United to Christ But Not Going to Heaven?

Posted by Andrew Webb

There are so many non-Reformed doctrines floating around in the FV that one hardly knows where to begin addressing them. But the idea that everyone in the covenant is “saved in some sense” regardless of whether they are elect or not is a good place to start discussing their departure from the Standards.

To sum up the FV viewpoint, on this subject let me use Minich’s synopsis “Within the Bounds of Orthodoxy?” because all the FV men seem to be happy with it:

“Wilkins writes, “Covenant is a real relationship, consisting of real communion with the triune God through union with Christ. The covenant is not some thing that exists apart from Christ or in addition to him…rather, the covenant is union with Christ.” [28] Alluding to the way the Apostle Paul addresses the weak Corinthian congregations, (sanctified in Christ, baptized in the name of Christ, brothers, etc) Wilkins continues, “He was not able to speak like this because he had some special insight into the secret decrees of God. He was speaking about what was true of these objectively by virtue of their union with Christ in covenant.” [29] In sum, “All in covenant are given all that is true of Christ.” [30] Thus, according to Wilkins and others, all covenant members are “saved” in some sense. They are Christians. John Barach factors in the doctrine of election, explaining, “God does not make His covenant exclusively with those who have been predestined to eternal salvation. Rather, he establishes His covenant with all who have been baptized, with professing believers and their children. The whole church, head for head, is in covenant with God.” [31] Modifying the way the doctrine of election is traditionally employed, Barach continues, “But what if we tell the church, ‘God chose you and Jesus died for you’ and then some of those people fall away and end up in Hell? Have we lied to them? No! We have spoken to them in a faithful and trustworthy manner in terms of their true covenantal relationship to God.” [32] In short, God “has decreed that some of those whom he has chosen to bring into a covenant relationship with him will enjoy that relationship only for a time. God brings those people into His covenant and unites them to Christ for a time…they really experience His love, but they do not respond with repentance and faith and love.” [33]”

Contra the statements above, the Standards (and scripture) do not teach that the non-elect are ever united to Christ or saved in any sense because the only way we can be united to Christ is via FAITH and faith is the result of Effectual Calling and Regeneration. For instance, Wilkins and Barach above are not just irreconcilable with David Dickson in his commentary on the Confession, Truth’s Victory Over Error he identifies their view as either RC, Arminian, or Lutheran:

ARE all those whom God has predestinated to life, and those only, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually called by his word and Spirit, out of the estate of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation, through Jesus Christ?”
Yes; Rom. 8.30. Rom. 11.7. Eph. 1.10,11. 2 Thes. 2.13,14. Rom. 8.2. Eph. 2.1-5, 2 Cor. 3.3,6.

Well then, do not the Papists, Arminians, and Lutherans err, who maintain, That men not elected are sometimes effectually called?


By what reasons are they confuted?

1st, Because faith belongs to the elect only, Titus 1.1.
2d, Because whom he did predestinate, those only, and no other hath he called, Rom. 8.30.
3d, Because though many hear the gospel, yet none believe, but such as are ordained to everlasting life, Acts 13.48.
4th, Because the apostle testifies, that the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded, Rom. 11.7.
5th, Because Christ manifested his Father’s name, to those only whom he choose out of the world, and gave to him, John 17.6.”

A.A. Hodge Builds on this point in expositing a later portion of the same chapter:

“Others not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet they never truly come unto Christ, and therefore cannot be saved

Where he states:

1. That the non–elect will certainly fail of salvation, not because a free salvation is not made available to them if they accept Christ, but because they never accept Christ; and they all refuse to accept him, because, although they may be persuaded by some of the common influences of the Holy Ghost, their radical aversion to God is never overcome by effectual calling. This builds upon the teaching that the grace of effectual calling extends to all the elect, and only the elect.”

If I might also point out, the critical section of the Confession, which is intimately related to the above, and which the FV seem to ignore entirely is WCF 14.1 which explicitly states that the ordinary means of conversion is the Preaching of the Word, and which denies that the sacraments are converting ordinances stating that they serve to build up the faith, not initiate it. Scottish Presbyterian commentator Robert Shaw has an excellent exposition of this that is at one with the Standards and Scripture in his commentary as does Hodge, but again, both are totally at odds with the non-reformed doctrine of Wilkins and Barach above which wants to create “some sort” of salvation, faith, and union with Christ which everyone in the Covenant objectively has. The fact that this means that some who come to Him are not the elect whom the father has given Him and that He will lose some who come to Him (contra John 6:37 and 6:44) doesn’t seem to worry them. They seem more concerned to deny the truth that the church will always consist of a mixed multitude on this side of glory, both people who are real wheat and always will be and people who are real tares and who always will be.

“None of them were of us”

Posted by Andrew Webb

Per Lane’s request, I am moving three of my posts from the comments section to the main page, this will be the first. I should apologize to Greenbaggins readers in advance that while I will make an honest effort to answer questions I’m probably not going to be able to engage in nearly as much debate as some of the other posters here. I have never been able to write concisely and quickly, and with pastoral ministry and my own blog (plus another blog for deployed soldiers, sailors, & airmen I hope to start this week) to look after I just don’t have enough time.

Regarding the parable of the soils, and indeed John 15, and everyone else who appeared to “believe” for a while, the consensus amongst the Reformed has ever been that the belief expressed by those that fall away was never true saving faith but only a mere belief involving knowledge and assent, but not love and trust. The fact that Jesus does not consent to be united to these unregenerated “fair-weather believers” is clear from the scripture:

John 2:23-25 “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.”

Regarding these “believers” Calvin comments: “And, therefore, when we speak generally about faith, let us know that there is a kind of faith which is perceived by the understanding only, and afterwards quickly disappears, because it is not fixed in the heart; and that is the faith which James calls dead; but true faith always depends on the Spirit of regeneration, (James 2:17, 20, 26.) … The Evangelist rather means, in my opinion, that Christ did not reckon them to be genuine disciples, but despised them as volatile and unsteady. It is a passage which ought to be carefully observed, that not all who profess to be Christ’s followers are such in his estimation.

While the FV men describe apostates as people who have been genuinely united to Christ who do not persevere but fall away Calvin counters that they were never truly united to Christ because this cannot occur without effectual calling and regeneration and the regenerate, always persevere:

“By saying, They went out from us, he means that they had previously occupied a place in the Church, and were counted among the number of the godly. He, however, denies that they were of them, though they had assumed the name of believers, as chaff though mixed with wheat on the same floor cannot yet be deemed wheat. For if they had been of us. He plainly declares that those who fell away had never been members of the Church. And doubtless the seal of God, under which he keeps his own, remains sure, as Paul says, (2 Timothy 2:19.) But here arises a difficulty, for it happens that many who seemed to have embraced Christ, often fall away. To this I answer, that there are three sorts of those who profess the Gospel; there are those who feign piety, while a bad conscience reproves them within; the hypocrisy of others is more deceptive, who not only seek to disguise themselves before men, but also dazzle their own eyes, so that they seem to themselves to worship God aright; the third are those who have the living root of faith, and carry a testimony of their own adoption firmly fixed in their hearts. The two first have no stability; of the last John speaks, when he says, that it is impossible that they should be separated from the Church, for the seal which God’s Spirit engraves on their hearts cannot be obliterated; the incorruptible seed, which has struck roots, cannot be pulled up or destroyed. He does not speak here of the constancy of men, but of God, whose election must be ratified. He does not then, without reason declare, that where the calling of God is effectual, perseverance would be certain. He, in short, means that they who fall away had never been thoroughly imbued with the knowledge of Christ, but had only a light and a transient taste of it.

The FV problem isn’t semantic, it is fundamental and strikes at the heart of the Reformed concept of the Ordo. In Reformed theology, no one genuinely united to Christ can be cut off, in Arminianism they can, and in the FV they can. Let’s not forget that Jacobus Arminius and his followers called themselves Reformed as well. Arminius and his disciple Episcopus were both teachers at the Reformed seminary at Leyden. They always saw themselves as bringing further reformation to the Reformed Church in Holland by bringing them to a more perfect understanding of Scripture. They also argued for their liberty to teach the “truth”, while making it quite clear that once their views became the majority the old views would have to go, in other words “tolerate us until we are strong enough to force you out.” Generally speaking, all of the movements that have introduced error into Reformed denominations have taken the same tack saying that they were arguing for greater fidelity to scripture, greater love to the brethren, a broader and more catholic Christianity, and anti-sectarianism (sound familiar?)

For instance, the gradual introduction of Arminianism, Neo-Nomianism, and eventually Arianism were the forces that destroyed the English Presbyterians (who after the Restoration were all known as Dissenters) in the 17th century. The introduction of those elements was opposed by what would have been called the “TRs” of their own day who argued for fidelity to the confessions and the discipline of those introducing error. Those advocating “tolerance” for the errorists of their own time argued in the manner of the following quote by John Taylor of Norwhich. It could have been lifted from any one of the modern pleas to tolerate the FV all one has to do is replace “Dissenter” with “PCA”:

“If the Dissenters stand firm on liberty and love… if they refuse all party schemes and stand upon the basis of universal Christianity; if they allow the free study of the Bible and encourage the labors of their honest and learned men; if they are steadfastly determined to establish their faith, practice, and worship on the Word of God alone, as it shall from time to time be made known to them… then they will act to their own true principles… But if ever they abandon liberty and love; they stiffly adhere to party names and schemes; if they discourage the honest and learned men that would throw in more light and truth among them, they will become weak and dwindle into nothing.”

Errorists always make out they are doing the Reformed world a service and bringing us greater reformation. You’d think after over 300 years of the same approach we’d learn to say “No thanks” to old errors in new clothes.

Newest Baggins

Andy Webb has graciously agreed to help post as well. Since he has started commenting here (enough for whole posts!), I thought it only appropriate. He will be moderating his own posts. I have upgraded David Gadbois’s status to that of editor as well. Please remember the rules: stay on topic (which is defined by the post, not the comments), no name-calling, and no whining about someone else’s comments. If you have a problem with someone’s comments, email me, and we’ll think about it.

P.S. I am on vacation this week, so will the other editors please step up and deal with any problems? Thanks

Posted by Lane Keister

FV’s “Covenantal Justification”

Posted by David Gadbois

Bob Mattes has gone and stolen my thunder again in his recent post. Well, sorta. I started writing this post after a few folks were discussing the validity of FV’s idea of “covenantal justification” in the combox of an earlier post of mine. Hopefully this can complement Bob’s excellent comments by focusing on this specific issue.

I have six main objections to the idea of a “covenantal justification” that elect and non-elect members of the covenant share.

1. It is usually a term that FV proponents use in a completely undefined manner. Appending the adjective “covenental” to the term “justification” does not give meaningful definition to the term. Responsible systematic theology does not just toss out terms, concepts, and ideas that are devoid of cognitive and definitional content. In both pastoral and academic contexts, such ideas are worse than useless, since they cause confusion as well as fail to answer or illuminate questions of theology. It does no one any good to have terminology that is a shell or container that is empty of meaning. FV is compelled to offer this undefined term because of considerations explained under #3.

It is true that much Christian doctrine does contain mystery. But even in a doctrine like the Trinity, we find both a meaningful and coherent definition of what the Trinity is: three co-eternal persons who share one divine essence. There is much mystery involved in this, as we ask how this can be so and contemplate all of the ramifications and questions that come from this truth. So it cannot be comprehended. But we know that this is true, so the fact that three persons share one divine essence can be apprehended. Therefore, the reality of mystery in Christian doctrine cannot be used to defend FV’s error at this point.

2. Insofar as FV indexes the meaning of “covenantal justification” to the traditional Reformed doctrinal category of “justification”, it is incoherent. As Bob Mattes pointed out, such a reality is “digital” or binary – either it is present, or it is not. No gray area. Either Christ has satisfied the legal claims of God’s law on the sinner, and the sinner is reconciled to God and declared judicially righteous or He has not. The perfect demands of God’s law proceed directly from God’s nature as perfectly just. So there is only one, undivided courtroom in which the sinner’s legal, judicial status is decided, and the sinner can be either judged guilty or acquitted unto reconciliation with God and eternal life. There is no room for a half-way, temporary, or quasi-justification or forgiveness.

Justification takes place once for all. It is not repeated, neither is it a process; it is complete and for all time. There is no more or less in justification; man is either fully justified, or he is not justified at all. (Berkhof, ST, pg. 513)

Neither can this justification be of a corporate nature. This does not mean that there are not groups of justified sinners who can be rightly labeled a “justified body.” It means that God judges the judicial status of individuals, and appropriates either eternal life and reconciliation or else punitive damnation to individuals accordingly. Either according to the works that the individual has done, or according to the works of their Substitute.

Further, the doctrine of limited atonement tells us that only the elect, and not NECMs, have been atoned for by Christ’s work. So how can the non-elect have a justification that has not been effected by Christ’s subsitutionary atonement? Should we not ask, along with Paul in Romans 3:21-26, how God can be just and yet be the one who justifies sinners.

3. FV is forced to postulate the existence of a “covenantal justification” because FV theology posits the existence of a parallel ordo salutis, where benefits accrue to NECMs that are similar or analogous to various counterpart ordo salutis benefits that belong exclusively to ECMs. But there is neither a logical nor exegetical reason to believe in the existence of this parallel ordo.

The reprobate may be in covenant with God. They may enjoy for a season the blessings of the covenant, including the forgiveness of sins, adoption, possession of the kingdom, sanctification, etc., and yet apostatize and fall short of the grace of God.” (Wilkins, The Federal Vision, p. 62)

FV proponents such as Wilkins teach that this parallel ordo must exist because these benefits are said to be true of the audience of Paul’s epistles. Therefore, they conclude, such benefits (such as those listed in Romans 8, Ephesians 1, and I Corinthians) must be true of the whole visible church, whether elect or not. But this completely (and unjustly) dismisses the standard Reformed interpretation of Paul’s epistles, that Paul speaks to his audience with a presumption of charity, where he assumes that his audience is regenerate and elect. FV’s hermeneutic demands of Paul the sort of precision that we do not even normally demand in modern speech. Depending on the forum and medium, we often speak in the second person plural to potentially-mixed audiences in a generalizing way, making implicit assumptions and have unspoken and non-explicit qualifications.

It also ought to embarrass FV proponents that verses such as Romans 8 guarantee the perseverance of these “elect” who have justification and that the “elect” of Ephesians 1 have the seal of the Holy Spirit and are thus predestined for eternal salvation. We often have to walk our Arminian friends through the “Golden Chain of Redemption” in Romans 8, showing them the unbreakability of the ordo salutis. Why are we having to explain that to Federal Vision proponents as well?

4. There is no lexical or semantic basis for establishing the idea of a “covenantal justification.” Yes, it is true that the dikaio word group has a broader semantic range in the NT than is used in our definition of justification as a category of Reformed systematic theology. It can sometimes be used, as in James 2, to mean something like “to publicly vindicate”, rather than “to be declared righteous” in the divine law-court, as Paul uses it in soteriological contexts. But neither of these meanings establishes a separate sort of “justification” that is “covenantal” rather than decretal.

If FV wants to say that “covenantal justification” means that NECMs are “declared righteous” in some sense, then in what judicial sphere or law-court and according to what principle of law is this declaration made? If the answer is anything other than the divine law-court, according to the demand of perfect obedience required by the law issued in the Covenant of Works, then this “justification” cannot result in reconciliation to God, and adoption as a son and heir to eternal life. I then refer the reader once again back to Bob Mattes’ latest post.

5. More broadly, there is no exegetical basis for establishing the idea of “covenantal justification.” Even going beyond the “microscopic” level of lexical considerations, the NT never uses the term “to justify” or “justification” to refer to or define an alternate reality other than the so-called “decretal” sense that applies to the elect alone (when speaking of justification before God in soteriological contexts). Nor does it ever apply these terms to refer to all members without exception, including non-elect, within the covenant.

6. Positively, Romans 1-3 tells us what the status of non-elect covenant members is. They are not justified. Paul says that Israel, God’s covenant people, is in the same exact boat as Gentile sinners. These NECMs are “lawbreakers” who are not any better than non-elect non-covenant members (v. 9), and “alike are under sin.” Paul says that both groups are “not righteous”:

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave, they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.

Paul’s conclusion? There is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

On account of all of these considerations taken together, we can cast a just conclusion. And let us be frank: FV’s “covenantal justification” is a big pile of sophistry. Transparently so. It exists, not as a serious, well-defined category grounded on systematic or exegetical concerns. It is an idea cobbled together to prop up FV’s inflated notion of quasi-salvific benefits that supposedly accrue to non-elect covenant members. It is a silly idea in service of bad theology and is thoroughly worthy of ridicule.

Saved from what?

Posted by Bob Mattes

Before I start, I gladly acknowledge that Anne Ivy gave me the idea for this post. She asked a question over on PuritanBoard which got me to thinking about another approach to the Federal Vision errors. However, any incapacity in the argument presented is purely mine. Thanks for the idea, Anne!

Dr. R. C. Sproul tells about the time he was accosted on the street one time and was asked: “Are you saved?” Dr. Sproul replied, “Saved from what?” to which the inquirer had no answer.

I recount that incident to say that salvation means, at a practical level apparently missed by Dr. Sproul’s questioner, being saved from the wrath of our holy, just, and loving God. Our glorification follows because in order to be saved from His wrath, we must be reborn (Jn 3), justified and sanctified (Rom 8:30), being covered (imputed) with Christ’s righteousness (active and passive obedience) (Rom 5:9. 10), and all by His grace (Eph 2:8). We must be fully justified before we can be truly saved from His just wrath, and all that have these given to us by grace (i.e., the elect) are truly saved. Salvation and its monergenistic components of regeneration, justification, propitiation, and reconciliation are digital–either yes or no. There is no temporary in-between status or mythical “objective covenant”.

That God’s just wrath lies at the heart of salvation is an undeniable recurring theme, for instance in Jn 3:36:

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (All Scripture citations from the ESV)

and Rom 1:18:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

and Rom 5:9, 10:

9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

To some extent, I think that’s were Federal Vision misses the whole point of salvation. The reprobate in the visible church (what Federal Visionists call the “non-elect covenant members”), despite the baptism, preaching, pig roasts, and pot lucks, are NEVER saved from God’s wrath at ANY time. Once the elect are regenerated and justified, they are ETERNALLY and COMPLETELY saved from God’s wrath. The elect don’t need a “final justification” based on covenantal faithfulness, as justification itself is digital–you either are justified or you are not. The reprobate never HAD any kind of Divine justification. These terms have no meaning or effect for the unregenerate, making these FV constructs pointless. Scripture knows no in-between status. Jesus describes the reprobate in the visible church as the tares and the elect as the wheat (Mt 13). The tares were never temporarily wheat that just didn’t persevere. I have posted extenstively on my blog on this specific point.

So, what solution does Scripture offer to the entire creation under the just wrath of God? Not an “objective covenant” with a “final justification” based on the works of “covenantal faithfulness”, and praise the Lord for that! No, He offers, in a word, propitiation:

For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Rom 3:25)

I love this section of Romans because it lays out the problem and the solution in one compact passage: our sin, God’s grace, justification by faith alone, redemption, and propitiation. Notice what it doesn’t mention or even allude to–“objective covenant”, “covenantal faithfulness”, or “final justification”.

Propitiation is further explained in 2 Jn 2:2:

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Here we see that though we all stand under God’s just wrath for our sin, He so loves His elect that He provides the solution for us–the perfect active and passive obedience, even unto death on a cross (Phil 2:8), of His only Son Jesus Christ.

Again, you can to see how different this Scriptural model of salvation is from the Federal Vision offering. The Westminster Larger Catechism lays out the limited benefits available for the unregenerate in the visible church in Question 63:

Q. 63. What are the special privileges of the visible church?
A. The visible church hath the privilege of being under God’s special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, notwithstanding the opposition of all enemies; and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation, and offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come unto him.

Notice that there is nothing there about a mythical “objective covenant” or “final justification”, because those concepts are foreign to Scripture. Reprobate members of the visible church participate in the Covenant of Grace broadly considered (i.e., in a legal relationship) as described in Q.68., while only the elect participate in the Covenant of Grace narrowly considered (i.e., as a community of life) (Rom 4, WLC Q. 65 & 66). There’s no need or place for a mythical “objective covenant”.

Although I’ve posted on the shortcomings in the Federal Vision errors in the past, I haven’t taken the argument down to the next level in salvation–the propitiation of the just wrath of God. This is something that’s not possible for the unregenerate, and renders the Federal Vision accommodations for the unregenerate in the visible church meaningless as well as in error. Federal Vision adds nothing pastorally or otherwise. We shouldn’t be coddling the unregenerate in the visible church with a mythical “objective covenant” and holding out the false promise of a “final justification” based on their works in “covenant faithfulness”, but instead should be clearly holding out the reality and severity of God’s wrath together with His equally real gracious provision for propitiation of that wrath through His Son Jesus Christ for the elect and only the elect; and that by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone, and to God alone be the glory. That’s the gospel, pure and simple.

Posted by Bob Mattes

Pastor Webb Recaps More History

Don’t miss Pastor Andy Webb’s excellent post Response to Doug Wilson’s “All Wolves All the Time” over at Puritan Board. It completely and accurately answers Wilson’s response to Pr. Webb’s earlier post.

Between the redefinition of key theological terms, turning historic Reformed theologians’ writings on their heads, and rewriting history, the Federal Vision crowd makes less sense every day. If they really believe that their theological errors are the correct view and stand on their own, then why all the redirection and spin? I’ll speculate that it’s because seven orthodox Reformed denominations and several Reformed seminaries have already declared Federal Vision theology out of conformity with both the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity. That’s tough, though not impossible, to spin.

The other spin I’ve noticed recently is the posting of Federal Vision views in “small doses.” I suppose that the theory is akin to the lobster in a pot of warm water on the stove. The lobster doesn’t notice a slow increase in water temperature until it’s dinner time. It seems that Federal Visionists over the last couple of weeks have been posting small bits and pieces of FV on the blogs, hoping to fool newcomers who would choke on seeing the full picture at once. Clever, eh? Well…maybe not so much.

Posted by Bob Mattes

A Welcome Reconciliation

Posted by Bob Mattes

I am blessed to report that Rev. Mike Lawyer and I have reconciled after exchanging a series of less-than-desirable blog posts. Because a lot of fallout from these posts landed on this blog, I feel that it is only right that I post the good news here.

Rev. Mike Lawyer has written a very gracious letter apologizing for his posts and accusations that caused me to write my retort. I am honored to humbly accept Rev. Lawyer’s apology in full. Indeed, his letter is a model of Christian repentance. He also graciously modified an earlier post to reflect his new understanding of the situation.

I equally apologize to Rev. Lawyer for the tone of my original retort. It is way too easy to strike back at those who wrong us, but as I wrote in another post about a week after I published the original retort, Christ commands us to do better. For my falling short of my Lord’s just expectations and offending Rev. Lawyer in the process, I am truly sorry. That I did not pull the post sooner, especially after my subsequent admonition to the blogging community here on tone, stands as a testimony to simul justus et pecator. I offer no excuse.

One more thing. Rev. Lawyer assured me in his letter that Doug Wilson had no part in his posts, nor was he asked to post them. I accept that as stated. I hereby retract all previous comments to that end and apologize to Doug for thinking and posting otherwise.

As a result of this reconciliation, Rev. Lawyer has modified on of his posts and I have revised two related posts on my site. Hopefully these actions will put the neutron rods back in the reactor.

I do not have adequate words to express my joy and relief at being able to put this episode behind us. We all sin, and yet are too quick to point out the sins of those we feel have sinned against us. As I was so quick to do so in Rev. Lawyer’s case, so I must be equally quick to forgive. To do otherwise would be to deny our Lord and His gracious work in our lives.

I cannot leave this subject without publicly thanking all those who rose to my defense during this time. I am grieved that some paid a heavy price in doing so. I thank the Lord for such dear brothers and sisters and their love, and I am humbled by your courage. Now I ask that everyone celebrate this reconciliation with us, and that we move on from here with renewed gratitude for the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Posted by Bob Mattes

On Blogging

Andy’s Nuclear-Powered Response Post

Posted by David Gadbois

Being the only non-PCA contributor to the blog (Gary Johnson excepted, although he was ordained PCA) my interest in the polity side side of the Federal Vision issue is marginal. I am grateful, however, to those in the PCA who are knowledgeable about this issue who have taken the time to explain these rather technical and often obscure matters to folks like me. This includes the recent posts that Andy Webb has made available, both on the Puritan Board and the Warfield listserve; specifically “The Case of the Missing Kamikaze Presbyters” that Bob Mattes commended to your reading in the last post, in response to Doug Wilson’s latest blog posts on the polity issues. I found it both illuminating and convincing.

Since the Puritan Board and the Warfield list don’t get as diverse (or voluminous) traffic that this site gets, I contacted Andy for his permission to post his article, in its entirety, on Green Bagginses. He granted permission, so I am posting this here on his behalf.


The Case of the Missing Kamikaze Presbyters

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Failing anything really new coming up, this will probably be my last reply to Doug Wilson concerning the procedure being followed by the SJC regarding Louisiana Presbytery’s failure to indict Steve Wilkins. The only reason I’m making these replies in the first place is in an attempt to clarify some of the more serious misconceptions being generated by FV advocates regarding the process. To whatever degree I can do that, I’ll be happy.

I should note though that most of these misconceptions could be addressed simply by reading the SJC decisions themselves at: PCA SJC Decision – Complaint Against Louisiana Presbytery « Reformed Musings and PCA SJC Decision – Central Carolina Memorial « Reformed Musings . Some of the statements in the comments on Wilson’s Blog and Mablog website for instance, make it abundantly clear that some people are criticizing decisions that they haven’t even read. I don’t know whether this is being done on the presumption that because Wilkins and LA Presby are right, anything the SJC wrote cannot possibly be true or whether its because the decisions are so lengthy.

Anyway speaking of length, I apologize in advance for the length of this in advance, but I want to try to do three things:

1 – Answer Doug Wilson’s Latest Complaint “The Case of the Missing Charges”

2 – Show that Doug’s Complaint also fails in that the procedure he is attacking is essentially THE SAME PROCEDURE LA PRESBYTERY AND AUBURN AVENUE PCA HAVE USED IN THE PAST (specifically regarding the John Woods case).

I wish there was some way to put a stop to the serious impugning of the motives and character assassination of the entire SJC, but there’s no way to do that.

[If you don’t have much time and want to read the real pot calling the kettle black stuff, you may skip to point 2 below]

1) I have already indicated that there were two formal attempts made from within LA Presbytery, as far back as October 19,2002 to begin an investigation into the beliefs of Steve Wilkins. Both of these requests were met with considerable hostility on the floor of Presbytery by Steve Wilkins and his supporters, who form the majority in that tiny Presbytery. Additionally, not only were requests received from people within the Presbytery to begin an investigation, but one year prior to sending their memorial to the SJC in 2006 Central Carolina sent a communication to LA Presbytery listing their concerns with the published theological statements of Steve Wilkins and Auburn Avenue PCA and making the following formal request:

“Therefore be it resolved that the Central Carolina Presbytery requests that Louisiana Presbytery begin an official investigation into the teachings of AAPC in order to determine whether charges ought to be brought against her senior pastor (BCO 31-2) and whether any advice ought to be given to the session.”

This was in addition to a letter sent by former friends of Wilkins in the PCA explaining their concerns with his current theology at length and asking that he withdraw from the PCA for the sake of the purity and peace of the church. This is in addition to the times when Wilkins was publicly confronted by men like Joey Pipa in 2003 and told he was in error. The idea circulated by men like Mark Horne, that Wilkins has never been “told to his face” that he was teaching erroneous doctrines is not true, I was at the Auburn Avenue conference in 2003 when that was done. It’s been done both personally and in print many, many, times at this point.

In any event it was only after LA Presbytery issued a report in 2005 exonerating Steve Wilkins, which most felt was a failure to uphold the constitution of the PCA given both the evidence in print and his own answers that CCP unanimously voted to follow up by sending a memorial to the SJC pointing out the serious delinquency on the part of LA Presbytery in this matter.

Now as to why no charges were pressed from within the Presbytery by the men who later complained or dissented against Wilkins exoneration, I cannot answer for them, but I can well understand their decision. The ordinary means of bringing charges against someone for serious doctrinal error is not to draw up specifications and submit charges oneself but per 31-1 and 31-2 for the presbytery, upon receiving a report or a request, to begin an investigation. The majority in the presbytery had already shown its hostility to such requests, and indicated its substantial agreement with TE Wilkins. For someone in the minority to move forward to make a case as a voluntary prosecutor themselves, when their almost assured failure to win the case would have caused them to be censured (note not charged – but censured) as a slanderer of the brethren (per BCO 31-9) would have been extremely foolish. What would have been the point of such a trial in LA Presbytery, when the majority there had already repeatedly indicated they approved of Steve Wilkins theology? This is why I titled the post The Case of the Missing Kamikaze Presbyters; while theoretically possible, any attempt to personally bring charges in would have been irregular and doomed from the start to crash and burn.

This situation is precisely what the review and control safeguards and things like appeals, dissents, complaints, protests, memorials were created for. It is these measures that allow a concerned minority to essentially call for help from the rest of the denomination, or for another Presbytery to call the attention of the higher court to a serious delinquency outside of their jurisdiction. This is exactly what happened.

Ultimately we must remember that Presbyterian polity is not a suicide pact, it is neither right nor safe nor just that 13 men in one presbytery should have the power to protect the teaching and promotion of doctrines that 90% of the denomination deem to be erroneous. This is not a “taking away of anyone’s FREEDOM” as J. Gresham Machen pointed out: “The fact often seems to be forgotten that the Presbyterian Church is a purely voluntary organization; no one is required to enter into its service. If a man cannot accept the belief of the Church, there are other ecclesiastical bodies in which he can find a place. The belief of the Presbyterian Church is plainly set forth in the Confession of Faith, and the Church will never afford any warmth of communion or engage with any real vigor in her work until her ministers are in whole-hearted agreement with that belief.” The proper solution to the current situation can never be that the church must tolerate the teaching of what the overwhelming majority deem to be unscriptural and unconfessional merely because they can produce a bare majority of support in a tiny Presbytery. What indeed is the point of staying in a denomination where on any given Sunday, many men in that same denomination are teaching the polar opposite of your beliefs and warning their flocks that what you believe regarding the sacraments and soteriology is heretical. Is that communion?

Look even if you think the error is theirs and not yours, why not follow the advice of given by Steve Wilkins regarding the PCA that since “there is little prospect, humanly speaking, of this troublesome drift away from our standards reversing itself” that it is time for “peaceably withdrawing from the PCA as a presbytery in order that we might continue to serve the Lord in fidelity to His Word” One wonders why he wants to stay in a denomination he dismissed 7 years ago with the following statement: “the denomination is unreformable. There seems to be no concern to interact on the biblical issues by those who oppose the more traditional, reformed positions. We have been working to bring about reform for 23 years and things have only gotten worse.”
2) Speaking of calling a higher court’s attention to a serious delinquency, when TVP failed to investigate and indict John Wood for allowing a woman to preach in the evening service of his church, Louisiana Presbytery, AAPC, and Steve Wilkins did not merely shrug and say “Ah well, that’s their right, we are after all a grass roots denomination, and if TVP doesn’t think its an error, it mustn’t be.”

Instead they went ballistic at what they viewed to be a serious delinquency on the part of that presbytery, speaking on the record regarding this and other “departures” Wilkins himself said that the PCA “has begun tolerating serious doctrinal departures from the truth of Scripture as contained in its constitutional Reformed standards; specifically on the issues of creation, the Apostolic gifts and the role of women in the church, which errors will inevitably lead to others.” Accordingly, LA Presbytery sent a communication to TVP (which is the virtual duplicate of CCPs communication incidently) asking:

“Therefore Be It Resolved that the Louisiana Presbytery urge the Tennessee Valley Presbytery to consider it their duty to uphold BCO 40-4, and NOT “to neglect to perform their duty, by which neglect heretical opinions or corrupt practices may be allowed to gain ground;” we therefore encourage the TVP to act upon this with Biblical and Confessional integrity.”


Where was the call for only proceeding on the basis of charges from TVP back then? Where the outrage at calls for discipline from outside the presbytery, where the declarations that calls to the SJC to assume original jurisdiction where part of “judicial bum’s rush.” Then it was ok, because “That was them. This is us we’re talking about.”

Finally, I would close by simply pleading with people to actually read the SJC decisions. Any objective reading would indicate that LA Presbytery had sufficient evidence and reason to at least indict Steve Wilkins, let me cite just a few passages showing the sound reasoning behind this:

“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 TE 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). For these reasons the concerns raised by the Memorial from Central Carolina Presbytery continue to be before us.

it must be stressed that what is before the SJC is not allegations against TE Wilkins per se. Rather, what is before the SJC is whether Louisiana Presbytery has dealt adequately and constitutionally with those views. The conclusion of case 2007-8 is that there is a reasonable presumption that Presbytery has not so done

The deep division in LAP over TE Wilkins examination (13 to sustain; 8 to not sustain) reflected the need to refer the matter to the General Assembly.

b. In the examination, TE Wilkins redefined biblical and Confessional terms before giving his assent to the teachings of Scripture and The Westminster Standards. TE Wilkins maintains that the Bible and The Westminster Standards teach differing doctrines.

c. In his examination, TE Wilkins displayed serious variances with The Westminster Standards in the areas of election, perseverance and apostasy, the doctrine of the visible/invisible church, assurance and baptism (ROC 2007-8; p.16).”

Pastor Andy Webb
Providence PCA
Fayetteville, NC

Caught Red-handed

Posted by Bob Mattes

I was working on a post to examine the errors in this post by Mark Horne:

One other thing: bringing to a complaint against one’s own presbytery, for failing to indict, when all one had to do is file charges oneself, makes no sense at all. SJC has painted themselves in the corner of presuming the guilt of a presbyter in good standing because they received complaints from Louisiana Presbytery rather than directing those presbyters to press charges themselves.


For whatever reason, SJC has moved into unprecedented and unimagined “space” in which they have no restraints.

Everything about this case shows that Steve Wilkins’ opponents know that Steve would be exonerated by anything but a political machine. This is simply the follow up to the shamelessly biased FV committee. The very process serves as evidence of Steve’s uprightness in this matter.

In my opinion, a TE in the PCA who should have a better grasp of the BCO as well as the public facts from the SJC cases being criticized. Before making any points, I must repeat that TE Steve Wilkins is not on trial, Louisiana Presbytery may be depending on how they plea to the charges coming against them. OK, got that out of the way.

One point that Horne misses when he says that a presbyter should have filed charges against Wilkins instead of the SJC charging LAP is that the reason LAP voted to exonerate Wilkins in July 2005 was because issues had been raised about Wilkins’s views. So he is factually wrong that the SJC is out of line. Also, the BCO has a firewall in BCO 40-4 and 5 that allows a higher court to review the actions of a lower court if it believes that the lower court erred in an important moral or doctrinal matter. This process is being followed explicitly.

But it gets better…

During the time I was researching some background on the 2005 Wilkins examination, Andy Webb posted his Case of the Missing Kamikaze Presbyters over on PuritanBoard. Andy’s post is much more detailed than the one that I was writing. I highly recommend it to all interested in the truths that lay waste to the unwarranted charges against the PCA and SJC.

Andy’s first point recounts how concerns were raised in October of 2002 about Steve Wilkins’ views. That far back, Louisiana Presbytery apparently failed to uphold its responsibly to take action to preserve the purity of the church as required by BCO 13-9f (in part):

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;

Andy includes much more detail about the political situation in Louisiana Presbytery. The best analogy which I can use is trying to bring charges against Mayor Richard Daly in Chicago in the 196os and early 70s. The political machine would simply not allow it, just as LAP refused to entertain concerns against Wilkins.

In his second point, Andy clearly lays out the history of how Steve Wilkins and Louisiana Presbytery used the exact same BCO process against TE John Wood and Tennessee Valley Presbytery that they now decry as unjust in 2007. That’s something I haven’t seen the Federal Visionists posting about. You can read about this incident in the Presbyterian News Archives (bottom of the page). On January 15, 2000, Louisiana Presbytery passed the following motion:

Whereas due to the public nature of the letter from TE John Wood and his Session of Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church dated October 25, 1999 to the Tennessee Valley Presbytery, it is our concern that this overture be handled in a timely and God-honoring manner; and

Whereas the Scriptures clearly teach that a woman is not to teach or exercise authority over a man, but is to remain silent (I Timothy 2:12); and

Whereas the PCA Book of Church Order should be interpreted consistently rather than a way that is contrary to the Scriptures; and

Whereas to permit a woman to preach or teach in the context of worship would be a gross violation of I Timothy 2:12 and BCO 53-6; and

Whereas the Session of Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church has made it known that a woman has been invited to be the plenary speaker for the 2001 World missions conference,

Therefore Be It Resolved that the Louisiana Presbytery urge the Tennessee Valley Presbytery to consider it their duty to uphold BCO 40-4, and NOT “to neglect to perform their duty, by which neglect heretical opinions or corrupt practices may be allowed to gain ground;” we therefore encourage the TVP to act upon this with Biblical and Confessional integrity.

Any of that language sound familiar? It should, as the polity parts are very close to the language of the Central Carolina Presbytery Memorial that the Louisiana Presbytery and Federal Visionists now decry. Note the “Confessional integrity” language. Apparently the PCA Constitution was sufficient to condemn TE John Wood and Tennessee Valley Presbytery, but insufficient to evaluate the Federal Vision. After all, TE Wood was an officer in good standing that was never charged? Isn’t that what they say now about Steve Wilkins? You bet it is.

Could this be a hypocritical case of “do as I say, not as I do” down on the bayou? Standing by for the Federal Vision spin machine to wind up…and you know that it will. Though I have to say that their BCO acumen from 2000 seems to evade them today.

Again, please go read Case of the Missing Kamikaze Presbyters.

Update: Andy Webb has an excellent follow-up, again based on the P&R News archive.

Posted by Bob Mattes

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