By Jimmy Tuten, Jr.
It is this writer’s firm conviction that what is being taught by the “Grace-Unity” brethren is indeed Calvinism. I have nothing personal against these fellows and have tried to honestly understand what they are saying. I do not believe that we are misrepresenting them and I resent their counter charges of our rebuttals as constituting Catholicism. I know of no one who teaches that righteousness is infused into the sinner, nor do we believe that justification is based on meritorious works, let alone the works of the law of Moses.
Ensign Fair, The Persuaded and other publications espousing Calvinistic heresy would have us believe, among other things, the following: (1) what they say and what those who oppose them are saying is basically a matter of “semantics” (The Persuaded, August 6, 1978). No doubt some semantics are involved, but this is not the general case. (2) Those who oppose them are “a few hard-headed preacher-types” and “underlings” (ibid.). In addition to this is the charge that we are creating a “party spirit” and because we believe we are under law to Christ (1 Cor. 9:2), we are legalists. There is much we would like to say here, but space forbids it.
When we charge one with Calvinism we should make certain that we understand what we mean. We do not want to misrepresent anyone. When we speak of the present issues involving Calvinism, we do not mean “classic Calvinism.” As Brother Tom Roberts points out, “classic Calvinism” is the TULIP concept, i.e., Total Hereitary Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and Perseverance of the saints, the first letter of each composing TULIP (The Perfector, August 7, 1978). If what is taught now is not corrected then the next generation will advocate “classic Calvinism,” for this is the direction into which brethren are going. Here is what is now being taught: man has no ability to respond to God’s grace for justification is by “grace only.” We who believe that the Bible teaches that conditions of salvation must be met are charged with “meritorious law keeping,” hence a “work-righteousness.” Perhaps it can be better understood by observing the following:
“Outside of Man”
We are hearing a lot these days about “justification outside of man.” Look at it: “justification means to be pronounced righteous. It is a legally declared righteousness outside the sinner” (Emphasis mine, jt, The Persuader, July 23, 1978). “The doctrine of justification by an imputed (outside-of-me) righteousness directs us to find salvation in a saving event which is completely outside of us” (Emphasis mine, jt, Robert Brinsmead, The Ensign Fair, July 1978, p. 3).
What this means is that there is no work of any fashion regarded by God as effective in securing salvation by grace. There is a denial that faith, repentance, and baptism are works or conditions of salvation or grace. I see this as an outgrowth of Total Hereditary Depravity involving the inability of man to do anything to be saved. It is said that justification is by faith only and that this faith is a gift of God. Since man can do nothing to secure his salvation, every act performed in acquiring justification is “outside of man.” It is instead a justification unto life by the atoning work of Christ in an historical event. Martin Luther expressed it this way: he said “righteousness of faith (i.e., the righteousness of Christ) is a passive righteousness because we have it while we do nothing for it” (The Persuader, July 23, 1978). He further taught that it is by “faith alone” (ibid.). this means that-it in no way rests on performance (see Melvin Curry on “Salvation by Grace*- Through Faith,” Florida College Lectures, 1975). “Grace-Unity” brethren are forced by their position into a faith as a gift position. This means that faith is a gift of God through the spirit, not self-generated in man by the hearing of sufficient evidence (cf. Rom. 10:17). Compare this to the pure Calvinism of the Christian Reformed Church, article 22: “we believe that, to attain the true knowledge of this great mystery (i.e., “Our Justification Through Faith in Jesus Christ,” title of article 22, jt), the Holy Spirit kindles in our hearts upright faith, which embraces Jesus Christ with all His merits . . .” Again: “therefore we justly say with Paul, that we are justified by faith alone” (Article 22). Finally, R.L. Kilpatrick, in Ensign Fair, July 1978, talks about the “Alone Theology.” He says, “Any theology that injects the human element in God’s work of redemption is false theology . . . . Any theology that teaches salvation by anything other than grace alone is false theology. Any theology that teaches salvation by anything other than faith alone is false theology . . . . None of these terms are contradictory. They say the same thing.” How in the world can “grace only” and “faith only” say the same thing? If salvation is by grace alone, how can it be by faith alone? Paul says, “by grace are ye saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8). He says too, “we have access by faith into this grace” (Rom 5:2). “Grace” and “faith” do not mean the same thing and when “only” is added to them, they do contradict. So you see, brethren, when we compare what some of our brethren are saying with what the Calvinists are saying, they are identical. Yes sir, it is Calvinism.
Faith and Works
Summed up, it is argued that salvation is by grace alone, founded in the sacrifice of Christ who only is and wholly righteous, and that this righteousness is imputed to the sinner, so that God no longer sees the sins of the sinner, but only the righteousness of Christ instead. All works or conditions are excluded and we are not subject to any law (Jas. 2:24; 1 Cor. 9:21).
However, while salvation is not conditioned upon works of merit or the law of Moses, we are subject to the “royal law” or “law of Christ.” There are conditions (or, works) to be met. Righteousness is a gift through grace. But nowhere do the Scriptures teach that the perfect righteousness of Christ is imputed to the sinner so as to cover sins. Righteousness is a gift bestowed upon the individual so that he is counted as one without guilt, a righteousness received through the merits of our Lord’s blood upon the conditions of obedient faith. To speak of “conditions of obedient faith” is not to say that it is meritorious in nature. Our response to the “Grace-Unity” brethren is not Catholicism. If brethren, without colored glasses tainted with Calvinism would restudy “law” as taught in the Bible, they would recognize the importance of such passages as 1 Cor. 9:21 and not be frightened every time “law” is mentioned. Nor would they cry Catholicism every time “law” is mentioned. They could also see that when Paul says that we are justified “without the deeds of the law” (Rom. 3:28), he was talking about legalistic Jewish and Gentile law (Rom. 2:14-15). James, on the other hand, when speaking of works (2:24) had reference to those works which faith must have so as not to be alone.
Look at the case of Abraham in Romans 4: He was justified by faith, not by works (vs. 1; 3). Genesis 15:6 shows that his justification was by faith in contrast with the law. He was promised a son and a multitude of descendants. He responded by believing God and God counted Abraham’s faith unto him for righteousness. God promised (His provision) great blessings and Abraham responded by believing. In consequence God reckoned his faith for righteousness. In verses 4-8, David (Psa. 32:1-2), shows that while righteousness is imputed without works, it is conditioned on forgiveness of iniquities (cf. 7-8). That is why we stress that conditions of forgiveness must be met. This, we repeat, is neither meritorious nor Catholicism. Verses 9-11 or Romans 4 shows that Abraham was blessed by faith before the giving of the law of Moses, hence, without law, and before circumcision was instituted (Gen. 17). Abraham became the “father of all them that believe,” both Jews and Gentiles who would likewise believe to the saving of their souls (vs. 17-18). Beginning with verse 19 Abraham’s faith is demonstrated to be an active faith with the ultimate design of his faith pertaining to later generations (vs. 23-25). Even us to whom faith is reckoned for righteouness which involved the atoning work of Christ. The doctrine of justification by faith relates to the principle set forth in Romans 3:24-31. Abraham is an example of a great proponent of faith, but a faith that obeyed (Jas. 2:21-23; Heb. 11:8), and it was imputed to him for righteousness. So you see, we need to clearly understand the type of works by which Abraham was not justified as taught in Romans 4 and this will help us to understand the “works” of James 2. James teaches deeds of faith – an obedience necessarily involved in Scriptural faith. By all means, justification involves obedience to God!
The gospel, called the “law of faith” (Rom. 3:27), requires conditions of faith in becoming a Christian and in continuing as such (1 Jno. 1:7-9). The Christian walks by faith (2 Cor. 5:7). Perfection is not involved in the sense of perfect law keeping and provision has been made for the inability of man. As Brother Marshall Patton has so ably pointed out many times both in writing and preaching, there are absolute and relative commands. In the case of being “buried” and “raised,” in baptism (Col. 2:12), you have an absolute situation, the obedience to which is not determined by relation to anything else. You are either “buried” and “raised,” or you are not. Relative commands (Christian graces for example, 2 Pet. 1:5-11), are determined by time, opportunity, and ability. The conditions of faith in relative commands are found in the phrase “giving all diligence.” Lard expresses it a little differently: “partial obedience to the law is the only obedience possible to man; perfect obedience to conditions is the only obedience acceptable to God” (Lard’s Quarterly, Vol. III, pp. 20-21). Look at Galatians 3, observing that to Abraham the promise of faith of Jesus was given (v. 7, 9) to them that believe (v. 22). Verses 26-29 show the conditions of that faith resulting in our being Abraham’s seed.
Truth Magazine XXIII: 11, pp. 186-187
March 15, 1979