Discerning Roman Catholic Tendencies Among Professing Reformed Churches

If we are good Presbyterians, whose consciences should be bound to Scripture alone, then why should we be deemed wise to follow a tradition that Romanism has practiced?

Introduction

With the dawning of the Reformation, our gracious and merciful God lifted His people from the dregs of Popery. For centuries, God’s visible church had languished under the tyranny of man made traditions. Scriptural truth had laid buried beneath Roman Catholicism’s errant and soul destroying theology.

The Lord loves His bride, the church. After all, the Son of God became incarnate in order to redeem His people whom He loved from all eternity. He would not allow the visible manifestation of His church to continue in darkness. Our God will always have His champions to contend for His truth. By His gracious, illuminating knowledge, brightening the minds of Martin Luther and John Calvin, truth was recovered from the rabble of Rome’s man exalting theology. Further truth would be salvaged and preserved with the emergence of the great Reformed confessions and their catechisms, beginning with the Belgic Confession (1561) and its Heidelberg Catechism (1563). The Synod of Dort (1619) would seek to preserve Reformed churches from the man exalting onslaught of Arminianism. And finally, the apex of biblical theology would be summarized in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) with its Larger and Shorter Catechisms.

Roman Catholicism’s errant views are numerous. Foremost among them is the placing of their man made traditions on par with Scripture, as if man’s wisdom can supplement God’s totally sufficient Word. Additionally, Rome has man cooperating with God in his salvation with its grace plus works paradigm. The Reformation’s battle cry of sola fide (by faith alone) is still an anathema as far as Rome is concerned. Nothing in the bombastic canons of the Council of Trent (1545-1563) has been rescinded by Rome. Here are a few of Rome’s anathemas:

CANON 24
If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.

CANON 5.
If any one saith, that baptism is free, that is, not necessary unto salvation; let him be anathema.

CANON 6
If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law do not contain the grace which they signify; or, that they do not confer that grace on those who do not place an obstacle thereunto; as though they were merely outward signs of grace or justice received through faith, and certain marks of the Christian profession, whereby believers are distinguished amongst men from unbelievers; let him be anathema.

CANON 7.
If any one saith, that grace, as far as God’s part is concerned, is not given through the said sacraments, always, and to all men, even though they receive them rightly, but (only) sometimes, and to some persons; let him be anathema.

CANON 8.
If any one saith, that by the said sacraments of the New Law grace is not conferred through the act performed, but that faith alone in the divine promise suffices for the obtaining of grace; let him be anathema.

Pertinent to the thrust of this article is Rome’s commitment to baptismal regeneration, as expressed in canons 5-8 listed above. Rome has always believed that it is the one true church. Formerly, Rome was relentless in its persecution of Protestants to the point of putting to death thousands upon thousands who dared to challenge its dogma. Now, Rome’s tactic has changed. In recent years, the Vatican through John Paul II (March 2000) asked for forgiveness for its intolerance and violence against dissidents.

I can recall over ten years ago what an Australian Protestant professor told me. He had been invited to the United States with expenses paid by the Roman Catholic Church to participate in a debate with its theologians on various issues. Apparently, Rome was confident that its theologians could prevail. This man was one of many Protestants invited. His particular area of debate was concerning the differences between Rome and Protestantism in the area of justification. I have never forgotten what this Australian professor personally told me. He said that Rome is sparing no expense to win back what she calls, her errant child – the Protestants.

The astounding but deplorable reality is that some under the auspices of Reformed churches have already been wooed back in certain respects. I never thought that an integral part of my ministry would be warning others of the wolves in sheep’s clothing that are among us. One of the most dangerous movements in centuries has been the emergence of the theologies popularly known as The New Perspective on Paul and Federal Vision. The incredible and shocking reality is that these theologies have found a breeding ground among various ostensibly Reformed churches, particularly Presbyterian ones.

In 2002, my particular denomination (RPCUS) led the way in exposing to the Reformed world the errant views particularly of the Federal Vision with its “Call to Repentance” aimed at various ministers who participated in the 2002 Auburn Avenue Pastors’ Conference sponsored by Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church.[1] For the past eight years, there has been and still remains much effort in silencing this menace. In 2005, I published my book Danger in the Camp: An Analysis and Refutation of the Heresies of the Federal Vision in an attempt to expose this heretical teaching. I have not been alone in a clarion call to the Protestant world to wake up and silence these wolves in sheep’s clothing. For the most part, the Reformed world stands unified against the New Perspective on Paul and Federal Vision theology. But, the fight is hardly over, and we must remain vigilant to protect the church.

It is noteworthy what several denominations have done with respect to this highly dangerous theology. Forming study committees and adopting good reports against these views is important, but without implementation, what’s the use? Unless presbyteries have the courage to remain faithful to our Confessional documents and discipline these men, there will remain much danger to the sheep.

As good as the PCA study committee’s report was in specifying Federal Vision errors, the “wolf” is still on the prowl among its presbyteries. For example, in October 2008, Pacific Northwest Presbytery (PCA) exonerated the beliefs of Peter Leithart, who has for sometime been a prominent Federal Vision advocate. The presbytery did not seem to think his blatant Federal Vision views were contrary to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Leithart had taken exception to all nine declarations set forth in the PCA’s study committee report. Fortunately, as of December 9, 2009, the PCA a panel of the Standing Judicial Commission issued a proposed decision sustaining a complaint by teaching elder James Boardwine and others against Pacific Northwest Presbytery with reference to Peter Leithart.[2] This proposed decision was considered by the Standing Judicial Commission at its March 5, 2010 meeting; while the panel’s proposed decision was amended, the SJC did sustain the complaint and remanded it to the presbytery for action.[3] What will come of this is anyone’s guess. The PCA has never been eager in declaring certain men as heretics.

Romish Tendencies In Certain Presbyterian Churches
Since there are men in the PCA who are concerned about the doctrinal integrity of their denomination, attention should be turned as well to another of its fold whose views I believe are equally dangerous. This person is Pastor Craig R. Higgins of Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) of Rye, New York. How this man has avoided suspicion is beyond me. Apparently, he has not written popular books promulgating his views; however, his influence has not been minimal. He recently came up on my “theological radar screen” by writing an article concerning the observance of Lent.[4] In this article, Pastor Higgins encourages people to consider the value of observing Lent on the grounds that we honor centuries of traditional wisdom of the church. Such comments aroused my suspicion, and my “theological red alarm system” went into high gear when Higgins stated:

Presbyterians have long emphasized that our consciences are bound to Scripture alone, and there is no biblical mandate to celebrate Lent. But countless generations of Christians have found this a helpful tool, and if we are wise we will listen to them.

The Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts until Holy Saturday, the Saturday before Easter Day. The last week of Lent is called Holy Week, which includes both Maundy Thursday (commemorating the institution of the Eucharist) and Good Friday (commemorating the crucifixion of our Lord). Reminiscent of Jesus’ fasting for forty days in the wilderness, the Lenten season, not counting Sundays, lasts forty days. Sundays are not included because the Lord’s Day, according to church tradition, is never a fast day but always a feast day—a celebration of the resurrection. Therefore, during Lent the Lord’s Days are listed as Sundays in Lent, not Sundays of Lent.[5] (Emphasis mine)

If we are good Presbyterians, whose consciences should be bound to Scripture alone, then why should we be deemed wise to follow a tradition that Romanism has practiced? Being in the PCA, Higgins deems the Westminster Standards as his constitutional standards; hence, talk about holy days and weeks other than the weekly Sabbath are not Confessional.

The notion that it is wise for us to follow man made traditions together with Scripture sure resembles the trappings of Roman Catholicism. I was reminded of one of Rome’s catechism questions and answers # 82:

As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.” (Emphasis mine)

Why was this PCA pastor encouraging his congregation to observe Lent? So, sola scriptura isn’t sufficient? Is it wisdom to follow church tradition despite the Scripture’s clear teaching? Was I being overly sensitive? My fears were confirmed when I discovered an article Higgins wrote titled, A Reformed Perspective. He was advocating what he termed, “a Reformed Ecumenism.” The following paragraphs are alarmingly illuminating:

Third, the unity we seek should be both conciliar and, yes, episcopal. While wholeheartedly agreeing with the position of all the Reformed churches that a corporate episcopate is (at least!) as faithful to the apostolic tradition as is monepiscopacy, and while agreeing that the latter was not practiced universally until centuries after the apostolic age, we in the Reformed churches must admit that the Church did become near-universally episcopal, and that the historic episcopate is an important witness to the Church’s unity. Therefore, if we are to work toward the visible unity of the Church, we should, I am increasingly convinced, defer to the wisdom of the majority in the Great Tradition and embrace the ministry of bishops.

One last comment: In Ut Unum Sint, Pope John Paul II has invited all the churches to discuss how the Petrine office should function in a reunited Church, and Reformed churchmen should welcome this conversation. Our idea of concentric circles of conciliar accountability would lead us to teach that, if the Church were visibly united around the world, there would need to be an ecumenical council, meeting as necessary to govern and guide the Church. The above argument for a (reformed) episcopacy would also lead us to teach that such a council would need a “presiding bishop,” serving as primus inter pares among his brothers, and historically such a position of honor has fallen to the bishop of Rome. How would we envision a Reformed(!) Petrine office? First, as argued above, any such primacy would need to be exercised in a conciliar fashion; the universal episcopate must be seen first as a pastoral, rather than a juridical, office. The idea that the pope has an authority that exceeds even that of an ecumenical council must be rejected. Second, we must humbly but firmly insist that the dogma of papal infallibility is not only foreign to the holy Scriptures but also is not a catholic doctrine at all, but a sectarian one. The dogma of papal infallibility is a serious obstacle to true ecumenism, and another example of where the unity we seek awaits further reformation[6] (Emphasis mine).

This Presbyterian pastor, who swore an ordination oath that he adhered to the Westminster Standards and who swore that if at any time he found himself out of accord with its teachings he would voluntarily make his views known to his presbytery, has openly advocated to defer to the wisdom of the “Great Tradition” and embrace the ministry of bishops? He advocates a “reformed episcopacy”? And, who better should hold the position of “presiding bishop” Higgins says than the bishop of Rome! But of course, Higgins wants us to insist that the presiding bishop of Rome renounce the dogma of papal infallibility in the spirit of concession. This is tantamount to asking the fox to take residence in the hen house with promises that nothing insidious happens.

Just when one thinks it cannot get any worse, I discovered that Craig Higgins published in March 2005 a thesis for his doctor of ministry degree titled, The Washing of Regeneration: Baptismal Theology Among Ministerial Candidates In the Presbyterian Church in America.[7] In his preliminary remarks, Higgins states:

An historical survey of the Reformed tradition, giving special attention to the work of John Calvin and the documents of the Westminster Assembly, concludes that the Reformed tradition has held to a highly developed baptismal theology, seeing the sacrament not as a mere symbol but as an instrumental means of grace. Baptismal theology has, however, become a source of debate and division, often focused on the question of “baptismal regeneration.” This thesis asserts that the church can move beyond these debates by the renewal of a rich, instrumental baptismal theology—a renewal essential to the church’s missional identity.

As one delves into his thesis, one soon finds that his views are hardly Reformed and Confessional. Moreover, his quotes from Calvin are totally misused. He will readily expose himself as solidly in the Federal Vision camp. At places, he will cite to his defense none other than the notorious company of N.T. Wright, Peter Leithart, Norman Shepherd, and Rich Lusk.

Having spent considerable time in researching for my book Danger in the Camp, and having carefully analyzed Steve Wilkins’ re-examination, I am utterly amazed at the effort expended by Federal Vision proponents to solicit to their cause the Westminster Standards and notable Reformers. After years of hearing their continual complaints that everyone is misunderstanding them, I have concluded that there is a certain level of subterfuge (deceptive device) being practiced. These men cannot be trusted. First, one of the foremost responsibilities of any preacher/teacher is to be clear. If people are confused and continue to be confused, whose fault is that? It is the preacher/teacher. We must always strive for clarity, and it is possible. However, if we want to move people to adopt new interpretations, then we engage in verbiage that is unclear. Heretical teachers historically have engaged in such activities. The notable American Presbyterian Samuel Miller of the early 19th Century made these astute comments that apply directly to our present crisis. Concerning the debate between NewSchool and Old School Presbyterianism he said:

I do not forget that some of the respected and beloved brethren, who are regarded as the advocates of the doctrines alluded to , tell us continually that they believe substantially as we believe; that the difference between them and us is chiefly, if not entirely a difference of words. And is it possible, if this is the case, that they will allow so much anxiety and noise to be created by a mere verbal dispute?

But whatever may be the understanding and the intention of leading preachers of the doctrines referred to, the question is, “How are they understood by others?”

… there is the utmost danger that others (not so discerning or so pious) will be led astray by the language in question, and really embrace, in all their extent, the errors which it was originally employed to express. I am persuaded that ecclesiastical history furnishes no example of such theological language being obstinately and extensively used, without being found in fact connected with Arminian and Pelagian opinions, or at least ultimately leading to their adoption.

Besides, all experience admonishes us to be upon our guard against those who, in publishing erroneous opinions, insist upon it that they differ from the old orthodox creed “only in words.” This plan has been often pursued, until the language became familiar, and the opinions which it naturally expressed, current; and then the real existence of something more than a verbal difference was disclosed in all its extent and inveteracy. Such was the course adopted by Arius, in the fourth century. He and his followers strenuously maintained that they differed in no material respect – nay in terms only – from the orthodox Church. But how entirely was their language changed when they had gained a little more power and influence! The same plea precisely was adopted by Pelagius, and his leading adherents in the fifth century, and also by Cassian, and other advocates of the Semi-Pelagian cause, about the same time. (Emphasis mine)

It is, indeed, an easy thing for a minister accused of heresy, and affording too much evidence of the fact, by ingenious refinements, and plausible protestations, to render it difficult, if not impossible for a judicatory to convict him. And it is easy for such of his brethren as resolve to screen him from censure, so to varnish over his opinions – as to hide, for the present, most of their deformity.[8]

Samuel Miller was acutely aware that Presbyterians must never tolerate rogue presbyteries to assault our Confessional integrity. He said:

If even a single subordinate part, or judicatory, does not believe, and refuses to act, in accordance with the rest, it is plain that the beauty, the purity, and even the safety of the whole, may be invaded by that one. And if a few more parts become erratic and impure, their influence may soon become, not merely unhappy, but fatal.

Let this course be pursued, and it is plain that no long time would be requisite to inoculate the whole church with the views of this single Presbytery, and that all faithful adherence to our public formularies would be at an end.[9]

Miller’s quotes are so apt for today’s assault upon the glorious doctrines of the Reformation. The terms, “election,” “covenant,” “regeneration,” “church,” “baptism,” and “sacraments” are being redefined in such a way as to pervert their biblical and Confessional meanings. But nothing is more dangerous than for Federal Vision proponents to proudly boast, “My meanings are the meanings of Scripture and our Confessional documents, and the great Reformers such as John Calvin agree with me!”

Craig R. Higgins’ teachings and views are dangerous, for apparently he wields significant clout in his Metropolitan New York Presbytery (PCA); as of March 2005 he was on the board of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia). To show what he was desiring, He writes:

As a member of the board of Westminster Theological Seminary, I will share the results of my research with various members of the faculty and administration as well as with members of the Educational Outcomes Committee of the board. Changes in an educational institution are often long in coming, but these issues do need to be taken seriously. Perhaps curricular changes would be in order. Currently, the sacraments are discussed as part of a larger systematic theology course, and worship is covered in a one week intensive course. However, there is a course in “Missions and Ministry”; that may well be the best place for a discussion focusing on the intersection of baptismal theology, ecclesiology, and missiology.[10]

Higgins wastes no time in his thesis paper to show how he seeks to influence candidates for ordination in his presbytery. In a series of carefully and cleverly phrased questions, Higgins seeks to lead candidates toward his understanding of the sacraments.[11] He will create a logical sequence through the use of phrases from the Westminster Confession to lead the candidate. But there is one major problem – his sequence logically ends up with a biblically false and anti-Confessional position.

His thesis opens with these words, “Do you believe that baptism is necessary for salvation?” In the area of sacramental theology, this is Higgins’ first question posed to a candidate. When the candidate often says, “no,” Higgins immediately follows up with this question, “would they like to list the theological opinion as an exception to the teachings of the Westminster Confession and Larger and Shorter Catechisms?” As Higgins expresses, the candidate usually has this blank stare. Then, Higgins carefully orchestrates his sequence of questions that is pure subterfuge. He states:

“The Westminster Confession teaches, in 28.1, that baptism is the rite of entrance into the visible church. Do you agree with this?” The candidate readily agrees.

“Also, the Confession teaches, in 25.2, that outside the visible church there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. Do you agree with this statement?” Again, the candidate usually agrees.

“So, I’m assuming that you meant to say that baptism is ordinarily necessary for salvation. Is this correct?”[12]

From premises A and B, Higgins leads the candidate to affirm that water baptism is ordinarily necessary for salvation, thereby seeing the depth of sacramental theology in the Reformed tradition.

In directing the candidate to WCF 28:1, yes, this section does refer to baptism as an admission into the visible church. But, this is not all this section teaches! In WCF 28:1, here is what immediately follows the statement about entrance into the visible church – “ but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life; which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in his church until the end of the world.” As I will develop later in this article, the visible church is NOT identical with the invisible church. The section in bold above is a reference to the invisible church. The monumental error that Federal Vision proponents make, which Craig Higgins makes, is that of blurring the distinction between the visible and invisible church. So, Higgins makes the ordination candidate affirm something that is not totally true.

In premise B, Higgins then switches over to WCF 25:2, a section that deals with the visible church in distinction from the invisible church set forth in WCF 25:1. Higgins mentions nothing of the invisible church. He then takes a phrase from WCF 25:2, “out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” In his conclusion, Higgins wants the candidate to affirm that water baptism is ordinarily necessary for salvation. In a cleverly arranged sequence of isolated statements from the Westminster Confession, Higgins has affirmed a baptismal regeneration perspective that squarely puts him into a Roman Catholic understanding of baptism in many respects.

Robert Shaw, in his exposition of the Westminster Confession (WCF 28:2), makes these comments regarding the necessity of baptism for salvation:

It is the unfounded opinion that baptism is absolutely necessary to salvation, that has led the Church of Rome to permit this rite to be performed by laymen and women in cases of urgent necessity.[13]

Concerning the phrase, “out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation,” we must not divorce this phrase from its context in the Westminster Confession. The issue is: can people be genuinely saved who have not joined a visible church congregation? Robert Shaw comments on WCF 25:2:

But we are not so presumptuous as to confine the possibility of salvation as to confine the possibility of salvation within the limits of any particular Church, neither do we absolutely affirm that there is no possibility of salvation out of the universal visible church… There is, then, a possibility of salvation without its pale, for a person may, by some means, such as by the perusal of the Scriptures, be brought to the knowledge of the truth, and have no opportunity of joining himself to the Church; but such cases are extraordinary; and, as God usually works by means, there is no ordinary possibility of salvation out of the visible Church, because those who are out of the Church are destitute of the ordinary means of salvation.

If one looks at WCF 25, there is no direct discussion of baptism. Hence, when the Confession speaks of no ordinary possibility of salvation outside the visible church, it is not emphasizing water baptism. WCF 25:3 states: “Unto this catholic visible Church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and doth by His own presence and Spirit, according to His promise, make them effectual thereunto.” The emphasis is upon the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the oracles of God. Yes, baptism is inferred under the “ordinances of God,” but we will see that the Scripture and the Confessional documents carefully distinguish between that which is true of the visible and invisible church. As this section states, the effectual gathering and perfecting of the saints is true only of God’s elect, the invisible church, not of all who are in the visible church. Moreover, we will see that the Confessional documents and John Calvin are precise in their discussions of the efficacy of the sacraments. Without faith, there is no efficacy of the sacrament, and the sacrament can never been seen as some co-instrument in the efficacy of baptism.

Craig Higgins inappropriately uses and links extracts from various sections of the Westminster Confession in a logical syllogism to teach that which the Confession does not advocate. In this regard, we have essentially two choices or maybe a combination of them – either Higgins has consciously engaged in an act of theological subterfuge, or he is theologically confused in his understanding of the sacraments. Either scenario is bad. Either one disqualifies him to maintain his office as a teaching elder, much less as competent to lead in presbytery theological examinations.

As I proceed in my analysis of Craig Higgins’ doctoral thesis, it becomes increasingly clear that he is out of accord with the Confessional documents that he thinks he supports. He does advocate a form of baptismal regeneration. Here is a troublesome statement from his thesis:

In the bulletin of a prominent Episcopal church in the Atlanta area, I once found the following heading over a list of those who had recently been baptized: “Made an Inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven through Holy Baptism.” This language reflects the older Anglican catechisms that taught one preparing for confirmation to affirm that “in my Baptism…I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven” (BCP 1662 289). While some of my fellow evangelical Christians would find such teaching troubling, I have come to believe that these old catechisms reflect important aspects of biblical teaching regarding Holy Baptism… However, I hope to show that the statement from the catechism can be defended on biblical-theological grounds, and that the catechism gives a good, biblically informed—though not exhaustive—answer to the question, “What does baptism do?”[14]

First, we must note that Higgins refers to Anglican catechisms and not to the Westminster catechisms. Second, while we should see baptism as an entrance into the visible church, and while we presume the presence of saving faith in the recipient, we must be guarded in our statements. The Westminster Standards carefully delineate between the visible and invisible churches. As I will point out later, saving faith resides only among those of the invisible church. While the visible church incorporates the invisible church in its bosom, they are not synonymous. Therefore, to simply state, “Made an Inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven through Holy Baptism” is very misleading. With no qualifications, it conveys the baptized person as one who does possess the benefits of redemption.

One of the tell/tell signs of Federal Vision theology is some of its verbiage. They like to use terms such as: initial and final justification, initial and final salvation, and covenantal election over against decretive election. This supposed covenantal election has the oddity of allowing one to be finally elect as long as they do not apostatize. If they apostatize, then they fail to achieve final election. Hence, from a Federal Vision perspective, covenantal faithfulness becomes a requirement to achieve final election and final salvation. The certainty of achieving that final election cannot be determined until a man has finished the course of his life, not having apostatized.

The theological problem with this perspective is that the Scripture does not present such uncertainty with regard to the elect. WCF 3:5 makes this important statement:

Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the
world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel
and good pleasure of His will, hath chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His
mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance
in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving
Him thereunto: and all to the praise of His glorious grace. (Emphasis mine)

With this in mind about Federal Vision catch phrases, let’s consider this statement from Craig Higgins:
In this sense, circumcision was necessary in order for one to be counted within the number of the covenant people of God. Those who rejected the rite were to be cut off from the people, for they were rejecting God’s gracious covenant of salvation. However, we can also clearly see that outward circumcision was no guarantee that the circumcised individual would find final divine favor with God. (Emphasis mine)[15]

There is no question that physical circumcision in the Old Testament was necessary to be counted among the visible covenant people of God, but to use terminology like “final divine favor with God” is to imply that some could initially have divine favor but then lose it. Higgins clearly implies that outward circumcision initially brought one into a gracious covenant of salvation, for those who refuse the outward sign don’t have that salvation.

Higgins’ view is not the view of the Westminster Standards! WCF 28:5 states:
Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated or saved without it; or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.

Robert Shaw makes this observation upon this section of the Confession:

This section affirms- 1. That baptism is not of such absolute necessity to salvation, that none can be saved without it. God has not made baptism and faith equally necessary… 2. That baptism is not regeneration, nor are all who are baptized undoubtedly regenerated. That the baptism of water is regeneration, and that every person duly baptized is born again, is the doctrine of the Church of Rome; and this doctrine has been embraced by many in Protestant Churches, and receives too much countenance from the Liturgy of the Church of England[16] (Emphasis mine).

When Craig Higgins comes to a pivotal New Testament passage, Acts 2:38, he reveals a grave misunderstanding. Higgins states:

God promised Abraham that all the nations would be blessed through him, and we find representatives of “all” the nations receiving the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Also noteworthy, though, is St. Peter’s answer to the question, “What must we do?” His language is explicit: If they are to receive the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit, they must repent and be baptized. In fact, it is through baptism that men and women are added to the number of the church, as the last verse of the chapter makes clear. St. Peter’s evangelistic presentation is exactly what we would expect to find if baptism is, like circumcision once was, the rite of entrance into the (now newly-formed Messianic, Spirit filled) people of God. And again, the outward rite is insufficient; it must be joined with heart-felt repentance.[17]

The issue is not whether there must be true heart-felt repentance in order for there to be forgiveness of sins. The problem is that Higgins wants to make repentance AND BAPTISM as essential in bringing forgiveness of sins. It does not help Higgins’ case to elicit the views of Norman Shepherd on baptism, but it brings immediate suspicion since Norman Shepherd is notoriously in the Federal Vision camp. To understand Shepherd’s views in this regard, we simply quote from Shepherd’s most recent book. If these paragraphs seem confusing and convoluted, it’s because they are:

If evangelism is oriented to regeneration, the covenant is again viewed from the perspective of a secret work of God- now from from the perspective of regeneration. But instead of looking at covenant from the perspective of regeneration, we ought to look at regeneration from the perspective of covenant. When that happens, baptism, the sign and seal of the covenant, marks the point of conversion. Baptism is the moment when we see the transition from death to life and a person is saved.

This is not to say that baptism accomplishes the transition from death to life, or that baptism causes a person to be born again. That is the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, which is rightly rejected by Reformed churches.

From the perspective of election, regeneration is the point of conversion. Regeneration, however, is a secret work of the Holy Spirit, and so we do not know when it takes place. We do not have access to the moment of regeneration. What we hear from the converted sinner is a profession of faith, and what we see is his baptism into Christ. This covenant sign and seal marks his conversion and his entrance into the church as the body of Christ. From the perspective of the covenant, he is united to Christ when he is baptized.[18]

In many respects, Norman Shepherd is recognized as one of the foremost leaders of the Federal Vision movement. To a certain degree, the notion of the distinction between a covenantal and decretive notion of election can be found in Shepherd. One thing that Federal Vision proponents emphasize is the notion of the objectivity of the covenant. Water baptism is the objective entrance of a person into the covenant. Shepherd has, point blank, stated that this water baptism “is the moment we see the transition from death to life and a person is saved.” Then we see Shepherd seemingly wanting to steer clear of Roman Catholicism’s notion that there is saving efficacy in the water itself, which Shepherd refers to as baptismal regeneration. But, Shepherd makes clear that the covenant sign and seal marks his conversion and his entrance into the church as the body of Christ. He makes no distinction between a visible and invisible church. Hence, we are left with Shepherd’s view that there really is no distinction between the two aspects of the church, and that entrance into the church by baptism is the moment of salvation in its truest and fullest sense. As we shall soon see, this is the position of Craig Higgins as well.

We see that Craig Higgins will also elicit the support of N.T. Wright, which compounds my problem with Higgins. N.T. Wright is probably the world’s most vocal and renowned leader of the New Perspective on Paul theology. While the New Perspective on Paul theology is not identical with the Federal Vision movement, there are many areas of overlap, and those who adhere to the Federal Vision have an affinity with N. T. Wright.

Higgins in paraphrasing a point of N. T. Wright states:

This is well said, and Wright’s point is an important one. In the New Covenant, as in the
Old, God’s saving work results in the formation of a people—in Wright’s words, a visible community in space and time. The rite of entry into the Old Covenant community was circumcision; baptism is that rite of entry for believers—now drawn from all the nations, in fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise—now that Christ has come.[19] (Emphasis mine)

In a certain sense, the above statement is true but only in the sense that God’s elect, those who are the only ones saved, are essentially formed into a visible community or church. However, to equate those who are genuinely saved with the visible church is a terrible mistake, one that puts one squarely in the camp of Roman Catholicism in terms of sacramental theology.

We are going to see that Craig Higgins will make vain attempts to elicit the name of John Calvin as supposedly supporting his views of baptism. We have noted already that Higgins combines repentance and baptism as together bringing about the forgiveness of sins in Acts 2:38. Does Calvin support this view? Hardly. Calvin states:

Baptism is the sign of the initiationby which we are received into the society of the church, in order that, engrafted in Christ, we may be reckoned among God’s children. Now baptism was given to us by God for these ends (which I have taught to be common to all sacraments): first, to serve our faith before him; secondly, to serve our confession before men. We shall treat in order the reasons for each aspect of its institution. Baptism brings three things to our faith which we must deal with individually. The first thing that the Lord sets out for us is that baptism should be a token and proof of our cleansing; or (the better to explain what I mean) it is like a sealed document to confirm to us that all our sins are so abolished, remitted, and effaced that they can never come to his sight, be recalled, or charged against us. For he wills that all who believe be baptized for the remission of sins [Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:38]. (Emphasis mine)

In this sense we are to understand what Paul has written: that the church“ has been sanctified” by Christ, the bridegroom, and “cleansed with the washing of water in the Word of life” [Ephesians 5:26]. And another passage: “He saved us…in virtue of his own mercy, through the washing of regeneration and of renewal in the Holy Spirit” [Titus 3:5]. And by Peter: “Baptism…saves us” [1 Peter 3:21]. For Paul did not mean to signify that our cleansing and salvation are accomplished by water, or that water contains in itself the power to cleanse, regenerate, and renew; nor that here is the cause of salvation, but only that in this sacrament are received the knowledge and certainty of such gifts. [20](Emphasis mine)

We should observe from Calvin that water baptism only serves our faith and is only a token and proof of our cleansing. The water has no efficacy in any respect; it cannot be said to be the cause of salvation. Hence, it must never be said to be a co-instrument with faith in our salvation.

One of Rome’s tenets is that it is possible to lose one’s initial salvation, and that we have no certainty of our perseverance to the end. CANON 16 of the Council of Trent states:

If any one saith, that he will for certain, of an absolute and infallible certainty, have that great gift of perseverance unto the end,-unless he have learned this by special revelation; let him be anathema.

As noted earlier, one of the erroneous teachings of the Federal Vision is its differentiation between what it calls decretive election and covenant election. In its espousal of “covenantal election,” the Federal Vision pictures the distinct possibility of some, who are initially justified, as apostatizing from the faith, thereby failing to persevere to the end. Steve Wilkins has said:

The “invisible Church” is not a parallel entity that exists above or beyond the visible church but rather is the “whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof;”—in other words,the invisible Church does not yet exist though it is surely foreordained by God and will surely and certainly exist at the last day (but then of course, it will exist as a very visible body).
It is only “invisible” in that we can’t see all the members of it now…It seems better to speak of the “invisible” church simply as the “eschatological church” — i.e., the church in its perfection as it will exist at the last day.

“The elect are those who are faithful in Christ Jesus. If they later reject their savior, they are no longer elect.”

In his Institutes Calvin states that in some sense, the reprobate may be said to have received “the gift of redemption” (3.2.11): “Yet, the reprobate [within the church] are justly said to believe that God is merciful toward them, for they receive the gift of reconciliation.”

My contention is that our understanding of salvation from a systematic (Westminsterian) theology standpoint has difficulty accommodating these passages. I am suggesting that the understanding of covenant which I propose gives us a better way to deal with these statements in Scripture. My views do not require any departure from the teachingof the Confession at all. They simply require us to recognize that Paul is not thinking ofthese matters from precisely the same perspective as the writers of the Confession thoughhe would very likely be willing to affirm the statements of the Confessionwholeheartedly.[21]

Federal Vision theology is very similar to that of Roman Catholicism in terms of how it views perseverance unto salvation. For Federal Vision proponents, final justification is determined IF men persevere to the end. We must see how men live their lives before we declare them “finally saved.” The Reformed Faith does insist that one must persevere to the end in order to be saved, but there is no uncertainty. As Philippians 1:6 states, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” The elect will be justified, and will be most certainly glorified. The ordo salutis as found in Romans 8:29-30 is one glorious reality from start to finish. Of course, Wilkins completely distorted the teaching of John Calvin, for Calvin taught nothing of the notion that apostates possessed the gift of reconciliation in a saving sense. For the record, Calvin stated:

For though only those predestined to salvation receive the light of faith and truly feel the power of the gospel, yet experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected by almost the same feeling as the elect, so that even in their own judgment they do not in any way differ from the elect [cf. Acts 13:48]…

… the reprobate never receive anything but a confused awareness of grace, so that they grasp a shadow rather than the firm body of it. For the Spirit, strictly speaking, seals forgiveness of sins in the elect alone, so that they apply it by special faith to their own use. Yet the reprobate are justly said to believe that God is merciful toward them, for they receive the gift of reconciliation, although confusedly and not distinctly enough. Not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the children of God, but because they seem, under a cloak of hypocrisy, to have a beginning of faith in common with the latter. And I do not deny that God illumines their minds enough for them to recognize his grace; but he so distinguishes that awareness from the exclusive testimony he gives to his elect that they do not attain the full effect and fruition thereof. He does not show himself merciful to them, to the extent of truly snatching them from death and receiving them into his keeping, but only manifests to them his mercy for the time being. Only his elect does he account worthy of receiving the living root of faith so that they may endure to the end [Matthew 24:13].[22] (Emphasis mine)

I mention this information about Federal Vision theology pertaining to the issue of the perseverance of the saints only because Craig Higgins manifests a similar theological outlook. Higgins views one’s incorporation into the visible church via baptism the same way that the Federal Vision purports. Higgins states:

We could look at many more examples from the Pauline literature. Romans 6:1-
11 speaks of the union of believers with Christ as being baptized into his death and resurrection. And 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 expands on the imagery of baptism by speaking of those who crossed the Red Sea as being “baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (v. 2). In both cases, we clearly hear the language of incorporation. St. Paul has a rich, multi-layered theology of baptism, and we cannot explore it fully here. But the
Pauline letters are consistent with the thesis of this chapter: Baptism is the rite by which one is incorporated into the New Covenant people of God. The mere outward right itself, of course, is insufficient to guarantee one’s final standing with God; that is the point the apostle is making both in Romans 6 and in 1 Corinthians 10. But if one is to be counted as belonging to Christ and his people, one must be baptized into Christ and into hispeople.[23] (Emphasis mine)

The problem with this quote is that Romans 6:1-11 is speaking of what is true of those in saving union with Christ, which is indicative only of the invisible church. Those who are elect are certain of their final standing with God. Higgins, just like those of the Federal Vision, utterly confuses the distinction between the visible and invisible church. Higgins is thinking that Romans 6 equally applies to all in the visible church as it does to those in the invisible church. But, as we shall soon see, Higgins does not accept the biblical and Confessional distinction of the visible and invisible church.

Higgins discusses baptism as a sign and seal. He seeks to bring to his aid, the renowned John Calvin, but Higgins totally misapplies Calvin’s comments. Higgins states:

Calvin develops this balance even further later in this chapter of the Institutes. He states that the Lord “does not feed our eyes with a mere appearance only, but leads us to the present reality and effectively performs what it symbolizes” (4.15.14), and such language is unsurprising to anyone familiar with Calvin’s sacramental theology, particularly his teaching on the Eucharist. He proceeds to explain that forgiveness of sins does not come through the water alone, considered apart from the gospel of Christ.[24] (Emphasis mine)

Calvin never states anything of the sort. Note, Higgins has Calvin stating that the water does bring forgiveness, only it is not alone, but also by faith. Higgins clearly “reveals his hand” placing him in the Romish camp together with the Federal Vision camp. The monumental error of Higgins is exposed when he states:

This baptismal theology—stressing both the instrumentality of the sacrament and
the necessity of faith—is not found in Calvin alone. (Emphasis Higgins)

If we recall, Higgins begins his thesis paper with the bold statement – “Do you believe that baptism is necessary for salvation?” He has sought to lead ordination candidates to affirm that baptism into the visible church is ordinarily necessary for salvation. Higgins openly affirms in the previous quote the dual instrumentality of baptism and faith in our justification. This openly affirms a Romish concept of baptismal regeneration, and it denies the Reformation truth of “sola fide.” The Scripture affirms only one instrument in our justification, and that is faith alone. It is not faith plus baptism that saves! It is only Christ through faith that saves!

In WCF 11:2 we read in part:

Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness is the alone instrument of justification… (Emphasis mine)

Westminster Shorter Catechism # 91 asks: How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation? The answer states:

The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them, or in him that doth administer them; but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of His Spirit in them that by faith receive them. (Emphasis mine)

Westminster Shorter Catechism # 92 asks: What is a sacrament? The answer states:

A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ; wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers. (Emphasis mine)

Those in the Federal Vision do not deny the necessity of faith; it is just that they want to join baptism with it in such a way that the conferring of grace by the Holy Spirit is linked with water baptism into the visible church. They believe that all of God’s saving graces are indeed present at that moment. Here is what Federal Vision proponent Steve Wilkins has said:

The visible, historic church is the body of Christ and thus, to be joined to it by baptism is to be united to Christ… All the blessings and benefits of salvation therefore are found “in Christ.” In the first Adam there is only death. In the second Adam there is life and peace. By virtue of union with the Second Adam we have wholeness and restoration–new birth, regeneration, new life.And by virtue of our union with Him who is the true image of God (Colossians 1:15), we are restored to full image-bearing (Romans 8:29). A new humanity is recreated in the Second Adam… The Bible teaches us that baptism unites us to Christ and His bodyby the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13)… At baptismwe are clothed with Christ, united to Him and to His Church which is His body (Ephesians 3:26-28). The church, therefore, is not to be divorced from Christ and the blessings of covenant. “We are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones,” Paul says (Ephesians 5:30). It is for this reason that the Westminster Confession states that outside the church there is no ordinary possibility of salvation (WCF 25.2). This is true simply because there is no salvation outside of Christ.

Biblically, a “sign” is not a picture but a powerful act of God which results in deliverance for God’s people (note the “signs” that God did in Egypt for example).Thus, baptism is a “sign” in that by this means the Holy Spirit transfers the baptized from union with the old Adam into Christ Jesus (the Confession’s scriptural proofs cite Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:5 at this point), transferring him into Christ, the “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). Thus, it is a sign and seal of regeneration (the proofs cite John 3:5; Titus 3:5 to prove this point). By the Spirit we are “given up unto God” — i.e., bound to walk in “newness of life” (repenting of our sins, trusting and obeying the Savior all our days).[25](Emphasis mine)

Clearly, Wilkins links water baptism into the visible church as that which does bring about the new birth (regeneration). He openly states that this baptism is the means that brings about true union with Christ with all of His saving benefits. Wilkins sees baptism as a “powerful act of God” that brings deliverance, and in the water baptism, the Holy Spirit transfers the baptized from union with Adam to union with Christ as a new creation. Hence, Wilkins and Higgins can deny all they want that they are not Romanists in believing that the water has efficacy; however, if one believes that, at that moment, the baptized has true union with Christ, he has, de facto, believed that grace is truly conveyed at the moment of baptism. But what does the Westminster Confession clearly state? In WCF 28:6 it says: “The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time where it is administered…”

Craig Higgins has elicited the name of Rich Lusk to his side with reference to baptism. What does Rich Lusk believe? Lusk states:

Baptism has reference to justification precisely because God has promised to make Christ available in the rite (as well as the other means of grace). But to receive forgiveness in baptism, one must receive Christ in faith. Acts 2:38 is very clear regarding the instrumental role of baptism. The Greek grammar bears the point out well. Peter announces, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The preposition “for” in the phrase “for the remission of your sins” indicates instrumentality: baptism has reference to remission. While word order is not determinative in Greek, surely it is significant that baptism is sandwiched between repentance and forgiveness. Peter did not say, “Repent for the forgiveness of sins, and be baptized as a sign that this has happened.” Instead he links repentance and baptism as a package deal: by repenting from sin, and submitting to God’s act of baptism, they would receive the forgiveness of sins. If they repent, they will receive baptism, and in receiving baptism, they will receive (by faith) full remission. Baptism is instrumental in one way; faith/repentance in another[26] (Emphasis mine).

When Craig Higgins boldly states, “This baptismal theology—stressing both the instrumentality of the sacrament and the necessity of faith,” he is in full agreement with Federal Vision advocate, Rich Lusk. Lusk’s last sentence is identical to Higgins – “Baptism is instrumental in one way; faith/repentance in another.”

Since both Lusk and Higgins believe Calvin is on their side, it would serve us well to see exactly what Calvin believes. Quoting others is always helpful to buttress one’s arguments, if the source truly supports one’s views. Over the years, I have found Federal Vision proponents consistently distorting Calvin. It’s as if, they didn’t think anyone would actually look up their sources to see if the quotes justifiably support their position.

As we look at these quotes from Calvin, keep in mind that Higgins, Wilkins, and Lusk stress the dual instrumentality of the sacrament with faith in our salvation. They believe that power is in the sacrament if it is combined with the Holy Spirit, and that baptism into the visible church is salvation in the truest sense. Here are excerpts from Calvin that refute such notions:

To this our answer would be in brief: the seals which are attached to government documents and other public acts are nothing taken by themselves, for they would be attached in vain if the parchment had nothing written on it… And our adversaries cannot boast that this comparison has been recently devised by us, since Paul himself used it, calling circumcision a “seal”[Romans 4:11]. There Paul expressly argues that Abraham’s circumcision was not for his justification but for the seal of that covenant by faith in which he had already been justified.[27] (Emphasis mine)

If faith be increased through sacraments, they now add, the Holy Spirit was given in vain, whose power and work is to begin, sustain, and consummate faith. I certainly admit to them that faith is the proper and entire work of the Holy Spirit, illumined by whom we recognize God and the treasures of his kindness, and without whose light our mind is so blinded that it can see nothing; so dull that it can sense nothing of spiritual things… Finally, he illumines our minds by the light of his Holy Spirit and opens our hearts for the Word and sacraments to enter in, which would otherwise only strike our ears and appear before our eyes, but not at all affect us within… I should therefore like my readers to be reminded that I assign this particular ministry to the sacraments. Not that I suppose there is some secret force or other perpetually seated in them by which they are able to promote or confirm faith by themselves. Rather, I consider that they have been instituted by the Lord to the end that they may serve to establish and increase faith. But the sacraments properly fulfill their office only when the Spirit, that inward teacher,comes to them, by whose power alone hearts are penetrated and affections moved and our souls opened for the sacraments to enter in. If the Spirit be lacking, the sacraments can accomplish nothing more in our minds than the splendor of the sun shining upon blind eyes, or a voice sounding in deaf ears. Therefore, I make such a division between Spirit and sacraments that the power to act rests with the former, and the ministry alone is left to the latter a ministry empty and trifling, apart from the action of the Spirit, but charged with great effect when the Spirit works within and manifests his power… the sacraments profit not a whit without the power of the Holy Spirit, and nothing prevents them from strengthening and enlarging faith in hearts already taught by that Schoolmaster.[28]

Allow me to interject an observation. Calvin has just refuted any notion of a co-instrumentality of the sacraments with faith in bringing about salvation. Higgins has distorted Calvin when he says that Calvin believes that “forgiveness of sins does not come through water alone, considered apart from the gospel of Christ.”[29] No, Calvin insists that it is only the Spirit that brings about faith, and that there is no power at all in the sacrament. The sacrament is confirmatory not causal in Calvin’s teachings!

Craig Higgins corrupts Calvin’s teaching, and gives isolated quotes to make Calvin appear as though he viewed the sacrament as bringing forgiveness. Here is what Higgins states in his thesis paper:

Calvin develops this balance even further later in this chapter of the Institutes. He states that the Lord “does not feed our eyes with a mere appearance only, but leads us to the present reality and effectively performs what it symbolizes” (4.15.14), and such language is unsurprising to anyone familiar with Calvin’s sacramental theology, particularly his teaching on the Eucharist. He proceeds to explain that forgiveness of sins does not come through the water alone, considered apart from the gospel of Christ. Referring to the instructions given to Saul by Ananias—“Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16)—Calvin summarizes: “Ananias meant only this: ‘To be assured, Paul, that your sins are forgiven, be baptized. For the Lord promises forgiveness of sins in baptism; receive it and be secure.’”[30]

Higgins has Calvin supporting the idea that baptismal water does effectively perform what it symbolizes and then quotes from Acts 9:17-18, making Ananias to say that assurance of forgiveness comes with baptism, that there is forgiveness with the water baptism.

Well, let’s see what Calvin says in context. First, the section from the Institutes is titled, “Baptism as confirming faith.” Here is the full context of Calvin’s remarks:

Let us take as proof of this, Cornelius the centurion, who, having already received forgiveness of sins and the visible graces of the Holy Spirit, was nevertheless baptized [Acts 10:48]. He did not seek an ampler forgiveness of sins through baptism, but a surer exercise of faith — indeed, increase of assurance from a pledge. Perhaps someone will object: why, then, did Ananias tell Paul to wash away his sins through baptism [Acts 22:16; cf. ch. 9:17-18] if sins are not washed away by the power of baptism itself? I reply: we are said to receive, obtain, and acquire what, according as our faith is aware, is shown forth to us by the Lord, whether when he first testifies to it, or when he confirms more fully and more surely what has been attested, Ananias meant only this: “To be assured, Paul, that your sins are forgiven, be baptized. For the Lord promises forgiveness of sins in baptism; receive it, and be secure.”

Yet it is not my intention to weaken the force of baptism by not joining reality and truth to the sign, in so far as God works through outward means, but from this sacrament, as from all others, we obtain only as much as we receive in faith. If we lack faith, this will be evidence of our ungratefulness, which renders us chargeable before God, because we have not believed the promise given there.[31]

As we look at Calvin’s comments, we immediately see that Higgins completely distorted Calvin to say the opposite of what Calvin actually stated. Higgins leads us to believe that Calvin associates forgiveness of sins with the baptism itself, saying, “Calvin develops this balance even further later in this chapter of the Institutes. He states that the Lord “does not feed our eyes with a mere appearance only, but leads us to the present reality and effectively performs what it symbolizes.” This is not what Calvin said. Notice, Higgins mentions nothing of Calvin’s comments about Cornelius the centurion. Calvin emphasizes that Cornelius already had forgiveness of sins before he was baptized. Calvin emphasizes that sins are not washed away through baptism. Calvin uses Ananias’ comment only to say that baptism confirms faith.

Craig Higgins continues to argue for a co-instrumentality of baptism with faith when he states:

Baptism does not merely signify the washing away of sins through the atoning work of Christ, nor does it only serve as a seal to our faith. According to the catechism, baptism applies all this to us; in baptism we receive Christ and his washing away of our sins. However, this is not the whole story.[32] (Emphasis Higgins)

Higgins boldly states that baptism isn’t simply a sign or seal to our faith, but that it actually applies the atoning work of Christ to us and our sins are washed away. This statement is in direct opposition to the Westminster Standards, to Calvin’s teaching, and obviously to Scripture.
WCF 27:3 explicitly states: “the grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments, rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them…” (Emphasis mine)

Calvin refutes any idea that baptism confers anything in itself. Calvin writes:

On the contrary, we must be reminded that, as these men weaken the force of the sacraments and completely overthrow their use, so, on the opposite side, there are those who attach to the sacraments some sort of secret powers with which one nowhere reads that God has endowed them. By this error the simple and unskilled are dangerously deceived, while they are both taught to seek God’s gifts where they cannot be found, and are gradually drawn away from God to embrace mere vanity rather than his truth. The schools of the Sophists have taught with remarkable agreement that the sacraments of the new law (those now used in the Christian church) justify and confer grace, provided we do not set up a barrier of mortal sin.How deadly and pestilential this notion is cannot be expressed — and the more so because for many centuries it has been a current claim in a good part of the world, to the great loss of the church. Of a certainty it is diabolical. For in promising a righteousness apart from faith, it hurls souls headlong to destruction. Secondly, because it draws the cause of righteousness from the sacraments,it binds men’s pitiable minds (of themselves more than enough inclined to earth) in this superstition, so that they repose in the appearance of a physical thing rather than in God himself… Hence, any man is deceived who thinks anything more is conferred upon him through the sacraments than what is offered by God’s Word and received by him in true faith.[33](Emphasis mine)

Calvin also makes it clear that participating in the sacrament is no assurance of salvation, for he writes:

From this something else follows: assurance of salvation does not depend upon participation in the sacrament, as if justification consisted in it. For we know that justification is lodged in Christ alone, and that it is communicated to us no less by the preaching of the gospel than by the seal of the sacrament, and without the latter can stand unimpaired. Augustine’s statement is just as true: there can be invisible sanctification without a visible sign, and on the other hand a visible sign without true sanctification.[34] (Emphasis mine)

Hence that distinction (if it be duly understood), often noted by the same Augustine, between a sacrament and the matter of the sacrament. For the distinction signifies not only that the figure and the truth are contained in the sacrament, but that they are not so linked that they cannot be separated; and that even in the union itself the matter must always be distinguished from the sign, that we may not transfer to the one what belongs to the other.[35]

He speaks of their separation when he writes, “In the elect alone the sacraments effect what they represent.”Again, when he writes thus of the Jews: “Although the sacraments were common to all, grace was not common — which is the power of the sacraments. So also the laver of regeneration [Titus 3:5] is now common to all; but grace itself, by which the members of Christ are regenerated with their Head, is not common to all.”[36] (Emphasis mine)

I say that Christ is the matter or (if you prefer) the substance of all the sacraments; for in him they have all their firmness, and they do not promise anything apart from him. The less tolerable, then, is the error of Peter Lombard, who learnedly makes them the causes of righteousness and salvation, of which they are but parts.[37] (Emphasis mine)

Calvin is making certain that we understand that the sign and the seal of baptism are not the very thing to which they point and authenticate. Calvin calls to his defense, the views of Augustine. John Murray says the same thing when he writes:

It is apparent that as a sign or seal it should not be identified with that which is signified and sealed. That which signifies is not the thing signified and that which seals is not the thing sealed. The sign or seal presupposes the existence of that which is signified or sealed. Hence baptism is the sign and seal of a spiritual reality which is conceived of as existing. Where that reality is absent the sign or seal has no efficacy.

Equally pertinent is the observation that the sign or seal does not bring into existence that which is signified or sealed. It does not effect union with Christ. In other words, baptism does not convey or confer the grace which it signifies. Baptism is a means of grace but not a means of conferring the grace represented. It is a means of grace to signify and confirm grace. The notion that it is the instrument of bestowing the grace or of constituting the fact signified is contrary to the nature of the rite as a sign and seal.[38] (Emphasis mine)

So, we find Steve Wilkins, Rich Lusk, and Craig Higgins totally out of accord with the Reformed documents that they claim they adhere to. Wilkins openly stated that baptism is not just a sign but a powerful act of God that unites us savingly to Christ. Rich Lusk openly stated that baptism brings about justification, and Higgins agrees with both. All three of these men seek to convince their readers that Calvin supports their views, but as I have shown, they have totally misunderstood Calvin.

Steve Wilkins stated that “baptism is a “sign” in that by this means the Holy Spirit transfers the baptized from union with the old Adam into Christ Jesus.” Really? What does Calvin say? Calvin writes:

Moreover, we must beware lest we be led into a similar error through what was written a little too extravagantly by the ancients to enhance the dignity of the sacraments. That is, to think that a hidden power is joined and fastened to the sacraments by which they of themselves confer the graces of the Holy Spirit upon us, as wine is given in a cup; while the only function divinely imparted to them is to attest and ratify for us God’s good will toward us. And they are of no further benefit unless the Holy Spirit accompanies them… For the sacraments… do not bestow any grace of themselves, but announce and tell us, and (as they are guarantees and tokens) ratify among us, those things given us by divine bounty. The Holy Spirit (whom the sacraments do not bring indiscriminately to all men but whom the Lord exclusively bestows on his own people) is he who brings the graces of God with him, gives a place for the sacraments among us, and makes them bear fruit… In the meantime, that false doctrine is removed by which the cause of justification and the power of the Holy Spirit are enclosed in elements, just as in vessels or vehicles…[39] (Emphasis mine)

The great danger of those in the Federal Vision camp, of which Craig Higgins has proved himself to be in, is that while they insist they disagree with Roman Catholicism that the water is somehow holy; nonetheless, they have attached the Holy Spirit to the sacrament in such a way to make it a co-instrument of justification. The above quote by Calvin seeks to refute that error. The Holy Spirit is not attached to the sacrament in some way to make the sacrament powerful to convey the grace. The Federal Vision men think they have avoided Rome’s error, but they haven’t. This is why I find the Federal Vision one of the greatest threats to the Lord’s Church that has arisen. It brings its theology in the garbs of Reformed Theology, making some statements that are true, but then weaving their errors subtly in such a way that is convincing to the untrained. For example, Higgins will make accurate Confessional statements like, “The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered. In other words, the regenerating, faith producing work of the Spirit may come before, during, or after the administration of the baptismal waters.”[40] But then, in the next sentence, Higgins writes, “The Confession does not deny any efficacy of baptism but merely rejects the idea that such efficacy must be tied to the moment of baptism itself.”[41] This is totally misleading. Let’s quote the important section of WCF 28:6:

The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet notwithstanding by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in his appointed time.

Let’s be clear what this section states. It is not saying that baptism confers any grace at any point. It says that the Holy Spirit confers the grace whenever God chooses to do so. We can only refer to the efficacy of baptism in this sense that it is a sign and seal of what the Holy Spirit performs, but the sign and seal is not the very thing that it signifies or authenticates. This is Calvin’s point in various places. Calvin writes:

In this sense we are to understand what Paul has written: that the church “has been sanctified” by Christ, the bridegroom, and “cleansed with the washing of water in the Word of life” [Ephesians 5:26]. And another passage: “He saved us…in virtue of his own mercy, through the washing of regeneration and of renewal in the Holy Spirit” [Titus3:5]. And by Peter: “Baptism…saves us” [1 Peter 3:21]. For Paul did not mean to signify that our cleansing and salvation are accomplished by water, or that water contains in itself the power to cleanse, regenerate, and renew; nor that here is the cause of salvation, but only that in this sacrament are received the knowledge and certainty of such gifts[42] (Emphasis mine).

Now our opponents ask us what faith came to us during some years after our baptism. This they do to prove our baptism void, since it is not sanctified to us except when the word of promise is accepted in faith. To this question we reply that we indeed, being blind and unbelieving, for a long time did not grasp the promise that had been given us in baptism…[43]

Accordingly, in infant baptism nothing more of present effectiveness must be required than to confirm and ratify the covenant made with them by the Lord. The remaining significance of this sacrament will afterward follow at such time as God himself foresees.[44]

We see in these quotes by Calvin that they are very close to what WCF 28:6 states nearly a century later. The Holy Spirit is the conferrer of grace whenever God chooses to bring it. Hence, if a child is baptized as an infant but who doesn’t profess faith in Christ until he/she is 80 years old, it doesn’t mean that we re-baptize the elderly person. It simply means that the baptism performed 80 years earlier demonstrated the efficacy of the Spirit that was finally brought to an elect person some 80 years later by God’s sovereign grace.

Craig Higgins gets into further trouble when he states the following:

What do the Westminster Standards teach regarding the necessity of baptism? As briefly mentioned in the introductory chapter, the answer to this question can be found by comparing WCF 28.1 with WCF 25.2. Note in 28.1 that one of the purposes of baptism is the “solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church.” That is not the full definition, of course—baptism is the sacramental sign and seal of union with Christ, regeneration, forgiveness of sins, and spiritual transformation—but it is an important part. According to the Westminster Confession, baptism is the rite of entrance into the covenant community.

Chapter 25 deals with the church, and in paragraph 2 the Confession describes the “visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel” as “the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation” (emphasis mine). Note that the Confession is here speaking not of the “invisible” church (discussed in 25.1) but with the visible church—the church as it may be seen by human beings in history. How does one enter the visible church, outside of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation? WCF 28.1 makes that perfectly clear—through the sacrament of Holy Baptism. The position of the Westminster Confession on the necessity of baptism then is the same as that of Turretin, who was a contemporary of the Westminister theologians: Since outside the visible church there is no ordinary possibility of salvation, and since one enters the visible church through baptism, therefore baptism is ordinarily necessary for salvation.[45]

I am sorry, but in this logical syllogism that Higgins sets up, he shows his theological confusion and lack of logical coherence, and why he and his views are so dangerous to the Lord’s church. He has completely distorted the meaning of the Westminster Confession to teach what it does not teach. Normally, the average church member and even the average candidate for ordination might not see the problem. Wolves in sheep’s clothing often come across as dogmatic and learned, which is why they are so dangerous.

Not only has Higgins distorted the Westminster Standards, he has distorted the Reformers that he appeals to. In the above quote, Higgins wrongly asserts that the Westminster Confession teaches the necessity of baptism; moreover, his appeal to Francis Turretin as one who teaches the necessity of baptism is also incorrect. Typical of many Federal Vision proponents, appeals are often made to the Reformers, but the context of the writings of these Reformers is never adequately given. They want us to believe what they say about Calvin and Turretin is correct without sufficiently documenting what they have written. No reference is given to what Turretin believes, only that Turretin supposedly agrees with Higgins.

What does Turretin actually say? In his article on infant baptism, where he discusses if infants have faith, Turretin delineates between two errors. He states:

I. Concerning the subject of faith a question is moved as to infants. There are two extremes: (1) in defect, by the Anabaptists, who deny all faith to infants and under this pretext exclude them from baptism; (2) in excess, by the Lutherans, who, to oppose themselves to the Anabaptists, have fallen into the other extreme, maintaining that infants are regenerated in baptism and actually furnished with faith, as appears from the Mompeldardensi Colloquy (Acta Collquij Montis Belligartensis [1588], p. 459). (Emphasis mine)

II. The orthodox occupy the middle ground between these two extremes… Here it is to be remarked before all things: (1) that we do not speak of the infants of any parents whomsoever (even of infidels and heathen), but only of believers, or Christians and the covenanted. (2) Nor do we speak of every single infant as if such faith is given to all without any exception; for although Christian charity commands us to cherish a good hope concerning their salvation, still we cannot certainly deter­mine that every single one belongs to the election of God, but leave it to the secret counsel and supreme liberty of God. Since indeed the predestination of God makes a difference between children (Rom. 9:11) and the promise of the covenant was ratified (v. 8) not in the children of the flesh, but in the children of the promise, we therefore treat here indefinitely of infants of every order and condition (who pertain to the election of God, whom it is not for human judg­ment to distinguish).

V. … Although baptism is the external sign of regenerating grace (at whose presence God can give it to infants by the Spirit without the hearing of the word), still it cannot be said that actual faith is given to them (which cannot be such except insofar as it actually exerts itself about the hearing of the word). (Emphasis mine)
IX. The cause of pedobaptism is not the actual faith of infants (of which they are no more capable than of that instruction by which adults are taught and are made the disciples of Christ, Mt. 28:19), but both the general command to baptize all the members of the church and the promise of the covenant made to parents and also to their children (Gen. 17:7; Acts 2:39). Nor does it thence follow that the sacrament is an empty ceremony to those using it without faith because this is the case only with adults, who are capable of faith and in whom on that account there ought to be a mutual stipulation on the part of God and man. But not in regard to infants, to whom the sacrament does not cease to be efficacious and ratified on the part of God, although on the part of man it cannot be known or received by faith.

XIII. Second proposition: “Although infants do not have actual faith, the seed or root of faith cannot be denied to them, which is ingenerated in them from early age and in its own time goes forth in act (human instruc­tion being applied from without and a greater efficacy of the Holy Spirit within).” This second proposition is opposed to the Anabaptists, who deny to infants all faith, not only as to act, but also as to habit and form. Although habitual faith (as the word “habit” is properly and strictly used to signify a more perfect and consummated state) is not well ascribed to them, still it is rightly predicated of them broadly as denoting potential or seminal faith. Now by “seed of faith,” we mean the Holy Spirit, the effecter of faith and regeneration (as he is called, 1 Jn. 3:9), as to the principles of regeneration and holy inclinations which he already works in infants according to their measure in a wonderful and to us unspeakable way. Afterwards in more mature age, these proceed into act (human instruction being employed and the grace of the same Spirit promoting his own work by which that seed is accustomed to be excited and drawn forth into act).

XIV. The reasons are: (1) the promise of the covenant pertains no less to infants than to adults, since God promises that he will be “the God of Abraham and of his seed” (Gen. 17:7) and the promise is said to have been made “with the fathers and their children” (Acts 2:39), Therefore also the blessings of the covenant (such as “remission of sins” and “sanctification”) ought to pertain to them (according to Jer. 31 and 32) and are communicated to them by God according to their state. In this sense (as some think), the children of believers are called “holy” by Paul (1 Cor. 7:14). This may with more propriety be referred to the external and federal holiness which belongs to them, according to which (because they are born of covenanted and Christian parents—at least of one) they are also considered to be begotten in “holiness” (i.e., in Christianity, and not in heathenism, which was a state of uncleanness [akatharsias] and impurity).[46]

As we peruse through what Turretin has said, there is nothing remotely similar to what Higgins affirms. Turretin speaks of infants of believing parents as being covenantally holy just like the Westminster Directory of Public Worship refers to infants of believing parents as covenantally Holy. But covenantal holiness is not to be equated with saving election. Turretin emphasized that it was an error to maintain that infants in their baptism are de facto regenerated and given faith at that moment.

Higgins is reasoning from the supposed necessity of baptism to the conclusion that it is ordinarily necessary for salvation. Calvin raised the objection against the Sorbonne theologians who consigned all the unbaptized to eternal death. In a footnote in Calvin’s Institutes, we read:

Calvin raises the issue in attacking the Sorbonne theologians, who held baptism necessary for salvation: Against the Articles of the Theologians of Paris, art. 1 (CR VII. 7f). The Council of Trent, session 7, on baptism, canon v, anathematizes those who deny that baptism is necessary to salvation (Schaff, Creeds II, 123).[47]

If someone were to ask me, “John, what do you think is the one major theological error of the Federal Vision that commits it to a heretical theology?” I would have to say that the most prominent error is its failure to distinguish between the visible and invisible church. It is this error that sends them inevitably into a downward spiral. The Westminster Standards, in keeping with biblical faithfulness, carefully distinguishes between the two. When Higgins compares WCF 28:1 with WCF 25:2, he distorts the Confession. Here is what WCF 28:1 says in its entirety:

Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also, to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins,and of his giving up unto God through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world (Emphasis mine).

Higgins only quoted the first part of section 1. He only quoted the part where baptism is an admission into the visible church. But, the section doesn’t end here! It continues with the important words “BUT ALSO”. But also what? Baptism is a sign and seal of the covenant of grace! This covenant of grace entails his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration of remission of sins, of his giving up unto God through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life. The all important question is this: to whom is the covenant of grace made? The answer to this question is paramount! Is it made with the visible church or with the invisible church? The Westminster Larger Catechism answers this for us. Let’s consider these various questions and answers to get the full picture.

Question 57 asks: What benefits hath Christ procured by his mediation?

Answer: Christ, by his mediation, hath procured redemption, with all other benefits of the covenant of grace.

We can see here that Christ as mediator has accomplished redemption and all other benefits associated with the covenant of grace. Then, who is in the covenant of grace? And, who applies those benefits?

Question 58 asks: How do we come to be made partakers of the benefits which Christ hath procured?

Answer: We are made partakers of the benefits which Christ hath procured, by the application of them unto us, which is the work especially of God the Holy Ghost.

It is evident that only the Holy Spirit brings about the benefits of Christ. Is there any mention here of the co-instrumentality of baptism as a conferrer of these benefits? Absolutely not! Then, we discover who are the partakers or recipients of Christ’s redemption.

Question 59 asks: Who are made partakers of redemption through Christ?
Answer: Redemption is certainly applied, and effectually communicated, to all those for whom Christ hath purchased it; who are in time by the Holy Ghost enabled to believe in Christ according to the gospel.
It is only those to whom Christ’s redemption is effectually communicated. These are only those whom the Holy Spirit has enabled to believe in the Gospel. This next question and the answer are absolutely essential for us to understand.

Question 61asks: Areall they saved who hear the gospel, and live in the church?
Answer: All that hear the gospel, and live in the visible church, are not saved; but they only who are true members of the church invisible.
Those who are saved, who have Christ’s benefits given to them are ONLY those who are true members of the church invisible. In this question and answer, the Westminster divines carefully delineated between the visible and invisible church, stating that only those in the invisible church have redemption. This fact is made very clear in the following question and answer.

Question 64 asks: What is the invisible church?
Answer: The invisible church is the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one under Christ the head.

The term “elect” applies only to those in the invisible church, not the visible church. And, it is to these only that Christ’s benefits are applied.

Question 65 asks: What special benefits do the members of the invisible church enjoy by Christ?
Answer: The members of the invisible church by Christ enjoy union and communion with him in grace and glory.
This means that only those in the invisible church have union with Christ. Only the elect! This union with Christ is further elaborated upon in this question and answer.

Question 66 asks: What is that union which the elect have with Christ?
Answer: The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God’s grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband; which is done in their effectual calling.

The proof texts giving for this answer are I Cor.6:17; John 10:28; and Eph. 5:23. The bride of Christ, who is sanctified and who has Christ as her true head, is the elect, the invisible church, not the visible church. Only those effectually called are in true union with Christ. It is possible to be in the visible church and be baptized and not be effectually called and in union with Christ. This is elaborated upon in the next question and answer.

Question 68 asks: Are the elect only effectually called?
Answer: All the elect, and they only, are effectually called: although others may be, and often are, outwardly called by the ministry of the Word, and have some common operations of the Spirit; who, for their willful neglect and contempt of the grace offered to them, being justly left in their unbelief, do never truly come to Jesus Christ (Emphasis mine).

Then, we are told the specific things that comprise union or communion with Christ and to whom these things belong.

Question 69 asks: What is the communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ?
Answer: The communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ, is their partaking of the virtue of his mediation, in their justification, adoption, sanctification, and whatever else, in this life, manifests their union with him.

Only those in the invisible church, the elect, are justified, adopted, and sanctified. These benefits are not said to belong to all those in the visible church.

Before we continue, it would be very helpful to clarify a point, lest we become confused. There are not two churches but only one! John Murray’s comments are most apt:

We may not properly speak of two churches, one visible and the other invisible. What Scripture designates as “the church” is never regarded as something wholly invisible… To be quite concrete, our Lord himself did distinguish between those who might be disciples of his and yet not truly disciples (John 8:31) and between those who were in him by profession and external connection and yet not vitally and permanently (John 15)… In order to avoid the misconstructions and misconceptions frequently associated with the distinction between the church visible and invisible it is more proper to speak of the church as invisible and the church as visible or of the aspect of invisibility and visibility attaching to the church rather than of the visible church and the invisible church. The terms visible and invisible are aspect from which the church may be viewed. James Bannerman states well: “When we speak of the Church invisible and the Church visible, we are not to be understood as if we referred in these designations to two separate and distinct Churches, but rather to the same Church under two different characters. We do not assert that Christ has founded two Churches on earth, but only one; and we affirm that that one Church is to be regarded under two distinct aspects.”

What this means is that the invisible church, the elect, who are the true recipients of Christ’s saving benefits, are found normally within the fold of the visible or institutional church. This is an absolutely essential point to recognize, for when Paul addresses the various churches such as at Ephesus, Corinth, etc. he often speaks biblical truths that only apply to those in the invisible church, but no man knows who these elect are, but God only. The Federal Vision proponents get into all sorts of trouble when they say that the blessings of Christ’s redemption apply to all without exception who are in the visible church. Because they reject the distinction between visible/invisible church, they are inevitably forced to state that the elect must mean those in the visible church. They are forced to a position of baptismal regeneration because it is visible members who are physically baptized.

Craig Higgins makes the monumental error of taking the terms, regeneration, forgiveness of sins, and spiritual transformation as being what constitutes union with Christ and then applies these terms to WCF 25:2 when he should have applied them only to WCF 25:1. What does WCF 25:1 state:

The catholic or universal Church which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.

The proof texts used for this section are Ephesians 1:22-23; 5:23, 27, 32; and Colossians 1:18. In these references we find allusions to the body of Christ that is being sanctified. In the Colossians passage, Paul refers to Christ as the head of the church, and in Colossians 1:13-14 we see that redemption and forgiveness of sins applies to those in the church. Hence, when Paul speaks of the saving benefits of Christ applied to His church, he is referencing the invisible church aspect, not the visible church aspect.

When Higgins refers to the phrase, “out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation,” as being a phrase of the visible church and not the invisible church, he wants us to conclude then that baptism into the visible church is ordinarily salvation. Since baptism is union with Christ in its fullest redemptive sense, then he says, we must conclude, that baptism into the visible church is salvation, that baptism is indeed a co-instrument with faith in the saving of our souls.

Higgins has erroneously applied that which is true only of the invisible church to those in the visible church. This is why he is forced into a position of baptismal regeneration. In fact, Higgins admits that he has a problem with this visible/invisible church distinction. Higgins states in a footnote:

Most Reformed theologians today would agree that this invisible/visible dichotomy is problematic in some ways, but space does not allow a full discussion here. I discuss this briefly in Higgins, “Ecumenism.”[48]

Excuse me! Most Reformed theologians today accept the invisible/visible distinction, for most Reformed theologians accept the Reformed Confessions, which teach this distinction. Higgins is clearly wrong, and has deliberately overstated his case to make his audience think he is correct. Only those in the Federal Vision camp have refused to acknowledge this distinction.

The covenant of grace is made only with those in the invisible church. Two Larger Catechism questions and answers, clarify this fact:

Question 30 asks: Doth God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?
Answer: God doth not leave all men to perish in the estate of sin and misery, into which they fell by the breach of the first covenant, commonly called the covenant of works; but of his mere love and mercy delivereth his elect out of it, and bringeth them into an estate of salvation by the second covenant, commonly called the covenant of grace.
Question 31 asks: With whom was the covenant of grace made?
Answer: The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.

It is theologically incorrect for any to say that baptism into the visible church is ordinarily necessary for salvation, and yet that is exactly what Craig Higgins has stated. As Calvin pointed out, Cornelius did not need water baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Acts 10:43-48 very specifically states that the Gentiles along with Cornelius received forgiveness of sins upon believing in Jesus (v.43). And then, we find this Scriptural testimony by Peter, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he? And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ…” Water baptism was confirmatory of a spiritual baptism that internally took place by the Holy Spirit. It did not confer anything. It was not a necessary co-instrument with faith in salvation.

Let’s be careful not to be misunderstood at this juncture. While baptism is not ordinarily necessary for salvation in one sense, this does not mean that the sign and seal are not important, and no professing Christian should refuse to be baptized. A genuine Christian does not disdain the ordinances of the church.

I want to reiterate what WCF 28:5 says:

Although it be a great sin to condemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated or saved without it, or that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.

Let’s summarize some biblical teaching at this point. Is baptism an admission into the visible church? Yes. Is baptism into the visible church necessary for salvation? No. Is it a sin of believing parents not to give their children the sign and seal of the covenant? Yes. Does infant baptism guarantee that those children are the elect? No. Then why do we baptize our children? We do so in obedience to God because God says we should give our children the sign and seal of the covenant. While it is true that circumcision was given to Abraham after he was a believer (Romans 4:10-11), God commanded Abraham to give all of his male children the sign and seal of the covenant.

Higgins continues to show his inability to interpret the Westminster Confession in the following false statement about the meaning of WCF 28:5:

Though it is a “great sin” to neglect or devalue baptism, the framers of the Confession insisted that “grace and salvation” are not “inseparably annexed” to baptism. The word “inseparably” is telling; for the framers of the Confession there is indeed a connection between baptism and God’s saving grace, but that connection is neither inseparable nor merely symbolic. Rather, the sacraments are, like the Scriptures and prayer, “outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption” (WSC88; see also WLC154).

Wait a minute! Higgins states that while grace and salvation are not inseparably annexed to baptism, somehow they are inseparably annexed after all? That baptism is ordinarily the communicator of Christ’s redemptive benefits? Since Higgins solicits WLC 154 to his side, let’s see what WLC 154 actually says:

The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation, are all his ordinances; especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation.

Higgins has been discussing the value of the visible church in this section of his thesis paper. Again, he makes a terrible error of linking the sacrament to the visible church as a conveyer of redemptive benefits, when the WLC 154 clearly states that these benefits are made effectual to the elect only for their salvation. While Higgins admits that baptism apart from faith profits nothing, he greatly errs in linking them as co-instruments. Higgins says that grace and salvation must not be presumed by those who are baptized, but that ordinarily grace and salvation are connected with baptism.[49]

Higgins will briefly comment on the notion of “baptismal regeneration.” He states:

Specifically, if regeneration is defined in the sense of a 19th and 20th century ordo salutis as the saving work of Christ in renewing an individual’s heart, we must affirm that baptism is not inseparably linked with regeneration. On the following two points there is no real disagreement among Reformed churchmen: (1) Not all who are baptized will inherit the kingdom of heaven, and (2) some will inherit the eschatological kingdom who did not receive Holy Baptism. In this ordo salutis sense, no one in historic American Presbyterianism affirms baptismal regeneration. As we have seen, however, the phrase has been used differently in the history of Reformed theology.[50]

But then, Higgins states:

My contention is as follows: Understanding baptism as the rite of incorporation into the visible church cuts through the debates about baptismal regeneration and gives us a rich, powerful, and practical theology of what it means to be a baptized member of the Body of Christ.

Higgins will then quote I Peter 2:9-10 as a proof text that the church is not some ordinary body. True, the church is no ordinary body, but the church being referred to in I Peter 2:9-10 is the elect of God and cannot be used as including all those in the visible church. This is the great mistake he and all others in the Federal Vision camp make. Again, they attribute the benefits of Christ’s redemptive work to any who is included in the visible church. In I Peter 2:9-10, the chosen race, the royal priesthood, the holy nation, and the people called to proclaim God’s excellencies who called them out of darkness into His marvelous light can only be a reference to the elect who have believed. The context of I Peter 2 makes it clear that those whom Peter is referring to have come to Jesus as a living stone (v.4) and are being built up into a spiritual house and holy priesthood (v.5). These people have already believed to the saving of their souls (vss 6-7). These are in contrast to those who heard but did not believe (v.8). Instead of being disobedient as those in verse 8, “but you” in v.9 refers to those who have believed and are saved.

Higgins and company are totally unjustified to use this passage to convey something about the visible church that the Scripture does not warrant. It is evident that Higgins equates I Peter 2:9-10 to the visible church by this comment:

The church is not to be compared to a political party or a garden club. No! We are the People of the Living God, the Body of the Risen Christ, the Fellowship of the Life-Giving Spirit. St. Peter echoes the Old Testament as he describes who we are in Christ: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).

This is the community into which we are baptized, the community to which we belong. Vander Zee is right when he points out, “Baptism is also […] a sacrament of identity. It confers a new identity on us” (109)… “Baptism means ingrafting into this Body which is the Eucharistic Church” (MacGregor 178, emphasis mine). So, what does baptism into the church have to do with salvation? Much indeed, for a fully biblical definition of salvation cannot be limited to a purely individualistic understanding. The Father, in Christ, through the Spirit, is not merely saving individuals but a community, all to the praise of his grace and glory.[51]

Higgins complicates matters further when he states in a footnote:

As an aside, the Reformed tradition, as we have seen, has often spoken of baptism in terms of “engrafting into Christ” (see WCF 28.1) and of “engrafting into the church.” As should be evident from the carefully balanced teaching, especially in the Westminster Standards, the meaning of these terms are not equivalent, although they should not be radically separated. Baptism is the “sign and seal” of union with Christ; to expand that further would open us back up to the endless debates on baptism and regeneration. However, it is clear that baptism is the rite of entrance into the church, which is not a merely human organization, but the body of Christ. To say that baptism unites us to the body of Christ should not be controversial in Reformed circles.[52]

In this footnote, Higgins essentially is avoiding any kind of debate on these issues because he thinks they would constitute some endless dialogue on baptism and regeneration. Well, the reality is: Higgins already affirms a Romish view of baptismal regeneration. Once a person eliminates the distinction between the visible and invisible church, one is doomed to a position of baptismal regeneration.

It does not help Higgins’ case in the least by soliciting to his side the views of Peter Leithart. As I mentioned in the introduction, the PCA Standing Judicial Commission has already made a decision with reference to Peter Leithart’s irregular views.

Higgins doesn’t think anything is irregular about Leithart’s views, for Higgins states:

Peter Leithart, in a groundbreaking essay (“Modernity”), shows how the dichotomy between our “outward” or “sociological” affiliations and our “inner” identity is a modern construct thoroughly out of touch with a biblical worldview… What does baptism do? The tautological answer would be to say, “It makes one a baptized person”—and that is not insignificant! If we understand baptism and the church rightly, that is a profound statement. To be a baptized person is to be a member of the covenant community—the People of God, the Body of Christ, the Fellowship of the Spirit. Just as not all those who are married will be faithful to their wedding vows, not all of those who are baptized will exercise faith.[53]
Since Higgins applies to the visible church things that are only true of the elect who have believed, he, just like others in the Federal Vision camp, end up denying the Reformed and biblical truth of the perseverance of the saints. This is what inevitably happens once a person denies the distinction between the visible/invisible church. One must maintain that one can possess the mediating benefits of Christ by being in the church, but then lose it all by being unfaithful.
This unbiblical view about perseverance is brought out further when Higgins states:

To put it in the language of a more traditional Reformed soteriology, not all will prove truly regenerate, not all will persevere. But just as a husband’s infidelity does not change the identity given in marriage—he is still a husband, though an unfaithful one—so a baptized person’s lack of faith and perseverance does not diminish the new identity that is conferred in the baptismal waters. (Emphasis mine)

Baptism inducts us into the community of Christ, confers a new identity, and imposes new responsibilities. But this “sociological” account is, I have argued, equally a theological account. For the task of the baptized is service to the Lord in his house, his identity is “child of God,” his privileges include fellowship at his Table. This is the “new life” effected by the “waters of regeneration.” These are “merely social” facts only if one assumes that this house is not really God’s house and this Table not really his Table. But that, of course, is simple unbelief. (Leithart, “Modernity” 330)

The fact that some baptized as followers of Christ will prove unfaithful does not diminish this identity nor these responsibilities. Rather, we are called to “improve” our baptisms (see WLC167) and to participate in the church’s mission to the world…

So, what does baptism do? It makes us a part of the visible church, which is the community of the new covenant in Christ’s death and resurrection. Is baptism necessary for salvation? It is ordinarily necessary for salvation, though not absolutely so. It is one of the “outward and ordinary means” of God’s saving grace, but that grace is not inseparably tied to the sacrament of baptism. And does this corporate, ecclesial definition of baptismal efficacy somehow weaken the historic Reformed position of sacramental instrumentality? Not at all—at least not if we understand the true glory of the church.[54]
Higgins and Leithart are clearly in the Romish camp when the phrases such as “conferred in the baptismal waters,” “child of God,” and “new life effected by the waters of regeneration” are used with reference to the visible church. Roman Catholicism believes all these things. So, being in the visible church, marks one as a child of God, regenerated by the waters of baptism, having a new life? Is improving our baptism the keeping of ourselves from losing salvation? I don’t think so! In the last comment of the quote above, Higgins shows he doesn’t understand the nature of the church. He mistakenly links the visible church as synonymous with the new covenant in Christ’s death and resurrection. No, the new covenant, as our Confessional documents clearly state, identify the new covenant in Christ’s death and resurrection with only the invisible church. As I have already stated, there are not two churches, one visible and the other invisible, but these are two aspects of one church. While the invisible church is normally within the visible church, it is not identical with it.

Higgins continues to err by linking the concept of “regeneration” to the visible church. He states:

Miroslav Volf comments that in 1 Peter “a connection between new birth and baptism is undeniable—a fact with momentous consequences.” He continues as follows:

No one can baptize himself or herself; everyone must be baptized by another person into a given Christian community. Baptism is an incorporation into the body of Christ, a doorway into a Christian community. Baptism will not do the distancing [between the new community of the new birth and the old associations] for you, but it will tell you that genuine Christian distance has ecclesial shape. It is lived in a community that lives as “aliens” in a larger social environment.

This is the element of “regeneration” that I wish to emphasize: Whatever else “new birth” means, it means to be born into a family.[55]

The error that Higgins, Romanism, and the Federal Vision make is that they identify biblical passages dealing with regeneration as baptism into the visible church. The two passages that are misused are John 3:5 and Titus 3:5. In both passages, there is no statement that the sacrament of water baptism is in view, although one could not necessarily rule out that it could possibly be inferred. But, I believe we have to be very careful in inferring things that the Scripture does not explicitly state. The inference needs to be “a good and necessary consequence deduced from Scripture” as WCF 1:6 states. Yes, water is mentioned in the sense of being “born of water and the Spirit,” and “washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” To reason from this that this is indicative of baptismal regeneration in the visible church is an exegetical leap. Even Calvin refutes this notion with these passages. Calvin states:

Moreover, they bring forward the words of Christ recounted in the third chapter of John, by which they think that they present regeneration is required in baptism: “Unless a man be born again of water in the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). See they say how by the Lord’s lips baptism is called regeneration, what is our excuse for admitting them to baptism which cannot stand without it?

First, they are deceived into thinking that because they hear the word “water”, baptism is mentioned in this passage. For after having explained the corruption of nature to Nicodemus and taught him that men must be reborn, because Nicodemus was dreaming of physical rebirth, Christ indicates here the way in which God regenerates us, namely, through water and the Spirit. It is as if he said: through the Spirit, who in cleansing and watering faithful souls performs the function of water. I therefore simply understand “water and Spirit” as “Spirit, who is water.” And this is no new expression, for it agrees completely with what is in the third chapter of Matthew: “He who follows me, is he who baptizes in the Holy Spirit and in fire (Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16; cf. John 1:26, 33). Therefore, just as to baptized by the Holy Spirit and by fire is to confer the Holy Spirit, who in regeneration has the function in nature of fire, so to be reborn of water in the spirit is but to receive that power of the spirit, which does in the soul what water does in the body.[56]

In his commentary on Titus, Calvin has no problem viewing Titus 3:5 as an allusion to baptism, for he writes:

I have no doubt that there is at least an allusion here to baptism and, I have no objection to the explanation of the whole passage in terms of baptism; not that salvation is obtained in the external symbol of water, but because baptism seals to us for salvation obtained by Christ. Paul is dealing with the manifestation of God’s grace which, we have said consists of faith. Since therefore baptism is part of this revelation, in so far as it is designed to confirm faith. Paul is right to mention it here…. The train of thought of the passage is this: God saves us by his mercy and he has given us a symbol and pledge of this salvation in baptism, by admitting us into his church and engrafting us into the body of his side… the apostles usually base an argument on the sacraments. When they wish to prove what is signified in them, because it should be accepted as a fixed principle among godly men, that God does not play games with us with empty figures but inwardly accomplishes by his own power. The thing he shows us by the outward sign. Thus, baptism is fittingly, and truly said to be the “washing of regeneration.”

Although he mentions the sign and to exhibit God’s grace clearly to us, yet to prevent us from fixing our whole attention upon it, he soon reminds us of the Spirit, that we know that we are not washed by water, but by his power as Ezekiel says. “And I will sprinkle clean water upon you even my Spirit” (Ezekiel 36:25, 27).[57]

I am also aware that the Westminster Confession uses Titus 3:5 as a proof text for its statement in WCF 27:2 that deals with the spiritual relationship between the sign and the thing signified. While in one sense, I obviously don’t have a problem with this inference, I am somewhat uncomfortable in inferring water baptism in a text, where baptism is not explicitly mentioned. In Romans 6:1-4, we have an explicit reference to baptism, but it is clear from the context that this baptism is only indicative of the elect of God, those in the invisible church, who are in true union with Christ in His death and resurrection. The whole context of Romans 6 is a clear reference to only those truly redeemed by Christ, who are no longer in bondage to sin. In Colossians 2:11-12, we see an explicit use of the word “baptism” as that which is done by the Holy Spirit in the lives of God’s redeemed people. My point is: where a text does not specifically mention “baptism” as it does not in John 3:5; Titus 3:5, and Ephesians 5:26, we need to tread with great caution. The obvious meaning in these three passages is the cleansing effect that the Holy Spirit brings about in those redeemed by Christ. This cleansing effect brings about true saving faith only in the elect of God. Since we know that the invisible church consists only of God’s elect, we need to be very cautious in linking water baptism to these passages. Consistent with Reformed Theology is the view that without true faith present or to eventually be present at God’s appointed time in the elect only, water baptism has no efficacy.

We have seen that the great error made by Roman Catholicism and those of the Federal Vision camp, which Craig Higgins is showing himself to be a part of, is that they are equating baptism into the visible church as synonymous with the washing of regeneration that Titus 3:5 refers to. Hence, this leads them to affirm the view of baptismal regeneration. This is how Craig Higgins reasons, for he states:

Exactly! This is our missional identity as baptized Christians. May we who have received the Holy Baptism-the washing of regeneration, the right of incorporation into the body of Christ-faithfully live as both inheritors and heralds of the kingdom of God.[58]

As I argued earlier, baptism gives us our identity and our mission. It is not a mere rite of passage-an initiation into a merely human organization. No, baptism is the rite of entrance into the missionary people of the missionary God. An underdeveloped theology of baptism deprives the church of the God-given, dominically appointed right that tells us, the people of God, who we really are. Baptism is the right that defines us as God’s own missionary people. How deeply we need to recover this vision! In baptism, the washing of regeneration, we are incorporated into God’s missionary people, the body of Christ. That is to serve as the sign, the foretaste, and the instrument of the life-giving kingdom of God (Newbigin, Household 166).

It is essential for us to distinguish in Scripture two types of election. There is a national or ethnic election. The nation of Israel was chosen out of all peoples to receive special privileges, foremost of which, was to be entrusted with the oracles of God (Deuteronomy 7:6-11). This theocratic election was no guarantee that all in the nation were recipients of eternal salvation. Then the Scripture speaks of a soteric election, where individuals within the external covenant are the recipients of God’s gracious salvation. This distinction between ethnic and soteric election is most notably seen in Romans 9:6 – they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel. This distinction has also been noted as follows – being in the covenant but not of the covenant. Paul uses two prominent examples in Romans 9 to demonstrate this. Ishmael and Esau were in the covenant; they had received the sign of the covenant, namely circumcision. However, only Isaac and Jacob were the actual recipients of God’s saving work.

The concept of the “vineyard” is a designation of God, electing the nation to be the recipient of outward blessings, but there were those who were unfaithful stewards (Isaiah 5:1-7). There were those designated as “false sons” ( Isaiah 30:1, 9). Jesus told the chief priests and Pharisees that they were the wicked tenants of God’s vineyard and that God was taking away from national Israel the kingdom of God and giving it to a nation producing true fruit(Matthew 21:33-46).

We must realize that ethnic Israel’s election as “the adoption of sons” (Romans 9:4) was not identical with God’s saving election and adoption of individuals (John 1:12; Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5; I John 3:1).

The difference between ethnic and soteric election is as follows: unlike ethnic or theocratic election, God’s soteric election is immutable and irreversible. When people refuse to acknowledge this distinction, they end up viewing all in the visible church as recipients of God’s saving grace, but subject to losing it all, if they prove to be unfaithful. Such an understanding is a serious departure from Scripture.

Concluding Remarks
I do not take pleasure in exposing those who are false teachers, but it is my responsibility as an elder of the church to expose such false teachings whenever they arise. We read in Titus 1:9-11 concerning elder responsibility, “holding fast the faithful word, which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced, because they are upsetting, whole families, teaching things they should not teach, for the sake of sordid gain.”We must contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

Craig Higgins’ views must be brought under close scrutiny by the appropriate ecclesiastical bodies that he is subject to. Just as Peter Leithart is alleged by the PCA Standing Judicial Commission as being out of conformity with constitutional documents, so should Craig Higgins be equally investigated with regard to maintaining views that are totally out of accord with constitutional documents.

To recap Craig Higgins’ theological errors, they are:

1) He advocates observing Romish traditions, such as observing Lent as something wise for Presbyterians to do.
2) He advocates a form of “Reformed Episcopacy,” which is really an advocating of episcopacy rather than Presbyterianism. He even suggests the Pope of Rome ought to be the presiding bishop in an ecumenical visible church.
3) He denies the distinction between the visible and invisible church.
4) He advocates a Romish understanding of baptism. He believes in baptismal regeneration- that those in the visible church actually have the benefits of Christ’s redemptive work at their water baptism.
5) He denies the Reformed understanding of the perseverance of the saints.

These areas warrant church discipline for this teaching elder.
The rise of the New Perspective on Paul and Federal Vision theologies among professing Reformed churches constitute one of the greatest threats to biblical Christianity since the Reformation. It is hard to imagine that there would be a return to the Roman church in certain aspects, but this is the sad reality in some areas of the Reformed world. We must be vigilant to guard those glorious truths brought forth in the Reformation.
_________________
John M. Otis is pastor of Covenant Reformed Presbyterian Church in Burlington, N.C.

[1] This was formerly a church of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) which voted in January 2008 to withdraw from the PCA and join the Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches (CREC). The withdrawal was prompted by increasing pressure within the PCA to admonish and discipline its pastor Steve Wilkins for his Federal Vision views. In the summer of 2007, the PCA’s General Assembly adopted its study committee’s report on the Federal Vision, a report that found Federal Vision theology out of accord with the Westminster Standards. The Standing Judicial Commission of the PCA, formed to deal with charges leveled against pastor Wilkins, unanimously found that Louisiana Presbytery (Wilkins’ presbytery) failed to find a strong presumption of guilt that some of the views of TE Wilkins were out of conformity with the Constitution, and thus was derelict in its duty under BCO 13-9, 40-4, and 40-5, and has thereby caused much unresolved pastoral confusion and harm. Apparently, in order to avoid a possible and historic trial, Auburn Avenue church unanimously voted to leave the PCA. In the opinion of this author, the CREC is a denomination thoroughly entrenched in Federal Vision theology by virtue of who is part of this denomination. Federal Vision adherents insist they are opposed to Roman Catholicism and are not an avenue back to the Roman Church. If so, why maintain similar doctrines in terms of justification and baptism? Why advocate similar observances such as Lent? Why look like Roman priests? If one goes to the website of Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church under “Church Leaders” (http://www.auburnavenue.org/church_leaders.htm), then one will see Pastor Wilkins in full white vestments with a red stole (long scarf). Catholic priests wear white robes during mass. The purpose of the stole is to designate him in his official duty as a priest. Why should any be surprised that certain congregants in some Presbyterian churches choose to go back to Rome? In some respects, they are already back to Rome for all practical purposes, even though they have not officially joined a Roman Catholic church.

[2] This proposed decision can be found at http://www.exile-pc.org/docs/SJC%20Decision.pdf.

[3] Don K. Clements, “PCA Standing Judicial Commission reverses Presbytery Decision, Finds Minister’s Views Unacceptable” as found in The Aquila Report found at http://theaquilareport.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1662:pca-standing-judicial-commission-reverses-presbytery-decision-finds-ministers-views-unacceptable&catid=50:churches&Itemid=133.

[4] The article is titled, On Keeping A Holy Lent, which can be found at http://www.trinitychurch.cc/pdf/reading/lentrv08.pdf.

[5] From On Keeping A Holy Lent.

[6] This was taken from Higgins’article that can be found at http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=13-01-021-o.

[7] This can be found at http://www.trinitychurch.cc/pdf/CRH_thesis.pdf.

[8] Samuel Miller, Doctrinal Integrity: The Utility and Importance of Creeds and Confessions and Adherence to Our Doctrinal Standards, (Dallas, Texas: Presbyterian Heritage Publications, 1989), pp. 103-105, 109-110.

[9] Ibid. pp. 113, 115.

[10] Higgins’ thesis paper, pp. 68-69.

[11] I will show throughout my article that Higgins’ understanding is not Reformed but essentially a form of Roman Catholicism and that he consistently perverts our Confessional documents.

[12] Higgins thesis paper, p. 2.

[13] Robert Shaw, An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith, p. 286.

[14][14] Higgins thesis paper, p.6.

[15] Higgins thesis paper, p. 12.

[16] Robert Shaw, An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith, p. 201.

[17] Higgins thesis paper, p. 16.

[18] Norman Shepherd, The Call of Grace, p. 94.

[19] Higgins thesis paper, p. 18.

[20] Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Battle’s Translation, Book 4, chapter 15, sections 1, 2.

[21] These various quotes from Steve Wilkins were taken from my 83 page analysis of his re-examination before Louisiana Presbytery. My analysis in its entirety can be found at: http://www.westminsterrpcus.org/pdf/Wilkins.pdf.

[22] Calvin’s Institutes, Book 3, chapter 2, section 11

[23] Higgins thesis paper, p. 19.

[24] Ibid. p. 26.

[25] These quotes are derived from my article dealing with Steve Wilkins’ reexamination that can be found at http://www.westminsterrpcus.org/pdf/Wilkins.pdf.

[26] Lusk, Do I Believe In Baptismal Regeneration?

[27] Calvin’s Institutes, Book 4, Chapter 14, section 5

[28] Calvin’s Institutes, Book 4, Chapter 14, Section 9.

[29] Higgins thesis paper, p. 26.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Calvin’s Institutes, Book 4, Chapter 15, Section 15.

[32] Higgins thesis paper, p. 32.

[33] Calvin’s Institutes, Book 4, Chapter 14, Section 14.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Calvin’s Institutes, Book 4, Chapter 14, Section 15.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Calvin’s Institutes, Book 4, Chapter 14, Section 16.

[38] John Murray, Christian Baptism, pp. 86-87.

[39] Calvin’s Institutes, Book 4, Chapter 14, Section 17.

[40] Higgins thesis paper, p. 34.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Calvin’s Institutes, Book 4, Chapter 15, Section 2.

[43] Ibid, Book 4, Chapter 15, Section 17.

[44] Ibid, Book 4, Chapter 16, Section 21.

[45] Higgins thesis paper, pp. 34-35.

[46] Francis Turretin, Infant Baptism, Part 1 found at http://www.apuritansmind.com/FrancisTurretin/francisturretinInfantBaptismPart1.htm.

[47] Calvin’s Institutes, Book 4, Chapter 16, Section 26.

[48] Higgins thesis paper, footnote on p. 35.

[49] Higgins thesis paper, p. 37.

[50] Ibid., p. 39.

[51] Higgins thesis paper, pp. 41-42.

[52] Ibid, p. 42.

[53] Higgins thesis paper, p. 43.

[54] Higgins thesis paper, pp 44- 45.

[55] Ibid., p. 46.

[56] Calvin’s Institutes, Book 4, Chapter 16, Section 25.

[57] Calvin’s New Testament Commentary at Titus 3:5.

[58] Higgins thesis paper, p. 48.

[Editor’s note: Some of the original URLs (links) referenced in this article are no longer valid, so the links have been removed.]