Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Second Sunday in Lent.

The Collect

ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect from the First Day of Lent is to be read every day in Lent after the Collect appointed for the Day.

Daily Bible Verse

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Social Justice and Personal Piety: Lordship Salvation?

Social Justice, Liberalism, and Conservative Pietism:  What Do These Have in Common?

By Charlie J. Ray, M. Div.

Last Sunday I visited a church affiliated with the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., a decidedly liberal congregation in what was once  a solidly reformed mainline denomination.  I was surprised to see how similar the worship service was to many mainstream Evangelical and Reformed denominations like the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian Church in America and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.  A popular idea among Evangelical conservatives and “orthodox” Episcopalians and Anglicans is that liberal denominations are declining in membership while conservative Protestant and Evangelical denominations and congregations are growing or holding their own.  It might be that both sides of the issue are finding the conclusions they wish to find since it is difficult to measure the true size and quality of a congregation and its active membership.  Part of the problem is that denominations do not uniformly keep records in the same way when it comes to active and inactive membership rolls and individual and family attendance on a weekly basis. 

Be that as it may, it seems to me that in trying to become more culturally relevant many Evangelical churches have accommodated to the broader culture in ways similar to that of the more liberal denominations.  And surprisingly, the more liberal congregations have emphasized piety and personal religious experience in ways that parallel the “born again” experience of Evangelical and Pentecostal congregations.  This might be due to Evangelicals who have been unknowingly influenced by the neo-orthodox theology of Karl Barth and Emil Brunner.  After all, it is not doctrine that truly matters but one’s genuine piety and religious experience.

The irrationalism and theology of paradox of neo-orthodoxy was an attempt to rebut the modernism of the Enlightenment.  Many Pentecostals and Evangelicals in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s were singing the praises of postmodernism and the emphasis on existential experience since they thought this rebuttal of Kant’s emphasis on pure reason was a valid way to evangelize a confused and disconnected culture where materialistic philosophy increasingly rejected a transcendental metaphysics where divine intervention and divine revelation were considered impossible.  As early as the seventeenth century the effects of the Enlightenment could be seen in the deism of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and others who had been influenced by the French Revolution.  Although the rebellion was meant to reject the divine right of kings and the top-down theology of the Roman Catholic Church, the end result was the establishment of a pragmatic atheistic materialism that was exemplified by the likes of the French philosopher, Voltaire.

Due to the influence of Soren Kierkegaard modern theologians like Karl Barth and Emil Brunner saw themselves as countering the rationalist tendencies of deism and the subjectivism of Fredrich Schliermacher’s pietistic liberalism.  Their answer to Immanuel Kant’s critique of revelation and transcendent metaphysical knowledge represented by dogmatic theology in the Bible was to emphasize an existential encounter between the believer and God’s revelation in the heart or the emotions.  Doctrine was no longer important because doctrine was ultimately rationalistic and over-emphasized reason in their opinion.  However, Barth’s rejection of natural revelation in culture and the natural world was more consistent with this view than Brunner’s view, which led to their parting of ways.  The two men, however, had more in common than not and both held that contradiction and paradox were a necessary part of Christian faith.  Without contradiction the only result would be skepticism, agnosticism and atheism.  In the opinion of the irrationalist theologians, reason was an enemy of faith.

Ironically, liberal churches and conservative churches these days share in common a de-emphasis on doctrine.  This can be clearly seen in the refusal of Evangelical and conservative Reformed denominations and congregations to require the learning of the theology of the Shorter Catechism or the Heidelberg Catechism as a prerequisite to acceptance into church membership.  One pastor at an Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Bartow, Florida suggested that it would be unreasonable to require adults to memorize the Shorter Catechism as a requirement for membership.  I agree.  However, learning the theology of the Shorter Catechism is another matter altogether.  As a Reformation and Protestant Anglican I would say that the Anglican Formularies should be learned.  Basically, an Anglo-Reformed congregation should require a class teaching the Calvinist view of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion and the Catechism from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.  Personally, I would also require a study of the Shorter Catehism from the Westminster Standards.  It might take as long as two or three months to catechize new members or even as long as six months.  However, inviting anyone and everyone to become a church member without proper instruction in the essential doctrines of the Christian faith and the Protestant religion is asking for trouble.

First Presbyterian Church of Arcadia, Florida struck me as emphasizing personal piety and God’s love.   The church is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., a decidedly liberal denomination which now ordains practicing homosexuals and women.  Interestingly, the more liberal churches follow a more traditional liturgy and utilize a Reformed hymnbook while the Presbyterian Church in America congregation in Wauchula, Florida, namely Faith Presbyterian Church, utilizes a more Arminian hymnbook with certain Pentecostal hymns and praise songs included.  Faith Presbyterian does not include the Gloria Patri or a regular reading of the Apostles’ Creed, which the mainline liberal Reformed churches generally include.

Moreover, I noticed plenty of emphasis on the moral law in both churches.  The liberal church emphasized social justice while the PCA pastor emphasized cultural transformation and personal transformation.  But as far as I could see neither church emphasized the Gospel as God’s mercy, grace and promises.  In short, Evangelical churches have accommodated to the culture, although in different ways.  Self-righteousness and Pharisaism were evident in both the liberal and the conservative churches.  One could legitimately ask, “Where is the Gospel?”  What often happens in liberal churches which make a pretense of loving the poor is that there is a patronizing attitude to “those poor  people helplessly caught up in poverty.”  This is no less self-righteous than the attitude of some conservative Reformed churches where sanctification and union with Christ is emphasized above all else, including the Gospel.  “God helps those who take responsibility for themselves” seems to be the attitude of conservative and Evangelical Reformed congregations.  It is a self-righteous and judgmental attitude.  The truth is the poor are poor because of both individual sins and because of social and cultural discrimination and self-righteousness.  For example, a man may go to prison for a crime he has committed.  But after he is released from prison he is forever after a marked man.  He is a convict and his criminal record will never be forgotten by man.  In order to find employment he must overcome not only his own personal problems and family problems but now the deck is even more stacked against him than it was before.  No one will hire him.  And then society says, “See, is this man not incorrigible?”  This is true of both liberals and conservatives in the Christian churches.  It is nothing short of self-righteousness.  Do they not know that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God?  Do they not know the dogmatic doctrinal teaching of Jesus and Paul?  There is none righteous, no, not even one.  (Romans 3:10-23; Galatians 3:22; 1 John 1:8-9; Psalm 130:3; Psalm 143:2).  If a man is converted to Christ in prison and all the churches, including the liberal ones say, “Be ye warmed and filled,” (James 2:16-18) and those churches do nothing to assist the man with finding housing, employment and a place in their local congregations then what have they done except to throw this man away?  “I have made my own way.  Now you make your own way.”  That’s the attitude of so-called Christians and it is true whether it be conservative or liberal Christians.
Faith that does not help the poor is dead faith.  That’s what James says:

My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. 2 For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, 3 and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, "You sit here in a good place," and say to the poor man, "You stand there," or, "Sit here at my footstool," 4  have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? 7 Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called? 8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you do well; 9 but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. (James 2:1-10 NKJ)

When I hear the Pharisees insisting that faith without works is dead I know they are referring to their own personal piety.  They love to stand in the pulpits and on the street corners and proclaim their own level of personal piety.  They sound the trumpets about how they do not commit murder or adultery or fornication.  They do not get drunk or smoke marijuana.  They say they have a true and lively faith.  (Article 12).  But that is not what James says or what Paul says.  Paul says that faith works through love.  (Galatians 5:6).  James plainly says that even if you keep the whole moral law and break the moral law that says, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are guilty of breaking the whole thing.  Jesus raises that standard even higher in the sermon on the mount.  He says, “Love your enemies.”  (Matthew 5:43).  Jesus says by way of adduction or illustration that visiting prisoners and feeding the hungry and clothing the poor are signs of a living and lively and justifying faith.  (Matthew 25:31-46).  Those who do not show mercy to the poor and the disenfranchised will not be shown mercy.  (Matthew 5:7; James 2:13).

The liberal churches are no better.  They, like the Evangelical pietists, love to boast about all the wonderful things they have done to help the poor, the homosexual, and the disenfranchised.  They too boast about how they have kept the moral law and and how many marvelous works they have done.  (Matthew 7:21-23).  Good works never make anyone acceptable to God nor do they keep anyone in God’s favor after salvation.  The only basis for God’s favor is unconditional election and the gift of faith.  Someone pointed out recently that even justifying faith is passive in that God acts previously through regeneration and grants the gift of faith to the person who was previously dead in sins and trespasses.  (Ephesians 2:1-10).  No one keeps the law, no, not even one.  (Romans 3:10).

If the Gospel is of God’s promises to save the unsavable and the undeserving, then it is a Gospel that is all of God’s free grace, mercy, and favor.  (Luke 1:46-53).  It is not good works that make us savable.  It is God himself who saves us in spite of our inherent pride, evil nature, and propensity to sin and hate our neighbor and our enemies.  (James 4:1-6).  The next time I hear the term "Lordship salvation" I will cringe inwardly once again, recognizing that this is nothing short of idolatry of self.  Christian hedonism seeks personal pleasure rather than God and is therefore a spiritualized form of selfishness.  The purpose of faith is to glorify God through suffering, not to find a comfortable and easy life and finding pleasure in our religion.  Such pleasure lends itself easily to self-deception, selfishness, and a me-centered theology of the self rather than a theology of the cross and seeking to glorify God.  Like the rich young ruler we are all guilty of covetousness and idolatry.  (Luke 18:18-30).  We refuse to sell all and follow Christ.  We refuse to forsake our wife and children and family for the sake of the Gospel.  We love the comfort of our sequestered and easy lives and we refuse to take up our cross and follow Him.  (Mark 8:34). It might be that God is calling all of us to live by faith, knowing that we will never be good enough to please him apart from that faith.  (Ephesians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:1; Hebrews 11:6; Romans 1:16).  It might be that when we trust only in the objective work of Christ in His sinless life and His atoning death on the cross for elect believers that we are credited and counted as righteous even though we are but miserable sinners.  (Galatians 5:11; Romans 4:1-8).  The offense of the cross is that it smears man’s own righteousness in his own face.  Only the salvation that is outside of us can save.  It is finished.  (John 19:30).

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer has this confession of sin and Gospel absolution in the Morning and Evening Prayer services:
Confession of Sin

ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou them, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou them that are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesu our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.

Gospel Absolution

ALMIGHTY God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who desireth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he may turn from his wickedness, and live; and hath given power, and commandment, to his Ministers, to declare and pronounce to his people, being penitent, the Absolution and Remission of their sins : He pardoneth and absolveth all them that truly repent, and unfeignedly believe his holy Gospel. Wherefore let us beseech him to grant us true repentance, and his Holy Spirit, that those things may please him, which we do at this present; and that the rest of our life hereafter may be pure, and holy; so that at the last we may come to his eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

May the peace of God be with all who trust in Christ and Christ alone to justify them,

Charlie J. Ray, M. Div.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son : and to the Holy Ghost; As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be : world without end. Amen. Visit 1662 Book of Common Prayer: Daily Prayer and Reasonable Christian Blog

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