The 2007 General Assembly received and overwhelmingly approved the report of the Study Committee on Federal Vision and New Perspective on Paul (a link to the full report is below). The committee was formed by the 34th General Assembly (2006) to study the viewpoints taught by these movements and to determine if they are in conformity with the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms. This report follows similar reports from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), the Mississippi Valley Presbytery of the PCA (the report can be found here), the Reformed Church in the U.S. and the faculties at Westminster Seminaries in both California and Philadelphia, among others.
The report briefly discusses the theological issues surrounding the New Perspectives on Paul (NPP) and the Federal Vision (FV; a movement within the PCA also known as Auburn Avenue Theology (AAT)), though this discussion is not as detailed as in other reports. It concludes that the viewpoints presented are contrary to the fundamental system of doctrine as contained in the Westminster Standards. However, the recommendations of the report simply commend the material and conclusions to the congregations, Sessions, Presbyteries and courts of the church. In particular, the report makes nine positive statements, not negative statements, about doctrines essential to the Westminster Standards. They state that anyone holding views contrary to these statements is out of line with the Standards; however they do not specifically condemn any particular person or church. They do remind ruling and teaching elders that they are under obligation to inform their superiors if their views are out of line with the Standards, and it reminds Presbyteries that they are under obligation to ensure that ruling and teaching elders are indeed in agreement with the Standards. It is, however, at most a published opinion of the committee and the majority of commissioners present at the 35th General Assembly. It is simply a deliverance of the Assembly to Presbyteries and Sessions, the courts of the PCA.
The report makes the following declarations: “In light of the controversy surrounding the NPP and FV, and after many months of careful study, the committee unanimously makes the following declarations:
- The view that rejects the bi-covenantal structure of Scripture as represented in the Westminster Standards (i.e., views which do not merely take issue with the terminology, but the essence of the first/second covenant framework) is contrary to those Standards.
- The view that an individual is “elect” by virtue of his membership in the visible church; and that this “election” includes justification, adoption and sanctification; but that this individual could lose his “election” if he forsakes the visible church, is contrary to the Westminster Standards.
- The view that Christ does not stand as a representative head whose perfect obedience and satisfaction is imputed to individuals who believe in him is contrary to the Westminster Standards.
- The view that strikes the language of “merit” from our theological vocabulary so that the claim is made that Christ’s merits are not imputed to his people is contrary to the Westminster Standards.
- The view that “union with Christ” renders imputation redundant because it subsumes all of Christ’s benefits (including justification) under this doctrinal heading is contrary to the Westminster Standards.
- The view that water baptism effects a “covenantal union” with Christ through which each baptized person receives the saving benefits of Christ’s mediation, including regeneration, justification, and sanctification, thus creating a parallel soteriological system to the decretal system of the Westminster Standards, is contrary to the Westminster Standards.
- The view that one can be “united to Christ” and not receive all the benefits of Christ’s mediation, including perseverance, in that effectual union is contrary to the Westminster Standards.
- The view that some can receive saving benefits of Christ’s mediation, such as regeneration and justification, and yet not persevere in those benefits is contrary to the Westminster Standards.
- The view that justification is in any way based on our works, or that the so-called “final verdict of justification” is based on anything other than the perfect obedience and satisfaction of Christ received through faith alone, is contrary to the Westminster Standards.
The report makes the following recommendations, adopted by the PCA:
- That the General Assembly commends to Ruling and Teaching Elders and their congregations this report of the Ad Interim Committee on NPP, AAT and FV for careful consideration and study.
- That the General Assembly reminds the Church, its officers and congregations of the provisions of BCO 29-1 and 39-3 which assert that the Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms of the Westminster Assembly, while “subordinate to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, the inerrant Word of God,” have been adopted by the PCA “as standard expositions of the teachings of Scripture in relation to both faith and practice.”
- That the General Assembly recommends the declarations in this report as a faithful exposition of the Westminster Standards, and further reminds those ruling and teaching elders whose views are out of accord with our Standards of their obligation to make known to their courts any differences in their views.
- That the General Assembly reminds the Sessions and Presbyteries of the PCA that it is their duty “to exercise care over those subject to their authority” and “to condemn erroneous opinions which injure the purity or peace of the Church” (BCO 31-2; 13-9f).
These issues are much more than finer theological points or minutiae, and they are significant for more than just academic theologians and pastors. These issues are at the heart of our understanding of salvation, of justification through faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone. The apostle Paul exhorts us to work out our salvation (Phil. 2:12), and to do so with fear and trembling. There is perhaps no greater doctrine in Scripture than that of justification, for all other doctrines ultimately touch upon God’s plan of redemption. In other words, the issue is the gospel itself.
The recommendations of the report were endorsed and adopted by the Session, July 2007.
A full copy of the report is available here on our website, in pdf format. 2007 FV Report