The FV is Really Just Misunderstood.....

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C. Matthew McMahon

Christian Preacher
I know some of you know about the latest blog recantation on the FV to Rome trip of members of Doug Wilson's church.

For those who do not, the link is here.

However, many people have continued to say "Oh, the FV position is just misunderstood. They are all still Christians too." "Hey, Wilson is an OK guy. He's teaching OK things."

Take five minutes, read this, and you decide how "unharmful" the FV position is to those blown and tossed by every wind of doctrine...and the shepherds who are leading God's people astray...


Homesick No More
Ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. - Jeremiah 6:16
Monday, August 27, 2007
On How The Federal Vision Made Me Catholic
So there's much hubbub lately about the Federal Vision controversy. The conservative reformed world is fast becoming a house divided against itself over the issues of the reality of the sacraments and what they confer upon the recipient and the real possibility of apostasy.

Having been myself a member of both a Federal Vision community (lo, I am a pharisee of pharisees coming from Christ Church itself, the very Mecca of the FV movement) and a non-FV reformed community (OPC to be precise) and now a communing Catholic (in that order) I have thought about the question a fair bit. I still keep up on the matter, though through a glass dimly, mostly because the ideas of the preachers of the FV movement were largely the ideas that lead me to be accepted into the Catholic Church.

Let me say at the outset that I still hold a great fondness for that particular set of Presbyterians in general and many of their members in specific. I am greatly encouraged to see some of their number moving the direction I have moved. Mostly, I am grieved to think, as might be the case, that I have spoken ill in broad sweeping generalizations against my brothers in those communities. If in the fervor of my conversion I spoke as to offend, I ask that you would forgive the zeal of a young man in the throws of something unimaginably larger than himself.

That said, on to the FV movement. I don't wish to deal with the particular theological contentions of the FV movement because, obviously, they are largely inherently protestant and I disagree with them because they conflict explicitly with my Catholic presuppositions. I wish to deal rather with the ethos of the movement and specifically that way of leaning into religion that I learned at Christ Church.

Over and against my non-denominational upbringing (and with much fighting against it on my part) I was taught at Christ Church and at New St. Andrews College to think, increasingly over the five years I was there, of the sacraments confected there as decidely more effective than I had ever considered them before. I was taught to believe that baptism entailed a real sort of ingrafting into Christ. I was taught to believe that the Lord's Supper made Christ somehow truly present among us in a way distinct from His ominpresence. I was taught, perhaps not in Catholic terms but in a real way, to believe that grace of a sort was given to Christians in the supper. I was most definitely taught to believe that sin would be brought to light and repentance effected by my and my neighbors' reception of the supper.

To be sure I was taught not to believe the Roman doctrine that Christ was physically present in what I received. I was taught that baptism surely did not forgive the sins of the recipient, but I was lead to believe that something spiritual and gracious was taking place in these sacraments.

I was quickly required by my father, a non-denominational pastor, to account for these things. What was this grace, this connection to Christ, this spiritual reality that I believed was present in the sacraments? As co-heirs of the reformation we could both, along with the FV pastors, be sure that whatever it was it was not justifying grace. It was not the grace that made us stand holy in Christ. This was the one thing it categorically could not be. Yet both the teaching of my pastors and the words of Scripture made me sure that it was something real, not just a memorial that made me more holy by virtue of reflection.

To further confuse the issue, there was the weekly statement of absolution that Pastor Wilson gave from the pulpit in the liturgy. We would pray a corporate prayer of confession and Pastor would tell us, in his position of authority as a minister of God, that the confessed sins of God's people were forgiven. [/font]

I clung to this statement through some of the darkest nights of my soul in my quite disreputable college days. Sometimes it was the only thing that really reassured me that God loved me and forgave me my sins, despite my continuation in them.

This statement was also quite distinct from the variation on the same theme that I received at the OPC community of which I was later a member. The statement there was more along the lines of "God, broadly speaking, forgives the sins of the elect." There was no personal reassurance that my sins were forgiven. I was substantially less assured by this practice. The same was true of my reception of the supper there.

But in all of this there was a gnawing at the back of my brain that was that indefinable nature of the grace I was receiving. If election was really the main thing, these sacraments could neither assure nor assist my journey to heaven. I knew that if I asked I would be told that my sins were not, so to speak, absolved in that statement, that it was a sign of sorts, of the forgiveness I already had. That the supper was a 'sign and seal' of the redemption that was or was not already mine.

But there I was. I had already, as a protestant, learned to lean on grace that I was simultaneously being taught could have no real effect on my eternal destiny. In my day to day life of faith, these things were the life rafts that held me afloat. These were the only places where I sensed the reality of God's grace, and yet I was being told that it was faith, not these signs that were conferring it. Yet I knew my faith to be so weak! If it was the greatness or sincerity of my faith that upheld the process, I knew myself to be damned.

I was, by various circumstances after leaving Moscow, exposed to the Catholic faith. The Catholic faith provided exactly what I was looking for, dare I say had been primed to look for. Real Grace conferred in real Sacraments. No longer did i have to flail, Luther-like, with internal existential struggles! When the priest said my sins were forgiven, they were forgiven! Just like Jesus said to the Apostles "I give you the power to forgive sins." When the priest said "This is my Body" it was His Body, broken for me! There and then! REALLY!

I had been taught for so long to lean on the reality of the sacraments in the FV community with a huge hanging caveat of "Not Really". Your sins are forgiven, though be sure to remember they've already been forgiven, this is just a sign. This is my Body, this is my Blood, but not really, just in a sort of spiritual, metaphorical sense (of course being sure to remember how real metaphor is!). In the Catholic Church I found the flesh and blood, no pun intended, to the ghost of the truth I had been shown in the FV community.

To be sure, I maintain to this day that the FV communities are much closer to the truth than many other protestant communities. At the same time I maintain that this is sometimes much more insidious about the partial truth the FV communities posses and teach. The apparent sacramentality of the FV communities can easily lull its parishoners into a false sense of security. Some FV communities even go so far as to employ sacramentals like the sign of the Cross and observe the Church calendar to a certain degree. Such imitation of the true Church can convince parishoners at FV communities that they are really partaking in the fullness of the Church, just without the Romish 'heresies'. After all, they are employing the practices of the early Church. They are connected to the historic doctrines moreso than most protestants. Like the mystical field in The Wizard of Oz, it is easy to fall asleep when you are so close to the Emerald City.

But what is really missing is what is really and most critically important. The REAl presence of Jesus, body and blood, soul and divinity. The REAL and unequivocal forgiveness of sins. This is what I longed for, and even supposed I had in the FV communities. But it was a continual exercise in cognitive dissonance. I was forever balancing what I knew should be happening in the sacraments with what I was being told was not happening there.

It is with great comfort that I now rest in the bosom of the true Jerusalem Above, the Mother of us all, the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, and it with a great sense of gratitude to the FV communities, Christ Church and Rev. Wilson in particular for showing me the road of the sacramental life that eventually lead me there.

And make no mistake in thinking I am a rouge convert, twisting the teachings of the FV to get where I've arrived. The ranks of Catholics from FV origins is growing by the day. Someone recently supposed on Rev. Wilson's blog that the natural destination of the FV was either to complete fragmentation or to Eastern Orthodoxy, but I maintain that, not by a natural progression in their presbyteries but by a grassroots movement among those of my and following generations, will be to the Catholic Church. FV protestants are too hardline to accept the national, transitory character of the Orthodox church. The true home of all Christians and the natural home of FV Christians, both because of their Western nature and their commitment to real truth is the Catholic Church. I pray for their reunion.



TheGodFearinFiddler said...
Welcome home from a former PCA. I started heading to Rome before the whole FV thing got into full swing but I've heard a lot about it through friends who are still PCA or OPC.
I have a friend who is an elder in the PCA who is/was almost in the same boat as you regarding FV driving him to the Church. He almost entered RCIA but has since changed his mind.
8:28 AM

Thos said...
Thanks for sharing this. I'm PCA, have been at (but not joined) an OPC church, and am trying to do some discerning myself, so enjoyed reading this. I follow the FV issue in the PCA a bit, and try to gauge how big the rift really is (it's hard to gauge!). I don't get why they stay PCA, but I do understand why they believe what they believe. I also hear many of you have become Catholic or Orthodox.
What's your wife's take on your conversion? God bless...

9:39 AM
erin said...
thos, I'm sure Matt will have plenty to talk over with you! Just wanted to jump in to say that I, the wife, converted when Matt did (though possibly as a result of slightly different convictions), and have since fallen in love with the Catholic church. Blessings to you!

11:24 AM
Chad Toney said...
I don't remember if you told me your dad was a non-denom pastor. So is mine.
Does he read your blog?

12:53 PM
Thos said...
The Wife,
Thanks for the note - I'm glad to hear you two are able to stay in communion. 'Tis hard!

12:57 PM
Joseph said...
Welcome home, Matt. I find it overwhelming how many conversions to the Catholic Church are taking place. I wonder what this could mean? Almost all of the Catholic converts I've talked to are very knowledgeable of the Church's teachings and crave tradition and orthodoxy. These are exciting times.

1:50 PM
Matthew N. Petersen said...
Your post made me curious about something. All the sacramental reasons you list in this post for becoming Catholic apply equally well for becoming Lutheran. Lutherans likewise believe in sacraments, and really. Lutherans believe in Baptismal regeneration. Lutherans believe that the Bread and Wine are actually Christ's Body and Blood. Lutherans retain oracular confession, and believe forgiveness actually comes through the priest's remittance.*
I understand because of Apostolic succession you have difficulty with Lutherans, and I'm not trying to dispute that. But inasmuch as there was a sacramental pull, was there ever a Lutheran pull? If not, why not?
Also, I know it's perhaps too quick, but my friend would really like to know about Eastern Rite churches in Louisville.
* For a Lutheran understanding of Confession see Luther's small catechism The Small Catechism by Martin Luther

7:11 PM
Matthew N. Petersen said...
Also, do you think you could put up the link for Tim Enloe's argument about Orthodoxy? I missed it.

7:17 PM
Dave Hodges said...
Nice post. I will have more to say later, but for now, I don't think that it was Tim Enloe who said the comment about the trajectory of the CREC going Orthodox or further subdividing. I think it was just some guy named Tim.

7:54 PM
Dave Hodges said...
Matthew, here is the link. As you can see, the statement was made by Tim, but I don't think it was Time Enloe for a number of reasons. First of all, when Tim Enloe posts, his full name usually appears. Secondly, he would not have asked those questions about sacramental validity. He is well aware of those discussions already.

7:57 PM
Matt said...
Thanks for the feedback. I look forward to more! Let me say that, though I'm not sure I've ever commented on your blog, your blog and your wife's have been a great encouragement to both my wife and myself since our conversion. Thanks!
First of all, I couldn't find any Byzantine Catholic Churches in Kentucky at all, assuming that's the Louisville you're referring to. If you'd like help finding a conservative Catholic Parish of another ilk there, let me know. I'd be glad to help!
As for Lutheranism, two things. First of all, Luther's insubordination to the Catholic Church has always made it virtually impossible to take the Lutheran Church seriously. The reasons they hold for maintaining schism with the universal Church fall roundly flat as they have from the beginning. Fr. Richard John Neuhaus (sp?) has some really excellent things to say on this subject.
Second, the acceptance by Lutheranism (not just Lutherans in general) of homosexuality, women's ordination, contraception, and the near absence of any continuing devotion to our Blessed Mother in contradiction with both the historic positions of the Church and Luther's own teaching make it very difficult to take them seriously.
Hope that helps!

8:44 PM
Mike Terrell said...
Matt, as you know, my wife and I came home together to the fullness of the Catholic faith from a CREC congregation also known as Christ Church (different location). We continue to be fascinated by reflecting on the role of the "federal vision" in our eventual reconciliation with the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. And of course, we are much encouraged by reports of others who have such a similar story. Thank you for this post.

8:35 AM
Principium unitatis said...
I'm a former PCA person myself, (M.Div. Covenant Theological Seminary). I truly rejoice with you. And with you I pray fervently and continually for reunion.
In the peace of Christ,
- Bryan

12:33 PM
Matthew N. Petersen said...
Thanks for looking anyway.
Even when you were Presbyterian there was no draw toward Lutheranism? Calvin rejected Rome far more than Luther did. (Calvin said the Roman Church isn't really a church, Luthera said it was a corrupt church.) Or did the draw toward Sacraments go hand in hand with other desires? Anyway I'm not trying to convince you of anything, I'm just interested in the cultural phenomena that makes people say "the FV is Catholic! the FV is Catholic!" when it would be just as accurate to say "the FV is Lutheran."

3:46 PM
Douglas said...
Matt Yonke, I misplaced your email address. Could you send me an email at [email protected]? I need to ask you something.

4:09 PM
Matt said...
I understand your comments much more clearly now. It seems, however, that most of the people who would say that the FV is too Catholic would say that the sects of Lutheranism with more Catholic sacramentality are too Catholic as well.
That and, of course, it was Catholic long before it was Lutheran and the Catholic Church is by far the more dominant of the two.
Lutheranism was never really a pull when I was a presbyterian because they seemed to have the exact same authority the presbyterians did with no real advantages. And finding a good conservative Lutheran community seems to be a needle and haystack sort of ordeal.

5:21 PM
pipeandpint said...
Very interesting read. Thanks for taking the time to post it. I am a "high church" OPC bloke.
I can see how a high view of the sacraments brought you back to Rome. Honestly, I can. Here's what I don't get, though - and I hope you can answer.
What do you do with all of the "less noble" things, such as Marian devotion and prayers to saints?

5:27 AM
Acolyte4236 said...
"FV protestants are too hardline to accept the national, transitory character of the Orthodox church. The true home of all Christians and the natural home of FV Christians, both because of their Western nature and their commitment to real truth is the Catholic Church."
I simply can't take this kind of evaluation of Orthodoxy seriously. Transitory character? Uhm, we just got pews and we haven't "updated" the liturgy. I have no idea what you mean here or why one should take it seriously. And I am not sure what "national" is supposed to imply, as if the Orthodox churches were analogous to Protestant national churches blown by every wind of doctrine, which is just laughably false.
As for "western nature" I am not sure exactly what that is either. I think you mean Frankish rather than "western" since geography has nothing to do with the matter.
I'd recommend not dismissing the Orthodox so easily and simplistically. It's just not that simple. I'd pick up Chadwick's most recent book on East/West for starters.

12:06 PM
Matt said...
Sorry, I didn't mean to write off the Orthodox quite so succinctly, but defending Orthodoxy just wasn't the point of the post.
I myself am a Byzantine Catholic with great sympathies for the Orthodox. I just don't think they're right in relation to Rome. I do apologize sincerely for my trite dismissal. Perhaps I'll post more on that in the future.

3:37 PM
hankwhitmore777 said...
Fathers and Brothers,
I was a twenty year member of the PCA, including the last fifteen as a Ruling Elder, several years on the Candidates Committee, including being Chairman, Minister and his Works Committee, together with several GA Committees including Bills and Overtures.
Our particular church has had weekly communion for twenty years and more recently began following the church year. I always believed that the Session had a strong sense of the spiritual presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. I must admit that I have and still do love my former PCA church and all those who serve Christ through it and its ministries.
That was never a problem. What is, however, is when the conscience informs you that you are not living the truth. You have to make a decision. As a colleague of mine once said, “sometimes a man just has to do what a man has to do”. My wife and I have been married forty-three years (a testimony to God’s grace) and have three adult children. All are Christians, one family is Baptist, one is Anglican, and one is Catholic. They are all still married to the same people they started out with. We have 13 grandchildren. All are baptized covenant-keeping Christians. God’s promises are faithful and true.
Back to the issue; It has turned out that such a belief in the spiritual presence of our Lord in The Lord’s Supper was not really shared by others on the Session. The process of attempting to work through the issues relating to the F/V and AAT forced me into much reflection on the nature of my relationship with our Lord and His Church. This started for me with the first AAPC Conference on the F/V. The response from within the broader Presbyterian Churches to that first pastors’ conference truly shocked me. As an unavoidable result I’ve had to spend the last five years discovering what I truly believe and strangely enough discovered that I truly believe in the real presence, and hierarchical Church government, including the Bishop of Rome. I’ve come to think of the Protestant Reformation as a gross overreaction to real abuses although sadly resulting in a state of rebellion against Christ’s Church. This rebellion has resulted in schism upon schism to this very day (even within particular churches). I have even come to believe in the Marion theology of the Catholic Church. I am no longer a rebel. My wife and I love the Catholic Church and the people we’ve met in our new church. It has almost five thousand families and is yet so warm and loving (warts and all) that I’ve truly never experienced anything like it. One of the best things about it is not having to waste a lot of time arguing about what is true and what isn’t. It’s already been published for my benefit. You’re just not allowed to be the Pope (no problem). You can visit St. Joseph’s Catholic Church at: Welcome
Something else that none of you have yet mentioned and which was most significant to me during my transition to the Catholic Church was being convinced by the Early Church Fathers (including those who knew the Apostles) that nothing has been “invented” by the Catholic Church. The truth has been zealously guarded and has only evolved as necessary to address heresies as they arose like an acorn grows into an oak.
Nuff said – I’ve been accused of being too wordy at times. Hank Whitmore

5:37 PM
Matt said...
Thank you so much! Your story is inspiring and telling.
I too was greatly influenced by the Eastern Fathers. I was actually tackled into the Church in part by icons, part of why we're Byzantine Catholic. St. John Damascene's Treatises on Holy Images was very helpful in overcoming my presbyterian iconoclasm. But the influence of the Fathers, and particularly the ones who knew the Apostles was overwhelming. When I heard them talking about the importance of the Bishop, the Real Presence, and all these 'Romanist' ideas, I was blown away.
At any rate, nice to have you here Hank. Hope you stick around and share some more insight!

6:02 PM
Chad Toney said...
Hank, what a story!
Have you been received yet?
Do drop one of us your email address (I tried the one associated on ARPC's elder page, but it came back dead).
chad (dot) toney (at) gmail (dot) com
My family vacationed in Jville last summer and had a great time. I went to Mass downtown...don't remember the parish name off the top of my head though.

6:18 PM
hankwhitmore777 said...
Roger that Chad.
We have been received and just started RCIA last Lord's Day. Will be Easter before we can partake of the Real Presence however. Already petitioned the Bishop of St. Augustine for permission. No dice. The day will come however.

7:14 PM
Fr. Jeffrey said...
Hello to all! I am Fr. Jeffrey Steel, Hank Whitmore's son-in-law and former PCA pastor for 6.5 years. I left over three years ago to pursue PhD work in Durham England at Durham University. I was in Louisiana Presbytery when all of this mess broke out and saw that I was Catholic and left for the Anglo-Catholic group FiF UK in the Church of England.
It is delightful for me to hear how many of you and especially my father-in-law have grown and are growing on your spiritual journeys in a Catholic spirituality. Through my PhD studies, (Eucharistic theology) I have come to see great errors and misunderstandings of Protestantism and find myself quite happy where I am. The Catholic wing of the C of E is much like pre-Vat II worship and many use the Catholic Missal in the Mass.
If I were to live anywhere else in the world other than England, I would more than likely have to swim the Tiber too! God bless all of you!

11:50 PM
Sarah said...
The apparent sacramentality of the FV communities can easily lull its parishoners into a false sense of security.
I totally agree with this. I think it's easier to see the injustices mounted against the Catholic Church from those who are almost caricatures of their protestant selves (like the ecclesial community Dave and I were members of the first 2 1/2 years of our marriage) than in an FV setting where it's a lot closer to Catholicism, and more fair to it, while still very comfortingly Protestant.
That is the main reason I don't agree with the charge that "FV is sending people to Rome." However, I do think it's closer to the Truth and therefore, on the other hand, does prime people to accept the Catholic Church for what She is.
Sticky issue!

11:22 AM
Chad Toney said...
I agree with a commenter on Wilson's blog, blaming your love for the band Dream Theater. John Petrucci is a known Romanist and is given deserved veneration for his mind-blowing chops.
Coincindence? I think not.

11:28 AM
Mike Terrell said...
Matt, for what it's worth...
Acknowledging that sin is bad, I think its worth pointing out that your sinful activities in Moscow do not disqualify you from speaking about the "federal vision" effects on your conversion.
I wonder if some would suggest that any former Protestant who sinned while a Protestant should refrain from giving any public testimony about their conversion experience.
In the interest of full disclosure, since I gave testimonial remarks in a previous comment, I too sinned while a Protestant and also, I was not a decorated theologian or scholar.

11:29 AM
Matt said...
Sara, Chad, and Mike,
Thanks for your comments and support. I've gotten some really ugly response to this post, it's nice to see some encouragement.
I do not actually suppose that the FV "made" me Catholic. That was an attention grabbing post title, and apparently it worked all too well. What I do maintain, what I maintained in my post, and what Sara concurs with in her comment, is that the FV mentally prepares people to be Catholic.
I could never have accepted the Catholic system of sacramental life had I stayed a non-denom or had I ever really bought the OPC's truncated sacramental ideas.
I'm gonna follow up on this with some less inflammatory posts on the FV. I think it's remarkable how worked up people are getting over this, I'd kinda like to get to the bottom of why.
Thanks again for your support!

12:47 PM
The Koala Bear Writer said...
I enjoyed reading this, though it's the first time I'd heard of FV. I converted from a Lutheran background, so the comments there caught my eye. I found that my background gave me many similarities to Catholics (as mentioned already), so it was easy to want the fuller understanding that Catholics offered.

10:16 AM
Taylor Marshall said...
As a former member of the PCA, welcome home!
There is certainly a growing number of us who were exposed to the FV and eventually found our way home to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
I'm enjoying your blog.
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