Posted by: reformedmusings | October 8, 2007

Redefining Conformity to the Standards

It seems that Federal Visionists aren’t satisfied with creating a new “objective covenant”, giving the saving benefits of justification, adoption, sanctification, and forgiveness of sins to the reprobate in the visible church, or denying the covenant of works and the imputation of the active obedience of Christ to the believer. Now they’re hedging their bets by redefining what it means to be in conformity with the Standards.

The process is interesting. First, they set up a strawman argument that the underlying issue is the sufficiency of Scripture. This is yet another variation of the tired red herring that falsely pits the Westminster Standards against Scripture. There’s no conflict to be had there. Both the Confession and the PCA Book of Church Order affirm that Scripture is the ultimate authority, our only infallible rule for faith and practice.

The problem that Federal Visionists cannot get around is that the BCO says that the Standards contain “the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures.” The answer in the post in questions is yes, but the Standards are not “sufficient.” Now the second ordination vow in the BCO reads:

Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you further promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of will you on your own initiative, make known to your Presbytery the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of this ordination vow?

In relation to the finding oneself “out of accord”, a prominent Federal Visionists posts:

So I’m “in accord with Westminster” if you are talking about Reformed theology, which is what I take “the fundamentals of this system of doctrine” to mean. According to my presbytery, the exceptions I take to the Standards do not strike at the vitals of the system.

“…what I take…”? Interesting way around the BCO. If you read enough of their books, blog posts, or the recent discussions at De Regno Christi, you’ll know that the Federal Vision definition of Reformed theology is very different from that historically held by orthodox Reformed individuals and that taught in the Standards. That particular presbytery last made a determination on this individual BEFORE the 35th General Assembly where the Nine Declarations of the study report were overwhelmingly approved, thus declaring key Federal Vision doctrines as “contrary to the Westminster Standards.” A total of seven Reformed denominations, including the PCA, have made that same finding so far for both the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity.

So, the new red herring argument goes like this:

There is nothing in my ordination vows that requires me to confess the sufficiency of the Westminster standards for the church of the 21st century.

How about that, mine either! But that was NEVER the issue. The issue is that key components of Federal Vision theology conflict with “the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures.” Read the Nine Declarations in the PCA report. Sufficiency isn’t the problem, outright conflict is the issue. As the PCA Ad Interim Committee on NPP, AAT, and FV pointed out, Federal Vision creates “a parallel soteriological system to the decretal system of the Westminster Standards, [and] is contrary to the Westminster Standards.”

Now, if one holds, and every PCA officer must, that the Westminster Standards contain “the system of doctrine taught in the holy Scriptures” and then one finds themselves contradicting that doctrine in the Standards, by extension one contradicts what is taught in the Scriptures. It’s simple, if B contains the key elements of A as a subset of A, and C contradicts B in any way, then C by extension contradicts A. The Federal Vision “out” is to argue that they are somehow “extending” the Standards. So they argue that C contains things in A that aren’t in B, but in fact seven orthodox Reformed denominations have found that C indeed contradicts B and hence A.

Apparently seeing this brick wall coming (guess he missed it at General Assembly), this individual writes:

I do not believe that I am required to believe and confess all the details in the confessions and catechism. Nor am I bound to their form. The chapter on the covenant, for example, is filled with problems. So much progress has been made in the last century on the biblical theology of the covenants.

I’ve made some comments here about the problems with the way in which election is confessed in WCF chapter 3. I don’t have any problems with predestination and election, just the form in which it is confessed in the Westminster Confession.


Add to that the fact that the definitions are scholastic theological abstractions that may often interfere with reading and understanding the Bible. Prophet, priest, and king are perfect examples of his severe problem. The definitions we are given in our Standards are not erroneous, but they don’t get at the heart of the functions of these “offices” in the Bible.

This is the same fellow that defiantly denies the imputation of the active obedience of Christ because he can. The “I do not believe that I am required to believe and confess all the details in the confessions and catechism. Nor am I bound to their form.” part provides an interesting statement. I do not have any first-hand knowledge of how his presbytery does business, but I’ve been in a few and in those, if one has a problem with anything in the Standards, no matter how trivial, it must be declared at ordination and/or other examinations. Perhaps I’m misreading this individual’s post, but it looks to me like he’s saying that FVers are selectively declaring exceptions based on their own personal desires. That flies in the face of the accountability set out in the BCO. Only presbyteries as a whole decide what are acceptable exceptions. Individual elders don’t get to chose what they want to hide or report.

The election and covenant errors in Federal Vision mentioned in that post above are covered in the Ad Interim Committee report declarations and found “contrary to the Westminster Standards.” So are the other key doctrinal errors in Federal Vision theology.

If we learned anything from the recent De Regno Christi discussion, we learned that Federal Vision is substantially incompatible with the Westminster Standards and hence the orthodox Reformed understanding of Scripture. We are being asked to accept that these very clever men discovered things in Scripture that have been missed for 2000 years of Christian history and 500 years of Reformed history. I personally find that highly unlikely. So do seven orthodox Reformed denominations. This isn’t a Martin Luther type of stand. It’s more like James Dean.

Let me close with the Federal Visionist’s closing comments:

Now, let the traditionalists hammer away at me in their own discussion lists and blogs. I trust most readers will understand and agree with what I have said here. I believe in the sufficiency of Scripture.

If “most readers” counts the 1300 or so commissioners at the 35th PCA General Assembly representing every presbytery in the denomination, something like 95-98% of them resoundingly rejected the Federal Vision. So have six other orthodox Reformed denominations. And every one of them believes in the supremacy and sufficiency of Scripture. None agree with what he (or his FV friends) said.

This is a simultaneous “A” and “not A” situation. Both sides cannot be right. Don’t be fooled by red herrings and misdirections. Don’t just read the blogs, read the denominational study reports. They are linked in the side bar to the right. Every one was written by Godly men who embrace the supremacy and sufficiency of Scripture and studied these issues in depth.



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