Federal Distortion

Since my letter apparently didn't make the Editor's cut in the new New Horizons, I figured I could always give it a comfy home here for you, my four readers.

My letter was prompted by this section from Dr. Alan Strange's article Baptism in our Confessional Standards:

In recent years, there has been a growing sense of the place and the efficacy of the means of grace, including the sacraments. In the OPC and other Reformed and Presbyterian churches, at least in some measure, there has been a revived commitment to "the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation" (WLC 154). While we acknowledge that only the sovereign Spirit can empower these means, either in ordinary or extraordinary ways (as we see at different points throughout church history), it is surely our duty diligently to attend upon them and wait upon our gracious God for his blessing. [...]

We have also, in the last few years, experienced some conflicts in the broader Reformed and Presbyterian world. There have been those who, seeing something of the poverty of our understanding and use of the means of grace, have placed an undue emphasis on their outward aspect. Some have spoken of baptismal regeneration and even embraced a view of the sacraments that sees them as virtually ex opere operato (conveying grace to all who do not positively refuse it). This lamentable externalism can lead to a deadly formalism that downplays the work of the Spirit, and it has been recognized as such by the OPC, the PCA, and others in NAPARC. Theological movements like Federal Vision (FV), whatever good they may have sought to do, have harmed the Reformed faith by an overly objectified sacramentalism that necessarily underplays the indispensable role of the Holy Spirit in making effectual the means of grace.

To which yours lowly responded:

Whatever one's view of the Federal Vision movement, it at least deserves to be characterized fairly. In Dr. Strange's otherwise helpful article on baptism he disserved New Horizons's readers by playing the "baptismal regeneration" and "ex opere operato" cards when attempting to define the FV understanding of baptismal efficacy. Whoever these unnamed "some" might be who have embraced this "lamentable externalism," they are at formal odds with the Joint Federal Vision Statement which clearly and explicitly rejects these formulations as commonly understood and scarily implied by Dr. Strange.

To be sure, the author is entitled to the opinion that those associated with the FV are either self-deceived as to the trajectory of their beliefs or are lying outright about their real positions on this matter, but that opinion should be kept clearly distinct from any attempt to objectively define their stated views.

I'm not here to carry the FV's baptismal water, but simply to correct the record. This on-going Reformed conversation can only proceed charitably and equitably when the disputants' views have been properly defined.


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