>URCNA Synod-12, Federal Vision

>The issue of most interest to me was the report from the committee studying Federal Vision and Justification. As I mentioned in my earlier post on the “Nine Points” that were adopted by Synod Schererville 2007, I have been following this issue since observing the RCUS Synod at which their report was adopted. I witnessed the discussion at Classis Michigan regarding an overture to adopt that statement for the URCNA, and I sat in on the pre-advice committee at Synod Schererville.

Recognizing the theological knowledge and ecclesiastical acumen of the men appointed to the study committee, I was not surprised when it produced what I considered to be a very fine report. Having seen the strong level of commitment to the gospel demonstrated repeatedly at URCNA classis and other meetings, I anticipated very little opposition to the report. My heart warmed at the compassionate manner in which the pre-advice committee at Synod 2010 handled the concerns expressed in an overture that sought to avoid creating extra-confessional documents of a binding nature. My spirit rejoiced at the careful attention to biblical truth and the spirit of cooperation evidenced with the pre-advice committee.

When the recommendations from the pre-advice committee came before the body, I was confident of strong support.

Synod adopted the following without dissent: “That Synod urge all office-bearers to repudiate Federal Vision teachings where they are not in harmony with the following articles from the Three Forms of Unity (which was followed by a listing of nine confessional quotations that were drawn directly from the overture).

Synod then affirmed 15 teachings of Scripture and the Three Forms of Unity, most of which were nearly the same as those that appeared in the study committee’s report (pages 491-492 of the Proposed Agenda).

Only the first two affirmations had been rewritten in the pre-advice committee to reflect the referenced confessional teaching with wording that sought to address the language and emphases of Federal Vision teachings. The first two affirmations had originally been direct quotations from the confessions, and the pre-advice committee sought to carefully separate the direct confessional teachings from the affirmations applying those teachings.

The first two affirmations as revised:

1. In God’s unchangeable purpose, He elects His chosen ones to salvation and effectively draws them into fellowship with Christ through His Word and Spirit, granting them true faith in Christ, justifying, sanctifying and preserving them in Christ’s fellowship until He glorifies them (Canons of Dort, 1.7).

2. The election of God is of one kind only, and is to everlasting life, and not to a mutable relationship dependent on the good work of man, which can be forfeited (Canons of Dort, 1.8). Those who finally fall away have not forfeited their election, but demonstrate they never were elect, though members of the covenant community (Canons of Dort, 5.7).

Several minor editorial changes were made to some of the other affirmations, but none of those changed the substance of the affirmation. Those few edits only made the finished product clearer and stronger.

The following four grounds were adopted with the recommendation:

1. Clearly distinguishing direct quotations from the Confessions from the formulations of the 15 points respects the binding nature of our Confessions as our doctrinal standards. The Scriptures, Ecumenical Creeds, and Three Forms of Unity alone may serve as grounds in matters of discipline.

2. Moving the affirmations as proposed in Overture 1 diminishes the weight of the statements addressing the Federal Vision errors.

3. Overture 1’s proposal to move these affirmations to summary statements would disrupt the coherence and logical flow of the report.

4. The churches have a responsibility to address contemporary theological errors in a language that is applicable to those errors.

The motion regarding the recommendation with its grounds and 15 affirmations carried without dissent. Immediately after the vote, delegates broke into spontaneous applause.

There was some debate about the next recommendation, which asked Synod to “reaffirm the reminder” of Synod Schererville and quoted its statement about encouraging individuals to follow proper Church Order procedure when an office-bearer is suspected of “deviating from or obscuring the doctrine of salvation as summarized in our Confesssions….”

Some delegates questioned the wisdom of reaffirming reminders. They felt that this minimized the original statement. The introductory phrase was deleted and Synod passed only the quotation from the Acts of Synod 2007, Art. 67.4.

A recommendation regarding what actions Synod should take to widely distribute the report passed without dissent.

A recommendation to publish the study committee report was defeated; however, a new motion that gives the convening consistory permission to allow a secondary organization to publish the study report was adopted.

The final recommendation to thank the study committee for its excellent work passed without dissent.

After the vote, Chairman Pontier used a point of personal privilege to express his hope that “we can address those with whom we have differences in a way that will promote the truth and the glory of God and will not create shame and disgrace because we are biting and devouring one another.”

It is good to be reminded of the need for compassionate and careful handling of accusations against others. Some of those who oppose Federal Vision teachings can quickly become inflamed and accusatory. It’s important to be sure of the offense before accusations are made. Doctrinal accuracy is of paramount importance, but doctrinal accuracy can be implemented in a compassionate manner that reflects the love of Christ.


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