Testimony on the MARS Testimony

The official testimony of the Mid-America Reformed Seminary has a digest of errors. I stated in an earlier post that I could join with them in rejecting about 43 of their list of 45. But the reasons for this vary. In some cases, it was because I agreed with them in rejecting the errors of actual people. But in many other instances, I can only agree with them in rejecting the views of someone who would be in error if he ever were actually born. But I don’t just want to state this generally, and so I decided to offer a brief comment on each of their 45 points. My commments are in bold.

Here is the MARS Digest of Errors:

“By way of summary, the various proponents of the current set of errors, which find their focus in an erroneous and moralistic doctrine of justification, teach some or all of the following errors:

1. that a doctrine of a covenant of works is unbiblical;

I hold that God made a covenant with Adam in the garden, and Adam by his rebellion broke the terms of that covenant.

2. that gospel precedes law in the divine/human relationship before the fall;

I hold that the gospel presupposes disobedience. Gospel is good news in response to the bad news of our condemnation. But graciousness is not the same thing as gospel. I do believe that the standards of law are a manifestation of God’s gracious character. Adam enjoyed that graciousness before the fall, and the standard that God’s graciousness required of him had been made very clear to him.

3. that, before the fall, grace circumvents God’s law in this relationship; or that, prior to the fall, for God to demand obedience and righteousness from humans in order to enjoy fellowship with him is works righteousness;

I hold that grace cannot circumvent God’s law under any circumstance. I do believe that grace is the context of God’s law, but that is hardly a circumvention. Obedience was required of Adam, but it was required in the context of grace. For a groom to turn to his bride right after the “you may kiss the bride” part, jab his palm with his forefinger and demand fidelity from her now would be grotesque. But to say this, as I do, doesn’t mean that I believe that her fidelity is somehow optional.

4. that God required only faith, not works of obedience, from Adam in paradise;

I hold that faith was required, and it has always been the characteristic of true faith that it obeys. The only route to the work of obedience required in the garden (staying away from the tree) was to trust God, believing Him. True faith and works of obedience are never in opposition.

5. that there was no probationary period or test of man’s obedience in paradise;

I hold that God permitted the serpent to test Adam’s faith and faithfulness in the garden. This would not have continued indefinitely, so it was a probationary period.

6. that the pre-fall covenant in paradise contained or implied no eschatological promise;

I hold that the covenant in paradise did imply an eschatological promise — what Jim Jordan has described as an eschatological maturity.

7. that the stipulations and restipulations in the pre-fall covenant are identical to the stipulations and restipulations in the covenant of grace — namely, man lives under God’s grace, must trust or have faith in him, and enjoys blessing so long as he keeps covenant;

I hold that the means of keeping covenant (faith in God who supplies the grace to obey) are not to be confused with the stipulations of the covenant (e.g. stay away from that tree). The grace of covenant-keeping is not to be confounded with the terms or stipulations of the covenant. A man whose wife dies is free to marry another, and he is to exhibit the same fidelity to each wife. That doesn’t make the two women into one woman.

8. that the covenant of grace is not primarily about God’s provision of Christ as the Savior of his people but about each party of the covenant meeting their obligations, so that God’s grace and human responsibility are correlated: God must give Christ for salvation, and the human party of the covenant must meet his or her covenant obligations in order for the covenant to come to fruition;

I hold that God has provided an efficacious Savior for His people, and that salvation will come to encompass the world. This salvation is in no way contingent on our making it work. We will in fact meet our obligations, but this flows from God’s monergistic work, and does not contribute to a synergistic work.

9. that the covenant of grace is as breakable and precarious as the covenant in paradise, since its promises and threatenings are objective realities that await the human party of the covenant to determine which reality is subjectively appropriated;

I hold that the covenant of grace can only be broken by those members of it who were not determined by God before the foundation of the world to inherit eternal life. For those who were so determined to that eternal salvation, the covenant of grace is a slab of titanium fifty feet thick.

10. that the covenant of grace is basically a divine proposal in which God offers salvation on the condition that the human party of the covenant repent, believe, and continue in obedience to the demands of the covenant;

I hold that this only true if we remember that God then gives to the “human party,” provided he is elect, the needed repentance, faith, and perseverance to the end.

11. that the covenant of grace is not a testamentary covenant or a covenant by testament;

I hold that there is no such thing as a non-testamentary covenant.

12. that the covenant of grace may not be defined as being made with those ordained to eternal life or with the elect in Christ, or with Christ, the second Adam, and the elect in him;

I hold that the covenant of grace may be defined as being made with those ordained to eternal life. I deny that we can say that it is made only with those. The Westminster Confession (7.5-6) requires us to believe that the covenant of grace is not an ethereal covenant, but rather a covenant made on the ground with sinners, including reprobate sinners. The administration of the covenant of grace includes activities that made certain reprobate individuals like Caiphas ministers of that covenant. But these individuals missed the point of the covenant, which is always Christ.

13. that it is wrong to speak of a dual aspect of this covenant;

I hold that this doesn’t mean anything to me. Dual in what respect? Is this talking about the Mosaic covenant being a recapitulation of the covenant of works? Then it would be accurate. But if it is talking about the covenant of grace having two aspects in the sense that some members of the covenant were decretally elect and others were not, then this dual aspect is something that I insist on.

14. that the distinction between law and gospel is erroneous;

I hold that the distinction between law and gospel is healthy and good. But we have to locate it in the right place so that we do not divide the Word of God.

15. that the law is gospel and the gospel is law;

I do hold that law is gospel for those who are forgiven. The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul. And I hold that the gospel of the cross is law for those who are perishing. But this just refers to the attitudes of love or hatred that the converted and the unconverted have respectively. It does not turn indicatives into imperatives, or vice versa.

16. that the use of the idea of merit involves a paradigm of works righteousness contrary to God’s covenant relationship of love for or friendship with man both before the fall and after the fall;

I hold that this could be true, depending on how the word merit was being used. But it is not necessarily true.

17. that justification entails only the forgiveness of sins, not the righteousness of Christ imputed to the believer as the complete fulfillment of the law of God;

I hold that in justification God imputes to the sinner all the good things that Jesus ever said or did, and that this is an important part of justification. And then I hold that God does the same thing over again, just to make sure. I would subscribe to the imputation of the active obedience of Christ three times if I thought it would convince somebody.

18. that the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone is false;

I hold that . . . jeepers, what?

19. that justification primarily means to belong to the people of God, rather than to be forgiven and accepted by God through Christ’s imputed righteousness to believing sinners;

I hold that this is a false dichotomy. I would drop the word primarily, and say as well as instead of rather than.

20. that justification is not to be defined by the idea of imputation;

I hold that justification is applied by means of imputation, which is the result of God’s legal and forensic declaration.

21. that not all so-called good works of believers are excluded from their justification before God, and so some of the believer’s good works are included in their justification before God;

I hold that if any of my good works attempted to contribute to my justification before God, then they should be slathered with bacon grease and thrown into hell.

22. that justification is by faith through its works of love or faith in its working or doing good works;

I hold that justification is by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone.

23. that the (non-meritorious) good works of believers are the basis for or determinative of one’s final destination;

I hold that this is just the snout of Pelagius, peeping out from under the wooly white sheepskin that he bought somewhere.

24. that justification is not by faith alone but by faithfulness, that is, by works of human obedience which qualify faith as the instrument for receiving Christ;

I hold that this sounds a lot like #23.

25. that Jesus Christ’s active obedience serves to qualify him to be Savior and Mediator, but this fulfillment of righteousness is not imputed to believers as part of the ground of their righteousness before God;

I hold that Jesus Christ is a federal head, and consequently, it is not possible for anything He said or did to be withheld from His people. All that He did, whether positive obedience or obedient suffering, is imputed to us.

26. that good works, or what are termed non-meritorious good works, are not simply the fruit of faith and justification but (partly) constitute the ground or the means or the instrument of justification;

I hold that good works do not constitute the ground or means or the instrument of justification.

27. that the good works believers perform are necessary for being accepted by God;

I hold that there is a difference between necessity and causation. Good works are necessary, but they are not necessary as part of the ground of justification. It is necessary for them to be necessary somewhere else.

28. that justification is incomplete, and that there will be a final or second justification on judgment day;

I hold that the justification that occurs in the life of a person truly converted never has to be repeated or improved upon. But I do believe that there will be a final vindication of all God’s people. This second justification is not to be thought of as an improvement upon the first. But there will be an eschatological vindication, when the sons of God are revealed and the creation rejoices.

29. that the distinction between ‘the sign’ (such as the water of baptism or the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper) and ‘the thing signified’ (Christ’s redemptive work) is false, since they are one and the same;

I hold that the sign and the thing signified are not one and the same thing.

30. that the sign of the sacraments is in itself the reality;

I hold that through a faithful use of the sacramental signs we are privileged to meet with the reality.

31. that the sacraments offer a different grace than the Word of God, such that unless infants and small children receive the Lord’s Supper they are being starved of grace;

I hold that all God’s grace is the same grace, routed through different means. And this means I only believe that infants and small children are being starved from grace when they are held back — as they frequently are — from all offers of God’s grace to His people.

32. that the efficacy of baptism is tied to the moment of baptism — that is, baptismal regeneration is true and right doctrine;

I hold that the covenantal efficacy of baptism is tied to that moment. But the regenerative efficacy of baptism is not tied to the moment of baptism, as the Westminster Confession plainly teaches (28.6). Baptism, together with the Lord’s Supper, are effectual means of salvation to worthy receivers only (WSC #91).

33. that God’s grace is conveyed through the sacraments ex opere operato (by the act performed);

I hold that God’s covenantal authority is conveyed through the sacraments ex opere operato, saving some and condemning others. But God’s grace is never conveyed by any instrument ex opere operato.

34. that all the baptized, head for head, are united to Christ and saved;

I hold that this, taken as an isolated statement, should be considered a false one.

35. that some of those who are baptized and saved can (and do) lose their salvation;

I hold that, if by saved here they mean decretally saved, then this is incoherent. But if “saved” means united to Christ in a John 15 sense, then it makes good sense of at least that text. The only thing that is sure here is that you cannot have one kind of salvation, and then go and lose the other kind that you don’t have. That kind of impossibility cannot be accomplished, even if it would make the donors happy.

36. that small children and infants should be admitted to the Lord’s Table prior to a responsible profession of faith;

I hold that this is the only one on this list that reasonably represents my position.

37. that, unless covenant children partake of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, they are being spiritually starved;

I hold that children are being starved when they are cut off from all means of grace, or, when the one contact with grace they have been allowed (e.g. infant baptism), is in effect negated or insulted by other devices intended to supplant the Word of God for the sake of some tradition.

38. that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper imparts to its recipients a grace or blessing distinct and different from the grace of the Word of God and the sacrament of baptism;

I hold that grace is grace is grace.

39. that divine grace is resistible unto eternal damnation on the part of those who are elect, saved, forgiven, and united to Christ;

I hold that this is just crazy talk.

40. that the blood of Christ is not sufficient and efficacious in all for whom it was shed and applied, inasmuch as among those who enjoy forgiveness, justification, and reconciliation through Christ’s blood, some lose these blessings since they break the covenant and subsequently perish eternally;

I hold that the blood of Christ is absolutely efficacious, accomplishing everything that God intended for it to accomplish, including the securing of the salvation of those who are the decretally elect.

41. that there are two kinds of election — one unto temporary salvation, another unto eternal salvation;

I hold that this should have been #39. And I would have agreed with this one, just like Calvin did, except that the surrounding statements showed that this one was completely skewed.

42. that eternal election is conditional — namely only those are elect unto eternal salvation who continue in the way of covenant obedience and faithfulness, whereas those who are counted under the covenant and do not meet this condition enjoy genuinely saving but not eternally saving election;

I hold that the MARS faculty are representing us exactly backwards. The decretally elect are beneficaries of an unconditional decree on the part of God, which is the only reason why they are saved.

43. that being saved and united to Christ does not necessarily or inevitably mean that one will persevere in that salvation by God’s grace, for his grace can be resisted unto the loss of salvation and a permanent falling away;

I hold that God’s grace can only be resisted by those who are not decretally elect. And they can do nothing but resist it.

44. that the distinction between the visible and invisible church is invalid, since each and every member of the visible church is said to be elect and saved;

I hold that the distinction between the visible and invisible church is just fine, just so long as it is not made to be the only distinction within the church. Every member of the visible church is said to be united to Christ in some sense, but this is not the same thing as saying that every member of the visible church is “in.”

45. that the invisible church refers to the church in eschatological glory.

I hold that the invisible church refers to the same group of people as are referred to under the heading of the eschatological church. But this does not mean that they mean the same thing. The church in eschatological glory will be anything but invisible.

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