Posted tagged ‘federal vision’

Children of Abraham, Not What It Used to Be

November 2, 2012

All the laws God gave are moral, and the cherry-picking which decides some of them are not moral is a weak instrument used by those who want to ignore the flow of redemptive history, in which not all covenants are the same and in which not all of God’s laws are given at one time.

Beginning in Genesis 12. Abram is promised a great nation (polis), and he can’t have a great nation without land, territory for many people, mostly all biologically related to Abram, a land with no other altars allowed except to Yahweh the King. God also promised blessings for other nations based on their relation to Abram’s nation, with curses for those nations which don’t relate favorably to Abram’s nation.

This is one reason we need to deny that the Abrahamic covenant is the new covenant, despite the continuity between some of the promises to Abraham and the new covenant. Promises to Abraham are fulfilled in the circumcision of Christ on the eighth day (Luke 2).

The sign of circumcision was not only about pointing to the bloody sacrifice of Christ, which cuts the justified elect off from legal solidarity with Adam. Circumcision was an initiation rite for every male in Abraham’s family (even if one parent did not go testify before the presbytery!). And what belonging to Abraham’s family means now and what it meant then is not the same thing.

Theonomists are promising us that, with the right attitude and understanding, we already have what the judiazers offered. But to understand the advance of redemptive history is to see that we don’t need what the judiazers offered, And also, we can’t have what the theonomists are offering. There is only one way now to be children of Abraham, and those who are non-elect and who do not believe the gospel cannot now be “children of Abraham”. They can’t be in the new covenant. Nor should they be in “the administration” of the new covenant.

Now that Christ has been born and circumcised, it’s not possible for jewish male infants to be born as types of the birth to come. The solution to this fact is not to divide the Abrahamic covenants into parts, some cherry-picked as “ceremonial” with other parts “moral”.

Sure, the promises to Abraham are typological. But they put non-Abrahamic people out of the territory to make room for the biological-political heirs of Abraham. And the Doug Wilsons of the world, despite their optimism about future generations being mostly Christians, are no more averse than Augustine and Calvin to pushing people not in their “the church” out of their territory.

If it is not Christ who kept all the conditions of the elect being in (and staying in) the new covenant, then we need to hear a lot more from theonomic folks about the kind of “conditionality” involved in the new covenant. Is the new covenant “unbreakable” only in the sense that the covenant stands even if no individuals do what they have to do to “get connected” (and stay connected) with Christ’s death?

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If the Sheep Can Turn Jesus Down, His Death is a Zero

September 19, 2012
  1. Galatians 2:21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

    Many Neo-Calvinists will not talk about election when they are talking about Christ’s death and love. Instead they talk about “covenant conditionality”. They will only say, “if you put your life-long trust in Him,” and will not spell out the antithesis between sheep for whom Christ died and goats for whom Christ did not die.

    On the one hand, everyone in their congregation is spoken to as one of the “us” Christ loves. On the other hand, listeners are warned that the ultimate efficacy of Christ’s intention depends on God making us obedient “in the covenant family”

    At issue here is not only the extent of Christ’s love but the nature of Christ’s love. God’s love never goes unrequited. God does not love everybody, but everybody God loves also loves God back.  If God loved everybody, but stopped loving those who didn’t love back and only continued loving those who loved back, that would be a very different kind of love than the love God actually has for the elect.

    It does no good to say that God took the initiative in loving the unlovely. In our own relationships, one of us often takes the first step. But if the other person does not respond, it amounts to nothing. If Christ’s love is only one step which then depends on our being enabled to make an adequate response, then Christ’s love amounts to zero.

    Galatians 2:20 does not say that the Son of God loved you and gave Himself for you. Nor does that text give clergy the authority to extrapolate that God loves you and gave Himself for you. Rather, the next verse says “if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” If Christ’s love depends on your obeying the law as the way you put your trust in Christ, then Christ’s love amounts to nothing and His death was for no purpose.

    In our relationships, we try to woo the lovely. We attempt to become lovely to those who are lovely to us. In the same way, the false gospel of Roman Catholicism depends on our becoming more lovely. But what good is a love for the unlovely which depends on our becoming lovely at some point? A love which CAN amount to nothing always DOES amount to nothing.

    If we think we can do one lovely thing to cause God’s imputation to happen, then we presume that God is wooing us. We think God is appealing to the part of us which God finds lovely. So then, no matter what we say, we haven’t really believed that God loves the unlovely.

    Neo-Calvinists think of election and definite redemption as two different things, because they think of love and propitiation for the elect as two different things. Not so the Scripture! John 10 does not say that the good Shepherd loves the goats so that they can become sheep if they respond. John 10:12 says that “he who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”  The good shepherd does not act like the hired man. The hired man’s love amounts to nothing.

    How do we know the Shepherd loves the sheep? “I lay down my life for the sheep.” Does this mean that the Shepherd dies as a representative of the sheep along with the sheep? No. The Shepherd is not only the leader, not only the first to die. The Shepherd dies as a substitute for the sheep. Because the Shepherd dies, the sheep do not die.

    So John 10 does not separate Christ’s love and Christ’s death. Christ loves those for whom He dies. Christ dies for those He loves. John 10 does not say, “If you put your trust in and believe.” John 10:26—”you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep hear my voice.”

    But Neo-Calvinists don’t deny election. Sure, John 10:29 tells how “My Father has given them to me”. Doug Wilson and Leithart only ask us not to talk about election when we are talking about Christ’s covenant love and death..

But Didn’t Daniel Work for the Government?

June 17, 2012

We could be talking about Joseph and Daniel instead of about Hitler, George Washington, and Ronald Reagan. I suggest that we live now in the new covenant version of exile, in analogy to the exiles of Joseph and Daniel.  This means that, for us, exile is not a curse but our vocation. Diaspora is not a punishment but an opportunity to sing the songs of Zion in strange lands.

This means we should not appeal to the paradigm of Exodus 32 in which people ordain themselves as priests to God by means of slaying their ethnic brothers. Nor should we argue for the republished “covenant of works aspects of the Mosaic economy” to serve as the standard for those who serve as resident aliens in the regimes of foreigners.
What difference, if any, is there between the exile of us now and the exiles of the Old Testament? Does the law of Christ (the Sermon on the Mount) make anything different today? Does there continue to be a law-ordeal aspect to our getting things done in the civil kingdoms in which live as exiles today?
I would welcome an answer to any and all such questions, but my basic question now is simple. Do you think that Joseph and Daniel acted as agents of the sword for their magistrates? Why would foreign magistrates trust aliens with the sword? Do you think that Joseph and Daniel had acquired dual citizenships, not only in Israel (that was and is to come) but also as Egyptian and Assyrian citizens ?
Jeremiah 29 reads: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream.” I take it that Jeremiah was referring to the theonomists of his own time.
II Kings 5:14 reads  So Naaman went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; so accept now a present from your servant.” 16 But he said, “As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive none.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused. 17 Then Naaman said, “If not, please let there be given to your servant two mule loads of earth, for from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the Lord. 18 In this matter may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon your servant in this matter.” 19 He said to him, “Go in peace.”
On this manner of singing the songs of Zion in strange lands, I would recommend one Mennonite book: For the Nations, by John Howard Yoder (Eerdmans), expecially the chapter on diaspora, “See How they Go with Their Faces”.  And one book by a Quaker, A Biblical Theology of Exile, by Daniel Smith-Christopher( Fortress).  And by the premill evangelical Robert H Gundry, Jesus the Word According to John the Sectarian (Eerdmans).

Federal visionists (theonomists)  like Leithart are a lot more Constantinian than many Roman Catholics today even when they agree on “sacrament” making the church (or churches)  It’s interesting to me that folks like Leithart and Hauerwas  have made a case for going back to Rome, without ever doing it. They  claim to be “too catholic to be catholic”.

These same folks who want to follow the OT (“the” covenant) model for worship are not agreed about what is legitimate for the people of God when they operate in a second kingdom.

Sacramental Union and Communion with Christ?

November 29, 2011

Those who would defend Constantine and slavery must also always defend the rituals of Christendom. I refer to the “federal vision” deconstruction of any difference between water and union with Christ.
They also reject any difference between ritual Lord’s Supper and union with Christ.

Some of these traditionalists will defend almost anything old (slavery, the confederacy), just so long as it is anti-“liberal”.
Unwilling as individuals to return to the Roman Catholic Church, despite a common faith in salvation by works, the more consistent federal visionists (theonomic postmillenialists) plan an end of exile by means of ordained violence.

The next time they are Constantine they promise to do it better. They will get baptized right away. They will have their entire families baptized right away. They will not wait.

But they will do this “take-over” in the name of conservatism. As inductive theologians, they remind us that even what Constantine did in the past was a result of God’s sovereign providence. And thus they dream of a liberal-free future in which cross-bearing will no longer be necessary.

Federal vision folks are trying to sell us a narrative in which the visibility of the kingdom of Jesus has to do with the traditional rituals inherited from Augustine and others who used violence in the name of God.

If we are going to escape the ideology of ritual Christendom , we need to talk about the sacramental errors of John Calvin, Martin Luther and all who define the Lord’s Supper as something God does instead of as the human obedience of Christians.

The fight about sacramentalism is a fight about politics, because it’s a fight about judging saved and lost. Sacramentalists want to hand out grace without judging saved and lost. They want to include you in their “the church” and then tell you it’s God’s will and not your decision.

Sacramentalists don’t trust liberals because they see that suspicion of the nation-state might also mean skepticism about their big broad “the church”. The majority culture always opposes any attempt of the “sects” to judge who is saved. Forget trying to know who is brother or sister, and come to the sacrament!

Ecclesiastical antinomians want to say that “sacrament” is a secondary issue and not a gospel issue. But when you refuse the political responsibility of judging saved and lost in terms of knowing and believing the gospel, then you have opened the way for assuming that everyone handed out the sacrament (or listening to the “minister’s” sermon) is a Christian.

Do we see everyone with whom we talk as already Christians who simply need to know more (of what we know)? Or do we evangelize because we know that not all Christ’s sheep are not justified yet?

Do we think of church as one universal church which includes saints now living in heaven (to whom we pray or not, is not the only issue) or do we think of local fellowship around a table which is closed to those who do not yet obey the gospel?

For many folks, being more romantic about ritual Christendom means also being more open to “deification”. The “federal vision” way down this path usually begins with II Peter 1:4 (become partakers of the divine nature) and ends up making justification by Christ’s death merely one result of “union with Christ”.

Just as the word “sacrament” is left undefined or given multiple definitions, so also the idea of “union with Christ” is left undefined or given various (unbiblical) definitions in ecumenical discussions.

What does it mean to be in Christ, and how is it different from Christ indwelling us? This is the kind of question we need to begin asking. Does this indwelling in Christ have anything to do with being handed the sacrament? Certainly Calvin thought so.

We need to read Calvin on this, to see what he did and did not believe. Calvin, for example, only believed in union with the humanity of Christ, and did not teach an union of human creatures indwelling God But Calvin’s anti-rational streak, which cannot explain and refuses to explain, becomes very mystical when it comes to “sacrament”. (See Bruce McCormack and Michael Horton essays in Tributes to Calvin).

Does the Bible teach that God effects “union with Christ” by means of water, or with bread and wine? NO. My opinion is that we baptists will never get away from that sacramental idea until we get away from the idea that “union with Christ” is only about regeneration.

As long as our categories for judging saved and lost are “regenerate” and “unregenerate”, we will be assuming (even if we don’t define things) that “union” means regeneration and that union/regeneration precedes justification.

II Corinthians 5—If anyone is in Christ, there is a NEW CREATION. The old has passed; the new has come.”

The “new creation” is not first of all about regeneration but about a legal change of identity It’s not gradual; it’s an either or. The new creation is not brought about by a “sacramental feeding on Christ” but by God’s imputation of what God did in Christ in His death and resurrection.

Christ is here, yes, but not in some different way because of water or bread and wine. And also, Christ is not here, not yet, and we believe and obey and hope, waiting for the day when Christ will be here.

Christ is not now coming down from heaven as He will someday, and we are not now going to heaven, no matter what the “minister of the sacrament” might say.

So how then are the justified elect in Christ? They are in Christ legally. The old has passed. The legal verdict has already been declared. One day, at the resurrection, there will be visible evidence of that verdict.

No ritual is a sign from God that we in particular have been united to Christ. Even if our children were to eat the “sacrament” with us, still that’s no seal that either we or our children have been justified or that God is our God.

Without the Visible “Church”, the Gospel is Not True?

October 25, 2011

The “federal vision” deconstructs any difference between water and union with Christ. They are also willing to reject any difference between a ritual Lord’s Supper and God’s “real or legal” means of union and communion. They will defend anything (slavery, the confederacy) “ancient” just so long as it is anti-liberal.

Unwilling as individuals to return to the Roman Catholic Church, despite a common faith in a justification by works, those in the “federal vision” write essays against individualism and also against counter-cultures. The most consistent advocates (theonomic postmillenialists) plan an end of exile by means of ordained violence.

The next time they are Constantine they promise to do it better. In the meanwhile they remind us that even what Constantine did in the past was a result of God’s sovereign providence, and hope for a liberal-free future in which cross-bearing will no longer be necessary.

To get at the error of ritual Christendom, we need to do more than talk about Protestant associations with Romanism. That’s like criticizing Billy Graham for his associations instead of his false gospel. Graham works well with “others” because they all have the same false gospel.

Those who tell us that the gospel is not true without their “church” are trying to sell us a narrative in which the reality and visibility of Jesus Christ has to do with traditional rituals inherited from Augustine and others who used violence in the name of God.

With John Milbank, those in the “federal vision” tell us that the “pacifist” rejects power and effectiveness. They assume there can be no power without violence. Thus they tell us that the “pacifist” is a liberal who rejects even the power of the resurrection. They tell us there is no “church” without “kings” and no gospel without this “church” given by kings.

But God’s gospel does not depend on our power, not even on those of us who are Republicans. And Christianity is not necessary for the survival of the American empire.

Infant Baptism Will Save the World?

February 7, 2011

Stanley Hauerwas, A Better Hope, p43–“Gerald Schlabach sent me criticisms of my work that another Mennonite had posted on an e-mail forum. The critic argued that my work is far too Catholic and thus incompatible with an Anabaptist perspective: ‘Hauerwas has a Constantinian fear of Christian liberty. He wants the clergy to tell us the story and the church to have the sanctions to enforce it.’ In his response Schlabach agreed that this is an accurate (although insufficiently nuanced) summary of my views but defended the position nevertheless. ”

Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom , Peter Leithart, IVP, 2010

Leithart is a high church theonomist. He teaches at Doug Wilson’s little school in Idaho. Like others in the anti-federal “federal vision”, he teaches justification by works, with a particular emphasis on “sacrament”. His book is endorsed by Anglicans who teach justification by works: Stanley Hauerwas, John Milbank, and NT Wright.

Leithart believes that infant baptism will save the world. Constantly caricaturing one side against the other, he calls John Yoder an “anti-realist”, then puts the Niebuhrs on the other end, and then sits himself in the middle. “In the end it all comes down to infant baptism.” P341.

When we ask how Constantine and infant baptism will save the world, Leithart asks us to stop being so impatient. Baptism has happened, and it will change the world, because justification by works has worked and will work.

Make no mistake: Leithart is still a theonomist, and the ritualism of James Jordan has not changed his dogmatic agenda that “the Old Testament is normative for politics”. (p131). When somebody like James Carroll (Constantine’s Sword) complains about the anti-semitism of Augustine, Leithart is quick to defend the good old days of the middle ages. The Jews were merely not allowed to proselytize, and besides, he is pro-Jewish because he thinks the OT is normative for politics. And he’s against all kinds of sectarian proselytizing, except of course his own proselytizing for one universal church.

Leithart very much opposes the “John Locke” Protestantism in which separatists (isolationists) “hold opinions that divide them from the general public”. We are reminded that theonomy is not about a combination of church and state but about having one church (with bishops) which can stand up to the state. He quotes Rushdoony (p181) about Trinitarians resisting imperialism. If you won’t support killing heretics, then you are left with “invisible churches”.

Of course we could ask all kinds of questions here, like which kind of visibility? Which church? Which bishops? Whose ordination? But Leithart cautions us to be patient about all such details. All we need to know for now is that infants are being baptized in the name of Trinitarianism. It’s happening, no matter what kind of “nominalist” objections and theories are being suggested. And Leithart himself is still ordained by the PCA, and if the PCA were to become a sect and disqualify him, then he would simply move on to the one church which remains the one church.

If you won’t defend Augustine for killing Donatists who “re-baptise”, then you simply show that you are a baptist at heart. True Anglicans still know that it’s a sin not to have your infants baptized by the one church. We cannot say that Constantine had no mission, because his mission was the empire, and in order to become a citizen in that empire, you also needed to be baptized (and have your infants done, along with your wife and slaves) and if you object to that, you show yourself to be modernist plain and simple.

Indeed, argues Leithart, Constantine really subverted the empire (you see) because he used his great power in the empire to change the empire! How could he have ended the gladiatorial shows, if he had retreated from cultural engagement like the quietists and separatists? If you can vote, you must, and if you can kill for a more civilized culture, then the killing itself becomes civilization!

If Joseph and Daniel can dream for the emperors, doesn’t it stand to reason that you also must become emperor if you can kill enough people to do so? And shame on Constantine for refusing to wear the purple when he thought he was near death, as if being emperor and being Christian were in competition. There is a bad justification by works, like when you do stuff not commanded, or stop doing stuff not forbidden, like stop killing, but then there is a good justification by works, when you can baptize the nations in the name of the Trinity.

Leithart knows that anti-Constantinianism is a cover for liberalism, or even worse, for pacifism. And so he argues simply, for those of us who are too dumb to get it. Augustine was a Christian. Augustine was not a pacifist. Therefore Christians do not need to be pacifists. Christians need only to reject “their wars” (that of the Marxists or the Anabaptist sectarians). But when Constantine becomes a Christian, then his wars become Christian wars, and thus our wars.

Leithart explains to us that John Yoder was effected by his social location: writing in Europe against the state churches of Europe, Yoder could not see that this kind of sectarian nation-building is not the same thing as the medieval achievement of cultural unity. In other words, with Milbank and Hauerwas, Leithart is accusing the ecclesiology of Yoder of still being “modernist”. Even if we can’t be quite Roman Catholic yet, we must all agree now that justification by faith is mere Gnosticism and that justification is by obedience to God’s law, and for that we need both character and community.

And of course Constantine’s history Is somewhat messy (especially his family life) but the alternative is the impatience of perfectionism. Leithart appeals to all us who grew up in dispensationalism and now see ourselves as superior to all that. Surely, “church history is not an empty parenthesis.” (p325) We need to work with that which has come about with the passing of time, and if we resist the gradualism of the Magisterial Reformers, we will end up with no church at all, and no conservative culture!

In order to “de-sacrifice the empire” and thus eliminate the confusion of patriotism and religion, we need to do two things, according to Leithart. First, we need to sacrifice (kill) the enemies of Rome. Second, we need to move the patriotic rituals out of the realm of the empire and move them into the church (which will support the empire). And one great immediate effect of this is that blood sacrifice is ended in the Jewish temple in Ad 70. Sure, in theory, the blood in the temple never worked, certainly not after Christ died, but if you want to see the real coming of the Christ, see it there in the Roman invasion of Jerusalem in Ad 70. (No wonder the theonomists and the preterists like NT Wright’s “end of exile” theology so much!)

If you are patient enough, you can make a nation Christian in the same way that you make an infant a Christian. You baptize it. And the great commission is for you who baptize, which is to say, first you say to a nation that it is Christian, and then you can talk to it like you do to Christians. But if you do not agree that the Romanists and the Americans are all already Christians, already baptized, then what can you say to them about what they should do?

You may think that my sarcasm has simply got the best of me, and that there’s no way that Leithart can be saying any of the things I think he is saying. To that, I say: read him for yourself. If you don’t have time to read the other theonomists (Rushdoony, Doug Wilson, James Jordan, Greg Bahnsen, Andrew Sandlin) or the preterists ( American Vision, Gentry), begin with Leithart’s earlier book: Against Christianity.

I quote from Leithart’s page 333: “The Creator made man to participate in and prosecute His wars.” Of course he is not only describing what God has predestined; his concern is ethics. Mine two. No triangulation needed here. Either he is right or we pacifists are right. According to him, Adam’s problem was that he was a pacifist in regard to Satan. If Leithart is right, as we get to newer covenants (or, “newer administrations of the one covenant”, as the ideology likes to say it), then the newer the covenant, the more responsibility all of us have to kill for the sake of the covenant.

And thus Leithart contextualizes Jesus, so that His dying at the cross rather than killing, is particular, specific, and unique, and not an example for anybody. I remember the old days when theonomists mocked Ron Sider for his leading questions: is God a Marxist? Ron never said he was, but he kinda implied it. And so today, the theonomists ask the leading questions: is turning the other cheek a rebuke of self defense or the defense of others?

How could we possibly think that what Jesus said in the Sermon was for all Christians in all places and for all times? We know that church history is not an empty parenthesis, and we know that Augustine was a Christian, and thus we know that Augustine’s version of Just war (not like that of Bush and Rumsfield) was also the politics of Jesus.

It’s sad that IVP published the book. What’s next for IVP? Will one day they even publish a book defining Calvinism in way that you don’t have to believe the doctrines of “tulip” to be a Calvinist?

The Ritual Christendom Captivity of the Churches

October 29, 2010

Those who would defend Constantine and slavery must also always defend the rituals of Christendom. I refer not only to the attempt to eliminate heresy by means of the heresy of violence. I refer to infant baptism, and to the “federal vision” deconstruction of any difference between water and union with Christ.

Those who warn against the “anabaptist captivity” of “the church” are also willing to reject any difference between a ritual Lord’s Supper and God’s “real or legal” means of union and communion. They will defend anything (slavery, the confederacy) old just so long as it is anti-liberal.

Instead of visible congregations, they write books of theory against theory. Unwilling as individuals to return to the Roman Catholic Church, despite a common faith in justification by works, as optimists they write essays against not only individualism but even against counter-cultures. The most consistent Reformed idealogues (theonomic postmillenialists) plan an end of exile by means of ordained violence.

The next time they are Constantine they promise to do it better. But as inductive theologians, they remind us that even what Constantine did in the past was a result of God’s sovereign providence. And so they hope for a liberal-free future in which cross-bearing will no longer be necessary.

To get at the error of ritual Chrsitendom, we need to do more than talk about associations with Romanism. That’s like criticizing Billy Graham for his associations instead of his false gospel. He runs with those with false gospel because he has false gospel.

Those who cannot tell the difference between the gospel and “the nonvoluntary church” are trying to sell us a narrative in which the visibility of the kingdom of Jesus has to do with the traditional rituals inherited from Augustine and others who used violence in the name of God.

“Reformed” people like J I Packer and Timothy George associate with Romanist ritualists because they themselves are ritualists (George, who calls himself a “baptist sacramentalist”, has much more in common with JI Packer than he doe with predestinarians like Roger Williams or Obadiah Holmes.

If we are going to escape the ritual Christendom captivity of the churches, we need to talk about the sacramental errors of John Calvin, Martin Luther and all “mystical catholic” people who define the Lord’s Supper as something God does instead of as the human obedience of Christians.

We need to oppose ecclesiastical anti-nomianism which equates ecumenical ritualism with spiritual revival and reformation. The fight about sacramentalism is a fight about politics, because it’s a fight about judging saved and lost.

Sacramentalists want to hand out grace without judging saved and lost. They want to include you in their “church” and tell you it’s God’s will and not your decision. Sacramentalists don’t trust anabaptists because they see that suspicion of the state might also mean suspicion of their big broad “the church”.

The majority culture of the state and the powerful (and the would be powerful!) always opposes any attempt for “sects” to judge who is saved. This is why the Reformers kept on killing the Anabaptists the Romanists also killed.

Ecclesiastical antinomians want to say that “sacrament” is a secondary issue and not a gospel issue. But when you refuse the political responsibility of judging saved and lost in terms of knowing and believing the gospel, then you have opened the way for assuming that everyone handed out the sacrament (or listening to the “minister’s” sermon) is a Christian. To not judge by the gospel is to compromise the gospel.

What we believe about who’s in the church has everything to do with the politics of evangelism. Do we see everyone with whom we talk as already Christians who simply need to know more (of what we know)? Or do we see that even Christ’s sheep are not yet all justified yet?

Do we think of church as one universal church which includes saints now living in heaven (to whom we pray or not, is not the only issue) or do we think of local fellowship around a table which is closed to those who do not yet obey the gospel?

In these days, to be more ecumenical means not only to be more romantic about ritual Christendom but also to be more open to “deification”. The “federal vision” way down this path usually begins with II Peter 1:4 (become partakers of the divine nature) and ends up replacing justification by Christ’s death with “union with Christ”.

Just as the word “sacrament” is left undefined or given multiple definitions, so also the idea of “union with Christ” is left undefined or given various (unbiblical) definitions in ecumenical discussions.

What does it mean to be in Christ, and how is it different from Christ indwelling us? This is the kind of question we need to begin asking. Does this indwelling in Christ have anything to do with being handed the sacrament? Certainly Calvin thought so.

We need to read Calvin on this, to see what he did and did not believe. Calvin, for example, only believed in an union with the humanity of Christ, and did not teach an union with God defined as creatures indwelling the Creator, even though that is left an open possibility in undefined ecumenical discussion. But Calvin’s anti-rational streak, which cannot explain and refuses to explain, becomes very mystical when it comes to “sacrament”. (See Bruce McCormack and Michael Horton essays in Tributes to Calvin).

Does the Bible teach that God effects “union with Christ” by means of water, or with bread and wine? NO. My opinion is that we baptists will never get away from that sacramental idea until we get away from the idea that “union with Christ” is only about regeneration. As long as our categories for judging saved and lost are “regenerate” and “unregenerate”, we will be assuming (even if we don’t define it at all) that “union” means regeneration and that union/regeneration precedes justification.

1. We need to define what we mean by “regeneration”. Since the Bible word is “new birth”, we need to think about this new birth in terms of “effectual calling” by the power of the Holy Spirit with the word of the gospel. We need to get away from the idea that “regeneration” is a “change in substance or nature” and then a time gap between that and the hearing of the gospel.

2. We need to define “in Christ” in terms of justification. Although the Bible does teach that the sheep are always in Christ by election, Romans 16 teaches that some of the sheep are in Christ before other of the sheep. This change is not a first of all a change of regeneration or birth but legally a change of state before God. To be in Christ in this way is to be justified. Union with Christ is justification, legal union with Christ and His work and His benefits. Immediately after this legal change, the sheep are born again and believe the gospel, but “union” does not precede justification, because union IS justification.

3. God justifies the ungodly. God does not justify because of faith. God does not justify because God knows that God is going to regenerate and change the person. God changes the person because God has justified the person. The change from a belief in the false gospel to the true gospel is evidence of justification, but it is never the reason for God justifying.

Romans 6:17 “But thanks be to God, that you were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were called…”

Roman 6:20 “When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed?”

As long we define union as regeneration and judge saved and lost by regeneration, we will be tempted to ignore the gospel of justification and judge by morality and immorality.

Romans 6 describes two legal states, one of which is “free from righteousness”. We tend to judge people (even ourselves) to be saved on the evidence of morality. But God sees that morality as something to be ashamed of, when those moral people are still in their sins, still not yet justified.

Romans 6 defines the “in Christ” in terms of legally being placed into the death of Christ. Union with Christ is justification. Instead of an “ritual done by an ordained minister” which makes you a participant in Christ ( understood in many places as indwelling even the deity of God!), our hope as the justified is that God has counted the death of Christ as our death.

Is this unbalanced? Why do I pit regeneration against justification? Well, I could ask you, why do you always draw the line between the regenerate and the unregenerate? Why don’t you draw the line between the justified and the condemned? Why don’t you judge by if a person knows and believes the gospel?

I am not denying the new birth or the absolute necessity for it. I am only saying that the new birth and faith are not all there is to “union with Christ”. I am only say that the “new creation” has to do with a change in legal state, and not first of all with a change of substance or nature.

II Corinthians 5:14 “one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live would no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sakes died and was raised. From now on, we regard no one according to the flesh (judging by morality or immorality or by other non-gospel standards)….If anyone is in Christ, there is a NEW CREATION. The old has passed; the new has come.”

“Those who live” means first of all those who are justified. The category of “we died” is not about a change of substance or nature but about an imputed legal reality. So also the category of “those who live” is also not about a change of substance or nature but about an imputed reality, legal life because of justification.

The “new creation” (or “new man”) is not first of all about regeneration or birth but about a legal change of identity, a legal before and after. It’s not gradual; it’s an either or. The new is not effected by a “sacramental feeding on Christ” but by God’s imputation of what God did in Christ in His death and resurrection.

Christ is here, yes, but not in some different way because of water or bread and wine. And also, Christ is not here, not yet, and we believe and obey and hope, waiting for the day when Christ will be here. He is not now coming down from heaven as He will someday, and we are not now going to heaven, no matter what the “minister of the sacrament” might say. The church is not Christ, and the church is not the gospel.

So how then are we in Christ? We are in Christ legally. The old has passed. The legal verdict has already been declared. One day, at the resurrection, there will be visible evidence of that verdict. No ritual is a sign from God that we in particular have been justified or united to Christ.

Even if our children were to eat the “sacrament” with us, still that’s no seal that either we or our children have been justified or that God is our God. What is the gospel? Judge justified and lost by the gospel.