“Federal Vision” theology messes with these boundaries. It attempts to follow the lead of Scripture, even when that seems to conflict with Confessional formulae and seems closer to Luther than Reformed orthodoxy. It develops a baptismal theology that is not starkly at odds with Luther.
Peter Leithart, “Presbyterian Identity Crisis.”
A few people have questioned, in the comments section of my last post, whether or not I was fair in my insinuations concerning the Federal Vision’s doctrine of baptism. First, I’d note that FV seems to be fairly self-conscious about its tinkering with this doctrine, and similarity to the Lutheran scheme, as seen in the above quote from Leithart. Second, I’d note that my description of FV’s position as “baptismal regeneration lite” would not be contested in the least by at least some FV proponents, as they have in many places explicitly used the terminology of baptismal regeneration, albeit in a qualified manner.
But more specifically, Xon and Jeff Moss asked me where any FV proponent has claimed that “baptism [is] an instrumental means, alongside of faith, by which we lay hold of Christ’s righteousness unto justification.” So I wanted to point out at least a few places where this particular form of “baptismal regeneration lite” (as distinguished from the conveying of regenerating grace) has been articulated by Federal Visionists. I’ll just pluck out a few examples.
But the concept of instrumentality is a bit fuzzy. We can legitimately ask: Are there other instruments of justification? Paul says we are justified by faith. But James says we are justified by works together with faith. James uses the same preposition for works that Paul uses for faith. He does more than simply qualify the kind of faith that justifies (though he does do that!). He says that works, along with faith, have justifying value. Thus, in some way works are instrumental in justification as well as faith….
There are other complicating factors as well. For example, several NT passages connect baptism with justification (e.g., Acts 2:38: baptism is “for” the remission of sins). In Reformed theology, it has been common to speak of the instrumental efficacy of the sacraments. But how can baptism’s instrumentality in justification be understood vis-à-vis faith’s instrumentality? Do baptism and faith compete with one another or do they work together? I think the solution is easy enough if we remember that baptism is really God’s action, not a human work. God is the Baptizer, ultimately. He may use the minister and the water as his agents, but it is his Spirit who does the work (cf. 1 Cor. 12:13).
The Westminster Standards point in this same direction. On the one hand the Confession says no one is actually justified until Christ is applied to them (11.4). But the Shorter Catechism specifically says one function of baptism is to apply Christ to the believer (92). Putting these two statements together yields this conclusion: Baptism is the instrument through which Christ is applied to us unto justification.
Thus, we can say that faith is the instrument of justification on our end, while baptism is the instrument on God’s side.
-Rich Lusk, “Faith, Baptism, and Justification”
Commenting on Acts 2, Lusk also writes of Peter’s audience:
At this point, the word has done its work. The hearers have been aroused and convicted, but, apparently they still aren’t saved. Preaching alone is insufficient to make them participants in Christ’s work of redemption. Thus Peter tells them what they must do. They must respond to the preached word with repentance and be baptized to enter into the way of salvation. Baptism, not preaching per se, is linked with forgiveness and the reception of the Spirit. Clearly, Peter believes God will give them something in baptism that they have not received through preaching alone. Baptism will consummate the process of regeneration begun by the Word preached.
This article, “Some Thoughts on the Means of Grace: A Few Proposals,” is no longer available on Mark Horne’s website, but this portion can still be found in the OPC Report.
This is also an implication of Peter Leithart’s teaching:
How can Paul attribute justification and sanctification to baptism when he everywhere attributes justification to “faith, without the works of the Law”? We can go a ways to answering this question by taking more seriously the biblical claim that the church is the “body of Christ.” Because this is true, being joined to the church also means being joined to Christ. Christ is the holy one, and His Body is the holy people, the “saints” (”holy ones”) claimed as God’s peculiar possession. By His resurrection, the Father vindicated or justified the Son (Rom. 4:25), and by union with the body of the Justified Christ, we are justified (ie., counted as covenant-keepers).
-Posted by David Gadbois