Saturday, March 26, 2011

An Ancient Heresy?

Dr. S. Lewis Johnson once said, “...the central error underlying no-lordship doctrine is nothing but the ancient heresy of semi-pelagianism--the belief that saving grace cannot be efficacious without the prior cooperation of human free will.”

Semi-pelagianism is the theological system that teaches:

“...a moderated form of Pelagianism, taught that man has retained the ability to seek God in and of himself apart from any movement of God's grace. Pelagianism denied any real effect of original sin on human nature. Semi-Pelagianism, admitted that man's nature was "injured" by original sin, but maintained that man still has free will and the ability to cooperate with God's grace in the salvation process.”

Though I do not understand all of the nuances of Dr. Johnson's statement, I do see some connections between the Easy-Believism heresy and semi-pelgianism.

Easy-Believism is just another way of expressing “decisionalism salvation.” Until the 1800's, this idea of decisionism, or decisionalism salvation, was never a part of an explanation of the Gospel of Salvation. Through those centuries, there were theological and doctrinal debates concerning various doctrinal positions on different Biblical truths; however, there was no "decisionism" salvation. We can thank Charles Finney for introducing decisionism salvation to the church.

Finney, a theological Arminian, rejected the Biblical doctrine of total depravity. He held to the error that man could exercise himself Godward salvifically. Man could "decide" himself in and out of a state of salvation with God. So pervasive was his error that he taught that one could lose one's salvation while in heaven. Amazingly, Finney had a huge following.

Decisionism, or easy-believism, salvation has as its root, its very foundation, that man "can" exercise himself toward God in a salvation sense when confronted with the facts of the Gospel. It means that man is not hindered from seeking God, and if man likes what he sees, can choose Godward.

“Finney believed that conversions could be obtained by the "use of means" to get people to walk the aisle, and he seemed to get results.  But, many of his converts fell away soon after making their "decision." ” i

This is not the entire picture, however, with the decisionalism or easy-believism error. It is not just a matter of “conversions that do not last.” The core issue is a faulty view of the doctrine of original sin and a presentation of a Gospel that is not based in the exegesis of the Biblical texts, is it not? Consequently, what is preached from the pulpits or in one-on-one encounters with the unsaved is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ; thus the person's soul hangs in the balance.

The most appalling aspect of this error is the belief that salvation is a two-step process. First step: You accept the facts of the Gospel in a sort of mental assent much like you would a fact of history you learn in a classroom textbook for the first time. There is nothing else required of you but your mental assent. There is nothing said in the easy-believism plan of salvation about turning from sin—repentance. There is nothing said about a commitment to following Christ as the Lord of your life and soul. That is an issue of discipleship. That comes later—the Second Step.

“Shallow preaching that does not grapple with the terrible fact of man's sinfulness and guilt, calling on ‘all men everywhere to repent,' results in shallow conversions; and so we have a myriad of glib-tongued professors today who give no evidence of regeneration. Prating of salvation by grace, they manifest no grace in their lives. Loudly declaring they are justified by faith alone, they fail to remember that ‘faith without works is dead.'" - Harry Ironside, Except Ye Repent”

When you confront these so-called converts as to how they can still call themselves Christians while living as though God does not exist in their impenitence of sin of any ilk, they will often tell you that they made a decision for Christ when they were seven years old (or any age) and therefore God “has to forgive them.” I find this incredible. Listen to what the Prince of Preachers of 19th-century England had to say:

"Just now some professedly Christian teachers are misleading many by saying that ‘repentance is only a change of mind.' It is true that the original word does convey the idea of a change of mind; but the whole teaching of Scripture concerning the repentance which is not to be repented of is that it is a much more radical and complete change than is implied by our common phrase about changing one's mind. The repentance that does not include sincere sorrow for sin is not the saving grace that is wrought by the Holy Spirit." - Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Royal Saviour

The stupidity of all of this is that Evangelicalism is preaching a man-centered, fraudulent gospel. Often through psychological tricks in church dog-and-pony shows, unbelievers are manipulated into jumping through conversion hoops that have nothing at all to do with the Biblical Gospel and the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who come forward in the abominable practice of the “altar call” are further tricked into saying the “conversion magic words,” the easy-believism prayer that the decisionalism “counselor” leads them to say, and the person is then deemed a Christian.

“It is one thing to show some interest in salvation; it is quite another thing to be saved." - David Cloud

Is it not the point that in the long run, those who uphold the decisionalism, easy-believism (semi-pelagianism) doctrine are simply denying the Truth of Scripture? Do they not have a man-centered soteriology? In conclusion, I offer just one text of Scripture that, at least in my mind, obliterates the decisionalism, easy-believism heresy. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit would minister this, and other texts, to your heart and mind to correct this error that has invaded Evangelicalism.

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you.” Titus 2:11-15 NKJV

Note if you will these points from Titus 8-15:

First: Paul exhorts to be a pattern of good works (Titus 2:8).

Second: Then, Paul gives the doctrinal explanations for the exhortation to be a pattern of good works.

  1. The Grace of God that brings salvation teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts.

  1. The Grace of God that brings salvation teaches us that we should live soberly, righteously, and

  1. The Grace of God that brings salvation purifies for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.

Could this be any plainer? The Grace of God, while free, is costly. It cost us our ungodliness and worldly lusts; it requires us to live soberly, righteously, and godly. It purifies us for Christ as a special people zealous for good works.

That, my dear friends, is the Biblical Gospel.