SUBMITTEDWRITTEN QUESTIONS FOR LOUISIANA PRESBYTERY’S EXAMINATION OF TEACHING ELDER STEVE WILKINS
[Myresponses are in boldface type, sw]
I. THE WESTMINSTERSTANDARDS
1.Regarding the Westminster Standards, whatexceptions or reservations did you register with Louisiana Presbytery when youfirst became a member?
Inreviewing the minutes of Presbytery of May 13, 1989 (the meeting in which I wasreceived into Louisiana Presbytery), the only exception recorded in the minuteswas my exception to the teaching that the Lord’s Supper is not to be given tobaptized children prior to their admission to the table by the elders (WLC#177). I believe the Scripture teaches that baptized children who are capableof eating and drinking the elements of bread and wine on their own should beallowed admission to the Lord’s table based upon their membership in thevisible church. [It should be noted that I and our church have not practicedcovenant communion but have continued to submit to the requirements of the PCABook of Church Order which requires children to make profession of their faithbefore being admitted to the Lord’s table. This has always
I alsoam fairly certain that I mentioned a few other quibbles and reservations. Thefollowing are what I remember mentioning:
1. Iquibbled with the terminology of the so-called “covenant of works” (WCF 7.1) —I do not believe this to be the best way to refer to the pre-fall covenantbetween God and Adam since it is open to such wide misunderstanding regardingthe whole matter of works and merit. I do not disagree, however, with thedescription of the “covenant of works.”
2. I alsotook exception to the description of the Larger Catechism regarding what wasacceptable activity for the Lord’s Day. I do not believe all recreation shouldbe prohibited as the catechism appears to prohibit.
3. Ibelieve I also took exception to a certain interpretation of WCF 24.6. If thisis understood to teach that divorce is only lawful in cases of adultery andwillful desertion, then I disagree. It seems to me that the Scriptures allowfor other serious forms of covenant-breaking (life-threatening abuse; refusalto keep marriage vows in other grossly immoral ways; etc.) to be forms of “fornication”which is the sole ground of lawful divorce (Matt. 5:32).
As Iremember, these were the only exceptions I declared upon entering Presbytery.
2. Sincebecoming a member of Louisiana Presbytery, have your views regarding the WestminsterStandards changed in any regard? Are thereany additional or new exceptions that you have? Please explain.
I wouldtake exception to a particular reading of WLC #109. If this is understood toforbid pictures and all mental images of God then I would disagree with it. Weare not to use pictures/images in worship or as aids to worship, but I do notunderstand the second commandment to forbid all representations of God. I donot believe the second commandment forbids pictures of Jesus or depicting theHoly Spirit by a dove, e.g.
I alsowould quibble with the language of WCF 7.1 which implies that the covenant issomething added to the Creator-creature relationship. The implication is thatGod, after He created man, realized that there was a great distance betweenHimself and His creation and needed to do something additional to bridge thegap. I don’t think this is the best way to put it. This implies that thecovenant bridges some metaphysical gap, as if man’s problem is his “creatureliness.”It seems to imply that being a creature of itself
3. Do youbelieve any of your public teaching or writing since the beginning of the “AuburnAvenue Theology” controversy either contradicts or is inconsistent with theStandards? (Besides your registered exceptions).
No I donot. My concerns I have not been with the Confession’s statements ordefinitions but rather with how we read the texts of Scripture which appear tocontradict some of the statements and positions set forth in the Confession andCatechisms. I do not believe the scriptural texts do contradict the standardsin fact but they are simply using terminology in a broader way than it isdefined by our Confessional standards. This means that we must considercarefully the meaning of these terms in the particular contexts in which theyare used. That has been my concern in regard to the so-called “Federal Vision”issues.
Ifirmly hold to the Calvinistic system of doctrine set forth in the WestminsterConfession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms as the Biblicalteaching.
This isprobably, however, a good place to note the perspective from which thedoctrines of salvation and the application of Christ’s redemption are discussedin the Westminster standards. The discussions regarding the application ofredemption in the Westminster Standards beginning with the sections oneffectual calling and continuing through the rest of the “ordo salutis” onlyproperly apply to the elect as defined in WCF 3.5: “Those of mankind that arepredestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid,according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and goodpleasure of his will, hath chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out ofhis mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, orperseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, asconditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of hisglorious grace.” Here, the “elect” are defined to be only those who arepredestined to eternal life. This sets the parameters of the discussionconcerning the application of redemption.
Thus,chapter 10 (“Of Effectual Calling”) begins by defining the effectual call assomething belonging only to those “whom God hath predestinated unto life” i.e.,the elect as defined in chapter 3 (see 3.5 for this precise phrase). The restof the ordo salutis is consistently discussed in these terms.
– The justification described in chapter 11 ispredicated of those “whom God effectually calleth.” None others can be said tobe “justified” in the WCF sense.
– The adopted children of chapter 12 are those who are“never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption; and inherit the promises,as heirs of everlasting salvation.” According to the Confession, the onlypeople who are “sons of God” are those who in fact inherit eternal salvation atthe last day.
– The sanctification defined in chapter 13 occurs tothose who are justified in the sense defined in chapter 11. These alone are “sanctified”according to the definition of the Confession.
– “Saving” faith (WCF chapter 14) is only given to theelect (it is defined as “The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled tobelieve to the saving of their souls.”). None but the elect may have “savingfaith.” Non-saving faith is not discussed in this chapter.
– Repentance is called “repentance unto life” and isthus that repentance that only the elect can have.
And soon. These chapters do not address the spiritual experience of those who are notelect (in the WCF 3 sense). Indeed,the Standards have very little to say about the spiritual experience of thenon-elect who are members of the visible church. WCF 10.4 is perhaps theclearest and fullest statement. This section refers to those who are members of the church but whoapostatize (those who received the “common operations of the Spirit”). TheConfession makes clear that these who fall away “never truly come to Christ.”
But,the WCF does affirm that the Spirit works in some way in those who are notelect (it mentions the “common operations of the Spirit”). What are some ofthese “common operations of the Spirit”? The proof-texts give us someindication of what the writers of the Confession were thinking:
– Matt. 7:22 – the Spirit enables some toprophesy, cast out demons, and work miracles;
– Matt. 13:20,21 – Some receive the word withjoy but only believe for a while;
– Heb. 6:4-5 – the Spirit enlightens, enablesthem to “taste of the heavenly gift; they become partakers of the Holy Spirit,taste the good word of God and the powers of the age to come; (and so on, theother proof texts are John 6:37, 64-66; 8:44; 13:18; cf. 17:12)
In theend, however, this gives us very little to go on, and the proof-textsthemselves are not confessionally binding or authoritative.
Further,when the confession says that these non-elect people “cannot be saved,” onemust recognize that the Standards use the word “save” and its cognates almostexclusively to refer to the fullness of salvation inherited when Christreturns. In this sense, apostates are not saved because they fail to persevereand fall short of receiving the fullness of redemption as it is described inWCF 10-18.
Theother major text in the WCF that is relevant to the non-elect is WCF 25.2. Herewe find the assertion that allmembers of the visible church are members of the kingdom of Christ and thehouse and family of God (at least in some sense
Again,the proof texts used in WCF 25.2 help us to see some of the things that were inthe minds of the members of the Assembly. They refer to Colossians 1:13 toprove that the visible Church is “the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Butthis text illustrates the very concerns that I have raised in my teaching andwriting. In the verse preceding (1:12) he includes them among the number ofthose who have been qualified “to be partakers of the inheritance of the saintsin the light.” Further, he goes on in the verses that follow to describe whathas happened to the members of the Church in Colossae. They have not only been “deliveredfrom the power of darkness” and “conveyed into the kingdom of the Son of Hislove” but also, in Christ, they “have redemption through His blood, theforgiveness of sins.” (1:13-14). In Col. 3:12 Paul calls the members of thechurch in Colossae, “the elect of God” and does not qualify this appellation atall, and calls upon them to forgive one another as Christ has forgiven them(3:13).
DoesPaul mean that each and every member of this congregation is “elect” in theWestminster Confession sense? I don’t think so but that leaves the question ofhow exactly he does understand them to be “elect of God, holy and beloved.” Andfurther, how exactly do they partake of “the inheritance of the saints”? And,though I am quite certain that only the elect will finally be redeemed throughthe blood of Jesus and only the elect will receive the forgiveness of sins (andI’m sure Paul would agree) how can Paul state that this reality was true of themembers of the church in Colossae? These are the sorts of questions I’m seekingto address and to do so in a way that does no harm in the least to God’sabsolute, sovereign, predestination.
Inshowing that the visible Church is the house and family of God, the Assemblypoints us to Ephesians 2:19 where we are told that the members of the church inEphesus “are no longer strangersand foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of thehousehold of God.” The passage goes on to say that they “also are being builttogether [in Christ] for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” Since Pauldoesn’t exclude those members who might not be among those chosen for eternalsalvation from before the foundation of the world, this apparently is true alsoof them (at least in some sense) as members of the Church. Now the question is “Howis this true of the non-elect?” I have proposed a possible answer for this andit does not involve a rejection of anything the Confession says in chapters10-18.
Theseare the sorts of questions that I’ve been concerned to understand. If we think thatcalling members of the visible church citizens of the kingdom, sons in thefamily, and members of the house of God requires us to reject what theConfession says about “the elect” in chapters 10-18, we are pitting theConfession against itself.
4. Has thecontroversy surrounding your teaching caused you to consider whether or not youneed to take further exceptions to the Standards? If so, explain.
Ialways continue to think through the Confession to see if there are additionalplaces where I need to take an exception — but apart from extremely minorquibbles with words, at present, I am not aware of any places where I wouldhave to take further exceptions.
5. Haveyou written to clarify/reformulate any of your teachings since the Ad HocCommittee on Federal Vision Theology issued its recommendations during the 80thStated Meeting, and if so, would you explain any clarifications/ reformulationsthat you have put forth?
In thelast revision of our “Summary Statement” we did make substantial clarificationsregarding what I mean by “all blessings” being given to the members of thechurch as well as the issues of assurance and perseverance. I also wrote the
II. THEMEMORIAL FROM CENTRAL CAROLINA
Regardingthe Doctrine of Election:
CentralCarolina Presbytery asserts in its January 28, 2006, memorial the following:
“TEWilkins publicly teaches a doctrine of election in flagrant contradiction to our Standards. Whereas the Confessionteaches that “God hath appointed the electunto glory” (WCF III.6), TE Wilkins states that the elect are appointed to aconditional relationship which they can lose through unbelief. He writes: “Theelect are those who are faithful in Christ Jesus. If they later reject theSavior, they are no longer elect – they are cut off from the Elect Oneand thus, lose their elect standing” (The Federal Vision,
Thememorial accuses you of teaching a doctrine of election “in flagrantcontradiction to our Standards.”
1. Layingaside for a moment the argument that Scripture uses the word “elect” indifferent ways, can you provide an example(s) in your public teaching orwriting where you affirm the Confession’s definition of election?
I’m notquite sure how to answer this question. The fact is that I have never taughtcontrary to the Confession in regard to its view of election. I have taughtthis view to our inquirers’ class, our officer training classes, and havetaught it in a Sunday School study where I taught through the entireconfession. My article in the Federal Vision affirms the traditional, Confessional view on p. 56:
“It has been the common practice in Reformed circles to usethe term “elect” to refer only to those who are predestined to eternal salvation.Since God has ordained all things “whatsoever comes to pass” (Eph. 1:11), Hehas certainly predestined the number of all who will be saved at the last day.This number is fixed and settled, not one of these will be lost. The Lord willaccomplish all His holy will.”
I thenfollow this affirmation of the traditional view with a discussion of how theword “elect” functions in various passages of the Bible.
Also inour “Response to the Charges of Heterodoxy” I wrote this:
“We affirm the teaching on ‘election’ in the WestminsterStandards (WCF III.6). In our ‘Summary Statement’ we unanimously adopted thisstatement:
‘From before the foundation of the world, God hassovereignly chosen a multitude no man can number for salvation. The basis ofHis election was solely His grace and mercy and nothing in the creature. Thenumber of the elect can neither increase nor diminish. All who were chosen byGod from the beginning will be surely saved eternally. Not one will be lost.’
This continues to be our view. We do believe, however, thatthe terms ‘elect,’ ‘chosen,’ etc., are often used in the Scriptures to refer tothose who are members of the visible church (e.g., Col 3:12; 2 Th 2:13; 1 Pe1:1-2) and not restricted to those who were chosen to eternal salvation. Toaffirm this, however, does not require a denial of the teaching of theConfession. It is simply acknowledging the fact that our theological usage ofthese terms is often more narrow than the biblical usage.”
2. Do youat all deny the definition of election as given in the Standards?
Absolutelynot, never have, and God willing, never will. I firmly believe in the absolutesovereignty of God over all things, including the salvation of man.
3. Brieflyexplain why your statement: “The elect are those who are faithful in ChristJesus. If they later reject their savior, they are no longer elect” (FederalVision, p. 58) is NOT contradictory to orinconsistent with WCF III-6).
ThePresbytery in making this charge has ignored the context of what I have writtenand because of this, has completely missed my point. In the article, thisstatement comes in the context of a discussion of how the word “elect” is usedin the Biblical text. God calls Israel His “elect or chosen” people (p. 56).Paul calls the members of the church in the New Covenant “elect and chosen” aswell. On page 58, I discuss Paul’s statements in Romans 8 and II Thessalonians2:13-14 where he calls the members of the church in Thessalonica “chosen fromthe beginning for salvation.” I then ask the question, “How could Paul saythis?” (p. 57). In light of the decree of predestination and the reality thatnot everyone in the church is chosen in the Westminster sense of the word, howcan he call the members of the church in Thessalonica “chosen before thefoundation of the world”? If I didn’t believe WCF chapter 3 to be true, I wouldhave no problems at this point. My question arises in light of the fact that Iam convinced that WCF chapter 3 is correct!
Thus,the questions I’m addressing do not in any way deny what the Confession says inchapter 3. In no way should this discussion be interpreted to mean that I denywhat I just affirmed (and still believe) on p. 56. In the passage cited I amfocusing the discussion upon how the term is used in the text of God’s Wordwhere over and over again, entire congregations are addressed as “elect” or “chosen”or with some equivalent term (e.g., Col 3:12; 2 Th 2:13; 1 Pe 1:1-2). I go onto suggest that we must understand Paul’s language covenantally rather thandecretively. To make this distinction in no way requires that I reject one inorder to embrace the other.
Itseems clear to me that Peter in particular views the “elect” in the same sensethat the term was used of Israel under the Old Covenant since he applies thesame descriptive terminology used for Israel to the Church (1 Pe 2:9). Paul andPeter do not appear to use the terms “elect” and “chosen” to apply exclusively
Itseems (at least to me) to be plain that Paul and other Biblical writers have nohesitation in identifying those who are members of the Church as “elect.” Thisapparently was based upon the fact that the Church is, as our Confessionstates, “the household, family, and kingdom of God” (WCF 25.2) and is the bodyof Christ Jesus, God’s chosen/elect Son. Thus, those who are members of thebody of the Elect One are viewed as “elect” themselves. The writers of the NewTestament, in numerous places, appear to use the word to refer to those who areunited to the visible body of God’s people and persevere therein by gracethrough faith.
What Iam trying to set forth seems to be the position Calvin expounds in his sermonson Deuteronomy. Calvin asserts that being in the Church is a form of “election”which can be lost:
“Now then it is of God’s free election that we have his Wordpurely preached unto us and that we have his Gospel and Sacraments. And thereinwe have reason to confess that he has shown himself generous to us . . . . Sothen, when the Gospel is preached in a place and it has the warrants that Godgives men salvation - as when we have Baptism and the Lord’s Holy Supperministered uncorruptly - we may say it is an election of God. But yet for allthat, in the meantime he holds to himself those he so wishes in order thatpeople should not trust the outward signs except by faith and obedience,knowing that although we have been chosen to be of the Body of the Church, yetif we do not make that election to our profit, God can well enough cut us offagain and reserve a final number to himself.”
Doctrineof the Church:
CentralCarolina Presbytery asserts in its January 28, 2006, memorial the following:
“TEWilkins teaches a doctrine of the church inflagrant contradiction to that of our Standards, in that he denies thedistinction between the visible and the invisible church. The Confession statesthat “The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of thewhole number of the elect,” whereas “The visible Church… consists of all thosethroughout the world that profess the true religion, and their children” (WCFXXV. 1-2). The sum of TE Wilkins’ erroneous view is to teach that all membersof the church – without distinction to their actual faith and/orregeneration – partake of the saving benefits of Christ. Whereas theStandards state that the visible church enjoys “the ordinary means of salvationand offers of grace by Christ,” they grant only to the invisible church thatthey “enjoy union and communion with [Christ]” (WLC 62-65).
“‘If God is for us, whocan be against us? Christ died,rose again, and makes intercession for us,
Clearly, Paul is not stating promises that are true only forsome unknown group called the ‘elect.’ Nor is he speaking only to a portion ofthe congregation whom he judges to be ‘regenerate.’ Rather, he is applyingthese promises to all the members of the Church who have been baptized andunited to Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6).” (TheFederal Vision, p. 57).
“The reprobate may be in covenant with God. They may enjoy fora season the blessings of the covenant, including the forgiveness of sins,adoption, possession of the kingdom, sanctification, etc., and yet apostatizeand fall short of the grace of God” (The Federal Vision,
CentralCarolina accuses you of teaching a “doctrine of the church in flagrantcontradiction to that of our Standards” and denying the “distinction betweenthe visible and invisible Church.”
1. Is ittrue that you deny the distinction between the visible and invisible church?
Absolutelynot. Indeed, the bare fact that I do not believe all members of the visiblechurch will be infallibly saved proves that I do see a distinction between the “visible”Church (containing those who persevere in faith and those who don’t) and the “invisible”Church (which consists of the whole number of the redeemed, who persevere infaith so that not one is lost but all without exception attain eternal salvation).
Contraryto the assertion of the memorial, I wholeheartedly affirm this distinction asthe Westminster Confession defines the invisible church. The “invisible Church”is not a parallel entity that exists above or beyond the visible church butrather is the “whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall begathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof;”—in other words, theinvisible Church does not yet exist though it is surely foreordained by God andwill surely and certainly exist at the last day (but then of course, it willexist as a very visible body). Itis only “invisible” in that we can’t see all the members of it now.
I thinkthe category of “invisible church” can lead us to all sorts of misunderstandingsand misconceptions. I fully agree with Professor John Murray’s assessment:
“There is no evidence for the notion of the ‘church’ as aninvisible entity distinct from the church visible. . . . ‘the church’ in theNew Testament never appears as an invisible entity and therefore may never be defined
Christhas only one Bride and she is a Bride that is in the process of being perfected(sanctified and cleansed) for Him through time (Eph. 5:25-27) until that daywhen she shall be “spotless and without blemish.” Thus, the Church which throughout history had blemishes andimperfections, will finally be glorified and perfectly holy at the last day.
Itseems better to speak of the “invisible” church simply as the “eschatalogicalchurch” — i.e., the church in its perfection as it will exist at the lastday. My accusers are simply disagreeing with my argument rather than provingthat I deny the WCF definition of the church. Indeed, it seems to me that theyare often the ones who deny the distinction between the “visible” and “invisible”Church in that they attribute those things the apostles say to be true of thevisible Church exclusively to the invisible Church. The visible Church isdenigrated as being nothing more than a pale and imperfect reflection of the “true”church (which is, in their minds, the “invisible” church, the abode of theelect).
Ultimately,it is unquestionably true that onlythe “invisible Church” will partake of the blessings of eternal salvation. Inhistory, however, the Church consists of those who are elect unto finalsalvation and those who are not. There are those who are members of the Churchbut who are not ordained to persevere in faith, yet they are, like unfaithfulIsraelites, still members of the Church, though in the sense that they harborunbelief, they can be said to be not “of” the Church. But in saying this, weare merely acknowledging that the Church in history is a mixed body.
It isimportant for us to recognize the fact of the mixed nature of the Church inhistory, but this does not mean that there is such a thing as an “invisibleChurch” of which you must become a member. The Bible speaks of only one Churchwhich is the body and bride of Christ and thus our creeds assert that webelieve in “One, holy, catholicand apostolic church.” That is the simplest and clearest way to speak of theChurch.
Itseems to me that this same charge could be brought against Calvin, for he alsoseeks to deal with some of the same passages of Scripture in a similar manneras I have done. Thus, for example in his commentary on 2 Peter 2:1-3 Calvinstates: “Though Christ may be denied in various ways, yet Peter, I think,refers here to what is expressed by Jude, that is when the grace of God isturned into lasciviousness; for Christ redeemed us, that He might have a peopleseparated from all the pollutions of the world, and devoted to holiness andinnocency. They, then, who throw off the bridle and give themselves up to allkinds of licentiousness, are not unjustly said to deny Christ by whom they havebeen redeemed.”
In hiscommentary on Hosea 2:4-5: “it is not enough that God should choose any peoplefor Himself, except the people themselves persevere in the obedience of faith;for this is the spiritual chastity which the Lord requires from all His people.But when is a wife, whom God has bound to Himself by a sacred marriage, said tobecome a wanton? When she falls away . . . from a pure and sound faith. Then itfollows that the marriage between God and men so long endures as they who havebeen adopted continue in pure faith.”
In his Institutes Calvin statesthat in some sense, the reprobate may be said to have received “the gift ofredemption” (3.2.11): “Yet, the reprobate [within the church] are justly saidto believe that God is merciful toward them, for they receive the gift ofreconciliation.”
Inspite of these statements, I believe Calvin was a thorough-going Calvinist eventhough Central Carolina Presbytery apparently believes that Calvin's views arenot compatible with the Westminster Confession of Faith.
2. Explainhow your published views on the benefits that members of the “visible” churchenjoy are NOT inconsistent with WLC # 69 (“The communion in grace which themembers of the invisible church have with Christ, is their partaking of thevirtue of his mediation, in their justification, adoption, sanctification, andwhatever else, in this life, manifests their union with him.”).
First,it should be noted that the Presbytery has taken the quote they use to provetheir point out of its context in the article. The full sentence reads,
“The clear implication of these passages
Notethat I refer to “the clear implication of these passages” which is a referenceto the sixteen passages to which I have just referred on the previous page. Thepassages cited attribute these very things to those who are warned against thedanger of falling away and being eternally condemned. In other words, this isnot something I am teaching. Rather, it is what Paul himself
TheLarger Catechsim is speaking about “members of the invisible church” who are bydefinition, the elect. I have no quarrel with that at all and nothing I havewritten contradicts that in the least. My questions have arisen because theapostles appear to attribute these same things to all the members of thevisible church without distinction. For example, Paul says of the Corinthians(whom he sternly warns against apostasy, I Cor. 10:1-11) that they aresanctified (I Cor. 1:2); have been given the grace of God (1:4); and have beenenriched in all things (1:5); they share in Christ’s righteousness, wisdom,sanctification and redemption (1:30-31); they have received the Spirit(2:14-16) and the Spirit dwells in them (3:16-17); all things belong to them(3:21-23); they have been born through the gospel preached to them (4:15); theyhave been washed and justified by the Spirit (6:9-11); they enjoy communion inthe body and blood of Christ (10:15-17); they have been baptized into one bodyby the Spirit (12:13) and are individually members of Christ’s body (12:27).
My questionin light of what WLC affirms (and which I also affirm) is this, “How can Paulsay that these things are true of the members of the church in Corinth and inwhat sense are they true?” Whatever our answer to this question, it seems clearthen that Paul is not using these terms in the same way that the WestminsterConfession defines them. My accusers may disagree with my interpretation ofthese passages, but clearly these statements by Paul are not based upon adenial of God’s sovereignty in salvation or a denial of the doctrine ofunconditional election or the perseverance of the saints as the WCF definesthese teachings (which I affirm most happily). My contention is that ourunderstanding of salvation from a systematic (Westminsterian) theology standpointhas difficulty accommodating these passages. I am suggesting that theunderstanding of covenant which I propose gives us a better way to deal withthese statements in Scripture. My views do not require any departure from theteaching of the Confession at all. They simply require us to recognize thatPaul is not thinking of these matters from precisely the same perspective asthe writers of the Confession though he would very likely be willing to affirmthe statements of the Confession wholeheartedly.
3. Wouldyou say that your published views about the benefits enjoyed by visible churchmembers are the necessary consequence of the confessional statement thataffirms that the visible church is “the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ and thehouse and family of God out of which there is no ordinary possibility ofsalvation” (WCF 25-2) and BCOPreliminary Principles #3 which states that the “visible church” is the Body ofChrist?
Yes,precisely. My suggestion is that these statements indicate how
4. Howwould you distinguish between the benefits enjoyed by a (decretively) electmember of the visible Church and a reprobate member of the visible church whohas not yet manifested his apostasy?
This isnot an easy question to answer but it does seem to me that the benefits enjoyedby the “decretively elect” do differ from those received by the non-elect.First, they differ qualitatively.Thus, for example, though the non-elect are brought within the family of thejustified and in that sense may be referred to as one of the justified, theelect person’s justification in time is not only a declaration of his presentacquittal from the guilt of sin but also an anticipation of his finalvindication at the last judgment. The non-elect church member’s “justification”is not. His “justification” is not the judgment he will receive from God at thelast day. Second, the blessings conferred differ in their duration
God certainlyknows (and has decreed) the difference between the elect and the non-elect, butfrom our creaturely, covenantal point of view there is often no perceptibledifference (e.g., Saul and David were indistinguishable from one another to alloutward appearances in the early phases of their careers; Judas looked like theother disciples for a time). It is only as history goes forward, as God’s planunfolds, that we come to know who will persevere and who won’t. In themeanwhile, we are to view and treat all faithful members of the covenantcommunity in the way we see them treated throughout the New Testament epistles —i.e., all covenant members are viewed and treated as elect, but also warned ofthe dangers of apostasy.
Thelanguage of the Bible forces us to acknowledge a great deal of mystery here.For example, the same terminology that describes the Spirit coming upon Saul in1 Sam. 10:6 is used when the Spirit comes upon David (1 Sam. 16:13), Gideon(Jdg. 6:34), Jephthah (Jdg. 11:29), and Samson (Jdg. 14:6, 9; 15:14). But infour of these five cases (David, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson), the man inquestion was clearly regenerated and saved by the Spirit’s work (cf. Heb.11:32). This means that at the outset of Saul’s career, the biblical narrativeitself draws no distinction between his initial experience of the Spirit andthe experience of those who would obtain final salvation. Saul appears toreceive the same initial covenantal grace that David, Gideon, and other savedmen received, even though God did not enable him to persevere in that grace.While God no doubt predestined Saul’s apostasy (since he foreordains all thatcomes to pass), God was not the Author of Saul’s apostasy (cf. WCF 3.1). Hisfailure to persevere was due to his own rebellion. Herein lies the greatmystery of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility (cf. WCF 3.1, 8).
I agreewith how this point is addressed in the AAPC “Summary Statement”:
“Once baptized, an individual may be truly called a ‘Christian’because he is a member of the household of faith and the body of Christ (I Cor.12). However, not all who are ‘Christians’ in this sense will persevere to theend. Some will ‘fall from grace’ and be lost (Gal. 5:4; 1 Cor. 10:1-5). Thoughthe difference between those who are predestined to eternal life and those who ‘believefor a while’ is not merely one of duration(i.e., God works ‘effectually’ in those whom He has predestined to eternal lifeso that they do not fall away in unbelief), the Bible does not explain thedistinction between the nature of the work of the Spirit in the reprobate andthe nature of His work in the elect, and even uses the same language for both.”
Thisreality is reflected in the covenant relationship of marriage. Though men may beequally married in the eyes of the law, they may have quite different marriagesin terms of the quality of their relationships with their wives. The presenceor absence of biblical love makes a huge difference in the quality of themarital bond, though it does not affect their legal status as married men. Soit is in the Church. Some members of the Church are “effectually” (savingly)joined in union with Christ by faith while others are not.
Inaddressing the issue of the qualitative difference between the communion the elect have with God ascontrasted with that of the non-elect, I fully agree with Peter Leithart’sstatement explaining this distinction:
“First, God has decreed the eternal destiny of elect andreprobate. That cannot help but color God’s attitude toward someone who isultimately reprobate. He is obviously conscious that any blessing He gives orfavor He shows is blessing and favor to a reprobate.
Second, while God decrees before the foundation of the worldall that comes to pass, He also is active in the outworking of those decrees,and in that activity He is interactive with His creation. We pray, and Heanswers, and that is not pretense; He really does answer prayers (albeit He hadplanned from eternity for the prayer and the answer). Similarly, His attitudetoward sinners changes through time. An elect man is an object of God’s wrathduring the week before his conversion, and the object of God’s mercy during thetime after. I submit that the same is true of the reprobate who receives theword of God with joy for a time: He is an object of favor while he responds infaith, and then becomes an object of disfavor. I take Saul as a concreteexample of this reality. Again, this is qualified and complexified by point #1.
Third, I am favorable toward a teleological view of humannature. If you slice into the life of an elect man at a point of backsliding,and also slice into the life of the reprobate at a point when he is rejoicingin the gospel, it will appear that the reprobate’s faith is strong, moreliving, more true, than that of the elect. Analyzed in that kind of punctiliarfashion, the two are well-nigh indistinguishable. But nature is determined byends. We are what we are destined to become (which is what we are decreed tobecome). Thus, the quality of temporary faith, even the nature of temporaryfaith, is different from the nature of true and living and persevering faith. I’veused the analogy of marriage to explain this: A marriage that ends in divorcediffers from a happy marriage in its conclusion; but the conclusion of themarriages reveals that there was something fundamentally and permanentlydifferent in the two marriages. The differences are never merely differences atthe end, because the end reveals the shape of the whole story-line.
How have they had communion with the Spirit? I am thinkingof Hebrews 6 primarily there: they “have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit”(v. 4). That might manifest itself in acts of ministry that are empowered bythe Spirit. It may manifest itself in acts of piety, devotion to and joy inworship, eagerness to hear the word of God. I believe that this all falls underwhat the WCF calls “common operations of the Spirit,” taking “common” here asoperations common to the elect and reprobate.”
CentralCarolina Presbytery asserts in its January 28, 2006, memorial the following:
“TEWilkins’ teaching directly contradicts our doctrine of perseverance.
TheCentral Carolina Memorial accuses you of directly contradicting the doctrine ofperseverance as taught in WCF 17-1.
1. Explainhow your statements in Federal Vision,pp. 60-62 are NOT inconsistent with WCF 17-1 (“They, whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectuallycalled, and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall awayfrom the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, andbe eternally saved.”).
TheConfession in Chapter 17.1 is referring exclusively to those who are “effectuallycalled, and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall awayfrom the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, andbe eternally saved.” I have no dispute or disagreement with this in the least.My statements are referring to how the Scriptures describe what is true of allmembers of the church (note pp. 58-60 of my article) and what is said to betrue of those who are in danger of apostasy or who actually have apostatized(p. 61). It seems to me that the Presbytery’s argument would also have to bemade against Paul, Peter, and Jesus as well since all apply the language ofsalvation to those whom they say are in danger ultimately of falling short ofthe grace of God.
– Paul says that the members of the church in Corinthhad communion with Christ (I Cor. 10:4-5) and then warns them of perishing likeunfaithful Israel.
– The writer of Hebrews says that they have been “enlightened”and been made “partakers” of the Spirit (Heb. 6:4ff) and sanctified (Heb.10:29) and sprinkled with the blood of Jesus (Heb. 12:22ff) and yet warns themof falling into destruction.
– Peter says that apostates have forgotten that theyhad been “cleansed from their former sins” (2 Pet. 1:9) and were “bought” bythe Lord (2 Pet. 2:1) and had “escaped the pollutions of the world” (2 Pet.2:20).
– Jesus says that those who fail to persevere willhave their names removed from thebook of life (Rev. 3:5; 22:19).
Wouldthe Presbytery be willing to bring their charges against the apostles or againstour Savior? If not, why not? Are these not also denying the teaching of theWestminster Confession? Of course, to assume so would be ridiculous. This onlyshows that identical or similar language can be used in different ways. Butthis does demonstrate, I think, how irresponsible it is for the Presbytery torefuse to consider these statements apart from their context and the argumentthat I am seeking to make.
All ofus recognize that the same words may not mean the same things in differentcontexts and this fact normally causes us no confusion in the least. We do thissort of thing all the time. Nearly every Presbyterian and evangelical ministerunderstands the word “justification” differently depending upon its context andhe does so without feeling compelled to charge Paul or James with beingconfusing in their terminology!
We seethis same phenomenon even within our Confessional documents. The Directoryfor the Public Worship of God whenit speaks of the baptism of infants states that the children of believingparents are “Christians and Federally holy.” Yet we all know that not everycovenant child perseveres to the end. Should we denounce the writers of the Directory
If thePresbytery disagrees with my understanding they should simply say so and showwhere I am wrong. But to pretend that I am utilizing words with certainstipulated definitions when I have explicitly said I am not doing so, is simplymisleading. I affirm the Westminster Confession of faith and its statements astrue and the statements made in my article in no way require a rejection ofthese truths.
You statethat, “All in covenant are given all that is true of Christ. If they perseverein faith to the end, they enjoy these mercies eternally. If they fall away inunbelief, they lose these blessings and receive a greater condemnation thanSodom and Gomorrah. Covenant can be broken by unbelief and rebellion, but untilit is, those in covenant with God belong to Him and are His. If they do notpersevere, they lose the blessings that were given to them (and all this worksout according to God’s eternal decree which He ordained before the foundationof the world)….“Thus, when one breaks covenant, it can be truly said that hehas turned away from grace and forfeited life, forgiveness, and salvation.” (TheFederal Vision, pages 60- 61)
You alsostate that, “The clear implication of these passages is that those whoultimately prove to be reprobate may be in covenant with God. They may enjoyfor a season the blessings of the covenant, including the forgiveness of sins,adoption, possession of the kingdom, sanctification, etc., and yet apostatizeand fall short of the grace of God.… The apostate doesn’t forfeit ‘apparent blessings’ that were never his inreality, but real blessings that werehis in covenant with God.” (TheFederal Vision, page 62)
2.Regarding those who ultimately fall away:
– Doyou believe that those who ultimately fall away ever truly possessed eternallife?
No, ifthey did, they would not have fallen away.
– Doyou believe that those who ultimately fall away ever truly possessedforgiveness of sins?
If youmean by “truly possessed” that they had forgiveness in the same sense thatthose who are elect unto salvation have, then the answer is, “no.” The Bible speaksof members of the visible church, as those who are counted among the redeemed,washed, and sanctified and promises forgiveness for all who abide in Christ andpersevere in faith. Thus, though we know that the elect are forgiven and shallsurely be acquitted at the last day, the promise of forgiveness given to us isalways conditional upon our continuing in the faith (which of course, is onlypossible by the grace of God and not the result of our own native strength,will power, or discipline). Thus, Jesus makes plain that those who refuse toforgive others will not be forgiven by the Father (Matt. 6:14-15). This seemsclearly to be the teaching of the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matt.18:21-35; see also Mark 11:25-26; Luke 6:27).
Notethat the servant is actually forgivenhis debt but he refuses to forgive
Thepoint is that those who are forgiven must forgive. And that pointdepends upon the servant having genuinely been forgiven at the start of thestory. That’s what drives the story and that’s what makes the ending of theparable so startling. This once-forgiven servant loses the forgiveness he hadbeen granted because he didn’t forgive his own debtor. This seems to set fortha sort of “temporary forgiveness” (for lack of a better term) that is, in spiteof its impermanence, real. If the servant wasn’t genuinely forgiven, the storyloses its impact. He was given a real promise that he would not be heldaccountable for his debt. The point is that God has made such a promise to usin Christ, and therefore we must forgive our debtors or Jesus’ Father willtreat us the way the master treated the unforgiving once-forgiven servant.
Forgivenessis only found “in Christ.” Apart from Him, there can be no forgiveness, nosalvation. Those who are faithful members of Christ’s church, trusting in His workin their behalf are forgiven and must continue to believe in order to maintainthis status. This is a difficult concept to express (and I don’t believe it isaddressed in our Confession or catechisms) but it seems to me to be clearlytaught in the Scriptures.
Howeverwe might state this, we would have to maintain that the “forgiveness” receivedby such a person is not identical to that received by the elect. To repeat whatI’ve said earlier: First, differs in its duration.
– Doyou believe that those who ultimately fall away ever truly possessed salvation?
Again Iunderstand you to mean by “truly possessed” that they have salvation in thesame sense that those who are elect unto salvation have it. If that is yourmeaning, then the answer is, “No they do not.” If they had salvation in thatway, they would never have apostatized in the first place.
But theBiblical language becomes more complicated when speaking of the members of thevisible Church. There is a sense in which we can say that all those in covenantare “saved.” They have been covenantally delivered out of the world and broughtinto the glorious new creation embodied in the resurrected Christ even thoughnot all of them will persevere. Thus Jude (5) can speak of the Israelites ashaving been “saved,” and then destroyed, because they did not persevere. Thepreface to the Ten Commandments addresses Israel as God’s redeemed people eventhough many of the redeemed did not continue trusting their Deliverer andperished. Peter speaks of a similar class of people in 2 Peter 2. They were “redeemed”by Christ but then they later denied him and are destroyed. To take anotherexample, 1 Peter 3 we read of the eight people who were “saved” from God’swrath in Noah’s ark. But if we read the Genesis narrative, we find one of thosewho was saved, Ham, apostatized and came under a curse.
Again,there is no question that only God’s elect, those predestined for finalsalvation, will infallibly persevere to the end. They cannot fall away becauseGod is determined to keep them in the path of life. But reprobate covenantmembers may for a time experience a quasi-salvation. They may be said to havebeen, in some sense, “bought” by Christ (1 Peter 2), “forgiven” (Matt. 18), “renewed”(Mk. 4), etc., and to have lost these things through unbelief.
One wayto understand this is to think of salvation more in “relational” terms than inmetaphysical ones. “Salvation”is not a “thing” we possess that can be lost and found, like our car keys.Rather, it is a matter of being rightly related to God. But relationships arenot static, timeless entities. They are fluid and dynamic. Some marriages startwell; the couple is full of love. But then things go sour. Our salvationcovenant with the Lord is like a marriage. If we persevere in loyalty toChrist, we will live with him happily ever after. If we break the marriagecovenant, he will divorce us. It may not be wise to call this “losing one’ssalvation,” but it would be unbiblical to say nothing at all was really lost.That would simply be a denial of the reality of the covenant.
Thevisible Church may be viewed as the realm of “salvation” since it is the bodyof Christ (WCF 25:2). Thus, there is a sense in which we may speak of those whoare members of the church as those who are “saved” in the same way that we mayaddress them as the “redeemed” and “saints.” But in regard to non-elect membersof the church, this will prove to be only a temporary standing. If they neverbelieve or cease to believe in Christ, they shall not be saved at the last dayand we may say in one sense that they never had “salvation” — certainlynot in the sense that our Confession uses the term.
– Ifyou answered yes to any of these questions, how do you reconcile your teachingwith:
Westminster Confession of Faith 17.1 (“They, whom God hath accepted in His Beloved, effectually called,and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away fromthe state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and beeternally saved.”), and
Westminster Larger Catechism 79 (“Q. May not true believers, by reason of their imperfections, andthe many temptations and sins they are overtaken with, fall away from the stateof grace? A. True believers, by reason of the unchangeable love of God, and hisdecree and covenant to give them perseverance, their inseparable union with Christ,his continual intercession for them, and the Spirit and seed of God abiding inthem, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, butare kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.”), and
Westminster Larger Catechism 68 (“Q. Are the elect only effectually called? A. All the elect, andthey only, are effectually called: although others may be, and often are,outwardly called by the ministry of the word, and have some common operationsof the Spirit; who, for their willful neglect and contempt of the grace offeredto them, being justly left in their unbelief, do never truly come to JesusChrist.”), and
As Ihave shown, the Confession in each of these places speaks from a decretalperspective.
– WCF 17.1 speaks of those who are “effectually called”and the Confession defines “effectual calling” as the gift of “saving faith”which cannot die out or be lost but which perseveres to the end.
– WLC #79 speaks of “true believers” (as opposed totemporary believers or hypocrites) as those who have the “unchangeable love ofGod and his decree” to give them perseverance — i.e., it is referring tothose who are “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.”
– LC #68 speaks of the “elect” as the only ones whoare “effectually called.”
Thus,in every case, the standards are not referring to apostates and what might betrue of them prior to their apostasy, but they are speaking only andexclusively of those who are chosen to final salvation. My concerns are notwith these statements of the Confession with which I wholeheartedly agree. Myconcerns center around understanding what the Scriptures say to be true ofthose who are members of the church but not elect. How is it that the “non-elect”can be said to have “forgotten that they were cleansed from their former sins”(2 Pet. 1:9)? How is it that they can “trample the Son of God underfoot andcount the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing”(Heb. 10:29)? Clearly, they were not elect (in the WCF sense) or they wouldn’thave done these things. Thus, the Confession, because it doesn’t address thesepassages directly or deal with the issue of apostasy thoroughly is of littlehelp to us at these points.
1 John 2:19 (“They went out from us, but they were not of us;for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they wentout that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.”)
Thereare a number of ways in which we can understand this passage. The key issue inthe text concerns the “us” that the apostates have departed from. It couldrefer to the church and thus be saying that those who “went out” showthemselves to be non-elect (by the fact that they left the church). Since theChurch is the community of the elect, to leave the Church is to demonstratethat you are not of that number. Only those who persevere in faith are elect(in the WCF sense).
Anotherpossible interpretation is that the “us” refers to the apostles. John may bereferring to false teachers who were sent out from the apostles, but whodeparted from the message of the gospel. These “went out from us” i.e., theywere sent out by the apostles, but they did not represent them or the gospelfaithfully (thus, they “were not of us” and did not continue “with us”).
Johncould also be saying that these apostates claimed to be apostles, but theirdeparture from the covenant community proves they never really were (they werenot “of us”) — instead they were anti-Christs.
Whatevermay be the case, there is no compelling reason to say that John is claimingthese eventual apostates never experienced ANY blessing whatsoever while theyremained in the covenant community. Note his continual references to “abiding”in what has been received throughout his writings. John does not deny that theywere “of us” in every possible sense. Exegetically and grammatically, it ispossible that John is saying they ceased to be part of us, rather thanthat they never were part of us.
Thereseems to be various kinds of apostasy. Some apostates may be hypocrites allalong, self-conscious in their unbelief. Others, however, may be like Saul, whoseems to have had a genuine faith, hope, and love for a time before he fellaway in unbelief and rebellion (he was one of those who believed “for a time,”Luke 8:13). The biblical writers rarely call into question whether or not theirhearers have received grace; usually this is taken for granted by virtue oftheir membership in the body of Christ. What they question is whether or nottheir hearers will continue in the grace they have received.
CentralCarolina Presbytery asserts in its January 28, 2006, memorial the following:
“ TEWilkins’ teaching directly contradicts our doctrine of assurance.
CentralCarolina asserts that you teach a doctrine that “directly contradicts ourdoctrine of assurance.”
1. Do youbelieve that your teaching on assurance contradicts WCF
No, Ido not believe my teaching contradicts WCF 18.2. In the quote from my articlein The Federal Vision (p. 67;note 15 on p. 69), I am not denying the possibility of assurance or “infallibleassurance” to which the Confession alludes. Rather, I am trying to show theappropriate grounds of such assurance and the appropriate way to attain it. Wedo not attain assurance by trying to discern the sincerity of our faith orrepentance through introspection of our hearts and examination of our motives,affections, or feelings. Our hearts are deceitful and, thus, our assurancecannot be grounded upon what we feel or think we discern in the recesses of oursouls. Our assurance is founded on Christ Himself and His work and the promisesof God revealed in the Scriptures as well as the visible fruitof the Spirit’s work in our lives.
Notehow the Confession teaches that one obtains “infallible” assurance (WCF 18.1).Certain assurance can be obtained only by those who “truly believe” [i.e., havesaving faith, WCF 14] and sincere love for the Lord Jesus, and who endeavor “towalk in all good conscience before him” [i.e., who repent, believe, and obey] —these may be assured that they are in a “state of grace” and rejoice in thehope of God’s glory. Thus, assurance is grounded upon: believing the promisesof God; the “inward evidence” of those graces (which is always manifestedoutwardly and according to the textual proofs include obedience to God’scommandments; love of the brethren; honest conduct; and godliness); and thewitness of the Spirit (Who confirms our faith through the fruit of holiness Heproduces in our lives).
How dowe discern “saving faith”? In WCF 14.2, we are told the characteristics ofsaving faith: Saving faith believes to be true whatever is revealed in the Wordand “acts” in accordance with what is revealed: “yielding obedience to thecommands; trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God forthis life, and that which is to come.” Again, the marks of saving faith are nothidden but evident in the life of the believer.
Repentanceunto life is also marked by outward fruit (WCF 15.2 “By it, a sinner, out ofthe sight and sense not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness andodiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature, and righteous law ofGod; and upon the apprehension of his mercy in Christ to such as are penitent,so grieves for, and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God,purposing and endeavoring to walk with him in all the ways of his commandments.”).
Thesemarks focus upon the fruit of the Spirit in the life, not
Thepromises of God are also sealed and confirmed by the sacraments (WCF 27.1 theyserve “to confirm our interest in Christ”). Baptism means that I have beenjoined to Christ covenantally, united to His body by the Spirit (I Cor. 12); itmeans that I have put on Christ Jesus (Gal. 3). All the promises of God aredelivered to me and are properly and truly mine. There is no reason to doubtthese promises if I am clinging to Christ by faith. The very fact that baptismis a “sign” and a “seal” confirms my standing and I am to rejoice in the graceof God given to me in Christ Jesus. Assurance must not be sought apart from
Myconcern in the portion of the article quoted was not to deny the possibility ofcertain assurance, but the opposite. I am seeking to discourage the sort ofintrospection that can lead to a great deal of confusion and doubt and to pointto the proper way to obtain certain assurance. Rather than looking into yourheart, it is far better to look away from yourself to Christ as He has revealedHimself in His Word and sacraments as the ultimate ground of our assurance.
2. Do youaffirm the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit is at least one of the ways abeliever can have assurance?
Yes, asI explain above.
You statethat, “The covenant perspective enables us to assure the people of God of theirblessedness without tolerating or condoning ungodly presumption upon the graceof God. It enables us to assure Christians of their acceptance with God withoutneedlessly undermining their confidence in God’s promises (by forcing them toask questions of themselves they cannot answer with certainty.” [Your footnoteat this point identifies such questions as: “Have you truly believed?”; “Haveyou sincerely repented?”; “Do you have a new heart?”; “Have you been trulyconverted?” etc.] (The Federal Vision,page 67; note 15 on page 69)
1. How doyou reconcile this with Westminster Confession of Faith
2. How doyou reconcile this with Westminster Confession of Faith
Ibelieve I have answered both of these in my response above.
CentralCarolina Presbytery asserts in its January 28, 2006, memorial the following:
“TEWilkins teaches a doctrine of baptism strikinglydifferent from that of Standards. Wilkinsstates that “When someone is united to the Church by baptism, he isincorporated into Christ and into His body; he becomes bone of Christ’s boneand flesh of His flesh (Eph. 5:30). He becomes a member of the house, family,and kingdom of God’ (WCF 25.2). Until and unless that person breaks covenant,he is to be reckoned among God’s elect and regenerate saints” (SummaryStatement of AAPC's Position on the Covenant, Baptism, and Salvation (Revised),para 4.).
But, while the Confession describes baptism as a sign andseal of Christ’s blessings –including regeneration (WCF XXVI. 1) –
“If[someone] has been baptized, he is in covenant with God” (The FederalVision, p. 67)…
“covenant isunion with Christ” (p. 58)… and
“being incovenant gives all the blessings of being united to Christ” (p. 58), whichblessings he enumerates by appeal to Eph. 1:3, stating, “those who are incovenant have all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places” (p. 58).
Thedoctrine found in these representative statements from TE Wilkins’ teaching canbe none other than that to be baptized is to have all the eternal blessings ofsalvation and, by inference, he teaches that all persons baptized in water mustbe eternally saved, unless they apostatize. This is made explicitas TE Wilkinsapplies all the blessings noted in Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians tothose who receive water baptism, including the salvific blessings of union withChrist, reaching all the way back to election from before creation to finalsalvation at the end of history. Thus, in contrast to the Confession’s teachingthat water baptism is a sign and seal of these salvific blessings, Wilkinsplainly teaches that water baptism grants actual possession of these salvificblessings.
TheCentral Carolina Memorial asserts that your public teaching on the efficacy ofbaptism is “strikingly different” from the Standards.
1. Do youbelieve that every baptized person possesses “all the eternal blessings ofsalvation?”
No. Ido believe that baptism delivers over to us all the promises of God in Christ Jesus(for this reason the LC #167 imposes upon us the necessity of “improving ourbaptism” by “growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all otherblessings sealed to us in thatsacrament”). In the AAPC revised summary statement on Baptism, we state this:
“By baptism, one enters into covenantal union with Christand is offered all his benefits(Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:1ff; 2 Cor. 1:20). As Westminster Shorter Catechism #94states, baptism signifies and seals “our ingrafting into Christ, and partakingof the benefits of the covenant of grace.” Baptism in itself does not, however,guarantee final salvation. What is offered in baptism may not be receivedbecause of unbelief. Or, it may only be embraced for a season and laterrejected (Matt. 13:20-22; Luke 8:13-14). Those who “believe for a while” enjoyblessings and privileges of the covenant only for a time and only in part,since their temporary faith is not true to Christ, as evidenced by its eventualfailure and lack of fruit (1 Cor. 10:1ff; Hebrews 6:4-6). By their unbeliefthey “trample underfoot the Son of God, count the blood of the covenant bywhich they were sanctified an unholy thing, and do despite to the Spirit ofgrace” (Heb. 10:29) and thus bring greater condemnation upon themselves.”
To saythat the baptized individual is offeredall Christ’s benefits is not saying that the baptized is given automaticsalvation apart from faith. Rather, these promises are given over to him andare his, but they must be embraced by faith for him to enjoy their benefits insalvation. Charles Hodge in his commentary on Ephesians 6:1 states this view ina similar way. In speaking of the baptism of infants, he states that infantsare baptized on the basis of the “faith of their parents” and then goes on tosay that “their baptism secures to them all the benefits ofthe covenant of grace, provided theyratify that covenant by faith.” All the benefits of Christ and the new covenantare presented, delivered over to the baptized individual, but they cannotsecure salvation apart from faith.
Sincefaith is a “gift of God” this in no way implies that we are saved by works (asif faith is a purely human work) but rather it is to emphasize that we aresaved by grace through faith. Baptism, as the Confession teaches, obligates thebaptized to believe in Christ. The baptized individual who refuses to believeor who ceases to believe in Jesus will suffer an even greater condemnation thanthe world. He has “received the grace of God in vain.”
2. Whatdoes baptism accomplish and what does it not accomplish?
Iaffirm precisely what the Westminster Confession teaches in regard to baptism.The Confession does not equate all baptized persons with the elect (“elect untoeternal salvation”); nor do I. The Standards do not equate baptism withregeneration (i.e., effectual calling which is only given to those who areelect unto eternal salvation); nor do I.
I dobelieve that baptism is a work of God the Holy Spirit (WCF 27.3) by which Hebrings about union with Christ by joining the baptized with the visible church.As WCF 28.1 teaches: Baptism is “a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, ofhis ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of hisgiving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life.”
Biblically,a “sign” is not a picture but a powerful act of God which results indeliverance for God’s people (note the “signs” that God did in Egypt forexample). Thus, baptism is a “sign” in that by this means the Holy Spirittransfers the baptized from union with the old Adam into Christ Jesus (theConfession’s scriptural proofs cite Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:5 at this point),transferring him into Christ, the “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). Thus, it is asign and seal of regeneration (the proofs cite John 3:5; Titus 3:5 to provethis point). By the Spirit we are “given up unto God” — i.e., bound towalk in “newness of life” (repenting of our sins, trusting and obeying theSavior all our days).
If thevisible Church is the body of Christ (as the confession and the Bible teach),and if baptism unites one to the visible Church (as the confession and theBible teach), then we may say that we are united to the body of Christ bybaptism (as the confession and the Bible teach).
Andagain, to be united to the body of Christ is to have all spiritual blessingsand benefits of Christ delivered over to you by promise
I’m notsure how these statements show that my views are “strikingly different” fromthat of the Standards (as the Presbytery charges). My views are amply supportedby the historic views of many Reformed theologians and creeds as well as by ourown Confession. Note the following for a few examples:
– The prayer after baptism from the Strasbourg rite of1537: “Almighty God, Heavenly Father, we give you eternal praise and thanks,that you have granted and bestowed upon this child your fellowship, that youhave born him again to yourself through your holy baptism
– The baptismal rite in the Genevan Psalter of 1542:The form begins with Jesus’ words to Nicodemus (one must be born again to enterthe Kingdom of God) and outlines the plan of redemption and then explainsbaptism in these words: “All these graces are conferred upon us when he ispleased to incorporate us into his Church by baptism
– We have very similar language used in our Directoryfor Worship where we read, “childrenby Baptism, are solemnly received into the bosom of the Visible Church,distinguished from the world, and them that are without, and united with believers;and that all who are baptized in the name of Christ, dorenounce, and by their Baptism are bound to fight against the devil, the world,and the flesh.”
– Martin Bucer, Calvin’s mentor, wrote the followingin his 1537 baptismal liturgy. This prayer is to be offered after the baptism: “AlmightyGod, heavenly Father, we give you eternal praise and thanks, that you havegranted and bestowed upon this child your fellowship, that you have bornhim again to yourself through holy baptism, that he has beenincorporated into your beloved son, our only savior, and is now your child andheir.”
– Irish Articles of Religion (1615) on baptism: 89. “Baptismis not only an outward sign of our profession, and a note of difference wherebyChristians are discerned from such as are no Christians; but much more aSacrament of our admission into the Church, sealing unto us our new birth(and consequently our Justification, Adoption, and Sanctification) by thecommunion which we have with Jesus Christ.”
– The Second Helvetic Confession (1564) teaches thatGod promises to give us Christ in the sacraments: “But the principal thing thatGod promises in all the sacraments and to which all the godly in all agesdirect their attention (some call it the substance and matter of thesacraments) is Christ the Savior...by whom all the elect are circumcisedwithout hands through the Holy Spirit, and are washed from all their sins.”Concerning baptism, the Confession teaches, “Now to be baptized in the name ofChrist is to be enrolled, entered, and received into the covenant and family
The 1560 Scots Confession of John Knox is equallyforthright: “And so we utterly condemn the vanity of those who affirm thesacraments to be nothing else than naked and bare signs. No, we assuredlybelieve that by baptism we are engrafted into Christ Jesus, to bemade partakers of his righteousness, by which our sins are covered andremitted.”
The French Confession (1559) makes the same point: “Weacknowledge only two sacraments, common to the whole church, the former whereofis baptism, given unto us to witness to our adoption, for by it we aregrafted into the body of Christ, that being washed with his blood we mightbe renewed by his Spirit unto holiness of life. . . . [I]n baptism, Godgives us really and in fact that which he there sets before us; and thatconsequently with these signs is given true possession and enjoyment ofthat which they present to us.”
Casper Olevianus (Co-Author of Heidelberg Catechism): “Whena baby is baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, the parents should be assuredthat just as certainly as the water cleanses his or her body, so certainly doesthe Father through the Holy Spirit seal in his or her heart gemeynschafft
Scottish Baptismal Rite from the 1556 Book of CommonOrder of John Knox, gives thesedirectives:
Minister:Do you here present this child to be baptized, earnestly desiring that he maybe engrafted in the mystical body of Jesus Christ?
Answer:Yes, we require the same.
Theminister proceedeth: Then let us consider, dearly beloved, how Almighty Godhath not only made us his children by adoption (Rom 8; Gal 4; Eph 1) andreceived us into the fellowship of his church, but also hath promised that hewill be our God and the God of our children, unto the thousand generation (Gen17; Isa 56). Which things, as he confirmed to his people of the Old Testamentby the sacrament of Circumcision, so hath he also renewed the same to us in hisNew Testament by the sacrament of Baptism, doing us thereby to wit [i.e., inorder that we might know] that our infants appertain to him by covenant and,therefore, ought not to be defrauded of those holy signs and badges, whereby hischildren are known from infidels and pagans (Gen 17; Col 2: Acts 10).
Neitheris it requisite that all these that receive this sacrament have the use ofunderstanding and faith, but chiefly that they be contained under the name ofGod's people, so that remission of sins in the blood of Christ Jesus dothappertain unto them by God’s promise; which thing is most evident by Saint Paulwho pronounceth the children begotten and born (either of the parents being faithful) to be cleanand holy (1 Cor 7). Also our SaviourChrist admitteth children to his presence, embracing and blessing them (Mark10; Matt 10; Luke 18; Psalm 22). Which testimonies of the Holy Ghost assure us,that infants be of the number of God's people and thatremission of sins doth also appertain to them in Christ.
“Let us know, that the Apostle does not simply exhort us toimitate Christ, as though he had said that the death of Christ is a patternwhich all Christians are to follow; for no doubt he ascends higher, as heannounces a doctrine, with which he connects, as it is evident, an exhortation;and his doctrine is this – that the death of Christ is efficacious todestroy and demolish the depravity of our flesh, and his resurrection, toeffect the renovation of a better nature, and that by baptism we areadmitted into a participation of this grace. This foundation being laid, Christians mayvery suitably be exhorted to strive to respond to their calling. Farther, it isnot to the point to say, that this power is not apparent in all the baptized;for Paul, according to his usual manner, where he speaks of the faithful,connects the reality and the effect with the outward sign; for we know thatwhatever the Lord offers by the visible symbol is confirmed and ratified bytheir faith. In short, he teaches what is the real character of baptism whenrightly received. So he testifies to the Galatians, that all who have beenbaptized into Christ, have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:27.) Thus indeed must wespeak, as long as the institution of the Lord and the faith of the godly unitetogether; for we never have naked and empty symbols, except when ouringratitude and wickedness hinder the working of divine beneficence.(Commentary on Romans 6:3-4).
And inthe Institutes:
“Baptism is the initiatory sign by which we are admitted tothe fellowship of the Church, that being ingrafted into Christ we may beaccounted children of God. Moreover,the end for which God has given it (this I have shown to be common to allmysteries) is, first, that it may be conducive to our faith in him, andsecondly, that it may serve the purpose of a confession among men. The natureof both institutions we shall explain in order. Baptism contributes to ourfaith three things, which require to be treated separately. The first object,therefore, for which it is appointed by the Lord, is to be a sign and evidenceof our purification, or (better to explain my meaning) it is a kind of sealedinstrument by which he assures us that all our sins are so deleted, covered,and effaced, that they will never come into his sight, never be mentioned,never imputed. For it is his will that all who have believed be baptised forthe remission of sins (Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:38).” (Institutes
“So then we must ever come to this point, that theSacraments are effectual and that they are not trifling signs that vanish awayin the air, but that the truth is always matched with them, because God who isfaithful shows that he has not ordained anything in vain. And that is thereason why in Baptism we truly receive the forgiveness of sins, we are washedand cleansed with the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are renewed by theoperation of his Holy Spirit. Andhow so? Does a little water have such power when it is castupon the head of a child? No. But because it is the will of our Lord JesusChrist that the water should be a visible sign of his blood and of the HolySpirit. Therefore baptism has thatpower and whatsoever is there set forth to the eye is forthwith accomplished invery deed.” (Sermonson Deuteronomy, Sermon 200,Wednesday, 15 July 1556).
“So then, when the Gospel is preached in a place and it hasthe warrants that God gives men salvation–as when we have Baptism and theLord’s Holy Supper ministered uncorruptly–we may say it is an election ofGod . . . . Do we have his Word? It is free grace to us, where he has bound usto himself. Do we have his sacraments? They are the badges of his fatherlyelection. We have not deserved these things.”
“We assertthat the whole guilt of sin is taken away in baptism
I thinkit is simply inconceivable that the Westminster Standards would so depart fromthis pervasively Reformed sacramental view as to teach anything which is remarkablydifferent and out of accord with the confessional tradition of the ReformedChurch. It seems, rather, that the language of the Confession regarding baptismactually reflects this tradition quite strongly. Thus:
WCF 28.1 “Baptism is a sacrament of the new testament,ordained by Jesus Christ,[Matt. 28:19] not only for the solemn admission of theparty baptized into the visible church;[I Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:27-28] but also,to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace,[Rom. 4:11; Col. 2:11-12]of his ingrafting into Christ,[Gal.3:27; Rom. 6:5] of regeneration,[John 3:5; Tit. 3:5] of remission of sins
WCF 28.6 “The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that momentof time wherein it is administered;[John 3:5, 8] yet, notwithstanding, by theright use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but reallyexhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age orinfants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s ownwill, in his appointed time.[Rom. 6:3-6; Gal. 3:27; I Peter 3:21; Acts 2:38,41]”
That they are “effectual means of salvation” (WSC Q #91: Howdo the sacraments become effectual means of salvation? A91: “The sacramentsbecome effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them, or in himthat doth administer them; but only by the blessing of Christ, and the workingof his Spirit in them that by faith receive them.”)
And that they are required if we are to (ordinarily) escapeGod’s wrath and curse due to us for sin (WSC Q #85: What doth God require ofus, that we may escape his wrath and curse due to us for sin? A: To escape thewrath and curse of God due to us for sin, God requireth of us faith in JesusChrist, repentance unto life, with the diligent use of all the outward meanswhereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption.”)
Dr.David F. Wright in his article on the Westminster Confession of Faith’s view ofbaptism makes this comment: “What then about the efficacy of baptism accordingto the Westminster Confession? Itscentral affirmation seems clear: ‘the grace promised is not only offered, butreally exhibited and conferred by the Holy Ghost’ (28:6).
3. Explainhow your view of the efficacy of baptism is consistent with the WestminsterStandards.
Ibelieve this has been answered above (and below).
4. Pleaseaddress whether you believe a baptized person who is never excommunicated fromthe Church during his lifetime can still be one who is not justified asdescribed in Westminster Confession, Chapter 11.
Yes, itseems to me this is very possible since excommunication may not always beexercised consistently or faithfully. Thus, it is very possible for a lifelonghypocrite or a rebel against God to continue in “good standing” in the visiblechurch (because of a church’s unwillingness to excommunicate) and yet at theLast Day be turned away by Christ (“Depart from Me, I never knew you”).
You statethat, “Everyone who has been baptized is a Christian.” (Hospitality
How do youreconcile this with Westminster Confession of Faith
When Isay “everyone who has been baptized is a Christian,” I am speaking of theobjective covenantal reality — i.e., the one baptized has been baptizedinto the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and thus bears the name ofthe Triune God and has been brought into covenant union with Christ by thepower of the Spirit as Paul says in I Cor. 12:13. Paul doesn’t seem to viewthis as something true only for some of the baptised but rather this is truefor all (note v. 27 “Now you are the body of Christ, and membersindividually.”).
As Ialluded to above, it is interesting that in our Directory for the PublicWorship of God we read that thechildren of believers “areChristians, and federally holybefore baptism, and therefore are they baptized.” What is meant by thisastonishing statement? Is the Directorysaying that all covenant childrenare “elect” in the Confessional sense? Is it claiming that they are “effectuallycalled” and thus, have no need for conversion, for repentance and saving faith?It is saying that they are already “regenerated,” “justified,” “forgiven,”and will infallibly persevere to the end? Is this a denial of Paul’s statementthat all by nature are “dead in trespasses and sins”? This is certainly what wewould tend to think if we only allowed the definition of “Christian” as it isgiven us in the teaching of the Confession (regarding the elect, effectualcalling, saving faith, etc.) to inform our reading of this statement.
But,clearly, this would be a terrible misreading of what is intended by this statement. It seems evident that thewriters of the Directoryare speaking covenantally when they call the children of believers “Christians.”They (and we) mean something like this: “Covenant children are claimed by Godin covenant, His promise to be their God rightly and truly belongs to them, andthey have rightful place among God’s people and a right to be baptized into thename of the Triune God and to be viewed and treated as Christians by virtue oftheir membership in the covenant community, the visible church which is thebody of Christ and the kingdom, family, and house of God.” I think the writersof the Directoryintend to say very much the same thing that I am trying to set forth. Thedifference is we are willing to allow them to speak covenantally and not readinto this statement all that the Confession teaches regarding the elect. Thus,this claim is not controversial to anyone when we read it in our Directoryfor Public Worship. But ironically,my position which is exactly the same, is viewed as a departure from theteaching of the Confession. We must ask why this is so?
I don’tmean (and neither does Paul or the writers of our Directory
WCF28.5 emphasizes the fact that salvation is not so inseparably connected tobaptism that there can be no salvation apart from it. I agree with thisentirely as I agree that not all who are baptized are undoubtedly regeneratedin the Confessional sense. This is why I believe that the apostasy of thebaptized is a very real possibility.
AdditionalAreas of Questions Related to the Memorial
Are thereany views that you hold which is either an exception to or inconsistent withthe Confession’s teachings on the doctrine of election, the doctrine of thechurch, the doctrine of perseverance, the doctrine of assurance, and thedoctrine of baptism. If any,explain.
As Ihave said many times, I have no exception to the Westminster Confession’steaching on any of these points. My concern is not with the Confession’steaching but seeking to understand what the Scriptures mean when they appear tostate things contrary to these teachings. Because the Bible plainly teaches theabsolute sovereignty of God over all things (including the eternal destinies ofmen), I do not believe there is any inconsistency between the Scriptures andthe Confession at these points. There are, however, numerous apparentcontradictions and I believe they are explained by the fact that, for the mostpart, the writers of Scripture are viewing the work of God in salvation from acovenantal perspective rather than the decretal perspective of the Confession.
As oneexample, I have cited Paul and Peter who address entire congregations as “chosenof God” and “elect” even though they do not know God’s secret decree. It seemsthat one explanation of this is that they view members of the church to bemembers of the body of Christ (who is the Elect One) and thus they are able toview and address the members of the church as “elect” unto salvation and callupon them to persevere in faith and not be like unfaithful, apostate Israel whofell under God’s judgment in the wilderness. The Confession, however, restrictsthe definition of the “elect” to those who will be saved eternally and does notuse the term to describe members of the visible Church.
Inspite of this, however, the Confession actually embraces a much broader view ofthe visible church than is held by some in our day, when it states that thevisible Church is “the household, family, and kingdom of God” (WCF 25.2) and isthe body of Christ Jesus, outside of which there is ordinarily “no possibilityof salvation.” This, it seems to me, does clearly reflect the way the authorsof Scripture speak of the visible Church. According to this definition,believers and their children are to be viewed and treated as members of thehousehold, children in God’s family, and citizens of the Kingdom — whichseems to be exactly how Paul and the other apostles address members of thechurch.
But onthe whole the Confession seems to be mostly concerned with defending anddemonstrating the sovereignty of God in salvation in contrast to theco-operationist views of the Pelagians and Arminians. The fact that there is nodiscussion of apostasy may indicate that the concerns of the Assembly focusedmore upon the “decretal” side of salvation than upon a more covenantalperspective. Given the “environment” of the Confession and its concerns (whichI fully agree with) I have no exceptions to its teaching regarding election,the church, perseverance, assurance, or baptism.
Havingread the Memorial from Central Carolina and the SJC report, is there anythingyou would like to place, on the record, in your defense?
TheMemorial exhibits a catastrophic misunderstanding of the position I am seekingto set forth and asserts that I hold positions which I explicitly deny. TheMemorial ignores the fact that I have repeatedly said that blessings are not automatically
Thus, Iam forced to say that the charges leveled by the memorial are false,ill-considered, and misplaced. I do not disagree with the Confession at theplaces alleged by the Presbytery. They are seriously mistaken about my viewsand have seriously misread what I have written in drawing their conclusions.
Regardingthe Standing Judicial Report:
On page6 of the SJC report the assertion is made that Louisiana Presbytery did notrespond to the “specific concerns” raised initially by the Central CarolinaPresbytery. This is untrue. Presbytery appointed a committee (of three men) toexamine me in light of the concerns of CCP. In this examination, the committeecovered all of the concerns raised by CCP along with a number of other issuesnot mentioned by the presbytery. In addition, a number of presbyters contactedme privately with other specific questions which I attempted to answer. Therewas no one with whom I spoke who believed my views were contrary to thedoctrinal standards of our church.
Thecommittee was charged with negligence by the SJC for a number of reasons. Firstit stated that “The committeecharged with investigating the views of TE Wilkins kept no minutes and has notranscript, or even a detailed summary of its examination of TE Wilkins.”
Second,the SJC cites as evidence of negligence the fact that there was no “face toface” examination (“Neither the Committee nor Presbytery held a face-to-facemeeting with TE Wilkins to examine his views”). That is true but it is not asign of negligence on our Presbytery’s part. The examination was done over thephone with the three members of the committee and me – one member fromextreme Southwest Louisiana (Lake Charles), one member from extremeSouthcentral Louisiana (Lafayette), one member from the extreme Northwestborder (Shreveport) and me in the Northeast corner (Monroe). We all knew eachother well and have been “face to face” many times, but because of the expenseand time it would have taken to travel to a central meeting place, thecommittee decided to do it all by phone. This is not out of the ordinary forcommittees in our presbytery or in other presbyteries. Again, this was not atrial (which surely would have been conducted in a formal meeting) but anexamination of my views in response to requests from others. I don’t believethink anything was lost that could have been gained by a face to face meeting.
Forthese reasons, and others that could be cited, I believe the judgment ofnegligence against our presbytery is unwarranted and not supported by thefacts.