Friday, October 30, 2009

Reversing The Reformation - How Some So-Called Protestants Are Subtly Undermining Justification By Faith


Note: October 31 is Reformation Day, celebrating the Protestant Reformation, when the biblical gospel of grace was re-introduced to the Church at large.

The Roman Catholic Church held an almost monopolistic grip on the hearts of millions of people for hundreds of years.

Through the Dark Ages and Middle Ages, the awful legalistic system of "salvation by works" nearly choked out the light of the Gospel of the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Only small pockets of true believers in Christ escaped the dark heavy blanket of Romanism.

Then around 500 years ago came what we call the Reformation.


Men like Luther and Zwingli and Calvin and Knox, intense students of the Scriptures, rose up and shined the light of the Gospel into the darkness of European Catholicism.

These brave men brought an end to the monopoly of the Popes. They boldly proclaimed that salvation was

by grace alone, not by merit;

by faith alone, not by works;

by faith in Christ alone, not in sacraments;

under the final authority of the Word of God alone, not the unscriptural teachings of the Bishops of Rome.

The Central Point of the Reformation

The central point of the Reformation is what we call Justification by Faith. This is the sublime and simple truth that when we believe in Jesus Christ we are “justified” or “declared righteous” by God. This means that we are fully in right standing with God, our sins forgiven and no longer held against us.

This is accomplished because God judged our sins in Christ on the Cross, and gave us the “gift of righteousness” (Romans 5:17) by imputing the righteousness of Christ to us, when we believe in Christ.

As 2 Corinthians 5:21 puts it, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Romans Chapter 5:1,2 gives us the result of this wonderful act of the Lord:

“Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.”

The Permanence of Justification

When we are justified, declared righteous by God, it is forever. It is permanent. And it occurs at the moment when we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, when we believe the Gospel.

The "gift of righteousness" can never be taken away, because it is part of a package deal, to put it crudely. This righteousness is given to us by grace through faith, and that is “not of yourselves” and “not of works” (Ephesians 2:8,9). Even the very faith by which we believe in Jesus Christ is a gift given by God through the New Birth, regeneration.

This “imputed righteousness” contrasts starkly with the unbiblical Roman Catholic teaching that one is actually “made righteous” (“infused righteousness”) through the sacraments like Baptism, and the Eucharistic Mass, and through meritorious good works -- and that this so-called righteousness leaks out through sinning, and therefore can be lost, thereby damning the soul of the one who fails to maintain his “righteousness” by his works and attendance to the sacraments.

In Come the Neo-Legalists

The Reformation did not, of course, abolish Roman Catholicism. This cult of works salvation has continued these many years, and still thrives today.

But until recently one could more or less count on Protestant Bible teachers to uphold Justification by Faith Alone. One could more or less count on Protestant Bible teachers to oppose the so-called Justification of Rome, where grace and works are mixed, making it “no longer grace” (Romans 11:6).

But back in the 1960’s and 1970’s there was a professor at Westminster Seminary named Norman Shepherd. In 1975 some of his former students were being questioned for ordination, and when the question “How is a sinner justified?” was asked, they answered, “By faith and works.” Shocked questioners traced their answer back to their professor, Norman Shepherd.

Shepherd was allowed to teach for six more years, a disgrace in itself, but was finally released in 1981, the proverbial dung having hit the fan hard enough. Even then, several professors who then agreed with Shepherd were allowed to remain, teaching hundreds of students who spread the cancer yet today.

The big foot of undermining Justification by Faith had been stuck in the door, and the result has mushroomed into several full-blown ministries and movements, some directly from Westminster, and some relatively independent.

Allow me to name some names and then I will attempt to capsulize the kernel of the heresy.

Pioneering writers include E.P. Sanders, N.T. Wright, Steve Schlissel, Steve Wilkins, Douglas Wilson, and Peter Leithart.

They have been joined by a multitude of Pastors, bloggers and other writers, and teachers in Seminaries. Many in the Emerging/Emergent Church movement have gravitated toward these men, particularly N.T. Wright. And they have infiltrated otherwise orthodox places, including R.C. Sproul’s Tabletalk magazine, where R.C. Jr. as editor published a column by Douglas Wilson for three years, as well as articles by Steve Schlissel and Steve Wilkins.

[Important note -- I would like to correct a wrong impression given by the last above statement. Since the publication of this post, R.C. Sproul Jr. has made the following clear to me...1) He loudly and publicly disavows Federal Vision, and 2) He not only published those FV gentlemen before anyone even heard of Federal Vision, but before that time and since that time has published many gentlemen who despise Federal Vision. I'm grateful to RCJR for that clarification.]

They operate under names and ministries you may have heard: Shepherdism, Auburn Avenue Theology, Federal Vision, or the New Perspective on Paul. And they lead churches in virtually every Reformed denomination.

What They Have In Common

I won’t pretend the issues and sub-doctrines are not varied and even complicated, but they have one important thing in common – a rejection of the biblical Justification by Faith (even while sometimes saying they support it).

Like most false teachers, their terminology is often the same as orthodox terminology. But the expression of their error can mostly be bunched under an important term: Covenant Nomism (sometimes called Covenantal Nomism). “Nomism” refers to “Law”.

Though their implementation of the doctrine varies (for example, some teach that one enters the “covenant” through water baptism, others through so-called “faith alone”), the basics are as follows:

1.One enters into a “covenant” of the “people of God”, through “faith” and/or baptism. This is a real covenant which makes one a real Christian.

2.Once in the “covenant” of the family of God, it is now one’s responsibility to stay in the covenant, and follow Jesus as Lord all the days of one’s life…or else (more on the “or else” in a moment). This is blatant Legalism.

3.IF one remains in the “covenant”, by assembling together and obeying the Law sufficiently, THEN, at the end of one’s life, or the end of the age, one will be truly “Justified”, or “declared righteous” ON THE BASIS OF THEIR LIFE AND WORKS.

4.Here’s the “or else”: If one departs from sufficient obedience to the Law, or (in some cases) stops fellowshiping in the local assembly, they are deemed “out of the covenant”, will never be “justified”, even though they truly believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, and were in His “covenant” and were a true Christian. Their works, or lack of them, have ultimately damned them.

What Can Be Done?

Admittedly, this is an extremely brief introduction to Neo-Legalism, or Covenant Nomism.

The men teaching these things are not ignorant, and they’re not stupid. They are biblically classic false teachers.

What would I recommend?

1.I don’t recommend studying these men, except by the most discerning and biblically knowledgeable.

2.I do recommend studying the biblical doctrine of Justification by Faith, just as the FBI reputedly studies real money, in order to quickly identify the counterfeit.

There are many good books on the subject. A thorough classic is by James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification. Another good one, perhaps easier to read, is James White’s The God Who Justifies.

An excellent sermon by Charles Spurgeon can be read at:
http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/3392.htm

Scriptural support for Justification by Faith can be found at:
http://www.carm.org/doctrine/justification_verses.htm

3.If you accept true biblical Justification by Faith, have courage to say so. And don’t be afraid to mention names.

Too many Protestant believers and teachers have been "returning" to Roman Catholicism. While for some there may be an inherent attraction to the ancient religious trappings of Romanism, in many cases it’s simply an abandonment of the great truth that God justifies us, declares us righteous, forever, when we believe in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. To Him be all the glory.

10 comments:

Revol said...

Very well written Terry. Thanks for the recmmended readings, I am headed to the Spurgeon sermon link right now.
Michael D Kaster

Johan said...

Amen and Amen

Pedro Camino said...

Great article!

Terry Rayburn said...

Michael, Johan & Pedro,

Thank you so much, my friends.

Ike said...

The result, fully aside from numerical growth, has been a watering down as well as a "dumbing down" of the Gospel, of Christain discipleship and of the demands that God places upon us. It is for these reasons, it seems, that not a few evangelical Protestants have converted to Roman Catholicism. Although to some of us Protestants this might seem heretical, the fact of the matter is that Rome has preserved some of the things that many evangelicals are desiring -- for example, a sense of reverence and the fear of God, a sense of authority, a stable worship liturgy rather than the newsest and best in pop entertainment, the sacraments, a sense of historical connection to the church of the agess, ethical fiber, aesthetics, etc. Moreover, it is my sense that the Catholic Church is closer to Luther on matters of "faith and grace" today than it was a generation or two ago. I say all this not because I am about to move toward Rome, only to point out that there are very real theological reasons for these "conversions."

Terry Rayburn said...

Ike,

I strongly disagree with you that "there are very real theological reasons for these 'conversions'".

1. I've read the testimonies and books of many so-called evangelicals who have converted to Roman Catholicism, and the overriding theme they have is the abandonment of the gospel of grace.

They have replaced it with the false gospel of GRACE PLUS WORKS, which the Bible says is no longer grace (Romans 11:6).

2. Your list of things that many evangelicals are "desiring" have little to do with biblical Christian life in Christ.

For example, "a sense of authority" in the Roman Catholic Church has nothing to do with the authority of Christ or His Word. It's the authority of a mere man, and one who rejects the truth of the Gospel and the Scriptures.

Your idea of "a stable worship liturgy" as exhibited by the Roman Catholic clergy is nothing more than a virtually pagan ritual, unrelated to the Bible or the Apostolic practice.

The "sacraments", as you call them consist of human rituals and practices that the false Church of Rome claims convey "grace" as if by magic. Baptism supposedly gives initial salvation, the "sacrament" of the Mass conveys saving grace, etc. Pure heresy.

Your "sense of historical connection to the church of the ages"? What about a historical connection to Jesus Christ?

3. You start out by lamenting the "dumbing down" of the Gospel, but I wonder if you even know what the Gospel of Grace IS, when you offer that as a reason for conversion to the biggest Institution of a false gospel and legalism that there is.

The true Gospel is the Good News that Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again, and that whoever believes in Him shall be saved by Grace through Faith, NOT of works.

That's the antithesis of the Roman Catholic religion of so-called "grace" plus works (sacraments and good behavior).

4. Contrary to your idea of "very real theological reasons for these 'conversions'", the real reason is rejection of the true Gospel for "another gospel" which is not a gospel at all.

Ike said...

For example, "a sense of authority" in the Roman Catholic Church has nothing to do with the authority of Christ or His Word. It's the authority of a mere man, and one who rejects the truth of the Gospel and the Scriptures.

MY COMMENT: I'm not sure why my comments made you react so defensively? I believe we are in agreement. The typical American Evangelical church has lost it's understanding that Christ alone builds, orders, and governs His Church. Many evangelicals churches have abandoned the Scriptural mandate that Christ alone build His church and regulates it's structure and worship. We have replaced & redefined His authority with man-made gimmicks and performances. This, I believe, has resulted in some disillusioned protestants to seek the sense of "authority" & "structure" that Rome and Orthodoxy offers.

Your idea of "a stable worship liturgy" as exhibited by the Roman Catholic clergy is nothing more than a virtually pagan ritual, unrelated to the Bible or the Apostolic practice.

MY COMMENT: Regardless of the false nature of Roman Catholic worship (I never said I agree with it), it offers a stable "worship" liturgy for those who are disillusioned by the consumerism and marketing that is driving many of our churches.

The "sacraments", as you call them consist of human rituals and practices that the false Church of Rome claims convey "grace" as if by magic. Baptism supposedly gives initial salvation, the "sacrament" of the Mass conveys saving grace, etc. Pure heresy.

MY COMMENT: The Reformed church (including historical Baptist theology) has always held a high view of the sacrament. And they always resisted two equal errors: That the the sacrament themselves conveyed grace (baptismal regeneration) , and that the sacrament are nothing more than mere symbols. The modern evangelical church (in most cases) has followed the latter error and reduced baptism & the Lords Supper to mere memorials that are seldom practiced. They replaced these distinguishing mark of the true church, with the magical sacrament of the sinner's prayer.

Your "sense of historical connection to the church of the ages"? What about a historical connection to Jesus Christ?

MY COMMENT: Most evangelicals live in ignorance of church history. They cannot name most of the Reformers, let alone the Church Fathers. It is my contention, that this historical ignorance and the sense of disconnection to the past contributes to the problems we are discussing.

You start out by lamenting the "dumbing down" of the Gospel, but I wonder if you even know what the Gospel of Grace IS, when you offer that as a reason for conversion to the biggest Institution of a false gospel and legalism that there is.

MY COMMENT: Again, I'm not sure why you are reacting so defensively to my comments. I was only trying to add to the conversation by suggesting some reasons for some evangelicals turning to Rome. I certainly never meant to imply (or defend) that these were good reasons.

The true Gospel is the Good News that Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again, and that whoever believes in Him shall be saved by Grace through Faith, NOT of works.

MY COMMENT: Amen Brother! Completely agree.

Contrary to your idea of "very real theological reasons for these 'conversions'", the real reason is rejection of the true Gospel for "another gospel" which is not a gospel at all.

MY COMMENT: I only offer the theological & doctrinal weakness of the evangelical church as one possible (and very wrong) reason some have traveled to Rome. They are indeed theological reasons.

rc said...

Dear Terry,

Two years ago you made the mistake of identifying me with Federal Vision. You were gracious enough to recant that accusation. Now two years later you are implying the same thing. Yes I did publish Doug Wilson, and Steve Schlissel and Steve Wilkins, all before, and none after anybody had ever heard of federal vision. I also published Lig Duncan, John Robbins and most of the faculty of Westminster West, all of whom, with me, are opposed to federal vision. Please, when doing the good work of defending sola fide against all who would dismantle it, don't shoot at those who labor alongside of you. Thank you.

RCJR

Terry Rayburn said...

I have added a bracketed note in the above post, clarifying RC Sproul Jr.'s stand against Federal Vision, and correcting the wrong impression that my post statement would leave.

Thanks, RC, for your correction and clarification.

Blessings,
Terry

david-goodman said...

"Subtly undermining justification by faith" sounds exactly like what RC Sproul Jr has been all about for a long time (see also the two video responses).

Whether RC Sproul Jr will ever admit to being sympathetic to the Federal Vision may not even be much of an issue. The real issue is what has RC Sproul Jr done with the pure gospel of Jesus Christ? Is he preaching the (unadulterated) doctrines of grace, or rather a false gospel? Is the example of his life drawing men to the Lord Jesus or driving them away? If reports coming out of Bristol are to be believed he's sown much discord among the brethren. undermined the cause of the gospel, and harmed many of the Lord's people.