WHAT IS THE GOSPEL? (part 4)
Pastor G’s next response is as follows and in full:
Greetings in Christ,
I thought I'd take a few moments and answer your email. I'll respond a little at a time, as you scroll down. In this note, I will exhort you in two areas. 1) Taking into account the entirety of the Scriptures when searching for the evidence of salvation; and 2) An encouragement to make sure your doctrine in this area (soteriology) is consistent with all of the other areas of Biblical theology, particularly harmartiology (the doctrine of sin) and ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church).
(The following statement is by this author, MD) ‘I have no answers to the Gospel I believe in. I cannot find anything in Scripture that supports the notion that any who do not believe the Gospel are saved nor that any who call saved that which the Holy Spirit calls lost are saved. If you are aware of any please let me know.’
No, I don't know of any either. But the question of toddlers and borderline mentally retarded is still something that we must reckon with the question of whether there is an impartation of the gift of faith in Jesus to those of such limited intelligence. Faith comes by "hearing" (Rom 10), but I don't exclude the physically deaf from the kingdom. I trust that "hearing" the Gospel may take another form. Perhaps there is a mysterious way in which God imparts faith in the Gospel to toddlers and borderline mentally retarded who seem to express faith in Jesus, but in a very limited way. It's somewhat related to your whole argument, because if one of them has limited intelligible faith, and is saved, but doesn't explicitly believe in limited redemption, than your theory falls.
'Belief of the truth' is the key evidence that one is born again, MD.
The first point of exhortation, is that I would caution you, Moreno, not to build a doctrine that belief of the truth is "the" key evidence. There are many evidences, which believers manifest in different degrees "some thirtyfold, some sixtyfold, and some ninety fold." (Matt). Jesus said "You will know them by their fruit." (Matt. 7) And what is the fruit of the Spirit? Gal 5: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. Belief in the truth may come under the heading of "Faithfulness," but it is just one evidence. The end of Matt. 25 seems to present other evidences of a believer, does it not? The whole first epistle of John was written "that ye may know that ye have eternal life." In that epistle, John gives seven evidences--1) walking in the light (1:6-10); 2) keeping his commandments (2:3-6); 3) loving the brethren (2:9-11;3:11-19; 4:20); 4) Not loving the world (2:15-17); 5) Confessing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (2:22-23; 4:1-6,15); 6) Practicing righteousness (2:29-3:10;4:18); 7) Overcoming the world (5:4). Can you find any more evidences that I did not list?
The point is that I don't think it's right to take one Scripture passage and make that one thing "the" key evidence, in light of all of the other Scriptures about evidence. I pray that you would take all of these Scriptures as a whole in answering the question of what is the evidence that a person is a believer.
But why all the concern about evidences? I understand there is the passage "Examine yourself to see whether you be in the faith." But there are a bunch of people here in the States that feel Gospel ministry is not preaching to those who have never heard the Gospel or building up the saints. They think it is their ministry to weed the tares and false brethren from the Church, a ministry which God reserved for the angels on the last day. I just pray you did not fall under their spell. They're real elitist, somehow have confused knowledge with salvation (which is gnostic), have a Donatist view of the church, and are regarded as a cult. My advice is to flee far from them, and spend your time doing all the things Christ says in those passages about evidences--love the brethren, overcome the world, practice righteousness, cultivate self-control, be faithful to the responsibilities God has given you whether that be to your wife, children, job, relatives, or congregation, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned. You won't have time to obsess about how to detect who is really a believer and who isn't.
I don't know that "all" Roman Catholics are not saved. Luther got saved in the Roman church, and learned predestination from his abbot in the monastery, Van Staupitz, who never joined Luther's break with Rome. Read Augustine On the Predestination of the Saints and tell me he wasn't a saved man. Was there a church from 500 to 1500 A.D.?
This brings me to my second exhortation. God's truth is unified. Every doctrine should be congruous with every other doctrine. Your doctrine of salvation is linked with other doctrines. If one holds that one must believe in limited atonement to be saved, what does this do to your doctrine of the church? Is the church only made up of those who believe in limited atonement? Is that how Scripture defines the church?
What does it do to your doctrine of sin and depravity? We know that depravity affects all humans totally, in their minds, wills, and affections. The view that the evidence of salvation is belief in limited redemption, is not in harmony with this doctrine of sin. It implies that a saved person might sin or be in error in all other areas, except this one doctrine. Regarding this one tenet, total depravity will always be overcome. It singles out this one sin (not believing in limited redemption) as worse in degree to all the rest. It implies that the error of not believing in limited redemption is the unforgivable sin.
When I have written to others on this issue in the past, they never deal with the relationship of this doctrine to the other doctrines of the faith, namely the doctrine of the church and the doctrine of sin. I pray that God will open your eyes to do so.
The Bible shows that the Church is filled with sinners (every one of Paul's epistles), who sin not only in the area of moral action, but in matters of faith and doctrine as well. It's no excuse for it. That's just the nature of the church on this side of glory. We haven't been totally sanctified experientially nor have we received our resurrection bodies when it will be impossible to sin. As I said in my last letter, we are to correct, exhort, rebuke with all patience and longsuffering. Scripture show that some "saved" people erred on the matter of salvation. Peter for one, Gal. 2. The whole church to which the Apostle sent the letter to the Hebrews. I gave the specific passages I believe in my last letter. The recipients of the letters to the Romans and Colossians were also erring regarding the faith. But Paul was writing to the churches, to the company of God's people who unfortunately sin in many ways. Who in those assemblies and who wasn't saved in the end, I don't know and neither did Paul. But "the Lord knows who are His." (Timothy) Paul is saying, it's not our business to know. Rather, he says, our human responsibility is that "every one who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity."
I hope the Lord uses the Scripture passages that I quoted in this note to help your understanding regarding evidences of salvation, and how the doctrine of salvation much harmonize with the Scriptures regarding ecclesiolgy and the doctrine of sin. I pray that you read the whole New Testament and get a feel for what the church. And again, I would encourage you to read Augustine's writings against the Donatists. The Donatists were this exclusive group that tried to say that they were the only true church, and Augustine really opened the Scriptures to their situation. It helped me tremendously in my own personal deliverance from a very small church who had the only true church syndrome. I hope it helps you too. They are in Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers of the Church, First Series, Volume 4. Also stay clear of the Hyper Calvinists and those who condemn all other Christians as "outside the camp." If they are already your friends, I would encourage you to drop them and find new ones. "Bad company corrupts good morals." If you keep hanging with them, you will end up like them. And God deliver us all from more of them.
Best wishes, and go with God.
In dealing with this reply from pastor G, I will again first present my direct reply to him via email and then some additional comments.
My reply to pastor G is as follows and is in full:
Dear pastor G,
Thank you very much for taking the time to reply to my email. My response to your comments will follow underneath your replies.
Toddlers, the mentally retarded and other such people I cannot comment on because the Scriptures say nothing of these. To hear the Word is to understand it and believe it. One does not need to physically hear the Word with their physical ears but to understand it and believe it from the heart.
Scripture says that we are sanctified through the Spirit and belief of the truth. If there is no belief of the truth there is no sanctification. The reason the Spirit of God is connected with the truth in 2 Thess is because He is the Spirit of Truth and no matter how loving and kind and gentle etc., a man may be if he does not have the Truth, if he does not abide in the Doctrine of Christ then he has not God.
I do not believe I am taking one passage of Scripture and making a doctrine out of that but have read the entire Bible and see that if one does not have a belief of God, THE God and His Truth then one is in a lost state. It is His Gospel that must be understood for everything outside of that Gospel is man's 'truth' and every religion out there in some way and to some degree conditions salvation on man thereby leaving room for man to boast and denying the only Gospel which gives all the glory to God.
I really care not for the wacky religions and cults out there. I am sad that there are people who see that it is their role to pronounce who is saved and who are lost. This is not what I do or promote. I simply believe that to be a saved person means that one has heard and believes in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The core message of that Gospel being that Christ came to save His people from their sins. That He died on the cross for His people and that they shall all be saved. Those who fail to believe this are lost for they deny Him: Who He is and what He has done. My main focus is not on saved and lost but on Christ Jesus and His Gospel by which we are to judge ourselves saved or lost. How can I separate myself from those lost people who believe not and care not for THE Gospel if I do not judge them lost based on that Gospel. I want to make clear to you that I am not obsessed with who is saved and who is lost but am consumed with a love for God and His Truth and I will not speak peace to any who deny His Truth, who abide not in His doctrine and yet count themselves and others like them, saved.
I would much prefer if we stick to THE issue. If the Gospel is a term which is too general for you then allow me to replace it with 'the preaching of the cross'. All those who are lost count the preaching of the Gospel as foolishness. All those who are saved see it as the power of God. What is the preaching of the cross? Please, sir, if nothing else answer me this question. Preach the cross of Christ to me and tell me what it is that all those who are lost count foolishness about it.
Luther believed in salvation conditioned on baptism and prayed to mary. How could this man be saved when he believed in a 'mary' he believed he could pray to? names and reputations have swayed many men to believe this one was saved and that one was saved. But what did they believe the Gospel to be. 'If any come to you preaching another gospel let him be accursed'.
Those who believe in Christ's death that is who believe that He died for His people accomplishing redemption for everyone for whom He died on that cross are members of His Body. Those who deny His effectual atonement and replace it with a conditional one know not God. The Scriptures make this perfectly clear.
Of course Christ's Church is made up only of those who hear His voice. The field is the world not the Church! The tares are sown by the devil who is their father and not God.
Let us make one thing clear. The term 'limited redemption' is a man-made one. What we are really speaking about is Christ's death, His atoning for sin. Who one believes Christ died for shows exactly what one believes Christ did on the cross. If you are trying to tell me that one can be in error concerning what Christ did on the cross and for whom He did it and still be called a believer in the cross of Christ, then I am afraid you are sadly mistaken. Those who count what Christ did as foolishness the Bible describes as lost along with all those to whom the Gospel is hid. These are not my words but the language of God.
Yes, many in the Church are wrong in many areas. I am wrong in various areas and am far from perfect. But, I, like every other member of Christ's Church believe THE Gospel otherwise I could not be born again. A Christian is born again born of that Gospel Seed. If there is no seed there is no plant and if there is no Gospel there can be no true believer.
Again, I appreciate your well-meaning etc., but I can assure you that I follow no man. There is nothing I believe because a man said it. I believe the Gospel because I see it in the Scriptures. It is what God teaches and it is His Standard of judging saved and lost. I have examined this Gospel every way I know how. I have not shut myself away from those who do not believe it but have gone to them asking them what the Gospel is and to please show me where I am wrong. But I have yet to read or hear anything that you or others have told me that has proven anything to me. I do not say this with any arrogance at all but in all honesty I cannot shake this Gospel off for I see it as the very Gospel of God. It matters not what any man says be it a pastor preaching today or an Augustine or a Luther from the past. What matters is what does God say. He is the only one I refer to.
Again, I want to assure you that I appreciate your time in reading my mail and writing to me and that I have carefully read what you have said. But I have yet to see direct answers to my questions. I shall always look forward to hearing from you and will happily read all that you would kindly share with me.
Sadly, pastor G broke off his communication with me following this last email and I have not heard from him since. Again, we have a man who is a ‘pastor’ of a Reformed church who was asked pertinent questions regarding the Gospel and salvation who, after corresponding with this author for a time, has ceased all communication and has chosen to not even show the least amount of courtesy by saying that he wishes to have no further contact with me. He leaves me, as do the others, with no alternative but to walk away believing that they have no answers for me. They make a few statements filled with the usual religious rigmarole which they are so used to seeing usually, if not always pacify the inquisitive minds they come across, but break off all contact when faced with some hard questions and matters which they obviously do not want to deal with or plainly cannot answer. You will note that I asked pastor G that ‘if nothing else would he please preach the cross of Christ to me and tell me what it is about the cross that those who perish, all those who perish, count as foolishness’. This is the central issue of the whole Gospel message: what did Christ do? It is something pastor G either does not wish to talk about, which is rather strange for a man claiming to be a Christian, a teacher of the Bible no less, or he simply does not know and isn’t man enough to face the fact and allow himself to be open to some teaching he is ignorant of. I have not run from anyone’s questions or arguments be it from these men or others I have spoken with, but have met their arguments head-on with the Gospel and it has been an interesting experience, to say the least, to see that it is always they who turn and run. What are they so afraid of? Perhaps they do not want to face the matter of the preaching of the cross and other salvation issues, because it would complicate their lives and religious position amongst friends and cohorts were they to discover that I am right and they have been wrong all these years.
Notice also that pastor G is another who knows of no biblical evidence which supports the notion that one can be saved without the Gospel (an admission which contradicts other statements he has made) or that those are saved who call saved those which the Holy Spirit calls lost. He then returns to the argument of toddlers and the mentally retarded in an effort to qualify his admission. I believe I have dealt with the issue of toddlers etc., sufficiently in my comments already. He states that he does not exclude the physically deaf from the Kingdom of God and suggests that ‘hearing’ the Word of God may include some ‘mysterious way in which God imparts faith in the Gospel’. Mysticism plays no part in salvation. A man is saved by hearing, which means understanding, and receiving the Gospel. There is no other way a man can be saved (Rom.10:16,17). To raise the matter of deaf people and hearing the Gospel suggests a quite childish understanding of Romans 10:17. To hear the Gospel implies something more than the mere sense of hearing with the physical ear, but rather the receiving of a message. Christ said several times in the Book of Revelation ‘He that hath an ear, let him hear...’ (Rev. 2 & 3). He was not talking of physical ears for we all have those, but Christ was speaking ‘metaphorically of the faculty of perceiving with the mind, understanding and knowing’. Such teaching does not exclude the physically deaf from ‘hearing’ the Gospel, but the spiritually deaf. The Bible says nothing about toddlers or the mentally retarded or the aged who now have dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease or other such afflictions. To cancel God’s way and means to salvation simply because every human being cannot, for one reason or another, properly understand the Gospel, or even hear it preached, is to open up a Pandora’s box of excuses as to why one considers this or that person saved. I am sure that man throughout history has devised, to his satisfaction, many and acceptable reasons as to why most of mankind will be saved, beginning with one’s parents and other much loved family members. Why not say that all those who have never heard the true Gospel can be saved anyway? Many ecumenically-minded false preachers, such as Billy Graham, actually teach this! If a toddler is saved merely because he cannot understand or grasp the Gospel, then why not the drunkard who cannot even remember his own name? Such ‘reasoning’ is madness and a nonsense which has no biblical support or precedent. According to this line of thinking, a person would be far better off if he never heard the Gospel or if he was an imbecile without the capability of understanding. Perhaps our strategy before preaching the Gospel to a person should be to clunk them on the head causing them brain damage so that their ability to understand becomes greatly reduced and their simple ‘I love Jesus’ will be enough to qualify them for heaven! Pastor G’s conclusion that my ‘theory of believing in limited redemption being necessary to a saving knowledge of God falls’, is based on nothing but his hypothetical argument that ‘IF (emphasis mine) one of them (such as a toddler or a mentally retarded person who) has limited intelligible faith, and is saved, but doesn't explicitly believe in limited redemption, then your theory falls’. That is a very big ‘IF’, pastor G! How can one suggest a man’s teaching is wrong by saying that IF... then his theory falls? Where is his evidence that I am wrong? Where is his proof? What pastor G is in essence saying is that if you are wrong then your theory falls! How infantile can a man’s reasoning be? This author is truly surprised at the calibre of flimsy ‘arguments’ presented by pastor G and others. To say one is saved who does not know or believe in the doctrine of Christ is to go beyond the Word of God, can produce nothing but a false assurance of salvation and can lead nowhere but a miry pit of confusion out of which one’s standard of salvation is founded on the mystical and sentimental, rather than on God’s Word.
One of the most astonishing statements pastor G made to me was his exhortation to do with salvation that I was ‘...not to build a doctrine that belief of the truth is the key evidence’. This is truly an astounding statement in light of the fact that the Scriptures state plainly that the true believer has been chosen by God "...to salvation THROUGH sanctification of the Spirit AND BELIEF OF THE TRUTH: whereunto he called you BY OUR GOSPEL..." (2 Thess.2:13,14). There are dozens of other Scriptures which testify to the same (eg. Jn. 8:32; 17:17; Eph. 1:11-13; 2 Thess. 1:8,9; 2:10,12; 1 Tim. 2:4; 6:3-5; 2 Tim. 3:1-8; Jas. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:22-25). If one believes a lie concerning the Gospel of Christ; if one does not abide in the doctrine of Christ, one has not God and there is nothing that can change this immutable and God-Authored fact. Yes, there are many evidences of a man’s saved state. Never once did I say to pastor G that belief of the truth was the only evidence, but rather the key evidence. But the evidences alone that pastor G mentioned—the favorite one of the masses being a moral change in their lives—mean nothing and are of no worth if they are not accompanied by a sound belief in the Gospel of God. Of what use is it for a man to be gentle and loving and kind and patient if he does not know and believe the Gospel without which no man will be saved? Without the doctrine of Christ there is no salvation. Every man, woman and child on this earth could change their lives right now and live as morally as they could, but if they do not have the Gospel, if they do not hold to God’s Testimony concerning man’s sinful state and the only Savior Who can save any, they are as lost as the most immoral and amoral man who ever lived.
Pastor G also asks the rather inane question, ‘why all the concern about evidences?’ My friend, evidences are how we judge ourselves and others to be saved or lost. We make judgements every day based on evidences! If we cannot find any biblical evidence as to whether we are saved or lost, then what a world of confusion, anxiety and fear we would live in? What a terrifying existence it would be to know of the God Who punishes sinners and yet to not be sure that one is saved and will never feel that Holy Wrath! How could we separate ourselves from false preachers and how could we ever be sure that what was being preached to us was the Truth, if we could not judge based on biblical evidence? God’s Word speaks much about evidences of salvation. It says that he who believes the Gospel is saved and he who believes it not is lost. There is your principal identifying evidence. Belief of the Gospel is the key. Have you been made free by the Truth of Christ or do you remain in bondage? How can we know whether we are saved but by a belief of the Gospel and a repentant life? A repentant life on its own is no evidence of salvation. Most people of every religious persuasion lead repentant lives, but all are lost if they do not repent of trusting in false gospels and believe the Gospel of Christ. Jesus spoke of many who would call Him ‘Lord’, yet He knew them not for they believed not His Gospel but had their houses built on the sands of works and false gospels and sincerity of belief, trusting in who they were and what they did (Matt.7:21-23).
Pastor G says that he does not even know that all Roman Catholics are lost! He claims Luther got saved in the Roman Catholic Church and learned predestination from his abbot in the monastery. But what predestination is he talking about? Certainly not the predestination which the Bible teaches which says that God has predetermined all those whom He has chosen from before the foundation of the world to believe in His Son and that all of salvation is conditioned on that Son from beginning to final glory and that man can contribute nothing to his attaining or maintaining salvation. The Roman Catholic Church pronounces a curse on any who believe these mighty Biblical truths. Romanism has always fiercely opposed the Biblical teaching of Predestination. The Jewish nation believed firmly in predestination but obviously knowledge of even this doctrine alone is no evidence of salvation, for Paul the apostle would then not have prayed for the salvation of that nation (Rom.10:1-4). As I wrote to pastor G, Luther believed in baptismal regeneration and also prayed to Mary. Luther also counted many saved who believed not in Christ’s death for His people exclusively. Pastor G asks ‘is the church only made up of those who believe in limited redemption?’ By this he shows that he really has only a fleshly understanding of things Scriptural, for he cannot see that the death of Christ and what was accomplished in and by that death, is the central teaching of the Gospel Message and must be believed if one is to rightly consider oneself a believer in His name, and saved. The Old Testament is full of prophecies concerning Christ’s atoning death, as well as types and forshadowings and ceremonies that showed what the Messiah would do in His Office of Great High Priest and who He would do it for. To teach and believe that Christ did more or less than what He actually did do on the cross, is to believe another gospel and another christ. To believe in a gospel which is not according to the Scriptures (Old Testament) is to believe in another gospel (1Cor.15:1-4). Pastor G claims that my doctrine leads one to believe that unbelief in the exclusive death of Christ for His people as an essential to a saving knowledge of Him, is the unforgiveable sin. I would like to know how anyone can be saved of God—believe in His Word about His Son—by holding to the Christ-denying lie that Jesus died for every man. This doctrine, which changes what the Lord Jesus did from saving His people to making salvation merely possible for all and basing that salvation on a man’s decision, is anti-Gospel. No one has ever entered heaven a saved person by having their sin of unbelief in the Gospel of God overlooked. Ignorance of the Gospel will not be excused but will be dealt with firmly by a wrathful God, just as it was on the cross of Christ for all those for whom He paid the price of this sin (2Thess.1:7-9; Col. 2:13-15). Unbelief in the Gospel of Christ is unforgiveable, for Christ Himself has said that all who believe not WILL perish! (Mk. 16:16). So ends the ‘case’ of pastor G, a man who, like the empty wagon, made a lot of noise but really said nothing in answer to my questions and statements. I say this, not to belittle the man, but to reveal his words as erroneous and to show his deep lack of understanding of what the Gospel is all about. Such a man should not be trusted.
Finally, we come to the last gentleman I wrote to. He is pastor H of the Sharon Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Florida, U.S.A. Pastor H’s first reply to my question, ‘What is the Gospel?’, follows in full:
Dear Mr. Dal Bello,
You don't share much information regarding who you are, where you live, how you got my e-mail address, or why you're asking the question, but I'll be happy to answer your question anyway. You will find my response to your question in the form of a sermon on our church's website: __________________
From the home page click on "Message from our Pastor," and you'll go to a sermon on the book of Jude, dealing with "The True Gospel & The False Gospel."
Not only must one believe the true Gospel in order to be saved, he must also "be baptized," that is, he must enter into the visible covenant with Jesus Christ through church membership, placing himself under the authority of Christ. But that's the topic of a whole other sermon.
Regards in Christ,
The article of pastor H’s to which he referred me was quite sound. But in further discussion with him I found that he did not really believe all that he said in the article. It is vital that we always endeavour to know precisely what a man means by what he appears to be saying. Also, it must be pointed out that he quite wrongly stated that one ‘must also be baptized, that is, he must enter into the visible covenant with Jesus Christ through church membership’ etc. This absolutely goes beyond the Word of God. To be saved one must understand and believe in the Gospel and have repented of all idolatry and dead works and from all known sin. To include membership of a church group in order to qualify us as being in a visible covenant with Jesus Christ alongside this, is nothing but a man-made tradition which nullifies the Word of God and raises man’s ideas onto the same level as, and adds them to, God’s command. The only Church one need be a member of is the Church of Christ, the Body of Christ, made up of all believers (Heb.12:22-24). It is a good and proper thing for Christians to meet with other true believers, but it is not a prerequisite to being saved.
My reply to pastor H follows:
Dear pastor H,
Thank you for your reply.
I have just read your article on the true Gospel and false and it would appear that we hold to the same Gospel and that we would be in agreement with the following: that none are saved who believe not the Gospel of Christ, this would include arminians, and tolerant calvinists who claim that though the arminian gospel is a false one those who believe in it are saved Christians nonetheless.
I have written several booklets on the Gospel and would like to share with you my first one: 'God's only Gospel'. I hope you will make time to read it and I look forward to your comments.
I am from Australia and was given your email address by a friend.