Friday, August 01, 2014

Response to a Baptist preacher influenced by Zane Hodges' view of 1 John, part 1 of 2

The following is a (somewhat adjusted) version of a letter I wrote to someone who had read my study "The Just Shall Live by Faith": Faith and Salvation in All Its Aspects.  I thought that the questions and answers were important enough to post here.  The person was commenting on my statements in the following two paragraphs in the application section of the study on "The Just Shall Live by Faith" mentioned immediately above. I had written:

Furthermore, one who does not manifest the obedience of faith should neither be self-assured, nor be assured by others, that he has indeed passed from death to life.  Believers have the blessed possibility and privilege of being assured of their salvation (1 John 5:13), but only those who manifest the changes evident in 1 John are truly believers.  Christian personal workers should follow the pattern of Jesus Christ, who told new converts, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed” (John 8:30-32).  Someone who has newly professed conversion should not be given assurance because he has repeated a sinner’s prayer or made an outward profession.  While it is most proper to rejoice that someone has made such a decision, personal workers should explain that true conversion results in a lifestyle of obedience to Jesus Christ, and explaining what Scripture sets forth as the faithfulness that pertains to the just, they should allow the Holy Spirit to give assurance.  Indeed, neither one with a merely outward profession, nor a true Christian who is backslidden and spiritually decaying, should expect to have Biblical assurance of salvation.  Also, before a backslidden Christian can possess Biblical assurance, he needs to repent and have an upright heart before the Lord restored.


On the other hand, believers who do manifest the obedience of faith should not doubt their salvation. God wants His faithful people to joyfully possess an assured salvation, and a lack of assurance is a great hinderance to the further growth of Christian faith and to holy living (1 John 1:4; 2:1; 5:13c). Believer, be assured of your salvation, so that you may more deeply believe in Christ!  It is not a secondary or a little thing for you to have assurance.  It is the will of God.  God has changed you, and His Spirit testifies inwardly to you that you are a child of God.  Will you suppress and deny God’s testimony and His work in you?  What sort of ingratitude and unreasonableness is this?  God has specifically, and in love, “written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13).  Receive His promise—be assured of your salvation—and go on in your Christian walk from strength to strength.

The person made the comments I discuss below in my letter to ---.

Dear ----,

I thought it would be important for me to answer the questions that you asked, as they are important ones. They relate to the character of the gospel, and the NT shows us that such matters are not "agree to disagree" situations, but ones where resolution around the teaching of Scripture is to be sought for and obtained as soon as possible (Gal 2:5). 

Here were your comments, which I will follow with my responses:

1.) You first commented on my statement here: 

Furthermore, one who does not manifest the obedience of faith should neither be self-assured, nor be assured by others, that he has indeed passed from death to life.  Believers have the blessed possibility and privilege of being assured of their salvation (1 John 5:13), but only those who manifest the changes evident in 1 John are truly believers.  Christian personal workers should follow the pattern of Jesus Christ, who told new converts, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed” (John 8:30-32).  Someone who has newly professed conversion should not be given assurance because he has repeated a sinner’s prayer or made an outward profession.

Concerning this, you stated, "This takes the joy out of the gospel." You also commented, specifically on the sentence "Someone who has newly professed conversion should not be given assurance because he has repeated a sinner's prayer or made an outward profession," that: "This makes it subjective. A person can attain these things and not be saved. It takes all the joy out of the gospel because you never know is someone was saved. It attacks faith."

1., My response:

First, the Lord Jesus is very clear that simply making an outward profession is not the same as true conversion. That is what He says in John 8:30-32, specifically speaking to new converts. This is what He teaches in the parable of the four soils; the last three would have been people who made an outward profession, but were not saved. What you appear to be arguing for is the opposite of the teaching of Matthew 7:21-23 and many other passages. If we are going to say that assurance should be given immediately to everyone simply because he makes an outward profession, we are going to teach exactly the opposite of what the Lord Jesus and the rest of the Bible say many, many times. Furthermore, there is no passage that says that making an outward profession is the basis of assurance. As for saying that repeating the sinner's prayer is the basis of giving people assurance, since Scripture never records anywhere either Christ nor the Apostles leading anyone to repeat such a prayer after them, they certainly did not give people assurance because they prayed one. We need to take our methods of giving people assurance from the Bible alone. What the Bible teaches does not "attack faith," nor does it "tak[e] all the joy out of the gospel." If we are going to give everyone assurance because of repeating the sinner's prayer or making an outward profession, we had better first show how the many passages that say exactly the opposite really aren't teaching what they seem to be teaching.

Furthermore, when we have a Biblical methodology so that the large majority of those who make professions are baptized, added to the church, and follow the Lord, in the long term people are much more excited when someone makes a profession than if we are in a situation where the large majority of professions are false and people don't stick. "So and so professed conversion!" is much more exciting, in the long term, when the person will still be there five years later than when "so and so got saved" means, 90% of the time, that the person will never darken the door of the church building. People may say "Amen" but they don't think it's really a big deal in the long term, because they know nobody will actually be in church in all likelihood. I would suggest that equating outward professions and repetitions of the sinner's prayer with conversion is what actually takes the joy away in the long term by downgrading the powerful effects of the new birth. In my Christian life I have been both in situations where the large majority of those who are testified of as being "saved" never show up and in situations where the large majority who profess faith are actually saved and do show up, and I confess that the joy in the latter places over a testimony of conversion is much greater.

I am very excited for people to get saved. In the very paragraphs you comment on, I stated that "it is most proper to rejoice that someone has made [a salvation] decision." Now it is true that if someone says the sinner's prayer and then never comes to church or follows the Lord, I don't say Amen to that. There are no examples in the NT of people who are saved who don't get baptized and join the church (unless they, say, die first, like the thief on the cross)--it is 3000 saved, baptized, added to the church, not 3000 saved, 50 baptized, and 1 in the church. The numbers that are counted as saved in the Bible are the numbers of church members. Are we are in agreement on this?

Third, what Scripture teaches, obviously, cannot "attack faith," unless the faith is not a Biblical, true faith. Before we say that I "attack faith" by stating that an outward profession should not be assumed to be the same as true conversion, we had better demonstrate that the Bible teaches that we are to equate the two.

What is more--while history is not our authority, and so if Scripture actually denies what I believe I proved exegetically with many lines of evidence, we should reject history for Scripture--the historical record of events like the 1st Great Awakening, at which time the American South essentially became the Baptist/Bible Belt, and countless Baptist churches were planted, was filled with people preaching boldly, pointedly, and unashamedly exactly what I said above. On the other hand, assuming that profession = possession and giving assurance to everyone who says he has sincerely made a decision, regardless of the evidence of his life, historically fills Baptist churches with unconverted people, destroys revival, and leads to theological modernism. As someone who has dedicated your life to preaching the gospel, I would highly commend to you the historic Baptist and Biblical position on assurance--which is exactly what I wrote above--and highly recommend that you believe it, love it, cleave to it, and boldly preach it everywhere. If you preach, instead, the position that we are to give assurance to everybody who says he has made a salvation decision, and that the historic Baptist view on assurance is something that "attacks faith" and takes all the "joy out of the gospel," that is certainly a radically different message. By all means preach this new message if it is what the Bible says, and reject the historic Baptist view--but you had better be able to make your case for this new doctrine, and this repudiation of the historic Baptist faith, exegetically. If that cannot be done, may I suggest that you love and boldly embrace the position of our Baptist forefathers, and the message preached in historic revivals, and reject the new view of assurance you are advocating? Only one of these two messages can be faithfulness to the truth once delivered unto the saints.


Fourth, I would like to see the passages of Scripture that say that an unsaved person can live a genuinely holy life, that "a person can attain these things [the marks in 1 John] and not be saved," as you affirm.  It seems like many passages of Scripture say exactly the opposite; e. g. 1 John 3:7-15:

Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.
He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
10 In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.
11 For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.
12 Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous.
13 Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.
14 We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.
15 Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.

Scripture is actually very clear that unsaved people cannot do anything spiritually good (Romans 8:6-8) and are under the dominion of sin (Romans 6), so they cannot live genuinely holy lives. If we think unsaved people can live genuinely holy lives, or that a holy life is not one element of Biblical assurance, we are affirming exactly the opposite of what the passage above states, and we should change our view to agree with the Apostle John that the children of God are manifest and the children of the devil are manifest by doing/not doing righteousness.

-TDR

7 comments:

Daniel said...

Thank you Pastor Brandenburg for this article! I wish more would read this and be challenged on their view of "assurance."

I have been to 168 different independent Baptist churches in the past 15 months. (And these are churches who's doctrinal statements would be right on the church, Supper, & baptism.) Sadly, I have seen a lot of this in the "ranks." These churches use a shallow Gospel presentation, followed with immediate assurance given after a "sinner's prayer." As you refute in this article this practice is found no where in the Bible!

On the other hand, it is so encouraging to see the few that are holding to Biblical evangelism. I appreciate all of the work that you do on this blog. I was able to meet you several months back in the St. Louis area at a conference you preached at. Since then I have followed you on this blog faithfully and have been encouraged through the reading of "A Pure Church."

Keep up the great work Brother!

Kent Brandenburg said...

Thanks Daniel.

Brother Thomas Ross and I both think the same about this, but he writes or posts on Fridays, and this is his. Thank you though for your comments.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Daniel,

The book Today’s Apostasy: How Decisionism is Destroying our Churches, by R. L. Hymers & Christopher Cagan, which I have linked to here:

http://faithsaves.net/soteriology/

is a great resource explaining how we got to this point of shallow evangelism and spurious conversion and what to do to fix it. It was written by an independent Baptist pastor in Los Angeles.

Titus Quinctius Cincinnatus said...

Excellent post, Kent and Thomas. I fully agree (though that is not what makes it an excellent post, LOL) and am concerned about the direction that easy believism is taking professed Christianity in America and around the world. This post goes along somewhat with the final post in a seven-part series on scriptural repentance that I put up on my blog a little while ago:

http://meditateinthyprecepts.wordpress.com/2014/07/12/should-we-expect-converts-to-christ-to-demonstrate-a-changed-life/

Thanks for the post.
Tim

KJB1611 said...

Dear Titus,

Thanks.

It is an important truth that genuine converts are expected to be baptized and to remain in the fellowship of the Lord's church, while those who don't remain in the church are considered unbelievers, 1 John 2:19.

KJB1611 said...

I have now posted this letter here:

http://faithsaves.net/baptist-preacher-zane-hodges-free-grace-1-john/

KJB1611 said...

The link has changed to:

http://faithsaves.net/free-grace-1-john/