Posted by: Grover Gunn | September 1, 2007

Federal Vision and the Apostasy Argument

The apostasy issue raises the question of what is the most an apostate may have once possessed and have now lost. Painting with a broad brush, there are three possible answers to this question: nothing, something and everything.

 Here is why this issue can get confusing.

  1. Some FV proponents have made statements which appear to say that the apostate in all cases once possessed everything and has now lost everything.
  2. Many FV critics believe that the apostate may have once possessed something (but only something and not everything) and so may have now lost something; some FV proponents may agree with this.
  3. A few FV critics appear to believe that the apostate in all cases has lost nothing of any real spiritual significance because he never possessed anything of any real spiritual significance.

Let me define nothing, everything and something in the context of the question, What is the most an apostate may have once possessed and now lost?

Nothing: The non-elect in the church have their names on the church roll and are subject to the church’s outward administration. They do not possess the promise of the covenant. Their baptism with water is not a sign and seal of the promise of the covenant but is strictly a sign and seal of their coming judgment. As non-elect, they are under no obligation to fulfill the obligations of the covenant (faith and its necessary fruits), and God has no desire rooted in His revealed will for them to do so and no sorrow when they apostatize.
Everything: The non-elect in the church have not only the promise of the covenant but the salvation God has promised to those who meet the obligations of the covenant. They are meeting the oblitations of the covenant, although they will do so only temporarily. Their baptism with water was efficient unto salvation. They have all of Christ. They are just as much in union with Christ as are the regenerate elect, although only temporarily.
Something: The non-elect in the church have the promise of the covenant, which is genuine, sincere and precious. God has not given them the gift of spiritual life which inevitably enables the fulfillment of the obligations of the covenant. For this reason, they never receive the salvation promised. They never are in that vital spiritual union with Christ which truly saves. They never bear that spiritual fruit which comes from abiding in the Vine. They do have the privilege of frequent exposure to the means of grace. They may have experienced the resistible common operations of the Spirit. They may have been “almost persuaded.” They may have escaped the pollutions of this world for a season through some degree of the knowledge of Christ. They may have received some spiritual gifts or abilities, as did Judas. To forfeit through apostasy what they do have is a great loss to them, and the fault is theirs alone. God is sincerely grieved by their foolish disobedience and its consequences, even though He foreordained this and is working it to the glory of His justice.


I believe that the correct answer is “something.” In some cases the apostate may have been a total hypocrite but 2 Peter 2:20 does refer to those who had in some sense and for a season “escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Also, there are indications in the Bible that one can possess a spiritual gift without necessarily possessing the graces. For example, see Matthew 7:21-23 and 1 Corinthians 13:1-2. The Holy Spirit works irresistibly in the hearts of the elect, but He can also work a resistible work in the hearts of the non-elect (Acts 7:51).

There is some evidence that some of the FV proponents have reacted to those who give the “nothing” answer. Yet they have over-reacted if their response is the “everything” answer. Those who have “everything” cannot lose what they have. Those who do apostatize thereby demonstrate that they were never in a vital saving union with Christ. That is a relationship which cannot be lost.

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Responses

  1. Pastor Gunn,

    Good article as always. I have one question for you though.

    If by “everything” it is meant this:

    “The non-elect in the church have the promise of the covenant, which is genuine, sincere and precious.”

    Or said another way:

    “the NECM and the ECM have all the same promises given to them in the “revealed” will”, thus the NECM have “everything” the ECM have.”

    Wouldn’t this be a true sense of “everything” within the scope of what is promised, upon condition of faith, in the revealed will of God to all those baptized?

    Blessings in Christ,
    Terry W. West

    P.S. Of course, given your definitions, I am in agreement with you on the “something” being the only option.

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Terry!

    If we limit ourselves to the resistible benefits rooted in God’s revealed will, then what you say is true. Yet that is an artificial limitation which does not reflect reality. If we refer to the totality of spiritual benefits which God provides those in the visible church, then we have to say that the regenerate can experience all the benefits which the non-elect in the visible church can experience: the external administration, the outward means of grace, the common operations of the Spirit, etc. Yet we can’t say that the equation works the other way. The non-elect don’t experience all the benefits which the regenerate do.

    If I can use Boolean symbolism, by “nothing” I mean two circles which don’t overlap at all, by “something” I mean two circles with one circle totally inside the other, and by “everthing” I mean two circles which coincide temporarily. Some FV proponents have made statements which imply “everything” in the sense of two circles which coincide temporarily. That makes it difficult for others with a more moderate position to use the word “everything” in this context without being misunderstood.

    What is unique to Calvinism is the belief that a resistible benefit given to someone too evil not to resist it successfully can be given as a sincere and genuine benefit. The hyper-Calvinist says that only an irresistible benefit can be sincere and genuine. The Arminian says a resistible benefit can be sincere and genuine only when given to someone with the moral ability not to resist it. Some FV proponents who claim to be Calvinists seem to share this discontentment with the traditional Calvinist view on sincere and genuine benefits and want the non-elect to have something more.

    May God bless!
    Grover

  3. Hi Grover,

    Great post! I didn’t know that you had a blog until today. I always enjoy reading your writing. I was putting together a post on apostasy and assurance, but I like yours better. I will probably take mine in a different direction now.

    What you describe here is, of course, simply the “something” of WLC Q.63 on the common benefits of being in the visible church. I’ve argued the same over at GreenBaggins in his current thread on assurance.

  4. Hey Pastor, I love you and the ministry you and your family showed to me and my wife during our pilgrimage in Jackson, TN (Year 2000).

    I was saved by the Grace of God through the Word preached by John MacArthur. With your teaching of the Holy Scriptures I became more reformed in my understanding of God’s plan of redemption.

    Please explain to me in layman’s terms the debate that currently exists with the Federal Vision view.

    Peace, One of Your Biggest Fans

  5. Good to hear from you, and thanks for the kind and encouraging word!

    I would suggest reading this article from byFaith magazine: http://byfaithonline.com/page/in-the-church/federal-vision-the-issue-for-this-generation . There is further recommended reading at the end of the article. The nine declarations adopted by the 2007 PCA General Assembly are also listed there.

    My own articles on this subject are listed under “current controversies” at http://grovergunn.net/andrew/ancat.htm#contro .

    May God bless both you and yours!
    Grover


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