Back from Synod

I’m back from the RCUS Synod meeting of last week. Actually, I got back on Friday, but I’ve been pretty wiped out between recovering from that and getting ready for Sunday worship. So today’s the first time I feel like I’m starting to get back into the routine.

It was a really good meeting. I felt a spirit of unity and brotherhood in a way I haven’t before. Not that I never felt it before, but there have been some pretty fractious debates in the past that really tested the bonds of brotherhood. And there really wasn’t much contention at this meeting at all.

For those of you who don’t know, a synod is a broader judicatory in the Reformed church. We have the consistory, which is the local governing body, the local elders, deacons and pastors of a particular church; the classis, which is a regional governing body and which oversees churches and pastors; and the synod, which is made up of a group of classes (classis plural). It is a higher court of appeals and the body which has original jurisdiction in matters which affect the whole church- foreign missions, denominational positions, etc.

We had a committee erected to study the Federal Vision, and they presented their paper at this last meeting. The paper ended up being recommitted to the committee for further work, a vote that as I recall was about 2/3 in favor of recommitting and 1/3 against. There were some that were worried we might be sending the wrong message, that we weren’t decided where we stand on the FV, so I thought I’d tell you what my understanding of the vote was, for the benefit of posterity and all that.

There was about a third of the body (about 85 delegates, elders and pastors) that felt the paper was strong enough, that it made the case sufficiently well. Another third of the body did not feel it was strong enough- felt it needed some additional scholarship to really make the case. They felt the conclusions were good but the paper did not sufficiently support the conclusions. Finally, there was about a third that I felt thought the paper was OK, but really wanted unanimity on it, and so voted to recommit. This was my interpretation, and the proportions might be off some, but I think these were the basic three positions represented in debate.

We have done two previous papers on other issues, on the New Perspectives On Paul of N.T. Wright, and on Norman Shepherd, both of whose teachings are closely related in many ways to the Federal Vision. Both of the votes on those papers were unanimous, and many people really wanted to have a unanimous vote on this too. There was simply not a word spoken in favor of the teachings of the Federal Vision, which was very encouraging to me. Given the mood of the body, a person with such sympathies might have been afraid to voice them. But I’m fine with that. Anyone who had such sympathies needs to feel that their beliefs are unwelcome in the RCUS, and in fact in any orthodox denomination, and be lovingly rebuked to turn back to orthodoxy.

5 thoughts on “Back from Synod

  1. Anonymous says:


    Bravo to you Matt for you firm stance on the F.V., and Bravo to the RCUS for being so careful to give it a firm and scholarly smack down.

    Does it seem like all those who support the N.P.P. and F.V. deny the Covenant of Works? Orthodox Prolegomena makes all the difference in the world.

    Joseph Mullins

  2. Joseph,
    Thanks for the encouraging words. Yes, it is a common feature of this movement to deny the covenant of works. They say it is all of grace, which sounds quite pious, but then you end up importing all the conditional statements (do this and you live, don’t do this and you die) into the covenant of grace. So in fact, while they say they deny the covenant of works, what they actually deny is the covenant of grace, and are left with works and nothing else.

  3. Anonymous says:


    I think that is probably the clearest most succinct explanation I’ve ever read.

    What I don’t understand is why they don’t see God’s graciousness in the Covenant of Works, which Westminster calls a Covenant unto life. Isn’t it dangerous to flatten out our understanding of this statement by singling out one aspect of God’s nature; His grace. As I understand it, they think this matter resolved in their understanding of the ontology of God.

    Do you think the current problem can be traced by to John Murray? He denied the C of W, and many of his students have taken it to its most dangerous conclusion.


  4. Matt,

    Saying “it’s all of Grace” is exactly what YOU are saying, right? Just not in the way you see FV pastors preaching it.

    What have you read ABOUT the FV and what have you read OF the FV? And do you see any differences between FV, AA, and NPP writers? Do you have a handle on why this movement is actually gaining ground among very conservative Biblical scholars?

    I’d love to see a blog sometime on this issue of the Covenant of Works. And do you think the big difference between what you call Orthodoxy and what FV calls Orthodoxy is this business of the continuity of the Covenant? Also, the Westminster’s clear differences from the Heidelberg? I am very curious about your thoughts on this.

  5. Lara,
    Thanks for the comments. No, I believe there is a covenant relationship clearly outlined in Scripture which is not of grace- the covenant of works. This relationship first was proposed in the Garden of Eden and continued under the Mosaic economy. This relationship predicated the deliverance of blessings on obedience. I don’t believe this relationship was proposed by God in order to ever actually deliver those blessings, but rather to demonstrate our utter inability to gain those blessings by obedience, and point us to our need for grace in Christ. Both the Westminster and the Heidelberg speak clearly of this covenant relationship, though only the Westminster uses that actual terminology.

    I have read some of the works of Shepherd and NT Wright, as well as Wilson and others. It’s a little bit of a tired old chestnut to assume that I am opposed to these writers because of a lack of scholarship on my part. They are clearly opposed to the historic Reformed formulations, as they themselves state. They deny (some outright, some by implication) the existence of the Covenant of Works, and for reasons spelled out earlier, I think this is ultimately fatal to their understanding of the gospel.

    You might check out Two-Edged Sword for a lot of faithful analysis of this movement. I will try to get to the suggested post on the covenants sometime as well. As far as “very conservative Biblical scholars”, I think that depends a great deal on your definition of “conservative”. I believe that anyone following the views of this movement are in error and violation of Scripture, and I am not terribly concerned with other labels that might be attached to them. Many errors have at various times been embraced by growing numbers of scholars of some designation or other. See 2 Tim. 3, esp. verse 13, and 2 Peter 2.

    Joseph, yes, I think this error has some representation in the works of Prof. Murray, though he never took it to these lengths. He himself is on record saying that covenant theology needs “recasting”, referring specifically to the existence of a covenant of works. Prof. Murray was a brilliant exegete and a very faithful man, but I believe he erred here, and that his error has been seized upon unfortunately and expanded a great deal by others.

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