7.09.2010

Dr. Mark Beach Responds to Nampa Critique of URCNA FV STUDY REPORT (PART II)

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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

PART TWO

In part one of my comments on the paper of the Consistory of the United Reformed Church of Nampa, Idaho, which interacts with the “Report of the Synodical Study Committee on the Federal Vision and Justification,” I examined some of Nampa’s concerns with the Study Committee Report. Specifically, I noted that the Nampa paper does not believe the Study Committee has fairly represented FV views at important points. Nampa in turn presents materials that it believes demonstrate this oversight and misrepresentation. Nampa enumerates five areas where the Study Report has not represented FV positions fairly or accurately: (1) the doctrine of the covenant: covenant, election, and salvation; (2) the doctrine of the church and sacraments: visible and invisible church; (3) the doctrine of church and sacraments: the efficacy of the sacraments (baptism); (4) the doctrine of church and sacraments: assurance, perseverance, and apostasy; and (5) the doctrine of justification.

In part one of my comments, I addressed the first item on this list of topics. Now, in part two, I will address the others. I will first consider topics 2−4 together; then I will briefly take up justification. Finally, I will offer some closing observations.

Disputed Topics Continued

2. Church and Sacraments
In the course of discussing how some FV proponents treat the topic of the church’s visibility and invisibility, Nampa believes the Study Report falsely represents what the FV teaches regarding baptism and union with Christ. The Report says, “Contrary to the implications of the distinction between the visible and invisible church, FV authors argue that we should affirm that all members of the covenant community are truly and savingly in Christ.” Nampa offers this reply: “If ‘truly and savingly’ (a phrase nowhere found in the FV quotes supplied by the Report) means the way in which union with Christ is enjoyed by the elect, then the FV men repeatedly and emphatically deny that this is what they are saying.” This sentence, as it stands, says that the elect do not enjoy true and saving union with Christ. What, I think, Nampa means to say is this: “If ‘truly and savingly’ (a phrase nowhere found in the FV quotes supplied by the Report) means the way in which non-eternally elect covenant members enjoy union with Christ, then the FV men repeatedly and emphatically deny that this is what they are saying.” Or perhaps Nampa means something else. Let it be observed, however, that if one holds to the Canons of Dort, a true and saving union with Christ applies to (or is enjoyed by) the elect alone—yes, the eternally and only-ever-saved elect. It is non-sense to suggest that the non-elect can (for a time) be “truly and savingly in Christ.” There is no such way for non-elect persons (even in the covenant) to be united to Christ truly and savingly.

Nampa’s point, I think, is that, for the FV, there are two ways to be united to Christ. All members of the covenant community enjoy union with Christ. But union with Christ does not mount up to election—the eternally saving kind of election. For there is union with Christ in the covenantal sense, which means it is not the same as true and saving union with Christ. Thus the Nampa document aims to show that the FV proves to be more circumspect in treating the question of the church’s visibility and invisibility than the presentation of the Study Committee. The Study Committee fails to acknowledge the nuance of the FV position on this and related topics. The Nampa document seeks to demonstrate the Study Report’s failure by quoting, for example, the Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church Summary (AAPC Summary) which states: “By baptism, one enters into covenantal union with Christ and is offered all his benefits. … What is offered in baptism may not be received because of unbelief.” Nampa offers this interpretative analysis of what the FV teaches on this matter: “They are saying: 1) That all covenant members are united to Christ in some sense (‘formally’ and ‘covenantally’ are words they like to use, analogous to the more historic ‘externally,’ but without some of the potential pitfalls of that language). And 2) That we should speak of all covenant members in terms of what has been promised. We address the whole congregation, like the Apostle Paul, as being ‘elect,’ ‘in Christ,’ ‘forgiven,’ etc.”

Here is the sort of pastoral mode of speech that, according to Nampa, the Study Committee comes “perilously close” to condemning. Apparently, in rejecting the FV scheme, the Study Committee is “perilously close” to abandoning, even condemning, “a pastoral mode of speech that has long been accepted in Reformed churches: speaking to God’s people in terms of his promises.” We will return to this concern below.

(a) Twofold Union with Christ

The more specific point the Nampa document is making concerns the matter of baptism and two different types of union with Christ. Nampa depicts the FV as saying: “That all covenant members are united to Christ in some sense (‘formally’ and ‘covenantally’ are words they like to use…).” This interpretative remark is followed by an analysis of the FV on the efficacy of the sacrament of baptism. At this juncture, Nampa quotes the FV Joint Profession, which states: “We affirm that God formally unites a person to Christ and to His covenant people through baptism into the triune Name.” The Nampa document references this quotation numerous times. In fact, it is one of the most important sources for Nampa’s conclusion that the Study Committee has not been altogether accurate or fair in depicting FV views. This quotation shows, Nampa observes, that the FV posits appropriate and needed distinctions in theological formulation, which the Study Committee Report ignores. From the same article of affirmation in the FV Joint Profession, Nampa quotes these words, “Baptism formally engrafts a person into the Church, which means that baptism is into the Regeneration, that time when the Son of Man sits upon His glorious throne (Matt. 19:28).”

These are certainly interesting quotations which, unfortunately, are not as clear as one might wish. We therefore feel compelled to take a closer look at the quotations of FV sources that Nampa proffers as demonstrating that the FV is more nuanced and orthodox here than alleged by the Study Committee. The key terms or phrases in the quoted sources are these: “formally unites” and “formally engrafts.” Perhaps the FV’s meaning can be detected by a further look at the Joint Confession. Under the same heading in which FV advocates make affirmations, they offer some denials as well, which the Nampa document likewise quotes. “We deny that baptism automatically guarantees that the baptized will share in the eschatological Church.” “We deny the common misunderstanding of baptismal regeneration—i.e. that an ‘effectual call’ or rebirth is automatically wrought in the one baptized. Baptism apart from a growing and living faith is not saving, but rather damning.” “But we deny that trusting God’s promise through baptism elevates baptism to a human work. God gives baptism as assurance of His grace to us personally, as our names are spoken when we are baptized.”

Given these kinds of statements, Nampa believes that the FV shows itself able to make appropriate and needed theological qualifications or distinctions. Thus regarding baptism and union with Christ, if I understand Nampa’s point, the Study Committee Report needs to acknowledge that the FV posits a twofold sort of union with Christ: a true and saving kind of union with Christ, which the elect enjoy; and a formal or covenantal kind of union with Christ. The FV, therefore, speaks about baptism in this twofold way. Not all the baptized enjoy true and saving union with Christ; rather, the non-eternally elect enjoy a formal, covenantal, objective union with Christ.

Naturally, a key term used by the FV in this connection is the word “formally,” a word with diverse meanings. “Formally” might mean (a) “officially” or “the outward public testimony,” in which case union with Christ signifies an outward ceremony which testifies to and certifies the reality of saving union with Christ (the ontic kind). Or “formally” could mean (b) following “due order or custom,” so that union with Christ is little more than a bare ritual, in accord with some required protocol. Or “formally” could signify (c) “appearance without substance,” the merely “nominal” without the substance, in which case union with Christ is an empty shell, a mere name without saving content. Or “formally” can mean (d) “the outward form” distinguished but not different from “the content,” in which case union with Christ is the outward form pointing to the genuine, inner reality. Here a formal union with Christ is actually pointing to and depicts genuine union with Christ. Lastly, the term “formally” can mean (e) “the essential constitution of a thing” or that which has the “power to make a thing what it is,” which means that union with Christ is salvation, with all its saving benefits, including the saving benefit of the gift of faith, rebirth, forgiveness, and a not losable salvation. This last definition of “formally” would give us the true and saving (and automatic) reality of union with Christ—the very thing the FV is not saying at this point.

The Nampa report does not tell us what “formally” means except to identify it with “covenantally” and “objectively” and “not automatically.” I’m hard pressed to believe that in this affirmation the FV wants to take “formally” in the sense of (a), (b), or (e). It also does not appear that the FV wants to take “formally” to mean (d). For (d) is explicitly not the point the FV is making. Following Nampa’s interpretation of the FV, a formal union with Christ is not the true and saving kind enjoyed by the elect alone—i.e., the eternally elect. But the term “formally” taken in the sense of (d) describes the mystical union between Christ and his people. Those united to him by the Holy Spirit are most certainly bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh, his very bride; and this is true and saving union with Christ, the thing that is denied in using the term “formally.” Thus (d) is off the table, too.

This leaves (c) as the most natural way to understand the use of the term, especially when “formally” is linked to “objectively”; and the term “covenantally” is contrasted with “truly” and “savingly.” Thus (c) most conforms to what the FV intends to say (at least according to Nampa), so that to be “formally” united to Christ means appearance without substance, an outward relationship, a public label of being identified with Christ but as yet absent the salvific content of genuine union with Christ. But this understanding of the term “formally” seems to undermine the FV project at the root, for FV proponents want baptized persons to be assured that they are saved because they are baptized. By employing the term “formally,” taken in the sense of (c), baptism becomes a grand proposal, a broad offer of the gospel to the baptized, but that arrives well short of assuring all covenant members that they are saved because they are baptized.

Meanwhile, Nampa says that the FV fondness for the phrases “formally” and “covenantally” bears an analogy to the more historic phrase “externally.” But the former set of terms, Nampa asserts, avoid “some of the potential pitfalls” to which words like “externally” are subject. (Nampa does not explain what the potential pitfalls are; nor does Nampa explain how the FV terminology escapes the same potential pitfalls.) In fact, speaking of pitfalls, at this point the FV has fallen into a pit of its own digging. While FV advocates dislike the terminology of visible/invisible church (which Nampa simply asserts has “pernicious side effects”), nonetheless, they must concede the theological burden of the distinction: either it is true that everyone baptized, head for head, is saved—yes, eternally saved—or it isn’t true. Scripture teaches us that it isn’t true. Thus, some who walk among God’s people prove to be false brothers. Scripture teaches that! Some are hypocrites within the Church, undetected. Scripture teaches that! Just as Scripture teaches that some are outwardly identified with the church (baptized!) but are not united to Christ by the Holy Spirit, and only God knows infallibly all who are united to Christ and belong to his church for time and eternity—something not yet visible (or still invisible) to us but, obviously, always visible to God. So, the distinction is conceded.

However, in contrast to the historic Reformed distinction between the visible/invisible church—proffered by Calvin and all the Reformed against the Roman Catholic doctrine of the church (a point conveniently ignored by the FV and Nampa)—FV proponents posit a distinction between a formal union with Christ versus a true and saving union with Christ. Now we may ask: How is the divine promise safeguarded in such a scheme? In fact, here, in contrast with the Three Forms of Unity, the FV has attenuated the divine promise signified and sealed in baptism. For the Three Forms of Unity do not teach that baptism signifies and seals an objective promise, a divine general offer of the gospel, a grand proposal, which says: “Here is salvation for you if you—the totally depraved sinner—will just do your part.” Nor do the Three Forms of Unity teach that baptism signifies and seals a “formal” and non-saving union with Christ.
It would seem that the FV (and Nampa?) is confident that words like formally and covenantally to depict union with Christ is free of some potential pitfalls and pernicious side effects. But their confidence is misplaced. No doubt, in employing terms like “formally,” the FV is trying to correct and clarify itself. “Baptism formally (outwardly versus inwardly, objectively versus subjectively?) engrafts a person into the Church…,” etc. We further learn that covenantal union with Christ (i.e., a formal or objective union with Christ) does not constitute salvation but constitutes the offer of salvation. The Nampa document quotes the AAPC Summary Statement, which states: “By baptism, one enters into covenantal union with Christ and is offered all his benefits. … What is offered in baptism may not be received because of unbelief.”

Here we face the question of how God’s promise and faith fit into all this. It would appear to come to something like this. Following the FV formulation, baptism has shifted from being a sign and seal of the covenant of grace to being an offer of grace; or better, the covenant of grace itself ceases to bear a testamentary character and has become an offer of grace. This is why the FV gets suspected of sliding into a kind of Arminianism. After all, what does the FV (and Nampa) understand to be the relationship between divine promise and divine salvation? Is it merely a divine offer? Is the offer effectual unto salvation or ineffectual? Is God promising his salvific grace to each and all the baptized, head for head, the same efficacious, irresistible grace? Or is God merely offering to totally depraved sinners the opportunity of salvation if they do their part? Is the promise just an offer, no more? Is the offer an ineffectual and resistible grace? If so, then for the FV, baptism now means that God promises to offer Christ and all his saving benefits to us. But, note well, that is very far from saying that all the baptized already possess Christ and all his saving gifts. The answers to these sorts of questions are lost in the clouds of FV confusions. This serves to show that since the FV has not sorted out election and covenant and their relation to one another, it is hard pressed to make theological sense of itself. In running interference for the FV, Nampa can fair no better. Indeed, according to at least one voice of the FV, by baptism the baptized enjoy a general offer of the gospel. Unbelief says, “No,” to that offer. So covenantal union with Christ, which all the baptized enjoy, does not describe a person who is mystically united to Christ by the Holy Spirit and saved; rather, it refers to a person who has received a promised offer or an offered promise, which unbelief rejects and faith accepts. Baptism, then, signifies and seals that offer; it carries that import—something different than what the confessions teach.

Meanwhile, we might ask: for the FV, is the gift of faith part of the blessings of Christ and promised to us in baptism? Or does faith float free from Christ and his benefits, an island to itself? More to the point: Is faith offered or bestowed? Perhaps the FV and Nampa will reply: Most certainly both! So what accounts for the distinction between baptized covenant members who embrace God’s promises by faith and those who do not? Perhaps the FV and Nampa will reply: God’s electing grace—for we do not make ourselves to differ, but God’s sovereign grace intervenes and He discriminates between equally lost sinners (even the baptized variety). Well, is that electing grace rooted in Christ and the covenant of grace, the divine promise, or does it now float free, independent of God’s mercy in Christ, signified and seal in baptism? If faith is a sovereign gift of God imparted to whom he will impart it, according to the promise, how can the import of baptism become a mere offer that awaits our response? Indeed, whatever happened to the testamentary character of the covenant of grace, without which the divine promise would never come to fruition in any baptized person?

At this juncture and in this connection we feel compelled to ask Nampa some important questions. Do the Three Forms of Unity teach that baptism signifies and seals a formal union with Christ? Is that what is promised in the covenant of grace—a formal or covenantal union with Christ? And is this supposed to be a source of comfort and assurance for baptized persons? Or, returning to the AAPC Summary, does baptism, according to the Reformed confessions, signify and seal a covenantal union with Christ? Does baptism signify and seal an offer of Christ and all his benefits? In other words, is a symbolized and certified offer of divine grace, a promised offer of salvation, the import of baptism? Is that what the divine promise of the covenant comes to: an offer? I’d like Nampa to show the Study Committee that this is what the Three Forms of Unity teach.

A close reading of the Three Forms of Unity will not allow us to make baptism’s import to be a merely objective or formal union with Christ, or to turn the promises of the covenant of grace into merely objective promises and possibilities for salvation—possibilities awaiting our subjective reception, if we do our part. Baptism testifies of sovereign grace wrought in us by the Holy Spirit, uniting us to Christ and applying his saving benefits to us. Baptism does not symbolize a formal relationship with Christ; rather, it portrays a saving union with Christ; that is what it signifies and seals. If that is not baptism’s import, how could it be a source of assurance for believers?

So, returning to the quotations presented by the Nampa document on the FV view of baptism and union with Christ, matters remain beclouded and befuddled. For the FV is unclear about what union with Christ entails vis-à-vis baptism. On the one hand, FV proponents often speak of baptism as constitutive of salvation itself. On the other hand, given the materials presented by Nampa, baptism is little more than an offer of the gospel. One is reminded of the proverbial rabbit-in-the-hat—now you see it, now you don’t. In either case, the FV first makes baptism mean more than it does (baptismal regeneration), then it makes baptism mean significantly less (an objective promise of an offer of grace). In neither case are we given the confessional view of the sacrament of baptism.

Once more, Nampa here (inadvertently) makes the Study Committee’s point for it by presenting materials that illustrate FV ambiguities and the theological haze the FV spreads. First, we meet FV statements that report that baptism and covenantal membership constitute nothing short of divine salvation and election and saving union with Christ. Now we meet FV statements which explain that baptism and covenantal membership constitute a formal or covenantal union with Christ—note that, formal and covenantal, an offer of salvation versus a saving union with Christ. First, the FV overplays the import of baptism; then it switches and underplays baptism’s import.

(b) Nampa’s Allegation that the Study Report Forfeits a Pastoral Mode of Speech

Having examined the substance of Nampa’s concern, we next consider an accusation that Nampa makes against the Study Committee Report, which I take to be the practical concern of the Nampa document, namely, that this Report forfeits common patterns of speech which Reformed persons commonly use in talking about God’s covenant people. Nampa quotes what it regards as troublesome words in the Study Report: “In the writings of FV authors, it is sometimes asserted that all those who are embraced by the administration of the covenant should be regarded as already possessing the fullness of salvation in Christ.” To which Nampa replies: “Do we really want to deny this, to deny that we should regard all covenant members as being saved in Christ?” Well, the problem with Nampa’s analysis is that it, like the FV in general, leaves persons confused. The Study Report dislikes regarding all those embraced by the administration of the covenant “as already possessing the fullness of salvation in Christ”—note well, the words, “already possessing the fullness of salvation,” which refer to all those “embraced by the administration of the covenant.” The Study Committee is here distinguishing the visible “administration of the covenant of grace” from its saving effects worked in God’s elect alone. So, Nampa should have noted that first! But more, the Study Report knows that even among God’s eternally elect in Christ—not just a corporate election but election in Christ unto salvation (the real, not losable kind)—the manner in which God saves and sanctifies these persons is diverse. It certainly isn’t true that all at the same time “already possess the fullness of salvation in Christ” as an ontic and immediately effectuated reality. Among the elect in Christ, some are reborn in infancy, others in their teens; some call upon God in faith from childhood, while other elect baptized members (the folks who will make it to glory) spurn their baptism for years and the gospel promises it signifies and seals, only repenting and coming to faith in later years. We are not mistaken for looking to see that covenant members walk the way of faith and bear the marks of a Christian (cf. Belgic Confession, art. 29). This is both pastorally wise and practically necessary. Even the FV, growing up theologically a bit, has felt compelled to do this. We just saw that the FV defines baptism as granting an objective, formal, covenantal union with Christ, which comes up short of true and saving union with Christ. Hasn’t the FV hedged its pastoral language (even if unclearly) at just this point? Meanwhile, the Study Committee hedges its language in this connection because it knows that in talking about baptism and the covenant some distinctions are necessary, especially if we are to address the church pastorally. To be sure, within our churches we should regard covenant members as members of Christ and of the church (i.e., they are members of Christ’s church visibly manifested; but we know that this church can also harbor hypocrites and false brothers undetected). When the Belgic Confession addresses pointedly the question who we should judge as members of the church, it doesn’t reply flatly and without nuance, “the baptized.” Rather, it says that we may know fellow believers “by the marks of Christians; namely, by faith …”, etc. (cf. art. 29). This is to follow the dictates of Scripture, which reminds us that circumcision is nothing without circumcision of the heart; likewise baptism is nothing without baptism of the heart (cf. Rom. 2:29; Deut. 10:16).

So what guilt does the Study Report bear in Nampa’s eyes since it is not guilty of violating the confessions? I think it comes to this: A pastor must be allowed to speak to parishioners as follows, this being a pastorally wise and biblically mandated form of speech: Dear Congregation (or dear brother, dear sister), since you are baptized, you are united to Christ, God’s elect, forgiven your sins, reborn of the water and the Spirit, a member of Christ’s body, and saved. Believe it. Well, I’m sure that within a particular context, and dealing with specific sorts of parishioners with particular problems, we might use such remarks. But from the pulpit or catechism class, or any public forum, including published materials, such a mode of speech is likely to cause confusion. Thus, when the FV is pressed about these sorts of remarks, especially the connection that is made between baptism and salvation, and whether these remarks are ontic ascriptions or faith affirmations, then the retreat begins and now, says the Nampa document, the FV serves up theological qualifications: Well, since you are baptized, you are objectively united to Christ; you are not necessarily eternally elect; you are promised (as in offered) the forgiveness of sins; you are formally or covenantally reborn of water and the Spirit; you are formally a member of Christ’s body, with undetected hypocrites as members of it too; and you are objectively, covenantally, formally (versus actually) saved; and you are offered salvation. The key for the FV, however, is to avoid as much as possible these theological qualifications. Affirm and declare and employ—without qualification—the earlier mode of pastoral speech. The nuanced form of speech, the theologically qualifying form of speech, undermines assurance of salvation. So, let’s speak in ontic mode, and believe it. If we get our theological tail caught in the door, then we can switch tactics and resort to theological qualification. For the FV, then, it seems to play out like this: Baptism saves you; or, you’re saved because you’re baptized. God promises salvation and it is done; baptism secures that reality. Now get the baptized children to the Lord’s Table since they are saved. It all sounds ontic. Well, they believe it is, really, except (as it turns out) some of these saved, covenant members are only temporarily (or non-savingly) enjoy this salvation. Go figure! If pressed further about the theological pickle they have gotten themselves into, with a losable election and a losable salvation, etc, then the answer is: Well, we’re talking about promised salvation, not actual salvation. It isn’t automatic! We don’t mean to say that the elect are truly and savingly united to Christ. All baptized persons are formally united to Christ. But if you ask whether formal union with Christ is the same as saving—permanent and eternal—union with Christ, then the answer is: No, it is non-saving (or temporarily saving) union with Christ; but baptism promises and offers the eternally saving kind. Wow, think of it: non-saving union with Christ, which is non-saving communion and fellowship with Christ, non-saving peace with God, non-saving forgiveness of sins, etc.!
What should our reply be to all this? We return to our earlier mentioned questions: When did baptism’s import become, temporarily saving or non-saving union with Christ? And how does such an understanding of baptism offer assurance to the baptized? Moreover, where is that taught in the confessions? In fact, how is such a notion not a clear violation of what the confessions teach? The FV begins by telling us we are saved because we are baptized. Believe it! Then it ends up saying, baptism offers you salvation. Amazing, now, for the FV, the word “covenantal” has become a weakened and delimiting term. Now baptism, a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, only portrays and promises a formal union with Christ.

As for the charge laid at the Study Committee’s feet, namely, that its Report disallows properly pastoral modes of address, I’m confident in saying that the members of the Study Committee—think of the list of persons who have affixed their names to the Report—would be quite surprised by the peril (or near peril) their Report has allegedly imparted upon the churches. But following Nampa’s standard of confessional subscription (see part one of my comments), why should (or would) the Nampa Consistory care if the Study Report actually were guilty of doing this? Applying Nampa’s standard, if the Study Committee has damaged a pastoral mode of speech common among Reformed churches, but has not clearly violated the Confessions, so what? Even if the Study Report is guilty of “a pastorally irresponsible use of language” (again, applying Nampa’s standard), there is no confessional foul committed and that view “must be tolerated within a confessional church.” It is no big deal (using Nampa’s standard). Thus, if Nampa would follow its own standards for evaluating error, why even make mention of this alleged problem since it is confessionally permissible? However, if the Study Committee has spoken contrary to the confessions, then Nampa should say so. Instead Nampa uses insinuation—that is, the Nampa document seeks to undermine the Committee Report by insinuating—intimating, suggesting, implying, and warning—that an impending theological bomb threatens the churches. The churches (if they follow the Study Committee Report) are dodging danger by a whisker.

Contrary to Nampa’s insinuation, however, the choice presented to the churches isn’t: either we allow the ambiguities and contradictory formulas of the FV, so that we safeguard long accepted pastoral modes of speech; or we reject FV formulations and thereby jettison important and edifying pastoral modes of address to God’s assembled congregation. Rather than these unnecessary alternatives—indeed, rather than suffer either plague—Reformed churches are free to reject FV formulations, hold to their confessional heritage and long affirmed biblical understanding of these matters, and therefore uphold and employ properly nuanced pastoral modes of speech. In this connection, we also offer this observation: contrary to Nampa, the Study Report has not compromised the legitimacy and necessity of addressing God’s people in terms of His promises. United Reformed ministers, after reading the Study Committee Report and rejecting FV formulations, will have no trouble appealing to God’s people to trust God’s covenant promises. They will continue to address the assembled congregation as God’s people and God’s family. They will continue to begin their sermons with biblical and pastoral modes of expressions like: Dear people of God; Dear Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ; Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus our Lord, etc. They will continue to offer biblical sentences of absolution to the gathered assembly confessing their sins. They will continue to urge God’s people to put their faith in God and His grace, to look to Christ alone for their salvation, to trust the gospel declared to them, to seek confirmation and strengthening of their faith by the signs and seals of the sacraments, including baptism. We need not follow Nampa in worrying that the Study Committee has brought the churches to a precipice, such that, in rejecting FV formulations, they bid us to dance on the edge of a dangerous theological mistake. No, with good confidence and a good conscience, after considering the Study Committee Report, we can continue to affirm the sort of language employed in the Form for the Baptism of Infants (long used in Dutch Reformed churches) or, say, the Heidelberg Catechism (see Q/As 65-74), or Canons of Dort, I:17, and the other Reformed confessions.

All this serves to demonstrate that insinuations do not serve the churches well. I would like to think that the Nampa Consistory does not actually want to imply that the members of the Study Committee, with their Report, are perilously close to taking the churches down such paths.

(c) Baptismal Regeneration

Next we turn to the FV profession regarding the question of baptismal regeneration. “We deny the common misunderstanding of baptismal regeneration—i.e. that an ‘effectual call’ or rebirth is automatically wrought in the one baptized. Baptism apart from a growing and living faith is not saving, but rather damning.” Here the FV does not deny baptismal regeneration; rather, it denies what it judges to be “the common misunderstanding of baptismal regeneration,” namely, “that an ‘effectual call’ or rebirth is automatically wrought in the one baptized.

What emerges immediately as problematic here is the use of the word “automatically.” To my knowledge, no traditional understanding of baptismal regeneration would subscribe to using the term “automatically” in order to define rebirth. The word “automatic” connotes that something is done spontaneously or by the agency of the self, a self-acting. Again, I know of no traditional doctrine of baptismal regeneration which would favor the term “automatically.” Moreover, the doctrine of baptismal regeneration refers to rebirth in the narrow sense, whereas the FV seems to be employing this phrase to refer to the grand project of the renewal of all things. If nothing else, the FV here shows itself adept at equivocation in the use of traditional theological concepts. Even more to the point, however, is the matter in which the FV addresses the question of baptismal regeneration: “We deny the common misunderstanding of baptismal regeneration….”

Well, is what is known as “baptismal regeneration” a “misunderstanding”? It seems that the FV is saying that “the common understanding” of baptismal regeneration is a misunderstanding? If so, who decided that it is a misunderstanding? I guess the FV did. Note: this would be akin to denying the common misunderstanding of the doctrine of the Trinity—i.e., that God is “one divine Being,” but we may speak of three, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, since “God has so revealed Himself in His Word that these three distinct persons are the one, true, and eternal God” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q/A 25). So, now the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity becomes a misunderstanding of the doctrine and must be denied. That is a clever tactic! This, by way of analogy, appears to be what the FV is doing vis-à-vis the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. It redefines the doctrine of baptismal regeneration and calls the traditional view a misunderstanding. The FV, then, affirms—but redefines—the doctrine. Again, persons trained in theology are supposed to know their coded and equivocal use of common theological terms: that a common understanding is in fact a misunderstanding.

Thus Rome’s common presentation of baptismal regeneration is, apparently, a misunderstanding. Rome teaches the following about baptism and regeneration: “This sacrament [of baptism] is also called ‘the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit,’ for it signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit without which no one ‘can enter the kingdom of God’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed., 1215). In treating the grace of baptism, the Catholic Catechism speaks of its “two principal effects”: purification from sins and new birth in the Holy Spirit (1262). “By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sins and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin” (1263). “Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte a ‘a new creature,’ an adopted son of God, who has become a ‘partaker of the divine nature,’ member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1265; cf. Decrees of the Council of Trent, 696, 742, 895). As Ludwig Ott, a highly regarded Roman Catholic theologian states, “According to the testimony of Holy Writ, Baptism has the power both of eradicating sin and of effecting inner sanctification” (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 355). Baptism, for Rome, is also necessary for salvation (Ott, 356ff., Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1257).

That is at least one presentation of baptismal regeneration. In understanding it, are we misunderstanding it? Or does the FV wish to say something else, namely, that they (the FV) have a proper understanding of baptismal regeneration, to which they adhere? Their conception of baptismal regeneration, then, does not mean that rebirth or effectual calling is automatically wrought in the one baptized? I think that this is what they want to say. But, once more, clarity is not forthcoming. Their version of baptismal regeneration does not produce an automatic rebirth or effectual calling—but, as we saw above, who actually adheres to “automatic rebirth or effectual calling”?

The FV next says, “Baptism apart from a growing and living faith is not saving, but rather damning.” Thus we are now permitted to ask, “What does ‘baptismal regeneration’ mean for the FV”? Since they appear to be using the phrase with their own esoteric meaning attached, what is now the import of such words? For confessionally Reformed theologians, it is wholly uncontroversial to reckon baptism as a means of grace, as a sign and seal of God’s covenant promises revealed to us in the gospel, or to maintain that baptism, being a sacrament, functions to remind us of God’s word of promise to us and to assure us of the reality of those promises to us. In this way, in the way and function of sacraments, baptism (like the Lord’s Supper) is a source of assurance, for it visibly portrays and certifies the invisible reality of God’s grace promised to us in the Word of the gospel. Certainly, the FV is not wrong in wanting to overcome an undervaluation of the sacraments. But it is not correct in doing little to safeguard against an overvaluation of the sacraments. In the Joint Profession it does offer this statement: “Baptism formally engrafts a person into the Church, which means that baptism is into the Regeneration, that time when the Son of Man sits upon His glorious throne (Matt. 19:28).” Once more we come across the word “formally”—baptism formally engrafts a person into the Church. The Regeneration is then defined as “that time when the Son of Man sits upon His glorious throne.” This seems to mean that the baptized are formally united to and engrafted into the big project of the restoration of all things through the redeeming work of Christ’s Session and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. It is not clear whether this is meant to be taken in the sense of a “not-yet-but-still-to-come” regeneration or some version of an “already” and “not yet” scheme, though I suspect the latter is meant. Although a version of inaugurated eschatology (already/not yet) is not controversial, it isn’t clear what the FV means by all this, and what baptism into it means. Especially the term “formally,” as we saw above, is not as clarifying as one would hope.

The Nampa document seems fairly satisfied with the FV’s handling of this issue. I confess that I judge the FV sport of equivocation and redefinition unhelpful. Although the Nampa document attempts to rescue the FV from caricature, it seems oblivious to the FV’s methodological blunders. Consequently, the Study Committee Report stands acquitted of Nampa’s charges, for the Report rightly observes the lack of clarity and the equivocal manner in which the FV employs theological language, which leads to overstatement, misinformation, theological lopsidedness, and outright error.

(d) Assurance, Perseverance, and Apostasy

Next the Nampa document presents the FV on the question of assurance, perseverance, and apostasy. Nampa is concerned that the Study Report has missed the role of faith in the FV’s understanding of assurance. Moreover, the FV’s concern is that covenant members place their faith in God’s promises, not in the bare ritual of baptism. Nampa also points out that the call to faith must not be missed in the FV’s understanding of baptism. In addition, the FV (contrary to the Committee Report) distinguishes between “elect covenant members” and “non-elect covenant members.” The non-elect do not enjoy the gift of perseverance, while the elect do. Nampa quotes Douglas Wilson, “Of course, there are baptized covenant members who are not individually regenerate. They are the ones who reject what God is offering to them in their baptism. They therefore fall away from the covenant and not from election.” Nampa also observes that the Study Report is mistaken in contrasting “the covenantal objectivism of the FV” with “the necessity of faith as a means whereby the gospel promise and its sacramental confirmation are received.” This is basically, Nampa ventures, “a distinction without a difference.” Nampa quotes the Joint FV Profession to demonstrate that faith is the way of assurance. “We affirm also that though salvation is granted through the instrument of faith alone, those who have been justified will live progressively more and more sanctified lives until they go to be with God.” Next follows these words: “Those believers for whom this is true look to Christ for their assurance—in the Word, in the sacraments, in their fellow believers, and in their own participation in that life by faith.” Says Nampa, it is therefore false to say that the FV neglects “the need for faith” or that it teaches believers to look to their own “faithfulness,” instead of looking to Christ, to find assurance. Apparently, Nampa is not concerned about the ambiguities that mar these statements. For example, what is the connection between the objective promises and the subjective reception or working out of those promises?

Ironically, again, Nampa renders strength to the Study Committee’s findings regarding the FV. While it is true that the materials provided by Nampa show that the FV has officially gone on record calling for the necessity of faith in order to enjoy assurance, specifically faith in God’s promises of salvation, and the FV sometimes even distinguishes between elect and non-elect covenant members, the FV also stresses that calling the baptized to faith (i.e., to be saved) is to cast doubt on God’s promises. Rather than call baptized persons to faith, they should already believe that they are saved. In fact, to urge the baptized to repent and to believe suggests that they aren’t yet believers and aren’t yet forgiven their sins. This, the FV alleges, undermines assurance and is not a pastoral mode of address. By FV standards, however, isn’t distinguishing between elect and non-elect covenant members also an unacceptable pastoral mode of address? As a result, instead of calling the baptized to faith, they must be told about their baptism, for in being baptized they already possess Christ and all his saving benefits. The baptized must be told to believe that they are saved! After all, they are baptized. In keeping with this, the FV teaches that, for believers to examine themselves, whether they are in the faith, is to doubt God’s promises. This, in spite of 2 Cor. 13:5: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?”

I have little doubt that Nampa will feel I’ve missed the point in this connection, for the FV clearly and forthrightly declares the necessity of faith and that assurance is tied to faith. But matters are not as clear as the Nampa document portends. Since the FV argues that God’s promises address and apply to every baptized person in exactly the same way, it brings on itself (while denying) the charge of an incipient Arminianism. The charge is valid inasmuch as the FV fails to see the quandary it has created for itself. (Apparently, Nampa doesn’t see this either.) Consider: If God makes people to differ, according to his sovereign grace (1 Cor. 4:7), then God’s salvific promises cannot apply to every baptized person in exactly the same way—if they did, all the baptized would be saved—indeed, infallibly saved! God isn’t unable to do what he promises. His saving grace isn’t ultimately resistible, not at all! It is God who makes people to differ—even among the covenanted. For even among the covenanted God works his sovereign grace. As Paul explains, not all the covenanted are “the children of the promise” (Rom. 9:8). The Apostle even shows how divine election (the eternally saving kind) and reprobation (the eternally damning kind) cuts a path of discrimination among persons in the covenant, so that some among whom God establishes the covenant are “the children of the promise” while others are not. The FV, however, wants to argue that all the covenanted are the children of the promise. So who makes those within the covenant to differ? They do. Since the FV maintains that all the baptized possess the promises of the covenant in exactly the same way, it must be the recipients of the promise who make themselves to differ from one another. After all, according to the FV (in some of their documents), in making his covenant promises, God only offers grace. Humans accept or reject the offer. God proposes; man disposes. The promises of the covenant are a general offer of the gospel; they are there for the taking if…if you do your part; if you fulfill your covenant obligation; if you meet God with his offer. That is a version of Arminianism. Call it a practical Arminianism wherein its adherents are permitted to teach and preach and behave like Arminians. If they encounter opposition for failing to speak the gospel with a distinctively Reformed accent, then they resort to Reformed affirmations and denials.

3. Justification by Faith Alone

The last matter to be addressed concerns Nampa’s evaluation of the Study Committee’s treatment of the FV on the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Nampa criticizes the Study Report for treating the FV monolithically on the question of justification. Nampa alleges that it is “unfortunate that Shepherd’s position (whether or not it is represented fairly) is attributed to the FV without nuance or distinctions….” (I wonder whether that remark means to insinuate that the Study Report has not presented Shepherd’s views fairly. If so, is Nampa prepared to defend Shepherd’s views on justification? Many of us who have signed the Form of Subscription as office-bearers in the URC would like a clear answer to that question.) Nampa also finds the Study Report lacking in that it failed to use the Joint FV Profession on this topic. Nampa quotes from this FV document on justification by faith alone, acknowledging that although it is “not a perfect statement,” it uses “orthodox language: the imagery of the empty hand, the receptive character of faith, and the forensic nature of justification for the sake of Jesus Christ alone.” The Study Committee Report, by contrast, “gives the impression that the FV men happily teach that we are justified because we pile up enough good works.” In fact, the Report fails to demonstrate that “the FV teaches any such thing.” The Report also wrongly treats the FV as collectively rejecting the imputation of the active obedience of Jesus Christ to believers. Nampa notes that the Joint FV Profession affirms that “Christ is all in all for us.” His perfect sinless life is credited to us. “We affirm not only that Christ is our full obedience, but also that through our union with Him we partake of the benefits of His death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and enthronement at the right hand of God the Father.”

In reply to Nampa, first it should be observed that the Study Committee Report does acknowledge that not all FV advocates speak of justification in the same manner. Nampa, throughout its evaluation of the Study Committee Report, leaves the impression that the Study Committee deliberately fails to show the diversity of FV authors. But, in fact, in treating the FV on justification, the Report offers these opening words: “Though there is a diversity of positions on the doctrine of justification among authors of the FV, there are several significant revisions to the confessional view … that have been proposed by some proponents of FV” (italics added). Another example of acknowledgement of a diversity of FV presentations on justification is shown by this quote: “Proponents of the FV often define what is meant by justification in a way that conforms to the historic Reformed view, or appears to be conformed to it. Though at least one author has suggested that the language of justification be enlarged to include the idea of ‘definitive sanctification,’ most of the proponents of the FV acknowledge that justification is a judicial declaration of the believer’s right standing (status) before God, and that it ought to be clearly distinguished from sanctification” (italics added). Again, “Since some FV writers argue that the Bible nowhere teaches the imputation of the ‘active obedience’ of Christ to believers, it is necessary that we consider several biblical and confessional reasons why the basis for the believer’s justification includes the entire obedience of Christ” (italics added). This sufficiently demonstrates that the Study Committee Report is aware of the non-monolithic character of the FV. I will have more to say on this issue below.

Second, Nampa appeals to the Joint FV Profession as testifying to the more orthodox character of the FV on justification, but Nampa doesn’t inform readers of some of the less orthodox statements to be found in the Joint FV Profession: “We deny that faithfulness to the gospel message requires any particular doctrinal formulation of the ‘imputation of the active obedience of Christ.’ What matters is that we confess that our salvation is all of Christ, and not from us.” Here the FV intimates that the affirmation of Christ’s active obedience being imputed to the believer for righteousness is not doctrinally necessary, at least not necessary to being faithful to the gospel message. In fact, an affirmation of Christ’s active obedience imputed to the believer is not what matters; what matters is the affirmation that salvation is all of Christ, not from us. Nampa, apparently, is not concerned by this implicit revision to the confessions—what matters is to confess that salvation is all of Christ. This vagueness—or worse, this sort of doctrinal sloppiness—does not seem to concern Nampa. (Note: most any broadly Christian tradition would affirm that salvation is all of Christ.) Perhaps this is why Nampa likewise does not alert readers to these words from the Joint FV Profession: “We deny that faith is ever alone, even at the moment of the effectual call.” Evidently, Nampa does not detect a problem with this denial. Many critics of the FV, however, do discern a difficulty here. For this FV denial not only reflects Norman Shepherd’s treatment of justification, with its attendant problems, it is hard to see how this denial coheres with the Belgic Confession, art. 24.

In article 24 we confess that good works, though proceeding from the good root of faith, nonetheless, make no contribution to our justification. The article then continues: we confess that “it is by faith in Christ that we are justified, even before we do good works; otherwise they could not be good works, any more than the fruit of a tree can be good before the tree itself is good.” Here, according to the Belgic Confession, we have an instance of a lonely “faith”—i.e., faith without good works, faith that is alone, without accompanying good works, for we need Christ so that we can do good and so that the good we attempt to do can be forgiven and graciously reckoned “good” in Christ. Even our faith cannot be counted as “good” apart from Christ, so that our being united to Him by faith alone is not preloaded with good works in order to receive Christ. To claim, as the FV does, that faith is never alone, even at the moment of the effectual call, means that faith in its faithfulness, and faith as a moral virtue, is unto receiving Christ. This is just to deny that faith is empty-handed in receiving Christ. Faith, being accompanied by good works, “even at the moment of the effectual call,” means that the believer receives Christ for salvation through a faith with good works. This makes the fruit of the tree (the works that accompany faith) good before the tree itself (the believer united to Christ) is good. To be sure, the FV acknowledges the empty hand of faith, but it then asserts that faith is never empty handed. Contrary to the FV, the Belgic Confession teaches that the empty hand of faith is alone (unaccompanied by good works—that’s why it is empty!) in obtaining Christ, whereby, subsequently, we are reckoned good, and likewise our faith can, consequently, proceed to produce good works. Once again, at this point the FV shows itself to be, at best, confused and shoddy in its formulation. At worst, it is a deliberate revision of the Reformed heritage pertaining to justification by faith alone.

Surprisingly, while the Study Committee Report is zealous to protect the doctrine of justification by faith alone from start to finish, and even considers and evaluates the materials regarding the FV as they pertain to that pivotal doctrine of the Reformation, Nampa shows little concern that FV proponents have muddled the doctrine. Apparently, even if the FV’s views prove to be not wholly orthodox on this topic, that is less lamentable than the Study Report’s failure to quote the ambiguous, vague, or otherwise doctrinally clumsy statements of the Joint FV Profession. Moreover, when the FV confesses: “What matters is that we confess that our salvation is all of Christ, and not from us”—that, over against adherence to the imputation of Christ’s active obedience to the believer—Nampa is unworried. Note well, here the FV states that the gospel message doesn’t require a doctrinal formulation of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. Instead, what is required, by way of doctrinal formulation, is that we maintain that salvation is not from us but all of Christ? The Belgic Confession views it differently, for in embracing Jesus Christ by faith alone we embrace Christ “with all His merits”; we by faith “appropriate Him” and we “seek nothing more besides Him.” “For it must needs follow, either that all things which are requisite to our salvation are not in Jesus Christ, or if all things are in Him, that then those who possess Jesus Christ through faith have complete salvation in Him.” The Belgic makes clear that by faith—faith as an instrument, not a moral virtue—“we embrace Christ our righteousness.” That is, we are righteous before God with the righteousness of Christ. Contrary to the FV profession that the gospel message requires no particular doctrinal formulation of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ, we confess in the Belgic: “But Jesus Christ, imputing to us all His merits, and so many holy works which He has done for us and in our stead, is our righteousness.”

Once more, Nampa has produced a smokescreen of quotations that diverts attention to the real points at issue. Although Nampa doesn’t claim to be defending the FV, the net effect of their criticisms of the Study Committee Report is to cast doubt on its findings and to present the FV in a favorable light. Nampa shows little concern about FV theological tangles and inconsistencies. But it should evidence concern, for even on the pivotal doctrine of justification, the very soul of the gospel, the FV cannot speak clearly. This just serves to show that the FV is confused, muddled, hazy, unhelpful, and sufficiently garbled on the question of justification and our righteous standing before God through faith alone to necessitate its rejection. Not everything the FV says on numerous theological topics is altogether wrong; but so many of their positions are sufficiently questionable, unclear, understated or overstated, or so troublesome in their implications, that it isn’t improper to warn the churches about FV errors and to steer clear of them.

Let it be noted, not even Nampa is boldly declaring or urging the churches to accept the FV and its formulations. After all, Nampa does not vouch for the orthodoxy of the FV. The Nampa Consistory is not going out on the theological limb to declare the FV orthodox. On the contrary, Nampa repeatedly declares that it is not rendering a verdict on the orthodoxy of the FV. For example, the stated goal of the Nampa document “is not to defend the orthodoxy of the FV.” Following an analysis of Douglas Wilson on the visible/invisible church distinction, Nampa says: “This does not necessarily mean that Wilson is fully orthodox on this issue.” Following comments and quotes about Douglas Wilson on baptism’s efficacy, Nampa states: “These quotes do not necessarily prove that Douglas Wilson, for example, is perfectly orthodox on his view of baptism.” Responding to the charge that the FV might be sliding into a functional Arminianism, the Nampa document offers quotations to counter that charge but then says: “Again, this does not prove that Douglas Wilson is orthodox on every point.” Nampa also writes: “The FV might be emphasizing the sacraments in an unwise and misleading way.” On the pivotal doctrine of justification by faith alone, Nampa quotes various FV statements which show that FV does not teach we are saved by our works, but then Nampa hedges again and says: “These statements are not sufficient to demonstrate the orthodoxy of the FV.” And, “These quotes certainly do not prove their orthodoxy with regard to justification.” Well, then, we may ask, what statements of the FV, taken cumulatively, do prove its orthodoxy? If Nampa isn’t convinced of or prepared to vouch for the orthodoxy of the FV after it has mustered the best and most theologically qualified positions of the FV, along with the most orthodox FV statements on the enumerated topics, why should the Study Committee be faulted for the conclusions it reaches concerning the FV?

Closing Observations

I wish to conclude these comments about the Nampa document by making some closing observations.

First, Nampa believes the Study Committee has been unfair to the FV, failing to capture the nuance and diversity of their views. Nampa’s point is that the FV is not monolithic. However, the Study Committee is well aware of that reality. This is what makes it difficult to grasp what the FV teaches on any given point. In Nampa’s critique of the Study Report, frequently the tactic is to show how one particular advocate of the FV says something more attune to Reformed confessional theology. Nampa believes it has then demonstrated that the Study Committee was unfair and inaccurate in assessing the FV. Nampa, however, ignores and shows no concern with the outrageous and inane theological formulations of other FV authors. Nampa’s zeal is misplaced. For what does the FV come to in the big picture? That is what the Study Committee Report is seeking to discern. No doubt, we can argue endlessly about this author in this article (or interview or book) who on this page says this orthodox thing. What is the big, cohesive picture? That is the more significant issue. Without question, some FV authors accent or say one thing that another FV writer does not say. It is noteworthy, though, that FV writers do not contend against one another in print on disputed points. So, there is agreement that the FV is not a monolith. Nonetheless, its proponents know who are of them. They don’t agree about everything; and, certainly, various FV proponents may not agree with one another on any number of points; but their disagreements do not mount up to a severing of ties with one another or lead one FV proponent to disassociate with others who make claims contrary to the Reformed confessions. FV authors—even the more orthodox ones—don’t disassociate with or even publicly repudiate the less orthodox or inept proponents of the movement. Meanwhile, it appears, none of this bothers Nampa.

Second, Nampa makes much of the Study Committee’s failure to make more use of the Joint FV Profession as a basis for determining FV positions on various doctrinal points. This criticism lacks substance for three reasons: (1) The FV is more than this document, for the varied writings of the FV are spread wider than this document; and many FV teachings are known better than this document. (2) The FV has not ceased to write and disseminate views that go beyond this document. The blogs and chat-lists and websites which detail FV views (past and present) are easily accessed and show the FV (with its problems) to be much bigger than the Joint FV Profession. (3) This document, contra Nampa’s claims, does not deliver the FV from the Study Committee’s conclusions regarding this consortium of ideas called the FV. In other words, the Joint FV Profession document itself exhibits the troublesome traits characteristic of the FV noted in the Study Report.

Third, Nampa’s criticisms of the Study Committee Report warn that a common mode of pastoral address is threatened by the Report’s findings and views. This is a clever maneuver designed to breed fear. That accusation is also without substance. The only thing threatened by the Study Committee Report is a form of incompetent pastoral speech that declares persons saved (in the ontic sense) because they are baptized. “You’re baptized; you’re saved. Done! Now just believe that!” Yes, that abbreviated and unqualified kind of pastoral and theological incompetence is threatened by the Study Committee Report—and well it should be.

Fourth, it ought to be mentioned that whatever flaws mar the Study Committee Report, what the Committee asks the churches to affirm is not the Report itself but only its closing recommendations, namely “That Synod London affirm the following teachings of Scripture and the Three Forms of Unity, and encourage all office-bearers to repudiate FV teachings where they are not in harmony with them….” Fifteen doctrinal points are enumerated. Here is the substance of the Committee Report; and it is here that Nampa and others ought to address a substantive concern—if they have any. Beyond this, the Study Committee recommends “That Synod London reaffirm the reminder of Synod Schererville” regarding the duty of office-bearers vis-à-vis their doctrinal responsibilities as stipulated by the Church Order and the Form of Subscription; and that the Report be distributed to the churches for study and be disseminated in various modes of print media.
Fifth, where is the concern for the gospel in Nampa’s decision to chastise the Study Committee? Nampa has publicly challenged the Study Committee Report on specific points but has remained mum about the FV as a whole. Is Nampa unconvinced that the FV is seriously problematic and contrary to the Three Forms of Unity? They (and others) are free to make their case. Meanwhile we should not lose sight of what is principally at stake in assessing the FV, which is nothing less than the doctrine of justification by faith alone. This is the burden and concern of the Study Committee Report. Does Nampa share this burden and concern? For its part, Nampa’s comments regarding the FV prove to be neither hot nor cold, for Nampa is not prepared (or is unwilling) either to defend FV orthodoxy or to declaim FV ambiguities on pivotal doctrines of the gospel. Frankly, that leaves me mystified.

Last, as I stated at the outset of part one, I have ventured this public critique of the Nampa document because the Minister and Consistory of Nampa chose not to direct their concerns with the Study Report through official ecclesiastical channels but to direct their criticisms in the public forum of the internet. Again, for my part, I sincerely wish they had followed a more brotherly and official course for theological debate.

7 comments:

  1. Chris, thank you for posting this part two of Dr. Beach's response to Nampa.

    I am tremendously thankful to the Lord for the gifts he's given to men like Dr. Beach to think so logically and clearly and to communicate so logically and clearly. And he is just one among so many in our Federation!

    I feel overwhelmed with zeal to pray for Synod's actions this month with regard to this report... to pray that it be received with all appropriate approbation it necessarily deserves. And I pray that it's recommendations would aid all office bearers in our Federation in discerning truth from error concerning the Gospel of our Lord and Savior... and to do so unashamedly to the glory of God alone.

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  2. Hi Brad, I too am very grateful for Dr. Beach's work. Too much is at stake for us not to act. Hopefully, the majority of delegates will realize this and act accordingly at Synod--approving our report.

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  3. Dr Beach has the subject in hand - it has always been the case when card carrying apostates or even fellow travelers seek to "supra define " terms to mask their own subtrafuging agendas that the truth is obscured and evaporates - the agendas of union or not with our can reformed brothers should not be even a scintilla of a reason to go lightly on the FV apostasy - the phrase "hold to the truth " and " reject the error" should be in the for front of minds as the subject and the report are brought to the floor of Synod - to pull a brother back from the brink of disaster is a true high achievement and one worthy of honor - Praise our great God hallelujah !

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  4. The Federal Vision (FV) gospel is here exposed as a Formal Virtue (FV) gospel. Another works based religion.

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  5. Mike & Catechist, this is why our report should be approved swiftly; another three years to let these teachings mull around in our federation unaddressed is not helpful to the instruction of our people.

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  6. I have a question about what Dr. Beach says in his section dealing with justification by faith.

    He writes, regarding Belgic Confession, article 24 that:

    "Here, according to the Belgic Confession, we have an instance of a lonely “faith”—i.e., faith without good works, faith that is alone, without accompanying good works, for we need Christ so that we can do good and so that the good we attempt to do can be forgiven and graciously reckoned “good” in Christ."

    This doesn't seem to me to fit with what the report says on pg. 43, footnote 94:

    "The formulation, “faith alone,” does not mean to imply that faith, which is the exclusive instrument of justification, is a lonely or work-less faith. According to the Reformers, true faith always produces fruits in good works."

    This is confusing to me. Beach says Belgic 24 teaches that justification occurs in terms of a "lonely “faith”—i.e., faith without good works, faith that is alone, without accompanying good works." But the report says that justifying faith is a "lonely or work-less faith."

    Perhaps the two statements can be reconciled. But the language here is confusing (at least to me). Justification is said to be by a lonely faith, unaccompanied by good works (Beach), but justification is not by a lonely faith, accompanied by good works (Report).

    Since you were on the committee, along with Dr. Beach, perhaps you can clarify things.

    On the whole, however, I think Dr. Beach's comments add some of the necessary nuance and clarification Nampa was after. I trust that in whatever its final form may be, everyone will recognize this report as a fair and clear representation of what FV writers are teaching on these matters, as well as the ways in which they stand outside the bounds of our Reformed Confessions.

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  7. Whoops, third to last paragraph should read:

    Perhaps the two statements can be reconciled. But the language here is confusing (at least to me). Justification is said to be by a lonely faith, unaccompanied by good works (Beach), but justification is not by a lonely faith, UNaccompanied by good works (Report).

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