Monday, March 25, 2013

A Brief History of the Doctrines of Grace

By Christina Langella

  There are two schools of thought, or theological views within Christianity regarding the doctrine of regeneration. The first is called synergism and it is the position that salvation involves some form of cooperation between divine grace and human freedom. For the synergist, salvation is a joint or cooperative effort between God and man.  God does his part, and man must do his part or God’s part is made ineffective.  This is where many evangelical churches today stand. 
    The other school of thought is called monergism.   This is the doctrine wherein the Holy Spirit is proactive in regeneration by invading the human will and causing it to respond because the human will is otherwise incapable of responding due to its spiritually dead condition. This can be traced back to Scripture itself. John 6:44 says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” 
   Why is this so important? It is important because whether you can articulate it or not, your theology has been influenced by one of the two theological views of salvation.   More likely than not, it has been influenced by synergism because this is view that is most prominent in evangelicalism today.   Again, whether you realize it or not, what you believe about salvation colors the rest of your theology and ultimately how you live out your Christian life. 
  Now, before I bring you to where we are today, we need to talk a little bit about the Protestant Reformation.    Church history of course does not start here, but in the interest of time, this will be our starting point. 
   The significance of the Protestant Reformation in church history and world history can never be overstated.  What happened as a result of this movement has everything to do with how we worship today.    Were it not for the Reformation we would not have congregational singing.  Were it not for the Reformation we would not have Bibles so readily available in our own language.  Were it not for the Reformation we would be having mass instead of listing to our pastors preach.    Were it not for the Reformation having communion would be an entirely different experience.   
   At the time of the Reformation, Christianity had become hijacked.   The church was mired in false doctrines, man-made traditions, corruptions, and all kinds of spiritual abuse from the Roman Catholic Church.   Most Christians were illiterate and so they had to rely on those who did not have their best interest at heart to teach them.  In fact, before the Reformation, did you know it was illegal to even own a Bible?
   So, without a proper biblical understanding of justification – a key Reformation doctrine which teaches sinners are justified by faith in Christ alone, they sought to justify themselves with good works and meaningless rituals that did nothing but leave them poorer for it.  
    It was out of these muddied spiritual waters that God raised up Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk to point the people back to what he called,  The church’s true treasure, the gospel of Jesus Christ.”  
   On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed a document to the door at Wittenburg Church. The document was known as 95 Theses.    In it he outlined all of the practices of the church that were inconsistent with Scripture.  His goal was to debate and his hope was for reform from within.  What happened instead must have caught him by surprise. 
    First of all, his 95 Theses spread like wildfire — the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church was not happy and instead of responding with repentance and introspection they were angry and defensive.    It was at the Diet of Worms where his famous words  “Here I stand, I can do no other” were offered as a response to their demands to recant.  He and his followers were excommunicated. 
  Hence what started as a little spark turned into a firestorm that would sweep across Germany, Europe, and eventually the entire western world.  Of course, there were precursors to the Reformation such as John Wycliffe – in the spirit of the Reformers he translated the first English Bible, but it was Luther who ignited the first spark that actually “took”. 
Reformation influence traveled like a locomotive picking up speed and barreling across continents and generations.  The rallying cry of the Reformation was, what is known as the 5 Solas: 

  • Grace Alone
  • Faith Alone
  • Christ Alone
  • Scripture Alone
  • His Glory Alone
   There was formidable opposition.   But, remember what Paul told Timothy in 1Timothy 2:9   “I might be in chains but the word of God is not bound!”  
When speaking about our Reformation heritage for which we are all guilty of taking for granted, Albert Martin, a well known preacher, said this:
 “Men and women, girls, kitchen maids, and plow boys were willing to risk life and limb to stand for the principles that we so glibly parrot and for which we are often so unwilling to pay any price.  Heads rolled and bodies were wracked with the most unimaginable kinds of torture and families were decimated because some people took the truth of God seriously.”

   Now, lets fast-forward a little to the 1600s to the church in the Netherlands.  Here the students of John Calvin, a contemporary of Martin Luther and who was greatly influenced by Reformation theology are in leadership at the church.
 A group separates from them and starts to preach and teach things promulgated by a man named Jakob Arminius whose theology was at odds with the gospel of grace and very heart of the Reformation.  The leadership of the Church rightly discerned that if these teachings took hold they would take everyone right back to Rome.  
  Their teachings or their arguments were known as the Remonstrance — meaning opposition.  They claimed generally the following: 
       (1) Man is not totally depraved.  There is still a vestige of goodness in him
        (2) God’s election is based upon his foreknowledge
        (3) Christ died for all men not just the elect
        (4) The saving grace of God can be resisted
       (5) The choice to persevere till the end ultimately rests on man’s will
To deal with the danger of these teachings a committee was called and that committee was known as the Synod of Dordt.    At this committee, the leadership of the church urged and pleaded but they refused to hear and ultimately the group was kicked out of the church.   These teachings regarding the  doctrines of God’s grace were the counter response to the Remonstrance in which their erroneous teachings were expressly rejected and the orthodox teaching was set forth.   Today, known as the Doctrines of Grace these teachings are identified by the acronym TULIP.  

   Now, it’s important to understand that Doctrines of Grace are not, in and of themselves the gospel.   However, what these teachings DO is they form the framework for what the Gospel is.
   In the Gospel, God saves totally depraved sinners, He elects them unconditionally, He draws them irresistibly, and He preserves them. 
If you remove but one of these pillars you will have succeeded in diminishing the gospel and compromising a gospel of grace.  These doctrines stand or fall together.  If T is True, then U is true, if U is true, the L is true, then I is true, if I is true then P is true.
  Pastor and author, Dr. Steven Lawson, in his “Pillars of Grace” series calls these doctrines “the cornerstone truths of our faith”.  They are truths that when forged together form the bedrock of what Christians believe.  These teachings are found in the Scriptures starting in Genesis all the way through Revelation.  They run like a golden thread all throughout pointing to the glorious supremacy of Christ. Jesus taught them, the apostles taught them, and the early church fathers taught them.  A survey of church history confirms that these doctrines were upheld and defended by the great fathers and figures of our church history.
    What is at the heart and soul of these doctrines is the supremacy and the sovereignty of God. When it comes to saving undeserving sinners, God does what He pleases, when He pleases, how He pleases and with whomever He pleases.  When we truly understand this in our hearts, we can understand that salvation is a gift of God for which none of us are worthy.  When we understand this, grace — amazing grace, takes on a whole new meaning.
   So then, these following 5 points are what have come to be known today as  “The Doctrines of Grace” or TULIP:
TOTAL DEPRAVITY:  Man, as a consequence of The Fall, is spiritually dead in his transgressions.  Apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, man is utterly incapable of choosing God.   As a consequence of Adam’s sin, all of our choices stem from a sin nature that has infected every aspect of our faculties. In order to understand total depravity you must understand what  “Free Will” is.  Man’s will is not free but bound by his sinful nature.  Man can only choose that what his nature most desires and the Bible says that “none is righteous no not one; no one understands; no one seeks God, all have turned aside together they have become worthless, no one does good no not one” (Romans 3: 10-11).  No one, for the record, means NO ONE! 
UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION:  God, the Father, before the foundation of the world, marks out those people who are to be saved and gives them to the Son to be His people.  God’s election of certain individuals is not conditional upon any foreseen faith.  Rather, it is based upon His own sovereign and unconditional choice. Men believe because they are elect, not the other way around. God chose us before we ever did anything good or bad. He did this because He is sovereign and He has declared, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy” (Romans 9:15). 
LIMITED ATONEMENT:  God the Son, at the appointed time, comes into the world and secures the redemption of the elect by living a life of perfect obedience and making atonement for their sins and interceding on their behalf as the perfect High Priest.  Jesus did not die on the cross to make their salvation merely possible. He did far more than that! Christ died for the elect. “It is finished!” (John 19:30) That is the ground of our assurance.  
IRRESISTIBLE GRACE:  God, the Holy Spirit applies the benefit of Christ’s finished work to the elect whom Jesus has redeemed.  The Holy Spirit draws them, woos them, and He keeps them.  He does not drag them against their will – instead He changes their will. He makes the unwilling, willing. He causes the “NONE THAT SEEK GOD” to now seek God.  Irresistible Grace asserts that the Holy Spirit will never fail to bring to salvation those sinners whom He personally calls to Christ.   
PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS:  The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is this:  All who start the Christian life will complete the Christian life.  The Lord will keep his people until the end – just as he has said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28) 
This final doctrine is what Steve Lawson calls “the capstone doctrine of the doctrines of grace”.   In it we find the truth that “sweetens” all of other truths of salvation. This is the doctrine that deals with eternal security and the preserving and persevering grace of God in the life of every true believer. The great Puritan William Secker said it well, “Though Christians be not kept altogether from falling, yet they are kept from falling altogether.” 
     In conclusion, we see throughout church history the providential hand of God guiding the affairs of men and nations in such a way that the Gospel is never extinguished. And God will continue to preserve a remnant who will carry the truth of this glorious Gospel to the end of the ages. 
“ And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”  Matthew 24:35
Christina Langella is a regular contributor who lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, Steven, and their 3-legged Pit-Bull, Jake.  She leads the Young Women’s Fellowship for teens and pre-teens, and also teaches women’s Bible studies at her local church.

"The Sovereignty Of God Over Man
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Barbara Thayer said...

Wonderful explanation by a dear friend in the Lord! Thank you for sharing this. It is a blessing to be once again reminded of our heritage!

Gregg Metcalf said...

Amen and Amen! Great post!. I truly appreciated it. Thanks for your hard work and for sharing.

Diane said...

Christina - Thanks so much for contributing this piece - Great job of condensing a whole lot of history into one article - We have so much to be thankful for - first for God's amazing grace and second for the saints He's used throughout church history to preserve His precious promises.

Christina said...

Thanks for the opportunity to share this, Diane! It's wonderful to blog without actually having a blog! ;)

And thank you for the comments & encouragement, Barbara & Gregg. In "these evil days" we must remember our heritage as often as possible!

Petra said...

I heart tulips and yous guys! ♥♥

igerenezek said...

Wow, beautifully put, PTL - and it is so good to hear from you again, Christina! :-)
God bless you.

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