Sunday, May 20, 2007

I read through the testimony and was disappointed.

Initial thoughts: I'm disappointed for at least these reasons:

1. it says there are errorists "out there" but does not name nor cite them;
2. it puts forward many "errors" without proving that there actually are people within the circle of confessionally conservative Reformed and Presbyterian churches who hold to those specific "errors";
3. it puts forward the questionable distinction between "the invisible church" and "the visible church" as if it were fact;
4. it suggests that to reject the doctrine of "covenant of works" is an error;
5. it holds that the covenant of grace is established with the elect;
6. it says that the covenant of grace was made with Christ;
7. it denies that the covenant has conditions;
8. it is unclear about what, if anything, happens at baptism.

After I read the testimony, I thankfully reread Jelle Faber's American Secession Theologians on Covenant and Baptism.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Rev GvP

The topic of the Federal Vision and the testimony of our brothers at MARS is something of a great deal of interest for me and not something that I am entirety clear on myself. If you wouldn’t mind perhaps you could clarify a few things for me.

4. it suggests that to reject the doctrine of "covenant of works" is an error;

My understanding is that there are two ways to be richious beofre God. 1) obey the law, never sin and be born without original sin. 2) be united with someone who did number 1. Option 1 is really no option at all for us and leaves only option 2. If there was no covenant of works the Jesus did not fulful such a covenant and we are still in our sin. Isn’t this the basic distinction between Law and Gospel?

5. it holds that the covenant of grace is established with the elect;
6. it says that the covenant of grace was made with Christ;

How can the covenant of grace be established with both the elect and with Jesus Christ? The covenant of works is fulfilled by Christ and the covenant of grace is established with Christ. We enter into this covenant through faith in Jesus Christ. This is what it means to be under grace and no longer under the law.

7. it denies that the covenant has conditions;

The covenant’s conditions are fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. To make “faith” a condition of the new covenant makes faith into some kind of work. The new covanant is the fulfilment of the old and faith is the vehical by which we are included in Christ. That faith itself is a gift from God, not something we can coujour up on our own.

8. it is unclear about what, if anything, happens at baptism.

What does happen at baptism?

Agricola said...

Re: 4. the "covenant of works." There are two ways to be righteous before God: 1. obey the law yourself; 2. believe in the Lord Jesus Christ who died on the cross for sinners. Option 1 is not an option. The only way to be righteous before God is to be reconciled with God by way of the substitutionary atonement of Christ. Because Christ was sinless, being neither tainted by original sin nor having committed any actual sins, He was the perfect and spotless lamb who could make atonement for our sin. By faith we are united with Christ that perfect lamb and thus saved by his obedient sacrifice. The basic distinction between law and gospel is 1. save yourself by obedience to the law; 2. be saved by someone who died for sinners.

My quibble with the "covenant of works" is that it does not treat Adam for what he was: the son of God (Luke 3:38). It suggests that Adam had to earn a standing with God by way of works. That's wrong. Adam was in a good standing with God by virtue of his sonship. I'd rather call that covenant the "covenant of favour." He did not nead to earn anything, but he threw the good relationship away when he disobeyed the commandment of life; hence, another son had to come, the Son of God, to pay for man's sin.

Re: 5 & 6: I don't know either. The MARS statement is confusing here. No covenant is established with Christ; rather, the covenant of grace is established with believers and their children and Christ is the mediator of the covenant. To call Christ the mediator of the covenant is biblical language (Heb 8:6; 9:15; 12:24).

Re: 7: As the baptismal form says, "… every covenant has two parts, a promise and an obligation…." ("Obligation" is another word for "condition.") The condition is faith and obedience. Again, as the baptismal form says, "… through baptism we are called and obliged by the Lord to a new obedience…." We do not earn anything by way of faith and obedience. Faith and obedience are not our work; rather, they are God's work in and through us. But without faith and obedience, one is a covenant-breaker and will not be saved.

Re: 8: What happens at baptism? Lord's Day 27 of the Heidelberg Catechism says that by baptism, as sign of the covenant, the children are incorporated into the Christian church and are distinguished from the children of unbelievers. Article 34 of the Belgic Confession says that baptism is the sign and sacrament of what Christ has done for the children, that is, He has washed them of their sin.

Anonymous said...

Re: 7: As the baptismal form says, "… every covenant has two parts, a promise and an obligation…." ("Obligation" is another word for "condition.") The condition is faith and obedience. Again, as the baptismal form says, "… through baptism we are called and obliged by the Lord to a new obedience…." We do not earn anything by way of faith and obedience. Faith and obedience are not our work; rather, they are God's work in and through us. But without faith and obedience, one is a covenant-breaker and will not be saved.

Rather then saying people aren’t saved because they broke the condition(s) of the new covenant why not simply say that people aren’t saved if they don’t put their hope and trust in Jesus Christ? This might seem like a minor distinction to you but it caused about 20 years of grief, legalism and works-righteousness on my part and I am not alone in that among the CanRC. I hate to say this but CanRC’s version of covenant theology (while it may not be technically incorrect) clouds the basic most essential truth of the Gospel in the way it is presented.

Re: 8: What happens at baptism? Lord's Day 27 of the Heidelberg Catechism says that by baptism, as sign of the covenant, the children are incorporated into the Christian church and are distinguished from the children of unbelievers. Article 34 of the Belgic Confession says that baptism is the sign and sacrament of what Christ has done for the children, that is, He has washed them of their sin.

So if the children are incorporated into the Christian Church what does that mean? The Church (capital “C”) as in the body of Christ? Are the children of believers’ incorporated into Christ by baptism? Do they receive all his benefits by baptism? Enter the error of the FV’ists. Or do we agree there must be a distinction between being outwardly a member of the visible church and being inwardly united with Christ by true faith? Why do we confuse the sign with the thing itself?

I was taught that I was a Christian because I was baptized and hence united with Christ and therefore as a covenant child was already justified and didn’t need to be born anew anymore… only that I had to work on my being more sanctified (work on being sanctified? I thought that was the Holy Spirit’s work). This lead to much heartache and it wasn’t until I realized that I wasn’t a believer that I finally surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.