Monday, September 7, 2015

SOLA 5 - 2015 "Our Common Delight in The Doctrines of Grace"

This is a transcript of my talk  ( session 2) given to  the  SOLA 5 Conference 2015 . 
The organisation that  has been  called into being  10 years ago  under the good and gracious  hand of our God finds itself  in    need of renewed definition. That is  not a bad problem  to have. Long may we continue  to examine ourselves on a regular basis! The unexamined life is not worth living. [1] 

Any organisation -  and SOLA 5 is an organisation  of God centered churches in Southern Africa -  any such organisation is  in need   of  periodic  review and  of   course correction. You know how a little deviation at the beginning can  later lead to a significant deviation from the true  destination. A  ship   that sets  course   from Cape Town,   say to   Hamburg in Germany,   veering  only a marginal  and insignificant   1 degree   from its course at the beginning  and maintaining such a  deviation,  will in due time find itself hundreds  of nautical miles off course.  It will never reach Hamburg by ignoring the compass.

SOLA 5 has  a compass. It is  called  ‘SOLA SCRIPTURA’. The Bible is our only  reliable  compass by which we navigate the treacherous waters  of   this world, to bring us into the safe harbour of heaven.   Until  we get there  let  our consciences be  bound by the Scriptures, given to us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

This is not easy. I remind you  that sin  and  decay and  all  their  ugly cousins,  such as deceit,  pride, laziness   and compromise are forever  with us, calling us from their  various  places on the corners  of  every  street  and   from the market place  (Prov. 7:12),  seeking to lead us   away from  the purity  of the Word.   Since decay  (the second  law of thermodynamics) is written into the   DNA of this fallen world, leaving  not even the church untouched, it is  always necessary that she should adjust her course by the  navigational standards  prescribed  in the  Word of God. 

The British  poet  T.S. Elliot   understood this when he wrote :[2] 

 “… here upon earth you have the reward of the good and ill that was done by those who have gone before you.
And all that is ill you may repair if you walk together in humble repentance, expiating the sins of your fathers;  
And all that was good you must fight to keep with hearts as devoted as those of your fathers who fought to gain it.
The Church must be forever building, for it is forever decaying within and attacked from without;
For this is the law of life; and you must remember that while there is time of prosperity .
The people will neglect the Temple, and in time of adversity they will decry it.
What life have you if you have not life together?
There is no life that is not in community, and no community not lived in praise of God…

I remind you that  SOLA 5  was founded in  April  2005 as a community  to the praise of God (SOLI DEO GLORIA), and 10 years later  we have not only seen progress, but there  can be no doubt   that  we have also been subjected to  decay and  resultant  fatigue as a result of the relentless battle.

Why then are we here?    The founding fathers, if you may call them that,  have  called this organisation into being for a time such as this,in order  to provide   for an unambiguous  and a shared identity for those that are committed  to  the  historic  faith, the gospel  as it was once preached by the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ[3], and many others since them, not forgetting  the Reformers  of the  16th century [4]. The Reformers were given the grace to restore  the centrality of the Word to  the world in their time.

The solemn  fact is this:  From one generation to the next the gospel may be lost, if we do not uphold  it  and pass it on in our own day.  We, as  churches identifying with SOLA 5,  and in co- operation with all those  of similar conviction,   are called to  uphold the gospel in this generation.  
Our founding fathers wanted  a forum  for  glorifying  God our Father   through  a living attachment to our Lord Jesus, living  by the power of the Holy Spirit, within the framework of a robust dependence  upon the written Word of God,  issuing in  the manifestation of  a God centered  life of faith, living   in dependence upon divine grace, and  issuing in  a gracious and winsome way of living.   In this we  have  wanted  to create  a  forum  for  prayer and awareness  concerning  the work of God in Southern Africa and beyond. We have  wanted a mutual accountability among ourselves.  We have dreamed  of  publishing  sound evangelistic  and theological material. We have  thought of a website  and conferences such as this one , and many other   interactive forums by which  we can stay in touch  with  each other. We have  spoken much about the need  of   theological education and of  missionary co-operation  and  of  mutual support in church planting ventures.

How  then  have we  been  doing?  And how shall we  ensure that  what we believe to be  essential and biblical  to do in this age,  in which we are privileged to carry the torch for a little while -   how shall  we  ensure  that we shall  be faithful  to our  Lord Jesus, our heavenly  and soon coming bridegroom?  

In the case of SOLA 5 we must understand  that  we are  not a geographically  closely knit community. We are separated by great   distances. Lusaka is over 3000 kilometres from Cape Town.   The basis of our association  can  therefore  not be  based  on  proximity  or ease of access to one another. We do, of course, have a distinct advantage  in terms of the  various modern means of communication, but the reality remains  that  we  are  as widely separated as Athens  in Greece,  and  Ephesus  in Asia Minor,  and   Antioch in Syria   were separated  from  Jerusalem  in Israel. And yet, it is remarkable, is it not,   that these churches did maintain a unique fellowship  in their day. 
Here’s the reason why. The  apostle Paul worked hard   to keep  these  distant  churches in touch.

Firstly by  constantly  taking people along with him  to and from these various areas where he had sown the gospel seeds . In that process  he always connected and introduced  men and women  from these  various churches   to one another.  The 16th chapter  of Romans provides an impressive  list of Paul’s contacts  and relationships  in the world.  He also  had many travel companions, men such as Barnabas  the encourager and  Luke the Physician (Col. 4:14) on his outward journeys. He  took Timothy, born in the Greek world,  back   to Jerusalem, where he also had him circumcised in order not to give offence to the Jewish brothers  in Jerusalem (Acts  16:1-3).  Paul also constantly gave feedback  to the churches that supported his  mission to the gentiles (Acts  14:27 –Antioch and Acts 15- Jerusalem). Paul was a true communicator  and as such he serves as a real model for us today.

Secondly,  by keeping  the churches  in touch  with  gospel  truths (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:1-11)  and  with  sound doctrine  by means of his apostolic letters  which were shared among the churches  (e.g. Col. 4:16). The churches  in Paul’s generation  therefore stayed connected  in the truth, as they were constantly made aware of  the heart of the gospel (and also the threats against the gospel), as well   as being aware  of  one another’s existential difficulties, challenges and encouragements.  Paul  also created an awareness of  the needs that existed in  some of these  new   churches  (e.g. the economic difficulties  of the Jerusalem church )  and then  encouraged    other distant  churches (e.g. the Macedonians  - 2 Cor. 8&9) to   help their brothers and sisters.

One grand truth  however stands out above all regarding  Paul’s mission.  The association   that Paul had in mind among the churches was founded  not primarily on principles of friendship   or  social  engagement,  though it undoubtedly included those elements,  but  it was founded primarily  on the gospel  of Christ. Jesus was the sum and  the   substance of what Paul preached  everywhere, and so  churches everywhere, whether in Athens, Corinth, Philippi, Ephesus , Antioch or Jerusalem  were primarily connected  and founded and built   on that  same  gospel basis. The practical details and  the very real social problems  that  surrounded  each church became  something that was going to be worked out in the context of the gospel. 
But it is that word ‘gospel’,  that is in constant need of clarification. We do not have time to consider the many   aberrant  versions  of what is claimed to be  the  gospel,  e.g.  the way  in which the health, wealth and prosperity movement, or the social gospel of the liberals define the gospel.  My task is now to  help you  to  clarify the heart  of SOLA 5, defining the gospel in terms  of   what is known  as the  doctrines of Grace

I  trust that you are not unfamiliar with the  concept of the Doctrines of Grace. Allow  me to briefly remind you concerning these.  The Doctrines of Grace are   sometimes also known as the five  points of Calvinism, which  also sometimes have been  summed up in the acronym TULIP:

·         Total Depravity
·         Unconditional Election
·         Limited Atonement  
·         Irresistible Grace
·         Perseverance  of the Saints   

This acronym came  about somewhat  indirectly as  the result of a  controversy   which had developed   around  the  teachings  of  a   man  named  Jacobus  Arminius [5] (1560-1609),  who was a professor at the University of Leiden, in Holland. He  began  a doctrinal dispute by publishing  five  articles  against   John Calvin’s [6] (1509 – 1564)  basic teachings  concerning  the  nature  of  the  biblical  doctrine of  salvation, as   they were described in the Belgic Confession[7] and also in the Heidelberg Catechism.

He wanted to revise these confessions, in a subtle way.  He  said in essence , yes, there was a fall; yes, there is such a thing as original sin; yes, the constituent nature of humanity has been changed by this state of corruption and all parts of our humanity have been significantly weakened by the fall, so much so that without the assistance of divine grace nobody can possibly be redeemed, so that grace is not only helpful but it’s absolutely necessary for salvation.”  

But then he went on to also say this,  in essence :  While we are so fallen that we can’t be saved without grace, we are not so fallen that we don’t have the ability to accept or reject the grace when it’s offered to us. The will is weakened but is not enslaved. There remains in the core of our being an island of righteousness that remains untouched by the fall. It’s out of that little island of righteousness, that little parcel of goodness that is still intact in the soul or in the will that is the determinative difference between heaven and hell. It’s that little island that must be exercised when God does his thousand steps of reaching out to us, but in the final analysis it’s that one step that we take that determines whether we go to heaven or hell — whether we exercise that little righteousness that is in the core of our being or whether we don’t.[8]

Arminius   was never  able to conclude his disputation , for he died  rather suddenly, in 1609, at the age of 49.  His  teaching  was   propagated  by his followers, who were  also known as  “the Remonstrants”. These were subsequently taken to task  by the synods of Dort  in Holland  in 1618 and  1619, at which  time  ‘Arminianism’ was  declared an ‘anathema’.

The  formulation  of the  five  points of Calvinism, or as we prefer to call it,  ‘The Doctrines of Grace’  became the  response to  Arminius’  so called  five   disputations.  To be clear,  the actual  acronym  TULIP , which we commonly use today  as a summary of the Doctrines of Grace, was not used  at that time, for TULIP is an English  and not a Dutch acronym.   The earliest use of TULIP has been  attributed  to   Cleland Boyd McAfee in 1905,  when he delivered  a lecture  to  the Presbyterian Union, in Newark, New Jersey.   But it was apparently Lorraine Boettner  in his popular book,  “The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination”   (first published in 1932) [9] , that popularized the use of TULIP.  

The Relevance of this old debate  for our day    

So what  does this 400  year old  debate have to do with our times? Why has the Steering  Committee  asked me to speak to you concerning  this? 
I began  my paper by  pointing out the  ever present danger  of losing the true  gospel,  due to  a subtle departure from the  biblical course. I remind you,  brothers  and sisters, that the gospel is easily lost if we are not careful and prayerful  expositors  of  the Bible. The Old Covenant people of the Exodus  generation  lost their  adherence to the truth within the span  of  a single generation,  because they disregarded the  Word that God spoke through  Moses.
The New  Covenant  people faced the same dilemma. Consider  both, the   Galatian and Corinthian churches. Both were in danger of losing the gospel, because in both churches the members were beginning to submit to the  opinions of men rather  than  the plain Word of God, which reminds us  that  Christ, and not human personalities are central to the life of the church.   Listen for instance  to Paul's perplexity  as he pours out his heart to the Galatians who had been taken captive by  false  teachers:  

“I am astonished  that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is  another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.”  (Gal. 1:6,7)

Paul  clearly saw what this deviation would accomplish  in the Galatian  and  in the Corinthian churches, where legalism  and libertinism respectively   were threatening to undermine  the gospel foundations that Paul had so clearly established as an expert builder  (1 Cor. 3:10). 

Now the  matters that Arminius disputed  concerning  Calvin and Luther’s  understanding of the nature of salvation  was in essence  a deviation from the biblical course  and the Synod of Dort had the  wisdom to see this.    
This  is in fact  an age old  and an ongoing dispute in the Christian church- at  least as long as she has existed.  This dispute  has reared  its head many times, and in many different ways in the course of church history.

I remind you that long before the so-called   the ‘ Arminius vs. Calvin  debate’[10]   there was the  ‘Pelagius  vs Augustine’  controversy  in the 5th    century  AD,  which  ran along similar  lines.[11]  Pelagius (ca.354 – 420 AD)  was an English  monk who lived in Rome in Augustine's (354 – 430 AD)  day.  He categorically denied the doctrine of original sin, and asserted that human nature  is good and able to do all it is commanded to do. Therefore Pelagius was shocked when he read in Augustine's Confessions, "Give me the grace [O Lord] to do as you command, and command me to do what you will! . . . O holy God . . . when your commands are obeyed, it is from you that we receive the power to obey them." Pelagius saw this as an assault on human goodness and freedom and responsibility.  

The   same  thing  is true  about  the  theological  differences between  George Whitefield and John Wesley (1703-1791).  While Whitefield was a so called ‘Calvinist’, Wesley was a self proclaimed ‘Arminian’Iain Murray writes in an article [12]  :

From the time of his conversion in 1735, Whitefield had been profoundly conscious of man's entire depravity, his need of the new birth, and the fact that God can save and God alone. Describing an experience which occurred a few weeks after his conversion, he wrote: "About this time God was pleased to enlighten my soul, and bring me into the knowledge of His free grace . . ." Strengthened by his reading of the Scriptures, the Reformers and the Puritans, Whitefield gradually grasped the great related chain of truths revealed in the New Testament—the Father's electing love, Christ's substitutionary death on behalf of those whom the Father had given Him, and the Spirit's infallible work in bringing to salvation those for whom it was appointed. These doctrines of "free grace" were the essential theology of his ministry from the very first and consequently the theology of the movement which began under his preaching in 1737.
The fact is that while John Wesley had at his conversion in May 1738 accepted evangelical views on sin, faith, and the re-birth, he had at the same time retained his pre-conversion opinions on the doctrines of predestination and the extent of the atonement. As the religious influences which had moulded Wesley prior to his conversion were High Anglican, it is not surprising that these opinions were Arminian and not orthodox.  His views on these points were not part of his new evangelical experience but arose, as Howell Harris declared to him, "from the prejudices of your education, your books, your companions, and the remains of your carnal reason.”

The same Howell  Harris  also once wrote to Wesley: "You grieve God's people by your opposition to electing love; and many poor souls believe your doctrine simply because you hold it." [13]  All too often we are overawed by the views  that influential men hold, more than  the view that the Bible holds. It is always easier to follow than to study the Bible for yourself.

Choosing the opinions of men rather than  holding  on to the clear  directives of God ‘s Word is what  kills churches, because  this grieves the Spirit.   Today,  we  face the same  challenges as we face the perpetual issue of the  man- centered versus the God centered  gospel.  
Please note, that SOLA 5  is deliberately  called  “an Association of God-centered Churches”. SOLA 5 strenuously seeks  to be intentionally God centered because we know that so many  churches in our day  are practically  following the likes of  Pelagius, Arminius and John Wesley,  whose systems   quickly  lead us away from the true gospel. The same is  incidentally also true for those who  are merely  “Reformed” in name. Many so called Reformed churches are  in fact ‘Arminian’  in practice , since they would  practically build their  doctrine of conversion upon the ability of man, rather than upon the biblical doctrine of the Sovereignty of God.

This  age old controversy  between the man-centered  attempts to deal with the Bible, forcing interpretations  into the Bible , and letting the Bible speak for itself, in the plainest sense of the word is  really  the reason why SOLA 5 has  been called into existence. The truth is that  the world  ( that is us) is naturally drawn to the Pelagian – Arminian – Wesleyan view of things. We seem to intuitively believe  that we have  the ability and the power  to redeem themselves.   We are all by nature Arminians and Pelagians.  This is what  R.C. Sproul  referred  to  when  he  wrote  an article, entitled   The Pelagian Captivity of the Church[14].  

The Doctrines of Grace re- affirmed in our day

TOTAL DEPRAVITY:  (Read  Ephesians 2: 1- 9). 
We need to preach   that total depravity is not just random badness or ignorance, but  that it is in fact  total blindness and deadness.  Blind men cannot see, and  dead men cannot respond to the gospel,   unless  someone  opens  their eyes  and unless someone first makes them alive to see and hear the truth.  We believe   that  to this end , God has called the church and her messengers  to preach the Word in season and out of season  (2 Tim. 4:2), trusting that the Holy Spirit will give real life to  our hearers  (John 3:1-8).  We say this against the background that many  think and believe that there is sufficient ability and goodness in men to  see  these things  and  so to make that essential step to save themselves.

UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION:  (Read Ephesians  1: 3-6; Romans 8:28-30 ; Romans 9). We need to  preach with conviction  that  our  salvation  is not secured   by  the power or the  will of man (John  1:12,13) , nor  by  personal merit , nor  by personal  choices  which  we choose to make  in respect to our salvation.  We affirm  that the Bible  teaches unambiguously  that  God,  in  eternity has  predestined  His people for salvation,  giving  them  the grace of  faith and repentance to believe  in time.   We affirm and preach that those whom God has sovereignly  chosen,   He also  brings to true repentance by  the power of the Holy  Spirit.   Thus, God's choice of the sinner, not the sinner's choice of Christ, is the ultimate cause of salvation.  We say this , because  the prevalent mode of evangelism  affirms  the Arminian  view. This view has produced  a  huge nominal Christianity ,  who  have in fact become twice hardened!

LIMITED ATONEMENT:  ( Read  John 10:1-21John 17: 2,9, 12)  
We need to preach that Jesus died for  His  sheep   alone.  What does this mean in terms of our  gospel preaching?  Well, we preach   the Gospel  freely to all. We  make God’s gracious  offer  of reconciliation through Christ universally known.  But  the Lord Jesus teaches us  explicitly that only His sheep will hear His voice (John 10). And we must preach that  Christ’s  death  does not  just  potentially secure people’s salvation  (as Arminius taught), but that  Christ effectually saves His people. Spurgeon used this  doctrine  effectively in his evangelism, provoking his listeners to ask whether they  were in fact  of the elect .  This caused  that  many  under Spurgeon’s ministry  to examine themselves  and  to call out  for God’s saving mercy.   Jesus  promises that all  who come to Him burdened with their sin and in need of forgiveness, He will not drive away.(Matt. 11:28-30). We must preach the full  and free offer of the gospel to all ,  and with tears  and real pleading but  unlike many modern preachers  we must not use underhanded ways  to  get  people to make commitments  that   are not rooted in the saving power  of Christ . 

IRRESISTIBLE GRACE : (Read  John  1 :12-13 ; John 3:1-8 ;  3:16 ; 6:44.)  
We need to preach boldly that  the general gospel  call , which is made to all without distinction,  can be, and often is, rejected. The particular  call   however  is always heard by the elect, and always at the right time,  always resulting  in  a true conversion.Conversion is evidenced  by the grace seen in the life of the converted person. Grace is simply irresistible. There should be no second guessing  as to who is converted ! Jesus has saved us  that our joy may  be complete  (1 John 1:4).  We shall be known by our fruit. We say this , for there are many people in this world that  lack assurance. It is imperative that we must provide gospel  clarity for people. Nobody is half - saved!

PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS(Read John   3:16 ; 6: 35-40  and John 17).  
We need to make it clear that  Christ’s sheep are kept secure because the Great Shepherd has paid  for the price of their sin.  Furthermore  He continues to pray for them  (Rom. 8:34; Jn. 17:9), and He keeps them (Jn. 17:11).  They are kept in faith by the power of Almighty God, and thus persevere to the end through all affliction and suffering.  We need to preach  this in an age  where many have taught that it is possible to lose your salvation. This makes the power and the death of Christ a mockery and it must be denounced  as a heresy. arnings must however be issued that spurious  or temporary believers  (Hebr. 6:1-6)  who have  been enlightened,  who have tasted the heavenly gift, and who have shared in the Holy Spirit and the powers of the age that is to come,  if they fall away - that it is impossible to restore them to repentance , since they hold Christ in contempt.  (i.e. they  went out from us but they did not continue with us  1 Jn. 2:19)


The Doctrines of Grace  are thus  an explanation  of the gospel. SOLA 5 exists  to make the  clarity of the gospel known.   
The doctrines of grace to that end   are  essential affirmations of the biblical  doctrine of  salvation. Each one of these aspects has been assaulted, and each one must be defended, if we hope to stay a biblical church.

We  thank  God that a rediscovery of the doctrines of grace worldwide   has been  a wonderful  antidote to the current sorry state of evangelicalism.  But we need  greater boldness, and more encouragement  to stand where our fathers have stood ,   and  to seek many more  platforms to preach these truths.

This is where SOLA 5 stands. This is what we have covenanted ourselves  to, and  here we wish to stand with all like -minded  believers in  Southern Africa  and in  the world.

Unto Him be glory in the church, and  in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen !  (Eph. 3:21)

[1] Apparently uttered by Socrates  at his trial for impiety and corrupting the youth, for which he was subsequently sentenced to die, as described in Plato's Apology.  See also 2 Corinthians 13:5
[2] T.S. Elliot  :  ‘ Choruses from the Rock’  : COLLECTED POEMS 1909- 1935   [101]   
[3] E.g. Paul in  1 Corinthians  15:1-11
[4] In two years’  time, on the  31st October 2017 we shall be  remembering the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation
[5] His real name  was  Jakob Hermanzoon. He was a professor at the University of Leiden . He wrote many books and treatises on theology  and his views became the basis of Arminiansim and the Dutch Remonstrant movement.
[6] In  French he was called  Jehan Cauvin
[7] The oldest of the doctrinal standards of the Reformed Churches is the Belgic Confession written in 1561, following the seventeenth-century Latin designation “Confessio Belgica.” “Belgica” referred to the whole of the Netherlands, both north and south, which today is divided into the Netherlands and Belgium. The confession’s chief author was Guido de Brès, a preacher of the Reformed churches of the Netherlands, who died as a martyr in  1567.
[8] Taken from R.C. Sproul’s  article : The  Pelagian Captivity  of the Church
[9] Theopedia  : TULIP
[10]   This debate was  not held between Calvin and  Arminius, but between their  followers. They were not contemporaries, for Calvin  ( 1509 -1564) was long dead when   Arminius ( 1560-1609)  had become  a respected scholar at the University of Leiden , Holland. 
[11] Although Arminius was not nearly as extreme as Pelagius in his pronunciations against the Sovereignty of God. Arminius has sometimes been called a ‘ semi-Pelagian’.
[12] Iain Murray on Whitefield and Wesley: This article first appeared in the 1960 edition of Whitefield's Journals, published by The Banner of Truth Trust. Here Iain Murray discusses the historical background that led to George Whitefield's famous letter  to John Wesley
[13] Ibid
[14] You can find  this on the Internet 

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