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Saturday, 13 December 2014

One Verse Causes A Riot!

The theatre at the holiday camp was packed. That was the result of having a Bible festival week during school term. With many still at school and at work, there were just not enough punters to fill the Big Top on the edge of the holiday camp. So the theatre became the main venue for the big evening meeting throughout that week in 1994. But instead of entertainers on the stage, there was a group of seated men, one began to stand at the microphone and opened with the text for the evening's preach - Philippians 2:12, or at least one line of that verse, which reads:
Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Full stop.
Then this fellow, who I will refer to as a Cambridge Don, because of his high academic level, began to tear apart the belief of Eternal Security, using this line as proof that anyone believing on Once Saved Always Saved is deceived. Although I use the title Cambridge Don for one person, on the stage that evening there were two speakers, in full agreement with each other, and both I will refer as Cambridge Dons, after a friend of mine and a follower of this blog page once rebuked me for referring to people by their names.
A near riot ensued in the theatre as the result of the sermon. The second speaker made every effort to quell the riot, calming them down to let the chief speaker finish. Afterwards, many in the audience gathered at the stalls outside to receive counselling. Cambridge Don referred to this as a mass repentance, a proof that what he had spoken was from God himself. Rather, it looked to me that they were gathering to have their fears allayed, a guess endorsed by one punter seeking assurance from a staff member that he was once saved always saved.

The result of that evening was a national change of belief and attitude in many churches across Southern England, if not the entire nation itself, discarding any belief in Eternal Security of the Believer to that of Conditional Security, or as I like to call it: Probational Salvation. I myself was rebuked by some in my own church fellowship for "sticking to my guns" and continued to advocate what I believed in. One elderly lady who used to believe in Eternal Security but not any more, stared hard at me and told me not to question such a great man. Not long after that, on one Sunday morning service, our unfortunate pastor delivered a sermon defending Eternal Security before his resignation a few weeks later. After his preach, a friend approached me and related to me of a vision he had during the sermon. He saw daggers come out of the eyes of many in the congregation, all aimed at the speaker. All thanks to a Cambridge Don, because of his vast learning and our national celebrity culture, he had became an icon, on the level of an Old Testament prophet, so I was told at the time.

I'm amazed how such a thing could have such an impact on our churches. All by misinterpreting Scripture. Twisting Scripture? Yes, indeed. By reading Hellfire into the line, Working out your salvation with fear and trembling. But by reading the whole chapter, and especially the verses following, eternal Hell has absolutely nothing to do with it! Hell was nowhere near Paul's mind when he wrote to the Philippian church. Never mind that the line reads, "Working out your salvation" rather than "working for your salvation" - but the matter of semantics can wait for another day. The fact is that a great many passed through a time of unease, followed by a change of mind with the creed. Nobody dares cross the mind of such a great thinker and public speaker. Our national celebrity-honouring culture won't allow for it. But as for me who sees no problem in making such a challenge, I write this blog with emotion, having come across this verse recently misquoted, implying the fires of Hell when no such thing was ever attached to Paul's epistle.

So what was Paul instructing when he wrote the letter? Mainly this: That he was taken in by the grace of God revealed in the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and how he was overcome with great emotion by such revelation. So powerful was the truth of Christ to him, that his heart was swallowed up in adoration and a love which was powerful enough to overshadow everything else in his life, particularly his social standing as a Pharisee and a son of a Pharisee. Read verses 9-11 of the second chapter, and see for yourself the adoration, love and joy the apostle had for his Lord. This is in utter contrast with the fear of punishment, as Cambridge Don and his ilk would have wanted us all to grasp. Also compare the love Paul had with what John wrote in his first general letter, which reads:

There is no fear in love, But perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
1 John 4:18.

There are many Cambridge Dons who discards this verse as being irrelevant to us because our love for him is not perfect, so we should fear punishment. That is utter tosh! And coming from academic men as well, who should have known better. It's not our love that is perfect, for while at this side of the grave, our inherited sinful nature will make everything else in us less than perfect. Rather, John was referring to God's perfect love. Untainted by any sin, God's love is absolutely perfect and therefore can be both trusted and responded to at the same time. It was God's perfect love shown in the Resurrected Jesus that changed Paul from a persecuting self-righteous Pharisee to a devout loving believer who can't stop delivering praise upon praise Heavenward to his risen Saviour. No fear of punishment there. No implications of Hell and fiery torment there!

Cambridge University

So why did Paul used the words fear and trembling? What are we to be afraid of? Ending up in Hell, as these guys imply? Or maybe the chance possibility of dishonouring Christ before other men? Immediately after sending up praise to his Saviour, Paul then exhorts the church at Philippi to have the same attitude, the same love, and the same devotion to the Lord as he had. And the reason behind this was not only for their own well being, but also for the well being of others, especially unbelievers. They were to shine like bright stars for the benefit of others, in direct reference to Matthew 5:16:

In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

How does sinful men praise their Father in heaven? Or more precisely, as the KJV puts it, to glorify their Father in heaven? It is impossible for the natural man to glorify God, because of the presence of sin. However, there is one way that would bring glory, and that is for the sinner to believe in the risen Jesus as Saviour. From that moment on, he receives full acquittal from all his sins, and the righteousness of Christ is imputed on him, making him as righteous in God's sight as Jesus was. Nothing less can bring such glory to the Father than a conversion from sinner to saint.

To further this purpose, Paul wrote this to Titus:

This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.
Titus 3:8.

So this looks to me that "everyone" means what it says, and not restricted to fellow believers or church members. If by keeping in line with the above Scriptures, what Paul wrote to Timothy may not be referring to being saved from Hell, but saved from having the name of Christ fall into disrepute among men, especially unbelievers:

Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrines closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
1 Timothy 4:15-16.

Cambridge Dons love to use such proof that having our salvation hanging in the balance is the best reason for good performance motivated by fear of punishment. But that kind of thinking arose by reading "saved from Hell" into these verses. They are nothing of the kind, as I have emphasised, this word "save" has several meanings - our eternity being one of them. But not in this case. Rather, Paul was encouraging Timothy and his listeners to keep their good reputation intact, to save themselves from disrepute by unbelievers surrounding them. That was the point of the whole of both letters the apostle wrote to Timothy. As Timothy was a leader of a church, or even a group of churches, his performance had to be extra immaculate because the world was watching him. And by remaining blameless in their sight greatly enhances soul winning, with people turning to Christ for salvation and glorifying God.

The letter written by James backs this up. The second chapter brings this across very clearly. After accusing his Jewish readers of arrogance and showing favouritism, he then points out that despite their quest for righteousness, they were guilty of murder. He then goes on to explain that if they keep the Law but stumble at just one point, they are guilty of breaking all the Law (James 2:10.) From verse 14, the apostle discusses general hospitality shown to someone less well off or in dire straits. If the believer simply says, "Keep warm and well fed," but gives nothing to make these possible, then where is the virtue? Will his lack of good works save him?

Here we go again. The Cambridge Don crowd will read Heaven and Hell into the script because of the words "Will his faith save him?" (James 2:14) - even if the verse had nothing to do with eternal salvation. But James was talking about the danger of disrepute from other men especially by the poor man mentioned. What would the poor man think of the believer's faith if the latter had a heart without pity? If salvation was involved after all, then I can assure that the poor man will not turn to Christ if this faith in Christ was a cold, merciless profession. He'll go away believing that this Jesus Christ was a sham after all, an impostor. Very much like the situation in churches at present. But if James was referring to the believer's faith, it was his reputation in dispute, not his salvation.

And so I can go on. A genuine believer will be seen by God as righteous as Jesus Christ himself, because the righteousness of Christ has been imputed upon him from Heaven. But other men cannot see into his heart, therefore the only way he can show his faith is by works. Or else he falls into disrepute and publicly dishonours God. And that is what this "trembling and fear" of Philippians 2:12 is all about. The danger of bringing the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God into disgrace in front of the watching world.

As I write this, I am aware that in a way, I'm throwing down the gauntlet in front of any Cambridge Don, regardless of who he is. Take that 1994 Bible festival. What was the end result of such preaching? Did the entire audience shout their praises to God from the heart? Were they edified in their faith and beliefs? Did they share the same feeling of exultation as the apostle felt? Has a greater love for each other well out like living waters from these people? Rather, a riot nearly took place, and it would have done had not another Cambridge Don elder stood up to calm them down. Fear of punishment took hold. People went for counselling afterwards to have their fears calmed. They became critical towards those who stuck to their guns in believing Eternal Security. Surely, something was seriously wrong.

Yet who am I to say those sort of things? I am not a Cambridge Don, whether I believe in Eternal Security or not. I have never seen the inside of a University, any University let alone Cambridge. So because of this, it will be obvious that most would disregard the contents of this blog in favour of the other. It looks to me to be a tragedy that I happen to live in a land where celebrity culture has such a firm hold. The majority would flock to listen to someone very educated in Theology to bring them down into a state of panic, rather than pay heed to someone who might have a chance of holding and advocating the truth of Scripture and therefore edify. Who am I? A nobody really. At least I never had any opportunity to preach publicly to a large audience. But Paul the apostle might, just might, have a sliver of sympathy or compassion for the likes of me. How come?

By reading what he says in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, quite a chunk of Scripture used to forward his point that God chose the foolish to shame the wise, the lowly to nullify those that are high, the weak to shame the strong - all to demonstrate the power of God to confound the wisdom of the wise. And in the forty-plus years of the life as a believer, I don't think I have ever listened to a sermon taken from this passage of the Bible, although the pastor of the previous church I attended in the 1980s mentioned from time to time that secular education was not the be all and end all in a Christian's walk with God. But I wonder whether the congregation at the time, with a large percentage being graduates fresh out of college, had really bought what the pastor said on those occasions.

We live in a country where culture is dominated by celebrity honouring, if not worship. This means that a theologian who had graduated at Oxford or Cambridge will always hold sway over someone who hadn't. Let's thank the Lord for his goodness and mercy, pouring oil over troubled waters and calming them.

Rant over.


  1. All scripture can be used for various purposes Frank, and are used to build up the believer and encourage us to walk according to the Spirit, but they are all there because God loves us and does not want us to continue to sin. However, it is always the choice of the individual whether he or she acts on that word or not.

  2. Philippians 2:12-16New King James Version (NKJV)

    Light Bearers
    12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

    14 Do all things without complaining and disputing, 15 that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.

    In its context that verse is an admonishment to maintain a reverent fear of the Lord and to walk in love. Something we need to be reminded of when we take the Lord too much for granted or focus so much on Jesus being our friend that we forget that He is also a consuming fire.

    When bringing the Wesleyan Methodists into the rant it needs to be understood what the background is. George Whitefield, who originally pioneered the revival at that times, had been subservient to, and mentored by, John and Charles Wesley. The Wesleys joined with Whitefield in taking the Gospel to the streets, fields and factories. While Whitefield maintained the role of evangelist, the Wesleys were originally nurturing (watering) those who were coming to the Lord. All three men originally held an Arminian view in keeping with their Anglican background.

    As the movement grew, Whitefield became influence by the writings of the Puritans and started to embrace Calvinism. This split the Methodist movement down the middle. The issues were not centred on the OSAS element but on the issue of predestination and reprobation. The Wesleys believed that to claim that God would create people predestined to hell was to make Him a God of hate.

    There is an issue that needs to be resolved here. Does man have free will or doesn't he? To the Wesleys, Calvinism says not.

    The fact remains that, whether one believes in eternal security or not, the promises of God are to those who walk according to the Spirit, not according to the flesh. We see many scriptures that indicate how we may give substance to our assurance by our lifestyle. Part of walking in love is seeking to deal with grace towards those who doctrines conflict with ours. Even men such as George Whitefield and the Wesleys struggled for many years to reach a point of acceptance to one another.

    Personally, I reject extremes Calvinism because I ignores those areas of scripture which challenge it. I reject Arminianism for the same reason. I believe in the eternal security of the believer but I also believe that the rift between the Arminian and Calvinist camps comes from a paradox in scripture which we all have difficulty grasping. The bottom line is that if we are saved we can only give thanks to God for it. If we are lost then we can only blame ourselves for the Gospel is preached.

    1. Thank you for the above comment, Robert.
      Believe me, I'm was not taking the love of God for granted without realising God's wrath against sin (one only has to read the book of Revelation) but I rather in reference of the quoted verse, I do recall the controversies which took place not only at Ascot Baptist Church (as it was at the time) but at other churches elsewhere.
      Yes, the New Testament does exhort elders etc. to rebuke a brother who remains in persistant sins, but the rebuke is to bring repentance and restoration to proper Christian living and of following the will of the Holy Spirit within him.Then he is free to move on.
      But to live in constant fear of punishment throughout life, I think, is not the will of God for the believer, as Jesus promised a more abundant life in John 10:10. All I did in this week's blog was to show what I believe is error put forth by some advocates which bounds the listener to fear rather than to set the listener free to enjoy his relationship with his God.
      However, I admit that this morning at church, God did say to me that I wrote the above blog from a motive other than love, and since then, I have written an addendum with the hope of addressing this issue.
      God bless, and thanks again for your contribution.

  3. Hi Frank again,
    I have just read Robert's comment and where he writes:- 'In its context that verse is an admonishment to maintain a reverent fear of the Lord and to walk in love. Something we need to be reminded of when we take the Lord too much for granted or focus so much on Jesus being our friend that we forget that He is also a consuming fire.' I have to agree totally with him. I think I have always though of the 'with fear and trembling' as meaning 'with total respect', but it is always good when brothers and sisters in Christ share their thoughts because then there is balance.
    God bless.

  4. Dear Frank,
    Thank you as always for the thorough and thought-provoking first. You shall know them b y their fruits, and if the Cambridge Dons brought rioting and confusion instead of revival, this cannot be of God. He came to give us abundant as well as eternal life. How can life be abundant if we are always cowering in fear over doing something so wrong that we lose our salvation? How can salvation be a free gift if we have to work to keep it?
    That being said, I agree that we should fear -- i.e., have a healthy respect for -- God, and desire to obey and please Him.
    God bless,

  5. Frank, you've hit the very heart of the matter when you point out the focus on celebrity and prestige. To become widely accepted false doctrine needs an advocate who people don't question. It is one of the reasons Paul commanded "Therefore let no man glory in men..." in I Corinthians 3:21. When we glorify men, we tend not to check out their teaching.