Billy Graham

Billy Graham has had a huge influence. I hope this article [will be as] enlightening for our younger readers as it was for me to write it. What we know today as “mainstream evangelicalism” follows largely in the footsteps of Graham. I hope you are able to see from this article the connections between what Graham stood for and what surrounds us today in what is called “mainstream American Christianity”—dispensationalism, false ecumenicism, the extreme prevalence of will-worship, watered-down Arminian preaching, moral therapeutic deism, and more.

—Read Rev. Erik Guichelaar’s article on Billy Graham in the upcoming April 1, 2018 issue of the Standard Bearer.


Gospel Truth of Justification (6): Polemical and Necessary

Ending last time with the fact that the author of Gospel Truth of Justification both necessarily and properly engages in polemics, we now briefly consider the heresies refuted and contradicted.

God used the sixteenth-century Reformation to deliver his church from the deadly heresy of justification partly by faith in Christ and partly by the good works of the sinner. This heresy Rome vigorously maintains to this day. Not many years after the Reformation, the doctrine of justification by faith alone again came under attack by James Arminius and his followers. Originating within the Reformed churches and more subtle than the Romish corruption of justification, the Arminian position is “justification by work. The work is faith” (p. 10). Even worse,

“works of obedience to the law are not excluded from the Arminian doctrine of justification. As the Canons remark, the Arminian doctrine of justification is that God “regards faith itself and the obedience of faith” as the sinner’s righteousness. The “obedience of faith” is the good works that faith performs.

Therefore, justification for Arminianism is by works, with a vengeance. Arminianism’s doctrine is worse than Rome’s (p. 10).

The current threat to the doctrine of justification by faith alone in “conservative” Reformed churches is the federal vision, which bears the marks of both the Romish and Arminian subversion of justification. Federal vision theologians profess a “concern” for holiness. Their fear is antinomianism. Engelsma explains leading federal vision proponent Norman Shepherd’s solution:

Already in the preface of his book [The Call of Grace: How the Covenant Illuminates Salvation and Evangelism], Shepherd is wondering “where and how,” in light of the Reformed faith’s confession of salvation by grace, “does human responsibility enter in?” “Human responsibility” for Shepherd is conditions that humans must perform and upon which the covenant of God and its promises of salvation depend: “conditions were, indeed, attached to the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham.” Only a conditional covenant with a conditional salvation can ward off the threatening evil of antinomianism. Only the preaching of a conditional covenant enables the Reformed preacher to “preach grace without being antinomian” (p. 431).

A conditional covenant means conditional justification. Writes Shepherd, “Faith, repentance, obedience, and perseverance are indispensable to the enjoyment of these blessings [of the new covenant]. They are conditions” (The Call of Grace, p. 50). Explaining Shepherd’s position, Engelsma writes,

Faith and its works are the condition fulfilled by the sinner in order to receive and retain his justification, because faith and its good works are the “condition to be met for the fulfillment of [the] promise [of the covenant]" (p. 277).

Engelsma views the federal vision as “the most serious assault on the gospel of justification probably since the time of the Reformation.” Adding to the seriousness of this threat is the fact that “the enemy is within. It appears, launches its attack, and is protected and defended within the Reformed and Presbyterian churches that have a reputation for orthodoxy, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church in America among others” (p. xiv). Elsewhere in the book, Engelsma identifies the United Reformed Churches who “have had advocates of the federal vision arise in their bosom without disciplining the heretics, indeed in at least one instance exonerating the federal visionist” (pp. 480, 481).

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Synod 1987 (2)

In the last post I quoted from several sections of the Protestant Reformed Churches’ (PRC) 1987 Synodical decision regarding marriage, divorce, and remarriage. In this post I want to point out that Synod 1987 explicitly spelled out the way in which there is “freedom from the sin of adultery” and the conditions under which one would be received into the fellowship of the church having lived in the sin of adultery. We read from the 1987 Acts of Synod,

  1. Classis East's decision is not the acceptance of a remarried couple (one or both of whom have been previously divorced) into the church upon confession of the sin of adultery.
  2. Rather Classis East's decision would lead us to accept into the Church only individuals upon their legal divorce (separation) and confession of the sin of adultery (p. 33).

And what did Synod 1987 declare about “freedom from the sin of adultery?”

One is free of the sin and guilt of adultery in this matter of an adulterous marriage, when: 1. He ceases to live (co-habitate) with his spouse in the adulterous marriage. 2. He confesses his sin of adultery before God and publically renounces his evil vows of marriage to a divorced person (Acts, p. 35).

The decision of Synod 1987 is the official, biblical and binding decision of the Protestant Reformed Churches on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. This decision is binding on all Protestant Reformed officebearers and governs their preaching, teaching, writing, polemics, advice, and all their ecclesiastical labors. This decision is binding upon every Protestant Reformed consistory, both the Foreign and Domestic Mission Committees and the Contact Committee.

And this decision is a governing principle in all of our ecumenical relations. It is decisive in our relations with sister churches. It is decisive when we make new contacts around the world and when these contacts ask for advice. It is decisive when we send observers to NAPARC. There is not one member church of NAPARC that agrees with the Protestant Reformed position on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Indeed, all NAPARC member churches approve the adultery of remarriage after divorce. Protestant Reformed observers to NAPARC may not be silent on this issue.

Finally, this decision governs the lives of every member of the Protestant Reformed Churches. It governs the marriages of the members of these churches. It is an encouragement to those who have been abandoned by unfaithful spouses and must remain unmarried for the rest of their earthly lives. And this decision gives instruction as to our proper response to those, perhaps among our relatives, who live in the sin of adultery.

Luke 16:18: Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery; and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.”

I Corinthians 7:10, 11: “And unto the married I command, yet not I but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.”


This post was written by Aaron Cleveland, a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you have a question or comment for Aaron, please do so in the comment section.


Lutherans and Romanists on the “Path to Full Communion”

On Oct. 30, 2015 the news service of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America announced the release of a document entitled “Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry, and Eucharist.[1] The introduction explains that the declaration draws on 50 years of dialogue between Papists and Lutherans and “commends 32 agreements on church, ministry, and Eucharist for ecclesial recognition . . . Further . . . it identifies the remaining differences and sketches some possible way forward.”

The stated goal of the declaration is to “move us significantly forward on the way to full communion.” The document calls attention to 2017 as the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, an anniversary not to be celebrated as God’s work of purifying his Church, but rather an anniversary that signifies “deep divisions” that “now calls us to the continued work of reconciliation for the sake of the gospel and our witness and work in the world.”

The 118 page Declaration makes two things abundantly clear. One is that the Roman Catholic Church is not interested in making any fundamental changes to her doctrines or practices. This is not surprising as Rome has made this abundantly clear for (nearly) 500 years since the onset of the Reformation. Secondly, the Declaration demonstrates that the ELCA is an apostate denomination, which explains why she is interested in reconciliation with Rome.

Hypothetically Reformed churches are not opposed to reconciliation with Rome, if she were willing to be Reformed. But Rome continues to repudiate the Reformation. Therefore, the ELCA’s work to reconcile with Rome demonstrates that the denomination is no longer Reformed in any meaningful way. The denomination is even willing to recognize the pope’s legitimacy and even the primacy of the Pope. The document states, “the bishop of Rome bears witness to the Christian message in the wider world . . . A question still to be fully explored is how he may bear this witness on behalf of both Lutherans and Catholics (emphasis mine).”

The document uses many euphemisms to describe this reconciliation process between Rome and the ELCA. The two sides are moving forward. They are setting aside church-dividing issues. They are cooperating for the sake of a unified witness. But none of this can cover up the fact that at the end of the journey there is only one destination—Rome. The ELCA is almost there.


[1] I must give credit to Christian News which published the news release in its Nov. 9, 2015 edition. In this edition CN also published without comment an article by a Roman Catholic priest explaining the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory. Why would CN publish an article promoting purgatory without any comment even though the publisher is opposed to the doctrine? I believe that the publisher views purgatory as an absurd doctrine that demonstrates how corrupt Rome is. Therefore, he let the priest demonstrate the folly of Rome without seeing the need to comment. If the publisher’s intent was to expose the absurdity and corruption of doctrine in Rome, and therefore the folly of Protestant churches engaging in ecumenical talks with Rome, he succeeded completely.


Our blog writer is Rev. Clayton Spronk, pastor of Faith Protestant Reformed Church in Jenison, MI. If there is a topic you'd like Rev. Spronk to address, please contact us


Synods and General Assemblies: The Reformed Church in America (part 3)

A Brief Introduction to the Belhar Confession and Its Criticism

In response to a previous post I received a suggestion to give a brief introduction to the Belhar Confession. The text of the Belhar Confession can be found here and a longer article I wrote on the subject originally appeared in the Standard Bearer and can be found here.

The Origin and Adoption of the Belhar Confession

The Belhar Confession was drafted in 1982 and then adopted by the Dutch Reformed Mission Church (DRMC) in South Africa. The DRMC adopted the Belhar Confession to address the terrible sin of schism, of tearing apart the church of Jesus Christ. This sin was committed by the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa (DRC). The DRC wickedly divided the church of Jesus Christ along the lines of race. The DRC was an exclusively white church. Instead of including black people in its denomination, the DRC set up the DRMC as a separate church for black people to join. The Belhar Confession was written to condemn this horrible sin and promote unity.

The DRMC asked other Reformed and Presbyterian churches throughout the world to join it in adopting the Belhar Confession. The RCA adopted the Belhar in 2010 and gave it confessional status along with the Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dordt. The CRC did not give the Belhar confessional status but adopted it as an Ecumenical Faith Declaration in 2012.

Criticism of the Belhar

Adoption of the Belhar Confession faced opposition from within the RCA and the CRC.

Pastor Kevin DeYoung’s criticized the Belhar Confession in an essay entitled "Why Not Belhar" which appeared in Perspectives and can be found here. DeYoung, a pastor in the RCA, raised three objections to the Belhar Confession – parts of the confession are not based on the Bible, not everyone agrees on what the confession means, and the confession creates confusion. If you read DeYoung’s article you will find that he amply demonstrates that his objections are well founded. In fact, I believe that he is too careful in his criticism of the Belhar. Some of its statements not only lack biblical support but actually contradict the Bible.

Adoption of the Belhar as a confession faced opposition in the CRC from John Bolt and John Cooper, two professors in the denomination’s seminary, the Calvin Theological School. John Cooper’s criticism of the Belhar appeared in The Banner, the text of which can be found here. John Bolt’s criticism can be found in this article on the Reformed Revelry blog. I will only give a brief – very brief - explanation of their views.

Cooper was in favor of adopting the Belhar Confession as a doctrinal statement without raising it to the level of a confession. His view is summarized in this article published on the Christian Reformed Church's website. He is quoted as saying, “My view is this: Properly understood, the Belhar's condemnation of racism, expression of solidarity with victims, and affirmation of racial reconciliation in Christ are crucial implications of the Gospel that we should endorse. But its theological perspective is problematically ambiguous.”

Bolt’s comments about the Belhar Confession are too lengthy for me to summarize them. A helpful summary of his views is found in the same article that I quoted above:

While admitting that the Belhar has power and value and ought to be taken seriously, especially given its theme and message, John Bolt writes that he believes that Belhar veers in places from orthodox Christian teaching and offers an alternative path on how Christians can achieve reconciliation and unity. Bolt is a professor of systematic theology at CTS.

"The key to this alternative path is the Belhar's focus on the social, economic, and political arenas as the locus for achieving reconciliation and unity, rather than on our spiritual poverty (as people who rely on God’s grace and find their unity in the blood of Christ)," writes Bolt.

"I strongly desire a testimony that exposes the sin of racism and points us forward to reconciliation and unity. I do not believe the Belhar will or even can accomplish this."

I have not found that Bolt says anywhere that the Belhar should be condemned. But his criticisms, which are valid, can only lead to that conclusion. The purpose of a confession is to summarize and set forth the teachings of Scripture. Bolt’s criticisms argue that the Belhar is not biblical and therefore is not worthy of the name confession or of being adopted by a church as a doctrinal statement.

The Danger of the Belhar

The Belhar is a dangerous document. It not only condemns racism, but it sets forth false doctrine. Therefore, the teachings of the Belhar are not in harmony with the other Reformed Confessions. When a denomination adopts the Belhar it is not adding a fourth confession, but it is adding a confession that contradicts and supplants the Reformed Confessions. The denomination that adds the Belhar Confession is guilty of schism, it is guilty of the sin of breaking off fellowship with every truly reformed denomination.

The Belhar is also dangerous because it promotes a political agenda, a liberal political agenda at that (De Young and Bolt both recognize this). Some who promote the Belhar Confession, including Allan Boesek, one of its main authors, believe that the Confession demands that the church accept homosexuals as members of the church. That means that any church that adopts the Belhar Confession’s statements about unity that tolerates sin is in danger of opening the way not only for the vile sin of homosexuality to be accepted, but all kinds of others sins as well.


Click here to read Part 1 on the RCA Synod 2013.

Click here to read Part 2 on the RCA Synod 2013.


This article was written by guest blogger Rev. Clayton Spronk, pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, IL. Rev. Spronk will be blogging for us several times a month. If there is a topic you'd like to Rev. Spronk to address, please contact us.


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