Archive for the ‘Federal Vision’ Category

Into the Church or Into the Visible Church?

November 10, 2011

Rob Rayburn (in his closing argument in the Leithart trial) stated: “Baptism is a means of grace. It brings a person into the church, the family of God as the Confession itself says.”

Actually, the Confession says “Baptism is a sacrament of the new testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church … .” There is an important qualifier there: “visible.”  It is a merely external admission.  But is that what Leithart teaches?  Or does Leithart affirm that all those who are baptized have more than a merely external union with him?  The Federal Vision Joint Statement (which Leithart signed) seems to suggest the latter in its section on apostasy.


Expert or Not? Jason Stellman Then and Now

November 2, 2011

In the first part of 2011, Jason Stellman solicited for contributions for the expenses of “expert witnesses” (the description used at the time) who were to testify at the trial of Peter Leithart (evidence here).  During the trial, as reported by Stellman himself, Stellman identified his witness as an expert witness:

MODERATOR O’BAN: Well, let me ask the prosecutor, why, what’s the nature of this witness’ testimony if it’s not expert testimony?

STELLMAN: Well, he has read every single theological piece of literature or writing that Leithart has written. He’s read every single book, every single journal article, every single theological book I should say, every journal article. He probably has read as much of Dr. Leithart’s work as anyone else except perhaps Dr. Leithart himself. And so why his competence is called into question here is an answer I would like to hear.

MODERATOR O’BAN: No, I think the question more narrowly framed is in what capacity is this witness being called. He didn’t overhear a statement made by Dr. Leithart that no one else would know but for this witness and in that sense he would be a fact witness. It seems to me you’re calling him because he is conversant on Dr. Leithart’s theology through his writings


MODERATOR O’BAN: And you’re asking him not just simply to regurgitate those writings, but in fact to render and opinion on the nature of those writings vis-à-vis the standards. Correct?

STELLMAN: Correct.

MODERATOR O’BAN: Well, that, that is, I’ll just simply rule, is the capacity of an expert witness. So the question is, is he an expert witness that, it just simply may be that your witness doesn’t, didn’t understand maybe that fine distinction. So you’re calling him here as an expert witness, correct?

STELLMAN: Insofar as I understood what you just said. Yes.


The cross-examination of Stellman’s witness, however, seems not to have gone as Stellman would have liked, in that the defense suggested that Stellman’s witness was not particularly more expert in theology than anyone else in the presbytery before whom was testifying.

Now Stellman has post talking about how there are no expert witnesses in PCA courts (link to post). That is all well and good, and perhaps – after the fact – he is right.  But what was he doing soliciting for contributions for a role that doesn’t exist in the PCA?  Why didn’t he know that there are no expert witnesses in PCA courts during this trial that was so important that he flew what he then considered an “expert witness” to be a part of the trial? I thought Stellman was the prosecutor for the trial?  Shouldn’t he have familiarized himself with the rules of the PCA before the trial began?

It may not be a lost cause.  Stellman’s witness was really called as a fact witness – someone who had carefully read everything that Leithart wrote and could report on that.  Stellman was simply outwitted by those sympathetic to Leithart in his own presbytery. 

Whether or not Stellman knew the rules, the presbytery is charged with following the rules, and while the presbytery’s error in discounting the testimony of a fact witness on grounds that are not really relevant to the fact witness’s role may be in some sense an understandable error under the circumcstances, it is still an error.

One question that the presbytery needed to consider was whether Stellman’s witness or the defense’s witness had a better understanding of Leithart’s teachings.  While theologically training may not be entirely irrelevant to that question, having actually read what Leithart has written seems like a very important consideration, and Stellman’s witness actually read what Leithart wrote.


James Jordan or Joseph Smith?

August 31, 2011

Here’s the quotation: “We shall no longer be under the Father — except in the more general sense that as creatures we shall always be “under” God. As the fully mature Son sits with his Father on his throne, so shall we (Revelation 3:21; John 17:21-22). We shall be co-elders with the Father and the Son. In this final phase, the Spirit will be with us not only as the Spirit of the Father and as the Spirit of the Son, but then fully as the Spirit of Glory. He will fully give us his own Divine property of glory. He will no longer be conveying us either to the Son or to the Father, except as he is the bond of this everlasting fellowship.”

You tell me if that’s James Jordan of “Biblical Horizons” or Joseph Smith of “The Book of Mormon,” “The Doctrines of Salvation,” etc.

How about this one?

“The Father has promised us that through our faithfulness we shall be blessed with the fulness of his kingdom. In other words we will have the privilege of becoming like him. To become like him we must have all the powers of godhood … . We will become gods and have jurisdiction over worlds … .”


With Friends Like These, Jeffrey Meyers Needs Help!

April 20, 2011

A committee of the Missouri Presbytery of the PCA attempted to exonerate Jeff Meyers of the charges of, in essence, being a Federal Visionist. They explained:

In addition to this the [committee] suspects another underlying assumption of the complainants in this first section (II.A), namely, that any man who identifies with FV in some way and has put his name to documents authored by other men who claim the same (i.e. the JFVP), must, de facto, be guilty of doctrinal infidelity and placed on trial for it on the grounds of the GA’s adoption of the declarations in the 2007 Ad-Interim Report on the Federal Vision.

(Report, page 12, lines 25-30)

They then argued that this blanket condemnation is not proper, because the Federal Vision is not a monolithic movement. They then apparently attempted to argue that Meyers is not like the others (i.e. those in error) in the Federal Vision movement with the following explanation:

Wholesale, blanket condemnations of movements are usually very inaccurate and therefore unjust. No church court of the PCA has condemned everything that every person associated the FV believes and teaches. That is why the measure of a man’s fidelity to the Westminster Standards cannot be the views of men identified with FV but rather the judgment of the appropriate church court as it is makes its own judgments and by doctrinal guidelines laid down by higher courts. And here we would simply mention that the MIC duly pressed TE Meyers on the point as to whether he could affirm all the declarations of the 2007 Ad-Interim Report on the Federal Vision and while he does disagree with much of the reasoning in that report, he answered that indeed, he is able to affirm its formal declarations, with a few qualifications he laid out for the MIC (see MICR, Appendix B, JJM Q and A, p. 3)

(Report, page 12, lines 37-47)

The committee thinks this is supposed to help Meyers, but the committee has conceded that Meyers holds neither to the reasoning nor, without qualifications, to the declarations of the 2007 Ad-Interim Report on the Federal Vision.

Consider this declaration:

The view that one can be “united to Christ” and not receive all the benefits of Christ’s mediation, including perseverance, in that effectual union is contrary to the Westminster Standards.

(Declaration 9 from the 2007 Ad-Interim Report on the Federal Vision)

Contrast this item from the Federal Vision Joint Statement:

We affirm that apostasy is a terrifying reality for many baptized Christians. All who are baptized into the triune Name are united with Christ in His covenantal life, and so those who fall from that position of grace are indeed falling from grace. The branches that are cut away from Christ are genuinely cut away from someone, cut out of a living covenant body. The connection that an apostate had to Christ was not merely external.

(Federal Vision Joint Statement, emphasis added)

Moreover, consider that Mr. Meyers has subsequently stated: “Yes, I continue to affirm this statement.”

Moreover, in response to this specific declaration Meyers responded:

Again, this declaration uses the phrase “united to Christ” in quotation marks. In my responses to earlier questions in the last section on baptism and in questions 1–4 of this section, I believe I have answered this already. I believe this statement summarizes a view that is unreformed, unbiblical, and not consistent with the Westminster Standards. If we take “union with Christ” as Westminster defines it and not as a reference to the fact that baptized Christians are “united with him” in the sense that they are in covenant with him as members of his body, of which he is the Head, then this view is wrong.

It is curious that this was accepted. It is particularly curious in view of the fact that in response to the question of apostasy, Meyers wrote:

Apostates do not merely “fall away” from external benefits, but from God himself. “Take heed, brethren, lest there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12).

That seems, again, to affirm what the Federal Vision Joint Statement affirms and what the 2007 Ad Interim Report condemned. Mr. Meyers cannot, it seems, either hold to the reasoning of that report, nor (in an unqualified way) to its declarations. He continues to hold to the errors of the FVJS, but yet the committee suggests he should be given a pass. Remarkable!

Lane Keister has already expressed his amazement over the comment: “ . . . no one school of interpretation on these disputed issues should be adopted as the only orthodox position to the exclusion of the others.” (Report of the Complaint Review Committee, 62). I will simply echo that. I wonder whether the issue is that the Missouri Presbytery doesn’t view the issue of union with Christ and apostasy as big issues, or whether the issue goes beyond that to a general lack of concern over theological issues. It is hard to stomach such a conclusion, but it is also hard to understand how these glaring issues could be overlooked.


N.B. I see that both Mr. Meyers and others have made the report of the committee public. While this is, therefore, a public matter – it is also one that has not yet completed its tour of the PCA court system. It has not come before the General Assembly. Those who may be involved in the final determination matter should take care to observe any PCA rules with respect to circularization.

Paedo-Communion and the Federal Vision

April 11, 2011

Those who signed the Federal Vision Joint Statement hold to paedo-communion. Paedo-communion is contrary to the Reformed confessions. One might think that would be enough of a reason to have the signers removed. It is not, for whatever reasons. Perhaps if they hold to baptismal regeneration, that will be deemed to be enough? Test case.

>Did Otis and/or Aquila Misrepresent Higgins’ Views?

October 4, 2010

>In “Discerning Roman Catholic Tendencies Among Professing Reformed Churches,” published by Dominic Aquila, John Otis gave strong warnings about Craig R. Higgins, calling him a “very dangerous man” and “equally dangerous” with the Federal Visionists such as Peter Leithart.

Otis summarizes his lengthy and detailed analysis this way:

To recap Craig Higgins’ theological errors, they are:

  1. He advocates observing Romish traditions, such as observing Lent as something wise for Presbyterians to do.
  2. He advocates a form of “Reformed Episcopacy,” which is really an advocating of episcopacy rather than Presbyterianism. He even suggests the Pope of Rome ought to be the presiding bishop in an ecumenical visible church.
  3. He denies the distinction between the visible and invisible church.
  4. He advocates a Romish understanding of baptism. He believes in baptismal regeneration- that those in the visible church actually have the benefits of Christ’s redemptive work at their water baptism.
  5. He denies the Reformed understanding of the perseverance of the saints.

These areas warrant church discipline for this teaching elder.

Now, the Metro New York presbytery of the PCA has complained against the publisher, Mr. Aquila, sending a letter to his presbytery declaring that “one of your presbyters, Dominic Aquila, publishes a website entitled “The Aquila Report” ( in which we believe he allows one of the brothers in our presbytery, Craig Higgins, to be slandered.”

You can read the entire letter here (link to copy of letter), but what is glaring is the dissimilarity between Otis’ paper and the MNY’s letter. The former is full of detailed and reasoned analysis and explanation. The latter is little more than handwaving generalities and unsupported accusations. Not one single mistake in Otis’ lengthy analysis is identified with any particularity.

The gist of the complaint amounts to the idea that since Higgins is in good standing with MNY, Aquila shouldn’t be publishing an article that suggests that Higgins is a dangerous false teacher. There is no Biblical or rational basis upon which this ground could be sustained.

Moreover, in order for anyone to take MNY’s complaint against Aquila seriously, they would first need to provide some sort of meaningful response to Otis’ analysis. It’s possible, of course, that a committee of the MNY presbytery has actually prepared such a response in secret. If such a response exists, I would be delighted to read it. Without such a response, however, Otis’ analysis is quite compelling.

Likewise, I’m unaware of any public response from Higgins disputing with particularity even one of the five main points that Otis sought to establish, much less any of the minutia. One would think that such a response would be necessary at a minimum for someone to conclude that Otis’ otherwise apparently sound critique was inappropriate.

Does Otis’ analysis contain mistakes? Perhaps – he is human. But can we find those mistakes? MNY and Higgins have not even told us where we should look to find the mistakes, much less actually demonstrate that any point Otis has raised is either unsupported or in error.

MNY’s letter seems highly imprudent under these circumstances. If MNY’s letter is truthful, and Otis’ analysis does misrepresent Higgins’ views, they have simply ensured that more people will read Otis’ analysis, as they have provided no reason for anyone to disbelieve what Otis has written. On the contrary, if MNY’s letter is untruthful, they have compounded their errors by not only failing to properly discipline Higgins, but also false accusing those who have been exhorting them to do their duty.


Accusations against Pastor Brian Carpenter

August 19, 2010

I found a report on the accusations against Pastor Brian Carpenter (link to report).

There are a lot of accusations mixed together there, but the only seemingly concrete, particular, specific accusation was that Mr. Carpenter had stated:

“He [referring to Pastor Moon] also affirmed that he believes that no reprobate person ever gets justification, and that he believes that the baptized reprobate do get forgiveness of sin in some real sense.”

The accusation alleges that “Mr. Carpenter’s statement [is] false and misleading.”

The accusation explains that “To state the matter as Mr. Carpenter has is to imply that the sort of forgiveness of sins only known and enjoyed by the elect (WCF 11.1) can be known in some real sense by the reprobate. Dr. Moon has never said this and holds no such view.”

But Moon is reported (see this link for the source for the following quotations) as having said: “Again, the complaint alleges TE Lawrence outside the Reformed system when attributing forgiveness of sins and union with Christ to all baptized infants. But the complaint can be raised as well against the author of the Helvetic Confessions. … What has TE Lawrence said that is more than that? Union with Christ, partakers of his righteousness, sins covered: that is our Reformed tradition.”

And again: “TE Lawrence is said to attribute to the reprobate what only belongs to the elect – namely, union with Christ, adoption, forgiveness of sins, and new life. Attributing any of those to the reprobate is, you are being told, contrary to the Standards. But not only is that untrue to the Reformed tradition, it also flies directly in the face of the plain language used in Scripture.”

And yet again: “We are told by the complainants that you cannot attribute forgiveness of sins to the potential reprobate. But that is clearly wrong. The unmerciful servant, Jesus says, was “forgiven his debt.” He moved from a state of condemnation to true and real forgiveness. This was no pretended forgiveness. Yet the servant was finally apostate. He failed to live up to the grace shown to him, and so the privilege of that forgiveness was revoked. And that, Jesus says, is how my father will treat each of you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. This, remember, is addressed to Peter and Christ’s own disciples. It is a parable about forgiveness and apostasy, and gives the complainants no ground at all for their complaint.”

And still further: “In attributing to all the baptized some form of union, adoption, new life, and forgiveness, TE Lawrence is speaking the language of our tradition and of our Scriptures. By refusing to attribute absolute and final union, adoption, new life, and forgiveness, TE Lawrence is directly in line with our Standards.”

I fail to see how Pastor Carpenter’s statement: “He [referring to Pastor Moon] … believes that the baptized reprobate do get forgiveness of sin in some real sense,” is either false or misleading. Could someone from among Pastor Carpenter’s accusers enlighten me? If there is any concern that posting answers to this question publicly would prejudice any case pending in any PCA court, I’m open to receiving answers by email (my email address is available via my blogger profile).


Response to David Meyer on Sola Scriptura

April 7, 2010

David Meyer wrote: “At the end of the Sola Scriptura authority tunnel I find a mirror and a clown suit. I’m not going to put it on. Christ either gave us a church that has a single knowable doctrine, or this is all just a big joke.” (source)

I answer:

I’ve found that the end of the Sola Scriptura authority tunnel has a book. That book is very near to me, in my heart and mouth that I may obey it (Deuteronomy 30:14). It is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105). It is pure, which is why I love it (Psalm 119:140).

It is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). It doesn’t provide a clown suit, but it does outfit me, rendering me complete, throughly furnished unto all good works (2 Timothy 3:17).

It was written so that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing we might have life through his name (John 20:31). Furthermore, it was written so that those who believe may know that they have eternal life (1 John 5:13).

That book, of course, is the divinely inspired Bible – the Holy Scriptures. Having that book doesn’t mean always being right about everything, or even being absolutely sure of every last doctrine. What it does involve, however, is believing on the Lord Jesus Christ and possessing eternal life through faith in Him.


Doug Wilson on Sola Fide

March 30, 2010

“I hold that a man is justified by the sole instrument of God-given faith, as that faith is placed by the grace of God in the active and passive obedience of Jesus Christ alone, He who lived and died in our stead. I maintain that the only legitimate response that a creature may have toward His God, or any words that his God speaks, whether those words are promises, laws, threats, or comforting words, is a response of sheer, unadulterated faith — faith plus nothing else. I also hold that when the response to any of the words of God is something other than this kind of faith, then that response is legal, autonomous, prideful, and damnable.” (source)

What is remarkably absent from this definition is any specific denial of justification by works.

Someone named SovereignLogos responded: “Does this mean that good works are not a legitimate response to God’s laws? Or have you redefined faith in such a way that obedient works = faith? You say “faith plus nothing else.” What other “else” could you have in mind?” (source)

Doug Wilson responded: “SL, we are still talking about justification, right? And even after justification, faith is the sole legitimate response to God’s laws. And of course such faith necessarily results in obedient works — works that are not motivated and driven by faith are actually disobedient works.” (source)

I’m not sure what to make of this. I can’t follow whether Doug Wilson knows the Reformed Shibboleths and is deliberately avoiding pronouncing them to needle the “Truly Reformed” crowd – or whether Doug Wilson is deliberately avoiding the specific question of justification by works because of some other reason – or whether Doug Wilson thinks he has addressed the issue fully with the wording he has provided.

Perhaps I’m in an overly generous mood, but unless Doug Wilson is defining “faith” in two different ways in his two comments, I don’t see how folks think he doesn’t at least profess to hold to sola fide.

Now, whether the Federal Vision stuff that he has been involved with is consistent with sola fide is a separate and important question. Nevertheless, we need to leave open the possibiltiy that Doug Wilson is simply being inconsistent by accepting those Federal Vision tenets that would contradict sola fide, given his seemingly strongly worded commitment to the doctrine above.


Federal Vision and Temporary Faith / Temporary Forgiveness

February 14, 2010

Joshua Moon, pastor of Good Shepherd PCA in Minnetonka, provided (publicly, from the floor of presbytery) a speech in defense of Pastor Lawrence. During the speech he made the following statement: “we are the ones who speak of ‘temporary faith’–not pseudo-faith, but faith that is temporary and so, in the end, not effectual for salvation.”

On the issue of temporary forgiveness (which he seems to connect with temporary faith), he relies improperly on the parable in Matthew 18 that Rayburn also relied on. So does Jeff Meyers, who ties temporary faith and temporary “justification” together (albeit unclearly). Matthew W. Mason at Biblical Horizons provides a more elaborate explanation (including criticism of the real Francis Turretin) in a post he calls “Temporary Faith is Real Faith.”

PCA Pastor (serving in the CREC), and Federal Vision Joint Statement signatory, Peter Leithart contains a similar discussion in his book, Baptized Body (for example, at p. 102). Like Mason, Leithart criticizes the Reformed position taught by the real Francis Turretin.

However, as Leithart himself notes, the rejection of errors at the Council of Dordt included the rejection (canon 7 of the section on Perseverance) of the following group:

Who teach that the faith of those who believe only temporarily does not differ from justifying and saving faith except in duration alone.

For Christ himself in Matthew 13:20ff. and Luke 8:13ff. clearly defines these further differences between temporary and true believers: he says that the former receive the seed on rocky ground, and the latter receive it in good ground, or a good heart; the former have no root, and the latter are firmly rooted; the former have no fruit, and the latter produce fruit in varying measure, with steadfastness, or perseverance.

Yet Joshua Moon’s statement was: “we are the ones who speak of ‘temporary faith’–not pseudo-faith, but faith that is temporary and so, in the end, not effectual for salvation.”

Joshua Moon’s speech alleged that the views of PCA Pastor Lawrence (whom he was defending) are not out of accord with the broad Reformed tradition. Before we address other problems in Moon’s speech, I’ll provide some additional testimony on the subject of temporary faith – and how it is not true faith, but rather a pseudo-faith.

– TurretinFan

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