Part 2 of the interview with one of the prosecutors in Meyers’ Federal Vision Trial

Posted by Bob Mattes

Dr. R. Scott Clark has posted Part 2 of his excellent interview of TE M. Jay Bennett on the TE Meyers’ Federal Vision trial. In case you missed Part 1, you can find it here. As you might expect, the two flow together.

Part 2 delves a bit more into the unseemly manoeuvring by TE Meyers and his friends in Missouri Presbytery (MOP) to limit the prosecution’s ability to function in accordance with the PCA Book of Church Order. The actions explained by TE Bennett severely hampered the prosecution, whilst providing easy avenues for the defense to “run out the clock”. The transcripts make the tactics obvious even after the fact. Given the magnitude of the issues at stake, the prosecution should have been given both adequate time to prepare and present its case. It was not.

I commented in this post about my involvement as a prosecution witness in the case. In light of TE Bennett’s comments on his cross-examination of TE Meyers, I need to point out that I was not present for that cross because I had to catch my flight home. So, I want to make it clear that my previous post should take nothing away from TE Bennett’s observations about his cross-examination of TE Meyers.

So, where does all this leave us in the PCA? Certainly, there are presbyteries like Missouri, Pacific Northwest, Siouxlands, and perhaps a few others in which faithful officers cannot recommend churches to inquirers without personally knowing individual pastors who are orthodox and confessional. It also means that transferees from said presbyteries must be carefully examined in detail for their views. We saw that with Lusk when he tried to transfer to Evangel Presbytery a few years ago, and Leithart most recently. Though Leithart has not yet been examined, his work out of bounds teaching Federal Vision doctrine in Evangel’s geographic area has been rejected in accordance with the BCO. Faithful presbyteries must be on the watch and guard their flocks from FV wolves.

Dr. Clark’s excellent post on the parallels between Federal Visionists today and Arminians in the Reformed church centuries ago captures this watchfulness issue well. While the Federal Visionists deny on one hand that they hold aberrant views, they openly teach them outside of the view of the PCA courts. Although Meyers, Leithart, et al, remain “in good standing” in the PCA just as James Arminius did in the Dutch church in his day, they would not and should not be welcome in many if not most pulpits in the PCA or should they be permitted to spread their poison at General Assembly seminars. If confessional elders would not invite Arminius or Pelagius into their pulpits, then how could they in faithfulness to their vows invite a Federal Visionist? They cannot.

Confessional, orthodox Reformed elders in the PCA must stay diligent and informed in these trying times until we can change the BCO to correct these recent travesties. In the meantime, although we cannot at this moment directly treat the cancer in some presbyteries, we can and must contain the disease.

Posted by Bob Mattes

Hebrews and Real Warnings

by Reed DePace

This evening a friend sent me a link to an excellent article on the warning passages of Hebrews (found here). In the article Colin Hansen of the Gospel Coalition Q&A’s Dr. Peter O’Brien (Professor Emeritus, Moore College, Sydney, Australia). Dr. O’Brien provides an exceptional explanation, demonstrating that the key issue is between real faith and spurious faith.

Real faith is described at that which perseveres in adherence to and reliance on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Spurious faith is described as that which knowingly rejects sole reliance on Christ and returns to some form of self-reliance (in the case of Hebrews, expressed via the Mosaic system).

O’Brien’s description of spurious faith is consistent with the idea of temporary faith discussed here in the past at length.

This article deserves your attention.

Posted by Reed DePace (H/T: Dr. R. Fowler White)

It Comes Down to This

by Reed DePace

It seems to me that the results of the Meyers, Lawrence and Leithart matters have the effect of focusing the issues involved. In all three situations Presbyteries have concluded that teachings which appear consistent with FV teachings denounced by the PCA Study Report are in fact not out of accord with our doctrinal standards.

The common threads seem to be that each of these men:

1. Affirms the Westminster Standards (WS), and
2. Their teachings in question do not contradict the WS, and
3. [Therefore] their teachings do not conflict with the PCA FV Study Report.

The rationale that seems to logically support these conclusions centers is the claim that the teachings in question are only about the benefits of salvation which the reprobate church member receives. As this is not (supposedly) something addressed by the WS (which only addresses the benefits received by the decretally elect), therefore these teachings do not conflict with our standards. E.g., this is usually heard in the FV claim to be speaking about salvation (or any other ordo salutis benefit) in different way than the WS, but in a way that the Bible also speaks.

I’m thinking that this is pretty much the heart of the rationale rested upon by the presbyters in three presbyteries when they decided to find these men “not guilty” (in the case of Lawrence and Leithart explicitly, Meyers implicitly). That is, this argument for the defense sounds both reasonable and biblical to the men tasked with determining whether or not these men’s teachings are out of accord with the WS.

If I’m right, then it comes down to this,

Does the Bible teach a secondary way of salvation, a way of salvation that is experienced by the reprobate church member that is parallel but different in terms of duration than the way of salvation experienced by the decretally elect?

If yes, then the FV is not out of accord with the WS? If no, then it is.

It would seem to me that future efforts to demonstrate the biblical errors of these teachings must deal with this dual salvation scheme. It must deal with demonstrating that this is not the biblical teaching. It will not suffice to argue exclusively from the WS, as men teaching these things can simply respond, “amen, and also …” It must be shown that the Bible does not support the FV’ers parallel secondary way of salvation for the reprobate church member.

If this can be shown then the elders having to make the judgments in these matters will be greatly supported.

Well?

By Reed DePace

Pacific Northwest: Peter Leithart is not guilty

The decision in the Peter Leithart case is in. You can read the details at The Aquila Report here. Pacific Northwest exonerated TE Peter Leithart of all theological error.

I testified at the trial, and I would highly recommend that you read my testimony. You can download it here.

Here are a few highlights from my testimony:

  1. Statement [from Leithart's book Priesthood of the Plebs]: “Applied to baptism, then, our typology leads to a doctrine of ‘baptismal regeneration.’” What he means by this is explained on p. 169, where he writes “Baptism irreversibly plants my story in the story of the church, for even if I renounce her, my renunciation is part of her history.”

    Comment: Clearly, Leithart desires to diminish the distinction between outer and inner in the Christian life. The objective and the subjective become less relevant distinctions in Leithart’s theology. This is how he can argue for a form of baptismal regeneration.

    Further explanation is on page 170, where he says “Operative ceremonies, thus, by placing us in new roles, vesting us with new clothes, and imposing new sets of obligations and rules, effect an ‘ontological’ transformation, a change in who we are, who we think we are, and who others think we are. Baptism clothes us as priests, and these clothes remake the man. (par. break, LK) Having cleared some ground, we can return more explicitly to our typology to show that it implies a theological, not a reductively sociological, view of baptismal regeneration.” Later, he will say “The baptized is no longer regarded as ‘stranger’ but born again as a ‘son of the house.’” And again, on p. 171, “Baptism into the ecclesial priesthood that is the house therefore also confers the arrabon of the Spirit.” Finally, he says that “as baptism authorizes and deputizes to such ministry, it grants a share in the life of salvation.”

    Comment: One really cannot have clearer statements than these: baptism confers at the time point of its administration, saving benefits. The rite is not viewed by Leithart as having a confirmatory significance. Leithart relocates the efficacy of the rite by tying the Holy Spirit to the moment of baptism.

  2. Statement [from Leithart's book Priesthood of the Plebs]: “Far from being reductionist, this typology and the framework extrapolated from it permits a richer and stronger affirmation of the objectivity of baptismal grace than found in traditional sacramental theology, which has hesitated to affirm that baptism confers grace ex opere operato….If grace is the favor of God manifested in the bestowal of favors, then baptism is and confers grace: the grace of a standing in the house of God, the grace of membership in the community of the reconciled, the grace of immersion in the history of the bride of Christ, the grace of God’s favorable regard upon us. It would be churlish to complain that it does not also guarantee perseverance. (par. break, LK) Objections may, however, arise from a different quarter. Thus far I have used ‘regeneration’ in the traditional sense of individual transformation.”

    Comment: a number of things are important here: 1. He does not hesitate, unlike traditional sacramental theology, to affirm that baptism works ex opere operato. 2. When baptism confers regeneration, Leithart has meant it in the usual sense of individual transformation. 3. Leithart grants that baptism does not guarantee perseverance. So baptism confers regeneration, but this regeneration, though used in the normal sense, does not guarantee perseverance. There are many problems with this, confessionally. If a person is regenerated in the normal sense, he cannot lose that regeneration. This is basic Calvinism. Secondly, no sacrament works ex opere operato. As we have seen in our exposition of the WS, not everyone receives the grace offered, and not everyone receives it at the time-point of its administration. It is rather the Holy Spirit who gives faith that effects the thing signified. The general drift of Leithart’s work here is to eliminate altogether the distinction between signum-res, and he believes that his typology of OT priesthood is what allows him to do this.

  3. Statements [from Leithart’s book Against Christianity: “Baptism forms as well as symbolizes the new city of God. Through baptism, all sorts and conditions of men are made members of one body and become citizens of a single community…The Reformers cut through the lush overgrowth of subordinate rituals that had clustered around baptism and reduced the rite to its biblical form―a sprinkling with water. That was right and proper. Yet, most of those sub-rites presented the truth about the event of baptism: it really is a renunciation of the world, a deliverance from the domain of Satan into the domain of Christ, an investiture with royal and priestly garments.”

    Comment: The Confession puts these effects down to effectual calling (WCF 10) and justification (WCF 11, cf. Zechariah 3, a picture of justification if ever there was one, especially as it echoes the garments God made for Adam and Eve in Genesis 3).

An Imaginary Conversation?

Posted by Reed DePace

Wes White has an excellent follow up post to a recent post on an imaginary conversation between a member of an FV congregation and an FV pastor. In this post, Wes provides the beginnings of the documentation that his imaginary conversation is not so imaginary.

As one of my driving concerns in this whole discussion continues to be the effect of the FV on the average Christian, I am grateful for Wes’ work. I urge all who are FV sympathetic to not simply read the proof of the imaginary conversation that Wes provides, but put yourselves in the shoes of the laymen sitting under this.

I am even more convinced that the FV is harmful to a Christian’s relationship with Christ.

Leithart “potentially” Out of Accord

The SJC has affirmed its panel’s finding that there is a strong presumption that Rev. Dr. Peter Leithart is out of accord with the Westminster Standards (in regards to the matters investigated.) Accordingly, the Presbytery of the NorthWest is ordered to follow through with a proper BCO investigation.

See Rev. Jason Stellman’s, one of the original complainants, comments here.

The SJC ruling can be downloaded here. I note that the record of the vote demonstrates there was little disagreement as to the rightness of the finding (17 concur, 2 dissenting, with no minority report to be filed.)

I particularly appreciate declaration no. 6 from the decision: “6) The view that water baptism effects a “covenantal union” with Christ through which each baptized persons receives the saving benefits of Christ’s mediation, including regeneration, justification, and sanctification, thus creating a parallel soteriological system to the decretal system of the Westminster Standards, is contrary to the Westminster Standards.”

I think the SJC has done a good job of both fairly representing the FV and succinctly defining the problematic nature. The parallel “covenant” soteriological system is contrary to the Standards, and I might add, to the Scriptures.

I affirm and echo Jason’s sadness and prayers for a resolution other than a trial. Church discipline procedes by degrees because at each step of the way it is an expression of faith, pleading for the Spirit to lead an erring brother to repentance.

This is my prayer. It has happened before.

Posted by TE Reed DePace

Sacramental Union/Sealing: Another FV Dilemma

Commenting on Wes’ Part IV post of Lane’s Reply to TE’s Moon and Lawrence , I (Reed DePace) posted some comments that the FV demonstrates some weaknesses in terms of its understanding of both sacramental union and sealing in baptism. Let me explain a little more what I mean.

Sacramental Union: there is a spiritual relation between the sign of the sacrament and the thing to which the sign points, such that the sign can be used a shorthand for the thing. Sealing: the sign is used as a seal that confirms the grace in view, and in this way strengthens the possession of that grace. These biblical nuances are essential for distinguishing between the sign (water) and the thing (grace in view). Note that in both of these the Spirit is the critical component. He is the union in the spiritual relation between the sign of water and the grace in view in baptism. The Spirit is the Effector in the seal (Eph 1:13-14).

The FV will affirm both sacramental union and the sealing function in baptism. Yet it seems to not quite understand the nature of the Spirit’s role in these. This leads to at least the appearance of baptismal regeneration and ex opera operata in the FV’s system. The FV is not susceptible to these charges on the basis of its decretally based understanding of baptism (tier-one of Lane’s two-tier analogy). At this level the FV maintains the critical reformed nuances that biblically avoid these errors.

Yet the FV also proposes a covenantal based understanding of baptism (tier-two of Lane’s analogy). The FV argues that whenever baptism is administered it always results in the reception of an experience of the benefits of the covenant of grace. This, at the very least, gives a strong appearance of a form of baptismal regeneration/ex opera operata understanding for the water rite of baptism.

The FV may argue that these errors are not in view because the Spirit is understood as the One Who effects the reception of these covenantal benefits. Yet bring into view that these benefits, as formulated by the FV, are a variation of inward spiritually transformative ordo salutis benefits. They are not merely outward, external, only applicable to an unregenerate man. E.g., the FV’s notion of covenantal union with Christ means that the person really and truly participates a spiritually transformative experience.

To be consistent then the FV must argue for a covenantal version of the sealing function for baptism. This may not be a problem for some FV’ers, as it is logically consistent with the two-tier, dual system it proposes. Yet it will be hard (impossible in my view) for the FV to demonstrate that when the Bible speaks of the sealing function it speaks dually, decretally and covenantally. Just take a read of the primary sealing passage, Eph 1. It is only with an a priori decision to read this chapter covenantally that one can miss that it demands an exclusive decretal reading.

Of course, if the FV is willing to forgo a dual sealing function in baptism, then it faces a dilemma. If the covenantal benefits (FV defined as inward, spiritually transformative), that are purportedly effected by baptism, are not the result of the Spirit’s sealing work, then the only option available is that the water rite itself is the source of the sealing effect. Yet this is a form of baptismal regeneration/ex opera operata.

Posted by TE Reed DePace

At Least Kissing Cousins

By TE Reed DePace

It is not fair to say that the Federal Vision is Arminianism. That is, the FV is not simply an expression of Arminian doctrine. Nor is it fair to say that the FV is a child of Arminianism. The FV arguments do not grow out of Arminian formulations. Nor, do I think, we can say that the FV is even a sibling of Arminianism. The FV does not end up proposing simply a variation of Arminianism.

Yet many critics have noted that the Federal Vision and Arminianism share some characteristics. In the past I believe I even may have used the phrase “sibling” to try to describe how close these similarities run. After some more thinking about this, I do find myself sympathetic to FV supporters who take offense at such comparisons. And I do regret and repent of any over statements on my part. I’ve not intended to offer rhetorical offense for the sake of making a point. To whatever degree my words in the past have lent themselves to that end, I am sorry.

Still, I do see the similarities between the Federal Vision and Arminianism. I do wish FV supporters would take seriously such concerns, and not react in theological horror at being associated with a form of doctrine we all agree is defective at best. In an effort to help FV supporters at least appreciate the concern here, I want to make a few observations.

The Federal Vision in effect proposes that the Church has before it a two-dimensional scheme, one decretal and the other covenantal. Without trying to work out all the existential niceties, the FV understands the decretal dimension to be that of God’s existence. It has real substance in reality in that it is real spiritually. Yet this dimension by its nature is objectively unknowable. That is, it cannot be known through the use of ordinary natural senses.

The FV understands the covenantal dimension to be that of the Church’s existence. It too has real substance in reality in that it is real materially. This dimension is objectively knowable, in that it is the dimension of ordinary natural experience.

Both these dimensions, according to the FV, have their own expression of the ordo salutis. These are not to be understood as the same, although they are essentially analogous (perseverance not being a part of the covenantal dimension). Both of these ordo saluti are ministries of the Holy Spirit. Both are to be understood as having real substance, albeit in their own dimension.

The critical difference between these ordo saluti in their respective dimensions is one of permanence. The decretal dimension offers an ordo salutis that is eternal, never to be lost. The covenantal dimension offers an ordo salutis that is transitory, potentially losable.

It is in this that we see the key comparison to Arminianism. From the decretal dimension, FV supporters rightly maintain that the FV is not Arminian(-like). The FV is clear that only the elect partake of the reality of the decretal dimension, and that this can never be lost.

However, with regard to the covenantal dimension this is not the case. The ordo salutis in this dimension can be lost (albeit only by the reprobate). And this is effectively the same thing that is said by Arminianism.

So, from the viewpoint of the decretal dimension, the FV is not Arminian(-like) at all. Yet from the viewpoint of the covenantal dimension, the FV proposes a system of salvation that is effectively the same as Arminianism. They may not be structured exactly the same, but they share the same essential “losable” characteristic. In the FV scheme of things, the Spirit ministers an eternally secure decretal ordo salutis to the elect and He ministers a losable covenantal salutis to the reprobate.

This two-dimensional scheme might be nothing more than cumbersome if it were not for the FV’s insistence that the decretal dimension is largely irrelevant to the professing believer’s day to day life. Objectively unknowable, the decretal dimension offers some vague assurances. Yet if one wants a real grip on assurance, according to the FV, one needs to look at his experience of the covenantal ordo salutis (e.g., his participation in the baptism ritual, and/or his day to day faithfulness-obedience.) In that this covenantal dimension is not really secure, this is a weak basis for assurance at best.

So no, the Federal Vision and Arminianism are not members of the same immediately family. To maintain this is to overspeak. But these systems do share a significant similarity, one that is dominant in their ministry of the gospel. Thus, maybe it is better to call the Federal Vision and Arminianism kissing cousins.

By TE Reed DePace

Do We Really Want Peace?

All:

We pray for the peace and purity of Christ’s Church. It is clear that the substantial divide between those for and those opposed to the FV has not narrowed. Accordingly, how do we who profess the sovereignty of God in all things, express our faith in that belief in these circumstances?

Those in favor of the FV believe it to be a blessing and benefit in an era of the Church where weaknesses and errors abound. They put forth the FV as both correction and balm for these errors. As well, they profess their position in complete keeping with the various reformed standards of their respective denominations. For both (their adherence to the FV and their affirmation of their standards consistency), they do so with sincerity.

Those opposed to the FV do not disagree with their FV brethren as to the presence of great weakness and errors in Christ’s Church in this land. Yet they believe the FV is tainted medicine, a cure worse than the illness. As well, they believe, after at some length listening to and discussing with their FV brethren, that not only is the FV in disagreement with the reformed standards, it is unbiblical.

So what’s to be done?

Those in favor of the FV insist that those opposed are not listening (or worse). They say their positions are at best misunderstood. They say their opponents are themselves both being too narrow with the reformed standards and the Bible itself. Yet, to date, no amount of conversation has persuaded their brethren that this is true.

Even more significant to the question of this thread – note that the Sovereign God has not done anything to effectually persuade and convince those opposed to the FV that their pro FV brethren are correct. Surely the FV men have prayed to this end. God has answered: either NO, or Not Yet.

Those opposed to the FV insist that those in favor are not listening (or worse). They say their FV brethren are at best muddling and confusing the sheep with their innovative doctrine. They say the FV’ers are distorting, even contradicting the Bible, let alone the reformed standards.

Even more significant to the question of this thread – is God ruling His Church, or have a bunch of renegades kicked the Father, Jesus and the Spirit out to the curb?

To date, operating by faith via their promises to Christ in their ordination vows, the elders of six (seven?) reformed denominations have formally declared that the FV is out of bounds with the Scriptures. In the PCA, despite relentless recriminations against the integrity and character of its elders by some in the FV camp who have spoken rashly, the elders have moved deliberately and carefully towards seeking God to answer their convictions concerning the FV. They have sought to recover brethren they believe are in dangerous error.

Those in favor of the FV may not like it. They may not agree with it as things stand. They are right to remind us all that Church councils can, do, and have erred.

Yet they need to seriously consider how God is answering their prayers.

It appears that the report concerning AAPC (and Rev. Wilkins) leaving the PCA is true. While not the desired action, given the impasse which we find ourselves concerning the FV, I applaud this congregation’s action. What else can men of sincere profession do when faced with such differing convictions?

Hear me carefully brothers and sisters. I am not saying good riddance, a pox on your house and those in it, to the AAPC, or to any FV persuaded brother (I speak from the judgment of charity). I speak from a deep conviction that God does rule His Church and He has shown His will in these circumstances.

I have no right to force my convictions down your throat FV brother. I have no right to silence you in your pulpit, to still you in your pew, from believing what you choose to believe. Your conscience is sacrosanct before our Father and I respect that.

And so is my conscience sacrosanct. You have no right to force your FV conviction down my throat. You have no right to insist that I keep my opposition to what I believe is deadly error silent; to keep me from expressing my faith in the form of church government to which I’ve given my vows. My conscience is likewise sacrosanct before our Father.

Will you respect that? Will you see how God is answering at present and join hands with me to find a path to peace? Will you seek to respect and honor my right to bear my conscious before God, as I seek to respect, even defend your’s?

What other course is open before us but the path the AAPC has (apparently) taken? I admit wishing in providence that this path had been taken sooner. Yet I am willing to be at peace that this now is God’s timing.

What I am asking of you FV brethren?

I am asking you to end the fighting. I am asking you to see that we your brothers cannot be persuaded by you, that you are right about the FV. I am asking you to express your faith in God’s sovereignty by choosing to pursue peace with us. I am asking you to prayerfully and seriously consider if now is not God’s providential timing for you as well.

I am not saying to end a proper – HUMBLE – discussion with us. I am saying that if I were in your shoes, with a conviction of God’s sovereignty in the rule of His Church, and six (seven) denominations finding that the FV is biblically consistent (rather than in error), then I would be taking my own advice to you and seriously considering finding another place to exercise my convictions without unneeded intrusions on my conscious, and without continually disturbing the peace of other sheep.

Do you really want peace? Do you really want to get back to pursuing the first things, the proclamation of the good news of our Savior?

Consider whether or not now is time to withdraw, to withdraw only until such time as God in His providence: persuades us, persuades you, or persuades us both of something better.

With prayers for His rich and full mercy and grace in Christ to be your’s evermore,

Reed DePace

TE, PCA

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 349 other followers