RCUS on the Federal Vision

Discussion in 'Federal Vision/New Perspectives' started by dannyhyde, May 24, 2007.

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  1. dannyhyde

    dannyhyde Puritan Board Sophomore

    As a member of the URCNA's Committee on Ecumenical Relations and Church Unity, I just received from another committee member who represented us at the Synod of the Reformed Church in the U.S. the result of their study on the Federal Vision.

    If you do not know, the RCUS finds its roots in the German Reformed Church in the United States that merged with the Evangelical Synod of North America in 1934. One classis, the Eureka Classis, declined to participate in the merger with its confessional compromise, and continues to this day as the Reformed Church in the United States. The RCUS counted 3,940 members in 49 congregations this year.

    Here is the conclusion to the RCUS' report:

    We believe this report as a whole leads us to no other conclusion than that the teachings of the Federal Vision herein reviewed and critiqued seriously undermine the testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ and are substantially at odds with the Christian gospel. In particular we believe they promote serious error and represent a deviation from the teachings and doctrines of Scripture and the Reformed confessions and are another gospel in the following three areas:

    1. In as far as proponents of Federal Vision so define baptism as to make it a saving ordinance that unites us to all the benefits of Christ, without distinguishing between those who have the inward washing of the Spirit and those who do not, we reject the errors of the Federal Vision. We affirm that while baptism is a sign of God’s saving work, the external sign should not be confused with its internal reality (Col. 2:11; Eph. 5:26; 1 John 1:7; 1 Cor. 6:11; B.C. Art. 34, H.C. Q.72-73).

    2. In as far as proponents of Federal Vision teach that all those who are baptized bear the same relation to the covenant, without making a distinction between mere ecclesiastical membership and a vital union with Christ through faith in him alone, and that those in union with Christ can lose their position in Christ, we reject the errors of the Federal Vision. We affirm that those who are vitally joined to Christ by a living faith not only shall never be lost, but also can be certain they have been predestined to eternal glory, even though our faith is often weak and we continue to sin. All the regenerate in covenant with God, on account of the redemptive work of Christ effectually applied by the Spirit of God, receive the gift of perseverance (Jer. 32:40; John 10:28-29; Rom. 8:29-39; B.C. Art. 24; Canons of Dordt. V, 1-15).

    3. In as far as proponents of Federal Vision teach that justification by faith is not a one time in history declaration of God by which we are accounted righteous solely on the basis of the imputation of Christ's merits which is received by faith alone, but that our justification is contingent upon our continued covenant faithfulness, we reject the errors of the Federal Vision. We affirm that justification is in no way based upon what we do, else there would be no hope that any would stand (Ps. 115:1; Rom. 3:20, 24-28; 4:2-5; 8:33; 10:3-4; 1 Cor. 4:7; Phil. 3:9; Gal. 2:16, Heb. 7:19; BC. Art. 22-23; HC. Q.62-64).

    Concerning the above the following three motions were adopted by the synod:

    1. That the conclusion of this report be adopted as our denomination’s position on the aberrant view of justification as promoted by men of the Federal Vision. Adopted.

    2. That pastors and elders warn the members of their congregations about which men promote the Federal Vision and how the teachings of the Federal Vision are at odds with biblical teaching. Adopted.

    3. That this report be sent to the denominations with which we are in fraternal relations as well as those which are members of NAPARC and the ICRC. Adopted.
  2. Poimen

    Poimen Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Thanks for the update. I imagine they will post this report on their website sometime in the near future.
  3. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    :up: Thanks for sharing this. I appreciate its simplicity because it really captures the heart of the issue.
  4. tewilder

    tewilder Puritan Board Freshman

    But it doesn't. The heart of the issue is the covenant renewal ritual, in which an ongoing Levitical priesthood adds their priestly work to that of Christ by ascending to heaven every week and performing a covenant renewal so that the Covenant does not lapse.

    Part of the reason that the FV theology can be so fluid, and why the exponents can back off their positions when under pressure, is that it is the ritual practice that matters, and the theology is only in service of the practice.

    In a way analogous to how the Roman Catholic priesthood seeks to add to Christ's sacrifice by performing their own weekly sacrifice, the FV priests seek to add to Christ's work as high priest by adding their own priestly ritual and mediation to it every week.

    This is the heart of the Federal Vision, and the real blasphemy, yet NONE of the committees of the various denominations has seen fit to even address it.
  5. turmeric

    turmeric Megerator

    Have these people gone entirely mad?
  6. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Perhaps you're right. I always thought the fundamental issue was replacing faith with Covenant membership as the instrument of union with Christ and ascribing benefits of that union to those who are not elect.
  7. tewilder

    tewilder Puritan Board Freshman

    Perhaps I should say "the heart of the theology". The center of FV theology is not the same as the center of Reformed theology. The result is that the FV is analyzed by Reformed people as though the centers were the same, ignoring the points that wouldn't normally occur to a Reformed person rehearsing the vital points of theology.
  8. Gryphonette

    Gryphonette Moderator

    That is an exceedingly valuable observation, It seems to me.

    What's strange is that Reformed theology is - WRT people, in any case - centered around those whom Christ came to save so as to be with Him in glory, whereas the FV tends to put a fair amount of emphasis on the "covenantal reprobate", to coin a phrase.

    And an odd emphasis it is, too.
  9. tewilder

    tewilder Puritan Board Freshman

    It's one of those FV contradictions. On the one hand, the FV claims it solves the problem of assurance. They claim that there is this big problem of assurance, with "morbidly introspective" people doubting their salvation. I always ran into that among Arminians, never in a Calvinist, but I supposed experience varies.

    On the other hand, the FV people want to grab hold of the man in the pew with all those admonitions about how you have to remain faithful and not fall away, which they say refers to those who are really united to Christ, but could lose it, just in case they don't have that undetectable grace of perserverance. So that have to attack assurance and take it away! This is so that people can be scolded and told not to be so sinful.

    But even this does not get them anywhere, as you can only fall away if you lack that special grace of perserverance (while possessing all the others) and if you don't have the special grace of perserverance you will inevitably fall away anyhow. So at the end of the analysis, no improvement has been made over the doctrine of decretal election that the FV people find so unpastoral.
  10. Gryphonette

    Gryphonette Moderator

    Your assessment of the FV "assurance" from a traditional Reformed perspective is spot on. It gives with one hand what it takes away with another.

    Here, however, is what I think is the FV rationale for increased assurance, so as to soothe the fears and worries of the "morbid introspection" people.

    If I've goofed up, I'm confidant I'll be alerted to this at Greenbaggins or the like. ;^)

    Just as, in the FV dictionary, there are varying types or levels of justification, election, sanctification, etc. the same applies to "holy" and "righteous" when applied to us.

    When the traditional Reformed speak of the demand in God's Word that we "be holy", the assumption is the LORD meant be by-jingoed HOLY, just like He is.

    In other words,, very holy. Perfectly holy. Impeccably holy. Ditto with "righteousness". This is what drove Luther up a tree, of course...his strong, vibrant awareness he wasn't ever, at his best moment, even within shouting distance of such a standard. He had no peace until he realized precisely how a just God justifies the unjust, that is, through the imputation of Christ's perfect holiness and righteousness to His people.

    To the FV, this is not how Christians are expected to be holy and righteous. We obviously cannot meet such an implacable, unforgiving standard, so "being holy/righteous" is viewed as being essentially the same as "walking with the LORD" in the OT. Now, lots of OT saints were said to have "walked with the LORD" while still clearly being very imperfect indeed.

    So. In the FV economy, what's needful is to be in the covenant (via baptism), never actively reject or repudiate Christ, stay connected to the Church, and generally move forward, spiritually speaking. As far as works go, this is a pretty darn low bar, easy to step over. As long as we meet this not-especially-demanding standard, we're okay.

    Mind, this possesses a powerful allure, as I've more than one family member about whom I could rest easy in my mind, were this to be accurate. They've been baptized, never actively rejected Christ, and in fact do a fair amount of good works. In the FV schematic they should be alright. Maybe in the cheap seats in heaven, but still....alright.

    I'd love it to be so! Were the LORD to ask my opinion, I'm all in favor.

    Unfortunately, I don't think that's what Scripture teaches. I think we must worship the Christ who is, not a Christ of our own devising, and the "Jesus Christ" worshiped by my relatives bears no resemblance to the Christ of the Bible. Heck, they don't even own bibles, considering it to be outdated and without much relevance to modern times and our "increased" understanding of God.

    But they WERE baptized, and they have never actively repudiated Christ, and at least one of them regularly attends a ECUSA (and thinks the new prez, Schori, is just fine, thankyouverymuch, and the crabby conservatives should get off her back) church, and are very, very kind people.

    I can't think how an FV'er could do aught but assure me those relatives are saved.

    Sadly, I'm not as sanguine.

    Anyway, unless I've misunderstood them (moi? Misunderstand the FV? May it never be!), this is how the "morbidly introspective" are reassured....were you baptized? Yes? Are you connected to the Church? Yes? Have you rejected Christ? No?

    Then you're all set. Just keep doing what you're doing.

    It's certainly a comforting theory.
  11. tewilder

    tewilder Puritan Board Freshman

    It is important to be plugged into the ritual system. The weekly covenant renewal, especially. To the FV, if you don't approach God via physical, bodily doings and takings, then you are a gnostic.
  12. Poimen

    Poimen Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Exactly. So what do you end up with in order to find absolute assurance? The very 'problem' that they started with: eternal election.
  13. dannyhyde

    dannyhyde Puritan Board Sophomore


    I appreciate your perception into what is happening in FV circles. For those of us who grew up Roman Catholic, we can see the trajectory of these men as I believe they will end up moving towards Anglo-Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy.

    Yet, the term and idea of covenant renewal itself is not the issue, it is what they have imputed to it. Even before the FVists were touting "covenant renewal" worship, my professors in seminary used this language (Joey Pipa, Bob Godfrey, Mike Horton). In Reformed worship, with our emphasis on preaching to create faith and the sacraments to confirm that faith (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 65), God comes to us through these means of words, water, bread, and wine to renew his covenant with us, while we respond in renewing our covenant with him in repentance and faith. This is why Calvin spoke of the Supper as a mutual and reciprocal pledge of the covenant.

    Anyways, this baby should not be thrown out with the bath water.
  14. tewilder

    tewilder Puritan Board Freshman

    What the FV has is a whole theology of ritual. The Trinity is seen as a perpetual mutual sacrifice (an "insight" of Meyers back in the 1990s). Man, made in the image of God, is thus creationally a sacrificer, homo sacrificans. The FV goes back to the Old Testament looking for creational symbolism in terms of which to interpret ritual, sacraments, etc. It was Leithart who proposed a program of interpreting the sacraments in terms of the priority of this symbolism. These are seen as more basic than the Fall and Redemption cycle. Therefore the levitical priesthood that oversees and performs ritual becomes liberated from obsolescence as a shadow of a future redemptive work, and becomes an ongoing necessity of our relation to God.

    For this ritual symbolism, the FV turns to Meredith Kline, with improvements by Jordan, Meyers and Leithart.

    Taken piece by piece, the Federal Vision is not all that new.

    John Murray attacked the covenant of works language, the visible/invisible church distinction, absolute decretalism (with his well meant offer ideas), etc.

    Cornelius Van Til put forward Arminian exegesis to promote paradox in theology (read Hoeksema's critique of this), irrationality in theology (used to justify holding "objective covenant" ideas by Canadian Reformed people long before the FV), employed the used of terminology in a personal, undisclosed sense in church controversies, and advocated the identity of faith and works in his defense of Norman Shepherd.

    Meredith Kline provided the symbolic theology that underlies the FV, along with the example of successful and admired speculation and recklessness in theology.

    These are the three drunken uncles of American Reformed theology. We are not going to get away from the FV and other things like it--that will come along later--unless the churches and seminaries repudiate the American "contributions" to Reformed theology, especially the aberrations of the 20th century. I would be especially cautious of anything coming from the Three Drunken Uncles seminary of Escondido, CA. The FV did not have too much extra to do beyond taking the ideas of those guys and rearranging them into a new system.
  15. dannyhyde

    dannyhyde Puritan Board Sophomore

    Heidelberg Catechism
    105. What does God require in the sixth Commandment?
    That I do not revile...insult...my neighbor either in thought, word...

    107. But is this all that is required: that we do not kill our neighbor?
    No...God requires us to love our neighbor as ourselves, to show patience, peace, meekness, mercy, and kindness toward him, and to prevent his hurt as much as possible...

    112. What does the ninth Commandment require?
    That I...be no backbiter or slanderer, join in condemning no one unheard or rashly; and that in matters of judgment and justice and in all other affairs, I love, speak honestly, and confess the truth; also, insofar as I can, defend and promote my neighbor’s good name.

    brother. Wilder,

    Unless you are willing to retract your slander of Westminster Seminary California's professors as "Three Drunken Uncles," refrain from using that slanderous language, and to repent and apologize, I see no need to interact with you.

  16. nominalist747

    nominalist747 Puritan Board Freshman

    I see the PB is still its old, fair, charitable self. But I would like to say that, as a WSC grad, I found a great deal of what I read in some of the FV writers congenial, specifically because of what I was taught at WSC! For example, it was fortunate that I had the date on my first theological paper (Fall 2000), because it read almost exactly like Wilson's chapter on the Supper in "Reformed" is Not Enough (from Fall of 2002). And Horton's take on my "Wilsonite" position? A serious call into his office to discuss my latent heterodoxy? Nope: an A, and a suggestion that I look at Kline's work on baptism for a similar perspective. So, Wilder is right, WSC is similar at some points to the FV--but of course I approve of both, and of the three men Wilder mentions.
  17. Theoretical

    Theoretical Puritan Board Professor


  18. nominalist747

    nominalist747 Puritan Board Freshman

    Very well, then. I applied for membership back in October--is this a recent requirement? Please go ahead and terminate my membership in this forum.
  19. Theoretical

    Theoretical Puritan Board Professor

    It's been in as long as I've been here (May '06), and was in place before that time, plus there have been several recent controversies where it was reiterated.
  20. Poimen

    Poimen Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Yes the better critics of the FV find some aspects of their theology helpful (or at least their concerns about the present state of evangelicalism in North America). For example in the Auburn Avenue Theology book Pipa notes: “I agree with him (ed. Wilkins) on the importance of the covenant and the church’s relative misunderstanding of covenant theology.” (page 270) Other such quotations could be multipled.

    However, as the discussion has developed, or even as it was expounded in the book, the trajectory of the FV movement is all wrong and will lead men back to Rome slowly but surely. As others have pointed out, those who don't will most certainly remain inconsistent in their theology.
  21. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    I'm sorry that Tim's frustration with the FV has become venom aimed at an orthodox, confessional Reformed seminary. We don't agree on several things, but I think his language is over the top. If he doesn't "dial it back" folk will stop listening altogether and that would be a shame. No one is more concerned than I about the effect of the FV on our theology, piety, and practice but your shrillness drowns out your message.

    To repeat to Joshua what I've said before, I share several of the concerns the FV fellows express about revivalism and individualism and influence of broad evangelicalism on Reformed theology, piety, and practice. I just finished a book length MS on these very topics.

    What I don't share is the FV solution which is nothing less than a revolutionary re-interpretation of the Reformed faith in more than one locus. With the publication of the WSC statement on justification and 465+ page book rejecting the FV and NPP in detail, it is impossible to suggest that, based on grades given to student papers several years back, that there is latent support for the FV at WSC.

    As I've said before, our grasp of the issues is much clearer now than it was when you were a student. At that point I was only really thinking about justification (sola fide) and I did not yet grasp the FV doctrine of baptismal benefits. I have since written on this in two places, the Confessional Presbyterian (vol 2) and the Outlook.

    To attempt to connect Meredith Kline to the FV is bizarre. After the initial skirmish died down with Shepherd's dismissal from WTS/P, MGK was one of the few who continued to warn about the danger of losing the covenant of works, about the necessity of holding on to the imputation of active obedience, about the confessional and biblical doctrine of sola fide.

    Yes, we agree with Murray and Van Til on the Free Offer. No we aren't Arminians. As I think I demonstrated in the essay in the Strimple Festschrift, ironically, Hoekema and company are the methodological "Arminians" in this debate inasmuch as share with Arminius a rejection of the fundamental distinction of Reformed theology, i.e., the distinction between theology as God knows it and theology as it is revealed to us.

    Ever one of Machen's Warrior Children,

  22. tewilder

    tewilder Puritan Board Freshman

    It will do you no good to defeat the Federal Vision and leave in place the errors that feed it. The next thing that these errors will give rise to will be more subtle and harder to pin down and defeat. Probably it will come from faculty, somewhere, not from amateurs as the FV has.

    If these seminaries really were the confessional places they claim to be they could easily give of the aberrations of 20th century American theology. To the extent that they cling to these, they are not confessional.

    Have you read By Faith Alone: Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification by David F. Wells, Cornelis P. Venema, T. David Gordon, and Richard D. Phillips? That is where this "over the top" rhetoric comes from. But the book only applies it to Murray, not realizing that Van Til was worse than Murray, and Kline was worse than Van Til. And yes, if Kline had not piped, Jordan would not have danced.

    Well, I'll have to go back to studying French. The Europeans understand the problem, and they are not institutionally committed to defending American theologians!
  23. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    While the worldviews of Jordan and Kline are as polar opposite as one can get, there are many quotations of Kline in Jordan's Through New Eyes. Jordan took much of his exegetical method from Kline, so many of the FV claim.

    That doesn't mean I am claiming that Kline is the godfather of FV.
  24. tewilder

    tewilder Puritan Board Freshman

    Two things come from Kline.

    1) The symbolic theology behind the ritualism (which is the center and source of the FV).

    2) Kline's personal example of speculative recklessness, and this being made a model to students of the Jordan and Meyers generation who learned that in the Reformed seminaries covenant theology was "up for grabs".
  25. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member


    Whether you choose to specifically retract your comment so that patient and intelligent men will interact with you in this discussion, you will refrain from such language in the future. Your disagreement with the teachings of men is not the issue but your incidiary language is the worst sort of ad hominem attack in using a condemnable sin to label men.
  26. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    While I don't endorse what Tim said, he didn't make that language up. T. David Gordon, in one of the recent books on justification, called John Murray a "drunken uncle" of Reformed theology.

    Again, I am not approving of what Tim said, but that language is not unheard of among established reformed men. I think it is on p. 118 of By Faith Alone (the chapter is "Reflections on the Auburn Avenue Theology"). I think Gordon's words are below the belt. This is John Murray, for crying out loud. Again, I wouldn't have said that to Kline, even where I think he hurt the church on ethics and creation.
    Last edited: May 26, 2007
  27. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    I haven't read the book yet. Will do just after I finish marking final exams, Dv.

    Did Gordon use a simile or did he call Murray a "drunken uncle"? I was told that TDG said something to the effect that the problems created Murray's revision of Reformed covenant theology is like a drunken uncle, no one wants to talk about it.

    As to Kline's "symbolic" theology, what on earth does this mean? Kline regarded redemptive history as literal fact. He recognized, as Reformed writers have always done, a variety of genres in Scripture.

    The thesis that the FV is driven by ritualism mystifies me. What historical evidence is there for such a claim? Yes, Myers and others seem to be moving toward the Mercersburg Theology or perhaps even in Anglo-Catholic directions, but the movements that gave rise to the FV were theological in nature not liturigical. The liturgical movements connected to the FV seem to be the result of theological changes. If Shepherd and Schilder and the others had proposed liturgical revisions this thesis might be more plausible. It's true that Ray Sutton and others coming out of theonomy have embraced forms of anglo-catholicism but which came first and what is their relation to the FV?

    As to Jordan's connections to Kline, yes, he claims to be following Kline, but so what? If he materially rejects Kline's own theology and adopts an exaggerated version of biblical theology that hardly makes him a Klinean. Jordan has been on the forefront of rejecting the covenant of works, the very thing for which Kline contended so vigorously for 30+ years! That's like saying that Lee Irons is a theonomist!

    Folk can use formally similar methods of discourse without doing the same thing theologically otherwise Bellarmine and Turretin could be said to be doing the same kind of theology -- which some folk have claimed. Such a conclusion would shock both Bellarmine and Turretin, however.

    In fact, Kline was trying to elaborate on Vos' project of putting "Biblical Theology" as it evolved out of 19th century German pietism (and drawing from earlier threads in Reformed orthodoxy such as Cocceius and others) into the service of Reformed orthodoxy. It is true that, like Cocceius, Kline came to some controversial conclusions, which not all orthodox Reformed folk are going share. Many of our students do not come to agree with his view of creation -- I just finished reading student papers touching on this and most of them do not seem to agree with his view of the days. Many of us don't agree with his later views on the decalogue and the Sabbath but those conclusions do not seem to be of the essence of what he was doing. He was unfolding the unity of covenants of grace and works in redemptive history. In that respect, his theology is no more "symbolic" than Vos' or Mike Horton's.

    What does it mean to call Kline's theology "symbolic" when it was, unlike that of many fundamentalists, so closely grounded in the history of the ancient near east and in the grammar of the Hebrew (and Aramaic) Scriptures?

    Kline believed in texts and authors. He believed in and sought to understand authorial intent -- both divine and human. He treated the Scriptures as an historical, inspired, inerrant progressive revelation.

    I can understand how one might think that Kline's approach to the decalogue was, in later years, less helpful. In his earlier career he was a pretty vigorous Sabbatarian but, partly in reaction to theonomy, he came to stress the uniqueness of the Mosaic covenant and tended to identify the decalogue almost entirely with it. For what it's worth, I don't think that particular move was essential to what he was doing. Many of us are strongly emphasizing the creational aspect of the moral law. That's my principle argument for the abiding validity of the Sabbath.Yet I think it's consonant with with MGK was doing.

    On creation, where is the evidence that the Framework interpretation has actually done any damage? In my case it pushed me to a much higher view of the Sabbath than I had when held the 6/24 view! The FI helped me to see that the Sabbath is actually the chief point of the creation narrative. MGK taught the FI for more than 50 years but I see no evidence that it's led to any ill-effects.

    The same cannot be said of Jordan, who has not only substantially undermined the Reformed confession by returning to the medieval doctrine of the donum superadditum (super added grace) by replacing merit with "maturity" thus jeopardizing our doctrine of the finished work of Christ, but he has also formally attacked the doctrine of the Westminster Standards (see comments on Mr Wilson's blog) as "pagan"! Indeed, the theology of Jordan and his ilk is leading folk to Rome as we saw again this week in the testimony of yet another FV student who has poped.

  28. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    That's nice Jacob, but quite immaterial that somebody else might have resorted to ad hominem name calling. It won't be tolerated here.

    I've heard plenty of men use expletives when referring to other men. I have never felt warranted, on the basis of other's men's use, to be likewise crass.
  29. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    I agree 100 %. Would the same standards have been used when Dr Clark referred to Greg Bahnsen in a disparging tone as "rabbi bahnsen?"

    I don't believe I have ever spoken harsh words against a man like Dr Kline (even though many of his devotees have returned the favor. See any of Robin's posts). I disagree with his worldview, but I don't think--I could be mistaken--I have engaged in ad hominem. In fact, I dont think I have ever called Lee Irons a name.
  30. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Roger Jacob. :handshake:
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