URCNA Study Committee Rejects FV (Updated)

UPDATE:  Here is the URCNA Report

At Synod Calgary (2004) Synod of the United Reformed Churches in North America, in response to a complaint over a sermon preached by a (now former) URCNA minister, adopted Three Points on justification on the basis of the imputation of Christ’s active obedience and received through faith alone (sola fide). Those three points were re-affirmed by Synod Schereville (2007). Synod also rejected the self-described Federal Vision doctrines of covenant and justification when it  adopted Nine Points of Pastoral Advice. There is an explanation of the Nine Points online and in print in the pages of the Outlook. Synod also formed a large study committee. That committee has completed its work and the report has been sent to the churches.

This is a serious, thoughtful, and fairly extensive study of the FV movement (60 ppgs). The claims are carefully documented with references to primary documents (sources) produced by the self-described Federal Vision advocates. After a brief introduction of the committee’s mandate given by Synod in 2007 the report moves on to a brief survey of the history of the self-described FV movement (pp. 7-9). Then comes a survey of the “Characteristic Themes of the Federal Vision” (pp. 10-23) covering the “the doctrine of the covenant” including “covenant and salvation” and “covenant and election,” “the pre-fall covenant,” and “law and gospel in the covenant.”

The report then turns to “The Doctrine of the Church and Sacraments” in which it covers “the distinction between the ‘Visible’ and ‘Invisible’ Church ,” “the efficacy of the sacraments (Baptism),” and “Children at the Lord’s Table.” The third sub- section of the theological survey covers “Assurance, Perseverance, Apostasy.”  The last section of this part of the report (pp. 23-38)  is an evaluation of the FV emphases. In this section the committee notes the several ways in which the FV contradicts God’s Word as understood and confessed by the Reformed Churches in the Three Forms of Unity.

The fourth major section (pp. 38-59) of the report is a survey of the FV doctrine of justification. The committee opens with a survey of the biblical and Reformed confessional doctrine of justification as “judicial declaration of acceptance with God” (p. 39) on the basis of Christ’s righteousness imputed (40-42) and received through faith alone (42-43). Under this head the report discusses faith and works, justification and the sacraments, and finally an evaluation of the FV doctrine of justification (44-47). The report defends the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s “whole” or “active” obedience (47-54).  The report describes and critiques the FV doctrine of justification through an “obedient faith.” and provides a brief survey of the FV distortions of the doctrine of justification (54-59).

The committee makes the following recommendations to Synod London (Ontario) to be held in the summer of 2010:

[A is omitted here because it is procedural in nature]

B. That Synod London affirm the following teachings of Scripture and the Three Forms of Unity, and encourage all office-bearers to repudiate FV teachings where they are not in harmony with them:

1. “Election is God’s unchangeable purpose by which … he decided to give the chosen ones to Christ to be saved, and to call and draw them effectively into Christ’s  fellowship  through  His  Word  and  Spirit.  In  other words, he decided to grant them true faith in Christ, to justify them, to sanctify them, and finally, after powerfully  preserving  them  in  the  fellowship  of  his  Son,  to  glorify  them.”  (Canons of Dort, 1:7)

2. “This election is not of many kinds; it is one and the same election for all who were to be saved in the Old and New Testament. For Scripture declares that there is  a  single  good  pleasure,  purpose,  and plan of God’s  will,  by  which  he chose us from eternity both to grace and to glory, both to salvation and to the way of salvation,  which  he  prepared  in advance for us to walk in.” (Canons of Dort, 1:8)

3. Some members of the church or covenant community “are not of the Church,  though  externally  in  it” (Belgic Confession, Article 29).

4. Those who are truly of the church may be known by the “marks of Christians;  namely, by faith, and when, having received Jesus Christ the only Savior, they avoid sin, follow after righteousness, love the true God and their neighbor, neither turn aside to the right or left, and crucify  the  flesh  with  the  works  thereof.”  (Belgic Confession, Article 29)

5. Adam was obligated to obey the holy law of God and the “commandment of life” in order to live in fellowship with God and enjoy His favor eternally. (Belgic Confession,  Article 14; Heidelberg  Catechism, Lord’s  Day 3).

6. All human beings have fallen in Adam, are subject to condemnation and death, and are wholly incapable of finding favor with God on the basis of obedience to the law of God. (Belgic Confession, Article 14; Heidelberg Catechism,  Lord’s Days 3, 24)

7. The work of Christ as Mediator of the covenant grace fully accords with God’s truth  and  justice,  satisfies  all  the  demands  of  God’s  holy  law,  and  thereby properly  “merits”  the  believer’s  righteousness  and  eternal  life.  (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Days 5-7, 15, 23-24; Belgic Confession, Article 22; Canons of Dort, Rejection of Errors, 2:3)

8.  The  entire  obedience  of  Christ  “under  the  law,”  both  active  and  passive, constitutes the righteousness that is granted and imputed to believers for their justification.  (Belgic  Confession, Article 22; Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 23)

9. Faith is the sole instrument of the believer’s justification, so that believers may be  said  to  be  justified  “even  before  [they] do good works.” (Belgic Confession, Article 24)

10. The good works of believers, though necessary fruits of thankfulness, contribute nothing to their justification before God, since they proceed from true faith,  are  themselves  the  fruits  of  the  renewing  work  of  Christ’s  Spirit, are imperfect and corrupted by sin, and are performed out of gratitude for God’s  grace  in  Christ.  (Heidelberg  Catechism,  Lord’s  Days  3,  24,  32,  33;  Belgic  Confession, Article 24)

11. The justification of true believers is a definitive and irrevocable blessing of Christ’s  saving  work,  and  therefore  cannot be increased by the good works that  proceed from true faith or be lost through apostasy. (Canons of Dort, 1:9; Rejection  of Errors 1:2, 2:8, 5:7;  Heidelberg  Catechism,  Lord’s Days 20, 21)

12. The sacrament of baptism does not effect the believer’s union with Christ and  justification, but is a confirmation of the gospel promise to those who respond to the  sacrament  in  the  way  of  faith.  (Heidelberg  Catechism,  Lord’s  Days  25, 27)

13. The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is a means to strengthen and nourish the  believer  in  Christ,  when  it  is  received by the “mouth of faith,” and therefore the  children of believing parents are obligated to attest the presence of such faith before receiving the sacrament. (Belgic Confession, Article 35; Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Days 28-30)

14. The assurance of salvation is an ordinary fruit of true faith, which looks primarily to the gospel promise and the testimony of the Holy Spirit as the basis for confidence before God. Though good works may confirm the genuineness of faith, they are not the primary basis for such assurance of salvation. (Heidelberg Catechism,  Lord’s  Days 7, 23, 32;  Belgic Confession, Article 22-23; Canons of Dort, 5:8-13)

15.  According  to  God’s  electing purpose and grace, true believers may be confident that God will preserve them in the way of salvation and keep them from losing their salvation through apostasy. (Canons of Dort, 1:12, 5:8-10)

C. That Synod London reaffirm the reminder of Synod Schererville: “That synod remind and encourage individuals that, if there are office-bearers suspected of deviating from or obscuring the doctrine of salvation as summarized in our Confessions, they are obligated to follow the procedure prescribed in the Church Order (Articles 29, 52, 55, 61, 62) and the  Form  of  Subscription  for  addressing  theological  error.” (Acts of Synod 2007, Art.  67.4)

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