Doug continues our conversation here. I have been on vacation all last week for some strange reason, so haven’t been able to get back to him on this. I will follow the same format as previously, and take a new section of the joint statement, followed by a reply to Doug’s post. My previous handling of the union/imputation section of the joint statement is here. I would say that I have changed in a much more strongly IAOC direction, affirming that it is essential to the WS and the 3FU. I would direct people’s attention to Jeff Jue’s fabulous contribution in Justified in Christ, and to Alan Strange’s equally important article in the 2008 Confessional Presbyterian Journal, both of which articles together completely kabosh the canard that the Westminster Standards do not teach the Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ (IAOC). No one can responsibly take the position that the WS do not teach the IAOC without dealing with Jue and Strange.
The statement on union and imputation puzzles me for two reasons. The first is that the section seems to affirm the IAOC by saying that Christ is all in all for us, and that everything He has done is credited to us (His life, suffering, and resurrection). This would seem to affirm the IAOC. However, the second paragraph contradicts such an understanding (confirmed by the section entitled “Some Points of Intramural Disagreement,” which clearly states that the IAOC is not essential one way or the other to the FV). Exactly what relationship, then, does the statement of the first two sentences of this section have with the IAOC? How close is it supposed to be? The most important question here is not whether Christ’s righteousness becomes ours. All agree (Roman Catholics included!) that Christ’s righteousness becomes ours. The question is how does this occur? Does it occur in justification by infusion or imputation? If the latter, then how does the first paragraph stop short of the IAOC? The statement seems to give with one hand what it takes with the other. If one states that Christ’s perfect life, death and resurrection becomes ours by imputation, one is saying the IAOC. Incidentally, one of the most helpful discussions of the IAOC is in Hodge’s Systematic Theology, volume 3, pp. 142-150. The upshot of Hodge’s discussion is that Christ’s entire obedience fulfills all the demands of the law for us. I hope that the issue is clear here. Is the statement intended to express the IAOC but allow for loopholes for the other signers?
Secondly, I reiterate my concern (spelled out more fully in my previous handling of the section) with the term “union.” What precisely is meant by union with Christ in these two paragraphs? Absolute saving faith-union that is irrevocable? Or baptismal union that is losable?
Lastly, to answer three questions Doug thinks I have not yet answered: 1. What is a seal? A. A seal is a guarantee of benefit for worthy receivers. It is no guarantee if a nonbeliever breaks the seal by his unbelief. Then the seal becomes a non-seal (unless one wants to say that it seals condemnation). It still says that if the nonbeliever becomes a believer, it seals benefits again. God only can work this faith in a person. If Doug wants to say that baptism seals condemnation to unworthy receivers, I am not sure I would disagree with that.
2. Is baptism a seal of anything for the nonbeliever? A. It should be noted that Doug seems to think that signs and seals do different things. I am not so sure. A sign that says “Bismarck 20 miles” is supposed to be a guarantee that if one continues on that road in that direction, one will come to Bismarck, not to Minneapolis. A seal guarantees that no one has tampered with the letter sealed. A sign is a guarantee just as a seal is a guarantee. But the promise of benefit is only to worthy receivers (which are only made worthy by the grace of God that comes in the gift of faith). Therefore, if the seal seals anything to unbelievers, it seals condemnation, not salvific benefits.
3. What is the relation of the seal to the thing sealed? A. Is the thing sealed understood to be salvific benefits for believers, or does it also include the condemnation for unbelievers? At any rate, the relation of the seal to the thing sealed is a relationship that the Holy Spirit has forged. And if the the thing sealed is present along with the seal, thus completing the loop, that means that the Holy Spirit has improved the baptism, adding faith by the seed of the Word.