The Purpose Driven Life: Demeaning the Very Nature of God

What makes the analysis of Rick Warren’s book and movement so difficult is the fact that Warren presents some basic teaching of God’s purposes for man and man’s purposes to God.  This having been said, the fact that these purposes are not presented in a biblically accurate way is all the more dangerous to the true understanding of who God is and His Gospel in Christ.  In the first part of our analysis we documented the way in which the Gospel was impaired by exaltation of man and so-called “true self.”  This error, together with the corresponding neglect to show that man is in fact spiritually “dead in trespasses and sins” shows that the book is both a hindrance and a deceit.  The most dangerous of heresies have always been those that have been presented in the context of general basic truth.  In this section we must continue to analyze the saving purpose of God from all eternity in Christ Jesus.  Salvation comes from God to sinful man in and through Christ Jesus alone.  The origin of the eternal purpose of God and free grace is in Christ Jesus alone.  In the words of the Apostle, “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.”[1]  This elementary truth would not need to be emphasized were it not for the fact that men and women like Warren betray God’s saving love for mankind as being inman himself.

The nature of God in Scripture is proclaimed to be All Holy, thus the Bible states “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts:  the whole earth is full of his glory.”[2]  To inspire utter reverence for God’s nature, the question is asked, “Who shall not fear Thee, O Lord, and glorify Thy name?  For Thou only art Holy:  for all nations shall come and worship before Thee.[3]  One of the most flagrant sins by Warren and his movement is the failure to respect the nature of the Almighty, the All Holy God.  For example, in his chapter entitled “Becoming Best Friends with God,” God is portrayed as if He were in need of us, “Almighty God yearns to be your friend!”[4]  “Yearns” signifies “craves,” “hankers,” or “covets,” basically meaning He needs to be your friend.  The love of God, however, whereby He gave His only begotten Son is totally sacrificial and giving.  It in no way signifies a lack in God.  He is perfectly sufficient and fulfilled in Himself.  On the contrary, it is the total outpouring of His perfect love.  The fact that God demonstrates His love to unworthy sinners in no way implies that God needs sinners to satisfy something lacking in Him!  Warren’s terminology misrepresents the nature of God.

Warren builds on this serious error by means of a modern corruption of Exodus 34:14.  Warren’s rendering says, “He is a God who is passionate about his relationship with you.”[5]  The verse should read, “for thou shalt worship no other god:  for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”  The jealousy or passion of the Lord God is against those who would worship another god.  Such worship is utterly condemned.  It is significant that the first part of this verse, “for thou shalt worship no other god,” is totally absent from Warren’s chapter.  Yet when the terms “jealously” or “passion” are used of God in the Bible, it describes His fervor for the true worship due to His holy name.  It demands exclusive devotion to Him.  By teaching that God has a passion or infatuation with the reader of Warren’s book rather than a perfect zeal for His Holy Name, Warren has gotten the meaning of the verse literally backwards.  His use of a corrupted, paraphrased, and partial Bible text to depict his notion that God has a passionate devotion to man is an attempt to flatter men rather than present them with God’s truth concerning their depravity.  Thus, Warren teaches for truth the very idolatry that a faithful rendition of the whole text condemns.  This type of Scripture twisting that degrades the nature of God runs throughout Warren’s book. 

 Love is Not the Essence of God’s Character Apart from His Righteousness

Warren’s teaching that God has a saving love for everyone demeans the very nature of God.  Such particular love for everyone is stated to be “the essence of God’s character.”  Warren teaches,

“You were created as a special object of God’s love!  God made you so he could love you.  This is a truth to build your life on.  The Bible tells us, “God is love.”[6]  It doesn’t say God has love.  He is love!  Love is the essence of God’s character.  There is perfect love in the fellowship of the Trinity, so God didn’t need to create you.”[7]

It is important to note that Warren is not speaking of the general love that God has for all mankind as the God who “sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”[8]  Rather, Warren proclaims to each and everyone what he calls “the saving love” of God.  Thus, he says, “His saving love for the nations, culminat[es] in the coming of His Son.  It continues to transform lives the world over.”[9]  Warren gives his readers the thrilling notion that God loves each one “as a special object.”  With this type of assurance, the reader has security in himself and in his sins.  According to Scripture, however, we cannot know that we are the objects of God’s saving love until after we have fled from His wrath against our sin, repented of it, and turned to put our faith in Christ Jesus alone.  Warren’s type of god who loves everyone as a special object of His love is utter heresy.  Love apart from His righteousness is not the essence of God’s character.  Rather in Scripture, God’s saving love is always in accord with His righteousness, “mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”[10]  We must accept God’s love as He has defined it.  

In Scripture God’s good will towards everyone in general is utterly different from His saving love towards individual sinners.  Those outside of Christ only experience God’s common, universal love.  God’s saving love is always restricted and unique to those who are in Christ, chosen before the foundation of the world.[11]  It is always declared to be in Christ and because of Christ.  Thus, the Bible proclaims, “according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him:  in love having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself… To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he has made us accepted in the beloved.”[12]  Without exception, human beings are the objects of God’s saving love only in Christ Jesus. 

God’s Focus on Christ is Changed for Warren’s Focus on Man

In Chapter 2, “You Were Not an Accident,” Warren emphasizes God’s sovereignty in appointing every detail of each person’s birth.  Warren seems to equate being born with being a child of God, for he states, “While there are illegitimate parents, there are no illegitimate children….God never makes mistakes….God made you so he could love you.”[13]  Leaping over the huge difficulties such as “the vessels of wrath,”[14] Warren moves to Ephesians 1:4 to make his case, “according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him.”  However, he teaches a distortion of its meaning.  Citing The Message he teaches,

“God’s motive for creating was his love.  The Bible says, ‘Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love’” (p 24).

This corrupt text allows Warren to exclude the true focus of the Bible text that God’s choice of individuals is “in Christ” and not in unrepentant people who, Warren teaches, are loved in themselves.  Nowhere in the book does he deal with Ephesians 2:1, nor any of the great passages speaking of being born dead in trespasses and sin.  He totally omits dealing biblically with the problem of justification.  By disregarding this central issue, Warren utterly fails to acknowledge that Paul is not addressing people who are loved in themselves but rather to “the faithful in Christ Jesus,”[15] telling them of the riches of His grace which are theirs precisely because they are “in Him [i.e., Christ].”  As a magician with one wave of his hand changes what one sees, so Warren has with one contrived paraphrase of Scripture changed “chosen us in him” to read “he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love.”  With this switch from “the faithful in Christ” to sinful individuals as they are in themselves, Warren has removed the one Mediator and His redemption from the perspective of God’s love.  In the context of salvation, which is the whole theme of Ephesians chapter 1, this removal of the Person of Christ Jesus means that Warren’s presents a god who has saving love for sinful individuals as they are in themselves.  His god is not the God of the Bible.  Outside of God’s choice in Christ Jesus there is no salvation. [16]  The love of God finds satisfaction and delight only in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  His love is not only particularized in Christ Jesus, but His express purpose is to uphold His own righteousness, as the Apostle Paul proclaimed, “being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.[17]

In all things we rejoice that God is almighty and that there is good news for all who are “dead in trespasses and sins.”  In the light of God’s Word we know, “the gospel of Christ…is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.[18]  By nature we are all children of wrath, and by practice we are rebels against the Lord God and His Word.  The perfect and just law of God condemned us all and the Lord God is not responsible to rescue any of us from His just wrath.  Despite our sin nature and personal sins, the Lord God has given His beloved Son for all true believers.  God is the All Holy One.  His holiness is the distinguishing factor in all His essential characteristics.  This is the reason why we need to be in right standing before the one and only All Holy God on the terms He prescribes.  Turn to God in faith alone for the salvation that He alone gives, by the conviction of the Holy Spirit, based on Christ’s death and resurrection, and believe on Him alone, “to the praise of the glory of his grace.”[19]  The understanding of the Gospel causes us to proclaim in loving gratitude, “not unto us, o Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.[20]

The Consequences of Warren’s Trifling With the Holy and Just Nature of God

Warren’s saving love applied universally to all people only degrades God’s holy and just nature.  God’s saving love is specifically applied to those “in Christ,”[21] and for the express purpose of showing forth His righteousness.  God cannot and will not accept our sin.  “Despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?”[22]  Thus, Warren significantly distorts the biblical doctrine of the just and holy God, and thus disfigures the biblical concept of the nature of God.  If God loved man, as man is in himself—bound up in sin because of having a sinful nature—God would be unrighteous.  Such a concept is sacrilege.  “God is light” as well as “love,” and in him is no darkness at all.”[23]  His love is a holy love, as are all His attributes.  In the Scripture, His holiness is every bit as important as His love.  “Be ye holy; for I am holy.”[24]  Equal to God’s love is His wrath and judgment that produce healthy fear and awe of the Creator. 

A sinner ought not to be comforted by assurances of the love of God apart from repentance and faith in Christ.  Rather, a sinner should be reminded that God hates sinners, as Scripture insists, “the boastful shall not stand before thine eyes; thou dost hate all who do iniquity.[25]  “I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked.”[26]  Without Christ Jesus, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven.[27]  God clearly depicts His Holy and just nature in the pages of Scripture.  Great is the guilt of anyone who makes it seem that God’s saving love is indiscriminate, rather than focused on “redeemed sinners” as they are in Christ Jesus.  The Lord’s glory and the redemption in Christ Jesus are at stake; therefore, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.”[28] 

Well might Warren and his associates fear the All Holy God for, “thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.”[29]  The fact, however, is that the All Holy God reigns, as proclaimed by the Holy Spirit, “The Lord reigneth; let the people tremble.”[30]  “The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all.”[31]  The Lord God is ruling and overruling, fulfilling His eternal purpose, not only in spite of but also by means of those who would trifle with His own nature and with His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and His glorious and invincible Gospel.  The essence of sin is forsaking the Lord as truly the Sovereign God, and presenting Him as less—a god who has needs, and thereby can be manipulated. 

Church Unity by Constraint

Another sinister aspect of Warren’s megachurch program is the insistence on church unity by commitment.  The commitment is made by means of a membership covenant.  Warren states,

“At Saddleback Church, every member signs a covenant that includes a promise to protect the unity of our fellowship.  As a result, the church has never had a conflict that split the fellowship.”[32]

“All prospective members must complete a membership class and are required to sign a membership covenant.  By signing the covenant, members agree to give financially, serve in a ministry, share their faith, follow the leadership.... If you do not fulfill the membership covenant, you are dropped from our membership.  We remove hundreds of names from our roll every year.”[33]

Warren’s devised program to bring the fledgling members to full submission consists of four classes that every prospective member is required to attend.  It is a top-down management structure, hierarchical in nature.  The emphasis on the pastor and the leadership resembles the hierarchical power structure of the Roman Catholic Church.  The bylaws of the Saddleback Church state, “‘Pastors’ shall mean the Senior Pastor and the ordained pastors of the Pastor’s Management Team, such team being determined and appointed by the Senior Pastor in his sole discretion from time to time.”  Section VI Number 4a of the bylaws state, “Dismissal by the Pastors according to the following conditions.  a. The member’s life and conduct is not in accordance with the membership covenant in such a way that the member hinders the ministry influence of the Church in the community.”[34]

Control in Conscience on the Same Level as Vows to God

Warren’s purpose driven megachurch program is “religion” in the worst possible understanding of the term.  Like the Church of Rome, it is a religion of control over the souls of men and women.  The Roman Church captures people by giving a false gospel administered through her sacraments.  Once people are in, she exercises her control through her Canon Law.  Similar to the Church of Rome, Warren’s method is to win multitudes with a sham gospel and then attempt to control them with an unbiblical membership covenant.  The membership covenant is explained in the same way as marriage vows.  Warren’s teaching is,

“The most important part of a marriage ceremony is when the man and woman exchange vows.  Before witnesses and God, they make certain promises to each other.  This covenant between them is the essence of the marriage.  In the same way, I believe the essence of church membership is contained in the willingness to commit to a membership covenant.  It is the most important element of our membership class.”[35]

To attempt to put commitment to a church on the same level as marriage vows is totally inappropriate.  Marriage is a creation ordinance from God and marriage vows make public the creation of that new family unit of husband and wife.  But, in the Scripture, there are no parallel vows instituted by God regarding obedience to the pastor or elders of a church.  Though the Pharisees imposed burdens on the people, they never came anywhere near demanding a submission on the same level as the vows of marriage.  It is sinful to demand obedience to a pastoral system at a level God reserves to Himself in His creation ordinance of marriage.  These vows of membership must be exposed for what they are because, through false guilt, people can be imprisoned in the lie.  Thus, unsuspecting souls can become like cult members drawn into a trap. 

Warren has devised a way to control the souls of men and women.  People are led to believe that their vow to church faithfulness is a vow to God just like a marriage vow.  This is one of the ultimate tools of empire builders.  In this case, unwary and unsaved people are enticed into a system by means of extractions from worthless corruptions of the Bible.  With persuasive techniques they are then told of the necessity of committing themselves with loyalty to Warren’s system by means of a vow.  Men and women come soon to think that because they have made such a vow, or covenant, if they criticize the church they will have sinned against God.  Such a church system thus uses these vows for control of the consciences of the members.  Pastors should not be requiring men and women to take vows for membership when they know that people have a most difficult time keeping vows.  The Bible says, “Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.”[36]  These so-called membership church vows or covenants are false, human created, and therefore biblically void.  Warren has not invented this technique; he is simply the latest empire builder to utilize it.  While not developed to the point of law, all of this is quite similar to the Roman Catholic Church.  For example, the Vatican decrees the necessity of suppressing one’s God-given faculties, that of mind and will.  “A religious respect of intellect and will, even if not the assent of faith, is to be paid to the teaching which the Supreme Pontiff....”[37]  The law also spells out the consequences of not submitting.  “The Church has an innate and proper right to coerce offending members of the Christian faithful by means of penal sanctions.”[38]  Since, in Revelation Chapter 17, we learn that Romanism will gather unto herself the whole of apostate Christendom, called “Mystery Babylon,” we suspect that what we are seeing is not just a movement, but that it is indeed the beginning of an apostate empire that can easily work with the Church of Rome and become one of her daughters.

Since Warren’s policy is to implement church growth without respect to doctrine, it is no wonder that Catholic churches such as Saint Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Cary, NC are now enthusiastically joining in the “growth by deception” program.  The Web page for this Catholic Church states,

“Having finished the first 21 days of the book, our growing group decided to push on to the end (so if you've already read parts of the book and weren't able to join us in November, now’s the time to hop aboard!”[39] 

Another example:

“In the Chicago area, more than 200 churches are participating in ‘40 Days of Purpose’ (some used it as a Lenten series).  Among them is St. Walter’s Catholic Church in Roselle which had hoped 100 people would sign up for small home groups for the ‘40 Days of Purpose’ program studying Warren’s book.  Instead, 700 got involved.’”[40]

More Similarity With Rome

The resemblance with Rome does not stop with the method of control that is similar to Catholicism.  Warren endorses Catholic contemplative prayer techniques as he quotes from Catholic mystic Brother Lawrence, which he says are “helpful ideas.”  Brother Lawrence was not only traditional Roman Catholic but he also disseminated teachings that have similarities with Hinduism in the Bhagavad-Gita, and with many New Age writers.  Warren, however, endorses him and goes on later to recommend “Breath Prayers,” a form of mantra.  He teaches,

“Many Christians use ‘Breath Prayers’ throughout their day.  You choose a brief sentence, or a simple phrase that can be repeated to Jesus in one breath: ‘You are with me.’  ‘I receive your grace.’  ‘I’m depending on you.’  ‘I want to know you.’  ‘I belong to you.’”[41]

Catholic mystics have practiced “breath prayers” such as these for centuries.  They are simply the Catholic form of old Greek mysticism and akin to the mantras of Hindus.  In this same book, Warren approvingly cites the famous Catholic mystic Madame Guyon.[42]  He approves of St. John of the Cross,[43] and the Catholic priest, mystic, psychologist, and ecumenist Henri Nouwen.[44]  He warmly agrees with Mother Teresa.[45]  These misleading techniques are thus propagated and lead further into the whole mystic plague that presently is threatening believers and Christian churches.  This plague is the imagination that there is a unity consciousness with God apart from the Person, unique life, and sacrifice of Christ Jesus.[46]  Warren presents a mystical agenda, which the world loves and accepts, but which is an abomination before the Lord God.

The Displacement of Pastors and the Consequences

The 40 Days Campaign of purpose and community is distinct from other movements we have seen in recent times.  Warren asked pastors to devote their church and their people to an intensive 40 days of reprogramming their understanding of God, Christ, and how one becomes a Christian.  He “promises” at the end of 40 days that the church will be transformed.  Through his book and the agenda laid out, he teaches on nearly every aspect of the Christian life for 40 days.  This type of interference in the running of some other church other than your own is completely new.  In Scripture, the function of pastors is to teach and be watchmen and guardians of the flocks the Lord has given to them, not the flocks of other pastors.  “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock [singular], over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers.”[47]  To hand over their position before the Lord to another who will for seven weeks give his messages, based on a multitude of flawed paraphrases of Scripture, is utterly unbiblical.  The individual church is the local pastors’ and elders’ charge.  It is not theirs to bring in debased ideas that infiltrate every important area of their church’s life.  In Warren’s book, and movement, God’s absolute sovereignty is flatly denied as men are counseled to determine their own destinies.

As we now have a false prophet and his budding kingdom before our eyes, we must study diligently these things, which God has recorded for our safeguard against the subtle deceptions of Satan.  True believers in Christ Jesus the Lord and His Gospel must take to heart the solemn warning of the Apostle Paul, “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.”[48]  ♦


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[1] II Timothy 1:9

[2] Isaiah 6:3

[3] Revelation 15: 4

[4] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2002) p. 85

[5] Purpose, p. 86.  Verse quotation taken from New Living Translation [an updated paraphrase of Kenneth Taylor’s paraphrased The Living Bible] (Wheaton, IL:  Tyndale House Publishers, 1996).

[6] I John 4:8

[7] Purpose, p. 24-25

[8] Matthew 5:45

[9] 12/8/04

[10] Psalm 85:10

[11] Ephesians 1:4

[12] Ephesians 1:4, 5, 6

[13] Purpose, pp. 23, 24

[14] Romans 9:22

[15] Ephesians 1:1

[16] There is a consistent Biblical teaching that justification is positional legal righteousness in Christ.  Jeremiah 23:6; Romans 1:17, 3:21-22, 4:6, 11, 5:18-19; I Corinthians 1:30; II Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 1:6; Colossians 2:10, 3:3; II Peter 1:1, and elsewhere.

[17] Romans 3:24, 26

[18] Romans 1:16

[19] Ephesians 1:6

[20] Psalm 115:1

[21] In Ephesians 1 and 2, such phrases as “in Christ,” “in whom,” “in him,” “in the Beloved” are spoken of 18 times.  This is the same in all of the letters of Paul the Apostle.  Likewise, the Apostle John consistently teaches that eternal life is in Christ Jesus, e.g. “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (I John 5:11).  God’s love seen in salvation is always expressed as being in Christ.

[22] Romans 2:4

[23] I John 1:5

[24] I Peter 1:16

[25] Psalm 5:5

[26] Psalm 26:5

[27] Romans 1:18

[28] Hebrews 12:28-29

[29] Exodus 29:7

[30] Psalm 99:1

[31] Psalm 103:19

[32] Purpose, p.167

[33] Purpose, p. 54

[34] 10/23/04

[35] 11/18/04

[36] Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, “Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil. Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few. For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool's voice is known by multitude of words. When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay. Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands? For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God.”

[37] Canon 752

[38] Code of Canon Law Latin-English ed. (Washington DC:  Canon Law Society of America, 1983) Canon 1311

[39] 11/12/04

[40]  11/13/04

[41] 10/22/04

[42] Purpose, p. 193

[43] Ibid., p. 108

[44] Ibid., pp. 269- 270

[45] Ibid., pp. 125, 231

[46] See our article on The Mystic Plague on our Web Page:

[47] Acts 20:28

[48] Ephesians 5:11

Hazards Unfolded by Emerging Church Leaders


It is quite difficult to define properly the Emerging Church movement.  The basic conviction behind the movement is that Christianity needs to be reinvented to become relevant to our postmodern generation.  The group desires to make Christianity more appropriate for our time, such as regarding the environment.  The Emerging Church leaders hold that the Bible and reason do not hold the answers to life’s questions.  Experience, they insist, must become the key factor to encounter spiritual reality.  Consequently, there are many experiential attractions promoted by the Emerging Church leaders that, in fact, are traditional Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox practices.  Such things are icons, statues, prayer stations, candles, incense, and sacramental rituals.  Such are the beginnings of the hazards that are upheld.  

Brian McLaren, to all intents and purposes, is the main leader of this movement.  He is a prime example of where we are headed as mystical experiences, and so-called contemplative prayer, continue to become more accepted and widespread.  He is now joined by Phyllis Tickle as a formidable leader of Emergent Christianity.[1]  The Catholic priest, Richard Rohr, is also a leading figure in the movement.  The website, “Center for Action and Contemplation,” [2] states that the founder is Richard Rohr.”[3]  He is author of a very popular book in contemplative circles, “Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer.”[4]  In January of 2008, Rohr was a “presenter” at a conference on “Jesus and Buddha: Paths to Awakening.”[5]  Consistent with contemplative spirituality, Rohr taught the equality of Buddha with Christ and the indwelling of God in all things.  Rohr taught that the teachings of both Jesus and Buddha call people to transformational honesty.  He declared, “They are both teaching us how to see and how to see all the way through!  They both knew that if you see God for yourself, you will see the Divine in all things.”[6]

Leonard Sweet is also one of the Emerging Church leaders and a close friend of Brian McLaren.  Sweet’s website states, “No church leader understands better how to navigate the seas of the 21st century” and that currently he is “the E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism at Drew University Madison, NJ and a Visiting Distinguished Professor at George Fox University, Portland, Oregon…”[7] His website boasts about a book that he has written that is “already called ‘a spirituality classic’.”  Stating, “Quantum Spirituality: A Postmodern Apologetic is the book that launched what today is called ‘postmodern publishing’ as well as Len’s ministry to postmodern culture…”[8]  Sweet challenges the church’s reluctance to accept his insights.  He writes, “So far the church has refused to dip its toe into postmodern culture.  A quantum spirituality challenges the church to bear its past and to dare its future by sticking its big TOE into the time and place of the present....”[9]  Sweet’s solutions are far worse than the problems he claims to be resolving.  As other leaders, he incorporates New Age concepts, practices from eastern mysticism, universalism, and pantheism.  Brian McLaren said of Sweet’s 2001 book “Carpe Manana”.  “I am a better pastor and a better Christian because of Len’s brilliant and stimulating work.  Carpe Manana is a…valuable continuation of the conversation he has been having with the church in America for many years.”[10]

In the Emergent Church, Jason Clark is one of the influential promoters of the movement in the UK.  Clark states about himself, “I have a Doctor of Ministry degree in the area of “Church and Culture” and am now a PhD candidate at Kings College London, researching theological assessments of consumerism and the implications for ecclesiology.  I lecture, and teach, in the UK, and internationally on a regular basis.  I co-ordinate a resource network, Emergent UK, and I am a council member of the Evangelical Alliance UK.”

He writes about the things he most loves and values in the Emergent movement.  “1. Theology: the freedom and company to think theologically, to find integration of my faith into a postmodern world.  That church planting is no longer predicated upon getting people to pray a prayer to go to heaven when they die.  The Gospel is much bigger and than that myopic premise.  Finding the face of God in thinking theologically, honestly and openly, does not make you a heretic or backslider.”  2. Experiment: Freedom to do church differently, to experiment, and do lots that is the same, both extremes are true and needed.  3. Connection: to people all around the world, from many countries and many church tribes.  Generous: realize that there is no postmodern way of doing churches, there are many ways, and we need many more, some like they currently are and some radically different, many valid and connecting in different context.”

Jason Clark has been the pastor of Vineyard Church, Sutton, UK for twelve years.  On January 29, 2009 he was carded to do his part among several lecturers in a presentation of “Exploring the Emerging Church: Theology, Culture, Ritual, and Meaning” at Calvin College Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA.”[11]

Rob Bell is another director of the Movement.  He is especially popular in Christian high schools and youth groups.  He is the author of Velvet Elvis.  He is also the creator of mini-film series called Noomas, from the Greek word, pneuma; meaning spirit or breath.  Rob Bell is very open about his affinities towards the mystical.  For example he states, “We’re rediscovering Christianity as an Eastern religion, as a way of life.”[12]  

Popular also is Dan Kimball.  His book, The Emerging Church, explains how post-modernists think and feel from previous generations.  Kimball holds that the basis of learning has shifted from rational and logical thought to the realm of experience.  People, he insists, increasingly desire the mystical rather than the evidential, and facts based faith.  Such occult mysticism is sugarcoated, deadly poison, which is typical of the Emerging Church.  Other examples of influential persons in the Emerging Church Movement are Dallas Willard, Calvin Miller, and the former Catholic Priest, Brennan Manning.  

Another Emerging Church leader is Erwin McManus who stated that his “goal is to destroy Christianity as a world religion and be a recatalyst for the movement of Jesus Christ.”[13]  McManus’ own words about his book “The Barbarian Way” are the following,

The Barbarian Way was, in some sense, trying to create a volatile fuel to get people to step out and act.  It’s pretty hard to get a whole group of people moving together as individuals who are stepping into a more mystical, faith-oriented, dynamic kind of experience with Christ.  So, I think Barbarian Way was my attempt to say, ‘Look, underneath what looks like invention, innovation and creativity is really a core mysticism that hears from God, and what is fuelling this is something really ancient.’ That’s what was really the core of The Barbarian Way.[14] 

“A core mysticism that hears from God” is the very heart of what it means to bypass the mind and Jesus Christ as the one mediator, and to lead people to the spirit world, totally unprotected by the Lord and the Holy Spirit.  At the present time, there is a lack of biblical discernment with some who are considered well-respected Christians.  For example, Evangelical apologist Ravi Zacharias states, “One of the greatest saints of recent memory was Henri Nouwen.”[15]  Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) was a Catholic mystical monk.  Nouwen remains a veritable celebrity teacher of neo-Gnostic Contemplative Mysticism.  On top of this, he explicitly taught universal salvation for everyone.  He wrote, “Today I personally believe that Jesus came to open the door to God’s house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not.  Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her way to God.”[16]  It is only when Christians contend for the faith, and study the horrendous hazards of such as the Emerging Church movement, that we can avoid such deceptive statements like that made by Ravi Zacharias of Henri Nouwen.  

As we stated at the beginning, Brian McLaren is the main director of this movement.  Therefore, we need to study what he has written is the policy of the association.  In his book, “A Generous Orthodoxy,” McLaren explains that the genesis and title of the Emergent Church movement takes its model from the growth of a tree.  He writes, 

“The meaning of emergent as used in these and other settings is an essential part of the ecosystem of generous orthodoxy.  A simple diagram can illustrate what we mean by emergent thinking…Each ring [of a tree] represents not a replacement of the previous rings, not a rejection of them but an embracing of them, a comprising of them and inclusion of them in something bigger…[likewise] some thought seeks to embrace what has come before—like a new ring on a tree—in something bigger.  This is emergent (or integral, or integrative) thinking.  Emergent thinking has been an unspoken assumption behind all my previous books….”[17]

While this definition gives an excellent picture of McLaren’s modus operandi, it also is the Hegelian dialectic idea[18]in a different format.  Such change does not describe the biblical pattern of growth that the believer experiences.  The biblical pattern requires a putting away of worldly thinking and an adherence to thinking in line with the Bible, which produces godly understanding and behavior.

McLaren further states, “This God-given thirst for emergence…is causing new forms of Christian spirituality, community, and mission to emerge from modern Western Christianity…a generous orthodoxy is an emerging orthodoxy, never complete until we arrive at our final home in God.”[19]  Contrary to what McLaren states, new forms of Christianity are not developing.  Rather, he is inserting new definitions into the classical terminology so that the words suddenly do not mean what they used to mean, thus intentionally confusing people.  McLaren has stated that he was going to use devices that confuse because he thinks, “clarity is sometimes overrated.”[20]  

McLaren is at no loss to demonstrate how his “emergent thinking” works.  The object of his book is to lump all Protestants and Catholics together, which would be the new ring around the Protestant Catholic split, and to move beyond that[21] into Eastern mysticism, which would be the new ring around Catholicism.  

            The “Solas”—The Basic Biblical Principles Utterly Denied 

In order to accomplish his first step of lumping Protestants and Catholics together, McLaren has to redefine the Lord Jesus Christ, Holy God, biblical authority, theology, salvation, and conservative Protestant denominational distinctives.  However, after the example of the Lord and the Apostles, true believers adhere to God’s written Word alone as the final authority—Sola Scriptura.[22]  Before the all-holy God, according to the Bible, an individual is saved by grace alone—Sola Gratia,[23] through faith alone—Sola Fide,[24] in Christ alone—Solo Christo.[25]  Following on this, all glory and praise is to God alone—Soli Deo Gloria.[26]  These five biblical principles, called “the solas,” are the foundation of true faith in the Lord.  They are founded on Scripture, existed in the early Church, and have been the basis of all genuine biblical revivals since then.  The solas were the foundational principles for which so many thousands of Evangelicals gave their lives at the stake—John Huss, William Tyndale, John Rogers, Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, Anne Askew, John Bradford, and John Philpot, to name but a few—and for which millions were martyred under various tortures during six hundred years of papal Inquisition.  Nevertheless, McLaren makes it very clear that conservative Protestants will have to compromise these basic biblical principles for the sake of community; otherwise they cannot be part of his “generous orthodoxy.”  According to McLaren, what we have just outlined in the solas must be discarded.  Thus, he proclaims, “Calvinists in particular and fundamentalists in general” are to give up their “solas” or “alones” as distinctives because the word sola is not in the Bible.[27]  What he is telling the Bible believers is that they must renounce the five basic biblical principles—principles that were the distinctives, principles that separated the Reformers from the Roman Catholic Church.  Hence, although McLaren has assured his readers that “emergent thinking” does not reject any of the thinking that has preceded it, yet when he applies his method, his words of assurance turn out to be of no value whatsoever.

On the most fundamental of these distinctives McLaren states, “Scripture is something God had ‘let be,’ and so it is at once God’s creation and the creation of the dozens of people and communities and cultures who produced it.”[28]  In this, as in most of his teaching, McLaren is in line with the Church of Rome.  While Papal Rome does not say these words, she embodies the same concept when she states, “[Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God….”[29] McLaren has clearly paralleled the Catholic line in attempting to equate man’s creativity on a par with God’s.  The Scripture itself teaches something totally different, “…holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost”.[30]  The Bible alone is the Word of God revealed to men as the Holy Spirit moved them. According to the Apostle Paul, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God….[31] It is not as McLaren would have one believe—“the creation of the dozens of people and communities and cultures.”  It is especially serious to undermine the authorship of God’s written Word.  Such belittling of the authority of the written Word prevents a person from coming to knowledge of the truth and embracing it as it is in Christ Jesus.  This means that McLaren’s teaching is literally soul damning because it has “taken away the key of knowledge.”[32]  

History Fabricated to Meet Desired Purposes

McLaren also lies about historical facts in order to be able to present an integrated (emergent) picture of Protestants and Catholics on the same issue.  He states, “The Christian community at its best through history has always had a deep feeling and understanding for this integrated dual origin of the Scriptures…the Christian community in its Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox forms has sought to hold on to both dimensions of the origin of Scripture…to hold them together as friends, as partners, as colleagues.”[33]  In history, true Bible believers never bowed to the man-made notion of a “dual origin” of the Scripture.  They held to the Scripture as God’s revelation alone.  Many were burned at the stake for it.  McLaren’s “friends, partners, and colleagues” of the Bible is nothing but a re-statement of the Roman Catholic notion that “Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition are bound closely together and communicate with one another.”[34]  The Catholic statement and McLaren’s statement on the “integrated dual origin of the Scriptures” are in essence the same.  Both are outright lies.  To put away truth for these fabrications—not only of doctrinal distinctives but also of the facts of history—is what the “generous orthodoxy” requires.  This is nothing new.  It is simply the traditional teaching of Papal Rome using other words.  

Denying the Gospel

McLaren absolutely denies the Gospel when, for example, he states,

“Perhaps our ‘inward-turned, individual-salvation-oriented, un-adapted Christianity’ is a colossal and tragic misunderstanding, and perhaps we need to listen again for the true song of salvation, which is ‘good news to all creation.’  So perhaps it’s best to suspend what, if anything, you ‘know’ about what it means to call Jesus ‘Savior’ and to give the matter of salvation some fresh attention.  Let’s start simply.  In the Bible, save means ‘rescue’ or ‘heal’.  It emphatically does not mean ‘save from hell’ or ‘give eternal life after death,’ as many preachers seem to imply in sermon after sermon. Rather its meaning varies from passage to passage, but in general, in any context, save means ‘get out of trouble.’  The trouble could be sickness, war, political intrigue, oppression, poverty, imprisonment, or any kind of danger or evil.”[35]  

Contrary to McLaren, Christ Jesus proclaimed, “I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear:  Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.”[36]  The Lord Himself summarized the Gospel when He said, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life:  and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”[37]  The contrast is stark; the one who personally believes on the Son has everlasting life.  The one who denies personal salvation is not only under the wrath of God, which is surely the soul’s death, but God’s wrath abides on him.  McLaren has formally denied the faith.  He and his followers have fulfilled the Word spoken of in Scripture, that they “being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.”[38]  One can see McLaren’s heresy in other pastors and authors in the Emerging Church movement, such as Phyllis Tickle, Richard Rohr, Leonard Sweet, Steve Chalke, Rob Bell, Dan Kimball, and Erwin McManus

The Consequences

As we saw above, the Lord declared, “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”[39]  If McLaren and the others that we have named continue to deny personal biblical salvation then they shall neither enjoy true life or happiness here nor in the world to come.  Rather, they are now under the wrath of God’s condemnation.  As there is no way of escaping the wrath of God but by the Lord Jesus Christ, those who will not personally trust and believe in Christ’s penal substitution in his or her place must go to eternity under the wrath of God and be cast, “into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”[40]  Such is the miserable condition of those who accept such teaching, i.e., denying personal salvation, which we have documented.  The Gospel is the clarion call of the Lord, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”[41]  The Lord’s message will always be “everlasting life,” notwithstanding a thousand McLarens who try to reduce His teaching to experience and emergence.  McLaren and his breed need the light of the biblical solas to draw them from their efforts to demolish the Christian faith; but they have rather turned aside into a still darker haunt—Catholic mysticism.

The Culmination

McLaren and his kind have attempted to modernize the ancient Universalist concept of salvation from personal to global.  They have attempted to reduce God from being the All Holy God to their own notion of a mere loving god.  The have redefined theology from the study of God to the study of man.  In their writings and presentations, their tactic for success is the Roman Catholic methodology of false ecumenism.  Their paradigm is in the domain of apostasy, showing by its duplicity and falseness a withdrawal and defection from the Gospel of grace.  Satan’s trick is always to promote leaders who think that they are truly Christian, while at the same time they proffer new unbiblical techniques for the glorious work of Christ Jesus.  Ecumenical strategy, re-defining God, a fictitious contrast replacing the Word of truth, redefining theology, rewriting history, the utter denial of basic biblical principles, and the rejection of the Gospel, this is the deed and work of antichrist.  It is the sin of a so-called “spiritual” man.”  Unless present day Christians take the biblical warnings with radical seriousness and examine their own hearts and households, they can be deceived by this lethal scheme.  Unless this generation of the Evangelical church takes seriously the Gospel, as the Lord and His Apostles spoke it, the church will become more and more part of Papal Rome.  The Church of Rome has already attempted to usurp Christ’s place and His prerogatives, and far from truly representing Him, she represents His greatest enemy.  If people succumb to the Emerging Church movement, they will be surrendering to “…the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders.”[42]  Nothing could possibly be more descriptive of the Papacy than this.  It has been kept up by deception, delusion, and its pretended growth and success.  Thus, we now see the growth and success of a movement that embodies much of the strategy and teaching of Papal Rome.  Many of the subtle artifices of man and various pretences of the world are evident in the Emergent Church movement, yet, like the Papacy, it is remarkable in its propagation.  What we see is patent apostasy making shipwreck of the faith.  For us, however, it is to fear the All Holy God and obey His commandment and, “hold fast the form of sound words…in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.  ”[43]  Steadfastness to the Gospel is of utmost necessity.  It is dangerous when those who profess to be true Christians remain unaware of the hazards that are presently confronting the Gospel.  Those who would strive for the faith of the Gospel must stand firm in it, aware of present dangers, and carry on unwavering in the hour of crisis.  In the words of the Apostle, “…stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”[44]  ¨


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[1] Phyllis Tickle teachings were documented in an address called, Catholic Mysticism and the Emerging Church.

[2], 1/23/09.

[3], 1/23/09.

[4], 1/23/09.

[5], 1/23/09.

[6]  1/24/2009

[7], 1/24/09.

[8], 1/24/09, 

[9] Leonard Sweet, Quantum Spirituality, p. 10

[10], 1/24/09.

[11] Documentation for what we quote are on the blogs at: and the web site:

[12] Quoted in a 2004 Christianity Today article titled 'Emergent Mystique’

[13] Christian Examiner, March 2005

[14]   1/26/2009


[16] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Sabbatical Journey, (Crossroad Publishing Company: New York, NY, 1998), 51.

[17] Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2004) pp. 276-278  Underlining in any quotation indicates emphasis in original text.  

[18] The Hegelian model starts with a thesis and then an antithesis is introduced.  Finally, these two merge into a synthesis, which is a new thesis, and the whole process starts over.  Marxism is based heavily on this model.

[19] McLaren, pp. 284-285

[20] “... places here where I have gone out of my way to be provocative, mischievous, and unclear, reflecting my belief that clarity is sometimes overrated.” McLaren, p. 23. 

[21] McLaren, p. 210

[22] John 10:35,17:17, Proverbs 30:5-6, I Corinthians 4:6, II Timothy 3:15-17  

[23] Romans 3:24, Ephesians 2:8, 9

[24] Acts 16:31, Romans. 4:5, 5:1

[25] Ephesians 1:3-14, I Timothy 2:5, Acts 4:12

[26] I Corinthians 10: 31, Colossians 3:17

[27] McLaren, p. 198

[28] McLaren, p. 162

[29] Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994) Para 81.   Square brackets and italic in the original

[30] II Peter 1:20, 21

[31] II Timothy 3:16, 17

[32] Luke 11:52

[33] McLaren, p. 162  

[34] Catechism, Para 80

[35] McLaren, p. 93  

[36] Luke 12:5

[37] John 3:36

[38] Romans 10:3

[39] John 3:36

[40] Matthew 22:13

[41] John 3:16

[42] II Thessalonians 2:9

[43] II Timothy 1:13

[44] Philippians 1:27

The Invincible Gospel and the Lie Of Various So-Called Evangelicals

I had great difficulties as a Catholic priest in listening to evangelists in my fourteen years of searching for the Gospel.  Christian radio programs continually told me the amount of things I had to do to accept Jesus into my heart.  Christian tracts likewise told me the amount of dedication or commitment I needed in order to make a decision for Christ.

After an agonizing search in the face of being told what I must do to be saved, I discovered that the first thing that must be understood biblically about the Gospel is that it is “concerning Jesus Christ our Lord,” in the words of Paul in Romans 1:3.  While the Gospel is proclaimed to all, it is not about us or about anything that happens in us.  It solely concerns what Jesus Christ did and His death and resurrection. 

I found out, too, that the Gospel is a historic fact.  Biblical faith is not concerned with recommending techniques, whether mystical or ethical, whereby salvation may be obtained¾for that is the burden of all false religion.  Rather the Bible proclaims the fact that God has in concrete historical fact saved all His people from destruction.  The Gospel “by which ye are saved[1] is the finished and complete work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The God Before Whom We Are Saved

What seems to be totally missing from modern evangelical circles is “the knowledge of the Holy.”  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the Holy is understanding  (Proverbs 9:10).  The Bible defines knowledge of the Holy as knowledge of Who God is in Himself as the All Holy One.  Unless it is proclaimed, “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all,”[2] how would anyone begin to see the evil of sin?  In the Scripture are words a person must echo, “Who shall not fear Thee, O Lord, and glorify Thy name? for Thou only art holy.[3]  With the Apostle Peter, one must rightly come to fear the Lord God’s command, Be ye holy, for I am holy.[4]  Unless a person understands something of God’s attributes and that He is All Holy, there is no reason to desire the perfect righteousness of Christ in salvation.  Thus, Scripture asks the question, Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?”[5]

The Author of the Gospel: God Just and Justifier

It is “the God of all grace[6] that seeks, finds, and saves His people. Justification is God's gift to the believer, which is imputed to him based on Christ's finished work on the cross.[7]  Quite simply, justification is God’s righteous judgment of the believer, declaring him both guiltless in regard to sin, and righteous in regard to his moral standing in Christ before the Holy God.  This judgment by God is legally possible because of the substitutionary death and resurrection of Christ Jesus in the place of the believer.  Justification is first and foremost God’s legal judgment of the believer.  “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.[8]

Justification is God’s righteous judgment to demonstrate in the words of Romans 3:26, that He is “just and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”  This righteous judgment of God is the center of the apostolic preaching of the good news in the Bible.  It is a righteous judgment freely given by God:

But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe; for there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;  to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness:  that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus”  (Romans 3:21-26).

Scriptural Meaning of Justification

The precise import of the term “to justify” is clearly seen in that it is the exact opposite or contrast to the term “to condemn.”  “It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth?”  (Romans 8:33-34)[9]  Condemnation is not a process by which a good man is made bad, but is the verdict of a judge declaring a man blameworthy.  Now just as to condemn a man is not to infuse evil into him, but declares him guilty, so justification does not infuse goodness into a man, but declares that he is just.  Justification is that formal sentence of the Divine Judge whereby He pronounces the believer before Him righteous.

Purpose of the Justification: to Reveal Christ’s Righteousness

The Scripture declares the righteousness of God without the law is manifested; it is the purpose of the Gospel.  What is declared is not human works righteousness of any kind, but rather it is God's righteousness in the Lord Jesus Christ that is revealed.  The Gospel is the demonstration, in concrete historical fact, of the perfect satisfaction which Christ rendered to all the demands of the law, and which God places to the credit of every true believer in Him.  Before God’s all Holy nature, sin had to be punished and true righteousness established.  This has been accomplished in the faithful obedience of the Lord Christ Jesus and His propitiatory sacrifice.  Thus Christ’s faithfulness is proclaimed in v. 22, “even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ.  When the Bible declares that justification is God’s gift to the believer, it also shows in few words what this justification is.  Justification is found in and of Christ.  It is the demonstration of the faithfulness[10] of Jesus Christ, even unto death.  Such perfect rectitude is of God, and from God, “even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ” (v. 22).  The great news is that this absolute righteousness is “unto all and upon all them that believe.  

Legally what is shown is the true believer’s identification with the Lord Jesus Christ.  God has provided Christ’s righteousness to sinners who believe.  There are several passages in which faithfulness of the Lord is mentioned.  In each case, the name of Jesus Christ is in the genitive case indicating that faithfulness is a character quality that He possesses.  Galatians 2:16 is an example of this usage, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ.”  Knowing that the law must be fulfilled for God to declare a person righteous, the faithfulness of Christ must be also understood as applying specifically to this context. 

The Human Condition and the Graciousness of God

According to verse 23, “for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,” every person under the law has fallen short of the glory of God and thereby is possessed both of a bad heart because of sin nature and a bad record because of personal sin.  The good news is stated in v. 24, being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”  This is the pure Sovereign grace of God, showing as it were the very heart of God.  His own graciousness moved Him, to devise a way whereby His wondrous love could be seen in the vilest of rebels. As it is written, “I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins” (Isaiah 43:25).  The design of God is highlighted by the adverb “freely.” This excludes all consideration of anything in man or from man should be the cause or condition of justification.  That same Greek adverb is translated “without a cause” in John 15:25, “they hated me without a cause.  The believer’s right standing before God is in Christ's redemption, which is freely given, as it is outside anything he can do for himself. 

Being justified” means that since there remains nothing for man in himself, being smitten by the just judgment of God, but to perish, he is to be justified freely through God’s provision in Christ.  There is perhaps no passage in the whole Scripture that illustrates in such a striking manner the efficacy of Christ’s righteousness as this one does.  It shows that God’s grace is the efficient cause, “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.  This shows being justified freely by his grace is through Christ Jesus’ payment and nothing from the believer, lest one might imagine a kind of “half grace,” and should be bold enough to attempt to add his own merit to God’s grace.

Riches of God's Grace:  Work's Righteousness Excluded

Herein is the love of God shown through his Son, Jesus Christ, in that this gift of righteousness, which cost Christ Jesus his life, is a finished work and is freely given.  For to whom does God owe anything?  And who can meet His standards under the law?  So who can bargain with God or with Christ Jesus that he should even think of offering God anything in exchange for God’s righteous judgment of himself?  To make such a natural and ridiculous offer would be to attempt bribery of the highest order.  Again and again the Bible states, as in the above text, that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the believer freely by God, or by God’s grace alone.  It is in Christ alone that one has right standing before the All Holy God “In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7).

Biblical justification, therefore, is perfect and a finished work of God.  “It is God that justifieth.[11]  Justification is God’s work alone to show His righteousness and the fact that He alone saves. Once God has justified any person, He views that person “in Christ,[12] for God, having forgiven the sinner, reckons to his account Christ’s righteousness.  Thus justification is by faith alone “without the deeds of the law.[13]  In the Lord Jesus, believers have a righteousness without spot or blemish, perfect and all glorious; a righteousness which has not only expiated all their sins, but satisfied every requirement of the law’s precepts.  It is not a transfusion of Christ’s righteousness unto those who are to be justified, so that they could thereby be inherently righteous.  No it is a Divine and legal right to eternal life and the title to an everlasting inheritance.

The perfect meritorious obedience of Christ is so truly transferred to believers that they will be called “the righteous” in the last judgment (Matthew 25:40).  Surely the believer has cause to cry out in praise in the words of Psalm 71:15-16 “my mouth shall show forth thy righteousness, thy salvation all the day. I will go in the strength of the Lord GOD: I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only.

The Gospel:  Not a Process

The type of witnessing that states, “If you will do this and that or take these steps, then God will save you,” is a false gospel, a return to the lie of Satan that implies that God can be manipulated.  The Gospel does not do this.  It declares historical facts:  God has acted already in Christ to accomplish the reconciliation that is the Gospel.  Rather than offering possibility thinking, what every person is commanded to believe on is objective and complete fact.  God has redeemed all of His own (Isaiah 44:22, Romans 5:18, II Corinthians 5:14-21).

Two Main Points of Receiving the Gospel

Biblically, receiving the Gospel has two main points.  First, all men are commanded to believe on the Lord Jesus.  Second, while the faith to believe is a free gift of God, yet without God’s grace, no person can believe.  The Lord put the command to believe in a nutshell when He said, “if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.[14]  Likewise, Paul and Silas declared “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.[15]  The central importance of faith was given by the Lord in the words, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.[16]  In a word the Lord summarizes the situation, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.[17]  The Lord Jesus Christ states clearly the reason for this, “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:18-19).

The highest expression of the loving kindness of God is grace. The term denotes the very nature of the graciousness of God.  Therefore the Scripture insists, “That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace, in His kindness toward us, through Jesus Christ.  For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is a gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.[18]  Salvation does not proceed from anything in the one witnessed to, but rather it issues forth from the sheer mercy of God.  The contrast between His grace and human merit is clearly marked out in the plainest of words, “And if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace.[19]  The plan that God has devised for saving people is by faith, in order that His justification of them might be by grace alone, that His promise and faithfulness be firmly manifested, and they, therefore, perfect and secure.  “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed....”

Biblical Tension Between the Two Points

The Biblical tension between these two points¾that every person is commanded to believe, but without God’s grace, a person cannot believe¾must be clearly evident in witnessing to unbelievers.  This tension is expressed in some texts, for example, “Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.’[20]  One of the clearest examples is in John 1:12-13, “But as many as received Him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.  Both aspects are also give in the preaching of the Apostle Paul, “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins, and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.

The design of the Lord in these and other verses is to show that man cannot be justified by his works, to guard against the temptation of Satan that one can be saved by his or her own righteousness.  God’s promise of grace is the result. “But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.[21]  In witnessing it must be made clear to the lost that, in the words of Scripture, each person must, “Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord (Lamentations 2:19), “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10:13).  “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13).  “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Ps 51:17).

Presenting the Gospel the Way the Bible Does

Biblically believing on Christ, trusting on Him, or coming to Him has an essential difficult side that is often not mentioned in present day tracts and witnessing.  In the Bible, however, it is often first, and it is always a big part of the message.  The Lord Jesus Christ’s message is, “Repent ye, and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15).  He came to “call sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32) and He insisted that, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3-5).  The risen Lord teaches in His word “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations” (Luke 24:47).  Peter, in Acts 3:19, proclaims, “Repent ye therefore and be converted that your sins may be blotted out!”  Paul went everywhere preaching, “Repent and turn to God and do works meet for repentance” (Acts 26:20), “testifying to both Jews and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).  Repentance is so essential to saving faith that if repentance is neglected, a person does not have saving faith.  Conviction of sin is the first work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the lost (John 16:8).  Without conviction of sin, a person does not have salvation.  “And she shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus: for He shall save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).  Repentance is always part of trusting on Christ because Christ came not to save a person in his sins but from his sins.  “[God] now commandeth all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).

Non-Biblical Terminology:  Men’s Words

In the light of the biblical truth examined here, it is necessary to analyze what is generally given as the gospel in our times.  The following words and phrases that are often used in modern Evangelical circles are biblically wrong.  These expressions can lead an unsaved person to think that some specific behavior on his part is necessary for him to be saved.  When these phrases are used, even saved people may mistakenly teach error when witnessing to lost people.

“Accept Jesus into your heart” is one of the most used sentences in modern Evangelical circles.  This humanistic concept is not biblical.  Basically, it is the second lie of Satan.  The biblical concept of justification is that by it the believer is made accepted in Christ.  The whole theme of Ephesians Chapter 1 is summarized in verse 6, “To the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved.”  The terminology, “accept Jesus into your heart” is backwards.  It assumes wrongly that the person himself makes the choice to accept Jesus into his human heart and that he initiates the action that will save him.  When the believer does abide in Christ by faith and in love keeps His commandments, Christ does dwell in that person’s cleansed human heart.  “Abide in me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me (John. 15:4).  The whole process of sanctification, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27) depends first on a person being positionally in Him, clothed with His righteousness.

It is unscriptural to think that salvation begins by Christ first coming into the sinful heart of a man.  The dead and ungodly person can be made acceptable to God only as he is “in Christ,” as was seen in Ephesians 1:6.  Then, and only then, does Christ come to sanctify the one already saved.  The verses below are often wrongly used to evangelize.  Rather these words are addressed to “believers” in the church of the Laodiceans to re-establish fellowship with Christ, “And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write: ‘Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.  To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne’ (Revelation 3:14, 20-21).  This misuse of Revelation 3:20 (a sanctification message) as teaching justification is inexcusable.  Justification differs from sanctification.  Sanctification is internal and experimental, while justification is objective and legal.  Justification is instantaneous and immutable, whereas sanctification is gradual and progressive.  Those who misuse this passage know better, yet for the sake of what they call success in witnessing they persist.  Since this abuse of Scripture is so serious and soul damning is important to give examples.  The Billy Graham Association proclaims the following, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).  Jesus Christ wants to have a personal relationship with you.  Picture, if you will, Jesus Christ standing at the door of your heart (the door of your emotions, intellect and will).  Invite Him in; He is waiting for you to receive Him into your heart and life.

In a similar presentation, Campus Crusade International states,

“‘How to know that Christ is in your life.’  Did you receive Christ into your life by sincerely praying the suggested prayer?  According to His promise in Revelation 3:20, where is Christ right now in relation to you?  Christ said that He would come into your life.  Would He mislead you?  On what authority do you know that God has answered your prayer?  (The trust worthiness of God Himself and His Word.)”   

Here Campus Crusade’s way to be saved is “sincerely praying the suggested prayer.”  Faith in Christ alone saves, not faith in some inner process that has been subtly given in its place.  The sanctification text (Rev 3:20) spoken by the Lord to those in the Church is totally misused.  It is no wonder that Campus Crusade fully supports “Conversion as a process” in Evangelicals and Catholics Together: (ECT 1) and other similar false Ecumenical documents.

Multitudes are deceived upon this vital matter, sincerely believing that they have received Christ as their personal Savior while, in fact, their foundation is resting on unstable sand.  Vast numbers will only be awakened from their pleasant dreaming only when the cold hand of death lays hold of them.  It is unspeakably serious to give a deceiving salvation message.

“Give Jesus control of your life to be saved” is another well-known unbiblical approach.  This teaching is in error because the Sovereign God of the universe controls His creation.  He is the One “Who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (Ephesians 1:11).  Nothing any person might think of to give God in exchange for salvation is acceptable before God.  “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us...”  (Titus 3:5).  Jesus Christ was the only sacrifice for sin acceptable to the Holy God, and that sin offering was accomplished completely at the cross of Calvary.  The sacrifice for sin is finished.  A person spirit or soul is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by a promise of “controlled behavior.”  Controlled behavior is a process following on salvation, rather than the initiating cause of salvation.

“Give your life to Jesus (to be saved.)”  This teaching is in error for several reasons.  First, eternal life is a free gift (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 5:15-18, 6:23).  A person does not “give” anything for a free gift.  God gives this free gift to a person when He places that person in Christ Jesus.  With the gift of salvation also comes the gift of faith to believe that this is what God has done(John 5:24-25).  Sin separates a man from God (Romans 3:23).  Second, such phrases as “give your life to Jesus” wrongly presume that a person has something worthy of God to give.  Spiritually dead people cannot give anything that will save them from their sins.  Because man is dead in sin, Christ Jesus gave His life for the sins of His people (Galatians 1:4).  There is no Bible verse that says or teaches that a lost, spiritually dead person “gives” anything, not even his life, in order to be saved.

When a lost person is taught to “give his life to Jesus” to be saved, he may think that he has to give his service, time, works, money, etc., to be saved.  This may lead the lost person into a works gospel, which can never save.  Getting saved is not a “trade-in” by which a person gives something to Jesus to be saved.  A person is saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone – and nothing else can be added or subtracted from this salvific plan of God.  See Eph. 2:8-9.  Repentance is also God-given and not a human “trade-in” item.  “Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31).


Biblical methodology is an important part of the Lord’s truth.  The Lord’s own method of evangelising was essentially by asking questions, and by proclaiming the need to repent and believe.  Likewise, the Apostles proclaimed the Lord’s commandment to believe.  There are no invitation systems in the Scripture.  Such a method, flagrantly setting aside the sovereignty of Holy God, presupposes that man has within himself the power to accept or reject salvation as he so wishes.

The biblical method is to ask questions, as did the Lord Himself.  Using the actual words of the Bible, one presents the holiness of God, and God’s holiness and goodness in declaring the righteousness of Christ to be the covering of each person He saves.  One shows that the Lord Jesus Christ’s saving work is factual and complete.  Clearly one must make it known that all are commanded to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.  To do this, one must repent of all his or her own efforts to establish his or her own righteousness and cry out to God for His free gift of grace.  The central point of God saving the ungodly is that He does so by imputing the righteousness of Christ to the one who believes.  This is the theme of Romans Chapter Four and is summarized wonderfully in verse five, “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.  The reason why God imputes Christ’s righteousness to the believer is to show who He is.  “To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness:  that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).  Unless modern Evangelicals return to this clear Biblical understanding in their witnessing, it will become easier and easier for them to promote an inner process or technique like unto that of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Father initiates a person coming to Christ.  He draws each individual (John 6:44) and has given each one to Christ (John 6:37).  Salvation is accomplished by God’s grace alone.  It is His free gift through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Coming to Christ is having eternal life now, which life will be fully glorified in heaven.  In witnessing, to talk about “getting to heaven” not only changes the focus from who God is to man’s fulfillment, but it also fails to make clear that through the precious faith that is ours now as believers, we already have eternal life.  Rather than talking about getting to heaven, those who have been saved are to proclaim to the lost, “And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent”  (John 17:3).  And what is written likewise must be proclaimed by those saved, whether in the supermarket or on the telephone, “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” (I John 5:13).

Two extremely great offenses to God and His Gospel are 1) the attempt to negate His power by so-called free decisions of the unsaved, and 2) the unbiblical idea that justification, which is an act of God, is located in the believer’s heart rather than in Christ alone and in the heavenlies. The Gospel is not magnified nor God glorified by going the worldly wise and telling them that they “may be saved by accepting Christ as their Personal Savor” while they are wedded to their idols and their hearts still in love with sin.  This is to tell them a lie, pervert the Gospel, insult Christ, and turn the grace of God into debauchery.

When full credit is given to God and His grace, when His word, which is powerful, is used, He saves the sinner; and the one through whom the word has been given is humbled by a demonstration of the might and mercy of Holy God.  Both people benefit, to the glory of God.  All is as stated in Ephesians 1:6, “To the praise of the glory of His grace.”  ¨




[1] I Corinthians 15:1-4

[2] I John 1:5

[3] Revelation 15:4

[4] I Peter 1:16

[5] Exodus 15:11

[6] I Peter 5:10

[7] Romans 4:5-8, II Corinthians 5:19-21, Romans 3:21-28, Titus 3:5-7, Ephesians 1:7, Jeremiah 23:6, I Corinthians 1:30-31, Romans 5:17-19

                        [8] Romans 5:18

[9] For a detailed study of the term see texts such as Deuteronomy 25:1; Job 9:20; Job 32:2; Proverbs 17:15; Matthew 12:37; Luke 7:29; 1 Timothy 3:16, Psalm 143:2; Isaiah 50:7, 8

[10] Greek pistis.  There are many contexts where this is necessarily translated faithfulness Matthew 23:23, Romans 3:3, Galatians 5:22, Titus 2:10, etc.  There are several passages in which faithfulness of the Lord is mentioned.  In each case, name of Jesus Christ is in the genitive case indicating that faithfulness is a character quality which He processes (Galatians 2:16, 3:22; Ephesians 3:12, Philippians 3:9).

[11] Romans 8:33

[12] The concept in Christ (in the Beloved, in Him, in Whom etc) occurs 18 times in Ephesians Ch 1 & 2

[13] Romans 3:28

[14] John 8:24

[15] Acts 16:31

[16] John 6: 47

[17] John 3:36

[18] Ephesians 2:7-9

[19] Romans 11:6

[20] John 6:29

[21] Galatians 3:22

The Alignment of New Evangelicals with Catholicism

In recent times, there has been a great impetus in the movement of New Evangelicals seeking to embrace Catholics as “brothers and sisters in Christ.”  It is necessary, therefore, to address this false ecumenism. Evangelicals throughout the centuries have maintained that by justification by faith, and faith alone, sinful human beings are, in Christ, made right before the all Holy God.  So for example the 39 articles of the Church of England declared in article 11“We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings: Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.”[1] Justification itself is a judicial declarative act on the part of God alone.  By it, He declares that only in Christ is a man perfectly just.  His judicial declarative act is not made on the basis of anything within a man, but rather it is made solely and wholly upon the righteous life and sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Our Savior lived a perfect life and paid the just penalty for sins upon the cross.  Historically, Evangelicals have been in agreement with the Apostle Paul, “to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.[2]

As we said above not too many years ago, people calling themselves Evangelical were seen as those who professed to be committed to the Gospel of Christ as proclaimed in Scripture.  The true Gospel demands separation from all who teach another Gospel.  As the Apostle declared, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.  As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”[3]  “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.”[4]  Without such separation the name Evangelical signifies nothing.  “New Evangelicalism,” which willingly compromises with and accommodates another Gospel, has gained ground everywhere, beginning in the early 1960s.  Since then, the vast majority of the Evangelical world has changed beyond recognition.[5]  

The first and second National Evangelical Anglican Conferences that met at Keele and Nottingham in the UK in 1967 and 1977, respectively, were primed to launch and further the new policy of Anglican Evangelicals regarding ecumenism.  A desire now existed within New Evangelicals to be united with ritualistic Anglicans who were essentially Roman Catholic in belief and practice[6]; and also to be united with liberals who believed in a fallible Bible.  Leading Evangelicals, such as John Stott and J.I. Packer, endorsed the statements from these conferences.  John Stott, who chaired the first conference at Keele, made it clear in the following statement that the conference was accepting not only Anglo-Catholics and liberals, but Roman Catholics as well, 

“All who confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the Scriptures and therefore seek to fulfill together their common calling to the glory of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit have a right to be treated as Christians, and it is on this basis that we wish to talk with them.”[7]  

The conference at Nottingham went even further than Keele, giving the compromising proclamation an absolute seal of approval.  Nottingham also endorsed and praised the Charismatic movement and is remembered for David Watson’s reference to the Reformation as “one of the greatest tragedies that ever happened to the church.”[8]

An Exodus from Biblical Faith

The most drastic departure from true Evangelicalism, however, took place in the United States in 1994—some seventeen years after the Nottingham Conference.  At the end of March of that year, a group of twenty leading Evangelicals and twenty leading Roman Catholics produced a document entitled “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium” (ECT).  The two main authors of this ecumenical document were Charles Colson and Richard John Neuhaus—a Lutheran pastor turned Roman Catholic priest.  The specific task was begun in September 1992.  Larry Lewis of the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, Jesse Miranda of the Assemblies of God, John White of Geneva College and the National Association of Evangelicals; and others, including two Jesuits, Avery Dulles and Juan Diaz-Vilar, joined Colson and Neuhaus in the writing process.  Cardinal Idris Cassidy, the Head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, was said by Richard Neuhaus to have given “very active support throughout the process.”  The Evangelical signatories included J. I. Packer, Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ, Mark Noll of Wheaton College, and Pat Robertson of The 700 Club.  Roman Catholic signers included such well-known figures as Cardinal John O’Connor, now deceased, Archbishop Sevilla, Archbishop Stafford, and Bishop Francis George, now Archbishop of Chicago. 

The Gospel According to ECT

The signers of ECT readily admit to “differences that cannot be resolved here.”  Nevertheless, motivated by the desire to face important moral issues together, the authors of ECT flatly state that Evangelicals and Catholics are all true Christians joined together as one in Christ.[9]  The gravest error of this lengthy document lies within its declaration on the Gospel.  The signers state what they believe to be definitional of the Gospel of Christ when they declare, “We affirm together that we are justified by grace through faith because of Christ.  Living faith is active in love that is nothing less than the love of Christ….”[10]  This subtle statement is less than biblical, however, for it should read, “We affirm together that we are justified by grace ‘alone, through faith ‘alone,’ in Christ ‘alone.’”  The word “alone” signifies that the perfect righteousness of Christ Jesus alone is sufficient before the all Holy God to justify unholy sinners.[11]  To so define justification, however, would exclude the Catholic sacraments and the priests who control them, both of which are necessary for the Catholic people.[12]  Thus, excluding what is signified by the word “alone” makes a subtle but purposeful subtraction from the Gospel of Christ.  In a similar manner an ECT addition was made to the Gospel that redefines faith as, “living faith is active in love.”  “Living faith” implies works, and baptism in particular, to the Roman Catholic.  This is documented in present day official teaching of the Church of Rome where it is thought that, “the very root of the Church’s living faith [is] principally by means of Baptism.”[13]  It is the same addition to faith that was proclaimed by the Roman Catholic Church at her Council of Trent in 1547, “For faith, unless hope and charity be added to it, neither unites one perfectly with Christ, nor makes him a living member of his body….”[14]  The theology of the Church of Rome always comes back to the concept of “living faith” which equates to “works righteousness” as expressed in the practice in her sacraments—described by Rome in her teachings as necessary for salvation.[15]  

The New Evangelical signers of ECT have concurred with the Roman Catholic definition of “living faith active in love,” and thus they have formally agreed to an addition to the Gospel that nullifies its message.  

“If anyone shall say that by faith alone the sinner is justified, so as to understand that nothing else is required to cooperate in the attainment of the grace of justification, and that it is in no way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will:  let him be anathema [cursed].”[16]  

To endorse Roman Catholic teaching, therefore, is to deny the clear teaching of Scripture, “But after that the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.”[17]

Disturbing Effects of ECT                  

The effects of this compromise on the evangelization efforts of the true Church in third world Catholic countries of Central and South America, in Africa, as well as in Spain, Portugal, and the Philippines, are clearly seen.  If this anti-evangelic trend continues unchecked it will become ruinous to the spiritual welfare of millions of souls.  But this is exactly the ecumenical idea the ECT signatories promote when they state, “ is neither theologically legitimate nor a prudent use of resources for one Christian community [church] to proselytize [evangelize] among active adherents of another Christian community.”[18]  Since when has it been theologically illegitimate to preach the Gospel to the unsaved and expose heresy?  

Compounded Endorsement of Rome

On November 12, 1997, a second document entitled, “The Gift of Salvation,” was signed and published by Evangelical and Roman Catholic leaders.  Its expressed intention was to demonstrate the “common faith” of Evangelicals and Roman Catholics, and to further “acknowledge one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.”  It was published in the December 8, 1997, issue of Christianity Today.  Explicitly, the Roman Catholic signatories such as Richard John Neuhaus and Avery Dulles, S.J., state in the document that they are “Catholics who are conscientiously faithful to the teaching of the Catholic Church.” The Roman Catholic doctrine of conferred justification is taught by Rome as the Gospel.  The New Evangelicals are now joined together in not only giving a clouded Gospel-Justification message, but also in a distinctively erudite manner, endorsing Rome’s doctrine of conferred inner righteousness. 

A Studied Denial of the Gospel

This second ecumenical document states, “Justification is central to the scriptural account of salvation, and its meaning has been much debated between Protestants and Catholics.”  Then it claims that the signers have reached agreement.  Their statement of accord is,

“We agree that justification is not earned by any good works or merits of our own; it is entirely God’s gift, conferred through the Father’s sheer graciousness, out of the love that he bears us in his Son, who suffered on our behalf and rose from the dead for our justification.  Jesus was ‘put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification’ (Romans 4:25).  In justification, God, on the basis of Christ’s righteousness alone, declares us to be no longer his rebellious enemies but his forgiven friends, and by virtue of his declaration it is so.”[19]

The subject under review is stated clearly in the first sentence, “We agree that justification…is conferred through the Father’s sheer graciousness.”  But it is only by careful reading that one comes to see what the two pivotal sentences state grammatically, “…it [justification] is entirely God’s gift, conferred [rather than imputed]…and by virtue of his [God’s] declaration it [justification conferred] is so.”  This is traditional Roman Catholic doctrine.  To employ the Roman Catholic word “conferred” instead of the biblical word “imputed” is tantamount to putting aside the authority of Scripture on the issue of justification.  Since medieval times, the Roman Catholic Church has clearly distinguished between the concept of imputation and the Thomist concept of God’s grace conferred as a quality of the soul.[20]  Since the Council of Trent she has condemned the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone.  Present day dogma of the Roman Catholic Church not only upholds the teaching of the Council of Trent but also declares that such Councils are infallible.[21]  The Council of Trent proclaims the following curse:

“If anyone shall say that by the said sacraments of the New Law, grace is not conferred from the work which has been worked [ex opere operato] but that faith alone in the divine promise suffices to obtain grace: let him be anathema.”[22]  

Rome’s reason for such a curse on those who hold to “justification by faith alone” and to “justification imputed” is internally consistent because of what she refuses to concede.  For her, justification is not an immediate one-time act of God received by faith alone.  Rather, Rome teaches that grace is conferred continually through her sacraments.  Thus she is able to position herself as the necessary means through which inner righteousness is given.  She teaches this in her Catechism,

Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith.  It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy.”[23]  Because this “conferred” inner righteousness is said to be located in the person and not in Christ, it can be lost and may need to be conferred again and again.  Thus Rome officially states, “…the sacrament of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification.  The Fathers of the Church present this sacrament as ‘the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace.’”[24]

The teaching of “conferred justification” is necessary for Rome because she equates the work of her sacraments with the work of the Holy Spirit.  Thus she states, “‘Sacramental grace’ is the grace of the Holy Spirit, given by Christ and proper to each sacrament.”[25]  Identification of “sacramental grace” with the “grace of the Holy Spirit” is a pretentious blasphemy against the all-holy God.  No church ritual of man can be put on equal footing with the grace of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit of God is absolutely sovereign in all His operations. He may or may not act when either Baptism or the Lord’s Table are biblically administered, but His power is not synonymous with any Church rite.  The Roman Catholic Church persistently uses the word “conferred” in an attempt to substitute her sacraments for the sovereign grace of the Holy Spirit.  The concept that the sacraments automatically[26] convey the grace of the Holy Spirit to people is pivotal to Papal Rome.  However, what is proclaimed in Scripture is that the Holy Spirit is infinite, supreme, omnipotent, and all sufficient in convicting of sin, and in bringing a person to new life in Christ Jesus.[27]  Nevertheless, Rome will not repudiate the concept of “conferred righteousness” because for her the sacraments are “necessary for salvation.”[28] Without her seven sacraments, she has no function as a Church in the lives of people.

Defense of “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” 

The most serious apologetic for the document entitled “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium”(ECT) is in the book of a similar title, Evangelicals & Catholics Together: Toward a Common Mission.[29]  The architects of ECT were very much aware of the crucial Gospel-related distinctions separating Catholics and Evangelicals, but they chose to gloss over them.  J.I. Packer writes in Common Mission,

“Neither evangelicals nor Roman Catholics can stipulate that things they believe, which the other side does not believe, be made foundational to partnership at this point; so ECT lets go Protestant precision on the doctrine of justification and the correlation between conversion and new birth.…”[30]  

That such compromise is unbiblical is seen from his rather inconsistent statements earlier in the same article when he said, 

“…Roman teaching obscures the Gospel and indeed distorts it in a tragically anti-spiritual and unpastoral manner…”[31] and “Rome’s official doctrinal disorders, particularly on justification, merit, and the Mass-sacrifice, so obscure the Gospel that were I, as a gesture of unity, invited to mass—which of course as a Protestant I am not, nor shall be—I would not feel free to accept the invitation.”[32]  

Towards the end of the article, Packer speaks of the evils of “humanism, materialism, hedonism, and nihilism.”  To rebuild a Christian consensus, he proposes that “…domestic differences about salvationand the Church should not hinder us from joint action in seeking to re-Christianize the North American milieu…”[33]  These are amazing words from the author of Knowing God. The orthodox Evangelical J. I. Packer of old spoke of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, sola fide, as “like Atlas, it bears a world on its shoulders, the entire evangelical knowledge of saving grace”!  Now the same saving faith is downgraded to the “domestic differences about salvation.”  In a 1994 article, “Why I Signed It,” he refers to sola fide (faith alone) as “small print.”  

Most Serious and Bizarre Defense

J.I. Packer, who leads the New “Reformed” Evangelicals, has struggled to explain his position.  In a 1996 article he asks,  

“Can conservative Protestants, Eastern Orthodox and mainstream Roman Catholics join together in bearing witness to all that I have spoken of?  I urge that we can, despite our known and continuing differences about the specifics of the salvation process and the place of the church in that process…To be sure fundamentalists within our three traditions are unlikely to join us in this, for it is the way of fundamentalists to follow the path of contentious orthodoxy, as if the mercy of God in Christ automatically rests on persons who are notionally correct and is just as automatically withheld from those who fall short of notional correctness on any point of substance.  But this concept of, in effect, justification, not of works, but of words¾words, that is, of notional soundness and precision¾is near to being a cultic heresy in its own right and need not detain us further now, however much we may regret the fact that some in all our traditions are bogged down in it.”[34]

No true Evangelical has ever maintained that anyone has ever been saved by “notional soundness and precision,” that is, doctrinal theory.  Rather, orthodox Evangelicals have always held to Romans 10:10, “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”  Here it appears that Packer is conducting a little casuistry of his own in his attempt to preempt his critics by raising an anti-biblical dichotomy between head and heart.  This is an old liberal tactic that is usually followed by an implication that any party who refuses to acknowledge it must be unspiritual and opposed to Christian love.  None of the historic Evangelical confessions of faith hold out that mere doctrinal “soundness” saves anyone.  This is an absurd caricature.  On the contrary, true Evangelicals today, even as they did in the days of the Apostle Paul and at the Reformation, declare that it is the righteousness of Christ Jesus alone that saves a person!  Moreover doctrinal soundness for the believer is commanded in the scriptures, “study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”[35]

Packer is thoroughly in tune with the practice of the Church of Rome in setting aside justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ Jesus alone—the crux of the issue. For Sola Fide (faith alone) is the issue for which the Apostle Paul contended against the Judaisers and for which the Reformers contended against the Roman Catholics of their day.  It was the burning, foundational issue for the sake of which so many thousands of Evangelicals gave their lives at the stake—John Huss, William Tyndale, John Rogers, Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, Anne Askew, John Bradford, and John Philpot, to name but a few.  The ardent desire of true Evangelicals to “be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith,”[36] was and is the heart of the Gospel, not “contentious orthodoxy” or “cultic heresy.”  Christ Jesus’ righteousness is the crown jewel of orthodoxy, the pivotal doctrine of truth revealed again by God in its rediscovery, which began the Reformation. 

J.I. Packer has chosen to deny the very doctrine that once stood crucial for him and, like Atlas, bore a world on its shoulders.  What Packer has done is to deny the importance of the Scriptures on the precise point of Sola Fide.  He also denies the history of Reformed Evangelicals in years past who, under the Roman Catholic Inquisition, gave their lives for their faith in Christ Jesus alone.  

“Separation for the Sake of the Gospel is Not Necessary”

In the same book, Richard Neuhaus stated emphatically, “If, at the end of the twentieth century, separation for the sake of the gospel is not necessary, it is not justified.”[37]  What Neuhaus was effectively saying is that the Gospel is no longer relevant to Christian unity.  This seems to be the same message as that of the 1994 ECT document and also the 1997 “The Gift of Salvation” document.  If true Evangelicals do not combat this heinous attack on the Gospel, then Neuhaus’ anti-scriptural “separation for the sake of the gospel is not necessary or justified” statement might well become reality and fall on them and their children after them.  If the lie is swallowed that separation for the sake of the Gospel is not justified, then the logical conclusion is that churches should cave in and submit to the Church of Rome.  As verified in her own documents, this has always been the avowed goal of the Roman Catholic Church.

Neuhaus argues that “to declare it [justification by faith alone] to be the article by which the Church stands or falls in a manner that excludes other ways of saying the gospel is to turn it into a sectarian doctrine.”[38]  It is justification by faith alone, the foundational principle of the true Gospel of grace, which has been deemed not only unnecessary, but “sectarian” by Neuhaus. This statement by Neuhaus reveals the intent of Catholics who have planned and fostered the whole deceitful compromise with Evangelicals.  Their purpose is to make the true Gospel of grace through faith in Christ alone to be irrelevant and even harmful, while at the same time promoting the Catholic “salvation by works-gospel” as the true Christian gospel. This false gospel will be widely accepted because of the sinfulness of natural man. 

C. H. Spurgeon’s timely words apply now even more than in his own day, “Since he was cursed who rebuilt Jericho, much more the man who labors to restore Popery among us.  In our fathers’ days the gigantic walls of Popery fell by the power of their faith, the perseverance of their efforts, and the blast of their gospel trumpets.”[39]  The Gospel trumpet sounding out the message of eternal hope to God’s unsaved elect through faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone, is the very issue at stake, for the Roman Catholic and Evangelical signers of ECT I & II first give credence to the false message of Rome, then uphold baptismal regeneration.  Then in defense of what they have written, they declare that the Gospel of Christ is a “domestic matter” or even “a sectarian doctrine.” 

Practical Evaluation

The alignment of new Evangelicals is frustrating making it difficult for anyone seeking for the truth within Roman Catholicism.  The questions that one must ask are these: Do I know the truth about myself as Scripture reveals it to be?  Do I believe that I am a sinner?  Is my only hope in Christ Jesus?  

The Lord Jesus Christ saves His people from their sins.  He sends His Holy Spirit into their hearts, so that they are radically changed from what they were previously.  The Holy Spirit sends forth the love of God in the hearts of those whom He regenerates.  That love is manifested by a deep desire and honest resolve to please the Lord and to serve Him.  When Christ Jesus saves a soul, He also delivers that soul from the power of sin.  It is true that the Lord has not yet completed His work in believers, and sin still resides within them that need to be eradicated, but any person that He has truly saved is delivered from the “dominion of sin.”  We thank God for those who are saved that do not live in sin.  Can you say that this is true for you?  In the difficult age of compromise in which we live, do you act under the guidance of the Holy Spirit?  Do you make the Word of God your measure of truth and the grace of God your assurance of life?  If you can honestly say yes to these questions you will understand that you are not under the condemnation of law, but your faith is in Christ Jesus and His righteousness alone!  You can then proclaim joyously, in harmony with the Apostle Paul, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit…for as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”[40] ¨


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[1] Also maintained in The Westminster Confession of Faith, 1646; The Baptist Confession of Faith, 1689; The Philadelphia Confession of Faith, Adopted by The Baptist Association, 1742; and others.

[2] Romans 4:5

[3] Galatians 1:8-9  

[4] Ephesians 5:11

[5] This is fully documented in Iain Murray’s book, Evangelicalism Divided (Banner of Truth, 2000).

[6] The background for this development is thoroughly laid out by Walter Walsh in The Secret History of the Oxford Movement (London:  Swan Sonnenschein & Co., Inc., 1898)

[7] Quoted in Michael de Semlyen’s The Foundations Under Attack: The Roots of Apostasy, (Herts, WD3 5SJ:  Dorchester House Publications, 1998) p.6

[8] Ibid. pp. 7, 8; also John Capon, Evangelicals Tomorrow (Glasgow:  Scotland).  

[9] ECT, § I “We Affirm Together”

[10] Ibid.

[11] Romans 4:5-8, II Corinthians 5:19-21, Romans 3:22-28, Titus 3:5-7, Ephesians 1:7, Jeremiah 23:6, 

I Corinthians 1:30-31, Romans 5:17-19, and elsewhere.

[12] Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994), Para. 987

[13] Catechism, Para. 249

[14] Denzinger, #800

[15] Catechism, Para 1129

[16] Denzinger, Para. 819.  Emphasis added

[17] Titus 3:4-5

[18] ECT, §V, “We Witness Together”

[19] Christianity Today, Dec. 8, 1997  Emphasis added

[20] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2 vols., Great Books of the Western World, Tr. by Fathers of the English Dominican Province (Chicago:  Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1952) Part I of the Second Part, Question 110, Article 1, Obj. 3 and Article 2, Reply Obj. 1.

[21] Catechism, Para. 891.

[22]  Denzinger,  Para. 851, Can. 8  (Emphasis is not in original)

[23] Catechism, Para. 1992

[24] Catechism, Para. 1446  (Emphasis is not in original)

[25] Catechism, Para. 1129  (Emphasis is not in original)

[26] The technical Latin phrase that Rome uses is, ‘ex opere operato’, that is the sacraments function irrespective of the spiritual condition of the Priest giving them or the layperson receiving them.  In a word, they work automatically.  

[27] “He [The Holy Spirit] will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” John 16:8,  

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”  See also John 3:6, John 3:8, Romans 8:2, Ephesians 2:1, I John 5:11

[28] Catechism Para 1129, “The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation.” (Italics in the original Emphasis added)

[29] Evangelicals & Catholics Together:  Toward a Common Mission, Charles Colson and Richard John Neuhaus, editors (Dallas, TX:  Word Publishing, 1995).  Hereafter referred to as Common Mission.

[30] Common Mission, p 167

[31] Ibid., p. 153

[32] Ibid., pp 162,163

[33] Common Mission, p. 172.  Emphasis is not in original.

[34] J. I. Packer, “On from Orr”, The J. I. Packer Collection, Selected and Introduced by Alister McGrath (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 1999) p. 264

[35] II Timothy 2:15

[36] Philippians 3:9

[37] Richard John Neuhaus, “The Catholic Difference”, Common Mission, p. 199 (Emphasis is in the original document)

[38] Common Mission, p. 207

[39] Morning and Evening, on Joshua 6:26

[40] Romans 8:1, 14


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