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Posts Tagged ‘heresy’

by Mitch Cervinka


“Federal Vision” (FV), also known as “Auburn Avenue Theology” (AAT), is a modern heresy promoted by certain Presbyterian pastors, including Steve Schlissel, Douglas Wilson, Steve Wilkins, Peter Leithart and others.  This heresy was carefully analyzed recently by the Ad Interim Study Committee on Federal Vision, New Perspective, and Auburn Avenue Theologies of the Presbyterian Church in America, which produced a report that very fairly and insightfully analyzes and exposes the errors inherent in FV theology.[1]  I heartily commend it for your consideration.The essence of FV is that salvation must be viewed from two perspectives: 1) the “decretal/eternal” and 2) the “covenantal/historical”.  When discussing the “decretal/eternal” perspective, the advocates of FV seem to affirm an orthodox understanding of historical/Biblical Reformed theology, such as represented by the Westminster Confession of Faith.  However, when discussing the “covenantal/historical” perspective, the FV advocate comes across as Arminian or Pelagian—teaching that water baptism truly unites us to Christ, that those who are truly united to Christ can later fall away and be lost, that elect people can fall away and be eternally lost, etc.One of the great problems of FV, therefore, is that it describes salvation in two contradictory ways which can only confuse or mislead the people of God:

  1. it makes salvation appear to depend on our faithfulness rather than upon Christ’s faithfulness
  2. it teaches us to trust in external performances and earthly relationships—water baptism and church membership—rather than in Christ alone for our salvation
  3. it gives false assurance to those who are not decretally elect
  4. it deprives those who are decretally elect of the assurance that is rightfully theirs in Christ
  5. it blurs the meaning of such important Biblical terms as “elect”, “redeemed” and “regenerate”
  6. it places too much emphasis on the church as the agent of our salvation
  7. hence, it minimizes Christ as the object of our confident faith and deprives Him of the glory that is rightfully His

Because of the contradictory nature of these two “perspectives”, the “covenantal/historical” teaching of FV obscures or nullifies its “decretal/eternal” teaching.  All that they affirm concerning the “decretal/eternal”—unconditional election, particular redemption, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints—is overturned by all that they teach concerning the “covenantal/historical” perspective—claiming that a person can fall away from election and from his redemption, and can successfully resist the grace of God so as not to persevere in faith and thus be eternally damned in hell.  The apostle provides an apt analogy …

1 Corinthians 14:8 – And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?

When the advocate of FV complains that he truly does believe in the “decretal/eternal” perspective, and should therefore be accepted as an orthodox believer in the Reformed tradition, we must realize that this is but a half-truth.  He is only a part-time believer in the Reformed tradition.  The rest of the time, he denies sovereign grace by teaching that truly elect, truly regenerate believers can fall away from Christ and be eternally lost.  He is like a pastor who preaches the deity of Christ on the first and third Sundays of each month, and denies Christ’s deity in his other sermons.  An inconsistent Calvinism is not orthodoxy!Federal Vision claims that Scripture normally views election in the “covenantal/historical” sense.  Hence the “decretal/eternal” perspective is viewed as the Biblical exception rather than the rule—an intellectual curiosity having little practical application.  In Federal Vision, Biblical orthodoxy is trumped by a strained covenantalism that promotes outward conformity to water baptism and church attendance while downplaying any concern for genuine soul-transformation.  This is all too reminiscent of the rise of Liberalism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when orthodoxy was viewed as outdated and provincial, and novel interpretive schemes were proposed to bring the Bible into conformity with the prevailing theological theories of the day.The “Reformed” Reformers (e.g. Calvin, Knox, the Puritans, Dort, Westiminster, etc.) clearly taught what FV refers to as the “decretal/eternal” perspective.  It is not so clear that they embraced the “covenantal/historical” perspective—certainly not in the same manner or degree that FV presents it.  In fact, they strongly denounced many of the teachings that FV affirms—upholding God’s eternal, sovereign election as being eternal and immutable; denying that a truly regenerate person could totally or finally fall away from salvation, etc.  They made a clear distinction between hypocrites and true believers, and denied that membership in the visible church was equivalent to union with Christ.There is a strong hint of modern Lutheran theology (i.e. that a truly justified, regenerated person can lose his salvation) in FV.  It might be added that there is an even stronger hint of Roman Catholic theology in their claims that 1) membership in the visible church is synonymous with (genuine, spiritual) union with Christ, 2) one becomes (truly, spiritually) united with Christ by means of water baptism, 3) a true believer can later fall away from Christ and be eternally lost and (so it would seem) 4) no one can have true assurance of ultimate salvation in this life.[2]We must understand that the faith-strengthening power of Reformed theology lies in its affirmation of the eternal, sovereign purpose and unalloyed grace of God in saving sinful, rebellious men.  When people are distracted from the gospel of God’s sovereign grace and made to believe that their salvation depends on sacramentalism (receiving baptism) or legalism (their own ability to remain faithful), it takes their eyes away from Christ, the only Savior, and turns them to idolatrously trust in themselves and their own performances.No true Calvinist has a problem with the “decretal/eternal” perspective—this perspective is plainly taught in Romans 8-11, Ephesians 2, and in numerous other passages of holy scripture, as well as in the various Reformed standards.  Clearly, it is FV’s peculiar “covenantal/historical” perspective that appears to be so heretical and so inimical to the gospel of the grace of God.  What, then, are the reasons given for holding this “covenantal/historical” perspective?Here are some of the reasons given:  1) Federal Vision opposes the revivalistic theology that bases the assurance of salvation on subjective experiences.  It seeks to replace such subjective, individualistic experiences with the objective fact of having received the ordinance of water baptism and being thereby accepted into membership in the visible church.   2) Federal Vision is concerned that, since we humans do not know God’s eternal decrees, and cannot see into the human heart, we must accept at face value an individual’s membership in the visible church so long as he faithfully perseveres in faith and good works.  3) The adherents of FV claim that FV is more faithful to scripture, asserting that the Bible “ordinarily views election through the lens of the covenant“.In response to the first reason, we must remember that the scribes and Pharisees were the objects of our Lord’s harshest rebukes, even though they were generally regarded as the most faithful and most respected members of the Jewish religion.  Our Lord did not merely chasten them as wayward children, but condemned them as hell-destined reprobates.  For example, in Matthew 23 alone, he pronounces “Woe” upon them no less than seven times, declaring them to be children of hell (vs. 15), “blind guides” and “blind fools” (vss. 16-17, 24), “hypocrites” (vss. 27, 29), comparing them to “whitewashed tombs“, “full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (vs. 27), and asserting that they were “sons of those who murdered the prophets“.  He concludes by calling them “serpents” and a “brood of vipers“, declaring “how can you escape being sentenced to hell?” (vs. 33), and prophesying that they would kill, crucify and flog the “prophets, wise men and scribes” that He would later send to them.  Surely, therefore, our Lord did not equate membership in the visible church with true faith or salvation.To base your confidence on ordinances and membership in the visible church is an ancient error known as externalism.  When the apostle exhorts us to “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves,” he does not tell us to look to our baptism or church membership as the basis for assurance.  Rather, he says “Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13:5).  The true test of salvation is a changed heart, which is not as subjective as the FV proponents suggest, since it involves evaluating our character and attitudes against the objective standard of God’s eternal, authoritative word.In response to the second reason, I would reply that it is far safer to consistently affirm the truth of God’s decretal/eternal election, and simply acknowledge that our human judgment of the spiritual condition of any given individual is limited and fallible, than to proclaim a theology where truly elect, truly regenerate saints can totally fall away and be forever lost.  Consider, for example, how the apostle John teaches us to understand apostasy…

1 John 2:19 – They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

John asserts that “if they had been of us, they would have continued with us“, assuring us that those who apostasize were never true members of Christ’s church.  John carefully distinguishes between the outward relationship of having assembled with us, versus the vital relationship of being “of us“, which is characterized by persevering faith.  Clearly, John had no illusions that these apostates had once been truly joined to Christ nor that they were once truly regenerate.We come then to the third reason—the proponents of FV assert that scripture actually teaches the “covenantal/historical” perspective.  Here is a sample of their claims[3]

  • The Bible ordinarily (though not always) views election through the lens of the covenant. This is why covenant members are addressed consistently as God’s elect, even though some of those covenant members may apostatize, proving themselves in the end not to have been among the number of those whom God decreed to eternal salvation from before the foundation of the world. Thus, the basis for calling them God’s “elect” was their standing as members of the Church (which is the body of Christ) and not some knowledge of God’s secret decree. The visible Church is the place where the saints are “gathered and perfected” by means of “the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God” (WCF 25.3).
  • The Church is not merely a human community, and the Church’s enactments of the means of grace are not merely human works. God works through the administration of the sacraments by the power of His Spirit and His word of promise (WCF 27.3). The Church herself is God’s new creation, the city He promised to build for Abraham. The Church is not merely a means to salvation, a stepping-stone to a more ultimate goal. Rather, the Church herself is the historic manifestation of God’s salvation (WCF 25.1,2), the partially-realized goal in history that will be brought to final fulfillment at the last day. When someone is united to the Church by baptism, he is incorporated into Christ and into His body; he becomes bone of Christ’s bone and flesh of His flesh (Eph. 5:30). He becomes a member of “the house, family, and kingdom of God” (WCF 25.2). Until and unless that person breaks covenant, he is to be reckoned among God’s elect and regenerate saints.
  • By baptism, one enters into covenantal union with Christ and is offered all his benefits (Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:1ff; 2 Cor. 1:20). As Westminster Shorter Catechism #94 states, baptism signifies and seals “our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace.” Baptism in itself does not, however, guarantee final salvation. What is offered in baptism may not be received because of unbelief. Or, it may only be embraced for a season and later rejected (Matt. 13:20-22; Luke 8:13-14). Those who “believe for a while” enjoy blessings and privileges of the covenant only for a time and only in part, since their temporary faith is not true to Christ, as evidenced by its eventual failure and lack of fruit (1 Cor. 10:1ff; Hebrews 6:4-6). By their unbelief they “trample underfoot the Son of God, count the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified an unholy thing, and do despite to the Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:29) and thus bring greater condemnation upon themselves.
  • Included in His decree, however, is that some persons, not destined for final salvation, will be drawn to Christ and His people only for a time. These, for a season, enjoy real blessings, purchased for them by Christ’s cross and applied to them by the Holy Spirit in his common operations through Word and Sacrament (Hebrews 6:4-6; Matthew 25:14ff; etc.).
  • For example, the same language that describes the Spirit coming upon Saul (1 Sam. 10:6) is used when the Spirit comes upon David (1 Sam. 16:13), Gideon (Jdg. 6:34), Jephthah (Jdg. 11:29), and Samson (Jdg. 14:6, 9; 15:14). Yet in four of these five cases (David, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson), the man in question was clearly given persevering faith and brought to final salvation by the Spirit’s work (cf. Heb. 11:32). The Biblical narrative, however, appears to draw no distinction between Saul’s initial experience of the Spirit and the experience of those who obtained final salvation.
  • All whom God has ordained to eternal life will surely be saved. But there is also another sense in which all those in the covenant are “saved.” They have been delivered out of the world and brought into the glorious new creation of Christ (thus, the Scripture speaks of those who had “known the way of righteousness,” “been cleansed from their former sins,” “have tasted of the heavenly gift,” etc.), but not all will persevere in that “salvation.”  Jesus spoke of those in the new covenant who were united to Him, but then cut off because they did not persevere in the fruit-bearing that is the evidence of a lively faith, by which we abide in Christ (John 15). Whatever the precise complexion and content of that union for those who do not persevere, nonetheless, if Jesus Himself is salvation, must we not conclude that being cut off from Him means being cut off the from source of salvation and, in that specific sense, from salvation itself?
  • The Bible often speaks of salvation in relational and covenantal categories. “Salvation” is a matter of being rightly related to God through Christ. But relationships are not static, unchanging entities. They are fluid and dynamic. Our salvation covenant with the Lord is like a marriage. If we continue to rest upon Christ in faith, we will live with Him happily ever after. If we break the marriage covenant, He will divorce us. It is probably unwise and pastorally inept, especially for tender consciences, to speak of this in terms of “losing one’s salvation,” but it seems contrary to Scripture to say that nothing at all is lost. To draw such a conclusion appears to deny the reality of the covenant and the blessedness that is said to belong even to those who ultimately prove themselves reprobate (Heb. 10:26ff).

In response to these claims, I would insist that Federal Vision misunderstands these passages, making numerous unwarranted assumptions.  Their excessive zeal for the covenant has impaired their hermeneutical judgment. For example, it is manifest that, when scripture says that the Spirit “came upon” Saul or David, it is not speaking of His work of regeneration, but of empowerment and gifting for ministry (i.e. as prophet, king or warrior).  The fact that David was a regenerate man does not justify taking the phrase “the Spirit rushed upon David” (1 Samuel 16:13) to mean that the Spirit came upon Him on this occasion so as to regenerate him.Scripture never explicitly identifies an elect person that fell away (other than Judas, whom Christ chose for discipleship, not for salvation—John 6:64, 70).  It is true that scripture sometimes speaks of the church corporately as being “elect”, or of being comprised of elect people.  However, this is to be understood in a general way, and not in a complete or exhaustive way.  It can mean that 1) elect people will normally be found within the church, 2) the church ought to be comprised only of elect individuals, 3) the church will ultimately be comprised only of elect people, or 4) the church, as an institution, was chosen and ordained by God to be the chief means by which His glory is proclaimed to the ends of the earth.  Any of these meanings is possible, and none requires us to believe that every individual member of the visible church is to be considered “truly elect”.Scripture says that Christ died for the “world” (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2), but this does not mean He died for every single individual in the world.  In the same way, it does not follow that when the church is addressed as “elect”, it means to apply this term to every individual member of the church.  Jesus assured us that there would be tares among the wheat, and goats among the sheep, assuring us that there is always a difference in character between the truly regenerate and those who are not decretally elect. The tares are never actually wheat, but only appear to be so until they ripen. The goats are never actually sheep, and never have the character of sheep, but merely reside among the sheep.Likewise, when scripture warns the church of apostasy, it is acknowledging that there are often both elect and reprobate among her number. A truly elect person will never totally apostasize, and a truly reprobate person will never persevere to the end. However, because the church is a mixed company, there will always be those who “went out from us” because “they were not of us” (1 John 2:19).  God’s warnings are one of the means He uses, through His Holy Spirit, to keep His truly elect people from apostasizing.  They are also one of the means He uses to demonstrate that the apostates are totally without excuse for leaving.Federal Vision has confused various aspects of the covenant of works with the covenant of grace.  The covenant of works is a covenant of human performance, whereas the covenant of grace depends solely upon Christ’s performance for us.  Notice how Paul contrasts law and grace in Galatians 3 …

Galatians 3:10-14 – For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Under the covenant of works, we must maintain the terms of the covenant.  However, under the covenant of grace, Christ has graciously interposed to be our covenant-keeper, and He cannot fail to keep the covenant.  Since the covenant of grace depends on Christ’s faithfulness, and not our own, there is no possible way for a person who is truly within the covenant of grace to “break covenant”.  The breaking of the covenant is possible only if we are the ones who are attempting to keep the covenant, which means that we are not living in the covenant of grace, but in the covenant of works.  Any scripture that speaks of “covenant breaking” is therefore given in the context of the covenant of works.It should be noted that, while the terms “covenant of works” and “covenant of grace” are not found in scripture, the concepts are quite Biblical.  Scripture repeatedly warns us that we cannot be saved by our works, but only by God’s electing grace and mercy, through faith in Jesus Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-10; Romans 3:20, 27-28; 4:1-8; 9:11, 16; 10:9; 11:5-6; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5; Acts 16:31; etc.).According to the claims made by FV, a person who is baptized and received into the church is thereby genuinely united to Christ and made a partaker of the various benefits of the New Covenant—even if he later renounces his faith in Christ and dies in unbelief.  FV would claim that, at one time, Christ knew this apostate individual as His own, but our Lord plainly denies this claim, saying:

Matthew 7:23 – … ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Federal Vision says that Christ once truly “knew” the apostate, but our Lord says to them “I never knew you“.  Thus, it is false to say that the apostate were ever truly united to Christ.  Water baptism has no power to unite anyone to Christ.This reveals one of the many exegetical errors on which Federal Vision is based.  Scripture never says that water baptism unites us to Christ.  None of the passages that speak of the saving benefits we receive through baptism ever mention water—rather, it is Spirit baptism alone that joins us to Christ…

1 Corinthians 12:13 – For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

We must understand the proper role of water baptism—it is an earthly symbol of the spiritual work of regeneration, and has no power whatever to effect the work it symbolizes. It is the spiritual work, and not the earthly symbol, that joins us to Christ.  Both are called “baptism”, but it is essential that we distinguish the symbol from the reality.  John the Baptist taught his disciples to look beyond water baptism to the Lord Jesus, who would baptize with the Holy Spirit rather than with water…

Mark 1:8 – I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

Just as animal sacrifices and circumcision could not bring actual salvation to the Israelites (Hebrews 10:4; Galatians 5:2), so also water baptism has no power to save (1 Corinthians 1:14).  These are but symbols of the spiritual reality that can save.  Granted, water baptism is more than merely a symbol, for it serves as a seal of ownership when it is applied to a person who is (decretally) elect. Also, it confers to the church a certain measure of sanctifying grace by illustrating (and thereby teaching and reminding them of) the divine work it represents. However, these facts do not turn water baptism into a saving ordinance that confers some sort of actual salvation to the individual being baptized.There is no reason to suppose that the people spoken of in Hebrews 6 were ever truly saved …

Hebrews 6:4-6 – For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

These people were said to have been “once enlightened“, to have “tasted the heavenly gift“, to have “shared in the Holy Spirit” and to have “tasted the goodness of the word of God” and “the powers of the age to come“, yet fell away.  The sense of the verse is not that these individuals had ever been regenerated, but that they had been given abundant external evidences and inducements (short of regeneration) that should have been sufficient to convince any spiritually sensible person to come to Christ in faith.  There is an “enlightenment” concerning the things of God that comes short of genuine loving trust in God.  The references to “the heavenly gift” and “the Holy Spirit” and “the powers of the age to come” have to do with miraculous signs and gifts, rather than a soul-changing work of the Spirit.  Signs and wonders were common in the early church, and were evidently given even to some who were not truly regenerate.  So also there are many who delight in “the goodness of the word of God“, and yet deny the Redeemer to whom it points.  Therefore, none of the things said of these people proves that they had ever experienced genuine regeneration, and thus this is no proof that we should regard such people as ever having been “elect” or “united with Christ” in any saving sense.Matthew Henry asserts that the people described in Hebrews 6:4 were never truly converted or justified …

… These lengths hypocrites may go, and, after all, turn apostates. Now hence observe, [1.] These great things are spoken here of those who may fall away; yet it is not here said of them that they were truly converted, or that they were justified; there is more in true saving grace than in all that is here said of apostates. [2.] This therefore is no proof of the final apostasy of true saints. These indeed may fall frequently and foully, but yet they will not totally nor finally from God; the purpose and the power of God, the purchase and the prayer of Christ, the promise of the gospel, the everlasting covenant that God has made with them, ordered in all things and sure, the indwelling of the Spirit, and the immortal seed of the word, these are their security. But the tree that has not these roots will not stand.[4]

Notice especially Henry’s observation that true saints “will not [fall] totally nor finally from God“, and one of the reasons he adduces is that they are secure in “the everlasting covenant that God has made with them“.  The Reformers and Puritans did not typically believe in a “covenant” relationship that does not guarantee salvation.  Rather, they affirmed repeatedly that God’s covenant ensures the eternal salvation of those who are under the covenant, and that they can never totally nor finally fall away from it.This observation is affirmed in the Westminster Confession of Faith …

17:2 This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ; the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them; and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.[5]

It is the very nature of the covenant of grace that the saints will certainly and infallibly persevere in the state of grace.  Federal Vision denies this clear statement when it asserts that genuine believers can and do fall away from the covenant and are eternally lost.Scripture itself often teaches us that the true believer is secure in Christ and cannot totally fall away and perish.  For example, our Lord taught …

John 10:28-30 – I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

Here, our Lord is speaking of specific people (His “sheep”) who were characterized by knowing Christ’s voice and instictively following Him (John 10:4-5, 14, 16).  This is not some future hypothetical group of disciples that managed to persevere to the judgment day, but people who, in this life, can be recognized as sheep.  It is these whom Jesus says will never perish.  Moreover, He gives the reason why they cannot perish—they are being held omnipotently by Himself and by His Father.  In order for the sheep to perish, someone would have to overpower God Almighty, which is impossible.Again, Peter declares …

1 Peter 1:3-5 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

According to Peter, our inheritance is imperishable, and we are being guarded by God’s power—His omnipotent power—through faith (i.e. faith as the instrument by which God is omnipotently guarding and keeping us)—for a salvation that will be revealed in the last time.  Thus, the salvation of which Peter here speaks consists not merely in the salvation blessings we experience in this present life, but in the ultimate blessings that will be ours at the end of time.  Our ultimate salvation is guarded by God’s omnipotent power as He upholds our faith to the end.
 In conclusion, it is destructive of the gospel to affirm the truth of sovereign grace with one breath, and to deny it (via the “covenantal/historical perspective”) with the next.  A context-sensitive theology (i.e. where the doctrine taught depends on the context of “decretal/eternal” or “covenantal/historical”) such as this can only be confusing to the hearers who hear seeming (or perhaps real!) contradictions taught to them.  God’s people need to be taught with clarity that salvation is by sovereign grace alone.  Regeneration is a real act of God’s Spirit and “You must be born again” (John 3:7) is a message that every person needs to hear.  This refers not to water baptism, but to a miraculous work of God that radically changes the human heart, imparting a deep love for God and a lasting faith that perseveres to the very end. God’s people need to know and have the utmost confidence that Christ alone is the Savior, and that our salvation depends upon Him alone. Only then will we have the freedom and confidence to serve God without guilt or fear.

Romans 8:15 – For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

It is destructive to the gospel to say that a person who was once joined to Christ may later fall away and be lost.  This makes Christ out to be a Savior who does not actually save.  This makes salvation depend, not solely on Christ’s faithfulness and merit, but on some merit or faithfulness of our own.  Even when we qualify such statements by saying that it is God who gives the faith or who causes us to persevere, we deny the perfection of Christ’s redemptive work to suggest that anyone who was once “saved” by Christ could ultimately be lost.  If those for whom Christ died will not necessarily be saved, then we cannot point to Christ as the perfect Savior who can be trusted to eternally save those who come to Him in genuine faith.  Instead, we are teaching people to trust in themselves—in their own faithfulness and ability to persevere.  Any gospel that takes our eyes away from Christ is heresy.  Any gospel that teaches us that Christ can only save us if we do our part, is heresy.  We must constantly reaffirm the Reformers’ banner of “Sola Gratia” — GRACE ALONE!
 
 Footnotes:
[1] The Report of Ad Interim Study Committee on Federal Vision, New Perspective, and Auburn Avenue Theologies may be read at http://www.pcahistory.org/pca/07-fvreport.html. [Return to text]
[2] Another evidence that FV represents a return to Papism is that many of its adherents are attracted to the “New Perspectives” teachings of N.T. Wright, who interprets the Pauline doctrine of justification to be ecclesial rather than soteriological, claiming that by “justify”, Paul intended primarily “participation in the covenant”.  He downplays forensic justification and openly denies the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the condemned sinner—doctrines that were at the heart of the Reformers’ rejection of the Roman church, and for which they were willing to suffer and die.  If Wright is correct, then where is the scriptural basis for the Reformation? [Return to text]
[3] These excerpts were taken from the summary statement provided on the Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church website at: www.auburnavenue.org/documents/summary-statement-on-baptism.htm [Return to text]
[4] Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Hebrews 6:4. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/henry/mhc6.Heb.vii.html [Return to text]
[5] Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 17, Article 3. http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/index.html?body=/documents/wcf_with_proofs/ch_XVII.html [Return to text
  
 
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by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (*)

We have seen that the devil is never quite so subtle, and never quite so successful, as when he succeeds in persuading people that he does not exist at all! That, as we have suggested, was his supreme masterpiece, and it is certainly a part of our problem at the present time. The tendency now is to say that we must not talk about ‘the devil’ but only about ‘evil’. We must not tell people to ‘renounce the works of the devil’, we must tell them to ‘resist evil’. In other words, the whole tendency today is to say that our fight is only against a principle of evil that is in ourselves and in others, and perhaps in the very environment into which we are born. But it is not considered to be ‘consistent with modern knowledge’ to believe still in a personal devil. We must not even make that principle of evil positive. What has been called ‘evil’, we are told, is simply the absence of good qualities rather than something positive in and of itself!

But the whole emphasis of the Apostle here is on the devil as a person. A principle cannot be subtle. It is only a person who can be subtle. ‘The wiles of the devil!’ The Apostle’s whole object is to tell us that we are not fighting merely against flesh and blood, merely against some principle, or absence of principle, which is within us as flesh and blood, as men and women. He goes out of his way to say that it is quite otherwise. In other words what he says is the exact opposite of what is being taught commonly at the present time.

But somebody may ask, ‘Does it matter whether you believe in a personal devil or not?’ The answer is that the Apostle most certainly assures us that we are fighting personalities and ‘spirits’ of evil, the world ‘rulers of this darkness’, not the ‘darkness’, but ‘the rulers’ of the darkness. His whole object is to get us to see that we must not be deluded in this respect, but realize that there are these spiritual entities, personalities, headed up by the devil himself, who are warring a terrible, subtle, vicious warfare against God and all His people. This is not a matter of opinion, it is not just a matter of accommodating our teaching to suit the modern mind and modern knowledge and understanding; if you do not believe in the person of the devil you are rejecting not only the teaching of the Apostle Paul but you are rejecting the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself!

The problem that arises here primarily is the problem of revelation. Was the Apostle Paul just a creature of his age, or was he given this revelation by the Lord Jesus Christ through the Spirit? Was our Lord Himself but a creature of His age? He obviously believed in a personal devil, and in these powers. He addressed demons as persons, saying ‘Come out’. You cannot say that to a principle! You cannot dismiss the devil, as it were, in that way; you are denying at the same time the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. You are saying that you are in a superior position to Him, that your knowledge is greater, that you have greater understanding. You are involved in the whole question of revelation and of authority.

This digression is important, for the business of preaching is to relate the teaching of the Scriptures to what is happening in our own day; and if this teaching in Ephesians is true there is nothing more dangerous than to substitute for a personal devil a principle of evil! The whole of our faith is ultimately involved in the matter. The trouble with the critics is that they really do not believe in the spiritual realm. Many of them are equally doubtful, as I have shown, of the Person of the Holy Spirit. He is just a principle, a power, an influence. There is, in fact, nowadays, a fundamental lack of belief in the spiritual realm and the reality of these spiritual personalities. Never was there a time when it was more necessary that we should consider carefully what the Apostle has to teach us, and what all parts of the Bible teach us, concerning ‘the wiles of the devil’.

Having looked at the wiles in general we must now become more particular in our approach. Here, again, I would sub-divide our treatment of this matter into two main sections. First, we must consider the devil’s activity in general, and then his activity in detail, for it is quite clear that there are certain general activities of the devil described in the Scriptures, and which are seen very clearly in the history of the Church throughout the centuries, and in the Church today. These in turn can be sub-divided into strategy and tactics. It is the same classification as is used in military warfare.

We start with these generalities, these matters of broad strategy. There have been certain movements initiated by the devil which have affected the life of the whole Church, and which in turn have affected the lives of individual believers in the Church. We are, indeed, involved in these very things at the present time. ‘To be forewarned is to be forearmed.’ Let us use again the analogy of international problems. The last War came upon this country suddenly and unexpectedly because people would not face the facts, because we were nearly all believers in, and supporters of appeasement, surrendering this and that, saying that war could not happen again, and that two World Wars do not occur within a quarter of a century! This country kept on refusing to face the plain facts of the international situation. Men wanted to be happy and to enjoy themselves, and dismissed the man who kept on warning us as a ‘warmonger’, a ‘difficult person’ with whom nobody could work, an ‘individualist’. Precisely the same, it seems to me, is happening in the realm of the spiritual today. People say, ‘Do not be negative; let us be positive; let us just preach the simple gospel’. But the Bible is full of negatives, full of warnings, ever showing us these terrible possibilities. If you find in yourself a dislike of the warnings of the Scripture and of this negative teaching, it is obvious that you have been duped by the wiles of the devil. You have not realized the situation in which you are placed.

The movements to which I am referring can be best classified and considered along the following lines. We start with Heresies within the Church, which have been caused and produced by the devil and his powers. I am not concerned to go into the detail of heresies; I am simply concerned to emphasize the fact of heresies, the fact of movements within the life of the Church that have so often led to terrible trouble and produced a state of chaos.

A heresy is ‘a denial of or a doubt concerning any defined, established Christian doctrine’. There is a difference between heresy and apostasy. Apostasy means ‘a departure from the Christian truth’. It may be a total renunciation or denial of it, or it may be a misrepresentation of it to such an extent that it becomes a denial of the whole truth. But a heresy is more limited in its scope. To be guilty of heresy, and to be a heretic, means that in the main you hold to the doctrines of the Christian faith, but that you tend to go wrong on some particular doctrine or aspect of the faith. The New Testament itself shows us clearly that this tendency to heresy had already begun even in the days of the early Church. Have you not noticed in the New Testament Epistles the frequent references to these things? There is scarcely one of them that does not include mention of some particular heresy that was creeping in, and tending to threaten the life of some particular church. It is seen in this Epistle to the Ephesians; it is still more plain, perhaps, in the Epistle to the Colossians where heretical tendencies were entering through philosophy and other agencies. It is found likewise in the Epistles to Timothy.

Incipient heresy can be detected from the very earliest days. There is an enemy who comes and sows tares. I am not applying that parable in detail, I am using it as an illustration to show the kind of thing we are considering. The enemy’s object, of course, is to disturb the life of the Church, to shake the confidence of Christian people, to spoil God’s work in Christ. The Epistles were in a sense written to counteract these evils. The threat was already there in many different forms, for before the New Testament closes, all the major heresies were beginning to show their heads in the Early Church.

But from the second century of the Christian era the evil becomes still more evident and obvious. The simple fact is that for several centuries the Christian Church was literally fighting for her very life. With the conversion, and the coming in, of those who were trained in Greek philosophy and teaching, all kinds of dangers immediately arose, and the danger became so great as to threaten the whole life of the Church. People who called themselves Christians, and moved in the realm of the Church, began to propagate teachings that were denials of Christian truth. The threat became so great that the leaders of the Churches held certain great Councils in order to define the Christian faith. Their object was to pinpoint heresies, and to protect the people from believing them. Such confusion had come in that people did not know what was right and what was wrong. So the leaders met together in these great Councils, and promulgated their famous Creeds, such as The Athanasian Creed, The Nicene Creed, and The Apostles’ Creed.

These Creeds were attempts on the part of the Church to define, and to lay down, what is true and what is not true. And in this way they were able to brand certain teachers as heretics, and to exclude them from the life of the Christian Church. The confusion that led to the drawing up of the Creeds was a great manifestation of the wiles of the devil. And today there are many people who recite these Creeds in their churches every Sunday, and then in conversation tell you that what you believe does not matter at all — ‘believe anything you like!’ But the Creeds are a permanent reminder to us of the wiles of the devil in this respect.

During the great period of the Protestant Reformation likewise the different sections of the Reformed Church drew up their Confessions of Faith, such as the Belgic Confession, the Augsburg Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and in this country the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England. In the next century Protestant theologians meeting in Westminster Abbey in London in and after 1643, eventually produced ‘The Westminster Confession of Faith’. What was their purpose? I ask the question because we are living in an age when many say, ‘Of course, these things do not matter at all, they have no relevance to us’. I am trying to show their vast importance, their extreme relevance at this present time. Confessions were drawn up for the same reason as held good during the earlier centuries. Church leaders, led by the Holy Spirit, and enlightened by Him, saw very clearly that they must, as their first duty, lay down clearly and on paper what is true and what is not true. In part they had to define their faith over against Roman Catholicism. And not only so, but also over against certain heresies that were tending to rise even amongst themselves. So they drew up their great ‘Confessions’ — which in a sense are nothing but the Creeds once more — in order to give the people light and guidance and instruction with respect to what they should believe.

Is there someone who feels at this point, ‘Well, really, what has all this to do with me? I am an ordinary person, I am a member of the Church and life is very difficult. What has all this to say to me?’ Or there may be someone who is recovering after illness and who says ‘Well, I was hoping to have a word of comfort, something to strengthen me along the way, something to make me feel a little happier; what has all this about Creeds and Confessions and the wiles of the devil to do with me?’ If you feel like that, the truth is that the devil has defeated you. The Apostle Paul says, ‘Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners’ (I Corinthians 15:33). He means that wrong teaching is desperately dangerous. He is there dealing with the great question of the resurrection, he is concerned with that one doctrine, and he says, Make no mistake about this; it is not a matter of indifference as to whether you believe in the literal physical resurrection or not. ‘Ah but,’ you say, ‘I am a practical man of affairs, I am not interested in doctrine, I am not a theologian, I have no time for these things. All I want is something to help me to live my daily life.’ But according to the Apostle you cannot divorce these things, ‘Evil communications’ —wrong teaching, wrong thinking, wrong belief — ‘corrupt good manners’. It will affect the whole of your life.

One of the first things you are to learn in this Christian life and warfare is that, if you go wrong in your doctrine, you will go wrong in all aspects of your life. You will probably go wrong in your practice and behaviour; and you will certainly go wrong in your experience. Why is it that people are defeated by the things that happen to them? Why is it that some people are completely cast down if they are taken ill, or if someone who is dear to them is taken ill? They were wonderful Christians when all was going well; the sun was shining, the family was well, everything was perfect, and you would have thought that they were the best Christians in the country. But suddenly there is an illness and they seem to be shattered, they do not know what to do or where to turn, and they begin to doubt God. They say, ‘We were living the Christian life, and we were praying to God, and our lives had been committed to God; but look at what is happening. Why should this happen to us?’ They begin to doubt God and all His gracious dealings with them. Do such people need ‘a bit of comfort’? Do they need the church simply as a kind of soporific or tranquillizer? Do they only need something which will make them feel a little happier, and lift the burden a little while they are in the church?

Their real trouble is that they lack an understanding of the Christian faith. They have an utterly inadequate notion of what Christianity means. Their idea of Christianity was: ‘Believe in Christ and you will never have another trouble or problem; God will bless you, nothing will ever go wrong with you’; whereas the Scripture itself teaches that ‘through much tribulation we must enter into the kingdom of God’ (Acts 14:22), or as the Apostle expresses it elsewhere, ‘In nothing be terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake’ (Philippians 1:28-29). Our Lord says, ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33). There is nothing which is so wrong, and so utterly false, as to fail to see the primary importance of true doctrine. Looking back over my experience as a pastor for some thirty-four years, I can testify without the slightest hesitation that the people I have found most frequently in trouble in their spiritual experience have been those who have lacked understanding. You cannot divorce these things. You will go wrong in the realms of practical living and experience if you have not a true understanding. If you drop off into some heresy, if you go wrong at some point, if you believe, for instance — I give one example in passing — ‘that healing is in the atonement’, that it is never God’s will that any of His children should be ill, that it is always God’s will that all His children should be healthy, and that no Christian should ever die from a disease . . .; if you believe that, and then find yourself, or someone who is dear to you, dying of some incurable disease, you will be miserable and unhappy. Probably you will be told by certain people, ‘There is something wrong with your faith, you are failing somewhere, you are not really trusting as you should be’, and you will be cast into the depth of despair and misery and unhappiness. You will be depressed in your spiritual life, and you will be looking here and there for comfort. Such a person’s condition is due to error or heresy concerning a primary central doctrine. He or she has insinuated something into the Christian faith that does not truly belong to it.

Nothing is more urgently relevant, whether we think of ourselves in particular or the Church in general, than that we should be aware of heresy. Take the New Testament, take the history of the Christian Church, or take individual Christian experience, and you will see that true doctrine is always urgently relevant. It is of supreme importance for the whole life of the Church. The Holy Spirit is the power in the Church, and the Holy Spirit will never honour anything except His own Word. It is the Holy Spirit who has given this Word. He is its Author. It is not of men! Nor is the Bible the product of ‘flesh and blood’. The Apostle Paul was not simply giving expression to contemporary teaching or his own thoughts. He says, ‘I received it by revelation’. It was given to him, given to him by the Lord, the risen Lord, through the Holy Spirit. So I am arguing that the Holy Spirit will honour nothing but His own Word. Therefore if we do not believe and accept His Word, or if in any way we deviate from it, we have no right to expect the blessing of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will honour truth, and will honour nothing else. Whatever else we may do, if we do not honour this truth He will not honour us.

This is surely one of the major problems in the Church at the present moment. Everyone is aware of the fact that the Church is lacking in power. The leaders are trying to seek the cause of this in order that they may discover how to remedy it; and apparently, they are all jumping to one conclusion, namely, that the cause of our lack of power is found in our divisions. So we must all come together. That is the argument. The divided Church is the cause of the trouble, and so the argument follows that if only we all come together we shall be blessed, we shall obtain the missing power, and tremendous things will happen. But how are we to come together? One believes this, another believes that. The main trouble, we are told, is that some put far too much emphasis on what one believes. Surely, they say, we ought to recognize that the one thing that matters is that there are great common enemies against us, for example, Communism, so we must all come together, all who call themselves Christian in any shape or form. We are all one; why divide about these things? We must all come and stand together as Christians, and then we shall have power.

We read about these things constantly in the newspapers. Some are rejoicing because Protestantism and Roman Catholicism are drawing nearer together. ‘What does the past matter?’ they say, ‘Let us have the right spirit, let us come together, all of us, and not be concerned about these particularities.’ I have but one comment to make about this matter, and I regret to have to make it. To me, all such talk is just a denial of the plain teaching of the New Testament, a denial of the Creeds and the Confessions and the Protestant Reformation! It is carnal thinking, in addition to being a denial of the truth. According to the teaching of the Bible, one thing only matters, and that is the truth. The Holy Spirit will honour nothing but the truth, His own truth. But that, He will honour.

To me the most marvellous thing of all is that, the moment you come to such a conclusion, you realize that in a sense nothing else matters. Numbers certainly do not matter. But today the prevailing argument is the one that exalts numbers. If only we all got together and formed a mammoth World Church! Some would even extend that idea further and bring in everyone who believes anyhow in God. They talk about the ‘insights’ of Mohammedanism and Hinduism and Confucianism, and dream of all who believe in God uniting against a godless, atheistic Communism. The present, they say, is no time to be dividing on these small, irrelevant differences of belief, the result of which is that we are dividing our forces and become ineffective. I can only comment: What a tragic fallacy! What a tragic failure to understand the basic elementary teaching we are given here in Ephesians about the wiles of the devil!

To explain this matter further I use an analogy which seems to me to be an apposite one at the present time. I am not concerned about its political aspect; but look at the condition of the Labour Party in this country at the present time. People say, ‘There is no Opposition today, there is no “Her Majesty’s Opposition”.’ This is due, they say, to the fact that the Party’s members are all divided into groups and factions. They argue with one another, and they will carry no weight until they settle their internal differences and all speak with one voice. Now, when you are talking about a political party, that is absolutely right. Political parties can do nothing unless they have a majority. Political parties function in terms of majority rule. However right what they believe may be, if they cannot command the votes they will not be able to form the Government; in fact, governmentally they will be paralysed. Obviously they must get together and try to achieve unity so that they will command votes and increase the possibility of forming a government.

But this argument is not only wrong, it is dangerously wrong, if you relate it to the realm of the Christian faith. The whole Bible testifies against it. The glories of Church history protest loudly against it. The Christian position is entirely different. Here, you do not begin by counting heads, you are not concerned primarily about numbers and masses. You do not think in that way. You are in an entirely different realm. Here, the one thing you think of primarily is your relationship to God! Over against the modern faith in numbers we must say with an American of the last century, William Lloyd Garrison, ‘One with God is a majority’. God has come in, the everlasting, the almighty, the eternal God! It is the power of God that matters. And the moment you realize that, the question of numbers, as regards men, is comparatively irrelevant and unimportant.

Nothing matters in the spiritual realm except truth, the truth given by the Holy Spirit, the truth that can be honoured by the Holy Spirit. Is there anything more glorious in the whole of the Old Testament than the way in which this great principle stands out? God often used individual men, or but two or three, against hordes and masses. Is there anything more exhilarating than the doctrine of the remnant? While the majority had gone wrong, the ones and the twos saw the truth. Take a man like Jeremiah. All the false prophets were against him. There is a man who had to stand alone. Poor Jeremiah — how he hated it and disliked it! He did not like being unpopular, he did not like standing on his own, and being ridiculed and laughed at, and spat upon, as it were; but he had the truth of God, and so he endured it all. He decided at times to say nothing, but the word was like fire in his bones, and he had to go on speaking it. Obloquy and abuse were heaped upon him, but it did not matter; he was God’s spokesman and God’s representative. Similarly Moses had to stand alone when he came down from the Mount where he had met God. To stand in isolation from one’s fellows, but with God, is the great doctrine of the Old Testament in many ways. And it is emphasized in the New Testament also.

Is it not amazing that people should forget the Scriptures and past history? Look at the Early Christian Church. From the standpoint of the modern argument the position was ridiculous. The Son of God goes back to heaven and leaves His cause in the hands of twelve men! Who are they? No one had ever heard of them. We are told about the authorities of Jerusalem that they noticed that they were ‘ignorant and unlettered men’. Incidentally, they added that they had been ‘with Jesus’. They did not see the significance of that fellowship. What they saw was ignorant and unlettered men, and only a handful of them at that! A mere handful of men in a great pagan world with all the Jews against them, and all the authorities! Everything on earth was against them.

I do not understand that mentality in the Christian Church today which says that we must all come together and sink our differences; and that what we believe does not matter. It is a denial of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, and of the story of the twelve ignorant, untutored and unlettered men who knew whom and what they believed, and who had the power of the Spirit upon them, and who ‘turned the world upside-down’. This is surely one of the central messages of the Bible. The great concern of the New Testament Epistles is not about the size of the Church, it is about the purity of the Church. The Apostles never said to the first Christians, ‘You are antagonizing people by emphasizing doctrine. Say more about the love of God and less about the wrath of God. They do not even like the Cross, and they cannot abide the story of the resurrection! Drop that talk about the wrath of God and Christ’s ethical teaching!’ Not so do the Apostles speak!

There is an exclusiveness in the New Testament that is quite amazing. The Apostle Paul writing to the Galatians says, ‘Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached, let him be accursed’ (Galatians 1:8). ‘My Gospel!’, says Paul writing to Timothy. He denounces other teachers. So many of these modern preachers are much nicer people than the Apostle Paul! They never say a word against anyone at all, they praise everybody, and they are praised by everybody. They are never ‘negative’! They never define what they believe and what they do not believe. They are said to be ‘full of love’. I am not misjudging them when I say that that is not the explanation. The explanation is that they do not ‘contend for the truth’, they are innocent concerning the ‘wiles of the devil’. It is not for us to decide what to leave out and what to drop for the sake of unity. My business is to expound this truth, to declare it — come what may! We must not be interested primarily in numbers, we must be interested in the truth of God. Why are many today denying the glory of the Protestant Reformation? Martin Luther — one man, standing against the whole Church — would be dismissed today as ‘just an individualist who never cooperates’. But he stood up and said in effect, ‘I am right, you are all wrong!’

Without realizing it the moderns are dismissing Luther as a fool, and as an arrogant fool, because he stood alone. But why did he stand alone? There is only one answer. He stood alone because he had, seen the truth of God, and had known and experienced the blessed liberation it brings. He had seen the light and had also been awakened to ‘the wiles of the devil’. When a man sees this truth he has no choice. He does not force himself to stand alone. He does not even want to do so; but he can do no other. As Luther said, ‘Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God!’ And God did help him. Of course He did! God will always honour His truth and the man who stands for it. Of course such a man will meet criticism and sarcasm and derision; much mud will be thrown upon him. But that does not matter. The man who continues to stand, and who is ready to die for the truth of God, will have ‘the peace of God that passeth all understanding’ in his heart and mind. He will say with the Apostle Paul, ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me’. He will ‘know both how to be abased, and how to abound; how to be full, and how to be empty’. He will be able to hold on his way quietly, steadily, knowing that God will vindicate His own truth sooner or later. As an individual he may be spat upon and trampled upon, or even be put to a cruel death. But God’s truth ‘goes marching on!’ It will be vindicated, it will be honoured by the Spirit; and he knows that ultimately, beyond this temporary, passing world, he will hear the most glorious words a man can ever hear, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant’. There is nothing beyond that — to have the Almighty God and our blessed Lord looking down upon us and in effect saying, ‘While you were in the midst of all the confusion, you preached the truth; you stood for it in spite of everything — Well done!’

Heresies always result from the wiles of the devil, the efforts of the principalities and powers. Are your eyes open to it? Do you realize the relevance of all this to you as a member of the Christian Church? Are you being carried away by this loose, general, sentimental talk? God forbid that any of us should ever say that it matters not what you believe as long as you are a Christian. May God open our eyes, and having given us to see the truth, then enable us ‘to be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might’. ‘Take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.’

 

(*) originally posted The Highway website

 

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Christian ‘Yoga’, contemplative spirituality/mysticism, spiritual formation movement, New Age,  theosophy, ecumenism, Purpose Driven, pragmatism, relativism, Emergent Christianity and universalism…these are but a few yet the most significant  serious errors and heresies that has made in-roads into evangelicalism in at least the last few decades in increasing potency though not necessarily in chronological order. 

Matthew recorded these words of the One true Lord and Savior – Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the Living God – now enscripturated in the Bible’s New Testament, about the two gates set before all men:

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is [wide and] easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” – Matthew 7:13-14

Lighthouse Trails Research newsletter recently brought my attention to an article published by Newsweek  in its end August 2009 issue about a survey of those who claim to be Christians and how far they have wandered away from the absolute truths of God’s Word.  Although the country in focus is the USA, I am certain that this is but a good sampling of the widespread reality.  Having been in touch with numerous Christians of different nationalities, I have personally heard the kinds of erroneous doctrines that have peppered some of their beliefs already. The most common of which are mysticism, pragmatism and the purpose-driven types. Mysticism particularly finds its roots in Hinduism but it has clothed itself with Christian terms that a good number of Christians became unsuspecting victims and are being tossed to and fro by every wind of these demonic doctrines.

Now the assurance for true believers is what Jesus said about His sheep.  They will listen to His voice [through the Word] and they will flee from other voices [false teachers] (John 10:3-5). Also Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth that God allows factions [in verse 19 – Greek: hairesis, from where we get the English word heresy] in order to visibly distinguish true from false believers (1 Corinthians 11:18-19).

This article below is not only informative, but should serve as a warning to the Church of how currently widespread the effects of false doctrines and the need for vigilance through the serious study of the Word and sincere prayer to God for the Holy Spirit’s continual work to empower believers of the Lord Jesus Christ to be discerning. And we should not be passive bystanders but must always contend for the truth. As it is written,

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” – Jude 3-4

 

NewsweekLogo

NEWSWEEK Published Aug 15, 2009

From the magazine issue dated Aug 31, 2009

 

WE ARE ALL HINDUS NOW  by Lisa Miller

America is not a Christian nation. We are, it is true, a nation founded by Christians, and according to a 2008 survey, 76 percent of us continue to identify as Christian (still, that’s the lowest percentage in American history). Of course, we are not a Hindu—or Muslim, or Jewish, or Wiccan—nation, either. A million-plus Hindus live in the United States, a fraction of the billion who live on Earth. But recent poll data show that conceptually, at least, we are slowly becoming more like Hindus and less like traditional Christians in the ways we think about God, our selves, each other, and eternity.

The Rig Veda, the most ancient Hindu scripture, says this: “Truth is One, but the sages speak of it by many names.” A Hindu believes there are many paths to God. Jesus is one way, the Qur’an is another, yoga practice is a third. None is better than any other; all are equal. The most traditional, conservative Christians have not been taught to think like this. They learn in Sunday school that their religion is true, and others are false. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.”

Americans are no longer buying it. According to a 2008 Pew Forum survey, 65 percent of us believe that “many religions can lead to eternal life”—including 37 percent of white evangelicals, the group most likely to believe that salvation is theirs alone. Also, the number of people who seek spiritual truth outside church is growing. Thirty percent of Americans call themselves “spiritual, not religious,” according to a 2009 NEWSWEEK Poll, up from 24 percent in 2005. Stephen Prothero, religion professor at Boston University, has long framed the American propensity for “the divine-deli-cafeteria religion” as “very much in the spirit of Hinduism. You’re not picking and choosing from different religions, because they’re all the same,” he says. “It isn’t about orthodoxy. It’s about whatever works. If going to yoga works, great—and if going to Catholic mass works, great. And if going to Catholic mass plus the yoga plus the Buddhist retreat works, that’s great, too.”

Then there’s the question of what happens when you die. Christians traditionally believe that bodies and souls are sacred, that together they comprise the “self,” and that at the end of time they will be reunited in the Resurrection. You need both, in other words, and you need them forever. Hindus believe no such thing. At death, the body burns on a pyre, while the spirit—where identity resides—escapes. In reincarnation, central to Hinduism, selves come back to earth again and again in different bodies. So here is another way in which Americans are becoming more Hindu: 24 percent of Americans say they believe in reincarnation, according to a 2008 Harris poll. So agnostic are we about the ultimate fates of our bodies that we’re burning them—like Hindus—after death. More than a third of Americans now choose cremation, according to the Cremation Association of North America, up from 6 percent in 1975. “I do think the more spiritual role of religion tends to deemphasize some of the more starkly literal interpretations of the Resurrection,” agrees Diana Eck, professor of comparative religion at Harvard. So let us all say “om.”

Find this article at http://www.newsweek.com/id/212155 © 2009

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JOHN 1:9-13

9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

There is an english saying, ‘call a spade, spade’ – I don’t recall if I have this in the Filipino vernacular but there are variations with the same thought. Simply put, it means that we should avoid euphemism, be straightforward, use blunt or plain language (i).  Consequently, ‘if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, swims like a duck, quack like a duck, then it must be a duck.’

Today, I went to visit my weblog; I opened the WordPress home page and typed Ralph Venning on the search box. I have a posted one of his quotes, clicked on my article and as soon as I was directed to my own post via this method, I saw that article titles were automatically generated at the bottom of the post. I blogged before cautioning everyone who might chance upon these links to be discerning and reject what is error-ridden. Then there is an article entitled “John MacArthur’s heresy on Predestination”. I proceeded to follow the link in order to get to the article (to view the full article, please click this link: http://onetruegod.wordpress.com/2008/08/28/john-macarthurs-heresy-on-predestination/) and after reading the post, I just sighed with dismay as the article began with this sentence, and I quote, “Pastor John MacArthur is a dangerous man, because he subtly has introduced many damnable heresies into the church—none more hideous than his denial of the redeeming power of the literal physical blood of Jesus Christ.” Then 2 sentences later, he wrote, “And to no surprise, as a Calvinist, MacArthur teaches that a lost sinner cannot be saved unless God first chooses him or her.”

Before I proceed, I must admit that such serious accusations exist on both camps – Calvinists and Arminians – and I pray that Christians from both sides of this theological divide would be more careful in pronouncing whether one is a heretic or not. It is good to question one’s stance on a doctrine but to call one as a heretic simply because he does not concur with another’s perception of what he thinks the Scripture says lacks the necessary care the Scripture itself demands.  Now, before I forget all together, I just want to be clear that someone is considered heretic if his doctrine does not conform, at the very least, to the essentials of Christianity. And one essential of the faith is that God saves by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. Whether one is a calvinist or arminian or an amyraldian, salvation by grace through faith in the biblical Jesus Christ is still the means with fruit that bears witness to the reality of that faith. James’ epistle to the church is clear about that, even Paul, when we read Ephesians 2:8-10 fully (yes, verse 10, which begins with ‘for’, cannot be divorced from verses 8-9).

Concerning  the article in focus, the original writer, David J. Stewart, responded to John MacArthur’s explanation of Acts 13:48 by firstly using John 1:12. It is from this context that I find it necessary to refresh myself on John 1:12 (and hopefully you, the reader of this blog) and see what the verse is really saying.

I took verses 9-12 because it forms a more coherent understanding of verse 12. Let us observe the following points:

  • (v.9) Referred to as the Word originally introduced in verse 1 and following, Jesus Christ is the One who brings the light of truth into a person originally in darkness. Everyone who has that light of truth did not receive it from anyone, nor can in himself generate that truth. Rather, Jesus is the sole source and giver of truth (light) and was announced to be coming into the world.
  • (v.10) Jesus came into the world that He has made, through His incarnation (taking human form through the virgin birth) but no one received Him for who He truly is – God who created all things.
  • (v.11) Jesus came to the nation of Israel who should have expected Him as they are the custodian of the oracles of God through the Law and the Prophets wherein His arrival have been announced in various ways over many centuries. But they, as a nation, did not welcome Him as they should have – the Messiah of the Lord. We can infer at this point, that their very rejection is the evidence proving that people born into the world are born with the darkness of the soul brought by the fall (from verse 9).
  • (v.12) Now there were some who received Him, as who He truly is – God and Messiah, and to these particular people, Jesus gave the ‘exousian’ (ESV uses ‘right’, KJV uses ‘power’) to become children of God. Dominion is also another meaning of exousian.
  • (v. 13) continued from verse 12, points to the supernatural means how one can have the ability to receive Jesus and obtain the right/power to become a child of God.

Now, David J. Steward pronounced that John MacArthur is wrong (and heretic) by teaching among other things that it is God who must choose first before one can choose to believe in Jesus Christ. Although there are numerous verses and pericopes that will support the fact of God’s predestinating work prior human response, let us be fair and contend with him by the particular verse he used – John 1:12.

Indeed if I look at verse 12, apart from the surrounding verses, I will have to arrive at the same conclusion that the right of becoming a child of God depended on my receiving and believing Jesus Christ. As most Arminians would argue, it’s the plain reading of the text. However, the verse is not the sole text of the chapter and context is primary in interpreting the text – this is where Arminians and Calvinists agree, theoretically. Actual application is, at times, found wanting.

12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Notice however that verse 12 and 13 form a complete sentence. Here we observe the following:

  • The first half of the sentence (v.12) tell us that all who did receive and believed in Jesus – to these were given the right/power to become children.
  • The second half of the sentence (v.13) tells us something about those who did receive and believed in Jesus, and were given the right/power to become children – that they were not born (by the will) of man but born (by the will) of God.

Adding the second half of the sentence changes the perspective. You might say I am putting something into the verse to change that perspective. But that can also be said to those who would say that the person must choose first before they are saved (as the writer of the article said). His statement is, honestly speaking, a bit tricky and I will explain why hereunder with hopes that you can follow me.

  • For sure God requires, in fact He commands, a person to repent and believe in Jesus as a part of the process of salvation. Peter preached to the Jews and said that they have to repent and believe the Lord Jesus Christ in Acts 2 (also in Paul’s preaching in Acts 17).
  • If I were to be more meticulous about human actions concerning salvation, the chronology of the action verbs (received-believed) is illogical for both arminians and calvinist, because both groups demand that a person believes first then receives. The Greek sentence (verse 12) is odoi de elabon auton edoken autous exousian tekna theou genesthai tois pisteouosin eis to onoma auton oi [word for word: but as many as received him he gave to them the authority children of God to be, to those that believe on name his (i)]
  • Having said this, the second part of the sentence (v. 13) must contribute to the meaning and even the grammatical structure of the first half (v.12). This reveals that a person (who received and believed) is born of God not by man. This has nothing to do with physical birth. This must be spiritual in nature – that man cannot give birth to himself spiritually only God can.
  • But verse 12 is grammatically not an explicit command to the person to repent and believe – to think so is to import thoughts from other parts of the Scriptures and impose those thoughts into the verse. May I propose then that the verse can be rightly perceived as a statement of being – something that one already has ( the right given by Jesus) and the ensuing proof thereof (having received and believed in Him).
  • Now if man is by nature spiritually dead, how in the world can he trust Jesus without a prior spiritual work of God first happening – in this case, spiritual re-birth (born of God)? Unless this question is properly answered theologically by the Arminian, I certainly will argue for and in behalf of the Calvinist who says that God must choose the sinner first and give him spiritual birth before he can choose Jesus Christ. Further why would one spiritually dead person choose Jesus and another spiritual dead person does not – what does the first one have that the second one does not have?
  • The arminian will always say believe and then you will be born again while the calvinist will say that God will cause the new birth (born again) to happen first before a person believes.
  • In fact if I will simply get into the flow of thought of verses 9 to 13, it will naturally flow towards the fact that God must work His power in a spiritually dead man first to bring him to spiritual re-birth before this man will trust the Lord Jesus Christ.

David J. Stewart did not do his refutation by solely using the same verse that John MacArthur used (Acts 13:48). To prove Mr. MacArthur wrong, Mr. Steward should be able to exegete Acts 13:48 properly in order to argue against Mr. MacArthur’s position. Instead, Mr. Stewart imported John 1:12 which, in truth, is quite devastating to his arminian position.

When Mr. Stewart attempted to exegete Acts 13:48, he has made some serious errors through questions like: Do you think that God chooses evil men to kill the innocent? [He was refering to Hitler’s killing of the Jews based on his understanding of the word “ordained” used in both Acts 13:48 (tetagmenoi) and Romans 13:1 (tetagmenai)]? First error is he assumed that the Greek word used in both verses assumes that God cannot use evil men to accomplish His purpose. Second, he assumed that all Jews were innocent. Innocence does not mean sinlessness. Jesus was killed by evil men – a will of God to fulfill His glorious purpose, that is redemption. Through the hands of evil men was the Innocent One murdered on the cross. Much of Mr. Stewart’s arguments are weak at best, and lack understanding of the biblically revealed human condition at worst. I recommend one reads his article (linked above) with solid biblical backing in order to discern whether Mr. Stewart is right or wrong in his analogies and conclusions.

All of the above then would help me arrive in concluding that David J. Stewart is incorrect and John MacArthur has done his homework well albeit originally using a different verse. I would also conclude that Mr. Stewart is not careful in his exegesis of the John 1:12. And more importantly, I would conclude that Mr. Stewart did not exercise utmost caution and restraint before pronouncing that John MacArthur has been heretical in his views on predestination. Worse still, I believe Mr. Stewart has slandered Mr. MacArthur and needs to repent publicly as he publicly slandered Mr. MacArthur. And if I have insinuated or even remotely hinted that Mr. Steward is a slanderer, then yes he is….Just calling a spade, spade!

 

(i) World Wide Words: Spade; Michael Quinion writes on  international English words from a British viewpoint

(ii) Parallel New Testament in Greek and English, based on the Majority Text, by George Ricker Berry

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