Throwing stones from our glass houses

I hesitated to post this because I don’t want it come across as an attack against parts of the Body of Christ. Quite the opposite, my desire is that we would stop throwing our doctrinal rocks at each other. I genuinely LOVE all streams of the body of Christ, whether I agree with them doctrinally or not. Besides, Jesus seems to think the world will know we’re His by our love for one another, and by our union in Him, not by our doctrinal agreement (John 13:35; 17:23).

But I did post this because I’ve witnessed so many attacks over the years against Charismatics in general, and Bethel Church in particular. In 2013, John MacArthur practically condemned hundreds of millions of Christians around the world to hell for being Charismatic with his book, Strange Fire (See my post titled, “The Strange Thing about Strange Fire.”) Before that, the Word Faith people were the heretics. Most recently, the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) has become a favorite punching bag. And most of these attacks seem to originate from the Reformed/Calvinist part of God’s family.

Now, I will be the first to admit that we can find problems with all of these targeted groups. If you look at any stream of the body of Christ under a microscope you’ll find flaws. But from what I’ve seen and read, most of these attacks are nothing more than straw man arguments based on soundbites from followers behaving badly. And many of their doctrinal accusations aren’t even accurate and taken out of context.

It’s essentially one “Bible-believing” group condemning another “Bible-believing” group. Sadly, nothing new there in church history.

We ALL have our doctrinal issues we need to examine and hold loosely before the Lordship of Christ. And the best thing a leader can do is to teach people HOW to think not what to think. We need to learn how be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11) and practice the art of faithful questioning, not just parrot what we’ve been taught. While Scripture is inspired by God, our interpretations of it may not be.

For this reason, we all need to be honest with ourselves with regard to our tightly-held dogmatism. And remember that theology has consequences. If our theology doesn’t make us think, act, and love more like Christ, and produce the fruit of the Spirit (Gal.5:22-23), then it’s bad theology no matter who may have come up with it.

Now, it isn’t wrong or divisive for believers to honestly have disagreement on Scripture interpretation. What’s wrong is labeling those we disagree with as “heretics” and false teachers,” Semi-Pelagian,” etc. (If you don’t know what Semi-Pelagian is, you are blessed!)

Frankly, this whole combative “us vs. them” smacks of teenaged drama and is quite tiresome to me.  And I would say to those churlish souls who have appointed themselves as watchdogs for Jesus’ Church to remember that you will be judged by the same measure you judge others. More to my point, people who live in theological glass houses shouldn’t be throwing stones.

And what might be John MacArthur’s (and those Reformed/Calvinist watchdog’s) glass house?

Well, for starters, a close look at the history behind the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity and double predestination (TULIP in general) reveals that its ultimate source is found in Stoic and Neo-Platonic philosophy and Gnostic/Manichean interpretations of Scripture.

While I (and most Christians) agree that all humankind was corrupted and will sin because they live in a fallen world, thus are in need of salvation by God’s grace through Jesus Christ, I don’t believe they’re born totally depraved, nor was this doctrine even taught by any church father before Augustine in the fifth century.

But I’m not asking you to take my word for it. I will defer to one of today’s foremost Augustinian scholars (Calvin derived this theology from Augustine), Dr. Ken Wilson.

Dr. Wilson received his doctorate in theology at Oxford, with his thesis, Augustine’s Conversion from Traditional Free Choice to ‘Non-free Free Will’. This is a ponderous academic tome but he’s also graciously written a brief laymen’s version based on this work titled, The Foundation of Augustinian-Calvinism. It’s an easy read and only $5 US.

The following video is a fascinating interview with Dr. Wilson by Dr. Leighton Flowers, who himself is Southern Baptist. They talk in depth about some of these surprising sources of the doctrines of determinism, total depravity, and double predestination.

If you’re interested in investigating this further, I would suggest you go to Dr. Flowers YouTube channel; “Soteriology 101.” He’s very gracious and scholarly in his approach.

If you don’t have time to watch the above video, here’s a summary of Dr. Wilson’s scholarly work on this subject:

1. Determinism was widely known in the ancient world through Stoicism, Neo-Platonism, Gnosticism, and Manichaeism. Augustine had been deeply shaped by Stoicism, Neo-Platonism, and had been a Manichean for 10 years before his conversion.
2. No Christian theologian from A.D. 95-411 embraced determinism and many argued against it as a pagan, heretical perspective.
3. Augustine himself argued against determinism and for free will in his early writings (386-411), but after 412, began to use the very same Manichaean arguments for determinism which he had previously ferociously attacked. When his contemporary critics pointed this reversal out, he responded with silence.
4. Luther and Calvin mistakenly believed that Augustine was reaffirming the determinism of Christian theologians before him when in reality he was introducing a pagan and, to that point at least, heretical construct into Christian theology.

The idiosyncratic concepts one finds in Calvinist arguments today were explicitly used by Stoics, Neo-Platonists, Gnostics and Manicheans as follows:

1. ‘Free will’ and determinism are internally consistent (Compatibilism).
2. Complete ‘regeneration’ precedes any expression of faith.
3. God does not love everyone.
4. God is good even though he ordains and choreographs every expression of evil simply because God is good and cannot do evil (the implication being that God’s ‘goodness’ is wholly other than human goodness).
5. Election is understood as God’s unilateral selection of a subset of humanity for salvation such that it is impossible for any of the non-elect to respond to God in a salvific way.
6. Monism: God unilaterally writes the script of how all creaturely reality will be expressed.

If you’re a devoted Calvinist, my hope is that sharing this did not upset you. I truly love my Calvinist brethren and my intent was not to be polemic or divisive. I brought it up so that we might ALL be a little less ready to condemn others we may disagree with and consider our own theological issues before throwing stones at our brethren from our glass houses.

35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35 NKJV)

NOTE: If you want to argue with me about these things, I encourage you to investigate it for yourself instead. I’m not in the Calvinist camp, nor am I in the Arminian camp. I’m also not in the NAR camp. I don’t see myself belonging to a camp; I belong to Christ.

About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 39 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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27 Responses to Throwing stones from our glass houses

  1. jim- says:

    The attacks are not to diminish the “other” errant sects, but to shore up there own. “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents … Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” ~ Eric Hoffer,

    • Mel Wild says:

      That’s sadly true.

      • jim- says:

        To paraphrase Buckminster Fuller—You never change things by fighting the existing reality, but by building something better, making the old obsolete. This is how I envision religion. Today’s watery versions may certainly be easier, maybe even better than the old, but certainly life could be better than it is. That’s where we should meet.

        • Mel Wild says:

          I agree that building something better is the way to go. And “watery versions” don’t make something better, more authentic ones do. Along with exercising some humility and grace for one another while we do build.

        • jim- says:

          So with 30,000 sects, is that watered or authentic? Seems mostly people are just building their own, which in a way I agree with, in another, is that authentic Christianity?

        • Mel Wild says:

          Not all sects are because of divisiveness but, rather, groups gathered over a common emphasis (cultural or spiritual). I am part of a denomination but I don’t see myself divided or separated from other denominations.

          But I believe the divisiveness speaks more of human nature in general than authenticity. It’s the same reason people get so polarized over politics or other ideologies. It reveals spiritual and relational immaturity rather than a problem with Christianity itself, as Mark Seeley pointed out in his comments. The James Fowler chart pretty much sums it up: “James Fowler’s Stages of Faith

        • jim- says:

          Interesting. I read a paper years ago called “leaders to managers” or something like that. Essentially the innovation stops at the innovator, then we manage the idea without the vision of the founder. It typically becomes flat and lifeless over time. People crave “real”, and all we have to choose from is an old system that no longer is adequate.
          Don’t take this as a jab, but like Christianity is still making Edsels, and it should be in Ferrari shape by now.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Good points. I would disagree, of course, with the generalization that all of Christianity is making Edsels. But like drinking water through a garden hose, the quality is going to taste like the hose (human beings). But I would agree that Christians, in general, need to grow up. 🙂

        • jim- says:

          In other words, all you have is repair men and managers, and most that rise to the top are the Osteens and his ilk.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Agreed. Good leaders are rare, even in the secular world, and re-formation is always needed. As I said in the post, as far as Christianity goes, if our theology doesn’t make us more Christ-like, it’s bad theology in need of reformation.

  2. Bette Cox says:

    Many thanks, Mel. I am reblogging this post on Esther’s Petition.

  3. Lily Pierce says:

    I like this quote– “If our theology doesn’t make us think, act, and love more like Christ, and produce the fruit of the Spirit (Gal.5:22-23), then it’s bad theology no matter who may have come up with it.” Good point! Considering what’s going on in the UMC, this post is well-timed for me. I appreciate the sources and info you included about Calvinism–taught me a few things I didn’t know! You said at the end that you don’t consider yourself to be in a certain camp, but do you attend a church? Is there a denomination you would try first if you were seeking a new church? Just wondering. 🙂

    • Mel Wild says:

      Hi Lily! Thanks for your comments. I’ve been the senior pastor of a Foursquare church where I live for the last 15 years and believe very strongly in belonging to a local church. I just don’t believe in divisive denominationalism and all the “us” vs them” stuff.

      Hypothetically, if I were looking for a new church I would seek out one where people understood the Father’s deep love for them, their identity as His beloved sons and daughters (as opposed to dirty sinners), and where they placed a priority on developing an intimate and growing relationship with Jesus and with each other in His love. These things are far more important to me than doctrinal agreement. The denomination (or non-denomination) wouldn’t matter.

  4. Mark Seeley says:

    I recently came across Fowler’s “Stages of Faith” and it seems to do a pretty good job of helping to explain levels of maturity found in our faith walk in this life. A lot of arguing and throwing stones seems to emanate from the earlier stages. Perhaps a review of Fowler’s theory would be in order. It also becomes apparent when we divide ourselves into camps that we make our favorite atonement theories and biblical interpretations the “gospel.” “The gospel is not an atonement theory, or four spiritual laws, or five steps or any doctrine of man. It is the good news about what Christ actually did in history to initiate the restoration of all things.” (Brad Jersak)

    • Mel Wild says:

      Amen, Mark! Fowler’s book sounds like a good read. And I would agree that all the rock throwing and “us vs. them” only demonstrates a level of spiritual immaturity. In fact, Paul told the Corinthians he couldn’t even talk to them as spiritual people because they were so divisive (1 Cor.3:1-4). Jesus told us that when we see ourselves in Him, we will see each other there, too. I guess we’re still not seeing.

      “I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” (John 17:23)

      I also totally agree with Jersak that when we start adding our theories and laws as part of the gospel, we’ve lost the plot. We’re not only preaching a different gospel, it’s not really good news to anyone.

    • Mel Wild says:

      I found this chart: “James Fowler’s Stages of Faith

      Looks like a good summation for anyone who’s interested in what his book is about. 🙂

      • Mark Seeley says:

        I really like the chart. I understand that his stages are just another theory and I could easily plug myself and others into neat organized levels of maturity. I think the take away is that just as a parent of a teenager can appreciate the angst, emotional roller coasters, black and white thinking and compartmentalizing of their youth we understand where they are and do our best to love them through it. We hope that they continue to mature and eventually grow into a loving, self sacrificing, other centered Christ-like human being.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Amen. Yes, being a parent of a teenager is a great way for us to understand what God, as our Parent, is hoping for us as His kids. Hopefully, we’re starting another growth spurt. 🙂

          As you mentioned, the bottom line is Christ-likeness, and if we’re not acting and thinking more and more like Christ (in other-centered, self-giving love), then we need to change course and rethink our assumptions.

        • Mel Wild says:

          “I understand that his stages are just another theory and I could easily plug myself and others into neat organized levels of maturity. ”

          Very true! We do tend to compartmentalize and pigeon-hole people under the influence of our nice and tidy dualistic worldview. 🙂 In reality, we’re probably in various stages with regard to different areas of our life. Not so tidy and well-organized as the chart suggests, but it is helpful in understanding a general trajectory toward maturity.

  5. Very true, at the end of the day what really matters is our unified belief in Christ as messiah. All else is hit and miss since everyone is on an evergrowing journey to understanding and correctly implementing scripture. Although there is something to be said to those who have divorced scripture from the holy spirit or vice versa. That can be a stagnating and damaging place to fall into. In other words, we should seek first the kingdom of God and believe in the entire bible. Always remaining “teachable.”

  6. This is a great post, Mel. Very timely too, relevant to much of what we see going on within Western churchianity right now.

    I’m chuckling, I am a TULIP tripper with a bit more affection for concepts like total depravity, but many Calvinists and the reformed find me quite appalling, so I guess there’s that?? 🙂

    Something else that amuses me, until a few years back I had never even heard of Bethel. I found myself being accused of having been unduly influenced by them, brainwashed, led astray. I was so confused by the reference and accusation, I actually had to go Google them, “What’s a Bethel??” Ha! So, it turns out I like them very much and I highly approve. This attitude of “us and them,” this sibling rivalry, this territorial, tribalism, stuff needs to go.

    • Mel Wild says:

      “I am a TULIP tripper with a bit more affection for concepts like total depravity, but many Calvinists and the reformed find me quite appalling, so I guess there’s that?? ”

      That’s ironic. I’m appalled by TULIP but I like you. LOL!
      Actually, I might be good with the “P.” 🙂

      “This attitude of “us and them,” this sibling rivalry, this territorial, tribalism, stuff needs to go.”
      Amen and amen! Would that we all grow up.

  7. AfroLatino says:

    Thanks Mel for the timely message.

    “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest be in health and prosper, even as thy soul prospereth”.

    The Word of Faith have been attacked for teaching on material prosperity. Yes, some have taken this to the extreme but most that attack them aren’t exactly living in abject poverty. I foolishly attacked their excesses at one time too but God’s will is that we prosper.

    I also noticed that Word of Faith preachers focus more on power of words, healing etc than other preachers which are very useful for our spiritual growth. As for NAR, they focus more on the supernatural. These are things that Jesus worked in. He promised we would do greater things. Most of my Christian friends are sick, children are unbelievers etc and feel we are living very powerless lives. We do not focus much on speaking in tongues, prayer and fasting but more on being nice. I have a few unbelieving friends that are nicer than most Christians I know and although I appreciate these qualities, I want to see the power of God in my life. This is why I am thankful for NAR and although they are far from perfect but at least, they are stepping out of the boat to preach on healing & raising the dead.

    I love my fellow brothers and sisters in all denominations but let us be for those that want to step out of the boat and walk on water with Jesus. We may get distracted sometimes and almost drown but we will keep rising up and asking for increase in wisdom and revelation.

    God bless

    • Mel Wild says:

      Amen, AfroLatino, very well said. We need to put down our rocks and see what we can learn from each other instead of condemning what we don’t understand (because it’s different than what we’ve been taught).

      We can learn a lot from each move of God, “testing all things BUT holding fast to what is good” (1 Thess.5:19-21). For instance, my Word-Faith brethren taught me about agreeing with what God says (called “confession”), about my identity and authority as a believer. The NAR taught me about the Father’s love, that I’m not a dirty sinner but a son, and that we’re supposed to be doing what Jesus did, bringing His will on earth as it is in heaven. All of these things can help us grow up into Christ if we can learn how to faithfully question what we believe and let God upgrade our understanding. After all, we’re not supposed to stop growing, but go from glory to glory! (2 Cor.3:18)
      Blessings to you.

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