Previous article in this series: May 15, 2011, p. 368.
A Case Study in Working Hard Not to Exercise Discipline
The last article began an examination of the Missouri Presbytery of the PCA’s exoneration of Federal Vision heretic Jeffrey Meyers. In that article it was pointed out how Meyers contradicts the Reformed doctrine of justification by faith alone. We turn now to Meyers’ second main error and a brief explanation of the significance of the Meyers case.
The Root of it All: Jeff Meyers Believes in a Conditional Covenant
Meyers’ second error, and the root of his heretical views, is his belief in a conditional covenant. The fact that the doctrine of a conditional covenant is the root of the FV heresy and must be repudiated in order to condemn the FV effectively has been demonstrated in the pages of the SB, and I will not elaborate on that point here. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate how Meyers’ doctrine of the covenant is the root of all his errors.
Meyers believes in a doctrine of the covenant of grace in which all who are baptized “have a covenant union with Christ” (Questions for TE Jeffrey J. Meyers, p. 71). This covenantal union is conditional. Meyers explains, “Ultimately, for the non-elect this covenantal union does not result in their salvation because they refuse to accept the covenantal promises of God made to them in baptism, choosing instead to rebel against his offers of grace and mercy in Christ” (Questions, p. 71). The covenant is made with elect and reprobate alike. Within the covenant community, elect and reprobate alike receive the promise of salvation. Elect and reprobate alike must fulfill the condition of accepting the promises of God in order actually to attain salvation. According to Meyers, the reason why the reprobate in the covenant community are not saved is that they do not fulfill the condition of the covenant.
As is typical of those who believe in a conditional covenant, Meyers denies that God’s eternal decree governs the covenant (cf. Questions, pp. 85-87). God’s decree of election and reprobation does not determine who will be in the covenant. All who are baptized are in the covenant in a way that “is not merely sociological and external”—meaning that all receive real saving blessings. How can this be reconciled with God’s decree of election and reprobation? Meyers says, “I cannot fully explain how this all ties in with God’s predestination and election.” Meyers indicates that he understands that putting the reprobate in the covenant and giving them real saving benefits at least seems to contradict the decree of predestination when he goes on to say, “But I will not deny one or another of these truths in order to achieve some rational solution to the mystery. I am determined to believe what I nevertheless cannot fathom or understand perfectly.”
Meyers’ conviction that election does not govern the covenant of grace can only mean that he holds to a conditional doctrine of the covenant. Somehow the elect remain in the covenant and the reprobate fall out of it. How does this happen? The elect fulfill the condition of the covenant, and the reprobate refuse to fulfill it.
It is this view of the covenant (that it is cut off from God’s eternal decree and that it is conditionally established with all who are baptized) that leads to all of Meyers’ errors. Four of the errors identified by the Letter of Concern (LOC) are the logical implications of Meyers’ conditional covenant doctrine¹ (cf. the previous article for information about the LO C). He teaches that “baptism effects saving, covenantal union with Christ,” and that this “saving union occurs with all the baptized.” He does this because he believes that all who are baptized are included in the covenant of grace, and that baptism, as a sign and seal of the covenant, is a sign and seal that all the children are conditionally saved and united to Christ. He denies that “all who are saved will ultimately end up in heaven.” This denial is based on Meyers’ belief that the reprobate are conditionally included in the covenant of grace, i.e., temporarily receive grace, but then fall away because they do not fulfill the conditions of the covenant. He denies justification by faith alone. This denial is based on his belief that the covenant includes elect and reprobate alike, and that the only way for an elect man to distinguish himself from the reprobate is by exercising faith, to show his “faithfulness to the covenant,” which “*is* his righteousness,” as Meyers explained in his interpretation of the parable of the publican and Pharisee.
Why didn’t the Missouri Presbytery (MOP) condemn Jeffrey Meyers’ gross theological errors? Why, for example, didn’t the MOP condemn Meyers’ teaching that the reprobate have union with Christ? The decision of the Presbytery explains:
The danger of misinterpreting TE Meyers’ statements in part stems from [his] dual use of the term “union with Christ”—only one usage of which (“saving union with Christ”) conveys the same intent as “union with Christ” does in the [Westminster Confession of Faith]. …MOP has previously warned “…we deny that it is prudent to use the terminology of ‘union with Christ’ to describe the relationship of all those in the covenant community (elect and non-elect alike) without carefully clarifying the difference between the specific sense the terms have come to have in our theological tradition, and the other senses they may have in the Bible” (p. 20).
The MOP accepts Meyers’ teaching that the “non-elect” have union with Christ in some sense. The MOP accepts this teaching of Meyers because it agrees with him that the “elect and non-elect” belong to the covenant and both receive “real” but “temporary” saving benefits. The MOP believes the same conditional covenant Meyers does and could not condemn his heretical views that flow out of that doctrine.
The LOC did at least recognize the serious errors that flow out of Meyers’ conditional doctrine of the covenant. However, the LOC does not identify and reject the conditional doctrine of the covenant as the root of Meyers’ errors. This is sad because the errors of Jeffrey Meyers and the FV are easily swept away by rejecting a conditional doctrine of the covenant.
The Significance of the Meyers Case
The Meyers case is very significant, first of all because it exposes all the errors of FV theology and makes clear that the root of the error is the doctrine of the conditional covenant. It is significant also because it exposes as folly the popular practice of denominations adopting study reports condemning the FV rather than condemning those who teach the FV. The PCA adopted a report in 2007 that (supposedly) condemned the FV. Here we are in 2011, and a man who has identified himself as a proponent of the FV was for a number of years not charged with teaching false doctrine, and when finally charged he is fully exonerated.
The Jeff Meyers case is significant also because it shows how far the FV has made inroads into the PCA. Meyers is the senior pastor of a congregation located near Covenant Theological Seminary, the PCA’s official seminary, and appears to enjoy close affiliation with the seminary, even speaking at the seminary occasionally. Faculty members of the seminary have known about Meyers’ teachings and his affiliation with the FV for a number of years. It is disturbing that none of the faculty members of the seminary were involved in initiating the investigation into Meyers’ views. It is even more disturbing that as many as six of the members of the MOP’s committee that advised the Presbytery to exonerate Meyers are involved in teaching at the seminary. Thus, the Meyers case at least indirectly provides insight into the attitude of faculty members of the PCA’s denominational seminary towards the FV. Ominously, a man who has been teaching FV doctrines under the noses of the faculty of Covenant was not found guilty of teaching heresy but was declared orthodox.
The Meyers case indicates either the hesitancy or refusal of those who are opposed to the FV in the PCA to initiate discipline against those who teach FV doctrines. The LO C is a weak attempt to hold Meyers accountable for his heretical views. At least the twenty-nine men who signed the letter were willing to go on record opposing Meyers’ teaching. But there are other prominent men in the PCA who seem to have gone AWOL when it comes to fighting the battle against the FV. They have been involved in condemning the teachings of the FV in the past but appear to refuse to be involved in cases of discipline against the teachers of the FV.
The first men who come to mind are R.C. Sproul and J. Ligon Duncan. How is it that these men, who were praised for their part in the effort to pass the PCA General Assembly’s 2007 report to condemn the FV, have not had any public involvement with the efforts to discipline the proponents of the doctrines they claim to reject in their own denomination? It is inconceivable that these men can plead ignorance with regard to the heretical teachings of Jeffrey Meyers and Peter Leithart. They knew in 2007 that the FV was being taught in the PCA meaning they knew about Meyers and Leithart. For at least four years they have known that Meyers and Leithart espouse FV doctrine, and they have not brought any charges. In fact, they have gone almost completely silent on the FV. The unwillingness of leaders who have a reputation that they are orthodox to be involved in the discipline of the teachers of the FV in the PCA means the FV is not hindered by the opposition of these men and in fact enjoys their tacit approval. These men bear a great deal of responsibility for allowing the FV to spread relatively unchecked throughout the PCA.
There is a warning in this for the Reformed and Presbyterian church world. Silence on the FV is dangerous. Unwillingness to discipline those who teach the FV is deadly for a denomination. May God grant Reformed and Presbyterian churches the ability to see the great truths at stake—the doctrine of justification by faith alone and the doctrine of the unconditional covenant—and may He grant a strong love for these truths that leads to the discipline of those who contradict them.
¹ Everything Meyers believes about the status of the reprobate in the covenant stems from his belief they have “formal” or “covenantal” union with Christ. Cf. Questions for TE Jeffrey Meyers, pp. 56-58.