Wilkins' Presbytery exam examined by Rick Phillips

Discussion in 'Federal Vision/New Perspectives' started by NaphtaliPress, Jan 5, 2007.

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  1. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    I gather from the opening paragraph this document is in the public domain for wide distribution. The text below was posted to the bbwarfield list. I've added the red text to make it clear there is one footnote.

    Comments regarding “Submitted Written Questions for Louisiana Presbytery’s Examination of TE Steve Wilkins.”
    By TE Richard D. Phillips, senior minister, First Presbyterian Church of Coral Springs/Margate, FL

    1. Introduction. The purpose of this paper is to comment on the written answers provided by TE Steve Wilkins to questions submitted by the Louisiana Presbytery (LA Presbyterian). It is presented in response to numerous requests, in light of the internet publication of TE Wilkins’s Answers. Rather than provide this paper privately to those who requested it, I thought it most fair to TE Wilkins for it to be offered publicly. My motivation has no reference to TE Wilkins personally, with whom I have no personal relationship. Furthermore, I am aware that he is a teaching elder in good standing and who is spoken of highly by many Christians. However, there is an evident need for a response to the publishing of his answers to the Central Carolina Presbytery (CCP) memorial. I consider this need to be made imperative by the polemics that have ensued on numerous internet websites, some making the very severe charge that TE Wilkins’s answers dismiss his critics as either incompetent or malicious. Such a charge makes it all the more important that critics of TE Wilkins’s teaching (and of the Federal Vision theology) state their reasoning as plainly and directly as possible. This I will attempt to do. Lastly, as TE Wilkins’s written answers were expressed plainly and with little rhetorical adornment, I will endeavor to do the same, since my purpose is not ridicule but response.

    2. Preliminary Observations. In reading TE Wilkins’s answers to the questions submitted by the LA Presbyterian, it seems to me that some fundamental issues permeate the discussion. Moreover, these are issues of great importance to the PCA’s confession of the Christian faith, especially as our denomination has only recently adopted good faith subscription to our doctrinal standards.

    a. First, it is obvious from TE Wilkins’s answers that much of this debate concerns the relationship of the Westminster Confession to the Holy Scriptures. In this respect, it is important to note that church officers do not subscribe to the Westminster Confession and Catechisms merely as the standard for our theology. (Along these lines, one frequently reads today that the Confession represents a “club” mentality in which the Scriptures are superceded.) But instead, we affirm the Westminster Standards as a sound summary of the doctrines taught in the Bible.[1] The Westminster Standards are subordinate to the Bible, but they are subordinate in summarizing the Bible’s doctrinal teaching. This is important in the case of TE Wilkins. He strongly affirms the Westminster Confession, an affirmation that I accept as sincere. But the concerns in this matter arise not from TE Wilkins’s faith but from his teaching. The question, therefore, is whether or not his published writings and addresses teach the doctrines of the Bible in a manner that is consistent with the Westminster Standards. As TE Wilkins’s answers consistently show, he affirms the teaching of the Westminster Standards and then proceeds to argue that the Bible teaches otherwise. But this is not to affirm the Standards.

    b. Secondly, TE Wilkins helpfully sets forth the concerns driving his distinctive teachings. These are found in the first paragraph of his answer to question #3. His concern has been “with how we read the texts of Scripture which appear to contradict some of the statements and positions set forth in the Confession and Catechisms. I do not believe the scriptural texts do contradict the standards in fact but they are simply using terminology in a broader way than it is defined by our Confessional standards. This means that we must consider carefully the meaning of these terms in the particular contexts in which they are used. That has been my concern in regard to the so-called ‘Federal Vision’ issues.” Since it has often been written that the critics of TE Wilkins and the Federal Vision simply do not understand their writings, let me state that this summary has for several years been my own understanding of the Federal Vision agenda. Therefore, I was gratified to read TE Wilkins’s statement to this effect. The difference, in my view, does not arise from a misunderstanding of what TE Wilkins (for one) has written, but rather from a difference of opinion over the implications of this theology. As I will hope to show with respect to the specific doctrines considered by the CCP memorial, TE Wilkins’s understanding of key scriptural passages causes him to redefine the doctrinal terminology that he affirms in the Westminster Standards. It is not sufficient, I would argue, to affirm the scriptural doctrines as taught in the Confession unless one agrees with the meaning of the terms. TE Wilkins states that his reading of Scripture yields “broader” definitions of doctrinal terminology. I will argue that the true effect of these broader definitions is that TE Wilkins teaches different definitions of key terminology that appears in the Confession in such a way that his teaching is out of accord with the Confession’s summary of biblical truth.

    3. With these preliminary considerations in mind, I propose to respond to TE Wilkins’s answers pertaining to the individual doctrines in question. The first is the doctrine of election. The CCP memorial complained that while the Confession states that “God hath appointed the elect unto glory” (WCF III.6), TE Wilkins teaches that “the elect are appointed to a conditional relationship which they can lose through unbelief” (CCP Memorial). The memorial goes on to cite an example of TE Wilkins’s teaching to this effect. TE Wilkins responds first by pointing out his past and present affirmations of the Westminster Confession’s teaching on election. I accept this affirmation at face value, and TE Wilkins backs it up with several citations to this effect from his writings. But the question pertains to the acceptable consistency of certain of TE Wilkins’s published teachings with the Confession’s doctrine of election. With respect to TE Wilkins’s answers regarding election, I would offer the following comments:

    a. TE Wilkins states: “The fact is that I have never taught contrary to the Confession in regard to its view of election” (Answers II.1). But note:

    i. In response to the citation in the CCP Memorial against TE Wilkins’s affirmation of the Confession – a citation in which he states that election is lost by those who profess faith but then fall away – he answers that he taught this only of the Bible’s teaching: “The Presbytery in making this charge has ignored the context of what I have written and because of this, has completely missed my point. In the article, this statement comes in the context of a discussion of how the word ‘elect’ is used in the Biblical text” (Answers II.3). His point is that he was merely teaching what the Bible says about election, in contrast to what the Confession says.

    ii. TE Wilkins proceeds to state that the Bible applies “elect” to corporate Israel and members of the church in the New Covenant. He cites Romans 8 and 2 Thess. 2:13-14 as teaching a definition of election that is contrary to the Confession, i.e. as pertaining to all those present in the church, rather than to those chosen by God to eternal life and glory. He arrives at this conclusion by asking, “How could Paul say this?” He explains, “In light of the decree of predestination and the reality that not everyone in the church is chosen in the Westminster sense of the word, how can he call the members of the church in Thessalonica ‘chosen before the foundation of the world’?” (Answers II.3). At this point, TE Wilkins argues that his question presupposes his belief in the Westminster doctrine. But the point of his question is to reconcile the difference between the Confessional doctrine and the biblical doctrine – yet the Confession maintains that its doctrine is the biblical doctrine.

    iii. TE Wilkins goes on to argue that neither Paul nor Peter use “elect” and “chosen” in a manner consistent with the Westminster Standards. He summarizes his defense of his teaching on election by stating, “It seems (at least to me) to be plain that Paul and other Biblical writers have no hesitation in identifying those who are members of the Church as ‘elect.’” Arguing that the Confession describes the Church as “‘the household, family, and kingdom of God’ (WCF 25:2) and is the body of Christ Jesus, God’s chosen/elect Son,” TE Wilkins concludes that “those who are members of the body of the Elect One are viewed as ‘elect’ themselves.” The effect of this is to assert that the Bible’s teaching on election is different from the teaching of the Confession. TE Wilkins states that, biblically, the elect are those who are joined to the visible body of God’s people, whereas the Confession states that the elect are those “appointed… unto glory” (WCF III.5).

    b. TE Wilkins thus claims that when the apostles – especially Paul – addressed their readers as “elect,” the author intended this to refer both to those who ultimately would enter into eternal life and those who would not, so long as both were present in the church. This consideration forms a large part of TE Wilkins’s argument in II.3 of his Answers. He summarizes, “I am focusing the discussion upon how the term is used in the text of God’s Word where over and over again, entire congregations are addressed as ‘elect’ or ‘chosen’ or with some equivalent term.”

    i. It should be pointed out that the Westminster Confession’s doctrine of election is based upon a different inference from such passages; the Confession clearly understands the apostles as addressing their readers as believers. It is true that the epistles will occasionally include warnings that among the readers may be false believers. But the operative assumption in the epistles is that the readers are “saints” and “faithful in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 1:1). It is this understanding of the apostles that yields the Confession’s doctrine of election “unto glory.” Therefore, if TE Wilkins is right in his understanding of these passages, then the Confession’s definition of election is simply wrong. If Paul was not specifically addressing those “predestined… unto everlasting glory” (WCF III.5) then the confession’s doctrine is in error and must be changed in favor of that espoused by TE Wilkins. This would effect a significant revision of the Confession’s system of doctrine, however, practically reversing the relationship between perseverance and election.

    ii. My assertion regarding the Confession’s understanding of the apostles’ use of the term “elect” can be substantiated by consulting its proof texts for the doctrine of election unto glory. The proof texts are not part of the Confession, but so far as they go they indicate the exegetical logic of the divines. (For this reason, TE Wilkins makes frequent reference to the proof texts in his answers.) So what are the proof texts for the Confession’s doctrine that the elect are “predestinated… unto everlasting glory” (III.5) and “elect unto glory” (III.6)? They are some of the very passages that TE Wilkins see as pertaining also to those who will not enter into glory: Eph. 1:4, 9, 11; Rom. 8:30; 2 Tim. 1:9; 1 Thess. 5:9; 1 Pet. 1:2; and Eph. 1:4-5. These proof texts demonstrate that not only is TE Wilkins’s definition of election contrary to that of the Scripture, but his teaching of the relevant Bible passages also fundamentally differs. Contrary to his assurances, Wilkins’s teaching is not as innocuous as he would like us to believe. He is, in effect, declaring that the Standards define and use the key doctrinal term “election” in a way that is at odds with the Scripture definition and usage of that term.

    iii. TE Wilkins explains the difference between his and the Confession’s doctrine by stating, “We must understand Paul’s language covenantally rather than decretively.” But this is a dichotomy alien to the Confession’s teaching. It is hardly the case that the Westminster Standards neglect the covenantal perspective; as has often been pointed out, covenant theology provides the architecture to the Confession’s teaching of salvation. The reality is that TE Wilkins simply understands the biblical materials differently from the Confession and renders a doctrine of election that is contrary to that taught by the Standards.

    iv. As an aside, TE Wilkins’s also wrongly understands the Calvin quote that he supplies. In it, Calvin notes God’s election (choice) to have the gospel preached to both the elect and non-elect. When Calvin observes that this is a kind of “election of God” he is not arguing that God’s elect include those destined for damnation, but that God has elected to have the gospel preached to both categories of people.

    c. Another example of a changed definition occurs when TE Wilkins relates election and non-election to perseverance and apostasy. He writes, “When the confession says that these non-elect people ‘never truly come unto Christ,’ it means that they do not receive Christ with a faith that perseveres unto final salvation.”

    i. But this is not what the confession means; rather, TE Wilkins’s has imposed his own approach to a present and future salvation – in which one may have the former but not the latter – upon the Confession. What the Confession means is that the non-elect never come to Christ with a true and saving faith, not that they come with a faith that does not persevere: “Others, not elected,… never truly come unto Christ, and therefore cannot be saved” (WCF X.4).

    ii. It is true that a false profession of faith is often revealed by its lack of perseverance, but this is not the point. The point is whether or not the non-elect ever possess salvation truly. The confession teaches that they do not; TE Wilkins teaches that they do, but that they subsequently lose it through their failure to persevere.

    iii. Again, TE Wilkins states, “When the confession says that these non-elect people “cannot be saved,” one must recognize that the Standards use the word ‘save’ and its cognates almost exclusively to refer to the fullness of salvation inherited when Christ returns. In this sense, apostates are not saved because they fail to persevere and fall short of receiving the fullness of redemption as it is described in WCF 10-18.” But this is not what the Confession either says or means; here, TE Wilkins is changing the definition to fit his scheme. The confession insists that the non-elect “cannot be saved” because they never have truly come to Christ in faith. Once again, TE Wilkins has affirmed a doctrine on the basis of key terminology that he has redefined, with the effect that he has rejected the actual doctrine of the Confession.

    4. This matter of whether or not the “non-elect” (in the Westminster sense, not the Wilkins sense) ever truly partake of the saving benefits of Christ comes up again in TE Wilkins’s answers pertaining to the doctrine of the Church. Here, TE Wilkins must explain that, while the Confession teaches that “union and communion with [Christ]” are enjoyed only by the invisible church (WLC 62-65), his own teaching holds that “The reprobate… may enjoy for a season the blessings of the covenant, including the forgiveness of sins, adoption,” etc.

    a. Again, TE Wilkins begins by denying that his teaching contradicts the Westminster Standards: “Contrary to the assertion of the memorial, I wholeheartedly affirm this distinction as the Westminster Confession defines the invisible church” (Answers II, Doctrine of the Church, 1).

    b. However, as TE Wilkins discusses this matter, he supplies a definition of the invisible church that is contrary to that of the Confession.

    i. He affirms the invisible Church as an entity that “does not yet exist though it is surely foreordained by God.” He adds that “It seems better to speak of the ‘invisible’ church simply as the ‘eschatological church.’” It should be observed that this is not the Westminster definition of the invisible church, which “ consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head therefore” (WCF XXV.1). What TE Wilkins sees as an eschatological fulfillment growing out of the visible church, the Confession sees as a past, present, and future reality in overlap with the visible church.

    ii. TE Wilkins further states that the category of “invisible church” “can lead to all sorts of misunderstandings and misconceptions,” citing approvingly remarks to this effect by Professor John Murray. TE Wilkins then expresses the visible/invisible church distinction in these words: “The Church which throughout history had blemishes and imperfections, will finally be glorified and perfectly holy at the last day.” This, however, is not the point made by the Confessions’ visible/invisible church distinction. Moreover, TE Wilkins states that an emphasis on the invisible church denigrates the visible church.

    iii. Later in this same section, TE Wilkins argues against the Confession (although the point actually made by the Confession is not really in view) by stating: “The Bible speaks of only one Church which is the body and bride of Christ and thus our creeds assert that we believe in ‘One, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.’ That is the simplest and clearest way to speak of the Church.”

    iv. Finally, having redefined the doctrine, TE Wilkins affirms, “It is unquestionably true that only the ‘invisible Church’ will partake of the blessings of eternal salvation.” This can be seen as an affirmation of the Confession’s summary of the Bible’s teaching only if one has redefined the doctrine as TE Wilkins does. In fact, the clear effect of TE Wilkins’s point is that the Westminster doctrine of the visible and invisible church is wrong and out of accord with Scripture.

    c. But the specific complaint of the CCP memorial under this heading focused on TE Wilkins’s teaching that reprobate church members – those who belong to the visible but not the invisible church (in the Westminster sense) – nonetheless “may enjoy for a season the blessings of the covenant, including the forgiveness of sins, adoption, possession of the kingdom, sanctification, etc., and yet apostatize and fall short of the grace of God.” With this in mind, the second question posed to TE Wilkins asked him to explain.

    i. Far from retracting this contradiction of the Westminster Standards, TE Wilkins instead explains that he only meant that this is what the Bible teaches (in which case, the Westminster Standards are in error), describing his position as “the clear implication” of numerous Bible passages. While noting that the WLC applies the saving benefits in question to the invisible church, he states that “the apostles appear to attribute these same things to all the members of the visible church without distinction.” The logic behind this assertion is the same as that undergirding his approach to election, namely, that since the apostles describe the readers of their letters as enjoying these benefits, they must apply to reprobate members as well as regenerate members. But this is contrary to the view expressed in the Westminster Standards.

    ii. Moreover, TE Wilkins fails to point out that while WLC 65 applies the saving benefits of Christ to the invisible church without mentioning the visible church, its teaching on the visible church and its comparison between the two makes clear that those who belong only to the visible church do not enjoy these saving blessings. To this effect, WLC 63 lists the special privileges of the visible church as including “the ordinary means of salvation” and “offers of grace by Christ,” while pointedly omitting the actual receipt of these blessings that are enjoyed by the invisible church. WLC 65 applies the enjoyment of “union and communion with [Christ]” only to the invisible church, which according to WLC 66 alone receives effectual calling, and according to WLC 67ff thus enters into the saving benefits understood under the ordo salutis. In this light, we see that while claiming to affirm the teaching of the Standards, the actual effect of TE Wilkins’s argument is to show that the Larger Catechism is out of accord with the teaching of Scripture.

    d. The LA Presbyterian helpfully asked TE Wilkins to explain how the visible church enjoys the saving blessings of Christ (question #4). He answered consistently with his understanding of present salvation and future salvation, in which one may enjoy the former but not the latter. This is out of accord with the Westminster Standards, which admit of no such distinction. Consistently in the Confession, those presently saved will and must enjoy future and eternal salvation (WCF XVII.1). TE Wilkins also addresses how the visible church enjoys Christ’s saving blessings by stating that while God knows the difference between a regenerate person’s present enjoyment of Christ’s saving blessings and a reprobate’s enjoyment of the same, “from our creaturely, covenantal point of view there is often no perceptible difference.” This statement continues with TE Wilkins’s denial of the essential point made by the Standards’ teaching on the visible and invisible church, namely, that the saving blessings of Christ are offered to the former and received by only the latter.

    e. In arguing his case, TE Wilkins’s makes a significant appeal to the Confession’s description of the visible church as “the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ and the house and family of God out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation” (WCF 25.2). This demonstrates, he asserts, that the Standards understand the visible church as possessing all the saving benefits of Christ (minus perseverance). But this assertion has the effect of negating the Standards’ definition of the visible church as including those who receive only the offer of saving grace without the enjoyment of its benefits (see again WLC 62ff). In other words, TE Wilkins would have us extract WCF 25.2 from the context of the rest of the Westminster Standards so as to yield a definition amenable to his doctrine. This can only be done by redefining the Standards’ essential point in the visible/invisible church distinction. Contrary to TE Wilkins’s understanding, A.A. Hodge explains WCF 25.2 as affirming that the visible Church has received from God 1) the inspired Scripture…; 2) the Gospel ministry…; 3) the ordinances, such as preaching, prayer, singing of praise, and the holy sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and discipline” for the purpose of “a) the gathering in of the elect from the children of the Church or from the world, and b) the perfecting of the saints when thus gathered.” This understanding of WCF 25.2 is consistent with the overall teaching of the Standards that the visible church enjoys the means of grace and the offer of salvation, whereas TE Wilkins insists that by virtue of being called “the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ and the house and family of God” the visible church enjoys the saving benefits themselves. Again, his teaching is contrary to the Westminster Standards.

    5. These same issues carry over into the next doctrinal discussion, pertaining to the doctrine of perseverance. WCF XVI.1 teaches that those who enjoy acceptance in Christ, effectual calling, and sanctification by God’s Spirit “can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.” By now, TE Wilkins’s answers have shown that central to his thesis is that persons who receive such blessings can and do fall away. The apostate forfeits “real blessings that were his in covenant with God,” he writes (as cited by CCP Memorial). According to him, people who enjoy the saving blessings described in the Confession end up losing these saving blessings by not persevering. This confirms the CCP memorial’s complaint that TE Wilkins contradicts the Confession with respect to perseverance.

    a. TE Wilkins’s answer relies on the distinctions he has already laid out regarding his views on election and the visible/invisible church. Therefore he argues that he agrees with the Confession’s teaching as it pertains to those who are decreed to persevere. It is only with respect to those who do not persevere that he makes his statements. But the Confession’s teaching clearly rules out this scheme. The Confession does not insist on the certainty of perseverance only for those who in fact persevere, but rather for all who experience union with Christ. This is the point of the Confession’s teaching that those who are effectually called “shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved” (XVII.1). TE Wilkins maintains that the entire visible church experiences union with Christ, but that only some retain this through perseverance. Again, TE Wilkins’s own definitions are first substituted for those of the Confession and only then does he affirm the Confession.

    b. Again, the key consideration underlying TE Wilkins’s view is his understanding that the New Testament epistles have persons who will not enter into glory in mind when they speak of election and union with Christ. As I have argued, this is not the understanding revealed in the Westminster Standards, which is why its teaching differs so markedly from TE Wilkins’s teaching. His answers to the LA Presbytery’s questions serve primarily to argue that the Standards are out of accord with Scripture. He goes so far as to state that by insisting on the language of the Confession, the CCP memorial is in fact charging the apostles and our Savior with false teaching. In other words, TE Wilkins argues that the Confession’s teaching is unscriptural. This is the very definition of what it means to deny the Standards.

    c. The LA Presbytery’s questions press this matter, asking if those who ultimately fall away “ever truly possessed eternal life?”

    i. TE Wilkins answers that persons who ultimately fell away did not truly possess eternal life, since their salvation did not turn out to be eternal. But when then asked if such persons “ever truly possessed forgiveness of sins,” TE Wilkins gives a different answer. He admits that those who fall away did not possess forgiveness in the same manner that those who do not fall away possess it (since, in keeping with his construct, their forgiveness lacked the quality of perseverance). Nonetheless, TE Wilkins insists that those who fall away were forgiven through union with Christ up until the time that they fell away. This is contrary to the teaching of the Confession in its insistence that those who enjoy the saving benefits of union with Christ enjoy them irrevocably.

    ii. To show that the teaching of the Standards is out of accord with Scripture, TE Wilkins points out that Jesus stated that “those who refuse to forgive others will not be forgiven by the Father” (Matt. 6:14-15), arguing that such persons were forgiven until they refused to forgive others, at which point they lost their forgiveness. This blatantly refutes the Confession’s teaching that those who are accepted by God in Christ “shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved” (XVII.1).

    iii. TE Wilkins states that “forgiveness is only found ‘in Christ,’” and therefore as he understands (contrary to the Confession) that those who are in Christ may end up not in Christ, forgiveness may be lost. Whereas the Confession insists that those who enjoy the present benefits of salvation are certain to enjoy them in the future, TE Wilkins continues to apply his understanding that present salvation does not ensure future salvation. Thus, he denies the very heart of the point made by the Confession in the doctrine of perseverance, relying on his dichotomy between a covenantal and a decretal perspective, which does not exist in the Standards.

    6. TE Wilkins’s answers with respect to the doctrine of assurance may be considered more briefly. The CCP memorial charges that while the Confession “teaches that we may have a certain assurance of salvation based on inward evidences of faith and salvation (WCF XVIII.1-2),” these Wilkins denies.

    a. In answer to this charge, Wilkins again denies that his teaching contradicts that of the Confession, then proceeds to argue that we should not seek assurance by this means taught in the Confession: “We do not attain assurance by trying to discern the sincerity of our faith or repentance through introspection of our hearts and examination of our motives, affections, or feelings.”

    b. It should be granted, however, that TE Wilkins does affirm that one may be assured of salvation, though he argues that these evidences cannot be seen inwardly but only as they are manifested outwardly. If this is true, it is hard to see how the Confession can be correct in urging us to seek assurance at least in part through “inward evidence” of grace.

    c. What TE Wilkins writes with respect to the importance of outward manifestations of grace – obedience to God’s commands, love to the brethren, etc. – is true and quite edifying. However, he continues to insist that it is harmful and dangerous to look inwardly for assurance, contrary to the Confession’s statement to this effect. When pointedly asked to affirm the Confession’s teaching that inward evidences should be consulted, TE Wilkins affirms this on the understanding stated previously that such inward evidences can only be seen outwardly. As before, he supplants the Confession’s teaching with his own definition and on this basis is able to affirm it.

    7. The final doctrinal heading considered by the CCP memorial pertains to the doctrine of baptism. The memorial charges that, contrary to the Confession, TE Wilkins teaches that baptized persons should be equated with the elect and with the regenerate. The memorial further cites TE Wilkins as teaching that baptism conveys covenant with God, union with Christ, and all the saving blessings thereof, so that TE Wilkins teaches that “to be baptized is to have all the eternal blessings of salvation,” and that “all persons baptized in water must be eternally saved, unless they apostatize.” Contrary to this teaching, the Confession defines water baptism as “a sign and seal of these salvific blessings,” instead of granting “actual possession” of them.

    a. When asked by the LA Presbytery whether “every baptized person possesses ‘all the blessings of salvation,” TE Wilkins resorts to his distinction between the covenantal and the decretal. Citing the AAPC revised summary statement on Baptism, he argues that “By baptism, one enters into covenantal union with Christ and is offered all his benefits.” This would seem to be inconsistent with TE Wilkins’s prior insistence that members of the visible church actually possess Christ’s saving blessings (though perhaps without perseverance). He goes on to emphasize that baptism offers all of Christ’s benefits, which must then “be embraced by faith for him to enjoy their benefits in salvation.” In my view, these statements are both salutary and in keeping with the Confession. He does not, however, explain the statements cited by the CCP memorial, which at least imply that baptism confers the possession of saving blessings.

    b. In answer to the second question pertaining to baptism, TE Wilkins states that he does not believe that the Confession equates all baptized persons with the elect nor the regenerate. In short, he responds that the impression gained by the CCP memorial through the sequence of statements cited therein does not reflect his intended teaching. This should be seen as an encouraging development and credit for it should be granted, although it would be more encouraging to see an amendment to the statements cited by the CCP memorial. I would further observe that no small amount of divergence of opinion exists regarding the meaning of the Confession’s language that the grace of the gospel “is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Ghost” (WCF XXVIII.6), so that this is a subject that is prone to difficulty in reaching agreement.

    c. Again, the answers given by TE Wilkins to the effect that the benefits offered in baptism must be personally embraced by faith should be positively received by his critics. Towards the end of his discussion of baptism, TE Wilkins states, “I don’t mean… that baptism automatically saves apart from faith in Christ. Baptism joins you to the visible church which is the house, family, and kingdom of God…” The difficulty with this statement, however, lies in TE Wilkins’s prior definition of the visible church as enjoying the saving blessings of Christ. While noting this important point, his answer here is encouraging, suggesting that the concerns regarding TE Wilkins’s doctrine of baptism mainly result from his teaching on election, the visible/invisible church, and perseverance.

    8. Concluding Comments. In his concluding section, TE Wilkins reaffirms many of the understandings that lead to his particular teaching, notably, his understanding of the apostles’ use of the term “elect” as incorporating church members who will not enter into glory and his covenantal vs. decretal dichotomy. He further argues that the memorial “exhibits a catastrophic misunderstanding” of his views and he depicts it as “uncharitable” and “unreasonable.” My contention is that none of these is the case. Rather, in my view, the memorial accurately understands the majority of TE Wilkins’s statements. Furthermore, his answers do not satisfactorily demonstrate the conformity of his teaching with the Standards, but rather have the effect of arguing that the Standards err with respect to key points of biblical doctrine.

    a. TE Wilkins’s premise regarding election as pertaining to those who ultimately are lost is in opposition to the view of the Confession and yields doctrines that are contrary to the Confession’s teaching. Moreover, the covenantal vs. decretal dichotomy is imposed on the Standards with the effect of making numerous redefinitions of key doctrinal terms.

    b. Furthermore, the frequent burden of TE Wilkins’s answers is to argue that the Standards define and use key doctrinal terms in ways that are at odds with the Scripture definition and usage of those same terms. But this is not to affirm the Standards, since they purport to accurately present the Bible’s teaching on the doctrines identified by these terms.

    c. On this basis, I would argue that the CCP memorial’s criticism of TE Wilkins’s teaching is not unreasonable, as he asserts.

    d. It is therefore my opinion that to accept TE Wilkins’s teaching – with respect especially to the doctrines of election, perseverance, and the visible/invisible church – is to reject the teaching of the Standards on these doctrines. Moreover, it is also my opinion that TE Wilkins’s differences with the Standards effectively revise the whole system of doctrine taught therein. For this reason, I believe that for elders in the PCA to permit TE Wilkins’s teaching is to violate our vows to defend and uphold our confessional standards as summarizing the Bible’s doctrine.

    e. Finally, for the reasons stated in this paper, I see no cause for accusations that the charges raised by the CCP memorial are malicious or uncharitable.

    [1] The vow PCA ministers take says we “receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures.”
  2. re4med

    re4med Puritan Board Freshman

  3. Poimen

    Poimen Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I am glad with Mr. Phillips that Steve Wilkins is clarifying his views on baptism but there was no doubt that he was contrary to the Reformed views when he said the following at the 2002 AAPC:

    "The Legacy of the Half-Way Covenant"

    "Now, you see, given this perspective, there is no presumption necessary when it comes to baptized people. Traditionally, the reformed have said, we have to view our children as presumptively elect or presumptively regenerate. And therefore, Christian, if we are willing to take the scriptures at face value, there is no presumption necessary. Just take the Bible. And this is true, of course, because by the baptism, by baptism the Spirit joins us to Christ since he is the elect one and the Church is the elect people, we are joined to his body. We therefore are elect. Since he is the justified one, we are justified in him. Since he is the beloved one, we are beloved in him. Since he was saved from sin in death, in the sense that Hebrews 5 says, "who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with vehement cries and tears to him who was able to save him from death and was heard because of his godly fear," he was saved from sin and death, so are we." (italics mine)

    This brings us back to the issue of clarity and honesty that Rich has raised in other posts. For this is one of the few places I have seen an FV advocate admit that their view is not Reformed. They usually accuse others of distorting their theology but here it is clear that Mr. Wilkins intentionally set out to change the Reformed view of baptism.
  4. WrittenFromUtopia

    WrittenFromUtopia Puritan Board Graduate

    There is nothing wrong with that statement, given the qualifications of Wilkins and others as to what they see "elect" as referring to in some places in the Bible (i.e., NOT decretally or eternally elect, but sanctified or set apart as one of God's covenant people, one of God's chosen people, temporally speaking, who could still turn out to be an apostate someday, but should be considered a Christian in the "here and now").

    Wilkins believes exactly as the WCF does as far as God's eternal election is concerned.
  5. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    The point though, Gabe, is that the WCF doesn't add a meaning to the term nor does it teach a conditional election as TE Wilkins does. The idea that the Scriptures teach a conditional election or temporary regeneration is not in accord with the WCF. The Reformed do not believe that the Scriptures teach such a thing but TE Wilkins does.

    The quote is useful because he says there is "...no presumption necessary..." with respect to election and reprobation for the baptized as a correction to the Reformed perspective. Well, YES there is. We speak of presumptive regeneration because we guard the actual Scriptural idea of what regeneration and election are.

    Now, TE Wilkins and others may rejoin and say "But we believe the Scriptures teach otherwise."

    I say: FINE but that is not what the Reformed believe.
  6. Bladestunner316

    Bladestunner316 Puritan Board Doctor

    temporary regeneration? Is that the same as the you can lose your salvation doctrine?
  7. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    To be fair to TE Wilkins, it's not the same thing as an Arminian teaching that rejects perseverance of the Saints.
  8. Bladestunner316

    Bladestunner316 Puritan Board Doctor

    Ok. Ive never heard of that before so its a bit confusing.
  9. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    I agree, which is the reason I am critical of the FV's use of language.

    But the problem is on your end according to the proponents of the FV. I was just told by an apologist of the FV:
    No, of course not. Lay people totally get this stuff... :um:
  10. WrittenFromUtopia

    WrittenFromUtopia Puritan Board Graduate

    To be fair, you're still redefining the terms they're using in order to poison the well.
  11. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Unfortunately, I have to go to bed but I'd be interested to know what terms I redefined in my "poisoning of the well". I acknowledge that Wilkins speaks of an election that is like the Reformed view but adds an election and regeneration that is not according to the Reformed view (nor Scriptural in my estimation). He, not I, speaks of conditional election and represents it as confessional. Perhaps you could critique Pastor Phillips article above and demonstrate where he has misrepresented Wilkins view. I'll check this out in the AM.


  12. fredtgreco

    fredtgreco Vanilla Westminsterian Staff Member

    You are absolutely right, Rich. This point has been made numerous times. It (Wilkins' redefinition of election in a fashion that denies the Confession's exposition of cardinal doctrines) is what came out of the Knox colloquium. It is what came out of the initial rejoinder to Wilkins from several reformed theologians (including Pipa). It is what came from the Central Carolina Presbytery. It is what has come from Guy Waters. It is what has come from Westminster Seminary California, Mid-America Seminary and others. It is what has come from Calvin Beisner. It is what has come from Mississippi Valley. It is what has come from the OPC. It is what has come from Rick Phillips here - AFTER personal discussions, and after extensive email correspondence.

    Which is more amazing: that so many theologians, churchmen and seminaries, Presbyteries still after years and several colloquia have failed to understand something that is so important that Wilkins et al have felt it necessary to continue to disturb the church over it, or that a half dozen internet theologians really understand the Reformed Confessions better than all these fathers and brothers?

    I personally hope that Wilkins writes a rejoinder himself. Every time he does, he digs his hole deeper and shows more and more confusion and inconsistency.
  13. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

  14. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Remember Lot's wife.
  15. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior


    WHO is redefining terms here?


  16. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    Well, formally no, except in the case that the parallel universe (of conditional administration) becomes conflated (as it sometimes does in FV discourse) with the parallel but mostly theoretical universe of the unconditional, decree in which case the conditional administration is impossible to distinguish from the unconditional decree and the line between the FV scheme and Arminianism becomes blurry to say the least.


  17. Robin

    Robin Puritan Board Junior

    A practical and curious question, Dr. Clark...

    Do the "leaders" of the FV ideas actually meet together and coordinate/design the aberrant notions? Does anyone know?

    Additional to theology issues are the documentation links revealing a long/wide history of misdeeds and serious dishonest intent on (at least) the part of Wilson.

    All things considered, there begins to form a scary potential scenario that reminds me of some of the cult research I did with Walter Martin many years back.

    I don't think this is off-topic. It relates to the way they work their "system." As for Scripture-twisting, the overall style mimics Jehovah Witness or Mormon-esque tactics!

    (And "no" Gabe....I'm not kidding!)

    PS. It might be good strategy to not comment. ??
  18. WrittenFromUtopia

    WrittenFromUtopia Puritan Board Graduate

    [esv]Proverbs 6:16-19[/esv]
  19. Robin

    Robin Puritan Board Junior

    :amen: Gabe!

  20. turmeric

    turmeric Megerator

    [bible]James 3:1[/bible]
  21. Magma2

    Magma2 Puritan Board Sophomore

    Outstanding analysis. Not impressed at all by Mr. Hill’s linked reply by Jonathan Barlow. Orwellian double think parading as rational thought (that was nicely exposed and countered Lane Keister). I guess in more modern phraseology, Barlow’s reply was “Clintonesqe” in its attempt to cloud Wilkin’s complete departure from the Confession. While Clinton could, in a manner similar to that employed by Mr. Barlow, dance around the use of the word "is," it still doesn't eliminate the adultery committed.

    OTOH Mr. Hill has provided another a nice illustration of how completely desperate defenders of Wilkins and the rest of these Neo-legalists have become.

    My question is, and I suppose it's a technical one that perhaps Fred Greco can answer, what is stopping someone from bringing Wilkins up on charges for teaching heresy at this point? Also, wouldn't that just end the debate? I have to think this would be beneficial for those on both sides and is the only thing that will settle matters once and for all. Then we could all see if the PCA courts actually hold to the Westminister Standards as “the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures,” or, whether they are willing to permit the teaching of an entirely different system to be taught along side it . . . like in the OPC.
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2007
  22. wsw201

    wsw201 Puritan Board Senior

    One thing that I am curious about is why has the Session at AAPC been given a pass??

    Steve Wilkins is not the BISHOP OF MONROE! Everything he is teaching has been directly or indirectly approved and agreed to by the Session!! Go to the AAPC web site and read their statements. Though the Session does not have direct jurisdiction over a TE, they certainly are responsible for what is taught at AAPC and can put a lot of pressure on a TE to cease and desist from teaching things that they believe are out of accord with the Standards, or at least get the Presbytery involved. Did they do this? I don't think so!!

    But then again, they're just a bunch of RE's who don't have the brains to pour sand out of a boot (since they didn't go to Seminary) unless a TE tells them how to do it! So how can anyone hold them responsible?? But of course we can let them excommunicate someone from the Church.

  23. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    In the words of Mubatu from Zoolander: "I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!"

    If we ever hope to understand each other then I want to make sure I break down what I believe Pastor Phillips clearly articulated because it is my estimation that this "response" doesn't even enter into the same neighborhood as the criticism. I ask those who have read both to make sure I'm not stating this improperly.

    Here is the substance of the response from Barlow (I'm summarizing):

    Pastor Phillips wants to try and convict Pastor Wilkins for not being a strict subscriptionist to only ONE confessional use of the terms election and perseverance. Pastor Wilkins does not deny election or perseverance in the way that the WCF use them and wholeheartedly agrees with them BUT merely denotes that the terms are used in a broader sense.

    He goes on to use an analogy of using the word trinity in another way (i.e. “Shadrach, Meschach, and Abegnego made up a trinity of dissent in the
    empire.”) and then being accused of denying the Trinity.

    Thus, according to Barlow, the substance of Pastor Phillips critique is over the use of terms: you cannot use the word election or predestination in any other way than the Confession uses or we're going to put you up on a pole.

    Now, I ask the critics of the critics of the FV: Does this accurately represent Pastor Phillips critique? I thought Pastor Phillips was very cogent in his analysis. I'm constantly told, including on this thread, that men are not dealing honestly with each other's views. If there is going to be a response to Pastor Phillips' critique then let it be on the substance of the critique.

    As we noted earlier, the substance of the critique is this:


    Neither the Scriptures, nor the confession, admit to a doctrine of conditional election.

    Neither the Scriptures, nor the confession, admit to a temporary perseverance.

    Neither the Scirptures, nor the confession, admit to a temporary union with Christ.


    You see, it one thing to admit that the Scriptures use a term to address a larger body that includes both elect and non-elect. It is quite another to form a doctrine based on this syllogism:

    1. Paul calls a Church body "elect" in some passages
    2. Paul knew it consisted of both the regenerate and unregenerate
    3. Therefore, Paul must mean that everyone there is elect in some way...

    Barlow seems to completely miss the fact that Pastor Phillips convincingly demonstrates that the Reformed completely reject this in their confession. They do NOT conclude 3 in the way that Wilkins and others do and, on the contrary, reject the idea.

    Would they admit to points 1 and 2 above? Certainly, they would believe it is Pastoral language. This is why there is the idea of presumptive regeneration where you treat and talk of people as if they are regnerate not knowing either way. Jesus still treated Judas as if he were a disciple when He knew from the beginning who truly believed even before He called Judas.

    Thus, I find Barlow's response to utterly obfiscate the critique. I thought Pastor Phillips critique was a scholarly and clear examination of the issue and am shocked that Barlow so utterly misrepresents the substance of the critique.

    Are there any responses out there that do a better job of answering the actual charges?
  24. SRoper

    SRoper Puritan Board Graduate

    Thanks Rick. I think you have clearly articulated the deficiency of Barlow's criticism.
  25. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    Don't know this theologian Mubatu or his work Zoolander, :) but :agree:
  26. Robin

    Robin Puritan Board Junior


    It's the same as the "Jedi mind trick."

    r. :coffee:
  27. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Friends, when did the reformed church insist that the exact terms must be found in Scripture? The idea of conditional election to temporary benefits is clearly revealed in holy writ. Our Lord has provided a parable which specifically teaches that the reprobate are partakers in the kingdom of God temporarily -- the parable of the wheat and tares. At the judgment, "the Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather OUT OF HIS KINGDOM all things that offend, and them which do iniquity," Matt. 13:41. The visible church enjoys special "privileges" bestowed by God, which the world does not receive, Westminster Larger Catechism, answer 63. To be in the visible church is to enjoy these benefits. If any are made partakers of these benefits it is because God chose them to it (temporary election).

    The term "temporary election" is used in reformed theology in the same way as "common grace." Although Scripture uses "election" and "grace" only in relation to the members of the invisible church, there is a theological analogy which makes it appropriate to apply the terms to the members of the visible church in a common way, in virtue of the fact that the visible church is the temporal manifestation of the invisible church.

    Consider the words of John Owen (Works, 4:430):

    As Owen goes on to note, the term election finds specific support in connection with the choice of Judas to the apostleship, John 6:70. That this was temporary is indicated by the fact that our Lord specifically says in chap. 13:18, I speak not of you all; I know whom I have chosen." Now if this is true of Judas, who was given an extraordinary office in the church, and equipped with miraculous gifts, it must also be true of ordinary officers and members of the church, who are given the ordinary gifts to administer and receive the Word and sacraments.

    The problem with the FV formulation of the teaching is that it supposes "saving graces" are communicated by virtue of this temporal election, contrary to what John Owen teaches above. It is at this point that justified criticism can be levelled at the FV. By denying the traditional reformed teaching of temporal election in order to oppose the FV, you make yourself equally chargeable with a departure from the reformed faith.
  28. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    I should have posted more clearly. I used shorthand and do not deny that the Covenant confers some temporary blessings. My critique was leveled primarily at the notion that the substance of Pastor Phillips critique had to do with a mere use of terms in a broader sense.

    I believe Pastor Phillips critique echoes yours above. If one is going to critique his response to Wilkins' examination then it needs to be made on this ground alone.
  29. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

  30. Magma2

    Magma2 Puritan Board Sophomore

    The constant refrain of Neolegalists and their fellow travelers is, to paraphrase B. B. King, “Nobody understands us except our momma, but I think she’s jivin’ too.”

    Where has Barlow or Wilkins demonstrated premise 1? The verses Wilkins cites do not support #1 in the slightest and perhaps Phillips could have done a better job in brining this out in his critique, however I think he made this point pretty clear even if it wasn't transparent enough for the likes of men like Mr. Barlow and I suppose Mr. Hill.

    While I’m not exactly shocked by Barlow’s attempt to bamboozle the already confused, I am shocked that for once there is one issue that you and I are in complete agreement.:cheers2:
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