This will be one post reacting to all of Wilson’s recent posts. We’ll start with Sanctions and the Sacraments.
First, it is good to see more careful definitions flowing from our discussions. Wilson acknowledges that sacraments are not to be identified with the sanctions proper. However, the way in which he answers the question about what kind of union leaves vagueness. Covenantal union seems to be the union of a branch to a tree, according to Wilson. But that still doesn’t answer the question of the branch’s relationship to various benefits described in ordo salutis categories. Of course the covenants are redemptive historical in administration. However, it does not follow from that that we cannot relate ordo salutis categories to people in the covenant. We can. The elect participate in the ordo salutis and the non-elect don’t, even if they are all participants in the administration of the covenant of grace. I’m not sure that Wilson would disagree with this. At least, I hope he doesn’t. What has always disturbed critics of the FV is the blurring of terms that describe the benefits. FV authors will sometimes use terms that are usually related to the ordo, and they will instead use them of NECM’s. They say that they are not using the terms in the same way (the critics understand this point, by the way!). However, when it comes right down to defining the differences between “covenantal justification” and “decretal justification” I have yet to see ANY clear definitions. Why not keep justification as the term describing the decretal ordo salutis reality, and use completely different terms for what the non-elect participants in the administration of the covenant of grace receive? That is what the WS do. There are common operations common to all, and there are special operations that are exclusive to the elect. This is clear. This is non-confusing. The goal of teaching is to be clear and non-confusing. This is one thing that most FV writers have utterly failed to do. So, again I ask, what precisely is covenantal union? How is it related to the ordo salutis? One thing I promise the FV writers: the critics will never be satisfied unless a clear, unequivocally Reformed answer is given to this question. It is not enough to distinguish between covenantal union and saving decretal union, just saying that there is a distinction without enumerating the ways in which they are distinct. One must also prove that the “covenantal union” does not encroach upon the territory of election. In order to be Reformed, the FV would have to prove that “covenantal union” confers zero ordo salutis benefits. The ordo is unbreakable: if you have one benefit, you have them all. It is an unbreakable whole. That is non-negotiable territory. If covenantal union confers one single ordo salutis benefit on a non-elect person, then the system is Arminian, no matter what other qualifiers are attached, since the person will lose that ordo salutis benefit when he apostatizes. At best, Steve Wilkins, for instance, has been extremely unclear about this. At worst, he has actually ascribed ordo benefits to covenantal union (pp. 58ff of Federal Vision).
The second question I have for Wilson is this: if the covenant is Christ offered, then isn’t there a real sense in which unbelievers never participate in the covenant? See, I would say that, in terms of the breaking of the covenant, the unbeliever has broken the administration of it, not the substance of it. Would Wilson agree that the Covenant of Grace is made with Christ and with the elect seed in Him (LC 31)? This statement of the WS implies that the Covenant of Grace, ultimately speaking, is not made with the non-elect. That is simply the logical corollary of the statement. Does Wilson agree with the correlative negative? I am glad to see that he affirms a narrow and broad sense of covenant here.
Okay, on to the next post, which is “What It Must Have Meant.” I already answered “Green Baggins Takes an Exception,” and so will answer rather “Green Baggins Does Too Take an Exception.”
I am going to quote this paragraph in full, as it has numerous important points:
“You make it sound like you’re boys playing king of the dirt pile. Say uncle! A lot of theologizing is like that, isn’t it?”
Yes, it does sound like that if all we were doing is talking. But we are in a situation where the ministries of friends of mine are under assault, and not just verbal assault. The FV guys are bringing charges against no one, challenging the ordinations of no one, and we are not trying to get anybody removed from their pulpit. The same cannot be said in the other direction. In other words, this is not a neener neener debate. Ministries and livelihoods are on the line. Yes, the reply might come, but this is what confessional faithfulness to the truth requires. But that is where we encounter the kick in the teeth. As I showed in the previous post, the people who are bringing accusations that we are out of accord with the Westminster Confession are in fact themselves out of accord with the Confession. And they are accusing us of being out of accord with the Confession at just the place where we hold to the Confession and they do not. In such a situation, that anomaly should be pointed out.
In this quotation, Wilson is responding to a comment in a previous post of his. The short answer to Wilson’s point is that yes, there are people’s jobs on the line. And yes, the critics are trying to get FV men removed from the PCA. That should be rather transparently obvious, as a matter of fact. We have made no attempt to hide it. But what is the motive of the critics? Personal vendetta? Satanic maliciousness? Such have been accusations of the critics in the past (I have not seen Wilson utter such accusations). It is a good thing that such accusations see so clearly into the hearts and minds of other PCA (and other denominations) men, reading motives that are manufactured out of thin air. The motive of the critics is just this: the purity and peace of the PCA, and other denominations. Every last critic I know will say this, and mean it. That’s my motive, and anyone who says differently is lying through their teeth (or tooth, if a red-neck). They cannot read my heart. Of course, I cannot always read my own heart. But I know I am right on this one. I would also like to say on this point that if the FV is heresy, then it is our duty to remove such men from their pulpits. So, the FV cannot maintain some sort of moral high ground on this issue simply by saying that the FV is some sort of innocent victim, and that because they are not seeking the eradication of alternative views, that therefore they are the peace-loving ones.
The second point that needs to be addressed is the refreshing honesty of Wilson on the Confession here. He is right in this: the FV interpretation and the critics’ interpretation of the Confession CANNOT both be right and allowable. Wilson is of course specifically applying this idea to the issue of baptismal efficacy, which is the topic under discussion. However, Wilson’s statement seems to have a broader application. In other words, the FV should drop the facade that the Reformed world is just one big umbrella that can house many different views, and that the Confession allows both FV views and TR’s to exist simultaneously. No, it cannot. The FV interpretation and the TR interpretation contradict one another. That is what the TR’s have been saying all along. It is refreshing to see an FV guy say so. Let’s have none of this postmodern “everyone-can-get-along-we’re-just-one-big-happy-family” kind of thing. Why else do we have different denominations? We have them so that the greater unity of the church can actually be preserved. The TR’s have always said that the FV guys are quite free to teach their views. They aren’t any worse than Roman Catholic teaching, and most of the time much better. But don’t teach them in a WS context. The issue, then, is this: which interpretation of the Confession is correct?
BOQ: for any one to whom the grace of regeneration belongs, the Holy Spirit exhibits and confers that grace through a right use of the baptismal water. EOQ The problem with this is that it still begs the question of the nature of the grace conferred. It is not the grace of regeneration that is spoken of in that section. It is not the thing signified that is automatically conferred, even for the elect. It is the grace of baptism as a sign and seal of regeneration, not regeneration itself. Why use the language of sign and seal if the sign and seal are equal to the thing signed and sealed? There is no attempt here by Wilson to distinguish between the sign and the thing signified. Christ is what is signified. But He is not automatically conferred. That happens at the time-point of faith. This is not baptistic, since those of us who hold to this baptize our infants. Nor do we espouse a Baptistic hermeneutic, since we hold to one Covenant of Grace since Genesis 3:15. We also reject dispensationalism. It is hardly fair to state that the critics are Baptistic just because we don’t go to the same place the FV goes. I think our Baptist brothers would quite protest that.
Here is an analogy that explains the significance of the “sign” term: there are signs to any major city that say something like this: Bismarck 23, meaning 23 miles to Bismarck. Is the sign equal to Bismarck? No. It is distinguished from Bismarck. It is connected to Bismarck, because, if you follow the road to get there, you will arrive at Bismarck. The road between the sign and Bismarck functions like the sacramental union connecting the sign to the thing signified. This analogy would work even if the sign were within the city limits. Anyone can distinguish the sign that says “Welcome to Bismarck” from the city itself, even if the sign stands within the city limits. They are simply not the same thing. So, if one receives the sign in faith, one will be going on the road to Bismarck. The only problem with the analogy is that a person can actually start out in Bismarck, and travel to the sign. In that case, the sign functions to remind the person that he is still on the right road. He is not on the road that leads to Tokyo.
The “seal” term is a bit more difficult to analogize. Perhaps we can say that a seal that closes the letter is not the letter itself. A seal (stone) that closes a tomb is not the tomb itself, whether or not the tomb be empty. A seal is a mark of authenticity that is not the item itself but points towards the item as being genuine. It only functions this way for the elect, of course. The letter can be written before the seal is put on it. The tomb can be occupied before the tomb is set on it. The item can be obtained before the mark of authenticity is put upon it. But the seal itself does not have to be present for the thing itself to be possessed. But in each of these three instances of “seal,” we can see that the seal of a letter does not enclose a package, but rather a letter. The seal has a relationship to the letter. The stone has a relationship to that particular tomb. The sign of authenticity belongs to a particular item, and no other. That is what we call the sacramental union between the seal and the thing sealed. But a letter, a tomb, and an authentic item can all function perfectly well without the seal. Similarly, the seal can be possessed before or without the thing sealed. It should therefore be obvious here that neither I nor Warfield (I have been basically expounding his two pieces on the Sacraments in the SW) believe in “empty sign” theology. Empty sign theology should be carefully distinguished from the view that says there is a distinction between the sign and the thing signified. I wish the FV guys would get this straight. They seem to think that unless we believe that baptism confers the grace of regeneration to the elect, that therefore we believe in an empty sign. Does the sign that says “Bismarck 23” have no meaning or significance? Should we conclude that if one follows the road to Bismarck that we should end up in Tokyo? The sign has great significance, especially if one is afraid that one is lost, or on the wrong road. How often has just such a sign cheered up the anxious motorist? There’s how baptism can function as a source of assurance. No empty sign theology here. No exception to the WS, either.
On to the last post, “Green Baggins Does Too Take An Exception.”
Actually, I haven’t forgotten this section of the confession, and I agree with it whole-heartedly. But Lane doesn’t — notice how he modifies the straight reading of this portion also. The premises stated don’t yield the conclusion that “regeneration is not dependent on baptism.” Rather, they yield the conclusion that regeneration is not necessarily or absolutely dependent upon baptism.
I already answered this objection: BOQ FV guys are fond of pointing out that the norm appears to be that the sign and thing signified are normally annexed one to the other. But the grace promised in 28.6 is the efficacy of baptism as a sign and seal. This must be distinguished (however closely one wants to tie the sacramental union) from the thing signified. EOQ
I am really quite at a loss to know how regeneration can be even normally dependent on baptism if baptism does not confer regeneration for the non-elect. If it does “confer regeneration” for the elect, then it is rather the element that distinguishes the non-elect from the elect that is the thing upon which regeneration is normally dependent, not baptism itself. If baptism confers regeneration upon the elect only, and not on the non-elect, then it does not confer regeneration for the elect either, since such a position requires that regeneration be located within baptism itself. And if it is located within baptism itself, then regeneration would also be conferred on the non-elect, as indeed some say. No, it is the thing signified: Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, who confers regeneration. See, Wilson is trapped by his infant baptism mentality. What about the vast majority of adult conversions? None of them are baptismally regenerated. So, for them regeneration is the direct result of the Holy Spirit on the heart. I would argue that it is the same for infants who are regenerated. It is a direct act of the Holy Spirit putting a new heart within that infant. Baptism signs and seals that, but is not the thing itself. Baptism can be the occasion for it happening. But to say that regeneration is normally dependent on baptism ignores adult conversions, and identifies too closely the sign and the thing signified.
But in the section of the Confession that Lane differs with, we were not talking about an unbaptized regenerate soul or a baptized unregenerate soul. We are talking about a baptized regenerate soul. Now, in that circumstance, does Lane agree or disagree that in the right use of the sacrament of water baptism that saving grace is really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Spirit at the appointed time?
I would say that in the case of the baptized regenerate soul, the sacrament of water baptism really exhibits and confers the grace of baptism as sign and seal at the appointed time. The WS nowhere state that the grace of baptism is saving grace. Rather, it is the grace of baptism as sign and seal that is set forth there.
Lane says that potential efficacy of baptism is limited to the time of administration and, even then, baptism isn’t really doing anything.
I don’t recognize my position in this statement in any way, shape or form. I am the author of my statements, and I am quite sure I know what I am saying, and this isn’t it. Wilson has badly garbled my position here. Wilson doesn’t normally garble my position (I am not saying that he misunderstands me on a regular basis: it is this instance only). The efficacy of baptism is not limited to the time point of its administration. I have always said, and will always say this. What Wilson seems to think is that if I say it is the Word which regenerates at the time-point of baptism (assuming that regeneration happens to occur at that point in time: this is the point he missed), then the efficacy of baptism is tied to the point of its administration. But if the Word does not apply regeneration to the person at that time, but waits, then regeneration comes at some other point in time. Baptism signs and seals truly when faith comes. The sign can be present without the thing signified. But its efficacy occurs at the time-point of faith, whenever that is.
For the elect, the sign seals the thing signified. That’s why we can say that the thing signified is really exhibited and conferred.
This doesn’t follow at all. Notice the subtle shift between saying that the grace of sign and seal is really exhibited and conferred, versus saying that the thing signified and sealed is conferred. This is not what sacramental union means. The statements in the WS do not say that the thing signified is really exhibited and conferred. They say the grace of baptism is really exhibited and conferred on the elect at the appointed time. The grace of baptism has already been defined as the grace of sign and seal, not to be identified with the grace of salvation (the thing signified and sealed). These distinctions are absolutely crucial to maintain.
Lane and Warfield have the same kind of “workaround” for the confessional language. Notice how Lane says that that baptism does something — but before his trigger-happy brethren empty their clips into him, he hastens to add this this is okay because he doesn’t really believe it. The Word does it, not baptism. I understand something very similar to this being what Warfield means by the immediacy of God’s grace in salvation, which goes back to my original point in my book.
This should now be answered, if the reader be attentive. I do really believe that baptism does something. For the elect, it confers the grace of baptism as sign and seal. But it is the Word which regenerates (the Holy Spirit implanting it in our hearts).