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Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Pelagianism - The Foundation of British Christianity - Really?

In my last blog, 300 Young People Saved... I suggested the idea that underscoring the Calvinism/Arminian debate was the possibility that not everyone who gets converted, particularly at a large Christian festival such as Newday, Spring Harvest or Stoneleigh, become genuine believers in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Here I brought up the Parable of the Sower, delivered by Jesus Christ himself, which can be found in Matthew 13:1-9. We saw that the first group, which represents the hard soil trodden down to form a solid surface of the footpath or wayside were those whose hearts refused to take in the Word of God and after a while, had forgotten it. I then suggested that it was unlikely that any in that group of 300 were represented at Newday.

Then there were those in the fourth group, the good soil. These people had hearts which took in the divine message and with it nourished their souls. Eventually they will produce crops which will glorify God and become beneficial to others. These are the true saints, genuine believers who have received the gift of perseverance within their salvation package, and therefore they will never fall away and become lost souls again. This concept is known formerly as The Perseverance of the Saints, Eternal Security of the Believer, or Once Saved always Saved and this was advocated by Church Reformer John Calvin, Hence Calvinism.

But Jesus also mentioned two other types of ground on to which the seed fell, one being the rocky ground with a thin layer of soil. Seed which fell on this kind of ground actually sprouted, but soon withered under the scorching heat of the sun. These represented the falling away from the faith as soon as a challenge arose or when the chips were down. The other kind of soil affected was one which had other plants growing from it, choking out the young saplings. These were those who loved the world and the things therein.

It was this departure from the faith and from the churches which might have stirred the debate. If these people first believed, were they saved? For the Calvinist, no they were not saved. They most likely had an intellectual belief in the Gospel but failed to mix this information with saving faith, that is, to place their personal trust in the Saviour. I confess that I hold to this concept. The Arminian, on the other hand, believes that all three were actually saved, but both the rocky ground and the overgrown had fallen away and in turn, had lost their salvation and therefore are lost again. As such, we can ascribe a greater sense of generosity to the Arminian for accepting all three groups as potentially saved, but remain subject to self-perseverance of the will or suffer eternal loss.

To sum up: The first group, the footpath, are unbelievers who first resist then forgets the divine message. The fourth group, the good soil, are true believers who had allowed the message to bear fruit in their lives. The other two, the rocky and the overgrown grounds, can be described as "false converts." This phrase became common during the Great Awakening of the churches in America during the 19th Century. It is used by some churches to this day, and I think it's more of an American terminology than a British one.

Although in a typical church, it can be very difficult to tell a false convert from a genuine believer, sooner or later they will manifest their phoniness, mainly by falling away from the faith and leaving the church entirely, either in an apathetic state (couldn't care less about anything spiritual), or with a degree of hostility.

We also saw in the last article how 19th Century evangelist and revivalist Charles Grandison Finney used the term false convert quite freely in his lectures and sermons. However, after reading some of Finney's Revival Lectures as well as the assessments of his critics, it is a sad fact that I cannot agree with all of Finney's theology, for he had based his philosophy on Pelagianism which, in a nutshell, it means that one can be saved by self-purification of one's own heart, the free will and ability to choose between good and evil. Finney strongly advocated total obedience to God's Law in order to be saved.

In order to present this article, I had the privilege to read an article here on the Internet presented by Lewis Loflin, a devout supporter of Pelagius. You can reach his website by entering "Pelagius" in your Google browser, then click, "Pelagius Was Right".


According to Lewis Loflin, Pelagius was a rugged British monk who was born around AD 354 and died any time between 418 and 425, although records of his life are pretty scant. But there is reliable evidence that Pelagius opposed the teachings of Augustine, who believed in the Sovereignty of God and Original Sin. Instead, Pelagius advocated salvation only through free will and full obedience to the Law of the Old Testament.

Loflin is a Pelagian himself, which reveals in his blog a startling departure from Biblical truth with which not only set the stage of Finney's theology but also the thought pattern of many a British form of Christianity - individualistic, freewill and stoic.

Within Loflin's blog, Pelagius advocated these six points:

1. Adam was created liable to death, and would have died, whether he sinned or not.
2. The sin of Adam hurt himself only and not the human race.
3. Infants at their birth are in the same state as Adam before the fall.
4. Neither is the death nor fall of Adam does the whole of man die, nor the Resurrection of Christ (brings man to) rise again.
5. The Law introduces men to the Kingdom of Heaven, just as in the same as the Gospel does.
6. Even before the coming of Christ, there were some men sinless.

It is also interesting that Loflin also supports the Arian heresy, which flourished during the fifth Century. Arian was a bishop who denied the Deity of Christ, therefore relegating him to an angel inferior to the Father and as such, forever subordinate to God. The Watchtower Society of Jehovah's Witnesses teach very much the same heresy today. The consequence of all this is that the Atonement of Christ on the cross had no longer any imputation power to redeem the sinner. Instead, Christ was crucified as a show of public justice, a theory which Charles Finney advocated.

Instead, the sinner has the natural ability to turn from his sins and put his faith in Christ. But rather to receive the imputation of Christ's own righteousness bestowed on the sinner, the sinner himself must reform his own heart to full obedience to God's Laws as defined in the Old Testament, namely the ten Commandments. It is actually a life of perfectionism. According to Finney, the Christian is always in danger of slipping back into apostasy (looking after his own selfish affairs and not on God's interests) and ending up in Hell after death.

But at least Charles Finney accepted all of the New Testament as the inspired Word of God, which includes all of Paul's letters, on which some of his sermons have as the main text. Lewis Loflin on the other hand, has a distinct dislike for Paul, and he does not accept his letters as inspired. Instead, he slams at both Martin Luther and John Calvin for embracing the theology of Paul and Augustine and rejecting Christ's own moral teachings as irrelevant.

Pelagius (as shown by Loflin) taught that only sinners will die for their own sins and denies any connection with Adam's. He quotes Scriptures such as Ezekiel 18:20 and 33:20 as examples. Rather, according to Loflin, it was Paul who coined up the idea of inherited sin, especially in the 5th chapter of Romans. He also pushed forward the idea that there were men who chose to remain sinless before the first Advent of Christ. This would include Abraham, whom God called his friend, Caleb, King Joshua, Isaiah and Daniel, who God called "beloved". In Luke's first chapter, the priest Zachariah and his wife Elizabeth were described as "walking in obedience of God's Commandments, blameless" before the conception of Christ. And when Jesus was ministering, a young man approached and asked, "What must I do to enter life?" To which Jesus replied, "If you want to enter life, obey the Commandments." (Matthew 19:16-17). According to Pelagius and Loflin, no mention of the cleansing power of the Blood of Christ is found here.

Although Pelagius disagreed with Augustus on Original Sin and divine Grace, as one born a Roman Catholic, I can see a remarkable resemblance between the teachings of Pelagius and the Catechism of the Catholic Faith.

There are some differences too, such as in Catholicism, the cleansing power of God's Grace in the Sacraments, particularly Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist (Holy Communion). All this was denied by Pelagius. But how a sinner attains Heaven, there are similarities between the Catechism and Pelagius. In Rome, one must be baptised as an infant - to cleanse the baby from Adam's Original Sin (a doctrine taught by Augustine), then receive Confirmation, the receiving of the Holy Spirit according to Pentecost, then Communion, where the power to cleanse from sin is in the sacrament itself. But to get to Heaven, the Catholic must remain sinless and obey both the Ten Commandments and the Church's own Commandments. If he commits a mortal sin, he loses the Grace of God and will go to Hell for eternity after death. The only way a fallen Catholic can regain this Grace is to undergo Penance, a set of prayers and good works ordained by the priest. Similar to this, Finney taught that a fallen Christian must start again with his first work to receive forgiveness, which like with the Catholic Church, is for past sins only.

St Peter's Church, Rome

Then in the 16th Century, a Spanish Jesuit monk Luis Molina became the lecturer of a young Dutch student named James Arminius.

For a detailed discussion of this event, click on to my blog published April 10th, 2011 - Once Saved Always Saved, Part 1 - Origins

Molina was able to convince Arminius of a halfway knowledge between the Roman Catechism and Calvinism, which was Arminius' background. Molina taught this "Halfway Knowledge", also known as semi-Palagianism. This teaching was a way to reconcile two opposing views on one's salvation - self-will versus the Sovereign Grace of God. Semi-Pelagianism became the core teaching of many Protestant Churches, particularly the Anglican Church and the Methodists. And that, according to Loflin, the Arminians deny having anything to do with Pelagianism. There are, of course some differences. Arminians accept God as the Father of all true believers and one is saved by Grace through faith, but this grace is merited on human choice of the free will, and in turn, every believer must persevere in his faith and walk with God, or else he falls from Grace and lose his salvation. Arminians will encourage a fallen believer to recover his grace through repentance, but there is a point of no return, beyond whom the apostate is lost forever, unable to repent. It is interesting to note that the point of no return, in addition to Finney, was also advocated by David Pawson, one of England's leading Methodist and Arminian preacher, in his book, Unlocking the Bible.

For an answer, here I wish to concentrate one Biblical based argument about the sinlessness of all Old Testament Saints. It becomes obvious that neither Pelegius nor Loflin really understood the Bible at all.

For example: Isaiah, when confronted by the Glory of God, cried out:
"Woe is me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty."

Then the prophet Daniel, when interceding for his people and for Jerusalem, prayed:
...We have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and rebelled. We have turned away from your commands and your laws. We...we...etc, and not "They have turned away... Chapter 9:4-19.

Abraham, when interceding for Sodom, referred to himself as dust and ashes, and even young David sees himself as a flea when confronted by King Saul. All these indicate that these great men of God were indeed sinners and not sinless, as Pelagius and Loflin thought. They were indeed saved, but not by their obedience to the Law but by faith in their coming Messiah.
The righteousness of Christ were imputed to them due to their faith in that their Messiah was due to arrive in the future of their point in time. For us, the righteousness of Christ is imputed to every genuine believer for his faith in the Christ who has already come. In other words, they looked forward, we look back, but the faith and imputation is the same. Works in upholding the Law follows after salvation, not before.

New hearts are given to every believer, it is not the reformation of the old, sinful heart. We are regenerated, born again, given a new birth. We become a new creation, the old has passed away, crucified with Christ. The Bible promises something much better than the likes of Augustine, Pelagius, Arminius, Finney or Loflin could ever offer.

Loflin made a comment about the statement made by German theologian Karl Barth when he visited Britain. He noted the strong adherence to Pelagius by the Brits- a reflection of the rugged individualism of the Celtic monk, free to choose between good and evil, stoic, faith being practical as well as spiritual, his care of the garden, the natural environment and for wildlife, along with respect for each other. All very well I suppose, but with reasoning like that, what is the point of Christ and him Crucified?

1 comment:

  1. Once again we see how important it is that our doctrine be founded solely on God's word. As Romans 3:4 says, "...yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written..." We cannot afford to trust any man.