Tuesday, July 19, 2005

A Soft Gospel of Love?

Parableman has an interesting discussion happening, related to a post by Abednego called Is God Primarily Love? (Part II) The good news

Abednego's post comments on an article by D. A. Carson titled On Distorting the Love of God, which speaks of the distortions that can happen when one aspect of God's character is emphasized out-of-balance with his other attributes. For example, there is much preaching today that emphasizes God's love, without at the same time emphasizing his holiness of character, which leads to a distortion of the meaning of God as love.

I have become actively engaged in the discussion, bringing up the point that I believe that Billy Graham's message provides an example of preaching that has been affected by the type of distortion described in Carson's article.

By the way, I do believe that God is primarily love, but His is a love that is not sentimental or fickle or limited or tainted by evil such as human love is, but is pure and holy, and is the most powerful force in the universe.

Here is the text of one of the comments I posted there:

I don’t think that the teaching of purgatory as a doctrine is irrelevant to the issue of hell if it leads some to believe that they can count on something other placing their faith in Jesus--in this life-- to be saved, and it leads them not to do so, to their eternal doom. The gospel teaches that Jesus Christ died for our sins, once for all (Romans 6:10, Hebrews 7:27, 9:12, 9:26, 10:10, 1 Peter 3:18) and that as a result of Jesus’ sacrifice, our “sins and lawless deeds I (God) will remember no more." We die once, and then we face God’s judgment (Hebrews 9:27). Purgatory seems to say that the cleansing of our sins provided by Jesus is not enough, that we need further cleansing from sins after we die. I can’t find such a teaching in the Bible.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul warned that if they began to follow those that teach that we must be circumcised in order to be good Christians, that they would fall away from grace by bringing themselves under law again, and would be following a different, false gospel:

“ I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! Galatians 2:21".

A different gospel, Paul seems to be saying, is one that detracts from the sufficiency of Christ’s work on the Cross. The circumstances which prompted Paul to write the letter, was the issue of circumcision. Purgatory similarly detracts from the sufficiency of the work of the Cross by saying that, somehow, we must be cleansed from sins after death--Jesus' cleansing was insufficient. This seems to be another gospel.

Paul does speak of our works being judged (1 Cor 3: 10-15), but as for our justification before God and our salvation from sin, Paul unequivocally states that it is by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph 2: 8-9)”.

“What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’. Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.’(Romans 4: 1-8)".

Jesus said to the thief, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43). John Piper comments on this passage: “Here is a dying man declaring a life-long thief accepted and loved and heaven-bound. Here is a grace that sweeps a lifetime of guilt away in an instant. Here is a power that says death can hold neither you nor me. Here is an authority that decides who goes to heaven and who doesn't. Here is an immediacy that says it will happen this very day. No purgatory, no testing, no penance. Just absolute forgiveness and acquittal and cleansing and acceptance.”

Even if purgatory is simply a place where people become fully purified so that they can go to heaven, I believe that the whole concept is misleading (because it could give the impression that one has a second chance at getting to heaven though they reject Christ) and unbiblical (because it is not found in Scripture but is only part of Catholic tradition).

If the co-redemptrix issue is merely an acknowledgment that Mary played a role in some necessary aspects of Jesus’ mission, surely all Christians would agree to this. But Catholic teaching seems to imply much more than this about Mary. Why was there a worldwide movement to lobby the Pope to officially pronounce Mary as co-redemptrix? Why is it claimed that Mary was immaculately conceived and that she remained a perpetual virgin? Why is she prayed to, and why is it said that she can intercede for us? It is clear that Catholic teaching elevates Mary to a place where she is no longer a mere human being that served God humbly, but is some kind of exalted Lady. Where are any of these teachings found in the Bible?

Paul exhorted Timothy to “watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”(1 Timothy 4:16) He told Titus that an elder of the church “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”(Titus 1:9)

These verses say that not only must we persevere in proclaiming the truth through right doctrine and a right life, we must also be able to refute that which is not truth, doctrine which is not sound. As a world-renowned and respected evangelist- one to whom many have looked to for answers to the most critically important questions of life, Mr. Graham should be able to give sound doctrinal answers. You say that “he proclaims the truth and that he says that those that disagree are wrong”. Does he? In the aforementioned interview with Larry King he did not say that either Jews or Muslims were wrong, only that he does not judge them. His ministry also neglects to highlight vital doctrinal distinctions between Catholic and Protestant teaching, apparently because he does not see them as important and/or sees the differences as minimal. It has been official BGEA policy for years that “anyone who makes a decision at our meetings is seen later and referred to a local clergyman, Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish."

He seems to do so on the basis of the “God is Primarily Love” approach, playing down the importance of doctrinal distinctions in the name of loving our Catholic brothers and sisters. Perhaps he also believes that Jewish people may become Christians without Christ, or that if you send a new Christian to a synagogue, somehow he won’t lose his faith and everything will turn out ok, just so long as everyone loves one another?

Abednego: most perversions of the gospel have just enough truth in them to make them sound right, which is why I believe it is biblical to fight against distortions, whether they come through addition or by leaving certain critical things out.

My apologies to all for the very long post-- I thought however that the issues I brought out in response to Parableman were also still related (at least in my thinking) to Abednego's original post. I am happy to discontinue the discussion here and renew it elsewhere, if you feel that is more appropriate.



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