Just Another Example of CREED or CHAOS

Recently, I had a dialogue with Rev. Bill Dejong (CanRC minister) on the efficacy of the sacrament of baptism here. I was thankful for the opportunity to interact with Bill, and I thought the tone of the discussion was overall very good. At the end of the discussion he asserted that "the efficacy of baptism as a means of salvation -- I repeat myself -- is tied to faith."

When statements like this are made it is generally assumed that everyone must be speaking of the nature of faith in the same way. In other words, it is generally assumed that what is meant is that there is nothing of inherent value in faith, but that it is merely receptive, the "empty hand", as Calvin called it, to receive Christ's righteousness--just as our Reformed confessions have always defined faith. But such is not always the case and many so-called Reformed people do not mean the same thing today when they speak of faith.
Every reader should know by now that the Protestant doctrine of the nature of justifying faith has been deliberately redefined by the Federal Vision. Now I am not saying Rev. Dejong has adopted the FV view that I am interacting with in this post, I really do not know--though he certainly is appreciative of FV thought (his own words). But anytime you are confronted with a lack of clarity in our theological language, when something as important as the nature of faith is raised in a given discussion, it's always important to ensure that we mean the same thing. If you do not mean the same thing when terms are used, then nothing but talking past one another will occur--and our baptism discussion surely evidenced this problem.
With this struggle in mind, let me interact with the Federal Vision's definition of faith to demonstrate the dangers we are faced with when we redefine our confessional categories and terms.

In A Joint Federal Vision Statement, signed by the central proponents of the FV, a series of affirmations and denials are presented. The statement on “Justification by Faith Alone” reads,

We affirm we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone. Faith alone is the hand which is given to us by God so that we may receive the offered grace of God. Justification is God’s forensic declaration that we are counted as righteous, with our sins forgiven, for the sake of Jesus Christ alone.

We deny that the faith which is the sole instrument of justification can be understood as anything other than the only kind of faith which God gives, which is to say, a living, active and personally loyal faith. Justifying faith encompasses the elements of assent, knowledge, and living trust in accordance with the age and maturity of the believer. We deny that faith is ever alone, even at the moment of the effectual call.

In the affirmation section, standard Reformed language is employed. Justification is described as a forensic declaration, received by faith alone which is described as the hand given by God by which we are accounted righteous for the sake of Jesus Christ alone. In the denial, however, we find a clear presentation of the FV’s understanding of the nature of this justifying faith. There are two important points to observe. First, the FV statement correctly denies that faith in God’s act of justifying the sinner can be understood as anything other than that which has been given by God. So far so good.
But when prompted as to what kind of faith justifies, and what is the kind of faith that God gives, the statement is unequivocal: justifying faith is “a living, active, and personally loyal faith.” In other words, according to the FV, faith is not merely apprehending and resting in Christ; but it also must be active, living, and loyal. Should this be offensive to Protestant ears? Is there anything behind such a formulation? What is meant by this?

Here we notice that certain virtues are built into the nature of the faith that God gives to the sinner for his justification. This certain kind of faith by which God justifies a sinner includes virtuous qualities. Because the FV generally denies the existence of merit, many fail to understand whether there is any real concern with the FV’s formulation. But the formulation is elusive. Steve Schlissel writes, “Nothing in the Bible teaches a kind of faith that does not obey. Obedience and faith are the same thing, biblically speaking…To believe is to obey.” What? Don't you think this will create a bit of confusion between justification and sanctification?

Another writes, “Obedient faith is the only kind that God ever gives, and when He gives it, this justifying faith obeys the gospel, obeys the truth, obeys His salvation. Faith that does not obey the gospel is not justifying faith.” Did you catch that? Obedient faith is the kind of faith that justifies. Since faith and obedience are the "same thing" according to Schlissel, it can equally be said that obedience justifies.

If you define faith this way, what need is there to make the distinctions Protestants have made between justification and sanctification (See Belgic Conf. Art. 22-24)? Thus, Peter Leithart, being consistent with this peculiar definition of faith, criticizes the Protestant doctrine of justification as being “too rigid in separating justification and sanctification.” Instead, Leithart proposes that justification and definitive sanctification should be viewed as the “same act” in God’s declaration of the sinner as righteous. The same act? No distinction now at all? It is the "same act"--Leithart, and the "same thing"--Schlissel.
This radical recasting of the Protestant understanding of justifying faith is clearly akin to the Roman Catholic view. Trent’s anathema of the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith is important to see in this connection. In Canon XI Trent declared,

If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favor of God: let him be anathema.

Canon XII states,

If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ's sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.

Trent correctly summarized the Protestant definition of faith in the act of justification. As outlined above, in Trent’s formulation of justification, God pardons sin and infuses the inward righteousness of hope and charity into the sinner’s heart.
The language between Rome and the FV is strikingly similar, and the conclusion inevitable because both Rome and the FV accept the same premise, namely, that God can only declare one righteous who is intrinsically righteous. For the FV, faith, in the act of justification, cannot be defined as trusting, resting, and receiving because those participles don’t imply sanctification and intrinsic righteousness.

Now do these statements square with the Protestant doctrine of faith? The following are statements by key Reformers on the nature of justifying faith; notice how radically different the above formulations are in light of these statements:

Calvin states,

For did faith justify of itself, or (as it is expressed) by its own intrinsic virtue, as it is always weak and imperfect, its efficacy would be partial, and thus our righteousness being maimed would give us only a portion of salvation. We indeed imagine nothing of the kind, but say, that, properly speaking, God alone justifies. The same thing we likewise transfer to Christ, because he was given to us for righteousness; while we compare faith to a kind of vessel, because we are incapable of receiving Christ, unless we are emptied and come with open mouth to receive his grace.

Perkins states,
The difference concerning faith is this: the Papist says that a man is justified by faith: yet not by faith alone, but also by other virtues, as hope, and love, the fear of God…we say otherwise, that faith justifies, because it is a supernatural instrument created by God in the heart of man at his conversion whereby he apprehends and receives Christ’s righteousness for his justification.
Zacharias Ursinus, primary author of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), produced an entire question an answer concerning the meaning of justification by faith alone. Q. 61 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks,
Why do you affirm, that you are made righteous by faith only?” The answer states, Not for that I please God through the worthiness of mere faith but because only the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God, and I cannot take hold of it, or apply it unto myself any other way than by faith.
Ursinus makes clear that there is no inherent value in faith by which a sinner is justified; the ground for a sinner’s justification is the merits of Christ. Faith, understood only as instrumental, apprehends and applies to the sinner, not only the satisfaction that Christ effected on the cross, but also the merits of his righteous and holy life.

In his commentary on question and answer 61, Ursinus wrote,
We say that we are justified by faith alone: 1) because we are justified by the object of faith only, to wit, by the merit of Christ alone, besides which, there is no justice of ours, nor any other part thereof…All works are excluded, yea, faith itself as it is a virtue or work. 2) Because the proper act and operation of faith is, for a man to apprehend and apply unto himself Christ’s righteousness, yea, faith is nothing else than the acceptation itself, or apprehension of another’s justice, or of the merit of Christ. 3) Because faith only is the instrument, which apprehends Christ’s satisfaction.
Again Perkins,
The doctrine which we teach on the contrary is that a sinner is justified before God by faith, yes, by faith alone. The meaning is, that nothing within man, and nothing that man can do, either by nature, or by grace, concurs to the act of justification before God, as an cause thereof, either efficient, material, formal, or final, but faith alone. All other gifts and graces, as hope, love, the fear of God, are necessary to salvation, as signs thereof and consequents of faith. Nothing in any man concurs as any cause to this work but faith alone. And faith itself is no principal, but only an instrumental cause whereby we receive apprehend, and apply Christ and his righteousness for our justification.

What becomes of the work of Christ when faith is redefined this way? You see, if the nature of justifying faith includes obedience, what need is there for the imputation of the active obedience of Christ? Your "obedient faith" answers this need, and, therefore, the FV has no problem making this a denial: "We deny that faithfulness to the gospel message requires any particular doctrinal formulation of the 'imputation of the active obedience of Christ.'"
So there it is, many FV proponents have redefined faith in God’s act of justifying the sinner so as to include obedience as an instrument—thereby mingling justification and sanctification. Now, should there be reason for concern? Yes, if you want to remain Protestant and Reformed and not subvert the gospel. So in light of the present controversey, we do need to ask again what it means when we confess that we are saved by "faith alone". What we mean when we confess certain things is everything.


  1. When the FV makes a statement like this below, one has to wonder how anyone could be appreciative of FV thought and keep a straight face.

    "We deny that faithfulness to the gospel message requires any particular doctrinal formulation of the 'imputation of the active obedience of Christ.'"

    I’m not sure what motivates the FV to defect from the gospel to such a degree. One thing is apparent in all works based religions, however, people are driven and strive to merit before God. In this case, the passive obedience is not denied but the FV slowly chips away at the substance of gospel dismantling its essence while denying the imputation of the active obedience of Christ before our eyes. Keeping one foot in the door appealing to orthodoxy when it’s convenient is their common thread.

    Rev. Gordon, thank you for quoting the Reformers who dispelled the FV myth long before it ever needed rebuttal.

  2. Thank you Mr. Catechist for the helpful comments! With regard to your concern of Rev. Dejong being appreciative of FV thought, not sure where he stands on this issue as opposed to the baptism one. But you might read this write-up on his blog. Here is the link:

  3. Curious, Rev. Gordon, as to what you think of the apostle's phrase, "the obedience of faith" (Rom 1:5). Paul speaks loosely?


    David deJong

  4. Hi David,

    You mean "obedience to the faith", correct? eis upakonv pistews Faith here is the same as Jude 1, contending for "the faith"--meaning deposit of Christian truth, as employed in Romans 1. What do I think of it? I like it.

    David, do you think justifying faith should be defined so as to include our obedience in the act of justification?


  5. Rev. Gordon,


    But I think a justifying faith is a living and loyal faith - there is no true faith that does express itself with deeds of love. On this point Paul and James are in perfect agreement (Gal 5:6, Jas 2).

    In that respect, I find nothing at all wrong with the FV statement with which you begin your post. I can't comment on the rest of the writers as I haven't read enough of Schlissel and Leithart to be sure. But as it stands, the FV statement is certainly Reformed and it is a major leap to say that such a statement somehow makes "works" the ground or partial ground of our justification and compare it to the Council of Trent.

    I do believe, however, that there will be a final judgment according to works. The present verdict is anticipatory, by faith alone. But this faith is a living faith and produces fruit. On the last day, we will be judged according to what we have done. The danger of not emphasizing the fact that a justifying faith is living and active is that you will really struggle with the numerous passages that teach a final judgment according to works.


    Dave DeJong

  6. Sorry. Typo right away. Should read, "There is no true faith that does NOT express itself..."

  7. Also, I should add, I am most emphatically not trying to deny that all is of grace. "What do you have that you have not received?" (1 Cor 4:7). The gift of faith, the gift of works - all is ultimately from God, worked by the Spirit in our hearts. So when we are judged according to works, God rewards us for what he has worked in us.


    Dave DeJong

  8. David, the problem is that when the FV uses this phrase, they do mean that the kind of faith that justifies has these viruous qualities that Reformers have only attributed to sanctification. I think you have missed the thrust of the post. What they mean by living, active, obedient faith is that, as Leithhart, Schlissel, and others have confirmed, obedience and faith are the same thing--you read these very words in the post! So you are indeed wrong to say that it is a leap to connect this to Rome. It is the exact same thing they teach. "Obedient faith" justifies, thus making obedience part of the ground. You write, "But this faith is a living faith and produces fruit. Our Reformed confessions speak of our obedience only as fruit, but if you mean that faith in the act of justification includes obedience, that is a denial of the Reformed faith.