Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Faith, Works, and Philosophers

 ‘Our doctrine is positive and life affirming...We refuse to believe, with some churches of Christendom, that the biblical account of the fall of man records the corruption of human nature or to accept the doctrine of original sin. We do not believe that man is incapable of doing the will of God, or is unable to merit the reward of Divine approval; that he is therefore totally estranged from God and that whatever salvation comes to him must come as a free and undeserved gift.’

(Hugh B Brown, Mormon apostle, April 1964 General Conference)

Wicked Mammon

In his work, The Parable of the Wicked Mammon, Tyndale brings a very specific charge against false prophets:

‘...[divers texts] many have enforced to draw the people from the true faith, and from putting their trust in the truth of God’s promises, and in the merits and deserving of his Christ, our Lord...and have taught them to put their trust in their own merits, and brought them in belief that they shall be justified in the sight of God by the goodness of their own works…’

Tyndale charges that such false prophets follow the wisdom of the world, typified by the philosophers of this world. He describes such worldly philosophers as ‘enemies to the gospel,’ citing Paul, who wrote:

For the word of the cross is folly to those that are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?’ (1 Cor.1:18-20)

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.’ (1 Cor.2:6-10)

The quote above, from the Mormon leader Hugh B Brown, typifies what Tyndale addresses himself to, what Paul is warning us about. Brown makes clear his conviction:

  • Man is not corrupted in the fall

  • Man is not incapable of keeping the law

  • Man can merit Divine reward

When a Christian, then, declares we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, Mormons and others sneer at our ticket-to-heaven, token, easy-believism. It is an offence to them, this presumption on God’s good nature.

This is the thinking behind such statements as, ‘Ours is not a one day a week religion, ours is a seven day a week faith.’ This is what is behind the Jehovah’s Witness belief that they alone ‘go into all the world,’ obeying Jesus’ injunction in Matthew 28. Christendom, after all, is full of people who simply go to church; Snug.

This, however, is the philosophy and boasting of the world. The world cherry-picks its ideas and philosophies to make itself look good, to make itself god, and it does look good to the undiscerning. Who can fail to be impressed by the self-made man? But the self-made man has an unfortunate habit of worshipping his maker, no matter he tragically falls short (Ro.3). The Bible makes clear this won’t do:

You were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you walked, following the course of this world…children of wrath!’

Doing things the world’s way brings only death but, for many, this language is too strong. What many Christians struggle with is the imperative pressed upon us to choose between the world and the Kingdom of God.

 Fooled by the World or Saved by Grace?

That is why we see compromise with the world. Just as did Israel in following the condemned and forbidden ways of their neighbours, so we are drawn to compromise with the world in which we live, from which we are meant to have fled.

No wonder since it presses in on us from all sides, It’s the way people think and speak, the atmosphere they breathe and they don’t even reflect on it. Tyndale’s concern, our concern, is that we should not be fooled by the works salvation message of a lost and perishing world, with its false pride, and godless self-regard.

Paul goes on to write, ‘But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together in Christ-by grace have you been saved…’

Tyndale insists:

For in the faith which we have in Christ and in God’s promises find we mercy, life, favour and peace. In the law we find death, damnation, and wrath...The law when it commands that you shall not lust, gives you no power so to do, but damns you, because you cannot do so.’

It would serve well to consider those words in the context of Paul’s powerful message in Romans 7. Who, indeed, will deliver me from this body of death? Yet, works salvation, the philosophy of the world, insists this is scandalous. Believe me, we haven’t begun to see scandalous.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together in Christ-by grace have you been saved-and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.’ (Eph.2:1-9)

Where Hugh B Brown, and the world, sees man as principled, capable, and filled with potential, the Bible sees man as dissolute and dead, a child of wrath. Here is the scandal, that God, seeing us in that state of corruption, made us alive in Christ. This is the most dangerous idea of the Reformation, the most dangerous idea of Christianity. God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.’ (Ro.5:8)

Tyndale again writes:

If you will therefore be at peace with God, and love him, you must turn to the promises of God, to the gospel, which is called by Paul...the ministrations of righteousness (2 Cor.3:9) and of the Spirit. For faith brings pardon and forgiveness freely purchased by Christ’s blood, and brings also the Spirit; the Spirit looses the bonds of the devil, and sets us at liberty. For, ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,’ says Paul...that is to say, there the heart is free and has power to love the will of God; and there the heart mourns that he cannot love enough. Now is the consent of the heart unto the law of God eternal life...’

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Faith, Works, and Foot Washing

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