The Church: Its Definition in Terms of “Visible” and “Invisible” Valid

As promised, here is the paper written by Rev. Wes White. He wrote this paper as part of his research for the study committee of the Siouxlands Presbytery, which dealt with the question of the theologies of NPP/NS/FV. These are his thoughts, not mine, though I agree with 99.9% of the paper. My only difference is on the interpretation of Matthew 13’s parable of the wheat and tares (although I haven’t decided yet what I think; so I may not actually disagree with him).  

Introduction – Sources of the Debate

For the Reformers, the central debate of the Reformation was justification by faith alone. From Rome’s perspective, the central debate was the Church. The Reformers contended that you needed to know first the true Gospel, and then you could find the Church based on who taught it. Rome said that you needed first to know the Church, and then you would know what the true faith is.

On the one side, Rome contended that “the Church is a union of men who are united by the profession of the same Christian faith, and by participation in the same sacraments under the direction of their lawful pastors, especially the one representative of Christ on earth, the Pope of Rome.”1 Thus, Rome defined the Church as the visible community that appears under the government of the Pope, and so the visible community that appears as the Church is the Church without any qualification.

In contrast to this, the Reformers contended that the Church was made up of the elect and true believers. Thus, Martin Luther said, “He who does not truly believe…does not belong to the Christian Church.”2 Consequently, “If the Pope were not pious and holy, he could not be a member, much less the head of the holy Church.”3 Calvin speaks similarly, “To God alone must be left the knowledge of his Church, of which His secret election forms the foundation.”4

This did not mean, of course, that the Reformers denied the existence of a visible Church. It simply meant that the Church in its essence was different than the Church that appears before our eyes. Thus, Calvin wrote:

I have observed that the Scriptures speak of the Church in two ways. Sometimes when they speak of the Church they mean the Church as it really is before God…Often, too by the name of Church is designated the whole body of mankind scattered throughout the world, who profess to worship one God and Christ, who by baptism are initiated into the faith.5

This definition describes exactly what the Reformers and their heirs meant by the distinction between the visible and invisible Church. The true Church consists of believers who are visible but yet not always visible as believers. Consequently, we may call the community of true and feigned professors of the faith “Church,” but in a more proper sense we call the true professors “Church.”

Thus, the primary issue between Rome and Protestantism was whether the word “Church” was used in Scripture with only one meaning or whether it had diverse senses. Rome affirmed the former; Protestantism the latter. Rome wanted to put all the emphasis on the visible communion under the Pope. This was true not only because of their view of the membership of the Church and of the sacraments, but, for them it was a powerful polemic against the Reformation. They argued as follows. First, the Church is always visible. Second, the Church of the Reformation was not seen before the Reformation. Consequently, the Church of the Reformation is not the true Church. So, we can see that a great deal of the argument over the Reformation turned around this point.

Curiously, in modern times, many Protestants have turned their back on the classic Protestant distinction of the visible and invisible Church. Thus, Karl Barth wrote:

By men assembling here and there in the Holy Spirit there arises here and there a visible Christian congregation. It is best not apply the idea of invisibility to the Church; we are all inclined to slip away with that in the direction of a civitas platonica or some sort of Cloud-cuckooland, in which the Christians are united inwardly and invisibly, while the visible Church is devalued.6

Barth and many other modern theologians saw this distinction of the visible and invisible Church as a flight from the world and an intrusion of Platonic ideas on Christian theology.

In addition, more recently, some more conservative and confessional theologians and pastors such as John Murray, Klaas Schilder, and the advocates of the so-called Federal Vision theology7 have expressed a desire to move away from distinguishing the Church in the way that the Protestant Reformers did. Thus, John Murray writes in his article “The Church: Its Distinction in Terms of ‘Visible’ and ‘Invisible’ Invalid”:

“Strictly speaking, it is not proper to speak of the ‘visible church.’ According to Scripture we should speak of ‘the church’ and conceive of it as that visible entity that exists and functions in accord with the institution of Christ as its Head.”8 All these theologians and pastors evidence a desire to go back to using the word “Church” with only one meaning.

In this paper, we will be focusing on a couple of these writers as we argue in favor of the classic distinction. It is important to note that though they all seem to want to define “Church” with only one meaning, they do not all desire the same meaning to be attached to that word. We shall deal first with the error of Rome, which is repeated in Douglas Wilson, Otto Weber, and others, that the word Church in the present time should only refer to what we call the visible Church. That is, those who are baptized and members of the Church are in the Church, and we cannot apply any other sense of Church to say that unbelieving baptized members who remain in the external communion are not in the Church at this point in history.9 On the other side, Murray desires to define the Church simply in terms of those who are effectually called and does not want to allow the term to be used to refer in any way to all those who profess true faith and their children. We shall deal first with Wilson’s error and then with Murray’s.

First Question: Should the Church be Defined Only in Terms of the Visible Communion of the Church? Defining the Question

First, we must be careful in discussing this issue to understand that we are not referring simply to visible and invisible aspects of the Church. Everyone agrees on this point. The Romanist theologian Ludwig Ott admits, “Side by side with the outward visible side, the Church, like her Divine-human Founder, has also an inner, invisible side.”10 We are not asking if there are visible and invisible sides of the Church, for this is a point on which everyone agrees. Rather, the issue is whether the membership of the Church that we see is different from that of the Church in its essence.

Second, we are not asking if the members of the Church today are the same as at the end of time. Thus, Doug Wilson desires that we make visible and invisible refer to historical and eschatological. The historical Church is the Church as it exists now “those throughout history who profess the true faith, together with their children.” The eschatological Church occurs at the end of time when “every true child of God will be there, not one missing, and every false professor will have been removed.”11 He argues on this basis that we have wrongly “tended to make an ontological distinction instead of an historical distinction.”12 In other words, the Church is not the same today as it will be in heaven. Every side would affirm this point. The question is rather whether true believers are members of the Church in a more proper and true sense than those who only profess the true faith.

Thirdly, this is not a question of whether there is a church of the elect “composing a church in hyper-space.”13 The Reformed did not call it a Church of the elect because it was a separate Church up in heaven or some ideal, Platonic form. Rather, as Ursinus noted, “It is called invisible, not that the men who are in it are invisible, but because of the faith and piety of those who belong to it can neither be seen, nor known, except by those who possess it; and also because we cannot with certainty distinguish the godly from those who are hypocrites in the visible church.”14 All sides admit that the Church has visible manifestations in the world, but the question is whether all those who are members of the Church as it appears are truly members of the Church.

To understand what we are debating, we define the Church on earth in the strict sense as Rijssen defines it: “The Church militant is the assembly of called men who believe the divine truth in the heart, confess it from the mouth, and promise to have communion with the saints (Acts 2:41-42).”15 This is similar to the definition of Johannes à Marck: “A multitude of fallen men who, according to eternal election, are called by God’s grace to its communion, are united with Christ and one another by the Holy Spirit, faith and love, and will afterwards be saved eternally.”16 In other words, Church, in the strict sense, consists of true believers.

Secondly, this Church has both visible and invisible aspects. Thus, Rijssen goes on to explain, “And since particular members gather publicly to worship God, there arises a twofold state of the Church. The first is internal and invisibly joined with Christ, and the second is external and visibly joined with one another (1 Cor. 12:12-13).”17 This is the same point that we found in the quote from Ursinus above. The elect believers have a faith that we cannot see, but they themselves are visible and join visibly with other believes.

Thirdly, “Reprobates and hypocrites imitate the external state and the works done in it, but they are not simply for that reason members of the true Church (Ga. 2:4).”18 This external confession of the mouth and worship can be imitated and, according to the Bible, often is. This assembly of people who confess the truth externally is generally what is meant by the term “visible Church.” As Edward Leigh noted: “The visible Church…consists of men professing the true faith and religion in any way, whether in truth or counterfeit and falsely, of good and evil, of elect and reprobate.”19

This last definition of the visible Church is often referred to in Scripture. In the parable of the wheat and the tares, the tares grow up with the wheat and are eventually separated from them (Mt. 13:36-43). The parable of the dragnet describes the preaching of the word taking in both good and bad (Mt. 13:47-52). Paul describes the great house of the Church as being on in which there are vessels for honor and dishonor (2 Tim. 2:20). Thus, in the visible Church, there are the righteous and unrighteous.

Note, then:

1. The Church refers to the effectually called elect.

2. This Church has both internal and external aspects.

3. Reprobates and the wicked can imitate that external state.

4. This worshipping community of elect and reprobate men may also be called “Church.”

5. This last use of “Church” is what the Reformed meant by “visible Church.”

The question we are debating, then, is this. Besides the meaning of the word Church in the sense of #4, does the Scripture use the word “Church” in the sense of #1? In other words, besides the visible Church in which are mixed many hypocrites and evil men with the true believers, does the Bible use the word “Church” in a way that refers only to the elect and the true believers not only at the end of time but also in the present? We affirm this definition against Rome and the many modern theologians who deny this distinction and confine the meaning of the word “Church” to the visibly gathered community.

Arguments

1. The most important text is 1 Jn. 2:19: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be manifest, that none of them were of us.” Calvin sums up the argument this way: “He then confesses that they had gone out from the bosom of the Church; but he denies that they were ever of the Church.”20 Consequently, there is a meaning of “us” and “the Church” that does not refer to those who depart from the visible communion of the Church.

2. The way Paul describes the Israelites who had fallen away in Romans. He says, “He is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly” (Rom. 2:28-29). Thus, only the regenerate Jews are true “Jews” and part of the Church. He speaks similarly in Rom. 9:6: “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel.” In one sense, they belonged to Israel, but in another sense they did not. And note that they did not become “non-Israel” because of their unbelief. Rather, they do not believe because they are not of Israel.

3. Jesus’ definition of His sheep in John 10. First, He says negatively, “You do not believe because you are not of My sheep” (Jn. 10:26). It is not that they are not of His sheep because they do not believe; rather, they do not believe because they are not of His sheep. Secondly, He says positively: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (Jn. 10:27). Thus, we have a clear instance of Jesus defining His flock simply in terms of those who believe and hear His voice.

4. Titles and attributes are ascribed to the members of the Church that cannot refer to the reprobate or unregenerate such as election (Eph. 1:4, 1 Pet. 2:9); victory over Satan (Mt. 16:18); children of promise and born of the Spirit (Gal. 4:28-29); saved by Christ and beneficiaries of His death (Eph. 5:23); and life, being a spiritual house or a royal priesthood, holy, called out of darkness, and obtaining mercy (1 Pet. 2:5, 9-10). In all of these cases, these attributes and titles cannot apply to the reprobate and unregenerate either temporally or finally; therefore, the idea of Church in these passages includes only the elect and regenerate.

What is the Use of This Doctrine?

1. From the context of the passages above and others, we can see how this doctrine may be used. The first use is that we might avoid presumption. As we can see from the history of Israel and most of the rest of Church history, there is a great tendency of man to rely on participation in a few external rites for his salvation (Is. 1, Rom. 2:17, etc.). The Bible often uses this doctrine to warn against this tendency. Thus, Paul in Romans 2, warns the Jews not to rest on its external association with the Church as assurance that they really belong to it (Rom. 2:28-29). Jesus warns those who have experienced great blessings in the external association of the Church that if they do not obey Him, He will say to them, “Depart from me, you worker of lawlessness, I never knew you” (Mt. 7:23, cf. 1 Cor. 10:1-13, Heb. 3:12-13, Heb. 6:4-6, etc.).

2. It assures us of God’s power and grace. This is the heart of the issue in Romans 9-11. “It is not as though the Word of God has taken no effect” (Rom. 9:6). In other words, the Word of God has accomplished exactly what God wanted it to do. It gave mercy to those whom God had elected. It is not as if God had intended to save Israel but was unable to save them. Rather, those who rejected the word were not “Israel” (Rom. 9:6). Thus, this doctrine teaches us the security and stability of grace.

3. Consequently, it is also very assuring for the individual believer. We can understand that however the Church may falter, yet God preserves a Church for Himself, a remnant according to grace (Rom. 11:4-5). The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church (Mt. 16:18), and they will not prevail against me because I, as a member of the Church, am in Christ’s hand (Jn. 10:28-30).

4. It demolishes the claims of Rome. Their definition of the Church cannot stand against the Scriptures. Their argument that the Church must always be visible in the eyes of the world must fall. The Pope is not the head of the Church because he is not a member of the Church. The question of the Papists, “Where was your Church before the Reformation?” is easily answered. Thus, Turretin wrote, “The importance of this question is such that on its decision many questions and all of those concerning the Church that exist between us and the Papists depend on it.”21

Objections

We first note that the opponents of this view rarely deal with the texts that we have cited. Thus, the Lutheran theologian Quenstedt noted in his discussion of this question, “Bellarmine does not attack our stronger arguments, with which we prove that in a certain sense and respect the church is invisible; he cites some weaker [arguments] and tries to reply to them.”22 Nevertheless, we do reply to several objections.

1. The visible church is compared to a field in which there are tares, a house in which are ignoble vessels, a net in which are bad fish, a tree with unfruitful branches, etc.23

Reply. This is the most common argument, but none of these are to the point. These refer to the external state of the Church, which we admit is one way the Bible speaks of “Church.” The question is rather whether there is also another sense in which the Bible speaks of Church, namely, to refer only to the elect and effectually called. Thus, Du Moulin replies to Cardinal Perron, “They bring also texts that speak of a visible Church, intending thereby to prove that there is no invisible Church, with as much reason, as I would prove that there is no reasonable creature, because there are some unreasonable.”24 This is similar to the objection that the Papists often bring up, namely, that we deny that there is a visible Church.25

2. It creates a Church of the elect in hyperspace and neglects the importance of history.26

Reply. This results from a misunderstanding of the doctrine. It is not one Church in hyperspace that is real and another on earth that is not. The true Church is known perfectly to God and imperfectly to men, even though the men are visible. What makes it invisible is the faith and piety of the men who compose it and the fact that reprobates can imitate the external state.27

3. “This leads to a disparagement of the visible Church, and eventually necessitates, I believe, a baptistic understanding of the Church.”28

Reply. First, the abuse of a thing does not determine the truth of a thing. On the other hand, the truth is in accord with godliness (Tit. 1:1). We can surely admit that there are those who have emphasized being a believer at the expense of being a part of the visible Church. But it is important to note that this problem is not new. In the 17th century, the Socinians denied that it was necessary for believers (in their sense) to join the visible Church or that it was something that should be carefully sought out. They also downplayed the ministry. The Reformed theologians of the 16th and 17th century argued vehemently against this view. Thus, they had to deal with Rome who said too much and the Socinians who said too little.29 Rome erred in excess by making joining the visible Church absolutely necessary. The Socinians argued in defect that it need not be anxiously sought out or joined. Hoornbeeck insisted that while it was not necessary to join the Church for salvation, it was most necessary for knowing Christ properly, living a godly life, and confessing His truth, just as, it is not necessary to make many prayers to be saved, but it is certainly necessary for the Christian life.

Thus, we contend that the solution to the problems that are often brought up were adequately dealt with by the Reformed theologians of the 17th century who fought against the errors in defect of the Remonstrants and Socinians. The answer to these problems is not a denial of the invisible/visible church distinction but rather a proper emphasis and teaching of the visible church. Moreover, we contend that a denial of the invisible/visible church distinction as we define it here also has very bad consequences: presumption, calling into question God’s sovereign grace, removing the comfort of the believer, and weakening our defenses against Rome and its theology.

4. Those who turned away from the faith were branches that were a part of the tree (Jn. 15:2); therefore, not only the elect are a part of the Church.

Reply. First, we freely admit that not only the elect belong to the visible and external society of the Church. But we deny that they are for that reason part of the Church in the more proper sense or in every sense. We assert that the Scripture speaks about the Church in two senses, as it truly is before God, and as it appears before men.

Second, the parable does not teach that the branches are the same. The branches of the tree that are cut off are those that do not bear fruit. Thus, there is a distinction between fruitful branches that remain and unfruitful branches that are cut off. This is how the famous exegete, Andrew Willet replied:

Is a dead bow or a branch, I pray you, any part of the tree? I think not: the tree cannot conveniently spare any one of the parts thereof, but the dead parts are hurtful and cumbersome, and it doth the tree good to cut them off…For as what is in the body receiving no life nor power from the body is not properly a part of the body, however it seems to be joined to the body; so the wicked although they be in the outward face of the Church, yet because they are not partakers of the spiritual life thereof by Christ, are not truly to be judged members of it.30

Third, this is not the only parable that teaches us about those who appear to be part of the Church but are not. In Mt. 7:15-20, Jesus speaks of false prophets as wolves in sheep’s clothing. They appear to be sheep, but only have sheepskin. In the parable of the sower (Mt. 13), there are a variety of responses to the word. Those who remain for a time and then fall away are either on rocky or thorny soil. They are not seeds planted on good seed that then fall away. In the wheat and tares, the tares are removed, but they are never wheat (Mt. 13:24-30 & 36-43). In the parable of the dragnet, the bad fish are gathered in the net but then cast out, but they are never good fish. Consequently, we conclude that they were never really a part of the Church, though they outwardly appeared to be a part of the Church.

5. Then we cannot know where the true Church is.

Reply: First, Marck responds, “It is sufficient for the individual members of the Church to be known probably by a judgment of charity, since God alone knows the heart” (277). Second, the true Church is marked out by the true preaching of the Word, and this can be known by an examination of the Scriptures.

6. The Westminster Confession in XXV.1 teaches that the invisible Church is an eschatological Church.31

Reply. The Confession does define the invisible Church as consisting of all the elect. However, the members of the visible Church are never members of the invisible Church, and the elect are not always a member of the invisible Church in the same way. We can see this from the Westminster Larger Catechism. First, the privileges of the visible Church do not include union and communion with Christ in grace and glory (Q. 63-65). Only those who are members of the invisible Church have this benefit (Q. 65, 68). Moreover, this union with Christ occurs at the time of their effectual calling (Q. 66), which only happens to the elect (Q. 68).

Summation

We have seen that the visible and invisible Church distinction is not a matter of visible and invisible aspects of the Church, a Church in hyperspace or some Platonic ideal, or an historical and eschatological Church. Rather, the distinction refers to the fact that the Church that appears before our eyes is not the Church as it truly is. Some are members of the external communion who are not members of the body of Christ.

To define the Church simply in terms of the visible communion is to make a grievous error. It encourages presumption, tends to overemphasize the external communion, leads to a questioning of sovereign grace, and weakens the Protestant polemic against Rome. We can only consider such a definition of the Church as a departure from Protestant orthodoxy.

Second Question: May the Church be defined as consisting only of believers in such a way that the visible/invisible Church distinction is denied?

Defining the Question

John Murray and other conservative theologians raise this question and also feel uncomfortable speaking of an “invisible” Church. John Murray considers that this distinction is invalid.32

We must note at the outset that his approach is quite different from many modern theologians, Wilson, and Rome. Murray states rather adamantly: “Our definition of the church must not be framed in terms of an accommodation by which we make provision, within our definition, for the inclusion of hypocrites, that is to say, of those who profess to be Christ’s but are not really his.”33 In other words, the members of the Church must be defined only and always as those who are regenerate. Hypocrites are not to be included in the definition at all. Consequently, it is illegitimate for Wilson and others to appeal to Murray as if he were saying exactly what they do.34 Both Wilson and Murray agree that the Church is only to be defined in one way, but Murray says the Church only includes believers, while Wilson says that it includes all members of the visible Church, even hypocrites.

Nevertheless, Murray does go on to declare that the distinction between the “visible” and “invisible” Church is invalid. Moreover, we should not think that Murray reaffirms the old distinction when he says, “It may not be improper to speak of the church as characterized by attributes that are invisible or, in other words, to say that the church has invisible aspects.”35 Certainly everyone could agree that there are some aspects of the Church that are invisible. Even Rome would admit that not everything about the Church is visible!36 Murray simply means by this that the same people that have faith that is unseen manifest it in coming together as Church. This is not what the classic Protestant definition refers to, though, of course, all the older Protestant theologians would gladly admit that what Murray says is true.37

We would also add that there is no reason why Murray should deny this classic distinction since he affirms that the Church is defined in terms of faith, which is not visible, and though the men who believe are visible, they are not always visible as believers. This is so because they walk inconsistently with their belief and others imitate the fruit of faith. Thus, Bellarmine even admits on this question, “If they who are destitute of internal faith are not and cannot be in the church, there will be no further question concerning the invisibility of the church between us and the heretics.” He adds his reason for that statement, “No one can certainly know who are truly righteous and pious among so many, who externally profess righteousness and piety.”38 Consequently, Murray ought to admit that the “appellation ‘visible,’ extends more widely than that of ‘invisible’ because many are called, few are chosen (Mt. 20:16).”39

Weighty Reasons for Calling the Church “Invisible”

Murray opposes this distinction for two reasons. First, he believes that it is unscriptural. Second, he believes that it is liable to abuses that can be removed by the use of other terms.40 We consider first, then, whether Scripture provide warrant for using this distinction. This first question can also be divided into two questions. First, does the Scripture refer to the essence of the Church both as to internal faith and its true members as invisible? Second, does it call all those who externally unite themselves to the Church “Church” but in a different sense?

On the first question, Murray writes, “‘The Church’ in the New Testament never appears as an invisible entity and therefore may never be defined in terms of invisibility.”41 Of course, the Church is always visible in some sense, such as that those who have true faith are visible as humans, but this is not pertinent to the question. The question is whether the Church in the strict sense, as the company of believers, is ever visible to the eyes as such a body. This is precisely what the classic distinction denies while admitting visibility in other senses.

When the question is framed in such a way, the Scriptural evidence for such a definition easily appears. Turretin provides seven arguments for this distinction. First, he argues that all the arguments listed in the first section of this paper (among others) prove this point. Second, he refers to those passages that explicitly contrast the external appearance with the internal reality (Rom. 9:6, Gal. 6:16, Rom. 2:28-29) and concludes that the internal form is not visible at all nor the true members as such. Third, election, effectual calling, and union with Christ are all internal realities that cannot be seen by the eyes. Fourth, “the head of the Church is invisible; therefore, His body also is invisible.” Fifth, it is an object of faith; therefore, it is not seen (Heb. 11:1). Sixth, the kingdom of God does not come with observation and is within you (Lk. 17:20-21). Seventh, the true worshippers are those who “worship in spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:23).42 We might add the parables that speak of the wheat that is indiscernible from the tares (Mt. 13) and the wolves that look like sheep because of sheep’s clothing (Mt. 7:15). All of these arguments indicate that the term “invisible” is not only advisable but also necessary.

Based on these observations, we conclude that Murray is incorrect to question “the advisability of the use of the actual term ‘invisible,’” and to call it a “precarious foundation.”43 Rather, we say that though many “are accustomed to traduce the invisible church as a Platonic idea and a mere figment or chimera of the Protestants…[W]e affirm it, influenced by the most weighty reasons.”44

Reasons for Calling All Those in the Visible Communion “The Visible Church”

But Murray not only has problems with the way that Church has been defined as invisible, he also has problems with the way the Westminster Confession of Faith (as one example) defines the visible Church as those who profess the true faith together with their children. He claims that our definition of the church should not be framed in such a way that includes “those who profess to be Christ’s but are not really his.”45 Of course, we can grant that this is true in regard to the invisible Church, but this is not helpful in regard to the external communion. What actually defines or limits the visible Church? It cannot be true and saving faith because all do not have it. Rather, it is admission into the Church through baptism along with the profession of saving faith. This is how we must answer the question of what constitutes the external communion. What makes one a Jew or church member externally must obviously be defined in terms of external marks.

Murray objects that we should not make this accommodation in our definition of the Church because the Bible applies to the local congregation attributes that can only apply to true believers within her (1 Cor. 1:1-2). We answer that, of course, the local Church is denominated from her better part, but when Paul writers to a local congregation, he refers to all those who are actually gathered there. Thus, some are called members of the Church univocally and others equivocally, but even those who are called so equivocally are still called members of the Church.46 This collection of members who are truly so called and members who are called such only equivocally is what we call the visible Church.

Moreover, the Bible does plainly call this visible gathered body “Church.” We find that Solomon blessed the whole assembly47 while they were standing (1 Kings 8:14). Jesus tells us, “Tell it to the Church” (Mt. 18:17). Those who gladly received the word and were baptized were added to their number (Acts 2:41). Paul greeted the Church at Caesarea (1 Cor. 18:22). Even a passage like “they are not all Israel who are of Israel” (Rom. 9:6) illustrates that those who are only a part of the external communion are “Israel” in some sense and possess some benefits as Paul states in Rom. 9:4-5. This is why the Westminster Larger Catechism refers to the benefits that belong to all who are in the visible church.48

Why, then, if the Bible calls this visible community “Church,” should we not do so? When we look at all the data of Scripture we find that the Bible uses the word and concept Church in two ways (at least!). It refers sometimes to true believers and at other times to the visible communion that includes both believers and unbelievers who profess the true faith. This is what Protestants from Luther to Calvin to the Westminster Assembly to Turretin to Marck have most aptly defined as the invisible and visible Church respectively.

Murray’s Practical Objections to the Protestant Definition

One reason that Murray might give for not calling the external members “church” is that this distinction is open to abuses that other distinctions eliminate.49 He mentions the fact that some were too hesitant to leave apostate denominations in which they had no godly fellowship because they took comfort in the communion of the invisible Church.50 Consequently, they made no effort to leave apostate denominations. We respond, first, that we certainly admit that wrong conclusions may and sometimes are drawn from Biblical doctrines. Some conclude from the doctrine of justification that we nullify the law (Rom. 3:31). Some conclude from our teaching on predestination that God is responsible for evil (Rom. 9:19). In each case, however, we should not abandon the doctrine but clarify our teaching concerning it. We must teach sanctification as well as justification. We must teach human responsibility as well as divine election. We must teach the importance of the visible Church as well as the invisible.

Second, Murray cannot remove the potential for abuse of doctrine. It is not too hard to see how defining Church in one way can lead to someone affirming the opposite of what he says about the members of the Church and falling into the problems we mentioned above.51 Are we to abandon Murray’s doctrine for the simple reason that some have taken it in directions that he would not want to?

Third, even though some misuse the doctrine of the visible/invisible Church distinction in order to downplay ecclesiastical responsibilities, is there not some ground for taking comfort from this distinction? Thus, when Elijah saw the whole visible Church fall into apostasy, did not God Himself comfort Elijah with the fact that He reserved a true Church for Himself of 7,000 that had not bowed the knee to Baal? This is also the same point that Martin Luther made when Erasmus challenged him that it was incredible that the Church had been apostate for so long and been deserted by God. Luther responded, “That is not the Church of Christ which is commonly so called, i.e., the pope and the bishops; but the church is the certain few pious persons whom he preserves as remnants.” Thus, he concluded, “God had never deserted his church.”52 Should we not take the same comfort today when we labor hard for Church unity but find that the visible unity is fractured in spite of all efforts? Can we not take comfort that in spite of our sad visible differences true believers are all one in Christ Jesus?

Confusion from Murray’s Way of Conceiving the Church

As a final point on Murray’s views, we wish to point out the confusion that can arise from the adaptation of his viewpoint. Murray says that we should think of the Church this way:

According to Scripture we should speak of ‘the church’ and conceive of it as that visible entity that exists and functions in accord with the institution of Christ as its Head, the church that is the body of Christ indwelt and directed by the Holy Spirit, consisting of those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be saints, manifested in the congregations of the faithful, and finally the church glorious, holy and without blemish.53

But here Murray treats of diverse things that do not have the same mode of existence. “The visible entity…[that] functions in accord with the institution of Christ” can be conceived apart from those who are “sanctified in Christ Jesus.” In other words, believers can exist apart from that visible entity and in a visible entity that does not function in accord with the institution of Christ.

Furthermore, consider the following questions that arise from always conceiving of the Church in the way that Murray suggests. If there are believers, such as in the time of Elijah, when the visible entity does not function in accord with Christ’s institution, does that mean they are not “Church”? Are those who truly believe but are not part of the visible entity that functions in accord with the institution of Christ truly a part of “the Church”? Are those who are excommunicated but true believers a part of the Church? Could Erasmus have answered Martin Luther, “But the Church was the visible entity!”? We are not claiming that we know how Murray would answer any of these questions, but we do believe that these and similar questions can and should be raised and that his definition does not adequately account for them.

Summation

While Murray’s error is not as severe as those who seek to define the Church simply as those who are baptized members of it, nevertheless, it is a view that creates confusion and is open to many of the pitfalls of the previous view. Moreover, Murray does not deal adequately with the tradition on this matter. Murray does not take into account the Scriptures that are used to prove the doctrine. He interacts only in a cursory way with the exegetical, theological, and historical background of the doctrine, and yet calls into question a classic Protestant distinction given in answer to what Turretin calls “one of the most important questions.”54 In addition, his viewpoint contradicts the confession that he professed to hold to, the Westminster Confession, and has left open the door to more serious errors. Consequently, his views should be rejected, and we should affirm the classic way of distinguishing the invisible and visible Church.

Conclusion

We have seen from this article that this Protestant doctrine has fallen on hard times in this modern era, but not at the hands of Romanists but of Protestants. This situation should be examined. When we carefully examine the sources of Reformed doctrine we find unanimity on the substance of this doctrine and that for the older Protestants it is fundamental to the dispute with Rome. This situation requires more care than has often been given to it and less eagerness to dismiss with this distinction. We also must be careful that we do not replace the classic distinction with one that is contrary to its substance, such as the historical and eschatological Church. We must also be on our guard against such replacement distinctions because they are sometimes presented as in consonance with or the same as the classic distinction.

Most importantly, this doctrine is deeply Scriptural. The distinction between members who are truly and internally members of the Church and those that are such only externally is not only a doctrine that is properly deduced from Scripture but also one that is actually explicitly stated in Scripture. Consequently, we who desire to affirm the old way should feel no hesitation in making the valid distinction between the visible and invisible Church. However much the Roman communion and modern Protestants “are accustomed to traduce the invisible church as a Platonic idea and a mere figment or chimera of the Protestants…we affirm it, influenced by the most weighty reasons.”55

1. Robert Bellarmine, cited in Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, tr. by Patrick Lynch, ed. by Jams Canon Bastible (Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1960), p. 271.

2. Cited in Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol. III (Saint Louis: Concordia, 1953), p. 401.

3. Ibid.

4. John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, tr. by Henry Beveridge, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), IV:i.2.

5. Ibid., IV:i.7.

6. Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline (St. Louis: Harper Torchbooks, 1959), p. 142. See also Otto Weber, Foundations of Dogmatics, Vol. II, tr. by Darrell L. Guder (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983), pp. 540-7.

7. See The Federal Vision, ed. by Duane Garner & Steve Wilkins (Monroe, LA: Athanasius Press, 2004); and The Auburn Avenue Theology Pros & Cons: Debating the Federal Vision, ed. by E. Calvin Beisner (Ft. Lauderdale: Knox Theological Seminary, 2004).

8. In John Murray, The Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol. 1 (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1976), pp. 231-236.

9. Wilson does make a distinction between the historical and eschatological Church, which we will deal with below.

10. Ott, p. 302.

11. Douglas Wilson, “Reformed” is Not Enough, (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2002), p. 72.

12. Doug Wilson, “The Church: Visible or Invisible,” in The Federal Vision, p. 266.

13. Ibid., p. 268.

14. Zacharias Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1956), p. 287.

15. Leonardus Rijssenius, Summa Elencticae Theologiae (Edinburgh: George Mosman, 1692), p. 280.

16. Johannes Marckius, Christianae Theologiae Medulla (Amsterdam: Gerard Borstius, 1690), XXXII.5.

17. Rijssenius, p. 280.

18. Ibid.

19. Edward Leigh, Systematic Theology (London: 1662), p 624.

20. John Calvin, Commentary on the First Epistle of John in Calvin’s Commentaries XXII (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1999), p. 191.

21. Francis Turretin, Compendium Theologiae Didactico-Elencitcae ex Theologorum Nostrum Institutionibus Theologicis Auctum et Illustratum, ed. by Leonardus Rijssenius (Amsterdam: George Gallet, 1695), p. 196.

22. Johann Andreas Quenstedt, The Church, edited, abridged, and translated by Luther Poellot (Malone, TX: Repristination Press, 1999), p. 58.

23. See Wilson, “The Church: Visible or Invisible?” pp. 268-69.

24. Pierre Du Moulin, The Novelty of Popery Opposed to the Antiquity of True Christianity Against the Book of Cardinal Perron (London: Robert White, 1662), p. 8.

25. See Ludwig Ott, p. 301.

26. Wilson, “The Church: Visible or Invisible?” p. 268.

27. See above on what the question is not and the quote from Ursinus in the same place.

28. Wilson, “Reformed” is not Enough, p. 75.

29. Johannes Hoornbeeck, Socinianismi Confutati Compendium (Lugdunum Batavia: Felicem Lopez, 1690), p. 857.

30. Andrew Willet, Synopsis Papismi (London: Thomas Orwin, 1592), p. 43.

31. Wilson, “Reformed” is not Enough, p. 73.

32. John Murray, “The Church: Its Distinction Into ‘Visible’ and ‘Invisible’ Invalid.”

33. John Murray, Christian Baptism (Philadelphia: The Committee on Christian Education, The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1952), p. 42.

34. Doug Wilson, “The Church: Visible or Invisible,” p. 266.

35. Murray “The Church: Its Definition in Terms of ‘Visible’ and ‘Invisible’ Invalid,” p. 231.

36. See Ott, p. 302.

37. See the quotes from Ursinus, Commentary, p. 287 and Rijssenius, Summa, p. 280.

38. Robert Bellarmine, “De Ecclesia Militante,” 3.10 Opera [1857], 2:91 cited in Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, tr. by William M. Geiger, ed. by James T. Dennison (Philipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1997), XVIII:vii.3.

39. Turretin, Institutes, XVIII:vii.4.

40. Murray, “The Church: Its Definition in Terms of ‘Visible’ and ‘Invisible’ Invalid,” p. 232.

41. Ibid., p. 234.

42. See Turretin, Institutes, XVIII:vii.7-13. Turretin provides much fuller argumentation in the sections cited here.

43. Murray, “The Church: Its Definition in Terms of ‘Visible’ and ‘Invisible’ Invalid,” pp. 234 and 235.

44. Turretin, Institutes, XVIII:vii.6.

45. Murray, Christian Baptism, p. 42.

46. On the idea of members univocally and equivocally, see Samuel Maresius, Collegium Theologicum sive Systema Breve Universae Theologiae (Groningen: Johannes Collenus, 1659) XV.11.

47. The Hebrew word qahal is a parallel to the Greek word ekklēsia.

48. See Question 63.

49. Murray, “The Church: Its Definition in Terms of ‘Visible’ and ‘Invisible’ Invalid,” p. 235.

50. Ibid.

51. As Wilson takes Murray’s doctrine in a completely different direction.

52. Cited in Turretin, Institutes, XVIII:vii.2.

53. Murray, “The Church: Its Definition in Terms of ‘Visible’ and ‘Invisible’ Invalid,” p. 236.

54. Turretin, Institutes, XVIII:vii.3.

55. Turretin, Institutes, XVIII:vii.6.

Bibliography/Works Cited

Barth, Karl. Dogmatics in Outline. St. Louis: Harper Torchbooks, 1959.

Beisner, Cal, ed. The Auburn Avenue Theology Pros & Cons: Debating the Federal Vision. Ft. Lauderdale: Knox Theological Seminary, 2004.

Calvin, John. Commentary on the First Epistle of John in Calvin’s Commentaries XXII. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1999.

________. The Institutes of the Christian Religion, tr. by Henry Beveridge. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989.

Du Moulin, Pierre. The Novelty of Popery Opposed to the Antiquity of True Christianity Against the Book of Cardinal Perron. London: Robert White, 1662.

Garner, Duane & Wilkins, Steve, eds. The Federal Vision. Monroe, LA: Athanasius Press, 2004.

Hoornbeeck, Johannes. Socinianismi Confutati Compendium. Lugdunum Batavia: Felicem Lopez, 1690.

Leigh, Edward. Systematic Theology. London: 1662.

Marckius, Johannes. Christianae Theologiae Medulla. Amsterdam: Gerard Borstius, 1690.

Maresius, Samuel. Collegium Theologicum sive Systema Breve Universae Theologiae. Groningen: Johannes Collenus, 1659.

Murray, John. Christian Baptism. Philadelphia: The Committee on Christian Education, The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1952.

_______. “The Church: Its Definition in Terms of ‘Visible’ and ‘Invisible’ Invalid,” in The Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol. 1. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1976, pp. 231-6.

Ott, Ludwig. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, tr. by Patrick Lynch, ed. by Jams Canon Bastible. Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1960.

Pieper, Francis, Christian Dogmatics, Vol. III. Saint Louis: Concordia, 1953.

Quenstedt, Johann Andreas. The Church, edited, abridged, and translated by Luther Poellot. Malone, TX: Repristination Press, 1999.

Rijssenius, Leonardus, Summa Elencticae Theologiae. Edinburgh: George Mosman, 1692.

Turretin, Francis. Compendium Theologiae Didactico-Elencitcae ex Theologorum Nostrum Institutionibus Theologicis Auctum et Illustratum, ed. by Leonardus Rijssenius. Amsterdam: George Gallet, 1695.

________. Institutes of Elenctic Theology, tr. by William M. Geiger, ed. by James T. Dennison. Philipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1997.

Ursinus, Zacharais. Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1956.

Weber, Otto. Foundations of Dogmatics, Vol. II, tr. by Darrell L. Guder. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983.

Willet, Andrew. Synopsis Papismi. London: Thomas Orwin, 1592.

Wilson, Douglas, “The Church: Visible or Invisible,” in The Federal Vision, ed. by Garner, Duane & Wilkins, Steve. Monroe, LA: Athanasius Press, 2004.

________. “Reformed” is Not Enough. Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2002.

About these ads

205 Comments

  1. pduggie said,

    January 5, 2007 at 2:39 pm

    “3. Reprobates and the wicked can imitate that external state.”

    The quote from Rijssenius (who I’ve never heard of before) said that respobates and hypocrites can “immitate” that external state.

    That leaves a question about those with temporary faith, who are not necessarily hypocrites. People called externally by the word are not wolves “immitating” true profession, they “receive the word with Joy”. Its this category of person rather than hypocrites that raises the more complex questions.

  2. greenbaggins said,

    January 5, 2007 at 2:51 pm

    Paul, if you haven’t heard of Rijssenius, then the books you need to get are the Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, by Richard Muller. These really are a must read. It isn’t nearly as dry as it sounds. He is doing theology, using the Post-Reformation scholars as his dialogue partners. There’s a whole ‘nother world of Reformed theology out there of which %99 percent of Reformed folk are unaware. Muller is a master in the field, and introduces us to all of the important figures, of which Rijssenius is one. Wes is also very well-versed in all of these theologians.

    However, if I read the paper right, the quote is Wes’s own words, not Rijssenius. They are five theses that could be posited about the church.

    Are you saying that people with temporary faith are not hypocrites? I really cannot go there, despite the language you are using.

  3. Xon said,

    January 5, 2007 at 3:39 pm

    Please help me out here if I’m getting this wrong, but White’s discussion of the “reality” of the invisible and visible churches seems rather confused. He says that the “invisible Church” is the “more proper sense” of Church, (note his use of the quotations from Luther and Calvin at the beginning of the article, where the “default” way of talking about the Church is as the elect only, and following paragraphs.) But later he objects to saying the invisible is more “real” than the visible, though it’s not clear what else he can mean when he says that “the Church in its essence [is] different than the Church that appears before our eyes.” The essential Church vs. the ostensible Church? This sounds like a difference in ‘reality’, doesn’t it? If “Church in its essence”=invisible Church=elect only=”how God sees the Church”, then this is clearly more “real” than the Church of mere appearance that we finite human beings are forced to interact with. In fact, how do we avoid going even further than this and concluding that the “visible Church” is just an illusion–it is afterall, just an appearance to our human eyes, and it is a FALSE appearance at that (afterall, the Church, as God sees it in truth, doesn’t actually have all these mere professors of faith in it) . This is White’s definition of things, and it seems to fall in many ways into just the sort of problems that FVish minded people have worried about on its behalf. We have the “true” Church, which is all the elect known to God, and then we also have this visible manifestation of it which includes all these hypocrites. But that hypocrite-inclusive church isn’t properly “the Church” at all, but is simply a way that Scripture occasionally speaks about it. It’s a way of talking, but it ain’t the real thang.

  4. Wes White said,

    January 5, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    Now that Lane has dragged me into this, I guess he wants me to respond, too.

    Pduggie – they are hypocrites because they say they have true faith but do not.

    Xon – 1. By more proper, I mean “strict” sense.
    2. The Bible itself distinguishes these senses (1 Jn. 2:19, Rom. 2:28-29, Rom. 9:6, 1 Tim. 2:19-20 and other verses cited in the paper).
    3. Those very passages indicate that hypocrites are not part of the Church in the strict sense.
    4. My point about the Church being real is not that the “visible” Church is the real Church. I concede that it is real in the sense that people are “really” externally united to Christ by profession. My point is simply that we can know the invisible Church truly but imperfectly by the marks of the Church and the judgment of charity.
    5. Your concerns about the hypocrite-inclusive Church are straw men. Remember the title of my paper: The Church: Its distinction into “visible” and “invisible” Church valid.
    6. I do agree that this is what “FVish” people would be worried about because they generally deny or downplay the classic Protestant and Biblical distinction.

  5. guess who said,

    January 5, 2007 at 4:47 pm

    I think, while you seem to be for a stricter defintiion than others, that your way (or usual practice) tends to extirpate Godliness out of the congregation; by taking a very few that can talk more than the rest, and making them the Church, and shutting out more that are as worthy, and by neglecting the souls of all the congreagation except for some public preaching;

    You prejudice them by unjust rejections; and then think that you may warrantably account them unworthy: because you know no worthiness by them, when you estrange yourselves from them, and drive them away from you. We think that working with the visible church tends to make godliness universal, and that your recourse to the invisible tends to dwindle it to nothing. I know that some have spoken for endeavouring the good of all; but (pardon my plainness) I knew hardly any of you that did not, by an unjust espousing of your limit to the church of so-called true belivers, do the people a double injury 1) by denying them their Church-Rights, without any regular Church Justice, and 2) by lazily omitting most that should have been done for their salvation.

    By looking to the visible church all the FV ministers agree to deal seriously and orderly with all the families of their congregation, (which some did to their wonderful benefit) but you stood off. The matter in question is, whether it be better to take 20 “true” professors for the Church, and leave nothing to head and gratify the rest? Or, to attempt the just Reformation of the congregation?

    The “true” professors would have been best pleased with the first; but I’m for the latter. After a full trial, it has done that which has satisfied *all* the Professors: professed Piety and Family-Worship (in a way of Humility and Unity) was so common, that the few that differ among some Thousands are mostly ashamed of their Difference on account of Singularity, and would seem to be Godly with the rest.

    So there.

  6. pduggie said,

    January 5, 2007 at 4:57 pm

    The WCF speaks of “hypocrites, and other unregenerate men,” menaing that NOT ALL unregenerates are hypocrites.

    Your belief that they are is against the system of doctrine of the WCF which clearly distingusihes hypocrites from others. Have you been approved to take this exception by your presbytery?

  7. January 5, 2007 at 5:20 pm

    Pduggie, take a breath before you assume a minister must take a confessional exception over this sort of matter and consider for a moment that Rev. White probably does believe there are non-hypocritical unregenerate people. Those outside the church. And, per Westminster, those people can suffer from false assurance in being right with God.

  8. greenbaggins said,

    January 5, 2007 at 5:26 pm

    BOQ your way (or usual practice) tends to extirpate Godliness out of the congregation; by taking a very few that can talk more than the rest, and making them the Church, and shutting out more that are as worthy, and by neglecting the souls of all the congreagation except for some public preaching; EOQ

    You obviously didn’t read the paper very closely, did you? Neglecting the souls of all the congregation? Extirpate godliness? What rubbish!

  9. Todd said,

    January 5, 2007 at 5:55 pm

    Rubbish? Richard Baxter wrote rubbish?

  10. Todd said,

    January 5, 2007 at 6:06 pm

    Lane, are there certain instances of the word “church” in the NT that you believe refer only to the invisible church?

  11. greenbaggins said,

    January 5, 2007 at 7:29 pm

    Richard Baxter wrote a lot of rubbish, especially on justification. You need to provide the context for this quotation. Otherwise, you make it seem as if Baxter wrote on this exact subject.

    We have already talked about the instances of church in the NT. I think that there are.

  12. Todd said,

    January 5, 2007 at 7:32 pm

    Someone else posted the Baxter stuff.

    “We have already talked about the instances of church in the NT. I think that there are.”

    Please remind me. Please refer me to where you listed these references. Please.

  13. pduggie said,

    January 6, 2007 at 9:08 am

    I’m mostly just ribbin ya by posting the baxter stuff.

    lighten up :-)

  14. greenbaggins said,

    January 6, 2007 at 10:00 am

    Okay. :-)

  15. Xon said,

    January 6, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    Mr. White,

    First of all, know that I do not intend to be disrespectful to you at all. I am, for the record, currently under care of the Northeast Georgia Presbytery of the PCA (new presbytery just branched off from the North Georgia Presbytery on Nov 1), and I don’t want anyone to think that I am not willing to be held accountable for what I say.

    Second, I don’t want to bury you with words. But this next response will be a bit long. However, if we decide to continue from here I promise to be very concise in any future follow-ups.

    I’ll respond to your points from your comment (#4) one by one.

    1. Okay. Sorry for being dense on that point.

    2. About the Bible distinguishing b/w two senses of “Church”, I don’t have any problem with this and I don’t really think that FVish folks do either. This is a criticism I didn’t offer earlier of your paper (I still have to digest a good bit of it), but which did strike me as I read it. Claiming that the Protestant view is to distinguish b/w two senses in which we can talk about the Church, as though FVers don’t do this, seems to me to miss the mark. The question is not whether we can talk about a “visible Church” or an “invisible Church,” but what exactly we are referring to when we do so. The question is not whether or not the Bible distinguishes Israel from Israel, for instance, but what it means to be the two kinds of Israel. In other words, it is not sufficient to point out that the Bible makes the bare distinction: the critic of FV must show that the meaning the Bible gives to the distinction is different than what FVers give to it. (I’ll give an interpretation of the FV view below.)

    3. Further, I don’t think anyone disagrees with your claim that reprobates within the covenant (assuming this is what you meant by “hypocrites”) are not part of the covenant in the same way that the elect are. I can be even more confident if we limit ourselves to Wilson and Wilkins (probably the two key FVers in this particular conversation; Wilson b/c he wrote the chapter on vis/invis in the FV book, Wilkins b/c he’s actually PCA) and say that these two men definitely don’t disagree with this claim. We can certainly say that “not all Israel is Israel.” The question, again, is “Does this difference between the members of Israel amount to the difference between the invisible and visible Church, or is the invis/vis distinction talking about something (at least slightly) different?” I think FVers would affirm the latter disjunct in that question.

    4 and 5. I think these are related, or at least it seems best to me to answer them in one piece.

    First of all, I don’t mean to erect any straw men of your position. I think I see better now what you are wanting to say, and so as I said under (1) above so I say here: sorry for misunderstanding you.

    As I said above, I think the disagreement is over what the two senses of Church are, not that there are two senses. Your view, if I am now understanding it properly, is that the invisible church is all elect believers in Christ, at (or up to?) present. In other words, all elect people who are currently actually trusting in Christ with the God-given faith to which they have been effectually called. So my elect great-grandson who will be born fifty years from now is not a part of the invisible church, even though he is elect. (In other words, up until the eschaton “invisible church” remains a subset of “the elect.”) Who exactly is in this group is something seen (known) only by God. The visible church, on the other hand, is the “worshipping community of elect and reprobate” together. Right now, there is this visible community of people all coming together and worshipping God and claiming to believe in Christ for salvation, etc., but there are many in this community who are not elect to salvation. This community is what we see, hence it is the “visible church.”

    What is wrong with this account? Nothing in substance! We can all agree that there are people in the community of faith who have not been effectually called into the same union with Christ as other people. There are two different “realities” among the different people in the Church. We agree that there is a permanent, deeper (or if you prefer “internal”) union with Christ ordained by God which some people have and which others do not. The disagreement is over how we put this all together in terms of “visible” and “invisible” Church. The dispute is not over whether there is such a thing as the “invisible church”, nor is it over whether there are elect people in the Church who have all sorts of benefits that the non-elect in the Church don’t possess. Rather the dispute is over whether the latter group DEFINES “invisible Church.”.

    Suppose that Wilson or Wilkins (or I myself) put forward this breakdown of the two senses of Church, roughly parallel to the one in your article:

    1. The Church refers to the visible community of faith, which has been gifted by God with the power of the Gospel, the means of grace in the Word preached and the sacraments rightly administered, the authority to discipline, etc.

    2. This Church has both elect and reprobate in it.

    3. The elect have certain blessings within the Church that go beyond those the reprobate receive from it.

    4. The elect within the Church may therefore be set apart and called “the Church.”

    5. This last use of “Church,” inclusive of all the elect who will ever come into the Church, is what we should mean when we say “invisible Church”.

    I ask honestly: where is the heresy in this? It looks like this is simply a disagreement over the precise definition of the two senses of Church, and a disagreement as to which sense is the “more strictly correct” sense. (You start from invisible and derive a sense of visible; FVers do the opposite.) But the basic distinctions you are making between elect and reprobate are still in tact no matter which breakdown we use, aren’t they?

    As to why we should accept one over the other, the sixth and final objection you list in your article really is helpful here, I think. WCF 25 seems to define the invisible church as the whole company of the elect, past present and future. (so in line with my (5) above) On this definition the only way we can say that the invisible church exists “now” is in the mind of God, or perhaps as the Minnesota Twins exist even though all their future players aren’t members yet. (But, notice that this Twins organization that exists now is highly VISIBLE.) In other words, what exists now is the community of faith that has been given those things I mentioned in my (1) just above. This IS “the Church” (in the more strict sense). At a later time, this same Church will contain nothing but the elect, and all the elect. And right now, of course, this Church contains some of the elect—and these elect are the ones who “really get it”. It’s just that those people who are “really getting it” aren’t what Westminster seems to mean by “invisible Church”. Rather, all the elect people who are currently alive and in the Church make up ONLY A SUBSET of the WCF 25 notion of “invisible church.” The elect in the Church right now are all MEMBERS of the invisible church (since they are elect), but they do not CONSTITUTE the invisible church. In other words, “elect people currently in the Church” isn’t the same thing as “invisible church.” But there certainly are elect people currently in the Church, and there certainly is an “invisible Church” which includes them but also includes others (like elect people who haven’t yet been coverted, or even born).

    Your article really didn’t deal with this argument from WCF 25 adequately, I don’t think. You didn’t quote it directly so it wasn’t clear how arguments like Wilson’s are supposed to work, and your own counter-argument was thus too facile and unclear as well.

    Okay, I’ll leave it at that! Thanks for your time.

  16. Xon said,

    January 6, 2007 at 12:53 pm

    Here’s Doug Wilson on his blog just yesterday, though I didn’t read this post until writing my previous comment. He seems to confirm my interpretation of his view:

    “This is how A.A. Hodge handles it, following Westminster.”Our Confession teaches in these sections . . . that there is a collective body, compirsing all the elect of God of all nations and generations, called the Church invisible” (The Confession of Faith, p. 311). He adds that “this entire body . . . has been constantly present to the mind of God from eternity” (p. 311). This is the sense in which Steve Wilkins affirms the invisible church, as do I. Defining the invisible church this way does not exclude affirming that at any given moment, there are a fixed number of effectually called people alive on the earth. I have always believed there is such a body — but it had never occured to me to call that body the invisible church. In my mind, the invisible church has always been defined in the Westminsterian sense, the “whole number of the elect” sense.” (emphasis added)

  17. January 6, 2007 at 6:13 pm

    “I have always believed there is such a body — but it had never occured to me to call that body the invisible church. In my mind, the invisible church has always been defined in the Westminsterian sense, the “whole number of the elect” sense.”

    Indeed, Xon. And this has not “occured” to you guys because you have not read widely enough on the matter nor been under disciplined seminary training.

    And is not WLC’s comments on the invisible church also the “Westminsterian” sense? Lane’s view admits both senses, but Wilkin’s does not. That’s why Lane is confessional, and Wilkins is not. Wilkins cannot say that “all Israel is not Israel”, he can only say “all Israel won’t be all Israel at the eschaton.” Insofar as he denies the presence of the invisible church on earth (which he went out of his way to do) he cannot be in accord with the WLC. Lane’s view can synthesize both WCF and WLC. Wilkins’ paradigm has to throw WLC under the bus in holding to WCF.

  18. Xon said,

    January 6, 2007 at 7:34 pm

    “Insofar as he denies the presence of the invisible church on earth (which he went out of his way to do) he cannot be in accord with the WLC.

    Under what definition of “invisible church”? Under Wilkins’ definition of “invisible church,” of course he denies its presence here on earth, and so do you I’m sure. Under Westminster’s definition of “invisible church”, then of course Wilkins affirms that it is here. There is, right now, a bunch of elect people living on earth who have already been effectually called to faith in Christ. This is your definition of “invisible church”, and who can deny the reality of what you are describing? It is just the theological label that is under dispute.

    The second paragraph of that comment is ad hom nonsense, and I won’t dignify it with a response.

  19. greenbaggins said,

    January 6, 2007 at 7:40 pm

    On the contrary, Xon, the invisible church is most definitely here on earth. Don’t assume our answers or put words in our mouths, Xon.

  20. Todd said,

    January 6, 2007 at 9:00 pm

    “On the contrary, Xon, the invisible church is most definitely here on earth.”

    Part of it, right? Not all of it?

  21. January 6, 2007 at 10:32 pm

    “Under Westminster’s definition of “invisible church”, then of course Wilkins affirms that it is here.”

    Let’s review, shall we?

    “the invisible Church does not yet exist though it is surely foreordained by God and will surely and certainly exist at the last day (but then of course, it will exist as a very visible body). It is only “invisible” in that we can’t see all the members of it now.”

    The ONLY way it is invisible is in that we can’t see all the members now. So he makes this epistemological (“seeing”) rather than ontological. It “does not yet exist.”

    This is buttressed by his other comments:

    “It is important for us to recognize the fact of the mixed nature of the Church in history, but this does not mean that there is such a thing as an “invisible Church” of which you must become a member.”

  22. Todd said,

    January 6, 2007 at 10:39 pm

    Like I said, I don’t think it’s helpful to say that it doesn’t exist, but I don’t need to give all that much benefit of the doubt to suspect I know what Wilkins means. You don’t believe the whole thing exists yet, either. Right?

    In the last thing you quote, though, Wilkins is being confessional in a specific area in which you and Lane are not. You don’t “join” the numbert of the elect.

  23. Xon said,

    January 7, 2007 at 12:30 am

    Oops! Typo! I said “Under Westminster’s definition of “invisible church”, then of course Wilkins thinks it is here.” What I meant was “Under your (David G and Lane’s) definition of “invisible church”….” I understand why that caused confusion.

    On this particular issue of the invisible church (as opposed to the debate over words like “elect”), Wilkins’ argument is not that he is using “invisible church” in a broader way than the Confession, but rather that he is simply using the Confession’s defintion and you guys are missing that definition. There is a disagreement as to what the Confession’s definition of “invisible church” even is. So what I mean to oppose in that earlier comment was Wilkins’ definition of it, and David and Lane’s definition of it. Leave Westminster’s definition out of it in that particular comment, since that definition is under dispute.

    Lane, I guess I should apologize for putting words in your mouth. But I am genuinely puzzled as to how you would not agree with Wilkins that the invisible church is not here right now on Wilkins’ definition of “invisible church.” Do you believe that the whole company of the elect, past present and future, exists right now? Well, that’s Wilkins’ definition! (Which he thinks is also the Confession’s definition, but again leave that aside for now).

    If I asked you “Lane, do you believe that the blark is here on earth?” You would ask “I dunno, Xon, what’s the meaning of ‘blark’?” Suppose I say, “”Blark ‘ is the entire company of every person whom God has predestined for eternal glory from the foundation of the world.” I assume your answer to my original question would be “No.” ?? Well, now substitute “invisible church” for “blark.”

  24. January 7, 2007 at 1:30 am

    “In the last thing you quote, though, Wilkins is being confessional in a specific area in which you and Lane are not. You don’t “join” the numbert of the elect.”

    Again, in which sense ‘join’. If Lane and I are right on the dual sense, then we can affirm that in one sense and not in another.

  25. greenbaggins said,

    January 7, 2007 at 2:43 pm

    Of course, part of the invisible church is here on earth. But the WCF uses the word “consists,” present tense. It exists now, though not completely. The number of the elect, which is fixed, is continually coming up to that fixed point of God’s total. I feel as if Todd and Xon think that the invisible church cannot exist unless and until all the members of it are present and accounted for. It exists now, both completely in the mind of God, and partially here in history. That distinction, by good and necessary consequence, means that the number of the elect is being filled until the full number is harvested.

    The reason I disagree with Wilkins on whether this church exists is because I simply don’t agree with his definition of he invisible church. I *disagree* with it, because the WCF *disagrees* with it. It will not help, therefore, for you to say that I should look at this from Wilkins’s point of view, and that, on his definition, the invisible church does not yet exist, because it is his very definition of the invisible church that is in dispute here.

    And Todd, if you’re not going to engage in my exposition of questions 64-67 of the LC, that’s fine. But then stop spinning your wheels, saying the same thing about not joining the invisible church. The discussion cannot progress unless you are willing to engage that exegesis of the questions.

  26. Todd said,

    January 7, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    “I feel as if Todd and Xon think that the invisible church cannot exist unless and until all the members of it are present and accounted for.”

    Don’t trust your feelings, man. I’ve already said that I think that what Wilkins said was unhelpful.

    I don’t disagree with tnything you’ve written about the LC questions, except the leap you make into saying that the invisible church is therefore something you join. The standards simply don’t say it like this. Not once.

  27. greenbaggins said,

    January 7, 2007 at 3:37 pm

    Question 66: “What is that union which the elect have with Christ? A. The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God’s grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband; which is done in their effectuall calling.” Now, there is plainly an inseparable joining that occurs when the elect are regenerated. That joining is to Christ, their head. Head of what? Head of the invisible Church. Therefore, people, in a sense, do join the invisible church. QED

  28. Todd said,

    January 7, 2007 at 6:12 pm

    Too silly. Joined to Christ at a specific moment through effectual calling — who denies this? But you’re reading a completely different concept into this, “joining the invisible church,” which, I’ll never grow tired of reminding you, is equivalent to saying “joining the number of the elect.”

  29. January 7, 2007 at 11:12 pm

    Todd, I suggest that you read over DW’s post. Notice that he recognizes Berkhof’s use of the term invisible church as “the number of the regenerate”. So if we admit two senses, one being the number of regenerate, the other being the number of elect, your criticism of Lane does not follow. If even Wilson sees this, and you don’t, you should stop for a moment and consider that you are on the kooky side of FV.

  30. Todd said,

    January 8, 2007 at 5:40 am

    But Wilson is clear about the single Westminster meaning. He’s open to other stipulated definitions, of course, but he read the WS the same way I do.

  31. pduggie said,

    January 8, 2007 at 9:14 am

    “But the WCF uses the word “consists,” present tense. It exists now, though not completely. ”

    But what kind of a thing is it? The set of integers consists of all negative and positive whole numbers. But because numbers are not concrete entities, the integers exist as abstract concepts in the minds of humans and God.

    The generation of Americans in 2097 consists of all children born in the year 2097. This generation consists of them, but they don’t exist yet. They exist conceptually, but not actually.

    What in the WCFs definition of the set of all the elect mandates that the set exist as a concrete entity that meets that defintion now?

  32. January 8, 2007 at 10:38 am

    “Too silly. Joined to Christ at a specific moment through effectual calling — who denies this? But you’re reading a completely different concept into this, “joining the invisible church,” which, I’ll never grow tired of reminding you, is equivalent to saying “joining the number of the elect.”

    This is a monument to circularity. It is only “equivalent” to saying that if we already grant your faulty premise (and don’t hold to a dual-sense here).

    If we are indeed joined to Christ, in time and space, through effectual calling, then it follows that since we are joined to the Head/Husband in time and space, we must be joined to the Body of Christ/Bride in time as well.

    So the first part of your statement fails to deal with this “good and necessary” consequence of Lane’s exegesis of WLC altogether, and the latter part of the statement is a throw-away circular argument.

  33. Todd said,

    January 8, 2007 at 10:43 am

    “If we are indeed joined to Christ, in time and space, through effectual calling, then it follows that since we are joined to the Head/Husband in time and space, we must be joined to the Body of Christ/Bride in time as well.”

    But this is only relevant to the invisible church as it’s defined in the WS if it’s reasonable to say that we’re “joined to” the *whole* number of the elect.

    Are you comfortable saying that, David? Were you *joined to* the whole number of the elect when you were called?

  34. January 8, 2007 at 10:43 am

    “What in the WCFs definition of the set of all the elect mandates that the set exist as a concrete entity that meets that defintion now?”

    The recent “Larger Catechism and the Invisible Church” thread answers this.

  35. January 8, 2007 at 10:48 am

    “But this is only relevant to the invisible church as it’s defined in the WS if it’s reasonable to say that we’re “joined to” the *whole* number of the elect.”

    Again, you are just going in circles trying to reinforce your single-sense paradigm. It is, rather, reasonable to say that we’re joined to the whole number of the regenerate (second sense). Lane and I have gone to pains, in the “Larger Catechism” thread to show that WLC uses this second sense as well.

  36. Todd said,

    January 8, 2007 at 11:03 am

    “It is, rather, reasonable to say that we’re joined to the whole number of the regenerate (second sense).”

    Right. I love it. Very reasonable. Of course, this is not the WS’s definition of the invisible church.

  37. Todd said,

    January 8, 2007 at 11:06 am

    ” Lane and I have gone to pains, in the “Larger Catechism” thread to show that WLC uses this second sense as well.”

    The WLC certainly talks from this perspective, but it never defines the invisible church from this perspective. Not once.

  38. greenbaggins said,

    January 8, 2007 at 11:12 am

    On comment 36, LC questions 64-67 make the following equations: invisible church=elect=union with Christ=joined to Christ=effectual calling=regeneration. This chain is unbreakable, Todd. Therefore, your conclusion is wrong.

  39. Todd said,

    January 8, 2007 at 11:15 am

    “elect=union with Christ”

    No way. Many of the elect are not joined to Christ yet. Many of these don’t exist yet. But they are still already part of the invisible church, as it is defined in the WS.

  40. Todd said,

    January 8, 2007 at 11:19 am

    Lane, can I ask you again to point me to where you’ve listed the NT occurrences of the word “church” which you believe to refer to the invisble church exclusively?

  41. greenbaggins said,

    January 8, 2007 at 11:19 am

    All of the elect will at some point be united to Christ, Todd. That’s what I mean.

  42. greenbaggins said,

    January 8, 2007 at 11:21 am

    Todd, just read the WCF’s prooftexts on question 64 of the LC and on chapter 25.1 of the WCF. That’s a start. I’m sure there’s more. But I agree that those proof-texts support the definition of the invisible church.

  43. Todd said,

    January 8, 2007 at 11:23 am

    “All of the elect will at some point be united to Christ, Todd. That’s what I mean.”

    Your equal signs are equivocating then, man.

  44. greenbaggins said,

    January 8, 2007 at 11:27 am

    In what way, Todd?

  45. Todd said,

    January 8, 2007 at 11:34 am

    “On comment 36, LC questions 64-67 make the following equations: invisible church=elect=union with Christ=joined to Christ=effectual calling=regeneration.”

    The first “=” is a real “=”. The invisible church just is the elect. It’s a definition.

    But the second one is carrying a very different meaning. The elect are not defined by their union with Christ; that would be Arminian. The second “=” must mean something like “will eventually become.”

    That’s equivocation.

  46. January 8, 2007 at 11:47 am

    “The WLC certainly talks from this perspective, but it never defines the invisible church from this perspective. Not once.”

    The problem you are adopting here is the idea that, if WLC is going to “define” something, it has to put it explicitly (“the invisible church consists of…” formula). But WLC defines it through description as well. So you are going to have to deal with those things Lane and I have brought up before you can keep repeating this statement.

    Todd, you are probably the only one here who understood lane’s comment as following formal symbolic logic. If you follow what WLC is saying here, “=” does not mean “this category is equivalent to this other category.” It means that there is an unbreakable logical connection.

    Lane is not making these concepts into synonyms, but rather is showing that they are all tied together.

  47. greenbaggins said,

    January 8, 2007 at 11:58 am

    BOQ The elect are not defined by their union with Christ; that would be Arminian. EOQ This is only true if one admits the FV definition of union with Christ, which is Arminian, indeed. But the LC says this: “the members of the invisible church by Christ enjoy union and communion with him in grace and glory.” How in the world is that different from saying that the elect=union with Christ? By union, the LC means full, true, permanent (grace *and* glory) union with Christ. Not Arminian, Todd.

  48. Todd said,

    January 8, 2007 at 12:01 pm

    “just read the WCF’s prooftexts on question 64 of the LC and on chapter 25.1 of the WCF.”

    This gives us just three or four occurrences in Ephesians.

  49. Todd said,

    January 8, 2007 at 12:06 pm

    Lane, you’ve missed my point. If union with Christ is part of the definition of elect, no one is elect until they’re united to Christ.

  50. Todd said,

    January 8, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    “Lane is not making these concepts into synonyms, but rather is showing that they are all tied together.”

    OK. But the first two terms are synonyms.

  51. greenbaggins said,

    January 8, 2007 at 12:26 pm

    Todd, you didn’t read very carefully, did you? It gives us Col 1:18, John 10:16, John 11:52 as well as the several instances in Eph.

    With regard to 49, you are confusing the eternal decree perspective with how it’s played out in history. God defines the elect as all those who will come into union with Christ by faith. From that perspective, all the elect are always elect, and they don’t join the elect. In time, however, the elect are united with Christ, and become what they were always meant to be.

  52. Todd said,

    January 8, 2007 at 12:38 pm

    Lane, you didn’t read my question very carefully, did you? I was asking about occurrences of the actual word “church.” Colossians is a real correction, but not the John passages.

  53. January 8, 2007 at 10:45 pm

    “I was asking about occurrences of the actual word “church.”

    You’ve already lost, Todd. The handful Lane has supplied by now is more than enough (one is enough). Valiant effort, though, as usual.

  54. Todd said,

    January 9, 2007 at 11:16 am

    Lost? There was no challenge, David. It was a request for info. I had said, “Lane, can I ask you again to point me to where you’ve listed the NT occurrences of the word “church” which you believe to refer to the invisble church exclusively?”

  55. greenbaggins said,

    January 9, 2007 at 11:19 am

    Todd, reread Wes’s paper. As long as you don’t make the word-concept fallacy, then all the exegesis of those passages also counts: 1 John 2:19, Romans 2:28-29, John 10:26-27. The word “church” isn’t there, but the concept sure is.

  56. H.S. Parvath Gowda said,

    February 21, 2007 at 4:26 am

    wonderful thanks for good definition on visible and invisible church

  57. greenbaggins said,

    February 21, 2007 at 10:26 am

    You are welcome (even though I didn’t write this paper). Welcome to my blog.

  58. Todd said,

    April 6, 2007 at 5:25 pm

    Response by Doug Wilson:

    http://www.dougwils.com/index.asp?Action=Anchor&CategoryID=1&BlogID=3761

    In theological debate, how important is it to be careful to summarize an opponent’s position in a way that he would be comfortable affirming?

  59. greenbaggins said,

    April 6, 2007 at 5:54 pm

    I have already answered this, Todd. Many FV guys look at any criticism whatsoever as a misunderstanding of their position. The question, then, is this: is the criticism accurate, or not? If it is accurate, it is still quite possible for the person critiqued to say “You don’t understand me.” That person is deluded, and was understood perfectly well, but they will still scream out misrepresentation. This happened quite a bit with Guy Waters’s book. The problem here is methodological double-speak, where contradictory ideas are affirmed so that “all the bases are covered.” What Wilkins says in one area, for instance, is contradicted by what he says elsewhere.

  60. Todd said,

    April 6, 2007 at 6:02 pm

    I’ll look forward to your interaction with Wilson, then.

  61. Andy Gilman said,

    April 6, 2007 at 8:19 pm

    Doug Wilson posted something on Scott Clark’s blog back in early January regarding the visible/invisible church distinction. Here’s something I wrote to another forum after that exchange:

    Doug Wilson:

    [begin quote]
    …if you want to have the invisible church existing “in history,” in a way that is distinct from the visible church, then you are out of accord with the Confession. That is because the invisible church “consists of the whole number of the elect.” A partial number of the elect is not the invisible church because it is not the whole number of them. It would make sense to speak of the whole number of the truly regenerate at this moment of 2007, but this is just a partial congregation within the invisible church. It is a subset of the invisible church, not the invisible church itself — just as Christ Church here in Moscow is a congregation within the visible church; we are a subset.

    If the invisible church includes the whole number of the elect, then it exists right now in the mind of God. I affirm this, as does Wilkins. If you want it to exist right now in history, then you have to do something about the “whole number of the elect,” which includes current atheists who will be converted tomorrow and saints yet unborn. In short, you cannot have the invisible church, as the WCF defines it, in history. You can have a invisible congregation of the invisible church, but how helpful is that?
    January 4, 2007
    [end quote]

    According to the WCF definition, says Doug Wilson, the invisible church is an abstraction which exists only in the mind of God. “A partial number of the elect is not the invisible church because it is not the whole number of them.” To speak of anything less than “the whole number of the elect” as the invisible church is contrary to the WCF definition of the invisible church. Yet when the WCF defines the visible church as consisting of “all those throughout the world that profess the true religion,” or when the LC says the visible church is “made up of all such as IN ALL AGES and places of the world do profess the true religion,” Doug seems to have no problem allowing the visible church to exist in history, and to be subdivided. He seems to have no qualms about referring to Christ Church in Moscow (which I’m sure he will allow is not “all those throughout the world that profess the true religion”), as a partial expression of the visible church, without doing injury to Westminster’s definition of “visible church.”

    My point is that the “visible church” according to the WCF definition is no less an abstraction than is the “invisible church.” If Doug is going to be consistent he will have to limit himself to talking only about “particular churches,” like Christ Church in Moscow.

    But if he takes that logical step, then he should be careful not to talk about the members of his “particular church” enjoying “union and communion” with Christ, because, according to LC 65, “union and communion” with Christ is reserved to those who are members of the invisible church, an entity which doesn’t exist in history according to Doug’s reading of Westminster. It would follow then that “union and communion” with Christ is occurring only in the mind of God, where also the invisible church actually exists. LC 82 and 83 speak of the “communion in glory which members of the invisible church have with Christ,” IN THIS LIFE. So by Doug’s reading of Westminster, we would have members of the invisible church, a thing which doesn’t exist in history, somehow enjoying communion with Christ “in this life.”

  62. Xon said,

    April 6, 2007 at 11:21 pm

    Andy, your criticism is clever and it probably does require folks like Wilson (and me) to formulate their view a little more carefully.You are right that there is only a subset of the people who comprise the “visible Church” in existence right now, and so in that sense the same argument Wilson makes against speaking of “the invisible Church” existing right now would seem to apply to the “visible Church” as well. But the point of Wilson’s hist/esch formulation is not to focus on subsets and wholes; it is to help us remember that at any given moment there is only one Church, not two. (Unless we disagree with the catholic creeds on this point?) Because it’s a chronological distinction, we’re really talking about two “ages” of the Church. And which “age” are we in right now? The historical age, right. So, in this sense Wilson chooses to say that the “visible Church” exists right now. He’s not saying that every professing believer exists right now, but he is saying that the one Church is in its “visible Church” phase right now. The one and only Church that can ever and will ever exist is currently in the visible/historical phase. Later it will be in its (everlasting) invisible/eschatological phase.

    Wilson isn’t denying that there are, right now, people living on Earth who are predestined to be permanently connected to Christ, and also that there are people living on Earth right now who are not so predestined but who nevertheless profess to be believers in Christ. Both kinds of people exist right now. But Wilson is objecting to using the terms “invisible church” and “visible church” to refer to these two kinds of people. He clearly agrees that these two kinds of people exist, though. Which is why he objects to any and all claims that he “denies” the invisible/visible church distinction. Since you guys are all defining “visible” church as all currently living professing believers, and “invisible” church as all currently living people who are predestined to be eternally connected to Christ, then it is simply false to say that Wilson denies the existence of either one of these groups right now. He believes in both of them; he just doesn’t call them by the “vis church” and “invis church” labels like you guys do.

    What Wilson wants to call the “visible church” is all those who will ever profess the name of Christ, and at any given moment in history before the eschaton the entity of all such living people is what we call “the Church.” (The visible church is just “the Church” as it exists in history, so that at any given moment we can speak of the visible Church existing at that moment even though it is really only a subset of its members that actually exist at that moment). And he wants to use “invisible Church” as a shorthand label for what “the Church” will look like at the eschaton when the only people who are members of it are genuine eternally connected-to-Christ people.

    As a distinction in the Church, Wilson only wants to be chronological (one church, existing in two separate “ages” during which its membership roll is quite different). But when it comes to a distinction among people in the Church right now, he certainly distinguishes between those who are mere professors and those who are actually predestined to eternal life.

    So what’s the problem with this? What is the orthodox Reformed doctrine that this view contradicts, Lane (or Andy, or whomever)?

  63. April 7, 2007 at 1:10 am

    “As a distinction in the Church, Wilson only wants to be chronological (one church, existing in two separate “ages” during which its membership roll is quite different). But when it comes to a distinction among people in the Church right now, he certainly distinguishes between those who are mere professors and those who are actually predestined to eternal life.

    So what’s the problem with this? ”

    The problem is that the WLC exists, and it doesn’t allow our conception of the distinction between the visible/invisible church to be one of chronology rather than ontology.

  64. greenbaggins said,

    April 7, 2007 at 9:06 am

    Andy, brilliant post. Absolutely brilliant. The point of Andy’s post, if I may summarize for a bit here, is that there are people who are part of the church, *in one sense,* who, in another sense, *are not part of the church.* The bit about two churches is really a red herring. it is not relevant to the discussion. The creed says that there is one holy, catholic, apostolic church. However, that church may be viewed from different angles. Militant/eschatological, while a helpful distinction, is *not* the same thing as visible/invisible, contra Wilson, _Federal Vision_, pg. 265. The former distinction is chronological, while the latter is ontological and chronological. The reason for this is that the militant church consists of visibility *and* invisibility. Not all aspects of the militant church are visible. Therefore, this distinction is not the same thing as saying visible/invisible. So, again contra Wilson, the visible/invisible distinction, while present in the NT, was not really invented by Augustine. It was the Reformers who fleshed out this teaching of the NT in defense against Rome (see Wes White’s paper above).

  65. Todd said,

    April 7, 2007 at 11:00 am

    “Militant/eschatological, while a helpful distinction, is *not* the same thing as visible/invisible, contra Wilson, _Federal Vision_, pg. 265.”

    Does Wilson really say that these two distinctions are “the same thing”?

  66. Xon said,

    April 7, 2007 at 11:28 am

    Lane said:

    “The former distinction [i.e., Wilson's] is chronological, while the latter [i.e. the one Lane is arguing for] is ontological and chronological,”

    preceded with:

    “The point of Andy’s post, if I may summarize for a bit here, is that there are people who are part of the church, *in one sense,* who, in another sense, *are not part of the church.*”

    Right, but now correct me if I’m wrong. When you (and Andy) say that there are people who are part of the church in one sense who in another sense are not part of the church, you are referring to people who are currently alive on planet Earth and who are professing believers but who are not predestined to go to Heaven when they die. That’s who you are referring to, right? And you are referring to all professing believers currently alive on planet Earth, both those who are predestined to go to Heaven and those who are not, as the “visible church.” Right? And those people who are currently alive on planet earth and are predestined to go to Heaven, you are calling them the “invisible church.” Am I still tracking?

    So, is your objection to Wilson

    a. that he disagrees with you that any of these groups of people currently exist, or is it

    b. that he does not think it is appropriate to call these groups “the visible church” and the “invisible church?”

    If your objection is a., then you are arguing against a position Wilson doesn’t hold. He does indeed affirm the reality of all groups named above.

    If your objection is b., though, then how is this not merely a difference over terminology? If you honestly think it’s not, then what is the “substantive” difference? Make it clear, for those of us who are a little slow. If you think it’s obvious, then it should be easy to make it clear so just humor me if you would.

    The problem is that when you demand that we make an “ontological” distinction between the “visible church” and the “invisible church,” what you seem to be demanding is that we make an ontological distinction between those who merely profess faith and those who are predestined to go to Heaven when they die. This is the ontological distinction you are looking for, right? Well, Wilson affirms that ontological (and currently existing) distinction; he just doesn’t think of it as a distinction between “churches.” It is rather a distintinction between people, all of whom are currently in the one true Church. If you want to say that the one true Church in its current “militant” form contains both visible and invisible elements, that’s fine and I don’t think anyone disagrees with you (certainly not Wilson!). The current members of the one true Church (in its current “militant” phase) who are truly predestined to go to Heaven is an “invisible” reality to us, etc. Fine and dandy to say that. But that’s still not what Wilson thinks we should mean when we talk about the “invisible Church.” Again, this particular issue really does appear to be a fight over words, not over substance. Not all the issues in the FV controversy are like that, mind you. But this one seems to be, by my lights.

  67. greenbaggins said,

    April 7, 2007 at 11:52 am

    Todd, Wilson does indeed conflate the militant/eschatological with the visible/invisible, collapsing the latter into the former. He says “I used to believe that this distinction between visible and invisible Church was a Reformed distinction over against Rome, but have since discovered…that the Reformers were simply continuing a medieval scholastic distinction, one which appears to have originated with Augustine. The general historic terms were ecclesia militans…and ecclesia triumphans.” I defy Wilson to come up with a single Reformed author from the 16th-18th centuries who equated the visible/invisible distinction with the militans/triumphans distinction.

    Xon, in your first paragraph, I’m tracking with you until you get here: “And those people who are currently alive on planet earth and are predestined to go to Heaven, you are calling them the ‘invisible church.'” I would say that those who are alive today who are elect are *part* of the invisible church. There are those who are in glory, those who are alive today, and those who will be alive tomorrow. These are the three subcategories of the invisible church. This is extremely important, since the *whole* invisible church consists of all of these people, whereas the subset of the invisible church alive today is a *part* of the invisible church. The cash value for this distinction comes into play when we see that there can indeed be an historical instantiation of the invisible church, just as there are historical instantiations of the visible church (see Andy’s outstanding post 61, which you acknowledge to be clever).

    As to the ontological distinction between those who profess faith and those who are elect, I say “absolutely!” Those who profess faith but are not elect, are, in the context of the invisible church, hypocrites, and are no part of the church, however active they may be in the visible church.

    As to Wilson, I’m not sure that his view is currently set in bronze. See the last paragraph of his post “The True Church Within the Church.” That seems to affirm the classic distinction of visible/invisible, which is *not* the same thing whatsoever as the militans/triumphans (as he said in _Federal Vision_). See comment 64 for more fleshing out of this point.

  68. Xon said,

    April 7, 2007 at 12:50 pm

    Lane, that’s a good point. All that exists now are subsets of both the visible and invisible churches. This is a point Wilson himself makes when he argues against saying that the invisible church exists now. I should have said “part” in my earlier comment.

    But I’m still not following the criticism. I think the disagreement between the two views might lie here:

    “As to the ontological distinction between those who profess faith and those who are elect, I say “absolutely!” Those who profess faith but are not elect, are, in the context of the invisible church, hypocrites, and are no part of the church, however active they may be in the visible church.”

    I wasn’t questioning whether you affirmed that ontological distinction (just for the record); I was pointing out that Wilson affirms it along with you. But when you say those who profess faith but are not elect are, “in the context of the invisible church, hypocrites, and are no part of the church”, that’s where I (and I think Wilson) would want to put things a bit differently. If all you mean by “in the context of the invisible church” is that non-elect professing believers will not be in the Church at the last day, then this is absolutely right (but notice that the distinction is chronological). But right now, these professing believers are members of the one true Church, period. They are members of it right alongside those who are elect. At the last day, the mere professors will be removed, but for now they are in the Church. Do you agree with this or not? On the one hand you agree with the historic catholic position which is that there is only one Church, but on the other you want to say that right now there are two churches. If all you mean by “right now” is that right now there are people who are predestined to still be in the Church when it reaches its eschatological fulfilment, then that’s an okay way of speaking (though a bit strained, perhaps). But you seem to be saying that, right now, there are people who are members of two churches at the same time. But this can’t be right, if the catholic faith be true.

  69. Xon said,

    April 7, 2007 at 1:01 pm

    David G., sorry I missed your earlier comment.

    Xon: So what’s the problem with this?

    David G: The problem is that the WLC exists, and it doesn’t allow our conception of the distinction between the visible/invisible church to be one of chronology rather than ontology.

    What in the WLC are you referring to, David? I see lots of references to the benefits enjoyed in this life by the members of the invisible church, but that conforms nicely to my (and Wilson’s as I understand it) view. The ontological distinction is between the people who are members of the invisible church and members of the visible church only. It is not a distinction between these two co-existing “churches,” but between the co-existing members of the two sets.

  70. greenbaggins said,

    April 7, 2007 at 1:09 pm

    BOQ But right now, these professing believers are members of the one true Church, period. EOQ You are right that this is the point of disagreement. I would never put it this way, because it implies that the invisible church does *not* exist now in any historical sense, thus cutting the rug out from under the Reformers, who were arguing with Rome that the true church was historically existing and invisible during the Medieval time, when there were many professors, but few genuine Christians.

    And I am *not* saying that there are two churches. I have never said this. I say that there is more than one way to look at the church. Either way one looks at it, it is universal. Its visible aspect is universal, and its invisible aspect is universal. These are not two churches. I really wish that this point were more clearly understood among FV folk, who seem to think that a distinction between visible/invisible as the WCF defines it means that there are two churches. There are not. But there is slippage between these two aspects of the church. To deny this slippage is to be Roman Catholic. It is the very definition of the Roman Catholic Church’s view of the church. See, the RCC would never have a problem with militans/triumphans. In which case, we must ask the question, “Why would the Reformers be arguing with Rome about the definition of the church, if the visible/invisible distinction is the same as the militans/triumphans distinction, which Rome accepted?”

  71. Xon said,

    April 7, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    I’m trying to say this in a few different ways, if it helps. I’ll stop after this comment, though.

    The only thing that exists right now is “the Church,” not two Churches (visible and invisible) side-by-side. There is one Church, which currently contains a bunch of people who are not predestined to go to Heaven. At the eschaton, it will contain only those who are so predestined. Within the Church as it exists right now, there are these two different kinds (an ontological distinction) of people; those who profess belief only, and those who are actually predestined to go to Heaven and be united to Christ forever.

    But, sure, as a matter of “theological shorthand,” we can also refer to those people who are currently living and who profess belief as the “visible Church,” even though really they are only a subset of it. And likewise with those who in addition to professing belief are also predestined to go to Heaven; these we can call “the invisible Church,” even though they are really only some of the members of it. Perfectly acceptable way to speak, but it doesn’t undermine Wilson’s fundamental point at all. We say (with the WLC) that those who are predestined to go to Heaven are members of the “invisible Church” because, at the eschaton, they will be members of the one Church (whereas all those who only professed belief but were not elect will no longer be members). Calling these people “the inivisible church” is just a way of saying that they are people who will still be in the Church at the last day. And, of course, the reason they will still be in it is because there is an “ontological” difference b/w them and those who are only professors of belief. That difference between mere professors and truly predestined exists right now. But it isn’t really proper to say that this currently existing difference is a difference between two Churches, because only one Church actually exists at any given moment. It is rather a difference between people, between those who are in the Church for a time only and those who will be in the Church forever.

  72. Xon said,

    April 7, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    Its visible aspect is universal, and its invisible aspect is universal. These are not two churches. I really wish that this point were more clearly understood among FV folk

    Well, it’s hard to understand unless you flesh it out more. One church with two “ways of looking at it,” or two “aspects”, is fine, depending on what you mean. What do you mean?

  73. greenbaggins said,

    April 7, 2007 at 1:27 pm

    Okay, I’m trying to think of an analogy that might help. Imagine a large thick post. On the inside (which one cannot see), one half of the post is solid, and one half is hollow. The hollowed part, however, is covered over with a veneer of wood on the round part, such that, if one looked merely at the outside (from the side), one would only see whole wood. So, when one looks at the post from the side (horizontally), one sees only a solid post. However, when one looks down at it from the top, one can see that half of the post is hollow. There is only one post. But there are two ways of looking at it. The part that is hollow is hypocritical, not solid, *and is not truly wood.* It is, however, part of the post. The hollow part is really and essentially only air. It is not part of the wood. Does this help?

  74. Xon said,

    April 7, 2007 at 1:30 pm

    BOQ But right now, these professing believers are members of the one true Church, period. EOQ You are right that this is the point of disagreement. I would never put it this way, because it implies that the invisible church does *not* exist now in any historical sense, thus cutting the rug out from under the Reformers, who were arguing with Rome that the true church was historically existing and invisible during the Medieval time, when there were many professors, but few genuine Christians.

    But those “few genuine Christians” (and why we feel the need to stipulate that were few genuine Christians during this time is another debate for another time) during the Medieval period, they participated in the one true Church that exists in both a “visible” and an “invisible” way, right? In other words, it sounds like you are saying that the Reformers responded to Rome’s “Where was the Church before the Reformation?” question by saying “The invisible Church is the true Church, you silly papists!” But this answer seems to presuppose that there really ARE two separate churches existing simultaneously. Becuase what do we call that visible insititution that existed before Luther, the one that contained many professors but only a few “genuine Christians?” These genuine Christians were, I presume, still participating (inasmuch as participation was possible for them under medieval Catholicism) members of the visible institution. If the Reformers are saying “that visibile institution wasn’t the Church at all, really,” then they have just separated the vis and invis churches into two separate things, co-existing. But you have said that you don’t agree with that view of the Church, so this must not be what you think the Reformers were saying.

    I’m not enough of a church historian at this point in my life to comment on that part of White’s paper, so if the Reformers really did argue this way then so be it. But I disagree with them, and I don’t think they needed to argue this way. When asked the “gotcha” Q by Rome, why couldn’t they just have answered that the Church was always there, containing both “visible” and “invisible” aspects as always (before the eschaton), but that it was in serious need of reform. Duh! It’s visible “aspect”–it’s official doctrinal teachings, liturgy, cultural influence, etc.–was getting a lot of stuff seriously wrong and needed to be fixed. Big deal; why is this a problem for the Reformers? We’re making too much of a silly question asked by reactionary Romanists in the 16th century: they sound just like my Eastern Orthodox bro-in-law who (God bless him) claims like the most stereotypical fundamentalist that you have to have absolute and unwavering confidence in every single statement the Church has ever “officially” uttered, or else it has no genuine auhtority at all. This is just silly, and the Reformation represents (to my mind) a happy occasion of leaving this kind of foolish thinking behind.

    The Church needed reforming, and the Reformers brought it some of that reform. The reactionary Catholics freaked out by claiming that, if you reform the Church, then you must believe that the pre-reformed Church wasn’t really the Church at all. But, again, that’s just stupid. ??

  75. greenbaggins said,

    April 7, 2007 at 1:34 pm

    The point is that false professors *are not in the church* when considered from the invisible standpoint, though they are in the church, when considered from the visible standpoint. See my analogy in 73. It is not two separate posts. Nevertheless, in one sense they are part of the church, but in another sense, they are not.

  76. Xon said,

    April 7, 2007 at 3:59 pm

    So, there is only one post. Good. Likewise, there is only one Church, which right now contains both solid wood and hollow members. The hollow members are not truly wood, i.e. they are not predestined to go to Heaven when they die, but they are truly part of the post (the Church).

    Now, I would rather not call the solid wood members the “invisible post.” Like you yourself have said, there’s only one post and it includes the solid and the hollow parts. I am willing to call the hollow members hollow, though, because they are. And I’m willing to say they’re “not part of the solid wood,” because they’re not. But I’m not willing to say that they are “not part of the post,” because, well, we’ver already covered this, and they ARE part of the post. Even if I look at the post “vertically,” I don’t then see solid wood that is REALLY the post and a hollow area that is not the post at all. I see the one post, but with two clearly distinguishable kinds of “parts” (hollow and solid). But it’s still one post, and the “hollow” parts are part of the one post no matter which way I look at it.

    This is why I’m still confounded by your claim that false professors “are not in teh church when considered from the invisible standpoint.”

  77. greenbaggins said,

    April 7, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    I would say in the analogy that hollow air is not part of the post, as you are looking down on it from above. We think of a post as being made of wood, not air (of course, the analogy breaks down at some point, since there is air and empty space in the most solid of things). So also, we think of the church as containing believers (judgment of charity). But we know that some are false professors. I am perfectly willing, therefore, to say that they are part of the visible church. But to say that they are part of the invisible church is a lie. They are *never* part of the invisible church. The invisible church consists of the elect. If someone is not elect, then he is not of the invisible church. This is pure logic. I don’t understand why FV guys get so hung up about this. It’s a sign of muddled thinking, I guess.

  78. Andy Gilman said,

    April 7, 2007 at 11:19 pm

    In #62 Xon said:

    [begin quote]
    What Wilson wants to call the “visible church” is all those who will ever profess the name of Christ, and at any given moment in history before the eschaton the entity of all such living people is what we call “the Church.” (The visible church is just “the Church” as it exists in history, so that at any given moment we can speak of the visible Church existing at that moment even though it is really only a subset of its members that actually exist at that moment). And he wants to use “invisible Church” as a shorthand label for what “the Church” will look like at the eschaton when the only people who are members of it are genuine eternally connected-to-Christ people.

    As a distinction in the Church, Wilson only wants to be chronological (one church, existing in two separate “ages” during which its membership roll is quite different). But when it comes to a distinction among people in the Church right now, he certainly distinguishes between those who are mere professors and those who are actually predestined to eternal life.
    [end quote]

    I don’t think this is true Xon. If it is true, then the existing categories of the “church militant” and the “church triumphant” are ready at hand for Wilson to make those distinctions. There was no need for him to try to undermine the confessional definition of the “church visible” and the “church invisible” in order to accomplish this goal.

    What is the distinction that Wilson makes between the people who are in the church right now, who are mere professors, and those who are actually predestined to eternal life? I don’t think Wilson does differentiate between them, except to acknowledge that there are, indeed, some in the church who are blemishes on the bride, and will be shown to be before the last day. But the Westminster Standards point out additional differences, and they provide definitions which assist us in understanding what the differences are. Within the church militant, there is both a visible reality, and an invisible reality. The visible church is comprised of all those who PROFESS FAITH in Christ, and their children; the invisible church (again, within the discussion of the church militant) are those elect living now who POSSESS FAITH in Christ, and who therefore genuinely have “union and communion” with Christ.

    If Wilson and other FV advocates are merely trying to distinguish between the “church militant” and the “church triumphant” why not use those known categories to do so? It seems more likely to me that Wilson and others denigrate the visible/invisible church distinction for the same reason that they will only reluctantly acknowledge a distinction between the “corporately elect” and the “eternally elect” (which is the confessional meaning of “elect”). When pressed on this point, they will acknowledge it, but they don’t find it helpful to their paradigm because they want to say that all baptized church members are “elect.”

    I think the driving force behind these revisions is that the FV wants to say that all baptized members are in “union with Christ.” The “union with Christ” paradigm forces them to call into question the confessional doctrines which don’t fit nicely with the paradigm. So all of Christ’s blessings, except perseverance, must extend to all who are united to Christ by ceremonial baptism. But Westminster’s visible/invisible church definitions and distinctions say that it is only those who truly possess faith in Christ, who are in “union and communion” with Christ. In the Larger Catechism #69, it is only the “invisible church” which communes in grace in Christ by “partaking of the virtue of his mediation, in their justification, adoption, sanctification, and whatever else, in this life, manifests their union with him.” These statements won’t fit into the FV paradigm. See for example, Wilson’s essay on Union in the Knox Colloquium. In it he says: “This communion and union with the entire corporate body of Christ is a present reality, despite the blemishes on the bride that will be removed before the last day.” For the FV, the ceremonially baptized hypocrite enjoys “union and communion” with Christ right up to the time when the hypocrite fails to persevere or until the last day. On the other hand the confessions say that only the eternally elect enjoy this union and communion.

    Instead of coming clean and just saying outright that they believe the confessional summaries of biblical doctrine to be incorrect, and in need of revision on the specific points in contention, they go to extreme lengths to try to reconcile their views with the confessions, or at least to minimize the impact of their unconfessional views. Wilson’s attempt to challenge his critics with that “the invisible church ‘consists of the whole number of the elect,’ and anything less than ‘the whole number of the elect’ is not really the invisible church” argument, is an example of their excesses.

  79. April 9, 2007 at 1:17 am

    Xon said “I see lots of references to the benefits enjoyed in this life by the members of the invisible church, but that conforms nicely to my (and Wilson’s as I understand it) view.”

    But it does not conform nicely with Wilson’s view. You and Wilson may affirm this statement in isolation, but Wilson’s “eschatological” model leads us away from this statement. This is typical FV giving with the right hand and taking away with the left. If invisible church OR member of the invisible church = eschatological then the invisible church (or members thereof) can only enjoy these benefits in the future (since the eschatological/invisible church does not yet exist).

  80. Xon said,

    April 9, 2007 at 9:49 am

    Um, no, that’s not true.

    If I, for some deeply profound reasons of my own, decide to use the term “the Atlanta Braves” to refer to all people throughout time who have ever, do, or will ever play baseball for the Atlanta Braves organization of MLB, then “the Atlanta Braves” under this definition do not exist right now. Sure, it can be said to exist by some sort of metonymical use, where the part is used to stand in for the whole. Whatever. But, on my “all players at all times” definition, “the Atlanta Braves” does not exist right now.

    But, members of the Atlanta Braves exist right now, and they enjoy all sorts of benefits right now in virtue of their membership in the group. When Andruw Jones shows up at Turner Field for a game later in the evening, security lets him have full access to the clubhouse, the locker room, the catering, and batting cages. Why? Because he is a member of the Atlanta Braves! The entire group “the Atlanta Braves” does not have to be present in order for those members who are present to receive benefits. So I don’t see how I (or Wilson) are “taking away with one hand what we give with the other.”

  81. Xon said,

    April 9, 2007 at 10:12 am

    Lane, your answer about the post is still very puzzling.

    You now sound like you are, indeed, talking about two different posts. One “post” is the entire composite object composed of the solid wood, the hollow space, and the faux-wood outer shell. These three parts, together, make a “post.” This is “post1.” But you also say that the solid wood, by itself, is “the post.” Call it “post2.” Well, this is a different post!

    The fact that post2 is an ingredient of post1 doesn’t change the fact that we still have two posts, not one. I realize that this is just an analogy, but I don’t see how it illustrates your point that there are not two churches, but just two “aspects” or “ways of looking at” the one Church. If the Church is really like the post you describe, then there are two Churches, not merely one Church with two aspects. Either we argue about whether it’s right to call the solid wood a “post” all by itself, which would be a fairly airy and philosophical discussion, or we grant your point that the solid wood is a post and the whole unit is a post, but then we also have to say that there are two posts. Or, you might try a different analogy?

  82. greenbaggins said,

    April 9, 2007 at 10:40 am

    Xon, let me get at your question by asking you one in return, if I may. Is it possible at all to say that a NECM is part of the church in one sense, and not part of the church in another?

  83. Xon said,

    April 9, 2007 at 11:01 am

    Hey, Lane, thinking about this some more, it seems the passage of time makes the post analogy difficult, I think. Granting the point about different aspects, but only one post, we can talk about four (not just two!) different aspects of the post, or four different aspects or senses of the post:

    Post1. The currently-existing (at any given time t) composite object that is composed of solid wood, a hollow area, and an outer (faux?) wood shell.

    Post2. The currently-existing (at any given time t) solid wood part of Post1.

    Now to this we can add two “chronologically-sensitive” senses of the post:

    Post 3. Post 1 through all the time of its existence, including all the different molecules, etc., that are ever a part of it.

    Post 4. Post 2 through all the time of its existence, including all the different molecules that are ever a part of it.

    First, of all, the point I have been trying to make is that I (and Wilson as I understand him) believe in all four of these “senses” of the post. For various reasons, we prefer different words than “visible” and “invisible” to describe the “aspects” of the Church, because those words are prone to the misunderstanding that there are actually two Churches (posts), which is unorthodox. Also, the different words that I (and Wilson) prefer work just as well (we think) at expressing all the same basic realities of what’s going on with the Church (the post).

    What are those basic realities? Well, there are both regenerate and unregenerate people in the Church right now. At the last day, the unregenerate will all have been removed, and all the regenerates throughout history will be united into a spotless Church without blemish.

    We don’t really need the words “visible Church” and “invisible Church” to refer to the two kinds of people who are in the Church right now. We already have words for this: elect and non-elect covenant members, regenerate and unregenrate church members, etc. Taking the two groups of people, and dividing them from one another and calling them both “Churches’, creates a very clear impression that there are two churches, not one. Bad impression to create. This is not to say that you cannot remain orthodox while doing this, but remember what a big deal some anti-FV people make about being “clear”. Well, I guess we FVers are just returning the favor here: please try to be clear, for the benefit of the simple. You know. :-)

    So, orthodox people can certainly talk about the regenerate people currently in the Church as “the invisible Church” if they really want to, etc. They can do this because, for one, if all they mean by “invisible Church” is that there are regenerate people in the Church right now and we don’t know who’s who, then that’s all true and nobody in this discussion disagrees. (In fact, FVers emphasize this point quite loudly!) Further, it is certainly true that human language allows us to let parts stand in for wholes. So we can say things like “We are America” at a local rally, without being accused of thinking our town is actually the exhaustive population of America, etc. This is metonymy, and it’s okey-dokey.

    But just because it’s linguistically acceptable to do this doesn’t mean it’s always wise. Again, that whole “clarity” thing. We don’t want it to sound like there are two different churches (and, frankly, thinking of the Church as a “post” with a solid and a hollow part seems to me to make it sound this way, so again for the sake of “the simple” I would urge caution and greater clarity, brothers), or like one Church “matters” and the other one doesn’t (which is often a practical, if not necessarily a logical, consequence of breaking something up into two parts), etc. We don’t want to say that the “true” Church that exists right now is not our various Word-preaching, sacrament-administering, God-worshipping congregations, but only the regenerate people within those congregations. But when we talk about the regenerate in those congregations as an “invisible church,” I do think we run serious risk of creating that impression.

    So, for me, I stick with the Confessional definition pretty closely on this particular issue. Really, by Confessional definitions, only Post3 and Post4 and are “posts”, properly speaking (b/c the Confession defines the vis and invis churches as ALL those who do such-and-such throughout time). I agree with the definitions, but I would prefer other terms (hist and eschat, for instance). So, I’d prefer to speak in one of two ways:

    1. Keep using the Confession’s terms “visible” and “invisible” Church, but refuse to use “invisible Church” metonymically to refer to the currently-living regenerates as “the invisible Church.” or,

    2. Switch the terms to something like historical and eschatological Church, which definitely keeps the emphasis on only one Church, etc., and then I’m more than willing to speak metonymically about the sub-groups. So, all currently living regenerates can be called “the eschatological church” by metonymy. Okay by me!

    Now, you may disagree with all this. You may think that we’re being nervous nellies about these alleged false impressions regarding one vs. two churches, etc. And you may think we should just lighten up and keep using “invisible Church” to refer to currently-living regenerate people. But what you cannot do is claim that our view entails that we are actually “denying the ontological distinction” between regenerate people and mere professors. That just isn’t what we’re saying, and this isn’t sleight of hand.

    Andy, that brings me to your recent comment, which I’ll respond to after lunch if that’s okay.

    The post when the all the outer shell and “hollow” area has been stripped away, and all that remains is the solid wood, and (work with me here) all of its molecules that have ever been a part of it are “reincarnated” and brought together into the same solid wood post. At that time, the only post that there is is the solid wood (including all the solid wood molecules from all time).

  84. Xon said,

    April 9, 2007 at 11:02 am

    And, Lane, this is hopefully obvious but just to make sure it is, I wrote my most recent comment 83 without knowing that you had posted comment 82.

  85. Xon said,

    April 9, 2007 at 11:04 am

    (Sorry for all the comments!)

    So, Lane, to answer your #82,

    Is it possible at all to say that a NECM is part of the church in one sense, and not part of the church in another?

    My answer (and you can see this coming from my #83 above) is, “Sure it is!” The NECM is part of the historical church, but not the eschatological church. He professes to belong to Christ, and (I would say) he does in some covenantal sense, but he is not regenerate!

  86. David Gadbois said,

    April 9, 2007 at 11:12 am

    “The entire group “the Atlanta Braves” does not have to be present in order for those members who are present to receive benefits.”

    You’re re-hashing old territory here. This isn’t just about the use of the term “church” vs. “members of the church”, synedoche, and related issues. One thing you can say about the Atlanta Braves is that they are from Atlanta. If they were the Eschatological Braves then one thing you can say is that they are from the Eschaton.

  87. greenbaggins said,

    April 9, 2007 at 11:14 am

    But Xon, this raises exactly the sort of problem that the terms “visible/invisible” are meant to eliminate. By what you said, you have at least created the impression (in my mind) that the NECM *in the present time* is *in every sense* a member of the church. At best, the only way you could describe his non-membership is in potential. This does not do justice to the parable of the dragnet in Matthew 13. In that parable, the trash never is, was, nor ever will be a fish. Before he was gathered by the net, while he was being gathered, and afterwards, when he is sorted out, he is nothing but trash. He is *in no way* ontologically changed by being gathered by the net. He doesn’t become a quasi-trash/fish, a tertium quid. Christ died only for the sins of the elect, not for the NECM.

  88. Todd said,

    April 9, 2007 at 11:31 am

    But you’ve argued, Lane, that the NECM has been sanctified (not in the ordo salutis sense) by the blood of the covenant. This isn’t an ontological change, of course, but it’s not consistent for you to say now that the NECM is never anything but trash.

  89. Xon said,

    April 9, 2007 at 1:10 pm

    Well Lane, for me, I don’t have a problem with saying that all current baptized (and un-excommunicated) people, NECMs and ECMs alike, are all in the Church “in the same way.” at this point in time. I don’t see the problem with saying this. But that doesn’t mean that NECMs and ECMs don’t differ from one another in the present time, even ontologically. Indeed, I think they do. What I am questioning is the claim that their Church memberships are different with respect to the present time.

    You say that the NECM is “never anything but trash.” I’m okay with saying that, and by “okay with it” I mean that I affirm it and confess it. Some people, despite all the connectedness they may have with Christ, remain in some “ontological” sense a foreign piece of trash. I’m with you there. But why would this preclude the piece of trash from being “in every sense a member of the Church” at the present time? I don’t see the connection you are making between an ontological difference between two people right now and a necessary difference in their “memberships” in the Church right now.

    This is related, I think, to some of what I said in my interaction with Guy Waters’ Greenville talks from back in February (over at my blog): Saying that there are different kinds of people in the covenant is not the same as saying that those two kinds of people are in the covenant in different ways. Maybe they’re in in the same way, even though they differ from one another as individuals. To use the old favorite analogy, the adulterous cad and the faithful self-giver are both married in the same way (I would say), even though they are not themselves the same kind of people.

    Of course, language is a wonderful, tricky, and playful thing. We can talk all kinds of ways, we can stretch meanings of words, we can even change their meanings if we really want to. So, I personally am okay if you want to say that NECMs are NOT in the Church in the same way that ECMs are, depending on what you mean. But that’s not the best way to express what’s going on, in my opinion.

    For instance, I’m okay if you want to say that the serial adulterer is not “married in the same way” as the faithful husband. Clearly, there is something about what marriage is really all about that the adulterer just doesn’t “get,” and the faithful husband does seem to get it. I recognize thie difference b/w the adulterer and the faithful husband, but I personally don’t want to call it a “different kind of marriage,” or say that they are “married in different ways,” though I understand why people might want to talk that way. I just think it’s better to talk a different way: to really hammer the adulterer hard with the fact that he IS married, just as the faithful neighbor is, and that he is being unfaithful to his covenant vows, and that that’s a bad thing to do, and that he’d better repent. I don’t see the point, really, of creating two different “ways of being married.” I’d rather just say, you exchanged the rings, you took the vows, God heard you, you’re married. Now act like it.

    Similarly, if you want to say that anyone who is regenerate by definition has to be in the Church in a different way than those who are unregenerate, then that’s okay by me. I don’t think that’s the most natural or best way of speaking of these things, as I already explained, but hey to each his own. But I do think your way of speaking is prone to some serious misunderstandings; that in particular it does not properly communicate the oneness of the catholic Church and the respect due her in the here and now despite her present blemishes; and that many learned people, even Reformed theologians who are dynamite on lots of other things, have gone awry on this very issue, so that this is not just some hypothetical concern that I have. I have heard plenty of things in Reformed churches about “the visible Church” and the “invisible Church” that have made hair fall out. This is at least a part, I am sure, of why Wilson’s talks at the 2002 AAPC resonated with me so loudly. But maybe that’s just me; we all have our own stories, anecdotes, and “concerns” that we think are currently vexing the Church.

  90. Xon said,

    April 9, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    Todd, I appreciate what you are saying as well (as you know), but I think Lane’s point is just that, in an ontological sense, the NECM is “never anything but trash.” I think Lane’s comment was meant to be limited to the scope of ontology, not to any and all ways in which we might talk about the “piece of trash.” (I’m getting a little leery of “piece of trash” talk, though, so maybe we could switch to tares or goats?)

  91. Xon said,

    April 9, 2007 at 1:24 pm

    Oh, and David G.’s # 86 just made me realize to my embarrassment that I’ve confused metonymy and synecdoche. Oops!

    But to the substance of David’s criticism:

    One thing you can say about the Atlanta Braves is that they are from Atlanta. If they were the Eschatological Braves then one thing you can say is that they are from the Eschaton.

    Well, except “the Eschaton” is not a place (or at least it’s not only a place), but a time as well. So in this sense the “from” pronoun cannot do the work of making an analogy between the Eschaton and Atlanta. You can’t be “from” Atlanta in the same way that you are “from” the Eschaton, which is just a way of saying that I don’t follow your argument here.

    Every member of the eschatological church will be in the Church at the eschaton. It’s a future reality, and we’re talking about mindbending issues of time here (so a little rhetorical elbow room for everyone to do their work would be appreciated!). They are not “from” the Eschaton. But they are the kind of people who are definitely going to be there, while those who are members of the historical church only are definitley not going to be there. A member of the eschatological church is “on the road to the eschaton”, if you will, and in the eyes of God he is identifiable as such and is thereby different from someone who is in the historical church but is not going to be there.

    A stalk (plant? piece? Need some help from Siouxlands, here!) of wheat is a member of the “eschatological field;” it is the kind (ontological!) of thing, right now in the present, which will still be in the field after the tares have all been harvested out. This is a certain, irrevocable reality for the wheat, even before it has actually happened. But, before the eschatological harvest, the wheat and the tares are both members of the “historical field,” in the same way. They’re both in the field, in history, sitting there looking like wheat. This is what it means to be in the historical field; it doesn’t mean that the wheat and the tares are not different from each other, just that they are both equally members of the field in history, before the tares are cut out.

  92. Xon said,

    April 9, 2007 at 1:50 pm

    Andy, not to sell you short (and do follow up if my answer doesn’t satisfy you), but I think you are “moving the goalposts” in your latest comment (#78). My claim is that people like Wilson (and myself) affirm a distinction between ECMs and NECMs in the present, even though we think that they are equally members of the Church in the present (i.e., the “historical” church). In other words, we affirm that dogs and cats are different, right now.

    But your response to this claim is that no, we don’t really think this, because:

    I don’t think Wilson does differentiate between them, except to acknowledge that there are, indeed, some in the church who are blemishes on the bride, and will be shown to be before the last day. But the Westminster Standards point out additional differences, and they provide definitions which assist us in understanding what the differences are.

    Well, now you’ve moved to a qhole other question. (It’s a question worth discussing, and it has been discussed in the past between our two sides (here on this blog and elsewhere), but in this particular conversation we have to take one thing at a time.)

    The question of whether dogs and cats are different is not the same as the question of whether having whiskers is what makes them different. The discussion here has been about the vis and invis church, and whether wilson’s way of speaking of the hist and esch churches undermines “the ontological distinction” between regenerate and unregenerate covenant members. I have been pointing out the logic of the argument; thinking of the Church as Wilson does in no way undermines this ontological distinction b/w reg and unreg cov members. And, in fact, Wilson affirms that distinction explicitly. But now you’re wanting to talk about how precisely he distinguishes them; i.e., what is the “list” of characteristics that each has in exclusion of the other, and does that list line up wiht the list allegedly provided by the Confession? Well, like I said, this is a perfectly valid question to consider and talk about, but it’s a couple steps down the road from where we’ve been talking so far. One thing at a time.

    So, turning to that question now (since you brought it up and all :-) ), following the quote above you immediately go on to describe what you think the Confessionally-provided differences between ECMs and NECMs actually are:

    Within the church militant, there is both a visible reality, and an invisible reality. [A] The visible church is comprised of all those who PROFESS FAITH in Christ, and their children; [B] the invisible church (again, within the discussion of the church militant) are those elect living now who POSSESS FAITH in Christ, and who therefore genuinely have “union and communion” with Christ. (Capital letters added for ease of reference)

    Well, clearly Wilson (and I) believes that there are people in the church militant who profess faith, and that many of these people have children. You are not claiming that he denies that such people exist, are you? Of course not, okay so moving on. What Wilson is saying is that using the word “visible” to describe these people is really not the best word. Blah blah blah, I’ve gone through some of the reasons for saying that above. And likewise with using th word “invisible” to describe those people in the church militant who “truly possess faith.” Again, no dispute that there are such people in the church militant; the question is whether it makes sense to a. call these people a “Church”, and b. whether the best word for them is “invisible.”

  93. Xon said,

    April 9, 2007 at 1:53 pm

    In other words, Andy (sorry, an internet burp made me post before I was ready)…

    We already have perfectly good words to describe these “visible” and “invisible” realities within the Church militant. How about “professing believers” and “regenerate”? Or whatever. What I don’t understand is why FVers like Wilson should be under suspicion simply because they don’t want to call the professing believers in the church militant by a new Churchy name: “the visible Church.” Affirming all the same realities within the church militant, they would rather not use labels that imply a division of the church militant into two separate churches. This is heresy? A defrockable offense? Bar them from ministries in Reformed denominations? Dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria?

  94. Matt said,

    April 9, 2007 at 2:49 pm

    Once again, Rev. Keister, you are warring against the Westminster Confession itself, not just the Federal Vision. You insist that the Invisible Church exists now, unlike Wilson’s “eschatological church.” But WCF 25.1 says that the invisible church “consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one.” Note well: “shall be” too.

    That means that the invisible church includes saints who do not yet exist. They are not praising God, they are not justified, they do not have the Holy Spirit, they have not been joined to Christ. They do not exist. And that means that the invisible church — as the Confession defines it! — will not be actual until those future saints are born and engrafted into it. Any talk of the “invisible church” as existing now, without those saints, is in direct conflict with the Confession’s language.

    The Confession also feels free to speak of degrees of visibility in the church (25.4). But when it speaks of the Catholic church being “more visible”, it means when it is more obedient; “less visible” means when it is less obedient — e.g. when the true church is obscured by the wickedness of its pastors, by schisms, etc..

    It seems to me that this “more or less visible” language fits very nicely indeed with Doug Wilson’s terminology. The “eschatological church” thus becomes increasingly visible as its day draws near and the church becomes more and more conformed to the pattern of the spotless bride that the Father has in mind to present to His Son at the last.

    As in the debate over whether faith is alone when it receives Christ for justification, the FV is confessional on this issue, and you are not, Greenbaggins.

  95. Andy Gilman said,

    April 9, 2007 at 3:38 pm

    Xon said:

    [begin quote]
    My claim is that people like Wilson (and myself) affirm a distinction between ECMs and NECMs in the present, even though we think that they are equally members of the Church in the present (i.e., the “historical” church).
    [end quote...By the way Xon, how do you get that HTML formatting in your posts?]

    By “historical” church you mean merely “institutional church.” Does anyone deny that the elect and non-elect are equally “members” of the “institutional church?” What I would like to know is: What is the distinction you affirm between the elect and non-elect members of the “institutional church?” The Standards insist that it is the elect only who are in “union and communion” with Christ. Doug Wilson wants to say that all “members” of the “institutional church” are in “union and communion” with Christ.

    The only distinction the FV proponents want to make between elect and non-elect members of the “institutional church,” is that some members are given the gift of perseverance, they are the elect ones, and some members do not receive the gift, they are the non-elect ones. The very definition of “non-election” in the FV system is “lack of perseverance.” In their system they have God giving the non-elect “all” the blessings of union and communion; i.e., justification, adoption, sanctification, etc., but for reasons that God doesn’t reveal, he stops short of giving them the grace of perseverance. In ceremonial baptism, God’s love is declared, and his promise of salvation to the baptized is received and believed, by the parents; but alas, God’s love for some of the baptized is not so great that he will give them the gift of perseverance.

  96. Xon said,

    April 9, 2007 at 4:06 pm

    The only distinction the FV proponents want to make between elect and non-elect members of the “institutional church,” is that some members are given the gift of perseverance, they are the elect ones, and some members do not receive the gift, they are the non-elect ones.

    While James Jordan says this (and even he only says it in a paper titled “Tentative Thoughts on Justification”), it’s also the case that:

    a. Jordan himself makes no claim to being “Reformed” when he says it. He doesn’t care if it’s Reformed or not, only whether it’s Biblical, and he admits this openly.

    b. The vast majority of FV proponents I’ve seen address this question directly disagree with Jordan. Leithart, Wilson, Horne, and Wilkins I can say for sure right now with no hesitation. These guys are buddies with Jordan, but disagree with him on this point.

    I have to go home now. More this evening.

  97. Matt said,

    April 9, 2007 at 8:48 pm

    Klaas Schilder’s 19 Theses on the Church should be required reading for all the anti-FV critics. Let them argue against Schilder first. There’s a whole denomination – the Canadian Reformed Churches – that holds his view. And he merrily problematizes the whole “visible” vs. “invisible” dichotomy in some of the same ways Wilson does.

    You can find the 19 Theses at the Spindleworks website.

  98. Andy Gilman said,

    April 9, 2007 at 9:40 pm

    Xon, have you read Steve Wilkin’s “Covenant, Baptism and Salvation” contribution to the Knox Colloquium? Where he says:

    [begin quote]
    The elect are those who are faithful in Christ Jesus. If they later reject the Savior, they are no longer elect–they are cut off from the Elect One and thus, lose their elect standing. But their falling away doesn’t negate the reality of their standing prior to their apostasy. They were really and truly the elect of God because of their relationship with Christ.
    .
    .
    .
    Because being in covenant with God means being in Christ, those who are in covenant have all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. Union with Christ means that all that is true of Christ is true of us.
    .
    .
    .
    All in covenant are given all that is true of Christ. If they persevere in faith to the end, they enjoy these mercies eternally. If they fall away in unbelief, they lose these blessings and receive a greater condemnation than Sodom and Gomorrah. Covenant can be broken by unbelief and rebellion, but until it is, those in covenant with God belong to Him and are His. If they do not persevere, they lose the blessings that were given to them (and all of this works out according to God’s eternal decree which He ordained before the foundation of the world).
    [end quote]

    Is it possible to read these quotes and the material they bracket, the whole paper for that matter, and reasonably conclude that he is not saying that the only thing which seperates the elect from the non-elect is perseverance? The fact that he gives a nod to God’s predestinating eternal decree, does not diminish the fact that he is saying that the only difference between the elect and the non-elect, is that the elect persevere and the non-elect apostasize.

    But even that isn’t exactly what he is saying, he’s being more explicit than that. He is saying that it is the elect themselves who apostasize, or rather, it is the “elect” who fail to persevere and who thereby become the “formerly elect.” God’s eternal decree in Steve’s scheme is that some of the elect should apostasize by failing to persevere.

    Steve provides a long list of what he means by “all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places.” It’s a very long list, but perseverance seems to be missing. Since the phrase “every blessing” doesn’t include perseverance, does that mean that perseverance is not a blessing, and a gift from God? On the other hand, if perseverence is a gift of God in Steve’s scheme, then it appears to be the only gift that God witholds from the “presently-elect-but-finally-apostate-according-to-decree” member of the institutional church. God really loves this elect member, pouring out upon him every spiritual blessing; but he doesn’t love him quite enough to give him the perseverence he needs to remain elect. The presently-elect member then apostasizes and is numbered among the formerly-elect.

    Xon, can you name for me another characteristic which seperates the presently-elect from the formerly-elect member in Steve Wilkin’s scheme?

  99. Xon said,

    April 10, 2007 at 12:43 am

    Andy, I believe you are referring to Wilkins’ article in the “Federal Vision” book, and yes, I’ve read it. In fact, I blogged on it the last two days. (afterdarkness.blogspot.com)

    The quoted portion you reference begins on p. 58. Before I go into a long explanation of the article here, let me just ask you simply: what does Wilkins mean by “elect” in that passage? (Hint: there’s a key passage on p. 56 where he clearly contextualizes what he is doing on the following pages).

    Awaiting your answer to that, I’ll quickly address your question about what “characteristics” which separate NECMs and ECMs (I won’t use your ‘presently-elect’ and ‘formerly-elect’ way of speaking, b/c it’s wrong…but again, awaiting your answer to my question above). In his December exam before the LA Presbytery, Wilkins was asked this very question. How do the elect and non-elect covenant member differ? He said they differ both in duration and in quality. The first thing to do is to stop and note, then, that Wilkins DOES affirm a “qualitative” difference. Not just a durational one. He says so explicitly.

    The second question we can ask is not just whether he distinguishes them, but “What exactly is this qualitative difference that he affirms?”

    This is not an easy question to answer but it does seem to me that the benefits enjoyed by the “decretively elect” do differ from those received by the non-elect. First, they differ qualitatively. Thus, for example, though the non-elect are brought within the family of the justified and in that sense may be referred to as one of the justified, the elect person’s justification in time is not only a declaration of his present acquittal from the guilt of sin but also an anticipation of his final vindication at the last judgment. The non-elect church member’s “justification” is not. His “justification” is not the judgment he will receive from God at the last day. (p.13)

    He says a bit later:

    In addressing the issue of the qualitative difference between the communion the elect have with God as contrasted with that of the non-elect, I fully agree with Peter Leithart’s statement explaining this distinction:

    “First, God has decreed the eternal destiny of elect and reprobate. That
    cannot help but color God’s attitude toward someone who is ultimately
    reprobate. He is obviously conscious that any blessing He gives or favor He
    shows is blessing and favor to a reprobate.

    Second, while God decrees before the foundation of the world all that comes
    to pass, He also is active in the outworking of those decrees, and in that
    activity He is interactive with His creation. We pray, and He answers, and
    that is not pretense; He really does answer prayers (albeit He had planned
    from eternity for the prayer and the answer). Similarly, His attitude toward
    sinners changes through time. An elect man is an object of God’s wrath
    during the week before his conversion, and the object of God’s mercy during the time after. I submit that the same is true of the reprobate who receives
    the word of God with joy for a time: He is an object of favor while he
    responds in faith, and then becomes an object of disfavor. I take Saul as a
    concrete example of this reality. Again, this is qualified and complexified by
    point #1.

    Third, I am favorable toward a teleological view of human nature. If you
    slice into the life of an elect man at a point of backsliding, and also slice into
    the life of the reprobate at a point when he is rejoicing in the gospel, it will
    appear that the reprobate’s faith is strong, more living, more true, than that
    of the elect. Analyzed in that kind of punctiliar fashion, the two are well-nigh
    indistinguishable. But nature is determined by ends. We are what we are
    destined to become (which is what we are decreed to become). Thus, the
    quality of temporary faith, even the nature of temporary faith, is different
    from the nature of true and living and persevering faith. I’ve used the
    analogy of marriage to explain this: A marriage that ends in divorce differs
    from a happy marriage in its conclusion; but the conclusion of the marriages
    reveals that there was something fundamentally and permanently different
    in the two marriages. The differences are never merely differences at the end, because the end reveals the shape of the whole story-line.

    How have they had communion with the Spirit? I am thinking of Hebrews 6
    primarily there: they “have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit” (v. 4).
    That might manifest itself in acts of ministry that are empowered by the
    Spirit. It may manifest itself in acts of piety, devotion to and joy in worship,
    eagerness to hear the word of God. I believe that this all falls under what the
    WCF calls “common operations of the Spirit,” taking “common” here as
    operations common to the elect and reprobate.” (p. 14)

    In other words, Wilkins thinks it is a hazy business trying to clearly “define” the qualitative difference b/w elect and non-elect covenant members, but he thinks Scripture has revealed it to us in a way that leaves it hazy. It’s not out business to try to define it all out. He says this explicitly, too, just so it’s clear I’m not ‘putting words in his mouth':

    There may also be other experiential differences between the elect and the non-elect, but these differences may not be discernible (to the individuals themselves or to others) until the non-elect person displays his unbelief in some very explicit and concrete ways…..
    God certainly knows (and has decreed) the difference between the elect and the non-elect, but from our creaturely, covenantal point of view there is often no perceptible difference (e.g., Saul and David were indistinguishable from one another to all outward appearances in the early phases of their careers; Judas looked like the other disciples for a time)….
    The language of the Bible forces us to acknowledge a great deal of mystery here. For
    example….(p. 13)

    Now, I know this doesn’t come close to satisfying you, Andy, because you want to say that the typical “ordo salutis” words can be used to describe the elect and only the elect within the covenant. Only the elect covenant members are justified, sanctified, saved, etc., in any sense of those words. But this is simply where FV thinkers disagree: they think that Scripture uses these “ordo” words in ways beyond the “something that only people predestined to go to Heaven when they die get” sense. But that is not to say that FV thinkers deny the traditional Reformed ordo, just that they don’t think the words we normally associate with it are really subject to such a narrow application as “elect only.” In some sense, non-elect covenant members are justified, sanctified, even saved.

    This might seem “obviously” wrong to you, but at this point you’ll have to trot out an argument as to why. Where does the Confession teach your view, and even if it does teach it why is this such an “important” view to Reformed theology that you can’t be Reformed unless you hold it? Why not simply allow FVers an exception on this issue? Why is it necessary in order to be “genuinely Reformed” that you believe that elect and non-elect people in the covenant (whom we humans can’t tell apart anyway; as a practical matter of pastoral and ecclesiastical life this won’t make any difference) are definable in terms of “elect are justified, non-elect aren’t;” “elect are sanctified, non-elect aren’t,” etc.? I just don’t see how this is an issue fundamental to the Reformed faith, even if my FVish view were incorrect.

    Thanks, Andy!

  100. Andy Gilman said,

    April 10, 2007 at 10:48 am

    The material I quoted came from Wilkins’ “Covenant, Baptism and Salvation” paper in the Knox Colloquium.

    The fact the Wilkins gives a written affirmation, under duress, that there is a qualitative difference between those who are “elect” and those who are “reprobate,” is really irrelevant. The important question is whether this affirmation is confirmed in his writings.

    So what is the qualitative difference between them as affirmed in Wilkins writings? I submit that their is none. The differnce is merely the duration of their election. How does Wilkins define the terms “elect” and “reprobate?” For Wilkins, speaking now about members, or former members, of the institutional church, the “elect” are those presently-elect (because all baptized members are presently-elect) who finally persevere. The “reprobate” are those presently-elect who fail to persevere.

    Look at his written response to his Presbytery. He says: “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.” And “Further, 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.”

    Look at the quotes you provided. The difference between the justification received by the finally-elect and that received by the formerly-elect is that the formerly-elect’s justification was “not the judgment he will receive from God at the last day.” The formerly-elect does not receive this judgment because he does not persevere. The formerly-elect, prior to his failure to persevere, was “presently acquitted.” He enjoyed the same “present acquittal” as does the finally-elect, but he missed out on “final vidication” because he failed to persevere. This is not some “qualitative difference,” it is one merely of duration, and based on perseverence.

    The quote from Leithart is a simple acknowledgment that God’s eternal decree is operative election, but it does not detail a “qualitative difference” between the finally-elect and the formerly-elect. For example: “An elect man is an object of God’s wrath during the week before his conversion, and the object of God’s mercy during the time after. I submit that the same is true of the reprobate [remember, reprobate here means presently-elect but finally reprobate] who receives the word of God with joy for a time: He is an object of favor while he responds in faith, and then becomes an object of disfavor.” So he becomes an “object of disfavor”, i.e., he moves from being presently-elect to being formerly-elect, by failing to persevere.

    And again, when Leithart says: “But nature is determined by ends. We are what we are destined to become (which is what we are decreed to become). Thus, the quality of temporary faith, even the nature of temporary faith, is different from the nature of true and living and persevering faith.” Which is nothing more than to say that temporary faith is not persevering faith. The difference again is merely one of duration.

    Leithart’s marriage example says: “I don’t know what the difference between the finally-elect and the formerly-elect is, but the fact that the finally-elect persevered proves that there must have been some difference.”

    The FV proponents can’t define a difference between the finally-elect and the formerly-elect. Perseverence, or rather, duration of election, is the only difference they can give. The Standards, on the other hand, insist that the elect are in “union and communion” with God, while the reprobate are not, and never were.

    Xon, I appreciate the discussion but I will have to bow out now (unless you say something really outrageous and I just can’t help myself! :-)).

  101. David Gadbois said,

    April 10, 2007 at 11:03 am

    “Every member of the eschatological church will be in the Church at the eschaton. It’s a future reality, and we’re talking about mindbending issues of time here ”

    The problem is that now you are saying that these people are members of a church that does not yet exist. That’s why Wilson explicitly says that the distinction needs to be chronological – you can’t have two churches side by side at the same time. And that’s why Wilkins said that the eschatological/invisible church does not yet exist. It was like pulling teeth, but Wilson finally admitted that there is a sense in which the invisible church must exist now and enjoy present earthly blessings of salvation (because he was confronted with the WLC). But his original model leads away from this conclusion.

    This is how things have gotten tangled up by conflating the visible/invisible church with the militant-historical/eschatological church, as Lane pointed out. A true mess made by these theological tinkerers.

    The only way out is to say that, in some sense, the eschatological church exists now, at least in part. But then the distinction becomes one that is NOT chronological and, well, not so eschatological. And then we have two churches existing side by side, which Wilson was studiously trying to avoid in the first place.

  102. David Gadbois said,

    April 10, 2007 at 12:03 pm

    “Why is it necessary in order to be “genuinely Reformed” that you believe that elect and non-elect people in the covenant (whom we humans can’t tell apart anyway; as a practical matter of pastoral and ecclesiastical life this won’t make any difference) are definable in terms of “elect are justified, non-elect aren’t;” “elect are sanctified, non-elect aren’t,” etc.?”

    Xon, some days you make FV look almost orthodox, and on other days you confirm our worst suspicions about FV. As a very practical and pastoral matter, I do want to know that Q&A 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism is true of me, not that I SORTA in some mysteriously undefinable way belong covenantally (insert pixie dust here) body and soul to Jesus and sorta have all the blessings in the heavenly places (at least for now). The “decretal lens” that FV eschews is absolutely vital to the preaching of the Gospel and well being of the Church. From there we draw comfort and hope and have reason to praise God:

    “The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men attending to the will of God revealed in his Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel. ”

    But if the FV sorta throws up its hands and doesn’t care that it smears the decretal blessings with the covenantal blessings then the Good News is obscured. You are ABSOLUTELY wrong in saying that, Xon, and you and FV should be ashamed that THIS is where you guys have ended up. But, I suppose, how could such an idioyncratic, convoluted system end up anywhere else?

    1) The Bible doesn’t have any problem saying that the elect, and elect only, have all the blessings in the heavenly places and that NECM’s don’t. 2) Whether a given person in the congregation is elect, and how well we can perceive this fact, is a completely separate issue and does NOT justify your sloppiness in this area.

    For 2), our doctrine of assurance provides us with that knowledge for ourselves and our doctrine of a credible profession of faith provides us with sufficient knowledge of others. But when we attain such assurance, we want to know that this means that 1) is true of us. But since FV can’t get 1) right, what exactly is the point in the first place? The idea of FV being motivated by pastoral concerns is a complete sham. It is motivated by ecclesio-centralism, hypercovenentalism, and sacramentalism.

    Guy Waters was absolutely right – this contradictory confusion is where FV ends up, just as Chafer’s efforts to tie Reformed theology with dispensationalism.

  103. Xon said,

    April 10, 2007 at 1:08 pm

    Andy, thanks for the interaction, it’s been fun. I’m a little bummed you didn’t answer my question directly. What does Wilkins mean by “elect” in the passage you quote? (His articles in the FV book and the Knox Colloquium book are very similar–they have the same titles, in fact! The passage you quoted several comments ago can be found virtually word-for-word in the FV book version as well. So I think you can still answer the question, whichever version of the article you are reading.)

    David G said:

    The problem is that now you are saying that these people are members of a church that does not yet exist.

    But this isn’t a “problem.” I think what I said about the wheat and tares and the “eschatological field” is helpful here. (if I may say so) Right now, the wheat is the kind of thing that will be in the eschatological field. IOW, when the field enters that stage of its existence when it is a wheat-only place (all tares have been harvested and burned), the little stalk of wheat will be there. And it is currently enjoying all sorts of benefits because it is wheat. If we say all that, then I just don’t see the need to add that the “eschatological field” exists now, except by synecdoche, which is simply a convention of language when the very definition of “eschatological field” is “the field at the eshcaton that contains all the wheat and none of the tares that have every existed.” On that definition of “eschatological field,” speaking of the current stalks of wheat as “the escahtolgoical field”, even by synecdoche, is donwright misleading. Though, as I said to Lane earlier, I’m not on the warpath to stop people from talking that way. I just think you guys need to be careful to be really clear, or the simple might fall into all sorts of errors from thinking about two fields existing side by side rather than one field that contains two kinds of grains.

  104. Xon said,

    April 10, 2007 at 2:38 pm

    Xon, some days you make FV look almost orthodox, and on other days you confirm our worst suspicions about FV.

    Well, what can I say? You win some and you lose some. :-)

    As a very practical and pastoral matter, I do want to know that Q&A 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism is true of me, not that I SORTA in some mysteriously undefinable way belong covenantally (insert pixie dust here) body and soul to Jesus and sorta have all the blessings in the heavenly places (at least for now). The “decretal lens” that FV eschews is absolutely vital to the preaching of the Gospel and well being of the Church. From there we draw comfort and hope and have reason to praise God: [quotation of Heidleberg redacted]

    If you add can into that last sentence, then I’m right there with you, David. We can draw comfort and hope… The doctrine of predestination to eternal life is a source of assurance, I agree. And the predestined can know that they are, I agree again.

    But, what about those people (who are very real and not an insignificant number) who, for whatever variety of reasons, struggle with assurance? The Westminster Confession (the one with which I am most familiar, though honestly I’ve always preferred the more “poetic” beauty of the 3FU) says that it is possible to know you are elect; it does not say that everyone attains that priveledge. For those who do not, for those who worry that even their strongest experiences in the past of what they thought was God’s favor might be counterfeit, what do we tell them? This is debatable, too, I realize; FV isn’t right just because I pointed these people out. But the point is that the fact that FV offers a certain kind of answer to those people doesn’t mean that it’s robbing you of the more traditional Reformed “means” of assurance.

    Of course, if I really want to be difficult I can point out that even that great opening statement of the Heidleberg Catechism which you quoted is meant to be learned and confessed by all members of Continental Reformed churches. Not the elect only. There I go again. Hi ho!

    The rest of your most recent comment (#102) is, frankly, a little shrill. With all the speculations about true motives and jargon (hypercovenantalismlapsarianitudinous shenanigans!) and the “taking a stand” rhetoric that lets you paint yourself as Luther and Machen AND Athanasius all rolled into one, standing for the truth against (I should be so ASHAMED and you are NOT going TO take IT, you DIG?) the wiles of the world, the flesh and the devil, I had trouble finding much of substance in what you said. Sorry.

  105. greenbaggins said,

    April 10, 2007 at 3:12 pm

    BOQ Any talk of the “invisible church” as existing now, without those saints, is in direct conflict with the Confession’s language. EOQ

    Matt, I hate to use inflammatory language, but this is just plain stupid, and proves that you have no idea how categories work, nor have you read the WCF carefully.

    LC 65 What special benefits do the members of the invisible church enjoy by Christ? A. The members of the invisible church by Christ enjoy (note the present tense, O ignorant of language Matt!) union and communion with him in grace and glory. That’s *grace* (now) and glory (future). They are *currently* members of the invisible church, and therefore the invisible church must be *partly* (I said this before, but you completely ignored it) in existence now. The language of WCF 25.1 uses the present tense of the verb “consist.” By your argument, they shouldn’t have used that. They have given much more credence to the Gnostic “in the mind of God only” form of what the invisible church is (or isn’t) by using the future tense “will consist.” The WCF uses very similar language in 25.2 about the *visible* church. It consists of believers and their children (presumably including those who have not been born or conceived yet). Oops. There goes that argument.

    You seem to think that WCF 25.1 proves that the invisible church has to be completely there to even be an invisible church at all. This completely denies that the invisible church exists *in history.* It is you who are Gnosticizing the church by saying that it can only exist in the mind of God. Matt, you are so off.

  106. Xon said,

    April 10, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    But it says members, Lane. It doesn’t say “What benefits does the invisible church enjoy now?” It says, “What benefits do the members of the invisible church enjoy now?”

  107. greenbaggins said,

    April 10, 2007 at 3:48 pm

    I know it says that, Xon. But how you can be a member of something that doesn’t exist in the present?

  108. Xon said,

    April 10, 2007 at 3:50 pm

    Also, your claim that the use of “consists” in WCF 25.1 requires present existence for the invisible church is also [insert inflammatory word of choice] on your part, Lane. When giving definitions, even of (presently or even everlastingly) non-existent entities, it is standard to use present tense.

    If I say, “A unicorn consists of a horse with a horn coming out of its head,” have I just indicated a belief that there actually are unicorns right now? After all, I used the present tense. Hardly.

  109. Xon said,

    April 10, 2007 at 3:51 pm

    What do you mean? I don’t understand how this is a problem. I’m being honest here. I just don’t see what the “gotcha” is behind that question.

  110. David Gadbois said,

    April 10, 2007 at 5:36 pm

    Xon, if a man in 1908 says “I am a member of the National Organization for the Advancement of Colored People”, then there is something wrong. The NAACP wasn’t formed until 1909. Simple, right? Now, the fact this man could be a member in 1909 doesn’t make the former statement any more true or intelligible.

    A group must exist in order for someone to be a present member of it.

  111. David Gadbois said,

    April 10, 2007 at 5:57 pm

    I’m also beginning to wonder how carefully FV proponents here read the article above. Is Ursinus in error when he says :

    it is called invisible, not that the men who are in it are invisible, but because of the faith and piety of those who belong to it can neither be seen, nor known, except by those who possess it; and also because we cannot with certainty distinguish the godly from those who are hypocrites in the visible church

    And I’ve said it a thousand times but I’ll say it again – Turretin’s treatment is required reading here. It is, indeed, telling that the FV have to appeal to problematic and idiosyncratic figures like Schilder and Murray in order to prop up their errors while ignoring folks like Turretin.

    Indeed, I’d say FV has a unique nack for taking and distilling the WORST elements of so many different theologians. A “drunk uncle” like Murray is frequently useful, even if wandering off into problematic and even unconfessional conclusions. But FV has managed to mine Murray for the dross (rejection of v/iv church distinction) and left the gold (imputation of active obedience).

    It then moves on to other theologians like Schilder until it is a unique mongrel hybrid of all sorts of bad ideas, far wackier than any of it’s individual sources and precedents. And while the drunk uncle is still entertaining, lovable, and even an asset to a family (on the balance) the FV ends up more as a heroin-fueled pedophile, and just needs to be locked away

    :)

  112. David Gadbois said,

    April 10, 2007 at 6:03 pm

    Sorry, Xon and others. I didn’t make clear that I was alluding to the Heidelberg, on the one hand (Q: What is your only hope in life and death?), and the section I cited was from the Westminster Confession (3.8).

  113. Xon said,

    April 10, 2007 at 6:51 pm

    Well, I should have picked up on that, since I’m a Westminster man. I thought it sounded awfully familiar. :-)

    Re: the Ursinus quote, I don’t think Ursinus is in error to say that the faith and piety of the elect within the Church is invisible to us, and that we cannot distinguish with certainty the elect in the Church from the non-elect within the Church. That’s all right on, and is basic theology 101. I just don’t think calling the elect within the Church the “invisible Church” is the best way to speak. Shrug.

    Xon, if a man in 1908 says “I am a member of the National Organization for the Advancement of Colored People”, then there is something wrong. The NAACP wasn’t formed until 1909. Simple, right? Now, the fact this man could be a member in 1909 doesn’t make the former statement any more true or intelligible.

    A group must exist in order for someone to be a present member of it.

    This is how I figured you were thinking of it. I almost posted a comment about joining a club, but decided to wait for your answer.

    There are two ways to take your categorical statement “A group must exist in order for someone to be a present member of it.” What kind of “existence” are you talking about?

    A. Do you mean that it exists abstractly? All sets exist in this sense, that as soon as we define them they “exist.” So, for instance, the “set of all real numbers”, or “the set of all unicorns”, or “the set of all people predestined to live with God forever in glory, or “the set of all barbers who shave only those who do not shave themselves” (sorry for that last one; an old philosopher’s chestnut). All of these “sets” exist as “abstract entities”, right now. Even the set of all unicorns exists in this sense, even though there aren’t any actual unicorns!

    This kind of existence doesn’t help your cause (or anyone’s cause, really), though. You are right that a set must exist in this sense in order for any members of it to exist, but this is okay since all sets (even those nobody has ever thought of before) do exist in this sense.

    B. Or are you saying that the group exists “actually”? This is obviously what you mean, but on this meaning of “exists” I think your categorical statement is false. It is simply not the case that “a group must exist in order for someone to be a present member of it.”

    Your example involved the NAACP, but not all set-member relations are like those of a club or a political organization. The “invisible church” is not a pre-existing structure into which members must be joined, literally. It is, rather, simply a class of things–defined (by WCF 25.1) as all those who will ever be brought to Christ and connected to Him forever.

    When a class has built into its definition the entirety of time, then there is no way that set “exists” in an actual way until all the members together exist. Any weird set we might come up with just for fun can illustrate this. Consider the set consisting of all dogs that have ever and will ever urinate in my front yard. My own dog is a member of this set, but it is at best extremely odd to say that the set itself “exists” right now. Except in that abstract sense mentioned in (A) above, that is, but like I said that kind of existence doesn’t help your case.

    The “invisible Church” simply is not like the NAACP. It is like the “set of all people who will ever be in the NAACP throughout history,” and those two things are not identical.

  114. Xon said,

    April 10, 2007 at 6:55 pm

    In other words, when the man in 1908 says “I am a member of the set consisting of all people who will ever be members of the NAACP,” his statement works just fine. It’s perfectly true, even though the set of which he is a member does not exist in any actual sense.

  115. April 11, 2007 at 1:48 am

    “In other words, when the man in 1908 says “I am a member of the set consisting of all people who will ever be members of the NAACP,” his statement works just fine.”

    But that’s not quite right. To follow the scheme, the NAACP = invisible church. And the invisible church = all those who are elect.

  116. April 11, 2007 at 1:51 am

    “When a class has built into its definition the entirety of time, then there is no way that set “exists” in an actual way until all the members together exist.”

    That is a false assumption. Humanity exists. And even if humanity is defined as “every human person who has, is, and will ever live” that does not mean that there is no humanity here on earth now as an instantiated sub-group of the whole.

  117. Xon said,

    April 11, 2007 at 9:02 am

    Yes, but that’s not how we would normally define “humanity.” Rather, we would more likely define “humanity” as “the human race”, as the species of living thing that has whatever set of characteristics that make something human. Humanity is not “every human being that ever exists;” it does not have built into its definition the entirety of time. Rather, the human race is simply the species of human things, and this is a constantly-changing group as far as members are concerned. It is part of the definition of “humanity” that it has a constantly changing membership (it is, in other words and to use Wilson’s categories for the Church, a “historical” thing). This is not the way “invisible church” is defined, though. The IC is defined as all of its members.

    Similarly, the “canine species” (or caninity) is not defined as “every dog that will ever live;” rather, we should say that every dog that will ever live is/will be a member of the canine species.

    In terms of set theory, the invisible Church is a set, not an actual superstructure into which members have to “join.” If you meet the definition of a member of the set, then you are in the set. But the fact that the set has members does not mean the set itself is “actual.” (I’m using ‘actual’ as on opposite term for ‘abstract'; all sets exist as abstractions, but not all sets are ever actual (in fact, most are not; the IC is one of the few exceptions of a set becoming actual, b/c of the resurrection).

    I realize this point is rather subtle, but this also reflects why I have been saying all along that, on this particular issue (vis/invis church), our debate is largely over words and not substance.

    But that’s not quite right. To follow the scheme, the NAACP = invisible church. And the invisible church = all those who are elect.

    You’re begging the question here. It is precisely our point of disagreement that the NAACP is like the invisible church. I don’t think it is!

    The invisible church=all thsoe who are and ever will be elect (this is the ‘odd’ feature of the invisible church that makes it different from most sets; it has built into its definition the entirety of time).

    But the NAACP =/= (does not equal) all those who are and ever will be in the NAACP. Just as humanity does not equal “all humans who ever exist.” The NAACP is, by definition, a historically-changing institution; it is simply the set of all people who are members of it at any given time. This is how I would define it, anyway, which is why you cannot just assume that your definition of it is correct, because the definition is precisely where our disagreement lies.

  118. Xon said,

    April 11, 2007 at 9:22 am

    So, in other words, it is perfectly fine to say that the guy in 1908 is a member of the set of all people who will ever be members of the NAACP, even though he is not a member of the NAACP. They are two different sets:

    A: The NAACP (which is shorthand for the historical organization known as “the NAACP” which came into existence in 1909 and which has had many members over the last 98 years, with many comings and goings)

    B: All people who have, are, or will ever be members of the NAACP

    A and B are not the same sets, which by itself disproves your categorical rule that you laid out earlier, but futhermore I contend that the IC actually is a set like B (by the WCF’s definition).

    The categorical rule you laid out earlier is that it is impossible for members of sets to exist without the set itself existing. Again, this is true in the conceptual-abstract sense; there has to be a conceivable set of “all black dogs” in order for my dog to be a member of that set. But it is most decidedly not true that the set must exist in some “actual” way beyond this conceptual abstraction in order for its members to exist. You appealed to set A as proof of your principle (since a man can’t be a member of the NAACP before there is an NAACP), but I countered by pointing out that not all sets are like the NAACP, and that I think the IC is like set B. Your response to this, at this point, has been to say that, in your scheme, “the NAACP = invisible church. And the invisible church = all those who are elect.” But this answer is confused, given the difference between sets A and B. There are two ways (that I can notice) to read your statement here, but neither of them work.

    1. You are saying that, on your view/scheme, set A is analogous to the IC, and the IC is a set of type B, and so therefore sets A and B aren’t really different. This cannot be right; clearly they are different (as I think I’ve done an okay job of explaining above).

    2. What is more likely is that you are telling me that, in your exmaple, you meant “the NAACP” to refer to set B. Whatever the proper or better definition is, you are using “the NAACP” to refer to “all people who will ever be members of the NAACP.” This is fine, you can use the term “the NAACP” however you want. So what you are saying is that the IC is analogous to set B. Okay, but then your example is simply false: it is not the case that a man in 1908 is not a member of the NAACP, if your definition of “NAACP” is set B!

  119. greenbaggins said,

    April 11, 2007 at 9:51 am

    What is the false assumption here is that the IC has to exist in its entirety in order to exist at all on earth. This is Platonic and unscriptural. Do you really think that the Westminster divines were intending to describe the IC such that it doesn’t exist now? Such that there is no way in history that it exists until the end? It goes against LC 65’s assumptions.

    My point about the visible church is that the *same* issue exists for it. The visible church consists of all those who profess faith, including those who did in the past, do in the present, and will in the future. You assume that this means two churches. I reject that the v/ic distinction makes that assumption. Apparently the Westminster divines had no problem affirming “one, holy, catholic, apostolic church,” while simultaneously affirming that it had visible and invisible aspects to it.

  120. Andy Gilman said,

    April 11, 2007 at 10:01 am

    Xon said:

    [begin quote]
    I’m a little bummed you didn’t answer my question directly. What does Wilkins mean by “elect” in the passage you quote? (His articles in the FV book and the Knox Colloquium book are very similar–they have the same titles, in fact! The passage you quoted several comments ago can be found virtually word-for-word in the FV book version as well. So I think you can still answer the question, whichever version of the article you are reading.)
    [end quote]

    Since I don’t have the book, and since you apparently don’t have the Knox Colloquium paper, why don’t you quote for me the specific section(s) of the book where you think Wilkins “contextualizes” his meaning of “elect” in a way which shows I am misinterpreting him. If Wilkins’ written words in this Colloquium paper mean anything, then what he means by “elect” is what I’ve said he means. The finally-elect are the presently-elect who persevere. The apostate are the presently-elect who fail to persevere, i.e., they become the formerly-elect.

    Wilkins says: “The elect are those who are faithful in Christ Jesus. If they later reject the Savior, they are no longer elect–they are cut off from the Elect One and thus, lose their elect standing. But their falling away doesn’t negate the reality of their standing prior to their apostasy. They were really and truly the elect of God because of their relationship with Christ.”

    And I’m still looking for an example in the FV scheme, where they identify a real, qualitative difference between the finally-elect and the formerly-elect. That is, a difference which cannot be boiled down to perseverence. I addressed the examples you gave, and they do not express a qualitative difference. The example needs to be more than a mere assertion that there is a qualitative difference, or a mere assertion that they believe that God has eternally decreed that some will persevere and that some will fail to persevere.

    Do you agree that the Westminster standards limit “union and communion” with Christ, to the “invisible church;” i.e., to those presently-elect who are ordained to persevere and to become the finally-elect, or do the presently-elect who are ordained to apostasize also enjoy “union and communion” with Christ in the present?

  121. Xon said,

    April 11, 2007 at 10:26 am

    What is the false assumption here is that the IC has to exist in its entirety in order to exist at all on earth.

    What do you mean by “exist at all on earth?”

    Do you really think that the Westminster divines were intending to describe the IC such that it doesn’t exist now? Such that there is no way in history that it exists until the end? It goes against LC 65’s assumptions.

    This is exactly what we are discussing, Lane, so you’re begging the question here. You earlier referenced LC 65 et al. I then pointed out that these Qs do not speak of earthly benefits received by the “invisible church,” but by “members of the invisible church.” Your response to that was to say that it’s impossible to have members of a set without the set itself existing. That claim is what prompted me to talk more about the different kinds of sets, etc. Now you are responding to that by simply repeating the claim that LC 65 is speaking of the set existing in history, and not simply its members. Again, I point out that LC 65 only refers to the members of the invis church, not to the “invis church” itself. And round and round we go.

    My point about the visible church is that the *same* issue exists for it. The visible church consists of all those who profess faith, including those who did in the past, do in the present, and will in the future. You assume that this means two churches. I reject that the v/ic distinction makes that assumption. Apparently the Westminster divines had no problem affirming “one, holy, catholic, apostolic church,” while simultaneously affirming that it had visible and invisible aspects to it.

    Well,

    a. I conceded too easily to Andy’s earlier comment (which was still quite clever), and after reading through the Confessional material again I am not willing to agree wtih you that the WS make the vis church just as abstract as the IC. Nowhere (that I’ve seen) do the WS define the VC as “all those who profess faith, including those who did in the past, do in the present, and will in the future.” The VC formulations in the WS do not include this sort of reference to comprehensive time like we see in WCF 25.1 regarding the IC.

    The VC is “those who profess faith, and their children.” That is not an inclusion of all people who ever profess faith, through all time; such definitions are usually only meaning to include current people who fit the definition. When I say that the Atlanta Braves is “those who play baseball or coach for the MLB club in Atlanta,” I am not speaking of every person who ever has or ever will play for the Braves. I am only speaking of the current players. I can refer to “everyone who has played and ever will play for the Braves” if I want to (I just did!), but this is not the normal reference of a social organization like “the Atlanta Braves.” This is what I’ve been pointing out: the WCF’s definition of the IC is actually quite striking in this regard; not very many sets are defined in terms of the entirety of time. But the WCF does precisely this re: the IC. It does not do the same for the VC.

    Language is slippery and fun, so with all this said it is certainly possible and permissible to blur the two sets (A and B from my earlier comment) and speak of them as though they are synoymous, but this is not actually so.

    b. Saying that there are visible and invisible “aspects” of the one Church is not the same as saying that these aspects are actually themselves “churches.” I was eating at MacDonald’s, and there were both caucasians and Asians in the resaraunt. Two “aspects” (or “parts”, in this particular example of aspects); one restaurant. But if I moved from this to the claim that it is good or proper or profitable to speak of a “caucasian MacDonald’s” and an “Asian MacDonald’s”, then I’m inserting a whole other set of assumptions that don’t follow from the simple facts of the situation itself.

    c. What I think leads to two churches (or, to speak like Guy Waters for a moment, what is inclined to overemphasize and misprioritize in such a way as to make it more likely that a person might seem to believe in two churches and therefore be a wicked wicked heretic…zing!) is not the contention that the VC consists of all professors throughout time (though I don’t think that contention is true), but the contention that the elect members of the visible Church constitute another “invisible” “Church.” That contention gives us two churches side-by-side, which David G. has openly asserted as his position. You are not wanting to assert it, and so I practice what I preach about being charitable when I say that I take you at your word on that. You do not believe in two churches, side by side, but only one church. I’m not going to tell you waht you “really” believe. But your formulation of the vis and invis church distinction is, at best, in a serious tenstion with your belief in one Church, and I do think it sets up confusion for others if not yourself.

    I see elect, regenerate people (I don’t literally “see” them, but you get my drift) in the Church, and I call them…elect and regenerate. You want to call them elect, regenerate, and “the invisible church.” I don’t think this is the best way to speak, I don’t think the WS requires us to speak this way (b/c when they speak of “members of the invis church” that is not the same thing), and I don’t think that this is an issue worthy of defrocking people from Reformed ministries even if you are right.

  122. Andy Gilman said,

    April 11, 2007 at 10:48 am

    So Xon, do I understand you correctly, that when faced with these two questions from the Larger Catechism:

    Q. 62. What is the visible church?
    A. The visible church is a society made up of all such as in all ages and places of the world do profess the true religion, and of their children.

    Q. 64. What is the invisible church?
    A. The invisible church is the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one under Christ the head.

    You will still insist that the invisible church is “more abstract” than the visible church?

  123. Xon said,

    April 11, 2007 at 10:52 am

    Hey, Andy,

    Actually, I just realized that I still have the Colloquium book on my computer (I downloaded a free copy of it somehow back in 2004 before it was actually published; I can’t be sure my page numbers are the same as the final numbers in your copy).

    Wilkins obviously re-arranged this Colloquium article to make his position more clear, and the result was the article in the FV book. (And this is not a concession to some fault in Wilkins’ Colloquium essay: it’s kind of the point of colloquia to come together and let iron sharpen iron and try out some ways of expressing yourself and see how they go over, and then you can refine your argument later.) That said, all the basic elements are present in both sources, almost verbatim. According to my page numbers, the first passage you quoted in #98 (“The elect are those who are faithful in Christ Jesus…”) is found on page 261. (And the same passage is found on p. 58 of his article in the FV book).

    Fortunately, the contextualizing passage I was trying to point you to, which is on p. 56 of the article in the FV book, is also in the Colloquium article. If you look back one page, to page 260 and the paragraph starting “Salvation is relational…”, you will find a clear contextualization of the discussion Wilkins is about to launch into. He clearly sets up:

    a. that there are two valid usages of “elect”, one which refers to being chosen into covenantal relationship with Christ and is initiated by baptism, and the other which refers to being chosen to live with God eternally in glory; and

    b. that he believes in the latter kind (“He has certainly predestined the number of all who will be saved at the last day…”) of “election”; but

    c. that in the Bible the word “elect” usually carries the first meaning.

    He then goes on for several pages to discuss several Biblical passages that he thinks show the idea of “election” being used to talk about the covenantal relationship people have with Christ through baptism, whether they are predestined to go to Heaven or not. This is what he is doing in the passage on p. 261 which you quoted. “The elect” he is referring to here are clearly the “covenantal” kind of elect. He is not saying that these people were predestined to go to Heaven, but then they ruined it through their lack of faithfulness to Christ. He is saying, rather, that these people were predestined to be united to Christ covenantally through baptism, to be blessed in a whole host of real and awesome ways because of that covenantal union. But this predestination to covenant membership does not guarantee that you are predestined to eternal salvation, and in fact not all covenant members receive eternal life (b/c, in the decree of God, they fall away, or stop trusting in Christ).

    He’s not teachig that some people are predestined, then not predestined. He’s teaching that there are two different kinds of predestination, and that the Bible more often speaks of the covenantal kind. But he believes in both kinds, and both kinds are clearly compatible with one another (they can both be true), and so there shouldn’t be a problem. People can become one of the “chosen people” in the covenantal sense, and then stop being one of those “chosen people” at a later time (indeed, this happens to every non-elect person at the Last Judgment). But nobody can be predestined to go to Heaven and then fail to go to Heaven. This is all right there in Wilkins’ article.

    Now, you can disagree with his interpretations of all or some of the Biblical passages he brings up. Maybe he is wrong to claim that the Bible tends to use “elect” and “chosen” to refer to the covenantal kind of election more often than the eternal salvation kind of election. But even if you are right, this doesn’t make Wilkins unorthodox by Reformed standards. The particular interpretations of this or that passage are not the standard for orthodoxy. Since he believes in the Westminster kind of “election,” and since the other “covenantal” kind of election does not contradict the Westminster kind, then his doctrines are in conformity to the Westminster Standards and he is orthodox. Even if you disagree with how much he “emphasizes” the covenantal kind of election, or with how he interprets this or that passage of Scripture to get to his doctrines.

  124. Xon said,

    April 11, 2007 at 10:58 am

    Andy, I’ll try to get back to you about the qualitative difference stuff a bit later. My answer might be a bit boring though; the short version is that I do think the stuff I’ve already provided establishes it, your own contention notwithstanding.

    Re: #122 and WLC’s 62 and 65, I’ll get back to you on that too. But remember that, even back when I accepted your claim that the VC was “just as abstract” as the IC, I still resopnded on behalf of my position. The abstract nature of the VC will not “win” the debate for either side, b/c everyone on this side agrees that it is acceptable to speak of a part in palce of a whole by way of synecdoche.

  125. Xon said,

    April 11, 2007 at 10:58 am

    Oops, that last sentence should read “everyone on both sides agrees…”

  126. Andy Gilman said,

    April 11, 2007 at 12:02 pm

    Xon, the passage you cite in #123 is what I was guessing you meant, but I couldn’t be sure. Thanks for making it explicit. But that “contextualizing” passage in no way establishes what you claim it does. In it, Wilkins merely gives a nod to predestination and to God’s eternal decree. So yes, he agrees that some are elected to eternal life (the supposed “Westminster” sense of election) and some are merely elected to be in covenant through baptism (the supposed “Biblical” sense of election). But the only difference between these two categories of “the elect” is in their perseverance. Both categories of “the elect” are ceremonially baptized into the covenant, and they are the presently-elect. The difference is that some of the presently-elect do not persevere to become the finally-elect. There is nothing different about the two categories of elect as viewed *in the present.* The only difference is the duration of their election, i.e., their perseverance (and for the sake of putting the best spin on Wilkins’ argument, I will assume that he believes perseverance to be a gift of God to those who do persevere).

    But the fact that he acknowledges that God’s eternal decree is at work in those who will persevere in their election, and also in those who will fail to persevere in their election, does not prove that there is a qualitative difference between the two categories of “the elect,” or in the quality of their election. Both categories are the presently-elect. The presently-elect are all in “union and communion” with Christ, enjoying all the benefits Christ has to offer, such as justification, adoption, sanctification, etc. The only thing which distinguishes the two categories of “the elect” is that God has given some the grace to persevere to the end, and in the rest he has withheld that grace.

  127. Andy Gilman said,

    April 11, 2007 at 12:17 pm

    And Xon, I know you have a lot to cover yet, but in doing so I hope you will include an answer to this question which I asked in #120:

    Do you agree that the Westminster standards limit “union and communion” with Christ, to the “invisible church;” i.e., to those presently-elect who are ordained to persevere and to become the finally-elect, or do the presently-elect who are ordained to apostasize also enjoy “union and communion” with Christ, in the present?

  128. David Gadbois said,

    April 11, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    “but the contention that the elect members of the visible Church constitute another “invisible” “Church.” That contention gives us two churches side-by-side, which David G. has openly asserted as his position. You are not wanting to assert it, and so I practice what I preach about being charitable when I say that I take you at your word on that. You do not believe in two churches, side by side, but only one church”

    When I stated that there are 2 churches that exist side-by-side, I wasn’t using the term “church” in the same sense as the Apostle’s creed. To use Lane’s terminology, the invisible church is an “aspect” of the one, holy, apostolic church. But it does exist side-by-side with the other aspect (visible).

    Even the eschatological church/historical church distinction does the same thing. Wilson would not say that those are two churches in the Apostle’s Creed sense. The only difference is he’d say that they don’t exist side-by-side in time.

  129. Xon said,

    April 11, 2007 at 2:27 pm

    Even the eschatological church/historical church distinction does the same thing. Wilson would not say that those are two churches in the Apostle’s Creed sense. The only difference is he’d say that they don’t exist side-by-side in time.

    No, they are the same Church at different times of its life. Just as 12 year old Xon and 28 year old Xon are the same person. There’s not two Xons, but only one Xon, but of course we can speak of him (me) at different times of his life and the fact that we say “Xon” both times doesn’t even begin to imply that we are positing two Xons. This is a pretty clear way to speak.

    But saying that two “aspects” or subsets existing at the same time side by side within the one church., and calling these subsets “churches,” but you don’t mean this latter use of “churches” in the same way as when you say there’s only one “church,” is confusing. Why on earth should we talk that way? (Also, I think my example of the “caucasian” and “Asian” MacDonalds from earlier today applies here. Again: why speak this way?)

    I mean, come on anti-FV dude, you jump up and down every time we say something that strikes you as remotely “confused” or “misleading” or muddled or prone to lead “the simple” astray. Physician, heal thyself. :-)

  130. David Gadbois said,

    April 11, 2007 at 4:16 pm

    “But saying that two “aspects” or subsets existing at the same time side by side within the one church., and calling these subsets “churches,” but you don’t mean this latter use of “churches” in the same way as when you say there’s only one “church,” is confusing.”

    But Wilson doesn’t call his formulation the eschatological ASPECT or historical ASPECT. He also uses the term “church.” So Wilson’s is equally confusing.

  131. Todd said,

    April 11, 2007 at 6:50 pm

    I am interested to see whether Wes White retracts his criticism of Wilson:

    http://www.dougwils.com/index.asp?Action=Anchor&CategoryID=1&BlogID=3761

  132. Todd said,

    April 11, 2007 at 6:51 pm

    Wes says: “If I’ve misunderstood you here and you are willing to affirm the visible/invisible Church distinction in the sense stated above, then I will happily publicly retract my criticism.”

  133. Xon said,

    April 12, 2007 at 9:41 am

    But Wilson doesn’t call his formulation the eschatological ASPECT or historical ASPECT. He also uses the term “church.” So Wilson’s is equally confusing.

    David, stop and think about this a minute. If you tell me I’m off-base here then I’ll take it all back, but my suspicion is that in your zeal to have a “comeback” you’re not thinking carefully enough about what you’re saying. Any response that sounds snappy will do.

    You yourself have argued against Wilson’s view, time and time again over the last several months at least, that it only makes a “chronological” distinction between the vis and invis church. Well, think about what that means. A chronological distinction between 18 year old Xon and the 28 year old Xon writing this to you today does not imply two “Xons.” Nobody thinks we are talking about two Xons when we speak this way. It’s not confusing in any way. You’re trying to get my argument that your vis/invis usage of “church” is confusing to apply to any and all uses of the word “church” (such as Wilson’s hist/esch distinction), but it just doesn’t apply equally to all usages and I myself have a really hard time beliveing that you yourself even think that it does. The two usages are not the same, and they are certainly not equally confusing. Only yours is confusing in the way I am describing.

    When we ask little Johnny what he wants to be when he grows up, does this “confuse” people into thinking that there are actually two Johnnys? Of course not. Nothing confusing about these kinds of chronological distinctions at all.

    But your distinction, as you yourself insist repeatedly, is not chronological. You are dividing the one Church up into two groups of people, both existing simultaneously side-by-side, and calling each of these two ontologically different (a point you insist on) parts “churches.” Well, if we have two simlutaneously-existing x’s that are ontologically different from one another; how can the inference be avoided that there are actually two x’s, not one? It is your distinction that creates this “confusion” (as I have called it), and it simply does not apply to Wilson’s chronological distinction in the same way.

    Your way out (#128) is that “church” in the phrase “invisible church” does not have the same meaning as the one “Church” we confess via the catholic creeds. This might be reasonable, but now my long-standing complaint that this whole debate is over semantics gets even louder. Because we now have, by your own formulation, a dispute between your view and Wilson’s view which boils down to this:

    A. You want to use the word “church” to describe two different things, both the one Church as a whole and the invis “part” of that one church. So, we have the one Church (that’s one definition of Church), and the invisible church (which is a part of the one Church, but still carries the name “church”). So, you are by your own admission talking about two different kinds of things, but are insisting that we call them both “churches”.

    B. Wilson wants to use the word “Church” to apply only to the one Church of the catholic creeds. For the “visible” and “invisible” aspects of that one Church, he uses different words than “church” to describe them. So he prefers to call those who profess faith in the true religion….”professors of faith” or “covenant members.” And he prefers to call those professors who are actually predestined to eternal life…”elect” or “regenerate.” There’s no need to bring the word “church” in to describe these people. (Though we can certainly say that the regenerate covenant members are “members of the invisible/eschatological church).

    This is why I continue to say that this particular dispute is mostly semantic. (And Wes White is, hopefully, on the verge of retracting some of his own Wilson on this issue for just this reason.) You fault Wilson for not saying “church” when he distinguishes mere professors from regenerate covenant members. You say that these two groups are actually representative of different “churches,” although “churches” here doesn’t mean what “Church” means when we say that word in the Creeds. And this is a real big deal to you; Wilson is teaching heresy when he prefers not to do it your way. Even though he distinguishes between the mere professors and the regenerate within the one Church.

  134. Xon said,

    April 12, 2007 at 9:59 am

    To sum up (b/c that’s apparently what I do lately; one long comment followed by a more summarizing one):

    There are different ways of speaking of different “aspects” of an X. In some of its aspects, it makes sense to call the aspects themselves “Xs”, and this is not confusing, at least for the vast majority of reasonable people, But in other cases it is very confusing to refer to an “aspect” of X as an X.

    Examples:

    Chronological aspects of X:

    Exhibit 1. Speaking of “the 18 year old Xon” and “the 28 year old Xon.”

    This does not imply that there are actually two Xons, because the whole point is that these are chronological aspects; they describe the one Xon at different times of his life. Not confusing at all; and in fact the unity of Xon is presupposed by the way we are speaking.

    Exhibit 2. A tired mother who says, “Some days we have ‘good Johnny;’ other days we have ‘bad Johnny.'”

    Again, this is not confusing in any way. The mother is simply using language in a colorful way to express the fact that there is one Johnny who acts differently on different days. Nobody who heard a mother say this would think she was actually positing 2 different Johnnys.

    But, consider another kind of “aspects” of X; “Partitive” aspects:

    Exhibit 1. Today I realized that there is an ‘Asian MacDonald’s’ and a ‘caucasian MacDonald’s.’

    This is, at best, confusing. As it stands, it sounds like you are positing two different MacDonalds establishments–one that is for Asians, one that is for caucasians; or perhaps they are just favored by the two groups. (That’s the “Asian” part of town, etc.)

    Now, if a person said: “No, no, what I mean is that, at the one MacDonald’s I ate at this afternoon, there were both Asians and caucasians in there eating,” this would only make us wonder why on earth he chose to refer to the two groups (both “parts” of the MacDonalds) as separate MacDonalds. Perhaps he is a race poet; “two Americas”, etc. Perhaps he is thinks that the experience of the two groups is very different when they go to MacDonald’s, or something. But, whatever he thinks, it is downright unclear until he makes these background assumptions clear. Otherwise, this is just a plain weird thing to say. And, please notice, it is completely figurative anyway. The person is surely not claiming that there are literally two MacDonaldses.

    Exhibit 2. There are really four trees: the branches tree, the leaf tree, the trunk tree, and the roots tree.

    This is even sillier so as to illustrate my point. Calling the part of a thing by the same name as the thing of which it is a part is

    a. often very confusing, and

    b. never literally true, even if it is rhetorcially allowable by synecdoche.

    We can touch only the branch sticking off the tree and say “This is a tree,” but we are not literally claiming that the branch is the tree. Synecdoche is a linguistic convention; it does not reify the branch into an actual tree. Parts can be spoken of as the whole, but they are not actually the whole.

    Why not just give the parts of the tree their own names, not containing the word “tree?” Likewise, why not do the same with the regenerate members of the one Church? Call them…regenerate. Oh wait, we already do! :-)

  135. Xon said,

    April 12, 2007 at 10:55 am

    Okay, Andy,

    First, in #126 you’re still “moving the goalposts.” Or, to be less accusatory, we’re talking past each other. This thread is about the invis/vis church distinction, and the general claim made against FV on this issue (which goes back several months now) is that FVers deny an “ontological” distinction b/w the vis and invis church. That’s the “starting point” for this discussion, more or less. As Wes White himself said on Wilson’s blog recently (referenced by Todd above in #s 131 and 132), ”

    All I have tried to show from the Wilkins article(s) is that he does indeed affirm that there is a distinction, beyond mere duration of perseverance, between those in the Church who are professors only and those who are regenerate. When someone like Wes or Lane accuses FVers of “denying the ontological distinction between the vis and invis church,” this is what we are talking about. You are moving from that question (Is there a distinction?) to a whole other one (What is the nature of the difference, or what qualities characterize the group on each side of the distinction?) This question is a reasonable one to ask, given what we are discussing, and it also has figured into FV discussions already (both here on this blog and elsewhere), but my point is that we have to focus on one thing at a time.

    So, you said earlier that for Wilkins the elect are people predestined to go to Heaven who then don’t end up going because they fall away. You quoted Wilkins’ article to demonstrate this. I then went through the same article to disprove that claim of yours, and only that claim. Now, you also want to talk about what the distinction is between them, how it is defined, etc. Okay, we can do that, and this is what I’ve said I’m going to get back to you on (plus, I’ve already gone through it some anyway). What I am trying to get you to see right now, though, is that these are two logically distinct questions.

    A. Are cats and dogs different?

    B. How are cats and dogs different?

    I think Wilkins’ article(s) CLEARLY shows him claiming that dogs and cats are different (there are two kinds of election, and within the group of people elected to covenant membership there are those who are regenerate and those who aren’t). You are doubting this, but you are basing your objection on the fact that, acc. to your reading, Wilkins never tells us anything about how they are different. You seem to be arguing with the following form (correct me if I’m wrong!):

    P1. Wilkins says dogs and cats are different.
    P2. But, Wilkins never says how they are different.
    P3. If you don’t say how two things are different, then they can’t really be different.
    P4/C1. Therefore, Willkins’s own writings allow us to infer that dogs and cats are NOT really different.
    C2. Therefore Wilkins’ own writings entail that, despite what he says under P1, his theology is either incoherent on this point and he just doesn’t see it, or he is being dishonest when he says that dogs and cats are different.

    The problem with this argument is the if-then in P3. It just ain’t true, and a silly example can illustrate this quickly.

    Suppose Earth is attacked by invisible creaturs of some kind, and they attack two cities simultaneously, Atlanta and Pittsburg. Pitt is razed to the ground, while Atlanta remains standing (though badly beaten) and the attackers end up retreating. Now, three different interpretations of what is going on pop up among the frightened human population:

    1. Both groups of attackers were aliens of the same species, but for some external reason one attack succeeded and the other did not. (Perhaps the buildings in Atlanta are stronger than the buildings in Pitt., or something).

    2. Both attackers were aliens, but they were different KINDS of aliens, and the one is inherently stronger than the other. The weaker race of aliens who attacked Atlanta would have failed if they had attacked Pitt, too; and the stronger aliens would have razed Atlanta just as easily as they destroyed Pitt.

    3. Pitt was attacked by aliens, and Atlanta was attacked by incompetent humans wearing invisibility cloaks.

    Three different interpreations, all accounting for the same facts. (1) and (2) both say that all attackers are aliens, but they disagree as to whether there is a difference in kind between the aliens. (3) says that only one group of attackers even were aliens at all.

    Now, one thing that is perfectly clear is that (2) is a logically possible position, even though we don’t know anything about the aliens and so we therefore don’t know anything that would tell us what makes them different. If an advocate of group (1) or (3) came along and said that group (2)’s position was incoherent b/c, while they say that there are two kinds of aliens they haven’t provided any actual distinguishing characteristics of the two groups, then those advocates of group (1) or (3) would be wrong. Their argument would be fallacious. Just b/c you don’t know or choose not to say what makes x and y different, does not mean that x and y are in fact not differenet.

    So, two distinct questions. Wilkins says cats and dogs are different. On that charge, that he denies any distinction other than duration of perseverance between regenerate and unregenerate people in the Church, he stands acquited. It’s all right there in the article you quoted.

    But, NOW we can turn attention to the other question you’re asking, which is HOW he thinks they are different. Which again, I’ll have to do after lunch. Sorry!

  136. greenbaggins said,

    April 12, 2007 at 11:30 am

    But Xon, though following your argument here, there is one point which you ahve not addressed: it is the critics’ position that the Bible clearly distinguishes what the differences are between NECM’s and ECM’s. One is regenerate, the other is not. One is elect, the other is not. One is justified, the other is not. The way the Bible speaks about them merges the question of how and whether they are different. That is why Andy’s point is still clear. The argument goes like this: 1. if NECM’s and ECM’s are ontologically different, then there will be evidence in Scripture pointing to the ways in which they are different. 2. Scripture does, in fact, point to how they are different (see the exegesis in the original post). 3. Wilkins does not recognize this Scriptural evidence as being to the point. He would prefer to say that he doesn’t know how they are different. 4. If he cannot go where Scripture goes, then one may legitimately question whether he really believes in the distinction. I don’t think that Scripture makes a clear distinction between whether and how NECM’s and ECM’s are different. In saying how they are different, the Scriptures assume that they are different. One can distinguish between the two questions. But one cannot separate them.

  137. Xon said,

    April 12, 2007 at 1:07 pm

    Lane, that’s certainly true, and I almost put something about it in my last comment. But I tend to do too much of that, and I’m trying to cut back on acknowledging every possible angle every time I type something up. To deal with it now that you brought it up, sure, anti-FVers claim the Bible itself gives us a clear definition of the difference b/w ECMs and NECMs along the lines of the ordo salutis. And FVers claim that it doesn’t give us a clear definition along those lines. (e.g., it doesn’t use Reformed ordo salutis words (like “just” “sanct” “salvation” “forgiveness” etc.) to refer only to people predestined to go to Heaven) This is an exegetical dispute, and it is worth having. Frankly, if FVers hadn’t had to spend most of the last five years defending their basic Reformed orthodoxy, then perhaps some more fruitful exegetical exchanges would have happened by now. You’ve worked hard on this blog and done some intelligent exegesis of several of the passages relevant to this debate. I still favor FV interpretations of most of those passages, but I find the discussion very interesting.

    But the problem is that the exegesis of this or that passage does not, by itself, prove one’s orthodoxy or not. It all depends, as I know you agree, on what conclusions precisely are drawn from the questionable exegesis. If I exegete John 1:1 to say that Christ was “a god,” then my questionable exegesis has led me into what is clearly and undeniably heresy. But when Wilkins exegetes Ephesians 1 (for example) to be referring to blessings that covenantally elect people possess through their union with Christ, even if they are not predestined to go to Heaven when they die, it is not nearly so obvious that issues of Reformed orthodoxy are at stake. Even if his exegesis is incorrect, where does Reformed orthodoxy say that you have to define the characteristics of ECMs and NECMs as you anti-FVers are defining them? Maybe you are right about exegesis and the Bible really does draw the line as you draw it. Maybe historical premils are right and the Bible really does teach premil eschatology. But that doesn’t make my postmil views “heretical”.

    So the question is not primarily over whether y’all agree with FV exegesis, but over what the Reformed tradition actually puts forth as required doctrine. Is it really a required feature of Reformed orthodoxy that you define the difference b/w NECMs and ECMs the way you guys are doing? Why isn’t Wilkins just akin to a historical premil on your view; wrong on what the Scripture teaches on a particular issue but still under the broader umbrella or orthodoxy?

    As to your formulation of the argument, Premise 1 strikes me as blatantly false. I don’t know why Scripture pointing out ways in which NECMs and ECMs are different is a necessary condition for them actually being different. Again, since these two questions are logically distinct–whether they are different and how they are different–then it may be that they are different but God has simply chosen to leaven a precise definition of their difference mysterious to us.

    And, keep in mind, I don’t actually believe that there is nothing we can say about the difference. But I do think it is far more mysterious than simply breaking it down using the “ordo salutis” terms. But I believe the Scriptures teach that a. there IS a difference and b. the difference is in kind and not just in duration.

    More later, particularly getting back to Andy.

  138. Xon said,

    April 12, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    Oh yeah…

    a. I don’t think that Scripture makes a clear distinction between whether and how NECM’s and ECM’s are different. b. In saying how they are different, the Scriptures assume that they are different. c. One can distinguish between the two questions. But one cannot separate them. (abc inserted)

    a. Well, that’s a fairly philosophical point that I frankly wouldn’t expect the Scriptures to make, at least not explicitly. That said, there are only 3 logical possibilities of what the Scriptures can say (either explicitly or by ‘good and necessary consequence’):

    (Still Xon typing)i. They can tell us THAT NECMs and ECMs are different, but not HOW.

    ii. They can fail to tell us THAT, but tell us HOW.

    iii. They can tell us THAT and HOW.

    iv. They can tell us neither THAT nor HOW.

    In reverse order, if IV is the case then we would have to be, at best, skeptics that NECMs and ECMs are different at all. For my part, I don’t think that IV is the case.

    Both you and I hold to a version of III. We both think that the Scriptures teach THAT NECMs and ECMs are different, and that they tell us something of HOW they are different. You and I disagree, though, as to the content of the HOW found in Scripture. (And, with the only for sure exception that I know of being James Jordan, who calls his own position here “tentative”, I think that the vast majority of FVers agree with me here. And I would argue with vigor that Wilson and Wilkins do.) You think the content of the ‘how’ is in “ordo salutis” terminology, while I think it is much more mysterious than this and is more a consequence of good and necessary consequence from other explicit statements of Scripture.

    II is actually not logically possible, I don’t think, but I listed it for the sake of symmetry. If Scripture tells us (either explicitly or by g and n consequence) HOW two things are different, then it follows from g and n consequence THAT they are different. (See (b) below).

    Under I, the Scriptures tell us THAT they’re different, but they don’t tell us anything about HOW they are. This is a logical possibility, which is why I don’t know what makes you say that in Scripture the two questions of THAT and HOW cannot be separated. Is there some particular teaching of Scripture you are thinking of that you think establishes such a strong connection between the two questions? If there isn’t, then I don’t see how we can reach that conclusion, given that the two questions are logically distinct.

    In any case, I don’t believe that (I) is the truth, but I also have not yet been convinced that the Confession excludes this view. For whatever that’s worth.

    b. Well, but that’s true for everyone, not just the Scriptures. You cannot say HOW two things are different without presupposing THAT they are different. I agree with this 100%. But this is a more modest claim than the assertion that in Scripture the two questions are not separable. They are still separable, it’s just that if you answer one of the questions in a certain way (the HOW) then that also gives you the answer to the other (the THAT). But this doesn’t work in the opposite direction. So they are definitely separable questions.

    (An example from the “square of opposition” in logic. If you know that the “A” statement is true–All S is P–then you also know that the “I” statement is true–Some S is P. But, if you know that the “A” statement is false, then this does not tell you anything one way or the other about the “I”. Likewise, “S and P are different in such-and-such a way” and “S and P are different” have the same relationship. If you know the former is true, then the latter has to also be true. But if the former is false, this doesn’t tell you anything about the truth of falsity of the latter.)

    c. Thus, given what I said under (a) and (b) above, I disagree.

  139. Andy Gilman said,

    April 12, 2007 at 2:31 pm

    Xon says:

    [BOQ]
    First, in #126 you’re still “moving the goalposts.” Or, to be less accusatory, we’re talking past each other. This thread is about the invis/vis church distinction, and the general claim made against FV on this issue (which goes back several months now) is that FVers deny an “ontological” distinction b/w the vis and invis church. That’s the “starting point” for this discussion, more or less.
    [EOQ]

    In comment #92, you claimed that I had “moved the goalposts” back in #78. If none of my other posts made it clear to you, that I don’t accept what you define as the “goalposts” in this thread, then certainly #100 should have made it clear. There I said:

    [BOQ]
    The fact the Wilkins gives a written affirmation, under duress, that there is a qualitative difference between those who are “elect” and those who are “reprobate,” is really irrelevant. The important question is whether this affirmation is confirmed in his writings.
    [EOQ]

    If this debate thread is over whether or not Steve Wilkins or other FV proponents “affirm,” or “assert,” or “claim to believe” that there is a qualitative or ontological difference between the finally-apostate and the finally-elect, then I concede the point. But as I stated in #100, it is an irrelevant point. The important point is whether the “bare assertion” is backed by, and confirmed in, what they write and teach. In #135 you now claim that I’m “still” moving the goalposts.” By that, do you mean that I’m moving the goalposts “again,” as though I’ve moved them multiple times, or do you mean that you did not understand what I wrote in #100, when I said that the “bare affirmation” of a qualitative difference (the thing which you call the “goalpost” in this discussion) is completely irrelevant as far as I’m concerned?

    Xon says:

    [BOQ]
    I think Wilkins’ article(s) CLEARLY shows him claiming that dogs and cats are different (there are two kinds of election, and within the group of people elected to covenant membership there are those who are regenerate and those who aren’t). You are doubting this, but you are basing your objection on the fact that, acc. to your reading, Wilkins never tells us anything about how they are different. You seem to be arguing with the following form (correct me if I’m wrong!):

    P1. Wilkins says dogs and cats are different.
    P2. But, Wilkins never says how they are different.
    P3. If you don’t say how two things are different, then they can’t really be different.
    P4/C1. Therefore, Willkins’s own writings allow us to infer that dogs and cats are NOT really different.
    C2. Therefore Wilkins’ own writings entail that, despite what he says under P1, his theology is either incoherent on this point and he just doesn’t see it, or he is being dishonest when he says that dogs and cats are different.
    [EOQ]

    This is the “form” I’m arguing:

    P1. Wilkins says that “the presently-elect who are finally-elect” (Group-A) are “different” from “the presently-elect who are finally-apostate” (Group-B), in that Group-B fails to persevere, and Group-A perseveres.

    P2. The only distinction Wilkins makes between the two groups, which both exist in the present, is that Group-A will persevere, by eternal decree, and Group-B will fail to persevere, by eternal decree.

    P3. If the only difference Wilkins makes between Group-A and Group-B, is that Group-A will persevere and Group-B will fail to persevere, then he has not identified a qualitative difference between the groups as they exist in the present, i.e., as the presently-elect.

    P4. Wilkins’ Knox Colloquium contributions make explicit that he believes there is no difference between Group-A and Group-B, and that both groups are presently in “union and communion” with Christ.

    C1. Therefore Wilkins is denying the confessional teaching that it is only Group-A who are ever in “union and communion” with Christ.

  140. greenbaggins said,

    April 12, 2007 at 2:39 pm

    Yes, Andy, this is correct, and well-argued. And Xon, just because Wilkins *says* there is an ontological difference doesn’t mean that he actually holds to it. In fact, he states as much in his reply to the LP. However, he cannot articulate the difference that the WCF articulates and that the Bible articulates.

  141. Xon said,

    April 12, 2007 at 3:42 pm

    So, Andy, I think you’ve been jumping the gun a bit here. In #126 you said:

    (1)So yes, [Wilkins] agrees that some are elected to eternal life (the supposed “Westminster” sense of election) and some are merely elected to be in covenant through baptism (the supposed “Biblical” sense of election). (2) But the only difference between these two categories of “the elect” is in their perseverance…The only difference is the duration of their election, i.e., their perseverance…(“(1)” and “(2)” added by me)

    What I’ve been saying in my last few comments to you is that all Wilkins is doing in the article we’ve been talking about (whether the Knox Coll version or the FV book version) is arguing for (1). (2) is a separate question, and Wilkins simply wasn’t addressing it in that article. This is not a “fault” with his article, b/c you can’t talk about everything in everything you write. Wilkins’ article is about the way (he believes) the Scriptures speak about election and covenant, and so forth. He’s not trying to explain the traditional Reformed doctrine of election, or to lay out the precise difference between ECMs and NECMs. He does, however, make a quick comment or two that he agrees with the traditional Reformed doctrine that there are people predestined to go to Heaven when they die within the covenant community, but that not everybody in the covenant community is so predestined. He says all that clearly enough.

    The question of how exactly NECMs and ECMs differ from each other is a question he offers answers to later, in other places. The Auburn Avenue statement of the session, for instance, is one such place. But Wilkins also takes up this question in his responses to the questions put to him by the LA Presbytery. These comments I referenced before. You have responded (way back in #100) with the claim that these answers still don’t establish that he actually believes in a qualitative difference b/w ECMs and NECMs:

    The fact the Wilkins gives a written affirmation, under duress, that there is a qualitative difference between those who are “elect” and those who are “reprobate,” is really irrelevant. The important question is whether this affirmation is confirmed in his writings.

    This seems like a pretty crappy thing to say, dude! These written answers to the LA Presbytery are also a part of his “writings.” He has submitted them for public consumption. The fact that he didn’t answer this question as directly as some might like in earlier writings (and as I already pointed out, that wasn’t the point of those earlier writings) hardly means that it is justifiable now that he has elaborated on precisely that question to simply ignore that elaboration. But, I’ll get off your case about this, b/c despite this statement dismissing the importance of what he said “under duress” before his presbytery, you go ahead and comment on his answers anyway (still in #100):

    Look at his written response to his Presbytery. He says: “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.” And “Further, 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.”

    Yes, Wilkins points out that the Confession uses the word “faith” to refer to “a faith that perseveres.” This does not mean that he is saying that the only thing about that faith that makes it different from whatever trust NECMs have is that it perseveres. “A faith that perseveres” could mean that, or it could also mean “the kind of faith that perseveres.” You have to have the kind of faith that perseveres–there is nothing in this passage itself that says or entails that finally saving faith differs from temporary faith only in its duration. But since duration is one way of identifying the faith of the ECMs, we can call such faith “the kind that perseveres.” This does not in any way mean that its perseverence is the only thing about it. After all, it’s a certain kind of faith.

    I realize that Wilkins doesn’t use the word “kind’ in this passage, but he doesn’t have to. You have to have a dog that grows hair to worry about fleas. Clearly I am implying with this statement that there is a kind of dog that grows hair.

    On a deeper level, the whole presupposition of Wilkins’ response here is that the ECM and NECM are different, in the present.. He is telling his presbytery here that his view is not out of accord with the Confession’s language. His view is that both ECMs and NECMS have a kind of faith or a kind of election or a kind of union with Christ, but this is not out of bounds with the Confession because the Confession is talking about a different kind of faith or election or union with Christ than he is when it says that only those predestined to glory receive these things. “Sure,” Wilkins is saying, “the Confession says that only the elect (i.e., the predestined to glory) truly have faith, but what the Confession means by faith is the kind of faith that by necessity perseveres to the end. And I’m not saying that the NECMs have that kind of faith!” It’s like an axiom of his whole response that there are differences in the present between the NECM and ECM.

    You continue:

    Look at the quotes you provided. The difference between the justification received by the finally-elect and that received by the formerly-elect is that the formerly-elect’s justification was “not the judgment he will receive from God at the last day.”…

    Same basic response here. You are reading more into Wilkins’ words than what is actually there. There are two kinds of “justifications”–one is that received by NECMs and the other by ECMs. The declaration of righteousness received by ECMs is a declaration which anticipates the declaration they will also receive on the last day: Well done, good and faithful servant…etc. Something about the justification the ECM receives now has bundled within the justification he will receive later. God’s timeless, and things can go funky like that. But the justification the NECM receives does not have this anticipation of future justification tied up within it, and that right there makes a pretty big difference to his current justification. The two justifications are qualitatively different, in the now, because they have different ends.

    This is the important point made by Leithart which Wilkins is tracing. The end of a thing determines the kind of thing it is, right now. You don’t seem to have quite “gotten” what Leithart is saying on this score, though. Regarding Leithart you cited a bunch of stuff that he said (similarly to Wilkins) about the differences between NECMs and ECMs playing themselves out through time. You seem to want to take this reference to differences that work themselves out through time as a claim that the difference only is time, but that’s not right. In fact, Leithart himself includes an important “but,” which you quote but seem to miss its import:

    And again, when Leithart says: “But nature is determined by ends. We are what we are destined to become (which is what we are decreed to become). Thus, the quality of temporary faith, even the nature of temporary faith, is different from the nature of true and living and persevering faith.” Which is nothing more than to say that temporary faith is not persevering faith. The difference again is merely one of duration.

    Let’s reflect on that for just a moment: nature is determined by ends. Leithart is saying that the nature of a thing (the kind of thing it is right now) is in part determined by where it ends up. If you are someone who is going to end up in Hell, that effects the kind of person you are now; and the same with someone who is going to end up in Heaven. If Bob is predestined to end up in an everlasting union with the Creator of all things, and Tom is not, then this means that Bob and Tom are different kinds of people already. They are different right now, because they will be different later.

    This point is rather ‘philosophical’, but I don’t think that should automatically count against it (if it is still derived from Scripture, after all). And I understand, I think, why it rubs the wrong way. Because, in a sense, it still seems like the difference is only duration. But what Leithart is saying is that a difference in duration, when that difference is part of the eternal decree of God from before the foundation of the world, itself turns into a difference in kind.

    This “teleological ontology” (where ends make up part of the nature or being of a thing) is a sort of “application” of the “relational ontology” that has become pretty popular in the last few decades in theological circles. This is not a “liberal” move by modern theologians; it is a Trinitarian one (and I would say this idea of “relatinoal ontology” goes back to patristic theology). Aristotle held, and virtually the entire western world has agreed with him, that the ‘substance’ of a thing or the nature of a thing is independent from the way it is related to other things. So, for instance, what it means to be a dog has nothing to do with the way you are related to other things. A dog has its ‘dogness’ no matter what its relations are. “Relational ontology” is a challenge to this Aristotelian belief that says that the way we are related to certain things, to other people and to God especially, determines the kind of thing that we are. You cannot simply isolate the “thingness” of an object and consider it independently from the way that thing relates to other things. Thus, Leithart’s point about ends determining nature. The kind of eternal relationship I’m going to have with God makes up a part of who I am right now. It’s kind of like how in a fictional story the way the character ends up determines the kind of character he is. We look for symbolism and hints and things to give us a “clue” as to how this guy is going to end up–will he be prince charming like he seems, or will he turn out to be a snake? Etc. Well, we are all characters in God’s story, and the author has already figured out how we are all playing into the overall story and the fact that I am going to end up in the company of the King’s men dining in His kingdom hall forever makes me a certain kind of person right now. I am a king’s man, even before I am!

    So, duration plays a very large role in the difference NECMs and ECMs, but it is not, as I believe you said earlier, merely a difference of duration. Because the durational difference “reverts back” and makes a qualitative difference. Two people cannot have such radically different ends and not be different in the present.

    Again, I realize why you are still going to be unhappy with this: you believe that the Bible teaches that the traditional Reformed “ordo salutis” terminology should be used to define the difference b/w the NECM and the ECM, and here guys like Leithart and Wilkins are saying that the difference should be thought of a bit differently as involving this “weird” philosophy of ends determining nature and appeals to mystery. Traditional Reformed theology is not mysterious on this point, you might believe, and perhaps you think that is one of its strengths. But, while it is true that this is a real disagreement between the “anti-FV” view and the FV view of guys like Leithart and Wilkins, we have to at least recognize that:

    a. the Leithart-Wilkins view still DOES make a distinction between NECMs and ECMs in the present; and

    b. it even tells us something about HOW they are different (the end of the thing makes it different in the present); and

    c. they simply disagree with their anti-FV opponents that Scripture and the Confession lays these differences out so clearly along the lines of the ordo salutis. This is where the debate over the “judgment of charity” and such is going to come in, but whoever is right on those passages the anti-FV side still has some work to do to show that guys like Leithart and Wilkins are un-Reformed because of this view. (Is it really true that the historical Reformed would condemn them over this? Is it really true that the historical Reformed were united in delineating between the ECMs and NECMs the way the anti-FVers do? Is it really true that the historically Reformed didn’t make a greater appeal to mystery in these matters?)

    The FV proponents can’t define a difference between the finally-elect and the formerly-elect. Perseverence, or rather, duration of election, is the only difference they can give. The Standards, on the other hand, insist that the elect are in “union and communion” with God, while the reprobate are not, and never were.

    But the question is, what do the Standards mean by “union and communion”?

    ————————————

    Related to this last question, by the way, I’d like to shamelessly plug my own blog here. http://afterdarkness.blogspot.com

    I am doing a series of posts there where I “challenge” anti-FVers to e-mail me with an argument that clearly shows some FV thinker or other to be out of bounds with some statement of the Confession, and which provides good reasons for thinking that the matter is important enough to disqualify the FV thinker in question from being Reformed. Questions like “What does the Confession mean by x?” or “What does Wilkins mean by “elect”?” are the order of the day.

    Also, Lane, you might be particularly interested to know that, in the absence of anyone taking me up on this challenge directly (I do have a couple of people who say they are working on something), I am planning on digging through various anti-FV writings that are already out there and examining them as though they were trying to meet my “challenge.” On this score, I plan to use a few of the arguments you have made during the course of our variou discussions here on your blog over the last few days. But I would much rather you take me up on my challenge directly, so this is an open and warm invitation to do so.

  142. Xon said,

    April 12, 2007 at 3:43 pm

    Hey, Andy, this is probably obvious, but all of my previous comment was written before I had ever read your most recent comment # 139. You posted that while I was working on #141.

  143. Andy Gilman said,

    April 12, 2007 at 3:44 pm

    The difficulty which Xon is not addressing, is contained in the ECM and NECM acronyms. In the FV “union with Christ” paradigm, all covenant members are “elect,” in what they purport to be the “biblical meaning” of the word “elect.” A “non-elect covenant member,” if we stick to the “biblical meaning” of the word “elect,” is an impossibility in the FV system. Then the FV proponents throw a switch, and they give a wink and a nod to the confessional meaning of “elect,” which they will define simply as “those predestined to eternal life,” and they will say “yes, in the confessional sense of “election” there are some non-elect covenant members; the non-elect (in the confessional sense) covenant members, are those who are “elect” (in the “biblical sense”) but who fail to persevere. In their minds, the confessional definition of “elect” is only concerned with who will be standing on the last day.

    They have defined the “confessional sense” of election, in such a way that it can have no relevance in the present. In the FV paradigm, there are biblically-elect/confessionally-reprobate, covenant members. Some biblically-elect covenant members are in “union and communion” with Christ, “the elect One,” while at the same moment in time they are confessionally-reprobate. They differ not one whit from the biblically-elect who are also confessionally-elect. The only difference is that the biblically-elect/confessionally-elect will persevere, and the biblically-elect/confessionally-reprobate will fail to persevere.

  144. Xon said,

    April 12, 2007 at 4:09 pm

    In #139, Andy, you clarified your argument form (and Lane stated his agreement with it). I think there is an accidental omission in your P4, which I’ve added in brackets below, but tell me if that was wrong of me to do:

    This is the “form” I’m arguing:

    P1. Wilkins says that “the presently-elect who are finally-elect” (Group-A) are “different” from “the presently-elect who are finally-apostate” (Group-B), in that Group-B fails to persevere, and Group-A perseveres.

    P2. The only distinction Wilkins makes between the two groups, which both exist in the present, is that Group-A will persevere, by eternal decree, and Group-B will fail to persevere, by eternal decree.

    P3. If the only difference Wilkins makes between Group-A and Group-B, is that Group-A will persevere and Group-B will fail to persevere, then he has not identified a qualitative difference between the groups as they exist in the present, i.e., as the presently-elect.

    P4. Wilkins’ Knox Colloquium contributions make explicit that he believes there is no [qualitative] difference between Group-A and Group-B, and that both groups are presently in “union and communion” with Christ.

    C1. Therefore Wilkins is denying the confessional teaching that it is only Group-A who are ever in “union and communion” with Christ.

    This argument is flawed in a number of ways. First, even if it is valid (even if P1 – P4 lead inevitably to C1), it is not sound because at least two of your premises are false. To wit:

    P1 is true.

    P2 is false. I went through this earlier when I cited his comments to LP, and I went through it again in #141. I won’t repeat that argument in detail here, just point out that you have to respond to what I said or else your P2 is under serious attack. My rebuttal (spelled out in #141) is that in his answers to the LP Wilkins traces Leithart’s comments in favor of teleological ontology to say that a difference in duration between Bob and Tom means that there is also a difference in quality in the present between Bob and Tom. It is not “merely” a difference in duration, b/c differences in duration “revert back” into differences in quality. This is the world the triune God has made. So P2 is simply false; Wilkins does NOT assert a difference in duration ONLY.

    P3 is most likely false, though I’m not confident I understand what you are intending to say. As I’ve argued multiple times now, the fact that Wilkins only explicitly makes a distinction in duration is simply false (but that’s what’s wrong with P2), but even if it were true your if-then in P3 isn’t right either. If a person does not make an explicit qualitative distinction between Bob and Tom, that does not mean that he does not believe in such a distinction. Nor does it mean that he is “contradicting” his claim to believe in such a distinction.

    A note about self-contradiction, because you (and Lane) are throwing around that charge rather lightly. If you really think that Wilkins contradicts his own explicit statements about what he belives elsewhere in his writings, then we’re going to need citations to establish that. A more specific and clearly reasoned argument is required. The basic format (though I’m all for artistic license) should probably be something like:

    P1. Wilkins says X. (Provide quote)
    P2. Wilkins says Y. (Provide quote)
    P3/C1. If Y is true, then X is false.
    P4/C2. Therefore, Wilkins’ writings entail that X is false. (Modus Tollens on P2 and P3)
    C3. Therefore, Wilkins’ writings entail that X is true and that X is false. (Conjunction on P1 and P4)

    And, of course, you’ll actually need more steps than this, inserted between P2 and P3. You actually need to show that Y entails the falsity of X. That would be the main “trick” of the argument you are trying to make.

    Back to the original argument being analyzed, P4 is also clearly false. As I said playfully in #141, this is a “crappy” thing for you to say because Wilkins article in the Knox Coll and the FV book was not intended to make clear the way in which NECMs and ECMs differ from each other. His point was to discuss the way the Bible speaks of elect in a covenantal way that applies to both NECMs and ECMs. But he also made it clear that he affirms the Westminster kind of “election” as well. Since that’s all he said, that’s all you can judge him for saying. You certainily can’t claim that he said “explicitly” that there is “no qualitative difference b/w NECMs and ECMs.” He “explicitly” said no such thing! Nor did he it say implicitly, as your assumptin that this is what his use of “union and communion” means has not been established and is not what he meant.

    But again I ask you: how do you understand that phrase “union and communion” in the Confession? To judge whether Wilkins is in contradiction with the Confession on this point, we need to spell out precisely what both sources are actually talking about.

    As to the form of your argument, its hard to tell whether or not it is valid because it’s not clear how the premises are all related to one another. There is danger, though, in your conclusion that Wilkins is in contradiction with the Confessional teaching about who has “union and communion” with Christ, since you have not yet spelled out what the Confession means by “union and communion.” (As I just asked you to do…) Until you do this, your argument (probably) is formally invalid by committing the fallacy of equivocation. You cannot simply assume that the same words are being used with the same meaning in P4 and C1. To assume this is to commit the fallacy of equivocation.

  145. Xon said,

    April 12, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    The difficulty which Xon is not addressing, is contained in the ECM and NECM acronyms. In the FV “union with Christ” paradigm, all covenant members are “elect,” in what they purport to be the “biblical meaning” of the word “elect.”

    This point is well-taken, but it was already covered more or less several months ago when we first started going on this blog to the ECM and NECM acronymns. I pointed out at the time that I was using the “E” to refer to decretal election. NECMs are covenantally elect, but not decretally (or Westminsterianly) elect. It’s already been defined into the acronymns.

  146. Xon said,

    April 12, 2007 at 4:13 pm

    In other words, DECM and DNECM are unnecessarily bulky, so we just drop the “D.” It’s not a trick.

  147. Andy Gilman said,

    April 12, 2007 at 5:17 pm

    Xon said: “So, Andy, I think you’ve been jumping the gun a bit here.”

    and: “This seems like a pretty crappy thing to say, dude!”

    and: “You don’t seem to have quite ‘gotten’ what Leithart is saying on this score, though.”

    Xon, I have been trying to bite my tongue when you make your sometimes condescending and often pedantic arguments. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to do so. Let’s not spend any time talking about what we think the other has, or has not, “gotten.”

    I’m not going to try to deal with each item in #141, but I may pick out a couple of things If I have time. But before I do that, I would like to hear your answers to my questions in #122 and #127.

  148. Xon said,

    April 12, 2007 at 10:58 pm

    Andy, I honestly tried to communicate that I was being playful with the second quote you’re complaining about. Sorry I didn’t do that sufficiently. As to “jumping the gun,” I’ve never heard anyone tell me that they find that phrase condescending or pedantic. Neither were my intention. For the last quote, I put it that way originally, planned to go back and change it to something more moderate sounding, but then forgot. No excuse for the forgetfulness/laziness, but it was a long comment and it just slipped my mind.

    I’m concerned to go through these with you because people often find me a fairly affable fellow, and I really do try to be.

    All I meant by the phrase that you haven’t “gotten” what Letihart is saying is that you quoted him explaining pretty clearly a way in which NECMs and ECMs are different right now in the present, and used it against him as evidenced that he believes no such thing. That seemed like a “disconnect” to me. In these debate-type exchanges that we are having, we are pointing out what we think are flaws in one another’s arguments. That’s not always easy to do in a way that doesn’t raise hackles. But I’ll keep trying to do better on that score, I promise.

    Re: 122, I honestly do think that the authors of the Standards were not making the vis church as abstract as the invis church. The key, I think, is the definitions in the actual Confession chapter 25. Notice how there’s nothing about “in all ages” in the def of the visible church. Then when they come to the Catechism, it says the vis church is a “society made up of all such as in all ages and places of the world who profess the true religion”. The word “society” is interesting to me, as the Catechism does not call the invis church a society, but simply says that it “is the whole number of the elect.” The IC, then is just this big collection of people, while the VC is a society in which this whole bunch of people are members. Also, the VC is limited to all ages and places “of the world“, which seems to me to refer to the temporal order. The language used for VC and IC is not the same, even in the Catechism, and I think the differences are significant along the lines I have sketched.

    But, I’m really really less than confident in my interpretation here. If I’m wrong, then okay. It doesn’t affect my overall view, as I understand things.

    Re: #127, that was a request that I make sure I answer a question you first asked in #120, and I think I did already answer it. I need to hear more from you about what you think “union and communion” means in the Confession. But, I’m not trying to be dodgy. So let me be more direct to your question. The question as you put it in #127 was:

    Do you agree that the Westminster standards limit “union and communion” with Christ, to the “invisible church;” i.e., to those presently-elect who are ordained to persevere and to become the finally-elect, or do the presently-elect who are ordained to apostasize also enjoy “union and communion” with Christ, in the present?

    I agree that the WS say that “union and communion” with Christ is a benefit enjoyed by members of the invisible church (WLC 65), and that they also say that those who are not predestined to go to Heaven “never truly come unto Christ.” (WLC 68) My question, though, is what “union and communion” mean as the Confession uses that phrase?

    Yes, Wilkins says that NECMs have a covenantal union with Christ. And, yes, the WLC says that NECMs “never truly come” to Christ and that only the invis church has “union and communion.” But these are not necessarily contradictory depending on what the words mean. What does Wlkins mean by “union”? And what does Westminster mean by “union”? This is why I asked you this question, because depending on how it is answered Wilkins might or might not be in contradiction. But, until the question is answered, we can’t just assume that he is.

    So, what do you think “union and communion” means in the Confession? Do you deny that NECMs have a covenantal union? Is it your view that God only makes the new covenant with those who are predestined to glory? And this is actually what the Westminster divines were trying to say?

  149. Xon said,

    April 12, 2007 at 11:34 pm

    Finally, Andy, calling me pedantic always strikes a nerve with me. Because I know it is a temptation I always have. I do nto think myself above others, but I always err on the side of over-explaining. In my defense, the audience on a blog is usually mixed and I have no idea how much formal logic people have studied, so when I go into all these details about “what you need to do to show such-and-such” (to pick an example of something I’ve said that might come across as pedantic), I’m no trying to be pedantic. Maybe I have a “tin ear” as far as what really needs to be said.

  150. Andy Gilman said,

    April 13, 2007 at 9:48 am

    Xon, thank you for the humble and irenic reply. I am enjoying the exchange.

    In #148 you said:

    “…I think I did already answer it. I need to hear more from you about what you think ‘union and communion’ means in the Confession. But, I’m not trying to be dodgy. So let me be more direct to your question.”

    The question which I was looking for an answer to, which you did answer in #148 but not previously to my knowledge, was:

    [BOQ]
    Do you agree that the Westminster standards limit “union and communion” with Christ, to the “invisible church;” i.e., to those presently-elect who are ordained to persevere and to become the finally-elect, or do the presently-elect who are ordained to apostasize also enjoy “union and communion” with Christ, in the present?
    [EOQ]

    You agree that “union and communion” with Christ is limited, by Westminster, to the presently-elect who are ordained to persevere. Your argument is that when Wilkins says that all covenant members are in union with Christ, regardless of whether they are confessionally-elect or confessionally-reprobate, he doesn’t mean what Westminster means when it says that only those ordained to persevere are actually in “union and communion” with Christ. Let me know if that is not what you are saying.

    So when Wilkins says:

    “Salvation is relational. It is found only in covenant union with Christ. As we abide in Him, all that is true of Him is true of us.”

    or “But the term ‘elect’ (or ‘chosen’) as it is used in the Scriptures most often refers to those in covenant union with Christ who is the elect One.”

    or [BOQ]
    In fact, covenant is a real relationship, consisting of real communion with the triune God
    through union with Christ. The covenant is not some thing that exists apart from Christ or in addition to Him (another means of grace)–rather, the covenant is union with Christ. Thus, being in covenant gives all the blessings of being united to Christ. There is no salvation apart from covenant simply because there is no salvation apart from union with Christ. And without union with Christ there is no covenant at all. Because being in covenant with God means being in Christ, those who are in covenant have all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. Union with Christ means that all that is true of Christ is true of us.
    [EOQ]

    Then Wilkins gives a long list of those things which are true of all who are in covenant union with Christ (see lines 313 to 347 of the Knox Colloquium paper “Covenant, Baptism and Salvation.” That paper is where all of these quotes come from).

    He also says: “Here then we have those who are joined to Christ in a vital union (i.e. a union that could and should be fruitful) and yet who end up cursed and condemned.”

    And: [BOQ]
    All in covenant are given all that is true of Christ. If they persevere in faith to the end, they enjoy these mercies eternally. If they fall away in unbelief, they lose these blessings and receive a greater condemnation than Sodom and Gomorrah. Covenant can be broken by unbelief and rebellion, but until it is, those in covenant with God belong to Him and are His. If they do not persevere, they lose the blessings that were given to them (and all of this works out according to God’s eternal decree which He ordained before the foundation of the world). Thus, when one breaks covenant, it can be truly said that he has turned away from grace and forfeited life, forgiveness, and salvation. For this reason the Scripture describe apostates as those who:
    [EOQ]

    And in the lines 374 to 392 which follow, he lists scripture verses which he says describe the apostates. These include, to name just two: “had union with Christ as branches in a vine (John 15);” “had real communion with Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4-5 ).

    I could add many more examples from the paper. If we understand each other then, when faced with these quotes, you will argue that when Wilkins insists that the apostate “had union with Christ as branches in a vine” and “had real communion with Christ,” he is not talking about the “kind” of “union and communion” which the confessions are talking about when they talk about “union and communion.” Do I understand you correctly?

  151. Xon said,

    April 13, 2007 at 10:34 am

    Yes, Andy, I’d say you understand me very well. (though I of course reserve the right to complain later if I don’t like where you take things. :-) )

    One quick thing about all this before you give your response, though. Technically, what the WS say is that the elect have “union and communion with Christ”, and that the non-elect never “truly” come to him. It is in the context of their “not truly coming” that the non-elect are said by the Standards to lack “union and communion”. Really, this is only implied, not explicitly stated: the Standards never say that the non-elect DON’T have union and communion; they just say that the elect DO have it. But obviously the fact that the non-elect “never truly” come to Christ would seem to imply that they don’t have the same kind of union and communion which the elect have. In other words, whatever exactly the Standards mean by “union and communion” with Christ, it is something which only the elect have. But, language is a fun and playful thing (as I like to say), and the kids grow up and get their own careers and a place in the city, and so words like “union” and “communion” can still be used to describe things which the non-elect might experience, so long as those words aren’t being used in exactly the same sense as Wesminster’s usage. So long as our extra-confessional (not the same as contra-confessional, mind you) usage of words like “union” and “communion” does not amount to or entail that the NECMs enjoy the fullest possible union with Christ (and the fullest possible includes at the very least the quality of being everlasting), we should be okay using the words in this extra-confessional way. If the Bible itself seems to use them in this way, all the better.

  152. Andy Gilman said,

    April 13, 2007 at 11:48 am

    In relation to something I said in #100:
    [BOQ]
    And again, when Leithart says: “But nature is determined by ends. We are what we are destined to become (which is what we are decreed to become). Thus, the quality of temporary faith, even the nature of temporary faith, is different from the nature of true and living and persevering faith.” Which is nothing more than to say that temporary faith is not persevering faith. The difference again is merely one of duration.
    [EOQ]

    Xon said in #148:
    [BOQ]
    All I meant by the phrase that you haven’t “gotten” what Letihart is saying is that you quoted him explaining pretty clearly a way in which NECMs and ECMs are different right now in the present, and used it against him as evidenced that he believes no such thing. That seemed like a “disconnect” to me.
    [EOQ]

    Xon, you say that this is evidence that I missed the “import” of Leithart’s argument. I’ll have to give your “teleological ontology” argument more thought, and if all that you described in #148 was included or implied in the Leithart quote, then you are right in saying I missed the import of it. I sized up and rejected Leithart’s notion that “nature is determined by the ends” as esoteric, philosophical smokescreen, without knowing the details of the philosophy behind it. With that out of the way, I concluded that the “real” difference being posited by Leithart, was purely a difference of duration.

    In the part of Leithart’s argument which you quoted, he says we are what we are decreed to become. What is interesting to me is that just prior to the statement (that we are what we are decreed to become) he says something which seems to completely contradict that statement. Leithart says:
    [BOQ]
    I am favorable toward a teleological view of human nature. If you
    slice into the life of an elect man at a point of backsliding, and also slice into the life of the reprobate at a point when he is rejoicing in the gospel, it will appear that the reprobate’s faith is strong, more living, more true, than that of the elect. Analyzed in that kind of punctiliar fashion, the two are well-nigh indistinguishable.
    [EOQ]

    So here you can take a teleological slice of the life of an elect man, and compare it to a teleological slice of the life of a reprobate man, and find no difference, or possibly even find the reprobate’s faith is stronger, more living, and more true, than the elect man’s faith. So the idea that we “are” (present tense) what we are decreed to become, is negated. What “the elect” is decreed to become, does not necessarily make any difference to what he is now, at least not when judged according to that teleological slice. The Leithart quote you included illustrates this part of his argument with a marriage metaphor, and as I said earlier, this is nothing more than to say: “I don’t know what the difference between the finally-elect and the formerly-elect is, but the fact that the finally-elect persevered proves that there must have been some difference.”

    To try to keep us from going too far afield in this discussion, let’s pretend (at least until we get this other point out of the way) that I agree with the notion that “nature is determined by the ends,” and that this is an acknowledment of an undefined, but somehow “substantive,” difference between the elect and the reprobate; do you believe this is the difference our confessions are trying to establish when they say that the elect, and only the elect, are in “union and communion” with Christ?

  153. Andy Gilman said,

    April 13, 2007 at 12:04 pm

    In #151 Xon says:
    [BOQ]
    …and so words like “union” and “communion” can still be used to describe things which the non-elect might experience, so long as those words aren’t being used in exactly the same sense as Wesminster’s usage.
    [EOQ]

    Isn’t it incumbent upon a man who subscribes to the Westminster Standards, to make it clear how his use of “union and communion” differs from the confessional definition of “union and communion?” Is he allowed to merely assert that he means it in a different way, without explaining what the difference is? If someone were to start teaching that God is not infinite, and when challenged with the confessional proposition that “God is infinite,” they say “Yes, but I don’t mean infinite in the same way the confession means infinite.” Then, when asked in what way they do mean “infinite,” they say: “Well, I can’t really define it, but it’s not the same as what the confession means,” would you let that stand?

  154. Andy Gilman said,

    April 13, 2007 at 3:24 pm

    In #148 Xon said:
    [BOQ]
    Re: 122, I honestly do think that the authors of the Standards were not making the vis church as abstract as the invis church. The key, I think, is the definitions in the actual Confession chapter 25. Notice how there’s nothing about “in all ages” in the def of the visible church. Then when they come to the Catechism, it says the vis church is a “society made up of all such as in all ages and places of the world who profess the true religion”. The word “society” is interesting to me, as the Catechism does not call the invis church a society, but simply says that it “is the whole number of the elect.” The IC, then is just this big collection of people, while the VC is a society in which this whole bunch of people are members. Also, the VC is limited to all ages and places “of the world“, which seems to me to refer to the temporal order. The language used for VC and IC is not the same, even in the Catechism, and I think the differences are significant along the lines I have sketched.
    [EOQ]

    Doug Wilson says:
    [BOQ}
    …if you want to have the invisible church existing “in history,” in a way that is distinct from the visible church, then you are out of accord with the Confession. That is because the invisible church “consists of the whole number of the elect.” A partial number of the elect is not the invisible church because it is not the whole number of them.
    [EOQ]

    And when Doug is later confronted with the fact that either he has terribly misinterpreted WCF 25.1, or else the Westminster Standards contain an embarrassing self-contradiction with regard to the visible/invisible church, instead of acknowledging that he has badly used WCF 25.1, he quickly changes the subject and says; “yes, the visible church is also an abstraction, that reinforces my point!, so let’s not talk in terms of ‘clunky’ abstractions, let’s say ‘historical’ church instead.”

    When Xon looks at it, he too agrees, initially, that maybe there is a problem with his and Doug’s formulation, but he later retracts his initial agreement, and now he says (paraphrasing him): “In WCF 25, the authors are defining the invisible church ‘more abstractly’ than the visible church. The Catechism describes the visible church as a ‘society,’ and the invisible church as a ‘whole number,’ and I think this is significant. The invisible church is just a ‘big collection’ of people, but the visible church is a ‘society in which a whole bunch of people are members.’ I’m not too confident of what I’m saying here, but if I’m wrong, it doesn’t matter anyway.”

    Is this a fair summary Xon?

    Does this mean we can go back to Doug’s original assertion and argue that since the visible church is a “society in which a whole bunch of people [from all ages and places of the world] are members,” and not a “big collection of people” like the invisible church;” therefore, a partial number of the “society…” is still the visible church, whereas a partial number of the “big collection…” is not the invisible church? Has, what is purported to be, a lesser degree of abstraction made it so we can read questions 62 and 64 of the Larger Catechism, and conclude that a partial number of the “society” is the visible church, but a partial number of the “elect” is not the invisible church?

    Q. 62. What is the visible church?
    A. The visible church is a society made up of all such as in all ages and places of the world do profess the true religion, and of their children.

    Q. 64. What is the invisible church?
    A. The invisible church is the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one under Christ the head.

  155. Andy Gilman said,

    April 13, 2007 at 5:40 pm

    In #151 Xon said:
    [BOQ]
    One quick thing about all this before you give your response, though. Technically, what the WS say is that the elect have “union and communion with Christ”, and that the non-elect never “truly” come to him. It is in the context of their “not truly coming” that the non-elect are said by the Standards to lack “union and communion”. Really, this is only implied, not explicitly stated: the Standards never say that the non-elect DON’T have union and communion; they just say that the elect DO have it. But obviously the fact that the non-elect “never truly” come to Christ would seem to imply that they don’t have the same kind of union and communion which the elect have. In other words, whatever exactly the Standards mean by “union and communion” with Christ, it is something which only the elect have.
    [EOQ]

    Larger Catechism:
    Q. 65. What special benefits do the members of the invisible church enjoy by Christ?
    A. The members of the invisible church by Christ enjoy union and communion with him in grace and glory.

    Xon, the Catechism says that the “special benefits…members of the invisible church enjoy by Christ,” is “union and communion with him in grace and glory.” Is that not just the same as saying that those who are not members of the invisible church do not enjoy “union and communion with him in grace and glory?” Why is it referred to as a “special benefit” to members of the “invisible church,” if it is not a benefit enjoyed only by members of the invisible church?

    LC Q. 66. What is that union which the elect have with Christ?
    A. The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God’s grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband; which is done in their effectual calling.

    LC Q. 68. Are the elect only effectually called?
    A. All the elect, and they only, are effectually called; although others may be, and often are, outwardly called by the ministry of the word, and have some common operations of the Spirit; who, for their wilful neglect and contempt of the grace offered to them, being justly left in their unbelief, do never truly come to Jesus Christ.

    LC Q. 69. What is the communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ?
    A. The communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ, is their partaking of the virtue of his mediation, in their justification, adoption, sanctification, and whatever else, in this life, manifests their union with him.

    In LC 68 it is the elect *only* who are effectually called, and in LC 66 it is the effectually called who are “spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseperably, joined to Christ as their head and husband.” In LC 69, it is only the elect who “partake of the virtue of his mediation, in their justification, adoption, sanctification….”

    LC Q. 82. What is the communion in glory which the members of the invisible church have with Christ?
    A. The communion in glory which the members of the invisible church have with Christ, is in this life, immediately after death, and at last perfected at the resurrection and day of judgment.

    LC Q. 83. What is the communion in glory with Christ which the members of the invisible church enjoy in this life ?
    A. The members of the invisible church have communicated to them in this life the first-fruits of glory with Christ, as they are members of him their head, and so in him are interested in that glory which he is fully possessed of; and, as an earnest thereof, enjoy the sense of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, and hope of glory; as, on the contrary, sense of God’s revenging wrath, horror of conscience, and a fearful expectation of judgment, are to the wicked the beginning of their torments which they shall endure after death.

    In LC 83 it is the members of the invisible church who, in this life, “enjoy the sense of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy of the Holy Ghost, and hope of glory. The “wicked” are set in contrast to the “members of the invisible church,” and they, in this life, receive a “sense of God’s revenging wrath, horror of conscience, and a fearful expectation of judgment.”

    For you Xon, these questions/answers merely imply that the non-elect do not have the same “kind of union and communion which the elect have?”

  156. Xon said,

    April 13, 2007 at 7:30 pm

    Andy, this is getting good! I’ve got family in for the weekend, and stuff, and whathaveyou, but I’ll respond to you as soon as I can.

    Right now, just something quick about #152 re: Leithart’s “teleological ontology.” You’re wondering if those two passages from Leithart are contradictory, but notice the “But” that starts the second paragraph (the first paragraph you talk about in #152, but the second paragraph in the original Leithart material).

    If we take a slice of life from a reprobate when his faith looks strong, his temporary faith is “well night indistinguishable” from that of an elect person. Indistinguishable, as in we can’t tell them apart. That’s all he’s saying, I think: when we look at the NECM and the ECM in this sort of “punctiliar” fashion, we can’t tell them apart….BUT…..”I believe that nature is determined by ends…”

    So, while WE can’t tell them apart in the moment, we know that they ARE different in that moment because of their different ends. See how the two ideas fit together?

    By the way, just fyi, I basically got the idea of “teleological ontology” from reading Leithart. Leithart is one of the first who turned me on to the idea. So, it would be odd if that’s not what he himself meant, given that he’s inspired folks (I’m not alone) to go in this “teleological” direction based on what he’s written. (In fact, it was reading Leithart that got me to re-think about Jonathan Edwards, who I read a lot of back in “the day”, and reading stuff about and by Edwards in the last couple of years made me decide to do my dissertation on him. So I’m currently writing my philosophy dissertation (at a secular school!) on the Trinity in the thought of Edwards. And, at least indirectly, I owe my decision to look to Edwards as someone to dissertate upon to Leithart’s thinking on these very matters we’re discussing. Again, this is just my own personal anecdote and doesn’t prove anything necessarily; it’s just fyi.)

  157. Xon said,

    April 16, 2007 at 8:16 am

    Andy, you said (in #152) that for the sake of argument let’s assume my “teleological ontology” interpretation of Leithart is correct, and that this does constitute a genuine (though undefined) substantive distinction b/w elect and reprobate within the covenant. You then asked:

    do you believe this is the difference our confessions are trying to establish when they say that the elect, and only the elect, are in “union and communion” with Christ?

    I believe in doctrinal development as the Church is ever Reformed and reforming, and I think this includes development beyond the Confessions. But this does not necessarily mean I disagree with the Confessions (though I do think that to be properly Reformed we need to be willing to disagree with them if it comes to that, and one day it probably will as the Church continues to mature and the 1600s fade futher and furhter into historical memory). On the issues we’ve been discussing here, in fact, I think my view is perfectly consistent with them. Though I make no claims that the Confessions necessarily had in mind precisely what I am saying. I believe that this Leithartian “teleo-ontological” difference is consistent with what the Reformed confessions are getting at. I think it is one coherent way to put together all the various pieces of historic Reformed theology.

    Isn’t it incumbent upon a man who subscribes to the Westminster Standards, to make it clear how his use of “union and communion” differs from the confessional definition of “union and communion?” Is he allowed to merely assert that he means it in a different way, without explaining what the difference is? If someone were to start teaching that God is not infinite, and when challenged with the confessional proposition that “God is infinite,” they say “Yes, but I don’t mean infinite in the same way the confession means infinite.” Then, when asked in what way they do mean “infinite,” they say: “Well, I can’t really define it, but it’s not the same as what the confession means,” would you let that stand?

    Two responses to this sincere query.

    First, I think it’s a case-by-case kind of thing. Your “infiinite” example sounds problematic as you have put it, but if we heard more of what this hypothetical theologian has actually said and written regarding the “non-infinity” of God, then it might make some sense and we might be able to infer a decent definition of his usage. If he literally says that he cannot define it at all, then he shouldn’t really have been able to write or speak about it in the first place.

    Second, in the actual case of FV authors I don’t think they simply appeal to mystery when it comes to “union and communion.” The Confession makes it clear that the elect and the elect only experience a connection to Christ by which He gives them His Spirit in such a way that they are strengthened and preserved in the faith. On the other hand, Wilkins makes it clear that he thinks the non-elect who are in the covenant have a “covenantal” connection to Christ. A connection which gives them access to very real heavenly blessings through Christ, but which also obligates them to remain faithful (i.e., to be “full of faith”) to Christ and if they are not faithful then they can be cut out of the covenant and lose the connection they had.

    This brings us back to the “duration” thing, then, but not in a bad way (I don’t think). It’s not the case that Wilkins is claiming that “there is a difference, but I can’t say anything about it.” Rather, he is saying something about it–the difference is that one kind of connection is persevering while the other is not. This that we have been discussing all this time is the identifiable difference between the two groups. And remember that Wilkins is not saying that it’s “merely” a difference of time, but rather that the only way the pre-existing difference works itself out is through time (and that the difference in time is itself an indicator of a pre-existing difference, b/c of that whole “teleological ontology” thing). The difference is there all along, but it reveals itself only through time. On this, I think both sides of this debate are agreed; elect and reprobate only reveal their true identities (to our human eyes) through time.

    Now, when it comes to saying even more about the difference–i.e. to give a list of qualities which the elect have and which the non-elect don’t have, in any sense of the word–then at that point Wilkins and other FVers are saying “it’s a mystery.” But this is not the same as simply saying “two unions, mysteriously different, and that’s ALL we can say.” The mystery, for FVers like Wilkins, kicks in when we try to say what blessings are enjoyed by elect during their earthly lives which are not enjoyed in any way by the reprobate covenant members. That’s what’s mysterious (again, look at the Leithart quote about the “slices” of Saul and of David, and how at one time reprobate Saul might look more “connected” to God/Christ than elect David).

    The two unions bring some pretty similar, but not identical, blessings with them, and they look exactly alike to us in time. Eventually one of them dissolves and the other perseveres to the end, which tells us that they were actually different all along. But saying exactly HOW they were different, other than this durational observation already made, is what is difficult. In some sense, the non-elect cov member was justified, sanctified, forgiven, reconciled, saved, etc.–yet in another sense he “never truly came to Christ.” It’s not really our business to sort all this out; as Calvinists it is our business to embrace all of God’s Word as true and embrace the mystery of finite temporal creatures being united to an infinite and trans-temporal God. It is the mystery of the Incarnation, really, re-made every day in the mundane existence of the Church in the world.

    That’s how the FV “sermon” goes, anyway. Sorry to preach. :-)

    To wrap this particular point of discussion up, then, let me be more direct and say that Yes, it is incumbent upon a man who subscribes the Standards to do more than simply say that he is using the same words as the Standards in different ways. He must actually demonstrate something different about them in his theology. But FVers fulfill this very modest condition; they DO posit something different about their different usages of words.

    Pretend the Confession said “only the Alps are beautiful”, and it described the beauty of the Alps as w x y and z. Well, any man who subscribes the Confession is obligated to confess, therefore, that only the Alps are wxyz beautiful.” Only the Alps are beautiful, where “beautiful” refers to a thing possessing w x y and z.

    But if a minister under this Confession observes that the Rockies are w x and y, and starts calling them “beautiful” because of this, then this should be okay. After all, the visual appreciation of the Rockies really does feel something like “beauty,” doesn’t it? It seems a pretty natural way to speak about them. But the Confession says only the Alps are beautiful, so what do we do? Well, I don’t see why we really have to do anything: this minister isn’t saying that the Rockies are beautiful in the same way that the Alps are, because he doesn’t think they are z while the Alps are. This is a difference between Rocky beauty and Alp beauty; the Confession is only talking about Alp beauty.

  158. April 16, 2007 at 8:31 am

    Xon

    You defend the Fv notion that there are ‘two’ unions- and this is very ‘mysterious’- it also contradicts the WS- Q.65 of the WLC. This is more than just ‘reaching’ it is the kind of sophisty that Calvin held in contempt ( Inst.2.2,6)

  159. Xon said,

    April 16, 2007 at 9:14 am

    Re: #154…

    Has, what is purported to be, a lesser degree of abstraction made it so we can read questions 62 and 64 of the Larger Catechism, and conclude that a partial number of the “society” is the visible church, but a partial number of the “elect” is not the invisible church?

    Exactly right. A society is the sort of thing which exists as long as some of its members exist. (The Baseball Hall of Fame existed as soon as its first five members were inducted in 1930-whatever. It continues to exist, even though not all of its members have yet been “gathered in.”) A simple set or collection, on the other hand, does not exist in any real way unless all of its members exist. (The set of all black dogs who will ever exist is not real. It is only an abstraction we can use to talk about all black dogs at once. But there is not actually any such thing. There is no “group” or “society” or “club” that my dog joined to become a member of the set. Rather, he simply is a member of the set because he is a black dog. If we’re positing a set to talk about all black dogs, then my dog must be one of the ones we are talking about. But, my dog is nonetheless a member of the set and my dog is real, even though the set itself is not real.)

    (Skip to last two paragraphs if you want; I get a bit repetitive in what follows. But I do think it might be helpful…)

    So, yes, on my tentative reading of WCF 25, it is significant that the VC is called a “society” while the IC is called a “whole number”–in modern set theoretical terms, the IC sounds like it is simply a set, while the VC is something more.

    So, we can speak of the “visible church” as a “really” (as opposed to abstractly) existing thing, becuase the “society” of the visible church is always here even as new members come into it and other members die.

    But sets are just conceptual collections. The IC is “the whole number of the elect,” that will ever be gathered to Christ. Of course, the IC is not just a conceptual collection, because one day it will actually exist–at the eschaton, when all reprobates have been cut out of the Church and only the elect remain praising God forever. This makes the IC different from any old “set,” since it will have “real” existence one day. But, right now, before that day comes, it operates more or less the same as any other conceptual set; which means that it does not exist (in any “real” sense) in the present, but some of its members do. Just as right now the set of all black dogs does not exist, but my particular black dog does. But there is no “society” of black dogs. And we don’t need such an entity in order to explain my black dog existing, or his being black, etc.

    We don’t need to posit the existence of a “society” of the elect in order to explain that there are currently elect people walking around on the earth. We do, however, need to posit the existence of a “society” of professing believers with God-ordained signs, patterns of worship, and texts (the Bible is all I mean) in order to explain the Church. When people want to know “where are the people of God”, we can actually point them to (a particular congregation of) the visible church because that’s the only church there is right now. But of course, within that visible church, there are elect people, who are the “true” people of God if you really want to talk that way. But there is no need to talk about them as though there is some “society” of which they are members, over and above the visible church. They are currently members of the one and only church (which is very visible!), and at the last day they will still be members of the one and only church.

    When a person claims to trust in Christ alone for salvation, they join THE Church. The visible, here-on-earth, you can point to it, church. And, of course, we don’t mean the building, but the community of people. But it’s an actual community, and not just a conceptual collection like “all people who collected baseball cards when they were a kid.” If we tried to talk about “the community or society of all former baseball card collectors”, this would be an odd way to speak. There is no such community or society, though of course there is a set of all such people. (Conceptually, we can talk about any set we want.)

    Everybody who claims to trust Christ joins the same church. If you are truly elect, then you join the visible church. If you are a hypocritical reprobate, then you join the visible church. It’s not like the elect guy joins TWO churches, because there AREN’T two churches. So, then, which church does the elect guy join? The only answer possible is that he joins the visible church.

    But doesn’t that visible church have an invisible “aspect” to it? Sure it does, if what you mean by that is that there are both elect and reprobate people within the visible church and that who is who is not something that we can discern. Everyone agrees with that. But calling this invisible “aspect” of the visible church another “church” (an “invisible” one) is what I see as problematic and unnecessary. So why do it?

    Gosh, that was a bit too repetitive of things I’ve already said. Sorry, I’m leaving it. :-)

    ——————————

    The basic point is that the IC is essentially a convenient linguistic tag that allows to talk about all elect people throughout history. It is not an actual “Church” that is existing right now. But of course individual elect people are in existence right now; I’m just questioning the wisdom of calling them a “Church” without adding a lot of qualifications. On the other hand, it is perfectly acceptable to speak of the VC as existing right now, even though not all the people who will ever be its members exist right now. Why? Becuase the VC is a visible community of people who are united under a common cause or banner (the public profession of faith in and worship of God). This is, by definition, a society kind of thing, and societies exist through time even as their particular members change.

    And this brings in why I say that my tentative “set theory” interpretation “doesn’t really matter.” Because let’s just drop it and say that you’re right and that the WCF makes both the VC and the IC equally exist. Both are just conceptual sets, and neither can “really” exist without all the members existing. Well, in that case, I would point out that the rhetorcial convention of synecdoche allows us to speak of a part as though it is the whole, and that this makes perfect sense in the case of the VC because of the kind of thing the VC is. But it doesn’t make as much sense to use synecdoche on the IC to speak of its currently existing members as “the IC”, in fact I think it’s problematic in that case. (Why I think this is spelled out more in earlier comments, 62, 71, 83)

  160. Xon said,

    April 16, 2007 at 9:18 am

    Mr. Johnson,

    I honestly think I’ve already answered re: WLC 65, and your bald appeal to it as though it is obvious that I’m contradicting it is naive at best.

    I’ll ask you the same question I’ve asked others, though, what exactly is the meaning of “union and communion in grace and glory” in WLC 65? And, once you’ve given that definition, are you then telling me that I am not allowed to use the words “union with Christ” to describe non-elect people, even if the “union” I am talking about is different than the union you just defined?

  161. Xon said,

    April 16, 2007 at 9:41 am

    Back to Andy (#155):

    Xon, the Catechism says that the “special benefits…members of the invisible church enjoy by Christ,” is “union and communion with him in grace and glory.” Is that not just the same as saying that those who are not members of the invisible church do not enjoy “union and communion with him in grace and glory?” Why is it referred to as a “special benefit” to members of the “invisible church,” if it is not a benefit enjoyed only by members of the invisible church?

    Fair enough, Andy! I was affirming that it was a special benefit anyway; I was just thinking that it took a more indirect inference to get there. I’ll concede your point about “special”–I agree that the Confession is explicitly limiting “union and communion in grace and glory” (whatever it means by that) to the elect.

    You then quote WLC 66, 68, and 69 (which is always appreciated!), and go on to interpret them thusly:

    In LC 68 it is the elect *only* who are effectually called, and in LC 66 it is the effectually called who are “spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseperably, joined to Christ as their head and husband.” In LC 69, it is only the elect who “partake of the virtue of his mediation, in their justification, adoption, sanctification….”

    Right, but look more closely at LC66 as you just quoted it. Only the effectually called are “spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseperably, joined to Christ as their head and husband.” (emphasis added). Hmm…so the elect, and the elect only, are joined to Christ in a way that is “inseprable.” Well, I agree with that!

    Again, back to the Alps-Rockies analogy from a few comments ago. I agree that only the elect get a union with Christ that is a, b, c, and inseprable. But I think that there is another union with Christ which all covenant members possess, and that this covenantal union can be described using the same words a, b, and c…BUT this covenantal union is definitely NOT inseperable!

    Since the union which WLC 66-69 describes as going only to the elect is “inseprable” by very definition, then I am not out-of-bounds when I posit a seperable union for all baptized covenant members. Again, this is exactly why we have to be clear on our definitions of these terms. What does “union and communion” mean when the Catechism says it goes only to ECMs, and what does it mean when I or Wilkins say it about NECMs?

    The truth is that the WS don’t say much explicitly about the NECMs at all. They tell us that only the elect have union and communion, and they go on to describe that union and communion, but this is not the same as saying that the NECMs cannot be said to enjoy any of those benefits in any way. Afterall, that whole “common operations of the Spirit” (WLC 68) thing, which is said to be enjoyed by NECMs, is about the only thing we are ever explicitly told about the experience of the NECM. We FVers are trying to be faithful to Scripture as we explore what those “common operations” are. And it turns out that Scripture seems to paint a pretty mysterious picture here; God Himself appears to treat tares with some pretty serious blessings before eventually harvesting them out of the field and burning them. (This is, of course, debatable; perhaps FV exegesis of these passages of Scripture is wrong. But the point is that we’re not just thinking through this stuff for no good reason. We sincerely feel compelled by the text of Scripture itself.)

    For instance, traditionally Reformed theology has said that only the elect are sanctified. Well, when we look at how “sanctified” is defined in the Confession, I’ll buy that. Only the elect are sanctified in this Confessional sense of the term. But, if we look at Scripture, we see other occurrences of the word “sanctified” (or “made holy”) that don’t quite fit this stipulated definition of the Confession. The Scriptures, for instance, say clearly that all children with at least one believing parent are “sanctified.” (or “holy”). Oops, I thought only the elect were sanctified! What gives? Obviously (and I choose this example becuase it’s been granted, more or less, by Lane on this blog already), we can use the word “sanctified” to refer to blessings that all covenant members receive, and not the elect only, even while we say that the Confessional sense of “sanctification” only happens to the elect. What other option do we have?

    Apparently God Himself has seen fit to say that all these children are “holy.” Well, then, who are we to say “Sorry, the Reformed ordo says that only the elect are ever truly holy”? Now apply this same form of reasoning to other words like “justified”, “forgiven”, “saved,” etc., and you’ve got the basic FV argument. (Again, even if we might disagree on the meaning of some of the passages of Scripture involved.)

  162. April 16, 2007 at 9:44 am

    Xon
    I do hate to sound condescending- but have you taken time to read Shaw and Hodge on the Confession? Perhaps a cursory glance at Thomas Manton ( one of the Westminster divines who wrotethe opening epistle to the reader) on Col.1:18, “Christ The Head Of The Church”( vol. 1 of his works) would perhaps prove helpful in understanding what Q.65 of the WLC really means. It is certainly not what you are proposing.

  163. Xon said,

    April 16, 2007 at 10:10 am

    Well, assuming I have read them but I nonetheless disagree with your assessment of my view (or with your understanding of what they are saying), or assuming I have not read them and so don’t know exactly what you are talking about, would you be kind enough to answer my earlier question? IF your only purpose was to come on, tell me I’m wrong and give me something to read, then okay. But if you’re trying to do more than that, then please tell me (and for the benefit of everyone else here who might be reading) what exactly you think the phrase “union and communion in grace and glory” means in the Confession, and exactly how you think my view contradicts it?

  164. April 16, 2007 at 11:30 am

    Xon
    You obviously have not read Shaw, Hodge or Manton.

  165. Xon said,

    April 16, 2007 at 12:09 pm

    If you say so…

  166. Todd said,

    April 16, 2007 at 12:51 pm

    Gary, you’re not even trying to answer Xon! Why not try?

  167. April 16, 2007 at 4:32 pm

    Xon, we would perhaps more confidence in the competence of FV thinkers such as yourself to tinker with Reformed doctrine in the name of semper reformanda if you’d guys could at least demonstrate that you understood the confessions you are trying to “reform” in the first place. But you’ve spilled thousands of words in this comment box alone demonstrating that you don’t know what the Westminster means by “invisible church.”

    When I proved over at my blog that the historic meaning of the “invisible church” understood it to, in some sense, exist earth in the present, alongside the visible church, overturning your long-winded and sophistic speculations and logical contortions here, you said

    ” it’s not necessary to speak this way in order to preserve the basic doctrine Reformed theology has been trying to preserve, I think it’s better to stop speaking this way”

    Well, OK, it was like pulling teeth but finally you admit that this WAS the way WCF was using the term (unless you can argue that Westminster’s use was an anomaly).

    So only now can we actually have fruitful dialogue as to the PROPRIETY of the doctrine, now that we know that the TR view IS the historic doctrine. It is clear you and the FV intend on changing things.

    But the distinction between the visible and invisible church must be maintained, not simply because there is an ontological difference between NECM and ECMs (which you think is all the doctrine is saying) but because of the same reason that we say not all Israel is Israel. When Paul said that no one was “confused” and thought this meant that there are two Israels. Rather, this is important because not all of the authority and blessings imputed to Israel by Scripture applied to national Israel, but rather only to the faithful remnant. Same goes for the church. The “church” that is Christ’s bride that He died for is the invisible church.

  168. Todd said,

    April 16, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    “The “church” that is Christ’s bride that He died for is the invisible church.”

    Amen. But isn’t it also true to say that NECMs are sanctified by the blood of the covenant?

  169. Xon said,

    April 16, 2007 at 6:38 pm

    David, I’ll keep my thousands of words down to only a few. You (characteristically, I’m afraid) misunderstood that comment of mine on your blog. There I was commenting on the various Reformed theologians you quoted in your post; I was not commenting on the meaning of “invisible church” in the Confession. And when I say that I am affirming the “basic Reformed doctrine” that there are two kinds of people in the Church (elect and reprobate), how is it that you manage to turn that into a “denial” of the same doctrine?

    Your own self-congratulation notwithstanding, I don’t think you’ve dealt with my arguments in this thread at all. Look at your latest (#167). When Paul says that “not all Israel is Israel,” he is positing that there are two different kinds of people within Israel. Some of the people ‘get’ what Israel is really all about, and some of them don’t. I fail to see how anything I’ve said disagrees with this.

    You seem to have this way of checking out of these conversations for a few days (I responded to your last appearance, in the 120s I think, on Thursday), then swooping back in to proclaim that you have “demolished” the FV argument. But you don’t usually offer much in the way of actual demolition. Your rhetoric, though, is really cool. If you were actually hiding an argument in your cards somewhere, I might feel like my back was against the ropes. But I have eyes, and so does everyone else. And you don’t have a hand. I’ve put my chips on the table. Are you going to call, or not?

    If your only argument against my position is that “not all of the authority and blessings imputed to Israel by Scripture applied to national Israel, but rather only to the faithful remnant. Same goes for the church,” then you don’t have an argument against my position. This is not an argument against me because I don’t claim that all authority and blessings apply to national Israel (or to all members of the Church). So, where’s the beef?

  170. April 16, 2007 at 7:12 pm

    “There I was commenting on the various Reformed theologians you quoted in your post; I was not commenting on the meaning of “invisible church” in the Confession.”

    Then this logically commits you to believing that the Westminster confession was an anomaly in the Reformed tradition. If all of the other Reformed Confessions I quoted teach it, and all of the authors I cited teach that the invisible church exists in the present alongside the visible, then you have to provide an argument to make us believe that Westminster diverged from this understanding. Your argument, up until now, is how Westminster could be interpreted as seeing the invisible church exisiting in the future only based on the language it uses. But, outside of a historical vacuum, that speculation is not tenable.

    The reason I took time off last Thursday was to work on my articles, and show that this view is not historically informed.

    “When Paul says that “not all Israel is Israel,” he is positing that there are two different kinds of people within Israel”

    Yes, there are two different kinds of people within Israel…and they are both CALLED Israel. Just as in the v/iv distinction where both groups are called the church. In both cases they are distinguished ontologically, not chronologically, and in both cases you are not dealing with two churches or two Israels.

    “This is not an argument against me because I don’t claim that all authority and blessings apply to national Israel (or to all members of the Church). So, where’s the beef?”

    I’m sure that’s what you believe, but the question is “why do you believe that?” The v/iv church distinction safeguards this truth in the same way that Paul’s national vs. faithful/remnant Israel safeguards the truths of God’s election and salvation of His sheep. Undifferentiated covenant membership is precisely what Paul had to contend with in Romans 9 and explain how only believers received the benefits of salvation.

    Of course, since THAT isn’t exactly a big concern on the FV radar, I guess FV just doesn’t have much use for that distinction.

    Even if you disagree with the doctrine as being necessary from an apologetic standpoint to safeguard this truth, with the Reformers or in Paul, you have to contend with the fact that THIS IS the historic doctrine, and that it therefore cannot be made to be replaced with a chronological historical/eschatological distinction that will serve the same function.

  171. Andy Gilman said,

    April 16, 2007 at 11:21 pm

    In 161 Xon said:
    [BOQ]
    Right, but look more closely at LC66 as you just quoted it. Only the effectually called are “spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseperably, joined to Christ as their head and husband.” (emphasis added). Hmm…so the elect, and the elect only, are joined to Christ in a way that is “inseprable.” Well, I agree with that!
    [EOQ]

    and:
    [BOQ]
    Since the union which WLC 66-69 describes as going only to the elect is “inseprable” by very definition, then I am not out-of-bounds when I posit a seperable union for all baptized covenant members. Again, this is exactly why we have to be clear on our definitions of these terms. What does “union and communion” mean when the Catechism says it goes only to ECMs, and what does it mean when I or Wilkins say it about NECMs?
    [EOQ]

    It looks like you are now going to key on one aspect of the “union and communion” as detailed in the Confessions, and say that since the “union and communion” you are proposing is a “seperable” union, you are off the hook, and have therefore defined the difference between the confessional “union and communion” and the FV “union and communion.”

    The problem for you now is that you can’t, in LC 66, logically isolate the word “inseperably” from the words “spiritually,” “mystically” and “really.” So you will have to agree that it is the elect, and the elect only, who are “spiritually,” “mystically” and “really” joined to Christ. At this point you are left saying that the “union and communion” enjoyed by the reprobate is not “real,” and it is not “spiritual,” and it is not “mystical,” along with the fact that it is not “inseperable.” Do you think you could get Steve Wilkins and Doug Wilson to agree with your definition of the kind of “union and communion” enjoyed by the reprobate?

  172. Andy Gilman said,

    April 16, 2007 at 11:40 pm

    In #161 Xon said:
    [BOQ]
    I’ll concede your point about “special”–I agree that the Confession is explicitly limiting “union and communion in grace and glory” (whatever it means by that) to the elect.
    [EOQ]

    It is not a great mystery what the Larger Catechism means by “union and communion with him in grace in glory.” Just read LC 69, 82, 83 and 86, where pretty detailed definitions are given of what it means.

    I’ll quote them here again for ease of reference:

    Q. 69. What is the communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ?
    A. The communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ, is their partaking of the virtue of his mediation, in their justification, adoption, sanctification, and whatever else, in this life, manifests their union with him.

    Q. 82. What is the communion in glory which the members of the invisible church have with Christ?
    A. The communion in glory which the members of the invisible church have with Christ, is in this life, immediately after death, and at last perfected at the resurrection and day of judgment.

    Q. 83. What is the communion in glory with Christ which the members of the invisible church enjoy in this life ?
    A. The members of the invisible church have communicated to them in this life the first-fruits of glory with Christ, as they are members of him their head, and so in him are interested in that glory which he is fully possessed of; and, as an earnest thereof, enjoy the sense of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, and hope of glory; as, on the contrary, sense of God’s revenging wrath, horror of conscience, and a fearful expectation of judgment, are to the wicked the beginning of their torments which they shall endure after death.

    Q. 86. What is the communion in glory with Christ, which the members of the invisible church enjoy immediately after death?
    A. The communion in glory with Christ, which the members of the invisible church enjoy immediately after death, is, in that their souls are then made perfect in holiness, and received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies, which even in death continue united to Christ, and rest in their graves as in their beds, till at the last day they be again united to their souls. Whereas the souls of the wicked are at their death cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, and their bodies kept in their graves, as in their prisons, till the resurrection and judgment of the great day.

  173. April 17, 2007 at 6:00 am

    Todd
    It was clear that Xon had not read Shaw, Hodge or Manton or he would not be asking that question. One of my professors at WTS,the late Robert Knudsen once rebuked a festy (but unprepared) student in a PhD seminar on VanTil during a heated discussion on one of the assigned texts – ” If you have not read the book, please refrain from displaying your your ignorance in front of the class.”

  174. Xon said,

    April 17, 2007 at 8:59 am

    Going in reverse order (So, Mr. Johnson, then Andy, then David G.)…

    Mr. Johnson, I am going to speak out of my mind for a moment in order to answer you directly, since you have shown an inability to pick up on my meaning.

    I have, in fact, read both Shaw and Hodge, but not Manton. It has, admittedly, been a while since I read the Hodge, but I looked back through it yesterday on-line. So now what? I still disagree with you that my view is in contradiction with the Standards. Could you please explain to me how it is? If you are only going to recommend stuff for me to read, then feel free to e-mail me at xonhostetter@gmail.com. There is no need to take up this public discussion space with your book recommendations to little old me.

  175. April 17, 2007 at 9:11 am

    Xon
    my email to you bounced back- send me one and I’ll respond.

  176. Xon said,

    April 17, 2007 at 9:35 am

    Andy,

    The problem for you now is that you can’t, in LC 66, logically isolate the word “inseperably” from the words “spiritually,” “mystically” and “really.” So you will have to agree that it is the elect, and the elect only, who are “spiritually,” “mystically” and “really” joined to Christ. At this point you are left saying that the “union and communion” enjoyed by the reprobate is not “real,” and it is not “spiritual,” and it is not “mystical,” along with the fact that it is not “inseperable.” Do you think you could get Steve Wilkins and Doug Wilson to agree with your definition of the kind of “union and communion” enjoyed by the reprobate?

    Okay. You seem to be saying that the Confession is listing out a bunch of things that characterize the union the elect have with Christ, and that it is saying that all of these things only go to the elect. So, the only kind of union that there is has characteristics w x y and z. But I am taking them as a conjunction: the unity the elect have with Christ adds up to all of these things w, x, y, and z (a real mystical spiritual and inseprable union). All it takes for a non-elect person to not have that kind of union is for him to lack one of these characteristics. Again, my Alps-Rockies analogy is the ticket, I think. So I’m just not convinced that “really” “spiritually” and “mystically” all have to go logically along with “inseperably,” as though all unions with Christ are all four of these or they are not unions at all.

    If a person really is convinced that this is what the Standards teach, then I take an exception on that point. And I do so because the Bible clearly seems to teach that non-elect people have some kind of “union.” Even if you don’t think that the fruitless branches in John and Romans “get the sap,” for instance; even if you think that they have a non-vital union, they still have a union. They are on the tree, connected to it. It’s not just a charade. But then the Standards say, on your view, that the only union that is possible to have is a union which is inseparable (and mystical and real and spiritual). It would be unfortuante if this were what the Standards actually taught!

    And, furthermore, how on earth does my exception on this point (assuming your reading of the Standards is correct) constitute an attack on “vitals of true religion?” How am I compromising Reformed theology in a fundamental way? I think that people who are predestined to go to Hell still can have a union of some sort with Christ during their earhtly life through their life in the Church. A union which they (by the foreordination of God) betray and reject through unbelief, and deservedly end up being taken out of the union eventually. What am I losing that a genuinely Reformed theology has to have, in your opinion?

    I know that the Standards go on to describe the union and communion in more detail. I’m happy to look at the places where they do, and I thank you for referencing them (twice, since I forgot to respond directly to the 80s Q’s yesterday). This is why I asked what “union and communion” mean in the Standards, not because I think it is a mystery and nobody has a good answer, but because I think that when we look more closely at that answer we’ll see that the Confession and FVers are simply using these words in different ways. They are talking about different kinds of “unions”, etc.

    So let’s look at WLC 69 and 83 and see what they actually say.

    WLC 69 says that members (note the word “members”!) of the invisible church enjoy partake “of the virtue of [Christ's] mediation”, in their “justification, adoption, sanctification, and whatever else, in this life, manifests their union with him.” So, because of the kind of union they have with Christ, the elect are justified, adopted, sanctified, and other stuff. Of course, there’s still a lot of “jargon” in there, since part of the FV debate is over how words like “justified,” “adopted,” “sanctified”, etc. can be used. So what do the Standards mean by these words? I think it’s clear that justificaiton refers to a complete pardon of sins which applies to all sins a person ever commits. Obviously the NECM has no such pardon, and so the NECM is not “justified” in this sense of the word. But, a NECM might still be “justified” in some other sense, especially if it looks like Scripture uses the word “justified” in ways besides as a reference to this “complete pardon” that only the elect receive. And so on for the other words, “adopted’ and “sanctified” (I’ve already given an example of an extra-confessional usage of “sanctified” in Scripture).

    It seems to me that, at least in general, anti-FVers read these words in the Confession as though they don’t have any particular definitions. I mean, they have definitions in those passages where the Confession defines them, but any other time the Confession mentions these words it is using them more like “names.” Michael Jordan, Socrates, “the kid who dated my sister in 1997,” etc. So, when the Confession says in WLC 69 that only the elect are sanctified, we’re not supposed to go back and look at its actual definition of “sanctification.” That definition is not important to understand the statement being made in WLC 69. The statement in WLC 69, rather, is simply telling us something about Sanctification, whoever he is. And its telling us he only hangs out with elect people. It’s like Sanctification, is being Bunyanized into a dude who we can point at, and there’s only one. And Sanctification only hangs out with the elect. And we can say all this about him even if we don’t know what the definition of “sanctificaton” is from elsewhere in the Standards. Just like I can know that Mr. Jones is staying at my friend’s house without knowing anything about Mr. Jones. So we can know, and the Confession is telling us that this is so, that Sanctification is a guy who only hangs out with elect people.

    My reading is that the Confession, as a systematic document, is using definitions consistently (as is humanly possible) throughout, or at least that it is trying to do so. (In other words, if the meaning of a word jumps around throughout the Standards without the change being clearly identified, then that would be a problem with the Standards.) So, when the Standards tells us in WLC 69 that only the elect are sanctified, they expect us to remember what “sanctified” means from other parts of the Standards. And sanctification clearly refers to a progressive process by which a person is made over completely into the image of Christ. Well, no non-elect person is ever made over completely into the image of Christ, so I agree that, in this Confessional sense of “sanctificaton”, that only the elect are sanctified. But I also think that non-elect people who are baptized are “sanctified.” I think we can use that word to describe them. Because Scripture uses it, as I understand things, and because the alternative usage I am proposing does not contradict the Confessional usage. Different does not equal contradictory.

    And let me not try people’s patience more than I already do and leave it at this. I’d say similar things about WLC 83 as I just said about Q69.

  177. Xon said,

    April 17, 2007 at 9:37 am

    Hey, Mr. Johnson, is your e-mail addy the one listed at your church’s website?

  178. April 17, 2007 at 9:40 am

    Xon-yes

  179. Xon said,

    April 17, 2007 at 10:22 am

    Finally, David G. (from #170),

    Then this logically commits you to believing that the Westminster confession was an anomaly in the Reformed tradition. If all of the other Reformed Confessions I quoted teach it, and all of the authors I cited teach that the invisible church exists in the present alongside the visible, then you have to provide an argument to make us believe that Westminster diverged from this understanding. Your argument, up until now, is how Westminster could be interpreted as seeing the invisible church exisiting in the future only based on the language it uses. But, outside of a historical vacuum, that speculation is not tenable.

    First of all, the Westminster Confession is a…confession. Confessions often leave things more vague or broad than what the majority of subscribers actually believe, for the sake of unity, etc. So there would be nothing anamolous about the Confession doing precisely this, even if you are right about the teaching of all these Reformed lights.

    But, second and most importantly, I don’t concede your point that these guys “taught” something substantive with which I disagree. Perhaps we are talking past one another regarding what a “doctrine” even is. In the citation above, for instance, you say that “all of the authors I cited teach that the invisible church exists in the present alongside the visible.” Well, okay, and given what they meant by “invisible church” I AGREE with them! So, what is it exactly that you think they “taught” that I deny? Is it simply that they used the phrase “invisible church” to describe these regenerate covenant members, while I shy away from that particular phrase? This is not a disagreement over doctrine, as I understand things. I am simply disagreeing with words on this point. I agree in substance; just plug in the “usage definitions” of “invisible church” in that phrase, and this becomes obvious:

    All of the authors I cited teach that [a bunch of regenerate people] exist in the present alongside the visible [church].

    Though I would change “alongside” to “within”, but that’s a quibble. I agree with this, David. You keep saying that there is something more substantive going on here between us, and you claim that I don’t understand the Confession’s meaning, but then when you present “the meaning” of it all you end up simply repeating the same old thing: that there are different kinds of people within God’s covenant community on earth. Well, amen and amen! Even a few comments ago (# 167), when you claimed that there was more to your position than this, you stated the something mroe by saying this:

    …because of the same reason that we say not all Israel is Israel… this is important because not all of the authority and blessings imputed to Israel by Scripture applied to national Israel, but rather only to the faithful remnant. Same goes for the church.

    Right, so you’re saying that there are different kinds of people within the Church (national Israel) who receive different “amounts” or “kinds” of blessings. Again, I’m right there with you. What have I ever said that contradicts this? Surely you’re not referring to my desire not to speak of the “fuller recipients” within the Church as an “invisible Church”? Surely your disagreement is not merely over my preference over words?

    But when you offer a further crticism of my affirmation on this point (in #170), you say only that:

    Yes, there are two different kinds of people within Israel…and they are both CALLED Israel. Just as in the v/iv distinction where both groups are called the church. In both cases they are distinguished ontologically, not chronologically, and in both cases you are not dealing with two churches or two Israels.

    So, your argument with me is over what I CALL the regenerate people in the Church. That’s it? You’re disagreeing with me over the theological label I use to refer to these people?

    Or, when you say this:

    I’m sure that’s what you believe, but the question is “why do you believe that?” The v/iv church distinction safeguards this truth in the same way that Paul’s national vs. faithful/remnant Israel safeguards the truths of God’s election and salvation of His sheep. Undifferentiated covenant membership is precisely what Paul had to contend with in Romans 9 and explain how only believers received the benefits of salvation.

    This argument is a bit more complex; you’re trying to argue for why it is important to speak of the regenerates in the Church as an “invisible Church.” You say it is important because it “safeguards” our common belief that not all people in the Church receive the same blessings. So, even though I myself affirm that not all people receive the same blessings, you are telling me that I need to call the regenerate people in the Church by the name “invisible Church” or else this point will be in danger of being lost or confused. You anticipate later in your comment that I’ll disagree with you here, and you are right to do so. In fact, I find this contention ridiculous. Your view here is like Pharisaic moralism applied to theology; you must not only affirm the right things, but affirm other things which are necessary to “fence” the right things. Aside from the less-than-appealing association with Pharisacial practice towards the law, you’re also simply wrong that the phrase “invisible church” is necessary in this way in any case. The paired terms such as “elect/reprobate” and “regenerate/unregenerate” already do quite nicely to ‘protect’ the idea that not all covenant members receive the fullest share of blessings.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the context you provide for Romans 9; Paul is defending God’s election against the charge that since the majority of Israel has fallen away from the promise that God’s promise of salvation must be null and void. He does this, as you say, by pointing out that there is “differentiation” in the covenant, i.e., that not all people in the covenant receive the same blessings, and that it was God’s plan all along that this should happen. And, yes, he does this by saying that the recipients of “fullest blessings” are “Israel” in a way that the lesser recipients are not. This is a smooth and poweful rhetorical convention, but like synecdoche it is just a convention. Again, this is just like saying that some people within Israel really ‘get’ what it’s all about and some people don’t. Those who don’t are “not Israel” in the way that the ones who get it are Israel. Fine and dandy, but we can’t reify this effective rhetorical device into an actual substantive doctrine of “two Israels.”

    I don’t have any problem with what Paul said, and I also (as I said before) am not on the warpath against those who want to call the regenerate an “invisible Church.” But I personally think that this latter phrase has some problems, and there are better to speak about the same realities. This is not a rejection of what Paul says in Romans 9, or a claim that Paul was being confusing there, at all. The confusion would have been if Paul had said, without a lot of extra context, that the faithful remnant constituted an “invisible Israel” But notice that Paul, being the smart Spirit-inspired guy that he was, didn’t say that.

    Finally, you say:

    Even if you disagree with the doctrine as being necessary from an apologetic standpoint to safeguard this truth, with the Reformers or in Paul, you have to contend with the fact that THIS IS the historic doctrine…

    WHAT is the “historic doctrine?” The claim that there are reprobates and regenerates within the Church, that not all people in the Church receive the fullest blessings? I agree with this. Or are you saying that the historic “doctrine” is the claim that the fullest blessings group has to be CALLED “the invisible church?” This seems like a strange “doctrine,” unless you’re into shibboleths as a general rule.

    It’s like Jehovah’s Witnesses who say that God must only be called by the name “Jehovah.” They are making a particular word into a dogmatic position. This makes some sense if we are actually talking about someon’e name, but it makes no sense at all when we’re talking about how to best label a reality which we all affirm. I just don’t think that the Reformed Confessions intend to do this, or that any of the older Reformed lights you’ve quoted would condemn me simply for disagreeing about the best label.

    …and that it therefore cannot be made to be replaced with a chronological historical/eschatological distinction that will serve the same function.

    It might not preserve the same function depending on what we mean by “function.” But it does preserve all the same “substantive doctrinal content.” (Which is what I mean when I say that it preserves the “function” of the v/inv distinction.) You’ve still got different blessings received by different people in the Church, you’ve still got election, you’ve still got elects and reprobate, Heaven and Hell. You’ve still got the fact that covenant membership by itself is insufficient for the fullest blessings of God, and that even if the vast majority of the covenant members turn away from the truth God will preserve a faithful remnant. All that is still here. All that is missing is the phrase “invisible Church” to refer to the elect covenant members.

  180. Xon said,

    April 18, 2007 at 8:35 am

    Or, to modify that last sentence a bit,

    All that is different is that FVers either don’t want to use the phrase “invisible church” to refer to the elect covenant members, or they are at least wary of doing so and only do it with a lot of qualifications to avoid some confusions that can arise. (I think I’m more in the former camp, while Wilson seems to be more in the latter.)

  181. pduggie said,

    April 18, 2007 at 8:57 am

    Y’know, when Paul said “they are not all Israel who are Israel” he could easily have identified anyone who was, in fact, Israel in the fullest historical sense.

  182. Xon said,

    April 18, 2007 at 9:11 am

    Pduggie, you mean that Paul could have identified the remant, because the remnant in this case is those few out of Israel who have professed belief upon the name of Christ and have been baptized into the Church? That’s a good point, if that’s what you mean.

    Just as the faithful remannt in Elijah’s time were not “invisible,” but were a humanly identifiable group of people who literally did not bend the knee to Baal. This was not an “invisible” reality only known to God.

  183. Andy Gilman said,

    April 18, 2007 at 9:26 am

    In #179 Xon said:

    “…So, even though I myself affirm that not all people receive the same blessings…”

    “The paired terms such as ‘elect/reprobate’ and ‘regenerate/unregenerate’ already do quite nicely to ‘protect’ the idea that not all covenant members receive the fullest share of blessings. ”

    “…He does this, as you say, by pointing out that there is ‘differentiation’ in the covenant, i.e., that not all people in the covenant receive the same blessings, and that it was God’s plan all along that this should happen. And, yes, he does this by saying that the recipients of ‘fullest blessings’ are ‘Israel’ in a way that the lesser recipients are not.”

    “WHAT is the ‘historic doctrine?’ The claim that there are reprobates and regenerates within the Church, that not all people in the Church receive the fullest blessings? I agree with this. Or are you saying that the historic ‘doctrine’ is the claim that the fullest blessings group has to be CALLED ‘the invisible church?'”

    “…You’ve still got the fact that covenant membership by itself is insufficient for the fullest blessings of God…”

    Xon, you repeatedly try to paint a picture that the disagreement is merely over a minor point about the extent of the “blessings,” received by the elect vs. the extent of the “blessings” received by the reprobate, and over a subtle difference between the choice of words used to describe the elect and the reprobate. In the FV mindset, as they have framed the debate, you are right.

    The FV wants to say that the reprobate are in “union and communion” with Christ, as are the elect, and the reprobate enjoy all the “blessings and benefits of salvation” found “in Christ.” All except one. The elect get just one additional blessing over the reprobate; that blessing is perseverence.

    But in the non-FV world, where the confessions are held in high esteem and acknowledged to be a systematic and accurate summary of biblical teaching, there is a sharp distinction made between the elect and the reprobate, even as they exist in the church today. The confessions insist that the elect alone are in “union and communion with Christ.” The visible/invisible language makes a clear distinction between the two categories of people as they exist in the church, in the present. The FV doesn’t like this distinction, and they have stirred up lasting strife in the church in their attempts to revise, via sophistry and nuance, this and other clear confessional teachings.

  184. Xon said,

    April 18, 2007 at 10:07 am

    The FV wants to say that the reprobate are in “union and communion” with Christ, as are the elect, and the reprobate enjoy all the “blessings and benefits of salvation” found “in Christ.” All except one. The elect get just one additional blessing over the reprobate; that blessing is perseverence.

    Not quite, Andy. (And this is still a good exchange, by the way!)

    Perseverance is in some sense the primary “prism” through which the difference b/w elect and non-elect is made clear and visible, but the difference is there all along. They do not, therefore, enjoy the “same” benefits, save perseverance. Rather, they enjoy different benefits. What I get from Christ right now as an elect person is more “intense” or “greater” or “fuller” than what the NECM gets from Christ right now. But we both are connected to Christ, we both get lots of real benefits because of that connection, and the benefits we get are both worthy of words like “justification”, “sanctification,” etc. The Scriptures seem to speak of all covenant people in this way (so say we FVers), so we follow them and speak the same way.

    But, and this is a point Lane acknowledges about our argument, the “justification” received by the elect is somehow different from the “justification” received by the reprobate covenant member. Both blessings are worthy of the name “justification” (because they both involve a declaration of God, a change in status, a forgiveness of sins of some sort, etc.), but they are not exactly the same. The one is more “intense,” or “fuller,” or something. I’m not sure of the best way to spaek of this difference (“intense,” “fuller,” something else, etc.), but it really is there.

    So, back to the earlier comment regarding the”union and communion” the NECMs have with Christ…I believe that they have a real “union and communion”, a real connection to Christ that is worthy of that label, but that this union and communion is not the same as the one posited for the elect in the WS. Likewise, I think that there is a ‘justification’, ‘sanctification,’ ‘salvation,’ ‘adoption,’ etc., that goes along with this covenantal union, but those words too do not have the same meaning as they have in the Confession when it applies them only to the elect. But notice the clear meaning of what I am saying here: if they don’t have the same meaning, then they are not exactly the same. So, the “justification” enjoyed by the elect is stronger or fuller, etc., than that justification enjoyed by the non-elect. But, in the here and now, they’re impossible to tell apart (for us humans). But they are different–they have to be, because we are talking about a person who lives with God in glory forever on the one hand (and whose present connection to Christ is an anticipation of that everlasting glory) and a person who is going to be cut off forever on the other hand (and whose present connection likewise must anticipate that everlasting destruction). So, whatever sense in which the NECM is “justified,” “sanctified,” etc., it is not as strong or full or intense as the way in which the ECM is justified and sanctified. But, I still think that the NECM’s connection to Christ can be described using those words (“justified,” “sanctified,” etc.).

    But in the non-FV world, where the confessions are held in high esteem and acknowledged to be a systematic and accurate summary of biblical teaching,

    But I also find them to be accurate, hold them in high esteem, and take them to be systematic. Speaking of their systematicity, this is why when I read words like “justified” and “sanctified” in WLC 69 I remember the meaning given to those words in other places in the Standards, and thus I realize that what FV people are talking about when they say that NECMs are “sanctified” is not the same thing as what the Confession is talking about. (See my #176)

    there is a sharp distinction made between the elect and the reprobate, even as they exist in the church today

    Well, to human eyes the distinction is not sharp at all. We all agree that it is not; it’s Reformed Theology 101. To human eyes, there are people coming into and out of God’s covenant community all the time. There are people who seem like strong vibrant believers who fall away after several years of apparent faithfulness; there are people who seem to be just barely skating along who turn out to be warriors for the faith; there are people who seem way more mature and faithful than others but who end up falling away; there are people who feel very “alive” and enthusiastic on the “inside” but who end up falling away; etc. In our visible, day-to-day, human experience, the distinction is not “sharp” at all.

    If you mean that it is sharp in the eyes of God, then this is true, but it doesn’t prove very much. All truths are “sharp” to God. The difference between identical twins is “sharp” to God. Neither your “TR” view or my FVish view has any advantage in this regard. We both affirm a distinction which is impercievable to human eyes; we disagree as to what exactly the distinction is. Either way, however we define the distinction, it is abundantly clear to God, and he knows the elect and the reprobate apart from the beginning, obviously.

    The confessions insist that the elect alone are in “union and communion with Christ.”

    In what sense of “union and communion,” though? In any possilble sense? So you don’t think that the branches that get cut out of the tree in Romans 11 can be said to be connected to the tree in any way? Or, more properly, you think that the Confessions insist that we believe that they are not connected to the tree in any way? Really?

    The visible/invisible language makes a clear distinction between the two categories of people as they exist in the church, in the present.

    A distinction which can be made just as clearly without using that language, though.

    The FV doesn’t like this distinction, and they have stirred up lasting strife in the church in their attempts to revise, via sophistry and nuance, this and other clear confessional teachings.

    Well, I’m a little bummed that you’re breaking it down this way, despite our profitable conversation here. I simply disagree that this is what FVers have done. One man’s search for clarity and careful argumentation is another man’s “sophistry,” I guess.

    It has been, and still is, fun to talk about these things with you, Andy!

  185. April 18, 2007 at 10:44 am

    [...] 18th, 2007 at 10:44 am (Federal Vision, Church) A few months ago, I published this article by Wes White on the validity of the visible/invisible Church [...]

  186. Andy Gilman said,

    April 18, 2007 at 10:55 am

    I had said:

    “But in the non-FV world, where the confessions are held in high esteem and acknowledged to be a systematic and accurate summary of biblical teaching, there is a sharp distinction made between the elect and the reprobate, even as they exist in the church today.”

    And in #184 Xon replied:

    “Well, to human eyes the distinction is not sharp at all. We all agree that it is not; it’s Reformed Theology 101.”

    I’m not talking about a distinction that is necessarily clear to human eyes, I’m talking about a logical distinction. The confessions make a distinction between heaven and the hell. This is not a distinction we can see with our human eyes, but it is an important distinction nonetheless. You wouldn’t deny or diminish the importance of the logical distinction between the heaven and the hell, merely because it is not clear to human eyes.

    Xon said:
    [BOQ]
    In what sense of “union and communion,” though? In any possilble sense? So you don’t think that the branches that get cut out of the tree in Romans 11 can be said to be connected to the tree in any way? Or, more properly, you think that the Confessions insist that we believe that they are not connected to the tree in any way? Really?
    [EOQ]

    The FV loves the vine and the branch metaphor to describe the Christian’s union with Christ, and they seem to have built a huge superstructure on top of it. I personally like the body of Christ metaphor. Xon, are there reprobate fingers in the body of Christ which will be amputated? Are there reprobate eyes in the body of Christ which will be gouged out? We both seem to like the marriage metaphor. Will Christ divorce his bride, if she doesn’t live up to his expectations?

  187. Andy Gilman said,

    April 18, 2007 at 11:24 am

    Xon, what do you make of Calvin’s interpretation of John 15:2?

    [BOQ]
    2. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit. As some men corrupt the grace of God, others suppress it maliciously, and others choke it by carelessness, Christ intends by these words to awaken anxious inquiry, by declaring that all the branches which shall be unfruitful will be cut off from the vine. But here comes a question. Can any one who is engrafted into Christ be without fruit? I ANSWER, MANY ARE SUPPOSED TO BE IN THE VINE, ACCORDING TO THE OPINION OF MEN, WHO ACTUALLY HAVE NO ROOT IN THE VINE. Thus, in the writings of the prophets, the Lord calls the people of Israel his vine, because, by outward profession, they had the name of The Church.
    [EOQ, my emphasis]

  188. Andy Gilman said,

    April 18, 2007 at 11:30 am

    By the way, here is a link to that Calvin quote:

    http://www.biblestudyguide.org/comment/calvin/comm_vol35/htm/v.htm

  189. Xon said,

    April 18, 2007 at 1:27 pm

    I’m not talking about a distinction that is necessarily clear to human eyes, I’m talking about a logical distinction.

    Right, and FVers like me and Wilson make a logical distinction, too. Covenant members who are also elect are distinguished from covenant members who are reprobate. Distinct, not the same, in the present. Logically (and actually) distinct.

    The FV loves the vine and the branch metaphor to describe the Christian’s union with Christ, and they seem to have built a huge superstructure on top of it. I personally like the body of Christ metaphor. Xon, are there reprobate fingers in the body of Christ which will be amputated? Are there reprobate eyes in the body of Christ which will be gouged out? We both seem to like the marriage metaphor. Will Christ divorce his bride, if she doesn’t live up to his expectations?

    So, you are saying that we have to pit these different analogies against one another? That either one part of the Bible, or the other, is not right? I know this isn’t what you’re saying, so why are you responding to my Scriptural reference with your own? As though they just can’t possibly line up with each other, so we have to choose?

    But in any case, I’ll answer yours if you’ll answer mine. So, to you I ask: do you deny that there are branches connected to the tree/vine that get cut out? Or, to put this as a more general “doctrinal” statement, do you deny that reprobates can be said to be united to Christ in any sense?

    As to your Scriptural references, Christ will not divorce his bride, but his bride is not you and me, it is the Church of which you and I are a part. We already agree that Christ is making his bride holy so He can present her before the Father as one without spot or blemish. Removing the blemishes is not the same as divorcing the bride. If a reprobate gets cut out of the Church, that does not mean that Christ has “divorced” the Church. The Church is still there like it always way; it just doesn’t have this reprobate in it any more.

    As for the body analogy, I seem to recall Christ saying something about amputation being the only way to go when a part of your body “causes you to sin.” This is all metaphorical of course, but that only makes it apply even better to this analogy. We are, metaphorically, the body of Christ, and the body of Christ has to have blemishes removed. And those blemishes are actually part of the body, up until the time that they are removed. I don’t see the problem with saying that at all, in fact it seems the only natural way to think about the picture.

    Re: the Calvin quote, I think he’s off-base there. Hey, no big deal. He says much better things, in my opinion, in other places. Such as this from one of his letters:

    It is for good reason, however, that the wicked are said to believe that God is favorably inclined toward them, since they have the gift of reconciliation, although in a confused and insufficiently distinct way….This refutes the objection that God’s grace, if once truly shown is permanent and lasting. Nothing prevents God from illuminating some with a present sense of his grace, which afterward vanishes away….They are like a tree that is not planted deeply enough and that will dry up with the passage of the seasons, even though it may send down living roots and put out flowers and leaves for several years, and even bear fruit. In short, just as the first man’s rebellion could wipe the image of God from his mind and spirit, so we should not be surprised that God illumines the wicked with certain rays of his grace, but afterward allows the rays to be extinguished. He is free to touch some people lightly with a knowledge of his gospel while imbuing others with it deeply. (Calvin’s Ecclesiastical Advice, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991, 30-31, emphases added)

    That is certainly not the ‘best’ quote from Calvin I’ve seen, but it’s the one I had at hand just this moment in my office. Calvin’s not always perfectly consistent, but that’s okay because he ain’t inspired.

  190. Andy Gilman said,

    April 18, 2007 at 2:19 pm

    I had said:

    “I’m not talking about a distinction that is necessarily clear to human eyes, I’m talking about a logical distinction.”

    And in #189 Xon replies:

    “Right, and FVers like me and Wilson make a logical distinction, too. Covenant members who are also elect are distinguished from covenant members who are reprobate. Distinct, not the same, in the present. Logically (and actually) distinct.”

    Yes, and now we leave the “Well, to human eyes the distinction is not sharp at all” rabbit trail, and retrace the ground which has been the main theme of my argument for some time now. You and Doug Wilson keep claiming that your view differentiates between the true professor and the false professor, in not only an ontological, but also in a qualitative way. Your supposed qualitative difference, in the final analysis, is the argument forwarded by Peter Leithart: “nature is determined by its ends.” (On another thread I asked when Leithart first advanced this argument, since there is no citation in the Wilkins answers to Presbytery; so far I have heard no answer. Do you know?) You claim to believe that true professors are in “union with Christ” in a different way than false professors are in “union with Christ,” yet the only differences you can communicate are differences of duration or in some undefined “sense.” You believe this excuses you when you build a “Union with Christ” paradigm which repeatedly contradicts the confessions. When you are confronted, you simply claim that you don’t mean “union with Christ” in the same way the confessions mean it.

  191. Andy Gilman said,

    April 18, 2007 at 2:42 pm

    In #189 Xon said:
    [BOQ]
    As to your Scriptural references, Christ will not divorce his bride, but his bride is not you and me, it is the Church of which you and I are a part. We already agree that Christ is making his bride holy so He can present her before the Father as one without spot or blemish. Removing the blemishes is not the same as divorcing the bride. If a reprobate gets cut out of the Church, that does not mean that Christ has “divorced” the Church. The Church is still there like it always way; it just doesn’t have this reprobate in it any more.
    [EOQ]

    I see Xon, so you would want to correct Steve Wilkins in his answers to Presbytery when he says:

    [BOQ]
    One way to understand this is to think of salvation more in “relational” terms than in metaphysical ones. “Salvation” is not a “thing” we possess that can be lost and found, like our car keys. Rather, it is a matter of being rightly related to God. But
    relationships are not static, timeless entities. They are fluid and dynamic. Some marriages start well; the couple is full of love. But then things go sour. Our salvation covenant with the Lord is like a marriage. If we persevere in loyalty to Christ, we will live with him happily ever after. If we break the marriage covenant, he will divorce us. It may not be wise to call this “losing one’s salvation,” but it would be unbiblical to say nothing at all was really lost. That would simply be a denial of the reality of the covenant.
    [EOQ]

  192. Todd said,

    April 18, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    Andy, I don’t think I see any contradiction between Xon and Wilkins here. Is Wilkins saying that Christ might divorce the church itself?

  193. Xon said,

    April 18, 2007 at 3:49 pm

    Yes, and now we leave the “Well, to human eyes the distinction is not sharp at all” rabbit trail, and retrace the ground which has been the main theme of my argument for some time now.

    This wasn’t a rabbit trail, Andy. You said that the distinction between elect and reprobate is “sharp” in the Confessions, whereas for we FVers it is presumably “blurry.” My point was that this argument doesn’t really work.

    The FVish distinction that says that the non-elect covenant members receive a lot of heavenly blessings that can be called by names like “justification”,”sanctification,” even “salvation,” but that at the same time these are not the “fullest” version of those same blessings received by the elect, is a “logical” distinction and it is perfectly “sharp” to God. There is nothing “blurry” about it. It’s just that God hasn’t chosen, on the FV view, to give us a bunch of words that we can use to define the ECM which don’t also apply in some sense to the NECM as well.

    But you want to say that the Confessions do give us such a list, and so that’s what makes your view “sharp” and mine “blurry.” But I still don’t see how this is true. On your view, since we both admit the difference is blurry to human eyes, all you are able to do that I am not is use a bunch of words for ECMs that you can’t use for NECMs. I, on the other hand, think that most of those words apply to both ECMs and NECMs, but in different ways. Why is your view “sharper” than mine? Only in the very unimpressive sense that someone can have a “sharper” distinction between dogs and cats by saying that “only cats have whiskers.” Well, I guess this gives you a sharper distinction, but it doesn’t help much since dogs also have those things sticking out of their faces that sure look like whiskers. “Oh, but those aren’t really whiskers, because God (or the Confession) says so.” Well, again, okay, but how is this view really superior to someone who says that dogs have “dog whiskers” and cats have “cat whiskers”, and that the two kinds of whiskers look a lot alike?

    So, for instance, you might say that being united to Christ means that you are “forgiven for your sins,” and so since only the elect are “united to Christ” (acc. to the Confession) then only the elect are “forgiven for their sins.” Well, what does this mean for the NECM who seems to be forgiven for his sins and who thinks that he is forgiven for his sins? You only have two choices here:

    1. The NECM is not forgiven for his sins, in any way, despite what it seems like, because by your definition only ECMs are forgiven for their sins, or

    2. The NECM is forgiven in some sense, but the ECM is forgiven in an even “stronger” way.

    But (2) is just my own FVish position. So you must go with (1). Okay, that’s a logically-possible explanation of what’s going on, but why it is any more “sharp” than my view is not clear to me. You’re just saying words–“forgiven”–and claiming that they apply to one group but not to the other. This isn’t any less ‘blurry’ than anything else on offer.

    If you say that you’re NOT just offering “words”, but that you actually have a particular meaning in mind when you say those words, then I’m going to ask you what the meaning is and we’re going to have to look and see if your ‘Confessional’ meaning is the same as the meaning given to those words by FVers in their more controversial statements. If not, then your charge of a contradiction evaporates. If you refuse to offer a definition and just insist that “union with Christ” can only be said to happen to ECMs, no matter what the definition of “union with Christ” you are using, then you are back to being not very “sharp” in your distinction at all.

    I don’t know when Leithart first advanced the teleological ontology view of things, but he’s not the only one advancing it. It’s just sort of “out there” in contemporary theological and philosophical studies. (I think it’s locatable in Jonathan Edwards, for instance). My best guess is that it might come up in his article in the book againt Open Theism, which was published in 2001. But I’ll have to look that up (much) later.

    You claim to believe that true professors are in “union with Christ” in a different way than false professors are in “union with Christ,” yet the only differences you can communicate are differences of duration or in some undefined “sense.” You believe this excuses you when you build a “Union with Christ” paradigm which repeatedly contradicts the confessions. When you are confronted, you simply claim that you don’t mean “union with Christ” in the same way the confessions mean it.

    Your tone seems a little ornery now, but regardless, I don’t quite follow your point.

    (A) I claim to believe in a “union with Christ” for all covenant members which is different from the “union with Christ” of the elect. Yup!

    (B) But this “paradigm” of mine “repeatedly contadicts the confessions.” Well, uh, no I don’t think it does. But, if it did, I’m not sure why it would be a matter striking at the “vitals of true religion.” But that’s not a concession in any way, because you haven’t yet shown that my view contradicts the Confession.

    (C) And then, when you tell me that my view “contradicts” the Confession, I “simply claim that [I] don’t mean “union with Christ” in the same way the confessions mean it.” Well, duh, of course that’s what I say; it’s the very point you alredy attributed to me in (A) above. So I’m just not tracking. What is inconsistent or dishonest about what I am arguing?

    As for that other bit about “yet the only differences you can communicate are differences of duration or in some undefined ‘sense’,” no, I disagree with this. For one thing, we haven’t had any in-depth discussion of these various “ordo salutis” words. If you want to do a word study of “justification” in the Bible, for instance, and ask me what I think “justification” means for a NECM as opposed to an ECM, then I can say something about that I think. I’ve already given some arguments like this previously (# 184). But, yes, my basic argument is that this is something that God has chosen to leave mysterious to us; and as Calvinists we embrace all sorts of mysteries. God can reveal to us what He wants, and I don’t think He’s revealed a “sharp” definition of the distinction between elect and reprobate covenant members. But that’s not to say that they aren’t different, they HAVE to be different because of their different ends (as we’ve gone through before); it’s just that I can’t say much MORE about it besides that. But what do you want from me? You want me to exclusively use certaom words to distinguish them (like “sanctified”) that the Scriptures don’t exclusively use in that way? (see I Cor. 7)

    As for the Wilkins quote, I just think it’s generally a bad idea to speak of individuals as being “married” to Christ. This is hardly a novel point to make. (It all goes back to the feminization of the Church in the middle ages, etc. It’s hard to think like I , Xon Hostetter, am a “bride”). But, it’s hardly a substantive disagreement between Steve and I, though. You asked me earlier if Christ could divorce “the Church,” and my answer is “No.” But, if we want to talk about the union individual people have to Christ as being “like a marriage,” then in that sense, sure, Christ divorces people. I said then that Christ removes blemishes from the Church, and so if we think of the relationship between Christ and the blemish as a “marriage,” then cutting out the blemish is like getting a divorce. Whatever.

  194. greenbaggins said,

    April 18, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    Xon, are you going to answer this comment of mine?

    http://greenbaggins.wordpress.com/2007/01/15/continuation-of-the-debate-with-xon/#comment-5037

    You didn’t really answer it with your quicky.

  195. Andy Gilman said,

    April 18, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    Hi Todd, in #186 I said:

    “The FV loves the vine and the branch metaphor to describe the Christian’s union with Christ, and they seem to have built a huge superstructure on top of it. I personally like the body of Christ metaphor. Xon, are there reprobate fingers in the body of Christ which will be amputated? Are there reprobate eyes in the body of Christ which will be gouged out? We both seem to like the marriage metaphor. Will Christ divorce his bride, if she doesn’t live up to his expectations?”

    I tried to show how the metaphor most beloved by the FV breaks down, and that if you are going to use the vine and the branch metaphor to say that some branches are really and truly united to the vine, but yet are ultimately cut off, then they have a problem when the other “union with Christ” metaphors are examined. Are some reprobate members really and truly members of the body of Christ? Then will Christ cut off his own fingers or gouge out his own eyes? According to Wilkins, our “union with Christ” is like a marriage covenant, and some reprobates who are married to Christ will eventually get served with divorce papers.

    Xon tried to dull the effect of the argument by saying that Christ is only married to the Church, as a whole, and he won’t divorce the whole church. But it is Wilkins who is using the marriage metaphor, hence my statement in #191.

    Xon says:
    [BOQ]
    We are, metaphorically, the body of Christ, and the body of Christ has to have blemishes removed. And those blemishes are actually part of the body, up until the time that they are removed. I don’t see the problem with saying that at all, in fact it seems the only natural way to think about the picture.
    [EOQ]

    In that statement, Xon is consistent with the FV interpretation of the “vine and the branches” metaphor, and he agrees that Christ is going to cut off some of his own body parts to get rid of the reprobate portions of his anatomy. Starting from the FV presuppositions as Xon does, he is right, it is the only natural way to think about this picture.

    Calvin’s interpretation of John 15:2 makes sense. The FV interpretation is untenable and unconfessional.

  196. Xon said,

    April 18, 2007 at 5:53 pm

    Andy,

    1. WHY is my view “untenable”? My interpretation interprets all the metaphors consistently. You’ve said my view is “untentable”, but again you haven’t really said why it is. Body parts can be amputated, blemishes can be removed, branches can be cut off. What’s the problem?

    2. Where exactly does my view go awry of the Confession? I’ve already offered my understanding of the Confession, at least of the portions you have brought up, but you haven’t offered a response.

    3. What do you think it means to say that Christ will present the Church to the Father without blemish at the last day? Does this just refer to the fact that the elect will have been purged of all sin? (But, is this actually true “at the last day?” I thought our final glorification occurred AFTER we were presented).

    4. How do YOU interpret the vine and branch metaphor? You still haven’t answered me directly on that. Your view is, with Calvin I assume, that the branches only APPEAR to be in the vine, but really they aren’t? And if that’s your view, then what are your exegetical reasons for saying so?

    5.

    Xon tried to dull the effect of the argument by saying that Christ is only married to the Church, as a whole, and he won’t divorce the whole church. But it is Wilkins who is using the marriage metaphor, hence my statement in #191.

    Well, not exactly. I was simply answering your question regarding the two metaphors. Biblically, I don’t think we are ever taught that individuals are “married” to Christ, and so that particular metpahor doesn’t come into play. That was my original response. When you pressed me on the fact that Wilkins speaks of the individual relationship with Chirst like a marriage, then I switched gears and said “Yeah, individuals can be divorced if you really want to talk that way, so what?”

    Biblically, the body metaphor is clearly better for your purpose in this conversation, but even with that metaphor I don’t see the problem with my view. Body parts can be amputated. Big whup. :-)

  197. Xon said,

    April 18, 2007 at 5:54 pm

    Lane, sure, I’ll try to respond to that comment in the other thread. I’d almost forgotten all about it. Honestly, I’m not particularly excited about answering it, because I thought your 8 points were generally a bit of a “regression” on the progress we had made in the conversation. Most of the ground feels old, and I don’t think you’re representing my view accurately at all.

    But why don’t I just say all that in the appropriate thread? :-)

  198. Andy Gilman said,

    April 18, 2007 at 6:09 pm

    Xon you quote me saying:
    [BOQ]
    You claim to believe that true professors are in “union with Christ” in a different way than false professors are in “union with Christ,” yet the only differences you can communicate are differences of duration or in some undefined “sense.” You believe this excuses you when you build a “Union with Christ” paradigm which repeatedly contradicts the confessions. When you are confronted, you simply claim that you don’t mean “union with Christ” in the same way the confessions mean it.
    [EOQ]

    From this you surmise that my “tone seems a little ornery now,” and later you say:

    “…Well, uh, no I don’t think it does…”
    and: “…Well, duh, of course that’s what I say…”
    and: “…Whatever.”

    I’m not sure if anything productive has yet come out of this exchange Xon, but based on these comments and the amount of repetition we are now engaged in, I am pretty sure that nothing more can. It’s about time I got back to my pre-Green Baggins life anyway!

  199. greenbaggins said,

    April 18, 2007 at 6:10 pm

    Oh, Andy, don’t go! I am enjoying this exchange immensely. And I think many others are as well.

  200. Todd said,

    April 18, 2007 at 6:22 pm

    Andy, I’d at least love to see you answer Xon’s questions from 196 before you take off.

  201. Xon said,

    April 18, 2007 at 10:35 pm

    Andy, I think the repetition is getting to both of us. I didn’t mean to come across as a jerk, but

    “…Well, uh, no I don’t think it does…”
    and: “…Well, duh, of course that’s what I say…”
    and: “…Whatever.”

    Well, when you put it that way…:-)

    Seriously, I apologize for not being more careful with my words. Please forgive me for this.

  202. Andy Gilman said,

    April 19, 2007 at 9:31 am

    I forgive you Xon. The “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” passage would definitely be appropos in this case! But I think the exchange has run its course, and now we would just be making additional laps around the track.

  203. Xon said,

    April 19, 2007 at 10:31 pm

    Thank you for your graciousness, Andy! I hate to be a bugger, though, but re-reading the more recent portion of this thread I cannot agree that we are just making additional laps around the track. Perhaps we are pretty close to that at this point, but I think that would depend more on how you answer my latest response to you. My careless words got us distracted with this forgiveness thing (and thanks again!), but it seems to me that there is still substantive stuff you could respond to if you wanted. I’m thinking particularly of #196, the first and fourth questions especially.

    Just my two cents…

  204. Xon said,

    April 19, 2007 at 10:41 pm

    In fact, Andy, I think I offered a good bit of stuff in #184 that you didn’t respond to because we got into a debate about whether my “sharp to human eyes” stuff (which was only a small part of #184) was a rabbit trail or not. For instance, in that comment (184) the whole vis/invis discussion we are having was boiled down in a nutshell, I think, in the following juxtaposed comments from each of us:

    Andy: The visible/invisible language makes a clear distinction between the two categories of people as they exist in the church, in the present.

    Xon’s response: A distinction which can be made just as clearly without using that language, though.

    This, it seems to me, is the center of our debate, and I’m not sure we’ve said all there is to say about this yet. But again, just my two cents.

  205. Deacon D.M. Kudlack said,

    March 15, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    Once the movement associated with Jesus Christ became organized enough to be a society, it was called “church.” It began to decide that certain standards of religious respectability was very important for the common good. The Pastoral Epistles, put stress on church structure and after the death of Paul the church continued thru Apostolicity.In Matthew (16:18) he says “my church” which indicates his faith according to Jesus’ standards .


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 342 other followers

%d bloggers like this: