Is the Federal Vision Heresy?

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Many are honestly confused about the Federal Vision, and are looking for a quick, basic understanding of it.  As such, here we offer a crash course about this enormously influential movement.

The following resources demonstrate that the Federal Vision is indeed a heresy of the worst kind, and perverts almost every doctrine related to salvation.  It is has much in common with N. T. Wright’s theology, and is essentially a form of Roman Catholicism in sheep’s clothing.  It denies justification by faith alone, Christ’s active obedience, and perseverance of the saints, and holds to salvation by works (for instance, the soul damning heresy of baptismal regeneration).

Some of the major proponents of the Federal Vision include the following:

  • James B. Jordan
  • Norman Shepherd
  • Peter Leithart
  • Steve Schlissel
  • Steven Wilkins
  • Rich Lusk
  • John Barach

(Note: For a refutation of the Federal Vision view that the only works of the law Paul condemns when it comes to justification are “Jewish identity markers,” click here.)

I. In 2002 the Reformed Presbyterian Church of the United States (RPCUS) gave the following “Call to Repentance” to those of the Federal Vision movement.  This lists the movement’s main heresies.

“Covenant Presbytery of the RPCUS declares that the teaching presented in the 2002 Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Pastors Conference involves a fundamental denial of the essence of the Christian Gospel in the denial of justification by faith alone.

“That the teaching of the various speakers: Douglas Wilson, Steve Schlissel, John Barach, and J. Steven Wilkins, has the effect of destroying the Reformed Faith through the introduction of false hermeneutic principles; the infusion of sacerdotalism; and the redefinition of the doctrines of: the church, the sacraments, election, effectual calling, perseverance, regeneration, justification, union with Christ, and the nature and instrumentality of faith.

“That the rejection of the Bible as propositional and the introduction of an illegitimate post-exilic Jewish mindset as an interpretive scheme, denies the role of Scripture in interpreting itself. This view, while affirming the written word, yet gives license to reformulate and reinterpret that word
through the glasses of an unrevealed and antipropositional mindset that is closely akin to the old liberal higher criticism of the early 20th century.

“That the denial of the distinction of visible and invisible church and the introduction of an historical and eschatological church, opens the door to new and mystical meanings being applied to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper that are sacerdotal in orientation; makes justification an
eschatological process instead of a definitive legal act
; obscures the reality and necessity of the new birth; and corrupts Gospel preaching by eliminating the call to repentance and faith within the congregation.

“That baptismal regeneration constructed upon the principle of linking the sign and the reality in effect differs little from Roman Catholicism.

“That the doctrine that maintains union with Christ is an external position and place in the church confounds regeneration, union with Christ, and the outward ordinances.

“That the maintenance of the language of Calvinism in these speakers is superficial and misleading: their doctrine of perseverance is made to deny effectual calling; their doctrine of corporate election is made to deny particular redemption; and the native depravity of man is made to be removed in the outward administration of water baptism which thereby sufficiently qualifies the recipient for the Lord’s Supper.

We therefore resolve that these teachings are heretical. We call these men to repentance. We call upon the church of Jesus Christ to hold these teachings in contempt. We call upon the courts of the churches that are responsible for these men to institute judicial process against them and to
vindicate the honor of Christ and the truth of the Christian Gospel by bringing judgment upon them, suspending them from office, and removing them from the communion of the church should they not repent.

May God have mercy upon their souls.

– Adopted unanimously by Covenant Presbytery, Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States, June 22, 2002.”

The Council of Chalcedon, “A Call to Repentance” (Cummings, GA: July/August 2002), 13.

II. For a good overall understanding of the Federal Vision, read

A Refutation of the Auburn Avenue Theology’s Rejection of Justification by Faith Alone” by Brian Schwertley

At the end of Schwertley’s article is this chart below, which compares the Federal Vision, or Auburn Avenue Doctrine, with biblical Christianity, nicknamed the “Reformed Faith”:

The Auburn Avenue Doctrine The Reformed Faith
Covenant is relationship which is rooted in the relationship between the persons of the ontological trinity. Covenant is an agreement. The covenant of grace is rooted in the covenant of redemption (pactum salutis).
Before the fall Adam was under a covenant of grace. Before the fall Adam was under a covenant of works.
After the fall God requires a partial obedience to His law in order to be justified. This partial obedience is fulfilled by faithful Christians and results in final justification. After the fall God requires a perfect and perpetual obedience to His law in thought, word and deed in order to be justified. This perfect and perpetual obedience is fulfilled by Jesus Christ and is imputed to believing sinners.
Jesus’ sinless life is only an example of faithfulness for His people to follow. Our Lord’s sinless life is not only an example but is also a fulfillment of the covenant of works that is necessary if a believing sinner is to be declared righteous before God.
Christians are justified by faith and faithfulness (i.e. perseverance in personal obedience). Christians are justified by faith alone apart from the works of the law.
Faith and obedience are necessary to obtain final justification. Faith is introspective. It is divided between Christ and the believer’s faithfulness. Obedience is a co-instrument of justification. Faith is the sole instrument which lays hold of Christ and His accomplished redemption. Faith is extraspective. Obedience is a fruit of justification.
Faith and obedience are the same thing. Faith is complex and includes the fruits of faith. Obedience flows from true faith and is distinguishable from it. Faith is simple.
Good works or covenantal faithfulness has an important role to play in a believer’s final justification. The good works of believers are tainted with sin, are non-meritorious and onlydemonstrate the reality of saving faith.
Paul’s condemnation of the works of the law in relation to justification concerns only the ceremonial laws or Jewish identity markers which exclude Gentiles from the covenant. Paul’s condemnation of the works of the law in relation to justification refers to the whole law: ceremonial and moral. The traditional Protestant law/gospel antithesis stands.
Justification refers only to the pardon of sins and not the imputation of Jesus’ active [or preceptive] obedience. Pardon is supplemented by covenant faithfulness which results in final justification. Justification involves the imputation of the believing sinner’s guilt and liability of punishment to Christ on the cross and our Lord’s perfect righteousness to the believer. The good works or covenant faithfulness of the Christian has nothing to do with justification.
If a person does not continue in obedience the justification received when baptized is removed and the apostate person loses his salvation. Because a Christian’s justification is achieved solely by Christ it can never be lost. People who apostatize never had saving faith and were never justified to begin with (1 Jn. 2:19; Mt. 7:23).
Sanctification if faithfully continued leads to final justification. The process which leads to justification is synergistic. The moment a person is justified, the life-long process of sanctification begins. The justification of sinners is monergistic.
The covenant of grace includes conditions. One condition is faithful obedience or good works. The personal righteousness, obedience or good works of believers has salvific “value” (i.e. merit) before God. The covenant of grace has only one condition which is faith. This faith is a gift. It is instrumental and non-meritorious. It merely grasps the person and work of Christ.
Since faith and obedience are the same thing and we receive glorified life in the same manner as Adam before the fall, the covenant of grace is a watered down covenant of works (i.e. a partial obedience is now required for final justification). The covenant of grace is radically different from the covenant of works because Christ the second Adam fulfills the terms of the covenant in our place. People who are under the guilt and power of sin cannot achieve or even contribute to their own justification.

III. Supplement the previous info with the following audio downloads:

1. The Gospel Crisis in the OPC and PCA (by Brian Schwertley)
(About the urgency for church leaders to decisively deal with the Federal Vision heresy.  A text version is available here.)

2. Debate between John M. Otis and Federal Vision proponent Steve Schlissel

3.  Auburn Avenue Theology Refutation Parts 1-6 (by Brian Schwertley)

4. Refuting the Federal Vision Heresy Parts 1-4 (John M. Otis)

IV. Get “Danger in the Camp: An Analysis and Refutation of the Heresies of the Federal Vision” by John M. Otis

In this enormous book, Otis systematically exposes the heretical teachings of the Federal Vision proponents in their own words, and refutes their teachings.

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5 Comments

  1. Hello folks. I am wondering where John Piper fits in (if he does). I am reviewing books for our church Library and came across one of his and am researching him. I know he has invited Doug Wilson to speak at a conference and wonder where he stands. One of his books speaks about “Future grace” and I’m not sure what he means. Also, do you know if Wilson still holds to these views? Finally, has Schwertley’s chart been accepted by the Auburn folks as representative of their teaching?

    Thanks,

    Maarten Kenter
    Grace Presbyterian Church
    Woodstock Ontario Canada

  2. Greetings, Maarten.

    Painting John Piper in the best possible light I can imagine, Piper is ignorant of the FV heresies and is honestly unaware of Wilson’s baggage. I do question Piper’s discernment and/or knowledge of the issues, since he has said that N.T. Wright does not teach a different gospel, but a confused one. But Wright clearly teaches a different gospel.

    There is the question of Piper’s view on future grace; I haven’t studied it myself. Here is a site critical of Piper that might help with your questions (including of Future Grace):
    http://godshammer.wordpress.com/2009/06/23/john-piper-and-his-heretical-friends/

    I would offer you a link for a site in defense of Piper, if I knew of one. This is something I need to study more of. Until I do, I’m giving Piper the benefit of the doubt.

    As for Wilson himself, I am not sure if he has repented of his previous statements. This is something I’m seeking to discover myself; I find him the hardest of the FV guys to pin down.

    One thing I would also consider is whether Wilson’s publishing company currently distributes heretical material from his fellow FV members. According to Schwertley,

    Doug Wilson has attempted to appear more orthodox and moderate than his comrades by asserting his belief in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. While Wilson in his subtle equivocations and statements that are orthodox may appear to be better than some of his theological partners in heresy (e.g., Rich Lusk), he in reality must be rejected as a heretic because: (1) Despite his moderate tone, he comes to virtually all the same conclusions as Lusk and Wilkins. (2) He is in full support of the movement which is at its core heretical and deadly. Canon Press publishes the most radical of opinions and New St. Andrew’s College employs Peter Leithart whose writings on the church, worship and the sacraments are radically unorthodox. If a man supports a heretical movement with his money, writing, publishing, lectures, etc then that man is a dangerous heretic.

    Regarding Schwertley’s chart, I am unaware of what the Auburn folks think, but I don’t think the FV guys have much credibility at this point, given their many heretical statements.

    If you uncover more about whether Wilson has changed has views in any way, please let us know. Hope this was helpful.
    God bless,
    Steve

  3. Steve, I appreciate your research on the FV and NPP clowns. I have referenced your website in my article for my Messianic audience.

    Moshe A.

  4. Moshe,
    Good hearing from you, and I appreciate your encouragement. What drives me crazy is that these men are extremely dangerous, and yet many “pastors” just turn aside and let the flock be devoured.

    Is the reference to my site on your website? Couldn’t find it, but may have missed it.

    Have a blessed Lord’s Day!
    Steve

  5. Hello Steve,

    It is not on the site yet. I do have something up there at this time, but, because a Pastor friend has already dismissed me due to the position I take on Piper and Sproul, I decided to re-write the article to begin with the heresies of Wilson, Shepherd Wright and then address the unholy alliance with Piper.

    Of course, this nonsense from Piper continues. I tried to send an email to his ministry when he was to speak at the Cove and addressed the issue/interview between Graham and Schuller, but was dismissed to be sure, and I never heard from the ministry. Is that any surprise? Anyways, I am thankful for those who defend the faith.

    You may have to overlook my comments on Baptism and Sproul, (I ask for your patience) but as a Messianic Jew I have written on First Century immersion and with Sproul, I have serious problems with those who embrace Natural Theology or those who are Thomists. I just have problems with a man who says he is opposed to Rome, and yet, turns around and uses the arguments from Aquinas, who borrowed them from Aristotle.

    If you ever heard the debate between Sproul and Bahnsen, it was sad to hear Sproul clearly state that he begins with man. But, as I said in the article, that is for another time and I will, one day, cover the Natural Theology issue more deeply. I did not mean to bring him up in here.

    I am at 13000 words on the Piper article at this time and I referenced you twice. Btw, I don’t know if I can do any better on C.S. Lewis after reading your article. The only thing I would add is my sarcastic Jewish personality, lol. He is on the “to do ” list.

    Keep up the good work rightly dividing the word with precision!

    Moshe


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