10.23.2017

It's Hardly Wrapped-Up: A Response From John Lewis

I did wonder, when writing the previous post, how long it would take for some to say that I am blowing the whole thing out of proportion. Certainly, there should be nothing to fear when writing about a final salvation by works. Anyone who would question that is just insincere and cruel.

I intended to let this rest, but since Mark Jones has decided to dig in his heals about the matter, and attempt turn it back on me, I think it’s important for readers to think through whether this is so easily “wrapped up” when the sheep are now being confused about the gospel. Mr. Lewis is not the only one to express his concerns.

Unfortunately, this whole thing now has become something of a playground on Facebook to downplay the whole concern, so now I’m forced to respond.

Mark wrote a very nice post at the Calvinist International. He told everyone that he plans to meet with Mr. Lewis when he travels all the way out to Cape Town in December. He then went on to affirm some things that were very encouraging for all concerned. Great. It was pastoral. It was considerate. One of the kinder online moments I’ve ever seen from Mark Jones. He seemed to take seriously what was asked of him. So I publicly thanked him.

From there, however, things went quickly south. It was brought to my attention that on his public Facebook page Mark and his friends are saying that I have blown this whole thing way out of proportion. Suggestions were made that my entire post was uncalled for, that I was reading way too much into Mr. Lewis' letter. Jones has made it clear that we should not worry, that Gen. 50:20 has prevailed, that this was all meant for evil but God meant it for good. Intentions appear to be questioned, but whatever the case, this is not a "Gotcha" moment.  My motive is to protect the sheep from confusing doctrines about justification and salvation. The reader will remember that I rebuked myself in the piece too.

I think it’s time to hear from Mr. Lewis. He reached out to me and gave me full permission to use what he wrote. Here are the most helpful of his own words:

Dear Chris, 
I needed time to measure my response to all that I have read over the past few days, so my apology to you for only making a comment now... 
Thank you, thank you that at last I understand , and now know, that there are people out there who understand the importance of clarity, and clarity in feeding His sheep. Nothing has changed about the Gospel since our Lord and Saviour walked amongst us and proclaimed it to not only His own, who rejected it, but to also the Gentiles so that none could deny, that Jesus Christ is Lord!

As I understand it, faith is the only and most precious and vital aspect of our acceptance of a relationship with God, how could it be anything different? Surely even John Piper must understand this basic tenet, maybe one day either here on earth or in heaven I will meet him and have a really good chat about this. You, quite rightly have pointed out the importance of clarity, the importance of simplicity, especially to folks such as myself, who really is only trying His very best to understand with what may be the last few years of life on this earth that my walk with Christ, this person whom I follow daily will honour His word. 

I have to add, that since coming to faith, I’ve devoted myself to sharing the Gospel, this good news of Jesus Christ to all who may come into my sphere of influence…. I have no problem whatsoever to you adding this to your comments section of your article if you deem it worthwhile.  

Thank you Chris, thank you for being a soothing calming sound, to my pounding heart.

Warmest regards 

John Lewis. 
This brother in “what may be the last few years of his life” is trying to understand how to have a comfortable walk with his savior and understand his word. It is tragic that a brother is saying these ideas are confusing about the gospel, to which he has now devoted his life, and which he is committed to sharing with others.  Instead of Jones (who recognizes the confusion is big enough that he needs to fly to South Africa to help him), simply saying, “I’m not being clear, I wounded a sheep, I repent,” he is attempting to downplay the situation and now blame me. Why not just admit his teaching on salvation is causing confusion? I recognize how hard that would be, for it would force him to reckon with the pastoral consequences of what he is teaching. This strikes the jugular when it comes to what we do as pastors. 

Here is Jones assessment: 

“Mr. Lewis was not upset as Chris is” 
and, 
“Mr. Gordon made a huge leap that was nowhere near Mr. Lewis's mind. In fact, he made a whole post out of a comment where Mr. Lewis was decidedly not lacking assurance”
and,
“I found it interesting that Chris assumed that "given me much to meditate upon" = "I might not be saved when I die!. Hardly seemed a natural and obvious jump.”

Dear reader, did you hear the relief in Lewis' comments above in being reassured that the gospel has not changed? Did I unfairly leap in suggesting that the consequences of this confusion may lead Mr. Lewis to reach his death bed in doubt?

Mr. Lewis once had a confidence in saying, “I was saved at 61”--here it comes--“when I came to understand the selfless act and blood sacrifice of my Lord and savior Jesus Christ.” Now he is hearing something that seems to challenge the “vital aspect of our acceptance with God." He’s concerned enough that he sees a direct connection to the very Reformation Luther began, ironically. And that concern is fair, especially when Mr. Lewis reads at Desiring God things like the following
But what about being saved by faith alone? You're not. You're justified through faith alone. Final salvation comes through justification and sanctification--both initiated and sustained by God's grace. 
Huh? Salvation not by faith alone, but through faith alone, but final salvation by justification and sanctification? What a jumbled mess. Does Jones defend that? Well, Jones has certainly taken it upon himself to defend Piper’s ambiguities and interject ideas that the Reformed world has been addressing for sometime, ideas that came out of Federal Vision theology and elsewhere. 

For instance, does the reader think any of these discussions sound like #22 of Norman Shepherd's Thesis: 
The righteousness of Jesus Christ ever remains the exclusive ground of the believer’s justification, but the personal godliness of the believer is also necessary for his justification in the judgment of the last day (Matt. 7:21-23; 25:31-46; Heb. 12:14).
Is Mr. Lewis way off base in hearing these men add something to the “vital aspect of our acceptance with God?” And Jones wonders why I would propose a possible situation of doubt on his deathbed when these men are talking about good works as causes of salvation? Really? Seriously? Is that something blown way out of proportion that no one else sees?

Mr. Lewis' concerns are illustrative of many who are reading this post right now with keen interest. Why? Because everyone knows there is indeed a controversy. Different things are being said. It’s evident. We are not all in agreement. Now what does that imply? Well, if one cares about the truth and has not made this whole thing an MMA kind of event, defending their heroes, they will need to make a decision if the Bible teaches we are saved by our works, and what the consequences of such ideas will be in the life of the sheep who read this finely nuanced debate. Isn't that the issue? And isn't that the heart of my concern?

So I believe its really important that all of us, including me, hear Mr. Lewis' plea for clarity. If we disregard such a plea, I fear that Mr. Lewis' represents the major clean up we all will soon be faced with in the Reformed world if we continue to confuse the role and place of good works in salvation. All those studying for ministry, who haven't yet worked as a pastor in helping the sheep understand the gospel, need to think about what they are getting into and what they are defending. 

As I said before, what Mr. Lewis has done for us is take our internet debates over these things to the heart of what we do as pastors in helping real, struggling, sinful people know how they can be right with God, something pastors are supposed to care most about. 

I pray for Mark Jones in traveling across the sea, that he will hear Mr. Lewis plea for clarity, that he will not become a robber of the confidence that he has Christ. May Pastor Jones sweetly console this brother with the finished work of Jesus. We should all desire and seek for this together.



10.19.2017

A PROPOSED OCTOBER, 2017 MEETING: DEAR MARK JONES, WILL YOU PLEASE MEET JOHN LEWIS?


What a great online fight over salvation and good works at the moment, isn’t it? And it’s really not that difficult. It all should be so clear for everyone. We all should know better. There are a plethora of conditions for final salvation. Where have you been? A pastor as eminent as John Piper has said it. When you stand at the last judgment, you should know by now, there are conditions you need to meet. There had better be fruit, there had better be good works, or else, for you cannot be saved without them, and these are causes of your salvation. 

Mark Jones has made this all the more clear for us; good works are necessary for your salvation. As Dr. Jones says, Zanchius said it, Mastricht said it, Goodwin said it, Owen said it, Twisse said it, and Ursinus said it. This is not difficult, if you are going to take issue with John Piper, you “need to spend some time getting theological training and then, after that, publish via peer-reviewed journals, books, etc., before you can be taken seriously.”

And, according to Jones, if you are not “thoroughly acquainted” with the plethora of past distinctions between things like dispositiva (that’s Latin), the right versus the possession in the necessity of good works for salvation, then “you have no business writing" (or speaking I assume) on this topic. 

If that isn’t enough to shut it down, it gets even better. Now Dr. Jones has proposed a disputation with Dr. R. Scott Clark. He will fly down to Escondido on his own dime and debate these fine distinctions for the good of the church. Since things have reached a “hysterical pitch” the disputatio will be the solution. If not, then people should stop tweeting and be called out for questioning anyone who says that good works are necessary for salvation.

If I had the space and time, especially observing that this month we celebrate the 500th year anniversary of the Reformation, this would be a good moment it interject the story of Martin Luther. The little known Augustinian monk who questioned Rome who said good works were necessary for salvation, and after a series of disputationes, he was put on trial, excommunicated, his works burned, and he was threatened to “go to the flames” since he had no business questioning the theological giants and the church. But I digress.

I want to fast forward to October, 2017 as we celebrate the 500th year anniversary of the Reformation, to speak of a little unknown man who has made a small protest to Dr. Jones about confusing what once was clear for him. In his recent piece over at the Calvinist International, Jones made all the above statements that were quoted. In the comment section you will find a man of which few, if any, will take notice. 

His name is John Lewis. John is a very young Christian, “saved at the age of 61.” Notice that, "saved", or at least he thought for now at 70, after reading the Calvinist International, he's confused. What's important to notice is that this common man takes it out of the theoretical for us and takes us to the heart of what we do as pastors in helping real, struggling, sinful people know how they can be right with God, something pastors are supposed to care most about. 

He writes, 

Well Martin Luther was one person, and he took upon the entire Roman Catholic Church. Think about that! I am no theologian, I’m a very young Christian, 70 years old, saved at the age of 61, when I came to understand the selfless act and blood sacrifice of my Lord and savior Jesus Christ, and I follow no one except Him and Him alone. It is by faith in that one act, it is by my understanding of the criminals on either side of Him, the one who acknowledged Christ and rebuked the other criminal. The one who asked Jesus to remember him, he who also deserved eternal death, and yet was spared….I have absolutely no gripe with John Piper at all, except to say that methinks he took something not all that difficult (to quote you) and made it quite confusing, and I’m wondering how Martin Luther would have responded?
What a great question. How would Martin Luther have responded this? Mr. Lewis then went on to thank Dr. Jones who “gave him a lot to think about.” He is  clearly now wrestling with the issues. Lewis provides an entire citation from Calvin who once had greatly comforted him in speaking of the singular grace God gives. He was clearly thinking of how wonderful it was when he understood how he was right with God. But now, he’s confused.

Gauging from what he wrote, his struggle seems to go something like this: “Maybe, just maybe, Piper, Jones, and these highly esteemed men are on to something that I have missed. Maybe I have misunderstood how I am right with God. Maybe I have this all wrong. I lived 60 years of my life in rebellion to God. I know what I’ve done. It’s bad. I’ve only been a Christian for 11 years now and I’m 71. Surely the good hasn’t outweighed the bad. Humanly speaking, I may not have a lot of time on this earth left. What works do I need to do to have salvation, to gets it's possession? I’m really confused by this dispositiva thing, and even more so by the right and possession. All of this has thoroughly confused me. Maybe I don’t have everything I need in Jesus. And now I'm not even supposed to write about it, just accept  what these great theologians say, since I am terribly ignorant.”

I’m not sure exactly what’s in John Lewis’ mind, but I know this, by his own admission he is now confused. He is wondering "how Martin Luther would have responded." 
If I may, Dear Mr. Lewis, Luther really did stand up to those who were teaching salvation by works. Luther did have an answer to this and here is how it went: 

Faith is not what some people think it is. Their human dream is a delusion. Because they observe that faith is not followed by good works or a better life, they fall into error, even though they speak and hear much about faith. “Faith is not enough,” they say, “You must do good works, you must be pious to be saved.” They think that, when you hear the gospel, you start working, creating by your own strength a thankful heart which says, “I believe.” That is what they think true faith is. But, because this is a human idea, a dream, the heart never learns anything from it, so it does nothing and reform doesn’t come from this `faith,’ either... 
Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever. He stumbles around and looks for faith and good works, even though he does not know what faith or good works are. Yet he gossips and chatters about faith and good works with many words...
The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace. Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire! Therefore, watch out for your own false ideas and guard against good-for-nothing gossips, who think they’re smart enough to define faith and works, but really are the greatest of fools. Ask God to work faith in you, or you will remain forever without faith, no matter what you wish, say or can do.

Notice true faith doesn't have to debate whether good works need to be done. When we believe, we are declared legally righteous before God and saved. Period. We are never more or less justified following that wondrous declarative act of God. In saving, justifying faith, we receive all of Christ's righteousness who fully accomplishes our salvation by his merits, and then from true faith, a born again Christian cannot help but do works, so much so, that it's natural to the new life. 

The current controversy is confusing and unnecessary. The propositions are causing people to move away from good works as consequential fruit of true faith, and accept that good works are a condition/cause now for our salvation. It smacks of Rome and does great damage among the sheep. 

Just because past and current theologians use certain words to make distinctions, this does not mean they made Christ's work of salvation plain to the sheep. Just because one can cite a thousand Reformed theologians, and ten thousand Puritan ones, it doesn't mean they are were always helpful or clear. We have to decipher who are the most helpful theologians in making Christ's work of salvation clear in our time and in our day

This is especially true when the language of the theologians confuses them with regard to Christ's work. It's no longer merely an academic "debate" over language, it has now morphed into a serious theological problem among our people who are now confused in thinking salvation is by works. There is nothing pastoral about it and Mr. Lewis is proof.

So back to John Lewis who is now confused. Because of this theological browbeating, no longer can he say he was "saved at 61", can he?  He now may reach his deathbed with a question mark regarding salvation because his faith did not produce enough good works. I trust Jones does not intend for this, but this kind of confusion will be a consequence of these discussions in our day. 

Think of this horrendous situation now created: "faith alone may not be enough for me because I have not done enough to enter glory." So his testimony should now go something like this: "I once thought I was saved at 61, but now I'm confused, I'm hoping I will be "saved" when I die as I now do the good works that are required of me for salvation.  

This isn’t a television show, folks, but a simple, common man reading these things and now confused over things that Reformed pastors should be making clear. Shame on us Reformed folk who are doing this to the sheep! I say first to me, shame on me as a pastor if I have confused the sheep. And shame on all of us for bringing in this confusion and hurting the message of Christ’s finished work. This is a tragedy and we should be in tears over this, not laughing and jesting on Facebook. 

So I have a proposition to Dr. Jones. Instead of intimidating people without degrees who comment, and instead of offering to arrange a theological disputatio at a seminary, especially seeing that it has created a virtual MMA kind of online response, and instead of making this post a source of jest on Facebook, this is what I propose:

Dear Mark Jones, 

These things are confusing sheep who read you. I trust you don't really mean to do this. I propose that you fly on your own dime to see John Lewis and pastorally help him since now he is confused about these matters. We are always forced to more clarity as pastors when we are looking at real, dying people and explaining salvation to them. 

And when you do this kind of good work, in silence, without public acclaim, then we can talk about great rewards in heaven. Ah, but even then we really won't need to, for true faith never thinks twice as to whether a good deed like this visit should be done. 

For a more detailed answer from the Reformed confessions on how to speak of the place of good works, see here: http://theaquilareport.com/how-arminian-has-the-sanctification-debate-become/