Audio: Exposition of the Nine Points (part 7) "Covenantal Arminianism"

Exposition of the Nine Points (Pt 7)-Covenantal Arminianism

Synod rejects the errors of those

  1. who teach that a person can be historically, conditionally elect, regenerated, savingly united to Christ, justified, and adopted by virtue of participation in the outward administration of the covenant of grace but may lose these benefits through lack of covenantal faithfulness (CD, I, V);
  2. who teach that all baptized persons are in the covenant of grace in precisely the same way such that there is no distinction between those who have only an outward relation to the covenant of grace by baptism and those who are united to Christ by grace alone through faith alone (HC 21, 60; BC 29);

These are the central points of the Federal Vision controversy. Are there two kinds of election (uncondtional and conditional), are there two kinds of union with Christ (temporary and eternal), two kinds of justification (conditioinal and unconditonal)? Must we persevere to keep what we’ve been given in our baptism? What is the difference between the covenant theology of the FV and the Arminian views rejected by the Reformed churches at the Synod of Dort (1619)?

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. Doesn’t look to be a lot of difference between the two if you ask me.

    From a purely analytical perspective I’d be very interested in a timeline of heterodox and heretical doctrines which have crept into the Reformed Church from the time of the Refomation to the Present. I can’t help myself in seeking trends, commonalities, and forecasts throughout our 492 year history. In other words, were we due for one with the FV and when can we expect the next attack on the Faith once delivered? Not that I am looking forward to one but just embrace the fact that Scripture teaches there will be such false doctrines and teachers in the Church until Christ returns.

  2. What’s the link to the Federal Vision statement on the second sort of election from July 2007?

  3. If someone honestly professes a Christian identity–but only learns in their 30’s from churches like the URC and OPC about drawing biblical, exegetical distinctions between TULIP and Remonstrant hermeneutics–then this someone could all along be one of the elect?

      • Sure. Basically wondering how someone raised outside a confessional (e.g., one that is in fellowship with those in NAPARC) church should interpret their perceptions of the Lord before joining such a church. Or perhaps, even more simply, will their be effects from regeneration and santification for such a person? No one orthodox would probably question that regeneration and santification are non-causal, meaning that regeneration and sanctification can and will begin before someone actually makes a confessional commitment, but what would such pre-visible church effects look like? Before experiencing the visible church’s sacraments and ordinances (regular, weekly preaching and Lord’s supper, etc.), what does this sort of regeneration and sanctification look like?

        • I don’t doubt that I was a believer before I became Reformed but I do think my understanding of the faith was quite immature and my understanding of Scripture and Christian theology was very poor. I wasn’t a member of a true church. indeed, I wasn’t a member of any church at all! My SBC congregation didn’t stress church membership. I was essentially a free agent for several years before I found a Reformed congregation.

          See this post:

          I think of it as a sort of wilderness experience. I’m grateful for the grace God showed me during those years (and after!) and for the kindness and graciousness of those believers who first tutored me in the faith and who were so patient with me but I’m thankful to have found a solid Reformed congregation and to have been taught well by earnest, thoughtful Reformed folk.

          • Thank you very much. I read all 3 parts. By the way, where on this page is the link to the pamphlet on Baptism, Election, and the Covenant of Grace ?

  4. Dr. Clark,

    Thank you so much for making these lessons on the nine points available online. Appreciate the way you organize and clarify what proponents of FV themselves say, how it compares to earlier errors, and the stark terms in which you describe just what is at stake.

    I realize that your direct audience is URC and so the most appropriate confessions to bring to bear in these discussions are those that the URC subscribe to. I wonder if you could however comment here on Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 28 paragraph 6 which states regarding baptism “…the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in his appointed time.”

    Is there for the infant (perhaps one that even dies in infancy) any inward aspect of grace received in the sacrament of baptism? What is the nature of that grace “not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost,” in baptism to an infant?

    Again thanks so much for these lessons,

    • Hi Mark,

      Great to hear from you! We still miss our brothers and sisters at Grace OPC. It was wonderful to see Doug Clawson on campus last week. It was almost like old times.

      There’s no tension between the teaching of the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms on the efficacy of the sacraments in salvation. The key phrases here, which prevent the sacerdotalism of Rome and of the FV movement, are the qualifiers “to such as (whether of age or infants as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will….”

      What the orthodox Reformed theologians understood, and what many forgot or reversed both in the Netherlands and in North America in the 19th and 20th centuries, is that the history of salvation and the application of redemptive, in the administration of the covenant of grace, is the outworking of the decree. The administration works for the decree not the reverse. The decree doesn’t work for the administration. We cannot lever God’s eternal decree by our administration of the covenant of grace.

      We need to affirm both the reality of the decree and the reality of its administration in time and history but the decree is logically prior to the administration. This is what the divines were aiming at in these clauses. Grace is really offered and it is effectually conferred upon the elect. We’re not to try to guess who are the elect before we administer baptism to infants. Thus we reject the over-realized eschatology of the Baptists who have rejected God’s commandment to Abraham to include covenant children in the administration of the covenant of grace because, they think, in the New Covenant only those we know to be believers/elect/professors of faith may receive the sign of initiation.” For the Baptists, since the New Covenant is almost entirely eschatological, we can’t possibly include children in the administration as it was under Abraham. The divines are saying, “No, we can and must include children. The efficacy of baptism, as with circumcision, is still dependent upon the decree as it has always been.”

      Thus, the Reformed (British and European) orthodox view is between the Baptist (which began c. 1611 and was published in 1644 just as the Westminster Assembly was getting under way) and the FV views, neither of which distinguish between the two modes of communion in the one covenant of grace.

      See the pamphlet linked above, Baptism, Election, and the Covenant of Grace.

      Please give our best to Matt and Lois, Mary and Jerry and everyone else at GOPC.

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