Posted by: reformedmusings | August 8, 2007

Joint FV Statement – Divine Decrees

This next section builds upon the last several in the joint statement. The previous paragraphs set the stage for their redefining the Westminster Standards in particular. Once again, Green Baggins has a great post on this section. I take a slightly different path here.

On the eternal decrees, the joint statement says:

The Divine Decrees
We affirm that the triune God is exhaustively sovereign over all things, working out all things according to the counsel of His will. Because this necessarily includes our redemption in Christ, God alone receives all the glory for our salvation. Before all worlds, God the Father chose a great host of those who would be saved, and the number of those so chosen cannot be increased or diminished. In due time, Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross, and in that sacrifice He secured the salvation of all those chosen for salvation by the Father. And at some time in the earthly life of each person so chosen, the Holy Spirit brings that person to life, and enables him to persevere in holiness to the end. Those covenant members who are not elect in the decretal sense enjoy the common operations of the Spirit in varying degrees, but not in the same way that those who are elect do.

We deny that the unchangeable nature of these decrees prevents us from using the same language in covenantal ways as we describe our salvation from within that covenant. We further deny this covenantal usage is “pretend” language, even where the language and terminology sometimes overlaps with the language of the decrees. The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children, that we may keep the words of this law. We affirm the reality of the decrees, but deny that the decrees “trump” the covenant. We do not set them against each other, but expect them to harmonize perfectly as God works out all things in accordance with His will.

The first paragraph is perfectly fine until the last sentence. The phrase “Those covenant members who are not elect in the decretal sense…” has no Scriptural or confessional basis. There is no individual or group in the Covenant of Grace who are “not elect in the decretal sense.” Scripture knows no other category of the elect other than those elect before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4). Note bene: It does not even make sense to say that folks are “elect in the decretal sense” because there is no other sense in which to be elect. (That’s a mouthful!) You are either elect or not elect – this is a digital concept in Scripture.

The Presbyterian Church in America’s Nine Declarations, which were approved by 95-98% of the commissioners of the 35th General Assembly, hit this erroneous Federal Vision concept four times:

2. The view that an individual is “elect” by virtue of his membership in the visible church; and that this “election” includes justification, adoption and sanctification; but that this individual could lose his “election” if he forsakes the visible church, is contrary to the Westminster Standards.

and

6. The view that water baptism effects a “covenantal union” with Christ through which each baptized person receives the saving benefits of Christ’s mediation, including regeneration, justification, and sanctification, thus creating a parallel soteriological system to the decretal system of the Westminster Standards, is contrary to the Westminster Standards.

7. The view that one can be “united to Christ” and not receive all the benefits of Christ’s mediation, including perseverance, in that effectual union is contrary to the Westminster Standards.

8. The view that some can receive saving benefits of Christ’s mediation, such as regeneration and justification, and yet not persevere in those benefits is contrary to the Westminster Standards.

What the Federal Vision folks mean by those “not decretally elect” are their “covenantally elect” who are baptized reprobates which are not eternally saved but are still members of Federal Vision’s mythical “objective covenant.” According to Federal Vision theology, these reprobates receive justification, adoption, and sanctification in a temporary union with Christ, but not perseverance unto eternal salvation. So, contrary to Romans 8:29, 30; Philippians 1:6 and the rest of Scripture, God starts a good work in these baptized reprobates which He has no intention of finishing. It doesn’t matter how much lipstick you put on that pig, it still won’t fly.

Why do I keep saying that there’s no such thing as their mythical “objective covenant?” Easy – because it appears no where in the Bible. I don’t mean just by name, but even in concept. The Bible describes a handful of specific covenants which God makes: the Eternal Covenant (John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38-40; Hebrews 7:20-22, 28; 8:6; 10:7), Covenant of Works (Genesis 2:15-17; Romans 5:14; 1 Cor 15:45-49), Covenant of Grace (Gen 3:15; 15:6; etc.), Noahic (Gen 6), Abrahamic (Gen 12); Mosaic (Ex 24; Dt); and Davidic (2 Samuel 7). There is nothing in there about a specific or general “objective covenant” with the reprobate. Rather, God has a different take on the reprobate upon which I elaborate below, and it certainly doesn’t involve a mythical “objective covenant.”

Before anyone goes off the deep end, let me assure you that I have read the bible of the Federal Vision – Reformed Is Not Enough. Green Baggins has done a nice job of dealing with the book in detail, so I’ll pass on it here. I’ll just give you my one sentence review: I don’t think that there’s a snowball’s chance in the devil’s back yard that a handful clever (at least in their own minds) theonomists discovered what the Reformed world supposedly missed for the last 400 years, or the entire Christian community for over 2000 years. Without the framework of the mythical “objective covenant,” Federal Vision doesn’t even get out of the starting gate, but that dog just won’t hunt.

Given this background, the second joint statement paragraph on the decrees contains nothing but unbiblical drivel. At least in 7 Reformed denominations, no one gets to define a new system of theology and category of election parallel but separate from the biblical and confessional model of the eternal decree. The idea of a mythical “objective covenant” is just that, a separate and parallel system to the eternal decrees of God that gives some saving benefits to the unsaved. It’s not just a “pretend” language, its gross error.

I have already posted here and here on the Scriptural status of the reprobate whether baptized or not. Spoiler: Jesus says their father is the devil (John 8:44). Do you really think that He considers them as being in Him and sharing saving graces with them? I also dealt with the myth that the reprobates in the visible church receive the same sap from the vine in this post. As to who may legitimately claim the promises of God, see this post and this one. It should be no surprise that I’ve blogged on these topics already, as this Federal Vision error strikes at the heart of the gospel.

Federal Vision advocates try to hide behind the skirts of Deuteronomy 29:29, as in their second paragraph above (“the secret things”). While the eternal decrees of our Triune God are certainly not shared with us, this fact is not an excuse to write our own fiction to fill our knowledge gaps. That we haven’t seen the list of the elect in the Book of Life gives us no license to create a mythical “objective covenant” populated by a “covenantally elect” (but who are not saved) so that we can feel better about the baptized reprobates in the visible church. The Bible doesn’t do that, the Standards don’t do that, and we cannot do that.

Based on this one section alone of the joint statement, we clearly see that the PCA officers who are signatories thereto are out of accord with at least four the PCA’s Nine Declarations, and therefore also with the Westminster Standards which “contain the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures.” THIS is something clear and solid that PCA presbyteries can act upon, and should do so immediately.

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