An “Objective” Covenant
Baptists need to make sure they are familiar with how the Federal Vision is different from confessional, orthodox paedobaptism. The Federal Vision is a heresy that redefines traditional words (as all heresy tends to do). They stress “objectivity.” They reject the visible/invisible church distinction in favor of the church militant and the church triumphant. You enter the covenant of grace, the church, through baptism. There is no inner/outer covenant. Only the objective covenant entered through the sacraments. Once baptized, you are united to Christ through this objective covenant (rather than through invisible faith). But those who are united to Christ can prove to be unfaithful spouses and break covenant. What keeps them in covenant is their faithfulness – that is, their works. At the final judgment, Christ will determine who has been faithful. Those with works to show will pass the test and be part of the church triumphant. When Federal Vision talks about election, they use it in two senses (as they do many things). They refer to the election of the objective, visible church, but also say that God has unconditionally elected certain individuals to persevere in their works. Thus the church triumphant is that elect group of individuals who have been faithful (as opposed to an inward membership consisting of those who simply believed the gospel). In this way, there is never any “invisible” or “inward” Christianity. It is always objective and visible. Below is an extended quote from an excellent rebuke of Doug Wilson written be two paedobaptists in a book called Not Reformed at All.
Wilson’s overriding concern, as his book’s subtitle shows, is recovering the “objectivity” of the covenant. Unfortunately, he does not tell us when the covenant was “objective,” and so can be “recovered,” nor when it became subjective. But it is clear what he means by“objectivity”: He means “photographability,” visibility. Through out the book he denigrates the “ethereal,” the “invisible.” This is most unfortunate, for a covenant is invisible. A covenant is an agreement; the Covenant of Grace is a divine promise to the elect, and a promise is a proposition. A sign of a covenant, such as baptism, or a rainbow, is visible (that is why it is called a“sign”), but a sign is not the covenant. Wilson’s attempt “to recover” -‐ the correct verb would be“to invent” ‐- a visible covenant is not only an attempt to draw a square circle, it is a repudiation of God’s Covenant with Christ and his people. There is no Reformed confession that describes the Covenant of Grace as“objective.” The objective covenant is a fiction that Wilson has invented.
Here is how God, but not Wilson, describes the Covenant of Grace, in both Old and New Testaments:
Behold the days are coming, says the Lord,when I will make a new covenant With the house of Israel and with the house of Judah -‐ not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt [the Mosaic covenant] . . .. But this is the covenant that I will with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will p u t my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying “Know the Lord,” for they all shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more [Jeremiah 31:31-34].
Notice that God says, “this is the covenant,” and immediately defines the covenant as a proposition: “I will put my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” That promise is God’s Covenant of Grace. By reducing the promise to writing, the proposition is accurately represented by Hebrew or English letters, but the proposition, the promise, remains invisible. The proposition is intellectual, and Wilson despises the intellect. He prefers sensory titillation; hence his demand for a square circle: a photographable covenant.
And here is the Covenant of Grace from the New Testament:
But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Hebrews 8:6-13 ESV)
In these passages God describes his Covenant of Grace in terms Wilson foolishly rejects: The Covenant of Grace is invisible, propositions written in the invisible minds of his people; it is a promise made to individuals, for only individuals have minds in which the Covenant can be written; and the Covenant is unphotographable. Wilson is an earthy, sensate man; what he describes as“objective” are things he can see. point at, and photograph. Everything else is “ethereal.” Wilson demands an “objective” covenant, that is, a covenant that can be photographed. I enclose Wilson’s word “objective” in quotation marks, for God’s invisible Covenant of Grace is objective, despite what Wilson says. Wilson’s sensualistic epistemology requires him to say that visible things are objective and invisible things are not. Of course, that makes God, truth, justice, righteousness, faith ‐ none of which is visible and photographable -‐ ethereal and non-objective. By imposing an un-Biblical theory of knowledge on Scripture, Wilson is inventing another, Antichristian theology, using Christian terminology… (30-32)
The first reason for justification by faith alone that Paul presents is that the promise was not made to Abraham or his seed through the law, that is through their law-keeping, as the Jews misunderstood the Covenant, but through the righteousness received by faith alone. Paul says that if those who are of the law – those who bear the marks of the covenant and keep their noses clean, those whom Calvin called “saintlings” – are heirs of the promise, then the promise is made of no effect, for they are not saved, but objects of wrath.
Notice Paul’s argument here: The Jewish misinterpretation of the Covenant makes the promise of the Covenant ineffective (“of no effect”), for the circumcised are not saved, but are objects of wrath, just as he had proved in chapter 2. This is the same Jewish misinterpretation of the Covenant that infected medieval churches, Reformed churches in Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and American Presbyterian and Reformed churches in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
In the place of an effective, efficacious Covenant of Grace, in which God writes his laws in the minds of all the members of the Covenant, these churches substitute an ineffective, objective covenant in which reprobate (children of the flesh) and elect (children of the promise) alike receive the promises of God in baptism. In opposition to this counterfeit covenant, Paul teaches a Covenant of Grace in which ìthe promise might be sure to all the seed.î There is no sure promise of salvation in Wilson’s counterfeit covenant. His appeal to ritual baptism for assurance is asinine, for he admits that some baptized people go to Hell. (90)
-John Robbins & Sean Gerety, Not Reformed At All