I do not endorse Brannon Howes, but this audio from his radio interview with Mike Gendron is worth a listen. If you are unsure of whether or not Francis Chan is false teacher then this should help clarify.
The way to stimulate unity in the church is by a faithful ministry of your gifts to
the other members. The way to stimulate unity in the church is by getting involved so that what you are in the Spirit of God and what you are by the saving grace of Jesus Christ can make a contribution to what somebody else needs. You see the unity of the church is not kept by being silent about things you disagree with. The unity of the church is not kept by not making trouble, it’s kept by making a concerted effort to build the body of Christ into oneness. ~John MacArthur, ‘The Mystery Revealed‘
“Conformists believe relationships, camaraderie, and affability will lead people to Christ. It’s a sort of salvation by osmosis. In their view, redemption will be subjectively induced without verbal definition.
The problem is, it doesn’t work that way. Jesus’ command to preach the gospel to a lost and dying world is an absolute, not an option. We can and should be pleasant folk, but you can’t smile people into heaven. Remove the message of life-transforming salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and there is nothing left but another emaciated religious faction.” ~ Elwood McQuaid, ‘The Changing Face of America’
America’s real problem is one that no President can solve.
As we prepare to release this article, President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney are in the final hours of their long campaigns for the presidency of the United States. People on both sides of the partisan divide say that the election of one man or the other will mean either the salvation or the damnation of the country. We hear, as we always do it seems, that “this is the most important election in our lifetimes.”
Many, especially in the Evangelical community, are convinced that a Romney victory will mean the salvation of America. They are equally convinced that if Barack Obama wins, it will be an unrecoverable disaster. And so, large segments of the Evangelical church have become obsessed with the outcome and with having an effect upon it, to the detriment of the church’s true calling and mission. But the fact is that the election of a new president of either party will neither solve America’s real problem nor push her over the brink. That is because America’s real problem is not political, economic, social, or even moral. It is spiritual. It is a problem that no President can solve.
America’s Real Problem: Whose Fault Is It?
America, which was for centuries systemically influenced by Holy Scripture, has for decades systematically suppressed and abandoned the influence of the Word of God. We now have what amounts to a Bible-less generation in charge of government and every other aspect of society. The killing of the unborn, the sanctioning of perverted sexual unions, nearly half of all children born out of wedlock, saturation levels of pornography, widespread enslavement to drugs, unending wars, pervasive immorality in government, and all the rest are the symptoms of that basic problem.
Who caused America to abandon the influence of the Bible? Not politicians. Not economists. Not the social engineers of our era. Not even those who have endeavored to substitute a “whatever feels good is right” philosophy for true morality. The nominally Evangelical church caused America to abandon the Bible. As the church goes, so goes the nation.
How did the church do this? Decades ago, large segments of the nominally Evangelical church began to abandon the twofold mission that our Lord Jesus Christ gave to His church before He ascended to Heaven. That mission is a simple one, but it is the most cosmically profound one of all: to evangelize the world with the one true Gospel of salvation by faith in Christ alone, and to edify the saints – those who truly believe the Gospel message and whose lives are therefore forever changed by it – by instructing them in sound doctrine from Holy Scripture.
Large segments of the nominally Evangelical church have effectively stopped doing both. Much of this has taken the form of subtraction by addition. But the Gospel plus anything else is less than the Gospel. The power of such a “gospel” resides in the weak arm of fleshly wisdom, not in the mighty arm of God. Large segments of the Evangelical church have ignored this central truth, and have become obsessed with political activity, economic success, social reform, and moral improvement, and they have redefined the “gospel” in those terms. These are ways that seem right to many of today’s church leaders and their followers, but “the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 14:12).
The Evangelical Church on a Fool’s Errand
The church has therefore embarked on a fool’s errand. It seeks to give the world the benefits of the Gospel without the preaching and the power of the Gospel. It seeks the temporary “salvation” of the nation rather than the eternal salvation of souls. It seeks the fleeting “redemption” of the culture – of government, of science, of the arts, of politics, of economics, and so on. What the present-day church seemingly fails to recognize is that all of these are merely components of what Scripture calls thekosmos, the world-system that is under God’s curse and Satan’s sway because of man’s sin:
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. (2 Peter 3:10)
It is a fool’s errand to seek to “redeem” that which God says is inexorably doomed to destruction. The only true redemption, according to Scripture, is the redemption of souls from the curse of sin and the eternal wrath of God through faith in Jesus Christ.Those redeemed souls will be delivered from this present evil world by the One who gave Himself for their sins (Galatians 1:4), so that they may live with Christ in the new world order that only He – and no President - can bring: the New Heavens and New Earth in which there shall be no more curse, but only righteousness forever (2 Peter 3:13).
When the Evangelical church loses this Biblical perspective on the state of this present world and its inexorable future course, it inevitably leads to the substitution of other things for Christ’s Great Commission – or perhaps worse yet, an un-Biblical redefinition of the Commission to suit man-made agendas. The church of Jesus Christ must understand that this present world is destined to destruction by design. The church of Jesus Christ must likewise understand that He is on the throne of Heaven, He has been given all authority and power in the universe, He is sovereign, and He is Lord. As the world-system moves toward its end, He raises up one ruler and puts down another by His sovereign choice.
And, Scripture tells us that God often chooses the basest of men to rule in His world (Daniel 4:17). What could better illustrate this than the present candidates for president? On the one hand, we have a man who is without doubt the most anti-Christian president ever; on the other hand, a man who is the most prominent figure in a religious cult that is based on the worst sorts of lies about the person and work of Christ, a cult that believes it is its destiny to “save” America.
What Must Christians Do?
Because all of these things are true, if Barack Obama wins the election, Christ’s people must not be any more troubled than if Mitt Romney wins. Whatever the outcome, it is all part of the Godhead’s design and Christ’s sovereign rule. The world is headed inexorably downward. Scripture tells us this is so (e.g., 2 Thessalonians 2:5-12). We may think that one man will lead America down the slippery slope more rapidly than another. But the fact is, neither man – and no other man – will lead America upward.
On the day after this election, whatever the outcome, Christians should neither be dancing in the streets nor wringing their hands in despair. Our proper position will be on our knees. We have much of which to repent. We have, as is described in Nehemiah 9:26, in many ways tossed the Word of God behind our backs, and we have plodded onward, encumbered by the pursuit of many things – even good things – but not the one needful thing. That one thing is to do the work that Christ has given us to do, which is not to make this world a better place for the Hell-bound, but to be used of God in calling out and setting apart a people for Himself to live in the world to come. Judgment must begin at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). We must become a holy people ourselves – set apart from this present world-system and its godless philosophy.
This is not fatalism, nor is it a lack of concern for the future of America and the rest of the nations of the world. But man’s destiny is not tied to any earthly nation or political system. Man’s destiny hinges upon each individual’s relationship with Jesus Christ. For each individual who has ever lived or will live, Jesus Christ is either Lord and Savior or condemning Judge. There is no third alternative.
If Christ’s church does anything else instead of proclaiming this to the world, and pursuing Scripture-driven holiness in every area of life and ministry, we fail. The men and women of the great roll-call of faith in Hebrews chapter eleven understood that “here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come” (13:14), “the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (11:10). They were those “of whom the world was not worthy” (11:38) – literally, this present world system was not worthy to have them living in it. In stark contrast, the Apostle Paul exhorted the Philippian believers to remember their destiny:
Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame – who set their mind on earthly things. For our citizenship is in Heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself. (Philippians 3:17-21)
The writer to the Hebrews, having spoken of the stalwarts of past generations who lived in the light of these great truths, exhorted those of succeeding generations to think and act as they did:
Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Dear Christian friends, may we do no less. May we ever and always keep this focus, regardless of the outcome of tomorrow’s election, or any other event that may confront us in the future. We must be about our Lord’s business.
Copyright © 1998-2012
TeachingtheWord Ministries . www.teachingtheword.org
by Tony Miano,
I received the following message from a friend on Facebook. While it is a topic I’ve tackled many times in the past, I thought the way my friend honestly asked her questions accurately expressed how many Christians feel about sharing the gospel with their friends. Her words also helped to reaffirm what I have believed for a very long time. “Friendship Evangelism,” as it is most commonly taught and practiced by Christians, is neither friendship nor evangelism.
With my friend’s permission, I would like to share her note with you; and then I will answer her questions.
I have made a lifetime of friends, and up until about 6 years ago, I was a partier and not walking with the Lord. Since become a Christian, I have made myself known to all, but not gone out of my way to share the gospel. I know my friends “think” they know what the Bible says and I also know that they don’t want me to preach or share. I have hoped that Facebook would encourage them to ask me, but they don’t.
I watch like a voyeur, their lives on Facebook and I hate it. I see them post pictures of nights on the town, glazed eyes, draped over a different guy in each shot. Today I read as they talked about spending money frivolously and obnoxiously. I see so much “selfism” and today it really started to hurt.
I keep thinking that, by example, they might want to know more or ask…instead I see them avoid my page and my comments. They never address anything I say regarding our Savior, God, or the written word, and only comment on the “regular” things I post.
Most of my “friends” from the past, I still DO care about their salvation. I’m certain that my approach will mean the end of life-long friendships. Should I just keep exposing the Lord to them? Our Christmas cards and small other things are about all the contact we really have. Should I just go for broke and risk turning them off completely? I know it would mean the end of friendships in most cases.
Part of me knows that losing these friendships shouldn’t matter. I’m more concerned that is I can keep the door open, they might …might…someday come to repentance. I want the door to remain open.
I need some advice. I’m pretty sure your going to tell me to go for it…but I thought you might have a perspective or a way that I should use as an approach . . .
[P.S.] I’m thinking of how to approach evangelizing them. I know the approach that Ray [Comfort] uses, letting them convict themselves through the 10 Commandments (which really works) and you too have mastered it. I have also been told to have them read the word themselves because the word has power. As a chicken, I was hoping to be “non-confrontational” and send it in a letter. A letter of love, and a pouring out of my heart for them. But that leaves them with the ability to not answer, or reply. I know that God would use me MUCH better if I had the nerve to deliver my (HIS) message in person. I want to engage their minds. I’ve never been a “chicken.” I don’t want to fail God. I want my (HIS) words to pierce. So…praying and waiting for His inspiration and His way to lead me, and maybe your words will help push me into the world. I’m NOT ashamed of Him, I’m afraid of them, so to speak. I know if He is with me, who can be against me? Why…do I struggle? Oh, the flesh.
Before I answer my friend’s questions, it is important that I preface my commentary with a few clarifying remarks. First, my commentary is not a critique of my friend–neither of her love for Christ nor of her love for people. I donot question her salvation or the genuineness of her desire for her friends to be saved. My commentary will be, however, a pointed critique of what I believe is a profoundly effective tool of Satan (1 Peter 5:8) — “Friendship” or “Relationship” evangelism.
What Is Friendship Evangelism?
I believe many Christians practice “Friendship Evangelism” with sincerity. But sadly, it is a sincerity most often born out of ignorance (1 Peter 1:13-16), an ignorance of the Word of God in general and biblical evangelism in particular. At the same time, I feel no such obligation to extend charity toward authors, pastors, teachers, speakers, and movement leaders who propagate this spiritual fraud upon followers of Christ — both true and false converts. Theirs will be a stricter judgment (James 3:1).
Now, let me take a moment to answer a couple of baseless objections to what I will put forth as my position, before I even articulate my position. I do this in advance of making my case because I know for some Christians “Friendship Evangelism” is treated as if it is sacrosanct — an essential evangelism tradition. I use the word “tradition” since there is no biblical support for this methodology and/or philosophy for ministry. It is traditions like this one, “friendship evangelism,” that are evidence of the sad reality that modern-day evangelicalism, especially the American variety, has yet to completely break free of Rome. For Rome also holds traditions with more reverence and gives tradition more authority than Scripture (Matthew 15:1-6).
Let make it very clear that Christians are called by the Word of God to be both friendly and relational. “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). To be opposed to “Friendship Evangelism” as it is most commonly practiced is not to be opposed to friendship or relationships. But a godly and biblical Christian will put God and friends before and above friendships (Luke 14:25-27).
Second, a common objection to any argument against “Friendship Evangelism” is, “There are many ways to share the gospel and friendship evangelism is one of them.” Not so. There is only one way to communicate the gospel, which can take different forms — the Bible’s way. Any methodology that is extra-biblical (meaning the Bible neither commands nor condemns the activity) should be approached and applied with extra care and caution. The immeasurable harm done by “Friendship Evangelism” is evidence that the American Church has thrown caution to the wind and has operated carelessly when applying this extra-biblical, faux-evangelistic methodology.
Does Friendship Evangelism Cause Harm?
How do I know “Friendship Evangelism” has done great harm? I meet false converts who are byproducts of this unbiblical form of evangelism almost daily on the streets. They have been welcomed into the Christian community. They have been converted to the creature comforts of the church, but they have never been converted by and to the Lord Jesus Christ.
I once attended a baptism where several people were baptized. One teenage girl stood in the pool to share her “testimony” before being baptized by the pastor. Her testimony, albeit paraphrased, went something like this: I grew up Roman Catholic. I started to attend this church. I’m more comfortable with Christianity, so I want to be baptized.” And the pastor baptized her as a follower of Jesus Christ.
With the above in mind, I will now address my friend’s questions and concerns.
Friendship Evangelism Doesn’t Preach Christ
My friend wrote:
“I have made myself known to all, but not gone out of my way to share the gospel.”
In a sentence my friend summed up one of the great deficiencies of “Friendship Evangelism.” With the shockingly low number of professing Christians sharing the gospel with a single person in a year’s time (or in a lifetime), it’s obvious most Christians practicing “Friendship Evangelism” are part of that indefensible number. Why? By engaging in the practice of “Friendship Evangelism,” the Christian spends far more time making themselves known to their friends than making Christ known (1 Corinthians 2:2) to their friends.
Many Christians who practice “Friendship Evangelism” have been led to believe that it is evangelistic to live a perceptible Christian life in front of unbelievers, or to openly admit to unbelievers that they are Christians. There is nothing remarkable about such an admission, especially in America. The majority of the American population will indicate on surveys and censuses that they are Christians. Many Christians will answer the “What religion are you” question with “I’m a Christian” for no other reason than they are not Jewish, Muslim, or Atheist. To check the Christian box is the default position of most Americans. But many are no more Christian than the Jew, Muslim, or Atheist.
Part of the evidence that “Friendship Evangelism” is not evangelistic is that the practice makes the Christian known but it all-too-often fails to make Christ known.
My Friends Don’t Want to me Preach Christ to Them
My friend wrote:
“They [her friends] don’t want me to preach or share.”
Modern evangelicalism has wrongly placed an unregenerate sinner’s felt needs over their very real need of salvation. This is not to say that we shouldn’t address a person’s felt needs. In doing so, one can often discover that the root of a particular felt need is sin; which then presents the opportunity to share the law of God and the gospel with that person. However, where evangelicalism has woefully dropped the ball is in the practice of trying to meet felt needs and stopping there, as if to address felt needs is the same as evangelism.
Dear reader: if you feed, clothe, and house people for the glory of God (Matthew 5:16), but you do not share the gospel with them, all you have ultimately accomplished is making those same needy people warmed and filled on their way to Hell. You have merely made their bodies more comfortable. You’ve done nothing for their souls.
More to the point regarding my friend’s assertion: of course the unregenerate person doesn’t want their Christian friends to proclaim the gospel to them. Why? They hate Jesus (John 15:18). They love their sin (Job 15:16) and they hate God (Romans 1:30). Cockroaches don’t run to the center of the floor and square dance when you turn on the kitchen light. They flee to the dark regions underneath the cabinets and appliances. They hate the light, and so does the unregenerate sinner (John 3:20). Their love for the darkness of their sin is so great that any holy light brought to bear in their lives is not only uncomfortable and unpleasant, it is detestable.
Sadly, modern evangelicalism has responded to this reality by doing everything it can to engage lost sinners in their culture, and according to their felt needs, without ever bothering to flip on the light switch of the gospel. Modern evangelicalism has allowed how lost people feel about “the light” to determine whether or not it shines the light. Many Christians have become man-pleasers to the point of hiding the gospel from people (Matthew 5:15). In doing so, they cease to live as servants of God (Galatians 1:10). Frankly, it doesn’t matter what lost people want. What matters is what they need, and what they need is salvation by the grace of God alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), through faith alone (Romans 1:17), in Jesus Christ alone (Acts 4:12). What they need, whether they feel it or not, is to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15; Luke 13: 1-5; Acts 17:29-31).
Friendship Evangelism is not Evangelistic
My friend wrote:
“I keep thinking that, by example, they might want to know more or ask…instead I see them avoid my page and my comments.”
Part of the evidence that “Friendship Evangelism” is not evangelistic is the practice of “Assisi-ism.”
Francis of Assisi is far-too-often quoted as saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” There are two problems with this quote: 1) it is unbiblical; and 2) Assisi never said it. Catholic scholars have methodically and exhaustively searched the extant writings of Assisi and cannot attribute the quote to him. These days, this is common knowledge. Yet Christians continue to refer to the mythical quote, and worse they errantly apply it in their lives. The quote also has a modern-day translation. It goes something like this. “Live your life in such a way that people ask you why.”
While it is true that our good works, when performed for the glory of God alone, can cause lost people to glorify God (Matthew 5:16), it is not to say by living a Christian life in front of lost people that they are going to see Jesus in you. Why? The reason is simple enough. Unregenerate sinners are spiritually blind.
“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (I Corinthians 2:14).
It is also important to note what Matthew 5:16 doesn’t say. The verse says nothing about people coming to genuine repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing.
Not only are unbelievers spiritually blind, they are also dead in their sins. Not asleep. Not sick. Not in need of a little help. They are dead.
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3).
The Gospel is a Spoken Message
“How then will they call on him of whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17).
With 160,000 people dying every day, and the vast majority of them facing God’s judgment (Matthew 7:13-14), it amounts to depraved indifference to wait for the lost people around us to see something special in us and ask what’s different about us. We are commanded by God’s Word to go (Matthew 28:18-20) and preach (Mark 16:15) the gospel to as many people as we can, whenever we can, as often as we can (Acts 1:8). Time is far too short to wait for what will never happen — spiritually dead and blind people seeing Jesus in Christians, believers who are still clothed in sinful human flesh.
It is also rather arrogant, self-righteous, and self-absorbed for the Christian to think he or she regularly looks like Jesus. Jesus was and is God (John 8:58; John 10:30; Philippians 2:6-11; Hebrews 2:5-18). The Christian is not. Jesus was and is without sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). The Christian is not. Jesus was and is perfect (Hebrews 1:3). The Christian never will be perfect this side of Heaven. And since an unbelieving world hates Jesus, the spiritually dead and blind are going to see in you what is most appealing to them (Romans 1:28-32; 2 Timothy 3:1-5) — your sin. People are also going to look for you to sin in a failed attempt to justify their own unbelief (Luke 10:29;Luke 16:15).
Friendship Evangelism makes Friendship More Important than Evangelism
My friend wrote:
“I’m certain that my approach will mean the end of life-long friendships.”
The tragic result of “Friendship Evangelism,” as Christians most often practice it, is that friendships often become more important than the souls of friends. Christians have been wrongly convinced that they must take time (often lots of time) to cultivate relationships with people so that, someday, they may gain the lost person’s permission — to “earn the right” — to share the gospel with them. So the Christian invests time, energy, and resources sincerely trying to establish loving and caring relationships with people. Is it wrong to do that? No. But the all-too-often tragic result of the practice is that if the Christian ever feels the desire to share the gospel with his lost friend, he won’t. Why? The Christian doesn’t want to do anything to jeopardize the relationship he has worked so hard to build. So, again, the friendship becomes more important than the soul of the friend.
Upon closer inspection, this is really selfish behavior. Does the Christian believe that he is so valuable that his lost friend can’t live without him? Or is it that the Christian derives so much pleasure out of the relationship, from what his lost friend does for him, that he doesn’t want to ruin a “good thing”?
Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). If Christians truly love their lost friends they will give up everything, even their very lives and certainly their relationships, so that those same lost friends might have eternal life. Or do Christians really want their friends to be with them in this life more than they want them to be with Jesus having received eternal life?
No One Goes to Hell Because You Weren’t Their Friend
My friend wrote:
“Part of me knows that losing these friendships shouldn’t matter. I’m more concerned that is I can keep the door open, they might …might…someday come to repentance. I want the door to remain open.”
No Christian can close a door that God wants open. No Christian can open a door that God wants shut (Revelation 3:8). God is sovereign (Acts 4:24), and He doesn’t need our help. God needs nothing from people (Psalm 50:7-15). The gospel alone is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). God, by His grace, chooses to use His children to communicate the life-saving gospel to a lost and dying world. No one goes to Heaven because we’ve made friends with them, and no one goes to Hell because we’ve failed to establish relationships with them.
In closing, let me reiterate that Christians should be loving (1 Peter 4:8), merciful (Zechariah 7:9), gentle (Galatians 5:23), and kind (Proverbs 21:21) to people. We should speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Evangelism is not a game. It is not a sport. It is what God has commanded every follower of Christ to do. Evangelism is a lifestyle — not that the way we live our life is evangelism, but rather our verbal proclamation of the gospel should permeate every aspect of our life and impact every relationship we have.
My friend understands all of this. She knows what she must do. She acknowledged as much toward the end of her note. I hope I’ve answered her questions, and maybe some of yours too.
from Dr. Paul Elliott, Teaching the Word Ministries:
Taking on a man-made label is problematic, and actually un-Biblical.
He’s Not in the Text
A very well-known Reformed preacher once delivered a powerful sermon on the first chapter of Ephesians and related passages. In this message he set forth what are often referred to as the doctrines of grace.
He began by setting forth the great doctrine that God by His free grace chose a people for Himself in Christ before the foundation of the world. He expounded the fact that these chosen ones of God are predestined to adoption as sons by His sovereign choosing.
He also preached the great fact that redemption is by God’s grace alone through faith alone, accomplished in full by the shed blood of Christ alone, apart from any human works or merit, because the totally depraved sinner has no such offering that is acceptable to God as a propitiation for his sins.
He went on to preach about the great work of God the Holy Spirit in applying the redemption accomplished by Christ to the elect of God by convicting them of sin, bringing those who are dead in trespasses and sins to spiritual life, giving them the gift of saving faith, and indwelling them as the down-payment of their ultimate and glorious redemption. He also preached the marvelous fact that this entire plan of God has as its ultimate goal the gathering together of all things in both Heaven and earth under the headship of Christ.
At the end of the service, a man came up to this preacher and said that he thought it was a wonderful message. “But,” he said, “in preaching such a message from such a text, why didn’t you mention Calvinism?” The pastor replied, “Because I did not find the words “Calvin” or “Calvinism” anywhere in the text.”
“I Am of Paul” - “I Am of Apollos”
Now, the pastor who gave this reply was a “Calvinist” in the sense that he taught with fervor God’s plan of salvation as stated above. But I believe that his answer to the man’s question applies a great truth in a very pointed way. Many people are anxious to wear labels, or to apply labels to others. But in the Word of God we find that Paul took the Corinthians to task for this:
Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:12-13)
For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:4-15)
There is just as great a danger in saying, “I am of Calvin” - ”I am of Luther” - ”I am of Wesley” - ”I am of Arminius” - or in saying “I am of (fill in the blank with any name you wish)” as there is in saying “I am of Paul” or “I am of Apollos.”
The Problems of Labels
I am often asked the question, “Are you a Calvinist?” This is how I respond. The man who says, “I am a Calvinist” is saying, in effect, “I agree with Calvin’s positions all the way up and down the line.” I would submit that such an outlook is problematic indeed, for at least five reasons.
To begin with, I doubt there have ever been two human beings on earth who totally agreed in every detail of their theology. In the case of Calvin, it would take a literal lifetime of study to fully understand whether or not you agreed with the entire scope of his massive Institutes of the Christian Religion, his commentaries on many books of the Bible, and his other writings.
Secondly, to make the statement “I am a Calvinist” but to mean only “I generally agree with the teachings of Calvin” does a great disservice to those who hear you say, “I am a Calvinist.” They are left to speculate as to which parts of Calvin’s teachings you agree with fully, agree with partially, or disagree with completely.
Thirdly, to say “I am a Calvinist” effectively makes Calvin the standard. But the question that God asks us is not, “Do you agree with Calvin?” but rather, “Do you submit to My Word?” Scripture is the standard by which both we and Calvin and every other Christian, preacher or layperson, must and will be judged.
Fourthly, some men today are called Calvinists because they often invoke the name of Calvin, but in fact their theology is nothing like Calvin’s. Sometimes their theology is actually Roman Catholic at its core. They teach that man is justified before God by faith in Christ plus their own works, a heresy that Calvin opposed with such fervor that he frequently worked himself into ill health.
Finally, labels are often uncritically applied to an individual by others. Many would call me a Calvinist because I believe that the exposition of Ephesians chapter one that the prominent preacher gave above is the truth. Calvin certainly believed it as well. But that does not make me a Calvinist.
While I am on the same page with the great Reformer in vast areas of theology, I strongly disagree with him in a number of important areas. Let me offer two examples. In his Institutes, Calvin vigorously promoted the doctrine of infant baptism. I vigorously believe that Scripture proves Calvin entirely wrong on this. In hisCommentary on Romans, Calvin teaches that chapters 9-11 tell us that all the promises of God to ethnic Israel have been transferred to the Church. I disagree with Calvin’s interpretation of those chapters on exegetical grounds. I believe that Romans teaches us that God is not finished with ethnic Israel. I believe that Romans tells us of a coming day, after “the fullness of Gentiles has come in,” when a generation of those who are the physical seed of Abraham will be, in their entirety, the spiritual seed of Abraham as well - believers trusting in the shed blood of Christ for salvation, members of His one true and indivisible body for eternity.
I could say much more, but this is enough to demonstrate that the Biblical warning against man-made labels is of great practical importance.
The Label We Should Wear
This leaves a question that I am also sometimes asked: Is there a label that we should bear? There is only one, and that is the name of Christ.
For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family [of believers] in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19)
And they shall see His face; and His name shall be on their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no lamp nor light of the sun; for the Lord God gives them light: and they shall reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:4-5)
Is not that Name, which is above every name, label enough for every true saint of God?
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