Friday, June 8, 2012

Fellow Methodists, Original Sin is Your 'Original' Doctrine, NOT Pelagianism

Theopedia describes Original Sin and Pelagianism this way:
Original sin is the doctrine which holds that human nature has been morally and ethically corrupted due to the disobedience of mankind's first parents to the revealed will of God. In the Bible, the first human transgression of God's command is described as the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden resulting in what theology calls the Fall of mankind. The doctrine of original sin holds that every person born into the world is tainted by the Fall such that all of humanity is ethically debilitated, and people are powerless to rehabilitate themselves, unless rescued by God.
Pelagianism views humanity as basically good and morally unaffected by the Fall. It denies the imputation of Adam's sin, original sin, total depravity, and substitutionary atonement. It simultaneously views man as fundamentally good and in possession of libertarian free will. With regards to salvation, it teaches that man has the ability in and of himself (apart from divine aid) to obey God and earn eternal salvation. Pelagianism is overwhelmingly incompatible with the Bible and was historically opposed by Augustine (354-430), Bishop of Hippo, leading to its condemnation as a heresy at Council of Carthage in 418 A.D. These condemnations were summarily ratified at the Council of Ephesus (A.D. 431).

Just recently, a controversy arose among our Southern Baptist brothers, of which a serious issue involves Original Sin. But the same rising danger is not foreign to The United Methodist Church. Just few months ago, I also heard from a lecture of a former bishop of UMC an explicit denial of the doctrine of Original Sin. He even claimed that Methodists do not believe it. It appears to me that some Methodist pastors (and laymen) whose theology is influenced by liberalism trade Original Sin with the old heresy of Pelagianism (or with some modifications of it).

Whether that former bishop was just oblivious, historically ignorant or intentionally lying, I do not know. All I know is that Original Sin is very Methodistic, very Protestant, very historically accepted by the church and very biblical.

I found this from the official website of The United Methodist Church [original source here]:
Does The United Methodist church believe that babies are born in sin?

Yes. We do believe that babies, at birth, are contaminated by sin. The ancient teaching of the church on this is called the doctrine of original sin.
 The Articles of Religion in our Book of Discipline state:
"Article VII - Of Original or Birth Sin
Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of  Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil, and that continually." 
The point here is that we do not choose ["Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam"] to follow the way of sin; indeed, we cannot help it without the grace of God. 
It means, as Romans 5 puts it (see all of chapter 5 which is about salvation) "as by one man's disobedience [Adam's] the many [meaning all who are born] were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience [Jesus] the many will be made righteous." This is Paul’s way of spelling out both the doctrine of sin and the doctrine of salvation.  Remember here, we are dealing with Paul's way of setting this up. Christ can redeem all because his faithfulness to God in perfect love and obedience matches and exceeds the disobedience of one man, Adam. 
The notion of original sin does not compute very well with the modern outlook. Most of the 20th century church tried to dance around it and then wondered why Jesus' saving work was hard to get serious about. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” says 1st John, vs. 8. 
The point is that we, from birth, need the grace of God available in Jesus Christ. We cannot hope in some tiny spark of goodness at our core that is always there to get us through. We are without merit or claim upon God on our own. This is a hard pill to swallow in our "enlightened" and modern perspective. On the other hand, what a gracious hope and gospel we proclaim and live if we simply accept the desperate need we are in from the beginning and the washing of water and the word in baptism where God claims us as God's own in union with Christ, dying to sin and living alive to God by the power of the Spirit.
Rev. Dan Benedict
Center for Worship Resourcing
General Board of Discipleship
This conforms with our Methodist fathers George Whitefield and John Wesley:
"[Y]ou must not only be convinced of your actual transgressions against the law of God, but likewise of the foundation of all your transgressions. And what is that? I mean original sin, that original corruption each of us brings into the world with us, which renders us liable to God's wrath and damnation. There are many poor souls that think themselves fine reasoners, yet they pretend to say there is no such thing as original sin; they will charge God with injustice in imputing Adam's sin to us; although we have got the mark of the beast and of the devil upon us, yet they tell us we are not born in sin. Let them look abroad into the world and see the disorders in it, and think, if they can, if this is the paradise in which God did put man. No! everything in the world is out of order. I have often thought, when I was abroad, that if there were no other argument to prove original sin, the rising of wolves and tigers against man, nay, the barking of a dog against us, is a proof of original sin. Tigers and lions durst not rise against us, if it were not for Adam's first sin; for when the creatures rise up against us, it is as much as to say, You have sinned against God, and we take up our Master's quarrel. If we look inwardly, we shall see enough of lusts, and man's temper contrary to the temper of God. There is pride, malice, and revenge, in all our hearts; and this temper cannot come from God; it comes from our first parent, Adam, who, after he fell from God, fell out of God into the devil. However, therefore, some people may deny this, yet when conviction comes, all carnal reasonings are battered down immediately and the poor soul begins to feel and see the fountain from which all the polluted streams do flow." (George Whitefield, on "The Method of Grace", emphasis mine)
"Hence we may...learn, that all who deny this, call it original sin, or by any other title, are put Heathens still, in the fundamental point which differences Heathenism from Christianity. They may, indeed, allow, that men have many vices; that some are born with us; and that, consequently, we are not born altogether so wise or so virtuous as we should be; there being few that will roundly affirm, "We are born with as much propensity to good as to evil, and that every man is, by nature, as virtuous and wise as Adam was at his creation." But here is the shibboleth: Is man by nature filled with all manner of evil? Is he void of all good? Is he wholly fallen? Is his soul totally corrupted? Or, to come back to the text, is "every imagination of the thoughts of his heart only evil continually?" [Gen.6:5] Allow this [original sin], and you are so far a Christian. Deny it, and you are but an Heathen still." (John Wesley on "Original Sin", emphasis mine)
So important is Original Sin to Wesley that he labeled anyone who denies it as 'heathen' (i.e., pagan or unChristian)!

Moreover, this teaching was strongly affirmed both by the Reformers and the Church Fathers
"Original Sin, then, may be defined as a hereditary corruption and depravity of our nature, extending to all parts of the soul, which first makes us obnoxious to the wrath of God, and then produces in us works which in Scripture are termed works   of   the   flesh.  This   corruption is repeatedly designated by Paul by the term sin (Gal. 5:19); while the works which proceed from it, such as adultery, fornication, theft, hatred, murder, revellings he terms, in the same way, fruits of sin, though in various passages of scripture, they are also termed sins." (John Calvin)

"The original sin in a man is like his beard, which, though shaved off today so that   a   man is very smooth around his mouth, yet grows again by tomorrow morning. As long as a man lives, such growth of hair and beard does not stop. But when the shovel slaps the ground on his grave, it stops. In just this way, original sin remains in us and exercises itself as long as we live, but we must resist it and always be cutting off its hair." (Martin Luther)

"The so-called innocence of children is more a matter of weakness of limb, than purity of heart." (Augustine of Hippo)

"Adam, the first man, altered his course, and through sin death came into the world....When Adam transgressed, sin reached out to all men." (Athanasius)

The heresy of Pelagianism refuses to die but the Church should be careful not to buy it, lest we be apostasized. May this post serve as a warning to my fellow Methodists as well as my fellow Protestant-Evangelicals. And may those Methodists who have been swayed by Pelagianism see that Original Sin is their "original" doctrine.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Eight Years in the Faith, All Because of The God of Calvinism!

Eight years in the faith. June 5 is the day. Everyone who knew me ten years ago could easily spot the difference. I still wonder how I got here each time I think of it. I just know it wasn't because of me.

Sure, I did a lot of things, met and mingled with a lot of people, and learned a lot of things --- all of which became factors for this drastic change.  But the socio and the logic wouldn't suffice to alter one's nature (Jer. 13:23). There must have been a supernatural intervention. Far be it from me to give the credit to myself. Everything I am now is all by the grace of God (Eph. 2:8-9; 1 Cor. 15:10) so the glory is due to Him alone. And, aside from the fact that I find it biblical, I believe this is the main reason why I fell in love with this theological system known as "Calvinism", which was introduced to me in the early months of my Christian life.

Some people think the doctrine of Total Depravity downplays mankind's integrity. I see it as a biblical rationale for the domination of evil in my past and in this world. We may keep a blind eye towards this tragic reality but the dudes in the news confirm that sin often has the upper hand. Many think man is naturally good but in God's eyes,
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)
The more I acknowledge this fatal disease, the more I appreciate its cure. (see Rom. 3:21-26)

Most people deem Unconditional Election as hazardous to the justice and love of God. There God chose some for salvation while leaving others to condemnation. But to me it as a great display of both (Rom. 9:22-24). That God did not choose all shows his justice in punishing sinners. That God would choose me, rather than let me in my sinful nature choose him (as if I will) exalts God's love more. Like Spurgeon, I do not wonder why he chose to save some. I wonder more why he chose to save at all (for nobody deserves salvation) and why he chose me (for I don't deserve salvation).
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will." (Ephesians 1:3-5)

While others find Limited Atonement as an insult to Christ's great salvation,  I find Christ's cross more magnified through this doctrine. That Christ's death is intended and efficient only for His people[1] shows more of its power. It was Christ's cross that saved me, not I using the cross. Limited atonement implies that the cross of Christ actually saves, not just makes salvation possible. It actually saved me. 

"She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
"...the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood." (Acts 20:28)

Some think Irresistible Grace does no justice to man's freedom. I believe it marvelously restores it. Our will is free only insofar as it does what we decide and what we desire. Our will is just a servant of our intellect and affections. The problem is that both of these are captivated by sin (TD). Hence, that God would 'irresistibly' make me believe by changing my nature Him is freedom (i.e., from sin's power), not captivity.
"All that the Father has given me shall come to me..." (John 6:37)
"Your people shall be willing in the day of your power..." (Psalm 110:3)

Finally, while some think that Perseverance of the Saints discards man's responsibility, I believe it puts man's responsibility and God's sovereignty in a balance. Left on my own, I could've given up on this battle long ago. God knows that I can hardly finish anything worthwhile, let alone salvation! But thanks be to God who gives me security that can endure against all odds.
"And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6)
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)

If only the five points of Calvinism (aka TULIP) would be understood in their proper contexts, they would beautifully shine 'cause Calvinism, biblically and logically, (1) exalts the grace of God the most, and (2) gives the glory to God the most

I praise God that I am now eight years in the faith (and counting). This is all because of Calvinism. Not the concepts themselves but the reality of them at work in the world and in my life. I believe that I have gone this far only because I have this God of Calvinism, who elected me despite my radical sinfulness, sent His Son to effectively die for me, called me by His powerful Spirit and will preserve me to the end.

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[1] This does not discard the truth that Christ died sufficiently for all. (e.g., John 3:16; 1 John 2:2)