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.