Does a wrong doctrine of repentance constitute a false gospel?
The Sword of the Lord sends me its paper free and unsolicited and I like seeing what it's saying. When I saw that the editor, Shelton Smith, was writing a series on repentance, I was very interested. Part one did not tell me anything. He said it was a controversial issue, so I waited for part two, and in it he said plenty. I'm going to talk about that in this post and perhaps a few others. I don't think it is too hard to understand what the Bible says about repentance. You wouldn't know that from reading Shelton Smith. He seems purposefully to be making it more difficult.
I'm not associated with the Sword of the Lord or its churches. However, I'm far closer to it than I'm even comfortable with. I'm going to be very clear here what I'm talking about. I recognize that it's directory of colleges and churches are advertisements, but these are organizations that want to make an association with the Sword and its type of churches. From here in California, you've got Jack Trieber and Golden State Baptist College and Paul Chappell and West Coast Baptist College. You have Pensacola Christian College and then Ambassador Baptist College with Ron Comfort. I also see Master's Baptist College from Fargo Baptist Church in Fargo, ND. At the Sword National Conference you have R. B. Ouellette, who preaches every year at Fairhaven. David Sorenson advertises his Bible commentary in the Sword. Bill Rice III of Bill Rice Ranch is a regular columnist in Smith's paper. These are what I'm talking about. And it's also good to know that these Sword guys are sort of the saner, more theological thoughtful versions of the Jack Schaap type of church. There may be as many of the latter are there are of the former.
As anyone reading here knows, I don't believe in the major/minor or ranking doctrine practice as it relates to separation and unity. However, I have been clear that certain doctrines are more serious in their consequences. People who believe a false gospel go to Hell. That is more serious than believing that divorce is permissible in certain situations. The Bible also emphasizes the seriousness of a false gospel in Galatians 1:6-9, when it says there:
I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.
What is to be our response to those who preach a false gospel? "Let him be accursed." That is very serious. So if Shelton Smith is presenting, preaching, and then encouraging others to preach a false gospel, we need to say to him, "Let him be accursed." And then those who fellowship with him are not taking the gospel seriously. They can't be serious about people's eternal destiny. They are disobedient to Galatians 1:6-9. I don't want anything to do with anyone who fellowships with someone who preaches a false gospel. So here we go. Does Shelton Smith teach or preach a false gospel? You may think you already know where I'm heading with this. Fine. But go ahead and find out.
As I talk about this, understand that I'm not going to present a full orb presentation of repentance. I'm giving analysis to what Shelton Smith wrote. At this time in my life, I've preached through all of the New Testament, except for part of Luke, in really slow detail. I've got a handle on what the New Testament says, what Jesus says, and what the apostles say about repentance. I also preached a few years ago a long series on salvation or gospel passages in the Bible, which took me about a year of Sunday mornings.
Smith's article, "The Bible Definition of Repentance, Part II," begins on p. 3 in the June 10, 2011 edition of the Sword of the Lord. He starts with material on the Lordship of Christ:
When we come to [Jesus] to be saved, there is a certain acknowledgement of His lordship. After all, we would not look to Him for salvation if He were not Lord.
If you have the least amount of theological awareness, you can see that Smith is distancing himself from what Lordship means. He continues.
But as Lord, He does not force Himself on us. He doesn't force us to be saved, and after we are saved, He doesn't force us to serve Him.
What?!?! That's a total straw man. I haven't read anyone that even says that. But it does tell us where he is heading.
A convert (genuinely saved) may continue, however, to exhibit carnal traits. Even a casual read of 1 Corinthians makes a very clear case on this.
Salvation is instantaneous, but sanctification is progressive,(that means it takes awhile). Therefore, a person who is truly converted is fully and everlastingly saved. The evidence of that conversion may come quickly, or it may come more slowly. Although the convert is a "new creature" (II Cor. 5:17), that does not mean that the old nature is eradicated. Carnality can still be present (1 Cor. 3:3).
The "new creature" is not a fully mature adult the moment he or she is born again, but rather a 'newborn babe' (1 Pet 2:2).
This teaching would fit well with what Smith wrote in his Editor's Notes on the same page, where he reports:
Dr. Bob Dudley (evangelist with Agora Evangelism) and Pastor Jerry Ross (Jasonville, Indiana) were right there along with several dozen soul winners. We are overjoyed to report they led 489 people from 19 nations to Christ on Saturday and Monday. We did not have as many soul winners there this year, so we did not have as many trusting Christ as last year.
The Smith view of salvation and sanctification must correspond to or dovetail with his testimony about these numbers of people being "led to Christ." They fit. Many of these surely will be of these who evidence conversion slowly---glacier slow.
My reading of Smith is that he knows what he is doing in his presentation. For sure the Corinthians exhibited "carnal traits," but that does not mean that they were categorically carnal. Paul writes in Romans 8:6-8:
For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.
The Corinthians were acting like unsaved people, carnal people, natural people, but they were not themselves carnal. "They that are in the flesh," carnal people, cannot please God. Being a "new creature" does mean that there is immediate evidence of conversion. Everything changes. Smith says it doesn't always. Not with everyone. He says that sanctification is progressive. That's true, but it's not all there is to sanctification. Sanctification is progressive, but it is also positional, and it is also immediate. Change does begin immediately. If it doesn't, that person wasn't and isn't saved. What Smith is doing is assigning an explanation for all the false professions that come from his and others' fraudulent evangelistic methodology.
Then Smith writes:
The "new creature" is not a fully mature adult the moment he or she is born again, but rather a 'newborn babe' (1 Pet. 2:2).
Smith rips "newborn babe" from its context. The passage is saying just the opposite, the absolute opposite, of what Smith reports. Peter is commanding the saints to whom he writes to desire the sincere milk of the word as newborn babes. He is not saying they are newborn babes. Characteristic of saved people is that they will desire the Bible like a baby desires milk. How do babies desire milk? A lot.
"Baby" is not a term for "new believer" in Scripture. "Baby" is often a term of derision for those who are not growing as they should. For instance, with the Corinthians, instead of eating meat, they were drinking milk like babies. That doesn't mean that the Corinthians were new believers. It just means that they were acting like babies. At the end of Hebrews 5 "babe" is used to describe unsaved Jews who had not yet left their insufficient knowledge of Jesus to move on to salvation.
Salvation is "by grace...through faith" (Eph. 2:8) and "not of works" (vs. 9). Anytime you mix works with the receiving of salvation, you are in error.
The Smith train is off the rails here. Sure, salvation is not of works. But repentance isn't a work. God grants repentance unto life (Acts 11:18). And no one confesses that "Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost" (1 Corinthians 12:3). Those aren't works. When Peter confessed that Jesus was "the Christ, the son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16), Jesus said that "flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 16:17). Peter's confession was not a work. God revealed it unto him. Smith and others like him shift true repentance and confession of Jesus as Lord into a work category and a progressive sanctification category, making room for all of their soulwinning statistics. Those statistics are more important to him than a true gospel or a right handling of the Word of God.
In fitting with the previous paragraph, Smith writes next:
Once salvation is in place, then and only then does sanctification begin. Whatever works we see in a person's life should be tied to sanctification. So let's keep the proper scriptural order---salvation first, then sanctification.
Smith has slid repentance and Lordship into the later sanctification process, and so doing changing the doctrine of repentance and of salvation. Repentance is not a work. Confession of Jesus as Lord is not a work. Losing your life (Matthew 16:25) is not a work.
Repentance is the first step. Remember (Acts 20:21), it is "toward God." If you "change your mind" about God, you will have no trouble seeing yourself a sinner, lost and in need of a Saviour.
We understand repentance by how it is taught or used in the New Testament, not by some etymological game playing. If repentance really is "toward God," it is not just a "change of mind," but a change in direction. Which is where Lordship comes in. We are not going our way anymore, but His way, and that takes place immediately. Recognizing Jesus as Lord is to recognize Him as King, which means allegiance to Him.
It's ironic that Smith and others, who would be English preservationists, those who would rarely to never rely on the original language of the New Testament, Greek, for their point of view, would claim to go to the Greek for this view. He doesn't say he is doing this, because that clashes with all the English inspirationists and preservationists in the crowd, so he just says "change of mind" with no explanation. He is referring, however, to the Greek word for repentance, metanoeo. He is taking meta as "change" and noeo as "mind." Understanding the Greek word does not come from simply breaking down the compound word. It can be helpful, but the meaning of the word is more than just its etymology. Smith and others strain at assigning a meaning to repentance that allows their evangelistic methodology.
The major issue in salvation, according to Romans 1, is not knowledge, but will. And saving knowledge is inexorably connected to the will. Unbelievers "hold the truth in unrighteousness" (Rom 1:18), that is, they suppress the truth out of their rebellion. It is a will problem. They are rebels against God. Get this---a person cannot remain in rebellion against God and be saved. As well, a person cannot keep going His own way, having His own will, and be saved. Repentance involves more than the mind. The repentance that Smith presents is an intellectual only repentance, like the devils have in James 1:19. That does not save. It is a dead faith that cannot save.
A few sentences later, Smith says:
Some folks teach that unless you "make Jesus Lord of your life," then you are not saved! That is simply untrue! It is false teaching.
It is also something I've never heard anyone teach. It is a total strawman. He puts quotation marks around the statement, but he doesn't quote anyone because no one said it. No one has written it. It isn't a position in existence. He argues the strawman to make room for his own "no Lordship" and "no repentance" position. Anyone who does teach Lordship teaches that you receive Jesus as Lord. You don't make Him Lord. And anyone who does teach Lordship teaches that if you are receiving Jesus as Lord, you are getting off the throne and letting Jesus on it. That is biblical repentance. That is believing in Jesus Christ.
Smith ends that first section with the following:'
The Christians in Corinth were as carnal as carnal can be, but they were genuinely saved (1 Cor 3:16; 12:27). Once again, you must not garble things up by mixing faith and works or by confusing salvation and sanctification.
The Corinthians were not as carnal as carnal can be. They were new creatures (2 Cor 5:17). They were "washed...sanctified...and justified" (1 Cor 6:11). Preachers and theologians make way too much out of the problems of the Corinthian church. The members were "spiritual," but Paul could not write unto them "as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal" (1 Cor 3:1). The "as" is an important word here. They were spiritual. You see that at the end of chapter 2. But because of how they were acting, he had to write them "as" they were carnal. Saved people can behave like or as unsaved people, but they don't have the same nature as unbelievers. They have been washed and sanctified and justified.
More to Come