The global Christian Church is going to be Converged into a single, monolithic religion. False Protestants will join with false Catholics, which will require common ground. Douglas Wilson has been laying the groundwork for this Convergence since 2002 with the introduction of “Federal Vision”.
A quick summation: Federal Vision is the idea that Christianity is a public recognized (read: State-granted) status separate from acceptance of Christ as a savior. An adulterous, cruel husband is still a husband; a Godless, immoral Christian is still a Christian. Applying this doctrine to the Protestant world will make Protestantism compatible with (false) Catholicism by necessitating a centralized registry of Christians. Instead of accepting Christ’s offer of forgiveness, becoming a Christian shall be linked to the practice of Baptism. If you’re baptized then you’re a Christian, maybe not an ideal one but you’re certainly in the club.
Despicable heresy. And Pastor Douglas Wilson, despite claims to the contrary, has been unrepentant on this since participating in the 2002 church summit that first produced “Federal Vision” doctrine.
Let’s begin with Wikipedia:
The central distinctive of the Federal Vision is its view of the covenant. In keeping with the historic Reformed understanding of Covenant Theology, Federal Vision proponents argue that God has had two covenants with humanity throughout history: the first pre-Fall and the second post-Fall. The second covenant was progressively expanded throughout the Old Testament in various advanced covenants (Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic), and reached its climax with Jesus and the New Covenant.
In Christian terms a covenant is simply “I will do this and you will do that.” It’s different from a contract in that it’s unconditional, ex. no payment for services rendered.
There was no pre-fall Covenant. There’s simply nothing in Genesis 1-3 that could possibly construe one. Neither do I see how the successive covenants are progressive revelations of a super-covenant.
Noahic covenant: I won’t drown all humanity like rats again. The rainbow shall be proof of this.
Abrahamic covenant: God would create the nation and people of Israel. Abraham would snip them. (circumcision)
Mosaic covenant: You will obey these 613 laws. I will give you victory, prosperity and… what are you doing with that golden calf?
Davidic covenant: God promises to have David’s baby. (Jesus)
They’re very distinct covenants.
What distinguishes the Federal Vision from other interpretations of Covenant Theology is its view of the nature of the covenant, namely that the covenant is “objective” and that all covenant members are part of God’s family whether or not they are decretally elect.
Translation, Federal Vision says being a Christian is an external, State-recognizable status. No wonder saner theologians freaked out at this. None of know who is truly Christian except for ourselves.
There is no New Testament, Christian covenant. What we have is the Abrahamic covenant opened up to all races instead of just the Jews, and that via belief. “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” However, we Gentiles (non-Jews) are fully exempt from the Mosaic covenant. It was never given to us and the apostles were very clear that it was not a precursor to salvation or good standing. This debunks the theory that there is one “super-covenant” for all believers.
Douglas Wilson has noted six foundational tenets of the New Perspectives on Paul [a related philosophy]. He affirms the correctness of:
- Justification by faith was present in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament.
- Faith and works are not opposed to one another in the Bible. Faith was always present, even in the Old Testament. The Jews were not trying to earn anything by works.
- Law and grace are not opposed to one another, or that the Old Testament was mostly law and the New Testament was mostly grace.
#2 On the list is the old faith-versus-works issue. This is way harder than it needs to be. You cannot purchase salvation, it’s that simple. Almighty God values nothing you possess or can do. This is why salvation is, and must be, an unearned gift.
Works are evidence of your faith. God knows whether you truly believe but your neighbor does not, and will judge you by your actions. If your actions do not align with your beliefs then there’s obviously something wrong, yes?
Wilson says faith and works are not opposed but what he means is “salvation by faith” and “salvation by works” are not opposed. That’s the implication of #3 on the list… the Mosaic Law having been used by the Pharisees as the source of salvation in place of grace.
A review of Wilson’s book on Federal Vision:
Membership in the Christian faith is objective and it can be photographed and fingerprinted. When we are baptized, we are ushered into an objective, visible, covenant relationship. In baptism, God names us and imposes gracious obligations on us. Our baptism sets us apart as Christians.
However, many conscientious conservative Christians do not appear to believe what God has said in their baptism, so let’s look at it another way: suppose a husband is committing adultery. Is he still a husband? Being a husband is not just a state of mind; it’s not just a private decision. Being a husband is a public relationship made from a public exchange of vows, an objective covenant. An adulterous husband is a covenant-breaking husband, but still a husband. Being a husband is what makes his infidelity so horrendous.
In the same way, when people are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, they are ushered into a covenant relationship with God and His Church. Regardless of the state of their hearts, regardless of any hypocrisy, regardless of whether or not they mean it, baptism sets them apart as visible saints and Christians.
I don’t know if Wilson wrote this but it’s an excellent summary of Federal Vision as far as I could corroborate. The website also has a sample of his book that I’ll dig into soon. But first:
Membership in Christ is not objective. I wish very much that it was, so that our leaders could be certified 100% to not be false shepherds.
Baptism is not a requirement for salvation. Romans 10:9. The purpose of the dunking in water thing is a public declaration of faith in Christ, not the creation of faith in Christ. If there was any truth in the sentence “Regardless of the state of their hearts, regardless of any hypocrisy, regardless of whether or not they mean it, baptism sets them apart as visible saints and Christians” then we Christians would be melting the polar icecaps with nuclear reactors.
This imagination of a husband being a permanent state achieved via a one-time wedding vow and existing apart from behavior is an excellent analogy to what Wilson & Friends want to accomplish with Federal Vision theology. One notes that a husband wholly emasculated by the State and clergy is still The Husband; even if his wife gets bored and takes another lover, husband is still held to be The Husband. A great way to justify chilamony.
On to the book sample, this explicitly written by Wilson (archived):
On June 22, 2002, Covenant Presbytery of the RPCUS declared that certain teachings at a pastors’ conference presented by Steve Schlissel, Steve Wilkins, John Barach and [me] involved a “fundamental denial of the essence of the Christian Gospel in the denial of justification by faith alone.” Consequently, the four of us were declared to be heretics. …
The charges assumed (which is incidentally not the same thing as proved) that the positions taken by the speakers were “contrary to the Bible and the Westminster Standards.” As a result, in the following pages, there is a closer interaction with the teaching of the Westminster Confession than there would have been otherwise.
This was not done in order to “get around” anything in the historic Reformed faith, but rather the reverse. It is our conviction that certain epistemological developments since the Enlightenment have caused many modern conservative Calvinists to read their confessions in a spirit alien to that which produced them.
This is a DARVO. Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim & Offender.
As a result, we were taken to task for denying our confessional heritage at just those places where we were in fact upholding it. This of course does not make us right—as the Westminster theologians themselves told us, and as Steve Schlissel continues to tell us in a loud voice. Something can be “confessional” and wrong. But we are like the obedient boy in the parable—we say the confession could be wrong, but then we affirm the confession.
That is dishonest. If the confession is wrong then one shouldn’t affirm it. If that means you lose your highly compensated seat of honor, so be it.
Apart from the specific charges, what exactly is going on here? Which worldviews are colliding? …
The answer is found in a contrast we have used many times—medieval versus modern. We believe ourselves to be in the process of recovering what our fathers taught from the Reformation down to the Enlightenment—that is, a Reformed and medieval mindset. We believe our opponents to be sincere and honest Christians, but men who have erroneously made a bad truce with modernity and who have accommodated their theology to the abstract dictates of the Enlightenment.
If you substitute “Protestant” for modern/Enlightenment and “Catholic” for medieval then you reach my conclusion. Wilson is looking for a way to undo the Reformation. (I am not criticizing Catholicism here; I’m criticizing a declared Prot leader for trying to undermine his own branch of Christianity.)
Chapter 1: Judas Was a Christian?
No. Buy my book?
The Church today is in dire need of reformation. This is not said with any denominational exclusivity. Reformed churches today need reformation as much as anyone else. I say this as one who embraces the richness of the Reformed faith, as will become apparent enough later. But at the same time, because of this Reformational commitment, it is still necessary to say that to be Reformed is not enough. We must certainly live up to what we have already attained, but together with this we must not be allowed to assume that the last significant attainment was in the middle of the seventeenth century. Semper reformanda is not something we should all chant together right up until someone actually tries it.
What we have long believed is no longer suitable for Current Year! Don’t be distracted by Wilson’s talk of Reformed churches and other denomination-speak. His Federal Vision heresy is greater than his particular corner of the Church.
One of the great reformational needs in the Church today is the need for us to understand the objectivity of the covenant, and so that is the thrust of this book. Because this covenant is our life, we are called to understand it, embody it, and love the members of it. Not surprisingly, in order to do this, we will have to clear away a good bit of theological debris, which is what I am seeking to do here.
This validates the Wikipedia entry.
The first question we must consider is this: What is a “Christian” when we use the word in the New Testament sense? Considered from one angle, this question is one of the most important questions a man can ask himself. Tied in with it are all the related questions about God, man, sin, salvation, and revelation. Additionally connected are all the great questions concerning a man’s destiny after his course in this life is over.
Christian means “Christ-like” or “little Christ”. That is why we who believe in Christ are called Christians. Nothing in the Bible gives the slightest support to the idea that being a Christian and believing in Christ might be two separate concepts but Wilson disagrees:
[Extraneous verbiage omitted. Wilson speaks to NOT be clearly understood. Boldface mine as usual.]
The Scriptures say very little about the word Christian, which occurs in only three places. And in none of these places is the word used in the way we tend to use it. Our application of the word is certainly a legitimate one, which should be defended and continued, but only if we understand what we are doing.
This is a very serious charge, that Christians have been misusing the word “Christian” since Biblical times.
The first usage in the Bible is a simple reference to what the followers of Christ came to be called—by outsiders. The Scripture tells us that the word Christian first came to be applied to the church at Antioch, which consisted of the followers of Christ in that city. “And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch” (Acts 11:26). In this passage, the word is used in the same way other nouns are used—to distinguish one thing from another. Just as we indicate the differences between tables and airplanes by giving them different names, so the pagans of Antioch decided to distinguish the Christians from the Jews and from the many other religious groups that swirled around the empire of that time. No statement was being made about the great questions mentioned above as they might have applied to an individual member of that church.
The Christians were distinct from the Jews and other groups because of those beliefs. Show me a group of people who don’t believe in Christ and I will label them “not Christians” even if their behavior is the exact same.
In fact, I do that all the time at church. Not everybody there is a Christian even though most/all claim to be and appear to be.
The second instance is also found in the book of Acts. “And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad. But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness. For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds. (Acts 26:24–29)
In this instance, the context is the presentation of the gospel to those who had not heard or believed it. The apostle wanted them to consider these things, and since the charge had been given to him (along with the other apostles) to preach the gospel to every creature, this is clearly a plea to those in darkness to enter into true light. Obviously, Paul is inviting them to genuine faith, saving belief, and not simply to membership in a new religious club. But even here there is no distinction made between a false profession of Christ and a true profession of Christ. A true profession is assumed, but the contrast is between pagan unbelief and Christian belief. Spurious Christianity as opposed to the real thing is not under discussion.
WTF? Was Paul trying to make Agrippa first a Christian and then a believer?
The third and last application of the name Christian comes from within the body of Christ, and it shows that the name has stuck. The apostle Peter, when writing to a body of believers, tells them that they should not suffer as evildoers. They have left that way of life behind. If any of them stumble into sin and suffer its consequences, then of course they should be ashamed of themselves.
“If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?” (1 Pet. 4:14–17)
In the first part of this passage, Peter says that they are happy if they are “reproached for the name of Christ.” He then says a moment later that “if any man suffer as a Christian,” he should not be ashamed. It is difficult to miss the parallel. To be a Christian is to bear the name of Christ. If someone receives the world’s hatred because he bears the name of a hated Christ, then there is no shame in it. Again, the judgment is being made from a
distance—a persecutor hates Christ and attacks anyone associated with him.
NO! NO! NO! To be a Christian is to BELIEVE in Christ and accept Him as Savior! Christianity is not a country club in which believers and deceivers both wear Team Jesus shirts!
An expert in Christianity has no excuse for getting this wrong.
Now such a moment is important to the teaching of Scripture as a whole, and, for each person, it is crucial to be able to answer the question of individual regeneration. The reason we have to address this is that in our culture many have grown up in the church: they were baptized in infancy or when they were ten in a Baptist church, they sang in the choir and went through catechism class, and they are not Buddhists. They have been Christians their whole lives. But if, like Nicodemus, they are not born again, what must they become? Does it make sense for them to “become a Christian”? There is something which they must become—spiritually alive. But how does the Bible describe this kind of change?
“Born again”. A second, spiritual life. Meanwhile, the unbeliever with a Christian upbringing is called “an unbeliever with a Christian upbringing”. He is not called, I don’t know, a “secular Christian” or “lapsed Protestant” or whatever Wilson is trying for.
To answer the question, we have to look at some analogies from the Old Testament. There we see that someone could be outside the covenant entirely—a worshiper of Baal. A second category would be someone within the covenant people of Israel, who did not serve the God of Israel in truth. His service of God was externally formal and correct, but his heart was far from God. And lastly, there were true Israelites in whom there was no guile. Paul writes of this distinction at the end of the second chapter of Romans:
For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God. (Rom. 2:28–29)
Circumcision was a sign of the covenant, but Paul points out that the mere possession of the external sign was not sufficient to guarantee a genuine spiritual reality. We can reapply these truths this way: “For he is not a Christian who is one outwardly; neither is that baptism, which is outward and external. But he is a Christian who is one inwardly; and baptism is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” Paul’s statement is blunt—he is not a Christian who has only the externals.
So far, so good.
But we see in his next breath that Paul’s statement was hyperbolic.
Jews who had circumcision only were not Jews at all in one sense, but they were of course Jews in another. Lest anyone be tempted to think that this made external membership in the covenant a big nothing, Paul hastens to add that such membership was actually quite important:
“What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God. For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.” (Rom. 3:1–4)
In other words, the religious world is filled with infidels at heart—people who were baptized in their childhood, but who do not believe any of the Christian faith now. Does this mean that their baptism—their “circumcision”—meant nothing? Not at all, Paul says. Every covenant member in the world could be lying about God through their lives, lives which contradict the religious signs which may have been applied to them at various
points in their lives. Let God be true, Paul says, and every man a liar. That is all right—the truth remains firm.
Wilson sees that some Jews were believers and some were not believers. From this, he decides that some Christians are believers and some are not. But Christianity is not an ethnic group. Judaism was and the Jews kept serious genealogical records to prove it.
God created a specific nation to provide real-life examples and symbols of God interacting with humanity. But the reality of that is spiritual, not material. Wilson wants to force it to be material, therefore objective and measurable.
One wonders if Wilson’s motivation is to hide behind some formal proof that he’s a real Christian instead of trying to be a better theologian than unpaid Gunner Q on his lunch break. Real Christians don’t spend a lot of time wondering about their appearance of piety.
In short, we can say that God knows those who call themselves Christians and who take upon themselves the marks of discipleship. Their lips are close to God, but their
hearts are far from Him. Such people are Christians covenantally, but their lives betray that covenant. This does not make God false—it would take more liars among men than we could come up with to accomplish that—but it does show that the word Christian can be used in two senses.
We come to the crux of the matter. Wilson is trying to create a formally recognizable state of “covenant Christian” separate from faith in Christ. The only reason to do this is establishing an institutional, bureaucratic Christianity to replace what Christianity has meant since Antioch.
…And this means that many Christians need to become Christian all the way through. The applications move in two directions and forbid two grievous errors. Of course, these two errors (when committed) play off each other, which is why we must hold fast to the Scriptures. The first error is that of individualistic pietism, assuming that invisible saints are the only saints, or, rather, that invisible saintliness is the only kind. Advocates of the “ethereal Church” need to learn that, according to the Bible, a Christian is one who would be identified as such by a Muslim. Membership in the Christian faith is objective—it can be photographed and fingerprinted.
The Catholics do this with an official Registry, I’m told. I never thought I would see the day in which the Protestant world could even theoretically disown a believer in Christ. Also, as a California gun owner let me say that public registration of something many people find “triggering” is the first step in a State crackdown on it. I will never participate in such a registration. Does that mean I cannot be a born-again Christian? Wilson says some “covenant Christians” are real Christians and some are false, but I would like to hear whether non-covenant, non-fingerprinted and -photographed Christians can be true Christians. If yes then all of this Federal Vision bunk is proof our leaders are overpaid and underworked. If no then Wilson is implicity claiming that salvation comes first from being licensed by unbelievers. That is indeed a heresy.
It would be inappropriate to end this without noting that Wilson has recently disowned Federal Vision on his website.
17 January 2017
I have decided, after mulling over it for some years now, to discontinue identifying myself with what has come to be called the federal vision. … Since I certainly owned the phrase, albeit with modifiers, and lots of energetic typing, what happened was that I was thought to be owning what people knew as this. But the more I typed that, the more it made people’s heads hurt. So one of the few things I have been successful at doing is persuading a number of people that I am a sly fellow, and one who bears close watching. Heretics are slippery with words, and since I have spent a lot of time trying to grease this particular piglet, I must be a heretic.
So I have finally become convinced that the phrase federal vision is a hurdle that I cannot get over, under or around. The options are therefore limited. I could abandon my actual position and adopt what most people think of when they think federal vision, or I can continue my futile quest of explaining it just one more time, or I could abandon the phrase, and let everyone know that I have done so.
Wilson is dropping the phrase “Federal Vision” because nobody understood him correctly. Might have something to do with this layman summarizing two pages of Wilson’s writings in twelve words.
Peter Leithart’s “end of Protestantism” project is going someplace where I am simply uninterested in going. Unlike some of his critics, I do not believe he is going to Rome, but I do believe it is a project, and it does have a destination. That destination is not mine. It is hard to reconcile his “end of Protestantism” project with my “Protestantism forever” approach.
I cannot reconcile Wilson’s own words with “Protestantism forever”. A major part of the Reformation was rejecting a bureaucratic agency determining who a Christian is.
I would still want to affirm everything I signed off on in the Federal Vision statement…
Wilson abandoned the term “Federal Vision” to shed the heretic label but in the same statement, is openly unrepentant about separating belief in Christ from membership in Christ. His teachings are factually heretical. If he cannot or will not accept this then his peers should help him find the exit from his cushy job of writing such bad theology that he himself admits to being hopelessly misunderstood for years.