Federal Vision

By Ben Wilkerson - Posted at The Evangelical Times:

Justification by faith, where vile sinners are counted as righteous before God for the sake of Christ, is often polluted by the waters of moralism. Martin Luther is said to have described this justification as ‘the article by which the church stands or falls’. It was this that brought him to faith in Christ, as he read through Paul’s epistle to the Romans, while still a monk.

Since the Reformation, countless sermons and books have been preached and written in defence of this pivotal doctrine, and Reformed and evangelical churches throughout the West continue to do battle for it.

Auburn Avenue

One fairly recent theological fad that has caused discord and confusion is a teaching called Federal Vision (FV). This had its beginnings in the 1970s, when Dr Norman Shepherd, a former professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, began to teach to his students that we are saved by a combination of faith and works.

In 2002 he spoke at a pastors’ conference, at Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church (Presbyterian Church in America, PCA) in Monroe, Louisiana, along with Douglas Wilson (who only in January 2017 has now distanced himself from FV), John Barach, Steve Wilkins and Steve Schlissel, on ‘The Federal Vision: an examination of Reformed covenantalism’.

Through lectures and academic papers, Shepherd and others propose that baptism imputes the benefits of Christ’s righteousness to the person being baptised, and that a true believer can fall away from the faith.

FV teaching is still active today in certain churches. Dr R. Scott Clark, professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, California, describes the movement as ‘a group of writers, some of whom are ministers in confessional Reformed and Presbyterian churches’ who deny or question the ‘distinction between the church visible and church invisible and … [propose] that there is no distinction between those who are in the covenant of grace externally and internally’ (The Confessional Presbyterian, Vol. 2, p.4, 2006).

FV fundamentally teaches three things: that men are saved by faith and works; that baptism confers salvation to the soul; and that a true believer may lose his salvation.