Issues, Etc. Journal - December, 1995 - Vol. 1 No. 2
What is the human condition?
How we answer that question will determine our position on the vital truth of "justification by grace through faith."
by Don Matzat
What is meant by the doctrine of "original sin?" What is the extent of human inability?
by John Warwick Montgomery
Thoughts From the Noted Apologist.
What is Truth?
Introduction by Don Matzat:
We are living in an age of relativism. For many "Christians," truth is no longer determined by objective standards, but by personal preference. Truth is that which works. They have their truth. You have your truth, and never the twain shall meet. Exclusiveness is the only heresy.
At Issues, Etc., we are different! We have established the motto, "Defending the Faith & Teaching the Truth." We reject relativism and confess the truth of God's Word, especially as it emerged in the sixteenth century Reformation. We therefore critically examine some of the popular movements of the day, point out obvious error, and warn about potential deception. Our great joy is to see Christians developing skills of discernment and learning to stand on truth.
If you are one of our listeners either on Sunday night or daily, or perhaps a reader of this journal, and you appreciate what we are doing, we ask you to help us. Please support us financially! We have taken a step of faith and expanded our satellite outreach so that Sunday night Issues, Etc. is now heard coast to coast, from Philadelphia to San Francisco. In most cases, we have to pay for air time.
So, if we have in some way helped you to understand what it means to be a Christian and to stand on the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, please help us. All donations that we receive and all profits from book and tape sales go for the development of the program.
From all of us at Issues, Etc., Jeff Schwarz our producer, Gary Duncan our engineer, Chuck Rathert, and Joan Harwell, we wish you the most joy-filled Christmas celebration. In Christ Jesus we have the only Way, the only Truth, and the only eternal Life.
Dead? Wounded? Or Merely Uninformed?
What is the human condition, and how important is it that we get sin right?
by Don Matzat
In September of 1992, a group of Evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics came together and produced the document "Evangelicals and Catholics Together The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium. " The consultation was the brain-child of former Lutheran minister turned Roman Catholic priest Richard John Neuhaus, and former imprisoned Nixon aide turned born again Christian Charles Colson. The document was endorsed by numerous well-known Evangelical leaders such as Pat Robertson, Bill Bright, Thomas Oden, John White, Richard Land, and Richard Mouw.
In paragraph 12 of the document, under the section titled "We Affirm Together," the incredible statement was made:
We affirm together that we are justified by grace through faith because of Christ.
If this statement meant what Evangelical Protestants thought it meant, those who gathered together for this consultation certainly witnessed a theological breakthrough. The primary disagreement between Martin Luther, John Calvin and the Roman Catholic Church was over the doctrine of justification. Could it be true that the issue that prompted the Reformation and divided the Church was finally being resolved and put to rest?
Historically, the Reformers accurately taught, on the basis of Scripture, that justification was a forensic or legal act. God declared the sinner to be righteous on account of Christ. The sinner's righteousness before God was a finished matter as the Apostle Paul states in Romans 5:1 "Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God." Righteousness was imputed to the sinner who, being dead in trespasses and sin, was unable to bring anything to the table in the way of merit or worthiness.
Responding to the Reformers, the Catholic Church, historically, at the Council of Trent (1546 - 1563) condemned the teaching of forensic justification or imputed righteousness.
On the basis of this statement of agreement, had Rome actually changed?
What Does The Catechism Say?
In 1994 when the Catechism of the Catholic Church became available, it was obvious that Rome had not changed. While the words used by both Evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics in the ECT document were the same (justification, grace, faith), the meanings were different. The statement in the ECT document is deceptive. Consider the following statements from the Catholic Catechism:
"Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man. " (A direct quotation from the decrees of the Council of Trent.)
Justification established cooperation between God's grace and man's freedom.
By giving birth to the "inner man, "justification entails the sanctification of his whole being.(1)
The Roman Catholic Church continues to reject the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to the sinner. According to Rome, our righteousness before God is not the objective, alien righteousness of Christ but our own inherent, personal, subjective righteousness which, beginning with Baptism, develops over our lifetime. This righteousness and holiness is perfected in Purgatory. The Catholic Catechism states:
All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect. (2)
Dead, Or Only Wounded?
The difference between the Roman Catholic and the Protestant understanding of justification is directly related to different understandings of the human sinful condition. All biblical truth fits together. If you get sin wrong, you will also get justification wrong. In a sermon preached in 1540, Martin Luther explained it in this way:
A doctor must first diagnose the sickness for his patient. Otherwise he will give him poison instead of medicine. First he must say: This is your sickness; secondly. This medicine serves to fight it. If he does not know what is amiss, he will give a bad remedy. (3)
The Roman Catholic Church diagnoses the human condition as being wounded or injured. The remedy, Stimulated by divine grace and participating in the salvation process, human nature is able to be healed and perfected.
The Reformers, on the other hand, standing upon the truth of Scripture, diagnosed the human condition as dead in trespasses and sin. The remedy: The only righteousness acceptable to God is the righteousness of Christ given or imputed to us. The Catholic Catechism expresses the difference between Catholics and Protestants over the issue of the human condition by saying:
(Original sin) is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted,- it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it. The Church's teaching on the transmission of original sin was articulated more precisely in the sixteenth century, in opposition to the Protestant Reformation . The first Protestant reformers taught that original sin has radically perverted man and destroyed his freedom; they identified the sin inherited by each man with the tendency to evil, which would be in. (4) (Underlining mine.)
The Catholic Catechism accurately defines the Reformation diagnosis. The tendency to evil as a result of original sin is insurmountable, The disease of sin is unto death. (Romans 6: 23) If we are to find favor with God and inherit eternal life, our only hope is the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Because of the disagreement between Protestants and Catholics over the diagnosis of the human condition, it is not possible for agreement to exist over the remedy. Since Rome erroneously teaches that we are not dead but only wounded and able to be perfected by the infused grace of God, their definition of the remedy of justification must be totally different than the historic, Protestant definition. The ECT statement was a sham!
Why were noted Evangelical scholars and theologians willing to sign this statement? What has happened within Evangelical Protestantism between the Reformation and the present time in history to cause the central truth of justification by grace through faith to be sold-out, lost and forgotten?
The primary answer to this question can be found in the revivalist teachings of the early nineteenth century.
Charles Finney's "New Measures"
Following on the heels of the eighteenth century revival led by the Gospel-preaching of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, the so-called "Second Great Awakening" introduced the "new measures" and heresies of Presbyterian evangelist Charles Grandison Finney. Under his influence, the theological emphasis within Evangelicalism shifted from justification, or being right with God by faith in Jesus Christ (the essence of the preaching of Edwards and Whitefield), to regeneration. or being "born-again" for the purpose of moral refinement, Man's part in this new-birth or conversion, rather than God's grace in justification, took center stage. Michael Horton writes,
In the Second Awakening, however, the message shifts from God to man. In the first Awakening, the emphasis is on what God has done: in the Second, on what man can and must do. Thus, a whole system of techniques and methods emerges in order to assist (some said manipulate) audiences into doing what they must do in order to achieve salvation. (5)
Finney taught that conversion was not a miracle of the Holy Spirit, but an act of the human will influenced by methods of persuasion. As he put it, conversion was the "simple volition of the sinners mind through the influence of motives." According to Finney, we are neither dead in our trespasses and sin, nor wounded. He diagnosed the human condition as merely uninformed. His remedy: Persuasive techniques and methods. In order to teach this heresy, it was necessary for Finney to jettison the truth of original sin or total depravity. Iain Murray writes:
Finney knew that for most of his hearers a major obstacle to accepting this simple account of conversion was what they had been taught about the character of man's fallen nature. If men needed only the inducement of motives in order to effect a change of nature, how was the doctrine of human depravity to be understood? Did the Holy Spirit do no more than persuade men by means of motives to obey the gospel? That was what Finney believed..... a decision of the will, not a change of nature, was all that was needed for anyone to be converted. (6)
In order to persuade people to become Christians and to obey God, Finney emphasized emotion and excitement. His methods and style were directly related to his heretical theology. In his lectures, Finney defined a revival as being the product of "nothing more than the right use of means." Man was not spiritually dead but had merely made the wrong choices. "The sinner," Finney taught, "has all the faculties and natural abilities requisite to render perfect obedience to God. (7)
The position of Charles Finney went far beyond what the Catholic Church taught. While Rome's view of conversion required the infused grace of God for righteousness to develop, for Finney it was only a matter of persuasion.
By rejecting the doctrine of original sin and total depravity, Finney negated the necessity for the imputation of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. In fact, he spoke of justification by grace through faith as a "different gospel" and believed that the teaching of justification would inhibit a moral reformation. In his book "Dynamics of Spiritual Life," Richard Lovelace describes Finney's understanding of justification:
It is significant that Finney's understanding of justification and sanctification were essentially severed from any doctrine of union with Christ: in effect, he taught justification by sanctification and not by faith, and sanctification more by will power than by grace. (8)
The Influence of Finney
Charles Finney's "new measures" in revivalism left an indelible stamp upon Evangelicalism. Revival crusades, the altar call, the decision to accept Christ, the "prayer of faith," the use of excitement and emotion to facilitate decision, and the attempt to promote the moral reformation of the culture can all be attributed to the "new measures" introduced by Charles Finney in the 1830's.
Those of us have who have grown up with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Crusades and have labeled his evangelism methods "Baptist" in origin may be surprised to learn that altar calls were generally unknown in Baptist circles prior to Charles Finney. In fact, the long-term influence of Finney has been far greater upon Baptists than upon Presbyterians. Before Finney, the Baptist Churches were Reformation-based, grace-centered, and liturgical. Baptist theologian Thomas Nettles says that the doctrines of grace that had been the foundation for Baptist growth "like a puff of smoke... vanished in American Baptist life." (9)
Many of the modern movements that have historically emerged out of Evangelicalism find their roots in the "new measures" of Charles Finney. His influence can not be escaped. The "methods" of the Church Growth Movement, the revivalism, excitement and emotion of Promise Keepers, the moralizing of the Religious Right all, to one degree or another, have the distinctive marks of Charles Finney.
But even more seriously, Finney's "new measures," whereby the doctrine of original sin was jettisoned, produced the present condition within American Evangelicalism. Ignorance of the doctrine of justification is not the exception but is the norm. Multitudes claim to be born-again but few are aware of the central teaching of the Christian faith. Dr. D. James Kennedy writes:
The doctrine of justification is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here the full-orbed mercy and grace of God comes into its own. But, alas, we live in a time almost like that of Luther's. The darkness of spiritual ignorance has so pervaded the minds of men that vast numbers of people in this so-called Christian America live in abject ignorance of this central teaching of the Christian faith; this central doctrine of the Bible. I think it can be safely said that without at least a rudimentary knowledge of the basic principle involved in this doctrine, no person will ever see heaven. Truly by this the church stands or falls and our souls stand or fall with it..... From that time, only 450 years ago, when this was the clarion call - the trumpet blast - that woke countless hundreds of thousands from their death in sin unto life eternal, we have come to a time when in myriads of churches across our land the question, "What is justification?" would meet merely with a raised eyebrow and a quizzical look. (10)
It is not strange that Evangelicals would be willing to sign a document claiming agreement with Roman Catholics over the doctrine of justification by grace through faith. For the most part, the truth about the total corruption of human nature and the proclamation of the pure doctrine of justification has been lost within a major portion of Evangelicalism.
Style, Methods, and Substance
What is strange is that numerous pastors and leaders today in Reformation churches, where the truth of justification by grace through faith is central, are willing to adopt Finney's questionable "new measures" involving style and methods. As a principle for "Church Growth" they mix Evangelical style with their Reformation substance in order to gain greater results. They encourage the men in their congregations to attend the emotional and exciting Promise Keepers' revivals. They adopt these new measures under the false premise that they are separating style and method from the substance of the Gospel. They fail to recognize that Finney's style and methods were the result of his substance.
Prior to Finney, there was no specific "Evangelical style" or method. The First Great Awakening was produced by the powerful preaching of the Gospel of justification by grace through faith. Finney's introduction of new methods for gaining converts and his inculcation of emotion and excitement in revival gatherings were based on his heretical understanding of conversion. His purpose was to convince the human will and produce decisions and commitments.
The problem is, Finney's methods produced results. He initiated what was called "the Second Great Awakening." Great revivals were reported in towns and cities throughout the country. Lives were changed. Moral reformations occurred.
Since Finney did not preach the total corruption of human nature and rejected the truth of justification by grace through faith, the truth that produced the sixteenth century Reformation, what was the basis for his results? It could not have been the Holy Spirit since he did not preach the Gospel. Finney's results were exactly as he defined them - a human dynamic.
The same question must be addressed to the results gained by the new evangelism methods that have produced megachurches, or to the multitudes who have become "men of integrity" by sharing the emotion and excitement of the Promise Keepers revivals. Is this the work of the Holy Spirit, or the result of methods and group dynamics geared to produce decisions and modify behavior? By employing Finney's methods, we gain Finney's results. The great preacher Charles Spurgeon wrote:
If, for a moment, our improvements seem to produce a larger result than the old gospel, it will be the growth of mushrooms, it may even be of toadstools, but it is not the growth of trees of the Lord.
Sin and Grace
God has chosen to save this world by the "foolishness of preaching" as the Apostle Paul states (1 Corinthians 1: 21). While the preaching of sin and grace may not appeal to this generation, it is the only method God has provided whereby the Holy Spirit produces life and salvation. Borrowing the questionable methods of Charles Finney may produce numerical results, but at what price? While we may gain the world, might we be forfeiting the very "soul" of Christian truth, and putting in jeopardy the souls of men?
Table of References
1. Catechism of the Catholic Church, (New York: Doubleday, 1994), pp. 536-537.
2. ibid. pg. 291.
3. Plass, Edward, What Luther Says, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), Vol. 3, p. 1293.
4. Catholic Catechism, pp. 114-115.
5. Horton, Michael Scott, Made in America, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991), p. 42.
6. Murray, Iain, H., Revival and Revivalism, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1994), pp. 244-5.
7. Horton, Michael S., Beyond Culture Wars, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), p. 116.
8. Lovelace, Richard F., Dynamics of Spiritual Life, (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1979) p. 194.
9. Nettles, Thomas, By His Grace and for His Glory, (Grand
Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), p. 223.
10. Ankerberg, John and Weldon, John, Protestants and Catholics: Do They Now Agree?, (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers), p. 13.
Is it possible to "clean-up" the evangelical Promise Keepers Movement and use it in Lutheran and Reformed Churches?