Saturday, August 29, 2009

Mark Kielar on the Heresy of Charles Finney

This video features Mark Kielar, the Teaching Pastor of First Baptist Church of Boynton Beach, Florida. I thought it would be a good followup to the four part series on the heresy of Finney that Dr. Belcher finished last week. Sadly, Finney's influence is still felt throughout far too many churches in America to this day.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

CHARLES G. FINNEY: Heretic or Man of God? Part IV


I will not try to summarize all we have covered in our first three articles on Finney's theology. The reader should have gotten the message by now that Finney was not orthodox in his theology. We now cover some further areas, and, sadly, the story is the same.


Finney begins by telling us what the doctrine of election is not, but in reading this material one must remember his definitions of the doctrines already covered. Election is not that anyone is chosen for salvation without repentance or faith or sanctification or regeneration. Neither is election saying that a person can be saved without perseverance to the end of his life. Again, it is not that anyone is saved, because of foreseen merits or good works. It is not that God shows partiality to any man, that is, preferring one above another without any good or sufficient reason. It is not that election poses any obstacle to the non-elect and their salvation.

Election is, according to Finney, that God elected men on the condition of their foreseen repentance, faith and perseverance. God foresaw that He would be able to secure their repentance, faith and perseverance, and on that basis He chose them. God is ready to save all, but He foresees whom He can secure and whom He cannot secure because of their willful and persevering unbelief. Which is to say, again, that God foresaw some could be induced to repent and believe the gospel and others could not, and those who He foresaw able for Him to secure, He elected them to salvation. Finney says further that God has done the best He could for the inhabitants of the earth, as He has thrown the responsibility of men being saved completely upon themselves – the whole of salvation is suspended upon the terms to which men are perfectly able to give their consent and lay hold on eternal life. There is no more that God can do for sinners, than they will do for themselves. He says again that the sinner's salvation or damnation is as absolutely suspended upon his own choice, as if God neither knew nor designed anything about it. Thus, this seems not to be even a usual synergism – God and man. But this is a monergism of man alone in the securing of salvation. It is not God and man cooperating in salvation, but it is God held captive till man decides he will submit to the law to keep it perfectly.


Again, Finney begins with what reprobation is not. Reprobation is not the ultimate end of God in the creation of a person. It is not that God has created any man for damnation. Man is only sent to hell for his own voluntary wickedness. Again, as election is the responsibility of every man, so is his reprobation. Nothing keeps a man from salvation but his own perseverance in sin.

Reprobation is that certain individuals are in the fixed purpose of God cast away, rejected and lost, but that fixed purpose of God is not fixed by God, but by man himself – because of his foreseen wickedness. God both knows and designs their reprobation, because of this foreseen wickedness. If God purposes to save the elect upon their foreseen faith and repentance, it must be also that He purposes to cast away the wicked for their foreseen wickedness, as well.

God prefers the salvation of the reprobate, if they could be induced to obey Him – but their foreseen wickedness and rebellion against God has already purposed them to be cast off forever.

Sinners are not reprobated because God has any thirst for their destruction, nor because of any partiality in God, nor because of any lack of desire on God's part to save them. Sinners are reprobated for their foreseen iniquities – they are seen by God from eternity past to be unwilling to be saved on God's terms – submission to His law. They were seen by God from eternity past to defeat all the efforts that God could wisely use for their salvation. God has tried many means to save them, but they have refused.

III. Finney's View of Divine Sovereignty (Chapter 45)

Divine Sovereignty, Finney says, does not mean that God wills or acts arbitrarily without good reasons. Sovereignty is the independence of God's will in consulting His own intelligence and discretion in the selection of His end and the means of accomplishing that end in this world. It is the infinite benevolence of God directed by infinite knowledge – God consults only Himself – He consults no one but His intelligence. It is His infinite knowledge that enables Him to select an end and means that should consist with and include the perfect freedom of moral agents. It is God laying His plans in accordance with how His foreknowledge tells Him that men will act. Finney says our reason affirms that God wills as He does only upon condition that His infinite intelligence affirms that such willing is intrinsically right and therefore He ought to will or command just what He does.

Finney says that God claims that He is sovereign in the following manner. He claims that His end was chosen and the means were decided upon, when no one but He existed and there was no one else for Him to consult. Even creation and providence are only the results and the carrying out of His plans, which have been settled from eternity past. The law of benevolence [something quite primary for Finney as we have seen] existed in the divine reason from eternity, and it demanded He take the very course He has taken in all His actions. The highest glory and the highest good of the universe demanded that He should consult His own discretion and exercise an absolute and universal sovereignty in the sense explained. The sovereignty of God is nothing else than His infinite love directed by infinite knowledge in such a manner as to secure the highest well-being of the universe that He can, but only in accordance with his foreknowledge of what man will do also.


Finney says that perseverance is not on the basis of a regeneration that involves a change of nature, but regeneration is a voluntary change and is based on man’s own perseverance. Yet God has predestined it based upon His knowledge of man’s perseverance and ability and willingness to make that voluntary change. Finney says that because he does not believe in a final perseverance based upon the nature of the first act of faith, as many do, that he cannot infer the final salvation of the saints from the nature of justification. He has endeavored to refute this kind of a one-time justification by faith. We must not, he says, conclude that all saints will be saved from the mere fact that they have once believed and been justified [remember his doctrine of justification here – he believes in a justification based not upon faith but upon entire sanctification].

Further, Finney argues that God does draw men effecutally but not irresistibly. No one comes to God until effectually persuaded to do so. The sinner is effectually hunted from his refuge of lies, and he is drawn with so great and powerful a drawing, as not to force him, but to overcome his reluctance or voluntary selfishness. Thus, man is induced to turn to God and believe in Christ – induced to come to God by his own power. Yes, the sinner's turning, so states Finney, is till an act of his own, but he is induced to turn by the drawings of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the Spirit by means of truth and argument and persuasion fairly overcomes the sinner and constrains him – not forces him to submit, for the final decision is in the hands of man and not by the overcoming power of God.

Finney says the same is true of perseverance in holiness – in every instance and in every act the saints' perseverance is not by virtue of a constitutional change, but as a result of the abiding and indwelling influence of the Holy Spirit. The will never obeys in any instance for one moment, except as it has been influenced by and persuaded to do so by the Spirit. No saint can convert himself, but at the same time the Holy Spirit cannot convert the saint without the saint's agreement. God converts sinners in the sense that He effectually draws or persuades them and they turn themselves in the sense that their turning is their own act. The same is true of their whole course of obedience as a Christian. The saints keep themselves in the sense that all obedience is their own, and all their piety consists in their own voluntary obedience. But God keeps them in the sense that in every instance and at every moment of obedience, He persuades and enlightens them, insomuch that He secures their voluntary obedience. He draws and they follow. He persuades and they yield to His persuasion. He works in them to will and to do, and they will and do. But then there is always the other side, that the final work of salvation is only possible as man turns and converts himself.

One must remember that it was [is] upon the condition of foreseen faith, that God could by the wisest administration of His government secure this result – the salvation of the elect. All is still based on God’s foreknowledge of man’s action and response, not by God's power – a foreknowledge that men would believe and a foreknowledge that men would persevere – these are elected and ordained to salvation. Read the next paragraph to see the fullness of what Finney believes.

Finney says that salvation can be accomplished only by the appropriate means or upon certain conditions, and these conditions include the perfect holiness of moral agents. God, therefore, does not affirm His ability to save all men, but He fully disclaims any such ability and professes to do and to be doing all that He can to save them – that is He does for men all that He wisely can do, and He does enough to secure their salvation – if they will only cooperate. God wills the salvation of all men only in the sense of desiring their salvation – He nowhere intimates a willingness in the sense of a design or intention to save all men, but on the contrary, He plainly reveals an opposite purpose. He reveals the fact that he cannot, shall not, does not expect or design to save all men – He only desires to save all men if He wisely can do so.

The Father has given a certain number to Christ with the express design to secure their salvation---and He has committed to Him all the requisite power and influences to save them, and they will actually be saved – [those whom God foreknew would cooperate to be saved]. These are the ones that Finney calls the elect, and they all will persevere and be saved. Finney says again that perseverance to the end is often mentioned and insisted upon in the Bible, as a condition of salvation, and it is true and to be noted that without watchfulness and perseverance salvation is impossible. It is also true that the truly regenerate cannot sin in the sense of living in anything like habitual sin, because with all truly regenerate souls, holiness is at the least the rule and sin is the exception. Finney says it is correct to say that the truly regenerated so seldom sins, that in strong language it may be said that they do not sin and that perseverance [a perfect perseverance] is an unfailing attribute of Christian character.

Thus, Finney again adds to the doctrine of perseverance the fact of perfection or entire sanctification, as he calls it elsewhere. If one is not living in a state of entire sanctification, then one is not persevering. He says that to understand the passages of the Bible on this subject, it is true to say that no truly regenerate soul does at any time sin and that holiness [his definition again of perfection] is the rule of the regenerate person's life and sin the exception. There is no hope of anyone persevering except in so far as free grace anticipates and secures the concurrence of a man's free will. Finney claims to believe in effectual calling, but again he redefines it, as he does so many other doctrines, to mean a calling that can be resisted still by man.


Thus, in every aspect of Finney's theology, man is central, and man is the power of salvation. God is only the one who seeks to convince and effectually call man [Finney's definition of calling]. God never calls men by an irresistible call---He doesn't have to for man is capable to respond to God by faith by his own strength and power. Man has the strength, and man only needs to decide to activate his will, as God stands alongside and waits for him to do so. Of course, God knows who will and who won't, but there is no more that God can or will do to bring men to salvation, except to be a bystander and cheerleader, urging men on to make the right decision. Again, at its best, Finney's theology is not even a good synergism, but it is a monergism from the standpoint of salvation being in the hands and power and will of man and man alone.

We close with a strong statement from one of the old Brethren writers, C. H. Macintosh, as he says so powerfully states the truth in the following words, which certainly apply to Finney and his theology:

The error into which the Galatians showed themselves to be drawn, was the addition of something of nature [man’s nature] to what Christ had already accomplished for them by the cross. The gospel which had been preached to them, and that which they had received was the simple presentation of God’s absolute, unqualified and unconditional grace. “Jesus Christ had been evidently set forth crucified among them.” This was not merely promise divinely made, but promise divinely and most gloriously accomplished. A crucified Christ settled everything, in reference both to God’s claims and man’s necessities. But the false teachers upset all this, or sought to upset it, by saying, “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” This, as the apostle teaches them, was in reality ‘making Christ of none effect.’ Christ must either be a whole Savior or no Savior at all. The moment man says, Except ye be this or that [or] you cannot be saved, he totally subverts Christianity; for in Christianity I find God coming down to me, just as I am---a lost, guilty, self-destroyed sinner; and coming moreover with a full remission of all my sins, and a full salvation from my lost estate, all perfectly wrought by Himself on
the cross.

Hence, therefore, a man who tells me, You must be so and so, in order to be saved, robs the cross of all its glory, and robs me of all my peace. If salvation depends upon our being or doing aught, we shall inevitably be lost. Thank God, it does not; for the great fundamental principle of the gospel is, that God is all; man is nothing. It is not a mixture of God and man,---it is all of God. The peace of the gospel does not repose in part on Christ’s work and in part on man’s work; it reposes wholly on Christ’s work, because that work is perfect---perfect forever; and renders all who put their trust in it as perfect as itself.

Under the law, God, as it were, stood still to see what man could do; but in the mane of the gospel God is seen acting, and as for man, he has but to “stand still and see the salvation of God.” This being so, the inspired apostle hesitates not to say to the Galatians, “Christ is become of no effect unto you; whosoever of you are justified by law…ye are fallen from grace.” If man has anything to do in the matter, God is shut out; and if God is shut out, there can be no salvation, for it is impossible that man can work out salvation by that which proves him a lost creature; and then if it be a question of grace, it must be all grace. It cannot be half grace, half law. It cannot be half Sarah and half Hagar; it must be either one or the other. If it be Hagar, God has
nothing to do with it; if it be Sarah, man has nothing to do with it. Thus it stands throughout. The law addresses man, tests him, sees what he is really worth, proves him a ruin, and puts him under the curse; and not only puts him under it, but keeps him there, so long as he is occupied with it---so long as he is alive. “The law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth;” but when he is dead, its dominion necessarily ceases, so far as he is concerned, though it still remains in full force to curse every living man.

The gospel, on the contrary, assuming man to be lost, ruined, dead, reveals God as He is---the Savior of the lost, the Pardoner of the guilty, the Quickener of the dead. It reveals God not as exacting anything from man (for what could be expected from
one who has died a bankrupt [sinner])? But God exhibits His own independent grace in redemption. This makes a material difference, and will account for the extraordinary strength of the language employed in the Epistle to the Galatians: “I marvel!---Who hath bewitched you?”---“I am afraid for you!”---I stand in doubt of you!’’---“I would that they were even cut off that trouble you!” This is the language of the Holy Spirit, who knows the value of a full Christ and a full salvation, and who also knows how essential the knowledge of both is to a lost sinner. We have no such language as in this in any other epistle, not even in that to the Corinthians, although there were some of the grosser disorders to be corrected amongst them. All human failure and error can be corrected by bringing in God’s grace; but the Galatians, like Abraham in this chapter, were going away from God and returning to the flesh. What remedy can be devised for this? How can you correct an error which insists in departing from that which alone can correct anything? To fall from grace is to get back under the law, from which nothing can ever be reaped but “the curse.”

Galatians 1:6-9
6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: 7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. 9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. [Emphasis added.]

We will leave it to our readers to apply the proper words of Scripture to the life and ministry of Charles G. Finney, as far as his spiritual state, in light of his theology! Surely, though it be sad but true, there is no doubt about this matter, according to the Word of God!

(The above material concerning Finney's theology is taken from the 1878 edition of his theology book.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

CHARLES G. FINNEY: Heretic or Man of God? Part III


In our previous two articles on the theology of Charles G. Finney, we saw his views in the following areas:

God's Moral Law and Government

Man's Obligation to Keep God's Moral Law with Perfection for Salvation

Repentance As the Turning of Man from His Selfishness to a Perfect Keeping of the Law of God

Man's Natural Ability to Keep the Moral Law with Perfection

The Moral Influence Theory of the Atonement As Held by Finney
We now turn to deal with several other areas of Finney's theology, areas which might very well be anticipated by the reader in light of what we have already seen.


Finney does not use the term of moral depravity in the sense of original or constitutional depravity, but in the sense that man becomes depraved in his actions and not in his nature. Thus, Adam affects the human race, not by any change in man's nature, but only as his sin influences a man to sin also. He says to talk of a sinful nature or a sinful constitution is to talk sheer nonsense, and such an idea is to make sin a physical virus, instead of a voluntary physical choice. Obviously, Finney is concerned that those who believe in physical depravity will also deny that men could ever be entirely sanctified in this life, which too would destroy his view of salvation – which is perfection by the keeping of the law.

Finney also believes that such a view of constitutional depravity modifies the whole system of practical theology. This surely means that our preaching and evangelism is not by the power of God, for man is capable in his own being to respond to the gospel. All man needs is the strong convincement and urging by the preacher to do what he knows he ought to do and what he can do in his own strength – make this decision to commit himself to keep the law of God. A constitutional depravity would make man without any power to help himself in the keeping of the law, which would ruin Finney's view of salvation.

Thus, Finney rejects any idea of original sin that came to the human race through Adam to be inherited by natural generation. Each man has his own fall and his own responsibility for his sin. Finney says the idea of a moral depravity that comes to the human race by the sin of another is not only a stumbling block to the church and the world, but it is even an abomination to God and human intelligence, and it should be banned from every pulpit. Man's depravity is only in his will and in his choice to sin rather than to obey the law of God, and man is fully capable in his own power to change his mind and life from a life of sin to a life of obedience to God's law.


Regeneration for Finney is the reality of a person having a new heart. It is true that a sinner must have a new heart, but the sinner himself, according to Finney, is required to make himself a new heart. Thus, men are active in this change, but one must remember that it is not a constitutional change, but only a change in actions. Finney does admit that God draws men to make this change, but He never overcomes a man, for the man makes this change of his own volition and will. Thus, God draws men, and they can either choose or reject God's calling them to be born again, that is to change their hearts.

It is regeneration, that is man's submitting to God's law, that makes a man holy, and if a man's moral character is not changed, he has not been regenerated – he has not really submitted himself to the law of God. Thus, the sinner has all the faculties and natural attributes required to give perfect obedience to God and His law, which is the regeneration that a man needs. This change of regeneration that takes place as produced by man is a change FROM a state of entire consecration to self – self interest, self-indulgence, self-gratification for it own sake as the supreme in life. It is a change TO a state of entire consecration to God and to the interests of His kingdom as the supreme and ultimate end of life. The Holy Spirit and the Word of God and truth and providence have a part, but the human power is the primary agent in regeneration, according to Finney. Neither God nor any other being can regenerate a man, if he himself will not turn to God and His law for salvation! The regenerate man from the time of his regeneration (as defined by Finney) should from then on live without sin. Finney says further that there is not a greater heresy and a more dangerous dogma than the denial that true Christians should and can actually live a great majority of their days in the state of perfection. The other side of this supposed dangerous doctrine, according to Finney, is that Christians can live the majority of their days not sinning.


According to Finney, every man has a natural ability to obey God and keep His moral law. But man can also will to oppose the law of God. For anyone to talk of man not having a natural ability to obey God and His law, and yet then be responsible to keep God's law is to talk nonsense. Man does have the ability to obey the commandments of God and to do all his duty to God. This is a natural ability and not an ability that God needs to give him. Finney does speak of men laying hold on God's strength or of availing themselves of God's grace in order to fulfill God's requirements. But still God never requires man directly to do any more than he is able to do.

Obviously, then, Finney rejects any idea of gracious ability – any spiritual ability that man must get from God in order to become a Christian. Man has all the spiritual ability that he needs by nature, so he does not need any gracious ability from God. The only reason some men think they need some gracious ability from God is because they think they lost their ability because of the sin of Adam, which is foolishness to Finney. Man does not need any gracious ability, because of the fall of Adam, for man has a natural ability to obey God, and the human race was not been affected in its nature by Adam's sin. A just command always implies man has an ability to obey it, while a command to perform an impossibility, because of man possessing a sinful nature, is an absurdity to Finney. There is no proof that mankind ever lost the ability to obey God, either by the first sin of Adam or by man's own sin. According to Finney, grace is great only in proportion to the sinner’s ability to comply with God’s requirements. Finney turns grace upside down, when he says, strip a man of his freedom and render him naturally unable to obey God and His law, and you render grace impossible, so far as his obligation to obedience. In other words, according to Finney, grace cannot and will not come to us, until we ourselves exercise our power and keep the commandments of God with perfection.

The Bible says, according again to Finney, that the difficulty which must be overcome for man to obey God, is the sinner’s unwillingness alone and nothing else – not some sinful nature. The fact that the Bible represents the sinner as in some sense dependent on divine influence for a right heart does not imply inability in a sinner's being or nature. Such a doctrine of human inability has chilled the heart of the church and lulled sinners into a fatal sleep, Finney says. To say that men lost in Adam their ability to obey God, and then say that God gave men a bestowment called grace is an abuse of language and an absurdity and a denial of the true grace of the gospel.


Finney says that those who believe in man’s inability to obey God have been biased by a mystifying education. This false education, he says, casts a fog over their convictions, so that they would believe that all men sinned in Adam and now have a sinful nature. According to Finney, the logical end of such a conviction is that no one on earth or in heaven, who has ever sinned, will be able to render the perfect obedience, which the law demands – which means no one would ever be able to be saved. But in reality, Finney shows himself again to believe that men do not need Christ and His perfect life and His death, and that he believes men need not to depend on Christ, but they can depend on themselves and their ability to keep the law perfectly. Finney believes that through the right action of our own will we can be saved – there is no degree of spiritual attainment required of us, that may not be reached directly or indirectly by the right willing of our hearts and lives.


Some of Finney's statements about faith may sound quite orthodox to some. He says that faith is confiding in God and in Christ as revealed in the Bible and reason. Again, faith is the receiving of Christ for just what He is represented to be in His gospel. Faith is an unqualified surrender of the will and of the whole being to Christ. But then as he goes further, his statements begin to raise some questions, as he says that faith is the committal of the soul to God and Christ in all obedience and faith results in a state of present sinlessness. Faith is the universal conformity of the will to the will of God, which makes faith synonymous with entire sanctification.

Thus, it seems again, that Christ and His work is overshadowed by man and his power and ability to live in a state of entire sanctification.


There might be a tendency of some to expect to define Finney’s doctrine of justification, as we would in our own evangelical language. But with Finney we cannot do that. His definitions can sometimes be very difficult to understand for that very reason. To help us here, Finney himself tells us what the doctrine of justification is not. It is not the imputation of Christ's righteousness to us by faith alone, so that we then might be declared righteous by God the Father. Finney says that it is nonsense to affirm that a sinner can be pronounced just in the eyes of the law because of the righteousness of someone else, even Christ. The sinner must have his own righteousness. Finney assails those who teach that a sinner can be justified by the perfect and imputed righteousness and obedience of Christ. Finney says that this view is not possible, because it is founded on a false assumption – a nonsensical assumption. It is founded on the false assumption that Christ owed no obedience to the law in His own person, and therefore His own obedience was not for Himself but for others. Finney says this view does not understand that Christ needed to obey the law for Himself, and, therefore, he could not obey the law for others. If Christ Himself owed personal obedience to the moral law, then His obedience could do no more than justify Himself, and therefore His obedience could never be imputed to us. Thus, it was impossible for Him to obey the law for us. He could do only His duty for Himself.

Therefore, the sinner can be justified only by his own righteousness, which comes by the perfect keeping of the law of God. Man must have for justification a universal, perfect and interrupted obedience to the law of God. Then, one might ask, why did Christ die? Finney says it was to satisfy public justice. God takes His law very seriously and no one can break it without impunity, for God will punish such recklessness and sin. The death of Christ is intended to cause the sinner to repent [moral influence again], and thus His death causes the sinner to break with his sin and return to full obedience of God's law. It is here that Finney does as many do---he confuses justification and sanctification, for only as one is completely sanctified by a full obedience to the law of God, according to Finney, is that one justified before God. Finney admits that he makes sanctification a condition of justification – there is no justification without sanctification.

Thus, by saying that sanctification is a condition of justification, Finney means that present, full and entire consecration of the heart and life to God and to His service, is an unalterable condition of present pardon of one's past sin and of present acceptance with God. But he goes further, when he says that the penitent soul remains justified no longer than this full-hearted consecration continues. And if a man falls from his first love into a spirit of self-pleasing, then he falls again into the bondage of sin, and he is now condemned again and lost again. And he must repent again and do his first work, as a condition of his restoration to salvation.

Finney admits that his view denies the evangelical view of justification, the evangelical view being, that the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us by faith alone for the declaration of our righteousness before God is the only way of salvation – the only way of man becoming righteous before a holy God. He says this idea of imputed righteousness is another gospel than the one he is preaching. And he adds that the difference is not just some speculative or theoretic point, but it is a point fundamental to the gospel and salvation. Here Finney himself makes it very clear that his is a different gospel than the one we preach, even though multitudes of evangelicals today think that he preached the same gospel that we preach – the Biblical gospel. I say again, here it is by his own admission – that one of us is preaching a false gospel – his IS NOT the same gospel which we preach.

We must understand that Finney says our gospel, which preaches the following doctrines and ideas are fabulous [exaggerated or absurd ideas], which are better fitted to some romance than as a system of theology. These are those doctrines Finney so strongly denies and opposes:

1. The literal imputation of Adam’s sin to all his posterity
2. The literal imputation of all the sins of the elect to Christ
3. The suffering of Christ for elect the exact amount due to their transgressions
4. The literal imputation of Christ’s righteousness/obedience to the elect by faith
5. The continual justification of all of those converted and in Christ
Finney then spends several pages condemning the view of the Westminster Confession of Faith concerning its view of justification by faith alone.


If the reader has been understanding carefully Finney's view of justification, he could probably have guessed his view of sanctification, though we have already mentioned it to some extent in dealing with justification. We have said that for Finney entire sanctification is the basis of his view of justification. Sanctification itself is nothing more or less than entire obedience to the moral law of God. It is not that the soul cannot sin, but it is that the soul continually appropriates Christ by faith, as the entire sanctification continues in his soul. As we have seen, this obedience to God’s law [or entire sanctification] is attainable and possible on the ground of natural ability, and this entire sanctification must be present before the soul can enter heaven.

After giving some Scripture as his proof, Finney says there is no doubt about the question of the attainability of entire sanctification in this life, and all should see the practical aspect and necessity of this doctrine. But until evangelists and pastors adopt and carry out this doctrine in practice in their lives and in the lives of their people – this principle of total abstinence from all sin – evangelists and pastors will be called every few months to do their work of conversion all over again in the lives of their converts.

Finney does speak of the need of the revelation of Christ to our souls, as King to set up His government and write His law in our hearts; as Mediator to stand between God’s offended justice and our guilty souls; as Advocate to plead our cause to the Father; as Redeemer to redeem us from the curse of the law and from the power and dominion of sin and to pay the price demanded by public justice for our release; as the one who has risen for our justification; as the one bearing our griefs and as carrying our sorrows; and as Christ revealed as being made sin for us. But when all is said and done, it is the moral influence of His death that causes us to loath self and hate sin and love God. As one reads Finney, he may very well ask, where is the blood of Christ? Where is His substitutionary death? Where is His imputed righteousness for sinners? Where is salvation by grace through faith alone without the works of the law? No wonder he has to admit that new converts know too little about Christ to be established in permanent obedience, which is to say that his converts did not remain faithful very long with an established permanence.

Finney says that there is a reason why the church has not been entirely sanctified in its history – the church does not believe that such a state is attainable. Finney maintains and admits that perfection is possible on the ground of natural ability, both for wicked men and devils – we all have the power to be entirely holy. But the problem is our unwillingness to use this natural power correctly. New converts have not been allowed to think that they could live even for a day wholly without sin, and they are no more taught to expect to live without sin. But it is still true, according to Finney, that if a man is willing to give up his sins and to deny himself all ungodliness and every worldly lust; if he is willing to be set apart wholly and forever to the service of God; then he will receive this doctrine and experience its reality – he can and will possess entire sanctification.


Thus, Finney's whole theology, including his false views of man's depravity, of regeneration, of the natural ability of man, of his denial of man's inability before God, of faith, of justification, and of sanctification, are all part of the foundation, which carries his understanding of salvation, as not by grace through faith alone, but by man's ability to be completely and entirely sanctified by his own power and will and works.

(The above doctrines of Finney are found in the 1878 edition of his theology book.)

Friday, August 07, 2009

Response to the House-Church Movement - Followup

I am happy to report at least a few positive changes. Since I first wrote my series responding to the House-Church Movement (HCM), I have discovered that there has been a fair amount of editing of the online material at the New Testament Reformation Foundation (NTRF) website. I didn't notice this over the past year because – due to my wife's battle with ovarian cancer and my own illnesses over the winter – I didn't keep track of what was going on at the site. I was doing well, frankly, to keep my head above water during that time.

Of course, it never dawned on me either that they would have made so many changes – some of them pretty significant – in their online published material. For example, I really took them to task for the Hal Miller article entitled "An Elder's Authority: That of Children and Slaves," and now that article has been taken down from the site. I have already commended Steve Atkerson for this in personal correspondence.

They have also changed the titles to many of the articles, but more than that, they have changed the content significantly at a number of points. It is almost as though they read my articles and made corrections based upon some of my more serious exegetical criticisms. I have no way of knowing with certainty whether my articles had this impact, but I am glad to see some positive things happening. I do suspect, however, that my articles may have had some influence because I had informed a man close to Atkerson about them as I wrote them, and Atkerson has since told me in email correspondence that he was aware of this mutual acquaintance. He informed me of this, by the way, without my having brought it up, so he had to have had some interaction with the man concerning me.

Unfortunately, the many changes to the NTRF articles were not clearly announced along the way, and it has led some to believe that I repeatedly misquoted Steve Atkerson in particular. This is a very frustrating thing about interacting with online material. However, I do have the book published by Atkerson shortly after I wrote the articles, which simply contains all the online material from that time in book form, so I have sufficient proof that I cited him correctly at the time. The book was entitled Ekklesia: To the Roots of Biblical House Church Life. As I indicated above, I have had some contact with Atkerson, who has informed me that there is a new edition of the book with a new title (House Church: Simple, Strategic, Scriptural) and containing numerous changes. I hope these reflect some of the more positive changes I have begun to see on the website. I would also like to provide links to the original articles to which I responded, so that this blog's readers can see for themselves that I did, indeed, cite Steve Atkerson and Hal Miller accurately and fairly. Here are links to the articles from the Internet Archive (Thanks to Stan Reeves for letting me know about this resource!):

1) Were Persecution, Poverty, and Progression the Real Reasons for First Century House Churches? by Steve Atkerson.

This article is now called Toward a House Church Theology.

2) Interactive Meetings by Steve Atkerson.

This article is now called Participatory Church Meetings. Although Atkerson does still argue for "interaction" in church meetings, he has changed the term interactive to the term participatory at a number of points. In my view, this may be intended to soften the force of his argument a bit. It is, after all, a different thing to argue for participation rather than interaction, especially in the sense of a dialog. For example, congregational singing is participatory, but not necessarily interactive, at least not as Atkerson thinks of interaction. But, since he still argues for such interaction, my posts are still on point, I think. However, I do appreciate what appears to be an attempt by Atkerson to be more careful and less extreme in his arguments for his position.

3) The Lord's Supper - Feast or Famine? by Steve Atkerson.

This article is now called The Lord's Supper - Rehearsal Dinner For The Wedding Banquet of The Lamb.

4) An Elder's Authority: That of Children and Slaves by Hal Miller.

This article is no longer available on the NTRF website, and I am glad that it has been taken down. I am not sure why it has been taken down, but I noted in my reaction to it that Miller didn't really seem to agree with Atkerson's view of elder leadership. Atkerson is actually pretty solid on this point, whereas Miller's arguments are ridiculous and nowhere near the Bible's teaching on the subject. If my criticism has led in any way to Atkerson's removal of this article from the website, then I rejoice that I was able to make some positive difference.

5) New Testament Church Leadership by Steve Atkerson (Aug. 19, 2007).

I think this was the edition of the article to which I was responding in parts four and five of my series. It is now called The Ministry of Elders.

6) New Testament Church Leadership by Steve Atkerson (Jan. 28, 2008).

I think this is the version of the above article to which I was responding in part six of my series, although I am not aware of any differences between these two versions of the article. There is, however, a significant difference between these articles and the most recent version. For example, I think the most recent edition leaves out this paragraph completely:

All elders are senator-servants to the whole senate (church). However, the senate will occasionally find itself in grid-lock, unable to resolve an issue. In such cases, the elders serve as predetermined arbitrators, or tie breakers, and in such unusual instances those in opposition are to “submit” to the elder’s leadership and wisdom (see Hebrews 13:17).
I reacted quite strongly to this paragraph here, and now it is gone. I also cannot find the previous arguments based upon the use of peíthō and hupeíkō in Hebrews 13:17, arguments against which I responded quite negatively.

Again, if my response had anything to do with Atkerson's edits, then I praise the Lord that I have been able to be of some small service.

7) Consensus Governing by Steve Atkerson.

This article is now called Elder-Led Congregational Consensus. In the most recent version Atkerson appears to be trying to strengthen his case concerning Jesus' usage of ekklēsía, but in my opinion he still misuses the lexical evidence, ignoring what he doesn't want to admit, and he still doesn't adequately account for the LXX usage either. In short, his work still suffers from the same shortcomings I have pointed out here.

I do appreciate what appears to me to be an effort by Atkerson to soften some of his more extreme statements and arguments and to rid his website completely of a few of the more egregious errors previously found there, but I would like to have seen even more progress with regard to his discussion of ekklēsía.

In closing, I would just like to say how much I appreciate the input I have received here on the blog, and I praise the Lord that by His grace I may have had some small influence for good in this arena, even if it has led some to attack me unfairly. I hope, however, that this post will demonstrate that these attacks are unfounded.