October 8, 2009

The Gospel of the Christ: Biblical Terminology for False Teaching

Dear Guests of IDOTG:

Earlier this month I had the privilege of introducing the new book by Pastor Tom Stegall, The Gospel of the Christ: A Biblical response to the Crossless Gospel Regarding the Contents of Saving Faith.

In Tom Stegall’s introduction of his book he noted:

My objective in writing the book was to provide a biblical response to the controversy within the Free Grace community over the subject of the ‘crossless gospel’ and the contents of saving faith. Part I of the book lays the groundwork by introducing the problem of the crossless/promise-only/Grace Evangelical Society (GES) gospel and its associated doctrines. The remainder of the book still interacts with the new GES theology but it is primarily an exegetical synthesis of dozens of key passages involving the terms ‘gospel’ and ‘Christ’.

Let’s continue with the powerful series of excerpts from Tom Stegall’s book.

Biblical Terminology for False Teaching

This leads to a third important consideration for the use of the phrase “crossless gospel.” It is contrary to the biblical pattern to allow those who are in doctrinal error to dictate a more pleasant-sounding, appealing label for their views. This is why the Lord Jesus Himself did not consult with the Pharisees first in order to find a mutually agreeable, less offensive, moniker for their doctrine than the spiritually charged label of “leaven” (Matt. 16:12). Do you think the Pharisees viewed their own doctrine as “leaven”? Couldn’t a less offensive label for their doctrine be chosen than one which every Israelite would have immediately associated with the presence of sin and evil? If the Bible itself repeatedly uses very unflattering language for doctrinal error, how can we refuse to do likewise or somehow consider it wrong to do so in the midst of this current gospel controversy?

Consider further the example of the apostle Paul. Was he required out of “grace” to check with Hymenaeus and Philetus before identifying their doctrine in 2 Timothy 2:17 as “gangrene” (gangraina)? Or was it actually the loving thing to do to warn other susceptible believers of the gravity of their false eschatological doctrines by employing such a potent and pejorative image as “gangrene”?
To be sure, “crossless gospel” has an unpleasant ring to it; but false doctrine itself is unpleasant, and it should make us feel uncomfortable. Besides, the phrase “crossless gospel” is even milder than likening the new Free Grace gospel to “gangrene,” or calling it something like “the gangrenous gospel.”
Now let’s move from the false eschatological doctrine of Hymenaeus and Philetus to the realm of today’s *redefined Free Grace soteriology. Let’s ask, which is the more serious error, to teach that the resurrection is past already or to teach that you don’t even have to believe the gospel to go to heaven? Which has far greater eternal ramifications, to teach believers that the resurrection is past already and thus overthrow the faith of some who are already saved, or to teach that the lost don’t even have to believe in a Christ who is God, who died for our sins and who is alive from the dead? If the apostle Paul deemed a false eschatology worthy of the repulsive analogy of “gangrene,” can you imagine what he would say about today’s reductionist saving message? At times, serious departure from the truth calls for an equally serious censure of that error, especially when people’s eternal destinies are on the line. Webster’s defines the noun “censure” to mean, “strong disapproval; condemnation.” When used as a verb, it means, “to condemn as wrong.”1 There is no question that the phrase “crossless gospel” is meant to express “strong disapproval” of this new error and “to condemn [it] as wrong.” Make no mistake about it; those who have chosen to use this phrase (including this author) have chosen to do so deliberately as an expression of reproof and rebuke, which is also biblical (2 Tim. 4:2).

Again, when the apostle Paul wanted to warn the believers in Philippi about the dangerous teaching of the legalizers who added law-keeping to faith alone in Christ as the requirement for justification, he wrote to them to “beware of the concision” (Phil. 3:2, KJV) or “mutilation” (NKJV). Was this really a fair way to characterize the teaching of those who believed in law-keeping for justification? Was Paul mischaracterizing their doctrinal views by using such a powerful and pejorative expression? Though they obviously believed in more aspects of law-keeping than just circumcision, he still used the abbreviated expression “concision” or “mutilation.” Was this depiction of the legalists’ doctrine open to misinterpretation by those who heard it or read it? Possibly. But it was also a powerful deterrent. In the same way, the phrase “crossless gospel” is not intended to express all that its proponents believe; but it is still fitting. In addition, when Paul wrote to the Philippians, there was nothing wrong with circumcision in itself; but Paul chose to refer to the false teachers’ views on circumcision in a negative, pejorative manner by characterizing them as a botched circumcision—a “mutilation” (katatomÄ“n). Was this ungracious of the apostle Paul?
Indeed, some today have mutilated the saving message by removing what they consider to be excess, unnecessary content, which is actually the heart and soul of the gospel—the person and work of Christ.
Some Grace people may object that the preceding biblical examples are not a fair and equal comparison to today’s Free Grace teachers of a reductionist “message of life.” Some may protest that today’s teachers are regenerated men, whereas “the concision” of Paul’s day were unbelievers. Therefore, such charged language is unfit for fellow brothers in Christ with whom we are in doctrinal disagreement. But is it really true that the legalists that Paul had in mind were all unbelievers? Certainly some were (Gal. 2:4). Perhaps even most were. But it would be hard to maintain that all were unbelievers in light of Acts 15:5 and Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians where he viewed the Galatians as regenerate (Gal. 4:6-7) but also as having fallen prey to the false gospel of the legalists (Gal. 1:6-7; 5:1-4). In conclusion, we must consider the case of Hymenaeus and Philetus one more time. These men were most likely genuine, but disobedient, believers.2 In spite of the fact that they were fellow believers, Paul was still compelled to liken their doctrine to “gangrene.”


Please continue to- The “Lordship Salvation” Label

*See- Is “RE-DEFINED” Free Grace Theology- Free Grace Theology?

1) Webster’s New World Dictionary, ed. Victoria Neufeldt (New York: Warner Books, 1990), 98.
2) Joseph C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings: A Study of Eternal Security and the Final Significance of Man (Miami Springs, FL: Schoettle Publishing, 1992), 334-336; Thomas L. Stegall, “Must Faith Endure for Salvation to be Sure?


Next week the concluding excerpts will post under the following titles, The “Lordship Salvation” Label & The “No Lordship” Counter Claim

Editor’s Note: For related reading and discussion see these articles.

GES Reductionist Affirmation of Faith

The Hollow “Gospel” of the Grace Evangelical Society

The “Christ” Under Siege: The New Assault From the Grace Evangelical Society

Believing the Gospel: “May Indeed Frustrate God's Grace?”

Zane Hodges: Drifting Far Off the Marker

Free Grace Theology: What Every Advocate of Lordship Salvation Should Know

5 comments:

  1. Lou, according to Gal 1:6-7 a crossless gospel is not gospel at all, not the one true gospel which is the Christ died from our sins according to the scriptures, He was buried and He rose again the third day according to the scriptures: Yeshua of Nazareth is the Christ. (Luke 24,1 Cor 15:1-6)

    As far as those who preach "another gospel" which is no gospel at all, these are they who separate, brute beasts according to Jude. According to 1 John 1:18, "even now are there many antichristos (ones against the Christ), whereby we know it is the last time (John wrote this before the judgment of Yerushalem in 70 AD). They went out from us, but were not of us, for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us, but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us." This is the testimony of all false prophets. These false prophets are also what is spoke of in Hebrews chapter, it is impossible to renew them... if they fall away. What false prophet has repented of being a false prophet. They by their very nature have partaken of the truth, and the heavenly gift, and the Holy Spirit, and the good word of God and the power of the world to come and God gave them over to a reprobate heart (unapproving). They have been given over by God who hold the purse strings of grace for all men. Whether men ever are found by grace, or whether they partake of the grace and fall away.

    Daniel

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  2. Daniel,

    Before Lou has the opportunity to respond, I would like to follow up on your comment.

    While I obviously am convinced that the GES view is a "crossless" gospel and do not hesitate to say that it is unbiblical and false, I see no bibiblical warrant for claiming that these men are "antichrists" (1 John 2:18) for whom it is "impossible to renew them" unto repentance (Heb. 6:4-6). That is going too far.

    How do we know whether they will be led to repentance or not? As one who has vocally objected to their false teaching, I can also attest that I pray regularly and earnestly for their repentance and even that they will retract their former teachings and be restored to a place of useful service to the Lord. 2 Timothy 2:24-26 requires no less from all of us.

    In Christ,
    Tom Stegall

    PS--How do you know that the epistle of 1 John was written before A.D. 70?

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  3. Thomas, antichristos, an untranslated word meaning "one against Christ" is a false prophet. They come from us. Again, a false prophet is an antichristos.

    Again show me the false prophet who has repented of speaking falsehood. Jude in no uncertain terms calls false prophets "brute beasts...spots on your feasts of love...clouds without water...trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots, raging waves of the sea... wandering stars.

    1 John speaks of there being many antichrist, and "the antichristos coming". He is speaks to the generation he lives in. The man of sin, the son of perdition is not yet revealed to John. The letter must be written before judgment. In 1 John 4:17 John speaks of that day of judgment, with relevance to the hearers when it comes.

    As far as it being impossible to renew them John in 1 John 5:16 says not to pray for the sin unto death. False prophets set themselves and those they mislead apart from the assembly of God. When God give a man over to a reprobate heart, do not pray for them.

    Preach the one true gospel, which is the Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, he was buried and He rose again the third day according to the scriptures, and the children of grace will rejoice. The spirits are tested. And if they do not rejoice they are not of the Spirit of God, this is the spirit of antichristos. (1 John 4)

    Daniel

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  4. Well Daniel,

    I'm not ready to conclude that God has given them over to a reprobate heart. So I and others (Lou included) will continue to pray for their repentance in the spirit of 2 Timothy 2:24-26. If you are convinced otherwise, you must give an account to God for that as we will for our convictions.

    In the Risen Savior,
    Tom

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  5. Daniel:

    I would agree with Pastor Stegall’s note above. I want and do hope that the folks who have adopted the reductionist heresy of the Crossless gospel can and will be recovered from and repent of it. If, in my mind, I give them over then I cease to hope and pray for their recovery. It is almost as if I give up on God’s will and desire to recover His own from gross doctrinal error.

    That said I want to reiterate that the teaching that these people hold to is the most egregious reductionist assault on the Gospel, the content of saving faith, ever introduced to the New Testament church by one of its own, namely the late Zane Hodges.

    In addition to their disturbing theology, the behavior of many in that camp CG advocates and sympathizers is the most ungracious, ultra-combative, dishonest, vitriolic and unethical I have seen let alone heard of in Christian circles. Over the last three years we have witnessed libel, defamation, plagiarism, character assassinations, evading doctrinal questions, sock puppets, threats of physical violence and copyright violations. These are the stock and trade of the Grace Evangelical Society people as they seek to defend their assaults on the content of saving faith.

    It is hard to know which is more disturbing: their heresy or their abominable behavior. Both are anti-biblical and show like an open sore on the Christian faith.

    Nevertheless, we pray and hope they can be recovered from both. In the meantime we resist the spread of the doctrinal errors.


    LM

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