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Donald Trump was inaugurated five days ago.

Some Christians are disconcerted. A few examples of essays posted last week on the subject follow. Emphases mine below.

1/ John MacArthur’s Grace To You (GTY) blog has an excellent post by staffer Cameron Buettel who reminds GTY readers about obedience to government, specifically Romans 13:1-5 and MacArthur’s sermon ‘Why Christians Submit to the Government’.

GTY readers — conservative Evangelicals — were most unhappy. How on earth could an immoral, unbiblical man become president? One surmises they would have preferred the scheming, conniving and possibly criminal ‘Crooked Hillary’. Bottom line: Trump isn’t Christian enough to be in the Oval Office! (As if abortion and single sex marriage advocate Obama was?!)

2/ Moving along to the Episcopalian/Anglican site, Stand Firm, one of their contributors, A S Haley, was, rightly, more concerned about what he calls the Sea of Political Correctness. In ‘A Wave of PC Crashes into a Solid Barrier’, Haley points out:

The Sea of Political Correctness, fed since November 9 by the tears of the self-righteous, is now engulfing its devotees and followers. Vainly casting about for safe spaces where they may continue to breathe air unsullied by what they perceive as the sulfurous emanations of their opponents, they are gasping, choking and sinking as wave after wave of fresh emotional outbursts crashes over their heads …

The politically correct crowd was so certain of its ability to name the next President that it shattered on the shoals of the Electoral College. It has been unable since then to re-form under a single, agreed leader. It is instead trying to coalesce under a common hatred of the successful candidate. Hatred, however, like fear, needs a crowd in which to dissolve, and a crowd needs direction—which is supplied by a leader.

Although I disagree with Haley when he says that Trump’s platform lacks

concrete programs of proposed legislation and executive actions

because those had been laid out in detail on Trump’s campaign website for over a year, he is correct in saying:

there is every reason to hope that a beginning has been made—is being made as I write—and that, with God’s grace, America may truly once more show the way in its humility, in its decency, and in its willingness to serve without expectation of reward.

One of Haley’s readers wrote about the protests during the weekend of the inauguration:

In fact, since one of the main complaints about Trump is his vulgarity, the vulgarity and viciousness of these speakers should negate any of those complaints.

I hope so. How can people — e.g. the GTY readers above — miss the stark contrast?

3/ From there, I went for a Reformed (Calvinist) perspective. Dr R Scott Clark of of Westminster Seminary California is the author of several books on the Reformed Confessions. He also writes the ever-helpful Heidelblog. He posted an excellent essay at the time of the inauguration, ‘A Reminder Of Why We Should Not Long For A State Church’.

The GTY readers moaning about Trump not being Christian enough should peruse it, but it looks at something anathema to conservative biblicists: history.

Excerpts follow:

… I am regularly astonished at the number of American Christians who seem to want a state-church. They seem not to understand the history of the post-canonical history of state-churches nor the difference between national Israel and the USA …

The governor of my state is a former Jesuit seminarian turned New Ager. I certainly do not want the Hon. Edmund G. Brown, Jr dictating what is to be preached or when it is to be preached. I am sure that Americans who advocate for a state-church do not want the Hon. Barack Hussein Obama or Donald J. Trump to meddle in the life of the institutional church.

Of course, when this objection is raised, the reply is an appeal to an eschatology of great expectations. This raises the problem of the chicken and the egg. Does the postmillennialist want to facilitate the coming earthly glory age through a state-church or is the state-church only to come about after the glory age has descended? This is not clear to me …

Under the new covenant and New Testament, there is no state-church. There is the state and there is the church. Calvin described these two realms as God’s duplex regimen (twofold kingdom). He rules over both by his providence but he rules the church, in his special providence, by his Law and Gospel revealed in holy Scripture. He rules over the civil magistrate by his general providence through his law revealed in nature and in the human conscience (see Romans 1–2) …

The visible church’s vocation is to announce the Kingdom of God in Christ, to preach the law and the gospel, administer the sacraments and church discipline (Matt 16 and 18) …

4/ I then sought another sensible Calvinist perspective, this time from Dr Michael Horton, who also teaches at the same seminary as Dr Clark. He is Westminster Seminary California’s J. Gresham Machen Professor of Theology and Apologetics.

The Washington Post invited Horton to write an article on faith. On January 3, the paper published ‘Evangelicals should be deeply troubled by Donald Trump’s attempt to mainstream heresy’. It concerns one of the prosperity gospel preachers who prayed at the inauguration: Paula White.

On the one hand, I heartily agree that White is a very poor example of a Christian pastor. On the other hand, she and Trump found solidarity in the prosperity gospel which he grew up with under Norman Vincent Peale. Furthermore, White was helpful to his campaign in getting out the vote among this sector of misguided churchgoers.

Even more unfortunate than her praying at the inauguration is the news that she will head the Evangelical Advisory Board in the Trump administration. I suspect this had not been announced when Horton wrote his article. Still, Trump is no theologian. I refer readers to Clark’s essay above.

Horton points out that such preachers have been around the White House before and are popular among certain sections of American society:

Peale and [Robert ‘Crystal Cathedral’] Schuller were counselors to CEOs and U.S. presidents. Word of Faith has been more popular among rural sections of the Bible Belt, where faith healers have had a long and successful history. But in the 1980s, the two streams blended publicly, with Copeland, Hinn and Schuller showing up regularly together on TBN.

He goes on to explain the dangerous heresy:

Televangelist White has a lot in common with Trump, besides being fans of [Joel] Osteen. Both are in their third marriage and have endured decades of moral and financial scandal. According to family values spokesman James Dobson, another Trump adviser, White “personally led [Trump] to Christ.”

Like her mentor, T. D. Jakes, White adheres closely to the Word of Faith teachings. Besides throwing out doctrines like the Trinity and confusing ourselves with God, the movement teaches that Jesus went to the cross not to bring forgiveness of our sins but to get us out of financial debt, not to reconcile us to God but to give us the power to claim our prosperity, not to remove the curse of death, injustice and bondage to ourselves but to give us our best life now. White says emphatically that Jesus is “not the only begotten Son of God,” just the first. We’re all divine and have the power to speak worlds into existence.

Again, Trump doesn’t get this because his family left their mainstream Presbyterian church in Queens after his confirmation to worship at Peale’s Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan. After Trump married Ivana and became even more successful, he drifted away from the church. Although in recent years he has been attending Episcopal church services, his theological formation isn’t very good. But, again, echoing Calvin’s two-fold kingdom theology, voters did not elect Trump as Pastor of the United States but rather President of the United States.

I nodded in agreement to this comment, which is 100% true:

Trump is president not a theologian and Horton shouldn’t be holding him up to that standard. Where was Dr. Horton when Planned Parenthood and the Gay marriage thingy was going full steam under Obama. Yes, Horton, we realize you are not an evangelical fundie, but jumping on Trump for this?

Michael plays the ‘guilt by association’ card very well.

Correct. I do not recall Horton criticising Obama’s policies very much. I’ve been reading and listening to him since 2009.

5/ Finally, I found Dr Carl Trueman‘s article on First Things, ‘President Trump, Therapist-In-Chief?’

Trueman, a Presbyterian, is Professor of Historical Theology and Church History and holds the Paul Woolley Chair of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He is politically centrist but theologically conservative.

Trueman says:

I agree with Horton’s analysis but would take the concern a step further. All Americans, not just Evangelicals, should be worried that Paula White is praying at the inauguration, though not for particularly religious reasons. By and large, the rites of American civic religion are harmless enough, bland baptisms of the status quo by the application of a bit of liturgy emptied of any real dogmatic significance or personal demands.

That is what inauguration prayers are largely about. Rightly or wrongly, everyone is represented, especially those who were helpful to the incoming president during campaign season.

He concludes that the real shame is that Trump seems to be endorsing the notion of ‘Psychological Man’.

However, once again, may I remind Drs Trueman and Horton: voters did not elect Trump to serve as the nation’s pastor-in-chief.

6/ The best rebuttals to Trueman’s article is in the comments to his essay. The two comments that nailed it perfectly came from Mike D’Virgilio, whose website is called Keeping Your Kids Christian. It looks very good.

D’Virgilio is a Trump supporter and I agree with his assessments. Excerpts follow. First, from this comment:

I believe Trump is a net positive for Christianity because what he’s doing (including putting the huge “Merry Christmas” signs on his podium during his thank you tour) is potentially contributing to the re-building of the Christian plausibility structure of America. The term “plausibility structure” goes back to sociologist Peter Berger’s 1967 book The Sacred Canopy. In a more recent book he defines this simply as, “the social context within which any particular definition of reality is plausible”. In other words, what *seems* real to people. For the last 50 years the secularists have driven American culture off a cliff (via education, media, Hollywood, etc.) so that the dominant plausibility structure has been postmodernism/relativism/materialism/secularism (they are all logically intertwined). So God for many people (the rise of the “Nones” for instance) *seems* no more real than Santa Claus. Rarely, if ever, do people grapple with the evidence for the truth claims of Christianity; they just drift away or don’t see it as relevant at all.

So Trump, regardless of the content of his own faith, or those at his inauguration, is possibly making Christianity plausible again. Most Americans don’t pay attention to what these people actually believe, the theological content of their faith, such as it is. But all of a sudden with Trump this Christianity thing doesn’t seem like such the ugly cultural step-child anymore … None of this will change over night, but the arrival of Trump is the first time I’ve had hope in this regard since, oh, I was born!

… And I agree with pretty much everything Carl says here (I’m a graduate of Westminster myself), but I don’t at all agree that Trump is contributing to a therapeutic faith and the triumph of the psychological

This is from D’Virgilio’s second lengthy comment:

… There is no other candidate who has done what Trump has done, or could be doing what he’s doing. Cruz is closest of the bunch, but I’m afraid he’s just not a winsome fellow. Once you get beyond the caricature of Trump, he’s a very likable, appealing showman. Everyone who knows him likes him, says he’s humble (impossible to believe for many) and kindhearted.

The greatest thing he’s done is blow up political correctness. He’s taken that on, along with the shamelessly corrupt media that promotes it, in a way no other Republican can even get close. This is huge for a Christian plausibility structure because PC is antithetical to a biblical/classical (in the sense the objective truth exists) worldview …

And Trump was Trump before the Apprentice. Trump made the Apprentice, the Apprentice didn’t make Trump. So I totally disagree Hollywood had anything to do with making the man, The Man. I don’t disagree with your assessment of the secular materialism, which is one of the reasons I initially wanted nothing to do with Trump … He doesn’t have to be an orthodox, Bible believing Christian to fight for Christians, to appreciate and respect Christians, to love America and the Christian influence in its history. I leave the soul judgments to God. I’m just grateful he’s our next president, and not that other person.

I realise some readers are apprehensive about Trump, what he might do and what he represents. I hope this has given them some food for thought, especially in terms of Christianity in America.

Let’s remember that there were four other members of the clergy besides Paula White and a rabbi. Furthermore, in his remarks, Franklin Graham reminded everyone that there is only one God.

In closing, sensible Christians living in the United States should be relieved Trump is in the White House. This will be borne out in due course.

In the meantime, rather than sitting around carping, we can always pray that he becomes a better, more orthodox Christian.

Many readers have been taking the short quiz which can help guide them towards a church which corresponds to their beliefs.

Also helpful is a short checklist which can help us to evaluate churches we visit to test their orthodoxy before getting too involved.

On the back of a critique of Joel Osteen, the confessional pastors and professors who run the White Horse Inn (WHI) have come up with what they call the Joel Osteen Scorecard. The scorecard contains a list of several terms divided into a cotton candy (false) ‘Christianity’ versus a historical-biblical Christianity.

At the time the WHI panel came up with the Osteen critique, the latest book by Dr Michael Horton — WHI panellist and professor at Westminster Seminary California — had just been published. In this brief introduction, Dr Horton explains what Christless Christianity is about: a fuzzy, self-help ‘religion’ which is far removed from the biblical covenants, grace, faith, the Gospel message, Jesus Christ, redemption and the Holy Spirit. This is essential viewing for those searching for churches but who do not know the characteristics of a proper church:

The WHI critique of Joel Osteen follows and can be applied to many preachers and pastors around the world today:

Until a few years ago, the name Charles Grandison Finney meant nothing to me. However, many American Protestants will have been unknowingly influenced by his 19th century Pelagianism.

In 1995, Dr Michael Horton examined the long shadow of Finneyism on the American Church in ‘The Legacy of Charles Finney’, written for Modern Reformation magazine.  Horton is the J. Gresham Machen professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California (Escondido, California), a host of the White Horse Inn broadcasts and editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He is author of many books, including The Gospel-Driven Life, Christless Christianity, People and Place, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, The Christian Faith, and For Calvinism.

Horton’s essay is lengthy and absorbing reading for anyone seeking a better understanding of Protestant denominations in America. Charles Finney has influenced fundamentalist preachers as well as social gospel ministries. Horton explains how Finney’s man-centred, emotional and experiential focus works. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

Finney’s moralistic impulse envisioned a church that was in large measure an agency of personal and social reform rather than the institution in which the means of grace, Word and Sacrament, are made available to believers who then take the Gospel to the world … Evangelists pitched their American gospel in terms of its practical usefulness to the individual and the nation.

That is why Finney is so popular. He is the tallest marker in the shift from Reformation orthodoxy, evident in the Great Awakening (under Edwards and Whitefield) to Arminian (indeed, even Pelagian) revivalism, evident from the Second Great Awakening to the present. To demonstrate the debt of modern evangelicalism to Finney, we must first notice his theological departures. From these departures, Finney became the father of the antecedents to some of today’s greatest challenges within evangelical churches, namely, the church growth movement, Pentecostalism and political revivalism.

Who is Finney?

Reacting against the pervasive Calvinism of the Great Awakening, the successors of that great movement of God’s Spirit turned from God to humans, from the preaching of objective content (namely, Christ and him crucified) to the emphasis on getting a person to “make a decision.”

Charles Finney (1792-1875) ministered in the wake of the “Second Awakening,” as it has been called. A Presbyterian lawyer, Finney one day experienced “a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost” which “like a wave of electricity going through and through me … seemed to come in waves of liquid love” … Refusing to attend Princeton Seminary (or any seminary, for that matter), Finney began conducting revivals in upstate New York. One of his most popular sermons was “Sinners Bound to Change Their Own Hearts.”

Finney’s one question for any given teaching was, “Is it fit to convert sinners with?” One result of Finney’s revivalism was the division of Presbyterians in Philadelphia and New York into Arminian and Calvinistic factions. His “New Measures” included the “anxious bench” (precursor to today’s altar call), emotional tactics that led to fainting and weeping, and other “excitements,” as Finney and his followers called them …

What’s So Wrong with Finney’s Theology?

One need go no further than the table of contents of his Systematic Theology to learn that Finney’s entire theology revolved around human morality … a collection of essays on ethics.

But that is not to say that Finney’s Systematic Theology does not contain some significant theological statements …

Finney declares of the Reformation’s formula simul justus et peccator or “simultaneously justified and sinful,” “This error has slain more souls, I fear, than all the Universalism that ever cursed the world.” For, “Whenever a Christian sins he comes under condemnation, and must repent and do his first works, or be lost” (p.60).

Finney’s doctrine of justification rests upon a denial of the doctrine of original sinAs someone has said, “We sin because we’re sinners”: the condition of sin determines the acts of sin, rather than vice versa. But Finney followed Pelagius, the fifth-century heretic, who was condemned by more church councils than any other person in church history, in denying this doctrine.

… In clear terms, Finney denied the notion that human beings possess a sinful nature (ibid.). Therefore, if Adam leads us into sin, not by our inheriting his guilt and corruption, but by following his poor example, this leads logically to the view of Christ, the Second Adam, as saving by example …

That is not entirely fair, of course, because Finney did believe that Christ died for something—not for someone, but for something. In other words, he died for a purpose, but not for people. The purpose of that death was to reassert God’s moral government and to lead us to eternal life by example, as Adam’s example excited us to sin … Not only did Finney believe that the “moral influence” theory of the atonement was the chief way of understanding the cross; he explicitly denied the substitutionary atonement

Then there is the matter of applying redemption. Throwing off Reformation orthodoxy, Finney argued strenuously against the belief that the new birth is a divine gift, insisting that “regeneration consists in the sinner changing his ultimate choice, intention, preference; or in changing from selfishness to love or benevolence,” as moved by the moral influence of Christ’s moving example (p.224) …

Having nothing to do with original sin, a substitutionary atonement, and the supernatural character of the new birth, Finney proceeds to attack “the article by which the church stands or falls”— justification by grace alone through faith alone.

Distorting the Cardinal Doctrine of Justification

The Reformers insisted, on the basis of clear biblical texts, that justification (in the Greek, “to declare righteous,” rather than “to make righteous”) was a forensic (i.e., legal) verdict … Therefore, it was a perfect, once and-for-all verdict of right standing …

To this, Finney replies: “The doctrine of imputed righteousness, or that Christ’s obedience to the law was accounted as our obedience, is founded on a most false and nonsensical assumption.” … (pp.320-2) …

Finney Today

... With roots in Finney’s revivalism, perhaps evangelical and liberal Protestantism are not that far apart after all. His “New Measures,” like today’s Church Growth Movement, made human choices and emotions the center of the church’s ministry, ridiculed theology, and replaced the preaching of Christ with the preaching of conversion ...

When the leaders of the Church Growth Movement claim that theology gets in the way of growth and insist that it does not matter what a particular church believes: growth is a matter of following the proper principles, they are displaying their debt to Finney.

When leaders of the Vineyard movement praise this sub-Christian enterprise and the barking, roaring, screaming, laughing, and other strange phenomena on the basis that “it works” and one must judge its truth by its fruit, they are following Finney as well as the father of American pragmatism, William James, who declared that truth must be judged on the basis of “its cash-value in experiential terms.”

Thus, in Finney’s theology, God is not sovereign, man is not a sinner by nature, the atonement is not a true payment for sin, justification by imputation is insulting to reason and morality, the new birth is simply the effect of successful techniques, and revival is a natural result of clever campaigns

As Whitney R. Cross has carefully documented, the stretch of territory in which Finney’s revivals were most frequent was also the cradle of the perfectionistic cults that plagued that century. A gospel that “works” for zealous perfectionists one moment merely creates tomorrow’s disillusioned and spent supersaints

Christians and interfaith groups campaigning today against alcohol and tobacco borrow from Finney.  Theonomists striving for a ‘moral America’ owe the idea to Finney. The evangelical witness testifying ‘Today, I made the decision to be saved’ has ripped a page out of the Finney notebook. The parents who seek formulaic holiness in church activities and at home with ‘godly’ parenting books have copied Finney’s theology. The pastor who says that an emotional ‘experience’ of Christ indicates salvation is borrowing from Finney, whether he realises it or not.

Finney’s theology, imbued as it is in many corners of America, produces confusion when people leaving an unbiblical Evangelical church for a confessional denomination encounter the doctrine of grace for the first time.

This is the danger of heresy — it’s false, oppressive, confusing, painful and soul-destroying in many ways. It also leads people away from the crucified and risen Christ who freed us by dying and rising from the dead for us.

Tomorrow: Legalistic Lutheranism – part 1

Where would I be without the Calvinists? Nowhere fast.

Over the past three years, their online articles and blogs have taught me so much about Scripture, the Christian life and various theological terms.

One of these theological terms is semper reformanda, a Latin expression, defined as ‘reformed and always reforming’ or simply ‘always reforming’.

In an article for R C Sproul’s Ligonier Ministries’ Tabletalk Magazine, Dr Michael Horton explains what this term actually means in light of the Reformation and, in particular, to confessional Calvinist churches. Horton is the J. Gresham Machen professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California (Escondido, California), a host of the White Horse Inn broadcasts and editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He is author of many books, including The Gospel-Driven Life, Christless Christianity, People and Place, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, The Christian Faith, and For Calvinism.

Much of ‘Semper Reformanda’ follows, emphases mine.

If you’ve been in Protestant circles for very long, whether conservative or liberal, you may have heard the phrase “reformed and always reforming” or sometimes just “always reforming.” I hear it a lot these days, especially from friends who want our Reformed churches to be more open to moving beyond the faith and practice that is confessed in our doctrinal standards … Liberal Protestants frequently invoked this phrase to justify their captivity to the spirit of the age, but some conservative Protestants also use it to encourage a broader definition of what it means to be Reformed.

But where did this phrase come from? Its first appearance was in a 1674 devotional by Jodocus van Lodenstein, who was an important figure in Dutch Reformed pietism — a movement known as the Dutch Second Reformation. According to these writers, the Reformation reformed the doctrine of the church, but the lives and practices of God’s people always need further reformation.

Van Lodenstein and his colleagues were committed to the teaching of the Reformed confession and catechism; they simply wanted to see that teaching bec[a]me more thoroughly applied as well as understood. However, here is his whole phrase: “The church is reformed and always [in need of] being reformed according to the Word of God.” The verb is passive: the church is not “always reforming,” but is “always being reformed” by the Spirit of God through the Word. Although the Reformers themselves did not use this slogan, it certainly reflects what they were up to; that is, if one quotes the whole phrase!

Each clause is crucial. First, the church is Reformed, and this should be written with a capitalized “R.” If it is true that Jesus rose from the dead two millennia ago in Palestine, then it is just as true in our time and place. The ecumenical creeds confess the faith that we all share across a multitude of cultures and eras. Similarly, the Reformed standards (such as the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Confession and Catechisms) summarize what Reformed Christians believe to be the clear teaching of God’s Word. Churches will always be changing in significant ways depending on their time and place, but these communal ways of confessing Christ remain faithful summaries of “the faith once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

Our forebears who invoked this phrase had in mind the consolidation of catholic and evangelical Christianity embodied in the Reformed confessions and catechisms. There is a reason that this wing of the Reformation called itself “Reformed.” Unlike the Anabaptists, Reformed churches understood themselves as a continuing branch of the catholic [universal] church. At the same time, the Reformed wanted to reform everything “according to the Word of God.” Not only our doctrine but our worship and life must be determined by Scripture and not by human whim or creativity.

Interestingly, it is a mainline Presbyterian theologian, Anna Case-Winters, who brings attention to what she calls “our misused motto.” Winters points out that “in the 16th-century context the impulse it reflected was neither liberal nor conservative, but radical, in the sense of returning to the ‘root.’” This was reflected in the rallying cry, sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone). The Reformation had no interest in “change” as an end in itself. As Calvin argued in his treatise “The Necessity of Reforming the Church,” the Reformers were charged with innovation when in fact it was the medieval church’s innovative distortions of Christian faith and worship that required a recovery of apostolic Christianity. Rome pretended to be “always the same,” but it had accumulated a host of doctrines and practices that were unknown to the ancient church, much less to the New Testament.

Some people today leave out the “Reformed” part or at least interpret it as “reformed” (little “r”): the church is “always being reformed according to the Word of God.” This means that to be Reformed is simply to be reformed and to be reformed is simply to be biblical. All who base their beliefs on the Bible are therefore “reformed,” regardless of whether their interpretations are consistent with the common confessions of the Reformed churches. However, this runs counter to the original intention of the phrase. Doubtless there are many beliefs and practices that Reformed believers share in common with non-Reformed believers committed to God’s Word. We must always remain open to correction from our brothers and sisters in other churches who have interpreted the Bible differently. Nevertheless, Reformed churches belong to a particular Christian tradition with its own definitions of its faith and practice. We believe that our confessions and catechisms faithfully represent the system of doctrine found in Holy Scripture. We believe that to be Reformed is not only to be biblical; to be biblical is to be Reformed. As important as it is to keep “Reformed” in the phrase, an even more dangerous omission is often found among more liberal Protestants who also leave out the “according to the Word of God” clause. And usually it is “always reforming,” instead of “always being reformed.” In this view, the church is the active party, determining its own doctrine, worship, and discipline in the light of ever-changing cultural contexts. Progressivism becomes an end in itself and the church becomes a mirror of the world.

Christ’s church was reformed by God’s Word in the Reformation and post-Reformation era … And yet the church is not only Reformed; it is always in need of being reformed. Like our personal sanctification, our corporate faithfulness is always flawed. We don’t need to move beyond the gains of the Reformation, but we do need further reformation. But here is where the last clause kicks in: “always being reformed according to the Word of God.”

It is not because the culture is always changing and we need to be up with the times, but because we are always in need of being re-oriented to the Word that stands over us, individually and collectively, that the church can never stand still. It must always be a listening church. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17) …

There are some denominations which do refer to all Protestant churches as ‘reformed’, however, Horton has done a good job in explaining why Calvinists call themselves ‘Reformed’. I hope that this clears up any confusion.

Furthermore, he has put to rest the notion that semper reformanda involves reformation ‘according to the word of God’ instead of being directed by the world’s whims.

Dr Michael Horton is one of my favourite Calvinists. He brings the Bible and Church history to life time after time.

Horton is the J. Gresham Machen professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California (Escondido, California), host of the White Horse Inn, national radio broadcast, and editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He is author of many books, including The Gospel-Driven Life, Christless Christianity, People and Place, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, The Christian Faith, and For Calvinism.

What follows is an article he wrote for Modern Reformation in 1995 called ‘Pelagianism’.  This post concludes my series on Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism, both of which are heresies.  Although I’ve explored these heresies over the past week, Horton adds new insights — both historical and current.

His article is well worth reading, particularly in light of today’s evangelicalism and popular thought. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Cicero observed of his own civilization that people thank the gods for their material prosperity, but never for their virtue, for this is their own doing. Princeton theologian B. B. Warfield considered Pelagianism “the rehabilitation of that heathen view of the world,” and concluded with characteristic clarity, “There are fundamentally only two doctrines of salvation: that salvation is from God, and that salvation is from ourselves. The former is the doctrine of common Christianity; the latter is the doctrine of universal heathenism.” (1)

But Warfield’s sharp criticisms are consistent with the witness of the church ever since Pelagius and his disciples championed the heresy. St. Jerome, the fourth century Latin father, called it “the heresy of Pythagoras and Zeno,” as in general paganism rested on the fundamental conviction that human beings have it within their power to save themselves

Last week, I explored the history of Pelagianism and how it played out in the life of the Church throughout the centuries.

However, Horton has more on how Pelagius countered Augustine and dug himself deeper into heresy.  Original sin — something which many modern Christians have difficulty accepting — comes into the picture:

Augustine taught that human beings, because they are born in original sin, are incapable of saving themselves. Apart from God’s grace, it is impossible for a person to obey or even to seek God. Representing the entire race, Adam sinned against God. This resulted in the total corruption of every human being since, so that our very wills are in bondage to our sinful condition. Only God’s grace, which he bestows freely as he pleases upon his elect, is credited with the salvation of human beings.

In sharp contrast, Pelagius was driven by moral concerns and his theology was calculated to provide the most fuel for moral and social improvement. Augustine’s emphasis on human helplessness and divine grace would surely paralyze the pursuit of moral improvement, since people could sin with impunity, fatalistically concluding, “I couldn’t help it; I’m a sinner.” So Pelagius countered by rejecting original sin. According to Pelagius, Adam was merely a bad example, not the father of our sinful condition-we are sinners because we sin-rather than vice versa. Consequently, of course, the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, was a good example. Salvation is a matter chiefly of following Christ instead of Adam, rather than being transferred from the condemnation and corruption of Adam’s race and placed “in Christ,” clothed in his righteousness and made alive by his gracious gift. What men and women need is moral direction, not a new birth; therefore, Pelagius saw salvation in purely naturalistic terms-the progress of human nature from sinful behavior to holy behavior, by following the example of Christ.

Women following Oprah Winfrey’s Lifeclass have adopted a Pelagian point of view.  They would say that Christ presents mores and teachings for us to follow.  Outside of that, He does not redeem us — we can take care of that ourselves.

Horton lists the six tenets of Pelagianism which caused the Church to declare it a heresy.  These are worth examining carefully.  I have highlighted the ones most commonly believed today:

(1) Adam was created mortal and would have died whether he had sinned or not; (2) the sin of Adam injured himself alone, not the whole human race; (3) newborn children are in the same state in which Adam was before his fall; (4) neither by the death and sin of Adam does the whole human race die, nor will it rise because of the resurrection of Christ; (5) the law as well as the gospel offers entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven; and (6) even before the coming of Christ, there were men wholly without sin. (2) Further, Pelagius and his followers denied unconditional predestination.

After the Church councils repeatedly declared Pelagianism a heresy, Semi-Pelagianism began spreading. It

maintains that grace is necessary, but that the will is free by nature to choose whether to cooperate with the grace offered.

The Church — via the Council of Orange in 529 — condemned Semi-Pelagianism, including

those who thought that salvation could be conferred by the saying of a prayer, affirming instead (with abundant biblical references) that God must awaken the sinner and grant the gift of faith before a person can even seek God.

Therefore, the altar call prayer which some evangelical churches routinely employ could well be heretical depending on how it is used and presented.

Horton sums up why the Church considers Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism heresies:

Anything that falls short of acknowledging original sin, the bondage of the will, and the need for grace to even accept the gift of eternal life, much less to pursue righteousness …

Some people in the Bible were Pelagians.  Horton cites several examples:

Cain murdered Abel because Cain sought to offer God his own sacrifice. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that Abel offered his sacrifice in anticipation of the final sacrifice, the Lamb of God, and did so by faith rather than by works (Heb. 11). However, Cain sought to be justified by his own works. When God accepted Abel instead, Cain became jealous. His hatred for Abel was probably due in part to his own hatred of God for refusing to accept his righteousness

At the Tower of Babel, the attitude expressed is clearly Pelagian: “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves. ” In fact, they were certain that such a united human project could ensure that nothing would be impossible for them (Gen 11:4-6). But God came down, just as they were building upward toward the heavens. “So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city” (v.8). This is the pattern: God provides the sacrifice, and judges those who offer their own sacrifices to appease God. God comes down to dwell with us, we do not climb up to him; God finds us, we do not find him.

Jonah learned the hard way that God saves whomever he wants to save. Just as soon as he declared, “Salvation comes from the LORD,” we read: “And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land” (Jon 2:9-10).

The Pharisees believed that God had given them his grace by giving them the law, and if they merely followed the law and the traditions of the elders, they would remain in God’s favor. But Jesus said that they were unbelievers who needed to be regenerated, not good people who needed to be guided. “No man can even come to me unless my Father who sent me draws him” (Jn 6:44), for we must be born again, “not of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God” (Jn 1:13). “Apart from me you can do nothing. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit-fruit that will last” (Jn 15:5, 16).

[T]he Judaizing heresy that troubled the apostles was larger than the issue of Pelagianism, but self-righteousness and self-salvation lay at the bottom of it. As such, the Council of Jerusalem, recorded in Acts 15, was the first church council to actually condemn this heresy in the New Testament era.

Horton explains how Semi-Pelagianism gained popularity in the Church between the sixth and sixteenth centuries.  It may explain why St Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) had what some Protestants see as a Semi-Pelagian slant in his books:

the canons of the Council of Orange, which condemned Semi-Pelagianism, had been lost and were not recovered until after the closing of the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century.

Furthermore, two hundred years before the Reformation and the Council of Trent, Pelagianism was still hotly debated. In England, the then-Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Bradwardine wrote of his own journey out of heretical thinking:

The archbishop’s own story gives us some insight to the place of this debate:

Idle and a fool in God’s wisdom, I was misled by an unorthodox error at the time when I was pursuing philosophical studies. Sometimes I went to listen to the theologians discussing this matter [of grace and free will], and the school of Pelagius seemed to me nearest the truth. In the philosophical faculty I seldom heard a reference to grace, except for some ambiguous remarks. What I heard day in and day out was that we are masters of our own free acts, that ours is the choice to act well or badly, to have virtues or sins and much more along this line.”


Every time I listened to the Epistle reading in church and heard how Paul magnified grace and belittled free will-as is the case in Romans 9, ‘It is obviously not a question of human will and effort, but of divine mercy,’ and its many parallels-grace displeased me, ungrateful as I was.”

But later, things changed:

However, even before I transferred to the faculty of theology, the text mentioned came to me as a beam of grace and, captured by a vision of the truth, it seemed I saw from afar how the grace of God precedes all good works with a temporal priority, God as Savior through predestination, and natural precedence. That is why I express my gratitude to Him who has given me this grace as a free gift.

Bradwardine begins his treatise, “The Pelagians now oppose our whole presentation of predestination and reprobation, attempting either to eliminate them completely or, at least, to show that they are dependent on personal merits.” (4)

If it was true then, it is still true today.  And it can be difficult to avoid getting caught up in it!  We’ll come to that in a moment.

Just before the Reformation began, an Augustinian revival was underway.  Martin Luther’s mentor Johann von Staupitz wrote On Man’s Eternal Predestination, which said in part:

God has covenanted to save the elect. Not only is Christ sent as a substitute for the believer’s sins, he also makes certain that this redemption is applied. This happens at the moment when the sinner’s eyes are opened again by the grace of God, so that he is able to know the true God by faith. Then his heart is set afire so that God becomes pleasing to him. Both of these are nothing but grace, and flow from the merits of Christ. Our works do not, nor can they, bring us to this state, since man’s nature is not capable of knowing or wanting or doing good. For this barren man God is sheer fear.

Staupitz, Horton points out, also believed in limited atonement. Staupitz wrote that the Crucifixion:

is sufficient for all, though it was not for all, but for many that his blood was poured out.

As we saw the other day, the Age of Enlightenment spread Pelagian ideas on a secular level which then crept back into the Church. Horton explains:

The rationalistic phase of liberalism saw religion not as a plan of salvation, but as a method of morality. The older views concerning human sinfulness and dependence on divine mercy were thought by modern theologians to stand in the way of the Enlightenment project of building a new world, a tower reaching to heaven, just as Pelagius viewed Augustinian teaching as impeding his project of moral reform …

This Pelagian spirit pervaded the frontier revivals as much as the New England academy. Although poets such as William Henley might put it in more sophisticated language (“I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul”), evangelicals out on the frontier began adapting this triumph of Pelagianism to the wider culture.

Along came Charles Finney, who did much to further this heresy in the 19th century. His twisted theology and enthusiasm (not a good thing theologically) live on today in many Evangelical circles.

Finney denied original sinAccording to Finney, we are all born morally neutral, capable either of choosing good or evil. Finney argues throughout by employing the same arguments as the German rationalists, and yet because he was such a successful revivalist and “soul-winner,” evangelicals call him their own. Finney held that our choices make us either good or sinful. Here Finney stands closer to the Pharisees than to Christ, who declared that the tree produced the fruit rather than vice versa. Finney’s denial of the substitutionary atonement follows this denial of original sin. After all, according to Pelagius, if Adam can be said to be our agent of condemnation for no other reason than that we follow his poor example, then Christ is said to be our agent of redemption because we follow his good example ...

Furthermore, Finney denies that regeneration depends on the supernatural gift of God. It is not a change produced from the outside. “If it were, sinners could not be required to effect it. No such change is needed, as the sinner has all the faculties and natural attributes requisite to render perfect obedience to God.”

Of the doctrine of justification, Finney declared it to be “another gospel,” since “for sinners to be forensically pronounced just, is impossible and absurd. As has already been said, there can be no justification in a legal or forensic sense, but upon the ground of universal, perfect, and uninterrupted obedience to law…

Arminian revivalists preaching at the same time as Finney also furthered Pelagianism. Horton tells us:

Whenever it is maintained that an unbeliever is capable by nature of choosing God, or that men and women are capable of not sinning or of reaching a state of moral perfection, that’s Pelagianism. Finney even preached a sermon titled, “Sinners Bound To Change Their Own Hearts.” When preachers attack those who insist that the human problem is sinfulness and the wickedness of the human heart-that’s Pelagianism. When one hears the argument, whether from the Enlightenment (Kant’s “ought implies can”), or from Wesley, Finney, or modern teachers, that “God would never have commanded the impossible,” (15) they are echoing the very words of Pelagius. Those who deny that faith is the gift of God are not merely Arminians or Semi-Pelagians, but Pelagians. Even the Council of Trent (condemning the reformers) anathematized such a denial as Pelagianism.

When evangelicals and fundamentalists assume that infants are pure until they reach an “age of accountability,” or that sin is something outside-in the world or in the sinful environment or in sinful company that corrupts the individual-they are practicing Pelagians.

Pelagianism is insidious — not only in the religious realm but in the secular world. The messages we receive about not smoking, not drinking, not overeating and not taking exercise play into what in Wesleyanism is called the ‘perfection’ or ‘holiness’ doctrine.  If only, if only, if only … we could achieve perfection, then we would have a utopia, or as one of Oprah’s Lifeclass students put it — borrowing the words of Eckhart Tolle — ‘a New Earth’.  No!

Horton says:

that which in our circles today is often considered “Arminianism” is really Pelagianism.

As to our inherent ‘goodness’ as human beings, today’s Evangelicals seem to line right up with Oprah’s Lifeclass students:

The fact that recent polls indicate that 77% of the evangelicals today believe that human beings are basically good and 84% of these conservative Protestants believe that in salvation “God helps those who help themselves” demonstrates incontrovertibly that contemporary Christianity is in a serious crisis. No longer can conservative, “Bible-believing” evangelicals smugly hurl insults at mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics for doctrinal treason. It is evangelicals today, every bit as much as anyone else, who have embraced the assumptions of the Pelagian heresy. It is this heresy that lies at the bottom of much of popular psychology (human nature, basically good, is warped by its environment), political crusades (we are going to bring about salvation and revival through this campaign), and evangelism and church growth (seeing conversion as a natural process, just like changing from one brand of soap to another, and seeing the evangelist or entrepreneurial pastor as the one who actually adds to the church those to be saved).

Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism are highly dangerous and, possibly, highly contagious, heresies. Pray for God’s grace that we may avoid them and discern them when we see them.  May He also grant us His grace to be able to point them out to our fellow Christians.

End of series

A number of people experience confusion with the word ‘Reformed’. Some say it encompasses the whole of Protestantism.  Others say it refers only to Calvinists, which, by and large, it does.

Below is Michael Horton’s definition. Dr Horton is Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary California, author of numerous books, host at White Horse Inn (WHI) and Editor-in-Chief of Modern Reformation magazine.

For the Reformed Anglicans reading the following: so that we don’t have a repeat of a similar post of mine from last year, if you disagree with the following, please be so kind as to take it up with Dr Horton directly on this White Horse Inn post.

In response to a reader’s question on what constitutes Reformed, Dr Horton states (emphases mine):

The classic, textbook definition of “Reformed” is those churches that adhere to the Scriptures as they are summarized, taught, and confessed in the Three Forms of Unity (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dort) and the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. In the last few years, the definition has changed in some circles, to encompass all those who affirm the five points of Calvinism–regardless of how one differs with the confessional position on other important points.

While Arminian Baptists hail from the Anabaptist movement, Calvinistic Baptists were mostly Congregationalists who abandoned infant baptism. At no point did Calvinistic Baptists identify themselves as Reformed, any more than Reformed and Presbyterian believers identified themselves as Baptist.

So that’s the history, which ought to be respected even if one wishes to challenge it. To say that one is Reformed, while excluding the children of believers from the covenant of grace (signified and sealed in baptism), is as inaccurate as to say that one is a Baptist, while denying immersion and adult-only baptism.

I think that a better umbrella term for what many today mean by “Reformed” is actually “evangelical” (in the best sense) or perhaps “Reformational.”

That said, should Protestants of any or all denominations practice division or unity and, if the latter, how much?

The point in all of this is not to exclude others, but to defend the integrity (i.e., wholeness) of the Reformed confession. It holds together. You can’t just pick out a few doctrines. That’s true of any other confession and churches have the responsibility to put a check on the democratic-egalitarian tendency to create our own hybrids. We confess the faith together, rather than creating our own combinations from a smorgasbord of options.

At the White Horse Inn, we appeal to C. S. Lewis’s image of “mere Christianity” as the hallway of a great house. In the hallway all who trust in Christ, affirming the ecumenical creeds, mix and mingle and welcome visitors. However, we can only live in actual rooms, where we’re bathed, clothed, fed, and cared for. We believe that evangelicalism is that hallway and the White Horse Inn hosts as well as Modern Reformation writers happily join in this hallway fellowship and common witness. However, our churches–and distinct confessions–are the rooms. We need to get out of our rooms, to breathe fresh air, learn from others, and share in works of mercy and outreach.

Nevertheless, the tendency of evangelicals is to turn the rooms into the hallway as if it were the whole house. Now that some are calling this hallway “Reformed,” there is increasingly no actual place that the Reformed room occupies in the house. Why can’t we let Lutherans be Lutherans, Baptists be Baptists, Pentecostals be Pentecostals, and Reformed folks be Reformed–while meeting up on occasion in the hallway? We’re going to still keep doing that and, whatever room you live in, we hope to see you in the hallway.

I hope that clears up any confusion.

Every now and again, I feature one of my favourite Calvinists, Dr Michael Horton, Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary California, author of numerous books, host at White Horse Inn (WHI) and Editor-in-Chief of Modern Reformation magazine.

In ‘The politics of enthusiasm’ (White Horse Inn blog) Horton recently examined the Christian beliefs of some of the more high-profile candidates in the 2012 presidential race.  He has also given us a bit of American religious history behind these beliefs.  Emphases below are mine:

Just as the Iowa straw-poll concluded last Saturday, with Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul taking first and second place, Texas Governor Rick Perry announced his candidacy.  Happily, the kingdom of Christ is neither threatened nor furthered by the kingdoms of this age.  Nevertheless, the way in which not only the media but professing Christians distort Christianity in public should be of serious concern to all Christians—including those who support the political agenda of offending candidates.

The media has had a feeding frenzy over Gov. Perry’s prominent role in a Houston prayer service.  Secularists will be unhappy with any political leader who exhibits strong religious convictions in public.  The furor over Michele Bachmann’s former membership in the Lutheran Church-Wisconsin Synod, which is confessionally bound to the view that the papacy is “antichrist,” points up the incomprehensibility of traditional churches (Catholic or Protestant) to many journalists.  The press hostility churned the already murky waters of religious and historical ignorance into a whirlpool of secularist bigotry.  No one in the press corps apparently Googled the fact that the confessions of 10 Presbyterian and 2 Dutch Reformed U. S. presidents said the same thing.

At the same time, why is it that so many public figures belong to strange churches or identify with extreme movements and leaders?  President Obama’s now estranged pastor, Jeremiah Wright, traced God’s hand in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack to American sins against non-white and disadvantaged peoples.  “America’s chickens are coming home to roost,” he preached.  Of course, it’s wacky, but the only difference from a lot of right-wing sermonizing is the choice of targets (and reasons) for divine retribution …

Please note that ‘enthusiasm’ has a different — and negative — theological meaning from what we think of when we hear the term.  Enthusiasm has a long and sometimes violent history:

However much the press will get it wrong—and oddly declare the free exercise of religion somehow unconstitutional—U.S. politics seems more dominated than ever by what the Protestant Reformers called “enthusiasm.”  Meaning literally, “God-within-ism,” Luther and Calvin had in mind the radical Anabaptists who thought they were new apostles.  Hearing God’s voice directly within, they did not need an external Word (the Scriptures) or the external ministry of preaching, sacrament, and discipline.  Some of the early radicals even sought to take over civil government.  In the city of Mühlhausen, Thomas Müntzer succeeded, albeit briefly, until his violent, polygamous, and communist theocracy (“The Eternal League of God”) was defeated.  Like Müntzer, many political radicals since have appealed to the twelfth-century mystic Joachim of Fiore and his prophecy of a coming “Age of the Spirit” that will replace all external government and churches.  Everyone will know God by direct revelation and there will be no need for the law or the gospel, the state or the church.

This is a dangerous, not to mention unbiblical, outlook to adopt — despite the fact that it has gained much currency in the United States since the age of revivalism with Charles Finney in the 19th century.  Like Charles Taze Russell, who founded the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Finney was another Presbyterian who went off the rails because he could not bring himself to accept confessional — and scriptural — tenets of the faith.  Two of Finney’s better legacies were his strong abolitionist stance and belief in education for all, regardless of sex or colour. But I digress.

Horton continues:

The religious left and the religious right have roots in the Second Great Awakening, which in many ways carries on this radical Protestant impulse.  And while Charles Finney’s broad agenda of public justice and personal morality has split into two divergent streams (indeed, political parties), they are twin offspring of revivalistic Protestant enthusiasm.

Mormonism is a quintessential offspring of the millennarian, restorationist, and heretical impulse of radical Protestant sects in nineteenth-century America.  Although Mitt Romney professes deep commitment to his Mormon beliefs, he has shown no sign of taking his cues from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in Salt Lake City … 

That’s ironic, because the other Republican front-runners not only believe that the extraordinary office of apostle is still in effect (as Mormonism teaches), but apparently share the hope of their closest religious advisors that they will be emissaries of the Spirit to bring a decadent nation back to God—through the political process.

This American-style 19th century enthusiasm has taken some strange turns since the days of the Religious Right from the 1970s, as we shall see:

First, Michele Bachmann.  Though she used to belong to a conservative Lutheran church, Bachmann’s faith seems to have been shaped more by the Pentecostal-theonomist synthesis of “dominion theology.”  (See Ryan Lizza, “Leap of Faith: The Making of a Republican Front-Runner,” The New Yorker, Aug 15 2011, p. 54-63).  She has spoken openly of having had a vision of the person she was to marry, while he was having the same vision of her.  Influenced initially by Francis Schaeffer’s “A Christian Manifesto,” she eventually enrolled in the Oral Roberts University Law School and then moved to Virginia Beach, where her husband took a degree in counseling at Pat Robertson’s Regent University.  Serving on the school board of a charter school led by Christian activist Dennis L. Meyer, she says she admired his philosophy of governance: “Denny encouraged the board to do things and move forward not because we ‘think’ it should be done a certain way, but because God wants us to” …

Horton tells us that Bachmann served on the board of Summit Ministries in Colorado.  He adds that Summit’s founder David A Noebel was a member of the ultra-conservative John Birch Society. Bachmann’s time at Summit encouraged her to enter politics with this same philosophy.

Why would someone desert Lutheranism for evangelicalism? Wouldn’t she have wanted to remain a member of the original Reformation church with a sound doctrine?

Then, there’s Texas Governor Rick Perry.  Horton writes:

Second, Rick Perry. First, a little background—sorry in advance for the autobiography.  I edited two books in the 1990s—The Agony of Deceit (1990) and Power Religion (1997).  The first one investigated the theology of then-prominent prosperity evangelists … my goal was to search beneath the televangelism scandals in the news to examine the heart of prosperity theology itself.  After a TIME magazine story on the book and its charges, a firestorm of controversy ensued—including letters from the lawyers of some prominent televangelists.

The theology that undergirded many of the televangelists’ ministries was shared by other men and movements like C. Peter Wagner, the Vineyard movement, the “Toronto Blessing,” and the “Kansas City Prophets.” Together they were the self-styled “Next Wave,” a Third Great Awakening.  Behind this movement lay the “Latter Rain” (a.k.a. “Shepherding”) movement of the 1970s: a bizarre aberration all its own that continues in the New Apostolic Reformation movement I mention below.

You can read more about C Peter Wagner here.

And what you will read below explains why I am leery of evangelicals on a national stage.  We can never be sure what ‘brand’ of evangelicalism they believe.  Back to Horton:

Through many of these leaders, the radical fringes of Pentecostalism found their way into more mainstream evangelicalism.    

More radically, many “Third Wave” Pentecostals linked up with R. J. Rushdoony’s “Christian Reconstructionism,” radical defenders of the antebellum South, and other assorted enthusiasts.  Popular versions of dispensational premillennialism (waiting for the Rapture while the world gets steadily worse) gave way to an extreme—and highly politicized—postmillennialism (preparing the way for a golden age of Christian dominion before Christ returns).

And this really is as strange as you might imagine it to be.  What Horton refers to as ‘radical defenders of the antebellum South’ includes a belief in kinism, which is staying within your own racial group and adopting the superiority which accompanies it.  I have read of families who will move cross-country to be part of one of these churches, believing that the pastor and that church will somehow save them from not only spiritual but social ills.

But, let’s go back to C Peter Wagner, founder of the church growth movement, and his New Apostolic Reformation. (Why Horton refers to it as ‘NAP’ instead of the usual ‘NAR’ is unclear.)

C. Peter Wagner, Fuller Seminary professor and pioneer of the church growth movement, was the theologian of the Vineyard movement.  He also launched the phenomenon of  “spiritual mapping,” where various cities or regions were identified with specific demons to be bound by international prayer warriors.  I met with some of these leaders years ago and I don’t question their sincerity, but I do question their orthodoxy.  Until recently, I had assumed that the whole thing was just another revivalistic movement that had come and gone like an Arizona monsoon.  Not so, evidently.  Enthusiasm never goes away, it just keeps reinventing itself.

And this is why I hope that Sarah Palin will work behind the scenes instead of upfront, as she, too, has an indirect connection with prayer warriors, dating from the 2008 campaign when she ran as vice president on John McCain’s ticket.

This year, however, Horton points us to Rick Perry’s purported links with this group:

According to Wagner and the NA[R] circle, the office of prophet and apostle, moribund for centuries, was restored in 2001—with Wagner and his associates as the chief candidatesWhile most Pentecostals have been somewhat a-political and the Assemblies of God (a Pentecostal denomination) has consistently repudiated the succession of movements leading to the NA[R], this group is radically postmillennial and politically engaged.  Its “Latter Rain” roots are on many points theologically heterodox, its discipline verges on cultic, and now it seems that it wants political power.  The “New Reformation” such groups envisage is more like the radical Anabaptist theocracy of Thomas Müntzer that Luther thundered against in “Against the Fanatics” and Calvin excoriated in “Against the Anabaptists.”

We can be sure that if Luther and Calvin took a theological stance against a belief that it was for just cause — being unbiblical and doctrinally unsound.  The question is — do these politicians understand what they are getting into?  I am not convinced that they know why these movements are theologically objectionable. We shall see as the 2012 campaign progresses.

Reportedly, Governor Perry has close ties with the New Apostolic Reformation group.  Rather than rehearse the reports, you can read and evaluate them for yourself, especially the Texas Observer story and the recent Rachel Maddow report.  I’m not suggesting that we should uncritically accept the claims of journalistic neutrality from either source, but this movement—and similar yet less defined sub-groups—will no doubt bring greater disgrace to the cause of Christ in the minds of a biblically illiterate society.  You’ll hear more about it in coming months.  Regardless of how one judges the merits of the candidates’ political positions, the close identification of evangelical Christianity with radical enthusiasm (a direct, unmediated, extraordinary work of the Spirit in charismatic individuals) will only become more justifiable in the minds of many of our neighbors.  Its politicization will only make it more difficult to have serious conversations with our friends and co-workers not only about the common good of civil society but the gospel.

The last thing we need is for a Republican candidate to identify with Christian fringe movements.  It also makes it difficult for us to evangelise in our daily lives when this is the only Christianity the public hears about from the mainstream media — and, believe me, it will be.

The Gospel is apolitical. Jesus said: ‘My kingdom is not of this world’ (John 18:36).

Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross was, is — and ever will be — sufficient atonement for our sins.

God does not need our help in accomplishing His divine purpose for the world.

Whatever temporal and imperfect transformation we can effect now comes from a godly and moral life as individuals, not as organised theocratic groups or movements.

Q: ‘What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?’

A: ‘By no means!  How can we who died to sin still live in it?  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.’ (Romans 6:1-4)

Of late, a kerfuffle has broken out in the Reformed (i.e. Calvinist) camp.  One group — seemingly more Baptist-oriented — has accused the other of being ‘antinomian’.

Antinomianism in its purest form is a heresy.  In short, it says that Christians are free from all biblical law.  In fact, we are enjoined to follow Christ’s commandments of loving God and our neighbour.  These are summed up in the moral law contained in the 10 Commandments.  So, we are freed from the 613 Mosaic laws but obliged to obey the 10 Commandments, which, incidentally, used to appear on stone or wooden tablets near the altar in many Puritan churches a few hundred years ago.

This is the first of three posts exploring the obligations of pure Calvinism — that of the five solas.  We begin first with Dr Michael Horton,  Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary California, author of numerous books, host at White Horse Inn (WHI) and Editor-in-Chief of Modern Reformation magazine.

What follows are excerpts from his January 27, 2011 post for WHI, ‘The Fear of Antinomianism’, a rebuttal to his critics.  Emphases are mine, except for the words in the fifth paragraph.  I present these posts to help people better understand Calvinism, largely misunderstood by many Christians:

There are many today, who set aside God’s law as the standard for God’s righteous judgment, usually substituting their own prescriptions.  However, accusations have been raised over the last few days that target people who are decidedly not antinomian

Anyone who subscribes Lutheran or Reformed confessions is conscience-bound to repudiate antinomianism as a perversion of biblical teaching

The conventional wisdom in many Christian circles is that “we need to find the right balance between law and grace, so that we don’t fall into legalism or license” … its most recent expression was urged in Jason Hood’s article …  The author especially criticizes appeals to the point made by Martyn Lloyd-Jones (on the basis of Romans 6:1) that if we aren’t accused of antinomianism, we haven’t preached the gospel properly

This misunderstanding can be cleared up … by looking at the sharp denunciations of antinomianism in the Lutheran Book of Concord and the Reformed (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, Canons of Dort) and Presbyterian standards (Westminster Confession and Catechisms), as well as the Savoy (Congregationalist) and the London Baptist confessions ...

What’s striking is that Paul answers antinomianism not with the law but with more gospel!  In other words, antinomians are not people who believe the gospel too much, but too little! …

The danger of legalism becomes apparent not only when we confuse law and gospel in justification, but when we imagine that even our new obedience can be powered by the law rather than the gospel.  The law does what only the law can do: reveal God’s moral will.  In doing so, it strips us of our righteousness and makes us aware of our helplessness apart from Christ and it also directs us in grateful obedience …  We need imperatives—and Paul gives them.  But he only does this later in the argument, after he has grounded sanctification in the gospel.

There is more at the link, along with a worthwhile selection of comments.

Next week: Presbyterian pastor Tullian Tchividjian

Richard Foster is one of today’s leaders of spiritual formation.  Much has been written about the various forms of ‘Christian’ meditation, which have been sweeping America over the past several years.

From small acorns do mighty oaks grow.  Who would have imagined that a small non-profit started in 1988 and called Renovaré would have shaken so many Protestant denominations to their foundations?

Richard Foster is a Quaker — a member of the Religious Society of Friends — who put Renovaré and spiritual formation into play.  He earned his Bachelor’s degree at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon, and his Doctorate of Pastoral Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary.

George Fox’s spirituality

First, a word about George Fox and the Quakers.  If Fox were a young man today, he no doubt would have been a follower of Foster’s and an adherent of spiritual formation.  Fox lived between 1624 and 1691 — a tumultuous time in England.  When Fox came of age, Oliver Cromwell had beheaded Charles I,  then the Interregnum took place, the English Civil War followed and Charles II ushered in the Restoration in 1660.  To say that tensions were running high during Fox’s life would be an understatement.

Fox grew up with Puritan preachers.  As such, he was well versed in the King James Bible.  But, like many Calvinist renegades throughout the past few centuries (e.g. Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses) the absolute doctrines of Calvinism upset him, particularly predestination.

Pastor Ken Silva of Apprising Ministries took a closer look at Fox’s mindset.  He read A History of Christianity and discovered (quote below is from the book, emphases are Silva’s):

For four years he suffered severe spiritual depression induced by the spectacle of human suffering,…and by the doctrine of predestination which he heard expounded from Puritan pulpits. By temperament a mystic, he was eager for direct and unhindered access to God

Eventually (1647) the light broke. He came to feel Christ could speak to “his condition,”… He believed that God is love and truth and that it is possible for all men so to open their lives to Him… [Fox] would follow and have others follow the Inner Light” (Vol. II, p. 822, emphasis mine).

What this meant was that Fox ended up rejecting sola Scriptura.  Sound familiar?  And so it goes today in the emergent church and in an increasing number of evangelical churches.

Quaker belief

Quakers believe that this Inner Light is present in everyone.  You can even see that reflected in the comments on the forum on  They don’t quote a lot of Scripture verses but rely on more secular or generically spiritual sayings or poems.  Some meetinghouses are more politically than religiously oriented.  There also appear to be three strands of Quaker practice — including an evangelical one.  Forum participant John writes:

Some examples:

Liberal Quaker – non-Christ centered … generally politically liberal, theologically liberal.

Evangelical Quaker – Christ centered … generally politically mixed, running from liberal to conservative, theologically conservative.

Conservative Quaker – Christ centered … politically liberal on some issues (i.e. peace and non-violence), and politically conservative on others (limited government), theologically very conservative.

‘Are Quakers Protestant?’ tells us (emphases mine below):

It is quite clear from reading the works of early Friends that they did not identify with the Protestant movement. They considered the Protestant churches of their day, as well as the Roman Catholics, to be apostate. They felt that Protestants had lopped off some of the false branches of Catholicism, but did not challenge the root of apostasy. Insofar as Catholicism and Protestantism were different, early Friends would often in discourse on a topic point out what they felt were the incorrect views of Catholics and the separate incorrect views of the Protestants on the issue.

The early Friends considered themselves “primitive Christianity revived” – restoring true Christianity from the apostasy which started very early. They were not interested in reforming an existing church, but rather freshly expressing the truth of a Christianity before any institutional church took strong hold.

There were a number of differences early Friends had with Protestants of their day. Some of the key differences were:

    • The Protestants replaced the authority of the church with the authority of the Bible. Friends, while accepting the validity of the scriptures and believing in the importance of the faith community, gave first place to the Spirit of Christ. Pointing to the prologue of the Gospel of John, they viewed Christ, not the Bible, as the Word of God. The scripture was secondary, a declaration of the fountain rather than the fountain itself. (See also Friends (Quakers) and the Bible.)
    • The Protestants replaced liturgy with a sermon as the center of worship. Friends center worship in the divine presence. Even though Friends disdain outward liturgy, in some sense Quaker worship may be closer to Catholic than Protestant in nature. Both Catholics and Quakers believe in the actual presence of Christ in worship, for Catholics centered in the host and for Quakers spiritually. (See also Friends (Quaker) Worship.)
    • The Protestants were continually disturbed by an inner sense of guilt and original sin, and often felt they were choosing between sins. Quakers balanced the concept of original sin with the idea that redemption and regeneration could actually free humans from sin.


much of Society of Friends has become more mainstream and tends to identify with some of the movements among Protestants. At the same time, some of the key Quaker understandings have become increasingly accepted among many Protestants in the last century. The pentecostal and charismatic movements, which have become a very large part of the Protestantism and have also impacted Catholicism, have some similarities with the early Quaker movement.

Shades of universalism

Ken Silva read more about George Fox’s experience in ‘the well-respected Handbook Of Denominations In The United States (HoD) from Mead and Hill’ (emphases below are Silva’s):

After failing to find satisfactory truth and peace in the churches of his time, Fox discovered what he sought in a direct personal relationship with Christ:

“When all my hopes in [churches] were gone… I heard a voice which said, ‘That is the Inner Voice, or Inner Light, based upon the description of John 1:9: ‘the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. (KJV)’ ”

“This voice,” Fox maintained, “is available to all and has nothing to do with the ceremonies, rituals, or creeds over which Christians have fought. Every heart is God’s altar and shrine.” (140,141, emphasis mine).

Let’s be honest.  If you were to ask any number of people about a) having a direct personal relationship with Christ or b) if everyone is part divine or can come equally to God, you’d receive a surprisingly positive response to both.  The question then is — are these in accordance with the Bible?  No, they are not.

Silva warns us (emphases mine):

this false idea of an inner light, or a “divine spark,” is a very key issue to grasp before one can come to understand the root of the flawed semi-pelagian “gospel” preached by much of mainstream evangelicalism within which Foster has now become a major player. I cover this spiritually fatal idea of “a spark of the divine” allegedly inside all of mankind further in The Emergent “One” and Understanding the New Spirituality: God Indwells Mankind.

So in closing this for now I tell you in the Lord that this musing is actually classic Gnostic mysticism, which itself has already been condemned within the pages of the New Testament. Particularly in the Book of Colossians as well as in 1 John we find the Apostles dealing with Gnosticism. And again concerning all of this messed mysticism the Lord warns us through His chosen vessel Peter — In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up (2 Peter 2:3).

Foster’s Celebration of Discipline

Foster’s most notable work is his 1978 book, Celebration of Discipline, wherein he explores mystical and Quaker practices. Christianity Today named it as one of the top 10 of the 20th century.  Pastor Gary Gilley of Southern View Chapel observes (emphases mine):

Celebration of Discipline alone, not even referencing Foster’s other writings and teachings and ministries, is a virtual encyclopedia of theological error. We would be hard pressed to find in one so-called evangelical volume such a composite of false teaching. These include faulty views on the subjective leading of God (pp. 10, 16-17, 18, 50, 95, 98, 108-109, 128, 139-140, 149-150, 162, 167, 182); approval of New Age teachers (see Thomas Merton below); occultic use of imagination (pp. 25-26, 40-43, 163, 198); open theism (p. 35); misunderstanding of the will of God in prayer (p. 37); promotion of visions, revelations and charismatic gifts (pp. 108, 165, 168-169, 171, 193); endorsement of rosary and prayer wheel use (p. 64); misunderstanding of the Old Testament Law for today (pp. 82, 87); mystical journaling (p. 108); embracing pop-psychology (pp. 113-120); promoting Roman Catholic practices such as use of “spiritual directors,” confession and penance (pp. 146-150, 156, 185); and affirming of aberrant charismatic practices (pp. 158-174, 198).

Gilley adds:

… the dust jacket of this edition assures us “that it is only by and through these practices that the true path to spiritual growth can be found” … If spiritual growth is dependent upon the spiritual disciplines described in Foster’s book, should not we have expected to find this truth in the Scriptures? Why did God reveal them, not to the apostles but to apostate Roman Catholic mystics, and then to Richard Foster as he studied the mystics and used occultic techniques of meditation? We need to tread very carefully through this spiritual minefield. If this is in fact one of the ten best books of the twentieth century, I am not too anxious to read the other nine.

He concludes:

No one is calling for a purely intellectualized faith devoid of practice and experience. What those who draw their cue from Scripture and not mystics are calling for is a Christian faith, experience and practice that is rational, intellectual, makes sense, and most importantly is solidly grounded on the Word of God. Foster and company have taken many far afield in pursuit of mystical experiences that lead to a pseudo-Christianity that has the appearance of spirituality but not the substance.


The verb is Latin for ‘to renew’.  Since Foster founded this organisation in 1988, it has expanded around the world.

After the success of Celebration of Discipline, Foster received many public speaking invitations.  Audiences, particularly in the evangelical world, were highly receptive to the book’s subject matter and wished to know more.  In 1986, Foster withdrew from active ministry to pursue a means for teaching people how to live the disciplines the book explores.  He launched Renovaré two years later.

The non-profit organisation has taken on an ecumenical membership from a variety of Protestant denominations as well as from the Roman Catholic Church.  In fact, it is now headed by an Anglican Franciscan, Christopher Webb.  Foster remains a member of Renovaré’s board and its ministry team.

Phil Johnson of Pyromaniacs and John MacArthur’s Grace to You Ministries shared his own impressions of Foster with Ken Silva (emphases mine):

I met Foster almost 25 years ago when we were both slated to teach seminars at a couple of writers’ conferences. At the time, he was teaching at Friends University in Wichita, which is a small college founded by Quakers and happens to be where my Mom got her degree in the early 1960s. So we had some things in common and spent quite a bit of time talking. He is a capable writer and a very likable person.

But in my opinion, he is not an evangelical. He does not seem to have any clear understanding of the gospel or the atonement. That’s why his emphasis is all about “spirituality” and “spiritual disciplines” and various things the worshiper must do, with virtually no emphasis on what Christ has done for sinners. I’ve read several of Foster’s books and have never even seen him mention the cross as a propitiation for sins.

Moreover, he blends all kinds of works-based approaches to spirituality, which he borrows from diverse “Christian” traditions and even from other religions’ mystical and superstitious practices. In my estimation, all of that puts him far outside the pale of orthodoxy. Although he occasionally makes quotable remarks and valid observations, he is by no means a trustworthy teacher.

Nonetheless, Foster’s disciplines are pervasive.

From Calvinists to the Nazarenes

Silva researched Foster’s effect on various churches and found that a new generation of Calvinists were on board.

In 2009, John Piper interviewed Matt Chandler of The Village Church, who gave Piper his impressions of being ‘a pastor, a Calvinist and a Complementarian’.  Silva found it ‘odd’ that

in a search for Richard Foster in the Recommended Books of The Village Church, “that have challenged and helped us as a staff in our faith and in our ministry work”, we find his books Celebration of Discipline, Streams of Living Water, and The Challenge of the Disciplined Life

And so I have to wonder: Why would a Calvinist pastor and his staff be recommending to anyone these books by a highly ecumenical Quaker mystic whose whole sorry shtick is reintroducing the unsuspecting to the apostate Sola Scriptura-denying and spurious spirituality of the Counter Reformation within the medieval Roman Catholic Church?

Mark Driscoll, controversial pastor of the Mars Hill Fellowship in Seattle, also advocates spiritual disciplines and contemplative practices.  Lighthouse Trails Research discovered (emphases mine):

In an article written by Driscoll himself, ironically titled Obedience, Driscoll tells readers to turn to Richard Foster and contemplative Gary Thomas. Driscoll states:

If you would like to study the spiritual disciplines in greater detail … helpful are Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster, and Sacred Pathways, by Gary Thomas.


Presently, on Driscoll’s website, The Resurgence … is an article titled “How to Practice Meditative Prayer.” The article is written by an Acts 29 (Driscoll’s network of churches) pastor, Winfield Bevins. A nearly identical article on Driscoll’s site, also by Bevins, is titled Meditative Prayer: Filling the Mind. Both articles show a drawing of a human brain. In this latter article, Bevins recognizes contemplative mystic pioneer Richard Foster:

What do we mean by meditative prayer? Is there such a thing as Christian meditation? Isn’t meditation non-Christian? According to Richard Foster, “Eastern meditation is an attempt to empty the mind. Christian meditation is an attempt to fill the mind” (Celebration of Discipline). Rather than emptying the mind we fill it with God’s word. We must not neglect a vital part of our Judeo-Christian heritage simply because other traditions use a form of meditation.

Meanwhile, Manny Silva at Reformed Nazarene does an excellent job in exposing false teachers to members of the Church of the Nazarene.

On November 14, 2010, he blogged about the possibility of Nazarene youth groups being influenced by Renovaré.  He writes about two Christian youth ministries already working with young adult Nazarene members — Barefoot and YouthFront — which wish to partner with Renovaré (emphases mine):

Mike King is the President of YouthFront, and …  Here is what he wrote:

“Back from five days in the Denver area.  The first couple of days Chris Folmsbee and I met with the leadership of Renovare about partnership possibilities between Barefoot, Renovare and Youthfront.  We had great and synergistic conversations.  The Renovare team is awesome and I look forward to working with them closer.  I think wonderful things will be coming from our ongoing dialogue and planning.  Stay tuned …” (Mike King’s blog)

…  Mike King … just recently received a Master’s Degree from Nazarene Theological Seminary, although I don’t know if he is actually a Nazarene.  YouthFront is a national youth ministry training organization based in Kansas City, and is known for promoting spiritual formation.  YouthFront has already partnered with NTS in at least one endeavor, as indicated in this NTS webpage ad from 2008 offering a youth spirituality course.  This is not a surprise for me anymore, but rather a painful expectation.

Chris Folmsbee is the director of Barefoot Ministries, a non-profit youth ministry training and publishing company located in Kansas City.  According to Chris’s website, “Barefoot exists to help youth workers guide students into Christian formation for the mission of God.”  I have written several articles on Barefoot ministries, and it is no secret that I and many other Nazarenes believe that this organization for youth is leading many youth down the wide path of spiritual destruction, not spiritual formation!

And the third part of this alliance is Renovare, an organization founded by Richard Foster, perhaps the most influential person today in leading many evangelicals directly to and over the cliffs, right into the abyss of spiritual formation (certainly a more palatable and innocent-sounding phrase than contemplative spirituality, or “Christianized transcendental meditation”, or maybe “occultic prayer practices.”  I have also documented much of Richard Foster’s unbiblical practices and ideology, and it is maddening that he has such an influence in a denomination that preaches holiness and faithfulness to God’s written word, and long ago ironically moved away from experiential-based spirituality in rejecting the hyper-charismatic movement.

Why Christians are unhappy

Manny Silva reminds Nazarenes what experimentation in religious practices can do not only to individuals but to a denomination as a whole (same link as above):

… we seem to be continuing down this road, making more and more alliances with organizations that have a veneer of truth. And so I ask again, since there is some truth there, does that make it okay to join with them?  Is there any more doubt as to where our denomination is heading, my friends?  Are we fooling ourselves and thinking that these are just minor aberrations in the whole scheme of things?

What does it say to you, then, that NTS, our main seminary for training pastors for the future, is clearly holding hands with these groups, and promoting them? Remember NTS’s promotion of the Spiritual Formation Retreat just before General Assembly?  Remember the Prayer Room at General Assembly with the Richard Foster book?  Or the Richard Foster/Renovare event at Point Loma Nazarene University? Or Trevecca Nazarene University’s prayer labyrinth? Remember the promotion of contemplative practices on the NTS website, for pre-teens?  ..Either our leadership is totally in the dark about these (and many more that I have not mentioned), or they know of it, and are saying nothing specific to the questions many have put to them.

Michael Horton is the J. Gresham Machen professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California (Escondido, California), host of the White Horse Inn, national radio broadcast, and editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine.  In ‘What’s Wrong and Right about the Imitation of Christ’, he offers these observations of contemplative Christianity (emphases mine):

It would be a travesty simply to lump together medieval mysticism, the Anabaptist tradition, Quakers, Pietism, and Protestant liberalism. Nevertheless, there is a common thread running through these diverse movements-a theology of works-righteousness that emphasizes:

    • Christ’s example over his unique and sufficient achievement;
    • The inner experience and piety of believers over the external work and Word of Christ;
    • Our moral transformation over the Spirit’s application of redemption;
    • Private soul formation over the public ministry of the means of grace.

When we reverse the priority of these emphases, however, we experience more profoundly the delight of our inheritance, grow in our faith and gratitude toward God and our love toward our neighbors, are constantly renewed inwardly, and take from our public assembly enough morsels to feed on in our family and personal prayers and meditations throughout the week.

In the same article, he quotes Lutheran theologian Gerhard Forde (emphases mine):

In our modern age, influenced by Pietism and the Enlightenment, our thinking is shaped by what is subjective, by the life of faith, by our inner disposition and motivation, by our inward impulses and the way they are shaped. When we think and live along these lines, sanctification is a matter of personal and individual development and orientation. It is true that we also find this approach in Luther. No one emphasized more sharply than he did our personal responsibility….But this approach is secondary. ‘The Word of God always comes first. After it follows faith; after faith, love; then love does every good work, for…it is the fulfilling of the law.’

Let’s leave the final word to Martin Luther, as recorded in Tabletalk (emphases mine):

Yet all these seeming holy actions of devotion, which the wit and wisdom of man holds to be angelical sanctity, are nothing else but works of the flesh. All manner of religion, where people serve God without his Word and command, is simply idolatry, and the more holy and spiritual such a religion seems, the more hurtful and venomous it is; for it leads people away from the faith of Christ, and makes them rely and depend upon their own strength, works, and righteousness. In like manner, all kinds of orders of monks, fasts, prayers, hairy shirts, the austerities of the Capuchins, who in popedome are held to be the most holy of all, are mere works of the flesh; for the monks hold they are holy, and shall be saved, not through Christ, whom they view as a severe and angry judge, but through the rules of their order.

Is the same true of our contemplative friends among the laity?  Please exercise caution in your Christian practices.  Is what you are doing in the Bible, particularly the New Testament? If not, avoid it. Rely not on Christian bookstores, errant pastors or sensation-seeking friends.  Instead, be Berean.

End of series

Before we look at the life of Charles Peter Wagner, 80, let us find out a bit more about his mentor, Donald McGavran (1897-1990), who served as Dean Emeritus and former Senior Professor of Mission, church growth, and South Asian studies at the School of World Mission, Fuller Theological Seminary.

McGavran and church growth

McGavran was born around the time my late paternal grandmother.  That cohort — and this has been discussed by theorists of generational studies — had an openness towards new ideas, new ways of thinking and keeping abreast of the times.  Like McGavran, my grandmother died in her early 90s and our family concluded that, whilst she was conventional in so many ways, she always had a zest for life and an interest in what was happening in the world.

So it was with McGavran, the child of missionaries to India, who later became one himself.  He observed that the country’s caste system often acted as a barrier to conversion to Christianity.  He devised a system of evangelising and categorising potential converts.  This later became known as the church growth movement.  He explained these theories and methods in Understanding Church Growth, The Bridges of God and How Churches Grow.  In 1965, he instituted the School of World Mission at Fuller.  In 1970, McGavran gave an address in which he discussed church growth, aligning it with methods used in industry (emphases mine throughout):

We devise mission methods and policies in the light of what God has blessed—and what He has obviously not blessed. Industry calls this “modifying operation in light of feedback.” Nothing hurts missions overseas so much as continuing methods, institutions, and policies which ought to bring men to Christ—but don’t; which ought to multiply churches—but don’t. We teach men to be ruthless in regard to method. If it does not work to the glory of God and the extension of Christ’s church, throw it away and get something which does. As to methods, we are fiercely pragmatic—doctrine is something else.[1]

Thus, we see why many critics of church growth say it is more about numbers than faith.

For McGavran, borrowing quantitative methods from the secular world of industry must have had great appeal.  It tapped into the zeitgeist, had pizazz and was revolutionary.  Not unlike my grandmother’s penchant for the latest styles of the period, like being the first (and only) woman I knew who had a Pauline Trigere style A-line coat, a chic design which served her well for many years, and her eagerness to try the latest household products and eat at the newest restaurants.  I mention these things because she, McGavran and many others born around the same time seemed to think the same way.

Whereas my grandmother’s penchant for the new was harmless, McGavran’s church growth movement ended up giving birth to seeker-sensitive churches, man-centred services and a postmodern interpretation of Scripture.

Wagner follows in McGavran’s footsteps

C Peter Wagner attended Fuller in the 1950s.  He and his wife served as Congregational (United Church of Christ) missionaries in South America.  A year after McGavran gave his talk above, Wagner became a professor at Fuller’s — McGavran’s — School of World Mission, now known as the School of Intercultural Studies.  In 1981, he replaced McGavran as the head of the school and continued in that capacity until 1998 and was also a professor of Church Growth.

In Leading Your Church to Growth, published in 1984, Wagner wrote:

The Church Growth Movement has always stressed pragmatism, and still does even though many have criticized it. It is not the kind of pragmatism that compromises doctrine or ethics or the kind that dehumanizes people by using them as means toward an end. It is, however, the kind of consecrated pragmatism which ruthlessly examines traditional methodologies and programs asking the tough questions. If some sort of ministry in the church is not reaching intended goals, consecrated pragmatism says there is something wrong which needs to be corrected.[5]

Implied in that is the idea that a church is unsuccessful when it does not grow, that there is something inherently wrong.  It must be fixed.  This is, frankly, unbiblical.  Better a small, faithful congregation than a large one of lukewarm quasi-believers who think their involvement in church programmes will bring them salvation.

In 1 Corinthians 2:5, St Paul wrote:

When I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.

The Third Wave of the Holy Spirit

Wagner categorised the Holy Spirit’s work in the 20th century and came up with the term, the Third Wave, which he discussed in his 1988 book, The Third Wave of the Holy Spirit: Encountering the Power of Signs and Wonders Today. The first wave was during the Pentecostal Azusa Street Revival, the second with the charismatic movement in churches during the 1960s and the third took place starting in the mid-1980s.   

Growth is good

One of Wagner’s friends was the late John Wimber, former keyboardist for the Paramours and the Righteous Brothers, who began attending a Quaker church during the 1960s.  Wimber later became an adjunct professor at Fuller for their controversial ‘Signs and Wonders’ course.  By this time, he was already the pastor of the Anaheim Vineyard Christian Fellowship, affiliated with the Vineyard Christian Fellowships, which became an international Vineyard Movement. Wimber would go on to write Power Evangelism.

Wagner admired Wimber’s church as well as Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral.  If a church was growing, it was good.  So, it is no wonder to read that he was the advisor for Rick Warren’s 1993 D.Min. project, for which the abstract reads in part:


A People magazine survey found that only 11% of Baby Boomers regularly attend church. The basic argument of this dissertation is that most Baby Boomers will never be reached by traditional churches. We must establish new churches to reach this new generation of Americans. It will require new churches that understand the Baby Boom mindset and are intentionally designed to meet their needs, tastes, and interests.

During the past thirteen years, I have been researching, testing, and implementing principles and programs to reach Baby Boomers. I began the Saddleback Valley Community Church in January, 1980 in my home … when I moved to the area. My target was to reach Baby Boomers. Today, the church averages about 6,000 in attendance. Over 50% of the members are Baby Boomers and nearly 70% were saved and baptized at the church.

Our church has sponsored 20 daughter churches since it began. In each of these new churches we have used the same strategy with good results. I believe the strategy we’re developing at Saddleback is reproducible in other new church starts.

Need we say more? Rick Warren has been tickling itching ears with astounding ‘success’.  As The Revd Bob DeWaay points out:

… if one follows the felt needs agenda, the church will inevitably have to take resources and attention away from gospel preaching and Bible teaching in order to create programs to meet these needs. When people are asked if they are “good people” and whether they think they will go to heaven when they die, the answer is nearly always “yes.” They feel no need for conversion. So hearing gospel preaching will not be one of their felt needs. Therefore the felt needs of the unregenerate will determine that the church puts the proclamation of the gospel on the back burner …

The New Apostolic Reformation for a new Millennium

In 1999, Wagner wrote a book, Churchquake, in which he posited the need for a New Apostolic Reformation (NAR).  DeWaay explains:

The New Apostolic Reformation is based on the idea that apostles and prophets as the foundation of the church were never meant to be only the Biblical ones, but that living persons should occupy these offices until the church is perfected.35 Wagner argues that the church has made remarkable progress for centuries without apostles and prophets, but that so much more will happen with them

Wagner himself claims to be the recipient of this type of apostolic revelation. He claims to have been given marching orders for the church to concentrate on the 40/70 window (missiologists use that term for the part of the world with the greatest numbers of non-Christians). He claims further that he knows that a principality of darkness named “The Queen of Heaven” is responsible for “neutralizing the power of Christianity in that area.”39 The long and the short of it is that the release of apostolic power through later day apostles and prophets with new revelations for the church will bring about the success and triumph of Christianity in the world.

Wagner was energised by the apostolic church and missional growth in Africa, South America and China.  He praises the high number of volunteers these churches have.  He likes the fact that the congregations yield up new ministers, ‘like cream on fresh milk’. In an excerpt from The Transforming Power of Revival which Talk to Action reproduced, Wagner noted that, for practical reasons, seminary formation would be out of the question for many hopeful preachers in the developing world.  Therefore:

New apostolic ordination is primarily rooted in personal relationships, which verify character, and in proved ministry skills.

Continuing education for leaders more frequently takes place in conferences, seminars and retreats rather than in classrooms of accredited institutions.  Little aversion is noticed for quality training, but the demands are many for alternate delivery systems.  A disproportionate number of new apostolic churches, especially the large ones, are establishing their own in-house Bible schools.

He adds:

On the other hand, new apostolic church leaders are vision driven.  In a conversation with a new apostolic senior pastor about his church, I once asked, “How many cell groups do you have?” I think that was sometime in 1996.

He replied, “We will have 600 by the year 2000!” I can’t seem to recall ever finding out how many cells he did have in 1996.  As far as the pastor was concerned, though, that apparently didn’t matter at all.  In his mind, the 600 cells were not imaginary, they were real.  The 600 was what really mattered.


For many, praise marches, prayer walking, prayer journeys and prayer expeditions have become a part of congregational life and ministry.  For example, 55 members of one local church, New life Church of Colorado Springs, recently travelled to Nepal, high in the Himalayas, to pray on-site for each of the 43 major, yet-unreached people groups of the nation.

What concerns me is what sort of biblical interpretation and teaching these people are receiving.  Also, for some, is there a danger that syncretic religious practices will creep in?  My reservations are many.  How many pastors are saying, ‘The Holy Spirit told me today that you should …’  Whilst it’s always a blessing for people to receive the Gospel message with open and joyous hearts, there is a real possibility that such zeal could be misunderstood and misused.

New apostles and dominionism?

As part of the NAR effort, Wagner founded Global Harvest Ministries.  The idea was to infuse the seven mountains of culture with Christian ideals and zeal, working closely with governments and business as necessary.  In August 2010, it morphed into a new organisation with the same objectives, Global Spheres.  On the Global Harvest site, Wagner tells us:

I officially turned GHM over to Chuck Pierce of Denton, Texas. Instead of continuing GHM, Chuck organized Global Spheres, Inc. (GSI), a new wineskin for apostolic alignment which will carry Doris and me into the future. Chuck is President and I am Apostolic Ambassador. As a part of this transition, we have closed the GHM website, and transferred our material to the GSI website.

On Global Spheres, Chuck Pierce says:

We must not slow down but accelerate, review, regroup, face giants, gain strategy, and “go up!” I have a team praying for you as you pursue a new level of dominion in your sphere of authority. We are presently designing an interactive Global Spheres website so we can post your current mission thrusts

Then we will have the monthly report — Global Spheres: Expanding Our Dominion Month by Month in 2010. I will post these on the website and we will keep them updated for you to see. Another reason for doing this is that we want to support on a monthly basis each mission thrust that one of our associates have …

John Dickson and I are working on another Worship Book (As It Is In Heaven) with Regal Books. I am working on my third book for Charisma, Let Your Spirit Soar: Overcoming the Enemy’s Power of Vexation. Then as Glory of Zion International Ministries publications, I am working on two books. The first is The Triumphant Reserve, the vision the Lord gave me of every state in the USA and the 153 Sheep Nations …

As I write in November 2010, there is only one month of Global Sphere monthly reports — for January 2010.

Wagner was also the Presiding Apostle (2000-2009) of the International Coalition of Apostles (ICA). He is now their Presiding Apostle Emeritus. The Wagners and Pierce are council members. Its mission is as follows:

ICA is designed to connect apostles’ wisdom and resources in order that each member can function more strategically, combine their efforts globally, and effectively accelerate the advancement of the Kingdom of God into every sphere of society.

No comment.  Talk to Action lists a number of offshoots of this movement, many of which have some connection — direct or indirect — back to Wagner or his organisations.  Among them are prayer warrior groups, such as the kind which prayed for Sarah Palin in 2008.  Also ‘Bishop’ Thomas Muthee who prayed over Palin at the Wasilla Assembly of God Church.  He returned to speak to the church in October 2010.

Wagner Leadership Institute near Fuller

Wagner also founded the eponymous Leadership Institute.  It is located in Pasadena, the same city where Fuller is based.  Here’s a bit about the WLI which, by the way, does not ordain or licence students for the ministry:

Founded in 1998 by C. Peter Wagner, WLI reflects a new paradigm for unique training in practical ministry. Students learn in a creative, revelatory atmosphere of teaching, impartation and activation with opportunity for hands-on practical application and ministry. WLI provides the highest level of training and spiritual impartation through a successful faculty of internationally known leaders who walk and minister powerfully out of the five-fold ascension gifts. Students obtain a living, functioning impartation and activation from the Holy Spirit to walk in their divine destiny.

This may have even more implications than church growth.  Take a look at the courses, which include:

– Apostolic Breakthrough!

– Exploring the Nature and Gift of Dreams

– Biblical Entrepreneurship

– Current Topics for Kingdom Advance (this one taught by Wagner himself).

Dominionist?  You decide

We’re nearing the end, but, despite what Wagner says, did he know about Latter Rain and did he endorse it?  Deception in the Church has an interesting report, excerpted below (emphasis theirs):

C. Peter Wagner wrote a letter to Dr. Orrel Steinkamp on June 5, 2001 before Orrel wrote his article called “Spiritual Warfare Evangelism – How Did We Get Here?” in The Plumbline, volume 6, No. 5, November/December 2001.  Here is the salient quote from that article:

“So I never even heard of the Latter Rain, Kingdom Now .. Manifested Sons of God or any of those things

However, in a conference called “Global Harvest Ministries Presents: Apostolic Church Arising” held at the Atlanta Metropolitan Cathedral, Atlanta, GA, June 14-16, 2001 C. Peter Wagner claimed that he was drawn into the process and started hearing about the Latter Rain back in 1993 …

… I myself knew nothing about those previous efforts I mean I couldn’t even spell “latter rain” … but in 1993 then God drew me into the process and I began hearing about these things even though I never experienced them now.

‘Never experienced them now’ is an interesting turn of phrase.

Deception‘s Sandy Simpson concludes:

… I have already pointed out, one of the two living proponents of the New Order Of The Latter Rain, namely Paul Cain, associate to William Branham, visited John Wimber and C. Peter Wagner in 1989 according to Wagner on the DVD series, and he had to have explained the apostolic movement to them at that time.

I leave you to draw your own conclusions on C Peter Wagner.  However, church growth plus NAR plus dominionism is a frightening combination.  This post illustrates why many Christians are suspicious of Evangelicalism.  To bring us back to Gospel truths, here is Dr Michael Horton, Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary California and author of several books.  He says:

Long ago, the evangelist D. L. Moody responded to criticisms of his message and pragmatic methods with the quip, “I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it”  … Yet the answer is not “deeds over creeds,” but to be re-introduced to the creeds that generate the deeds that are the fruit of genuine faith.  Getting the gospel right and getting the gospel out, as well as loving and serving our neighbors, comprise the callings of the church and of Christians in the world. However, confusing these is always disastrous for our message and mission.

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