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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 Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Law and Gospel Compared to Practical Antinomianism in Modern Evangelicalism

Generally, the problem today among Evangelical churches and denominations is a growing division between theological and biblical doctrine and actual practice. There is also a departure from a solid theological grounding in Holy Scripture. This dichotomy between modern "tradition" and Biblical theology as it was developed and understood from a Reformational perspective is such that heterodoxy and even heresy seems to have become rampant and acceptable in many Evangelical churches.

The only law that seems of concern to most Evangelicals today is the law of tithing, since that law directly benefits the pocketbooks of those who are in the employ of the church. There seems to be a fine line between "hirelings" who fleece God's sheep and lead them astray with doctrines to tickle their ears and shepherds who are ministers worthy of financial support of their ministries. One will not hear most Evangelicals today preach against divorce and remarriage because that law runs counter to modern tradition which is practically the same as that of the surrounding culture. If one is unhappy in a marriage, take the easy way out and get a divorce. God will forgive one's sins, no matter how many times one divorces and remarries. Jesus, however, seems to have had a more absolutist view on the subject since He called such practices "adultery."

Most ministers today will balk at the idea of preaching law, justice, morality, and judgment by God. After all, God must be presented only as a God of love and mercy, not a God who is holy and just and requires a just penalty for violations of His absolute moral law. Human propensity to soften the absolute attributes of God's very nature is such that new theologies want to make God more in man's image than having humans created in God's image and likeness. One obvious example of this is the Evangelical capitulation to process theology with a deceptively "conservative" spin. A popular advocate of this view, Dr. Gregory Boyd, a former oneness pentecostal become trinitarian arminian and Baptist, seems to have a problem with God's absolute sovereignty. For all practical purposes, human rebellion against God continues unabated within Evangelicalism.

The real irony, however, is that churches and ministers today think they are avoiding preaching "fire and brimstone," the wrath of God, and the law. However, most fail to distinguish between the moral law and the ceremonial law and the civil law recorded in Scripture. Even more telling, they do not recognize the three uses of the moral law that have been defined by the Reformers in various confessions and creeds. The first use of the moral law of God is to convict us of our total failure to attain the righteousness commanded by God. In realizing our total depravity and our sinfulness of nature and action, we are driven to cry out to Christ for mercy. The second use of the moral law is to define for Christians their moral duty before God, though they fall short of keeping it perfectly. And, finally, the third use of the moral law is to maintain peace and harmony in society by setting general guidelines for the civil laws passed by any society.

Most churches major on the second use of the law by focusing on volunteer work or tithing. By doing this they place a false sense of guilt upon the Christian as if not doing these things somehow makes them guilty of not being Christian at all. Thus, most sermons these days contain more law than Gospel. More duty than grace. So it seems to me that grace is overlooked in favor of good works as some sort of means of earning or meriting one's place in the church. It's almost a shell game. Salvation is free but church membership is going to cost you. And everyone knows that church membership is essential to getting to heaven since the church is God's appointed means of preaching and teaching the Gospel, administering baptism and the Lord's Supper, and a requirement for entry into the kingdom. In effect, they are making good works the ground for justification by going through the back door.

Even Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, emphasized that good preaching should utilize both law and Gospel in every sermon. Furthermore, the Bible itself has law and gospel interchangeably used on almost every page. The trouble is that most ministers fail to understand the Bible because they fail to systematically read it. And even worse, they fail to understand the most basic creeds and confessions of the Reformed Christian faith, confessions and creeds which could simplify their task greatly if only they knew them.

Moreover, a further irony is that these same churches utilizing "law" to get people to donate money and to volunteer to work in the church, also have low views of marriage and divorce. They might briefly mention sins like fornication and adultery but in actual practice they turn a blind eye to these sins as long as the parishioner is tithing and giving lots to the church coffers. Until and unless the sin becomes publicly known, it will not be confronted. This is obvious from the huge number of fallen ministers and church members who have gone years without being disciplined, despite the fact that many people already knew about their indiscretions long before they came to public light. So the same churches emphasizing the parts of the moral law that benefit them personally, are mostly antinomian in actual practice.

A further problem is that Arminianism is the dominate theology today and that particular theology tends to low ball God's absolute moral law so that man can appear to other men as keeping themselves "sinless." However, this definition of sin is based on a faulty theological definition perpetrated upon Christianity by John Wesley, who said that sin is any willful violation of a "known" moral law of God. Thus, Wesley discounted for all practical purpose sins committed in ignorance, sins of not doing what we are required to do or sins of omission, and falling short of the mark of God's absolute holiness. Thus, Arminianism and the Wesleyan holiness theology has contributed to a practical antinomianism where man rewrites God's law to his liking and then meets his own view of the law as if God were not aware of man's lowballing of the requirements. But God does not grade on a curve. Either we score 100% or we fail.

So what am I suggesting? Firstly, we should be rightly preaching the law and the Gospel. To preach nothing but law is in effect to place a millstone around the necks of the Christians who hear it. To preach nothing but grace and the Gospel is to preach an antinominan view, since we as Christians are still commanded to obey God's word. And finally, no one can preach the law and gospel properly without understanding what the law and the gospel are and how they relate to each other. It is essential that ministers are able to differentiate between the moral, ceremonial and civil laws of the Bible. Ideally, they should know what the three uses of the moral law are and how they are applicable to the Christian today. And lastly, the minister should be well versed in the confessional statement of his own tradition or church. For Anglicans, this confession of faith is the 39 Articles of Religion.

The peace of God be with you!

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

You are exactly right. Modern antinomianism is widespread. God's moral law has never been "done away with". We are to "practice and teach" God's moral laws, basicly the Ten Commandments and the Hebrew Shema (Duet.6:4-5). If anyone has any question about this, I suggest they go to the God man Jesus Christ himself. Read Matthew, chapters five, six, and seven in the NIV version. It is very clear. To deny this is to deny Christ himself.

Charlie J. Ray said...

Thanks for your comments. However, I am just as concerned about the neglect of the doctrines of grace as I am concerned about the proper preaching of and use of the moral law. The Reformed understanding of the law is that it drives us to Christ. This is the primary purpose of the law according to Paul.

Galatians 3:23-25 (ESV)


23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, qimprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, rthe law was our sguardian until Christ came, tin order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, [1]
q [1 Pet. 1:5]

r [Matt. 5:17; Rom. 10:4; Col. 2:17; Heb. 9:9, 10]

s 1 Cor. 4:15 (Gk.)

t ver. 11; See ch. 2:16

[1] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

The secondary use of the moral law is to reveal to us our Christian duty, keeping in mind that sanctification does not justify us before God. This is an essential and important distinction.

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