Posted tagged ‘tolerance’

Are You Too Catholic to Be Catholic?, Too Tolerant to Be Tolerant?

June 8, 2012

Some “dividing” and “distinctions” are important for emphasizing what’s important in the gospel, the grace of God. For example, some dispensationalists distinguish believing in Christ as Savior and as Lord. Another such “distinction” is made by two gentlemen from Australia, Robert Brinsmead and Geoffrey Paxton, editors of Verdict. Their “dividing” goes like this—religion is good, gospel is best. In other words, outside of us righteousness is so important that ecclesiology and ethics become matters of indifference.

I have two criticisms, one with the “dividing” itself and the other with what Brinsmead and Paxton call “gospel”. They rightly insist on the centrality of the “outside of us doing and dying of Jesus.” But they do not tell the entire story, as the apostles did in the book of Acts. They do not talk about the promise of God to destroy those who do not believe the gospel. They sound like universalists, and when you ask them about this, they relegate the question to “religion”.

Brinsmead and Paxton also do not talk about the authority of Jesus Christ to give lasting life and the knowledge of Christ revealed in the gospel. In fact, they so distinguish “our experience” from the “doing and dying of Jesus” that they even consign any talk of the new birth to being “religion”.

The decisive difference between the experience of those who believe the gospel and those who do not is to be found in the glory given to Jesus Christ as God’s reward for His doing and dying. But Paxton and Brinsmead claim that the Scripture is silent about the “theology” of particular redemption.

The two gentlemen minimize the significance of faith in justification. Granted, most people today make an idol of faith, so that they think God counts faith as righteousness, or so that they think faith makes the difference between elect and non-elect. But in reaction to that, Paxton and Brinsmead teach something very much like justification before faith or justification without faith in the gospel.

They pretend to stand in the future and look to the past. The New Testament perspective, however, is to stand in the present and look to the past. Knowing that they believe in Christ, the justified elect have confidence in Christ’s death for them. Is Romans 6 gospel or religion? Is the “our old self was crucified with” (6:6) only the “religion” part?

The wrath talked about in Ephesians 2:3 is part of the gospel. Even the elect were under God’s wrath until they are justified. Unless one believes in the Christ revealed in that gospel, he or she remains an object of God’s wrath.

I very much wonder about any attempt to “divide” religion and gospel. Yes, we can and should divide law and grace. But as some kind of pacifist, I can’t help noticing that Brinsmead and Paxton are saying something very definite about what they consider the good and right “religion”. Although they claim to only be talking about “gospel”, to the extent they define that in antithesis to “religion”, they end up saying all manner of things about what we have the liberty to do or not do in “religion”.

For starters, they definitely think that congregations should be non-separatist. They assume that anybody who is not as ecumenical about “the one church” as they are is some kind of legalist. While Brinsmead and Paxton claim they want “tolerance for dissent”, they also attempt to remove all basis for a gathered church. In other words, they can’t tolerate people who are so intolerant that they would not consent to go to their “one church”.

They insist that no group of Christians is ever to separate from another group of Christians. The two gentlemen talk about “the” church, an universal body which one automatically enters (not by experience or conversion or faith). Local assemblies of believers who have agreed together about what the gospel means they reproach with sneer-words like “sectarian” and “ghetto” and “religion”.

I suggest that what they call good religion is both unworkable and unbiblical. Imagine the following situation. These two fellows settle down in a small town with only one church. To use the Anglican or Roman Catholic jargon, that church is the “parish”. It is therefore typical of the Magisterial Reformation. Though there is a distinction between church and state (two kingdoms?), the boundaries of the church coincide with the boundaries of the nation-state,

Imagine more about the situation. Imagine that every adult in town is a Christian. (Remember, the two gentlemen don’t believe in experience and conversion, so maybe they were all just born “Christians”.) Then this one church in town decides together to do some particular religious practice, take your pick—footwashing, seventh day Sabbath, conscientious objection to war, etc. Now what do Brinsmead and Paxton do in this situation? They could say that those practices should be up to individuals to do or not do, but what do they do if everybody else in town decides to follow these practices together? Leave town? Start another church?

Remember they have said that such practices are merely “religion”. So how could they in good conscience separate from the other Christians in town about such practices? If it’s only “religion”, why not go along with the rest for the sake of peace and unity? I am reminded of Galatians 2. Paul reproaches Peter for separating from the Gentiles when others come from Jerusalem. And that’s all well and good. But what happens if Paul has to separate from Peter because Peter has separated from the Gentiles. In either case, before or after, you still have two different groups. Which group gets to say–well, they were with US but they did not belong to US?

I suppose the only way that Brinsmead and Paxton could “practice discipline” is by excommunicating Unbelievers. Of course that’s a problem for them, since they are functional universalists who deny any need for faith in the gospel. They say that the gospel is about “Christ’s faith not our faith”

The Magisterial Reformation had the nation-state kill Anabaptists. I am not suggesting that the two gentlemen want to start a new inquisition, but they have the same fundamental lack of appreciation of the importance of assemblies who help each other attempt to live in reference to the pattern of the life of Jesus Christ. The “natural law” and “common morality” mentality of these two fellows suggests that the “idealistic’ ethics of the kingdom is not for this age, but either optional or postponed.

Brinsmead says that the issue between Luther and the Anabaptist Carlstadt was not a matter of “religion” but rather a question about “gospel”. Well, since I have deconstructed the difference between religion and gospel (but not between law and grace!), I can agree with Brinsmead about the gospel importance of the debate. But even those who agree that we are not saved by what we do can still disagree about what God commands us to do.

Let me quote from Carlstadt on the gospel: “If they desire to evaluate and offer their obedience and good will to God, they notice so much pollution that they must be ashamed of themselves…However, through the costly and unpolluted priesthood and sacrifice of Christ, they receive joyfulness in Christ’s sacrifice before God… Christ alone is righteous before you and before you only Christ’s sacrifice is without weakness and without blame. His sacrifice is so great that I must consider my own as nothing…Man on earth does not accomplish any command of God, not even the smallest.” (Ron Sider, Anreas Bodenstein Von Karlstadt, 1974, p 252)

I do know that Carlstadt that some of the Mosaic law was normative for Christians. But this is no different from me disagreeing with a WCF Presbyterian about sabbatarianism. The point is that our confidence is not in our Mosaic law-keeping but in the sacrifice of Christ. The separation which resulted in Luther killing not only Jews but Anabaptists was not simply about the “gospel”.

What if Peter and Paul had ended up separating in Galatians? (Let’s not even think about Paul going back to killing Christians like Peter! Or Peter killing Christians like Paul) Would there always be one person at fault or more at fault in the separation? Do we say, if Paul caused Peter to leave, that would have been about the gospel, but nevertheless we think Peter left not because of the gospel but because of religion? It does get confusing!

Because of his distinction between “gospel” and “religion”, Luther tended toward gradualism instead of immediate obedience to what he himself understood from Scripture. In his early days, for example, Luther called for a ‘truly evangelical order consisting of those who
1. want to be Christians in earnest and who profess the gospel
2. sign their names and meet alone in a house
3. accept the necessity of being reproved or corrected
Though Luther emphasized faith in justification (more than the two gentlemen do), Luther did not make faith a requirement for being in “the church”. In fact, Lutherans enforced infant baptism with the death penalty!

But that doesn’t stop Brinsmead from labeling as “prostitution” those who “withdraw from the world into a holy remnant waiting the eschaton.” The Anabaptists withdrew because Lutheran antinomians were coming after them with swords!

Even though I agree that nobody is now under the Mosaic economy, I also disagree with Brinsmead and Paxton about their characterization of all law. Neglect and disobeience to God’s law results in mistreating other people. Compare, for example, the Pharisee with the good Samaritan. Yes, all who rely on obeying Moses are condemned, but so also are all condemned who rely on obeying the law of Christ. But this does not make law a bad thing! When standards and regulations are eliminated, sinners use that also to hurt other people.

John Reisinger, Intolerant of the True Gospel

August 1, 2011

John, you say that, while Arminians may THINK that their salvation is conditioned on them, they are saved and their salvation is not conditioned on them. After all, you say, you are not “stingy with the love of God”. Does this mean that God loved the elder brother but left him in his legalism?

Since I know that you profess  God loves everybody, even those God won’t save,  I am sure that you would say that God does love “in some way” that elder brother.But is that elder brother saved?

Must the one who came home from the hog pen confess that the elder brother is his brother? Back in the days when I became an universalist, I said yes: all are brothers. What do you say? I do not ask if you think he was reprobate in the secret counsels of God. Rather I ask,is a legalist converted but still left in his legalism?

Are the “good people” saved also, despite their being deceived about their sins and about the gospel? What do you say? Is the love of God so weak that it cannot save a person  and still leave that person an Arminian?

My answer is that the love of God is so powerful that it CONVERTS the sinner. The sinner is not saved BECAUSE OF his turning from sin, but the converted sinner does turn from sin. The sinner is not saved BECAUSE OF his faith in the gospel, but the converted sinner does have faith in the gospel. The sinner is not saved BECAUSE he understands and submits to the righteousness established in Christ’s death for the elect, but the converted sinner will understand and submit to that righteousness.

The converted sinner will believe the gospel  BECAUSE OF THAT RIGHTEOUSNESS.  What God did at the cross is not merely “potential”. The power of the cross “crucifies” sinners so that they understand that salvation is not conditioned on the sinner. We should not presume that any person who does not know this is our brother or sister.

John, you rightly can and do make this distinction: not because of, but necessary. It will happen, and until it does, then we cannot say that the gospel has converted a man. But you won’t say it when it comes to submitting to effective atonement. Which means you won’t say it when it comes to being a legalist. Because anybody who says that Christ died for everybody but some of them are not saved MUST be looking to the sinner as the difference between saved and lost.

Even if the legalist gives his god or election the “credit” for the difference, he MUST locate that difference in himself and not in what Christ did at the cross.

I understand that you believe that Jesus died only for some. But you think knowing about this death is not necessary. It is the cause, sure; but you don’t think they need to know it’s the cause.

I cannot help thinking of some of my “strict baptist” friends. I do not call them “hypers” (I like to be more specific) but they say that people can be converted without hearing the gospel. They say that the infant John the Baptist was, and that people can be converted “directly” without the message of the cross. So they think it doesn’t matter if the elect hear the true gospel or the Arminian gospel or any gospel.

I reject this. I know that the reprobate will refuse the gospel. I know that the elect must be made alive in regeneration (on account of imputed righteousness) before they will submit to the gospel. But I also know that people need to hear the gospel before they can believe it. (I Peter 1:22-23). To obey the truth, they must hear the truth.

To believe the Word, they must hear the Word. Those who have never heard anything but the Arminian gospel have not yet heard the gospel, and are still lost in their sins.

I know you are not an universalist like I was. You will not say that all men are your brothers. You are very right to focus on the elder brother’s refusal to say that the one who came home was his brother. My question: WERE they brothers? If the elder brother goes on like he is, never repenting of his legalism, is he in the family of God?

Your assumption, suited to your purpose of attacking “these people” who say that Arminians are lost, is that both are brothers. But that is a false assumption. Though Cain and Abel are brothers in the flesh, both creatures of God, made in the image of God, both are not saved. The one who came home is saved; the elder brother is not saved. They ultimately do not have the same home or the same gospel or the same God.

We need to know what the gospel is. And we need to say that those who reject the gospel are condemned already. John 3:17-21 “He who DOES THE TRUTH comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”

There is no pleasing God without faith in God’s gospel. We “do the truth” only when we confess that salvation is not caused by our deeds but “done in God”. The “good works” of Christians  not “good works” unless the sinner has understood that his salvation is conditioned on what God did at the cross and not on these works. Faith must exclude itself as the condition of salvation, or it is not faith in the gospel and is not pleasing to God.

Workers must exclude works as the condition of salvation, or  the people who do them are elder brothers, not yet in the family of God, but still lost in their sins. Elder brothers do not “do the truth”. They can talk much of their works, but they will not bring these works to the light of the true gospel, for the true gospel would say that their works were not acceptable.

Two Tolerant Soundbites Examined

July 19, 2010

Consider these two soundbites from a tolerant Calvinist: “People like to
ask this silly useless question: does a person have to believe in the
sovereignty of God to be saved. If God isn’t sovereign, nobody is going to be saved. So what difference does the question make?

“People ask this question: can a person with Arminian faith already be in a state of salvation? Faith doesn’t save. Neither Arminian or Calvinist faith saves. So what difference does the question make?”

Do not be fooled by these two soundbites. Notice that the speaker has not answered either question. Though we agree that only the sovereign God can save, do we believe that God is “so sovereign” that God can save a person without at the same time causing that person to believe in His sovereignty?

The speaker avoids the question. He has not answered it, even though we might infer his answer from his describing the question as “silly and useless.”

Though we agree that faith does not save, if we agree that salvation
results in faith, then is it not good and proper to ask what’s the object
of a saved person’s faith? When God saves a person, does God make what that person believes to be different than it was before?”

Romans 6:17–“But thanks be to God, that you were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed.”