A Serving Of Federal Vision? I’ll Pass, Thanks

The Auburn Avenue (Monroe, Louisiana) Pastor’s Conference is underway again, and I’ll be interested in what odd spins on Reformed and classic Evangelical theology emerge from it this time.

The AAPC was the incubator, a few years ago, of the Federal Vision theology, which gave rise to a series of troubling doctrinal assertions — Wilson, Wilkins’, and a handful of other pastors’ views on soteriology, or the doctrine of salvation. The FV created a stir in Reformed churches that continues today, and I’m convinced that its wider dissemination would result in fireworks from the rest of Evangelicalism, if it heard of the FV. Granted, the Church today hasn’t exactly demonstrated iron-clad doctrinal discernment — in other words, Benny Hinn is still on TV — but anything that strikes at the classic Evangelical credo that “God doesn’t have any grandchildren” probably would cause a stir to the tract-passers and co-worker evangelizers among us.

I’m not in the Reformed camp; a majority of those who are, and who have reviewed the FV, find it disturbing and at many points at serious odds with the Westminster Confession. As a non-Reformed, non-Arminian evangelical, I disagree vehemently with the FV (which I’ve studied extensively, from its originators’ and its critics’ perspectives). It’s a significant departure from the soteriology of the Gospel that the Church has embraced since the Resurrection, and what I believe are its errors (infant baptism, infant communion, baptismal regeneration or “saving baptism,” salvation-by-Covenant parentage, etc.) are part of Wilson’s CREC (Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches) denominations throughout the country. The FV strikes at the heart, I believe, of the Gospel, including that Gospel preached here in Moscow at Christ Church and Trinity Reformed.

In a nutshell — a very basic nutshell — the FV holds that Covenant identity/membership/birth confers salvation that is then the believer’s to lose. You’re born into the family of God, “saved” by and enjoying all of the benefits of the Covenant, and only by not persevering, by apostasizing, is your redeemed, Covenant status lost. But Evangelicals have correctly understood the Gospel to say the opposite: You’re not born “saved;” you become saved, for eternity, through faith by grace, and it’s not, most evangelicals believe, something you lose. The difference?

It’s significant: Either you’re born saved, but then you could become lost; or you’re born lost, but then you can become saved. Even the Jesus Freaks of the 60s and 70s got this one right. Each person, whether born into a Christian pastor’s family, raised in a family of immigrant Sufi poets, or delivered on the floor of an atheists’ convention, must receive Christ on her own. No matter our Daddy’s faith. Before receiving Christ, our status is the same: Lost, and needing to find Him.

FV Pastor and Wilson pal Steve Schlissel echoes his colleagues’ disdain for evangelizing “Covenant children,” although he does so with just a touch less gravitas than, say, Moscow’s Peter Leithart. Critics charge that he and other FV’ers preach that “by birth alone, the children of Christians are blessed with salvation, without any qualification.” Schlissel doesn’t object. But answering a critic’s assertion that “Baptized children . . . must . . . be evangelized and must come to a personal faith in order to receive the salvation offered by God’s covenant,” Schlissel offers this:

“This statement is repulsive to God’s testimony that the children of His people truly and fully belong to Him. . . . If I appear to leave (a conference) believing that the children of believers are anything other than fully children of the Living God, please shoot me.”

Nonsense. I would, however, like to shake some sense into you, Mr. Schlissel.

Both of my sons, who now are 20 and 15, have accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior. Neither has been baptized yet; both were born to my husband and me, who had been Christians for several years before their births. We prayed daily for their salvation and for our testimony to them. We read the Bible, talked about Jesus, went to church, prayed with them, and led them to their receiving Jesus in their elementary-school years. Schlissel, Wilson, Wilkins, et al, would say that none of that was necessary in bringing them to where FV’ers say they already were — saved — but argue that without baptism, there is no salvation. And Schlissel indicates he’d reject what Jeff and I did with all his heart, because our efforts would be the sign of a “monstrous” church that presumes that kids need to be saved.

Somewhere, an elderly Sunday School teacher weeps. The Church ought to as well. On the other hand, there is laughter abounding — laughter from the Enemy, who no doubt loves that kids from Christian families are raised to believe that, when it comes to their eternal destinies, it’s all taken care of. After all, there’s no need to seek the salvation you’re told you already have . . . with thanks as much to Mom and Dad as to Christ.

The Federal Vision is bad stuff. Why it flourishes in evangelical churches isn’t altogether puzzling, of course — that “Covenant” status can be pretty heady stuff — but it is a tragedy, a perverse doctrine that I honestly believe has infected, confused, and deceived many of my neighbors here in Moscow. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit would reveal the hollowness hidden by the puffery, spin, and erudite language, and lead His Church to Truth.

(All quotations from The Auburn Avenue Theology Pros & Cons: Debating the Federal Vision, Knox Theological Seminary 2004, p. 85, 94, 95, quoting Richard D. Phillips and Steve Schlissel).

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