Faith and Works – Part 2

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  (citing from essay Justification by Faith, Out of Date?, Benjamin B. Warfield, 1911).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.

 

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Getting in…

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

For my first couple of posts, I thought I’d provide some background as to where I came from, how I found myself in the United Pentecostal Church and some of the things that eventually prompted me to leave.  While posting may provide me with some catharsis, it is also my hope that possibly those who may find themselves in the UPC or other similar organization and who may be experiencing some of the same things that I experienced may find some help in getting to a better place, wherever that may be for them.  It would be my prayer that the better place would be a better place in God, more at rest and satisfied in him.  I’m just a layman who has spent 25 years in the UPC but found a way out and brought my family with me.

I was raised Roman Catholic, attended church with my family while growing up and also went regularly to CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) classes where one learns about the Roman Catholic faith and the sacraments – baptism, confession, receiving the Eucharist, and so on.  As a teenager, the next step in my making my way through the sacraments was to be Confirmed.  As a part of the Confirmation process, I was expected to write a letter to the priest at the local parish answering some questions concerning who God was to me and what he meant to me.  I never wrote that letter and was never Confirmed.  I am sure that a part of my refusing to do so was out of a certain degree of teenage rebelliousness.  But there was a part of me that also genuinely felt unable to provide an honest answer as to those questions – who was God and what he meant to me at that point in my life.  I recall sitting at the small desk in my bedroom and the assignment tacked to a cork board that hung next to the desk and contemplating the fact that I didn’t know how to answer the questions being posed.

When I was 17, I worked at a local ice cream stand and there I met a nice girl who was a waitress at the restaurant.  I also met her husband who was the youth pastor of a local church.  She asked if I would visit one Sunday morning to see some special event she was participating in at the church.  I agreed and that Sunday I went off looking for this church that was nestled among some neighborhood homes in the city.  I probably drove by the church three or four times unable to find it.  I stopped for some gas and despite thinking I was about 30 minutes late for church, I felt compelled to go back and look one more time for this church.  Possibly I felt obligated to find my there as I had said I would be there – possibly something else was at work.

I drove back up the street one more time and found the church as there were some people standing outside on the front steps.  I parked and walked over, asking if I was late.  As it happened, it was the last Sunday of October (back when daylight savings ended on the last Sunday of October) and so I was actually about 30 minutes early for church.

As you likely have guessed, the church I visited that morning was a United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI) – the largest of the Oneness Pentecostal (OP) organizations in the country.  The people were very friendly and what stood out to me was the enthusiastic manner in which they sang songs and worshipped.

I began attending youth services and I believe the night I truly repented and gave my life to Christ was during one of these youth services.  The youth pastor gave a lesson on prayer – I recall being somewhat awestruck at the idea that I could communicate directly with God, that he knew who I was and that he was interested in having a relationship with me.  While my Roman Catholic upbringing and experience was rooted in what seemed to me to be merely tradition and ritual, my new experience seemed to have me rooted more in the primitive church where one could be in relationship with a real and living God who knew me.  Later I was baptized and went through the various steps that one does within OP.

Not long thereafter, I moved away for college but continued to attend another UPC church.  It was in that church that I found a very heavy emphasis on holiness standards.  Men wore long pants, three quarter length sleeves and kept their hair cut short.  The women had uncut hair, no make-up, no jewelry, and long skirts.  I had an African-American friend who once had a haircut with a line cut in to represent a part in his hair.  Seemingly no big deal to me but I recall hearing the pastor from the pulpit tell the congregation that unless God has given you a part in your hair, you shouldn’t be cutting one in.  While I believe in the concept of church discipline as outlined in the New Testament, in this environment, one would be “sat down” from participating in the choir or being a worship leader or other role for infractions of “standards.”

This is the brand of OP that is extremely conservative, focused on holiness standards and various rules put in place by the leadership with the expectation that you would be obedient to the leadership.  Obedience to the pastor was required in all these areas.  I personally experienced and know of many others who were told by the pastor who they should (or in most cases, who they should not) fellowship with.  Of course, if you are told that you should not associated with a particular person it was for your own good and protection and for the good of the other person as well.

Interracial relationships were frowned upon.  When my wife and I were still dating, I recall sitting on the back pew while at the church for morning prayer and was told by the pastor’s wife that it would be best if we didn’t date as interracial relationships were problematic.  My wife is part Hispanic and I am white.

At the time, I simply chalked up such comments to the fact that these individuals were more elderly southerners.  Of course, the common refrain in the church was that “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft” and “touch not my anointed and do my prophets no harm.”  Further, you must “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give an account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”  Thus, one is told that he must obey the pastor on all points for he will give an account before God concerning us and he wants to be in a position to say nothing but good concerning us.  The pastor had the role of mediator between me and God – he was going to report to God on my behavior and the extent to which I was an obedient Christian.

You might question why would someone stay in a church such as this?  The fact of the matter is that many don’t – they move on, which is what I did.  Not that I left the UPC – I simply moved away for school again.  I found myself in a church that was much less legalistic yet over time found itself having much more in common with the word of faith and your traditional charismatic movements.

I spent over 25 years in the UPC and 20 of those years in a church where the ministry was affiliated with the UPC but the church itself was not.  Even while in the very strict, legalistic setting I had come to question many aspects of the teaching of the church with respect to legalism around holiness standards and what I had clearly recognized as emotional manipulation.  I was disturbed by the control through fear that the leadership had exhibited.  As a younger person who genuinely loved God and wanted to please God, it was difficult to wade through that environment.  On the one hand, I clearly recognized that individuals engaged in manipulation through fear of hell and rebellion and demands for obedience.  Yet, on the other hand, I was concerned whether I was in rebellion to God by even entertaining the thoughts that these men were using fear to control people.  All I wanted was to please God.

When I found myself in an environment where the ministry did not exert such manipulation, I found myself free to examine some questions that had been bothering me.  I felt free to strongly disagree with the legalistic approach of the UPC to holiness standards and not experience tremendous guilt for having such thoughts – and even sharing them with the pastor.  Nevertheless, I continued to find myself troubled with respect to the UPC but still thought to myself, “Where else are you going to go?”  At the center of the matter, I still believed that it was all about Acts 2:38 – I might be unhappy with the organization but they are the only ones with teaching the truth with respect to baptism in Jesus’ name and the oneness of God.  I became spiritually lethargic and felt resigned for some time – frankly for many years.  It came to the point where all I could simply do was fall on my knees and seriously look to God for some answers, which he graciously provided.