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 loseable 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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Joshua T
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Joshua T

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.

mikebull1
Member

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.

Katecho
Member

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… Read more »

Katecho
Member

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.)\

BJ
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BJ

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?

rcjr
Guest

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.

Slicedoc
Guest
Slicedoc

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.

randybooth.gcc
Member
randybooth.gcc

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… Read more »

antexw
Member

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… Read more »

randybooth.gcc
Member
randybooth.gcc

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. “

Tim H
Guest
Tim H

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… Read more »

rcjr
Guest

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.

rcjr
Guest

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

Lee
Guest
Lee

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). 

Mark B. Hanson
Guest
Mark B. Hanson

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.

Brad Currie
Guest
Brad Currie

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.
 

Bernard
Guest

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.

Steven Wedgeworth
Guest

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… Read more »

Steven Wedgeworth
Guest

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. 

Joshua T
Guest
Joshua T

Bernard

Joshua T
Guest
Joshua T

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?

antexw
Member

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… Read more »

Andrew Lohr
Member

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?

jay niemeyer
Guest
jay niemeyer

“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

jay niemeyer
Guest
jay niemeyer

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

joe mama
Guest
joe mama

How about “tares”?

mikebull1
Member

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… Read more »

jay niemeyer
Guest
jay niemeyer

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.

JMT
Guest
JMT

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… Read more »

Eric Langborgh
Guest
Eric Langborgh

@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… Read more »

Eric Langborgh
Guest
Eric Langborgh

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

Tim H
Guest
Tim H

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

jay niemeyer
Guest
jay niemeyer

“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.”… Read more »

jay niemeyer
Guest
jay niemeyer

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

mikebull1
Member

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… Read more »

Roy
Guest
Roy

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

Tim H
Guest
Tim H

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… Read more »

Roy
Guest
Roy

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.

Jane
Member

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.

Mark B. Hanson
Guest
Mark B. Hanson

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

pduggie
Guest

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… Read more »

pduggie
Guest

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

JMT
Guest
JMT

@ 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.… Read more »

jay niemeyer
Guest
jay niemeyer

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… Read more »

jay niemeyer
Guest
jay niemeyer

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

Katecho
Member

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… Read more »