Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Evangelical Reality

The Silent Intruder

We have come to a point in our journey where we have lost the meaning of the Reformation. How many of us count Evangelicals as "partners" in the fight against liberalism yet conveniently forget that they are not spiritual partners of any measure. Our focus on morality as the cause de jour of the age has left us at the point where we can pass over the doctrines which make us Reformed in favor of reconciling a law-based salvation with moral values. Do not misunderstand I do not intend to defend liberalism in any fashion nor would I consider it a possibility. However we tend to forget that what Luther was fighting against was a Catholic Church that measured salvation through the works of the flesh not the work of Christ on the cross. Luther was also fighting against the work of men like John Tetzel, who sold salvation through three easy payments of $19.99 (plus s+h). What we have today in the Evangelical movement is this same type of Roman Catholicism minus the Pope and as Dr. Michael Horton says, "without the sacraments". In a-I think-wonderful song by Hank Williams, Jr. he says, "they want you to send money to the Lord but they give you their address." It pretty much sums it up does it not? The Arminian heresy that is modern Evangelicalism receives a pass for most of us. Our combined passion and motivation lie in the fight against the normalization of homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and the evil of abortion. While these are the moral problems of the age and we must not discount their importance, the Reformed among us tend to focus more on these perverse sexual sins than on Salvation by Faith Alone. If you look at Martin Luther's Freedom of the Will you see that he writes nearly 200 pages without speaking directly about the salvationary value of morality but focus' directly on SALVATION BY FAITH ALONE. I was sitting in Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh waiting for my wife to finish her glucose test when while reading Jonathan Edwards' Justification by Faith Alone when a young lady leaned over and asked what I was reading. I told her what it was-not expecting much-and she asked "what kind of God stuff is that?". While I may be a poor explainer of the Doctrine of Salvation by Faith Alone she was completely blown away by the concept that the works of her flesh will not gain her entrance into heaven. This concept was one she was completely unaware. She began telling me stories of the life she had led-which incidentally had brought her to be at Magee Women's that morning-and the depravity of which she was describing (I have always found it interesting how people will tell complete strangers things they wouldn't tell their own family) blew me away. I asked if she had ever attended church and she told me no that she never felt that she was "good enough" to be a Christian. And while I was listening to that sentence I felt as if the building was crumbling around me and no one else was noticing. I thought to myself, "This is the problem. We have so allowed the error of Arminianism to permeate the idea of Christian faith that the problem does not lie in rooting out the sin of the law but in preaching the Gospel of Salvation of Faith Alone." Then after telling her in a pastoral way-at least my feeble attempt-that the behavior she was engaging in was harmful not only to her but to the baby she was carrying I began to explain to her the glory that awaited her if she would repent and seek Christ. However what was important is that instead of feeding her the typical works-based salvation that she was used to hearing and used to dismissing I explained to her more what Salvation by Faith Alone means and then unfortunately before I could get to the basics (me and my long-winded mouth) she had to go to her appointment. I sat there thinking about the conversation that I had just said and the reality of it blew me away. While I was replaying the event in my head it struck me. It hit me that the problem with the Reformed church today is that we have forgotten why we are Reformed. We believe-unlike the vast majority of the church-going public-that Salvation is not through the works of the flesh but by the death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
We cannot have salvation without the intercession of the Son. I know some of you are saying, "why does he keep saying this stuff?" I realize that I have already stated Salvation by Faith Alone a good 10 times already and in the fear of being redundent I'll say it again. We as Reformed Christians have lost the fight against Arminianism. Worse than that we have lost the case for Salvation for millions of our brethren. In favor of moral battles we have given up the battle for salvation.


Rev Dave said...

I don't know if we've lost the Reformation, as you put it, so much as we constantly run into the human tendency of having pride in one's own ability to save. This is not a new battle, in fact it's the oldest one in the book. Goes all the way back to the Garden it does (what else does that 'you can be like God knowing good and evil' line mean?)

We all (even pastors, see Eugene Peterson's writing on this subject for good kick in the pants)have natural tendencies towards Pelagianism and works righteousness. There's something in our character that tells us we have to earn our salvation. We think of God as some cosmic scorekeeper, totting up our good and bad deeds, and hoping that in the end the good will outweigh the bad. (Islam teaches this explicitly, btw.)

It's a real challenge to tell people that they're saved by grace, but God expects a life of odbeience. Since the second half of that teaching is one we mistakenly think we can do on our own, we naturally graviatate towards trying to be good boys and girls.

So, is the Reformation lost? No, the battle continues, heart by heart and soul by soul, just as it always has.



Anonymous said...

You have got to be kidding! I have been a member of a PCUSA church for 16 years, but I also spend lots of time in other churches, and I do not see this at all. If anything, I see "works" theology most often in my own church!

Since the PCUSA has lost its biblical anchor, what has resulted is a love/justice gospel that requires us to "love" everybody and work for justice. So my church requires nothing but to "be a good person." No grace, no gospel, nada. When I get so sick of it that I can't stand it another Sunday, I go to a small nondenominational community church which preaches grace in abundance.

In my PCUSA church, I have heard lately that God is not sovereign, that Jesus didn't know he was the Christ until after the transfiguration, and that Peter, James, and John just "thought" they saw Moses and Elijah (just a few examples). If anyone in my church brings forth a biblical argument about anything, they are labelled a "Bible idolator" or at least a misguided fundamentalist. I was personally ridiculed for suggesting that faith statements submitted by a confirmation class ought to at least mention Jesus!

What we as Reformed Christians (in the PCUSA, at least) have lost is Christianity itself! Do you really think that all those evangelicals have "lost the case for Salvation?" I hope not, because we Presbyterians sure aren't doing the job.

Backwoods Presbyterian said...

I do not disagree that the PC(USA)-of which I am a member-is well on its way to being apostate. The focus of this post was to take a look at what we believe. If we are going to call ourselves Reformed and Presbyterian we must remember why we are the way we are and that first begins with Justification by Faith Alone.

Anonymous said...

Yes, of course, justification is by faith alone. And yes, we need to know and believe those things that make us Reformed and Presbyterian. Really, my point was that I personally don't often see a "works" theology out in the evangelical world. I'm wondering where YOU see it.

Backwoods Presbyterian said...

I see it in the televangelists and in the "social justice" emergent churches personally. The big name "preachers" like Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, and other "Self-Help Christianity" gurus even people like Jerry Falwell are pushing Works-Righteousness.

Anonymous said...

It's probably not fair to judge all of evangelicism based on a few misguided, high-profile televangelists!

Have you read "The Purpose-Driven Life" by Rick Warren? I would not put him in the same category as Joel Osteen; not by any stretch of the imagination! My former PCUSA pastor (orthodox, so he was kicked out of my church) commented on the book saying that Rick is "actually quite Reformed in many of his ideas..."

I think you need to go visit some of your local evangelical churches to see for yourself what they are teaching (Calvanistic vs. Arminian) before you bemoan them as lost in "the battle for salvation". From my experience, Calvanistic Christianity is alive and well, just not in the PCUSA!

Anonymous said...

Great post! Yes, we've lost it.

Dr. Sproul phrased it exactly right when he titled a book, "The Arminian Captivity of the Church"!

I am teaching a unit on the Reformed doctrine of election and life-long Presbyterians say that these teachings are 'news to them'!

will spotts said...

Excellent topic.

I'm not sure that this is as predominant in Evangelical circles as you suggest, but it is certainly common.

It is very easy to get caught up in the current problems (for example in the PC(USA) and our courting of apostasy) and to lose sight of the good news of justification that is by faith alone. This is the great and marvellous good news -- we know if we're honest that we fail . . . repeatedly, but our salvation does not depend on our performance.

An issue among Arminians (and others) is also the desire to get credit for the good that we do. We feel that by following particular rules, we become better (worth more) than other people. It is very hard for people to abandon that kind of thinking until our own depravity is so evident to ourselves as to be undeniable.

This also, as you point out, throws up a barrier between people and Jesus . . . The thought: "I'm not good enough to be a Christian."