Great Post On Assurance

Wes’s post on assurance is well worth reading very carefully, especially by FV proponents. I thought this paragraph especially helpful:

Now, here is the question I have for these men. Isn’t asking if someone is walking by faith by grace the same as asking, “Am I elect?” Aren’t the regenerate elect the only ones who walk by faith?

The mistake that many FV proponents make is in saying that because we can’t read anyone else’s heart, that therefore we can’t read our own hearts. I wouldn’t deny that it can be difficult to read our own hearts. The heart is deceitful. However, that does not mean that the heart is unreadable by its owner. So that means that yes, I can know that I am elect.

An Answer to TE Rayburn, part 6

2. TE Leithart’s views on baptism also are out of accord with the Westminster Standards. Of course, as Jeff Cagle has pointed out, the issue of baptism hinges on the issue of the visible/invisible church distinction. TE Leithart is most clear on this in chapter 3 of his book. His position is that the body of Christ is the visible church, such that being baptized into the visible church means being united to Christ. He argues that 1 Corinthians 12:12 proves this, among other passages (see p. 55). He rejects the syllogism: 1. Baptism admits the baptized to the visible church. 2. The visible church involves an external, conditional, and legal covenant relationship with God. 3. Therefore, baptism admits the baptized into an external, conditional, legal relationship with God. He argues that this is not what the New Testament says (p. 56). Notice that TE Leithart pits the confession against the Scriptures immediately following: “The New Testament applies the language of intimacy to the visible church while the Westminster Confession confines it to the invisible church.” No doubt TE Leithart would only claim that he is going beyond the confession, not against it.

But the syllogism is present in Scripture. It is present in Romans 9:6-10, which plainly indicates an external, conditional, and legal relationship with God (physical descent) that is not equivalent to the internal, unconditional, intimate union (true believers) that the invisible church enjoys. If, however, TE Leithart were correct, then we would have to say that it is possible for a heretical-but-baptized person to have more than an external connection to God. I deny this utterly. This gets at the new category of people that the FV creates, called (not by them) the electrobate. I earlier used to call them geep and shoats.

Furthermore, the passages to which TE Leithart alludes do not support his claims. 1 Corinthians 12, for instance, is not talking about the visible church, but about the invisible church. The baptism by the Spirit in verse 13 points to the thing signified, not to the bare sign. This is clear at the end of the verse, where the same group of people is said to drink of the one Spirit. It is usually argued at this point that Paul is speaking to all the Corinthians, and that therefore Paul can’t be talking about the invisible church here. However, this is not the case, because Paul is speaking using the judgment of charity. He assumes them to be part of the invisible church unless they show themselves to be otherwise. I have yet to see, incidentally, a real attempt at a refutation of the judgment of charity argument. At any rate, it cannot be assumed that simply because Paul is writing to Corinth, that therefore everything he says has to be true of all the members. The same is true of verse 27 in the same chapter. He speaks using the judgment of charity there. TE Leithart thinks that I would be tying myself in knots here (p. 60). On the contrary, the language of the chapter indicates an organic union with Christ, which is not something that can be posited about the reprobate.

Why does TE Leithart’s views here contradict the standards? In a number of ways. Firstly, the special (as in, unique) benefits that the invisible church enjoys include union and communion with Christ in grace and glory (WLC 65), which indicates that the visible church does not in and of itself enjoy union with Christ. Secondly, WLC 68 indicates that those who have the common operations of the Spirit in the visible church “do never truly come to Jesus Christ.” This last phrase is completely unqualified, which means that there is no such thing as a true but lesser union with Jesus Christ that the non-elect can enjoy.

One of the problems here seems to be TE Leithart’s apparent denial that the invisible church is historical. He seems to be saying that those who oppose his view believe that the church is ahistorical (see p. 57). But how can the invisible church be ahistorical? Every member (or at least most members!) of the invisible church is at some point in time a member of the visible church, too. All members of the invisible church have lived their lives in space and time. The invisible church is not merely a way of saying that this is how God looks at the church. For I can know that I am a member of the invisible church. I can know in history that I am a member of the invisible church. The invisible church is not ahistorical.

The formulations of TE Leithart, especially in pp. 59ff, result in a denial of the visible/invisible church distinction. The best he can say for the distinction is that it “captures some of the reality of the church” (p. 59). TE Leithart undermines the distinction on p. 60, when he claims that there is no way to tell whether Paul is addressing the elect within the church or whether he is addressing the whole church. In other words, it is not a biblical distinction, for nowhere can one see it in action, supposedly.

An Answer to TE Rayburn, part 5

The next issue is really the big issue: does TE Leithart teach things that are out of accord with the Westminster Standards. TE Rayburn believes (bottom of p. 2, and top of p. 3) that this has not been proven. More specifically, TE Rayburn believes that the panel is attempting to have their cake and eat it too by saying that TE Leithart is part of the “broader Reformed community,” yet is out of accord with the Westminster standards on fundamental issues. So, we will deal with two issues here. First, the relation of the confession to the broader Reformed community, and then secondly, whether TE Leithart teaches things that are out of accord with the Westminster Standards.

What TE Rayburn is saying amounts to this: the essentials of the Westminster Standards correspond to the broader Reformed community. This would correspond roughly to a “system subscription” view of the Westminster Standards, which, in my mind, creates a standard within the standards. It amounts to a limitation of the essentials of the system to an indeterminate number of doctrinal points, and then saying that that is the Reformed faith. I have dealt with various views of subscription here. The one point I wish to reiterate here is that the Federal Vision debate is NOT about strict subscription! My position is not strict subscription. But people do not understand what good faith subscription actually is. Good faith subscription means that candidates declare their differences with the confession, which are then ruled on by the Presbytery in accordance with the new RAO requirements, and then the Presbytery (after due examination) takes on good faith that the candidate agrees with everything else in the standards. The reason this is important is that some may believe that the particular points controverted are non-essential points to the system.

However, if one does not hold to a system, or loose subscription, then it is quite possible to belong to the “broader Reformed community” and yet hold views that are contrary to the system of doctrine in essential points. For instance, it could easily be argued that Reformed Baptists be included in the “broader Reformed community,” if one defines “Reformed” not as confessionally Reformed, but as soteriologically Reformed. And yet, what Presbytery would ordain a Reformed Baptist? They are part of the “broader Reformed community” and yet they hold views which strike at the essentials of the system of doctrine, particularly on the issues of covenant, church, and baptism. We need here to be reminded of the vows that we take as office-bearers in the church. We vow that we believe that the Westminster Confession is the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture. We do not take a vow that states: “I believe that the Westminster Standards contain the system (or worse, a system) of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture.” This would be a Barthian confessionalism. These vows mean that any differences, however small, need to be taken very seriously by Presbyteries.

Secondly, does TE Leithart teach views that are out of accord with the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster Standards? I believe that he does.

1. TE Leithart’s views on justification collide with the confession on several points. First of all, he connects justification and baptism way too closely (see p. 75 of The Baptized Body). He ascribes a deliverance from sin (his word is “deliverdict”) to justification, and it is most certainly not merely a judicial deliverance from sin’s guilt. He does this by committing the word-concept fallacy in Romans 6:7 (just because the word “justify” is there does not mean that this verse speaks to justification). But the Reformed doctrine of justification is about a verdict of “not guilty,” and it has to do solely with guilt, not with deliverance from sin’s power. The deliverance from sin’s power happens in sanctification, both definitive and progressive. See the following phrases from the WCF: 11.1 “Those whom God effectually calleth, He also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them” (which both definitive and progressive sanctification most certainly are wrought in the believer); 13.1, which hints at definitive sanctification: ” They, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, etc.” This last reference clearly connects any positional sanctification to progressive sanctification, and not to justification, whereas TE Leithart clearly connects definitive sanctification to justification. The next point will wait for the next post.