Federal Vision: A Canadian Reformed Pastor’s Perspective (3)

Editor’s note: This is the third part of a three-part article. RFI plans to make the entire article available in booklet form.

Recasting the Doctrine of Justification

The Reformation doctrine of justification states that God declares us righteous (justified) through faith alone, only on account of what Christ has done, and by grace alone. However, many FV advocates do not appear to be content with this formulation or they revise the terms to mean something other than how they have traditionally been understood. They feel compelled to add (as the FV Joint Statement does) that faith is never alone in justification and that it must be a “living, active, and personally loyal faith.”

Norman Shepherd is widely acknowledged as an influential figure in FV circles. On the one hand, he affirms justification by faith alone. But he also insists that good works are necessary for justification. This is thesis 23 of his “Thirty-Four Theses on Justification in Relation to Faith, Repentance and Good Works”:

Because faith which is not obedient faith is dead faith, and because repentance is necessary for the pardon of sin included in justification, and because abiding in Christ by keeping his commandments (John 15:5; 10; 1 John 3:13; 24) are all necessary for continuing in the state of justification, good works, works done from true faith, according to the law of God, and for his glory, being the new obedience wrought by the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer united to Christ, though not the ground of his justification, are nevertheless necessary for salvation from eternal condemnation and therefore for justification (Rom. 6:16, 22; Gal. 6:7–9).35

It is not clear why Shepherd felt compelled to include obedience as necessary for justification. Neither is it clear why he would not be satisfied with traditional correlations between justification and sanctification.

In other places, Shepherd has affirmed justification by faith alone but then proceeds to redefine “faith.”36 Obedience is subsumed under the essence of faith. Traditionally understood as resting, trusting, and receiving, faith becomes faithfulness in Shepherd’s doctrine of justification. With this reworking of the terminology, works are smuggled in the back door as part of the instrument of justification.

Similarly, Rich Lusk has written of multiple instruments in justification, including referring to faith and works as co-instrumental. Like Shepherd, he alleged that Paul and James were referring to the same thing when speaking of justification. He also confused the justification of believers through faith alone in Christ alone with the vindication of believers at the last day. Using those two category mistakes he argues that “in some way works are instrumental in justification as well as faith.”37

The Westminster Confession (14.2) rightly says that trust (“accepting, receiving, and resting”) is the principal act of saving faith. When investigated by his presbytery, Jeff Meyers was asked whether he believed trust to include personal loyalty. He affirmed this, saying that personal loyalty draws out the “trust” contained in classical Reformed definitions of faith.38 According to Meyers, personal loyalty (a human work) is therefore an essential part of the faith that justifies.

This injection of loyalty into the definition of faith is also found with Peter Leithart. After affirming that faith is indeed trust, Leithart goes on in The Baptized Body to say that it also includes entrustment and allegiance. Then we read this: “Faith is keeping faith, being loyal to the troth that is plighted in our marriage to the Son.”39 According to Leithart, in its essence faith is not only believing, but also acting.40 In other words, human actions, what Paul calls “works of the law,” are included in justifying faith.

Lusk, Shepherd, Meyers, Leithart, and other FV writers are, at the very least, ambiguous and confusing on the doctrine of justification. It certainly appears as if they are reworking this doctrine. Doing this, of course, does have a lengthy pedigree in broader Christian theology (think: Roman Catholicism). However, it is an innovation in confessionally Reformed theology.

The Belgic Confession insists in article 22 (with Romans 3:28) that “we are justified by faith alone, or by faith apart from works of law.” There is no mention whatsoever of faith including the notion of good works as part of its definition or essence. Likewise, with the Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 23, we confess that we can be justified “by faith only.” Lord’s Day 7 shows us what that justifying faith looks like in its essence, following the classic trio of understanding, assent, and trust. One will search in vain in the Catechism for the inclusion of works in any way with respect to the doctrine of justification.

To be sure, both the Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism teach that faith will and must bear fruit. However, they do not include that fact in their formulation of the doctrine of justification. It does not belong there. It is one thing to speak about works as necessary evidences of the faith that justifies—it is quite another to describe works in some way as being instrumental in justification. The Reformed teaching is that the instrument is faith alone apart from works of law.

On this point too, we should compare how the FV measures up to what was taught by Klaas Schilder and others from the Liberated tradition. In his lecture notes on articles 22 and 23 of the Belgic Confession, Schilder discussed the instrument of justification. He noted that the only instrument was faith. He did not include works. In fact, he mentioned good works in this context only in a negative sense. He wrote, “People have to do it for themselves—so said the Pharisees. They taught that justification comes through one’s law-keeping. But we hold fast to the evangelical position: it does not happen through my law-keeping, but only through that of Christ.”41

In a sermon on Lord’s Day 7, Clarence Stam identified faith’s activities as consisting of sure knowledge and firm confidence.42 When preaching on Lord’s Day 23, Stam rightly drew attention to the receptive character of faith in justification.43 J. Van Bruggen likewise excluded human works from the essence of justifying faith: “Faith is not an achievement on our part in consequence of which we become entitled to God’s favour. There is nothing meritorious about faith.”44 In his commentary on Belgic Confession article 22, Van Bruggen explicitly rejected the notion of including works in the definition of faith. He noted that Luther was correct for using the word “alone” in his translation of Romans 3:28. Then he went on:

We hold on to this word in contrast to the Roman Catholic notion that not faith alone but “faith formed through love” justifies. This faith formed through love (fides informis and fides formata) is faith plus its works and this justifies us. The Roman Catholics have their own ideas of what faith is. They use the same word as Scripture but mean something entirely different by it. For them “faith” only expresses an intellectual knowledge. It is no more than an initial act that only brings you as far as the threshold. In order to have true communion with Christ this “faith” must proceed to action. The bare tree of “faith” must be decorated with “our”(!) good works. Luther rightly called this error a hellish poison. There is no such thing as “fides informis.” This too is a scholastic fabrication. In this manner the basis for acquittal is again sought in our works.45

Van Bruggen went on to point out that true faith always results in good works, but the two are nevertheless to be distinguished. Justification by faith alone rules out human effort.

Unfortunately, it has to be admitted that there has not always been clarity in the Liberated heritage on this key doctrine. In a sermon on Lord’s Day 7, Benne Holwerda affirmed the classic Reformed understanding of justifying faith. He maintained that true faith is “an acceptance of God, just as he speaks in his Word; it is to say, ‘Your Word is the truth.’”46 Earlier in the same sermon, Holwerda insisted that faith and what faith grants are both gifts of God. He proclaimed, “It is given: it is not from me; not out of works, so that no one boasts.”47 Regrettably, in another sermon on Lord’s Day 23, Holwerda woefully confuses matters. He argued that God’s justification is not a one-time declaration, but an ongoing process in the covenant. At the very least there is ambiguity here:

Does God speak one time, and I believe then one time, and is justification then completed? Oh no! We live in the covenant with God and that is a living relationship (verkeer); as I believe, then God comes again with his word of acquittal to the people, who now believe, and drives him so to works of thankfulness: justification by faith. And as he does this, then God appears again and declares him truly acquitted, he justifies him then also through works, says James.48

Sadly, this does sound similar to what Norman Shepherd would say many years later. It also sounds akin to what Luther called a “hellish poison.” It is regrettable that Holwerda did not appear to believe that Paul and James were speaking of justification in two different senses. Paul was speaking of justification in the sense of righteousness in God’s courtroom. James was speaking of it in terms of vindication before the watching world.

Unfortunately, there remains confusion, also in our Reformed churches, on the role of good works in the Christian life. Some of this confusion can be traced to difficulty in understanding the difference between justification and sanctification. Justification is God’s declaration that we are right with him. Let me say it again: our good works have absolutely no place in our justification. As already mentioned above, justification is by faith alone (resting and trusting in Christ; receiving Christ’s merits) apart from works of law. What we do cannot contribute one iota to our righteous standing before God—it is all of Christ. The nature of faith’s activity in justification as resting, trusting, and receiving underlines that fact.

When the apostle Paul taught this doctrine, he anticipated an objection: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase?” (Rom. 6:1). Whenever the gospel of free grace is truly proclaimed, this objection can be expected. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a well-known defender of the Reformed doctrine of justification, once said, “If no one ever comes to you after you preach the gospel and asks, ‘So should we sin that grace may abound?’ you have probably never preached the gospel.”49 Paul’s answer to that question reflects the absolute necessity of good works in sanctification. To remind you: sanctification is the process by which we are increasingly being conformed to the image of Christ. Obedience to the law belongs in the life of the Christian as a fruit of faith, as a sacrifice of thankfulness, as evidence of love for God, and as a natural outcome of our union with Christ. Romans 6:2 reminds us, “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” So, yes, we keep the law, but not as a means of measuring up or as a way to earn anything from God. We do not keep the law with the idea of preserving our place or status as justified people. Rather, it is entirely out of thankfulness and love. The FV does not help us in preserving this biblical, Reformed emphasis. Moving the discussion of obedience to justification is not only confusing, it is also dangerous for God’s people.



Rejecting or Minimizing the Doctrine of the Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ

Related to the preceding point is the fact that some FV advocates either deny or minimize the doctrine of the imputation of active obedience of Christ. We are speaking here about the teaching that Christ kept the law in our place and that his meritorious law-keeping is credited to our account in the event of justification. Concerning that doctrine, Rich Lusk has written, “The notion of Jesus’ thirty-three years of Torah-keeping being imputed to me is problematic.”50 James Jordan likewise has asserted, “Merit theology often assumes that Jesus’ earthly works and merits are somehow given to us, and there is no foundation for this notion.”51 He furthermore asserted that “There is no ‘merit’ theology in the Bible.”52

Whereas Lusk and Jordan outrightly deny this doctrine, the Joint FV Statement minimizes its importance. The Statement denies “that faithfulness to the gospel requires any particular doctrinal formulation of the ‘imputation of the active obedience of Christ.’” The Statement does say that Christ’s perfect, sinless life is credited to us. At the very least, there is a discomforting ambiguity on this point.

On this doctrine article 22 of the Belgic Confession is clear: Christ “imputes to us all his merits and as many holy works as he has done for us and in our place.” P. Y. De Jong comments, “A significant emphasis is at stake. The Reformed churches wanted to make it clear that believers receive all the benefits of Christ’s work.”53 Commenting on this article, Klaas Schilder contrasted Adam’s disobedience with Christ’s obedience. He noted that whatever Christ has done is imputed to the believer.54 N. H. Gootjes went further and insisted that the Belgic Confession is unambiguous in its confession of the imputation of the Christ’s active obedience.55

James Jordan may claim “there is no ‘merit’ theology in the Bible.” However, there is certainly such a theology in the Three Forms of Unity, which we confess to summarize faithfully the teachings of the Bible. I have already mentioned article 22 of the Belgic Confession. Merit is also mentioned in article 23: “We do not claim anything for ourselves or our merits, but rely and rest on the only obedience of Jesus Christ crucified; His obedience is ours when we believe in Him.” In Lord’s Day 7 of the Heidelberg Catechism we confess that all the benefits of salvation come to us “only for the sake of Christ’s merits.” Similarly, in Lord’s Day 23, believers are not accounted righteous because of their merits but because of Christ’s. In the Canons of Dort, Rejection of Errors 1.3, the Synod of Dort addressed an Arminian error that deprived “Christ’s merits of all efficacy.” Finally, in Canons 5.8, we confess that the merit (singular) of Christ cannot be nullified. Again one wonders how Jordan and others can sincerely claim allegiance to these confessional documents when they so clearly speak with the language of merit and explicitly affirm the doctrine of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ.

The denial of this doctrine is not a new challenge for Reformed theology. It has been alleged that Zacharias Ursinus came to adopt a position contrary to this doctrine. Yet his Large Catechism of 1561 bears witness that around the time of the writing of the Heidelberg Catechism he held to the imputation of the active obedience of Christ.56 We likewise know that Caspar Olevianus, also involved with the writing of the Heidelberg Catechism, held to this doctrine.57 It is therefore reasonable to understand also the Heidelberg Catechism as speaking of this doctrine in Lord’s Day 23 when it refers to the imputation of the “perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ.” His obedience is subsumed under his righteousness and holiness. This is certainly the way in which the Catechism was understood by some of its earliest commentators.58

Yet it is true that David Pareus, a student of Ursinus, came to a position at odds with this doctrine.59 This is also true of another prominent German Reformed theologian, Johannes Piscator. Still, we should not forget that their views were controversial. Lengthy discussions were held as to whether these views should be tolerated within the Reformed churches of Western Europe. This discussion took place, for instance, within the Reformed churches of France. There was correspondence with Piscator in an effort to understand his position. In 1607, the Synod of La Rochelle concluded that Piscator’s denial of the imputation of active obedience of Christ fell outside the Reformed confession.60 The Synod of 1612 decided to have all French Reformed ministers sign a statement which affirmed the following:

That our Lord Jesus Christ was obedient to the Moral and Ceremonial Law, not only for our good, but also in our stead, and that his whole Obedience yielded by him thereunto is imputed to us, and that our Justification consists not only in the forgiveness of sins, but also in the Imputation of his Active Righteousness.61

In the face of ongoing resistance, the Synod of Tonnein in 1614 reaffirmed this decision.62

This doctrine was also under pressure in the Netherlands. Gootjes related that there were even theologians at the Synod of Dort (1618–19) who wished to have the Belgic Confession changed on this point to accommodate a denial of this doctrine. A discussion of this took place towards the end of the Synod, after all the foreign delegations had left. In the end, all the Dutch delegates except two voted this down and instead decided to strengthen the statement about this matter, indicating the degree of importance accorded this doctrine.63

Now it has sometimes been argued that the dissent of those two delegates proves the Synod never meant to exclude those with scruples regarding this doctrine. After all, they say, one of the two delegates was Johannes Bogerman—the chairman of the Synod! However, in 1633 Bogerman became a professor of theology at Franeker. We know for certain that this position required him to subscribe the Belgic Confession (and the Catechism and Canons) and he did so with no reservations. He was never known to publicly attack or undermine the doctrine found in the amended article 22. It seems fair to conclude that, with further reflection, Bogerman brought his views in line with the Belgic Confession as amended by the Synod of Dort.

While there was debate during the second half of the sixteenth century, by the late seventeenth century the debate was long over. The Genevan theologian Francis Turretin then spoke of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ as being the received opinion in Reformed churches.64 Official synodical pronouncements had defined this as the orthodox Reformed doctrine and the weight of those pronouncements should not be minimized or taken for granted. If heresy is defined as a false teaching condemned by synodical authority, the denial of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ falls under that category.

Before concluding this section, I must make a brief response to a statement of Norman Shepherd on this doctrine. Shepherd says, “The doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s active obedience is embraced in tandem with the development of the doctrine of a covenant of works. The two go hand in hand and necessitate each other.”65 It could be argued that the imputation of the active obedience of Christ is best accounted for within some kind of pre-fall covenant along the lines of that described in the Westminster Standards. It is true also that a doctrine of the covenant of works invariably requires the imputation of Christ’s active obedience. However, the reverse certainly does not hold. Proof of that is found within Lutheranism. Lutherans do not have a well-developed covenant theology or anything like a doctrine of the covenant of works. Yet the Augsburg Confession and the Formula of Concord both contain the imputation of Christ’s active obedience as part of the doctrine of justification.66 Therefore, contrary to Shepherd’s assertion, holding to that doctrine does not bind or lead one inevitably to a doctrine of the covenant of works.67

It is not characteristically Canadian Reformed to deny or minimize this doctrine, nor does it comport with Reformed orthodoxy of any confessional tradition. Here too, many FV advocates are patently out of step with faithful Reformed theology. As a result, they weaken the goodness of the good news. The imputation of Christ’s active obedience is a doctrine that gives us much comfort, joy, and strength. In a sermon on Lord’s Day 23, Liberated theologian Dr. R. H. Bremmer aptly said:

It does not stop with the satisfaction of Christ. God imputes to me his righteousness also, says your confession. We have not kept any of God’s commandments, have we? We sin also in omission, don’t we? Isn’t it true—we not only break God’s commandments, but also fail to keep them? Now therefore answer 60 speaks also of the imputation of the righteousness of your Saviour. He completely obeyed God’s commandments. He fulfilled them up to the cross. Also there he had perfect love for God and the neighbour. We have a term for that in theology: Christ’s active obedience, his righteousness in doing God’s commandments. He even prayed on the cross for his murderers. Well, now the LORD says, “Does it bother you that your life falls short as you neglect to keep my commandments? Listen: I cover it over with the perfect righteousness of my Son. I give that to you and impute that to you, just like that, out of free grace.68

Similarly, Canadian Reformed pastor George van Popta stated it beautifully:

The obedience of Christ is imputed to us (credited to us; considered to be ours). As it says in Article 22 of the Belgic Confession: ‘Christ our righteousness . . . imputes to us all His merits and as many holy works as He has done for us and in our place.’ Believers receive all the benefits of Lord’s work. Not only of his suffering, but also of his righteous obedience. Not only does his death on the cross benefit us, but also his life of obedience benefits us. The whole life of Christ, from his birth to his death on the cross, benefits us and is important for our redemption . . . Christ’s obedience to the first commandment in the third temptation is one of the holy works he did for us and in our place.69

That’s good news! We should not let the FV rob us of it.


Paedocommunion is the position that children should be admitted to the Lord’s Supper apart from a profession of faith. Proponents of paedocommunion argue that membership in the covenant community automatically qualifies one for admission to the Lord’s Supper. It should be noted that this is not the same as arguing that we should expect and encourage profession of faith (and admission to the supper) at a younger age than is our current practice.

Not all men associated with the FV hold to paedocommunion, but a significant number do. Tim Gallant, for instance, has written a book-length defense of this position entitled Feed My Lambs. Other proponents include Peter Leithart, Douglas Wilson, Steve Wilkins, Rich Lusk, John Barach, and Mark Horne. The Joint Federal Vision Statement affirms paedocommunion as a basic plank of the Federal Vision theology: “Unless there has been lawful disciplinary action by the Church, we affirm that any baptized person, children included, should be welcome at the Table.” Similarly Peter Leithart wrote, “Nothing more than the rite of water baptism is required for access to the Lord’s Table . . . Paedocommunion teaches that baptism ingrafts a child into the body of Christ, and that all members of the body of Christ are welcome at the Lord’s Table.”70

Those looking for a careful biblical analysis of this position should refer to Cornelis P. Venema’s helpful book Children at the Lord’s Table: Assessing the Case for Paedocommunion (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2009). For our purposes, it should suffice to note that article 35 of the Belgic Confession warns that no one should come to the Lord’s Supper “without careful self-examination.” Since infants cannot reasonably examine themselves, it is fair to conclude that paedocommunion falls outside the bounds of our confessions. Likewise, Lord’s Day 30 of the Catechism speaks of those who can come to the table of the Lord. We confess that those should come “who are truly displeased with themselves because of their sins and yet trust that these are forgiven them and that their remaining weakness is covered by the suffering and death of Christ, and who also desire more and more to strengthen their faith and amend their life.” Obviously we cannot expect infants to meet these criteria. Since our confessions speak clearly on this point, we should not be surprised if the Canadian Reformed Churches and the Liberated tradition have never said otherwise. Clarence Stam, in fact, repudiated paedocommunion when he wrote:

While Holy Baptism is also for infants who have not yet come to faith, the Lord’s Supper is ordained and instituted for those whom Christ “has already regenerated and incorporated into the family which is His Church,” i.e. for those who have come to faith, to a sound knowledge of the Gospel and a true confession of Christ’s Name.71

It scarcely needs to be added that men like Schilder and Holwerda were not sympathetic to paedocommunion.

Our United Reformed sister churches have been forced to deal with this issue. After graduating from Mid-America Reformed Seminary, Tim Gallant was not yet firm on paedocommunion. It was an open question for him when he pursued candidacy in the URCNA. He was examined at the Classis Western Canada held in June 2000. It is best to let his website tell what happened:

By the time of the classis meeting, Tim had studied enough to be unsure of his position on the issue, and wished to ensure that he would not fall outside the bounds of the confessions to which he needed to subscribe, should he come to embrace paedocommunion. Consequently, he requested that his pastor, William Pols, bring up the matter before classis, to determine whether such a view was allowed by the confessions recognized by the URC (i.e. the Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort). The body ruled that these confessions required a profession of faith prior to participation in the Lord’s Supper. Mr. Gallant’s response was to decline to sign the Form of Subscription, which allows for no exceptions. As a result, the classis was unable to declare him eligible for call. (Tim subsequently appealed this decision in June 2002 at Classis Ponoka. The earlier decision was upheld.72

It was decided that this man could not be a minister in the URCNA if he held to paedocommunion. Why? Because the Reformed confessions are clear.

Postmillennial Eschatology

This concern is left for last for the very reason that it does not rank high in importance. Most FV advocates hold to a postmillennial eschatology (doctrine of the last things). Postmillennialism refers to a belief that there will be a coming age of glory for the church before Christ’s return. This is the millennium described in Revelation 20:1–10. Our Lord Jesus will return after (post-) the millennium. This view of the last things often appears to have a more positive view of the future. Rather than expecting things to get worse before the return of the Saviour, postmillennialists believe the best days are yet to come and they will come in this age.

A postmillennial eschatology is evident in this affirmation of the Joint FV Statement:

We affirm that God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but rather so that the world through Him would be saved. Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world—He is the Savior of the world. All the nations shall stream to Him, and His resting place shall be glorious. We affirm that prior to the second coming of our Lord Jesus, the earth will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Other figures associated with the FV have also been vocal in their support for the postmillennial view. This should be expected from those who, like Steve Schlissel, were/are affiliated with the Christian Reconstruction movement.

There are three things to note with regard to postmillennialism. First, it should be regarded as an error. I do not have the space here to make a refutation from the Scriptures. Those interested in such a refutation (along with a positive case for a more biblical approach) should read Kim Riddlebarger’s A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003).

Second, while variants of the postmillennial position have been held by Reformed theologians within the Liberated tradition, the consensus has been for the amillennial position. Amillennialism is the position that Revelation 20 is speaking of the present moment. Dr. Jelle Faber was known for saying that this position would better be described as “nunc-millenniallism,” ‘nunc’ being the Latin word for ‘now.’ The millennium is now. Clarence Stam summarized the consensus when he wrote:

The Reformed view concerning the “thousand years’ reign” and the “binding of Satan” (Revelation 20) is simply that Christ rules supreme from His ascension to His return, and that Satan cannot conclusively guide the history of the world to prevent the gathering of Christ’s Church. We believe that Christ will return only “when the number of the elect is complete” (see 2 Peter 3:9).73

This same kind of thinking about eschatology is in evidence with Benne Holwerda as well.74

Third, while it has been and should be regarded as an error, postmillennialism has never been regarded as something contrary to the Three Forms of Unity. I readily grant that a man could be a postmillennialist and be a minister in the Canadian Reformed Churches. The error is one not explicitly ruled out by our confessional standards nor has it ever been repudiated by a synod as a false teaching.

Still, there is another concern with the Joint Federal Vision Statement in the area of eschatology. It has to do with this statement:

We deny that eschatological views are to be a test of fellowship between orthodox believers, but at the same time we hold that an orientation of faith with regard to the gospel’s triumph in history is extremely important.

At first glance, given what I just wrote, this might appear to be a reasonable statement. Yet, there are more eschatological views than postmillennialism and amillennialism. There is also the premillennial position. The premillennialists believe that Christ will return before (pre-) the thousand years of Revelation 20.

The dispensational variety of premillennialism posits a distinction between the New Testament church and the Old Testament people of Israel. This position is contrary to what we confess in article 27 of the Belgic Confession: “This church has existed from the beginning of the world and will be to the end, for Christ is an eternal King who cannot be without subjects.” Similarly, all varieties of premillennialism believe there is a thousand years between the second coming of Christ and the last judgment. The Reformed confessions, however, say that the second coming is when the last judgment takes place (see BC article 37 and HC Lord’s Day 18 and 19). While postmillennialism falls within the bounds of our confessions, premillennialism does not.

The Three Forms of Unity establish the bounds of fellowship between orthodox Reformed believers. To say that eschatological views should not determine whether someone is inside or outside of those bounds is, at the very least, unhelpful. Clearly there are some eschatological views that do fall outside of confessional orthodoxy and would prevent someone from being an office bearer in a Reformed church, if not a member. Again, the Joint Federal Vision Statement gives lip service to the Reformed confessions, but when it comes to concrete issues such as eschatology, there are disconnects.


Initially, I was guardedly enthusiastic about the FV. For a time, it seemed this was indeed a movement for Canadian Reformed believers to welcome warmly. Some of the emphases resonated with our tradition. However, as the debate continued, my initial enthusiasm was proven to be misplaced. There are several significant issues, not the least of which is the manner in which justification and the imputation of the active obedience of Christ are being compromised.

Men associated with the FV outwardly claim allegiance to the Three Forms of Unity. Yet their allegiance is difficult to take seriously. Where they do not outrightly deny what our confessions teach, they confuse matters or minimize.

Advocates of the FV also claim they are in the line of the theological heritage of the Canadian Reformed Churches. Again, there are a few points of similarity. But the points of difference are far greater. Our tradition has seldom been weak on justification or the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. We have never promoted paedocommunion. Most of our theologians have been amillennialists.

If we value the gospel and the Reformed confessions, we have to conclude that the Federal Vision movement is an aberration, a deviation from the orthodox faith. There is a good reason why, for most confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian churches on our continent, this debate is over. My prayer is that we in the Canadian Reformed Churches would realize the FV for what it is and soundly reject it. May Christ continue to gather, defend and preserve his Church through the truth of his Word!                   35. Available online at:

36. See, for instance, theses 11–13 of the 34 Theses.

37. Rich Lusk, “Faith, Baptism, and Justification,” available online at:

38. Quoted here:

39. Peter J. Leithart, The Baptized Body (Moscow: Canon Press, 2007), 85.

40. Leithart, The Baptized Body, 84.

41. K. Schilder, Christelijke Religie: over de nederlandse geloofsbelijdenis (6e druk) (Kampen: Copieerinrichting v.d. Berg, 1977), 78. Translation mine, WB.

42. Clarence Stam, Living in the Joy of Faith (Neerlandia: Inheritance Publications, 1991), 51.

43. Stam, Living in the Joy of Faith, 160–161.

44. Van Bruggen, Annotations to the Heidelberg Catechism, 162. This receptive character of faith is also evident in his discussion of Lord’s Day 7; see Annotations, 72.

45. Van Bruggen, The Church Says Amen, 128.

46. Prof. B. Holwerda, De dingen die ons van God geschonken zijn (1) (Goes: Oosterbaan & Le Cointre, 1953), 108. Translation mine, WB.

47. Holwerda, De dingen (1), 105. Translation mine, WB.

48. Holwerda, De dingen (2), 162. Translation mine, WB.

49. Quoted by W. Robert Godfrey in “Faith Formed By Love or Faith Alone? The Instrument of Justification” in Covenant, Justification and Pastoral Ministry, ed. R. Scott Clark (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2007), 280.

50. Rich Lusk, “A Response to ‘The Biblical Plan of Salvation,’” in The Auburn Avenue Theology, 140.

51. James B. Jordan, “Merit versus Maturity: What Did Jesus Do for Us?” in The Federal Vision, 194.

52. Jordan, “Merit versus Maturity,” 195.

53. P. Y. DeJong, The Church’s Witness to the World (St. Catharines: Paideia, 1980), 136.

54. Schilder, Christelijke religie, 76.

55. N. H. Gootjes, Teaching and Preaching the Word, 77.

56. See especially Question and Answer 139. The Larger Catechism may be found in Lyle D. Bierma, An Introduction to the Heidelberg Catechism (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 163–223.

57. Caspar Olevianus, In epistolam d. pauli apostoli ad galatas notae . . . (Geneva: Eustathium Vignon, 1578), 57. See also his In epistolam d. pauli apostoli ad romanos notae . . . (Geneva, 1579), 196, 197, 205, 206, 209, 210.

58. See for instance Jeremiah Bastingius, In Catechesin Religionis Christianae (Dordraci: Iohannes Caninius, 1588), 202; William Ames, A Sketch of the Christian’s Catechism (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2008), 119.

59. Perhaps it is of significance that Pareus was the editor of Ursinus’ commentary on the Catechism. This commentary is the source of the allegation that Ursinus waffled on the imputation of the active obedience of Christ.

60. John Quick, Synodicon in Gallia Reformata, volume 1 (London: T. Parkhurst and J. Robinson, 1692), 265.

61. John Quick, Synodicon in Gallia Reformata, 348.

62. John Quick, Synodicon in Gallia Reformata, 401.

63. N. H. Gootjes, The Belgic Confession: Its History and Sources, 152.

64. Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, volume 2 (Phillipsburg: P&R, 1994), 445, 454–455.

65. Norman Shepherd, “The Imputation of Active Obedience,” in A Faith That Is Never Alone, ed. P. Andrew Sandlin (La Grange: Kerygma Press, 2007), 262. Earlier in this essay Shepherd denies that the Belgic Confession affirms the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. He seems to be unaware of the historical background of the amendment to article 22 at the Synod of Dort.

66. See article 4 of the Augsburg Confession and Formula (Solid Declaration) III:14–16. These items can be found in Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord (Second Edition), ed. Paul Timothy McCain (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 32–33; 538.

67. Also see the way Johannes Maccovius develops this doctrine in his Scholastic Discourse 9.20–25. Maccovius asserts that the Heidelberg Catechism says that man “is obliged to either punishment or obedience.”

68. R. H. Bremmer, 52 open vensters (Niezijl: Boekhandel Dijksterhuis, 1991), 207–208. Translation mine, WB.

69. George van Popta, “Preaching on the Active Obedience of Christ,” in Koinonia 19.2 (Fall 2002), 23.

70. Peter Leithart, “A Response to 1 Corinthians 11:17–34: The Lord’s Supper,” in The Auburn Avenue Theology, 298.

71. Clarence Stam, Everything in Christ: The Christian Faith Outlined According to the Belgic Confession (Winnipeg: Premier, 1979), 129.

72. This can be found online here:

73. Clarence Stam, Everything in Christ, 148.

74. B. Holwerda, The Church in the Last Judgment (London: Inter-League Publication Board, 1993).

Dr. Wes Bredenhof serves as the pastor of the Providence Canadian Reformed Church in Hamilton, Ontario.