Friday, July 06, 2007

Declaration #6: The Benefits of Baptism

The sixth declaration of the PCA's Federal Vision Report reads:

"The view that water baptism effects a 'covenantal union' with Christ through which each baptized person receives the saving benefits of Christ's mediation, including regeneration, justification, and sanctification, thus creating a parallel soteriological system to the decretal system of the Westminster Standards, is contrary to the Westminster Standards."
The logic of the Federal Vision runs thus: (1) Baptism places a person in covenant with God; (2) To be in covenant with God entails receiving all the saving blessings of Christ; (3) Therefore all who are baptized partake of all of Christ's saving benefits, which benefits may be forfeited for lack of covenant faithfulness (see Steve Wilkins' essay in The Auburn Avenue Theology, especially pp. 261-63).

When pressed for explanation, Federal Visionists often backpedal: "I do indeed believe that baptism unites the baptized in covenant with Christ.... However, baptism is never efficacious apart from the exercise of saving faith on the part of the recipient" (Wilkins' Response to the PCA's report).

The FV's rationale for attributing saving blessings to those in covenantal union with Christ is that the apostles often refer to their readers as "saints" without qualification, predicating upon them election, justification, and sanctification (cf. I Cor. 6:11).

I must admit, though I have some exegetical difficulties with the FV's approach here, I sympathize with their overall concern. As FV opponent R. Fowler White concedes in his essay:
"On the premise that the faith of their audiences was covenantally credible, the [New Testament] writers ascribed to them all sorts of blessedness.... On the premise that the faith of their audiences was undifferentiated, the writers exhorted their audiences to perseverance (and were covenantally bound to do so)..." (Ibid., 213).
Therefore I hold, in common with the Federal Visionists, a high regard for baptism and some concerns about the perceived low regard for the sacraments in certain Presbyterian circles. I just wish they would qualify their statements about baptism the way the Reformed confessions do.

Distinguishing between the visible- and invisible church would be a good start....