Can The Presbyterian Church In America be saved? by Sean Gerety, Unicoi, TN: The Trinity Foundation, 2009, 158 pp.
Sean Gerety’s Can The Presbyterian Church In America by saved? is an excellent study on the problem of the heresy of the Federal Vision, its root causes, and its effects on the PCA.
Although I read this book some years ago, upon a second reading now I much better understand the issues, and so was more easily able to follow the arguments.
The story is basically this: the PCA rightfully critiqued the Federal Vision in a study report at one of its General Assemblies but has failed to implement its findings in the disciplining of those who hold to the error. Gerety finds that the hesitancy to condemn the error (or even to notice it) is related to a widespread acceptance of Cornelius Van Til’s doctrine of paradox. That is, if two doctrines are contradictory (as are Sola Fide and Federal Vision) what is to say that they are not only “apparently contradictory?” This doctrine of paradox makes it impossible to discern any error, for the law of contradiction —the very basis of all thought and argument—is shunned.
In addition, the accepted traditional Reformed three-fold definition of faith as notitia (understanding), assensus (assent), and fiducia (trust) provides cover for the Federal Visionists to smuggle in works (as an element of fiducia) into the doctrine of salvation by faith alone.
Now, nine years after the publication of this book, Federal Vision remains a problem in the PCA. For instance, one church with which I’m acquainted recently left the PCA and joined the Bible Presbyterian Church. And in their documented reasons for doing so, they noted the PCA’s failure to discipline Federal Visionists. Their session wrote of the Federal Visionists, “Several of them are still in good standing in the PCA poisoning congregations with their heresies.”
Fortunately, despite itself, the PCA can be saved. That is, it can be saved only because God is sovereign. Though the PCA has failed in many cases to discipline the Federal Visionists, many of the Federal Visionsts have left on their own accord. They have transferred to the Confederation of Reformed and Evangelical Churches (CREC), a denomination supportive of their error and thus a denomination neither Reformed nor evangelical, for they do not preach the euangelion, the one gospel of God’s grace in salvation through belief alone in Jesus Christ. Though the PCA hasn’t excised the cancer, it might be said that it is in remission for one rarely hears of a Federal Visionist today risking his neck poking his head out of his earthen hole.
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In remission, or quietly metastasizing?
History will tell. In the meanwhile, I’m glad for finding any information about the FV movement today, particular as it relates to the PCA. Most of the FV discussion surrounds the years, say the mid 90s to about 2008. (Though there are recognize precursors like Norman Shepherd in the 70s-80s.)
None of the ministers who were part of the original controversy have left the PCA. Peter Leithart and Jeffrey Myer, the two most infamous teaching elders who are FV, are still ordained in the PCA and there are many other less well known ministers in the PCA who are under the radar.
Richard Gaffin, Jr. is retired but still in good standing in the OPC and he is also advocating FV doctrines by subsuming justification by faith alone under the doctrine of union with Christ. For Gaffin union with Christ trumps justification by faith alone. But Luther and Calvin both upheld justification by faith alone as the doctrine by which a true church stands or falls. When justification and sanctification are subsumed under union with Christ–which by the way is only mentioned in the WSC for children–the result is the same as the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification which includes sanctification due to justification being infused and not imputed.
Piper’s doctrine of final vindication sounds and awful lot like final justification. Although I would agree that it is possible to have false assurance of salvation, justification itself is an eternal decree as well as a declaration of imputed righteousness that occurs after regeneration and subsequent faith. It is true that in the final judgment some who have false assurance will discover they were never truly converted. But does that imply that our good works vindicate us in the final judgment? I don’t think so.
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