The Federal Vision Heresy

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!

33 thoughts on “The Federal Vision Heresy

  1. What???? Sacramental grace? So basically, Federal Visionists are closet Roman Catholics? Salvation by ritual. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

    It’s called “salvation by me”.

    Well, there’s the ecumenical link I have been looking for with these guys. Thanks Mike.

    Forgive me if I am taking this to the lowest common denominator…but seems to me that this is the heart of the matter…

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  2. Hi Mike,

    while I still there are influences, I at this moment am not willing to say that Acts29 and Piper embrace FV in its fullness. I don’t even think Driscoll knows the term. Most probably, they absorb it subconsciously rather than intentionally, since after all Doug Wilson is supposed to be “reformed”, and we know that calling yourself “Reformed” in the YRR crowd somehow gives you a pass to teach anything you want.

    FV ecclesiology is the same as that of Rome, Eastern Orthodoxy and the Ecumenical movement. The main distinguishing factor for FV is their “ability” to seem Reformed and use “reformed” terminology.

    For Frank Turk, it is a fact that he reads Doug Wilson, which is why I suspect the connection.

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  3. Mike, I believe this is a double-edged sword of Calvinism (or I should say, the fullblown Reformed variety). I’m sure you have all learned and know much more than me about cultural mandate, which is a part of wider Calvinism:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_mandate

    As a premillennial dispensationalist, I see this as a natural progression of fullblown Reformed theology, and Dominionism is the more virulent form which is morphed into Federal Vision. But the cancer is right within the heart of Reformed theology itself, and you could see people around you that a majority of people who are Reformed downplay end times apostasy in the church. Those that are not caught up in false teaching can’t really convincingly argue against Federal Vision because they themselves are infected with a milder strain of the same illness!

    This is one of the reasons I refuse to be Reformed in theology (I’m a dispensationalist yet hold to views of salvation and election similar to Calvinism, similar to a lot of 19th century Calvinistic teachers or Miles J. Stanford), not to mention signs of the times like events in the Middle East, what is happening to Israel, and the ever worsening natural disasters, all make me think Reformed (whether amillennial or postmillennial) does not fit reality.

    Of course it doesn’t endear me to a majority of readers who are bretherns and Reformed here. But I welcome any dialogue not arguments on this matter.

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  4. It is possible that a saved sinner can backslide and never repent. But it is not very probable and it is very dangerous to give any person living in rebellion any assurance of their eternal destiny.

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  5. Daniel, right, that was what I was trying to say. FV is like a disease. We see its influence all through these things and in what these people are doing, but you are right, I doubt if most of them even know as much about as you do.

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  6. Joel, my theology would probably be most closely lined up with that of John Bunyan and William Tyndale and Dr. James White. Not that technical, all about grace, all about the sovereignty of God and that everyone who is truly in Christ is a disciple who obeys and is sustained by God. I am most definitely NOT post-millennial at all nor hyper-preterist. Why? Look at what it does to their world-view and how they approach the gospel. That is not biblical. I am not a dispensationalist, but I don’t hold it against those who are. I disagree with you about the cancer you are talking about at least within the Reformed brethren I know. I see a much more damaging apostasy in the likes of Rick Warren, etc. On the other hand, I think anyone who believes that their faith is based on Covenant Theology rather than on their personal relationship with Christ via His atoning Work on the Cross is in big trouble theologically. I am a Reformed BAPTIST and there is the difference.

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  7. Sir,
    I truly appreciate the education and knowledge God has given folks such as Mr. Chew, who and who’s works I am not familiar with, and yourself, to be able to explain well, and rightly, his word.

    From a “Lower” educational level I know that the Bible has the essentials any man of any stripe can understand with little diligence to lead a Christian life and attain eternal salvation. So some ideas such as atonement, free will or predestination come fairly easy, if not fully.

    However, especially with all the “tolerance” baggage of the culture, which the church is by no means totally immune to, and the direct unity at all costs baggage in the church, something of a “doctrine of separation” is not so easily followed from a to b to c.

    I submit that in our culture of “I am if Chailles”, “I am of Warren” personality followings, it can often come down to which “expert”, outside of our self-study of scripture of course, is “right” in the larger community.

    One of the things I appreciate about some blogs or pastors more than others is that they disappear into the blog, the subject not being simple musings made up in their minds. As a blog owner, you could simply delete or keep any view you wanted to out and a reader wouldn’t know it. Combined with a lack of discernment on a readers part, the personality following can be a dangerous direction.

    I guess my point would be, is it really so complex as “aha, it’s their xyz vision that’s the problem”, or is is simply another version of someone biting into the “did God really say….?” trap. It is so easy to get to the man made idea and call it God’s. Is it not in it’s essence simply sin? If a “open letter to….” writer becomes the subject, have they not elevated themselves above the issue itself? If we end up talking more about the personality, we end up losing the subject.

    Thank you for the post. Yes I did read both, and all comments.

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  8. Michael, I prefer, as you should be aware, to stick with simply rightly dividing the Word of Truth. I know that this sort of thing is necessary now and then, but I am never comfortable doing it.

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  9. Mike, this is so confusing. This is not like the faith heretics and similar ones that seem to be way more easier to identify. I went to the FV website, and the man sounds and writes like a reformed one, but I am still trying to make sense out of his comments.

    As a side question on the same topic, do you know if Vision Forum is involved in FV?

    I apreciate your post, it has shed light on the issue. Please keep us posted!

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  10. Mike, this may be a little off topic, but I think what Ingrid pointed out from her latest crosstalk blog about Piper and Warren succinctly sums up the unwillingness of many to call out “popular” teachers over dubious “teachings/friendships”…..”It does not matter what accomplishments such pastors and teachers have achieved in their ministries of the past. What matters is what they have done with their part of the ministry entrusted to them now.”

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  11. Mike, I was reading with my wife their “FV for the Average Joe” here: http://www.federal-vision.com/?page_id=41
    And we are apalled, look at this example taken from “Another Aspect to the church (Ecclesiology)”

    “….This means that Roman Catholics are Christians. Whoa! Wait, wait, wait. I didn’t say they were faithful Christians, or that we’d see them in heaven. But they have been baptized in Christ’s name and into His body. This means that we have some level of unity with them which we do not have with Joe Pagan down at the Pigsty Night Club. And we have that same tie with the Eastern church, the Orthodox Church.”

    What a bunch of junk!

    Btw, my wife told me that Doug Wilson is the author of Reforming Marriage, which we have read and loved. Finding out that he also is an FV theologian (as you can see from the site above) is very very sad…

    Keep up with the good work

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  12. Joao, yes, that is exactly what I have been running into in my own digging. That is why when I get push back on the doctrine of separation from certain people that makes no sense we eventually find out that they have been contaminated at some level with the FV leaven. Yes, it is junk, but more than that, it is leaven that is poisoning the whole lump of the visible church.

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  13. Pingback: The Visible vs the Invisible Church « Possessing the Treasure

  14. FV for the Average Joe by Luke Nieuwsma is an “FV-friendly” article as evidenced by the blogroll. Most of those on the blogroll are FV proponents. Please be aware that when Mr. Nieuwsma states “what FV is NOT” that many, many Reformed pastors who have been fighting this for years would disagree with all those statements and could provide much evidence as to WHY those statements are false. One needs to be discerning when exploring the “mess” that is FV. It is terribly confusing, especially for those of us “pew sitters” whose churches are being infiltrated with FV ideas. Many in Christ’s invisible church have left FV churches over this heretical theology.

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  15. Montani Semper Liberi, what I found astounding is how spiritually blind yet enthusiastic these FV people are in their embrace of this compromise. It reminds me of when a very good church I used to belong to was overwhelmed by the Purpose Driven paradigm when the leadership there embraced it. It was like the Gestapo took over. If you did not get on board with the program, enthusiastically get on board, then you were suspect. If you did opposed it in any way then you were asked to leave. If you resisted then you were gone. I was not as mature a believer as I am now and really did not understand what was going on. However, several years later when I was relocated to another city I had the opportunity to talk to a former deacon at that church who stood firm against the changes and was kicked out. He explained how painful it was and all and why he had to do it.

    Well, in 2005-2006 the Pastor and leadership of the church in which I was a deacon and Bible teacher went PDC. I found out exactly what my friend went through. I stood against it. I stood firm. I was ousted. I walked away and have not been back. My wife and I are still refugees from this because this is everywhere. I have found that it is all over the USA. Now, with the FV infliltration, we have a new heresy coming from the other side into our Reformed churches that had formerly resisted the PDC… Sad, so sad…

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  16. I learn from you every time I read your Biblically-saturated posts, suspecting that your story was much like my own, and hundreds of others like us I might add. The PCA “community” (for they are REALLY into that presently) I left in ’08 was not strictly PD but more pragmatic about choosing what they promote. I find that they preach what brings in “the unchurched” regardless of whether it comes from Rick Warren, N.T. Wright, Henri Nouwen, Bill Hybels or any other cutting edge evangelical. Needless to say, the offense of the Gospel is necessarily sidestepped in their efforts to be “relevant” and inoffensive. Early on I assumed that all PCA’s were like the one I left. It wasn’t until a year or so ago that I discovered “truly reformed” pastors and their blogs and realized the PCA denomination is really a mixed bag; one must look at each church to know if what they preach is Biblical. Many Godly PCA pastors preach the Word every week along with resisting not only the transformationalists who seem to rule their denomination but also fight FV on a second front! To make it more confusing, many of the “star pastors” who are transformationalist in viewpoint seem to be quite “tolerant” of FV theology. As one “exile” from another blog stated, there are some connections between N.T. Wright and FV, though “they will howl loudly if you suggest this.” It seems that every week or so there is a FV dust up these pastors and “exiles” are trying to refute. For us pew-sitters, the difficult part is thinking we know the meanings of concepts used in our Reformed churches only to have them mean something slightly different when used by FV proponents. It is sometimes so subtle that it is almost undetectable by the average church member!!

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  17. Thanks for that Montani Semper Liberi… Yes, I do think God has led us down similar paths. The longer I minister here, the more refugees I encounter from all parts of the Church. I agree, the Church is under a vicious multi-fronted attack and those who hold to sound doctrine and refuse to compromise are most definitely not the majority. However, we have something the majority do not, nor will ever, have. We have the Holy Spirit and God’s Truth. Just before our Lord returns, it may appear that we are shattered, but that will not be the case, for we will still be sustained by our Lord even though the visible dead church will still be doing its thing. Sad, very sad, but we must have no part in it.

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  18. This is a quote from Unitatis Redintegratio (i.e. the Decree on Ecumenism) from the Vatican…

    For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect. The differences that exist in varying degrees between them and the Catholic Church-whether in doctrine and sometimes in discipline, or concerning the structure of the Church-do indeed create many obstacles, sometimes serious ones, to full ecclesiastical communion. The ecumenical movement is striving to overcome these obstacles. But even in spite of them it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ’s body,(21) and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.(22)

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  19. Dawn Marie, and the FV would also agree that the Roman Catholics would be their brethren in Christ because of their baptism into the Roman Church. Sigh… I had a long conversation with a good brother in the Lord last night about a lot of this. He was excited that Daniel Chew is helping me with the technical parts of the FV. My friend and I are learning this as we can. What we have learned is that those in the confusion use what is called “doublespeak.” He calls it “Humpty Dumpty Language.” It can mean whatever they want it mean depending upon who they are talking to and what the situation is. That is why the lies we are dealing with in the merging of the Reformed Church with the PDC with John Piper/Rick Warren and then the FV stuff with John Piper with Acts 29/Mark Driscoll is so strange since most of these guys probably couldn’t even define what FV is. Yet its influences are all through all of this and its very indefiniteness is eroding the concrete truths of that are built up from the salt and light influences of the Invisible Church within the Visible Church. Therefore, the Visible Church appears to be crumbling all around us or going down the tubes or whatever. What do we do. We continue to be salt and light and never compromise as we stand firm in God’s Truth in the power of the Holy Spirit never wavering from His Word as the source of His Truth. Come soon Lord Jesus.

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  20. It seems like this is another one of those things…

    How do you know when something is wrong, when the doctrine seems right? It get’s so subtle!

    That Humpty Dumpty double speak is really a big problem. When words can mean whatever you want, and meaning can be changed at the drop of a hat, it really makes it important more now than ever to define your terms!

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  21. I am trying to get an understanding of “Missional” or Missiology. So I typed in those words in your search site. You make passing comments to this topic, and I get your displeasure, but could you explain it further. We are being told to “be missional” at our church but it is explained as Missions as usual. I don’t get that from yours and other comments.

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  22. Harvey, the reason I have a problem with the term “Missional” is because of the how it is used in the context by those who have coined the term and are attempting to revamp or change the Church from its historic roots to this “Missional” focus away from what it is supposed to be, which is to go and make disciples from all nations teaching them to observe all things that Jesus taught and we do this knowing that Jesus is with us as we do it. This is the Great Commission. On the other hand, “Missional” is not this at all. In fact, its proponents say things like, “go and make the world a better place” or “just preaching the gospel is not enough, we must transform the world” et cetera. This is the Post-Millennial focus of FV, the New Calvinists, Acts 29, and what has been called the New Evangelism. It is not focused on getting the gospel out there as commanded by our Lord, but to transform the world. Why? They believe that Satan is in chains, Christ is on the throne of the world already, and we are to simply conquer the world to present it to Him as a prize. It is heresy.

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