I recently ran across a beautiful Puritan poem that speaks to my heart. I hope it speaks to yours.
Thou hast imputed my sin to my substitute,and hast imputed his righteousness to my soul,clothing me with a bridegroom’s robe,decking me with jewels of holiness.
But in my Christian walk I am still in rags;my best prayers are stained with sin;my penitential tears are so much impurity;my confessions of wrong are so many aggravations of sin;my receiving the Spirit is tinctured with selfishness.
I need to repent of my repentance;I need my tears to be washed;I have no robe to bring to cover my sins,no loom to weave my own righteousness;
I am always standing clothed in filthy garments,and by grace am always receiving change of raiment,for thou dost always justify the ungodly;
I am always going into the far country,and always returning home as a prodigal,always saying, Father, forgive me,and thou art always bringing forththe best robe.
Every morning let me wear it,every evening return in it,go out to the day’s work in it,be married in it,be wound in death in it,stand before the great white throne in it,enter heaven in it shining as the sun.
Grant me never to lose sight ofthe exceeding sinfulness of sin,the exceeding righteousness of salvation,the exceeding glory of Christ,the exceeding beauty of holiness,the exceeding wonder of grace.
In this blog entry I would like to begin to address what I see as a very serious growing deficiency among many who refer to themselves as reformed in their theology. They often refer to themselves as coming from a somewhat different reformed tradition, one that emphasizes the sovereignty of God more highly. This form of so-called reformed theology is nothing more than a form of neo-orthodoxy blended with liberalism and neoliberalism.
Here is their argument as I have often heard it:
1. There are many scriptures that emphasize God’s sovereignty and choosing.
2. God is the one who effectually chooses the elect.
3. But God is love and desires for everyone to be saved.
4. Therefore, all are saved.
This kind of logic also leads to related conclusions:
Ø Ultimately, while it would be best for people to know and trust Jesus as Lord and Savior, it is not required for salvation. Regeneration and conversion, while ideal, is not required for salvation.
Ø We preach the gospel of Christ’s love not for salvation, but for what is best for people.
Ø Fervor for evangelism is minimized or lost and is replaced with “social justice” actions.
Ø The substitutionary atonement of our Lord is minimized or disappears all together.
The question that must be wrestled with within a reformed tradition is how can God choose only some (the elect) and still be a totally loving God? For some, they abandon Orthodox Christianity, instead opting for neo-orthodoxy, becoming Universalists. Others become hardened toward extreme election opting for a default love of the elect and a lesser form of love for the non-elect. Both minimize or entirely exclude human freedom. (I will not here address the extreme Arminian errors that lead to open theism and a God who has no knowledge of the future. I will try to do so at a later date.) What happens in both camps though is a weakened or abandoned theological understanding of regeneration, conversion and the need for repentance and trusting salvific faith.
“Man by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace: wherein he freely offered unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.” Westminster Confession of Faith
I will highlight just a few Biblical passages that speak about the need for regeneration, conversion, repentance and a trusting faith for salvation. I will not be focusing on the source of this trusting faith as this would take many more blog entries, but rather I would like to look at the necessity of this faith for salvation and how scripture describes conversion.
Paul referred to conversion when he said to the Ephesian elders, “I have declared to both Jews and Greek that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:21). In the book of Acts we also discover that genuine conversion involves believing in the truth (Acts 11:21; 15:11), a turning from evil (8:22) and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation (20:21). Luke records the message of the physically resurrected Jesus to Paul on the road to Damascus, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting…Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:15-18). Clearly the reception of forgiveness and a place among those who are sanctified is by faith, which requires a turning from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. This chapter serves as a bookend to Peter’s sermon/speech in chapter 2. “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation’” (2:37-41). What is so fascinating and marvelous about this passage is it has a place for both Calvinists and Armenians to rest their hat. Both the ‘call’ of the elect and the ‘save yourselves’ through free will are connected in the event of conversion; neither should be denied and both must be affirmed, though we might not understand precisely how this happens. They are not contradictory, but only a mystery to us in our time-bound finite minds. But whether you are more Calvinist or Armenian, what is clear is that there is a requirement of conversion and regeneration and a response of faith is called upon from the person. This is not a small issue, but is at the very heart of apostolic Christianity. This is the task of every Christian, which we must take very seriously, because it means spiritual eternal life and death. Our hearts should break within us when people choose not to accept the message of the gospel and we should be on our knees in tears over those who are lost.
For those who believe that a person can have some kind of saving “faith” without knowledge of Jesus and his atoning work on the cross, I once again come to the book of Acts. It is here that we see very clearly that faith is belief in the truths of the Gospel and a commitment and obedience to Jesus. We can see this in the fact that the object of faith was to be the person of Jesus (Acts 11:17; 14;23; 16:31) as well as the preached word (4:4; 17:11) and the full message of saving doctrine (6:7; 13:8; 14:22; 16:5). This clearly indicates a certain minimum knowledge of the gospel message with the focus being a trusting in the person of Jesus Christ for salvation.
Nowhere in the book of Acts is there any indication that people are saved without a faith that has a basic knowledge of the gospel, repentance, and a trusting faith in the crucified and bodily resurrected Jesus Christ. The gospel message is always accompanied by a call to repent, believing the truth and trusting the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ.
In parts 2 and 3 of this series I will focus on the witness of the Gospels, Paul’s letters, and the rest of the New Testament.
A very dear and insightful friend just sent me a copy of a New York Times article entitled Survey shows U.S. Religious Tolerance. The article sites a study that clearly indicates the situation that I have been decrying for many years. The article quotes the statistic that, “70 percent of Americans affiliated with a religion or denomination said they agreed that ‘many religions can lead to eternal life,’ including majorities among Protestants and Catholics. Among evangelical Christians, 57 percent agreed with the statement, and among Catholics, 79 percent did. Among minority faiths, more than 80 percent of Jews, Hindus and Buddhists agreed with the statement, and more than half of Muslims did.” This article should be a wake-up call to Christian leaders throughout the country that they are communicating a gospel that is completely at odds with historic Christian Orthodoxy.
Pluralism, universalism, and inclusivism should have no place among evangelical theology or belief. That so many that identify themselves as Christians shows a clear misunderstanding of the gospel message, should be a call to proper evangelism and discipleship. Those who believe that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, must understand that this leads directly to what the Bible clearly affirms, which is salvation only by trusting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
Salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, revealed in Scripture alone, to the Glory of God alone excludes certain beliefs. It excludes that a person can be saved by simply being a good person. It excludes a person believing sincerely in other faiths being saved. It excludes the possibility that people can be saved by Jesus, even if they have never heard the gospel. There is a reason for the Protestant Reformed use of the term “alone”. We need to busy about the task of disciple-making and teaching people the clear truths of Scripture.
The positions of pluralists and inclusivists simply cannot be defended through scripture and only serve to communicate a gospel that cannot save. It is a complete and utter scandal that the vast majority of leaders among mainline Protestant denominations promulgate a pluralist and inclusivist gospel instead of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Layman.org has just posted an article by Parker T. Williamson, relating a summary of a presentation given by the Witherspoon Society at the most recent gathering of the General Assembly (the highest governing body of the PCUSA). This article indicates a clear sign that many in the leadership of the PCUSA are apostate. The rejection of core theological doctrine of Christianity separates a body from the greater church. Parker Williamson reports the following:
Christ’s death on the cross has no place in authentic Christianity said Rita
Nakashima Brock, a featured speaker at the Witherspoon Society’s pre-General
Assembly gathering. Brock said that when church leaders in the 10th century began celebrating bread and wine communion, they instituted “ritualized murder, sacred murder … salvation that is achieved by violence.” Brock teaches theology in Berkley, Calif. Brock was welcomed to the platform by Eugene T’Selle, a professor at Vanderbuilt Divinity School and founding leader of the Witherspoon Society. Appealing largely to Presbyterian Church (USA) seminarians and academics, the Witherspoon Society lobbies denominational assemblies on behalf of “progressive theology.” Acclaimed by the Society’s president Jane Hanna, as “the very model of an engaged theologian,” Brock has been an outspoken opponent of the Iraq war and has organized demonstrations outside President George W. Bush’s Texas ranch. According to Brock, a Re-Imagining God speaker who has been featured at several Presbyterian Church (USA) sponsored events, the idea of the atonement was a concoction of male church leaders to justify violence. According to Brock’s history, Jesus’ death as sacrifice for our sins was not a part of the early church’s teaching. Brock said that the early church was a here and now, “life affirming” community. It did not believe in a paradise that one enters upon death, but a paradise that one enters at the time of baptism. Paradise happens, said Brock, when we wake up to the
presence of “The Spirit” in all of life and celebrate it. The early form of what the church now calls the eucharist was a celebration of life, not death, said Brock. Pointing to a painting of the last supper that she said was “very early,” Brock noted the presence of seven loaves on the table. The church was celebrating blessings, she said. It did not “go down the imperial toilet” until centuries later when it turned the feast into a ritual of sacrifice. Brock said that early church leaders celebrated creating, focusing primarily on the first three chapters of Genesis. The world, she said, is already a paradise, a place where humans may thrive. Brock believes that when a person understands what paradise really means, one is given power “to work for justice and to actualize the community of God in the world.” Why did male church leaders in the 10th century introduce the ideas of sin, guilt and the need for atonement? According to Brock, they did it in order to exercise power over people. Making people feel guilty and then offering them a release from that guilt is a form of
manipulation and control, she said. The masses were duped into depending on
church leaders and their sacrificial Jesus rituals.”Another Christianity is possible,” said Brock. “We already live on holy ground. It does not belong to any individual, not even to God … We actualize it when struggling for justice in community.”
Not only does Brock deny the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, she utterly rejects it, making the claim that this doctrine was created by a male dominated church. There is an underlying assumption that the numerous Biblical texts that present the substitutionary atonement are also a creation by the later church, denying the authority of the Scriptures. In this short report, we have denials of many core essentials of the Christian faith (the atonement, a literal heaven and hell, the historicity and apostolic authority of Scripture, etc.). That such a speaker would be given a place of honor at such an important occasion gives clear indication that this is the position of many of these denominational leaders.
This type of presentation should come as no surprise by anyone familiar with the history and current position of the PCUSA. This is a clear and unambiguous sign that many denominational leaders have abandoned all pretenses to orthodox Christianity. Those congregations and individuals who choose to support this kind of heresy do so under the risk of separating themselves from Christ’s church, because they support a denial of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit inspired scriptures (e.g. rejection of the Holy Spirit).
I was at a meeting of one of the renewal groups of this denomination where the discussion surrounded the topic of the appropriate time to leave a denomination. One leader stated that the only appropriate time to leave is when a denomination denies the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and he went on to state that as long as the constitution of a denomination (e.g. the Book of Order) upheld Christ’s Lordship it was wrong to leave. I contend something entirely different. I believe that what a denomination stands for is not to be found in its constitution, but rather in its defense of that constitution. An analogy would be that of the place of ancient city walls. The walls were the defense lines of a city, but those walls could only defend the city as long as they were defended by people willing to sacrifice their lives in its defense. So too, a constitution is only as good as far as it is upheld through discipline. I propose that the renewal groups in the PCUSA that work to defend the constitution are merely maintaining the walls of a city that has long ago been defeated and ravaged. The enemy has gotten a strong foothold in the city, and many of us have accepted the enemy as a sister or brother.
These kinds of speeches, denying central tenets of the Christian faith, are promulgated throughout the denomination by ordained leaders. Yet, there is no defense of the walls, through discipline. No one is censured or stripped of their ordination because they deny the atoning death of Jesus Christ. No one is censured or stripped of their credentials because they deny the literal physical bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Not one individual has been censured for denying the total depravity of humanity (rather emphasizing the goodness of humans) as this speaker does. She states that “paradise happens when we wake up to the presence of “the Spirit” in all of life and celebrate it”. This is simply theological liberalism and new age religion, with a veneer of Christian language. The Holy Spirit is at work convicting the elect of their sins, calling them to repentance, and to trusting in Jesus Christ and the work of the cross and is not to be found in “all of life”. Yet, this kind of speech is promoted and celebrated as representative of Presbyterianism. Another article indicates that the newly elected moderator believes that homosexuality is not sinful and is to be celebrated, while at another event a self-identified homosexual couple celebrate the ability to be married in California. Here is an issue that cannot be any clearer in the scriptures, and yet is denied by denominational leaders at every level, including the highest positions. The walls still exist, though they are battered, but there are fewer and fewer people to guard them. In fact, many who have been put in the position of defending those walls, are the actual ones who are battering them.
When will God’s people in the PCUSA wake up to the reality that they only exist within a shadow of a Christian church? Where is the outcry? Where is the discipline? How do Christians justify financial support of a denomination that allows, encourages and approves of such statements? I applaud those that have left such heresy behind and their stand for the core truths of the gospel, but what about those who have chosen to stay? Where is the so-called work of renewal? Why is there no call to discipline? Have we gotten too comfortable and have too much invested? Where is the sacrifice for the gospel? Are we numb to heresy?
Clark Cowden, just like most Presbyterian PCUSA pastors, simply does not understand the essential issues facing this denomination. On his Presbyterian Global Fellowship blog he basically argues that the PCUSA problem is that they simply do not understand our new culture. Once we do understand this new culture (postmodern) we need to adapt and do church differently (key word missional). He gives an aside to critiquing marketing (yet uses marketing analysis to analyze the problem with the denomination) and comments that we don’t need to change a theology that has basically worked for 2000 years (not that it is true and meets reality). His arguments are inconsistent, illogical and fallacious. I assume he is criticizing churches that remain formal and traditional, yet it is difficult to understand exactly where his criticism lies.
One of the hallmarks of evangelicalism has been its willingness to adapt its form (almost to a fault) to better connect with their culture. This is why we see such a great variety of worship styles within churches. One of the hallmarks of liberalism is that its message has mirrored high secular culture, rejecting all aspects of orthodoxy. Whom then is he criticizing?
Missional? What exactly does this mean in his context? Is he referring to the emerging churches emphasis on orthopraxy (doing good works) and rejecting orthodoxy and doctrine? By missional does he mean communicating the exclusive message of the gospel for the salvation of people who accept Jesus as Lord and Savior? It is very difficult to know.
Why does he not address the 800-pound gorilla in the room? Why is there no comment on the fact that the denomination at every level is absolutely and completely infested and infected by people who deny the core tenets of the faith? Why is this not addressed as the crucial issue and the major problem that is causing many to leave the denomination and others to avoid it?
Does he not believe that the gospel message is utterly compromised by those who exist in every level and in every committee who deny the faith by their theological position? He writes about the issues of General Motors and how they are awakening to the reality of the market only now. But now imagine having people who believe in Toyota and Honda and reject nearly everything to do with GM, who are in charge of running GM. Is this not a better analogy of what is going on in the PCUSA. Why should people who do reject the position that Jesus Christ is the true and only Way, Truth and Life and no one comes to the Father but by him; now work missionaly to communicate that message? Of course they wouldn’t and they don’t. They preach a pluralistic message of good works, good feelings, community and unity. It is a secular message, that saves no one. True mission cannot exist when non-believers are put in charge.
My friends we cannot compromise the truth and we must never minimize the truth. Light cannot exist with darkness. Our message in the PCUSA is constantly compromised and undermined by a pathetic theology that regularly runs away from Orthodoxy. How can we expect the Lord to bless us, as we regularly undermine his truth?
I noticed that Clark Cowden avoided using male pronouns for God. What a shame considering how the revealed Word of God refers to God. But, I guess he is being creative and culturally relevant in a missional way.