Saturday, June 11, 2011

Contra the Joint FV Profession: Justification by Faith Alone, or Faith plus faithfulness?

Justification by Faith Alone

We affirm we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone. Faith alone is the hand which is given to us by God so that we may receive the offered grace of God. Justification is God's forensic declaration that we are counted as righteous, with our sins forgiven, for the sake of Jesus Christ alone.

We deny that the faith which is the sole instrument of justification can be understood as anything other than the only kind of faith which God gives, which is to say, a living, active, and personally loyal faith. Justifying faith encompasses the elements of assent, knowledge, and living trust in accordance with the age and maturity of the believer. We deny that faith is ever alone, even at the moment of the effectual call.

- The Joint FV Profession

The FVists formally claim to embrace Justification by Faith Alone. As it can be seen in their statement, they profess belief in Justification by Faith Alone. The question however is whether their profession match the reality. The answer is in the negative.

It can be seen that the Joint FV Profession defines faith according to the commonly accepted categories of knowledge (notitia), assent (assentia) and trust (fiducia). When one looks closely however, it can be seen that the category of 'trust' is further expanded as being a "living trust." Presumably, they believe that there is a possibility of a "dead trust." Such a 'trust' which justifies is "living," "active," and "personally loyal." All of these emphasize the fact that this is something that believers do and continue to do.

From this section alone, we can start to see the FV denial of the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone. Traditionally, faith is something in which believers is given, with the category of 'trust' referring to the disposition that validates the assent to be true. It is receptive in receiving the Gospel which comes about through the "hearing of faith" (Gal. 3:2,5, cf Rom. 10:17). Knowledge and assent are active actions in believing, while trust is passive. It is done as a reflex of true assent, not as an action in itself.

What the FV is trying to smuggle in is this idea of faith as being necessarily resulting in good works, or "faith working through love" (Gal. 5:6). That faith is never alone is agreed by all. But the FV not only insists that faith is never alone, but that faith itself includes its attendant fruits in its nascent form, through the redefinition of fiducia as being active faithfulness.

Such a redefinition can be seen in the last sentence in this paragraph, where the FVists deny that faith is never alone even at the moment of the effectual call. In other words, when God calls a person effectually and gives him faith (gift), the person logically is already being faithful (work). Consistent with their denial of the Law/Gospel distinction, gift and work are undifferentiated in the FV idea of faith and salvation. The believer according to the FV is faithful co-extensively with his believing, instead of being faithful logically consequent upon his believing. To put it simpler, the believer believes-behaves, not that the believer believes and therefore behaves accordingly.

One implication in pastoral situations is that a believer who is backsliding is logically treated differently in FV circles than in Reformed circles. In Reformed circles, such a believer is treated as a believer who must be warned, rebuked and counseled. In FV circles, such a believer is treated as someone who at that moment has no faith (as he is not faithful) and as a covenant breaker who must be "reminded of their baptism" and warned against continuing being a covenant breaker. The former situation treats the backslider as having faith but having fallen for a moment into sin (until proven otherwise) while the latter treats the backslider as not having faith and thus not as a believer then but as a "covenant breaker."

As we can see, "believers" in FV circles can have their salvation, lose it if they backslide, and regain it if they repent. Such is practically speaking a doctrine of salvation by faith plus works, or Semi-Pelagianism. Sure, such "believers" remain in the church until and if they are excommunicated, but what use is there in being church members, or covenant members, if they have lose their salvation? After all, according to FV ecclesiology, what matters for eternity is not being a church member now in the so-called "historical" or "visible" church, but rather their continuance as a church member into the "eschatological" or "invisible" church. In other words, church membership is useless unto salvation unless they are not excommunicated and cut off from the church, and such continuance is dependent on being faithful in this life, which is another way of saying salvation by faith plus works.

The FV therefore while formally professing Justification by Faith Alone denies it materially by their redefinition of Fiducia and the implications of their doctrine of the Church. The FV thus denies the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone.

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