Federal Vision and Baptism


(These are my notes for my last Sunday School of the year)
Federal Vision – Sacraments and Baptism
Ch. 27 – Sacraments

I. Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and His benefits; and to confirm our interest in Him: as also, to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the Church and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to His Word.

II. There is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other.

III. The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither does the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that does administer it: but upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers.

Here we see that a sacrament is a sign and seal of the covenant of grace. We are told that the sacrament in and of itself is not efficacious. In other words, the water applied to the child does not save in and of itself. Rather, the confession rightly states that the efficacy is based “upon the work of the Spirit”. Simply put, the Holy Spirit is the one who applies the benefits of Christ to the person, not the water.

The section on baptism continues this thought when it says the following:

VI. 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 belongs unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time.

The work of Christ is not applied to you at your baptism. Rather, it is applied to you by the Holy Spirit in “His appointed time”.

Also, we should consider the Larger Catechism on the idea of baptism.

Q. 165. What is baptism?

A. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein Christ hath ordained the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, to be a sign and seal of ingrafting into himself, of remission of sins by his blood, and regeneration by his Spirit; of adoption, and resurrection unto everlasting life; and whereby the parties baptized are solemnly admitted into the visible church, and enter into an open and professed engagement to be wholly and only the Lord’s.

Q. 166. Unto whom is baptism to be administered?

A. Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, and so strangers from the covenant of promise, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him, but infants descending from parents, either both, or but one of them, professing faith in Christ, and obedience to him, are in that respect within the covenant, and to be baptized.

Last time we looked at 166, we noticed that there is a division between those who are within the covenant of grace externally and those who are in the covenant of grace internally. When it refers to strangers of the promise, we notice that there is a distinction between those who profess Christ and those who do not. “Till they profess their faith in Christ” they should not be baptized. However, it tells us that children of believing parents should be baptized.
The only way to reconcile this is to realize that scripture deals with the church in an invisible/visible distinction.


In addressing some of the concerns that we should have for Federal Vision, we should note some of the leading advocates and see what they say. Douglas Wilson tries to use and deal with both B.B. Warfield and the Westminster Confession.

However, in regards to chapter 28 on baptism, Wilson “argues that ‘the Westminster confession assumes that grace and salvation are ordinarily annexed to water baptism,’ though not “inseparably annexed.’ While ‘baptism and salvation are not mechanically or magically linked,’ ‘in the ordinary course of life, they are linked, and we are to speak of them as though they are.’ In response, we may note that this conclusion is an unwarranted inference from WCG 28.5. The paragraph says nothing about who among the baptized will be saved. This concern is reserved for the discussion in 28.6, which explains that grace comes 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.’” (Guy Waters, Kindle Location 2499).

Simply put, the graces promised in baptism are “offered….really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost” (28.6).

Wilson tries to make the confession say that baptism really unites us to Christ and gives us all the promises, when the water is applied. Wilson is also noted by asking the following question: “Raise your right hand if you knew that the Westminster Confession teaches baptismal regeneration?”

Also, he says this: “The water cleanses us and washes our sins away. But only a doofus would think that water all by itself would wash away sins. Moderns who are stuck with the language of Westminster want to say that we actually have to understand this as a sacramental union, with the word sacramental being understood as some sort of diluting agent. But I want to say that it is a sacramental union, with union meaning union.” On one hand, he claims that only a “doofus” would say the water actually does anything. Yet, he says that the water unites people to Christ. This is a contradiction. This qualifies him as teaching baptismal regeneration.

Rich Lusk

In commenting on Acts 2, after Peter preaches his sermon, we see that the passage about the hearers asking “what we must do to be saved” struck him:

“At this point, the Word has done its work. The hearers have been aroused ad convicted. But apparently, they still aren’t saved. Preaching alone is insufficient to make them participants in Christ’s work of redemption. Thus Peter tells them what to do. They must respond to the preached word with repentance and be baptized to enter into the way of salvation. Baptism, not preaching per se, is linked with forgiveness and the reception of the Spirit. Clearly, Peter believes God will give them something in baptism that they have not received through preaching alone. Baptism will consummate the process of regeneration begun by the Word preached”.

In other words, Lusk believes that baptism is what makes Christ’s salvific work efficacious. Not only does he conclude that baptism saves, but he also states that the preaching of the Word is not the ordinary means of salvation. Rather, he concludes that Baptism is the ordinary means of salvation.

However, in our confession, we see that it rightly states, in Chapter 10 on effectual calling that “All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed time, effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death”

Likewise, we see that the scriptures clearly teach the Word of God is the ordinary means of salvation.

“13 For whosoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord, shall be saved.
14 But how shall they call on him, in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him, of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them which bring glad tidings of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 8)
The conclusion to this passage is this: the one who is saved called upon the Lord because he heard the gospel preached from the Word of God. No mention of baptism. No mention of water. Nothing.



Waters, Guy Prentiss. The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology: A Comparative Analysis. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing Company. 2006. Print.

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