As I was mulling various things over, I hit upon a connection between two seldom-associated doctrinal groups. Perhaps in time this connection I'm making, existing at present only in my head, will prove prescient. I hope not.
term I've used here, denoting a mindset I Biblically deal with at some length in Chapter Ten of... you know, that book. Advocates would call themselves "grace" believers; critics call them "non-Lordship" teachers, I call them "gutless gracers."
As presented by themselves, the position is that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone. So far, so great. However, it is when they go on to define saving faith in such a way as to exclude repentance and submission to Christ's Lordship that these folks run into grave error. To them, such elements involve "works-salvation," and are to be strictly rejected.
The practical result — to put it in terms they would themselves seldom own — is that a man can continue to live like Hell and still go to Heaven. As long as he voices the opinion that Jesus is the Son of God, or assents to the proposition that Jesus died to save him from sin('s penalty), he's okay with God.
A critic (such as I) would say that the real heart of the position is not that one is saved by faith alone (a precious truth), but rather one is saved by claiming-to-have-faith alone (a pernicious error). This "salvation" is sheerly forensic and eschatological, one might almost say theoretical. It doesn't actually save anyone from sin's dominion or power. It does not necessarily result in owning or obeying Christ as Lord. These are optional, albeit desirable, effects.
I have actually known of advocates of this school who say that one can be a Christian Hindu, a Christian homosexual, even a Christian atheist. Now, however it may sound, the case is not that they are actual theoretical relativists or liberals; far from it. As a rule, they are fundamentalistic in their affirmation of Scripture's theoretical inerrancy. Nor would they say that it is a good thing to occupy any of these positions.
It is simply that gutless-gracers are rigorously consistent in the outworking of their fatally-flawed premise: sanctification in any measurable degree is not a necessary result of by-grace-alone-through-faith-alone salvation. If Johnny says he "prayed the prayer" when he was 5, 10, 15 or 20, then no matter what Johnny goes on to do or not do, Johnny is saved, saved, wonderfully saved.
At this point, the reader's patience may be waning. "And what," he may ask, "does this possibly have to do with Reformed continuationism?"
So far, not much. As a rule, formal gutless-gracers tend to be warped dispensationalists, and "Reformed" "continuationists" tend to be non-dispensationalists. Real dispensationalism should be fatal to the gutless-grace position, as real reformed thinking should be to "continuationism"; but that is beside the point at the moment. The point is that both schools of thought are seldom wed, to the point where ignorant "continuationists" often deride all cessationists as being dispensationalists. Which annoys anti-dispensational reformed cessationists no end, and tickles me some. But I digress.
So now I'll show you the connection.
First, have this firm in your mind: the gutless-gracer insists that real, live, saving faith can exist in the heart of someone who never, ever gives the least bit of real-world evidence in his life and priorities and choices that actual conversion has taken place. In some invisible, inaccessible realm that no eye can see, there has been this massive shift — but observable history is absolutely innocent as to its occurrence. We just have to believe it's there. It's happened, because the professor says so, and the position dictates that it is so.
And so when we look at the Bible and see that Jesus defines saving faith as necessitating submission to His authority (Lk. 6:46; Jn. 14:15; 15;14), that Jesus defines genuine discipleship as involving continuance in His word (Jn. 8:31-32), that Paul insists that it is both impossible and impermissible for a converted person to continue to live in practical denial of Christ's Lordship (Romans 6), that John in his first epistle repeatedly emphasizes that genuine faith will necessarily involve doctrinal soundness and practical holiness, and that James laughs to scorn the notion that saving faith can produce no works — when we see all that, and look at the lives of these professed believers and see nothing like any of those evidences of genuine faith — we are required simply to "dumb down" the definition, in order to accommodate reality and save the theory.
And so the entrance to the Kingdom looks less like a needle's eye, and more like the bar on a Limbo dance — pretty low, and you can dance under it.
I've read leading advocates doing just precisely that. They scramble for shadows, illusions and chimera, call them "fruit," and cling to the theory, though to anyone else it is glaringly obvious that what we are seeing is nothing like what the Bible describes as genuine Christian reality.
Sharp cookies that you are, I wager that virtually every one of you sees the point now — though some of you will generously (if unwittingly) prove my point decisively by arguing against it, simply because you don't like it and change can be unwelcome, even if needed.
Because you see the "reformed" "continuationist" does the exact same thing, in order to prop up his theory.
Every honest objective observer admits that nothing of the caliber of dominical/apostolic revelatory and attesting activity is taking place today. Nothing of that caliber has taken place since the first century. This is a simple, incontrovertible fact. The Bible is not getting bigger, genuine apostles are not ranging about among the churches, dead are not being raised on command. There simply is no post-apostolic continuation of revelatory/attesting activity, and never has been.
Faced with the evidence, yet formally professing the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture, the would-be Reformed continuationist is faced with two choices:
- Abandon his insupportable "continuationism"; or
- Mess with the evidence/standard-of-proof nexus.
So, in both cases, it goes like this:
- The theory is all-important and must be preserved.
- The theory suggests there should be evidence, and must be a standard of proof.
- There is no evidence.
- But see #1, above.
- Solution: redefine "evidence," lower "standard of proof."
- Result: see #1, above.
As a result, then, both echo the famous line from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre:
"Fruits? We ain't got no fruits. We don't need no fruits. I don't have to show you any stinking fruits!"
Ah, if only more Christians as a whole responded with the wisdom of Humphrey Bogart's character "Dobbs," and said, "Better not come any closer!"