Thursday, March 03, 2011

3rd Statement by Daniel Chew (Affirmative)

This is my third statement.

I must say that the answers by Frank in the cross-examination have been very informative and revealing. First of all, I need to briefly correct some misrepresentations of my position.

It is simply wrong that I necessarily advocate cutting off from anyone who has sufficient theological flaws. It is also wrong that I would necessarily deem any church a false church by merely taking part in one 40 Days of Purpose campaign. Such errors on Frank’s part suggest that Frank not only did not truly bother to understand my position, but he simply reads his stereotype of what the doctrine of separation looks like into this debate. More specifically, he reads the Fundamentalist idea of separation into the debate, whereas my view is the Reformed view not the Fundamentalist one. Seeing that I made that clear early in the debate, Frank is without excuse in bashing a straw man.

We must remember that the debate thesis is the necessity of separation from false churches. The debate is not about all the nuances of how the doctrine of separation is to be applied to individuals qua persons, and I thus only address individuals in their ecclesiastical positions.

To digress briefly, Frank totally misunderstands infant baptism in his answer to my second question, and since I wasn’t asking about infant baptism in that question, his attack there was a cheap shot! We baptize infants not upon some “Gospel offer” but because infants are in the external aspect of the covenant of grace (i.e. the visible church). Seeing however that Frank does not get the visible/ invisible church distinction, I guess I should not expect Frank to understand this, but interested parties may want to check out Robert Reymond’s A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith[1] and John Fesko’s recent book Word, Water, and Spirit[2].

As I see it, the main difference between us is ecclesiology. Frank Turk holds to the Federal Vision ecclesiology, while I hold to Reformed ecclesiology. Let me unpack this so we can see the difference between the two.

First of all, we can see that Frank has no real use for the visible/ invisible church distinction. Instead, when pressed, Frank mocks the concept of the invisible church as requiring men to “discern the invisible inside the visible church.”

The Reformed understanding of the Visible/ Invisible Church distinction is succinctly described in Pastor Wes White’s blog article on the Federal Vision:[3]

Classic Protestant theology defined the Church as true believers in Christ. … However, these theologians also recognized that God had commanded that believers come together for joint profession, worship, and discipline. The problem is that in this external communion many gather who are not actual believers and do not possess forgiveness of sins, union with Christ, new life, and adoption. As a result, they [these theologians] followed the Bible in distinguishing the Church as it appears from the Church as it really is (see Mt. 13). This is often called the visible/invisible Church distinction.

The importance of the visible/invisible church distinction in the Church is in informing us that not everyone who is in the church is saved, and we should not presume their salvation. Rather, we judge according to their confession. With regards to churches, we are not to presume any entity that calls itself a church to be a true church, but rather to check for the biblical marks of the true church and evaluate accordingly.

The Federal Vision objectivized salvation within the church and collapsed the visible/invisible church distinction such that almost everyone in the church and every church must be taken as a church of Christ, to which all the commands for fellowshipping and giving believers the benefit of the doubt are to be applied. We can see the Federal Vision error in Frank’s position as he applies all the biblical imperatives on Christian interaction to everyone and every church where possible. The traditional Reformed position is that all these are to be applied within believers. In other words, in the Reformed position, orthodoxy precedes church body life. The problem with Frank and the Federal Vision is that church body life trumps everything including orthodoxy.

Frank’s identification with Federal Vision can be even more clearly seen when he thinks there are no problems with Douglas Wilson. This is serious as Reformed and Presbyterian denominations have denounced Federal Vision as heresy,[4] although it is admitted they focused more on the implications its ecclesiology has on the doctrine of justification. A good book specifically on Federal Vision proponent Doug Wilson is the one by John Robbins and Sean Gerety entitled Not Reformed At All.[5]

The doctrine of separation according to Frank can only be applied when one is kicked out of the church, as in Roman Catholicism. Other than that, the marks of the church are merely characteristics that churches have to work towards and to work from. Such positions taken by Frank are more evidences for his Federal Vision objectivization of the covenant whereby churches and all who are in churches are to be considered Christian not because of their true confession but because they are churches and people in the churches, a position which we can being tirelessly promoted throughout this debate.

On the Reformed confessions, Frank did not answer the question put to him. The confessions were composed for many purposes, and listing down some of them does not mean that they were not meant to exclude unbelievers. It must be remembered that the confessions were written to show that the Reformers were not part of the radical Anabaptist movement, and therefore one of the purpose was to exclude these unbelievers. The ecclesiastical canon which is most explicit in being used to exclude unbelievers is of course the Canons of Dordt, which rejected the heretical opinions of the Classical Arminians and was the basis for excommunicating them from the churches.

While not all doctrines are major, the whole faith is essential, as Dr. Mike Horton puts it.[6] The Confessional Maximalist view therefore regards the Confession as regulating the faith, and thus impacting the way the marks are evaluated. It is in this light that Frank’s trivializing of the Canon of Scripture is disturbing. While materially true, such a cavalier approach to the canon of Scripture (the formal principle of the Reformation) is a formal attack on the authority of Scripture. It is one thing to be honestly struggling with which books are in the Canon; it is another thing to think that changing the Canon by itself (even if no doctrines are changed) is of little importance. Such is the difference between honest enquiry and disregard for God’s Word and its authority.

Going back to the biblical data on the Galatian and Corinthian churches, we can clearly see from the beginning of the epistle that Paul wrote Galatians harshly because the essential doctrine of the Gospel was at stake, whereas in Corinth the believers were misbehaving but the church was not in danger of losing the Gospel. Frank’s argument on this fails to properly interpret the epistles. Corinth was not in any danger of degenerating into a false church whereas the ones at Galatia were. What this means for us is that doctrine is more important than practice for Paul as it should be for us. The terrible state of the Corinthian church is therefore not an apologetic for not emphasizing the importance of having a true church. Separation after all is for a true church, not a pure church.

Putting all this together, we can see the main contention arise because of Frank’s Federal Vision ecclesiology. This colors his understanding of the text and results in bizarre understanding of Galatians and Corinthians.

The position I am advocating rejects Frank’s Federal Vision ecclesiology. Rather, we are to apply the marks of a true church to discern true from false churches and separate from false churches. The Reformed Confessions aid us in this aspect as one of their intentions was to exclude unbelievers like the Arminians, the Soccinians, the Arians and others like them.


[1] Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 2nd Ed. (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 1998),935-950

[2] John V. Fesko, Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Reformation Heritage, 2010)

[3] Wes White, "Reply to the Joint FV Profession, Part 5 — The Denial of the Visible/Invisible Church Distinction", Johannes Weslianus. Accessed online at (Mar 01, 2011).

[4] See for example the 2006 OPC report on Justification (accessible at and The Nine Points of URCNA Synod Schereville 2007 (accessible at

[5] John W. Robbins and Sean Gerety, Not Reformed At All: Medievalism in “Reformed” Churches (Unicoi, Tennessee: Trinity Foundation), 101-128

[6] Michael S. Horton, “The Whole Faith is Essential: Part 1”, Valiant for Truth blog ( Michael S. Horton, “The Whole Faith is Essential: Part 2”, Valiant for Truth blog (

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