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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...

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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, Classis East's...

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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...

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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...

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