Interaction with URCNA Report on FV (12): Covenant, Election and Salvation (b)

The report alleges that FV teaching on covenant, election and salvation diverges in at least two ways from the doctrine of the Three Forms of Unity (3.D.1). The first is that FV teaching fits the profile of the Remonstrant error rejected by the Canons of Dort — namely, that there are two kinds of election, one general and indefinite and the other particular and definite (see RoE 1:2). This strikes me as a convenient attempt to dismiss FV teaching (a theological sleight of hand), but proves upon some investigation to be grasping at straws.

First of all, there is nothing at all theologically aberrant about distinguishing kinds of election. Both Berkhof and Bavinck distinguish different kinds of election—namely, the corporate election of the nation Israel in the Old Covenant and the individual election of believers in the New Covenant. The problem with Berkhof and Bavinck (am I allowed to disagree??) is that they seem to make this distinction along historical and not categorical lines. Thus, election was corporate in the old covenant and individual in the new covenant. This strikes me as incipient dispensationalism.

I’m far more comfortable with the Reformer John Calvin who recognizes that the corporate/individual distinction is operative in both covenants. In this connection he writes, “It is easy to explain why the general election of a people is not always firm and effectual: to those with whom God makes a covenant, he does not at once give the spirit of regeneration that would enable them to persevere in the covenant to the very end” (Institutes, 3.21.7).

Then there’s the contemporary Reformed theologian John Frame who in The Doctrine of God also distinguishes between historical election and decretal election. He writes, “As not all Israelites are Israel (9:6), so not all members of the Christian church are regenerate believers. Some are elect only as the unbelieving Israelites were: historically elect, rather than eternally elect. Like Saul and Judas, they are chosen only temporarily; they can become non-elect. So the election of the visible Christian church is similar to the election of Old Testament Israel. It is an election that temporarily includes some within its bounds who will never come to true faith and will never have eternal life. This parallel between the church and Israel should not be surprising because the church and Israel are, contrary to dispensationalism, the same body . . .” (322).

Later he writes, “But in Scripture there is also an election that cannot be lost and that is not at all conditioned on human faithfulness or works . . . So those who are “in Christ” who belong to him inwardly and not merely outwardly, who are the true Israel, can never lose their salvation. They are elect in a stronger sense than was the nation of Israel as a whole and in a stronger sense than is the general membership of the visible Christian church” (325).

In rejecting the error of various kinds of divine election the Canons of Dort envision the Arminians who conceive an election “to justifying faith, without being decisive to salvation” (RoE, 1:2). Federal Vision folk don’t believe decretal election is conditional. They do believe historical election is conditional because historical election corresponds to covenant.

The difficulty here is that Federal Vision proponents say simultaneously (a) only some in the church are decretally elect and (b) all in the church must believe they are decretally elect. It’s the (b) that people can’t get their heads around. But recall what I wrote in my previous post. At baptism, the Triune God promises forgiveness, justification, inclusion among the assembly of the elect in life eternal, etc. These promises are not predictions awaiting fulfilment, but declarations summoning faith.

May a baptized person doubt the validity of God’s promise that He will present him one day among the assembly of the elect in life eternal? No. Even though unbelief negates the saving power of the promise, nothing can negate the validity of the promise. The promise, because it’s God’s promise, is necessarily indubitable, inviolable and trustworthy.

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