Brethren With Arms Elbow Deep in Calvinism (II)
Faith Versus Works
In my first article, I used, the term “Neo-Calvinism.” Realizing some are not familiar with the term “Neo” I shall define it. According to Funk and Wagnall’s Standard Dictionary of 1961, Vol. 2, page 850, it is a combining form defined as new; recent; modern or modified form of that with which it is combined. In short, brethren today are teaching what is known as “Neo-Calvinism.” In reality it is the same old Calvinism with a new dress to make it appealing. It is new only to those in the church who are now teaching it. As the writer of Ecclesiastes said, “. . . and there is no new thing under the sun.” (Eccl. 1:9). A check of the tenets of Calvin goes back hundreds of years. Recently we have laid this teaching at the feet of the young preachers, but now many older men believe it or lean toward it also, or else they are trying to protect and/or defend their proteges. Whether they are young men that do not know better, or older men that should know better, both are hesitant to be scrutinized when directly confronted with the issue as to what they actually believe on the matter. They will say, as we shall see, that they believe something, then deny the implications or maintain they have been misquoted or misunderstood. Actually, it is hard to tell what some believe because they will vacillate like a sectarian affirming and denying the same proposition. We see brethren touring the country trying to convince brethren on “faith only,” “grace only,” etc., saying they do not believe these tenets, but that they can tolerate them with no serious consequences. I believe, as David of old, “Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way” (Psa. 119:104). Amos stated, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed” (Amos 3:3). 1 know this refers to man and God walking together, but it is also applicable in any endeavor. The Lord said, “No man can serve two masters . . .” (Matt. 6:24). “He that is not with me is against me . . .” (Matt. 12:30). The above could not, or would not, compromise or tolerate error and neither can I.
What Prompted This Series?
In the Spring of 1973, after a gospel meeting, the preacher holding the meeting, my wife, a young preacher and I were discussing some of the present issues. During the course of the conversation, the young preacher made the statement that what the church needs today is scholars from its own rank, and that proponents of new interpretations, the young preachers of today, would be the recognized scholars of tomorrow. He stated that in attending Florida College he gained nothing except from Homer Hailey, who he said taught him to think for himself. I do not believe his conception is what Brother Hailey had in mind. The boy talked for some time and then we began to question him. When he longer held the floor, he became deathly quiet and in a short time bid us farewell and departed. About a month later, in another state, he preached from the pulpit “Faith Only” and was questioned from the audience as to whether he believed in “Faith Only” and he admitted twice publicly he did. Upon the conclusion of the evening service, arrangements were made by brethren who questioned him to have a meeting and discuss the teaching. This meeting was held and the following is a part of the discussion, from a tape, that was not obtained from any in disagreement with this young preacher.
At the beginning of the discussion, the young preacher asked if it was to be a discussion about his sermon. When informed it was, he wanted a show of hands as to who questioned his teaching. His desire was to discuss these matters privately with those who openly opposed him and not discuss them with, or in the presence of, those who were undecided or who agreed with him. The brethren wanted a meeting for this discussion rather than a hassle in the assembly while visitors were present. At the beginning one brother wanted to know if Jesus taught His disciples that works were required? (Matt. 25). He accused the preacher of ignoring him or brushing him off at the evening service. The preacher would not commit himself on this question other than to say he had many Scriptures on the board and had covered the point. He then added he handled it as best he could and made a play on the fact that he was alone in the pulpit and questions were coming at him from several in the audience. The brother again confronted him with the fact he did not get an answer, and the preacher said, “I know you didn’t but I wasn’t ignoring you or brushing you off.”
The brother then tried to get on grounds that they were in agreement on. Eph. 2:8-9 was read and the brother commented that they could agree when one obeyed and was baptized his salvation was by the grace of God, not of one’s merits. The preacher agreed. The preacher was then asked, did he say that it was not necessary to have any works? He answered, “Did I say that?” Pressing the preacher further the brother asked if the preacher was preaching “faith only” and did he believe it as taught by Calvinists that one is justified by faith only and it is a most wholesome doctrine and very full of comfort? The preacher said he believed we lay up good works in heaven, but that none of these good works have any efficacy toward the forgiveness of sin. Asked to state it again, these are the exact words of the preacher, “I believe that my faith in the blood of Christ forgives my sins, on the basis of that blood I believe there is not one work I can ever do anywhere that will ever have efficacy toward the forgiveness of any sin or toward the purifying of my soul through the forgiveness of sin.” He was then asked, “Then you don’t have to do any works?” The preacher then stated any man that was a man of faith would work because he was saved and that the new birth or new life is a certainty he is going to work. He stated there is no such thing as a living faith that does not work.
I agree in and of itself there is no efficacy toward the forgiveness of any sin by a single work, but neither is there efficacy in “faith alone” toward the forgiveness of sin. By efficacy I mean power. Compare the above discussion to the Methodist Articles of Religion in the Discipline of The Methodist Church, Article 10, page 29, 1956 Edition. “Of Good Works” – “Although good works, which are the fruits of faith, and follow after justification cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God’s judgment; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ and spring out of a true and lively faith, insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree is discerned by its fruit.” Again, in The Standard Manual For Baptist Churches by Edward T. Hiscox, on Articles of Faith, Number 5, page 62, we read on “Justification” – “. . . That it is bestowed, not in consideration of any works of righteousness which we have done, but solely through faith in Christ: by means of which faith his perfect righteousness is freely imputed to us by God; that it brings us into a state of most blessed peace and favor with God, and secures every other blessing needful for time and eternity.” .Sounds familiar brethren, doesn’t it? If not Calvinism, then what is it?
Baptist And Mormon Quibble On Baptism
Next question asked the preacher was this: If a man received faith and was killed before he was baptized would he go to heaven? The preacher answered, “I don’t know, do you?” When given Mark 16:16 to consider, the preacher said he did not believe anyone properly taught and having faith would refuse baptism, at least not in any quantities. He then proceeds to use the worn out Baptist and Mormon quibble. Suppose a man is in the pew and believes, the invitation is extended and he steps in the aisle to be baptized and drops dead of a heart attack, can we send him to hell? Then states judgment is up to the Son of God, and He did not have that purpose in mind in coming to earth, but rather His purpose was to save. Then goes into a lengthy discussion that there is an exception for every rule, and these vary with circumstances. He feels rule could be broken, but then turns and states baptism is where the blood of Christ is. Asked if a man should be baptized, he says he believes there is no salvation apart from baptism for the man who has every opportunity. A lengthy discussion follows this and the preacher being questioned states a man cannot be saved without baptism. He then uses the old Baptist argument on Titus 3:5, but, as the Baptist, neglects to tie in Titus 3:8, 14. He next refers to Col. 2:12 and believes this to teach a man’s faith causes him to be baptized, then he will arise in a new life of thankfulness and gratefulness and gratitude, a life in which certainly he will work. Concludes there is no gratitude unless that gratitude is demonstrated, and that there is no life of faith unless it is demonstrated. He again stresses the importance of the blood of Christ and that it is only the blood of Christ that washes away sins. The preacher then asked again for a show of hands of any that disagreed with him up to this point. A brother said he did not agree with him and asked him if at the last Lord’s Day evening service when he was asked by another brother if he believed in “faith only,” he answered the brother twice and said “Yes, I believe in ‘faith only’.” The preacher did not deny the statement or in any way try to refute the accusation. He later in the discussion came back to the question and said, “The Bible pictures salvation as a product of faith and faith alone,” and that he believes salvation is the product of faith and “faith alone.” Later the preacher was asked if he believed baptism was an outward sign of an inward grace and he answered in the affirmative.
Confusing, isn’t it? In this young man’s lack of exegesis and common logic in this discussion, -it is extremely difficult after listening to him to know what he actually is saying and truly believes. Let us again turn to the Baptist Manual on Church Ordinances, page 20, Note 8, and see the similarity in the doctrine presented by the young preacher and by Edward Hiscox. “Baptism is not essential to salvation, for our churches utterly repudiate the dogma of ‘baptismal regeneration’: but it is essential to obedience since Christ has commanded it. It is also essential to a public confession of Christ before the world and to membership in the church which is his body. And no true lover of his Lord will refuse these acts of obedience and tokens of affections.” (Emp. mine. MLA). The statement “essential to a public confession of Christ before the world,” is to say it is an outward sign of an inward grace. That “no true lover of his Lord will refuse these acts of obedience” is comparable with the young preacher’s statement that gratitude is not gratitude unless demonstrated, and that there is no life of faith unless it is demonstrated. Also in the terms “if the opportunity” and “considering various circumstances” he is on the ground occupied in Fletcher’s Situation Ethics. “Exceptions depending on various circumstances.”
Faith Is A Work; John 6:27-29
The young preacher was twice asked if this passage did not teach that `faith” was a “work?” He ignored it the first time and then gave one of the most feeble illustrations I have ever heard. There was no logic to his reasoning whatsoever. Those who teach that men are not saved by any kind of works invariably back themselves into a close corner from which it is impossible to escape. While they state man is saved without any kind of work, they contend that man is saved by “faith only.” Yet as one brother brought out concerning John 6:27-29, the Bible emphatically teaches that faith is a “work. “Note verse 29 where Jesus, in response to their question, says that, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” Faith is a work of God. So when this young brother teaches man is saved by “faith only” without any kind of works, he denies his own affirmative by man being saved by that which he says man cannot be saved. For the fact remains Jno. 6:29 states that believe, the verb, of faith, the noun, is a work, and who will deny that a verb denotes action. Twist the passage any way you so desire, you cannot change this fundamental fact: faith is a work.
But let us hear the young man’s answer to Jno. 6:27-29. He states if you place it in its context, that Jesus treats these people precisely as I might treat a young child that comes to the kitchen and says, “What can I do that I can do a work to help you?” And I say to him in response, “the work you can do is lo get out of my way and go into the other room.” He then goes further to explain his reasoning and says, “You are placing yourself in a position to respond or to answer the question of this child in the same words or phrase which he has spoken it.” The interpretation of the passage is, so he says, because Paul places “faith” and “works” in complete opposite directions, one of the other. But gentle reader let me ask a question here: “What does the Bible teach?” That man is saved by God’s grace with man appropriating that grace by his faith in working or obeying what the grace of God teaches him to do.
Justified By Faith Without Works
As all who lean toward Calvinism or “faith only,” our young friend now runs to the golden book of the Bible, according to their reasoning (Romans), especially chapter four, verses 2-5, and states that according to verse 3, Abraham was justified when he believed, and that he was not justified by works. Here he makes the mistake made by many today that are proponents of this view. He fails to understand the context of Romans four and that it is dealing with the works of the law of Moses and that there are also in the Bible works of God, and works of man. Now the passage used in Rom. 4:3 is in reference to Gen. 15:6, where Abraham is promised a son. He fails to recognize Abraham manifested in faith in Genesis 12, when he left the Ur of Chaldees as mentioned in Heb. 11:8-10. Also, if Abraham was an alien sinner at this time of Gen. 15, it seems peculiar that in verse 1 of .Gen. 15, God said to Abraham, “. . . I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward.” Strange words to an alien, isn’t it? Back to Heb. 11, we see everyone’s faith mentioned there is related to his actions on God’s obedience, that is works. The young preacher attempted to evade the issue, saying it (Romans) could not be talking of the law of Moses because Abraham lived and died before the Law was given at Sinai. But any honest Bible student that can see through a window will admit the Roman letter is dealing with the law of Moses versus the law of Christ which is by faith.
The fourth chapter of Romans has always been a popular text of those who argue “faith only.” In this chapter Paul is discussing Abraham and the justification of this patriarch of God ages before the law of the Jews was given to them. He is proving that Abraham was not justified by works but rather by faith in God. If you will read this chapter carefully, you will find there that Paul has in mind the works of the law of Moses – the deeds of the law of the Jewish nation. Rom. 3:20 says, “For by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight. ” The law of Moses is clearly the law Paul has in mind. Paul says that Abraham was not saved by the old law. He died centuries before that law was given. So the fourth chapter ‘of Romans does not give any encouragement or comfort to those who propagate the false Calvinistic doctrine of “salvation by faith only,” then or now. Commentary on Romans by R. L. Whiteside, page 96, states, “Reference to Abraham is used to show salvation is by working faith that was demonstrated by Abraham.” It is strange that these super-exegetes do not see that if works of faith destroy grace, then the works which they say a Christian must perform to be justified destroys all grace from the life of a Christian. They need to tell us how, according to their judgment, there can be any grace in the justification of a Christian by works.
“Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” (Jas. 2:17). If “faith alone” is the means of justification, what about the following, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know O vain man, that faith without works is dead” (Jas. 2:19-20). “Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect” (Jas. 2:22). It is easy to see in this historic incident, that Abraham’s faith wrought (exercises itself) with his works in offering up his son, Isaac. “Wrought with,” is from sunergei, imperfect active of sungergeo, to cooperate with; hence, faith and works kept on cooperating with each other to produce the result C Abraham’s justification. In the statement, “and by works was faith made perfect;” it was “by” (Greek, ek, out of) works that faith in Abraham’s case, was “made perfect.” The phrase, “made perfect,” is from eteleiothe, aorist passive indicative of teleio, to consummate, to complete, to finish. The tenses in this verse are highly significant. Faith was continually exercising itself (imperfect tense) with works (the command to offer up Isaac on the altar), and out of these works faith was perfected at once (aorist tense). Neither works, nor faith operating alone can justify; each in cooperation with the other produces that status wherein God justifies. (Gospel Advocate Commentary on James 2:22, pages 144-145). Faith and works are component parts that, put together, constitute the whole. Neither of itself and alone has the efficacy toward the forgiveness of sins. Next, “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (Jas. 2:24). “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (Jas. 2:26). Faith that saves is the faith we read of in Galatians, “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.” (Gal. 5:6).
If this is not Calvinistic teaching, please tell me what it is. One minute it sounds like brethren are straight, the next they turn completely in the opposite direction. This I am told led to a dividing of this small group, and thus it is a serious problem. All arguments used in this discussion were the time-worn ones of those who have advocated “faith only” in the past. Perhaps my conclusions are not fair to this young preacher. I am unaware of the internal problems that may have existed in the congregation prior to the lesson being taught on “faith only” and the discussion we have mentioned. It may well be that extenuating circumstances caused those who left with this young preacher and the one who regularly preached there, who held the same positions, to consider starting another congregation to be the lesser of two evils. However, I can say without fear of contradiction that this “faith only” brought to a head the differences that existed and split the church. At any rate, if the young preacher will tell the true facts, and if I am wrong, I will make public apology and ask for forgiveness in the pages of this publication. If, on the other hand, my analysis is correct, I plead with those of this persuasion to use their ability to help extend the borders of the kingdom rather than cause division and hard feelings one toward another. I was young once and was mixed up on passages, but I never pressed these to the point of division in the church. Much can be accredited to your youth, but when you know you are in the wrong and continue to tread this path, “brethren you are without excuse.” Man is a free moral agent and capable of making his decisions to obey or disobey God, but man, as a free moral agent, does not have the right to legislate where God has not legislated.
I am not trying to be mean, nasty, egotistical or abusive, but I do believe we are entitled to ask men of this nature to tell us plainly, if this is not what you believe, then “What Do you believe?” If brethren do not believe the error that is here mentioned, “How can you tolerate it?” Do you not see that you are compromising truth and righteousness?
In conclusion, let me state this young preacher has a tremendous amount of talent, and is very zealous and ready to sacrifice for that which he believes to be true. I have known him for several years, and even after the discussion held in my home, mentioned at the beginning of this article, he was in my home again during this meeting we were having, but the opportunity never arose to talk further on our differences, nor was I aware how far off he was on basic issues. I was told that he was, but I did not want to accept it on the testimony of others as this would be hearsay. Now with the tape on this, I do not believe it to be hearsay, but it is from his own testimony.
Brethren, it is later than you think, and the problems we are discussing are a lot more serious than some brethren would lead us to believe them to be. Who are the most .susceptible to this false teaching? The young and weak in the church, and we cannot tolerate this sort of teaching, or those who teach it, without serious consequences resulting.
My last article on “Brethren With Arms Elbow Deep in Calvinism” will deal with “Justification.”
This article written by a friend and childhood mentor Milton Anderson