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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Three Obvious Reasons Why Mary Cannot be the “New Eve”

One of the many doctrines of the Romanists that finds no place in the Word of God is that of Mary as the “New Eve.” This erroneous teaching rests upon a number of different premises which are all false and clearly contradict the Scriptures. I list them below, and refute them.

1. Through One Woman’s Disobedience?

The first of these false premises is the idea that as sinless Eve brought sin into the world through an act of disobedience, so sinless Mary brought righteousness into the world through an act of obedience. Romanists claim that there is a “beautiful symmetry” between Eve and Mary, just as there is a beautiful symmetry between Adam and Christ. They say that this symmetry can be seen in the fact that as Eve brought sin into the world by an act of disobedience, so Mary brought salvation/righteousness into the world by an act of obedience.

The problem the Romanist faces, however, is that Scripture does not teach that it was Eve who brought sin into the world. Scripture explicitly declares that the head of every woman is man; therefore, Eve was under the headship of Adam; therefore, Adam was Eve’s, as well as all subsequent humanity’s (of course, excluding Christ whose Head is God the Father),1 federal representative. Paul explains to us that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…”2 By this one verse, Paul has forever demolished the foundation of the supposed “beautiful symmetry” between Eve and Mary, for responsibility for the entrance of sin into the world, as well as its consequence of spiritual/physical death and the spread of sin and death to all men (i.e. all humans), is attributed to the federal representative, viz. Adam, not Eve.

This should be enough to convince the rational soul that the Romanist doctrine is plainly false. However, they will, no doubt, insist that they are not in the wrong, that their belief is not irrational, and that it is Christians who are in the wrong. Very well, let’s accept their doctrine as true, for the sake of argument, that Mary is the “New Eve” because just as Eve brought sin into the world by an act of disobedience, so Mary brought salvation/righteousness into the world by an act of obedience.

Fair enough.

We will, for the sake of argument, agree.

However, we cannot simply end our discussion of this supposed symmetry with Mary’s role as federal representative. We must push to see if this parallel actually holds any weight, or if it is a false doctrine. So we ask the inevitable:

If Christ is the Last Adam and Mary is the New Eve, then would this not mean that Mary is the wife of her Son?

The Romanists are probably offended at such questions, but we are simply taking their doctrine seriously and working out its logical implications. If Mary is the antitype of Eve, as Christ is the antitype of Adam, then Mary is the wife of her own Son. But if Mary and Christ are wedded, as their supposed symmetrical parallels were, then Christ and Mary are both guilty of heinous crimes against God. For if Mary is the New Eve to the Last Adam, it follows that she is the incestuous bride of her Son. And if her Son is involved in incest, then He is guilty of sin.

Moreover, if Mary is the New Eve to the Last Adam, then she is necessarily the bride of Christ; yet Christ already has one bride, viz. the Church, and to have more than one wife is sin; therefore, if Mary is the New Eve, then she is the incestuous and adulterous bride of her own Son. Please note that I draw out the implications of the false doctrines of Romanism. I take no pleasure in even saying these things, but I must say them. I don’t believe that Romanists believe that Mary is wedded to her own Son. My point is simple: If Adam is the Last Adam and Mary is the New Eve, then, in order for the parallel to even mean anything, they must be wedded to one another. I understand that the conclusion is shocking, blasphemous, and is not even entertained by Roman Catholics. However, there is no logical reason why they do not believe this to be the case. Romanism arbitrarily has assigned a role and function to Mary that indicts her and Christ of heinous sins.

Following the Romanist’s train of thought, it goes without saying that if Mary is the New Eve to the Last Adam, then not only Mary but Christ as well are both sinners. But it is Mary’s sinfulness that is evidenced in the fact that she needed as Savior,3 while Christ ever remains eternally sinless. Therefore, the notion that Mary is the New Eve must be rejected as false.

[There are Romanist attempts to justify this heinous error, see here for instance.

Reformed apologist Turretinfan has helpful some resources dealing with different aspects of this Roman Catholic dogma:

Did Augustine Call Mary “Mother of God”?

“Woman,” A Scolding Term or A Sign of New Eve?]

2. The Church Has Only One Mother

The second of these false premises is the idea that Mary is the “mother of the church.” Turning to Galatians 4:26,  the apostle Paul states: “…the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.” We note firstly that the mothership of the church is not ascribed to Mary but to the Jerusalem above. Secondly, we note that this mothership is not literal but figurative based on an allegorical interpretation of the Abrahamic narratives contained in Genesis 16-17 & 21-22. Mary is not the mother of the church; the Jerusalem above is our mother. Mary was a lowly young woman who received grace from God through faith in His promised Messiah, her Lord God and Savior.

At this point, the devoted Mariolater might interject by claiming that

“Mary said yes to God! It was by her obedience to God’s command that we have been given a Savior, Christ the Lord! How can you diminish her importance?!”

To this we ask a simple question:

Where is Mary shown to “say yes” to God? Was it by Mary’s one act of obedience that Christ was brought into the world?

Where in the Scriptures do we see God commanding Mary to be the mother of Christ?

The answer is: Nowhere.

The words of the annunciation given in Luke 1:26-38 contain one imperative and it is this: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”4

Contrary to what the Romanists teach, this is in no way, shape, or form equivalent to a command from God for Mary to be the one who bears the Messiah. Rather, the imperative that comes from the angel is preceded and succeeded by indicative statements.

We note that the angel says:

(i.)the Lord is with you

(ii.)Do not be afraid

(iii.)you have found favor with God

(iv.)you will conceive in your womb

(v.)you will bear a Son

(vi.)you will name Him Jesus.

Mary is the passive agent in (i.), (iii.), (iv.), & (v.). Mary is not commanded to “say yes to God;” Mary is commanded to not be afraid. Why? Because she was afraid.

Lastly, even though it appears to be the case that Mary is the active agent in (vi.), we learn from Matthew’s account that the command to name the baby “Jesus” was given to Joseph, for it is written:

“She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus…”5

And

“And [Joseph] called His name Jesus.”6

It is pure mythology, then, to say that it was by Mary’s obedience that Christ came into the world, for as we have just proven: Mary was the passive recipient of Divine favor, i.e. Divine grace. The one command she received was this: “Do not be afraid.”

3. If Mary is the “Queen of Heaven,” Then She is Not a Perpetual Virgin

In the third and final place, the Romanist bases his false belief on a tortured interpretation of Revelation 11:19-12:6. Now regarding the abuse of this passage, one wonders how well the Romanists think out their doctrines, for if their interpretation of this selection of verses is correct, then their Marian edifice, once again, crumbles at the very foundations.

Note that the Romanists make a connection between the ark of the covenant and the woman mentioned in these verses. However, there is NO exegetical link between the two that would warrant an identification of the former with the latter. In other words, the text of Scripture must be irreparably mangled by the Romanists in order to support their interpretation.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s suppose that Mary is signified by the woman in this pericope of Scripture who gives birth to the Messiah. If this is so, then we must ask:

Why does the Holy Spirit identify this woman as a sinner by informing us that “she was…crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth”?7

“Birth pains” and “the agony of giving birth” are noted as part of the curse of God upon women because of Eve’s sin. For the Lord tells the woman:

I will multiply your pains in childbearing”

And

in pain you shall bring forth children.”8

A possible objection may be raised from the fact that Christ, although He was sinless, was a man just like us, suffering the effects of the fall and eventually dying. What this objection fails to note is that Christ became sin for us.9 In other words, Christ’s experience of the effects of the Fall are Substitutionary. In fact, His fulfillment of the Law requires that this be the case. Mary, on the other hand, was not our substitute. If Mary was without taint or stain of original sin, she had to be free from the effects of the Fall; but if Rev 11:19-12:6 is about Mary, then it infallibly identifies her as a sinner.

Moreover, if Mary is the woman of Revelation 12, and the birth of the Child is not apocalyptic imagery but a literalistic record of the birth of Christ, then does it not follow that Mary did not remain a perpetual virgin? For we are told that after she had been assumed into, well, the wilderness (not heaven), she  reappeared on the earth to be delivered from the serpent’s persecution. And then we are told that:

“the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring.10

If the Roman Catholic wants to see Mary in this passage, he must deny the dogma of her perpetual virginity, immaculate conception, and her perpetual sinlessness.

If, on the other hand, the Romanist wants to continue to cling to his error, then he is under obligation to deny that Revelation 11:19-12:6 teaches what he thinks it does about Mary. And he must admit that his dogma finds no place in the Word of God.

Soli Deo Gloria

-h.

——————————————————————–

1 Cf. 1 Cor 11:3

2 Ro 5:12

3 Cf. Luke 1:47

4 Luke 1:30

5 Matt 1:21

6 Matt 1:25b

7 Rev 12:3

8 Cf. Gen 3:16b

9 Cf. 2 Cor 5:21

10 Rev 12:17