Interaction with URCNA Report on FV (3): Failure to Recognize Nuance

Summarizing a FV view, the Report says (III.A.1):

"In this understanding of the administration of the covenant of grace in the course of the history of redemption, all those with whom God covenants genuinely enjoy salvation in union with the Triune God."

In some sense, this is a true statement. The question is: what is meant by "salvation" in this statement? The report seems to envision only one kind of salvation---eternal salvation. But is this how FV writers are employing the terms? Perhaps some FV statements will clarify . . .

a. The AAPC's Position on Covenant, Baptism and Salvation (April 3, 2005)

Point 4: "God works out His eternal decree of salvation in history by means of His covenant. Salvation, therefore, may be viewed from two basic perspectives, the decretal/eternal and the covenantal/historical. The Bible ordinarily (though not always) views election through the lens of covenant. This is why some covenant members are addressed consistently as God's elect, even though some of those covenant members may apostatize, proving themselves in the end not to have been among the number of those whom God decreed to eternal salvation from before the foundation of the world."

Here it is argued that among covenant members there are some who are not "among the number of those whom God decreed to eternal salvation from before the foundation of the world" (emphasis mine, BDJ)

Point 11: "All whom God has ordained to eternal life will surely be saved. But there is also another sense in which all those in the covenant are "saved." They have been delivered out of the world and brought into the glorious new creation in Christ (thus, the Scripture speaks of those who had "known the way of righteousness," "been cleansed from their former sins," have tasted of the heavenly gift," etc.) but not all will persevere in that "salvation."

Here it is explained in what sense all covenant members are saved. They are all saved in the sense that they belong to the redeemed community. Salvation here does not refer to eternal salvation. Notice that "saved" and "salvation" are in quotation marks. This indicates these words are not being used in the way they ordinarily are. The URCNA report itself speaks of "merit" because it recognizes that it's not merit, strictly speaking.

Footnote 2: "Illustrations of this abound in Scripture: In Jude (5) the Israelites are said to have been "saved" and then destroyed, because they did not persevere. Peter (2 Peter 2) speaks of a similar class of people. Redeemed by Christ, they then deny Him and are destroyed. All of these are given as warnings to new covenant believers lest they follow these examples of apostasy."

This further explains in what sense all covenant members are "saved" -- in the sense of the Israelites in Jude 5.

b. Joint Federal Vision Statement

Under the heading: The Sacrament of Baptism

"We deny that baptism automatically guarantees that the baptized will share in the eschatological Church. We deny the common misunderstanding of baptismal regeneration—i.e. that an “effectual call” rebirth is automatically wrought in the one baptized. Baptism apart from a growing and living faith is not saving, but rather damning."

Here it is explicitly denied that baptism guarantees eternal salvation. Implication: not all those who are members of the covenant are eternally saved. The idea here is that though all baptized members are indeed part of the redeemed community, they will not all be part of the eschatological church.

c. Doug Wilson's Examination Questions

68. Can the elect lose their salvation? Can a "Christian" lose his salvation? Can an un-baptized believer lose his salvation?

"No, the elect cannot. A covenant-member Christian can fall from grace, be cut out of the vine, and can apostatize. No, a regenerate person who is not baptized cannot lose his salvation."

69. If a person apostatizes, does he lose salvation---justification, sanctification, etc---or does he demonstrate that he was never saved?

"He does not lose something that was never his personal possession to begin with. This means he does not lose the imputed obedience of Jesus Christ, which he never had. But he does lose something. The Scriptures speak of this with different metaphors, some emphasizing the discontinuity all the way back --- wheat/tares, brothers/false brothers, washed pig/dirty pig. Others emphasize the covenant continuity all the way back---Vine/branches, olive tree branches, etc. So such a person was never individually justified, effectually called, etc. But he is falling away from grace in some way. He was enlightened. He tasted the heavenly gift. He trampled underfoot the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified."

Conclusion: The report fails to acknowledge that 'salvation' for FV writers has different referents in different contexts. This is not equivocation on the part of FV writers; this is acknowledging diverse nuances in biblical vocabulary. Paul says that "women will be saved through childbearing" (1 Tim.2:15) and that God is "the Savior of all men, and especially those who believe" (1 Tim.4:10) and Peter says, "this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also" (1 Pet.3:21). Must we conclude that biblical writers use the word salvation in exactly the same way in each instance? I smell an exegetical fallacy.

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