A Romans 11 Olive Branch

I would like to thank Shane Lems for his post at The Aquila Report for his post on the FV as it relates to union with Christ. The reason for this is that he quotes from the Joint Federal Vision statement, which is very rarely done. I really appreciate it — that is what the statement was for.

The upshot of his article is that FV views union with Christ as something a Christian can lose, while the Reformed confessions view it as a permanent reality. “The Federal Vision movement says it is losable while Reformed theology says it is an eternal union.”

To illustrate the latter point, he cites the Larger Catechism.

“The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God’s grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband, which is done in their effectual calling” (WLC 66).

But the Catechism here says that union with Christ is not losable for the elect. This is exactly right. There is nothing in FV theology that is contrary to this. The union with Christ that the elect have is a union they cannot be separated from. So the issue is not whether the elect can lose their union with Christ — everybody agrees that this is impossible.

So the real issue is whether the non-elect covenant member has any kind of union with Christ (a kind of union which can be lost). If he does, it is not the same as the union with Christ that the elect have, because he can lose it, and the elect cannot. So the only issue here has to do with the non-elect.

Another way to say this is that the question is one of ecclesiology, not individual soteriology. We agree on soteriology when it comes to the elect. The question is this — does the visible church have union with Christ?

If it does, then we have to give an account of the non-elect members of the visible church. But if the visible church doesn’t have union with Christ, what is it? And what are we all doing on Sundays?

For the sake of peace in the church, I would like to offer my little olive branch. I got it off the Romans 11 olive tree, which brings up the same issue from another passage.

But here it is. I would be more than happy to stipulate that the theological phrase “union with Christ” applies to the elect, and only to the elect. But there is a price that I would exact from my discussion partners in this — what shall we call it when non-elect covenant members (the only kind that can apostatize) are joined with, connected to, and part of Christ? What did they “have” prior to their removal from it? We need a phrase that is true to these texts:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit” (John 15:1-2).

“If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:6).

I would be happy for the sake of peace and clarity to never again use “union with Christ” in reference to a non-elect covenant member. But we still need a biblical way to describe them and their relation to Christ, and that description cannot be the opposite of the biblical description. Christ has non-elect branches, and they are _______________ (what?) to Christ.

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57 comments on “A Romans 11 Olive Branch

  1. It doesn’t help communication that some FV men postulate that all Biblical talk of “elect” refers to Covenantal election.

    Still you’re correct that the FV continues to be misunderstood. The “FV dictionary” has been out for awhile but no one seems to consult it when being critical.

  2. A good dose of biblical architecture (the difference between the blood and water boundaries, which you gents seem unable or unwilling to comprehend) would wash this problem away quicker than a 30 second TV commercial.

  3. Union with Christ (the Vine) is something particular branches are grafted into and pruned out of routinely in covenant history, with the final result being the exact fixed number that was always ordained to eternal life from the beginning.  Apostasy from this covenant union is real.  God is sovereign over the grafting and pruning, and knows what He’s up to.

     

    Scripture speaks of those in union with God and Christ as belonging to Him in general (sometimes even referring to them covenantally as His “elect” and chosen), until such time as some may be pruned out for unbelief.  This is not how historic Reformed confessions use the term elect.  They use it to refer to the Number Ordained to Eternal Life (NOEL), which is a more narrow sense than Scripture uses the term.

     

    Salvation is not ours in some free-standing sense, apart from Christ.  We must abide in Christ, our Salvation.  So the idea of “losing our salvation” makes no sense apart from losing Christ, and one cannot misplace Him as one misplaces car keys.  God does not prune out of the Vine or write a certificate of divorce hastily, as we see with Israel.  Further, we can’t maintain our salvation by abiding.  Rather those who do abide are those ordained to eternal life, the NOEL.

  4. Doug wrote:

    “But if the visible church doesn’t have union with Christ, what is it? And what are we all doing on Sundays?”

    I once asked R Scott Clark to whom our baptism united us.  Clark’s answer, to my face, was, “no one”.  Clark then said that baptism unites us to the covenant.  I immediately concluded that R Scott Clark was not Reformed.  (╯ಠ_ಠ)╯ ︵ /(.o.)\

  5. I guess one step in the direction of finding a solution would be to see how the non-elect (or unfaithful, if you will) members of ancient Israel were described. To me, this relationship seems to be a good case for FV views of covenant. Thoughts?

  6. Here’s an offer, how about unregenerate, not indwelt, not trusting in the finished work of Christ, not at peace with God, not being remade into the image of Christ. In short, leave the ordo at the door and you have a deal.

  7. The objectivity of the covenant has real meaning in the community.  There is certainly Biblical tension in that Christ says “This is the New Covenant in my blood…”  And Paul say “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation…”.  The elect are are not in doubt, just invisible.  The question remains, how are the posers (wolves in sheep’s clothing)(false professors) considered to be “in Christ”.  Yet, there it is, “every branch in Me the beareth not fruit…”  Hmmm.

  8. RC, we are close to a deal, but not there yet. I agree with everything you say they are not. But what are they?

  9. Rcjr
    I’m not sure how you do things at your church, but I have been in churches where men made “credible professions of faith,” we’re baptized, led mission trips, we’re ordained to office, led prayers, taught Bible studies, and we all called them Christans and they we’re counted as members of the Body of Christ.  Then he left his wife and children to move in with his girlfriend and he renounced his faith. We concurred with his renunciation and removed him from the membership of the Body of Christ. While  he was apparently not one of God’s elect (since he began but did not persevere), nevertheless, he did publicly unite himself to the Body of Christ and we did publicly acknowledge and receive him into the Body of Christ, withou reservation. My question for you is, are you saying that he, IN NO SENSE WHATSOEVER, was ever united to Christ? In other words, it is impossible for there to ever be a branch IN CHRIST that does not bear fruit? (John 15:2) I propose we all call them “fruitless branches that were in Christ.”

  10. Yes indeed, the non-elect are “in” (Jn 15:2) Christ temporarily (Mk 4:16-17,18-19), since they do not “abide” (i.e., stay) in Christ (Jn 15:6), being taken away for not bearing good fruit (Jn 15:2) as a result of autonomous natural/fleshly unbelief (Jn 15:4,5). Although they appear to be “of” the elect while assembled/churched “in” the body of Christ with the elect; they in having went out “from” the elect, were not really “of” the born-again elect (1 Jn 2:19; Jn 3:3). If they have been shown to not be of the elect as purported disciples of Christ due to their continuing disobedient unrepentance (from previous disobedience) in “unbelief” against saving faith/belief (Heb 3:12-14,18-19; 4:1-3,6,10-11), then now the non-elect are told that they no longer have any reason to believe Christ’s sacrifice benefits them (Heb 10:26-27). Any claim of such purported ‘faith-alone’ faith (James 2:24) that will not by the grace in Christ Jesus bear the Spirit’s fruit of the good work of commanded “day-by-day” (Lk 9:23; Heb 3:13-15; 4:7; Ro 8:13-14) repentance from sin is “dead,” “useless,” (James 2:17,20), and unable to save from God’s wrath and judgment (James 2:14,26) – just as Jesus warned against in Jn 15:1-6,10 and Lk 9:23-24; 14:26-27.

  11. Brian, i’m not sure what you are say we should call them. We’re they or were the not temporarily “in Christ”?
    Perhaps some other terms could be developed from Hebrews 6:4-6 – “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. “

  12. 1. To demand to know “what they are” based on a deduction from “the visible church is united to Christ” seems like the elementary fallacy of division.

     

    2. The claim that the non-elect’s union is “different” from that of the elect’s “because he can lose it, and the elect cannot” seems to trade on an external rather than internal property. This is akin to saying that a rock is changing because it stands in relation to a river that is changing. Are not John and Tom’s footballs identical, even though John will certainly not misplace his, and Tom certainly will?

     

    3. The two categories elect and non-elect, each in the church, do not exhaust the logical possibilities. What about the elect in the church whose regeneration is still future? Are BOTH parties to this debate wanting to say that such a person is united to Christ? Presumably the Clark party would say no, because regeneration is needed, and this has not yet occurred. But the FV party would CERTAINLY have to say this category of person is united to Christ. Then, after his conversion, he is also united to Christ. Has the “union” changed? It won’t do to say that it changed by going from “losable” to “unlosable,” both because of the comment in (2), and also, because then you would be forced to say that some elect are united to Christ with the quality of “losable.”

     

    4. What about about the elect that are now outside the visible church as well as unconverted? Does the Clark party suggest that Paul, while he was persecuting the church, was united to Christ because elect? It’s not quite good enough to say “no, he must be elect and converted and that ends it” unless the visible church plays NO logical role in union (occam’s razor), but if he adds “and in the church” then what about elect converted persons that are not in the visible church by unavoidable circumstance?

     

    5. All of this points out a weakness in hinging every doctrine on the hidden decree of election. But more: the particular debate can be decoupled from that topic. Why not simply ask whether hypocrites in the church are united to Christ, or only those with true faith? The advantage of putting it that way is that it shows that the question is broader than Reformed in-fighting: even Methodists could take an interest in the question put that way.

  13. Doug, are you authorized to negotiate for your friends? I’d hate to broker a deal with you only to have the stouts and porters put the kibosh on the deal.

  14. In the meantime, they are possessors of a credible profession of faith who should be treated as believers, as far as we can tell.

  15. At the risk of sounding crude, could they be called foreskin? attached and yet of the “flesh.” Eventually they will be pruned but serve an immediate purpose.  A.W. Pink in his commentary on Hebrews 6 once described the attached non-elect as leaves on the vine which guard the fruit from the direct rays of the sun (or something like that). 

  16. Mike Bull, not sure I can get to the bottom of your metaphor, but credobaptists have a similar problem – those who profess, are baptized, yet are not regenerate, and show that only later. In my former eldership we had some such. How does that distinction make things any better, or easier? They are members of the visible church and have some relationship to Christ (as professors), but not an eternal one.

  17. Christ has non-elect branches, and they are unfaithful to Christ (by their very nature of being non-elect). Too simplistic? See the Scriptures referenced in Brian’s post.
    @rcjr Full agreement that they can only be treated as believers. Election is not something that we determined for ourselves, nor can determine on behalf of others.
     

  18. Perhaps the answers lies in the practices and language of horticulture, and specifically the practice of grafting. The non-elect covenantal “union” with Christ sounds like “graft incompatability”, defined as: “Genetic incompatibility or biochemical reaction of the rootstock and scion. The failure can be fairly immediate or delayed, perhaps twenty years or more.”  (from http://apps.rhs.org.uk/advicesearch/profile.aspx?PID=608).
    Therefore: Christ has non-elect branches, and they are incompatibly grafted to Christ.

  19. I think Bernard is on to something. Jesus’ words need not be taken to mean a full and “internal” (in the traditional Reformed sense) union. He is, after all, using a figure of speech. I think the basic point is covenant membership, with Jesus identifying himself as the substance of that covenant. This is the same concept that Paul uses when he speaks of the remnant theology: all Israel is not Israel. So too with Christ. All Christians are not Christians.<br><br>

    The (actual) two kingdoms doctrine of the Reformers works here too. The invisible/spiritual kingdom is by (true) faith, whereas other forms of union are temporal/external.   

  20. This can still be “FV Amber Ale” (traditional Calvin theology) because the external and objective realm is still given the name of the spiritual by use of the communicatio idiomatum or sacramental speech. 

  21. Bernard

  22. Bernard and Steven, previous post didn’t like a character in my reply. Doesn’t this idea of “incompatible grating” put God at fault for the falling away of the non-elect? It would also seem that God has done a faulty work instead of what He has promised to do. Surely that’s not you’re intended message. But could it be construed that way?

  23. Randy, it is true that you can say that some of the non-elect are in Christ and that some of them were in Christ. The Bible teaches us that we can say such men are temporary partakers of the Holy Spirit in Christ or such former (and thus temporary/non-permanent) partakers were in Christ, no longer abiding in Him, having fallen away, etc. There’re loads of names you could call/index them with Biblical warrant: believers with rocky hearts; believers with thorny hearts; those who will/did not stay in Christ; those who will be (or have been) cut out, thrown away, and burned; those who are/were not of us; those who went from us; false brethren/sheep; former disciples; goats; tares; former partakers; waterless clouds; autumn trees without fruit; wild waves of the sea that cast the foam of their own shame; wandering/deceptive stars for whom the deepest darkness has been reserved forever, etc.

  24. How about “visibly united” (united as best we can see at the moment) and “invisibly united” or “electively” or “effectually” (or “electually”?) or “actually united,” or something along those lines?

  25. “For the sake of peace in the church, I would like to offer my little olive branch. I got it off the Romans 11 olive tree, which brings up the same issue from another passage.”

    *snicker

  26. Howbout we say that the non-elect are confederated with Christ?
    On second thought…

  27. How about “tares”?

  28. How about we read Romans 11 in context? Like, after Romans 10? (just a suggestion) It’s all about the end of the Jew/Gentile division.
    The cutting off and grafting in of branches finished in AD70, the apostolic framework for the New Covenant Church. That’s why they were referred to as Firstfruits. Now it’s just about the fruit of the apostles’ doctrine (the New Testament), and all fruit is de-elect-able. The first fruit of the righteousness of the Spirit is confessing with the mouth and believing with the heart that God raised Christ from the dead.
    It takes academics to make something simple really complicated. In this case the best way to sort out the theological dilemma might be to skip seminary and spend a weekend at an orchard.

    The New Covenant isn’t about the fruit of the Land or the fruit of the womb (Gen. 3, Gen. 15) but the fruit of righteousness, the fruits of the Spirit – the fruit of the tomb. Christ got to the heart of the matter.

  29. In all seriousness, it is impossible to let the Scriptures simply speak for themselves and not arrive at some form of legitimate union with Christ – which may, in fact, be dissolved.  There is a Christian Grace from whence we might certainly fall. There are grafted wild olive branches that God can remove.  There are fruitless grape vine twigs that shall be – and have been – lopped off by the Gardener Himself.
    The Bible says so… and readers of this blog know where to look. 
    Some forms of systemization are in desperate need of pruning.

  30. Michael, nice try, but the branches are people, and they don’t stop being people just because of 70 AD.

  31. And while I am at it, I should echo and amen Steven’s comments.

  32. Q: Christ has non-elect branches, and they are _______________ (what?) to Christ.

    I vote *united*. Recently I sawed off several branches from a tree in my front yard. Until the serrated edge ran through them, all were connected (united!) to the tree in some way — even the dead ones. Lacking sovereign grace I even removed a few living branches.

    Can’t we teach that all baptized Christians are united to Christ sacramentally/objectively (the way a branch is grafted onto a tree), yet only those branches who come to faith in Christ are united to Christ spiritually/subjectively (the way a tree “takes” a graft and nourishes it from the inside out)? True, not all the branches united to the Tree in history will remain united to the Tree in the eschaton. Branches either stand by faith or else they are broken off.

    A fruitful branch is a faithful branch; an unfruitful branch is an unfaithful branch. And πίστις is a fruit of the Spirit, not of the branch, is it not? So it’s all of grace, none of works.

  33. @JMT — the problem with using a strong term like “united to Christ” in that context is it is the exact same term used for the elect. The result is you risk blowing up the assurance the elect should have in Christ, by the Spirit … and “faithfulness” — a work of seemingly of man, even if cooperative — becomes the measure, rather than “faith” alone, which is a gift of God. So, while I am sensitive to and appreciate very much Pastor Wilson’s point here in his post, I am also sensitive to the criticisms leveled especially at some of the darker FV brews.
    Reed Heed makes this point in the Greenbaggins comment thread, and I would love to hear response to it, for at least my own edification if not also for others:

    “The net effect of these two is to in practice eliminate the functional distinction between unions. No one can know what union they partake of since the only thing visible is the historic church, made up of folks with both kinds of union. This then compels the emphasis on faithtfulness. In spite of all sorts of caveats to this word the FV effectively eliminates the Bible’s distinction between faithfulness (adherence in belief on Jesus alone for salvation) and its fruits, good works. The FV in practice becomes one of folks who don’t know if they are elect united or non-elect united to Christ, busy pursuing a faithfulness that is nothing less than striving for good works.
    “It may not be that each individual FV is living the Christian life as under the law, the whole ministry of assurance its effects (cf., Rom 8) is wiped out. Desiring to remove valid weaknesses of Evanjellyfish the FV simply promotes reliance on self.”

     

  34. Please excuse my typos in the previous, particular to Pastor Here’s name. Not intentional.

  35. “Reed here” is a sentence-name based on his first name.

  36. “No one can know what union they partake of since the only thing visible is the historic church, made up of folks with both kinds of union. This then compels the emphasis on faithtfulness. In spite of all sorts of caveats to this word the FV effectively eliminates the Bible’s distinction between faithfulness (adherence in belief on Jesus alone for salvation) and its fruits, good works. The FV in practice becomes one of folks who don’t know if they are elect united or non-elect united to Christ, busy pursuing a faithfulness that is nothing less than striving for good works.”

    A little practical advice on how to obtain assurance from St Peter:
    3His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” 

     Hows come the Bible keeps sounding like those dadblasted FV guys?

  37. Where are the directions on how to compose stuff on this thing? >:P

  38. Pastor Wilson,

    My point was that grafting is not something that takes place throughout the life of a tree. Yes, these branches are people, but first century people. The process of uniting Jew and Gentile was completed, unless we believe Jews may approach God without Christ, which would also mean God is still cutting out the natural branches, which He isn’t. The “circumcision” of Jerusalem finished the process.
    So Christians post AD70 are most certainly people, however they are not branches but regenerate fruit. To insist that both cutting and grafting are still occurring is to assume that the Old Covenant is still in operation. To extend this operation is also to push the analogy beyond Paul’s intent, which was his first century audience in Rome, who obviously need to know why there were still Jews, and there was still a Temple in Jerusalem. It was all about the longsuffering of God, provoking Israel to jealousy that a remnant might be included in the new order.

    The real question is, is union with Christ possible outside of regeneration, that is, outside of hearing the gospel and believing? This is not a question of branches any more, but fruitfulness or lack of fruit. There is nothing in between.

    The New Testament does not concern itself at all with the fruit of the womb. The Abrahamic promises and Mosaic curses were finished. The fruit is the fruit of faith, the fruits of the Spirit. Baptism doesn’t put anybody into the New Covenant because all people are already in it. Baptism makes you an agent of the Covenant, a visible, audible mediator. What you think you are doing in paedobaptism has already been done for everyone on the planet, or Jesus is not Lord of *all* nations, rather than just Israel-according-to-the-flesh.

    Mark

    Credobaptists don’t have the same problem. Having the Spirit of God, the saints are called to discern the spirits. If somebody is bringing forth the fruits of the flesh, the Church puts them back under the Gospel in church discipline: repent and believe. A person is either under the sword or carrying the sword. Baptism is a knighthood, an office. It is not a carnal distinction, as paedobaptism inherently is. It is the circumcision of the heart. Baptism is not a “Jew/Gentile” divide, but a “priesthood/people” divide. It is not one which separates us from the nations but puts the regenerate among the nations as ministers of the Gospel. It is not for the hearers but the speakers, the witnesses, the martyroi. Israel was separated to God and called to hear. Since Pentecost, all nations are now called to hear, so paedobaptism is redundant.

  39. I’m confused. Are ya’ll talking about being aware of this distinction in others? Or in ourselves?

  40. It’s time to step back and reassess. I sense that Douglas and perhaps Randy realize that the FV manifesto was not well thought-out, and are looking for a face-saving way to back out of it. I guess one question is whether “the community” will require a sense of repentance, or just retraction simpliciter. I might suggest that a middle way would be to retract, but then also offer a reflection on what was going through your heads to band together and think yourselves so important as to deliver a manifesto that everyone should sit up and take notice of. What was so important about it? What were the churches lacking on account of not having the FV? Even if it had been true, was it worth creating such a disruption?

  41. Tim, the disruption had been going for five years, full tilt, before we issued the statement. We were trying to quiet things down with it, not start something. The starting something had already been accomplished.

  42. I’m not starting anything. But for application purposes, who are we talking about here? Are these individuals we seek to recognize? If so, to what purpose? Is it for self examination? All of the above? I’m not trying to be thick, but this has pricked my mind and I would appreciate some context.

  43. Jay — the directions include strong drink and then giving up. We’ve been promised an improvement in the composition function. I guess we are being taught patience.

  44. On the naming question – the phrase “temporarily in Christ” came up repeatedly above. How about TICs? ;)

  45. Steven Wedgeworth
     
    “Jesus’ words need not be taken to mean a full and “internal” (in the traditional Reformed sense) union. He is, after all, using a figure of speech. I think the basic point is covenant membership, with Jesus identifying himself as the substance of that covenant. This is the same concept that Paul uses when he speaks of the remnant theology: all Israel is not Israel. So too with Christ. All Christians are not Christians.<br><br> The (actual) two kingdoms doctrine of the Reformers works here too. The invisible/spiritual kingdom is by (true) faith, whereas other forms of union are temporal/external.   ”
     
    All Israel (even “not israel”)  has stumbled though, but not stumbled so that she has fallen. To them belong the adoption, the patriarchs, etc. They are elect with respect to the patriarchs, and their gifts and calling are irrevocable. Paul posits public irrevocable benefit to the natural branches, even though they are cut off (for now). 
     
    That needs to factor into this. 

  46. My friend reminds me that the WCF on the church is a compromise statement between Presbyterians who wanted to OF COURSE say that the visible church was also the body of Christ and the Independents who refused to go that far. 
    We have a lot of functional preference for the Savoy over the WCF it seems to me

  47. @ Eric Langborgh — My apologies for the delayed response. Here’s one way I might address your questions about assurance. Let’s switch analogies: Imagine a community of people (men, women, and children) who are baptized into Christ, who eat spiritual bread and wine, drink water from Jesus, and sojourn through the world. They are called the church of Christ. In general, they are called the elect, the called out ones. Nevertheless, God is not pleased with all of them. Why? Some members of that baptized community (aka, the church) walk by sight, grumble, fornicate, test the Lord, or idolize things. They are members of the covenant community, in union with Christ and in communion his people, yet they do not walk by faith. So God judges, punishes, and excommunicates them from Christ and the church. What does that do for our assurance? Paul says that such things happen as examples for our instruction, that we might not desire evil as they did. The gospel does not allow us to be irresponsible, but requires us to be responsible. “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” So the elect put their trust in Christ alone; they believe he is the only way of escape from temptations and trials, and their faith manifests itself through life-long repentance, obedience, and perseverance. Not so the reprobate. Our assurance is rooted and grounded in Christ alone, and not in ourselves at all. Those who walk by faith in Jesus know (and feel) that; those who walk by sight (or works or unbelief) do not. They are united to Christ in one way now, but they will be untied from Christ in another way later.

  48. Eric, well said. 
    And it could not be any more important to stress that  ” Our assurance is rooted and grounded in Christ alone, and not in ourselves at all. 
    Amen, Amen, and Amen! 
                                                                                                                           

    But, as I (clumsily) tried to point out above, assurance is also strengthened by means of diligent effort at supplementing the well-grounded faith with virtue, knowledge, steadfastness, godliness, phileo, and agape.                                                                                                                          
    “…make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 
    … … be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”                                                  The fear that maintaining assurance of our union with Christ might take serious effort on our behalf has gotten way overblown these days.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

  49. Jane, I think I’ll have that strong drink now. *Sigh

  50. Not sure how to interact with Mike when it’s clear that our paradigms are so divergent.  Mike seems to want to criticize our paradigm by assuming features from his own, rather than employ Scripture more directly.  In any case, I have some criticisms of Mike’s model that I think I see from Scripture itself.  Perhaps he can clarify.  Mike Bull wrote:

    My point was that grafting is not something that takes place throughout the life of a tree. Yes, these branches are people, but first century people. The process of uniting Jew and Gentile was completed, unless we believe Jews may approach God without Christ, which would also mean God is still cutting out the natural branches, which He isn’t.

    I see nothing in Scripture or in nature that would conflict with a metaphor of grafting and pruning through the life of a tree.  Mike seems to have just assumed such a thing to assist his paradigm.  I agree that the branches are people.  We see God actively pruning out various covenant people at various stages of covenant history, such as the unbelieving generation of Israel that wandered in the wilderness, various captivities, finally culminating in the major first century pruning away of Israel (though sparing a remnant).

    The “circumcision” of Jerusalem finished the process. So Christians post AD70 are most certainly people, however they are not branches but regenerate fruit.

    I see no Scriptural support for such a bold assertion, particularly in the context of grafting and pruning in Romans 11.  Fruits are typically associated with spiritual obedience, and branches with people producing those fruits.  Recall the withered olive tree, for example.  The fruits of the Spirit are not people.

    To insist that both cutting and grafting are still occurring is to assume that the Old Covenant is still in operation. To extend this operation is also to push the analogy beyond Paul’s intent, which was his first century audience in Rome, who obviously need to know why there were still Jews, and there was still a Temple in Jerusalem. It was all about the longsuffering of God, provoking Israel to jealousy that a remnant might be included in the new order.

    Again, there is no support for these assertions.  They seem contrary to the text itself.  For example, if cutting and pruning are exclusively Old Covenant operations, why does Paul say that God is able to graft the wild branches back in again if they don’t continue in their unbelief?  Paul’s point is that natural branches are being broken out because of unbelief, and wild branches are being grafted in because of belief.  This is explicitly described as an ongoing process by Paul.  He says that the natural branches are partially hardened in unbelief while the “fullness of the gentiles” (wild branches) are coming in by belief.  This discipling and baptizing of nations is not only a first-century process, but is ongoing even today.  Paul continues that if the natural branches don’t remain in their unbelief, God will graft them back in again.  If grafting has ceased in the first century, then Mike seems to be saying that God will never graft the natural branches back in.
    Finally, if grafting and pruning is an exclusively first-century phenomena that has ceased, why does Paul warn the wild branches to fear, lest they be broken out again for unbelief?  If God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare a fruitless wild branch.  Mike would have us think that first-century gentiles were the only ones who had to fear being pruned back out for unbelief.  I see no evidence of that from the text.

    The real question is, is union with Christ possible outside of regeneration, that is, outside of hearing the gospel and believing?

    Yes, this is the real question, and the example of Israel answers this question directly.  God is betrothed as Husband to Israel at Mt Sinai.  He calls Himself their Husband.  He calls their children His own (“whom you bore to Me”) which they sacrificed to idols in the fire.  He accuses Israel of adultery with the calf.  Only a true bride, in covenant union, can be accused of adultery.  They ate the spiritual food, the Bread of Heaven, and they drank the spiritual drink from the Rock, which was Christ.  In short, Israel was in union with Christ in the Old Covenant.  God’s chosen (“elect”) people.  Yet many were found in unbelief and were broken out and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.  These things were written as an example for us in the New Covenant.  (See 1Cor 10:1-6.)

    Baptism doesn’t put anybody into the New Covenant because all people are already in it.

    This seems antithetical to plain Scripture.  Baptism is the covenant ritual recognizing and publicly sealing the existence of our union in the death and resurrection of Christ (Rom 6:4, Col 2:11-12).  Baptism is like circumcision in the old covenant.  All people have certainly not been baptized into Christ’s death, otherwise Christ would not have commissioned His apostles to go and make disciples of the nations and baptize them.  The nations must stream to the mountain of the house of the Lord.  Nations and kings must be sprinkled, and understand what they had not heard.

    Baptism makes you an agent of the Covenant, a visible, audible mediator. What you think you are doing in paedobaptism has already been done for everyone on the planet, or Jesus is not Lord of *all* nations, rather than just Israel-according-to-the-flesh.

    I think Mike is confusing the administration of Christ’s Kingly rule (which is already), with the Gospel commission to baptize the nations into the house of the Lord (which is ongoing in history).  We do not yet see all things in submission to Him, which is why conversion to union with Christ is still ongoing, with baptism as a sign of its promise and progress.

    Mark Credobaptists don’t have the same problem. Having the Spirit of God, the saints are called to discern the spirits. If somebody is bringing forth the fruits of the flesh, the Church puts them back under the Gospel in church discipline: repent and believe.  A person is either under the sword or carrying the sword. Baptism is a knighthood, an office. It is not a carnal distinction, as paedobaptism inherently is. It is the circumcision of the heart.

    Mike provides no Scripture support for the assertion that baptism is a knighthood or an office.  However, if baptism is circumcision of the heart, and union with the death and resurrection in Christ, then it would seem credobaptists have the same problem of explaining what has happened with the baptized knight/saint who comes to reject their covenant identity in Christ.  This isn’t just a paedobaptist issue.  Baptists tend to answer by downplaying the significance of baptism, but Mike has acknowledged that baptism represents circumcision of the heart.  Notice how even circumcised in the old covenant could fall away.  Did it change the meaning of circumcision with regard to covenant union?

    Baptism is not a “Jew/Gentile” divide, but a “priesthood/people” divide. It is not one which separates us from the nations but puts the regenerate among the nations as ministers of the Gospel. It is not for the hearers but the speakers, the witnesses, the martyroi. Israel was separated to God and called to hear. Since Pentecost, all nations are now called to hear, so paedobaptism is redundant.

    This is strange in light of Mike’s earlier statement.  If baptism is an office of knighthood, how would this make paedobaptism redundant?  Recall that John the Baptist was called from the womb.  Many Baptists will even baptize youths around age 8 or 10, or even earlier.  That doesn’t comport with Mike’s notion of martyroi and knighthood any more (or less) than paedobaptism would.

  51. I came across this because my wife saw it and thought the name of the blog was clever and forwarded me the link, and I looked at it yesterday. Today I read something that seemed apropos, Spurgeon’s a.m., accessible at http://www.heartlight.org/spurgeon/1119-am.html, (oops, make that yesterday, now, too! ; – ), not that these questions are foolish. But maybe what we ought to be asking ourselves and each other out loud is, “Have you ever said to God,’I love you’?” Or “Do you have a fondness in your heart for God?” Or again, “Do you want God to be well thought of, famous and renowned?”, à la the first petition in the Lord’s Prayer. A more difficult and maybe telling question might be, “Are you thankful to God for your trials?” (cf. Laura Story’s song “Blessings”). I think I was 38, maybe, when I first told God that I loved him, after having been a Christian for some decades (I’m not sure how many, because I don’t know when I became a Christian, exactly – I raised my hand emotionally at more than one evangelism/revival type meetings as a child ; – ). What prompted that was, I think, reflecting on my first reading of Psalm 18:1 that caught my attention in the NIV, ca. 1986. I’m afraid that churches have many who are intellectually affirming of Christianity and officially and actually thankful for salvation mere professors, as Spurgeon would call them, who have a fondness for the doctrines but maybe not so much for the God of the doctrines.

  52. Make that, “Have I/you ever said to God, ‘I want you to be famous…’ or at least, ‘Is the attitude of my/your heart ‘I want God to be famous…’?’”

  53. Re being thankful for trials, I just read Spurgeon 11/19 p.m.!

  54. I’m not sure it makes any sense to speak of non-elect Christians, or Christians who do not persevere.  Not everyone who shares in the community-life of the church is a Christian.  I think a Christian is one who knows that Jesus Christ is the Lord and Savior of their life in particular and of the world in general.  Such a person is heaven-bound.  We should avoid semantic confusion.  I don’t think any confusion existed in the minds of the N. T. writers as to what a Christian/Saint is.  I simply think they wrote letters from a practical, pastoral point of view.  I think we can draw some incorrect conclusions from that.  I agree some passsages and verses seem to refer to people whose status can or does shift, but I feel it is safer to assume what we have collectively come to agree upon by and large: that the people of God in these times is a rather straightforward phenomenon. 

  55. Katecho
     - – - -
    Thanks for the lengthy and thoughtful reply.
     - – - -
    Perhaps the apparent absence of Scriptural evidence is a lack of proof-texting. My argument comes from biblical structure, which is a process of legal maturity and also territorial expansion. Baptism is always corresponded with a vindication of some prior ethical obedience by the one being baptized.
     - – - -
    Grafting and pruning are not continuous processes. AD30-70 was a unique period in Covenant history. If the Jew/Gentile distinction disappeared with the end of the Old Covenant, and it did, then where does one graft wild branches from? One has to assume that paedobaptism is as carnal as circumcision was, dividing flesh from flesh, to have wild branches. And even then, your “Covenant children” should be “natural branches” since they are growing out the “New Covenant people.” Paul’s Jew-Gentile image simply cannot be applied post-AD70 without twisting the New Covenant into some sort of Abrahamic hybrid.
     - – - -
    The fruits of the Spirit are not people, but they do reveal who the true sons of God are (Matt 7:16). Baptism is for those who bear these fruits, not for the fruit of the womb. Once again, the context is heredity versus obedience, and since AD70 there is no more heredity, that is, no more automatic genealogical succession, hence the final warnings at Pentecost “to [the Jews] and their children.”
     - – - -
    On pushing the analogy, Paul’s argument in these chapters is the Jew-Gentile distinction. The only way to apply these things today is to invent a new Judaism, a carnal succession, which is what paedobaptism always does, despite its best intentions.
     - – - -
    Yes, the process was on-going, but on-going in the first century. The “one new man” was completed and vindicated in AD70. The godless Jew-Gentile harlotry (Herod and Rome, harlot and beast) was ended, and only the godly Jew-Gentile church remained. The ongoing-process took 40 years. So there are no longer natural or wild branches, only supernatural apostolic ones, the firstfruits, and they are still bearing fruit. Certainly, pruning continues (the Reformation, and the coming end of the secular West) but natural/wild were terms which only related to circumcision, a boundary which was torn down in Christ. To build it up again is tear down Christ.
     - – - -
    Regarding “the fulness of the Gentiles,” they came in, as mentioned above. There are no more Gentiles to come in, since the distinction is gone. (See James Jordan “The future of Israel re-examined.” Jews don’t exist any more in God’s economy. Unless you want to make out that the church is a new Judaism, rather than a resurrection body of gathered regenerate people.
     - – - -
    Yes, we can be pruned out due to unbelief but there is no more grafting because it is not possible. The Firstfruits era finished with the Temple.
     - – - -
    On union with Christ, Pastor Wilson loves to quote similar verses, but there is an enormous differenced between the first Pentecost (3000 slain) and the last (3000 saved). What was the difference? Repentance and faith. Israel was baptized as a nation, but Christians are baptized as individuals.
     - – - -
    Israel according to the flesh was fundamentally social, with an ethical goal. The Church is fundamentally ethical, with a social goal, which means it can breach and plunder any human distinction. To turn the Church into a tribe or genealogy (through paedobaptism) a human distinction, is to take history back to pre-Pentecost distinctions, and hamstring the Spirit through a redefinition of “Christian.”
     - – - -
    On baptism not putting anybody into the New Covenant, you missed my point. Baptism is like circumcision only because circumcision pointed to a circumcised heart. Baptism is for those who already have one. As I said, the core is now ethical not social. If baptism is just a call to believe, then it is another Gospel. My point is that all now called to believe, so we should be baptizing all unbelievers to make them disciples.
     - – - -
    Baptism is the Covenant ritual *for the ministers of the Covenant* – the witnesses, not the hearers. It is not a carnal distinction. Certainly there is progress after baptism, but progress in ministry. 
     - – - -
    On baptism as a knighthood, see every baptism in the New Testament, and every instance of church discipline in the New Testament for those who did not bear fruit and therefore were not regenerate. Church discipline just puts one back under the Gospel, the call to repent.
     - – - -
    Moreover, the structure of every baptism account in Acts follows a pattern found throughout the Bible going right back to Genesis 3. If Adam had obeyed God, he would have been clothed in glory. Baptism is the vindication of the obedient Man who can now represent God. Baptism means you are a qualified representative.
     - – - -
    Such a baptism makes paedobaptism redundant because there is no sign required for the hearers of the Gospel, the nations. Baptism is for the speakers, the witnesses.
     - – - -
    John the Baptist was a sign to Israel at every step. The woolly thinking and misuse of any text regarding infants is incredible.
     - – - -
    If a youth aged 8 or 10 repents and believes, baptize them. Samuel “did not yet know the Lord” around that age (mind you, he was special too, like John, a Nazirite). Baptizing a youth does not compromise the Bible’s definition of Christian. It’s a straw man argument.
     - – - -
    The New Testament never speaks of a “Covenant identity” or “Covenant children.” Those things were part and parcel of circumcision, and their maintenance is the retention of stoicheia, the “trainer wheels” of the Old Covenant, the Jew-Gentile divide.
    These became redundant when repentance and faith became the measure of sonship: a move from an earthly father (Abraham) to the heavenly Father. All people are now called to repent, and are under the rule of Christ, therefore they all have a New Covenant “identity” and their children are “Covenant children.” Parenting is an important responsibility for the regenerate, but the New Covenant is not about parenting. The entire construct is a gross misunderstanding of the New Covenant. It’s just the Old Covenant recycled, with fleshly sons made out to be spiritual sons. 
     - – - -
    It seems to me that paedobaptists understand Galatians about as well as dispensationalists understand Hebrews: not at all. Paedobaptism is “a form of religion” with no power. It is entirely foreign to the Gospel of Christ, since all nations have been claimed by Jesus, not just Israel, and not just the Church. 
     - – - -
    If paedobaptism is wrong, it is not just a bit wrong. It is really, really wrong, because it misrepresents the Gospel. Baptism is all about qualified representatives. It’s not about promise, but about conquest and possession. It is not a promise of salvation but a promise of resurrection.
     - – - -
    Baptism is not like the border between Israel and the nations, because there is no longer a “national” border (flesh). Baptism is like the boundary between the priesthood and the people, a boundary of ministry and access to the Sanctuary as a mediator.

  56. Speaking of the vine, see “O branch of the vine…” in http://www.heartlight.org/spurgeon/1121-am.html, in context.

  57. Was reading Fesko’s Word, Water, and Spirit this evening and he seems to be calling it visible union with Christ:

    …This particular point will be addressed at greater length in the subsequent chapter, but suffice it to say that both adult converts and infants born within the covenant are baptized into union with Christ. Keep in mind, once again, that both adult and infant are baptized into visible union with Christ (cf. John 15:1-10; WCF 28.1). For anyone (adult or infant) who later apostatizes, baptism becomes a means of judgment, not grace. (323)

    He goes on like this for a couple pages, even saying that everyone who’s baptized is “visibly inseparable from Christ” (325). Of course, I’m a credobaptist and wasn’t around for the Auburn Avenue ruckus the first go around, so maybe I’ve misunderstood what both sides are saying. As an outsider, though, it’s hard for me to see the differences in what each side is saying on this point. 

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