Posts Tagged ‘Calvinism

08
Aug
19

Authentic Evangelism/The Message/The Gracious Commitment

13
Jul
19

Leighton Flowers’ View of “Conversion.”

11
May
19

Less or More?

  • One gets the impression in listening to soteriological synergists [Arminians, Semi-Pelagians, Southern Baptist Traditionalists, and those who flirt with Pelagianism like Leighton Flowers] that they think Calvinists believe God has done less to bring all sinners to salvation than they believe he has done. In reality, Calvinists believe God has done nothing less to bring sinners to himself than they believe he has done. Both groups believe God has flooded sinners the with the revelation of his glory, in creation, conscience, commandments, Christ’s redemptive work, and conviction by the Holy Spirit. We both believe he has clearly expressed his desire that sinners repent and bow before him in humble submission to his sovereign reign and that he has promised to pardon freely all who thus return.

    If you should ask about prevenient grace, my questions would be what is there that is accomplished in this mysterious work of God about which the Scriptures never once speak, that is not accomplished by what Calvinists would call common grace? If someone should answer that it grants to the sinner the power of free will, we would have to ask how the speaker understands the concept of free will. If we should take the definition the Traditionalists have given, i.e., “the ability to choose between two options,” we would have to ask whether all do not concede that all rational beings have that ability as a part of their constitution as human beings. Do we mean by the term, the ability to choose other than we have chosen? If so, we would state that this ability is not granted either by prevenient or by effectual grace as long as we do not mean that we have the ability to choose that for which we have no desire and to which every fiber of our beings is totally averse. This ability does not need to be granted to any sinner. Additionally, the same would apply to the concept that sinners act voluntarily and not by compulsion. No one should deny this. The problem is that all the prevenient grace in the world will not remedy the sinner’s indisposition to choose what he ought to choose and reject what he ought to reject. The problem is not his inability to choose the right if he so desires but his lack of desire to choose the right. There is no evidence that prevenient grace, whatever it may be, does anything to change a sinner’s inmost desires

    The difference is that Calvinists believe God has done more to bring some sinners to himself than he has done to bring all sinners to himself, and synergists don’t think he has the right to do that. He is not free to do for one sinner what he does not do for another. When one boils all the fat out of it, the issue is whether God has the right to be God or not.

  • 01
    May
    19

    What the Traditionalists in the Southern Baptist Should Have Written

    Several years ago a group of leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention, spooked by the specter of a rising tide of Calvinism within the ranks of the SBC and under the direction of Dr. Eric Hankin, contrived a document they called “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” When one reads the preamble to this document, at least two things become obvious.  The first is that those who wrote the document and those who later signed it are painfully ignorant of Calvinistic doctrine, and the second is that they wrote it for the purpose of counteracting the dreaded plague of Calvinism in their cherished denomination.  This is what they stated in the preamble—“ The precipitating issue for this statement is the rise of a movement called “New Calvinism” among Southern Baptists. This movement is committed to advancing in the churches an exclusively Calvinistic understanding of salvation, characterized by an aggressive insistence on the “Doctrines of Grace” (“TULIP”), and to the goal of making Calvinism the central Southern Baptist position on God’s plan of salvation.”

    If that is an accurate assessment of their purpose, one would have expected that the concepts they affirmed would have been teachings that Calvinists deny and the ideas they denied, would have been teachings that Calvinists would affirm.  Interestingly, this was not the case in many of their affirmations and denials. Consider, for example, the following statements from their preamble to which any true Calvinist would say a hearty AMEN!

    They wrote,

    “Traditional Southern Baptist soteriology is grounded in the conviction that every person can and must be saved by a personal and free decision to respond to the Gospel by trusting in Christ Jesus alone as Savior and Lord.”  And, “Baptists have been well-served by a straightforward soteriology rooted in the fact that Christ is willing and able to save any and every sinner.”

    If their goal was to pee on a tire to mark their territory, I suppose they have accomplished what they wished to accomplish. If their goal was to open an honest and meaningful dialogue between themselves and Calvinists, they could not have failed more miserably.

    I have reproduced here what they affirmed and denied in their declaration and what they should have affirmed and denied if they wished to address the real issues that separate them from soteriological monergists, A.K.A. Calvinists.  I am not suggesting that everyone who signed the document had sufficient theological understanding to fathom the depths of the issues under consideration. I am not suggesting that everyone who signed the document necessarily embraced all the implications I have suggested that their doctrine entails.  What I am boldly stating is that it is the issues under the heading “What They Should Have Affirmed and Denied” which Calvinists are concerned to address and not the “straw man” implications suggested by many of their affirmations and denials.  In large part, the issues that divide us are seen in the contrast between what they should have affirmed and what they should have denied.  Generally speaking, what they should have affirmed from their point of view is what Calvinists deny, and what they should have denied is what Calvinists have affirmed. These are the real issues we should be discussing if ever we are to find unity concerning these essential doctrines.

    Consider the contrast between what they affirmed and denied and what they should have affirmed and denied.

    What They Affirmed and Denied

    Article One: The Gospel

    We affirm that the Gospel is the good news that God has made a way of salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ for any person. This is in keeping with God’s desire for every person to be saved.

    We deny that only a select few are capable of responding to the Gospel while the rest are predestined to an eternity in hell.

    What They Should Have Affirmed and Denied

    Article One: The Gospel

    We affirm that the gospel is the good news that God has made a way of salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ for every person on the condition of their free will decision but has not secured the salvation of any person in particular. This is in keeping with God’s desire for every person to be saved, a desire that is subjugated to the sinner’s free will decision.

    We deny that anyone is incapable of responding positively to the gospel or that God has decreed to permit anyone to remain in their sins and perish.

    What They Affirmed and Denied

    Article Two: The Sinfulness of Man

    We affirm that, because of the fall of Adam, every person inherits a nature and environment inclined toward sin and that every person who is capable of moral action will sin. Each person’s sin alone brings the wrath of a holy God, broken fellowship with Him, ever-worsening selfishness and destructiveness, death, and condemnation to an eternity in hell.

    We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned. While no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort, we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel.

    What They Should Have Affirmed and Denied

    Article Two: The Sinfulness of Man

    What they affirm is unequivocally contrary to what Calvinists affirm.

    We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any [every] person’s autonomous will.

    We deny that any person is saved apart from an autonomous free will response to the Father’s ineffectual persuasion.

    What They Affirmed and Denied

    Article Three: The Atonement of Christ

    We affirm that the penal substitution of Christ is the only available and effective sacrifice for the sins of every person.

    We deny that this atonement results in salvation without a person’s free response of repentance and faith. We deny that God imposes or withholds this atonement without respect to an act of the person’s free will. We deny that Christ died only for the sins of those who will be saved.

    What They Should Have Affirmed and Denied

    Article Three: The Atonement of Christ

    We affirm that the penal substitution of Christ [that does not actually substitute for any sinner in particular] is nothing but a mere provision that, in itself, did not secure the salvation of any sinner. Though there is provision for the salvation of any sinner who decides to let Jesus’ save him, Jesus’ death was not actually and objectively intended to save any sinner in particular. The sole factor that determines who will be saved and who will be lost is the sinner’s autonomous decision and has nothing to do with God’s design and intention at all.

    We deny that this atonement was intended objectively to secure the salvation of any sinner in particular or that God had any specific design in sending his Son apart from making a mere provision. Furthermore, we deny that any sinner will have this provision applied to him apart from the decision of his autonomous will. We deny that Jesus actually accomplished the eternal redemption of any sinner in particular since he objectively accomplished no more in his redemptive work for those who will make their autonomous free will decision to let him save them than he did for those who will finally be lost.

    What They Affirmed and Denied

    Article Four: The Grace of God

    We affirm that grace is God’s generous decision to provide salvation for any person by taking all of the initiative in providing atonement, in freely offering the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, and in uniting the believer to Christ through the Holy Spirit by faith.

    We deny that grace negates the necessity of a free response of faith or that it cannot be resisted. We deny that the response of faith is in any way a meritorious work that earns salvation.

    What They Should Have Affirmed and Denied

    Article Four: The Grace of God

    We affirm that the grace of God is not intended to secure the salvation of any favored sinner so that God actually brings salvation to any person based on his prior intention, but has determined to permit millions of sinners to perish in unbelief rather than to violate their autonomous will. We affirm that though the sinner’s autonomous will decision cannot, in itself, merit a right standing before God, that decision that is determined by his greater humility, pliability, spirituality, intelligence, etc., is the sole factor that distinguishes him from other sinners. He and he alone is the one who makes himself to differ from other sinners.

    We deny that God’s gracious efforts to save sinners are effectual in any sense but depend completely on the sinner’s autonomous decision to cooperate with God’s ineffectual efforts. We deny that God distinguishes between sinners on any ground other than the sinner’s autonomous decision.

    What They Affirmed and Denied

    Article Five: The Regeneration of the Sinner

    We affirm that any person who responds to the Gospel with repentance and faith is born again through the power of the Holy Spirit. He is a new creation in Christ and enters, at the moment he believes, into eternal life.

    We deny that any person is regenerated prior to or apart from hearing and responding to the Gospel.

    What They Should Have Affirmed and Denied

    Article Five: The Regeneration of the Sinner

    We affirm that regeneration is completely unnecessary in regard to bringing sinners to repentance and faith in Christ. The wooing of the Holy Spirit is never effectual in bringing sinners to Christ. There is no real reason for God to change a person’s heart and disposition since those who respond to the gospel are already humble and pliable and willingly respond to the gospel when wooed by the Holy Spirit.

    We deny that any person’s regeneration is effected by the work of the Spirit removing his disposition to resist the free overtures of the gospel in response to which he is responsible to repent and believe.

    What They Affirmed and Denied

    Article Six: The Election to Salvation

    We affirm that, in reference to salvation, election speaks of God’s eternal, gracious, and certain plan in Christ to have a people who are His by repentance and faith.

    We deny that election means that, from eternity, God predestined certain people for salvation and others for condemnation.

    What They Should Have Affirmed and Denied

    Article Six:  Election to Salvation

    We affirm that election to salvation is an invention of Calvinists and Arminians that did not occur at all. We do not believe that God had a gracious plan to save any sinner in particular but only chose a plan according to which he would save any sinner who was sufficiently humble and pliable by nature to make the right decision. We affirm that it is possible that God would never have a people of his own since the outcome depends fully on the sinner’s autonomous will decision and not on any plan that Calvinists and Arminians have imagined that he may have had.

    We deny that God has any control whatsoever in regard to the salvation of sinners.

    What They Affirmed and Denied

    Article Seven: The Sovereignty of God

    We affirm God’s eternal knowledge of and sovereignty over every person’s salvation or condemnation.

    We deny that God’s sovereignty and knowledge require Him to cause a person’s acceptance or rejection of faith in Christ.

    What They Should Have Affirmed and Denied

    Article Seven: The Sovereignty of God

    We affirm that though we believe God has knowledge of all that will occur, he has sovereignly relinquished all control of the universe to the sinner’s autonomous will decision, and would rather see millions of sinners perish in their sins than to remove their stony hearts and grant them a new disposition that would cause them to willingly comply with the demands of the gospel.

    We deny that God’s sovereignty over all things means that he has the right to deal with his creatures as he has seen fit. We deny that he has the right to pass over guilty rebels and leave them to their just destruction and choose to redeem others who are equally guilty and bring them effectually to salvation.

    What They Affirmed and Denied

    Article Eight: The Free Will of Man

    We affirm that God, as an expression of His sovereignty, endows each person with actual free will (the ability to choose between two options), which must be exercised in accepting or rejecting God’s gracious call to salvation by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel.

    We deny that the decision of faith is an act of God rather than a response of the person. We deny that there is an “effectual call” for certain people that is different from a “general call” to any person who hears and understands the Gospel.

    What They Should Have Affirmed and Denied

    Article Eight: The Free Will of Man

    We affirm that, as an expression of his Sovereignty, God granted an autonomy to sinners that cancels out his own autonomy. It is the sinner’s autonomous will that determines all that occurs in human existence. We affirm that since sinners have responsibility to make proper choices and the ability to make improper choices, they must also have the ability to make proper choices. [We could add “Since we are completely ignorant of what Calvinists truly believe, we do not realize that no Calvinist would ever deny that sinners have the ability to choose between two options”].

    We deny that God has any part in actually enabling sinners to believe. Whatever assistance he may give to any, he gives to all so that it is nothing but sinners’ autonomous decisions that determines their salvation.

    What They Affirmed and Denied

    Article Nine: The Security of the Believer

    We affirm that when a person responds in faith to the Gospel, God promises to complete the process of salvation in the believer into eternity. This process begins with justification, whereby the sinner is immediately acquitted of all sin and granted peace with God; continues in sanctification, whereby the saved are progressively conformed to the image of Christ by the indwelling Holy Spirit; and concludes in glorification, whereby the saint enjoys life with Christ in heaven forever.

    We deny that this Holy Spirit-sealed relationship can ever be broken. We deny even the possibility of apostasy.

    What They Should Have Affirmed and Denied

    Article Nine: The Security of the Believer

    We affirm that God’s purpose and promise to keep and save any believer completely, waits for and depends on the sinner’s autonomous decision to believe. Prior to this decision, God has no purpose for any sinner in particular. Once the sinner responds to the gospel in repentance and faith, God responds to his decision and determines to save him completely.

    We deny that there are false professors whose profession and outward conformity to Christian standards may be no different from that of true believers who are in real danger of certain apostasy since they were never truly converted.

    What They Affirmed and Denied

    Article Ten: The Great Commission

    We affirm that the Lord Jesus Christ commissioned His church to preach the good news of salvation to all people to the ends of the earth. We affirm that the proclamation of the Gospel is God’s means of bringing any person to salvation.

    We deny that salvation is possible outside of a faith response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    What They Should Have Understood Apart from a Profound Ignorance of Calvinism on Their Part

    Article Ten: The Great Commission

    Unless one believes in the salvation of infants and the mentally challenged, Calvinists would agree with the last article.

    The following are the issues that Calvinists and SBC Traditionalists need to discuss:

    The issue in Article 1 that divides Calvinists and non-Calvinists is not the free and universal offer of the gospel but whether God has determined to make the gospel effectual in bringing a chosen people to himself, or has done all he intends to do and has left the issue in the sinner’s hands to determine the outcome by the exercise of his autonomous will.

    The issue in the denial of Article 2 is not whether sinners are able to freely choose between two or more options but whether sinners are able apart from divine enabling to choose to love and trust the God against whom they are hostile.

    The issue in Article 3 is not whether the redemptive work of Christ is of sufficient value to save every sinner who will repent and believe but whether it was God’s intention merely to provide the possibility of salvation for sinners who would do their part and receive the gospel, or infallibly accomplish redemption for a multitude that no one can number to whom he would effectually apply that redeeming work by bringing them to faith and repentance.

    The issue in Article 4 is not whether God has made a gracious and abundant provision for every sinner who will repent but whether his saving work is a mere provision or a saving accomplishment. Additionally, the issue is whether some sinners are more prone to salvation because of their humility, pliability etc.

    The issue in Article 5 is not whether sinners are regenerated prior to or apart from hearing the gospel, but whether sinners in a state of pervasive corruption will ever respond rightly to the gospel unless God removes their disposition to resist its demands.

    The issue in Article 6 is whether God or the sinner is the final arbiter in the sinner’s salvation. Did God choose a people or a plan and leave the success of that plan to the sinner’s autonomous choice.

    The issue in Article 7 is whether God is sovereign over any sinner’s salvation at all, not whether his sovereignty requires him to cause any sinner’s rejection of faith in Christ. Ultimately, the issue is whether God has the right to rule his creation as he desires.

    The issue in Article 8 is not whether sinners are able to choose between options but whether they have the ability to choose that for which they have absolutely no desire and to which their entire beings are absolutely averse.

    The issue in Article 9 is not whether true believers are secure for eternity but apostasy is a possibility for those who have professed faith in Christ. The evidence of true conversion is a persevering faith.

    The issue in Article 10 is that the document implies that Calvinists do not believe in a free and universal proclamation of the gospel and that they believe a person can be saved apart from a belief in the gospel.

    28
    Apr
    19

    Divinely Caused Love: Is It Genuine?

    One of the soteriological synergists’ favorite lines is that if God caused people to love him [they usually prefer inflammatory terms like “forced”], that love would not be genuine. My question is whether they consider divinely caused obedience to be true obedience. In Ezekiel 36:25-27, Yahweh promised to give a new heart and a new spirit [disposition] to hard-hearted sinners. Additionally, he promised to put his Spirit within them and cause them to walk in [obey] his statutes and keep his rules. It seems to me this becomes especially significant when one considers that every law God has ever given depends on two commandments [see Matt. 22:36-40] and obedience to one of those commandments [love for God] results in obedience to the other [love for one’s neighbor]. Genuine obedience to God reflects genuine love to God. Now, if divinely caused obedience is true obedience, would it not follow that the love from which that obedience results would also have to be genuine and divinely caused as well?

    02
    Jan
    19

    An Examination of the Carnal Christian Doctrine

    A question that often arises in response to the biblical teaching that God is sanctifying everyone he has justified is “What about the carnal Christian?” The implication is that what we are saying about sanctification invariably following justification cannot be true because we all know Christians whose lifestyle is no different from that of unbelievers. It never seems to occur to those who make this argument that such people may not be believers at all. Though this a not a direct quotation since I no longer have access to Lewis. S. Chafer’s book, He that is Spiritual, he wrote. “A “carnal” Christian is a person whose “walk” is on the same plane as that of the “natural” man” (Chafer, 1919,12). He is one who has confessed faith in Christ but whose life is no different from the life of an unconverted person. Notice that he is not merely claiming that there are times when believers act in a fleshly manner. He is describing a separate “class” of individuals that he calls “carnal” Christians. Being a “spiritual” Christian is the ideal, but it is only an option for the true believer. What Mr. Chafer failed to understand is that “spiritual” is simply the biblical designation for those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

    You have no doubt seen the three circles representing the natural man, the carnal Christian and the spiritual Christian. In that drawing, the only difference between the natural [unconverted] man and the “carnal Christian” is that in the case of the “carnal Christian” the cross is on the inside of the circle instead of the outside. Ego is still on the throne, Christ is dethroned and every aspect of the person’s life is in a complete state of disorder just as it is in the case of the unconverted person.

    By contrast, in the circle representing the “spiritual Christian,” ego is dethroned, Christ is enthroned, and every aspect of the person’s life is represented as in perfect order. Perhaps your circle of experience has been broader than mine, but I have never known a person whose life could be represented in that way.

    This doctrine has been widely accepted by the evangelical church to the extent that anyone who dares to question its validity is considered a false teacher. It has become so pervasive that in most quarters it makes no difference how immoral and ungodly a person’s lifestyle may be, he or she will be considered a true believer since at some point they have made a profession of faith in Christ.

    Unless someone is willing to assert that Paul was identifying himself as a “carnal Christian” in Romans 7:14 [I do not consider this passage as autobiographical at all but as a redemptive-historical description of the contrast between the inability of the Law and the efficacy of grace (see Rom. 7:5-6)], there is one lone passage on which one might base the carnal Christian doctrine. That passage is 1 Cor. 3:1-16. The popular view of this passage is that Paul was teaching that there are believers in Christ whose lifestyle cannot be distinguished from that of an unbeliever.

    At the risk of being branded a heretic, I would like to offer what I believe is a view that is more consistent with the teaching of the rest of the New Testament Scriptures. Before I make several hermeneutical and exegetical observations, I would like you to consider a list of propositions that I either affirm or deny. I hope these will help to clarify the view I am proposing.

    Affirmations and Denials

    I affirm that:

    1. Believing sinners are as fully justified the first moment they believe the gospel as they will ever be. The level of their sanctification can neither augment or diminish the perfection of their righteous standing before God.
    2. There are areas in every believer’s life in which he or she acts in the same way an unconverted person would act. Every believer is “carnal” in some area or areas.
    3. Some believers have advanced in their spiritual growth beyond others. Some continue to be more carnal and others are more in tune with the Spirit.
    4. It is possible for a believer to lose ground in the conflict that we call progressive sanctification even after having made advancements in a particular area.
    5. Not every believer struggles in the same areas in conflict with sin.
    6. There is a difference between a believer in conflict with sin and an [unregenerate] professed believer complacent to sin [see John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied. p. 145].

    I deny that:

    1. The sanctification of believers is automatic and does not require exhortations to obey or effort on the part of believers.
    2. There are true believers who never experience God’s sanctifying work.
    3. There are true believers whose lives are completely characterized by fleshliness and act in every way like unconverted people.
    4. There are true believers who continue under the dominion of sin.
    5. There is a difference between becoming a believer and becoming a disciple/

    Hermeneutical and Exegetical Considerations

    There are several hermeneutical and exegetical considerations that we must consider if we are going to interpret correctly the lone passage from which the carnal Christian doctrine is drawn. It is clear that these have been ignored by the proponents of this doctrine. In this section, we will consider some of these principles and see how they apply to the interpretation of this passage.

    An Important Principle of Interpretation

    There is an important hermeneutical principle that is often ignored by would be interpreters of Scripture. I say “would be interpreters” since one has only “interpreted” a passage when he has rightly understood what the Holy Spirit and the human writer had in mind when they wrote the text. If we ignore certain principles of interpretation, we will never arrive at a correct understanding of a text.

    Though there are many such principles that one must consider in seeking to interpret passages such as the one we are considering, the particular principle to which I am referring is this—Theological doctrine is to be derived from didactic passages where a doctrine is being expounded and not from hortatory [tending or aiming to exhort] or narrative passages. The passage we are considering is clearly a hortatory passage.

    Context

    What is the context in which this passage occurs? To answer that question, one needs to go back to the first chapter where Paul began to deal with one of the problems that existed in the church at Corinth. There, he expressed his desire that they all speak as with one voice and that there be no divisions among them. He desired that they be perfectly joined in the same mind and in the same judgment (see 1:10).

    It is important we understand that the issue was not theological in nature. The problem was that people in that church had divided into sects based on personalities. Some were Paul enthusiasts, other were devoted to Peter, others to Apollos etc. It was not that these men were teaching different doctrines. Paul made it clear here and in other passages that they were united in their understanding and message. Ultimately, the problem was that the Corinthians were giving glory to men, either to themselves or to their favorites teacher, and not to God alone. As one reads this Epistle, it becomes that the one sin that characterized this church, the sin from which all their other problems resulted, was the sin of pride. Paul often wrote to them, “and you are puffed up.”

    Though Paul expounds a great deal of solid theological truth in dealing with this problem, this section is not in itself a theological exposition of a particular doctrine. That is to say that it was not Paul’s intention in this context to expound the doctrine of sanctification. If one wishes to develop a doctrine of sanctification, he must do so from other passages where the apostles have intended to deal with the doctrine of sanctification specifically.

    A Specific Problem

    Based on this one passage, the advocates of the carnal Christian doctrine have asserted that it is possible for a person to be a true believer and yet live in every respect in the same manner as an unconverted person. The question one must ask is whether there is anything in this passage that suggests that these people were failing to be obedient in every area of their lives. Is there anything here that suggests that every member of the church was continuing to live in fornication, drunkenness, idolatry, thievery, homosexuality and the like? Of course, not! In fact, in chapter six Paul makes it clear that those to whom he was writing had been delivered from such sins and stated that those who have not been delivered from such sins will not inherit the kingdom of God. He wrote,

    Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, not thieves, nor covetous, not drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

    It should be clear that he was writing about personal righteousness and not imputed righteousness since these words follow an exhortation not to do wrong and cheat one’s brother (see v. 8).

    Notice Paul’s words in our passage. He wrote, “for you are still carnal, FOR there are among you envy, strife and divisions” (v. 3). It is like saying to a group of people after a Baptist business meeting, “You acted like a bunch of unconverted people.” Such meetings seem to bring out the baser qualities in people. If you have ever attended such a meeting, you will understand what I mean. That doesn’t mean that the people who acted this way pursue a sinful lifestyle in every area of their lives. It simply means this is one of the areas in their lives in which they need to make progress in sanctification.

    A Particular Time

    Another issue that seems to have eluded the attention of “carnal Christian” advocates is that Paul, in 1 Corinthians 3, is addressing a situation that existed at a particular time in the life of the Corinthian church. There is not a word in the text that gives the slightest indication that the attitudes or actions he was describing would persist for a lifetime. We might think of this chapter as a snapshot or still photo of a situation that Paul was addressing. If we viewed a video recording of the lives of these people, we would see a completely different view. In fact, in his second Epistle he wrote the following words to them,

    For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while.  Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter (2 Corinthians 7:8-11).

    Although it is likely Paul was speaking specifically about another issue he had addressed in his first Epistle, it is clear that God had used his exhortations to effect a genuine life change in his readers.

    I suspect that if we could take a still photo of any believer’s life at a given point we could catch them acting out of character with their Christian confession. We could say to them as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “I could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to fleshly. It is also possible that a person could continue in such a state of arrested development for a time. In Chapter 17 of the Philadelphia Confession [essentially the same as the Westminster Confession of Faith and the London Baptist Confession of 1689] “Of the Perseverance of the Saints,” paragraph 3, we read,

    And though they may, through the temptation of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins, and for a time continue therein, whereby they incur God’s displeasure and grieve his Holy Spirit, come to have their graces and comforts impaired, have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded, hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves, yet shall they renew their repentance and be preserved through faith in Christ Jesus to the end.

    Conclusion

    There can be no question that at the point when Paul penned this letter to the Corinthians, they were in an arrested state of spiritual development and needed to be exhorted to grow up. That is not the issue. Every believer, due to remaining sin, will continue have areas of carnality their lives. No one argues that believers are not carnal in some areas of their lives. No one argues, at least no one who argues based on biblical texts considered contextually, that growth in grace is automatic and requires no conscious effort on the believer’s part. Immediately before assuring the Philippians that their sanctification would be a certain reality because it was God who was working [the word means effectively and energetically accomplish] in them both to will and to do for his good pleasure, the apostle Paul exhorted them to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling (see Phil. 2:12-13).

    No one should argue that exhortations to obedience are unnecessary because the believer’s sanctification is certain to occur. God uses such exhortations to effect obedience in the lives of his people

    The issue is whether true believers will continue in such a state throughout their entire lifetime so that there is no difference between them and their unconverted neighbors. Is there any evidence in this passage to support the carnal Christian doctrine as taught by C. I. Scofield and L.S. Chafer and others? As we have shown, the answer is an unequivocal, no! All Christians are carnal in the sense that we still have areas of fleshliness in our lives and we all continue to struggle with certain sins, but there are no carnal Christians in the sense that a true believer can be perpetually indistinguishable from an unconverted person.

    “Saved Yet So as By Fire”

    If our analysis of Paul’s teaching in this passage is accurate, what was his meaning when he spoke of every man’s work being tried by fire and some, having produced nothing but wood, hay and stubble, being saved like a man escaping a burning building with nothing but the clothes on his back? Does it not appear that he is teaching that a person may be a believer and never produce any evidence of having been converted?

    That would be an easy conclusion for us to draw if we failed to consider the context in which these words were written and the issue with which Paul was dealing. Additionally, it is essential that we pay special attention to the words he employed and the metaphors he used.

    The Context

    Let me remind you that, in this passage, Paul was continuing to speak to a problem that he had introduced in chapter one of this Epistle. The problem was that the Corinthians had divided into splinter groups based on allegiance to their favorite preacher. His remedy for this problem has been to show that the success of his ministry or anyone else’s ministry depends not on the persuasiveness of his arguments or the eloquence of his speech but on the demonstration of God’s power in the application of redemption. At the end of chapter three he concluded that no one should glory in men. Earlier he had shown that no one should boast in their ability to unite themselves, since it is of God’s doing that believers are in Christ Jesus (see 1 Cor. 1:30-31). In this chapter he has shown that since it is God alone who can cause the planted seed to grow, Paul and Apollos are nothing but servants, instruments in God’s hand by whom they had believed (see chapter 3:5-8).

    What is important for us to understand is that it was not Paul’s purpose in this chapter to talk about a believer’s works or lack of works in the process of sanctification. Instead, he was continuing to address the issue that he had begun to address in chapter one. He was writing about the ministry God had given him [his work] and the ministry God had given others. His exhortation was to those who are engaged in the work of the gospel. Each one must be careful how he builds on the foundation Paul had laid (see verse 10).

    The Metaphors

    Paul used two metaphors for the work of the ministry; one was agricultural the other architectural. In verse eight he had written “He who plants and he who waters are one: and everyone shall receive his reward according to his own labor.” It should be clear that he is making reference not only to himself and Apollos, but to all those who are involved in the gospel ministry.

    Now in verse nine he mentions two metaphors for the gospel ministry. Ministers of the gospel are like farmers in a cultivated field and construction workers erecting a building. He wrote, “For we are laborers together with God; you are God’s cultivated field, you are God’s building.”

    We and You (One Must Know the Difference)

    Notice that Paul is not discussing the works of the cultivated field or of the building. He is discussing the work; the ministry God has given. Charles Hodge wrote of this passage, “Paul is here speaking of ministers and of their doctrines, and not of believers in general” (Hodge, 78, 1997). To arrive at this conclusion, one must merely know the difference between “We” and “You.” “We are laborers. . .You are God’s building” (verse 9).
    When he wrote, “Let every man take heed how he builds on the foundation” his reference was not every person without exception, or even every believer, but everyone who is engaged in the gospel ministry, i.e., everyone who is involved in cultivating the field or erecting the building.
    Since this is clear from a careful reading of the chapter, it should be obvious that Paul’s reference was not to the works of believers being judged (v. 13) but to the work, i.e., ministry of those who are building on the foundation Paul had laid (see verses 14-15).

    Conclusion

    One can only conclude that Paul did not intend to teach in this passage that there will be believers who will stand before God in judgement with nothing but wood, hay and stubble to offer as evidence that their faith was genuine. There will be no believers who stand before God who are saved by the skin of their teeth. Instead, it was his purpose to admonish those who are cultivating the field and building the building to take care how they carry on the work God has given them.

    Summary

    The issue in this discussion is not whether true believers continue to have unsanctified areas in their lives. No one who understands the clear teaching of Scripture would deny that they do. This issue is whether there are true believers who continue throughout their entire life-times in a state that is indistinguishable from their unconverted neighbors.

    As we have seen, there is absolutely no evidence in this lone passage that forms the basis for the carnal Christian teaching that these Corinthian believers were characterized by fleshliness in every area of their lives or that they continued in a state of carnality throughout the duration of their lives. In fact, we have the word of the apostle Paul writing under divine inspiration that when confronted with their sins, they were sorrowful and repented of these sins. Upon careful examination, any honest observer will have to conclude that this passage simply does not support the “carnal Christian” view.

    26
    Aug
    17

    An Appeal to Closet Calvinists

    This appeal is addressed to those evangelical pastors and Christian teachers who admit to a belief in God’s sovereign grace but, for reasons which we shall discuss in this booklet, never preach or teach this truth. For the lack of a better designation, we will refer to such pastors and teachers as ‘closet Calvinists.’

    A Description of a Closet Calvinist

    Like many of his contemporaries in the Lord’s work, the closet Calvinist is quite bold when he expounds those truths that he knows his hearers already believe. Notice how courageous he is when he proclaims popular evangelical opinions that are calculated to please the ears of those who have gathered to fulfill their religious obligation for another week. Yet, there are some biblical truths that cause him to cower in the cloistered safety of his ‘study’ where, if cornered, he might own up to believing some of the ‘deeper truths’ of Scripture. On these rare occasions, he will quickly explain that the ‘meat of the Word’ is not for everyone. Meat is only intended for the mature to masticate in the seclusion of their closets. It is surely not good for the sheep.

    Devastating Effects

    The truth is, the closet Calvinist knows that, to fleshly minds, some biblical truths are more palatable than others. His loud proclamation can be heard for miles when he declares some of these more tasty truths. He is often heard by thousands of people who will marvel at the great work that he is doing. The tragedy is that his ministry is having a devastating effect on the Church. Closet Calvinists are guilty of allowing fleshly hearers to persist in the delusion that they love the truth of God and the God of truth. The reality is that if he were honest in his teaching about God’s attributes and His discriminating decrees, many of his hearers would go back and walk no more with him (see John 6: 65-6). A more serious effect of the closet Calvinist’s sinful silence is that he is robbing Christ’s sheep of the very truths that God intended for their spiritual growth and edification.

    In his classic book, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, written over a century and a half ago, Octavius Winslow warned of the devastating effects of holding back God’s revealed truth. He wrote,

    Is there not in the present day a criminal keeping back by some, and a painful undervaluing by others, of the scriptural and holy doctrines of grace [italics his]?-The doctrines which unfold the eternity of God’s love to His people-the sovereignty of his grace in their election-the effectual power of the Spirit in their calling-the free justification of their persons through the imputed righteousness of Christ, and the entire putting away of their sins by his atoning blood-the solemn obligation to ‘live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present evil world,’ and the certainty of their final glorification in the world to come,-are not these Divinely-revealed truths, at the present moment, and by the great mass of Christian professors and preachers, excluded from our pulpits and exiled from our land” are they not considered mean and unfashionable? and, having lost their savor with many, are they not cast out and trodden under foot of men? We verily and solemnly believe that it is so. By some they are professedly received, but criminally held back; by others they are professedly preached, but with such timidity and obscurity, as to render them of none effect: and by the many they are disbelieved altogether, and therefore openly and boldly denied! And yet, these are the doctrines which shine so luminously in every page of the apostle’s writings-these are the doctrines which formed the grand themes of Christ’s ministration,-and these are the doctrines, to the preaching of which by the reformers, we owe all the civil and religious liberty which, as a nation, we now possess. We hesitate not, then, to say that, along ‘with the denial or the undervaluing of these doctrines of grace, there will go forth an influence that will wither the spirituality and obstruct the prosperity of the churches of our land. It is true, an outward appearance of fruitfulness may follow the exhibition of opposite and conflicting doctrines,-crowds may flock to their standard, and multitudes seem converted by their influence,-but soon these delusive appearances are seen to pass away. The time of trial and sifting comes’, and then it is found-when, alas! too late to close the floodgate against the overwhelming evils which the preaching of error has produced-that the truth, and the truth only in the hands of the Eternal Spirit of God, can really enlighten the dark mind, regenerate the lifeless soul, and subdue and sanctify the rebellious heart: it is then discovered, that the true prosperity of a church, its stability, its spirituality, its vigor. and its holy influences, are essentially, and therefore inseparably, connected with a fearless and holy maintenance of the doctrines of grace; that where they are denied, or held back, or in any way obscured, there may indeed exist the form of godliness, but the power-the glorious, Divine, and sanctifying power-is wanting.1

    Knowing Concealment of the Truth

    Now, let’s be clear that we are not talking about those who are ignorant of these precious truths that God has revealed in His Word, the Bible. They have another reason for which they ought to be ashamed of themselves. Instead, we are talking about those who profess to know the truth, but willingly conceal it for expedience sake.

    For example, there are many pastors who will tell you, behind closed doors, that they believe that, before the world began, God unconditionally chose those whom He intended to save. They will even admit that He determined beforehand to bring these chosen people to faith in His Son. Yet, they will tell you that these truths constitute the ‘meat of the Word’ and are not intended for everyone. The sad reality is that such preachers seldom, if ever, teach these truths to anyone.

    Hard Questions

    There are several questions that I would like to ask the closet Calvinist and his companions. I would be very grateful if they would give me a straight and satisfying answer.

    First, what criterion do you use to distinguish the “meat of the Word’ from the ‘”Milk of the Word?”

    I suggest that the distinction between “milk” and “meat” prevalent in evangelicalism today is one that was foreign to the mind of the Apostle Paul. When he distinguished between the milk and meat of the Word, e.g., Cor 3:2, he referred not to two different classes of teaching but to two different ways of presenting the same teaching.This was the view of Charles Hodge, among others. Commenting on I Cor 3:2, he wrote,

    What is the distinction which the apostle here makes between milk and meat? It is evidently not the distinction between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God’ Paul did not preach the wisdom of the world to babes in Christ and the wisdom of God to advanced Christians. Neither does he sanction anything of the nature of theDisciplina Arcani, or doctrine of the hidden essence of Christianity, which was introduced in later times. For the sake either of conciliating the heathen, or of preventing believers from forming false notions of the gospel, it became common deliberately to conceal the truth. This is the foundation of the doctrine of reserve, as it is called. which the Romish church has so extensively practiced and taught, inculcating a blind faith, and keeping the people in ignorance [Does this sound familiar?] . . . The import of the figure leads to the conclusion that the difference is rather inthe mode of instruction, than in the things taught. The same truth in one form is milk , in another form strong meat. “Christ,” says Calvin, “is milk for babes, and strong meat for men.” Every doctrine which can be taught to theologians, is taught to children. . . . The important truth is that there are not two sets of doctrine, a higher and a lower form of faith, one for the learned and the other for the unlearned; there is no part of the gospel which we are authorized to keep back from the people [emphases mine].2

    God plainly revealed the teaching of free, sovereign and distinguishing grace in the Epistles of the New Testament Scriptures. Are we to assume that there were no new or weak believers in the churches to which the apostles published these truths so clearly. How can we explain the fact that they did not conceal these teachings, if they are only suitable for mature Christians?

    Second, what right do you have to conceal the truth that God has revealed?

    At times, closet Calvinists resort to Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God. . . . ” in an effort to excuse their lack of faithfulness in proclaiming God’s truth. It is true that God has concealed the answers to some of our questions. These matters belong to Him, and we have no right to pry into them.This is a truth that should stand without controversy. Yet, this is not the only truth that is disclosed in Deut 29:29. The verse continues, “but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.” Just as we have no ability to reveal or pry into what God has concealed, so we do not have the right to conceal what God has revealed.

    Tell me, you who love to quote the well-known Spurgeon, have you not heard Spurgeon? He was no closet Calvinist who exulted in the truth of unconditional election in the solitude of his study. No! He loved to preach on these grand old themes. He said in one of his many sermons on election,

    It is no novelty, then, that I am preaching; no new doctrine. I love to proclaim these strong old doctrines that are called by nickname Calvinism, but which are surely and verily the revealed truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus. By this truth I make a pilgrimage to the past. and as I go, I see father after father, confessor after confessor, martyr after martyr, standing up to shake hands with me. Were I a Pelagian, or a believer in free-will, I should have to walk for centuries all alone. Here and there a heretic, of no very honorable character might rise up and call me brother. But taking these things to be the standard of my faith, I see the land of the ancients peopled with my brethren. I behold multitudes who confess the same as I do, and acknowledge that this is the religion of God’s own church [emphases mine].3

    In his farewell address to the Ephesian elders, Paul reminded them of his faithfulness in declaring all the revealed wiII of God. He wrote,

    I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable. . . . Therefore I testify to you this day, that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God (Acts 20:20-25).

    The reason for such boldness is that Paul unequivocally believed these truths. For him, they were not mere academic propositions with which he might entertain himself in his more private moments. He perceived their value, as God’s revealed truth, for abasing the sinner’s arrogance and for training believers in practical godliness. Since he valued God’s truth, he could not conceal it. In his second epistle to the Corinthians he wrote, “But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I BELIEVED, THEREFORE I SPOKE’ we also believe, therefore also we speak,”. . . (2 Cor 4:13). If God’s truth is burning in our hearts, “. . .we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard”(Acts 4:20). See also Jeremiah 20:9.

    Paul tells us in the second chapter of I Corinthians that God’s purpose in revelation is ‘that we might know the things freely given to us by God’ (I Cor 2:12).

    If God has plainly revealed the truth of His sovereign grace, what right do you have to conceal it from those to whom it belongs?

    Third, if your hearers remain fleshly after hearing all those teachings that your call ‘the milk of the Word,’ what do you now plan to do for them to bring them to maturity?

    Such a situation existed among the addressees of the Epistle to the Hebrews.The writer of that treatise had many truths to teach his readers about Melchizedek, but they were dull of hearing. He told them that they needed milk and not solid food (meat).

    Concerning him [Christ, a priest after the order of Melchizedek] we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness’, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil (Heb. 5:11-14)

    What did he propose to do in that situation. Did he plan to leave them in their state of stupor and continue to feed them nothing but the ‘milk of the Word?’ Did he intend to conceal this important truth from them until they came to maturity? No! He understood that if they continued in this state, they would do so because they had never become Christians at all. It would profit nothing to continue to teach them those doctrines that belonged to the infant state of God’s family. Pursuant to that purpose, he pressed on, in Hebrews seven, with the meaty doctrine of Melchizedek.The lesson this teaches is that we can never hope to mature God’s people as long as we continue to conceal from them those truths that God has revealed for their growth and development.

    Fourth, if it is not yet time to teach your people the truth of God’s distinguishing grace, how will you know when that time has come?

    What evidence do God’s people give that they have become ready to hear the truth of God’s distinguishing grace? Will they tell you that they have now become disenchanted with your “free will” approach to preaching and ministry and wish to delve into the”meat of the Word?” How do you expect them to become ready to hear the “deeper truths” of God’s Word if you continue to steer them away from such truths? If some of your sheep began to mature through their personal study of the Scriptures, would you continue to starve them in your public teaching and preaching? Would you rob them of God’s revealed truth because there might be some weak believers in your audience whom you fear would be offended by a plain description of their Father’s character and work? If you do not intend to teach the truth now, when do you plan to start?

    Finally, I ask you in all candor, is it not true that you have concealed these truths because you have undervalued them?

    Is having a large and “successful” church more valuable to you than being faithful to God’s truth? Have you counted the cost of standing up with those who have suffered for the faith and judged it to be to high? Is the approval of your peers more important to you than the smile of God? If so, it is time for you to get your priorities right.

    In his excellent, little book, Warnings to the Churches, J. C. Ryle reminds us of an occasion when Bishop Latimer was called on to preach before King Henry VIII. He cites, from memory, the manner in which Latimer began his sermon.

    ‘Latimer! Latimer! dost thou remember that thou art speaking before the high and mighty King Henry VIII. before him who has the power to command thee to be sent to prison; before him who can have thy head struck off if it please him” Wilt thou not take care to say nothing that will offend royal ears” Then after a pause, he went on: ‘Latimer! Latimer! Dost thou not remember that thou art speaking before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords; before Him, at whose bar Henry VIII will stand; before Him, to whom one day thou wilt give an account of thyself’ ‘Latimer! Latimer! be faithful to thy Master and declare all God’s Word.’4

    I leave you with two words of exhortation from Paul’s Epistles. In his closing words to the Corinthians he wrote, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (I Cor 16:13). Never has there been a time when there was a greater need for pastors and other Christian teachers to act like men and be strong. In his final exhortation to Timothy, Paul identified the area in which lies our greatest need for manly strength when he wrote,

    I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship. do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Tim 4:1-5).


    1 Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension and Revival of religion in the Soul, (London: The Banner of Truth Trust reprint ed. 1962), pp. 121-2.

    2 Charles Hodge, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., reprint ed. 1969), pp. 48-9.

    3 Charles H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Sermons Vol. 2, (Grand Rapid: Zondervan Publishing House, n.d.) pp. 69-70.

    4 J.C. Ryle, Warnings to the Churches, (London: The Banner of Truth Trust. reprint ed. 1967) pp. 34-5.