Dr. Vic Reasoner
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 1-2. Spring & Fall 2015. Volume 33. Posted Sept., 07, 2015
Nothing ruins the truth like stretching it. The doctrine of grace is a biblical truth, but like any other truth, it can be distorted when it is not kept in balance with other biblical truths. In the last issue of The Arminian Magazine we reviewed Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? In that book Mark Jones expresses his concern about Calvinism’s default weakness toward lawlessness. This is reflected in Kevin DeYoung’s declaration, “If people hear us talking about justification and don’t almost think that we are giving them a license to sin, we are not preaching grace strong enough.” If that is the goal of modern Calvinism, they are certainly getting the job done!
Among the modern charismatic movement there is also a new distorted emphasis on grace. If the prosperity gospel is based on hyper-faith, there is a new “grace reformation” based on hyper-grace. Michael L. Brown, Hyper-Grace (2014) has attempted to confront this cheap grace. He wrote, “It is increasingly common to hear about worship leaders getting drunk after church services and dropping f-bombs while they boast about their ‘liberty’ in the Lord.”
While salvation is all of grace, we know a tree by its fruits. Here is a list of tendencies flowing from the “grace reformation” that we must guard against:
- Lawlessness. Any ethical standard of holy living is denounced as legalism. Theologically, “legalism” is the attempt to earn salvation through our works. Legalism is also the excessive concern with the requirements of the law, and oftentimes it is accompanied by a spirit of censoriousness toward others. However, one of the marks of regeneration is that the Holy Spirit writes God’s law in our hearts. It is not legalism for Christians to keep the commandments. Jesus did not come to destroy the law (Matt 5:17). Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15).
- Hyper-grace fanatics see no problem with drunkenness. David Wilkerson attempted to confront this sin in Sipping Saints back in 1978. More recently some charismatics have defended a homosexual lifestyle since we are saved by grace. See charismatic pastor Romell D. Weekly, The Rebuttal: A Biblical Response Exposing the Deceptive Logic of Anti-Gay Theology (2011).
- Modern “grace” preachers tend to manifest their freedom from the law by using profanity and vulgarity. But Ephesians 4:29 commands, “Do not let unwholesome talk come out of your mouths.” Jesus explained, “From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” A dirty mouth is a manifestation of a dirty heart, not free grace.
- According to this doctrine sanctification is not progressive. John Crowder teaches, “We are not climbing an unseen ladder. We have already arrived.” Since sanctification is positional, one is at once as holy as he will ever be. Thus, Ryan Rufus denies that Christians still have a sinful nature. Clark Whitten writes, “You are like Him, my friend, and are in a permanent and unchangeable state of being of holiness.” Thus he concluded that the idea that we are called to grow in holiness and that we must pursue holiness is a “spiritually murderous lie.”
- The believer has been forgiven of all past, present, and future sins. Joseph Prince argues that God’s forgiveness is not given in installments.
- Thus, the Holy Spirit does not convict the believer of sin because his sins are already forgiven. They contend that 1 John 1:9 was not written to Christians, but to gnostics who had infiltrated the church. Ryan Rufus teaches, “As a new covenant born-again believer, to now go and ask forgiveness after you have sinned is a sin. It is the sin of unbelief. You don’t believe in the finished work of the cross.”
The emphasis of 1 John 1:9, however, is not on the state of the subject — whether John is addressing gnostics who do not believe they are sinners, awakened sinners who are seeking God, or believers who have fallen short. Rather, the emphasis is on the reality of sin. John is teaching that joy, assurance, and victory do not come by denying sin, as characterized in the three denials of 1:6-10, but they come when we acknowledge and confess our sin.
- These preachers like to assert that God is always in a good mood, therefore he is always pleased with us. Thus, God is portrayed as a doting grandfather who never gets bent out of shape no matter how rowdy or rude his kids get. We use the terms “good mood” or “bad mood” as synonymous with a good or bad attitude. Pagan gods and goddesses were capricious and were famous for getting in a bad mood which had to be appeased or placated through incantations and sacrifices. All of this is unworthy of the true God who is good consistently - all the time. Yet God is still good when he punishes sin. We have completely lost our concept of a holy God who is righteous in his anger at sin. Parents understand how a person can love his children and yet still be angry with them because of his love for them. Yet the new god has apparently taken anger-management classes and is now always in a good mood. Jonathan Edwards may not be popular with this crowd, but someday sinners will end up in the hands of an angry God.
- Some of them have adopted universalism, which holds that everyone will ultimately be saved. This is the thesis of Philip Gulley and James Mulholland in If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (2009).
- This distortion of grace tends to reject the Old Testament. Some “grace” teachers are actually critical of Bibles which contain both the Old and New Testaments, claiming that the Old Testament causes confusion. But all Scripture is inspired and profitable (2 Timothy 3:16).
- They describe the life of faith as effortless. Andrew Wommack wrote a book, Effortless Change. While Joseph Prince emphasizes “the secret to effortless success, wholeness and victorious living,” 2 Peter 1:5 challenges us to make every effort, as does Hebrews 12:14.
- Although the old-fashioned Pentecostals were all Arminian, these new grace charismatics have embraced once-saved-always-saved. Joseph Prince teaches, “Because you did nothing to deserve His presence in your life, there is nothing you can do that will cause His presence to leave you.”
I am aware that the old Pentecostals had a propensity toward legalism. They got it from the holiness movement from which they sprang. But we do not compensate for one extreme by going to the opposite error.
Solomon declared that there is nothing new under the sun. Those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it. Anyone with a working knowledge of church history will recognize these false teachings which were advocated by false teachers in other periods of history. The charismatic movement has emphasized experience instead of education and therefore what they claim is new revelation is simply old heresy in new clothes. Essentially, this new hyper-grace is ancient gnosticism. 1 John in particular was written to refute this pagan heresy which had already begun to infiltrate the early church.
- It was Marcion, in the second century, who first rejected the Old Testament.
- The heresy of universalism can be traced back as far as Origen, who believed that even the devil might be saved eventually. His teachings were condemned by the Church in the 6th century. Thus, the current teaching is not a “new grace reformation.”
- The old name for lawlessness is “antinomianism.” The early Methodists, especially John Fletcher, cut it no slack in his Checks to Antinomianism.
- John Wesley explained,
In the meantime what we are afraid of is this: lest any should use the phrase, “the righteousness of Christ,” or, “the righteousness of Christ is ‘imputed to me,’” as a cover for his unrighteousness. We have known this done a thousand times. A man has been reproved, suppose for drunkenness. “Oh,” said he, “I pretend to no righteousness of my own: Christ is my righteousness.” Another has been told, that “the extortioner, the unjust, shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” He replies with all assurance, “I am unjust in myself, but I have a spotless righteousness in Christ.” And thus, though a man be as far from the practice as from the tempers of a Christian, though he neither has the mind which was in Christ nor in any respect walks as he walked, yet he has armor of proof against all conviction, in what he calls the “righteousness of Christ” [“The Lord our Righteousness,” Sermon #20, 2.1, 12, 19].
- John Wesley debated Zinzendorf on September 3, 1741 on his position which denied any growth in grace. Other than Zinzendorf, no other theology has ever held this proposition until the modern hyper-grace advocates “discovered” it.
• Wesley declared, “I cannot find anything in the Bible of the remission of sins past, present and to come.” The “scandal of pre-forgiveness” among Protestants is not much different than the medieval Catholic sale of indulgences.
- Wesley broke with the Moravians over “quietism” or “stillness.” This passive mysticism counseled those who desired God’s blessing to give up the public means of grace. They were not even to pray or to read the Scriptures, nor to attempt to do any good works. Today this is peddled as “effortless” faith. Jesus taught in Matthew 11:12 that faith is “violent.” When compared with the parallel passage in Luke 16:16, I interpret this as a positive action. The violence which Jesus described is: aggressive agonizing, desperate determination, earnestness, fervency, intensity, perseverance, persistency, zeal. The one word which does not describe it is “effortless.”
According to Titus 2:11-14 true grace teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age. Those who practice hyper-grace, whether Calvinistic or charismatic, will not be found ready when our God and Savior Jesus Christ returns.
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