Article on Pelagian Heresy in Modern Churches

An insightful article written by R. C. Sproul. Full article can be read from http://www.bible-researcher.com/sproul1.html. It is often very sad to see good people caught under a heresy, which they do not ever see. Worse still when it affects their decision making unconsciously… and yet they believe that they are doing ‘right’ in the Lord’s sight.

Our generation is full of well-meaning people who think that God will accept them because they have done their ‘best’ and with the ‘best intentions’. Why? Because society has always taught us that the world accepts and cannot condemn those who has given ‘their best’, and therefore many equate that as the same for God’s response to our ‘best’. That is a lie. Fallacy, which can easily be seen in God’s response to Cain’s offering. Cain gave ‘his best’ from the works of his hands. But God decried that as not having faith. Faith is never about ‘giving your best’, but to merely ‘submit to God’s decrees’. Obedience is better than sacrifice. Alas, many of our brethrens are more influenced by the world’s standards than God’s…

Which is why Sproul’s article is necessary. It is not new (isn’t everything so?), but timely for us now:

I’ve often wondered if Luther were alive today and came to our culture and looked, not at the liberal church community, but at evangelical churches, what would he have to say? Of course I can’t answer that question with any kind of definitive authority, but my guess is this: If Martin Luther lived today and picked up his pen to write, the book he would write in our time would be entitled The Pelagian Captivity of the Evangelical Church. Luther saw the doctrine of justification as fueled by a deeper theological problem. He writes about this extensively in The Bondage of the Will. When we look at the Reformation and we see the solas of the Reformation — sola Scriptura, sola fide, solus Christus, soli Deo gloria, sola gratia — Luther was convinced that the real issue of the Reformation was the issue of grace; and that underlying the doctrine of solo fide, justification by faith alone, was the prior commitment to sola gratia, the concept of justification by grace alone.

In the Fleming Revell edition of The Bondage of the Will, the translators, J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston, included a somewhat provocative historical and theological introduction to the book itself. This is from the end of that introduction:

These things need to be pondered by Protestants today. With what right may we call ourselves children of the Reformation? Much modern Protestantism would be neither owned nor even recognised by the pioneer Reformers. The Bondage of the Will fairly sets before us what they believed about the salvation of lost mankind. In the light of it, we are forced to ask whether Protestant Christendom has not tragically sold its birthright between Luther’s day and our own. Has not Protestantism today become more Erasmian than Lutheran? Do we not too often try to minimise and gloss over doctrinal differences for the sake of inter-party peace? Are we innocent of the doctrinal indifferentism with which Luther charged Erasmus? Do we still believe that doctrine matters?

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6 thoughts on “Article on Pelagian Heresy in Modern Churches

  1. Regarding the attempt to “minimise and gloss over doctrinal differences” and “doctrinal indifferentism”:

    Which doctrines must Christians agree with in order to be “children of the Reformation”?

    Suppose a Christian says he is Reformed. But he accepts infant baptism, which is clearly not in the Bible. Is he a “child of the Reformation” or is he being indifferent to doctrine?

  2. Historically, the “Reformed” label specifically deals with the Doctrines of Grace. The measure of a person being part of the label is on their acceptance of the Doctrines of Grace (Calvinism) and upholding of the Regulative Principle in worship. In regards to infant baptism, it is sad that many do not see the same as we do, which is why, in general, a Reformed church that believes in believer’s baptism would identify themselves as “Reformed Baptist”. The label of Reformed is merely a label and not a denomination as some wrongly supposem, therefore it is not uncommon to find many people putting “Reformed” in church names without knowing the significance of it.

    Both Reformed Paedobaptist and Reformed Baptist believe in Covenant Theology, except that the former pushes it to the extreme and thus fractures the argument significantly. That has never been a significant issue or warrant for breaking of fellowship among “Reformed” circles. It is definitely a matter of contention in some churches over church membership (John Piper’s church being a case in point) but it has been relatively accepted that Covenantal Theology is not a main essence of the label in consideration.

    FYI, most of the Reformed Father’s were Paedobaptists (except the Anabaptists, who were quite vilified in the recent years by historians but are recently seen as the forerunners to Reformed Baptists).

  3. Thanks for your response. I was just pointing out baptism as an example.

    I guess what I’m trying to ask relates to Sproul’s statement:

    “Do we not too often try to minimise and gloss over doctrinal differences for the sake of inter-party peace? Are we innocent of the doctrinal indifferentism with which Luther charged Erasmus? Do we still believe that doctrine matters?”

    There are so many doctrines in the Christian faith. Exactly which doctrines are we supposed to place more weight on (and conversely, less weight on) so that we are not minimising and glossing over doctrinal differences for the sake of inter-party peace?

    For example: can a Reformed Baptist and a Reformed Paedobaptist, a premillenialist and an amillenialist, a cessationist and a charismatic, a young-earth creationist and an old-earth creationist, “all sit at the same table” as long as they hold to the five solas and agree on the gospel?

  4. Yup, I understand your question. In some sense no one doctrine is not affected and does not affect the central gospel. E.g. Paedobaptism is one example of where it changes to significant degree the Grace of the gospel (I’m generalising the whole view they have on it here).

    However, your question I perceive is slanted more to the practicality of church fellowship taking into account doctrinal matters. I believe strongly the following: the closer the doctrines are shared and practiced, the closer the fellowship between the churches could be. The farther away the doctrines that are agreeable, the farther away the fellowship could be.

    Doctrinal weight is given on the following 1)Grace (Gospel) 2)Woship 3) Church Government 4)Eschatology.

    Why the arrangement of 1-3 in that manner? Based on the offices of Jesus as Prophet (Gospel), Priest (Worship) and King (Government). The 4th should not be a point of contention, although for some it is because it ties to their view point of 1), as it is a future outlook, which many agree on the outline but not on the fine points (Macarthur of course would disagree with me :P)

    What this means to the local church I am in is: we do collaborate in relief efforts with churches who are generally reformed but differ in church government, but we cannot find ourselves getting closer than just for general outreach. This is the same for general evangelicals who are semi-pelagians (many in KL & PJ). We could donate or take donations for a particular effort, but it would be going too far to do more than that.

    Church fellowship again is different from individual relationships (again depending on the person’s role in the church) 🙂

  5. That’s a good order to weigh doctrinal matters. Thanks 🙂

    It’s just that I sometimes feel that there’s so much debate on “minor” doctrinal matters among Reformed circles.

    And I wonder if all that intellectual energy should instead be channeled towards defending the truth from other theological systems and philosophies like, um, Arminianism, atheism, and other -isms 🙂

  6. We have to pick our fights carefully, and have to see which will affect the faith. Sometimes, it is the practical things (activities), sometimes it is the doctrine, sometimes it is the attitude. 🙂 So we do what is necessary in our own circles and context.

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