In continuing to look at the relationship between faith and works, I wanted to spend some time touching on the United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI) and Oneness Pentecostalism problem as it relates to this subject. The vast majority of Christendom holds to the view that we are justified by faith – we are saved by grace through faith, not by works that we do. Baptism is viewed as an ordinance – something that is very important in the life of a believer but not something that causes, brings about or merits our salvation in any way. We are baptized because we are saved, not in order to be saved.
The UPCI view is that until a person is baptized in the name of Jesus, their sins are not forgiven. But how does this view stand up to the seemingly overwhelming scriptural evidence that our sins are forgiven (we are declared just or right and at peace with God) when we turn to God in faith – that we are justified by faith?
In his book, The New Birth, Bernard addresses the question of grace, faith and works. He does provide a cursory summary of several primary passages on the subject of justification by faith referring to Habakkuk 2:4, Romans and Galatians and states the following:
The bottom line is this: no one can be justified by observing the law of Moses or by doing good works. Instead, the only way to salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for us. Having established this, we must next determine what true faith in Christ is and how to have it. (pages 35-6).
Bernard then cites to B.B. Warfield, “Justification by Faith does not mean, then, salvation by believing things instead of doing right. It means pleading the merits of Christ before the throne of grace instead of our own merits.” (citing from essay Justification by Faith, Out of Date?, Benjamin B. Warfield, 1911). As we will see, Bernard is attempting to build the UPCI case in support of the idea that baptism and speaking in tongues are necessary to justification and completing the process of the new birth.
Bernard interestingly, citing to Warfield and the Reformed camp, seeks to argue that justification by faith does not mean just believing but also “doing right”. Warfield’s point is not that the sinner must both believe and “do right” or be obedient in order to be justified as Bernard seems to allude. Warfield argues that we are justified by works but not by any of our works. Warfield writes, “It is justification by Christ’s works.”
Warfield cannot be any clearer in his meaning:
There is no justification for sinful men except by faith. The works of sinful man will, of course, be as sinful as he is, and nothing but condemnation can be built on them. Where can he get works upon which he can found his hope of justification, except from Another? … Can God pronounce him righteous except on the ground of works that are righteous? Where can a sinful man get works that are righteous? Surely, not from himself; for, is he not a sinner, and all his works as sinful as he is? He must go out of himself, then, to find works which he can offer to God as righteous. And where will he find such works except in Christ? Or how will he make them his own except by faith in Christ? … If we are to be justified at all, it must be on the ground of the merits of Another, whose merits can be made ours by faith. And that is the reason why God sent his Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish but have everlasting life. If we do not believe in him, obviously we must perish. But if we believe in him, we shall not perish but have everlasting life. That is just Justification by Faith. Justification by Faith is nothing other than obtaining everlasting life by believing in Christ. (Emphasis added)
Bernard would argue that it is by faith and our obedience to baptism that brings about our remission of sins. We should recall that Bernard and the UPCI are strongly in the Arminian camp and believers in the concept of prevenient grace. Bernard does note that faith “is the means by which man accepts and receives God’s saving grace.” (page 34). Bernard acknowledges that faith is a gift from God as well and that no one would have faith in God unless God would grant it.
As far as faith is concerned, Bernard cites to Webster’s Dictionary, The Amplified Bible, and Vine’s An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words to provide some definitions of faith. He also cites to Charles Erdman who described faith as meaning far more than a “mere asset to dogmas, or the repetition of a creed” but describes a relationship with Christ in which the believer will trust in and be obedient to Christ and that the love for Christ brings about a trust and obedience that will lead to purity and holiness and a life of unselfish service. He cites theologian Donald Bloesch as presenting a definition of faith as “a radical commitment of the whole man to the living Christ, a commitment that entails knowledge, trust, and obedience.” (page 41).
From this definition provided by Bloesch, Bernard seems to identify three components of saving faith as meaning more than simply mental knowledge or assent. These key components Bernard identifies as knowledge, assent, and appropriation.
Clearly, to have faith one must have a certain degree of knowledge or understanding of what it is that one is being called to place their trust in and a certain degree of acceptance or assent to the truth. I must have had an understanding of my sin and the state of my relationship to God, a degree of knowledge of the gospel, as well as an acceptance of those facts. I must have understood my need and recognized God’s ability to meet that need and I must have accepted these things a true. These concepts Bernard would associate with knowledge and assent. Paul wrote in Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Hearing the word of Christ brings life to faith God has put in our hearts and we respond to this new understanding in faith to the word.
Bernard then comes to the third component of saving faith – appropriation. “In other words, there must be a practical application of truth. … Saving faith in Jesus Christ, then, involves more than mentally acknowledging Him as the Savior. We must appropriate this truth and make it the guiding principal of our lives. We do this by obeying the gospel of Jesus, by identifying with Him….” (page 42). Appropriation, according to Bernard, is appropriating the gospel to my life by being baptized and receiving the Spirit with evidence of speaking in other tongues.
Bernard cites to a number of passages to support that true faith is accompanied by obedience. As we have previously discussed, it would seem that according to both Paul and James that saving faith will bring about a change in our lives –we will live out that faith through obedience to the word of God and the evidence of spiritual fruit in our lives. It would seem impossible that one who is truly grafted into the vine would not produce fruit as evidence of their relationship to God.
Here is where Bernard’s reasoning goes off the rails and flies in the face of his quote of Warfield at the beginning of this chapter. The UPCI and Bernard don’t see obedience as something that naturally flows out of our being in Christ but as something that we must bring to the table in order to find our way into Christ. Bernard sees an “essential link between obedience and salvation.” (page 44). Yes; saving faith produces obedience, good works, spiritual fruit in the life of a justified and sanctified believer. But no; my justification is based on the perfect work, life and obedience of Christ and his death on the cross alone. My obedience – however pathetic my attempts– are not the basis for my salvation. My obedience flows out of my being in Christ and the Spirit of Christ being in me producing the changes in my life that flow out of the grace that I have received through faith.
Bernard repeatedly cites to passages such as, “If a man love me, he will keep my words.” (John 14:23) to support the position that my obedience is the basis for my being accepted by God. Yes; a true believer will keep his words but it was by the obedience of Christ that I stand justified before God. If my obedience/works are the basis for my salvation, then I am in serious trouble.
Bernard states, “Someone who really believes God’s Word will obey it. God’s Word teaches baptism, so the Bible believer will be baptized. God’s Word promises the gift of the Spirit, so the true believer will expect, see, and receive this gift.” (pages 45-46). Further, he notes, “we are saved by grace through faith. We rely on God’s work and not our own works to bring salvation. However, this does not relieve us of our responsibility to respond to God, to obey Him and to act upon our faith.” (page 49). Bernard’s statements are contradictory – according to him, our salvation is not based on our own works but we are responsible to obey him to bring about our salvation.
On the subject of faith and water baptism, Bernard states that faith in God will lead to water baptism. With respect to repentance and water baptism, Bernard states that they “are not works in the sense of things man does to assist in earning his salvation, but they are saving works of God.” (page 55). “Saving faith expresses itself in our obedience to Christ’s gospel and by our identification with Him. … The gospel of Jesus Christ is His death, burial, and resurrection (I Corinthians 15:1-4). We apply the gospel to our lives – we identify with Christ and His saving work – by repentance, water baptism in the name of Jesus, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (emphasis in orig., page 61).
Saving faith manifests itself in obedience, among other ways, in the life of a believer. Yet, because the gospel of the UPCI requires baptism in the name of Jesus to effectuate the remission of sins, they must justify this position in light of the clear teaching of scripture that our justification is by faith. Implicit in the idea of true faith – being convinced of the promises of God and trusting in Christ and repenting of one’s sins – is the notion of bringing oneself into a state of obeying the gospel of Christ.
Obedience is no longer the evidence of a life in Christ. My obedience is my faith leading to my justification. An additional problem if obedience and faith are simply interchangeable, why just stop with baptism and speaking with other tongues. Isn’t my entire Christian walk, my salvation continually held in a tenuous state dependent on my obedience, my works and deeds to keep me within the good graces of my God. Bernard speaks of grace and faith and not our works but the works of God but in reality it always comes back to our working to bring about our salvation. The dangerous aspect of this so-called gospel is that in the end, if one labors, he is paid what he deserves but we need to rely on faith in the work of Christ.
Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. Romans 4:4-5.