Score One For Scott

Notae Ecclesiae

It’s a pity that Wilson never lets us know what he thinks about anything. :-) I have a question for him, though. Wilson was examined by his presbytery on many issues related to the Federal Vision. Now, I am not familiar with the makeup of his presbytery, but here is my question: did Wilson invite TR’s to his examination? Of course, Wilson was not on trial. He wanted to do this to show people where he stood on certain issues. But did he feel compelled to invite TR’s to his examination, to insure that all points of view were represented in the questioning? Of course, we must ask the question, are there any TR’s in the CREC? If there are not, then two conclusions must result. The first is that Wilson was not required to invite any TR’s to his exam. But the second, equally important conclusion, is this question: how convincing has the examination been to the TR’s, who think that the CREC is basically a rubber-stamping outfit? Now, let me be clear. I am not well-enough aware of the makeup of the CREC to say that myself. In other words, I do not claim that the CREC is a rubber-stamp outfit. However, the question asked above is a valid question. Let me be clear on this point as well: I am not accusing Wilson of hypocrisy. Rather, I am asking whether he is being consistent on this point. I have no desire to continue talking about the makeup of the committee. Wilson can have all the last word(s) his heart desires. I will only say this logical syllogism: if the PCA as a whole thought that the “stacked” deck (to grant Wilson’s point for the moment, though I disagree with him here) seriously affected the accuracy of the report, they would not have approved the report. This, to my mind, was the entire issue of the discussion surrounding Novenson’s proposal. Novenson wanted a more accurate report. He felt that the addition of two more members to the study committee sympathetic to the FV would produce a more accurate report. Obviously, the majority of the PCA disagreed with him.

And really, the question of whether the committee was stacked is a distinct question from whether the nature of the committee affected the accuracy of the outcome. The committee acknowledged its mistake in the Wilson quotation by removing the inaccuracy.  The committee felt itself to be on solid ground with regard to the rest of the report. One further point bears mentioning. By submitting the report to the internet, and listening carefully to the FV responses (and believe you me, they did listen very carefully to the FV responses!), the committee was able to test its conclusions against the reaction of the FV guys. So, in reality, though no FV men were on the committee, they still had plenty of chances to prove their point on the internet before GA. The report as it stands now would therefore be no different if there had been FV guys on the committee. The difference is that there would have been a minority report. And, given the nature of the vote at GA, is there really any doubt as to which report would have won out in the end? I respect Wilson quite a bit. I have never tried to use rhetoric against him. Therefore, I hope that these honest questions and points will attain a fair hearing with him. He has nothing to lose by considering whether these argument have any weight. I have no wish to antagonize him, especially since our conversation on the blogs seems to be benefitting people. At least, most of the responses I have received (from both sides, amazingly enough!) has been generally positive. Let’s keep that going. There is therefore no need for Wilson to use mockery in response to this blog-post. I hope he will not.

That being said, let’s move on to the next chapter of RINE. This chapter is concerned with the marks of the church (pg. 79). He discusses the Word, Sacrament, and discipline. He seems to take Calvin’s view on the place of discipline: not a mark, but exceedingly important, nevertheless. I like this statement: “A Church with no discipline is a Church with no immune system” (p. 80). I am not sure that the over-emphasis of discipline constitutes a reason to reject discipline as being a mark of the church (Wilson, in so doing, is not undervaluing discipline: he says that discipline is a matter of the well-being of the church, not of the being of the church). I was a tad puzzled by this statement: “In other words, lack of discipline will bring about a collapse soon enough but is not to be identified with that collapse” (p. 81). If he has just said that discipline constitutes the immune system of the church, then wouldn’t the lack thereof be very similar to AIDS? AIDS kills the person if no other disease takes the person first. AIDS then would constitute the collapse of the person, whether by first or by secondary causes. I realize, of course, that other factors often do contribute to the downfall of a church.

One other question I have for Wilson is this: when he affirms nulla salus extra ecclesiam (no salvation outside the church), does he allow for exceptions to this rule? As Wilson has previously agreed that someone can be in the church but not of the church, so is it not also possible to be outside the church, and yet have eternal life? I am thinking here of the discussion on baptism in WCF 28.5: if baptism is the mark of someone belonging to the church, and yet someone can be regenerated without that sign, then surely it follows that someone can be regenerated, and be part of the invisible church without being part of the visible church.

A Conversion Experience

Shawn Roberson has given me permission to post his experience with the Federal Vision. It is a wonderful testimony about the power of Scripture. I find it extremely interesting that Shawn was not converted by systematic argumentation so much as exegesis, a study of the Bible. I will be closely monitoring the discussion on this post. Any personal attack on Shawn will not be tolerated.

When He Came to Himself
Shawn T. Roberson

After being introduced to the doctrines of grace and the treasures of reformed theology in 1981, I immediately began to read and study everything reformed that I could get my hands on. I soon began concentrating on a serious study of the covenant as it is presented in Scripture. Since that time, I have been fascinated with the covenantal relationship which was established between God and His people, as He promised, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.”

As I studied, certain questions began to present themselves. What does it mean to be in union with Christ? How does one become a covenant member? Just what does baptism do? How do we account for unbelievers in the church? These questions were answered, to some degree, by the first Federal Vision Conference in 2002. While never being an extremely vocal proponent of the Federal Vision theology, I soon found myself advocating many of its teachings in my writing. I had papers and correspondence published on line which spoke of there being no need for a covenant of works (life) in the Garden of Eden, presented the law as being obeyable, and questioned the doctrine of justification by faith alone. I also had one prominent anti-FV man tell me that I was a false teacher who needed to repent.

So, how did I move from that to being one of the men who contributed to the recent Humble Answers letter and paper regarding objections to the PCA Ad Interim Study Committee Report? What caused the change?

It’s really very simple. Over the last two years, I have taught Galatians, Ephesians, and Romans in the Sunday School class and Bible study which I teach each week. As I have prepared for my weekly lessons, I have been convinced from Scripture itself that there really is none righteous (Romans 3:10-18). Indeed, all have sinned (Romans 3:23). Adam’s breaking of the covenant of works (life) in the Garden plunged man into an estate of sin, misery, and death. He lost eternal life for all men, but Christ, through His active and perfect obedience to the law of God purchased eternal life for all whom the Father gave to Him (Romans 5:12-21). We are saved by faith (Ephesians 2:8) apart from works of the law (Romans 3:28). Our own righteous acts are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), yet there is a righteousness from God imputed to us (Philippians 3:9); and, Christ’s death makes us the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Our good works flow out of our justification (Ephesians 2:10), but they do not ultimately justify us before God. They are simply what is expected of us (Luke 17:10). And, no one can snatch us from the hand of the Father (John 10:29). Therefore, our perseverance in the Lord is assured. Those whom He has called and justified, He will keep.

And, that’s my story – short and sweet. I am convinced from Scripture that the original reformed doctrines, as taught by our fathers in the faith, are true. They are a comfort to us, for they continually remind us of the Creator/creature relationship. God is God, and we are not. He has saved us by His grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, and to His glory alone; and, this is the heart of the gospel. We did nothing to earn His favor, and we do nothing to keep it. It is a gift. Expensive for Jesus Christ, for it required His death; but, free for us.

Exegetical Response to Leithart, Part 1

I am now going to start the exegetical challenge to Leithart’s article. I plan on covering most of the passages which Leithart deals with in any depth. I will cover them in the order in which they appear in the article. First up is Genesis 30:33. The immediate context has clear boundaries, stretching from verse 25-43. The setting is Laban’s trickery, and Jacob’s “honesty.” Laban is motivated by greed, as is clear from the entire context of the Jacob story. He is only in this relationship for himself. He wants to keep Jacob as a hired hand, since Jacob has done such a good job, and “the Lord has blessed (him) because of (Jacob)” (vs. 27). Then follows a deal-making discussion where Laban desires to keep Jacob, whereas Jacob wants to have his own property and provide for his own family, rather than taking care of someone else’s (vs. 30). Jacob makes a condition that allows him to start providing for an estate of his own, while still looking out after Laban’s property. That condition is that any sheep that was spotted, speckled, or black, would belong to Jacob, whereas all the white sheep would belong to Laban. This would be a very easy way to tell whose sheep were whose. This point is crucial, since it informs the meaning of “honesty” (tsedeq). Laban would be able to judge Jacob’s integrity by whether there were any white sheep in Jacob’s flock. It is as sure a method of differentiation as branding would be today. The evidence of Jacob’s integrity would be the differentiation of the flocks (vs. 33).

Now, Leithart argues (pp. 210-211 of _Federal Vision_) that this passage does not take place in a courtroom setting, an opinion which is not quite as evident as Leithart believes. Jacob is invisaging the possible accusation of Laban that Jacob had stolen sheep from Laban. Jacob could, at that time, point to his innocence by pointing to his sheep. He would then be in the right in the court of common opinion. Again, there is other evidence of courtroom language here as well. The word “stolen” often appears in a judicial context. Gen 31:19 is judicial, arguably (especially after Laban tries to police Jacob into humility), and Gen 44:8 is quite judicial, as is Exodus 21:16, and Exodus 22:11. This raises the question as to whether this passage really is “covenantal” or “ethical-social,” or whether it is judicial in Genesis 30:33. However, even if we were to grant Leithart’s point here, that still does not negate the fact that he uses improper hermeneutics to arrive at a broader definition of justification. He says quite explicitly, “‘Justification’ in these passages is flexible enough to include not only ‘counting someone as legally innocent’ but also ‘counting someone as a loyal friend/servant'” (p. 211).  This claim is demonstrably false. Jacob is concerned about his own integrity when accused of stealing by Laban (hardly an unlikely event, as the outcome proved). Jacob is not concerned here at all with being counted as Laban’s friend. Leithart has not proved his point with Genesis 30:33.