Two Unions?

It’s been a while since I actually posted on a theological topic vis-a-vis the Federal Vision, but I was prompted to do so by this article on the Aquila Report. I have a very high respect for Shane Lems and Andrew Compton both. Nevertheless, it seems to me that one aspect of Shane’s blog post needs a bit of sharpening.

The Federal Vision will typically claim that union with Christ is a losable benefit. When pressed, however, they will usually admit to two different unions: one that the elect have with Christ which is not losable, and one that the non-elect have with Christ, which is losable. The way I have typically described this is that the FV is Calvinistic with regard to the elect, and Arminian with regard to the non-elect who have this temporary union with Christ. However, they claim that the union with Christ which the non-elect have is a real union.

So, the point of Shane Lems’s article that I would gently suggest needs a little sharpening is his quotation of WLC 66 to address the losable union question. That question is explicitly talking about the union that the elect have with Christ. In my opinion, a better way to get at the question is to ask the question of whether the non-elect can have true union with Christ. Exegetical questions would revolve around John 15, in particular, which has been hashed out before on this blog. For other exegetical discussions, see the index.

For the confessional material, it seems easier to get at the issues by referring to those sections that talk about true union belonging only to the elect. WLC 68 is particularly apropos: “Are the elect only effectually called? All the elect, and they only, are effectually called: although others may be, and often are, outwardly called by the ministry of the word, and have some common operations of the Spirit; who, for their wilful neglect and contempt of the grace offered to them, being justly left in their unbelief, do never truly come to Jesus Christ” (emphasis added). Question 63 combined with question 65 is also a clear place to go, since those questions refer to the special benefits that members of the visible church enjoy (none of which includes union with Christ), and the special (or particular) benefits that the invisible church enjoys (which includes union).


  1. Reed Here said,

    November 15, 2013 at 8:11 am

    Good summary and advice Lane.

  2. November 15, 2013 at 10:14 am

    […] Article: Two Unions? by Lane […]

  3. November 15, 2013 at 10:14 am

    You make a good point. My thought when reading Shane’s piece was that the FV guys would simply reply that the non-elect have a different kind of union.

  4. November 15, 2013 at 11:44 am

    Lane – thanks for the note! Someone pointed me here, so I noted and linked your “sharpening” on the Reformed Reader article mentioned. Appreciate it.

  5. Elliot Pierce said,

    November 15, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    If the FV accepts that the union of the non-elect is different from the non-elect, how can they deny the distinction between visible and invisible church? I suspect the FV adherent are only paying lip service to the notion here. Otherwise, they’ve admitted a crucial thing: God deals with the elect and non-elect baptized differently. If you press this enough, you could lead them back to orthodoxy.

  6. Reed Here said,

    November 15, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    Elliot: while the FV men will make the union distinction Lane observes, they also refuse the invisible-visible church distinction. Instead they opt for the historic (the visible church as it is now) and the eschatological (the visible church as it will be on the day of judgment).

    The net effect of these two is to in practice eliminate the functional distinction between unions. No one can know what union they partake of since the only thing visible is the historic church, made up of folks with both kinds of union. This then compels the emphasis on faithtfulness. In spite of all sorts of caveats to this word the FV effectively eliminates the Bible’s distinction between faithfulness (adherence in belief on Jesus alone for salvation) and its fruits, good works. The FV in practice becomes one of folks who don’t know if they are elect united or non-elect united to Christ, busy pursuing a faithfulness that is nothing less than striving for good works.

    It may not be that each individual FV is living the Christian life as under the law, the whole ministry of assurance its effects (cf., Rom 8) is wiped out. Desiring to remove valid weaknesses of Evanjellyfish the FV simply promotes reliance on self.

  7. Michael said,

    November 15, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    Your explanation of the FV is no different than Rome, which makes the whole SJC decision more befuddling. Once the camel’s nose is in the tent…

  8. Mark Kim said,

    November 15, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    It seems the view that the FV people are espousing is a Lutheran view of union and perseverance: the elect will never lose this union, but the non-elect will.

    Practically speaking, what the FV proponents advocate is not within the scope of historic Reformed theology in regards to the relationship between a believer’s union and perseverance. Also, how can one gain assurance under the FV system? How does one truly know he is an elect believer who will never fall from grace?

  9. November 15, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    What Mark said, which, by the by, is what I said at AAII- You guys aren’t heretics, you’re Lutherans.

  10. locirari said,

    November 15, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    Also, how can one gain assurance under the FV system? How does one truly know he is an elect believer who will never fall from grace?

    The answer is, one can’t. The FV wants to say that the Election talked about in Ephesians 1 is for everyone in the church, head for head. If that can be lost, you’re left with, at best, quasi-assurance à la Steve Wilkins: I know God will remain faithful as long as I stay close to him.

  11. November 15, 2013 at 8:50 pm

    I wrote a long piece on Union with Christ back in 2007. FV doesn’t have a leg to stand on within Reformed orthodoxy, but I sometimes wonder if this is what Frame had in mind when he questioned whether one can do “cutting-edge theology” today.

  12. November 16, 2013 at 4:22 am

    […] Rev. Lane Keister wrote an article about it here. […]

  13. November 16, 2013 at 7:11 am

    Has anyone done the research to see a parallel between the FV arguments and the Remonstrants arguments with respect to perseverance? If the parallel is clear, and I would think it would be, wouldn’t that go a long way to show folks that FV is not Reformed?

  14. November 16, 2013 at 10:04 am

    […] note: see Lane @ Green Baggins' helpful "sharpening" of my article below.  Thanks […]

  15. GLW Johnson said,

    November 17, 2013 at 11:05 am

    I see that Doug Wilson has decided to do something of a mea culpa- acknowledging that perhaps it is not best to use the express ‘union with Christ’ to describe what the FV is trying to say- but , once again this is a smoke screen. Wilson thinks it is just a question of sematics, but it much more than that . The FV contends that the non elect covenant members actually do possess all the redemptive benefits ( adoption, forgiveness of sins, justification i.e.) that the real elect do-save for perseverance. Dropping the expression ‘union with Christ’ while insisting on retaining the redemptive benefits given to the non-elect covenant members is STILL outside the boundaries of the WCF.

  16. Tim Harris said,

    November 17, 2013 at 11:24 am

    Faith is so central to Lutheranism that I think it is a serious mistake to count FV — which insists that faithless persons can be united to Christ — as a move toward Lutheranism. Nor have I ever seen a LUTHERAN make this claim. It is generally Reformed holding a rather imperfect concept of Lutheranism that make this claim.

  17. Mark Kim said,

    November 17, 2013 at 5:47 pm


    Lutherans do have this in common with the FV: non-elect believers do possess, for a temporary period of time, the benefits of Christ’s death (except the gift of perseverance). The Lutheran theologian John Theodore Mueller states this in his “Christian Dogmatics” on pp. 436-440 (on perseverance). Cf. also Augsburg Confession, Art. XII (against the Anabaptists).

    However, I agree that the commonalities stop there between traditional Lutheranism and the Federal Vision. Lutherans reject the monocovenantal assertions of the FV and strongly affirm that faith alone in Christ alone is what justifies a sinner (even though this justified state can be forfeited through willful apostasy). The FV folks, on the other hand, assert that a believer must “keep the law” in order to maintain his justified status and prove to be one of the elect (as along as he or she perseveres in this law-keeping). That is why FV has more commonalities with Rome than historic Reformed orthodoxy. No traditional Reformed theologian since the sixteenth century (this includes Calvin!) has ever said that a person who is truly justified may lose that justification if he or she fails to keep the law.

  18. Tim Harris said,

    November 17, 2013 at 7:52 pm


    Are you sure you mean Art. 12? I don’t find a relevant discussion there.

    However, Quenstedt, in Theologia Didactico-Polemica, Part 4, chap. 15, Section 2, Ques. 1, says, “They who are gathered by the call into the assembly of the church are of two different kinds: Some are inwardly regenerated, renewed, and endowed with true faith by the Holy Spirit and in this way become true and live members of the church; and some, lacking inner regeneration and holiness, associate themselves only by outward fellowship…the former are true and live members of the church, who draw life and breath from Christ the Head; the latter are putrid and dead. The former belong to the church inwardly; the latter only outwardly; … the former in respect to inner and spiritual union with Christ, the latter in respect to outward association, profession, and fellowship.” The key phrase I would draw attention to in this context is the last: inner and spiritual union with Christ.

    Also, the point is not to search for some one point of contact, as even the doctrine of demons has various points of contact.

  19. Sjoerd de Boer said,

    November 19, 2013 at 1:43 am

    With all the agreement and sympathy I have for the battle against the false teachers of the FV -and they have no right to stay in any denomination who has the desire and the commitment to stay in the Biblical Reformed tradition- I truly wish there would be as much time and effort spent on a way more present but seemingly latent danger within many PCA congregations.
    How many times I left a worship service without having heard any call to repentance and faith at all to even consider that there would be something like a difference between an outward calling and an effectual calling. Many times it is just exegesis and when it comes to application it seems always to concern the lost people outside the church doors or apparent apostates which gives me always the impression that those preachers must view their whole congregation as “in union with Christ” or in other words there is in their “sermon practice” no difference between the visible church and invisible church, even though if you would ask them after the service (and believe me, I did more than once) he would affirm the confession. If, however, it would come during a sermon to the call, “if you are not a true christian, I urge you to come to Christ!”, there never was or followed a biblical description of what a true christian looks like to compare with the hearer’s life and experience.
    Like Calvin once said, “there should be preached in such a way that an unbeliever (whether covenant member or not) comes to the point of decision, ‘I have to bow for Christ or come here no more’ ”
    American churches are full of religious people who want to make sure they die as a christian, (but live like the world) and are not willing to live like a christian.

  20. December 14, 2013 at 10:28 am

    […] Two Unions? ( […]

  21. December 21, 2013 at 8:48 am

    […] Two Unions? ( […]

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