Friday, September 30, 2011

Pastor or Prophet?

As a pastor, I worry that I have failed. As a prophet, I believe that I have received a prophet's reward -persecution. And those who embrace those prophetic messages with me are marginalized as well. But the thing is this: My entire ministry has been overshadowed by this nagging feeling that we are preaching a doctrine that promotes Empire instead of the gospel of the Kingdom.

And, Calvinism has made it much more palatable to our consciences. If one had to draw a line in the sand, I am going to end up on the Calvinist side, but that isn't the point. The point is the doctrine of the elect, combined with the doctrine that no works can purchase our salvation can lead to a whole group of people who do not believe that Jesus was serious when He said that he would deny the Kingdom of God to those who refuse to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner and etc. In their opinion, Jesus couldn't have been serious because that would lead to a “works” based righteousness.

And Brother Paul, and the book of Romans, enters into this debate. Jesus said: “I have more truth to tell you, but you cannot abide it now, but the Holy Spirit, when He comes will reveal to you more truth.” Many have said that Jesus was intentionally incomplete in His teaching of the gospel. Others have said that this establishes two different gospels. 

Here is what we agree on: Jesus' words force us to combine works with faith. Here is what we disagree on: Paul's words debunk the concept that Jesus couldn't have been serious in Matthew 25. There are those who say that Paul's concept of “no works can save us” trumps Jesus words in Matthew 25. And, that this is what Jesus was referring to when He said that there was more to this to be later revealed.

Of course, I am saying nothing new here when I say this: “shouldn't Paul be interpreted in the light of Jesus rather than Jesus in the light of Paul?”

Before I get attacked, let me clear this up. Do I believe that salvation is by faith? Of course I do. Do I believe that if a work could save me then Jesus would have died in vain? Of course I do. But I also believe that apart from works, faith is dead.

If one holds to a strict interpretation of justification by faith alone, without works, then one throws out the three years of Jesus teaching. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would come and convince people about Him. That must mean about Him and His teaching and His atonement. We can't throw out His teaching in favor of His atonement.

And I know the concept that if we are truly born again, our response will be good works, out of gratitude, not compulsion. But the thing is, good works are not just acts of gratitude, they are commands placed upon us.

Paul does not trump Jesus. And that was never Paul's intention. Remember when he met with the elders in Antioch? They agreed on every point about Paul's gospel, a gospel that required none of the Jewish law religious rules. The only thing they spoke of was this: “That Paul remember the poor, the very thing that he was eager to do.” Paul made it clear of his commitment to the poor. And yet, somehow this concept of election and faith alone has indeed worked itself into a doctrine where the poor are not as important to the faith as they were to Jesus.

What do we do?


Nana said...

You are pondering some of the things that I ponder. We so often think Jesus just came to save us from sin and hell,and once that act is transacted, we are done. But Jesus also taught that obedience is the key to true belief, and that we are to follow his actions and attitudes. It is not enough to bless a widow, but rather we are called to do more than bless, and to act on her behalf. (a re-phrasing from James). I don't know, Phil, maybe we need to remember our message isn't just about salvation, but also about living in the Kingdom as put forth by Jesus, the heavenly Kingdom on earth.
I am so frustrated too by how Americanized our gospel has become. We think God is about us...when we are supposed to be about Him. Don't get me started!
I strongly recommend you buy Emmanuel Katongole's book, Mirror to the Church. You will find it as helpful as I do.

Revnerd said...


Jesse said...

Hi again Phil,

“Justification is by faith alone but not by faith that is alone.”

This is a Calvinistic truth and the above formula has been around at least since the reformation. It summarizes the perfect balance between faith and works found in the scriptures and is stated similarly in the Calvinistic/reformed Westminster Confession of Faith Ch. XI “Of Justification”
II. Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love.
Calvinism alone teaches this perfect balance while not trying to wrongly divide the scriptures between dispensations, peoples, ways of salvation, church age truth vs gospel truth, Jesus vs Paul, Paul vs James….Calvinism and reformed teaching has opposed antinomianism, easy believism, hyper-dispensationalism, and similar contemporary false teachings that mislead people to accept Christ as Savior without bowing to Him as Lord. To get the fire insurance policy without committing to following Him and being a disciple. To be justified without being sanctified, to accept the “going to heaven” part while rejecting the follow me part. I see these false teachings leading people to believe that good works are totally separate from salvation. Calvinism teaches the opposite: “…not by faith that is alone.” See also the 5th point of Calvinism; The Perseverance of the Saints. While Calvinism and reformed doctrine clearly teach that true salvation produces good works, these others teach that true salvation doesn’t necessarily produce good works.

Whether the church, and each of us on a personal level, is being faithful to the commands of Christ concerning the poor is worthy of discussion and self-examination. However if either is lacking I believe we need to look somewhere other than Calvinism for the source.

Blessings, Jesse

Revnerd said...

Thanks Jesse,

I appreciate the background doctrines. So where do you think the disconnect is?

I think the disconnect is in a form of American Civil Religion which to me is the Doctrine of the Empire, verses the good news of the Kingdom of God.



Steve Finnell said...

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Jim Wetzel said...

"And I know the concept that if we are truly born again, our response will be good works, out of gratitude, not compulsion."

Allow me to quibble a bit here. I would argue that the believer's good works arise neither from compulsion nor (in general) from gratitude. If we think -- and I do -- that the Christian believer has a real, organic unity with Jesus, a complete identification with Him, powered (so to speak) by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, then it would be very odd if that believer did not produce good works. Apple trees don't produce apples because the orchard owner tells them to, and not because they are so grateful to the orchard owner for planting them, but because ... they're apple trees, and that's what apple trees do. When a tree says, over and over, "I'm an apple tree, I'm an apple tree!" while cranking out persimmons, well, skepticism is probably in order.

Quite a few times, I've talked with non-Christians who get all wrapped around the axle with fears that those wily, tricky pseudoChristians who infest the churches will put one over on God by sinning deliciously for a full, long life, and then, when they get to feeling really sick and bad and as if the end is coming, will then declare belief, make a confession, claim forgiveness, and skate through into Heaven because of God's regrettable naivete. It's a category error, really -- as if actual belief (as opposed to stated belief) could possibly be used to "game the system." It's self-contradictory.

Thank you for indulging my quibble. Commenting on a three-year-old post isn't particularly timely, but then, I haven't known you all that long.

Revnerd said...

Excellent quibble. I appreciate the thought and sentiment. I hope you don't get offended, if you keep reading my blog, when you get to "The Theology of Liber..."

A lot of my blogs are about the Americanization of NT Christianity and my frustration with that process. I almost wonder if the preachers who mix patriotism and Christianity are the actual "ear ticklers" that Paul prophesied would come. It has a hint of radical -sold-out- discipleship, but the message is Jesus and something else.

So, your point is well taken and right to the point. Thanks. I know to many who claim at have a feeling of religious devotion/love/affection or whatever for Christianity, even Jesus, but use the feeling of devotion as a disconnect from bearing fruit. They feel good when they go to church, so they must be obedient. Or, am I being muddy?

Jim Wetzel said...

Hey, Phil! I skipped on down and read the post to which you refer. I hope you won't be offended -- and I'm pretty sure you won't be -- when I put a comment there, which I'm not feeling energetic enough to do right now. For now, though, I'll just say that criticisms of big-L Libertarianism can't very well offend me, since I'm not one of them. ("When they criticized the libertarians, I didn't object, because I wasn't a libertarian ..." :-) ). The best label I can come up with for me is reactionary utopian, which isn't a very good one if a person wants to have that warm feeling of belonging in any party, movement, revolution, etc.

Meanwhile, ya done a real good Resurrection Sunday today. Excellent sermon, fine singing, and so on. Kathy was a hero this morning, too.