The connection between #MeToo and the rejection of ‘salvation by faith alone’ (Sola Fide)
The rejection of Sola Fide is related to #MeToo because a faith-plus-works doctrine of salvation creates an abuser-friendly environment in the church.
In the past few weeks there have been two streams of stories that have dominated Christian circles. The first is the debate concerning Sola Fide and the second is the #MeToo campaign in light of the fall of serial rapist, Harvey Weinstein. As women around the world told their stories of assault, we saw that sexual assault and rape are not just something happening “out there” but right in the middle of our churches. More often than not, church leadership purposefully and ignorantly looks the other way. — Pastor Sam Powell, Sola Fide and Assault
Here are some accounts from women who were sexual assaulted by men who pass themselves off a Christians (trigger warning) — #MeToo: Christian women share stories of assault at the hands of Christian men. Many thanks to Tess Holgate and Eternity News for publishing that article.
I honor all the people who have #MeToo stories, whether or not they have publicly stated #MeToo.
A substantial number of so-called evangelical christian men sexually abuse other people. They do this to women in the church, to women and children in their homes and extended families, to kids at youth groups and church camps and Christian schools. Some of the perpetrators are senior pastors, assistant pastors, elders, deacons, youth group leaders, bible study leaders.
Many perpetrators of sexual abuse — and their witting enablers — have been passing themselves off as Christians. In many cases, if other church members heard about the abuse they were too soft on the perpetrator and way too hard on the victim. (You can find oodles of examples in the posts and comments under our sexual abuse tag).
What is this recent debate about Sola Fide (salvation by faith alone)?
The bible teaches that good works are a consequential and natural fruit of true faith, while making it clear that good works do not cause or contribute to our salvation in any way.
The idea that salvation is not by faith alone is a heresy that has continually tried to gain dominance in the visible church. Roman Catholicism teaches this heresy: they say you must have faith, but must also be baptized in a Roman Catholic Church, go to Mass, confess your sins to a priest of the Roman church, do penance for your sins as ordered by the priest, receive the last rites before you die, and then (after some time spent in purgatory) you will enter into heaven. But even the Pope has to spend time in purgatory and no-one knows how long that time must be…because salvation by faith-plus-works, faith plus ‘good deeds’, gives an outcome that no one can determine. The mouse-wheel that runs you to exhaustion is: “Have I done enough good works? Have I repented and mortified my sin enough? Have I done enough good to outweigh all the wrongs I have done?”
John Piper and Desiring God teach an even more pernicious variant of faith-plus-works salvation than Rome preaches. Piper’s version of ‘faith plus works’ is more pernicious than Roman Catholicism because it is closer to the true Christian religion, so its divergence from the truth is harder to detect. Piper says we are justified by grace alone, which is the true Christian religion. But Piper also says our final salvation is dependent on our sanctification (our good works).
Tim Shaughnessy and Timothy F. Kauffman explain:
In every generation there arise men from within the church who stumble into the Roman Catholic view of justification, and having stumbled, then attempt to import that Roman Catholic error into the Church of God so that the children of God might stumble with them. John Piper is just the latest in a long line of such men, and he will not be the last. Remarkably, on the eve of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Piper attempts to show that neither the Scriptures nor the Reformers held to final justification by faith alone apart from works. On September 25th, 2017, Piper published an article entitled Does God Really Save Us by Faith Alone? In the article, he maintains that initial justification is by faith alone, but introduces a concept that is completely foreign to the Bible: the concept of “final salvation” on the basis of our works and obedience. He writes,
In justification, faith receives a finished work of Christ performed outside of us and counted as ours — imputed to us. … In final salvation at the last judgment, faith is confirmed by the sanctifying fruit it has borne, and we are saved through that fruit and that faith.[i]
In Piper’s new view of final salvation, he makes a distinction between justification and salvation in which we are justified by faith alone apart from works at the beginning, but we are saved by faith plus works at the end. He writes,
These works of faith, and this obedience of faith, these fruits of the Spirit that come by faith, are necessary for our final salvation. No holiness, no heaven (Hebrews 12:14). So, we should not speak of getting to heaven by faith alone in the same way we are justified by faith alone.
Essential to the Christian life and necessary for final salvation is the killing of sin (Romans 8:13) and the pursuit of holiness (Hebrews 12:14).[ii]
The reasons why rejection of Sola Fide is related to #MeToo
1. The rejection of Sola Fide confuses true Christians by making them doubt their salvation.
John Piper’s propositions are causing born-again Christians to doubt the fundamental truth of their salvation. By teaching his propositions, Piper is confusing true believers by making them think that good works are a condition/cause for our final salvation. In this post, Christopher Gordon gives an example of how damaging Piper’s propositions are to genuine believers. The example Christopher Gordon cites is the case of John Lewis. Mr Lewis is a 70 year old man who was born again when he was 61. Because he has read Piper’s doctrine of salvation, this dear saint is now confused: he’s wondering whether he will be saved in the end.
2. The rejection of Sola Fide, by making Christians doubt their salvation, renders them vulnerable to wolves.
This is where the rejection of Sola Fide starts to becomes connected to #MeToo.
In Sola Fide and Assault, Sam Powell sets out how all faith-plus-works doctrines of salvation make genuine christians vulnerable to wolves. When you teach any variation of the faith-plus-works doctrine of salvation, you make genuine Christians vulnerable to the wolves in sheep’s clothing. People might have been taught that ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ just refers to teachers who preach false doctrines. But it also covers those who bully congregations, fleece the sheep financially, sexual predators and men who choose to abuse their wives. When you teach any variation of the faith-plus-works doctrines of salvation, you make true Christians think they must to do good works to be saved. And wolves in the church give wolfish definitions of what ‘good works’ are. Sam explains:
… If Christ is not enough [for my final salvation], then where will I go? I know that all of my own works, even now that I am a Christian, are defiled by sin. I know that I can never achieve the purity and holiness that God requires. And if Christ is not enough on the final day, then where will I go?
And when you ask that question, there will always be a Tetzel to offer you a solution – for a price.
Buy my book. Register for my conference. Submit silently to rape and assault. Don’t rock the ministry. Don’t speak up. Don’t rebel against God’s anointed. Go home to your violent and abusive husband. God sanctifies us through torture and evil.
Here’s how to please God more: please God’s servant, and God will be finally happy with you. Here’s who to make the check out to…
If our righteousness and holiness are not complete in Christ, then it follows that we must add something of our own. … Since every Christian has a tender conscience, and every Christian wants to please God, they become vulnerable to this kind of thinking.
And then we start viewing God like an abusive husband: He tolerates you if you get the food on time, don’t give him any grief, do as you are told, and shut up about it.
… If our theology teaches that God is like an abusive husband, then we tolerate all sorts of behavior as “Christlike”. Abuse, reviling, hatred, envy, strife…
In the heart-breaking accounts in the Eternity News #MeToo article, notice how many times you see these ideas:
“I knew that I had to please God.”
“I knew that God wanted me to be submissive”
“I knew that this man was helping me learn to please God”
What if those in the pews had been taught that their whole salvation, from beginning to end, has already been accomplished in Christ? What if they hadn’t been told week after week after week that everything they were doing was wrong. What if they hadn’t been told how to work harder, try more, be more motivated, and instead had been taught what it means to rest in Christ’s finished and completed work? From rest in Christ comes joy in the Lord. Joy in the Lord results in love for God and love for neighbor. A Christian does not work because she has to, for how can love come from being ordered to love? But a Christian works because it is not possible for him not to. He brings forth the fruit of the Spirit because he is born again of the Spirit and united to Christ by the Spirit.
Perhaps if we actually drove the wolves from the pulpits and again accepted only the gospel, we would see the church again become light and strength and courage and salt in a world full of Harvey Weinsteins. But as long as those in the pulpits are in basic agreement with Hollywood producers (“You need something that only I can give you”) the churches will continue to be morally and spiritually bankrupt.
3. The rejection of Sola Fide creates an abuser-friendly environment in the church, a place where pseudo-christian men can easily predate on women and children.
Only an unbeliever could be so unbridled in their sin as to sexually assault someone else.
I say that about adults who perpetrate sexual assault. I’m not speaking about children who sexually assault other children – there may be other things going on there, not least of which is kids acting out what has been done to them by predatory adults.
Piper’s whacko doctrine of salvation aims at improving the wicked conduct of professing christians to give them more likelihood of being finally saved. But Piper is blind (? deliberately blind ?) to the fact that the reason why the majority of those professing christians are not bringing forth good works is that they are only pseudo-christians — they have never been born again. Because pseudo-christians, nominal believers who attend church and profess faith in Christ, are still dead in sin and have never been regenerated, they have to work really hard to produce what passes for good works. An apple tree bears apples naturally. For someone who is not regenerate, producing ‘good works’ never happens naturally: because they are still dead in sin, their spiritual DNA is thorns and weeds, and what comes out of their hearts and mouths and behaviour is naturally thorns and weeds. Pseudo-christians never can mortify their sins because they are not in Christ, not led by the Spirit. They have no upwelling gratitude to God and no enabling power of the indwelling Spirit to resist sin.
At this point it’s reasonable to ask if Piper himself is such a one. Why can’t he detect the error in his doctrine of salvation and correct it? Why has he felt the need to emphasise ‘christian hedonism’ and ‘desiring God’ for so long? Why all his flowery language and effusive hype? Why didn’t he see through Mark Driscoll years ago?
In my view there are multitudes of pseudo-christians in the visible evangelical church. And as Insantiybytes22 said here, “We seem to have a lot of believers (and some pastors) who are more about fear and control as a way of manipulating behavior, rather than trusting in and letting grace do it’s job.”
Pseudo-christians need to hear about (and tremble at) the wrath of God for sinners and the utter hopelessness of being being able to contribute to their own salvation. They do not need to hear that they must kill their sins in order to be ‘finally saved’ — such a message only misleads pseudo-christians into thinking they are regenerate when they are not.
But Piper and his acolytes seem unable or unwilling to discern pseudo-christians. Piper and his acolytes seem even less able to give a gospel message which will accurately target the hearts of these pseudo-christians. Instead, they direct these people to kill their pet sins and to work hard at their sanctification. And they promise that if you do that …enough…(what is ‘enough’?) you will be finally saved.
But no one can be sanctified unless he or she has been born again. And if you have been born again, sanctification follows, (Unless, like the thief on the cross, you very quickly depart from this temporal world and are taken into Paradise where you will meet the LORD.) Good fruit comes with sanctification as naturally as light comes with fire, unless the good fruit is crushed and shamed out of the believer by false teachers.
Because the heretical view of salvation and the false definitions of good and bad works have so infested the church, the natural fruit of genuine Christians is being undermined, stymied and denounced.
One of the natural fruits of a true Christian is a love for justice and truth. When there is abuse and injustice, the Bible tells Christians to expose it (Eph 5:11) and to help the oppressed.
As I said in point 1, many genuine Christians are living in fear and unnecessary doubt under the influence of false teachers like John Piper. Let me now amplify that.
Many genuine Christians are living under the fear and control of false teachers like Piper. There are many (not all) leaders in churches who have been contaminated by Piper et al. These leaders may not be abusing their own wives or children, but they endorse, teach and enable false teachings which enable the wolves who actually do predate on women and children. These leaders define what ‘good works’ and ‘bad works’ are. They may think their definitions are concordant with scripture, but many of their definitions are out of balance and thus inconsistent with scripture.
No doubt, down the centuries, there have been predatory wolves in positions of leadership who have thought up these unbalanced definitions of good and bad works and promoted and recycled them down the generations of the church. This makes the church an abuser-friendly environment. Predatory wolves love it!
By their unscriptural definitions of good works and bad works, leaders are, for example, condemning sheep for ‘gossiping’ about a certain elder’s friendships with girls in the youth group. More examples:
- They are allowing known pedophiles to be at church events where children are present
- They are minimizing the harm that pornography does to women and children
- They are remaining buddies with men like CJ Mahaney who have covered up for pedophiles
- They are helping conceal the sins of alleged child abusers like Tom Chantry
- They are condemning abused wives for wanting churches to properly discipline abusive husbands.
- They are telling victims of domestic abuse, “God hates divorce” which is a mistranslation of Malachi 2:16. (more on that here)
- They are depicting all women as dangerous by saying that ever since the Fall, women’s sinful bias is to usurp the authority of men. (see here & here)
- They are hammering the importance of submission to authority by claiming that the Son eternally submits to the Father (see here & here)
- They are maligning and even excommunicating women who divorce their abusive husbands. (see here)
By their influence and power, these false teachers have intimidated and controlled genuine Christians. Many of Christ’s true sheep have been falsely taught that it’s wrong to expose the evil works of darkness and it’s right to continue to associate with wolves because they aren’t really wolves, “they’re just sinners and we’re all sinners”. (sin levelling)
When genuine Christians expose abuse in the church, the false teachers tell them to keep quiet and sweep it under the rug. Or they deal with it in a ‘disciplinary process’ that ends up giving harsher treatment to the victim than the abuser.
So the natural fruit which true Christians naturally bring forth — the natural godly resistance to oppression, the natural zeal for justice — is being stymied and condemned by these false teachers and their false doctrines.
To teach any version of faith-plus-works salvation, is to have a form of godliness but deny its power. The Bible tells Christians to avoid men who hold to a form of godliness although they have denied its power. It says these men are lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love for family members, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, and lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. (cf 2 Tim 3:2-5)
A message to John Piper and his defenders
Martin Luther’s definition of faith (link) might be a good corrective to John Piper, if he heeded it.
Faith is not what some people think it is. Their human dream is a delusion. Because they observe that faith is not followed by good works or a better life, they fall into error, even though they speak and hear much about faith. “Faith is not enough,” they say, “You must do good works, you must be pious to be saved.” They think that, when you hear the gospel, you start working, creating by your own strength a thankful heart which says, “I believe.” That is what they think true faith is. But, because this is a human idea, a dream, the heart never learns anything from it, so it does nothing and reform doesn’t come from this `faith,’ either…
Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever. He stumbles around and looks for faith and good works, even though he does not know what faith or good works are. Yet he gossips and chatters about faith and good works with many words…
The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace. Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire! Therefore, watch out for your own false ideas and guard against good-for-nothing gossips, who think they’re smart enough to define faith and works, but really are the greatest of fools. Ask God to work faith in you, or you will remain forever without faith, no matter what you wish, say or can do.
So today, in the current debate, who are the dreamers who are deluded about faith? Who are the greatest fools? Who are the good-for-nothing gossips we must watch out for? Who are the people we must avoid?
Historical Background to the current Sola Fide debate
Like I said, the heresy that we need faith-plus-works to be saved (or ‘finally’ saved) rears its ugly head in the evangelical church perennially, like the weed oxalis which is almost impossible to get rid of once it’s in your garden. You can pull off the stems and leaves of oxalis above ground, but the corms (tiny bulbs) in the earth don’t come out when you pull the stems. The corms stay in the earth and sprout again. It’s almost impossible to kill the corms with herbicide, despite what the product manufacturers tell you. I have heard a gardening expert say that if you have oxalis in your garden, sell the house and buy a new house! Because once oxalis is in your soil you’ll never get rid of it.
The Federal Vision guys teach a version of faith-plus-works— you may have heard of them: Doug Wilson is a key name, the CREC denomination is their stronghold. Note: John Piper has categorically stated his belief that Doug Wilson does not preach a false gospel.
Larry E. Ball explains the Federal Vision connection in his article The Piper Debate and the Federal Vision Controversy. One more time: The Federal Vision comes round again. He says:
Federal Vision began as a pastoral response to the problem of a lack of assurance among covenant children. How can I be sure I am a Christian, and if I am a Christian, in view of the expectations of good works by God in my sanctification, how can I be sure that I will be accepted by God on the Day of Judgment?
The trace goes back further. The Federal Vision grew out of the Shepherd Controversy (1974-81). In this brief post, R Scott Clarke explains the connections between the Norman Shepherd’s unorthodox doctrine of salvation, the Federal Vision, Daniel Fuller and John Piper.
If you’d like to read or watch more on the current Sola Fide debate, I recommend the following:
Start with the first one in this list; it is a good explainer.
The Gospel According to Piper – Tim Shaughnessy & Timothy F. Kauffman
Salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone – Rachel Miller critiques Piper’s doctrine of salvation.
Back to the Reformed Confessions and Catechisms – Rachel Miller
“…Let’s just pipe down and let the experts handle this.” – Sam Powell blows the whistle on Ps Mark Jones’s haughty treatment of Rachel Miller
Believers Are Saved And Sealed – R Scott Clark
In By Grace, Stay In By Faithfulness? – R Scott Clark
A proposed October 2017 meeting: Dear Mark Jones, will you please meet John Lewis? – Christopher Gordon
And here is a sermon by Sam Powell on Sola Fide
What is the #MeToo hash tag and where did it come from?
Since the exposure of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuse of multiple women, folks who have been sexually harassed or sexually abused are saying #MeToo on social media. Most of the people saying #MeToo are women. What is coming to the foreground, in this up-swelling from the grass roots, is how frequently women are sexually harassed and sexually abused by men. If we had a way of surveying women to get them to anonymously put their hand up if they have never been sexually harassed or sexually abused by men, I suspect very few women would put their hands up.
Yes; I recognise that gender is only a part of it. Some victims of sexual abuse are male; some men and boys sexually abuse other men or boys; some females sexually abuse males. And some females sexually abuse other females.