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Sunday, April 04, 2010

Federal Vision Teachers - Worthy to be Abhorred or Simply Dunces?

“We affirm that there is only one true Church, and that this Church can legitimately be considered under various descriptions, including the aspects of visible and invisible.”

This is one of the most troubling statements of the FV. The statement communicates that there is only one church, which can be described in terms of its being visible and invisible. The implication of such a construct is that the invisible church and the visible church are the same church. From that false premise comes much confusion and outright error. To make the point more clearly, consider the following modification of the statement: We affirm that there is only one true God, and that this God can legitimately be considered under various descriptions, including the aspects of transcendence and immanence. The modified statement, which uses the same construct of the FV statement, clearly communicates that the one transcendent God is the same God as the immanent God. That is true. Transcendence and immanence are simply two aspects of the one God. Is the FV statement true in this way? Is the visible church the same church as the invisible church? The FV statement clearly implies that they are one and the same; for it states that there is “only one true Church” that can be described in various ways, like visible and invisible. How can they claim such a theology and also claim to be Reformed?

In contrast to FV theology, now consider Reformed theology: “The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of Him that fills all in all…The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.”

Note the difference. Within Reformed theology the invisible and visible churches are not the same church. The invisible church consists of the elect who will all possess Christ, whereas the visible church consists of those who profess Christ. On that basis alone, the FV may not be considered “Reformed” in any sense of the word. The FV is comprised of a bunch of muddled thinking men.

The Federal Vision blurs the visible-invisible church distinction and has a faulty view of the Covenant of Grace. Accordingly, they imagine that through water baptism one is united to the very life of Christ. Consequently, if one who was baptized with water were to deny the faith, he would in Federal Vision terms truly fall from grace and lose the life he had in Christ.

Federal Vision theology does affirm that all who have been justified will be glorified. Notwithstanding, how can one who has been justified be assured of his final state of salvation, glorification, if he can in fact fall from grace and lose the life in Christ he supposedly had? It is no wonder that assurance of salvation in the Federal Vision is limited only to the objective truth that those God has justified will be glorified. Federal Vision theology makes no room for personal, subjective assurance of one’s final salvation; indeed how can it if one can truly fall from grace and lose his life in Christ that is alleged to be given to all in the church?

The Federal Vision is correct that the “the decretally elect cannot apostatize”. But by blurring the visible-invisible church distinction and attributing a former life in Christ to those who outwardly deny the faith, the truly justified that will one day prove themselves elected unto glory is left no place to ground his assurance of his justification. After all, both those elected unto glory and those who deny the faith allegedly share in the same life in Christ and consequently must have the same grounds for assurance of perseverance, which becomes no grounds at all since some with life will not persevere.

Federal Vision proponents would do well to learn that the Covenant of Grace was established only with Christ as the Second Adam and in Him, with the elect. Consequently, the promises the covenant contemplates are restricted to the same, the elect – the invisible church, which comes from a systematic theology the Federal Vision abhors.

Any system of theology that would make such claims and create such confusion for God's people is abhorrent, but the teachers of the Federal Vision are not in my estimation so much to be abhorred but simply regarded for what they are, dunces. Note well, I would never use such language to describe those who are walking in the ways of the Federal Vision or even standing in the way. It is only the ones who have taken a seat in order to teach Federal Vision do I consider dunces. After all, it is they who have studied hard and still haven't a clue about the doctrines of church, salvation and covenant. For that they are to sit in the corner in shame.


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Anti-FV said...

What a disgusting document. Not yours. I mean the link you provided to theirs. It’s remarkable yet not surprising how little the FVers say about assurance of salvation:

Assurance of Salvation
“We affirm that those who have been justified by God's grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are saved to the uttermost and will spend eternity with Christ and his saints in glory forever. We affirm also that though salvation is granted through the instrument of faith alone, those who have been justified will live progressively more and more sanctified lives until they go to be with God. Those believers for whom this is true look to Christ for their assurance—in the Word, in the sacraments, in their fellow believers, and in their own participation in that life by faith. We deny that anyone who claims to have faith but who lives in open rebellion against God and against his Christ has any reason to believe that he will be saved on the last day.”

You're right they can't speak of individual assurance.

Here are some other statements that are intentionally vague:

“And at some time in the earthly life of each person so chosen, the Holy Spirit brings that person to life, and enables him to persevere in holiness to the end. Those covenant members who are not elect in the decretal sense enjoy the common operations of the Spirit in varying degrees, but not in the same way that those who are elect do.”

How can one know he is saved when they can be elected in the covenant but not in a “decretal sense”!

And then this… “We affirm the reality of the decrees, but deny that the decrees "trump" the covenant. We do not set them against each other, but expect them to harmonize perfectly as God works out all things in accordance with His will.”

Yea they expect them to harmonize but live in a world where they don’t.

More confusions…”We affirm that there is only one true Church, and that this Church can legitimately be considered under various descriptions, including the aspects of visible and invisible. We further affirm that the visible Church is the true Church of Christ, and not an "approximate" Church”

So whatever applies to the converted people in the church (like union with Christ) also applies to everyone in the visible church?

Anonymous said...

"Those believers for whom this is true look to Christ for their assurance—in the Word in the sacraments, in their fellow believers, and in their own participation in that life by faith...."

They seek but the cannot find...

"We deny that anyone who claims to have faith but who lives in open rebellion against God and against his Christ has any reason to believe that he will be saved on the last day.”

What about all the other people who are *not* in "open rebellion" but attend church and are not converted? What happens to them -- can they have assurance through the Spirit and life they are claimed to have? What happens to the "infallible" assurance the Reformed Faith teaches? How can that be had when many FVer say that in baptism everyone is united to Christ in the same way? Ron, I think you might being too kind calling these guys mere dunces though they are that for sure.

Anonymous said...

Rich Lusk says:

"In baptism, We are united (or married) to the crucified, buried, and risen Christ (Rom. 6:1ff), though we can be cut off (or divorced) from him if we are unfaithful (Rom. 11:17ff; cf. Jn. 15:1ff), We are forgiven (Acts 2:38, 22:16; cf. the Nicene Creed), We receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38), We are cleansed (Eph. 5:26), We are regenerated and renewed (Titus 3:5), We are buried and resurrected with Christ (Col. 2:11-12), We are circumcised in heart (Col. 2:11-12), We are joined to the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13), We are clothed with Christ (Gal. 3:27), We are justified and sanctified (1 Cor. 6:11), We are saved (1 Pt. 3:20-21), We are ordained as priests with access to the heavenly sanctuary (Heb. 10:19-22). Of course, the ultimate proof of baptism's efficacy rests in the baptism of Jesus himself. Here, we have the ultimate paradigm for understanding God's work in baptism. Jesus received the Spirit in fullness at his baptism, and was declared to be the beloved Son of the Father. With appropriate qualifications, this is what God does in our baptisms as well: He pours out his Spirit upon us and declares us to be his dearly loved children. In context, none of these passages teach baptism automatically guarantees salvation. But they do teach that God does a great work in baptism, a work that may be considered the beginnings of salvation for those God has elected to persevere to the end"

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

I am not inclined to make too many remarks on this matter but the Lusk quote probably needs some commentary. All of the aspects Lusk indexes to baptism can be defended by Scripture, even easily. The problem is that the Federal Vision does not appreciate, rather is unwilling to acknowledge, that in Scripture the reality of the thing signified is often attributed to the sign of the thing signified. Added to this, although the Federal Vision is correct that all within the baptized church are to be regarded as united to Christ, it should not lead us to speak of those who eventually deny their profession as if they had lost their salvation or their existential union with Christ. The apostle John explains such apostasy in terms of the one not being "really of us" in the first place; that distinction, however, requires "doing" some systematic theology, something foreign to all who employ a cultish hermeneutic. Finally, given that some do fall away from their profession, the Federal Vision wants to speak in terms of the covenant promises as being conditional, which is to say conditioned upon one's faithfulness. That is one of the foundations of their many doctrinal errors. The covenant promise - being a PROMISE - will come to fruition, which presupposes that the covenant is not established indiscriminately but rather only with Christ as the Second Adam, and in him with the elect who are existentially united to Him.

Something the Federal Vision does not grasp:

Abraham pleaded that his son Ishmael might live before God in faithfulness. (Genesis 3:18) God refused Abraham’s request, saying “as for Ishmael, I have heard thee… but my covenant will I establish with Isaac” not Ishmael (Genesis 17: 20, 21). Notwithstanding, all those who were of the household of Abraham were to receive the sign and seal of the covenant, as if they themselves were partakers of the promise of God.

The theological distinction of the visible and invisible church was well in view, even at the time of Abraham. Although this was the theology of the Covenant, the apostle still had to labor the point to the New Testament saints at Rome. After telling his hearers that nothing could separate God’s people from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:39), the apostle had to explain why the people of God, to whom the promises pertained, had fallen away from the faith. How, in other words, could the people of God become apostate if the promise of redemption would come to fruition? With his pedagogical background in place, the apostle explained the timeless Old Testament Covenant Theology, which is that although God established his covenant with the elect in Christ, it was to be administered to those who were reprobate as long as they were of the household of a professing believer. Consequently, it is not hard to imagine that they are not all true Israel who are from external Israel (Romans 9:6); and that all the New Testament church is not the true church. “That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed” (Romans 9:8).

So when one departs from the faith, they went out because they were not truly of us. (1 John 2:19) Federal Vision does not grasp this elementary doctrine. That's why they need to sit in the corner.


Wes White said...

Ronald, this is a great post. Thanks for your good work here. Where are you serving as a Ruling Elder in the OPC?

Wes White

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Hi Pastor Wes,

I'm serving in Elkton, MD, which is very northern Maryland. I was on loan there from my session in Wilmington, DE and over time Lisa and I developed a deep appreciation and love for the mission work and the people, though we do miss our old friends at Emmanuel OPC in Wilmington. After calling David T. King who was a member of one of the presbyteries in the southeast (southern GA area) we transfered. I'm still on a provisional session as we have not yet particularized as a congregation.

Thanks for your encouraging word.



P.S. We used to walk up the street for worship. Now we drive thirty minutes!

Anonymous said...

"Finally, given that some do fall away from their profession, the Federal Vision wants to speak in terms of the covenant promises as being conditional, which is to say conditioned upon one's faithfulness. That is one of the foundations of their many doctrinal errors. The covenant promise - being a PROMISE - will come to fruition, which presupposes that the covenant is not established indiscriminately but rather only with Christ as the Second Adam, and in him with the elect who are existentially united to Him."

Ron, don't you agree that there are conditions in the covenant? How do you deal with those?


Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...


Very good point. When one calls the covenant unconditional, he is using the same designation as he would when he speaks of election being unconditional. The objects of God's covenant promise and his election were not based upon what man would be required to "do" in order for the promise to be received. Rather, God grants anything man must do to receive what God first wants to give him. There are indeed conditions that must be met for the promises the covenant contemplates to be received and enjoyed. Yet notwithstanding, these conditions are to be seen as reciprocal responses that God effects in his elect - to whom (and only whom) the promise is made. The point being, the bases upon which God establishes his covenant with anyone in the first place is His sovereign desire to fulfill the promise that He will, not might, be their God. You see the parallel with election and covenant I trust. The point being, the covenant promise to those God establishes the covenant must be seen in terms of God's election, which Genesis 17, Galatians 3 and Romans 9 most unambiguously demonstrate. Notwithstanding, the covenant is to be outwardly administered to (as opposed to established with) some who are not necessarily children of the promise (Romans 9), who being such will eventually be grafted out, either in their mortal life, or at the judgment. (NOTE: Doug Wilson in particular would like to build his entire ecclesiology on the vine metaphors found in John 15 and Romans 11, which is hazardous to say the least. It would be like building a doctrine of purgatory on the parable of the unforgiving servant: "His lord was angry, and delivered him to the tormentors, until he should pay all that was due to him.")

For the Federal Vision a conditional covenant is one that is established both with God's elect and non-elect within the visible church. (Obviously they don't put it so clearly as that, but that is because they don't speak in terms of the visible-invisible church in any clear, unambiguous way.) Therefore, Federal Vision envisions the covenant in terms of conditional-election as opposed to unconditional election; the reason being, the covenant blessings in Federal Vision thought might not be enjoyed by all for whom those blessings are intended. The covenant is no longer particular, which they are fairly up-front about. Randy Booth and I discussed this matter many years ago at a Van Til conference and he insisted that since there are what Scripture calls "covenant breakers" that therefore the covenant must pertain to them no differently than it pertains the elect. The Federal Vision simply ignores the reason for Israel's apostasy; the distinction made in Romans nine is that they who fell away were not children of the promise.You see the aversion to any systematic theology, and the affinity to selective proof-texting? Steve Schlissel may have been the worst in this regard, at least on the former point.

How may men such as these remain in a Reformed denomination when not only would they teach such confusion but worse than that, the trajectory of such error? To be muddled is one thing. To be consistently muddled is usually worse, as we see with the most consistent Arminians, the Open Theists. I have sincere sorrow for not just the congregations of these Federal Vision leaders, but in many respects more so for the wives and children of these men who have stood by them in their destructive error. The congregants had a distinct "advantage" over the wives and families. The congregants could depart in good conscience.


Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...


For what it's worth, one dear woman I know, whose husband is now a pastor in the PCA, came up to me in tears after sitting in a Sunday school class I was teaching. She had tears of joy because her father and mother from Texas were in a class that I had so happened to have been teaching on covenant theology. Apparently her father's PCA church had been rent in two by the aberrant Federal Vision, and she was overjoyed that he could hear the contrary doctrine of that which had destroyed their church. The church situation was described to me as one as if a train from Moscow, Idaho had run right through the middle. Imagine that being your legacy to the church - divisive false doctrine?

One good thing that has come from all of this confusion is that many have become better covenant theologians. It's no different than the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone becoming clearer due to Tetzel hocking the grace of God for a coin. One of God's gifts to the church is that there will be heresies (doctrinal error) among us.


dtking said...


I offer one exception to your comments about those words from Lusk. You are very much on the target of Scripture to note that it often attributes the reality of the thing signified to the sign itself. But here is the exception - no where in Scripture does it ever say that we are justified by baptism.

Always grateful for you!

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

David – thanks for stopping by [the Blog] today. :)

Yes, Justification is not explicitly indexed to baptism - unless of course one takes Lusk’s reference to 1 Cor. 6:11 regarding washing, justification and sanctification, but with Hodge (Charles) I find that interpretation strained. Galatians 3:27 does speak of our being clothed with Christ in our baptism, and if we pick up the context from verse 23 on, it would seem as though in baptism several blessings of union with Christ are in view - certainly adoption and possibly justification. At the very least, I would think that being clothed with Christ certainly paints a picture of an alien righteousness.

Regardless how we interpret those passages, I think that although justification is not explicitly attributed to baptism, forgiveness of sins is (Acts: 28), which is a major component to justification and only granted to those who are justified. Moreover, given all of the other benefits that are attributed to the sign of baptism, which are only granted to those who are justified, I would think that we would have to infer by good and necessary inference that baptism also signifies full justification, lest we divide all the benefits of union with Christ, which baptism certainly signs and seals.

But yes, your specific point is well taken. I'm not sure whether it is very incriminating of Lusk, since what is necessarily inferred is as doctrinally true as what is explicitly stated, not that you were suggesting otherwise.



Anonymous said...


That was a very charitable response to dtking. You must realize he was wrong (just as your response suggests).