Thursday, October 28, 2010

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 well-known mainstream Evangelical and Reformed magazines.

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:
www.spurgeon.org/sermons/3392.htm

Scriptural support for Justification by Faith can be found at:
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.

3 comments:

David H. said...

Wow. You can now judge somebody for believing something that they deny that they believe. Sounds like some people are just trying too hard to make enemies these days.

Terry Rayburn said...

David,

Not sure of your point.

There are many ways that false teachers rob the Gospel of the true principal of Grace, and because they *say* they're not doesn't mean they're not.

I suppose that enemies of the Gospel are my enemies in a sense, but I don't "make" them. On the contrary, I love them.

Nice pictures on your blog, by the way.

Michael Gormley said...

The Book of James, in the Bible, says that your faith must be justified by works (James 2:24), which is much different from what Paul says in Galatians 2:16 about "We may be justified by the faith of Christ and not by the works of the law (In the former, James refers to faith being justified by works; In the latter, Paul says that we are justified by faith.

So, once you have the faith and are justified by it, then your faith in turn must then be justified by works)."

Just as it's not enough to tell your wife that you love her, and never do anything for her, it's also true of your faith relationship with Jesus.

Faith and performing good works for your fellow man go together like body and soul. You simply aren't alive unless both body and soul are united (James 2:26).

It's the same for being alive in Christ - You need faith in Christ first, and then good works (not works of the law) to justify that faith.