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Relevant ideas . .

Merit mongers ...

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     Today I write regarding an issue that I'm sure many of you can identify with. I am sad knowing some of my dear friends may disagree or misunderstand. Some of them won't understand what I'm talking about. Others may accuse me of backsliding, which is probably true. So please pray for me. I admit I'm cold and lukewarm, but at the church I attend they just tell me to stop it. How bad I need revival Lord! I'm so tired of going thru the motions, aren't you? Aren't you tired of pretending to love God? Of pretending to worship? We know God wants to give us the real thing, bread, and not a stone, right? Let's see if we can get somewhere with this.

My discovery of Reformed Christianity these last 5 years of so, has been for myself and many others, an oasis in the wasteland of Arminian America. If you're asking "what is an Arminian?", let me explain. Most Christians don't realize they are Arminian, simply because they don't think in theological terms. Nor would I ever say they are not Christians as some do. But as I continue I'll bet the majority of older believers know exactly where I'm coming from. Let me make clear from the outset that we are one in Christ. These people are friends and even family. We are not enemies, Having said that let me go on. Jacobus Arminus is the Latinized name of Jakob Hermanszoon, a pastor at Amsterdam in 1587. He arose to oppose the doctrines of the Reformation after Luther's death. His followers were the authors of The Remonstrance, which outlined 5 doctrines of the Reformation with which they disagreed. The Reformed reply became known as the five points of Calvinism. The chief arguments of Arminius (which became known as Arminianism) had been fought about earlier in the fourth century, in a battle between Augustine and Pelagius.  Pelagianism (which denied The Fall) was condemned by the Catholic Church in at least 3 Church Councils. It was another 1000 years at the Council of Trent before Rome embraced Arminianism and totally rejected The Protestant Reformation, sealing its fate by declaring the Work of Christ insufficient to purchase salvation for the believer. Arminianism was also known as semi-Pelagianism. John Wesley and Charles Finney are two famous Arminians who are much admired today by "holiness" churches in America, and by many Christians who don't understand the issues involved. According to Luther the main issue of the Reformation was the freedom of the will.  If Man's will was bound in The Fall of Adam (Roman's 8:7) he is dead in sin, and cannot choose God. God must actively intervene to save those He has chosen. Salvation becomes entirely the work of God. Arminians disagreed and posited prevenient grace, an extra-biblical power that enabled a man to choose God freely, to cooperate with God in doing his part. Many wonderful Christians believe this. I used to believe it too. But here is what I have experienced in my 30 plus years of Arminianism. 

     The constant straining for "holiness" that has characterized this theology since the days of Wesley and Finney is exhilarating to those who feel they are achieving it. Don't get me wrong. Striving is the only way to learn that we cannot succeed, and it is failure alone that necessitates and defines grace. But for those who have been brought to see that they are not, and cannot attain true holiness by their own will power, listening to such teaching is literally a death sentence. I've spent many Sundays riding home from Church in tears after listening to well-meaning pastors who would be mortified to learn how I heard their sermons. Every exhortation to "higher ground", to "higher obedience" to those who have lost "confidence in the flesh" drives them to tears. Of course those who are convinced they are "pulling it off" interpret this as disobedience. The Reformed accuse Arminians of works-salvation while the Arminians condemn disobedience or lawlessness in the Reformed. How can we reconcile this impasse when Christian unity is so needed in this hour?

     First we must recognize that these seeming opposites are actually different stages of the normal Christian life. Many Reformed Christians will admit they were Arminian in their theology when they first met Christ. How many of us vowed to God that we would obey when others failed, that we were somehow different than those around us, as we sang "I'm going thru, I'm going thru", that we would "pay the price whatever others may do"? Remember Peter's preening blindness in Mark 14:29? "Although all shall be offended, yet will not I" describes us all at the beginning of our Christian lives. As humans (and Christians) we are utterly blind to our own weakness. The Arminian view is our default state, that is, we tend to look at Heaven as wages for service to God. Just as we worked at sinning before Christ, we work at "being a Christian" after conversion. The most famous example of these opposing natures in one individual is of course the Apostle Paul, who started his religious journey as a man "Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless" (Phillippians 3:5, 6). All was fine for Paul as long as he thought he was pulling it off. But a performance thought "blameless" under the Law he found "to be unto death" (Romans 7:9, 10). It's all fine when we think we are keeping the Law and obeying God, but when we fail that same Law becomes a death sentence.      Paul once thought he was obeying the law of God, but then realized the Law was spiritual (Romans 7:14) and only kept by a regenerated heart of faith and love. "Love is the fulfilling of the Law" he explains in Romans 13:10. Remember Martin Luther, often called the father of The Reformation? 500 years ago, in his reply to Erasmus, the moral champion of Rome who was arguing for law-keeping (and fighting the Gospel) he says this:


"First, God has promised certainly His grace to the humbled: that is, to the self-deploring and despairing. But a man cannot be thoroughly humbled, until he comes to know that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsel, endeavours, will, and works, and absolutely depending on the will, counsel, pleasure, and work of another, that is, of God only. For if, as long as he has any persuasion that he can do even the least thing himself towards his own salvation, he retain a confidence in himself and do not utterly despair in himself, so long he is not humbled before God; but he proposes to himself some place, some time, or some work, whereby he may at length attain unto salvation. But he who hesitates not to depend wholly upon the good-will of God, he totally despairs in himself, chooses nothing for himself, but waits for God to work in him; and such an one, is the nearest unto grace, that he might be saved. These things, therefore, are openly proclaimed for the sake of the Elect: that, being by these means humbled and brought down to nothing, they might be saved. The rest resist this humiliation; nay, they condemn the teaching of self-desperation; they wish to have left a little something that they may do themselves. These secretly remain proud, and adversaries to the grace of God. This, I say, is one reason—that those who fear God, being humbled, might know, call upon, and receive the grace of God" (Luther to Erasmus, Bondage of the Will).


     I've read the classical authors tell of their journey in Christ, and how as they grew older they actually felt less worthy, felt themselves to be more of a sinner than when they started their journey. How can this be? And I've heard it said again that the closer you are to Christ the more unworthy you see yourself to be. It's not that we sin more, we actually sin less in practice. We simply become aware of how sinful we were all along, of how deep the river ran. Remember the story of the woman caught in adultery, and how Jesus said to her accusers "let he that is without sin first cast a stone" (John 8:7)? It is significant that the eldest, those with the most life experience, with the most self-knowledge, were the first to drop their stones. How wonderful to know we are regarded as having the perfection of Christ before our heavenly Father, that we stand beloved and fully accepted in Him! Some say "Steve, you're too hard on yourself!". But Paul reminds us that if "we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged" (1 Corinthians 11:31). I am not too hard on myself, and the sin I see - and judge - in my heart is just the tip of the iceberg. But Christ is in me, praise God, working both to will and to do the things that please Him, and because He is in me those things will please me too! Our growing understanding of our helplessness makes Him and His life all the more precious to us! "Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling" says the old hymn.

     I minister grace friends, because I need grace, you need grace, and because everyone around us needs grace too. Father, that I might be a fountain of your living water, a tree of righteousness that you have planted, that all who hunger and thirst for righteousness, all who were broken-hearted and mourned their uncleanness could find peace, rest and joy. That's what I would ask my Father for. My Father really likes me. And since I have prayed according to His will, I will have the things I ask ...

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