My Dear Friends,
With the dawning of another new year, I wondered what might be a suitable theme for my first pastoral letter of 2010. There is always so much to write about, so many themes and subjects to reflect on as they relate to the life of faith. But it struck me as I was reading Paul’s Letter to the Galatians this morning that we can never hear too often that there is but one gospel.
We live in what is often called the age of post-modernism. Truth is relative, we are told. Cultures change, people change, and the old ways of thinking need to keep pace with the changes. If churches want to survive in this post-modern age, then they must adapt or die (that is “religious speak” for, “Re-interpret the Bible to fit with the thinking and practices of the day - whatever they are”). Sadly, tragically, many churches have bought into this satanic strategy and manipulated the gospel to sit easily with the spiritual and moral aberrations that cover the face of our nation - and the whole world.
The churches in Galatia had become influenced and infected by false teaching. They were apparently buying into teaching that denied that we are justified before God by faith alone, in Christ alone. This, probably Judaistic, teaching was saying that faith in Christ was not enough to bring us into salvation. These false teachers were saying that in addition to faith in Christ you must also submit to the Jewish “boundary markers” of circumcision and kosher food laws. Yes, faith in Christ, but not faith in Christ alone. How does Paul respond? Dramatically and decisively: “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 even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” Wow! And in case anyone thought he was being un-necessarily extreme, Paul repeats himself: “As we have said before, so now I say again (it is my considered judgment): If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” There is only one gospel; anything else is a satanic perversion and needs to be exposed as such.
James Denney has made this point better than most; “If God has really done something in Christ on which the salvation of the world depends, and if he has made it known, then it is a Christian duty to be intolerant of everything which ignores, denies or explains it away. The man who perverts it is the worst enemy of God and men; and it is not bad temper or narrow-mindedness in St Paul which explains this vehement language, it is the jealousy of God which has kindled in a soul redeemed by the blood of Christ a corresponding jealousy for the Saviour.”
Martin Luther was persuaded of this: “Would to God this terrible sentence of the Apostle might strike a fear into their hearts that seek to pervert the Gospel of Paul; of which sort at this day (the more it is to be lamented) the world is full.” However, we live in an age of ecumenical dialogue and of doctrinal compromise. What appears to matter is that everyone’s viewpoint is appreciated and tolerated. How differently the apostle Paul viewed things. A few years ago, The Times religious correspondent Clifford Longley, wrote some perceptive words on this issue. He compared the “wetness” of the churchmen of the present with the passion of the Reformers, “Evidently, there was something about this subject which caused hot tempers. salvation was perhaps more highly valued then, or damnation more feared; it mattered enormously which was the road to one, which to the other.”
Here, surely, is the crux of the issue: Has our Lord Jesus done something by his sinless life, sin-bearing death, and resurrection that has secured God’s salvation for judgment-deserving sinners? If he has, then is it any wonder Paul writes as he does? Is it really any wonder that he calls down God’s curse, his eternal anathema, on those who seek to turn men and women away to a “different gospel”, that is no gospel at all? Paul is not being narrow-minded or unthinkingly intemperate in his choice of language. He is writing as a man who is passionate about the glory of his Saviour and about the eternal good of sinners.
Paul’s language is a reminder to us that we must ever be guarding the gospel. If someone had told me 20 years ago that some “evangelicals” would soon be teaching that God does not know everything (Open Theism), that Scripture is not infallible (we must not deny Scripture’s humanness!), and that our justification before God rests, in some measure on our good works (the so-called New Perspective on Paul), I would hardly have believed it. But we live in spiritually and theologically confused times. It would only be too easy, for the sake of a peaceful life, just to go with the flow, to keep our heads down and re-configure the gospel to suit the tastes of the world around us. To do this, however, would be to deny our Saviour, and to call down on our heads God’s holy anathema. This is not an appeal for us to be belligerent or offensive, or cantankerous. We are always “to speak the truth in love”. But love can, and needs at times to be, willing to risk the wrath of man to proclaim the truth of God.
There is only one gospel. It has been “once for all delivered to the saints.” It is not susceptible to change. It must, of course, be preached and witnessed to relevantly and engagingly, not parroting the ways of past generations. But it must be proclaimed as God has revealed it in his infallible word. The Bible has a word for this - it is called being “faithful”. May the Lord enable us in CPC to be faithful “in good times and in bad times”. The glory and honour of our Lord Jesus demands it; the eternal good of men and women requires it.
Your brother and friend in Christ