PCA and The Federal Vision
Since we have been near the topic of the New Perspective on Paul in recent days, posting about the PCA study report on Federal Vision might be relevant. Within the PCA church movements called “Federal Vision”, “Auburn Avenue Theology”, and the so-called “New Perspective” have sprung up since the mid 1960’s. This study report was completed by a committee of PCA pastors within the Presbytery and the purpose of the study is as follows:
to study the soteriology of the Federal Vision, New Perspective, and Auburn Avenue Theologies which are causing confusion among our churches. Further, to determine whether these viewpoints and formulations are in conformity with the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster Standards, whether they are hostile to or strike at the vitals of religion, and to present a declaration or statement regarding the issues raised by these viewpoints in light of our Confessional Standards (MGA 34:229-30).
The committee members include:
TE Paul Fowler, Chairman
TE Grover Gunn, Secretary
TE Ligon Duncan
TE Sean Lucas
RE Robert Mattes
RE William Mueller
RE John White.
This was a large task considering that each movement has different distinctive marks to it and different personalities associated with it. However, here are a list of three major soteriological issues that have raised questions:
I. Election and Covenant;
II. Justification and Union with Christ;
III. Perseverance, Apostasy, and Assurance.
The committee concluded with 9 declarations concerning the controversy of the New Perspective, Federal Vision, and Auburn Avenue Theology and 5 recommendations:
1. The view that rejects the bi-covenantal structure of Scripture as represented in the Westminster Standards (i.e., views which do not merely take issue with the terminology, but the essence of the first/second covenant framework) is contrary to those Standards.
2. The view that an individual is “elect” by virtue of his membership in the visible church; and that this “election” includes justification, adoption and sanctification; but that this individual could lose his “election” if he forsakes the visible church, is contrary to the Westminster Standards.
3. The view that Christ does not stand as a representative head whose perfect obedience and satisfaction is imputed to individuals who believe in him is contrary to the Westminster Standards.
4. The view that strikes the language of “merit” from our theological vocabulary so that the claim is made that Christ’s merits are not imputed to his people is contrary to the Westminster Standards.
5. The view that “union with Christ” renders imputation redundant because it subsumes all of Christ’s benefits (including justification) under this doctrinal heading is contrary to the Westminster Standards.
6. The view that water baptism effects a “covenantal union” with Christ through which each baptized person receives the saving benefits of Christ’s mediation, including regeneration, justification, and sanctification, thus creating a parallel soteriological system to the decretal system of the Westminster Standards, is contrary to the Westminster Standards.
7. 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.
8. The view that some can receive saving benefits of Christ’s mediation, such as regeneration and justification, and yet not persevere in those benefits is contrary to the Westminster Standards.
9. The view that justification is in any way based on our works, or that the so-called “final verdict of justification” is based on anything other than the perfect obedience and satisfaction of Christ received through faith alone, is contrary to the Westminster Standards.
1. That the General Assembly commends to Ruling and Teaching Elders and their congregations this report of the Ad Interim Committee on NPP, AAT and FV for careful consideration and study.
2. That the General Assembly reminds the Church, its officers and congregations of the provisions of BCO 29-1 and 39-3 which assert that the Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms of the Westminster Assembly, while “subordinate to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, the inerrant Word of God,” have been adopted by the PCA “as standard expositions of the teachings of Scripture in relation to both faith and practice.”
3. That the General Assembly recommends the declarations in this report as a faithful exposition of the Westminster Standards, and further reminds those ruling and teaching elders whose views are out of accord with our Standards of their obligation to make known to their courts any differences in their views.
4. That the General Assembly reminds the Sessions and Presbyteries of the PCA that it is their duty “to exercise care over those subject to their authority” and “to condemn erroneous opinions which injure the purity or peace of the Church” (BCO 31-2; 13-9f).
5. That the Ad Interim Study Committee on NPP, AAT and FV be dismissed with thanks.
My Thoughts – I appreciate the PCA working hard at thinking through each movement and to find basic problems each of them have in common against, what the PCA believes is, the gospel – or damaging to it. I appreciate, especially, Recommendation #3, that those who are ruling and teaching elders need to make known their difference in views from the Westminster Confession to their denomination. But a further question of mine would be if the PCA would continue to ordain ministers who share in the Federal Vision view. It would seem to me that would be against the study’s recommendation, however, it didn’t seem to make that clear. Also, it seems pressing to address the fact that Federal Vision movements seem to come out of a strict covenantal framework. The shift from paedo baptism to paedo communion in these strict covenantal communities seem more and more common, especially since the Auburn Avenue Conferences. This is not to criticize covenantal communities, but in light of these recent movements, it should be more sophisticated in Westminster interpretations and in distancing itself from these recent movements. At the end of the day all Reformed communities, whether Presbyterians or Baptists, should be grateful for this study. While there has been a great number of scholarly and academic works done in response of the NP, AWT, and FV, it is much more powerful and effective when churches make collective, vocal, and written statements.
Note: Ligon Duncan, a committee member on this study, sat down with Albert Mohler and John Piper and had a conversation about the New Perspective on Paul on the Albert Mohler Radion Show.