Tag Archives: Sanctification

Leroy Forlines and the Heidelberg Catechism on Sanctification

Matt Pinson

Recently I was reading through the Heidelberg Catechism again. This catechism is still in use by Reformed denominations such as the Christian Reformed Church, but it is not a Calvinistic confession in its doctrine of salvation. Jacobus Arminius, the forerunner of Arminianism, loved and affirmed the Catechism. It was one of his favorite documents to give people to read after the Bible.

When I was reading the Catechism recently, I came to “Lord’s Day 24,” and I was struck by how much Leroy Forlines’s teaching is spelled out in the teaching of the Catechism.

Lord’s Day 24 [1]

Q & A 62

Q. Why can’t our good works be our righteousness before God, or at least a part of our righteousness?

A. Because the righteousness which can pass God’s judgment must be entirely perfect and must in every way measure up to the divine law. But even our best works in this life are imperfect and stained with sin.

(Rom. 3:20; Gal. 3:10 [Deut. 27:26]; Isa. 64:6)

Q & A 63

Q. How can our good works be said to merit nothing when God promises to reward them in this life and the next?

A. This reward is not earned; it is a gift of grace.

(Matt. 5:12; Heb. 11:6; Luke 17:10; 2 Tim. 4:7-8)

Q & A 64

Q. But doesn’t this teaching make people indifferent and wicked?

A. No. It is impossible for those grafted into Christ through true faith not to produce fruits of gratitude.

(Luke 6:43-45; John 15:5)

Look particularly at Question & Answer 64. It says that it is impossible for Christians not to produce fruit. One older translation renders it this way:

Q. 64. But doth not this doctrine make men careless and ungodly?

A. By no means: for it is impossible that any, who by a true faith are ingrafted into Christ, should not bring forth the fruits of thankfulness and holiness. [2]

Sometimes Reformed theology is caricatured as having a light view of sin in the life of the believer, simply because of the teaching of sola fide, or faith alone. If the righteousness of Christ is what justifies us, not our own righteousness, then we don’t need to be righteous, the reasoning goes. But classic Reformed theology of all types—whether the Calvinist version prominent after the Synod of Dort (1618-1619), or the Arminian version allowed prior to Dort—always insists on a life of holiness. [3] While believers cannot live a lives of sinless perfection and do struggle with sin, their lives are not characterized by a pattern of unconfessed sin.

I was struck while reading this with Mr. Forlines’s oft-repeated maxim that justification always produces sanctification. While our justification is not by our own righteousness but by the righteousness of Christ alone imputed through faith, the Christian life is not characterized by a pattern of unconfessed sin. “To speak about continuing in salvation is to speak about continuing in both justification and sanctification,” Forlines says. “The package cannot be broken. We cannot have one without the other. . . . Holiness is not optional but is a guaranteed result of salvation” [4].

Forlines has taught us a balance like what we see in the above questions and answers from the Heidelberg Catechism. This balance keeps us from both antinomianism (literally, “against-the-lawism”) on one hand and legalism on the other. As Thomas Helwys, the founder of the English General Baptists, said:  “man is justified only by the righteousness off CHRIST, apprehended by faith, Roman. 3.28. Gal. 2.16. yet faith without works is dead. Jam. 2.17.” [5]

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[1] From the website of the Christian Reformed Church in North America: https://www.crcna.org/welcome/beliefs/confessions/heidelberg-catechism?language_content_entity=en

[2] The Heidelberg Catechism allowed for both these expressions of soteriology.

[3] The Heidelberg Catechism with Proper Texts Annexed to Each Answer (London, 1773), 110.

[4] F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation (Nashville: Randall House, 2011), 357.

[5] “A Declaration of Faith of English People Remaining at Amsterdam in Holland, 1611,” reprinted in J. Matthew Pinson, A Free Will Baptist Handbook (Nashville: Randall House, 1998), 125.

 

Augustine, Arminius, and R.C. Sproul on Christian Perfection

Matthew Pinson

Sometimes Arminius has been (inaccurately) interpreted as laying the groundwork for a doctrine of Christian perfection. With regard to perfectionism, Arminius said in his Declaration of Sentiments that he “never actually stated that a believer could perfectly keep the precepts of Christ in this life.” Nor did he deny it. He left it as an open question, contenting himself with the sentiments of Augustine. In short, citing Augustine, Arminius believed that, through grace, perfection was a logical possibility but that an individual who had attained it had never yet been found! [1].

Given how many times I’ve heard Calvinists say this about Arminius, I found it interesting when my friend Chris Truett, in a sermon on why God calls us to rely on Christ’s work and the gospel, not on our own standards of perfection, quoted staunch Calvinist R. C. Sproul as saying what Augustine and Arminius said. I went and looked up where Sproul said this, and here’s the quotation:

“Can a person be perfect? Theoretically, the answer to that is yes. The New Testament tells us that with every temptation we meet, God gives us a way to escape that temptation. He always gives us enough grace to overcome sin. So sin in the Christian life, I would say, is inevitable because of our weakness and because of the multitude of opportunities we have to sin. But on a given occasion, it is never, ever necessary. So in that sense, we could theoretically be perfect, though none of us is. [2]

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[1] Gunter, Declaration of Sentiments, Kindle locations 3313-3314; cf. Arminius, Works, 1:677-78. Keith Stanglin, in his book Arminius on the Assurance of Salvation appears to agree with this interpretation of Arminius on perfection (Leiden: Brill, 2007, p. 140).

[2] R. C. Sproul, “Be Ye Perfect,” Ligonier.org, July 28, 2010; https://www.ligonier.org/blog/be-ye-perfect/

 

Sanctification & the Second Blessing?

by. W. Jackson Watts

It has often been thought that there was a fundamental core of Christian teaching that has united orthodox believers through the ages. I tend to think this is not only historically the case, but theologically essential. Indeed, while we may debate the relative importance of certain issues, those doctrines which are tied most closely with the call to “repent and believe” the Gospel are those which should always occupy us the most.

However, Christian theology is much like a web of interlocking spiritual commitments. Pull one strand, and tension or slack will appear in another part of the web. The point of the metaphor is simply that doctrines tend to ‘hang together,’ which means that we want to think carefully about the relationships between our beliefs, even when diversity is evident on particular doctrinal questions among evangelicals.

In a 2014 monograph entitled Sanctification: Explorations in Theology and Practice, theologian Kelly Kapic has edited a fine collection of essays on sanctification. My interest was especially piqued by the French theologian Henri Blocher, and his unique essay in this volume.

Blocher’s essay is entitled “Sanctification by Faith?” and largely sets out to explain the nature of faith in the process of sanctification. However, as a bit of a theological foil, Blocher includes a foray into Keswick and Wesleyan thought as it relates to questions of sanctification. Specifically, he is interested in those forms of perfectionism (or spirituality more generally) that emphasize a second blessing or second work of grace that follows conversion. Essentially, the question is whether or not sanctification is to be seen as the necessary and unavoidable consequence of salvation by grace through faith, or tied to a later spiritual crisis or experience that ensues after a person has accepted Christ as Lord, and not just Savior.

One can quickly see that the tentacles of this specific issue reach in several different theological directions. I would simply call attention to Blocher’s straight talk on the issue.

In speaking of Christian maturity, it is certainly appropriate to talk about a process that unfolds in the life of a believer, consisting of natural steps of growth (including experiences). Blocher calls attention to the many metaphors for growth or progress in the New Testament. Plants grow. Infants mature. Yet he additionally warns that due to the metaphorical nature of this language, we can only press them so far. As he notes, sometimes we slip back or regress in our walk. Or, “In the sense of covenant renewal, we start again and again on the Christian path.”[1]

Yet just a few lines later, Blocher more directly speaks to the “experience-driven” accounts of sanctification.

Like life in general, sanctification knows a combination of special moments, seasons of intense transformation, critical transitions as well as more linear continuity. If one claims to have had a second blessing we may rejoice but add that God also has in store a third, a tenth and a seventy-seventh blessing along the way.[2]

In other words, a biblical view of sanctification will not repudiate the idea of receiving God’s blessings throughout one’s journey of faith. However, a biblical account will also not reduce sanctification to a single blessing, experience, or crisis that comes through additional “faith acts” down the road that are substantially different than the faith that justifies.

As Blocher poignantly surmises, “faith receives him, and in him everything is ours.”[3] God does indeed grow us in His grace over time. And this process will include numerous stages of life, transitions, and key moments of decision. Yet this does not mean that those truly in union with Christ today are consigned to wait for a second blessing that was not already built into the fabric of their very salvation.

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[1] Henri Blocher, “Sanctification by Faith?” in Sanctification: Explorations in Theology and Practice, ed. Kelly Kapic (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 74

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 72.

A Problem in Calvinism’s Order of Salvation

by J. Matthew Pinson

 In Calvinism, Regeneration comes before faith, whereas in Arminianism regeneration comes after faith. In other words, the “timing” of what Scripture describes as the “new birth” is decisive in the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism. In Calvinism, God gives His elect a new birth. This is the result of their effectual calling (sometimes called “irresistible grace”). They cannot and will not resist it, because they see with new eyes. Their new birth creates in them a desire to repent of their sins and place their faith in Jesus Christ.

In Reformed Arminianism, the order of salvation is different. God convicts and calls and draws people to himself, yet gives them the freedom to resist his grace. If they do not resist, and they receive God’s gift of salvation with the empty hands of faith, then God regenerates them. They experience a new birth only after receiving Christ through faith.

Leroy Forlines says that there is a problem for the coherence of Calvinism when it places regeneration before faith, because, as the great Calvinist theologian Louis Berkhof states, “Regeneration is the beginning of sanctification” [1]. It is a problem, logically, to place regeneration prior to faith in the ordo salutis (order of salvation) because, if regeneration is the beginning of sanctification, and if justification results from faith, then logically Calvinism is placing sanctification prior to justification.

The Calvinist Lorraine Boettner argues, “A man is not saved because he believes in Christ; he believes in Christ because he is saved” [2]. This really is what the Calvinist view of regeneration preceding faith amounts to. Yet, as Steve Lemke says, this seems to be getting the cart before the horse. Lemke provides another way of looking at this conundrum: “When does the Spirit come into a believer’s life? . . . What do the Scriptures say about the order of believing and receiving the Spirit?” [3].

This is particularly poignant, Lemke argues, in view of Peter’s statement in Acts 2:38: “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (NASB) [4].

Forlines hones in on why this is a logical difficulty for the Calvinist system: “Calvinists have, by and large, adhered to the satisfaction view of atonement and justification. If a person is consistent in developing the implications of the satisfaction view of atonement, it is clear that God cannot perform the act of regeneration (an act of sanctification) in a person before he or she is justified. God can move in with His sanctifying grace only after the guilt problem is satisfied by justification. To think otherwise is to violate the law of non-contradiction. I realize that when we talk about the ordo salutis (order of salvation) we are talking about logical order instead of chronological order. But that logical order is inviolable!” [5].

If Berkhof and Boettner are correct that regeneration is the beginning of salvation and sanctification (and I think they are), then the Calvinist ordo salutis, which places regeneration prior to saving faith, and thus prior to justification and the gift of the Spirit, is highly problematic.

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[1] F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation (Nashville: Randall House, 2011), 262.

[2] Loraine Boettner. The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (Philadelphia, PA: P&R, 1965), 101.

[3] Steve W. Lemke and David Allen, eds., Whosoever Will (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2011), 137.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Forlines, 86.