Now, just a few comments on why Steve Wilkins’ answers to his presbytery’s questions satisfactorily address all the basic questions. This will not be long and involved because the issues are not complicated.
First, Steve unambiguously affirms the exhaustive sovereignty of God over all things. “‘2. Do you at all deny the definition of election as given in the Standards?’ ‘Absolutely not, never have, and God willing, never will. I firmly believe in the absolute sovereignty of God over all things, including the salvation of man.’ Now from any affirmation of the final and complete sovereignty of God over all things, the five points of Calvinism (as traditionally defined and understood) inexorably and necessarily follow. Steve is aware of this, and affirms the absolute sovereignty of God. He is therefore embracing the consequences of that affirmation.
Now the controversy is not over this, but rather over other affirmations which some believe to be inconsistent with this one. But as long as the full system of Westminster soteriology is unambiguously and clearly affirmed, the burden is on those bringing the accusation to demonstrate the inconsistency. They are certainly capable of asserting the inconsistency (so long as it is a friendly crowd, and no one there to debate them), but they actually have to show the inconsistency.
This leads to the second point. Steve is clearly not asserting that the benefits enjoyed by all covenant members are identical until the moment of apostasy undergone by some of them. This is not what he says. The emphasis below is mine.
4. How would you distinguish between the benefits enjoyed by a (decretively) elect member of the visible Church and a reprobate member of the visible church who has not yet manifested his apostasy?
This is not an easy question to answer but it does seem to me that the benefits enjoyed by the “decretively elect” do differ from those received by the non-elect. First, they differ qualitatively. Thus, for example, though the non-elect are brought within the family of the justified and in that sense may be referred to as one of the justified, the elect person’s justification in time is not only a declaration of his present acquittal from the guilt of sin but also an anticipation of his final vindication at the last judgment. The non-elect church member’s “justification” is not. His “justification” is not the judgment he will receive from God at the last day. Second, the blessings conferred differ in their duration. The elect person perseveres and remains in a state of grace until the end of his life. The non-elect believer eventually forsakes the faith and falls away from the state of grace. There may also be other experiential differences between the elect and the non-elect, but these differences may not be discernible (to the individuals themselves or to others) until the non-elect person displays his unbelief in some very explicit and concrete ways.
In other words, Steve is not affirming a tautological definition of perseverance (e.g. those who persevere are the ones who persevere). There is a reason for the perseverance of the decretively elect covenant member, and there is a reason for the apostasy of the non-elect covenant member. Part of that reason is qualitative and is seen by God throughout the entire course of their lives. God sees the apostasy coming, and, furthermore, going back to the first point, the whole thing is within His sovereign control.
This goes back to my first post on the Steve Wilkins thing. Those who have read through this material and cannot see that Steve embraces the heart and soul of the Calvinistic system are not qualified to be guardians of that system. There may be various reasons why they cannot see it. I mentioned three earlier — ignorance, hostility, or suspicion of personal dishonesty. I would be willing to consider other options if anyone wants to suggest them.
I don’t want to seem rude to observers like “Johnny Redeemed,” but it seems to me that his comments betray a real naivete when it comes to historic Reformed theology. I appreciate his caution, and would encourage him to continue, but the basic issues here are really clear. If I were talking to a pastor friend — say a Wesleyan Methodist or a Lutheran — and he affirmed in the course of our lunch discussion that he believed that God sovereignly decreed whatsoever comes to pass, including the salvation (or lack of it) for all individuals, and that he affirmed that God knew His elect from before the foundation of the world, and that He knew His elect throughout the course of their lives as they mingled with non-elect covenant members, my eyebrows would go up and I would say, “Friend, you had better be very careful. You’re a Calvinist.”