Wilkins’s exam, part 6

In this post, we will be examining Doctrine of the Church, part 4. The question asked of Wilkins is this: “How would you distinguish between the benefits enjoyed by a (decretively) elect member of the visible Church and a reprobate member of the visible church who has not yet manifest his apostasy?”

I think this is a great question that really gets to the nub of the issue. How does one distinguish between the elect and the non-elect within the visible church?

Wilkins answers with a two-pronged answer. First, he says that the differences are qualitative. He says, “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 ‘justifiction is not the judgment he will receive from God at the last day.” However, if this is as far as he goes, then there is still trouble. What differentiates the elect person’s justification from the non-elect person’s justification? Essentially he says that they are different because they are different. He does not address the issue of whether or not the non-elect church member’s sins are forgiven, or whether he receives the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Notice that he gives absolutely zero Scriptural proof of such a “covenantal justification.” That is because there is no Scriptural proof of such a “justification.”

It seems to me that the real difference between the two seems to fall on the durative aspect, of which he treats next: “The elect person perseveres and remains in a state of grace until the end of his life. the non-elect believer (???) eventually forsakes the faith and falls away from the state of grace.” Now, there’s all sorts of ambiguity in this statement: 1. What does he mean by “non-elect believer?” Is there such a thing? 2. “falls from the state of grace” is very suspiciously Arminian. At least, he should have carefully defined the state of grace to be something utterly and completely distinct from the state of the decretally elect. 3. Given that he doesn’t really define the qualitative difference very well, and that the emphasis thus falls on the durative aspect, what really is the basis for the elect person’s final justification? Would it not be that which distinguishes him from the non-elect? In that case, it is the believer persevering that gets to final justification. Very problematic.

He gets a bit better on page 11, when he says “all covenant members are viewed and treated as elect, but also warned of the dangers of apostasy.” I definitely resonate with this. This is actually close to the judgment of charity. A pity that he didn’t see the implications of this statement when he talked about how Paul truthfully applies election to every member of the church.

He uses the example of Saul and David. His position is that “the biblical narrative itself draws no distinction between his initial experience of the Spirit and the experience of those who would obtain final salvation.” But he has not addressed the key question here: in what way did Saul receive the Spirit? Could it not have been more like Balaam than like David? Indeed we have twenty-twenty hindsight. The point may very well be that we might have a hard time distinguishing between the elect and the non-elect. But that is completely irrelevant as to what is actually happening in the lives of those people!

His statement (quoting the AAPC statement) regarding the distinction between the work of the Spirit in the reprobate and the nature of His work in the elect is pure junk. I’m sorry. There’s no other way to describe this. There is no explanation in Scripture about the difference between how the Spirit works in the reprobate and how it works in the elect?? How about regeneration, adoption, justification, sanctification and the entire ordo salutis?

Again, he gets a bit better when he says “Some members of the Church are ‘effectually’ (savingly) joined in union with Christ by faith while others are not.” But then he uses a highly ambiguous quotation from Leithart to support his contention: “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.” This is Leithart’s quote. I can’t get over the word “color.” What an amazing word! It says precisely nothing. It says nothing of the degree of grace given to reprobates. It allows the maximum amount of wiggle-room for anyone. Is it just me, or is this statement just about as unclear as it is possible to get?

One last problem with this section: “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.” He goes on to mention marriages that are determined by how they end. Now, there’s all sorts of problems with this formulation: the “slicing into a person’s life” is presumably looking at what really is the case. What is the degree of faith that they have? He is presuming to judge the faith of two people in this hypothesis. That means that he assumes that he is seeing the true nature of things. Fine. Since he is in the hypothetical, this procedure in and of itself doesn’t bother me at all. But what he says is crazy! “More living, more true, than that of the elect?” This is absolutely outrageous! Perish the thought that the strongest “unbelieving faith” could be one whit stronger than the weakest true believer’s faith. And what, pray, does “well-nigh indistinguishable” mean? Are they distinguishable or not? My guess is “not until the end.” Rubbish. If you were to look inside a backsliding Christian’s life and a hypocrite who is still in the church, and see the true nature of what they have, this is what you’d see: true living faith in the backslider, white-washed tomb in the unbeliever. Period.

30 Comments

  1. Josh said,

    January 3, 2007 at 5:04 pm

    I am so far behind on your posts, I think Ill never catch up. Is there any chance you have this entire series on one pdf or .doc ? If so, would you be kind enough to email it to me?

  2. greenbaggins said,

    January 3, 2007 at 5:05 pm

    Oops. Sorry, Josh. I will create an index for them. Will that work for you?

  3. Josh said,

    January 3, 2007 at 5:21 pm

    Sure thang, mack daddy !

  4. Josh said,

    January 3, 2007 at 5:22 pm

    thanks

  5. Todd said,

    January 3, 2007 at 5:53 pm

    “What does he mean by “non-elect believer?” Is there such a thing?”

    Only if it’s possible to believe in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:1-2: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.”

    ““falls from the state of grace” is very suspiciously Arminian. At least, he should have carefully defined the state of grace to be something utterly and completely distinct from the state of the decretally elect.”

    I’ve always thought of Galatians 5:4 as suspiciously Arminian: “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” At least, Paul should have carefully defined the state of grace to be something utterly and completely distinct from the state of the decretally elect.

  6. greenbaggins said,

    January 3, 2007 at 6:09 pm

    I can see that I’m going to have to post separately on Gal 5:4. So be patient, and I will answer it.

  7. markhorne said,

    January 3, 2007 at 6:57 pm

    His statement (quoting the AAPC statement) regarding the distinction between the work of the Spirit in the reprobate and the nature of His work in the elect is pure junk. I’m sorry. There’s no other way to describe this. There is no explanation in Scripture about the difference between how the Spirit works in the reprobate and how it works in the elect?? How about regeneration, adoption, justification, sanctification and the entire ordo salutis?
    ——————–
    You are indeed a great Bible scholar if you have found that the Scriptures say a great deal about personal regeneration. Please expound on all two of those passages so that we can learn from you. And Paul’s material on spouses and sanctification in 1 Corinthians 7 no doubt shows you are amply justified in showing that Wilkins is articulating “pure junk” for claiming that this might apply to both the elect and non-elect baptized professors.

    You are unbelievable.

  8. greenbaggins said,

    January 3, 2007 at 6:59 pm

    However, I will give you a brief answer here. Regarding “non-elect believer” it would be well for Wilkins to qualify what he means there. True faith? Or temporary and not-true faith? Why am I sensing that “well-nigh indistinguishable” really means “indistinguishable?”

    The problem I’m having with Wilkins is that he uses the very same phrase “state of grace” to describe the believer and also the one who is eventually reprobate. The first instance sees him state that the believer will persevere. The second instance sees him advocate the fall away from what appears to be *the very same state.* Therein lies the problem.

    Galatians 5:4 does not speak of a falling away from saving grace. It is a falling away from the communion of God’s people. I believe that is what “severed from Christ” means, as well: it means “‘circumcized’ away from Christ’s body, the church.” Circumcision is the entrance into the OT people of God, whereas now it has turned into the exit out of the people of God, since the only true entrance now is faith.

  9. greenbaggins said,

    January 3, 2007 at 7:03 pm

    BOQ You are indeed a great Bible scholar if you have found that the Scriptures say a great deal about personal regeneration. Please expound on all two of those passages so that we can learn from you. EOQ

    My claim was not that there was scads and scads of passages dealing with it, Mark. My claim was that Scripture does, in fact, expound the difference. This is gratuitous and unnecessary straw-manning, Mark.

    Wilkins expounds 1 Cor 7 where in this document?

    It is you who are unbelievable. These are not arguments, Mark. Substance, please.

  10. Josh said,

    January 3, 2007 at 7:14 pm

    GB, always the gentleman :-)

  11. Todd said,

    January 3, 2007 at 7:26 pm

    “Why am I sensing that “well-nigh indistinguishable” really means “indistinguishable?”

    It may be because you have committed yourself to putting the worst possible spin on most of what Wilkins says.

    “Galatians 5:4 does not speak of a falling away from saving grace. It is a falling away from the communion of God’s people.”

    If only Paul had said what he really meant!

  12. greenbaggins said,

    January 3, 2007 at 7:29 pm

    Reading motives, Todd? How do you know that I have committed myself to doing that? When I see something wrong, I say it. It doesn’t do much for your saying that when I also mention those parts of Wilkins with which I agree.

    Why didn’t you interact with my argumentation about what circumcision means (it is always tied to the God’s visible people) and the allusion in verse 4 to circumcision in the severing from Christ? Interact, please, rather than simply assert that this wasn’t what Paul was saying.

  13. Todd said,

    January 3, 2007 at 7:34 pm

    “I believe that is what “severed from Christ” means, as well: it means “‘circumcized’ away from Christ’s body, the church.” Circumcision is the entrance into the OT people of God, whereas now it has turned into the exit out of the people of God, since the only true entrance now is faith.”

    Not baptism?

  14. Todd said,

    January 3, 2007 at 7:38 pm

    In Galatians 5:1-6, which of the other references to Christ actually refer to the church?

  15. greenbaggins said,

    January 3, 2007 at 8:23 pm

    Well, baptism (the sign) into the visible church, faith (the thing signified) into the invisible church.

    In Galatians 5, I would say that verse 4 is definitely the church, whereas verse 6 might be (but I doubt it).

  16. Todd said,

    January 3, 2007 at 8:42 pm

    “Well, baptism (the sign) into the visible church, faith (the thing signified) into the invisible church.”

    Then were you equivocating on the meaning of “people of God” in this statement? “Circumcision is the entrance into the OT people of God, whereas now it has turned into the exit out of the people of God, since the only true entrance now is faith.”

    And since when did baptism signify faith?

    “In Galatians 5, I would say that verse 4 is definitely the church, whereas verse 6 might be (but I doubt it).”

    So in four occurrences of the word “Christ,” it means Jesus three times and the church once?

    Why can’t verse 4 be a reference to covenantal/common union with Christ?

  17. pduggie said,

    January 3, 2007 at 9:15 pm

    Its not improper to note that God frequently forgives sins of people without saving them to all eternity. There is the parable of the unjust steward, the examples of the prayers of Jesus on the cross (which God answered) and the prayer of Stephen (which we can presume God answered).

    There is also the quire shocking example of God forgiving Ahab when he displayed contrition.

    So why should it be supposing that God forgives the sins of those who put their faith in Christ for a season. Synchronically, they are forgiven, though diachronicly they won’t be forgiven forever, and their forgiveness does not encompass a final acquittal.

  18. pduggie said,

    January 3, 2007 at 9:19 pm

    “His position is that “the biblical narrative itself draws no distinction between his initial experience of the Spirit and the experience of those who would obtain final salvation.” But he has not addressed the key question here: in what way did Saul receive the Spirit? Could it not have been more like Balaam than like David? Indeed we have twenty-twenty hindsight. The point may very well be that we might have a hard time distinguishing between the elect and the non-elect.”

    No, I think his point is that the Bible is unintertested in always distinguishing between the elect and non-elect when discussing what the Spirit does in their lives. This might be a clue that we’re not supposed to make it the center of our theology, and that there might be benefits in doing so.

  19. pduggie said,

    January 3, 2007 at 9:24 pm

    “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.” He goes on to mention marriages that are determined by how they end. Now, there’s all sorts of problems with this formulation: the “slicing into a person’s life” is presumably looking at what really is the case. What is the degree of faith that they have? He is presuming to judge the faith of two people in this hypothesis. That means that he assumes that he is seeing the true nature of things. Fine. Since he is in the hypothetical, this procedure in and of itself doesn’t bother me at all. But what he says is crazy! “More living, more true, than that of the elect?” This is absolutely outrageous!”

    Lane, I have to say, you “just don’t get it” here. Go call up Joel garver and ask him to explain the difference bewteen synchonic approaches to ontology and diachonic ones, and explain narratology along the way. He’ll make it easy to understand.

    The man said he believes “nature is determied by its ends”. Slicing into the moment IS NOT the “true” nature of things, though one can make evaluations of it (greater and lesser).

  20. greenbaggins said,

    January 3, 2007 at 9:48 pm

    Paul, why don’t you get Joel to comment over here? I’d love to talk it over with him. I don’t think that the distinctions you are wanting to make are really relevant to the issue at hand, but I’m certainly willing to listen to him.

    I’m not making the distinction between the elect and the non-elect the center of my theology. I’m fairly sure that this is just rhetoric to make a point. However, it would be nice if you made that clear.

    I’ll respond to Todd tomorrow, as I have to go now.

  21. pduggie said,

    January 3, 2007 at 10:24 pm

    Joel writes

    “For instance, with regard to something like “true faith,” perhaps part of the difficulty is that faith must be viewed in its diachronic dimension, where “true faith” is by nature “persevering faith.” Speaking phenomenologically (in terms of feeling and experience) and synchronically (at one particular moment), “true faith” and “temporary faith” may be indistinguishable, though ontologically and diachronically they are distinct (compare WCF 18.1 on assurance). That is to say, the nature of faith, ontologically speaking, is distinguished in part by what it ultimately does – whether it perseveres or withers away.

    Sometimes Scripture speaks in terms of what is true phenomenologically, synchronically, sacramentally, conditionally, externally, or otherwise. And that language can end up being conflated easily enough (even if mistakenly) with what is true ontologically, diachronically, effectually, absolutely, internally, and so on. As in any area of human knowing and thinking, experience and reflection will result in various qualifications.

    Of course, what is most important is the pastoral question of how these theological distinctions translate into pastoral practice, but that is largely beyond the scope of these present remarks, except to echo the Westminster Confession’s emphasis, in connection with election, on “attending the will of God revealed in his Word” (3.8). It is through the public administration of the covenant of grace within the church visible that faith savingly finds Christ as the one we trustingly receive and upon whom our faith rests. Moreover, the church’s judgment of charity is one that emerges from how the covenant is publicly administered.

  22. pduggie said,

    January 3, 2007 at 10:30 pm

    Yes, sorry to have accues you of making election the center of your theology. But in making it the “key question” w.r.t. Saul, you’re just gainsaying Wilkin’s point, which is that it’s NOT the key question for the Author of the biblical text.

  23. markhorne said,

    January 4, 2007 at 12:31 am

    Sorry I’m not communicating Lane.

    Regeneration is used exactly twice in Scripture, once for the day of judgment and once for something related somehow to baptism but not in a way that can give anyone a definitive doctrine of regeneration: yet you condemned Wilkins for ignoring the clear teaching of scripture.

    1 Cor 7 explicitly uses the term “sanctified” to describe unbelievers. Yet you claim without argument, and with incredibly pejorative language about Steve, that the clear teaching os Scripture is that only the regenerate elect are sanctified. The issue is not what Steve expounded but what you claim that Scripture teaches.

  24. matt said,

    January 4, 2007 at 9:03 am

    As was said, “Lane, I have to say, you “just don’t get it” here.” No, Lane does get it. He just doesn’t want to grant ANY point toward admitting that things could be understood this way. He chooses division and will do anything to maintain it. He definitely doesn’t hold a primacy of the NPP emphasis of Jew/Gentile relations in the covenant community–or christian/christian for that matter.

    Ditto Mark. Lane you are unbelieveable.

  25. greenbaggins said,

    January 4, 2007 at 10:17 am

    Paul, what does Joel’s qualification “in part” mean when he defines faith? I’m referring to the “distinguished in part” bit. I can agree that there is certainly a diachronic element that distinguishes true from false faith. But this is merely to say that true faith perseveres, isn’t it? But that is not the only difference between true and false faith. True faith has Christ as its object, both His person as Lord and Savior, and His righteousness as covering us over. False faith does not have that. True faith justifies (instrumentally, of course); false faith does not. True faith is not ultimately distracted by the cares of the world; false faith is.

    Mark, you are engaging in the word-concept fallacy. What about John 3? Ezekiel 37? Romans 8? Eph 2? Reread the section in the WCF on effectual calling (the index says “see effectual calling” when looking up regeneration). Just about all of those proof-texts speak of the concept of regeneration, even if the word is not always present.

    Mark, you are also equivocating on the term “hagiazo.” Do you really expect me to believe that it is being used in 1 Cor 7 in the same way that it is used of believers in 1 Cor 1:30 or other places that speak of progressive sanctification? In this case, it is essential to define the terms and how they are being used. Wilkins simply does not define his terms.

    Matt, thank you for the vote of confidence in my intelligence. I have to wonder sometimes…I have never accused any FV person of being stupid, though I have often called their teachings foolish (or the equivalent).

    You are right. I give not one inch of Reformation ground. If that is unbelievable, then I am perfectly willing to be so.

  26. January 4, 2007 at 11:53 am

    temporary faith might not be fully understood as “false faith”. We’re not talking about hypocracy when we’re discussing temporary faith, for isntance.

    It’s an illdefined concept in the reformed world, probably because it has repercussions if you define it in to detailed a way.

    “True faith is not ultimately distracted by the cares of the world; false faith is”

    Note the diachronic character of your distinction. True faith can have its exercize halted, though not forever. How does it look then compared to false faith not yet distratced?

  27. greenbaggins said,

    January 4, 2007 at 12:18 pm

    I am perfectly willing (as I have already said) to admit that *some* of the differences are diachronic. But how can the difference between true belief in Christ versus false “faith” that doesn’t really believe in Christ be diachronic? They are of two completely different natures with regard to their *object.* By “object” here I do not mean their final goal, but rather “in whom the faith is resting.” An analogy might be to compare Christian faith with faith in Buddha. Are they not of completely different character? That is surely not a diachronic distinction only (though surely people will not believe in Buddha when they die!) but also a synchronic distinction. The same is true of Christian faith versus faith in oneself, or faith in a mirage of Jesus, etc. They are of synchronically different and diachronically different character.

  28. Todd said,

    January 4, 2007 at 1:16 pm

    Lane, any response to my questions in #16? You promised…

  29. pduggie said,

    January 4, 2007 at 1:34 pm

    Y’know, we tell people all the time to “stop putting their trust in idols and trust Jesus”. That implies we think they are taking their capacity and turning it from one object to the other object. temporary and true faith both have the same object, I’d think.

    The stony-ground believers “receive THE WORD with gladness”, which is the same word the preacher preached to the good soil.

    Look, this is complex and ill-defined stuff. But does it mean that we should call the views of someone with difference from your views on it “rubbish”? That’s more important here.

  30. markhorne said,

    January 4, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    Lane, the point here is whether it is obvious that a slew of words are only supposed to only apply to the elect in any sense. You’ve said that Wilkins’ statement is “pure junk.” But the prima facie evidence is all pointed the other way.

    This is precisely what attracts people. They get handed their Bibles rather than volumes of history and dogmatics.


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