Federal Visionism is Still Heresy

faithflessFaith is not Faithfulness: A Very Brief Refutation of the Federal Vision Heresy

Confused and stubborn heretics have often claimed that there is no distinction to be drawn between faith and faithfulness, given that the words faith and faithfulness reflect a distinction in the English language that is not present in either the Hebrew or Greek portions of the Word of God. What they have failed to recognize, however, is that there is a logical distinction between the two concepts that cannot be ignored by an appeal to the biblical authors’ lack of a larger faith lexicon. Other confused heretics claim to recognize that there is a distinction to be drawn between faith and faithfulness, but conflate faith and faithfulness by defining faith as a kind of faithfulness, or by including faithfulness in their definition of faith.

This latter variety of heresy has been propagated by advocates of the Federal Vision heresy. With the “buzz” concerning Federal Visionism having died down, however, men like Doug Wilson are, through the ignorance or deceit of others, treated as brothers in Christ who differ only in regard to specifically Presbyterian ecclesiastical and, therefore, practical doctrines. Sadly, there are sound teachers who, for one reason or another, do not understand, and do not actively seek to understand, why Federal Visionism has been identified as heresy. What follows, therefore, is a simple demonstration of the heretical nature of Federal Visionism.[1] So as to avoid becoming enmired in nuanced but ultimately beside the point discussions, the following demonstration will deal with one doctrinal brick in the edifice of Federal Visionism, viz. Faith.

Faith Apart from Works of the Law

Christianity teaches that justification is by faith alone, apart from any works of the law whatsoever. This entails a wholesale rejection of any concept of faith that, like the Romanist conception of faith, includes works of any kind. Christ has fulfilled the positive demands of the Law,[2] as well as the punitive demands of the Law;[3] man needs only to trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ in order to be declared righteous. God “justifies the ungodly.”[4] Therefore, whoever is declared righteous by God is declared so apart from any form of faithfulness, for the ungodly are not faithful but faithless.[5] There is no act of obedience to the Law of God that can be implicitly or explicitly included in one’s conception of faith. If one’s conception of faith includes any act of obedience, any form of faithfulness, any behavior which would nullify one’s unconverted status as ungodly by implying that one is, in any sense, godly, his doctrine is not what Christianity teaches but a perverted, demonic “gospel” which is no gospel at all.

The framers of “A Joint Federal Vision Profession,” sadly, have a conception of faith which contradicts the Scripture’s teaching on justification. In the section titled “Justification by Faith Alone,” they write:

We affirm we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone. Faith alone is the hand which is given to us by God so that we may receive the offered grace of God. Justification is God’s forensic declaration that we are counted as righteous, with our sins forgiven, for the sake of Jesus Christ alone.

We deny that the faith which is the sole instrument of justification can be understood as anything other than the only kind of faith which God gives, which is to say, a living, active, and personally loyal faith. Justifying faith encompasses the elements of assent, knowledge, and living trust in accordance with the age and maturity of the believer. We deny that faith is ever alone, even at the moment of the effectual call.[6]

The affirmative statement on justification by faith alone is orthodox; the negative statement, however, contradicts the Scriptures and, therefore, is not.

Faith = Knowledge + Assent + Personal Loyalty?

It must be noted that the negative assertion is incoherent on its face. Persons are loyal or disloyal, not abstract nouns. Faith cannot be personally loyal, but persons of faith can be loyal. Given that the assertion cannot be taken to mean that faith is itself (i.e. ontologically) personally loyal, it can only mean that faith is not merely assent, knowledge, and trust, but also loyalty.  Yet if justification is by faith alone, which it is, then this excludes “personal loyalty” of any kind. God does not justify the personally loyal; he justifies the ungodly, i.e. the personally disloyal. To assert that God justifies those who believe the Gospel is to assert a formally sound belief; to change the meaning of faith (i.e. belief) to include personal loyalty, however, is to cut oneself off from the Christian religion entirely. This is what the Federal Visionists have done. Through an incoherent use of pious sounding language, Federal Visionists have attempted to, on the one hand, identify their doctrine of justification by faith alone as orthodox while, on the other hand, simultaneously implying that faith includes personal loyalty.

It must be further added that the words living and active, given the above mentioned inclusion of personal loyalty into the Federal Visionists’ concept of faith, do not refer to continued trusting (i.e. understanding and assenting) in the Word of God, but instead refer to acts of obedience or faithfulness. The resulting doctrine of justification, more honestly articulated, expresses the belief that saving faith is knowledge, assent, and personal loyalty/living trust. Faith that includes personal loyalty as part of its definition is not faith at all but blatant unbelief in the promises of God regarding the justification of the ungodly.

Concluding Remarks

The book of Galatians very clearly teaches that anyone who teaches another Gospel, a false Gospel which states that justification is by faith and some act of obedience, is under the wrath of God.[7] The Federal Visionists, by teaching that faith is comprised of knowledge, assent, and personal loyalty/obedience to God’s Law are teaching another Gospel, a false Gospel which states that justification is by belief and obedience/faith and works. Therefore, they are under the wrath of God.

This is not to say that there may be many self-identifying Federal Visionists who are ignorant of what their leading teachers believe about faith. These persons may be inclined to the Federal Visionist’s distinct covenantalism, ecclesiology, and praxis. Needless to say, it is not those who are ignorant who are being condemned in this short article. Rather, it is the men who teach this heresy and advocate it, and who lie to gullible orthodox teachers by co-opting orthodox terminology, all the while redefining key terms in an underhanded attempt to nullify the pure Gospel of God (viz. faith). 

What, then, must men do to be saved?
Believe, and only believe that Christ alone has paid the penalty for their sins by dying on the cross. Believe, and only believe that Christ alone was raised from the dead three days later, having defeated death. Hear the Word preached, trust it, and you shall be saved.

Soli Deo Gloria

-h.


[1] If a more thoroughly argued position is desired, several academic works are available on the subject. Here there is only space to mention the following texts:

Engelsma, David J. Federal Vision: Heresy at the Root (Michigan: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2012), 251pp.

Waters, Guy Prentiss. The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology: A Comparative Analysis (New Jersey: P&R, 2006), 416pp.

Robbins, John W. Not Reformed At All (Tennessee: Trinity Foundation, 2004), 180pp.

Robertson, O. Palmer. The Current Justification Controversy (Tennessee: Trinity Foundation, 2003), 120pp.

[2] i.e. Christ’s active obedience to the Law of God.

[3] i.e. Christ’s passive obedience to the Law of God.

[4] Rom 4:5a.

[5] Rom 1:28-31 (specifically, v.31).

[7] Gal 1:8-9.

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