Answer to Doug Wilson on PCA Polity

Before you read this post, you really need to read this comment by Doug Wilson. I will be excerpting it here, but you need to read the entire comment in context to catch its full glory. I normally don’t go to this kind of trouble to answer folks outside the PCA, but Doug instisted. It would also be helpful to read my comment that explained a bit more about the BCO process and where we are in that process with Louisiana Presbytery.

Reviewing the Bidding
I will start by making a general observation about polity and accountability, using myself as an example. As a ruling elder, I was trained, examined, ordained, and installed over 20 years ago in accordance with the Book of Church Order, taking the appropriate oath of office. When I transferred to the PCA, I was again examined and installed in my new denomination, and again took the appropriate oath. That process is spelled out clearly in the BCO, and requires knowledge and acceptance of the Scriptures, the Westminster Standards, and the system of government and discipline in the PCA. I am accountable to my brothers on my Session, in my Presbytery, and of course at the General Assembly. This is what I expect. In my professional life, I’ve had accountability to a chain of command no matter how high I’ve risen in that chain.

Doug Wilson, on the other hand, in supporting his role as a pastor never earned an M.Div, is self-ordained, self-installed, self-published, and accountable only to himself (humanly speaking). He created his own independent church, then eventually created his own denomination over which he continues to have complete sway. All these are facts. If you don’t believe me, check out Doug’s bio (if you can find one). [UPDATE: Several reference links were edited out here to keep within the posting guidelines. This edit was not done as a result of the laughable attempts at intimidation from Mike Lawyer (Doug Wilson’s personal assistant) or Doug Wilson himself, as those have all been weathered nicely, thank you. This edit is solely to keep within the established guidelines for posting on GreenBagginses.]

Now for my opinion: It seems to me that accountability is a foreign concept to Doug Wilson, so it is not surprising to me that the published and orderly processes such as the PCA’s are completely foreign to him. He can defend his errant friends in other denominations without fear of coming under discipline. What does surprise me is that Doug finds it necessary to trash the PCA and its orderly processes on a frequent and regular basis. In doing so, Doug sets himself above thousands of duly trained, examined, ordained, and installed church elders submissive to and led by the Spirit. I find that shameful.

Now to be clear, I am NOT saying that Doug Wilson is a heretic or worse. I do not believe that and never have. He is, as far as I can tell, the most orthodox of the Federal Visionists, theologically speaking. He has written things, especially on infant baptism, which have helped and favorably influenced many in their Reformed faith. But he has also written things which I consider unfortunate embarrassments to orthodox Christianity and hurtful to the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He has never retracted those unfortunate writings, but rather continues to defend them.

The Discussion
In his comment linked above, Doug said:

What I do claim to know is that Steve Wilkins is a minister in good standing in the PCA, and hence his bad standing in the PCA cannot justly be used against Louisiana Presbytery.

I wish that I had a nickel for every time a Federal Visionist used that argument. In Wilkins’ particular case, he has only survived in the PCA because Louisiana Presbytery has failed to do its job correctly. That’s not just Bob’s opinion, but the official position of the PCA as found by our Standing Judicial Commission. Here are their words in Case 2007-8:

2) Does the record support a probable finding that Louisiana Presbytery erred, and thereby violated BCO 13-9.f, 40-4, and 40-5, when it failed to find a strong presumption of guilt that some of the views of TE Steve Wilkins were out of conformity with the Constitutional standards?

2) Yes

Now, I don’t know how Doug reads that, but the plain words say that there is “a strong presumption of guilt that some of the views of TE Steve Wilkins were out of conformity with the Constitutional standards”. [Updated the following sentence upon receipt of more information.] Although technically TE Wilkins remains in good standing for now, nothing prevents his errant theology (upon which he has written extensively) from being used to hold LAP to account and this was the basis for my comment that:

Wilkins wasn’t and isn’t on trial. Now LAP is technically on trial for violating the BCO. That said, Wilkins’ errant theology does figure prominently in the case. You can read that clearly in the SJC’s decisions.

That’s what the SJC said and what I summarized. It’s that simple. Does the BCO cover such a situation? You bet. From BCO 13-9f says that Presbyteries have the obligation:

To condemn erroneous opinions which injure the purity or peace of the Church; to visit churches for the purpose of inquiring into and redressing the evils that may have arisen in them;

There is a strong presumption that Louisiana Presbytery has failed to do that in Wilkins’ case, and they now must answer for it. This wasn’t the decision of a pope or any one individual, but the finding of body of properly trained, examined, ordained, and installed church officers elected by the General Assembly and governed by the BCO.

Doug comments further regarding Louisiana Presbytery:

So what are they really on trial for? What is really going on? You gave it away in the next sentence — Wilkins’ errant theology.

Uh, no. Like I have been recommending, read the case summaries. In the summary for Case 2006-2:


In case 2007-8, the Standing Judicial Commission found that the record supported a probable finding that Louisiana Presbytery erred, and thereby violated BCO 13-9.f, 40-4, and 40-5, when it failed to find a strong presumption of guilt that the views of TE Steve Wilkins were out of conformity with the Constitutional Standards. As such, the SJC continues to conclude that there is a strong presumption that Presbytery has not met its Constitutional responsibilities, and thus has not adequately protected the peace and purity of the Church (see Part I of this opinion).

So LAP will be on trial (if they don’t plead guilty) because there is a strong presumption that they violated BCO 13-9f, 40-4, and 40-5. To be sure, Wilkins’ errant views lurk behind all this, but it is the Presbytery’s own actions that will be on trial. This answers that entire paragraph of Wilson’s comment, making the rest of it look pretty silly in my opinion.

Doug then comments:

One of the things that you all will have to come to grips with is that many in the Reformed world know exactly what play you are running, and have every intention of watching you do it. The fix is in. Biblical justice and due process are clearly not being honored, and it looks to me like the charade will simply be brazened out.

My, my. I sincerely hope that the rest of the Reformed world does know. If they don’t know what “play is running”, they can just read the BCO and SJC case summaries. No secrets, no star chambers, but a very well recorded accountability process available for anyone to read. I also sincerely hope that other PCA Presbyteries are reading it as well. This IS due process. The only thing “clearly not being honored” here is the peace and purity of the PCA by Doug and his devotees.

The Threat
Here’s Doug’s “scary” conclusion:

But I can assure you that it will not occur without a running color commentary from me. After you run your play, we are all going to watch the replay a hundred times, including the tape of the referee who hath eyes to see, and seest not, and I am going to be John Madden, drawing x’s and o’s all over that thing. And I will have some particularly ripe comments to go with it. It is a subject worthy of my peculiar talents.

Well, anyone who has followed Doug, his blog, or his self-published materials are well acquainted with his “peculiar talents.” By all means, check out Mark T.’s blog for some gory details. Sean also has some related material. Doug’s biting sarcasm and ability to spin stories to ridicule his opponents is well documented. Doug has a number of devotees that eat that stuff up, but the almost unanimous 35th General Assembly vote and the votes of six other orthodox Reformed denominations showed how much influence Doug’s self-published acerbic pen has outside his little circle.

As for me, I and my fellow orthodox elders all swore affirmatively and without reservation to the following at installation:

Do you promise to be zealous and faithful in maintaining the truths of the Gospel and the purity and peace and unity of the Church, whatever persecution or opposition may arise unto you on that account?

That included the outrageous slings and arrows fired from Wilson’s pen. There was a time when Doug’s stuff went virtually unchallenged, perhaps because some feared his acerbic pen and manner. Those days are gone when it comes to attacks on the PCA.

Soli Deo Gloria!
Posted by Bob Mattes

Berkhof on Covenant and Union

One of the major themes we find in Federal Vision theology is the supposition that, because there are non-elect reprobates who are baptized into the visible church and therefore into the Covenant of Grace, that these non-elect covenant members (NECMs) must share union with Christ. For example, Steve Wilkins wrote the following in the Knox Colloquium:

…covenant is union with Christ. Thus, being in covenant gives all the blessings of being united to Christ. . . . Because being in covenant with God means being in Christ, those who are in covenant have all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places.

The reality of non-elect reprobates within the visible church and Covenant of Grace (CoG) should be affirmed by Reformed Christians. I do not think, however, that the Federal Visionists have considered the full weight of what union with Christ is, or that they have even clearly defined it, if they jump to the conclusion that even members of the CoG who are not elect have union with Christ.

The first bit of required reading to help untangle all of this is Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology, in the chapter “The Dual Aspect of the Covenant” (pgs. 284-289 in the Eerdmans edition). Here, Berkhof distinguishes between those elect who are in the CoG as a Communion of Life, and NECMs who are in the CoG as a purely legal relationship only. Regarding the legal relationship, he writes:

There is clearly a legal and a moral side to the covenant. The covenant may be regarded as an agreement between two parties, with mutual conditions and stipulations, and therefore as something in the legal sphere. The covenant in that sense may exist even when nothing is done to realize its purpose, namely the condition to which it points and for which it calls as the real ideal. The parties that live under this agreement are in the covenant, since they are subject to the mutual stipulations agreed upon. In the legal sphere everything is considered and regulated in a purely objective way. The determining factor in that sphere is simply the relation which has been established, and not the attitude which one assumes to that relation. The relation exists independently of one’s inclination or discinlination, one’s likes and dislikes, in connection with it.

This should all sound familiar, because it is this aspect of the covenant that the Federal Vision proponents have been trying to emphasize. The objective side of the CoG with stipulations, blessings, and curses. But Berkhof continues:

But if the question is asked with a view to the covenant as a communion of life, and assumes the quite different form, In whom does this legal relationship issue in a living communion with Christ? – the answer can only be, only in the regenerate, who are endowed with the principle of faith, that is, in the elect.

If Berkhof is right in making this distinction (which is simply a more refined way of making the internal/external distinction other Reformed theologians have made with regard to the CoG), then there is no prima facie reason to believe that NECMs are in union with Christ. Normally, we would not speak of someone who has a legal relationship with someone else to be in union with the party they have a legal relationship with. I have a legal relationship with my employer, my bank, and all sorts of different people and entities. But it does not follow that I have been united (made to be in union) with those parties, and have therefore been made one with them in any coherent or meaningful sense. A union relationship is, rather, a subset of covenantal relationships. A covenant relationship may result in a legal relationship only, or it may issue forth a union relation (as part of Berkhof’s “Communion of Life” or “living communion with Christ”) through the terms established in the legal relationship.

The thinking of Federal Vision proponents seems to go something like this: “NECMs are in the CoG, therefore they have a relationship with Christ, therefore they have union with Christ.” But this simply equivocates on the word “relationship”, a word which, left undefined and unqualified, can’t make such a connection. We all have various “relationships”, from casual relationships (like the girl who checked out my groceries at the store) to weighty, intimate, and personal relationships (like my relationship with my fiance), but, again, we must insist that the idea of union cannot be applied indiscriminately. I will only be in union with my fiance. Likewise, as Ephesians 5 tells us, Christ will only be in union with His bride, the invisible church:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies…. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

The driving paradigm behind the Federal Vision applies the parallel of the marital relation (and therefore marital union, many conclude) to the relationship of God with the visible church and, therefore, to all members of the CoG, including NECMs. This is everywhere asserted in their writings, but never proved. And it cannot stand the scrutiny of Ephesians 5, which specifically likens the marital relationship to Christ’s relationship with the invisible church, the elect only.

The next important bit of reading is from the chapter entitled “The Mystical Union” in Berkhof’s ST (pgs.447-453 in the Eerdmans edition). Here I will only provide a thumbnail overview. Berkhof lists four senses in which we are united to Christ: 1. The federal union of Christ with those whom the Father has given Him, 2. the union of life ideally established in the counsel of redemption, 3. the union of life objectively realized in Christ, and 4. the union of life subjectively realized by the operation of the Holy Spirit. And it is in this last sense, the subjective sense, that we are said to have an a) organic, b) vital union c) mediated by the Spirit, d) that implies reciprocal action, and is a e) personal and f) transforming union.

It is only important to note that, in all 4 of these cases, the type of union that is described applies only to the elect. Especially in light of Wilkins’ tendency, as seen in the quotation above, to attribute salvific and ordo salutis blessings to NECMs as a result of an erroneous view concerning the relation between covenant, union, and those blessings, we ought to consider Berkhof’s remarks:

All the blessings of the covenant of grace flow from Him who is the Mediator of the covenant. Even the very first blessing of the saving grace of God which we receive already presupposes a union with the Person of the Mediator. It is exactly at this point that we find one of the most characteristic differences between the operations and blessings of special and those of common grace. The former can be received and enjoyed only by those who are in union with Christ, while the latter can be and are enjoyed also by those who are not reckoned in Christ, and therefore are not one with Him. Every spiritual blessing which believers receive flows to them out of Christ.

There is also warning, in this same chapter, to those who would seek to supplant the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness with a doctrine of union. This is somewhat tangential to my main point, but it is worth including in my post so as to wrap things up:

The mystical union in the sense in which we are now speaking of [the subjective aspect] it (sic) is not the judicial ground, on the basis of which we become partakers of the riches that are in Christ. It is sometimes said that the merits of Christ cannot be imputed to us as long as we are not in Christ, since it is only on the basis of our oneness with Him that such an imputation could be reasonable. But this view fails to distinguish between our legal union [federal union, not “legal” in the sense used above – DG] with Christ and our spiritual oneness with Him, and is a falsification of the fundamental element in the doctrine of redemption, namely, of the doctrine of justification. Justifications is always a declaration o f God, not on the basis of an existing condition, but on that of a gracious imputation, – a declaration which is not in harmony with the existing condition of the sinner. The judicial ground for all the special grace which we receive lies in the fact that the righteousness of Christ is freely imputed to us.

Posted by David Gadbois

2 Cor 5:21 and the Federal Vision

I encountered this whilst cruising the blogs. I had to read it several times because I couldn’t believe it the first few times through. According to the author, 2 Cor 5:21 is not speaking of the Great Exchange on the cross at all.

First, 2 Cor 5:21 says:

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (ESV)

Here’s Horne’s opening paragraph:

My argument is simple: What Paul means in writing the quotation above in context is the same as what he was telling the Ephesians when he wrote, “take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, … having put on the breastplate of righteousness” (Ephesians 6.13, 14).

Huh? After a long and torturous path attempting to tie together unrelated verses through the essay, Horne concludes:

Traditionally, most people have assumed that verse 21 belongs to the second argument. Paul is simply stating his doctrine of salvation-that Jesus identified himself with sinners so that we could be identified as righteous. That is true doctrine. Because our sins were imputed to Christ his righteousness is imputed to us.

But it doesn’t fit real well with the context of verse 20, which is speaking of “we” Apostles who are “ambassadors for Christ” through whom God is entreating, and who beg the Corinthians “on behalf of Christ.” The Apostles’ calling is to represent God’s reconciling message. Thus, Jesus suffered as a sinner in order to give them the vocation of representing God’s righteousness, which spreads salvation. Because Jesus took our curse, Paul is saying, we have received his calling. As the Father sent Jesus so Jesus sends us.

So Christ took on our sins on the cross in order to appoint us as ambassadors? Where would anyone get such an idea? We need look no farther than NT Wright, the godfather of the Federal Vision. Compare Horne’s essay with this from an NT Wright essay on 2 Cor 5:21:

What the whole passage involves, then, is the idea of the covenant ambassador, who represents the one for whom he speaks in such a full and thorough way that he actually becomes the living embodiment of his sovereign — or perhaps, in the light of 4:7-18 and 6:1-10, we should equally say the dying embodiment.

Neither is Wright’s skewed view of “covenant” far from the argument. Speaking of the righteousness of God in the verse, Wright feels compelled to opine:

The righteousness does indeed remain God’s; but this “righteousness” never leaves behind the all-important sense of covenant faithfulness.

In a not-so-shocking parallel, Horne says in his essay:

To sum up what I argue for: God’s righteousness is his faithfulness to his covenant.

For anyone who says that the New Perspective on Paul is totally unrelated to the Federal Vision, they should spend some time comparing Federal Visionist’s writings to those of NT Wright. While there are notable differences, there are also some notable similarities, most of all in the idea of a mythical “objective covenant”. Anyway, it seems extreme to me that one would take one of the most exposited verses in all of Scripture on the double imputation and attempt to turn it on its head.

To bring us back to reality, here’s what some of the Westminster Divines said about this verse in The Westminster Annotations:

V.21. the hath made him to be sinne for us] That is, a sacrifice for sinne, or he hath imputed the sins of the world to Christ (who was most righteous and innocent himself) and hath put upon him all the punishment and malediction due to us, that all the faithful may be reputed before God as holy and perfect as righteousness itself, by virtue of Christ’s righteousness, which is given to them by God, and only is able to stand in his judgment.
who knew no sinne] That is, who knew no sin by himself, who was conscious to himself of no sinne. For other ways he best knew the nature and power of sin, who bare our sins on his body on the tree.
of God in him] In Christ, in regard that we are in him, and that is righteousness is imputed to us.

The 1599 Geneva Bible note on this verse says:

For he hath made him [to be] {q} sin for us, who {r} knew no sin; that we might be made the {s} righteousness of God in him.
(q) A sinner, not in himself, but by imputation of the guilt of all our sins to him. (r) Who was completely void of sin. (s) Righteous before God, and that with righteousness which is not fundamental in us, but being fundamental in Christ, God imputes it to us through faith.

And lastly we excerpt Calvin on 2 Cor 5:21:

Him who knew no sin. Do you observe, that, according to Paul, there is no return to favor with God, except what is founded on the sacrifice of Christ alone? Let us learn, therefore, to turn our views in that direction, whenever we desire to be absolved from guilt. He now teaches more clearly, what we adverted to above — that God is propitious to us, when he acknowledges us as righteous. For these two things are equivalent — that we are acceptable to God, and that we are regarded by him as righteous.

And later:

Sin is here contrasted with righteousness, when Paul teaches us, that we were made the righteousness of God, on the ground of Christ’s having been made sin. Righteousness, here, is not taken to denote a quality or habit, but by way of imputation, on the ground of Christ’s righteousness being reckoned to have been received by us. What, on the other hand, is denoted by sin? It is the guilt, on account of which we are arraigned at the bar of God. As, however, the curse of the individual was of old cast upon the victim, so Christ’s condemnation was our absolution, and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5.)

There we read again the classic double imputation. No mention of anyone’s “covenant faithfulness”, but a straight-forward presentation of the gospel in one sentence. That was Paul’s intent, just as it was exposited by orthodox theologians and believers for 2000 years. Now the New Perspectives and Federal Vision came along to say it just isn’t so and those theologians and believers have gotten it all wrong for 2000 years. Really? If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn that I’ll sell you at a great price…

When Federal Visionists cry for more Scriptural exposition, of which the Westminster Divines and those who followed in orthodoxy did in plenty BTW, I somehow don’t see that working in their favor. It ain’t the Scriptures that’s the problem, but the Federal Vision’s underlying expositional framework. This is just another example that jumped out of the web at me.

Posted by Bob Mattes