My Analysis of the “Instructional” Committee’s Report

Wes White and Brian Carpenter have both weighed in on their take of the committee’s report. I agree with their findings. What I wish to do here is to give my own thoughts on the matter, prefaced by a strong emphasis on the primary failing of the committee’s report. As Wes and Brian have both noted, the definition of salvation as “eternal salvation unto glory” does indeed allow the committee to miss the entire point of both investigative committees. Indeed, I believe it also involves a misrepresentation of the accusations, which is ironic, given how often Wes, Brian, and myself have been accused of misrepresentation in these matters. Let me stress once more how important this particular definition is. If salvation is only defined as “eternal salvation unto glory,” then anything less than that would not appear to fall under the stricture of the Westminster Standards, and this is precisely the point at issue. The issue is NOT what happens to those who are decretally elect. The issue IS what do the baptized non-elect receive? Moon and Lawrence have both said that these people receive benefits that use the same language as decretal benefits (justification, union with Christ, adoption), but are not the same as those decretal benefits.

This definition of salvation makes problematic their affirmations 4-5 under baptism that speak of baptism bringing various temporary benefits that are not sufficient for “salvation” (insert narrow definition here), and also their denial that baptism is ever accompanied by “saving” (again, read narrow definition here) operations of the Spirit. Nothing they have said there renders out of bounds an assertion that baptism brings temporarily saving (insert much broader definition of salvation here) benefits, that can still fall under the category of “common operations” of the Spirit. Here there is an ambiguity in the report. Would these temporary benefits like adoption, forgiveness of sins, and union with Christ (defined not in a decretal sense), which Lawrence has explicitly tied to the moment of baptism be labelled by them as common or saving operations of the Spirit? By their own definition of “saving” earlier in the document, these benefits would have to be labelled “common.” However, the word “common” here means common between believers and unbelievers, as in “common grace.” Baptism, therefore, cannot be the delineating mark of whether these benefits happen to baptized reprobate or not.

Under the “quotation a,” I noticed an unfortunate word choice in their discussion of faith related to justification. They call faith the “sole absolute requirement for our justification, and the requirement without which the full and saving benefits of baptism cannot be enjoyed.” One issue here is the with the word “absolute.” Why is that word needed? Would we lose anything by cutting it out, and reading “the sole requirement for our justification?” The word “absolute” might seem to suggest that other subordinate things are (normally) required, things like baptism. I am also uncomfortable with the phrase “full and saving benefits of baptism.” What does that mean? They told us that they were using the term “saving” in the sense of “eternal salvation unto glory.” In that case, baptism (if we are talking about the water rite) does not carry saving benefits. It is not instrumental in our justification, our obtaining of eternal life.

Under quotation b, again we have the problem mentioned above concerning the definition of “salvation.” For here, they all agree that the benefits of Romans 6 “belong finally only to the elect.” Why that qualifying word “finally?” These benefits of being buried with Christ, dead to sin (Romans 6:2) and rising with Christ to new life (Romans 6:4, 8), being freed from sin (Romans 6:7); can they belong temporarily to the non-elect? The report does not address this issue whatsoever. It only says that the saving (read narrow definition here) way of holding these benefits belongs only to the elect. But of course. No disagreement there whatsoever. Nor was there ever any disagreement on this point. It is somehow supposed to calm our fears when we are told that TE Lawrence believes that faith is necessary for salvation, and that baptism is not sufficient for salvation. These points do not address the issue at all. Everyone thinks that faith is necessary, and everyone believes that baptism is not sufficient for salvation. Would even the staunchest Roman Catholic deny these two points? These are a few of my thoughts. If I have time for more, I will write more.