January 7, 2019
Dear Editors of the Standard Bearer,
I read Rev. Koole’s rebuttal of my blog post in the Standard Bearer. He reiterates without proof that the controversy recently decided by synod was about the question, “what is to be judged as antinomianism?” Can he not see that this matter of antinomianism only came up as a false charge against objections to preaching that compromised the gospel of grace? The gospel of grace in its criticism of that preaching was charged with being antinomian.
In his response Rev. Koole continues to press his point about the threat of antinomianism that he “fears,” by criticizing “men full of misguided zeal for the truth that the salvation of the sinner is all of grace, and therefore all of God (in reaction to Arminianism or work-righteousness), but doing so by insisting that the preaching emphasize simply what God has done for us (prompting the believer to gratitude) and that the preacher then steer clear of stressing also how the hearer is called to live if he will experientially know the salvation and approval of his God.” Is this a description of the kind of men “that loudly subscribe to the Canons and then proceed to trouble the churches with their antinomian sentiments again and again”? ls this a description of “those of an antinomian strain…in our churches”? Since he is referring to preachers in our churches my questions are: who are they and what have they preached or written to which he can point as evidence of their misguided zeal?
But there is something curious about these misguided preachers. Are they a description of the real opponent in this controversy for Rev. Koole and the real problem in our churches as he sees it?
Let us examine the thinking of these preachers. They have a zeal for protecting the doctrine of salvation all of grace. They do that out of loathing for Arminianism and work-righteousness. In their preaching they emphasize simply what God has done for us. They believe that this prompts gratitude. What preachers! They would build up faith since the gospel is not what one must do for salvation, but what God has accomplished by Jesus Christ and applies to us for salvation.
Rev. Koole accuses these men of antinomianism because they “steer clear of stressing also how the hearer is called to live if he will experientially know the salvation and approval of God.” These preachers are not accused of avoiding preaching on how the believer is called to live in thankfulness for his salvation. They are not accused of minimizing the law of God and the call to sanctified living. They are not accused of avoiding the exhortations and admonitions of the Word of God. Doing that, they could legitimately be charged with antinomianism.
So what is this doctrine that earns a preacher the label of antinomian if he avoids it? “How the hearer is called to live” means obedience to the law of God. Rev. Koole makes the hearer’s experiential knowledge of the salvation and approval of God dependent on the hearer’s obedience. These preachers are condemned as antinomian because they will not tell the people that if they will know the salvation and approval of God they must obey the law of God. Rev. Koole adds the word experientially. But to know the salvation and the approval of God is experiential.
The apostle says we know the salvation and approval of God by faith: “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (Phil. 3:8-11).
Our obedience he calls the righteousness which is of the law. This he counts loss and dung to be found in Christ with the righteousness of God which is by faith. On the ground of that righteousness we know both the salvation and the approval of God experientially since our salvation consists in the forgiveness of sins and justification, which is the approval of God. That I may know him is the translation of the Greek infinitive of purpose. He says forsaking our own obedience as righteousness is necessary in order that we know Christ, know the power of His resurrection, and know the fellowship of His sufferings. To know Christ is to know Him as the complete Savior personally and experientially who saves from the guilt and the pollution of sin. To know the power of His resurrection is to know personally and experientially the power of the resurrection of Christ to justify and grant eternal life and to transform the believer and make him a new creature in all his life. To know the fellowship of His sufferings is to know the persecution of the world because the believer stands in the world that hates Christ confessing His truth and living to His glory. So long as we hold on to our obedience as necessary to know the salvation and the approval of God—for righteousness—we are ignorant of Christ, the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His suffering. The apostle says that we know all these treasures of Christ—experientially—only by casting off our obedience for righteousness and having Christ and His righteousness by faith. In short, we know all this by faith because we know Christ by faith.
In light of the passage, is it not wrong to teach that obedience is the if on which the experiential knowledge of the salvation and approval of God depends? Where is this doctrine in the creeds? Is this an example of the “development” that “needs to be done” in “understanding grace in its sanctifying power?”
If making the knowledge of the salvation and approval of God depend on obedience is the idea behind the novel quest that Rev. Koole suggests for “wording” that “may be used in the preaching…to prompt and promote godliness,” then, I say, “No thank you.” Making some aspect of salvation—also the experience of it—dependent on works does not prompt godliness, but promotes a smug self-righteousness.
I like these imaginary preachers, then. I wish they were real men. I find that their zeal for the truth that salvation is all of God manifests itself in avoiding the doctrine that Rev. Koole praises as essential to the gospel and for avoiding which he charges them with antinomianism. They are not antinomian at all, but preach the gospel. Rev. Koole’s imaginary preachers—and all who are like them—are to be commended for avoiding that kind of preaching. I doubt they would have any interest in Rev. Koole’s quest for “wording” to “prompt godliness.”
Rev. Koole gets exercised about one of a series of questions that I asked in my blog post. I asked, “Are they [good works] fruits of faith or do works along with faith obtain? Is fellowship with the Father by faith and by the good works that faith produces? Is salvation by faith and by the works of faith?” Rev. Koole says. “The first two can pass inspection, but the third?… As if that was what Hope’s consistory was approving, what was being preached from their pulpit, and most of its members were oblivious to? And that this is what Classis East was willing to defend by its decisions? That is a serious misrepresentation. That was not the issue before synod. To indicate that it was is not honest or helpful.”
What if it was preached, approved. and defended, and thus before synod, that “we do good works to have our prayers answered…we do good works so that we can receive God’s grace and Holy Spirit in our conscience… obedience is required here, obedience that I must perform in order to enjoy fellowship with God…. The way of a holy life matters; it is the way to the Father” (Acts of Synod 2018).
All this preached, approved, and defended under the banner of prompting and promoting godliness and exposing radical antinomians of all shades.
Synod said these condemned statements compromised justification and the unconditional covenant. If justification and the covenant are about anything, they are about the truth that salvation is by faith alone and not by faith and faith’s works.
It is surprising that Rev. Koole would see any difference between the three questions that I asked. He accepts the first two as legitimate, but the third is simply the extension of them. How are they different? The three questions that I asked do not present the truth over against three different errors, but over against one and the same error that can be stated three different ways more or less subtly. They are all equally serious because they all compromise justification by faith alone and the unconditional covenant.
I wonder if the new search to find “wording” to “prompt godliness” was not begun because synod took away words and phrases that many thought were a fine way to prompt godliness and criticism of which was judged antinomian, but that in fact compromised the gospel.
His imaginary preachers will not preach “how the hearer is called to live if he will experientially know the salvation and approval of God.” The sad thing is that Rev. Koole criticizes them for a reactionary and misguided zeal for grace and condemns them as antinomian. I challenge the editor of the Standard Bearer to explain how the fault that he finds with those preachers differs at all from the theology of the statements quoted above. If those preachers are antinomian, then synod was dead wrong.
I wish there were more of these “antinomian” preachers. They remind me of Hoeksema who wrote, “If the preaching of the law would leave the impression with the church of Jesus Christ that somehow we must add to the righteousness that is in Jesus Christ our Lord, then, of course, it would be far better that we never heard at all of the law again” (Triple Knowledge, vol. 3, 443).
Cordially in Christ,
Nathan J. Langerak