I have serious issues with what is known as the Federal Vision in general. Lee has done a lot of very good work analyzing some aspects of this movement, and I’d heartily recommend his analysis. But there is one part of their critique of American religion which resonates quite deeply with me. I have heard it said that one of the aims of the proponents of the “Federal Vision” is to recapture a vibrant ecclesiology. And I see this as a crying need in Christianity today. Now, pursuing this end by focusing entirely on the objectivity of the covenant ends up looking a lot like positional salvation- I am saved because of where I am. I think of Jesus in Luke 13 saying that many will say to Jesus, We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets, and He will say to them, Depart from me, I don’t know who you are. Just being present in church and participating in the sacraments, having the word taught in your presence is not going to be enough to gain entrance to the kingdom of heaven.
I state this as a criticism of the FV, but it just as much applies to most of the church today. Church to so many is just something I show up to, an event that I am at. Perhaps I have some friends or family there; perhaps I participate in certain events or programs. But all too few congregants or churches really see the church as the body, the people of God, the family of Christ.
Reading about salvation in Scripture, either Old or New Testament, one sees constantly and clearly that we are not saved as individuals, to have an individual relationship with God, with churches merely existing to provide some services to bolster that individual relationship. Yet this is the way it seems we commonly view our salvation. Instead, the consistent promise of salvation throughout Scripture, from beginning to end, is “I will be your God, and you will be My people, and I will dwell in your midst.” That is, He saves us as individuals by ushering us out of our present associations and fellowships and into a new fellowship, the fellowship of the people of God. A holy nation and royal priesthood. I do not believe it is possible to conceive of salvation Biblically outside of the concept of fellowship, both vertically with God and horizontally with God’s people.
As I preached through the subject of communion this became very clear to me. One thing in particular that stood out to me is that many of the traditional defenses of church discipline are drawn from passages that are talking about communion. The reason for church discipline in these passages (1 Corinthians 5, 1 Corinthians 11, for example) is the need to safeguard the fellowship that God has called us to. The table fellowship we are called to is perverted and polluted when we knowingly profane the table with unbelievers and hypocrites. And this is why we must practice church discipline. Yet so often church discipline, if it is practiced at all, is seen as an end of itself, and the Lord’s Supper is used as a means of accomplishing church discipline. No wonder that so many, having practically abandoned the idea of fellowship in the body have also abandoned the practice of discipline.
The failure to propose a workable solution does not invalidate the recognition of a problem. The FV proponents have thrown the creeds out in an attempt to address the problem of a revivalist, individualistic ecclesiology in the church today. But in fact, the solution to the problem is in the historic practices and beliefs of the church. Our forefathers recognized all these same things themselves, and expressed these truths in the creeds. As is so often the case, we can address these problems by recapturing a fuller view of the theology that the church has always confessed, without the need for innovations which have already been rejected a thousand times.