By Ron Halbrook
Each of the following errors will enlarge the circle of unity and fellowship. But this enlarged circle is wholly manmade. It is not Bible unity. Since it is not scriptural unity, it is not pleasing to God.
I. We Are All Brethren In Error. (i.e., every Christian and all congregations are involved in the sinful practices of doctrinal error). The grace of God is ours if we obey the “gospel.” Error in “doctrine” does not remove us from God’s Grace. Those in one kind of doctrinal error can accept those in another kind.
This concept rests partly on a supposed distortion between “gospel” and “doctrine.” The distortion is false. After Jesus taught on such basic concepts as (1) the importance of humility, repentance, and longing after God if man is to be spiritually blessed” (2) “no man can serve two masters; (3) “enter ye in at the strait gate;” (4) “not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but, he that doeth the will of my Fattier which is in heaven;” after his speaking on such basic principles as would admittedly be included in the “gospel,” Matthew observes, “The people were astonished at his doctrine” (Matt. 7:28).
Furthermore, after one becomes a Christian, if he then teaches the necessity of day observance or circumcision that would have to fall in the so-called “doctrine” department. In which case, such teaching would not be a matter of “gospel” nor would it remove the teacher from God’s grace. Yet Paul’s letter to the Galatians deals with those teaching such “doctrinal” error and charges them with perverting “the gospel of Christ” (1:7-9; 4:10; 5:6). Paul says of those who abide such things, “Ye are fallen from grace” (5:4).
The truth of the matter is, then, that, “Whosoever committeth sin trangresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (1 Jn. 3:4) The Bible knows nothing about sin which violates the gospel as distinguished from sin which violates the doctrine, as though the results were any different. The sinful practices of error will cause us to be lost if not repented of.
II. None Of Us Knows Everything About The Word Of God; therefore, the argument says, all of us are involved in sin of one kind or another. Those who practice one sort of sin are received in God’s grace along with those who practice another sort. Since God accepts us in this situation, we should accept one another.
The problem here is passing from a true promise to a false conclusion. Truly, none of us knows everything in the Bible. The argument says therefore we are all continuingto practice sin of one kind of another. Non sequitur! In Rom. 14:2-3, Paul deals with certain brethern who did not understand that a Christian may eat any food. But he does not argue therefore they sinned, and since all of us are continuing in sin one way or another we ought to accept these sinful brethern. In effect he says what 1 Cor. 8:8 says, “But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.” In Romans, he puts it this way, “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men” (14:17-18).
We may have any number of misunderstandings; all of us certainly need to grow in grace and knowledge. But sin is some specific violation of the law of Christ; we call misunderstand a passage without violating any law; we can eat meat or never eat it, without violating any law. Sin is clearly defined in the word of God. It is not an intricate subject. One does not have to live a lifetime before he knows what it is. God’s revelation does not weave a web of philosophy which one must learn to unravel before he can understand what sin is. So while we will continue in a study of many things in the Old and New Testaments throughout our life, that does not mean we continue in the practice of sin throughout our life. Study and growth must be a habit, a constant pattern in the life of a Christian. (2 Pet. 1:5ff). Sin cannot be a habit, a constant pattern in the life of God’s child (1 Jn. 3:9).
III. The Personal Obedience Or Righteousness Of Christ Is Imputed To The Christian instead of the disobedience or unrighteousness the Christian might practice. Some claim the personal righteousness of Christ is imputed to the Christian to make up for only certain kinds of sins, and some say all sins in the life of a Christian are taken care of this way.
The Bible teaches predestination, but not John Calvin’s theory of it. Even so, the Bible teaches imputed righteousness, but not John Calvins theory of it. In brief, Calvin explained imputed righteousness this way. God transfers or imputes the righetousness of Christ (the perfect obedience of Christ) to the account of the Christian (who, oil account of his inherited sinful nature, continuously breaks God’s law). It is interesting to notice the Catholic theory which Calvin sought to escape. Supposedly, a “treasury of grace”–the obedience and good works of deceased saints–existed; God could transfer or impute the merit of righteous deeds of dead saints to the Christian who breaks God’s law, or even to a mail in “Purgatory.”
“For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness . . . . . it was imputed to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe oil him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:3, 23-25). We come to God by obedient faith and maintain our relationship with Him by obedient faith, just as is seen in, the life of Abraham, “As it is written, The just shall live by faith” (1:17). A Christian will sin from time to time; none will be able to say to God, “I lived a sinlessly perfect life.” God by grace counts or imputes our obedient faith “for (eis, in order to, unto; cf. Acts 2:38) righteousness.” He first recognizes or counts to us the sins we commit; then as we meet the required conditions for forgiveness, He washes those sins away through the blood of Christ (Acts 8:21-24; 1 Jn. 1:7-9; 2:1).
“Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without word saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to Whom the Lord will not impute sin” (Rom. 4:6-8). When did David know the blessedness of having righteousness put to his account in place of sin which he had committed? When David met the condition of forgiveness- -obedient faith–in this case, confession of his sin! Paul is quoting David from the 32nd Psalm. Before he met the condition of forgiveness, he did not know the blessedness of forgiveness. “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring (i.e. groaning, suffering, misery) all the day long.” But then, “I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin” (vv. 3-5). By obedient faith David received forgiveness and knew the blessedness of an imputed righteousness– certainly not an earned righteousness, for he had in fact sinned. If he had never sinned, if he “were justified by works, he hath whereof to glorry . . . . Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoried of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness (Rom. 4:1-5).
Since many Christians in this generation are unacquainted with the Calvinist’s theory of imputed righteousness, perhaps some resource material will be of help.
In 1536 the first edition (and in 1559 the final one) of John Calvin’s famous work appeared, In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter XI (“The Way We Receive The Grace of Christ”), Section 23 says,
“From this it is also evident that we are justified before God solely by the intercession of Christ’s righteousness. This is equivalent to saying that man is not righteous in himself but because the righteousness of Christ is communicated to him by imputation–something worth carefully noting. . . For in such a way does the Lord Christ share his righteousness with us that in some wonderful manner, he pours into us enough of his power to meet the judgment of God . . . . To declare that by him alone we are accounted righteous, what else is this but to lodge our righteousness in Christ’s obedience, because the obedience of Christ is reckoned to us as if it were our own?”
Calvin tries to prove his theory by quoting, “For as by one mail’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall iliany be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19). Calvin thought Adam’s “disobedience” was imputed to us, and then, Christ’s “obedience.” Adam’s sin actually made only Adam guilty; our sin makes its guilty; it is true Adam’s one act of sin introduced sin and death into the world. Similarly, Christ’s one act of obedience brought forgiveness and life into the world. What was that obedience? “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God . . . . we are sanctified through the offering of the body-of Jesus Christ once for all . . . . he . . offered one sacrifice for sins for ever” (Heb. 10:7-12). Down goes Calvin’s theory!
Protestant Reformation “divines” further systematized many of Calvin’s theories in The Westminister Confession of Faith of 1647. Chapter XI, Section I says,
“Those whom God effectually calleth he also freely justifieth, not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing (Sic) wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them. . .”
The Westminister Shorter Catechism of 1647 asks in question 33, “What is justification?” The answer given is, “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.”
Presbyterian and Baptist churches have been especially noted for perpetuating these theories of Calvin. The Baptist Encyclopedia of 1881, Vol. I, as well as many modern Baptist publications, contain such statements as (under the heading “Justification”), “He imputes or reckons his righteousness to every one of them, and it becomes their own just as really as if they had ‘wrought it out’ for themselves.” “By the righteousness of Christ we are to understand his complete submission to the precepts and penalties of the law of God, his perfect earthly obedience . . . ; these he places the credit of each member of his elect family.” The Constitution of The United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (1960) contains the Westminister Confession and Shorter Catechism as quoted above.
In recent years, some brethern have imbibed these theories. Discussing “Truth, Error, and the Grace of God,” one brother said, “Because of His obedience, those who are in Him can be saved although they do never achieve perfect obedience themselves.” “But there is a sphere where sin is not imputed to the sinner and that sphere is in Christ.” “Christ is . . . a representative law-keeper who justifies others by His obedience” (Edward Fudge, Gospel Guardian, Feb. 12, 1970). Brethern are applying Calvin’s theory to those who use instrumental music in worship, centralization and institutionalism in church organization, social-gospel-ism, and such doctrines as premillennialism. With Calvin’s theory, concepts of unity and grace can be broadened to include such erring brethren.
Truth Magazine XX: 44, pp. 698-700
November 4, 1976