Way Back Wednesday: A Former Pharisee, A German Monk, and a Philadelphia Emcee

“I began to understand that “the justice of God” (Rom. 1:17) meant that justice by which the just man lives through God’s gift, namely by faith. This is what it means: the justice of God is revealed in the gospel, a passive justice with which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written: “He who through faith is just shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.” ~ Martin Luther, Preface to the 1545 edition of Luther’s Latin writings.

How God justifies sinners and still remains holy (Ex. 34:6-7) is the heart of Christianity. To put it plainly – How can God forgive wickedness, yet not leave the guilty unpunished?

The answer to this question, the doctrine of justification, was the central issue that launched the Protestant Reformation in 1517 in Germany. By reading Psalms, Galatians and Romans, Luther was convinced that God justifies sinners by grace alone (sola gratia) through faith alone (sola fide) in Christ alone (solus christus). He, along with other reformers, believed that Scripture alone (sola scriptura) was the means by which people came to know and understand God and salvation, not through tradition, and that salvation was all by the sovereign grace of God, to whom all glory is due (soli deo gloria).

In 2005, Shai Linne released his debut album, the Solus Christus project (Lampmode Records). It featured the song, “Justified”, which gets to the essence of Christianity. When I first heard the song, my heart was so encouraged hearing ancient and eternal truth conveyed in such a modern poetic urban medium. Enjoy!

Grace & Peace,

d.

Shai Linne is currently an artist on Lampmode Records and is set to release Lyrical Theology, Vol. 2 in the near future.

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Encouragement for the Evangelist – Pt. 2

Five centuries before the rise of Finney, a light began to shine in Europe. That light was designed to expose the darkness of the theological heresies and political tyranny of the Church of Rome. Holding that torch was Englishman John Wycliffe, known as the Morning Star of the Reformation. With precise aggression, Wycliffe attacked the church’s heretical position on the doctrine of justification, the papacy and the sacramental system. His unwavering commitment to truth led him to translate the Latin Vulgate to English so every man, even the plough boy, might possess the Word of God in their own language. He saw this as the step to free men from the oppression of the Church of Rome.

John Wycliffe

Wycliffe’s light would extend beyond England to the modern day Czech Republic through Jan Hus who was burned alive at the stake by the Roman Catholic Church in 1415 under accusations of heresy concerning Catholic ecclesiology, specifically the legitimacy and authority of the papacy. Providentially, Hus’s last words before he was burned were, “…in 100 years God will raise up a man whose calls for reform cannot be suppressed.”

Jan Hus

Roughly 100 years later, on October 31, 1517, a German monk nailed 95 propositions to the Church Castle at Wittenberg against the Roman Catholic Church. His name – Martin Luther. Severely oppressed by his own sin and desire to please God, it was his study of Romans 1:17 that allowed him to see how God justifies sinners, which also exposed the great corruptions of the Roman Catholic Church. The conclusions Luther ultimately came to were: The church was not authoritative; Scripture was. The pope is not head of the church; Christ is. Man is not saved by his own virtuous acts and religious rituals, but graciously by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness through faith. For his contentions, Luther was issued a papal bulla or summons by Pope Leo X to appear before Charles V to recant his “heresies” at the Diet of Worms. Firm in his new found convictions, upon his insistence to recant his charges, Luther said, “My conscience is held captive to the Word of God. I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither honest nor safe. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”

Martin Luther

Luther’s teachings would continue to spread throughout Europe, both favorably and unfavorably,and other reformers would rise up. But perhaps the most significant reformer since Luther was a French scholar, professor, lawyer, theologian and later pastor, Jean Cauvin or John Calvin. Just as Luther’s central doctrine, justification by faith alone, tremendously impacted Europe, Calvin’s central doctrine, the sovereignty of God, would impact Europe and beyond in ways never imagined, particularly in the social and political realms, that previous reformers failed to achieve.

Skilled with brilliant writing ability and mind for logic, Calvin published the first edition of his magnum opus, the Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536 at the age of 27. For twenty years he continued to add to Institutes as it was regarded as the most coherent and logical summation of Protestant doctrine produced during the Reformation. Planted in Geneva, Switzerland, Calvin, with support of the city government, established Geneva as a disciplined Christian community and place for ministry training.

Jean Cauvin

Aside from his social and political convictions, Calvin is most known for his soteriological position. Stemming from his core doctrine, the sovereignty of God in all things, he naturally formed his salvific view from Scripture that salvation is granted based on the sovereign electing grace of God according to His will. Though systematized after his death, as a defense against the Arminian charge of heresy, T.U.L.I.P., or The Doctrines of Grace, was conceived during the Synod of Dort in 1618, convening in 1619. The acrostic, T.U.L.I.P., is a summation of biblical soteriology.

T – Total Depravity

U – Unconditional Election

L – Limited Atonement

I – Irresistible Grace

P – Perseverance of the Saints

This, I believe, captures the truth of Scripture concerning how people are saved and kept by God for the glory of God according to His own covenant. As I mentioned in Part 1 of this article, this is the doctrine that Charles G. Finney rejected that led to his heresies and pragmatic church routines.

So where is the encouragement, you might ask?  The encouragement lies in understanding the purpose of the sovereign grace of God in election. To miss this is to miss the whole thrust of this beautiful truth. But as the acrostic logically lays out, we must start with our condition – depraved. Sin has catapulted us into a state of spiritual death and enmity toward God. By nature, we hate and are unable to understand the truths of God, especially the gospel. To misunderstand this spirals us into believing lies about God and us. Building from a platform of error can only produce more error. However, by God’s grace, if we see our depravity as the Scriptures plainly declare, the doctrine of election should humble us greatly and cause us to see the lovingkindness of God toward us in Christ Jesus.

In matters of evangelism, let’s build on a proper foundation so that by God’s grace, we can see how the biblical doctrines espoused in the Reformation (biblical) are encouraging. That proper foundation is…

Q. Why does God do anything that He does?

A. For His own glory. (Romans 11:36)

It is safe to say that God saves people for His own glory, since saving people is one aspect of what He does. When God saves, He is demonstrating His love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, righteousness and justice in Christ. He is bringing attention to His own character by redeeming sinners.

At the same time, He is exalting the Savior, Jesus Christ, by making Him head over all things, especially the church. Scripture tells us that salvation was planned in eternity past and Christ is the Lamb who was slain from before the foundations of the earth. (1 Peter 1:20, Revelation 13:8) Scripture also tells us that believers were chosen by the Father in Christ before the foundation of the earth. (John 6: 39, 17:2,6, Ephesians 1:4, 2 Thessalonians 2:13) Revelation foretells of the eternal reign of Christ with the redeemed from every nation, tribe, people and tongue.

Seeing the predetermined plan of salvation as well as the consummation of salvation, ought to lead us to see the faithfulness of God in saving His elect by the means of declaring the gospel in the earth. God has chosen to save His people from His wrath by grace through faith in His Son.

The upshot of this is that we can share the gospel with confidence because it will effect God’s intended purpose because He will not leave His due exaltation and exultation ultimately in the decisions of man.

By God’s providential grace, The Reformation gave birth to Soli Deo Gloria, Solus Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura through Wycliffe, Hus, Luther, Calvin and many others.

“15And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)

 Grace & Peace,

d.

Encouragement For The Evangelist – Pt. 1

(Scenario 1)

[Pastor raising one hand slightly cupped toward the ceiling]

“Come. The doors of the church are open. Just come.  I know there is one more. Come.” <organ plays to stir emotions> “Today is the day of salvation thus saith the Lord.  Choose ye THIS day! Come.”

This should sound familiar to you if you’ve ever been part of or currently are part of a traditional worship service; perhaps even more so in the African-American context.  For those unfamiliar, these are the typical phrases heard at the end of a service known as the altar call or the invitation.  Sounds harmless, right?  After all, isn’t the pastor supposed to “lead people to the Lord”?  Obviously, this isn’t an article on pastoral theology, so I won’t get into the role and responsibilities of the shepherd.

(Scenario 2)

Using belligerent speech to convert people to Christ after you’ve given the gospel.  This usually happens after a person has given a clear presentation of the gospel and the listener appears the least bit concerned.  “So you’re telling me you’d rather go to hell, than accept the forgiveness Christ offers? Why would you want to do that?”  If that is not your experience, great.  But believe me, it happens.

Or perhaps you’re the kind of person that frets over your gospel presentation or you feel condemned after the listener walks away in rejection.

It is my conviction that both of these very common scenarios are evidences of an inaccurate understanding of the gospel.  These two scenarios represent common tactics of the Decisional Regeneration or Decision Theology Movement. It’s antithesis is Reformation Theology.

As the title says, I hope that this provides some encouragement for the evangelist (all believers for that matter) as we biblically assess salvation and how it comes about.

Decisional Regeneration / Decision Theology

Decisional Regeneration is the teaching that after hearing the gospel man can respond by choosing to follow the Lord and it is by that decision that he is regenerated or born again.

Decisional Regeneration gained mass popularity by the preaching of Charles Finney in the early 19th century.  It was his unbiblical position on depravity, justification, atonement, imputation and other key doctrines that led to his pragmatic revival style of preaching, which evangelicalism has yet to fully recover from.

Concerning depravity, which will remain my main focus, Finney believed that depravity resulted in a person after a freewill immoral decision was made.  In his Lectures on Systematic Theology, Finney states that the idea of moral depravity is “absurd”, “anti-Scriptural and non-sensical dogma”.  He went on to say, “Moral depravity, as I use the term, does not consist in nor imply a sinful nature in the sense that the substance of the human soul is sinful in itself. It is not a constitutional sinfulness. It is not an involuntary sinfulness.”1

This is nothing more than the resurrection of the condemned teachings of Pelagius, called Pelagianism.  Under this spurious view, it proports that Adam’s sin was not imputed to rest of the human race. Subsequently, a denial of Adam’s imputation of sin naturally leads one to reject the idea of the necessity of Christ’s imputation of righteousness through faith, and Finney did deny that.  However, Finney did believe that depravity was universal because every man everywhere makes immoral decisions.  Yet, Finney believed and taught each man is born in a state of innocence.  The conclusion – all man has to do is to stop desiring and choosing the wrong things and desire and choose the right things, namely God.  Can it be so simple, Mr. Finney?  Why does man naturally desire and choose things that God prohibits without the full revelation of God’s order?

Concerning inherent sin and the imputation of sin, Psalm 51:5 and Romans 5:12-14 reject Finney’s doctrine.

Concerning the ability and desire to choose God, Romans 3:11 and 5:6 silences that position. In Romans 3:11, quoting Psalm 14, the Apostle Paul says of man in his natural unredeemed state: “…..no one understands, no one seeks for God.”  The word the Holy Spirit led Paul to used for seeks is the Greek word έκζητων (ekzeton).  This comes from the words “ek” and “zeteo”. “ek” is a preposition which means out of and “zeteo” is the verb to seek.  When used like this ekzeton means to make a diligent or careful search. In this context, it is in the present tense and its mood is functioning as a participle.  Literally, Paul is saying no one from their own initiative is carefully or diligently seeking the Lord.  Man doesn’t do this because he is in bondage to his sin, his desires are constantly for sin and he is spiritually dead.  That’s how bad the fall affected us.  We do not desire God!  We are dead to God naturally.  Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that man cannot freely choose Christ on his own for the forgiveness of his sins and regeneration.

It is on the foundation of Jesus’ words in John 6:44 that Paul instructs us through the Holy Spirit.

“44No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him….”

The results of Finney’s soteriological beliefs led to rowdy evangelistic pragmatism like the “anxious bench” (the forerunner to the altar call) and emotional tactics that often resulted in fainting, uncontrollable weeping and sobbing,  and proclaiming “new words” from the Lord.  Sound familiar?  It should as these trends have had a long lasting global impact.  Unquestionably, the worst effect of Finney’s doctrine is that it is a departure from the gospel as the Bible puts forth and the fruits of a false gospel aided by humanistic pragmatism are false conversions.

In my next installment, we will consider the biblical soteriological beliefs characteristic of The Reformation and how that affects evangelism.

Grace & Peace,

d.

1 Charles Finney, Lectures on Systematic Theology, p. 245