Monday, 3 March 2008

The Federal Vision And The Language Of Appearance (2)

Continuing from part one, here. The important bit was to understand the Federal Vision's key claim concerning the New Covenant: that it works just like the Old. FV-ers reject the concept of a two-phase membership (as in traditional Presbyterianism) is wrong, but hold (unlike Reformed Baptists, who also reject that concept) to the idea that the New Covenant is not perfectly salvific but, like the Old, contains amongst its membership both the elect and reprobates. The different is that the reprobates don't persevere - not that they were never legitimate covenant members to begin with.

This position comes with a whole range of consequences, which need corresponding theological justification. One huge it raises is about the perseverance of the saints. If bona fide, New Covenant members can fall away and ultimately be damned, how does this square with God's sovereignty in salvation, a doctrine which FV-ers also teach? If their membership was 100% as genuine as the membership of those who persevere to the end and are saved, how do we account for their not being saved?

Personally I think this is a fatal problem for the FV, when compared with Scriptural teaching. Ultimately the Christian's assurance - the truthfulness of the fifth point of Calvinism - rests in the perfection of Christ's mediation. The differences between the administration of the covenants were a major point of controversy and a major locus of apostolic teaching. The book of Hebrews in particular has a great deal to say about the perfection of the New Covenant. An essential part of its glory is that under the New Covenant we have a perfect mediator. Unlike those fallible, sinful and mortal human high priests who served in the earthly tabernacle, we have a sinless, immortal heavenly high priest. In these gospel days we have a perfect mediator. The New Covenant is, to use the key word from Hebrews, better. Why is it better? Ultimately because it is mediated by a superior mediator, who "is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them." (7:25).

That's the foundation stone for the Christian's assurance. If he has come by faith to Christ, then he is now represented before the throne of God by a faultless High Priest. Jesus's unending and always acceptable prayers guarantee that the New Covenant member will arrive in glory. We may stumble a thousand times - but his intercession for us, his continuing presentation of his perfect work, will ensure that sufficient grace is procured for us so that we rise again and are restored. The Old Covenant did not contain promises of such a high priest; it was a covenant that had faults (Hebrews 8:7). Not all of its members truly knew the Lord, or enjoyed the benefit of his intercession for them. This left the scope for it to be superceded by a new and superior Covenant. Under the New Covenant, the law of God is written not only on tablets of stone and on the hearts of some covenantees - but on the hearts of all of them, so that they all know the Lord from the greatest to the least (8:8-13).

If, though, as according to the FV, every New Covenant member enjoys the same covenant status and privileges as every other (there being no concept of an external membership), how can any such member fall away? If they enjoy the benefit of Christ's mediation for them, then why is it not effectual? Does the Father refuse to hear? Does he reply and say "this member that you have prayed for is not elect, and therefore I won't grant you your request?" me genoito! (Unthinkable!). This too would directly contradict the whole thrust of Hebrews' teaching - that the New Covenant is perfectly efficacious. "But this man [Jesus], because he continues for ever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever lives to make intercession for them." (Hebrews 7:24-25).  The FV position is that there are those who come to Jesus and truly become members of the New Covenant, but whom Jesus doesn't save to the uttermost. Either he makes no intercession for them (contradicting the doctrine that there are no distinctions between Covenant members as to their Covenant privileges), or his intercession is refused (contradicting the statement that he is able to save them to the uttermost on the grounds of this intercession). Either way, the Federal Vision has missed the major point of the book, and denies the primary reasons that the apostle gave to persuade his hearers not to return to the inferior Covenant of Judaism.

To be continued...

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