By Mike Willis
For several years; I have been receiving the Present Truth magazine which is edited by Robert D. Brinsmead and mailed out of Fallbrook, California. I have spoken to some preachers among us who have been receiving the periodical without cost to them from its first issue. Just where this publishing corporation received its mailing list is unknown to me but I know that they are mailing their literature to a large number of the preachers in the Lord’s church. I have hurriedly glanced through the various issues of this paper during recent years and thought that I had a pretty good grasp of what they were teaching. However, in preparation for writing this article, I went back and carefully re-read the last two years of their publications to be sure that I was understanding what they were saying.
Emphasis on the Reformation
One thing has been evident to me from the beginning of my reading of this journal, namely, its emphasis on the reformation. Reformation scholars such as Luther and Calvin are quoted extensively and frequently. In my reading of the paper, I have almost become convinced that the quoting of Luther or Calvin in this paper is as good as the, quoting of the New Testament writers. Whether this judgment be true or not, I am thoroughly convinced that the editor and writers for this paper are bent on the restoration of the reformation. I invite any of our readers to critically examine any single issue of this magazine to see that this is so.
(Let me interject that I am somewhat concerned to. see some articles published among us which seem to emphasize the restoration movement in America to such an extent that one could get the idea that we are supposed to restore the Restoration Movement. We are to restore New Testament Christianity, nothing more and nothing less.)
Peculiar Doctrines of Present Truth
To list all of the things which Present Truth magazine is publishing would be impossible. Some of the points which they are emphasizing are altogether legitimate (such as the authority .of Goal’s word over subjective religious experiences). However, there are a number of doctrinal departures from the revealed word of God which I -want to mention to our readers and to substantiate from quotations from this paper in order that we might be on guard against some who might have adopted these views among us.
1. Perseverance of the saints. Articles which have been published in the Present Truth magazine express belief in the false doctrine of “once saved, always saved” as the following quotations clearly show:
“Moreover, they know-that the remnant of sin which is in their flesh, is not laid to their charge, but freely pardoned. Notwithstanding in the meanwhile they fight in the spirit against the flesh, lest they should fulfil the lust thereof. And although they feel the flesh to rage and rebel against the spirit, and themselves also do fall sometimes into sin through Infirmity, yet they are not discouraged, nor think therefore that their state and kind of life, and the works which are done according to their calling, displease God: but they raise up themselves.” (“Luther’s Comments on Galatians 5:17, “Present Truth, Vol. VI, No. 3, p. 9).
“Wherefore let not them which feel the concupiscence of the flesh, despair of their salvation …. But it followeth not therefore that thou shouldest make a light matter of sin, because God doth not impute it. True it is that he doth not impute it: but to whom and for what cause? Not to them that are hardhearted and secure, but to such as repent and lay hold by faith upon Christ the mercy-sent, for whose sake, as all their sins are forgiven them, even so the remnants of sin which are in them, be not imputed unto them ….And this is the true wisdom and consolation of the godly, that although they have and commit sins, yet they know that for Christ’s sake they are not imputed unto them” (Ibid., pp. 10-11).
These and other quotations which are taken from issues of Present Truth document the fact that these men are faithful to the Reformation theology of John Calvin’s doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.
2. The imputation of the righteousness of Christ. The theological basis which is used for saying that God overlooks the sins of the believer is the Calvinistic doctrine of the imputation of the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ to the account of the believer. Here are some quotations which document the fact that Present Truth endorses and propagates this doctrine:
“There are two elements blended together in God’s redemptive act In Christ. These elements are righteousness and blood. Paul not only ascribes salvation to the blood of Christ but also to the righteousness of Christ ….The gospel to about Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:3)-His righteousness and blood. If Christ is our Sun, then half of this Sun’s luster is dimmed when we fail to rivet our attention on the grand theme of the righteousness of Jesus” (Robert D. Brinsmead, “The Righteousness of Christ,” Present Truth, Vol. VI, No. 2, p. 161.
“We may summarize the point by saying that God requires of man a holy life. The justice of God’s judgment seat requires exact and perfect obedience to the divine law. Man cannot be saved unless that law be fulfilled-every jot and title of it.
“Says Calvin, ‘The Lord promises nothing except to perfect keepers of His law,’ and then, to underline the human predicament, he adds, ‘and no one of that kind is to be found.’– Calvin, op. cit., Bk. 3, chap. 17, sec. 1. This is where God stepped to by providing for us a Surety (Heb. 7s22) in Jesus Christ. His righteousness consists in His perfect obedience to His Father’s law in our room and on our behalf. Not only by His blood (which atones for our offenses) but by His righteousness He reconciles us to God and presents us in the sight of divine justice as if we had kept the law” (Ibid., p.18).
“Since Christ lived for His people a life of positive righteousness as well as died to atone for their sins, this means that God’s justification of the believer includes more than pardon for past offenses. While the blood of Christ washes away the stain of all guilt, the righteousness of Christ clothes the believer with the righteousness which the law demands” (Ibid., p. 22).
“By faith he can bring to God the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ, and the Lord places that righteousness of His Son to the sinner’s account. This is how the believing sinner is justified by faith.
“Justification before the law is more than pardon for past sins. While on the cross Christ bore away the curses of the broken covenant so that the believing sinner might be pardoned. He also fulfilled the stipulations of the covenant by His life so that a perfect keeping of the commandments might be imputed to the believer. Being justified by faith in both Christ’s doing and dying, the believer is entitled to all covenant rewards” (Vol. V, No. 7, p. 52).
We have already encountered some trouble among the Lord’s churches because certain ones among us have accepted the Calvinistic doctrine of the imputation of the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ. By applying this doctrine to certain matters among us, some have extended their umbrella of fellowship to include those who are wilfully involved in support of human institutions from the church’s treasury, the sponsoring church type of organization, premillennialism, using instruments of music in their worship, diverting the mission of the church to get it involved in recreation, etc.
3. Election. Another point of Calvinism that is presented in the Present Truth magazine is the doctrine of election. The Calvinists are hurting from the extensive attacks of those of us who oppose Calvinism who have charged that Calvinism teaches that God chose to send a large group of men to Hell without them ever having done anything to deserve it. Present Truth does not like the logical consequences of the Calvinistic doctrine of election. However, rather than repudiate the Calvinistic doctrine of election, the writers of Present Truth prefer to rest in inconsistency. They recognize that the doctrine of God eternally decreeing a group of reprobates to Hell is the logical consequence of their doctrine of election but they refuse to accept it. At least these Calvinists recognize their problem as is shown in what follows:
“At the Conference of the Hague the Calvinists stated: ‘When we posit an eternal decree of election of certain particular persons, it clearly follows that we also posit an eternal decree of rejection or reprobation of certain particular persons, for there cannot be an election without a rejection or reprobation. When from a certain number some persons are elected, then by this very act others are rejected, for he who takes them all does not elect” ‘ (Kiaas Runia, “Recent Reformed Criticisms of the Canons;” Present Truth, Vol. V, No. 6, p. 27).
Klaas continued in this article to try to grapple with the problem. He said,
“It is of course true that logic’ does play an important part In theology . . . .By this very means the church has developed its doctrine of the Trinity and also its Christology, yet the question must always arise: is a particular consequence ‘good and necessary’? In general we must say that especially at the point of an eternal decree of reprobation we have to be most careful. And one should ask oneself: why does Scripture itself not draw this conclusion, if it is so natural and so logical?” Ibid., p. 281.
Of course, Unitarians would ask Klaas the same question as he posits with reference to the eternal decree of reprobation with reference to the Trinitarian doctrine of the Godhead. You see, Klaas is reluctant to accept the logical conclusions of his presuppositions. He wants to adopt the idea of an eternal election, the total depravity of man, etc. but to reject the bad side of the conclusions which result from these presuppositions.
Citing with approval the work of certain Calvinists who are unwilling to accept the conclusion of an eternal decree of reprobation, Klaas said,
“Secondly, they also refuse to change the biblical asymmetry between election and rejection, Into a symmetrical, logical system, in which salvation and perdition evolve from the one decree in two parallel lines. ‘He who wants to be ‘logical” here, must either make faith the work of man alone or unbelief the work of God’ ” (Ibid., p. 29).
Notice the position which Present Truth is taking with reference to the doctrine of election. They want to believe that God predetermined that some would be saved but do not want to believe that He predetermined that others would be lost. Consequently, they charge that the Bible is illogical and asymmetrical on this point. In essence, this says that the Bible is teaching two contradicting doctrines. Klaas leaves the matter up in the air. He states that these two doctrines conflict with each other and that he accepts the idea of an election and rejects the idea of reprobation but offers no way that the two can be harmonized. Instead, he appeals for more study in this area.
4. Total depravity. In keeping with the fact that Present Truth is pretty much a Calvinistic journal, although it does differ with the main stream of Calvinism in some points, the paper teaches that man has received the guilt of Adam’s transgression and stands totally depraved before God.
“Here is a simper. In himself he has no freedom at all. To begin with, he Is in debt to the law. Because he has failed to render to it a life of perfect righteousness, his We is forfeited, and he is obligated to make full satisfaction to the law’s penal claims. By the power of that omnipotent law he is bound to the service of sin (1 Cor. 15:56 Rom. 7:8). Or to put this another way, God’s wrath (‘the law worketh wrath’ (Rom. 4:15) 1 has abandoned him to the control of sin. All this has come about by the sin of Adam, his legal representative (Rom. 5:16-19). Then too, his nature Is disposed to hatred of God and to love of evil. So we may safely concede the Augustinian premise that in Adam man is totally lost. He is so enslaved to do evil that he is not free to live a life of righteousness” (Robert D. Brinamead, “The Legal and Moral Aspects of Salvation, Part 3s In the Matter of Election,” Present Truth, Vol. V, No. 6, pp. 12-13).
“At this point the Calvinist may ask, ‘How can the sinner, who is dead fn sin’s and totally depraved, be free to accept Christ?’ We simply answer that the legal aspect of redemption takes precedence over the moral condition of man” (Ibid., p. 13).
Notice that Brinsmead had the perfect opportunity to express his disagreement with Calvinism in this last quotation but he chose not to. Why? Because he accepts Calvinism’s concept of man. Man is born totally depraved according to the writers of Present Truth.
5. Salvation without baptism. Having seen this much Calvinism in the Present Truth magazine, I was not shocked to read that these writers did not believe that one had to be baptized in order to be saved. In fact the masthead of the paper reads, “Solely by Grace, Solely by Christ, Solely by Faith.” (Of course, the editor has never taken the space in his paper, at least to my knowledge, to explain how salvation can be solely by three different things! The masthead is a contradiction in terms.) However, let me once again document the fact the Present Truth teaches that one can be saved without baptism. In the second issue of the special on the “covenant,” the writers of Present Truth treated baptism and the Lord’s Supper as the “signs and seals” of the covenant. In this, the writer said,
“We have to acknowledge that people can be saved apart from the signs and seals of God’s covenant” (“The Signs and Seals of the Covenant,” Present Truth, Vol. V, No. 8, p. 18).
“There are still some hard-liners in captivity! Some insist that all who are not baptized by immersion according to their particular teaching cannot be saved ….We need to acknowledge that salvation is by grace alone. This means that the Lord Is in the business of saving sinners. Just as no one Is without sin, so no one is without error. If error damns us, then we must all be damned” (Ibid. ).
Repeatedly this paper mentions that one is saved through repentance and faith without ever mentioning that baptism is essential to salvation. Yet in these statements there can be no doubt that these men do not believe that one has to be immersed in water in order to receive the forgiveness of his sins.
As we have gone through an examination of this paper, the question comes to my mind of just how well received is Present Truth among the brethren. I do not know the answer to that question. Perhaps some of our readers can inform us as to what they are hearing from comments with other preachers. However, I do know that I have read three complimentary letters signed by gospel preachers among us in the pages of their “Letters to the Editor.” That, I admit, is not very many yet it should awaken us to the danger which is in this journal.
Seeing the dangers that are inherent in this revival of Calvinism, this Neo-Reformation movement, I would like to issue a call for brethren everyone to arm themselves for another fight against the evils of Calvinism. Get out your sermons on total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints and preach them. If you have not prepared any sermons on this subject during the time that you have been preaching, I would suggest that you need to study these subjects and prepare lessons on them. I found these books to be especially helpful to me: The Gospel Plan of Salvation by T.W. Brents and Kept By the Power of God by I. Howard Marshall. (Needless to say, these books are available through Truth Magazine Book Store.)
Truth Magazine XXI: 38, pp. 595-597
September 29, 1977