confessions, must be tolerated within confessional churches.” Thus, to use an example, the Three Forms of Unity do not require the language of visible and invisible church, but do require we maintain that there are hypocrites within the church. The Study Committee Report does not seem to operate with this model of confessional enforcement and subscription, and thus allows for an individual’s theological or pastoral preferences to become the standard for judging whether others are exercising confessional fidelity.
These are rather serious criticisms. Some of them seem to me, as I hope to demonstrate in the course of this analysis, to be unfair, inaccurate, without nuance, and, if they are to be alleged at all, require that Nampa attempt to meet the burden of proof for the allegations; otherwise, it is better and far more brotherly to keep mum about them.
At this point I think it is fitting to offer an analysis and reply to some of the concerns presented in the introductory section of the Nampa Consistory document and the criticisms leveled against the Study Committee Report on FV. I start with the third problem enunciated by Nampa regarding the Study Committee Report, namely that the Report fails to distinguish kinds of error that may properly be adjudicated by confessional churches. I start here because I judge it to be the most problematic and far reaching in its negative consequences. Moreover, Nampa’s articulation of what constitutes error to which the church may properly exercise its jurisdiction of doctrinal power shapes its assessment of the Study Committee Report.
Nampa Consistory assumes and asserts that its interpretation of what comprises proper confessional fidelity and its application is correct. I suspect that this particular view is assumed to be correct given what some regard as abuse of synodical power in the history of Dutch Reformed churches (quite an assumption!). But that is begging the question, not answering it. When it comes to the sorts of theological errors that the churches may legitimately subject to official adjudication, one need look no further than the “Form of Subscription”—a document to which every office-bearer in the URC affixes his name and pledges to adhere to its stipulations. Not only do office-bearers—including the office-bearers of the Nampa URC—declare their heartfelt belief and persuasion in “all the articles and points of doctrine contained in” the Three Forms of Unity, in so doing they also “promise therefore diligently to teach and faithfully to defend the aforesaid doctrine, without either directly or indirectly contradicting the same by our public preaching and writing.” Inasmuch as this is the subscription to which one commits himself, it is not arguing too much to say that office-bearers are not only forbidden to contradict the confessions in a manner that is clear or direct, they are forbidden to contradict the confessions in an indirect manner as well. Keep in mind that indirect violation or contradiction of the points of doctrine of the confessions usually comes in the form of inference or by what is a good and necessary consequence. This means that a particular imbalance in theological or pastoral approach or riding some theological hobby horse to the exclusion or neglect of other biblical teachings may constitute an indirect contradiction of the confessions. For example, a minister can take the biblical doctrine of predestination and so emphasize it, run every theological point through the grid of that doctrine, so focus upon it to the exclusion or neglect of other biblical doctrines, such that, while he may not ever deny those other biblical doctrines, he is nonetheless not proclaiming the scope of scriptural doctrine and confessional teaching. In this way, there is no clear violation of a confessional teaching, but there is neglect of confessional teaching and an indirect contradiction of what is confessed in the Three Forms of Unity. This is simply to illustrate that the Nampa Consistory’s paradigm for assessing and adjudicating theological error is too narrow to be serviceable to the churches and not in accord with the Form of Subscription.
Moreover, in the Form of Subscription office-bearers pledge not only to “reject all errors that militate against this [aforesaid] doctrine [articulated in the Three Forms of Unity],” but they pledge themselves to be “disposed to refute and contradict these and to exert themselves in keeping the Church free from such errors.” Again, the standard set forth by the Form of Subscription isn’t nearly as narrow and minimalistic as the Nampa Consistory standard for adjudicating pastoral and theological error in the churches. The standard which office-bearers pledge themselves to uphold is to refute all errors that militate against what is taught in the Three Forms of Unity. Again, that standard is different than Nampa’s standard of “a clear violation of the Confessions.” A doctrinal or pastoral accent can constitute an error either by overtly contradicting the confessions or by subverting, undermining, confusing, and obscuring their teaching. Either way, however, they militate against what is taught therein. It is not a minimalist approach advocated by the Form of Subscription—only overt and clear violations of the Confessions. No, errors that compromise and wound the teachings of the confessions are also to be rejected. That is why office-bearers also pledge to be “disposed to refute and contradict these” and “to exert” themselves “in keeping the Church free from such errors.”
There is no reason for the churches to apply the standard for adjudicating theological error in the churches as espoused by the Nampa Consistory when the Form of Subscription provides the standard which all office-bearers in the URC have pledged themselves to uphold and apply in the exercise of their respective offices. Practically speaking, it would appear that if the churches follow Nampa’s standard of what constitutes theological error all URCs have a free pass to practice, say, speaking in tongues. Inasmuch as the Three Forms of Unity do not address the cessation of the gift of tongues, if we follow Nampa’s standard for adjudicating theological error, tongue-speaking does not constitute a clear violation of the confessions. Even more (and worse), if we apply Nampa’s standard, when new forms of theological error come to expression which, again, do not involve a direct and clear violation of the confessions but nonetheless do militate against what is taught in the Three Forms of Unity or indirectly subvert, compromise, harm, destabilize, weaken, muffle, obscure, and/or impair a doctrine or doctrines of the Three Forms of Unity, such errors “must be tolerated within confessional churches.” These sorts of errors do not come under the church’s jurisdiction for adjudication. Following Nampa Consistory’s standard for the official arbitration of theological or pastoral error, we are left with a kind of ecclesiastical and historical positivism, moving back and forth between theological stagnation on the one hand and on the other hand unable to protect the church from propagators of any number of theological blunders and subversive teachings because they do not clearly violate the confessions.
At this point, it seems that it is not the Study Committee Report, but Nampa’s Consistory, that fails properly to distinguish ways of being wrong. In that light, the FV may well be wrong in precisely the way the Study Committee discerns, according to the standards of the Form of Subscription.
Moving on to the second problem that the Nampa document perceives in the Study Committee Report is that it proves too much. The Report steps beyond confessional boundaries and imposes its own standards of orthodox Reformed theology upon the churches—standards which are foreign to the confessions—and so the Committee Report seems to condemn scriptural and pastoral modes of speech “that are commonly accepted in Reformed churches”—like speaking to God’s people in terms of his promises. Instead of an inflated view of the sacraments, the Study Committee seems to be arguing for a low view of sacraments, or it makes its own particular construal of law and gospel the only permissible and Reformed one. The Committee appears to think not merely that certain FV emphases are in error because they are overemphasized, but the points themselves are in error, like the objective character of God’s promises. Unfortunately, here and in the body of the Nampa document, its critique exhibits a kind of question begging when arguments are needed, not assertions. Who has decided what are acceptable points of emphasis and modes of pastoral speaking? Nampa assumes as true what needs to be proven. But more to the point, the Nampa document faults the Study Committee for not distinguishing between a systematic theological position and a pastoral mode of speaking to the congregation. According to the example of the Nampa document, a theological truth is that “not all members of the covenant are truly forgiven in Christ.” Connected to this is a pastoral mode of speaking which calls “every member to believe God’s covenant promise that his or her sins are forgiven.” The Study Committee, says Nampa, threatens the latter form of expression. Readers are encouraged to examine the Study Committee report to evaluate whether these charges prove true. I don’t see that this concern is valid. We will attempt to address this matter more specifically later on in our analysis. At the very least, the Nampa Consistory has the responsibility to tell us specifically what forms of pastoral speech, besides the one example it presents, are being subverted by the Study Report. What standard modes of Reformed pastoral speech have been ruled out-of-bounds? This is a legitimate topic of discussion. Accordingly, below, as we consider some of the specific topics Nampa addresses, we will attempt to evaluate how a distinction between theological and pastoral modes of speech should function and be applied on these matters.
Having offered a few remarks by way of initial assessment of the introductory observations of the Nampa document, next we turn to the body of the Nampa report which interacts with some key sections of the synodical Study Committee Report. Here we confront five topics: (1) doctrine of the covenant: covenant, election, and salvation; (2) doctrine of the church and sacraments: visible and invisible church; (3) doctrine of church and sacraments: the efficacy of the sacraments (baptism); (4) doctrine of church and sacraments: assurance, perseverance, and apostasy; and (5) an evaluation of the FV revisions of the doctrine of justification.
The Nampa document reminds readers, once more, that the point of the ensuing analysis is not to determine the orthodoxy of FV proponents but “to illustrate the shortcomings of the Report’s as described above.”
1. Covenant, Election, and Salvation
As for the doctrine of the covenant, and more specifically the relationship between covenant, election, and salvation, Nampa objects to inserting words like “truly,” “savingly,” and “genuinely” to capture the meaning of Rich Lusk’s comments about the relationship between covenant and election. Says Nampa, this leads the Study Committee to assert erroneously that the FV rejects any real distinction between covenant and election. The Study Committee quotes these key words from Lusk’s pen: “…we must insist that the covenant is nothing less than union with the Triune God, nothing less than salvation.” It must be admitted that, at this point, the Study Committee is taking Lusk at his word when he states that the covenant is “nothing less than” union with the Triune God. If one is uncertain about what that means, well, Lusk fills out his meaning with the phrase, “nothing less than salvation.” Apparently, according to Nampa, the Study Committee is misguided in taking Lusk to mean that the covenant constitutes genuine, saving union with Christ; and so the Committee is wrong to conclude that Lusk means saving salvation, the eternal salvation purchased for us by Christ and belonging to us in being united to him. The Committee is unfair in concluding that Lusk takes the covenant to be salvation itself. In short, the Study Committee is mistaken to conclude that “all who are included in the covenant are, in the proper sense, truly and savingly joined to Christ.” How is union with the Triune God (that union being defined as nothing less than salvation) not properly, genuinely, truly, and savingly salvation? Perhaps the members of Nampa Consistory will assist us and the Study Committee by explaining how “nothing less than salvation” means something less than salvation.
But we must not be too hasty, for Nampa’s burden is not necessarily to defend any given comment of an FV proponent. Not at all! Rather, Nampa’s burden is to show that the Study Committee Report ignores the nuance and qualifications FV advocates do make in discussing the relationship between covenant and election, and these sorts of distinctions demonstrate that the FV does seek to distinguish covenant from election rather than dissolving the one into the other. For example, Nampa faults the Study Committee when it states the following: “Though FV proponents do acknowledge that not all members of the covenant community are ‘elect’ in the strict and confessional sense of this language, they often employ the language of ‘election’ in a way that suggests the election of all members of the covenant community.” Asks the Nampa document, “which is it: does the FV make distinctions between covenant members or not?” Well, this is not an either/or choice—either they make distinctions or they don’t. On those terms, of course, that question is easily answered, FV proponents—at least some of the time—make distinctions in this way. The Study Committee Report acknowledges this. The issue is that though the FV accepts the distinction between covenant and election, say, in some of the sources Nampa cites, nonetheless, FV advocates “often employ the language of ‘election’ in a way that suggests the election of all members of the covenant community.” Here is the issue. If, for example, I consistently preach and teach in manner that leads my hearers to conclude that membership in the covenant constitutes a simple identity with divine election (the salvific kind), so that any who are baptized are likewise elect in Christ, with all the consequent blessings that accrue to that status, then they may easily conclude that covenant and election are one and the same, that covenant is nothing less than divine election unto eternal salvation and a saving union with Christ—plain and simple. That is the burden of the Study Committee Report. The FV says one thing, yes, but also the other—indeed, usually and mostly the other. It concedes the distinction between covenant and election, yes, but it principally teaches that covenant membership constitutes divine election unto salvation.
But Nampa is quick to note that even if FV is irresponsible in its use of language, “A pastorally irresponsible use of language is not a violation of the Confessions per se.” Well, sure, “per se,” in and of itself, intrinsically, a pastorally irresponsible use of language doesn’t necessarily mean a denial of the confessions. But we are not dealing with an occasional and unevaluated phrase or mode of speech—with a few irresponsible remarks per se. We are dealing with a persistent and systemic pastoral mode of speech in which the language of divine election is employed to teach that “all members of the covenant community” are the elect in Christ, enjoy nothing less than union with the Triune God, nothing less than salvation. (Critics of the FV must be forgiven if they have not learned “double speak” or some sort of coded language in which salvation is supposed to mean something less than saving salvation, eternal salvation, or that they have not learned to readily equivocate on terms like “election” and “salvation” as the accepted norm for sermon and theological discourse.)
The Nampa document, however, observes that Scripture itself allows for a kind of identity between covenant and election (1 Pet. 1:1 [NIV]; Col. 3:12). The FV therefore isn’t wrong in doing this since Scripture also does it. “[A]t face value, the Report is accusing the FV men of doing exactly what the Scriptures do.” But we are not dealing with manners “at face value” (for things aren’t always as they appear on the surface). We are dealing with matters in the context of how the FV repeats biblical phrases in order to determine whether its proponents do this in accord with Scripture in its truth, not just “face value.” Unfortunately, the Nampa document at this point, again, simply asserts without making an argument. Nampa assumes that the FV way of doing this can be construed as pastorally proper. That, however, is the point in dispute.
For clarity, it certainly isn’t objectionable to regard all those who profess the true faith as members of Christ and God’s elect. Therefore it isn’t objectionable to call God’s people, the church, his elect. Indeed, in Col. 3 the apostle urges believers on in godliness “as God’s elect.” We see this in Eph. 1 as well, where the apostle addresses the saints and faithful (or the faithful saints) at Ephesus as those who are the recipients of every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, including salvific election, redemption, and the promised inheritance—all in Christ (1:1; 4-5, 7, 11). Likewise, Peter’s elocution in 1 Pet. 1:1 is a mode of speech with which Reformed believers are familiar. How we repeat and make use of the words of Scripture, however, might need to be circumscribed if we are to be faithful to Scripture and the Reformed Confessions and not lead others astray. In other words, to repeat the words of Scripture is not necessarily to be faithful to what Scripture teaches. Biblical locutions and terms must be exegeted, explained, and applied, not merely repeated. To do the latter without the former is a form of biblicism and reflects a rather fundamentalistic methodology and approach to the Bible, though it might reflect a flaccid sort of liberalism as well. It certainly cannot be countenanced as a Reformed approach to Scripture.
Thus, the church may never recklessly repeat Scriptural phrases when the effect of doing so brings confusion rather than clarity or encourages error rather than truth. The Study Committee Report concludes that the FV’s approach to covenant, election, and salvation, on the whole, leads to confusion and error.
For that language to be pastorally appropriate language within a given church and place, especially given two millennia of theological controversy on the meaning of election and its inseparable link to the gospel, will need some discernment. For example, Calvin realizes that persons may question the aptness of employing the language of election to the church since we cannot discern all hypocrites or false brothers and sisters in the church. Whereas “everyone is made sure of his own election by the testimony of the Spirit,” we cannot be certain about others. Here is Calvin’s pastoral and theological mode of speech: “I reply that we are not to inquire anxiously about the election of our brethren, but ought rather to have regard to their calling, so that all who are admitted by faith into the Church are to be thought of as the elect” (Comm. 1 Pet. 1:1). Here Calvin shows that a pastor’s and a theologian’s responsibility is to teach with discernment and to ward off misunderstanding, certainly not to incite and cultivate it. His approach is not: “well, Scripture says all church members are elect, that settles it; like it or lump it.” No, he teaches that it is appropriate to regard “all who are admitted by faith into the Church” as among the elect. They bear “the sign of election” in being separated from the world and in being professing members of the church. Then he says, “It is no objection to say that many fall away, having nothing but the appearance of election, for it is the judgment of charity and not of faith to consider as elect all those in whom the mark of divine adoption appears” (Comm. 1 Pet. 1:1). Calvin continues by observing that the apostle legitimately regards these brothers as elect because “the effect” of the saving works of God, the sanctification of the Spirit, is manifest in them.
The FV, then, isn’t mistaken because it uses the language of divine election to refer to the gathered church of believers. Rather, the problems emerge through unguarded statements which posit an identity between baptism and saving election. Calvin’s point, as articulated above, is a posture of human discernment based upon the wider teaching of Scripture, a posture of love and trust toward fellow church members who are calling upon Christ for their salvation, so that we may believe they are, yes, genuinely elect—saved eternally—so long as they bear the marks of election or the marks of a Christian, for, as Calvin says, “God does not sanctify any but those whom He has previously elected.” Calvin speaks this way in order to honor all that Scripture teaches as it pertains to divine election. For Calvin, to call the gathered church God’s elect is not to make an infallible ontic claim about the status of every baptized church member. Humans are incapable of that sort of knowledge in this life. Not baptism per se, but living out one’s baptism marks one as God’s elect. This is a human judgment of charity based on the Word of God. We can believe this about each other as we walk the way of faith in Christ. Calvin’s approach, then, is very different from the FV theme of making baptism carry the freight for reckoning a person God’s elect.
It must be further observed that the Nampa Consistory’s statement, “A pastorally irresponsible use of language is not a violation of the Confessions per se,” seems to assume a less than Reformed understanding of the power of the church, for the church’s governing power extends to doctrine and life. Note well: a minister who is acting, consistently, in a pastorally irresponsible manner is indeed violating the Confessions, for he is breaking his ordination vows and various articles of the Church Order pertaining to the duties and performance of his office, which in turn means he is breaking (by his life) the standards of Christian conduct exposited in the Heidelberg Catechism and the articles of the Belgic Confession which treat the government and duties of the church and its office-bearers.
The Nampa document further argues that the treatment of John Barach’s views on the question of covenant and election are not fairly handled. While the Report acknowledges that Barach’s statements could be interpreted to mean that there is a kind of “corporate election” in distinction from a strict election unto salvation, nonetheless, the Report ignores this sort of example of an FV advocate making distinctions and instead asserts that, for the FV, covenant and election are identified. In back of that, the Study Committee Report misses the important point that what Barach argues is that God is promising every covenant member that he or she is elect in Christ. God’s promise in the covenant is different than or distinct from a direct identity with election itself. The promise “will not come to fruition apart from faith.” In addition to the above, the Study Report ignores important FV sources which show that the FV does not confuse covenant and election, for the number of those whom God has chosen to be saved “cannot be increased or diminished.” But the Study Committee Report stubbornly and unfairly maintains that “FV proponents are unable to maintain clearly that those whom God elects in Christ will unfailingly be granted the fullness of salvation in unbreakable communion with God.”
At this point, the Nampa document believes the Study Report has not proven its case at all, and has in fact distorted the FV view. The FV does not teach different kinds of eternal election or a losable eternal election, which is also called being individually elect “in the decretal sense.” Here we note that Nampa is correct to say that the FV does not teach losable eternal election. Since that sort of election is “eternal” it cannot be temporary. What is far less clear, and this is what the Study Committee Report is concerned to express, is how much salvific content does the FV load into its conception of non-eternal election? Stated in other words, it appears that the FV teaches that there is a saving, but non-eternal, salvation in Christ. That is, for some, there is an election of salvation that is genuine but temporary. For others, there is an election to an eternal salvation. Concerning the latter, not the former, none will be lost. The latter compose the great host to be saved eternally; and their number cannot be increased or diminished. Accordingly, there are two kinds of election—a temporal variety, its recipients being non-persevering in the forgiveness Christ wrought for them, for they are non-appointed to glory; and an eternal variety, its recipients persevering to the end, for God did appoint them to glory. The elect in the decretal sense (= eternal sense) and the non-elect in the decretal sense (the elect in the non-eternal sense) may share and enjoy common operations of the Spirit in varying degree, but not in the same way.
Apparently, this is clear to the Nampa Consistory (and apparently it is not thought to contradict clearly the Canons of Dort), but it is not clear to the synodical Study Committee. We must not forget that what the Study Report alleges against the FV is that it lacks clarity on this topic. The cloudy character of the FV on this issue may be exposed through a question or two: How can a person be elect in Christ but not come to eternal salvation? Or how can a person be savingly united to Christ but fail to be eternally elect? Or, where in the Three Forms of Unity is a temporarily saving election taught? Apparently, the answers to such questions are clear to the Nampa Consistory. Perhaps the reply is: “Here we are speaking of a covenantal, non-saving, union with Christ.” Okay, so is it the non-saving or the saving union with Christ that is signified and sealed in baptism? Is it eternal election or non-eternal election that all the baptized enjoy? Are we to believe that the FV has clear answers to these questions? Indeed, the Nampa document thinks the following is a clear or clarifying FV statement, which it quotes: “The Bible teaches that all things happen according to God’s will, so that if anyone enters into final glory with Christ Jesus, that is the outworking of God’s eternal plan. … That predestinating choice is unchangeable. The number of people who will enter into final glory is the number of people God always intended to enter into final glory with Christ. That predestinating choice is also unthwartable” (The Federal Vision, 17).
This quotation actually bolsters the Study Committee’s conclusion about the FV’s inability to be clear on the topic under discussion. Notice what the quotation says: “The number of people who will enter into final glory is the number of people God always intended to enter into final glory with Christ. That predestinating choice is also unthwartable.” No one disputes that the FV teaches this, which is nothing more than a tautology. What is not clear in this statement is whether the FV would agree with this statement: “Not every election to salvation is unchangeable, but that some of the chosen can perish and do in fact perish eternally, with no decision of God to prevent it” (Canons of Dort, I, rejection of errors vi). No doubt, it will be said that I have missed the point, since the FV teaches that election is unchangeable. Well, yes, it teaches that eternal election is unchangeable. Does baptism, then, signify and seal, head for head, to all the baptized eternal election?
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