In a recent critique, Christianity Today criticized the Episcopal Church for advocating a replacement of the traditional liturgy for the stations of the cross with goals for eliminating world poverty in the third millennium. While this was a worthy attempt at a critique, Christianity Today woefully blew it by distorting the Gospel themselves.
The author of the article, Susan Wunderink, quotes from Edith Humphrey, a professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (Presbyterian Church USA, which is itself liberal) to show Humphrey's disagreement. However, in posting Humphrey's remarks Wunderink tacitly endorses Humphrey's own distortion of the Gospel in Matthew 25's parable of the sheep and the goats:
"Like the song, "God Has No Hands But Our Hands," it forgets the sovereignty of God," she said. "God does use us, but he's the initiator. It's so sad to see the gospel diluted to simply being kind to others. I don't think that a gospel like that really communicates the grandeur of God and what he's done for us in Christ."
So far so good. However on page two of the article, Humphrey goes on to say:
The Episcopalian materials urge meditation on Matthew 25, Jesus' parable of the sheep and the goats, as "the mandate of Episcopal Relief and Development." Humphrey emphasized that there is much justification for the principles of the Millennium Development Goals in Scripture, but said that's not the point of Jesus' parable. Jesus, she said, was talking about how he will honor non-Christians' mercy and service to his representatives.
"It simply shows to me a lack of care in using the Scriptures in context," Humphrey said.
And here is the problem with Professor Humphrey's criticism of the liturgy. She herself winds up distorting the Gospel by allowing that "non-Christians" are somehow going to be saved simply by the good works that they did in mercy to Christ's "representatives." This is just another example of how Christianity Today has implied that justification is by faith plus works or has attacked the doctrine of justification by faith alone (sola fide), a cornerstone of the Protestant Reformation and the very Gospel itself. It seems obvious to me that Miss Humphrey is supportive of the Anglo-Catholic tradition which denies the doctrine of justification by faith alone which is taught in Scripture and in the English Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. Either that or her liberal theology has biased her against the exclusiveness of the way of salvation through the cross of Jesus Christ. It is indeed a sad day when an allegedly "evangelical" magazine pushes works righteousness as a means of justification before God for salvation.
The truth is that Matthew 25's parable of the sheep and the goats is directed to Christians in the visible church. By their fruits you will know who is a genuine Christian and who is not a genuine Christian (see Matthew 7:15-23). Likewise, in the final judgment many false Christians in the church will be exposed as goats and not sheep. Those who turn out to be false Christians will be lost. But this parable in no way implies that we are justified before God on the basis of our own merits, good works or any such thing. When interpreted in the total context of the Bible, including the pauline passages, sanctification is a necessary result of being justified by faith alone. However, sanctification is merely an outworking of a genuine conversion, the fruit of justification by faith alone. It is not and cannot be the means of justification before God for Christians or even non-Christians for that matter.
The fact that Jesus is talking about Christians is obvious from Matthew 25:34 where he refers to election from before the foundation of the world and verse 37 where he refers to them as "righteous." Since we know from Paul's apostolic teaching that the "righteous" are righteous by faith alone, then Matthew 25:37 cannot possibly refer to "non-Christians" as Miss Humphrey contends!
Miss Humphrey has betrayed her misunderstanding of the Gospel and so has Miss Wunderink by printing the comments without further criticism or remark. Miss Wunderink in effect has implied that Humphrey's remarks are correct, which they are not.
The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion clearly disagrees with Humphrey's interpretation of the Gospel:
WE are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort; as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.
ALBEIT that good works, which are the fruits of faith and follow after justification, cannot put away our sins and endure the severity of God's judgement, yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith, insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.
WORKS done before the grace of Christ and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ, neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the School authors say) deserve grace of congruity: yea, rather for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.This is just another frustrating example of the ignorance of so-called "Evangelicals" who have no clue as to what the Gospel actually is. I am beginning to wonder if Christianity Today has any right to make any claims about the Gospel at all since the magazine is continually getting it wrong. I am by no means a "fundamentalist." I am merely a Protestant who holds firmly to the doctrines of the Bible and stands in the tradition of the Protestant Reformers.
May God have mercy!
(See: Stations of the Cross — Without the Cross and Stations of the Millennium Development Goals
Of obtaining eternal salvation only by the name of ChristThey also are to be had accursed that presume to say that every man shall be saved by the law or sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that law and the light of nature. For Holy Scripture doth set out to us only the name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.
for the context of my comments and quotes for this article).
03/08/2012. Addendum 2: Since this story was written Edith Humphrey has converted to the Eastern Orthodox Church. See: Edith Humphrey: About Me. Apparently Pittsburg Theological Seminary does not have a problem with having professors on board who are not Protestant or Reformed or even Presbyterian. See: Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. You will also notice that she was ordained with the Salvation Army for five years. Does anyone doubt that Arminianism leads to Rome or Constantinople? Think again.
Addendum: Matthew 7:21-23 makes it clear that the unrighteous think their works will justify them. Only those who trust in the merits of Christ are truly justified and that justification is by means of the gift of faith alone. The ground of justification is the objective work of Christ on the cross. (John 19:30).