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. You can read a small sampling here, remembering that these are only the tip of the iceberg.
As I read these stories from Christian women, I see a connection. The connection is subtle and hard to glimpse at first, but it is there.
If you are unfamiliar with the debate concerning Sola Fide, you might want to take a few minutes to get up to speed. The historic doctrine of the reformation is summarized simply and beautifully in the Heidelberg Catechism:
60. How art thou righteous before God?
Only by true faith in Jesus Christ; that is, although my conscience accuse me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.
61. Why sayest thou, that thou art righteous by faith only?
Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, but because only the satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God, and I can receive the same and make it my own in no other way than by faith only.
62. But why cannot our good works be the whole or part of our righteousness before God?
Because the righteousness which can stand before the judgment-seat of God, must be perfect throughout and wholly conformable to the divine law;1) but even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.
63. Do our good works merit nothing, even though it is God’s will to reward them in this life and in that which is to come?
The reward comes not of merit, but of grace.
64. But does not this doctrine make men careless and profane?
No, for it is impossible that those who are implanted into Christ by true faith, should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness.
I could not say it more succinctly or carefully or beautifully. Perhaps this is why it has been used for over 450 years to explain the Christian faith.
The attack on this doctrine is always subtle. The latest has been the distinction proposed between “justification” and “final salvation”. The idea is that we are declared righteous before God by faith, but our final salvation is dependent upon our holiness. The normal caveat is added, “by grace of course” or “by the power of the Spirit, of course”, but the idea is that somehow we must add our own works to the perfect holiness of Christ in order to finally stand before God.
This, as has been amply shown, is the very idea that began the protests of the reformation to begin with. It is contrary to scripture, to the creeds of the reformation, and to the sound doctrine that brings comfort to the heart of God’s people.
But the purpose of this post is to show that there is a connection between this doctrine and the rise of sexual assault in our churches. But first, a caveat. It is not at all my intention to accuse anyone who disagrees with me of sexual assault. It is merely my contention that the denial of the doctrine that salvation (and not merely justification) is by faith alone provides an ample breeding ground for predators and can never bring safety to the sheep.
It is no coincidence that the Roman church at the time of the reformation was also full of predators. The priests held the sheep in an iron grip of guilt and had their way with them. There were brothels ran by the papacy right in the Vatican and corruption filled every corner. This was not a disconnected anomaly, but directly connected to the doctrine that we must somehow add our works to our faith in order to please God.
If our righteousness and holiness are not complete in Christ, then it follows that we must add something of our own. It might be that we must desire God more, or that we must submit more, or that we must wear different clothing, or watch different movies. The Federal Vision guys prattle about “Covenant faithfulness” and the Vatican says, “Penance and masses and confession.” But it will all come down to the same thing. Christ isn’t enough. You have to add to it. “Yes”, they all say, “We are justified by faith alone. But to really progress in our sanctification we must add to that our good works.”
Since every Christian has a tender conscience, and every Christian wants to please God, they become vulnerable to this kind of thinking. They also make themselves a prey, which is what Paul warns the church of in the book of Galatians.
If Christ is not enough, 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…
And the first step of this bondage is always the same one. “Christ is not enough. We don’t want “easy believism” now, do we?”
But if Christ is not enough, then who is? and what more do I have to do?
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.
Perhaps now we can see the connection. 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…
This is why Paul wrote this:
19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality,
20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions,
21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
(Gal 5:19-21 NAS)
In the context of the book of Galatians, the “flesh” is the belief that the works of the law – any law – must be added to the perfect work of Christ in order to be finally saved. In the churches of Galatia, the point at issue was whether Christians should be circumcised. Whether that is your issue, or whether it is covenant faithfulness, desiring God enough, loving God enough, wearing appropriate clothing, submitting to authority, it is all “the flesh” according to Paul, and the flesh always conceives the same babies: immorality, impurity, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, etc. It is the spirit of Cain, Esau, Ishmael.
Abraham didn’t receive the promise because he could have a baby. He didn’t receive it because he reached high enough and worked hard enough. It was by faith, and faith alone. Even his faith wasn’t a work that was deemed good enough. No, faith was the hand that grasped Christ from afar. And in Christ, he rested. And he became the heir to the world.
And by that same faith – holding to Christ alone by faith alone – we find that same rest, and become heirs according to the promise. Never by the flesh. Always by faith. In finding rest, we also find freedom from every Tetzel of every stripe in every age.
In the heart-breaking accounts I referenced earlier, 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.
It is time to stop putting up with it. It is time that we all refuse to submit and support every Tetzel of every stripe. If you are being taught that Christ’s righteousness is not enough, or that we must somehow offer our own works to God as part of our holiness, then you need to either leave or file charges. If you are not in a denomination that hears charges, then it is time to leave. You are being fleeced.