Archive for May 2009

Where Things Stand

May 30, 2009

by Jay Guin

Mac has made a number of thoughtful points and asked several questions in his last post, but before we get to the particulars, I’d like to be sure I stay centered on the topic we’re here for.

The challenge Todd and I made to our conservative conversationalists is:

  • Please tell us what doctrinal error would cause a saved person to fall away.
  • Please defend your position from the scriptures.

(Todd and I will soon be called upon to do the same from the progressive perspective.)

There have been quite a few posts, and we’ve had a change in participants. I thought it would be helpful if I attempted to summarize where I think we are.

I’ll first go through the posts of my conservative friends and quote the sections that seem to most directly answer the question under consideration. At the end, I’ll summarize what I believe is the conservative contention. Finally, I’ll ask that Phil and Mac correct me if I’m in error on any point.


Salvation Submissiveness Is Obedience

May 29, 2009

by Mac Deaver

I’ll try to respond here to the latest from Jay and Todd. I appreciate the fact that there is so much agreement between us in this dialogue. That is very good. Now, let us proceed with some of the items where we are not sure about agreement and where we are sure about disagreement.

By those errors that when believed “create divine doctrinal violation (sin),” I mean the acceptance of a doctrine in compliance with which one sins. It is a believed doctrine that is not true, and when one practices it, he sins by being in harmony with it. In the parable of the tares, at the harvest the angels “shall gather out of his kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and them that do iniquity” (Matt. 13:41). The furnace of fire is the destiny (v. 42). Any doctrine the acceptance of which causes one thus to stumble or to do iniquity is dealt with by punishment at harvest time.

Near the bottom of page two, we find: “We agree that self-justification can cost one his soul (Gal. 5:4). On the other hand, we don’t believe that all error as to divine obligation damns. Rather, the danger Paul discusses in Galatians 5 arises when a Christian seeks to be justified by works rather than faith in Jesus.”

Now, if I understand what is being claimed here, I disagree completely. Furthermore, this may be the key point in our disagreement over submission and obedience, so let us take some time here to explain. Paul is not in Galatians 5 condemning any Christian who is striving to be obedient as though his attempt at obedience is at odds with his faith. Paul never did that any more than Jesus excused sinning against the law (Matt.5:19). What Paul condemns in Galatians 5 is the effort of Christians to go beyond the teaching of Christ and to attempt to add obedience to Moses as a prerequisite to being a faithful Christian. The context makes this clear (cf. Acts 15; Gal.2:1-10). It is a misrepresentation of Gal.5:4 to say that Paul is condemning justification by works rather than by faith in Jesus unless one understands from the total context that “justification by works” would have to refer to a justification by the works of the law of Moses. If Jay and Todd mean by “justification by works” obedience to Christ, then the expression is misapplied.

Compare Paul’s discussion in Romans 4. Paul says that Abraham was justified by faith and not by works (v.1-3). He quotes Genesis 15:6. He uses Abraham as an example of someone who is justified by faith and not by works, but those works have to be clearly identified in the light of other information about Abraham that we are given. The works of which Paul speaks in Romans 4 are those that would make of God a debtor to save us (v. 4), because they are works that would merit salvation (v. 6-8). Perfect law keeping cannot save because no human can perfectly keep law. That is why the law of Moses was weak through the flesh (Rom. 8:3). It simply could not save anyone for there was in it no provision for actual forgiveness of the sins committed (Gal. 5:10, 11). Particularly in Romans 4, Paul is discussing the works of the law of Moses. Abraham’s works were not those under the law of Moses (vs. 9, 10). But Abraham had works.

James also quotes Genesis 15:6 and uses Abraham as an illustration of salvation by works. Obviously, he is not contradicting Paul in Romans 4. In Galatians 5 Paul says that Genesis 15:6 was a prophecy made that was fulfilled at the time that Abraham worked or drew his knife to kill his son (vs. 20-24). Abraham obeyed God and the scripture was “fulfilled” that said that Abraham “believed God.”

That is why we still say that works of obedience are essential to salvation. Abraham by faith obeyed (cf. Heb. 11:8, 17-19). He didn’t merely have a “submissive” faith if by “submissive” one means to exclude works of obedience. He obeyed. He didn’t merely have a desire to later obey; he obeyed. So, Galatians 5 does not condemn salvation by all works; it condemns salvation by the works of the law of Moses or any law whereby one could merit salvation. And Romans 4 does not sanction faith without works of obedience. It condemns the concept of salvation by works without faith.  The Bible does not pose the tension between (1) faith and (2) works as such but between (1) faith that works and (2) works that have no faith (works of merit).

Jesus learned obedience (Heb. 5:8) and not an alleged “submission” that excludes obedience. Salvation, we are told, comes to the obedient (Heb. 5:9). If one excludes all works from the plan of salvation, he excludes obedience to Christ. We know that faith itself in one sense is a work for Jesus told us that (Jno.6:29), and faith is essential (Heb. 11:6) to salvation. And James tells us that faith without other works cannot save (Jas. 2:14). Note: to take a position on works which contradicts what James claims in 2:14 is a wrong position. Clearly, faith without works cannot save.

Now let us turn to the next point on page three. I had said, “Doctrinal error that is clearly personally corruptive, congregationally disruptive, or doctrinally detrimental is condemned (1 Cor .5:1-8; Tit. 3:10; 11 Tim. 2:18; Gal. 2:5).” Our conversationalists reply, “If by ‘is condemned’ you mean the person in error is damned, then we disagree. If you mean that we should judge and reject the error, we agree.” Now, having already said that some personally held doctrinal errors may not finally condemn a person, it is still true that some of these doctrinal errors are so clear and significant that they do condemn. We reject them, not simply because we find fault with them, but because we know that to stay in them is to forfeit salvation (cf. 11 Tim. 2:16-18; 1 Tim. 6:3-5; 1 Cor. 15:12-19). There are some things we do not do nor condone for conscience sake (Rom.14:23); we avoid some things because we know that such leads to eternal ruin even for those who with a good conscience continue in them. And some people stand self-condemned (Tit. 3:10, 11).

Next, when you say “Error means any less-than-perfect understanding of God’s will and self-revelation,” I deny it. That is not at all what error is. If such were a correct description of error, then the biblical doctrine of truth would (since none of us knows all about it) would equal the biblical doctrine of error. This makes no sense at all. The Bible plainly teaches that although we can never know all that God knows about anything, we are under obligation to learn a few things about a few things. Our knowledge will always be less complete than God’s, but when we do have knowledge, our knowledge is as accurate as is his. And we are promised that if we abide in God’s word, we can know saving truth (Jno. 8:31, 32). God wants all men to come to knowledge of the truth, not to a non-knowledge (error regarding truth) because of a necessary finitude (1 Tim. 2:4). I cannot know as much as God knows; however he has arranged circumstances so that I can and must know a little of what he knows. If error is rightly described by Jay here, then clearly we cannot know saving truth. And that is epistemological agnosticism! I ask Jay and Todd to carefully reevaluate this crucial part of the discussion. Think about it like this: You cannot on the one hand say, (1) “We do believe that the scriptures teach, in principle, which doctrinal errors damn and which do not. Surely God did not leave us to guess at such a central question!” (p. 3 of their response), and on the other hand to claim, “Error means any less-than-perfect understanding of God’s will and self-revelation” (p.3) if you mean by “perfect” as complete as God’s knowledge is, because our (1) knowledge in principle of what saves and what damns will always and necessarily contain (2) error given Jay’s and Todd’s definition of “error.” We are, after all, left to guess.

By “doctrinally detrimental,” I mean error that corrupts or that is a detriment to pure doctrine. It damages pure doctrine (cf. Gal. 1:6-10). Paul makes it clear that it is possible to embrace a doctrine, the falsity of which implies that the truth of the gospel is not continuing with us anymore (Gal. 2:5). Such doctrines have to be fought. Liberty promised by such falsity is misguided; bondage awaits (Gal. 2:4; 11 Cor. 3:17).

Now, regarding my claim that repentance necessarily entails cessation of the sin of which one repents, our literary opponents say, “We disagree. There is a difference between repenting of ‘sin’ and repenting of ‘a sin’ (as in Mac’s illustration). There’s also a difference between committing a sin repeatedly because of lack of repentance (as in Mac’s illustration), and committing a sin repeatedly because of weakness, against one’s own desires (Rom. 7:14-25). At Pentecost, Peter called on his listeners to ‘repent and be baptized.’ It’s not likely that he meant for them to never sin again. Rather, he called on them to change their lives, submitting to Jesus as Lord.”

I would say that whether you refer to a specific sin or to sin in general, when one repents there must be cessation of that sin for a while. If not, how in the world could godly sorrow have moved the man to repent? (cf. 11 Cor. 7:10). We either face “change” are we do not face change. If a man repents of adultery but does not repent of murder, can that repentance save him? The answer is obvious (cf. Jas. 2:10, 11). The category of sin in general is composed of sins in particular. If one does not repent of any particular sin or sins, then how can he claim that he has repented in general? A little child cannot repent, among other reasons, because there is no particular sin in his life. If there are no particular sins of which an adult repents, he has not repented at all. If the man is not aware of any sin in his life, he cannot repent of sin. If he through lack of focus cannot recall any sin in his life, how can he be moved to godly sorrow? It is impossible for a man to have godly sorrow about his sin if he has no awareness of any given sin. And godly sorrow always precedes repentance. A man whose sins are so far back in his mind that they do not trouble him is in no position yet to become a Christian. The people on Pentecost had just crucified Christ. That was something definite of which they were to repent (Acts 2:23). Of how many other things they needed to repent I do not know, and whether Peter referred to any other sins, we do not know for his complete sermon is not reported (Acts 2:40).

When our literary opposition says of Peter, “It’s not likely that he meant for them to never sin again. Rather, he called on them to change their lives, submitting to Jesus as Lord,” we respond by saying that he is calling on them to give up the practice of sin. Jesus once told a man, “Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing befall thee” (Jno. 5:14). John said, “My little children, these things write I unto you that ye may not sin. And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 Jno .2:1).  God has the right to tell us not to sin. Neither Jesus nor any inspired writer ever sanctioned the committing of one sin. Never! And Jay and Todd well know this. “Submitting to Jesus as Lord” entailed giving up the practice of sin. There is a level of spiritual intimacy reached between God and man in conversion that means that the practice of sin is over or the transition from the world of the lost to the church of the saved is not made (Col. 1:13).

I do appreciate the point about momentary sins because of human weakness. I admit that (Matt. 26:41). It is a fact that cannot be successfully denied. This has to do with the nature of man and the situation in which he finds himself. That is why we need so much help in overcoming sin (Rom. 8:12-17; Eph. 6:10ff).

Now on page four, we find a comparison drawn between (1) a drug addict who is converted and (2) an otherwise sinner who obeys the gospel via a correspondence course and begins to worship with a mechanical instrument. The claim is made that both men repented in spite of the fact that the drug addicts falls back into drugs, and the other man worships with the mechanical instrument. I do not disagree. The situations are not parallel but do involve men who have fallen back into sin. Drug addiction is just as much a sin by a Christian as a non-Christian. And using mechanical instruments in worship is unauthorized and amounts to sinful worship. Simon fell shortly after his conversion into grave error (Acts 8:18-24). The drug addict in Jay’s illustration obviously knows that such is wrong. The user of mechanical instruments evidently does not. So, the two cases are not parallel. However, if we grant this new convert time, if he is what he ought to be, he will come to see the error of his way and remove himself from such practice. The providence of God is sufficient to help the ignorant man of integrity to come to know what he must know (cf. Gen .20:1-6; Luke 11:9-13). I would further suggest that any correspondence course should include sufficient information so as to teach the principle of authority (Col. 3:17) and so prevent the very thing that Jay’s second man illustrates. I always cover this ground including mechanical instrument music and New Testament teaching on marriage and divorce when personally studying with non-Christians. Too, a person living in adultery has not repented of adultery if he continues to stay in adultery. No cessation-no repentance. One cannot walk in righteousness and walk in evil at the same time (Eph. 2:1-3).

Jay says, “Sincerity does not cover all sin, but for those in grace—those saints who maintain a submissive faith in Jesus—grace does.” Yes, but Jay, Todd, Phil, and I all know that some sins committed by saints imply that they are no longer in grace (1 Cor. 5; Gal. 5:4; Heb. 6:1ff; Heb. 10:26ff). As far as I can understand the concept of “submissiveness” as used by Jay and Todd, it is not the same thing as obedience. But I would say that while submissiveness is necessary, it is not adequate to salvation unless it is defined so as to include obedience. Having obeyed the gospel, all of us had a submissive faith in the sense that we made improvement in our lives as we learned so to do. But the adjustments had to be made in the light of truth learned. Obligatory Truth was never rendered non-obligatory while we were making our changes. There is no doctrine of salvation for the submissively not yet obedient or the submissively yet disobedient.  According to the New Testament, there is (1) a continuation of walking in truth that is just as necessary to one’s ultimate salvation as is (2) the New Testament teaching that all Christians need continuing grace (cf. 1 Tim. 2:15; John 8:32). Those saints who continue to walk in truth (11 Jno. 4) are those who receive continuing grace (1 Jno. 1:7). The availability of grace is never an excuse for the justification of continuing in sin (Rom. 6:1).  Human weakness is a factor we must admit and with which we continually live. That is why sinners must become partakers of the divine nature (11 Pet. 1:4). But doctrinal error that causes violation of God’s law is not something that one has to live with (Jno. 8:32; Rom. 12:1, 2; 11 Jno.4; 1 Tim. 6:20, 21). If it were otherwise (if we had to live with continual doctrinal error that causes continual violation of God’s will) we would not need the Bible. If we are forever shut up to inevitable doctrinal error that keeps us in constant violation of God’s will, truth cannot save us (But, Acts 20:32). All of us must grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ (11 Pet. 3:18). To fail to do so is sin.

Now, I will address the questions that Jay and Todd present to me:

1. As to how I use “truth,” I use it for the totality of the gospel, the truth that the gospel is (Gal. 2:5), including facts, promises, and obligations (cf. Heb. 11:3; 11 Pet. 1:4; Rom. 2:8; 1 Thess. 2:13; Eph. 4:20, 21).

2. By divine doctrinal violation, I mean a violation of divine teaching. I could be in error with regard to many facts given in the Scriptures. But doctrinal violation would involve me in sin. I could be wrong about the interpretation of a lot of factual information without getting into violation of obligation.

3. Errors are doctrinally detrimental if they are conclusions reached which attack the doctrine of Christ. Errors of some Bible facts (although the presentation of these facts is Bible doctrine) are not very consequential. Errors of other facts would be. Some facts we must know; others we do not have to know. Errors of doctrine that lead people to sin, however, would be attacks on the purity of the gospel of Christ and harmful to those who subscribe to them. Any doctrine that implies that we do not have to submit to the least requirements (obligations) of the doctrine of Christ is a false doctrine (Matt.5:19; cf. Matt 23:23; Luke 17:10). Paul tells us that there is a sense in which only Christians can actually fulfill the requirement of the law of Moses, a thing Jews under the law could not do (Rom. 8:4).

4. Regarding a congregation’s forsaking the form of pure worship practice for unauthorized worship, I would say that flesh now dominates spirit regarding those in the eldership and the preacher. Perhaps there are some in the congregation who simply are confused or being novices have not found their duty clear, but those experienced leaders who left the truth for worship error, flesh has dominated spirit (cf. the brethren at Corinth who were in so much error and who seemed for a while not to comprehend their sad condition). Christians are continually sanctified by truth (Jno. 17:17) and truth is spirit in the sense that it is from the Holy Spirit, it addresses our human spirits, and leads to spiritual life (Jno .6:63). Simon does not seem to have at first been aware of his loss of salvation; he evidently lost it unintentionally (cf. Acts 8:18-24).  The preacher to whom Jay refers has never been willing to have his controversial position addressed in public debate. Jay and Todd have already agreed with me that “no one who is unwilling to have his religious convictions carefully examined can be all that sincere” (p.2 of their response). The preacher and/or elders will not allow examination of their controversial convictions in a forum where they will have to defend their current practice in the presence of someone who will present the other side. At least, they will not face us, and I know of no other public religious discussion in which they have tried to defend their practice in the presence of someone who knows how to prove it wrong. Furthermore, they have made no attempt to respond in writing to literary proof presented to them of their error.  Does that suggest anything about their sincerity?

Now I have a few True-False questions for Jay and Todd. Since every precisely stated proposition is either true or false, please circle either the T or the F:

T  F  1. Obedience to Christ is a type of work (Jno. 6:29; Heb. 5:8, 9; Eph. 2:10).

T  F  2. Obedience to Christ is essential to salvation.

T  F  3. It is possible to practice pure religion (Jas. 1:27).

T  F  4. It is possible to practice pure religion out of harmony with pure doctrine.

T  F  5. There is a sense in which we can practice pure religion without spot (Jas. 1:27; 1    Tim. 6:14).

T  F  6. There is at least one New Testament passage that promises eternal salvation to the sons of disobedience.

T  F  7. Faithful Christians are sons of obedience.

T  F  8. Worship authorized by Christ must be in truth (Jno. 4:24).

T  F  9. There is at least one New Testament passage that teaches that unauthorized worship is acceptable or pleasing to God.

T  F  10. The subscription to at least some doctrinal errors entails loss of eternal salvation to those who subscribe to them.

T  F  11. According to Hebrews 11, the faith that saves is a submissive faith which has not yet obeyed but that plans on obeying in the future.

T  F  12. According to New Testament teaching, the faith that saves is a disobedient faith.

T  F  13. According New Testament teaching, saving faith is a submissive faith which submission excludes obedience.

T  F  14. According to James 2, Abraham was justified by an obedient faith.

 T  F  15. If Paul declares that Abraham was not justified by works and if James declares that Abraham was justified by works, then we know that Paul and James were referring to two different categories or classifications of works.

In Reply to Mac Regarding Repentance

May 24, 2009

by Jay Guin

In The Repentance Requirement Todd asked a couple of important questions regarding repentance —

(1) Do you claim that sincerely believing error even on the issues earlier cited (e.g., Was Junias an apostle? Where do saints go immediately after death? etc.) will lead to the loss of salvation if not corrected? And if not, on what basis do you distinguish these doctrinal errors from those that are truly fatal?

(2) Do you believe that repentance always entails the cessation of the sin? If yes, doesn’t this lead to an impossible perfectionism?

Mac responded in a post titled The Two Questions On the Repentance Requirement. We greatly appreciate Mac’s participation in this dialogue and his response to these questions.

I’ve copied all of Mac’s post, other than the introductory paragraph, below, and I’ve interlineated my responses throughout. My comments are in bold solely to help the readers distinguish my words from Mac’s. Please don’t take the bold to mean I’m shouting! When I say “we,” I’m speaking for both Todd and myself.

I’m pleased to report that Todd and I find ourselves in agreement with much that Mac says. However, we do have some questions that we hope will lead to a better understanding of Mac’s thoughts.

[Mac’s post follows in normal font, with my responses in bold.] (more…)

The Two Questions On The Repentance Requirement

May 22, 2009

by Mac Deaver

In Todd’s last piece he asks whether or not sincerely believed error damns the soul and whether or not repentance always leads to the cessation of sin. He asked, “(1) Do you claim that sincerely believing error on the issues earlier cited (e.g., Was Junias an apostle? Where do saints go immediately after death? etc.) will lead to the loss of salvation if not corrected? And if not, on what basis do you distinguish these doctrinal errors from those that are truly fatal?” And “(2) Do you believe that repentance always entails the cessation of the sin? If yes, doesn’t this lead to an impossible perfectionism?” I will address these two points. (more…)

Mac Deaver Joins GraceConversation

May 20, 2009

mdeaverDear readers,

Greg Tidwell has asked to step aside from this dialogue for a while due to other obligations that demand his attention. So that the dialogue may continue, Mac Deaver has kindly agreed to fill in for Greg.

Many readers will already be familiar with Brother Deaver. He graduated from Oklahoma Christian College, received an M.A. from Harding University Graduate School of Religion, and received a doctoral degree from Tennessee Bible College. He has preached for over 40 years, taught at Brown Trail School of Preaching, Southwest School of Bible Studies, and Tennessee Bible College. He is the editor of Biblical Notes Quarterly and is a noted debater on Biblical issues.

Brother Deaver is the father of Todd Deaver, one of the other participants in this dialogue, and Weylan Deaver, who are both ministers of the gospel.

Mac and Phil are coordinating their response to Todd’s and my posts and plan to announce the timing of their reply shortly.

We deeply appreciate the readers’ patience with this transition. We’ll be back to regular posting soon.