LOOKING TO PRAISE AND WORSHIP JESUS THE CHRIST, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD. 18 No man has ever seen God at any time; the only unique Son, or the only begotten God, Who is in the bosom [in the intimate presence] of the Father, He has declared Him [He has revealed Him and brought Him out where He can be seen; He has interpreted Him and He has made Him known].

Friday, July 31, 2009

An Email Chat With Pastor Reid Ferguson


In talking to some free gracers via the blogs I have encountered two who claim that Puritan theology landed them in the emergency room at the hospital. They claim that said theology brought them to such a point of despair as far as assurance was concerned that they ended up being stressed so badly that a trip to emergency was necessary. Is it possible that their claims should be considered? Did the Puritans go too far? Were they really THAT bad as far as assurance in salvation was concerned? No, I'm not about to embrace classic dispy soteriology, but I DO wonder about whether or not time should be given to consider the possibility that the Puritans had gone too far in some areas.


Pastor Reid's response -

You are quite correct Mark. It is often true that those "serious" about their spirituality, begin the slide into pietism - a kind of self-imposed legalism over oneself, rooted in the exercise of ruthless, regular, self-examination. And, their sense of standing with God flows from how they feel about these self-examinations. While there is a certain measure of self-examination which is OK - especially when one is brought to see there might be an issue below the surface which needs attention - the most regular result is depression. Ones eyes have been turned from Christ as our only righteousness, to preoccupation with remaining sin. The Puritans in some cases drove this pious sounding activity to a tortuous art form. Everyone's assurance of salvation was connected to these exercises. And so precious few of them had any assurance at all. If they did, it was in thinking "at least I'm not as bad as THAT guy".

Calvin on the other hand took an entirely different approach. He told those troubled about their salvation status that the only safe course was to go back and look at the Cross - not at their own "progress". Am I trusting Christ alone? Or am I trusting the progress I think I should have made, or should be making, or that others tell me I have made? So he told them all - just go back and look at the Cross. There is your salvation.

Bunyan's trials over assurance were not resolved (and he suffered excuciatingly for years) until it dawned upon him that his righteousness was not to be detected in his own heart - for he was still full of sin, but was a justified - sinner. Thus he concluded, his righteousness was in Heaven, not in his own heart and mind. He (like Luther) was saved by an alien righteousness, not his own.

This is why Luther's central thesis that the Christian is "simul iustice et peccatore" (simultaneously sinner and saint) is essential. We DO NOT GET RID OF ANY SIN IN THIS LIFE. We do gain ground over some sins - the expression of our sinfulness - but the sin principle remains in us and always looking for ascendancy. Our only hope is in Christ's righteousness IMPUTED to us, not INFUSED within us. Yes, the Spirit has taken up residence and is in the process of freeing us from sin's bondage, but its presence is not one whit lessened until we leave these bodies. It is like we have a cancer of the soul When we were justified, the cancer's spread stopped. It can no longer continue its forward march to consume us. However, it has not been excised. It remains. And the damage it has already done - while in the process of being healed - is not healed all at once. And, its propensity to break out given even the slightest chance is always present. What he have though, is a pronouncement now of our FINAL diagnosis.

The object in this is that we can be JOYFUL as we set about the lifelong work of co-laboring with the Spirit in attacking the strongholds of sin within us. Sometimes, we will suffer great wounds in that battle - but ultimate victory is promised. Sometimes, we suffer "fatal" wounds in the battle, but because we have eternal life - not temporary eternal life" - after we suffer a death blow, we rise up yet again to fight until at last we conquer.

The Believer HAS to live in the full knowledge that a. Sin will be with him to the end, and b. That God has promised when this is over - we WILL be conformed to Christ's image. He cannot fail, even though we fail constantly. Christ is our ONLY righteousness, we have none of our own. We rest in His, and do not plunge ourselves into the terrifying depths of our own remaining sin.

In this regard, the Puritans, the Pietistic Lutherans, the Perfectionistic theology of Methodism and the Salvation Army and Pentecostal Holiness and other ALL went too far.

Ron Rosenbladt tells of Professor Mansky who used to start a freshman course in Christianity every year with this digest of Christian thought:

Rome = Law
Lutheranism = Law/Gospel
Evangelical & Wesleyanism = Law/Gospel/Law

In other words, salvation in Rome consists all in law. In Luther's theology, it began in Law bringing us to and end of our selves, despairing of hope - and then Gospel turning us to trust in Christ and staying there. Evangelicalism & Wesleyanism said: Yes, the law drives us to Christ in despair, then we are saved by believing the Gospel, and then we go back to the Law for help in sanctification. THAT is the error. Not remaining in the Gospel. The Believer must live there, not simply begin there. In fact, if I might improve on Luther's thought - it should be Law - and when the Law has done its work - Gospel - and then Spirit. Actually trusting the indwelling Spirit to hold sin at bay, and gradually bring us to Christ's likeness. Anything else will always find either ourselves as individuals, or the Church trying to take the role of the Holy Spirit and produce the results by other means. It is a deadly deception.

We are holy IN Christ - and thus FREE in Him - and so we can go on seeking to walk with Him without any fear of condemnation ever again. This is what it means to believe the Gospel. And precious few of us really live there anymore.

Pastor Reid's blog can be found here, http://responsivereiding.com/