I will skip over I.4 and I.5, since little of substance was addressed there. I will, therefore, move on to section II, dealing with the Memorial from Central Carolina Presbytery. The first question has to do with election. Personally, the first question isn’t a very helpful one. The third question is the important one. I think that Wilkins thinks the same about the first question, as he says, “I’m not quite sure how to answer this question.” For me, the question is not “Does Wilkins affirm the decretal election taught in the WCF?” He has said on many occasions that he does. The real question is this: “Does his view of covenantal election contradict/undermine the teaching of the WCF on decretal election?” Or, we could ask it this way: “Is Wilkins consistent with the WCF when he teaches ‘covenantal election?’” This is the far more important question. Fortunately, Wilkins’s response to this question actually addresses the more important question. We will therefore be dealing with II.1-3.
In answer to the first question, Wilkins asserts that he has always taught the WCF definition of election. He gives a quotation from his Federal Vision article to prove it. Then he says “I then follow this affirmation of the traditional view with a discussion of how the word “elect” functions in various passages of the Bible…We do believe, however, that the terms ‘elect,’ ‘chosen,’ etc., are often used in the Scriptures to refer to those who are members of the visible church (e.g., Col 3:12; 2 Th 2:13; 1 Pe 1:1-2) and not restricted to those who were chosen to eternal salvation. To affirm this, however, does not require a denial of the teaching of the Confession.”
Now, it is certainly the case that the Bible uses the term “choose” and “election” to refer to a corporate body in the Bible. See Calvin’s Institutes 3.21.5, which quotes Deut 32:8-9, Deut 7:7-8, Deut 10:14-15 to prove his point. In fact, Calvin says “sanctification is enjoined upon them because they have been chosen as his ‘special people’” (pg. 927). This corporate election is plainly losable. This is what Calvin says: “Also the prophets often confront the Jews with this election, to the latters’ displeasure and by way of reproach, since they had shamefully fallen away from it” (pg. 927). However, the implications of such an election are not even remotely taken in the same direction as Wilkins takes them. Calvin adds “a second, more limited degree of election, or one in which God’s more special grace was evident” (pg. 929). This is of individual Israelites, as the context of Calvin’s discussion immediately makes plain. Note here Calvin’s use of the term “special grace.” The grace in these two ”elections” is by no means the same. Calvin clarifies further down the page: “But I had good reason to say that here we must note two degrees, for in the election of a whole nation God has already shown that in his mere generosity he has not been bound by any laws but is free, so that equal apportionment of grace is not to be required of him. The very inequality of his grace proves that it is free.” On the next page, he equivocates not at all, but says that salvation is to be attributed only to the more narrow, limited degree of election: “His free election has been only half explained until we come to individual persons, to whom God not only offers salvation but so assigns it that the certainty of its effect is not in suspense or doubt…Therefore Paul skillfully argues from the passage of Malachi (in Rom 9) that I have just cited that where God has made a covenant of eternal life and calls any people to himself, a special mode of election is employed for a part of them, so that he does not with indiscriminate grace effectually elect all.” He stops clearly short of attributing regeneration to the “general election,” when he says “It is easy to explain why the general election of a people is not always firm and effectual: to those with whom God makes a covenant, he does not at once give the spirit of regeneration that would enable them to persevere in the covenant to the very end. Rather, the outward change, without the working of inner grace, which might have availed to keep them, is intermediate between the rejection of mankind and the election of a meager number of the godly” (930). The reason I have quoted so copiously from Calvin is that Wilkins claims his views to be from Calvin, and to show that, though there are superficial similarities between them, the difference is deep indeed.
This quotation is from the revised version of the AAPC statement: : “the Bible does not explain the distinction between the nature of the work of the Spirit in the reprobate and the nature of His work in the elect, and even uses the same language for both.” Calvin is very clear: there is an enormous difference between what happens to the decretally elect versus what happens to those who are not, though in covenant. That Calvin is actually addressing this issue is plain from the wording “a part of them.” Regeneration is not given to everyone who is part of the covenant. The AAPC statement still has this completely wrong: the Bible does not use the same language of justification, sanctification, adoption, election, glorification, etc. for the elect as for the non-elect covenantal members. The example used by the AAPC to make its point is not actually to the point, since the Spirit coming upon Saul and the Spirit coming upon David must be explained by the rest of Scripture. Though we can surely take from that passage that the common operations of the Spirit can often look like the real work of regeneration, it is not said to be regeneration. Saul was never regenerated. What happens in the AAPC statement is this leap of logic: since one cannot ordinarily distinguish between the common operations of the Spirit and the “real thing,” and that the Bible seemingly says the same thing about both categories of people, that therefore there must be some ontological reality corresponding to this. Nowhere does “judgment of charity” even get a head-nod.
BOQ God, however, mysteriously has chosen to draw some into the covenant community who are not elect unto eternal salvation. These non-elect covenant members are truly brought to Christ, united to Him in the Church by baptism and receive various gracious operations of the Holy Spirit. Corporately, they are part of the chosen, redeemed, Spirit-indwelt people. Sooner or later, however, in the wise counsel of God, these fail to bear fruit and fall away. In some sense, they were really joined to the elect people, really sanctified by Christ’s blood, really recipients of new life given by the Holy Spirit. God, however, has chosen not to uphold them in the faith, and all is lost. They break the gracious new covenant they entered into at baptism. EOQ (from the AAPC revised statement)
Here again we have too much attributed to general election. Such people are never redeemed, and they are certainly never “really joined to the elect people, really sanctified by Christ’s blood, really recipients of new life given by the Holy Spirit.” This is the problem. There is no qualification given to this except the very vague “in some sense.” In guarding the WCF concerns, it is never enough to say “Oh, I believe in it.” It must also be thoroughly guarded at every point in one’s theology. Clarifications and qualifications must be present, especially when engaging in statements such as this.