Posted by David Gadbois
I know there is an avalanche of great Leithart-related material streaming into Greenbaggins at this time, and I don’t mean to distract us too much from the primary issues of substance Lane and Reed have been focusing on, but I did want to slip in a few thoughts on Union with Christ that I made down in the combox of the “It Comes Down To This” post in response to one of the commenters there, and perhaps solicit some further discussion on the matter. I have slightly modified my comment for posting here.
[previous commenter]: Are there reprobate within the visible Church, i.e., the kingdom of Christ? So, it’s quite plain that “in some sense” the reprobate within the visible Church are united to Christ.
I keep hearing variations of this argument but, no, it is not “plain” that they are “united” to Christ in any sense. There are logical steps and arguments that are missing to get from the premise that since some reprobate men are in the covenantal community of Christ and outward administration of the covenant of grace to the conclusion that they must be “in some sense” united with Christ. To speak of having unity with Christ – being one with Christ- is a profound thing, and it certainly must mean more than that they simply have a relation or connection to Christ. Even unbelievers outside of the covenant have a relation to Christ, in some sense.
First, it is a disingenuous move on the FV part to have the qualifier “in some sense” operate as a blanket over their formulation to cover their hides, so that it might mean almost anything and they don’t have to actually define what sense that is. For this and other reason FV has earned its reputation for being very weak on systematic theology.
We normally mean several things when we talk about being united with Christ, the union is legal, that is it is federal where Christ is our head as the second Adam, as well as existential (“mystical union”), the subjective sharing in the life of Christ by the operation of the Holy Spirit, wherein Christ is formed in us (Galatians 4:19). The reprobate clearly do not share in this union.
It is assumed that since the reprobate can be members of the covenant of grace and, indeed can be marked by the seal of the covenant, that this would imply a unity with Christ. But that would only be true if covenant membership in and of itself conveyed the blessing of union with Christ and other salvific blessings, that the covenant was unconditional. But Reformed theology and the WCF clearly see the CoG as conditional, the terms of the covenant state that true faith in Christ is required for the blessings promised. FVers always lose sight of the issue of conditional vs. unconditional promises in their conception of the covenant.
I think part of the problem with the FV is that they make the marriage covenant/relationship into a controlling paradigm for the covenant of grace and covenantal community, and it is the case that even the worst marriages still presuppose a level of existential unity and intimacy. But the Bible only actually establishes that there are similarities between the two, the analogy does not always hold up due to the discontinuities between them. The FV try to press this analogy to do the hard work for establishing their conclusions, rather than actually establishing their specific conceptions of the nature of the covenant from Scripture.
All of this reasoning also seems to ignore the fact that the Scriptures paint an adversarial picture of all those who are unregenerate, whether inside or outside of the covenant. In what sense can someone who is at enmity with God, with minds set on the flesh, not things of the Spirit, and that cannot please God (Romans 8) be said to be one with Christ? Indeed, “anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”
Old Saint Berkhof steers us right when he remarks concerning “Erroneous Conceptions of the Mystical Union”:
Another error to be avoided is that of the sacramentarians, represented by the Roman Catholic Church and by some Lutheran and High Church Episcopalians….It makes the grace of God something substantial, of which the Church is the depositary, and which can be passed on in the sacraments; and completely loses sight of the fact that the sacraments cannot effect this union, because they already presuppose it.