Sunday, April 27, 2008

The "Federal Vision" Confusion is Not Enough, Only the Roman AntiChrist Will Do.

[Updated 5/3/08.]

In that Robbins and Gerety's Not Reformed At All answers, if not largely obliterates Doug Wilson's ""Reformed" is Not Enough", it was a stroke of genius to put Brueghel's masterpiece, "The Parable of the Blindmen" on the front cover of NRAA. In other words, so much for Wilson's touted "medieval mindset"
as opposed to the "abstract dictates of the Enlightenment" that the "Truly Reformed" have glommed onto. The Dark Ages were called that for a reason and preceded the Protestant Reformation. Was there continuity between the two eras? Undoubtedly, but not in the way Wilson vaguely asserts. But equivocation is the hallmark and refuge of the confused, if not deceitful and clever innovators in doctrine.
Wilson essentially denies the classic distinction between the visible and invisible church in historic Protestant theology, and then substitutes his "objective covenant" for the visible church, since the last is yet another reformed shibboleth he doesn't want to be caught using. The trouble then becomes all who are baptized, all who are in the visible church/"objective" covenant are in genuine union with Christ and real Christians. But they may also fall away and many do.

In other words, Wilson's great discovery of the "objective" visible covenant is in direct and marked contradiction to the historic reformed view of the covenant of grace, however much he would like to confuse the two. Consider but for one instance, Larger Catechism Q&A 31.
Q. With whom was the covenant of grace made?
A. The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.
Wilson's baptismal regeneration and much touted objectivity of the covenant leads one place and one place only, whether he realizes it or not. Enter stage right, the post below, written by a "protestant" convert to Rome. (Rather according to FV theology, a 'visible' protestant, but maybe not a real protestant; elect but not quite.) In other words, the Reformed church has already been there and done that, folks. Again, it was called the Protestant Reformation, regardless if the Federal Vision fan(atics) don't quite get the picture which also could just as well apply to all the blather in the post below.

[In that Trinity Foundation has followed the FV theology from the beginning, as noted below they offer any number of antidotes in the form of essays that help clarify the thoroughly confused account below.]

The Catholic Prespective [sic] on the Federal Vision
Canterbury Tales ^ | May 22, 2007 | Taylor Marshall

Over the past few years, pastors and members of the Reformed/Calvinist tradition have become alarmed at a new movement called the “Federal Vision.” I first became aware of what became the “Federal Vision” when I was a member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). I watched this storm form and take shape during the years that I attended Westminster Theological Seminary in the debates that were stirring up around the writings of N.T. Wright, E.P. Sanders, along with the growing discontent with Meredith Kline’s “merit model.”

From Where did the Federal Vision Arise?
For those Catholic readers that are likely unaware of the Federal Vision controversy, it is fair to say that this “federal school” grew out of a number of movements.
1. There was the Norman Shepherd controversy in the 1980s at Westminster Seminary in which Shepherd highlighted the role of “works” in the Epistle of James. Shepherd soon afterward disappeared from the campus of Westminster Seminary.
[See rather
J. Robbins' False Shepherd - The Neolegalism of Norm Shepherd]
2. There was the Theonomy or Reconstructionist Movement in Reformed/Presbyterian circles that sought to take the Old Testament seriously and apply its legal/covenantal framework to the New Testament economy. This project largely fell apart because it was, well, impossile. The remaining bright minds adjusted their theology from a civic model to a liturgical model and abandoned Theonomy. They became “liturgical Calvinists.”
J. Robbins' The Reconstructionist Road to Rome.]
3. These ex-Theonomists and their discioples went on to become excellent biblical theologians with a knack for seeing the role of Israel and Judaism in the New Covenant. They gravitated toward the work of Anglican theologian N.T. Wright.
[L. DeBoer ably critiques Wright in The New Perspective on Paul.]

I was a young Calvinist who set to reading the post-Theonomy authors (James Jordan, Jeffrey Meyers, Peter Leithart, Ray Sutton, et al.) They were on the edge of things – robes, weekly communion, Old Covenant typology, realized eschatology, high ecclesiology, etc. [As in edge of the abyss. See Federal Vision's Fraudulent Revision of Reformed Worship.] This is the same pond that produced the covenantal Catholic theologian Scott Hahn, which nearly all American Catholics have celebrated. [See rather the The Lost Soul of Scott Hahn by J. Robbins or Protestant Pastors on the Road to Rome, an article from a Romanist periodical.]

I was drawn to their liturgical/covenantal worldview, because it was robustly biblical. It was able handle cultural questions in a way that was much more effective than the Evangelical “proof-texting” model. I took hold.

While at Westminster Seminary, I began to flirt with the Episcopal Church and joined the Anglican tradition as an “orthodox conservative.” I saw the need for the Eucharist as the focal point of Christ's covenant. I also saw the need for a historical organic Church, bound through time in Apostolic Succession. A few years later I became an Anglican priest and spent my time reading through the volumes of N.T. Wright. Then I finally did the unspeakable - I became…Catholic.

[See Robert Reymond's recent essay on Roman Catholicism's Recent Claim to be the True Church or his Why Does Rome Teach What It Does About Justification and Salvation? in order to clarify the real issue of the true church built on the true gospel instead of ecclesiastical genealogy, i.e. apostolic succession.]

Needless to say, I now follow the “Federal Vision” debate in the Reformed realm of theology with great interest. I suspect that it will play out like the Oxford Movement of the Church of England in the 19th century. The Federal Visionists will soon see that they are not tolerated by Presbyterians and over time they will be persecuted. Some of their great minds will become Catholic. Others will break away and start their own “Reformed Catholic” movements (similar to the Anglo-Catholic Ritualist movements). These breakaways will continue to write and develop their thought.

What is Federal Vision?
The Federal Vision movement is so termed because it stresses the foedus, Latin for “covenant.” They are covenantal theologians par excellence. Fundamentally, Federal Visionists reject the bi-covenantal structure of the Scriptures taught in the Presbyterian articles of the Westminster Confession of Faith. In other words, the universe does not rotate on covenantal axis of "Works" and "Grace." Federal Visionists would say that obedience and works are not opposed to grace. They rightly point out that before the fall, Adam worked, obeyed, and received the grace/favor of God. Grace and obedience are not opposed to one another.

[More than that, they exalt visible church membership as the sole distinguishing feature of a Christian, ignoring election and predestination. The covenant of works is denied because they want to collapse/include it in the covenant of grace, thereby mixing grace and works, faith and obedience for salvation.

What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Romans 4:1 -5]

It is not a surprise then that Federal Visionists believe that justification is best understood as “union with Christ” and not as the imputation of righteousness in a strict merit/demerit transaction. Very biblical and very Catholic.

[The differences between Protestantism and Rome, biblical Christianity and its perversion, don't get any more stark than this. Protestantism holds to the imputation of Christ's righteousness by faith alone for justification. Romanism believes in the infusion of Christ's righteousness by the Holy Spirit. In other words, the person of Christ's obedience and righteousness is that by which we are declared righteous or our own obedience and righteousness cooperating with God by which we are actually made righteous in person. Justification by an alien righteousness imputed unto us or a righteousness infused and actually in us. In one the focus is on Christ, the other on the saint. Justification by Faith: Romanism and Protestantism ed. by J. Robbins is an excellent analysis of the difference between Protestant and Roman doctrines of justification and the critical distinction between imputation and infusion.]

Federal Visionists believe that the sacrament of Baptism actually accomplishes union with Christ – not in a nominal way, but in an ontological way. Again, very biblical and very Catholic. A person is Christian if they are baptized – they are either a “good Christian” or an “apostate Christian.” This somewhat approximates the way Catholics understand being in a state of grace or mortal sin.

[Which last distinction is without any biblical justification, but what else is new?]

Federal Visionists understand “election” primarily in terms of sacramental participation, much as the Catholic Church does.

[This is gross confusion. Election is found in the eternal counsel of God's will and is the fountain of saving faith by which one is saved. Further Protestants understand that faith comes not by sacramental participation, but by hearing the Scripture preached and believing in the message/gospel of Christ. "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Rom. 10: 17)". ]

Federal Visionists stress the need to “persevere in the covenant.” This is perceived by many of their Calvinist brethren to be a repudiation of the doctrine of perseverance of the saints, or to put it in Evangelical terms, “once saved, always saved.”

Hearkening back to Norman Shepherd, Federal Visionists believe that obedience to the Gospel is a necessarily element of salvation. This causes them to be lambasted as seeking a salvation through “works-righteousness.”

[See Calvin on the "Pernicious Hypocrisy" of Justification by Faith and Works by Robert Reymond.]

The Catholic Perspective on the Federal Vision
As a Catholic I believe the Federal Vision group is right in its theological tendencies and wrong about its denomination. Whether or not the PCA holds to the Westminster Standards, the PCA is still largely a Zwinglian/Anabaptistic denomination. I don’t mean this in a pejorative way. I just mean that the inherited tradition of the PCA is not covenantal and sacramental.

[As long as we define things according to Roman theology and sacraments over and against, if not instead of the Scripture.]

The Anglican Tractarians constantly “proved” that Anglicanism was Catholic. They quoted Anglican divines and tweaked the 39 Articles or Religion in a "Catholic" direction. They pointed to the liturgy and quoted the Fathers – but at the end of the day, the people of the Church of England were Protestant and had moved away from any sense of the Catholic past. Sure, there were “Catholic” movements within the Church of England – but that was not the Church of England. These "high-church" movements were exceptions, not the norm.

[Catholic means universal, as in the worldwide Christian church as opposed to the one represented by the imperial bishop headquartered on the Tiber.]

The same goes for the PCA. The leadership and pew members are basically Evangelicals that read R.C. Sproul, maybe believe in infant baptism, and have worked “the five points of Calvinism” into their worldview. And when the last word is spoken, the Federal Visionists will be sidelined and ridiculed as crypto-Catholics and adherents to “salvation by works.” Fundamentally, the PCA fears that the Federal Vision movement is “just too Catholic.” All this talk about sacraments, covenants, ecclesiology, robes, candles, weekly communion, just gives your typical Southern Presbyterian the heebie-jeebies. They want that old time religion of three Wesleyan hymns, the pastoral prayer, and a 35 minute sermon proclaims the “sovereign grace of the Gospel.”

[We will grant that the PCA is a compromised and mixed affair consisting of the Truly and Broadly Reformed (TR's and BR's), with its genesis and roots largely in a fundamentalist controversy and separation from the Southern Presbyterian Church in 1971. Further as an American Presbyterian church, not only is the Assembly's original Directory for Public Worship and Form of Presbyterial Church Government missing from the doctrinal standards, the Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger Catechism have been modified in the typical American fashion of 1788. National establishment of religion by covenanting is essentially denied and religious pluralism is affirmed. The PCA then is largely a Revolution Settlement Presbyterian body which denies the Second Reformation's doctrine of a Christian civil magistrate in a Christian nation or at least the church's duty to champion the same.
Likewise the Trinity Foundation is essentially an American Presbyterian parachurch entity which also denies covenanting/national establishment and the RPW on psalmody and holydays, while it does after a fashion hold to the reformed view of AntiChrist. See AntiChrist or AntiChrist 1999. Such are these fragmented days and so fares the truth in the same.]

Ultimately, I think that younger [nominal] Presbyterians will gravitate toward what the Federal Vision offers. Many will sink their teeth into it and many will find it wanting. Many will discover that the Catholic Church is their true home, and many will discover her in a great moment of joy. This Federal Vision is really only a peek into the keyhole of the Catholic Church. The Federal Visionist has a vision of the beautiful things inside, but they have not yet appreciated the warmth of a true home.

[Can one call it irony if our author considers the lake of fire the "warmth of a true home"?

Revelation 19:20 And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.]

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