Monday, July 29, 2013

The Free Offer of the Gospel

Synod of Dort, 1618-1619
We begin our consideration of the "Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation":
Article One: The Gospel
We affirm that the Gospel is the good news that God has made a way of salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ for any person. This is in keeping with God's desire for every person to be saved.
We deny that only a select few are capable of responding to the Gospel while the rest are predestined to an eternity in hell.


    Significantly the "Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation" begins with an article on "The Gospel." It will be remembered that the Preamble to the document stated that "Traditional Southern Baptist soteriology is grounded in the conviction that every person can and must be saved by a personal and free decision to respond to the Gospel by trusting in Christ Jesus alone as Savior and Lord," and that "Christ is willing and able to save any and every sinner." Accordingly in the First Article of the Statement the authors affirm that "God has made a way of salvation . . . for every person" and that "This is in keeping with God's desire for every person to be saved."
    So far, so good. But then the authors assume that the free offer of the gospel is somehow incompatible with the doctrines of election and predestination. "We deny that only a select few are capable of responding to the Gospel while the rest are predestined to an eternity in hell." They list 17 passages of Scripture in support of their position, most of which underscore the Great Commission and the free offer of the gospel.
    It should be pointed out that only Hypercalvinists reject the free offer of the gospel. The vast majority of Calvinists whole-heartedly accept the offer because it is obviously biblical and is central to the mission of the church. The Synod of Dort, which explicated what has become known as "The Five Points of Calvinism," explicitly stated that the death of Christ "is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world," and that the promise of the gospel "ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction . . ." If anyone fails to believe, "this is not owing to any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but is wholly to be imputed to themselves" (Second Head of Doctrine, Articles 3,5 and 6).
    Does this, then, necessarily preclude any idea of election and predestination? The authors of the Statement evidently think so. As we shall see, however, the Bible explicitly addresses the subject, and quite unambiguously teaches that God chooses those who are to be saved. Calvin drew his theology from such passages as Romans 9 and Ephesians 1, where God's sovereign choice in election is quite clearly stated. Opponents of Calvinism typically either resort to contorted exegesis to rid themselves of the problem, or ignore the passages altogether. One cannot use one scriptural truth to deny another. Sometimes the Word of God is deeper and more complex than our shallow systems of theology!
    Specifically the authors of the Statement doe not make allowances for the possibility that God could have complex motives for His decrees – that He could have genuine pity and compassion on His fallen creatures and yet, at the same time, find it necessary for the sake of justice, for some to receive the actual punishment their sins deserve. "What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory . . . ?" (Rom. 9:22,23; NKJV).
    If there is a contradiction here, it is not to be traced to any defect in the character of God. Rather, the fault lies with us. We are God's creatures, made in His image, created in original righteousness. Yet we sinned and rebelled against Him. We essentially created the problem, and can hardly blame God for the consequences of our own actions. The question is not, why does God choose to send some sinner sot hell and not others; the question is, why do we persist in our sin?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Calvinism & the Southern Baptist Convention

    Over the past several decades a fierce controversy has been raging within the Southern Baptist Convention regarding Calvinism. Calvinism is a type of theology which emphasizes the sovereignty and power of God, and is especially known for its controversial tenet of predestination. Calvinism has made a resurgence in Baptist circles in recent years, and some traditionalists within the SBC think that they are witnessing the end of civilization as they know it.
    The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. with 16.1 million reported adherents. Founded in 1845, its primary purpose is to promote missions, and it has always had a strong evangelistic thrust.
James P. Boyce
 Interestingly, many of the early leaders of the Convention were thorough-going Calvinists, including the first president of Southern Baptist Seminary, James P. Boyce. Yet over time the Convention has tended to drift toward a different type of theology with an emphasis on the free offer of the gospel. Starting in the 1970's, however, there was a resurgence of Calvinism in the Convention, and this has resulted in protracted controversy. In 2012 a group of pastors and theologians produced "A Statemenf of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation" In the preamble to the Statement the authors declared that "The traditional Southern Baptist soteriology [the doctrine of salvation] is grounded in the conviction that every person can and must be saved by a personal and free decision to respond to the Gospel by trusting in Christ Jesus alone as Savior and Lord . . . Baptists have been well-served by a straightforward soteriology rooted in the fact that Christ is willing and able to save any and every sinner." The Statement itself consists of ten articles, each one containing an affirmation and a denial.

    The language of the Statement is often vague and confusing. It often speaks of the sovereignty, grace and power of God in salvation, but its principle aim is to limit those very things. Specifically the Statement rejects "TULIP," the so-called "Five points of Calvinism." (TULIP is an acronym that stands for Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and the Perseverance of the Saints.). The Statement marshals a large amount of proof texts to support its major contention of the free offer of the gospel, but largely ignores those texts which deal with God's sovereignty and power, the spiritual condition of the lost sinner, and the work of the Holy Spirit in conversion. In this regard we think that the Statement is fatally weak.
    What we propose to do in the following series of blog posts is to examine each one of the articles contained in the Statement in the light of Scripture. Our aim is not to engender more controversy, but to promote mutual understanding and to clear away misconceptions. Specifically we hope to demonstrate that "Calvinism," (if we must call the theology of the Bible by that name), if properly understood, does not pose a threat to missionary or evangelistic activity, but rather is an aid to true revival, which we desperately need. Ultimately our hope is that the series will promote the peace and unity of the church. The readers' comments, as always, are welcome.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Lessons Learned from D.L. Moody

D.L. Moody preaching
 We recently had the opportunity of reading the biography of the great 19th Century American evangelist D.L. Moody, written, interestingly, by British author John Pollock. It is a fascinating story.

D.L. Moody
Coming from extremely humble circumstances, Dwight Lyman Moody rose to fame during the "Gilded Age" of the late 19th Century. It was the heyday of learned theologians and eloquent pulpiteers. Moody, by way of contrast, had almost no formal education of any kind and was never ordained. To the end of his life he was an untrained lay preacher. Nevertheless he enjoyed astonishing success. Beginning with a Sunday school he organized in the slums of Chicago he went on to minister to Union troops during the American Civil War. In 1873 he made a trip to Britain which became a preaching tour. On his return to America two years later he conducted major campaigns in Brooklyn, Philadelphia and New York. He spent the rest of his life preaching, and organized several important institutions, including the Bible Institute in Chicago that now bears his name.

    We think that the life of Moody offers several important spiritual lessons. Among them are these:
  1. God often chooses humble means to accomplish His purposes. "But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things that are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence" (I Cor. 1:27-29; NKJV). To look at Moody's background and personal qualifications, one might be tempted to ask, why did God choose him? And yet the choice was obviously deliberate. It became evident that whatever success Moody had, it was not due to his personal ability. There were others much better qualified than he, but they had nowhere near the impact that he had.
  2. Success depends on the power of God. "'Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit,' says the Lord of hosts" (Zech. 4:6). People who heard Moody preach were struck by a quality that seemed to transcend the man. "The work is most plainly of God, for I can see no relation between yourself and what you have done," one noted British preacher told him (Pollock, p. 161). Moody himself attributed his success to a baptism of the Holy Spirit that he received in November, 1871. "I can only say that God revealed himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand" (p. 108). His ministry was transformed by the experience.
  3. God chooses those who are first faithful in little things. ". . . you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things" (Matt. 25:21,23). Moody did not set out for greatness when he started out in life. He began as a shoe salesman. He was active in his local church, simply trying to do what he could to help. He rounded up street urchins and brought them to Sunday school. The Sunday school grew, and so did his sphere of influence. Only gradually did he become a preacher, first addressing only his Sunday school children, and eventually soldiers in the Union camps during the Civil War. He learned what he could pick up along the way. It was only later that he addressed huge crowds.
  4. Christian love and unity are prerequisites for God's blessing. Jesus told His disciples, "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). And how do we abide in Christ? By keeping His commandments (v. 10). And what is His commandment? ". . . that you love one another as I have loved you" (v. 12).


    Moody's status as an unordained layman worked to his advantage It enabled him to transcend denominational boundaries and unite divergent groups. His campaigns in large cities were typically organized by committees drawn from a wide spectrum of churches. In this way Christians were able to join together in pursuit of a common goal. The focus was on Christ, not on denominations, and the power and blessing of the Holy Spirit were very much evident as a result.
    Moody's story is an extraordinary one – an ordinary individual chosen by God to be the man of the hour. In some ways Moody's success was a sharp rebuke to the smug, self-satisfied church of the day. A man with no training or background was able to accomplish what the highly trained professional clergy were never able to do. "To God be the glory – great things He hath done!" (Fanny J. Crosby).

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

God Never Changes

    It is a truism that the world is rapidly changing and indeed it is. We have seen this most recently in the dramatic change in attitude toward homosexuality. Same-sex marriage, which just twenty years ago would have seemed like a shocking absurdity, is not legal in thirteen states and several foreign countries. What is the world coming to?
Harry Emerson Fosdick
 The natural instinct of the average person in such circumstances is simply to "go with the flow." To get along you have to go along, as they say. We have to adapt to changing times. In an earlier generation this type of thinking led to an entire theological movement called "Modernism." As one of its most vocal proponents, Harry Emerson Fosdick, put it, "Protestantism . . . was formulated in prescientific days. Not one of its historic statements of faith takes into account any of the masterful ideas which constituted the framework of modern thinking – the inductive method, the new astronomy, natural law, evolution." He then went on to say that the "chaos and turmoil" of his day sprang directly "from the impossible endeavor of large sections of the church to continue the presentation of the Gospel in forms of thought that are no longer real and cogent to well-educated minds" (Adventurous Christianity, 1926, pp. 241,242). Hence early 20th Century "Modernism."

J. Gresham Machen
 One of the leading conservatives of the day J. Gresham Machen, noted the difficulty but observed that "the liberal attempt at reconciling Christianity with modern science has really relinquished everything distinctive of Christianity, so that what remains is in essentials only that same indefinite type of religious aspiration which was in the world before Christianity came upon the scene" (Christianity and Liberalism, 1923, p. 7). And so early 20th Century "Fundamentalism."

    The conflict between Modernism and Fundamentalism was long and bitter, but in the end the liberals won control of most of the major Protestant denominations in America. But conservative, biblical Christianity still survives, and the major underlying issues are still very much alive.
    Does truth change at the whim of the U.S. Supreme Court? It obviously does not.
        "Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.
         Before the mountains were brought forth,
         Or even You had formed the earth and the world,
         Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God."
(Ps. 90:1,2; NKJV)
    Some things never change. There is order and structure in the universe. Nature proceeds according to certain well-defined patterns. Life and death continue their ceaseless cycle. And human nature remains the same. And above it all is the Supreme Being Who created the universe. He is the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, and is not subject to the passing fads and fancies of human legislation. God did not consult the U. S. Supreme Court before He handed down the Ten Commandments. And long after nations and empires have been swept into the dustbin of history, the throne of God will continue to stand unmoved, eternal in the heavens.
    In the Last Judgment God's opinion will be the only one that counts.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Morality = Bigotry?

George Whitefield preaching
  In our last blog post we noted that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy virtually equated morality with bigotry. He pointed out that the House of Representatives, in passing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), stated that the intent of the legislation was to uphold Judeo-Christian morality. Justice Kennedy then went on to insinuate that this amounts to a purpose to "degrade," "demean," and "disparage" homosexual couples who wish to get married.

    Does this mean that Judeo-Christian morality is tantamount to bigotry? Let us be perfectly blunt and candid about this. The whole aim and purpose of morality is to stigmatize certain forms of behavior. What Justice Kennedy appears to be objecting to is the very idea of morality itself – the idea that certain forms of behavior, by their very nature, are wrong. But most laws have the same practical effect that Justice Kennedy found so obnoxious in DOMA. They criminalize certain forms of behavior. Those who engage in those forms of behavior are subjected to certain incapacities. Is this unfair discrimination? Not hardly. The whole purpose of the law, of any law, is to proscribe certain forms of activity. DOMA was no different.
    But passing beyond a court ruling on a piece of legislation, why do Judaism and Christianity consider homosexual activity immoral in the first place? What is so bad about being gay?
    Homosexuality is immoral because it runs counter to the creative purpose of God. Implicit in any monotheistic religion is the idea that all of reality was created by a single, intelligent Being. That being the case, everything in life has meaning and purpose. And so, when we ask the question, what is the primary purpose of sex, the obvious answer is heterosexual reproduction. This is why the great Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – have always looked on homosexuality as a perversion of something that God created for other purposes. The norm is that a man and a woman should enter into a permanent, intimate relationship with each other, and that that, in turn, would provide the basis for a stable family life. Anything else beside that and perpetual chastity is forbidden.
    But, it will be objected, gays are born that way and cannot help being the way they are. They should not be stigmatized for something over which they have no control.
    We would acknowledge that in some individuals same-sex attraction is very real, and not something over which they feel they have any control. Nevertheless, certain things must be borne in mind.
     First of all, there is no solid evidence that homosexuality is hereditary. No one has been able to identify a "gay gene." A homosexual male is still biologically a normal male, and is capable of fathering children the usual way. Instead, homosexuality is manifestly an emotional or psychological condition, what used to be known as "Gender Identity Disorder," and most likely it is the result of a problem in early childhood socialization.
    But beyond that, homosexuality is really no different from any other kind of sin, and should be treated no differently. Do homosexuals feel a predisposition to their particular form of activity? We all feel predisposition to some form of sin. We are all born liars and thieves. As one older woman of our acquaintance put it, "I have been a mother and a grandmother, and I never once had to teach a child how to steal cookies." Anti-social behavior comes naturally to us, and it is only with great difficulty that it can be driven from us. Nevertheless, we are still morally accountable for our own conduct. We can tell the difference between good and evil, right and wrong, and can make a conscious choice to do what is good and right. The mere fact that we have a natural predisposition to do what is wrong does not excuse us. We are rightly condemned for our bad behavior.
    Therefore we should not single our homosexuals and treat them as social lepers. The fact of the matter is that the Word of God stands above us all and condemns all of our sin – that of the selfish, greedy executive in his corner office suite as well as that of the sexual libertine in the gay bathhouse. We are all sinners by nature, and we all need redemption.
    No one likes to be told that he is a hell-bound sinner, and it is only natural that some will react negatively, sometimes even violently. We would rather shoot the messenger than heed the message.
    And so that is the position in which the church finds itself today. We have a message that is decidedly unpopular. And yet it is our duty to tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. We do no one a favor by hiding or disguising the truth.
Related blog posts:
The Case for Moral Absolutes 
What Is Morality? 
What God Requires 
What God Thinks About Modern Western Society 

And on the subject of Judeo-Christian morality see:
Jesus and the Torah 

Monday, July 8, 2013

A Postscript on the DOMA Decision

As we noted earlier ("Redeeming the Culture") the U.S. Supreme Court recently handed down its decisions on a pair of same-sex marriage cases. In one of them, United States v. Windsor, the Court struck down provisions in the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that defined marriage, for purposes of federal benefits, as a union between one man and one woman. Under the Court's ruling the federal government will now be obliged to recognized same-sex marriages that were solemnized in states where such unions are legal.
    When one reads the fine print of the Court's opinion a chilling specter arises. Justice Kennedy, writing for
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy
the majority, reviewed the legislative history of the statute, and noted in particular that the House of Representatives, in passing the bill, had declared that the legislation expresses "both moral disapproval of homosexuality, and a moral conviction that heterosexuality better comports with traditional (especially Judeo-Christian) morality" (H.R. Rep. No. 104-664, p.16). Justice Kennedy cited this as "evidence of a law having the purpose and effect of disapproval of that class [i.e. gay couples]. The avowed purpose and practical effect of the law here in question are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages" (opinion, pp. 20-21). He went on to say that "the principal purpose and the necessary effect of the law are to demean those persons who are in a lawful same-sex marriage." He declared that the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution "withdraws from Government the power to degrade or demean in this way this law does . . ." (ibid., p. 25. What Justice Kennedy is evidently referring to here is a legal concept known as "substantive due process"). Justice Kennedy concluded by saying: "DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriage of others. The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity" (pp. 25-26).

    What Justice Kennedy has done, in effect, is to equate "traditional (especially Judeo-Christian) morality" with a purpose to "degrade," "demean," and "disparage" one class of citizens, and to treat their marriages as "less worthy" than others. Morality, in other words, is tantamount to bigotry.
    Justices Scalia and Alito both delivered scathing dissents. Justice Scalia, in particular, noted a disturbing implication of the Court's decision. Even though Justice Kennedy had concluded his opinion by saying "This opinion and its holding are confined to those lawful marriages," i.e., those that have been declared legal by the states in which they were made, Justice Scalia observed "How easy it is, indeed how inevitable, to reach the same conclusion with regard to state laws denying same-sex couples marital status" (dissenting opinion, p. 23). In other words, it is only a matter of time before gay couples will sue the states where same-sex marriage is still illegal, and the federal courts will find those laws unconstitutional using the same legal reasoning as Justice Kennedy did in his opinion.
    Justice Alito, in his dissenting opinion, noted that "The long-term consequences of this change are not now known and are unlikely to be ascertainable for some time to come" (dissenting opinion, p.8). In a footnote he added, "As sociologists have documented, it sometimes takes decades to document the effects of social changes – like the sharp rise in divorce rates following the advent of no-fault divorce – on children and society" (Ibid.). And he concludes by saying, "At present, no one – including social scientists, philosophers, and historians – can predict with any certainty what the long-term ramifications of widespread acceptance of same-sex marriage will be" (p. 9).
    And yet accepted is what same-sex marriage is rapidly becoming. For better or for worse, the U.S. Supreme Court has taken the fateful plunge, and it is probably too late to turn around now. Supreme Court decisions are notoriously difficult to reverse.
    It is perhaps only a matter of time before those churches who wish to remain faithful to Christian standards of morality will find themselves branded as bigoted hate groups. The Court's decision does not augur well for the continued freedom of religion in this country.

Other blog posts on related topics:
The Queer Scouts of America?
The Real Issue in the Gay Marriage Debate
Same Sex Marriage:What Is at Stake

Thursday, July 4, 2013

One Nation under God

    Today, of course, is Independence Day here in the U.S., the anniversary of the day in 1776 when the Continental Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence. The past three days have also been historically significant: they marked the 150th anniversary of the epochal Battle of Gettysburg, the largest battle ever fought in the Western Hemisphere and the turning point in the long and bloody Civil War.
 Later that Fall in 1863 President Abraham Lincoln would come to Gettysburg to dedicate the cemetery there and deliver what is probably his most memorable speech. Lincoln began by referring back to the Declaration adopted "four score and seven years" before, and pointed out that the nation was "conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." He went on to say that the Civil War was a test of whether "any nation so conceived, and so dedicated can long endure." He noted the sacrifices of the brave men who "gave the last full measure of devotion," and then concluded by challenging those who remained alive to ensure "that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
    What did Lincoln mean by the phrase "under God"? Was it a mere rhetorical flourish? Possibly. Lincoln was increasingly prone to embellish his speeches with religious language as the war became a moral crusade to end slavery. But in a speech noted for its brevity and succinctness we can well imagine that Lincoln chose his words carefully. And whether he intended so or not, his words convey an important truth.
    Can a government of the people, by the people, and for the people long endure? That was the question of the hour. If it is true, as Jefferson averred in the Declaration, that governments derive "their just powers from the consent of the governed," and that "it is the right of the people to alter or abolish" their government, then how can such a government exercise any real authority? How can it even long maintain its own existence? This was, in fact, exactly the question posed by the secession of the southern states from the Union.
    Conversely, if the Union is indissoluble, what is the prevent the majority from running roughshod over the rights of the minority? That was the very real fear felt by many Southerners at the time.
    The answer to this dilemma is found in the phrase "under God." All of us as human beings are bound by a higher law – we answer to a higher Authority than any human government. That higher Authority both gives a human government its moral right to govern, and yet limits that right at the same time. And political freedom is possible only where the people exercise self-restraint, and are willing to obey laws as a matter of conscience. Where there is no fear of God the firing squad will have to suffice to maintain order. At the same time the government itself is accountable to God for its actions, and must never be permitted to trespass certain limits.
    As George Washington put it in his Farewell Address, "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens."
    And yet subvert the pillars of human happiness is exactly what the U.S. Supreme Court has done. Over the course of the last fifty years the Court has systematically removed morality as the ultimate foundation of law. First abortion, and now homosexuality, have received the endorsement of the Court. Our family structure has already collapsed. It remains to be seen what lies ahead. But if history is any guide we can expect to enter a period of social chaos followed by the introduction of an authoritarian regime.
    Thus came to a tragic end the greatest republic in the history of mankind.

To see last year's Fourth of July blog post, click here.

Monday, July 1, 2013

David Bercot on Salvation

    We have been considering David W. Bercot's thought provoking book The Kingdom That Turned the World Upside Down, and we last looked at his view of church and state. Today we turn our attention to his view of salvation.
    On this point Mr. Bercot seems profoundly confused. He asserts that "the gospel of the kingdom centers on the kingdom of God, not on man's personal salvation" (p. 132). But this reflects a particularly Jewish conception of the kingdom. They naturally thought of the national salvation of Israel. But when the gospel spread to the Gentiles it was no longer a matter of the deliverance of Israel as a nation, but of the personal salvation of individuals. We enter the kingdom individually by being born again and personally becoming Jesus' disciples.
    By the same token Mr. Bercot seems confused about the definition of faith. At one point he accuses the Reformers of teaching "easy believism": "Just believe that Jesus died for your sins and that your own obedience plays no role in your salvation and –voila – your eternal life in heaven is assured" (p. 253). In other words, saving faith, to use the technical term, is "assensus" – an assent to a set of theological propositions. But the Reformers specifically repudiated that view. They held that saving faith was more than assensus, it was also fiducia, a firm trust and reliance on Christ for our salvation. It is rather Mr. Bercot who is guilty of intellectualizing faith. He defines faith, not as trust in Christ but as belief that the promised blessings of the kingdom will actually take place (cf. p. 134).
    Mr. Bercot also seems to be confused about the relationship between regeneration and predestination. He
John Calvin
tells us that "Neither Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, or the Roman Catholics put much emphasis on the new birth. In their systems, the new birth was simply part of the whole mechanized process" (p. 253). We are not sure exactly what Mr. Bercot means by "the whole mechanized process," but elsewhere he asserts that "Under Calvin's doctrine of predestination, it makes no difference whether a person lives by Jesus' teachings or not" (p. 247). It suffices to say here that Calvin never said any such thing. Rather, what Calvin actually said was this: "When we hear mention of our union with God, let us remember that holiness must be its bond . . ." (Institutes, This comes near the beginning of a section in the Institutes that was published separately as The Golden Booklet of the Christian Life.

    At another point Mr. Bercot appears to contradict himself. He tells us that Pelagius "said (or purportedly said) that we humans can walk perfectly in the commandments of Jesus, without the need of grace" (p. 204). But then, only two paragraphs later, Mr. Bercot himself advances the classic Pelagian argument: if Christ gave us the Sermon on the Mount, then we must have the power to obey Christ's teachings!
    The failure to understand predestination and regeneration, in turn, leads to difficulties in understanding the relationship between faith and works. Some critics of Calvinist theology, including many Southern Baptists, argue that since salvation is offered to mankind as a free gift of God's grace, there is absolutely no connection at all between salvation and works.. We are saved by faith plus nothing, they like to say. But other critics of Calvin, including Wesleyan holiness groups and Mennonites, can see the necessity of good works, but run into difficulty stating what exactly the relationship between the two is. They sometimes seem to make works the condition of salvation. If a professing Christian fails to produce good works, he loses his salvation.
    At one point Mr. Bercot has a very strong statement about salvation by grace (p. 142), and points our, quite rightly, that "Jesus does the atoning for us. We do not save ourselves. Jesus does the saving" (p. 143). But he also criticizes those who "give out kingdom invitations without any conditions" (p. 136). He tries to tell us that "Jesus didn't fulfill that law just to give us another long list of similar regulations in its place" (p. 140), but then tells us that we are to keep Jesus' commandments. But what are "Jesus' commandments" if they are not "a long list of regulations"? Mr. Bercot seems to think that the difference is in the spirit with which the commandments are kept. "His burden is light only when we detach ourselves from every entanglement of this life and lose ourselves in devoted service to our Lord" (p. 141). In other words, Christ's commandments are not burdensome if we only try harder to keep them!
    The answer, we think, to all of these problems is that a changed life is the necessary result of salvation, not its precondition. Regeneration is a work of God's grace in the soul transforming it and making it more like Christ. Good works are the evidence of the new birth.
    Mr. Bercot is understandably reacting against a very real problem that exists in contemporary American Christianity, and we all need to grow in our understanding of God's Word. We probably all need a more radical vision of the place of Christianity in modern society. But we think that Mr. Bercot can be of greater service to the church at large if he were a little more careful in his treatment of church history, and if he thought through the doctrine of salvation a little more clearly.