Federal Vision- Heresy?

Is the Federal Vision Heresy?

Many are honestly confused about the Federal Vision, and are looking for a quick, basic understanding of it. As such, here we offer a crash course about this enormously influential movement.

The following resources demonstrate that the Federal Vision is indeed a heresy of the worst kind, and perverts almost every doctrine related to salvation. It is has much in common with N. T. Wright’s theology, and is essentially a form of Roman Catholicism in sheep’s clothing. It denies justification by faith alone, Christ’s active obedience, and perseverance of the saints, and holds to salvation by works (for instance, the soul damning heresy of baptismal regeneration).

Some of the major proponents of the Federal Vision include the following:

Douglas Wilson

James B. Jordan

Norman Shepherd

Peter Leithart

Steve Schlissel

Steven Wilkins

Rich Lusk

John Barach

(Note: For a refutation of the Federal Vision view that the only works of the law Paul condemns when it comes to justification are “Jewish identity markers,” click here.)

I. In 2002 the Reformed Presbyterian Church of the United States (RPCUS) gave the following “Call to Repentance” to those of the Federal Vision movement. This lists the movement’s main heresies.

“Covenant Presbytery of the RPCUS declares that the teaching presented in the 2002 Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Pastors Conference involves a fundamental denial of the essence of the Christian Gospel in the denial of justification by faith alone.

“That the teaching of the various speakers: Douglas Wilson, Steve Schlissel, John Barach, and J. Steven Wilkins, has the effect of destroying the Reformed Faith through the introduction of false hermeneutic principles; the infusion of sacerdotalism; and the redefinition of the doctrines of: the church, the sacraments, election, effectual calling, perseverance, regeneration, justification, union with Christ, and the nature and instrumentality of faith.

“That the rejection of the Bible as propositional and the introduction of an illegitimate post-exilic Jewish mindset as an interpretive scheme, denies the role of Scripture in interpreting itself. This view, while affirming the written word, yet gives license to reformulate and reinterpret that word through the glasses of an unrevealed and antipropositional mindset that is closely akin to the old liberal higher criticism of the early 20th century.

“That the denial of the distinction of visible and invisible church and the introduction of an historical and eschatological church, opens the door to new and mystical meanings being applied to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper that are sacerdotal in orientation; makes justification an eschatological process instead of a definitive legal act; obscures the reality and necessity of the new birth; and corrupts Gospel preaching by eliminating the call to repentance and faith within the congregation.

“That baptismal regeneration constructed upon the principle of linking the sign and the reality in effect differs little from Roman Catholicism.

“That the doctrine that maintains union with Christ is an external position and place in the church confounds regeneration, union with Christ, and the outward ordinances.

“That the maintenance of the language of Calvinism in these speakers is superficial and misleading: their doctrine of perseverance is made to deny effectual calling; their doctrine of corporate election is made to deny particular redemption; and the native depravity of man is made to be removed in the outward administration of water baptism which thereby sufficiently qualifies the recipient for the Lord’s Supper.

“We therefore resolve that these teachings are heretical. We call these men to repentance. We call upon the church of Jesus Christ to hold these teachings in contempt. We call upon the courts of the churches that are responsible for these men to institute judicial process against them and to vindicate the honor of Christ and the truth of the Christian Gospel by bringing judgment upon them, suspending them from office, and removing them from the communion of the church should they not repent.

“May God have mercy upon their souls.

– Adopted unanimously by Covenant Presbytery, Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States, June 22, 2002.”

The Council of Chalcedon, “A Call to Repentance” (Cummings, GA: July/August 2002), 13.

II. For a good overall understanding of the Federal Vision, read

“A Refutation of the Auburn Avenue Theology’s Rejection of Justification by Faith Alone” by Brian Schwertley

At the end of Schwertley’s article is this chart below, which compares the [COLOR=green]Federal Vision, or Auburn Avenue Doctrine[/COLOR], with biblical Christianity, nicknamed the “Reformed Faith”:

The Auburn Avenue Doctrine-Covenant is relationship which is rooted in the relationship between the persons of the ontological trinity.

The Reformed Faith-Covenant is an agreement. The covenant of grace is rooted in the covenant of redemption (pactum salutis).

The Auburn Avenue Doctrine- Before the fall Adam was under a covenant of grace.

The Reformed Faith- Before the fall Adam was under a covenant of works.

The Auburn Avenue Doctrine- After the fall God requires a partial obedience to His law in order to be justified. This partial obedience is fulfilled by faithful Christians and results in final justification.

The Reformed Faith- After the fall God requires a perfect and perpetual obedience to His law in thought, word and deed in order to be justified. This perfect and perpetual obedience is fulfilled by Jesus Christ and is imputed to believing sinners.

The Auburn Avenue Doctrine- Jesus’ sinless life is only an example of faithfulness for His people to follow.

The Reformed Faith- Our Lord’s sinless life is not only an example but is also a fulfillment of the covenant of works that is necessary if a believing sinner is to be declared righteous before God.

The Auburn Avenue Doctrine- Christians are justified by faith and faithfulness (i.e. perseverance in personal obedience).

The Reformed Faith- Christians are justified by faith alone apart from the works of the law.

The Auburn Avenue Doctrine- Faith and obedience are necessary to obtain final justification. Faith is introspective. It is divided between Christ and the believer’s faithfulness. Obedience is a co-instrument of justification.

The Reformed Faith- Faith is the sole instrument which lays hold of Christ and His accomplished redemption. Faith is extraspective. Obedience is a fruit of justification.

The Auburn Avenue Doctrine- Faith and obedience are the same thing. Faith is complex and includes the fruits of faith.

The Reformed Faith- Obedience flows from true faith and is distinguishable from it. Faith is simple.

The Auburn Avenue Doctrine- Good works or covenantal faithfulness has an important role to play in a believer’s final justification.

The Reformed Faith- The good works of believers are tainted with sin, are non-meritorious and onlydemonstrate the reality of saving faith.

The Auburn Avenue Doctrine- Paul’s condemnation of the works of the law in relation to justification concerns only the ceremonial laws or Jewish identity markers which exclude Gentiles from the covenant.

The Reformed Faith- Paul’s condemnation of the works of the law in relation to justification refers to the whole law: ceremonial and moral. The traditional Protestant law/gospel antithesis stands.

The Auburn Avenue Doctrine- Justification refers only to the pardon of sins and not the imputation of Jesus’ active [or preceptive] obedience. Pardon is supplemented by covenant faithfulness which results in final justification.

The Reformed Faith- Justification involves the imputation of the believing sinner’s guilt and liability of punishment to Christ on the cross and our Lord’s perfect righteousness to the believer. The good works or covenant faithfulness of the Christian has nothing to do with justification.

The Auburn Avenue Doctrine- If a person does not continue in obedience the justification received when baptized is removed and the apostate person loses his salvation.

The Reformed Faith- Because a Christian’s justification is achieved solely by Christ it can never be lost. People who apostatize never had saving faith and were never justified to begin with (1 Jn. 2:19; Mt. 7:23).

The Auburn Avenue Doctrine- Sanctification if faithfully continued leads to final justification. The process which leads to justification is synergistic.

The Reformed Faith- The moment a person is justified, the life-long process of sanctification begins. The justification of sinners is monergistic.

The Auburn Avenue Doctrine- The covenant of grace includes conditions. One condition is faithful obedience or good works. The personal righteousness, obedience or good works of believers has salvific “value” (i.e. merit) before God.

The Reformed Faith- The covenant of grace has only one condition which is faith. This faith is a gift. It is instrumental and non-meritorious. It merely grasps the person and work of Christ.

The Auburn Avenue Doctrine- Since faith and obedience are the same thing and we receive glorified life in the same manner as Adam before the fall, the covenant of grace is a watered down covenant of works (i.e. a partial obedience is now required for final justification).

The Reformed Faith- The covenant of grace is radically different from the covenant of works because Christ the second Adam fulfills the terms of the covenant in our place. People who are under the guilt and power of sin cannot achieve or even contribute to their own justification.

III. Supplement the previous info with the following audio downloads:

1. The Gospel Crisis in the OPC and PCA (by Brian Schwertley)

(About the urgency for church leaders to decisively deal with the Federal Vision heresy. A text version is available here.)

2. Debate between John M. Otis and Federal Vision proponent Steve Schlissel

3. Auburn Avenue Theology Refutation Parts 1-6 (by Brian Schwertley)

4. Refuting the Federal Vision Heresy Parts 1-4 (John M. Otis)

IV. Get “Danger in the Camp: An Analysis and Refutation of the Heresies of the Federal Vision by John M. Otis

In this enormous book, Otis systematically exposes the heretical teachings of the Federal Vision proponents in their own words, and refutes their teachings.


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