by Mike Ratliff
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” (John 15:1-6 ESV)
If you haven’t read last night’s post, The Doctrine of Unity and Separation, I suggest that you do so now. I also suggest that you read all of the comments especially those of my friend Daniel Chew. In them, he brings out his experience of debating Frank Turk a few weeks ago. He (Frank) and many other bloggers and Christian apologists have, over the last several years perplexed us with their very strange stands against the application of what should be clear cut examples where we should be applying the doctrine of Separation from those who say and do things that are clearly unbiblical in nature nor do they square with the doctrines of orthodox evangelical Christianity. Daniel’s response in the comments last night shed a great deal of light in that area. I confess that I was surprised. I had heard of the Federal Vision, but, as I shared with Daniel, I am no expert on it. I know who the New Calvinists are. I know who the Emergents are. I know who the New Evangelicals are. However, their theology seems incoherent to me with no solid basis in fact. I just could not find it, much like it took me several years to understand where Rick Warren was coming from (he is a Pelagian).
As Daniel shared, the issue that ties what we are seeing with John Piper, Mark Driscoll, the New Calvinists, Acts 29, and Frank Turk standing up for them is that they are adherents either in full or in part to the Federal Vision Heresy. Not all who are FV adherents hold all its points for instance.
I have been asked to put together a piece that could explain this to folks, but I fear that it would be much too complex for just one post to accomplish this. Therefore, what I will try to do here instead is to give you the basic points that make the Federal Vision heretical then end this discussion with how this heresy is adhered to by those mentioned above and why we must stand firm against this.
The first reason that I am convinced that the Federal Vision is heretical is that it makes no distinction between those whom we call the elect and, by God’s grace, persevere, and those who are shown to be hypocrites who fall away. Federal Vision adherents are quick to say that all who profess to be Christians are Christians no matter what. How can they do this since the Bible clearly says otherwise? They point out that those who are Baptized into a Christian faith are brought into covenant with God and that means being in Christ. This means those who are in covenant have all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. Union with Christ means that all that is true of Christ is true of us.” At this point, I would point you to the passage I placed at the top of this post (John 15:1-6). Being in the Vine is not the same as being elect. Being in the vine is being part of the visible Church. Those who preserve because of the grace of God are the ones who are pruned because they produce fruit. Those who produce no fruit are cut away and burned because they are disingenuous. They were never elect.
However, Federal Visionists try to say that even though these people fall away that does not negate the reality of their standing prior to their apostasy. They were really and truly the elect of God because of their relationship with Christ. They use “election” in the covenantal sense of being elected to the covenant. I will not waste further space here on this, but in summary, what the FV is saying is that those who were once in covenant to the visible church through baptism, but who then apostatize are still elect and must still be considered part of the church.
The second reason I consider the Federal Vision to be heresy is that it denies the distinction between the visible and invisible church. If you consider the first argument then this argument must certainly follow as well. Sacred Scripture is clear that the visible church contains both the elect and reprobate and that there is another definition of “church” that means only the “elect” who persevere to the end. The Federal Visionists are bent on including within it all those who are baptized, but who also fall away, thereby doing away with the visible/invisible church distinction, but in doing so what is really happening to the Church in the world? During the Protestant Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church accused the Reformers of not having a church for many centuries before the Reformation. The Reformer’s answer was, “The visible/invisible church distinction.” We cannot define the church solely in terms of what is visible or else we have no leg upon which to stand, for the Reformers did not claim continuity with Medieval Catholicism, but with the early church. How is that they are the true church? Because they have always been the true invisible church, though they were not always visible as the church. You get rid of the visible/invisible church distinction, then you cut the leg from under the entire Reformation.
As one who is saved by Grace through Faith and knows it because God’s Word tells me so I am stunned when those outside of Reformation Theology tell me that this is a theological error. The Roman Catholic Church said of the Reformation that that its foremost error was the error of assurance, that we can know whether we are saved. However, the FV says that the doctrine of assurance is presumption.
I see the Federal Vision heresy as a juggernaut attack aimed squarely at Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, and Sola Gratia in an attempt to cause mass confusion, doubt, and to draw people into a man-focused, work-righteousness religion that looks Christian, but isn’t.
Now, if you look at the New Calvinists like Mark Driscoll and those he is associated with through the Acts 29 network, what are they making the most noise about? Isn’t it changing the churches to become missional rather than focusing on the Great Commission? They try to say they are the same thing or that becoming Missional is the left out part of or an extension of the Great Commission. They even say things like salvation is too narrow. The Great Commission should be focused on redeeming the World. You see, this is the other part of the puzzle. Most FV folks are Post-Millennial in the eschatology. What that means is that Christ is already on the throne of the world. Satan is already bound in chains. We are supposed to be about redeeming the world for Him and that does not mean just making disciples. In fact, that means everything except that.
Remember what I said earlier about everyone, according to the FV, who professes to be in covenant with Christ through baptism is a Christian regardless of their theology, regardless of whether they are apostates or not? Well the missional folks have taken that to heart and are embracing everyone who even closely resembles that and that is why that get their backs up and come at us with fire in their eyes an venom on their tongues when we call out someone like John Piper for embracing someone at one of his conferences who is a proponent of the Federal Vision or someone like Rick Warren. To these people the doctrine of the unity and separation is just for those wacky fundamentalist Baptists, not real Christians. No, to them, unity at all costs is the order of the day, not unity of the Spirit.
Now, I am not calling for a war here. I am not calling for you to start throwing rotten eggs at John Piper. If John MacArthur speaks at Liberty University to students and preaches the Gospel, well so what? I applaud that. A Black Episcopalian in South Carolina endorses his new book Slave. Well, from what I hear, God can cause things like to happen when His truth hits people’s hearts. Perhaps those Episcopalians will hear the Gospel and start preaching it and living it. No, we must live and walk through this life the way our Saviour commanded. Let us tell the truth in love, teach the truth, and rebuke those who are in error as we live the lives God has given to us. Stand firm and pray for our enemies. Come soon Lord Jesus!
Soli Deo Gloria!