Friday, May 1, 2009

Guarding the Gospel


Above is one of my favorite works of Rembrandt. It is a portrait of Paul and Peter in conversation, some suggest they are debating. Of course, Paul had to confront his fellow Apostle concerning the matter of the gospel.

Further, Paul wrote to the Galatians as a defense and clarification of the gospel. The gospel is faith in Christ and His work on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. It has been the tendency of sinful man to add to this gospel, in the case of the Galatians they were adding circumcision to Christ which amounted to a different gospel, which was no gospel at all. Paul wrote-

Galatians 1:6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

The challenge for every generation of Christ's church is to guard the gospel by God's sustaining grace. There are three ways to guard the gospel as evidenced by this passage:

1. With Clarity. We must know the gospel clearly and be able to express it succinctly and accurately. Very simply, Christ died for the forgiveness of our sins. We must believe this. It's not Christ plus something else, it's trust in Christ alone for salvation. Trust in my work or the work of man leads to hell, only Christ's merit applied to me or you by faith can save. We must be clear on what the gospel is and proclaim it consistently and lucidly.

2. With Correction. As we strive to proclaim the gospel clearly, it will be necessary to correct well-meaning brothers and sisters who are sliding toward adding something to Christ for salvation. In the above passage Paul writes, "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him." This statement is in the present tense meaning they were in the process of deserting God. There was still the opportunity to reclaim them from a total shift of trust from Christ to Christ plus circumcision (which is actually trust in man's work). We should not assume that every person who is confused on a clear gospel message is a heretic or lost, but rather we should work to bring clarity to that dear brother or sister's thinking.

3. With Condemnation. People don't like the word "condemnation" these days. It sounds so judgmental. Well, it is! Judgments are necessary. Paul doesn't shy away from using a judgmental, condemning term when referring to those who were propagating a false gospel. It's one thing for a brother or sister to be confused and in need of clarification and correction. It's quite another for a supposed minister of God (man or angel) to be promoting a false gospel. For such individuals, apart from God granting repentance, there will be eternal condemnation. There is no way to soften Paul's declaration as he writes in verse 8- "even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed." To be sure there was no misunderstanding, Paul repeats his point in verse 9 again calling those who preach a false gospel "accursed". Accursed comes from the word anathema. It means dedicated to destruction. Accursed means to be damned.

Guarding the gospel is not an option for the Church of Jesus Christ, it is our sacred trust. Too much is at stake to be weak on this matter. We must stand with Paul who wrote to the Romans (and to us):

Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

12 comments:

Frontier Forest said...

What a powerful Flock Group gathering we had last evening! Digging deep into this sermon allowed for plenty of stimulating dialog. We stood in agreement, it is this kind of uncompromising Biblical instructions, the feasting from the “pure meat of God’s Word” that kindles unquenchable fire, and a hunger and thirst for righteousness. What an honor and privilege it is to have this kind of edifying teaching.
In regards to the 3 bullet points, “ways to Guard the Gospel”, here are some of the verses we examined to support our conclusions:
With Clarity we looked at: Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."
I Corinthians 2:2, “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
I Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,”

With Correction we looked at: Acts 17:11, “Now the Berean’s were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”
Matthew 18:15-17, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

With Condemnation we looked at: James 3:1-2, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.”
Galatians 6:1-5, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.”
II Timothy 4:2-5, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”

Just one of many that can’t wait for this coming Lord’s Day message!

Rick Calohan said...

Defending the Gospel is a challenge we who believe Salvation is by Grace alone, through Faith alone, in Christ alone, as revealed in the Scripture alone to the Glory of God alone!

As those who have friends and family and know former Catholics J.C. Ryle is correct when he said, “Romanism in perfection is a gigantic system of Church-worship, Sacrament-worship, Mary-worship…image-worship…in one word, a huge organised idolatry…idolatry has decidedly manifested itself in the visible Church of Christ and nowhere so decidedly as in the Church of Rome.”

Yet it is not just Romanism that is preaching another Gospel, even among Protestants we have the you must pull the trigger approach by accepting the gift, then after that grace kicks in. However, if you do not do this or that you could lose your salvation. So many misguided Christians trusting in themselves and their works as being their savior as oppose to placing their faith and trust in Christ Alone.

What is the solution? As for me I just keep presenting the true Gospel of Jesus Christ to our misguided brothers and sisters in Christ and pray that the Holy Spirit do His Will to sanctify and correct those who have been following false teachers that James (the Brother of Christ) warned about in James chapter three.

The true Gospel of Jesus Christ can be summed up in the following:

The Heidelberg Catechism answers the question, "What is true faith?" in this way:
True faith is not only a knowledge and conviction that everything God reveals in his Word is true; it is also a deep-rooted assurance, created in me by the Holy Spirit through the gospel, that, out of sheer grace earned for us by Christ, not only others, but I too, have had my sins forgiven, have been made forever right with God, and have been granted salvation.

However, many sincerely wrong Christians believe there is a mental assent to salvation as the late Dr. D. James Kennedy pointed out.

"SITTING IN THE CHAIR"
A practical illustration of how faith receives the promise of the Gospel has been given by D. James Kennedy.
He took a chair and asked a man if he believed the chair could hold him up.
He said, yes.
Then Kennedy asked, "Is that chair right now holding you up?"
The man said, "No."
Kennedy asked, "Why not?" "Because," said the man, "I am not sitting in it."
That is the real difference between mental assent or intellectual understanding of the Gospel and true faith in Christ.
We don’t really trust until we sit in Christ. Only Christ has the salvific power to hold us up.
When one finally "sits" or rest the weight of their whole being on Christ and nothing but Christ, then they trust in Christ alone.
And it is at this point that one is truly justified and right with God.
PAUL ASKED THE PHILIPPIAN JAILER TO "SIT IN THE CHAIR."
ARE YOU "SITTING IN THE CHAIR" OF CHRIST'S GRACE AND MERCY?
HAVE YOU RESTED THE WEIGHT OF YOUR BEING IN JESUS CHRIST ALONE?

Titus 3:3-7
3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Roger Mann said...

That is the real difference between mental assent or intellectual understanding of the Gospel and true faith in Christ. We don’t really trust until we sit in Christ. Only Christ has the salvific power to hold us up.Sorry, but the distinction between “mental assent” and “true faith in Christ” is bogus. Perhaps Dr. Kennedy is simply expressing his point poorly. But to “believe” or have “faith” in Christ means to “assent” to the propositions of the gospel -- nothing more and nothing less. It is a purely mental or intellectual act -- period (the physical act of “sitting” in a chair is misleading and doesn’t properly apply -- i.e., “believing” the chair can hold you up is a mental or intellectual act, while “sitting” in the chair is a physical act). And related terms such as “resting,” “trusting”, “receiving,” and “accepting” are simply synonyms for “believing” or “assenting” to the propositions of the gospel.

Of course, understanding the gospel alone doesn’t justify a man; but understanding and assenting to the propositions of the gospel most certainly justifies a man. Gordon H. Clark makes some helpful comments on this point:

“One can understand and lecture on the philosophy of Spinoza; but this does not mean that the lecturer assents to it. Belief is the act of assenting to something understood. But understanding alone is not belief in what is understood.” (What is Saving Faith, p. 46)

And regarding the gospel propositions specifically, he writes:

“Understanding the words of the evangelist is an intellectual act and it does not save; believing those words after having understood them saves. But this too is an intellectual act. The objects or propositions are different. The first act, in unbelief, is, ‘I understand that the evangelist thinks that Christ died for man’s sins.’ The second act is, ‘I believe that it is true that Christ died for man’s sins.’ These are both cases of intellectual or volitional assent; but the objects, i.e., the propositions, differ immensely.” (What is Saving Faith, p. 79-80)

It’s simply incorrect to assert that some further psychological act is required beyond believing or assenting to the truth of the gospel propositions in order to be justified. Anything beyond that is simply an unbiblical addition or distortion of the gospel. Clark sums it up quite well:

“Indeed John 20:31 asserts this very thing in stating the purpose for writing the Gospel: that you may believe the proposition that Jesus is the Messiah and that believing this proposition (and not in some other way) you may have life by his name.” (What is Saving Faith, p. 146)

“What better conclusion can there be other than the express statements of the Bible? Permit just one outside of John. Romans 10:9-10 says, ‘If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your mind that God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved.’ There is no mystical getting behind, under, or above the text; the only consent there is, is belief in the propositions. Believe these, with understanding, and you shall be saved. Anyone who says otherwise contradicts the repeated rheemata of Scripture.” (What is Saving Faith, p. 158)

C. Van Til said...

For Clark to identify faith as mere assent was a rejection of the classic Reformed understanding of faith as knowledge, assent, & trust.

Reepicheep said...

oh man...why'd you have to say that Mr. Van Til?

Van Til said...

Because I think that the 423 people within Christendom who are convinced of Clark's idiosyncratic view of faith ought to know.

Roger Mann said...

For Clark to identify faith as mere assent was a rejection of the classic Reformed understanding of faith as knowledge, assent, & trust.Clark’s point was that the classic Reformed analysis of faith as knowledge, assent, and trust is tautological:

“The crux of the difficulty with the popular analysis of faith into notitia (understanding), assensus (assent), and fiducia (trust), is that fiducia comes from the same root as fides (faith). The Latin fide is not a good synonym for the Greek pisteuoo. Hence this popular analysis reduces to the obviously absurd definition that faith consists of understanding, assent, and faith. Something better than this tautology must be found.” (What is Saving Faith, p. 47)

That is absolutely correct. “Belief/faith” (there is only one word in the New Testament, pistis) and “trust” are synonyms. If you “believe” what a person says, you “trust” him. If you “trust” a person, you “believe” what he says. If you have “faith” in him, you “believe” what he says and “trust” his words. That’s why Scripture makes it abundantly clear that we are justified/saved by simply “believing” (i.e., assenting to) the life giving “words” (i.e., propositions) of the gospel. For example:

The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe [i.e., the “words” or propositional truths that Jesus spoke to them]. -- John 6:63-64

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this [i.e., this propositional truth]?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world [which are propositional truths about Jesus].” -- John 11:25-27

Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word [i.e., propositional truths] which I preached to you—unless you believed [or assented] in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures [the propositional gospel truths that bring salvation when genuinely “believed” or assented to], and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. -- 1 Corinthians 15:1-5

Thus we are justified by simply believing or assenting to the propositional truths of the gospel -- apart from works of any kind.

Van Til said...

The crux of the difficulty with the popular analysis of faith into notitia (understanding), assensus (assent), and fiducia (trust), is that fiducia comes from the same root as fides (faith). The Latin fide is not a good synonym for the Greek pisteuoo. Hence this popular analysis reduces to the obviously absurd definition that faith consists of understanding, assent, and faith.And thus Dr. Clark rests his objection to a "popular" [read Reformed] analysis upon a second rate etymological fallacy. As though a word's root can simply stand in for the word itself.

Roger Mann said...

Of course Dr. Clark doesn’t “rest his objection” to the tri-fold division of faith upon the etymological root of fiducia. That was merely one point in a much larger presentation.

But you have failed to address the real issue. To believe in or “trust” a person is simply shorthand for believing that certain propositions about him are true. For example, there’s absolutely no difference in saying “I trust in Jesus as my Lord and Savior” and “I believe that Jesus is my Lord and Savior.” Both statements mean the same thing -- that you assent to the propositional truths that Jesus is your Lord and Savior.

Thus, “trust in Christ” is a meaningless statement unless it means assenting to certain propositional truths about Christ -- propositions such as “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

If believing or assenting to these propositional truths does not constitute “saving faith,” then the Apostle Paul lied when he said that by believing this gospel “you are saved” (v. 2). But, of course, he didn’t lie. Simple belief or assent to the propositions of the gospel, nothing more and nothing less, is what separates the saved from the damned. To quote Clark once again: “Believe these [propositions], with understanding, and you shall be saved. Anyone who says otherwise contradicts the repeated rheemata of Scripture.” Or to put it more bluntly, distorts the clear message of the gospel.

Van Til said...

"To believe in or “trust” a person is simply shorthand for believing that certain propositions about him are true."Posh! The equivocation of fides qua with fides quae is merely idiosyncratic to Clark and it strikes against a theological commonplace among Reformed theologians such as Calvin, Owen, Hodge, Warfield, Bavinck, and Berkhof. Such a distinction goes back at least to Thomas Aquinas' conception of "formed" and "unformed" faith. The Reformers were correct to criticize how Aquinas articulated this distinction, but certainly never denied that there was a distinction.

For confessional Presbyterians, this distinction is enshrined in the Westminster Larger Catechism #72, where we read:

Q: What is justifying faith?

A. Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.


Here, as you can plainly see, the Larger Catechism explicitly denies the sufficiency of mere assent. (Of course, no one is arguing against the necessity of ascent.) Oh, I'm aware that Clark argues that this is different than what he is saying, but at the end of the day, it has all the force of being asked to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

I'll leave the last word to you. I'm done here. We've not even touched on Clark's entrenched modernism, his hermeneutical naivete, and quasi-Cartesian metaphysics. It's only appropriate that his legacy has been relegated, at best, to a curious footnote among 20th century Reformed theologians.

Roger Mann said...

The equivocation of fides qua with fides quae is merely idiosyncratic to Clark and it strikes against a theological commonplace among Reformed theologians such as Calvin, Owen, Hodge, Warfield, Bavinck, and Berkhof.“Posh” indeed! Clark hardly equivocated on the distinction between the objective and subjective meanings of the term “faith.” The Latin phrase fides quae creditur (“the faith which is believed”) refers to the objective content of “the faith” or the doctrines believed, while fides qua creditur refers to the personal subjective faith that apprehends (i.e., understands and assents to) the doctrines. Thus, Clark wasn’t in any sense equivocating when he pointed out that saving “faith” (fides qua) consists of understanding and assenting to the propositions of the gospel (fides quae ) -- the only other option is to dissent or disbelieve the propositions of the gospel. So I’m not sure what you’re talking about.

Moreover, what I wrote is absolutely correct -- “To believe in or ‘trust’ a person is simply shorthand for believing that certain propositions about him are true.” What else can it mean? To “trust” Christ for salvation can only mean one thing -- that you “believe” or “assent” to the gospel propositions that His death paid the penalty for your sins, that He was raised for your justification, and that His righteousness is imputed to you apart from works of any kind. If you believe these propositions you are ipso facto “trusting” in Christ alone for your salvation. You certainly aren’t “trusting” in yourself, or your good works, or your baptism, or your church membership, are you?

Here, as you can plainly see, the Larger Catechism explicitly denies the sufficiency of mere assent.The Catechism isn’t contrasting differing psychologies of faith here (“assent” vs. “receiving and resting”), but rather contrasting the different propositional truths that must be believed for salvation. In other words, a sinner must not only believe in (assent to) salvation from sin and eternal life (“the promise of the gospel”), but he must also believe in (assent to) the imputed righteousness of Christ (“Christ and His righteousness”) in order to be saved. The terms “receiving and resting” are merely figures of speech that mean “believing” -- they are metaphorical expressions of the literal term, “assent.” This becomes clear when we consider that the Catechism says that Christ and His righteousness is “therein held forth” -- that is, in the propositions of the gospel. And propositions, properly speaking, can only be believed or disbelieved, assented to or dissented to.

Thus, the Catechism’s concern is that the proper object of faith is believed, not that some undefined and nebulous mental state must be added to belief in order to make it efficacious. It’s simple message is that belief in eternal life and pardon from sin is not saving “faith” (Roman Catholics believe as much and are lost), but to that must be added belief in Christ and his righteousness as the sole means of obtaining eternal life.

Thanks for giving me the last word. Those of us in the elite “423” club simply love to have the last word! Plus, it’s only appropriate that the guy who’s right ought to have the last word! :-)

By the way, have you even read “What is Saving Faith” and carefully weighed Clark’s arguments? Or are you simply parroting what you’ve heard others say about him? (Just wondering aloud… No need to answer… I still want to have the last word!)

Reepicheep said...

Very intriguing discussion. I hope Mr. Van Til will interact with Roger's points and not whimp out. I still think Roger will have the last word, but I'd love to hear Van Til try to respond.