Friday, 27 November 2009

Another Doctrine of Justification = Another Religion

Darryl Hart has the following Machen quote over at Old Life:
. . what was the difference between the teaching of Paul and the teaching of the Judaizers? What was it that gave rise to the stupendous polemic of the Epistle to the Galatians? To the modern Church the difference would have seemed to be a mere theological subtlety. About many things the Judaizers were in perfect agreement with Paul. The Judaizers believed that Jesus was the Messiah; there is not a shadow of evidence that they objected to Paul’s lofty view of the person of Christ. Without the slightest doubt, they believe that Jesus had really risen from the dead. They believed, moreover, that faith in Christ was necessary for salvation. But the trouble was, they believed that something else was also necessary; they believed that what Christ had done needed to be pieced out by the believer’s own effort to keep the Law. From the modern point of view the difference would have seemed to be very slight. Paul as well as the Judaizers believed that the keeping of the law of God, in its deepest import, is inseparably connected with faith. The difference concerned only the logical – not even, perhaps, the temporal – order of three steps. Paul said that a man (1) first believes on Christ, (2) then is justified before God, (3) then immediately proceeds to keep God’s law. The Judaizers said that a man (1) believes on Christ and (2) keeps the law of God the best he can, and then (3) is justified. The difference would seem to modern “practical” Christians to be a highly subtle and intangible matter, hardly worthy of consideration at all in view of the large measure of agreement in the practical realm. What a splendid cleaning up of the Gentile cities it would have been if the Judaizers had succeeded in extending to those cities the observance of the Mosaic law, even including the unfortunate ceremonial observances! Surely Paul ought to have made common cause with teachers who were so nearly in agreement with him . .

Paul saw very clearly that the difference between the Judaizers and himself was the difference between two entirely distinct types of religion; it was the difference between a religion of merit and a religion of grace. If Christ provides only part of our salvation, leaving us to provide the rest, then we are still hopeless under the load of sin. . . . Such an attempt to piece out the work of Christ by our own merit, Paul saw clearly, is the very essence of unbelief; Christ will do everything or nothing, and the only hope is to throw ourselves unreservedly on His mercy and trust Him for all.

From J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (1923)

I challenge you to find even 5 evangelical churches in Glasgow preaching from a conviction like this.


Michael F. Bird said...

Do you want the addresses of the Glaswegian churches?

Nick Mackison said...

Yes please! Maybe I'm being pessimistic, but the evangelical scene in Glasgow on the whole, at least as I see it, is pietistic and atheological. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts though.

John Thomson said...

A really helpful quotation from Machen in the present Justification Wars.

Alexander Smith said...

At Cathcart Trinity we are consistently taught that we can depend only on Christ for our salvation, that no human effort or "right living" can earn our place in Heaven.

But then CT is a Church of Scotland congregation, not an "independent evangelical" church.

Nick Mackison said...

Alexander, I did have independent evangelical churches in mind. I didn't know that you were so close by either. Good to hear about the preaching at Trinity.

Donald Ferguson said...


I agree with Machen [nothing new there]. I was wondering about the basis for the judgements you make – the same could be said of the previous blog [‘may well be full of…’ though the statement is qualified the context tends to negate the qualification].

I would expect such an evaluation [‘the evangelical scene in Glasgow on the whole, at least as I see it, is pietistic and atheological’] to be based on solid evidence. Have you personal knowledge of the majority of evangelical churches? Have you access to written evidence that relates to the position held by the majority of evangelical churches?

If what you say is no more than guess work extrapolated from a limited knowledge base then it is at best, unhelpful, and at worst slanderous. You are talking about the Church of Christ and careless talk ought to be avoided. However, you may well have sound reliable evidence – in which case – sorry!

As we submit one negative blog after another I am beginning to think that my fellow bloggers have forgotten that God has given us two eyes so that we can see the whole picture. Consistent lack of balance is a form of distortion.

There is much that is wrong with the world;the Church; my life - but there is just as much [if not more] that is worthy of praise and admiration - perhaps we should spend a bit more time thinking about these things before we turn into an evangelical version of the news [good news is no news!].

What next – a blog headed ‘I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.' or ‘The glass isn’t half empty – there is no glass.’

Nick Mackison said...

Donald, I think you misunderstand the nature of blogging. As Darryl Hart said on his blog, blogs are not the place to go for edification. They are a place to chat with people who can't assemble for a pint.

So, when I make a statement like I did I think we both know that I don't have detailed evidence. My evidence is merely anecdotal. Is that allowed? Or should our conversations suffer death by a thousand qualifications?

If what I said is slanderous, I would ask, who exactly am I slandering (you're the one for specifics after all)? Am I slandering the churches who are preaching the gospel? Who are these churches exactly? Any church with a strong doctrine of justification (who in turn regards works/righteousness as another faith) can safely count themselves one of the five...

I base my 'hunch' on a lot of the lay preaching I hear by men who are at best unclear in their presentation of the gospel and have little conception of the importance of a law/gospel hermeneutic. If these dudes are a sample set of what is going on in the wider church culture, I'm not encouraged.

Further, the weekly dose of the White Horse Inn is replete with surveys of full time workers within American evangelicalism who demonstrate little understanding of the gospel Machen preached. Is it so far fetched to imagine that things are not the same here?

BTW, maybe John's 'full of..' statement can be understood in the light of the parable of the wheat and the tares?

Nevertheless, I'll take on board your charge of being overly negative and give it some thought.