Saturday, April 21, 2007

Semi-Pelagianism is Still in The Church

I am responding to an article taught by Kenneth Copeland Ministries here: Looking For a Receiver

The article is written by Gloria Copeland who is a very influential televangelist today. The concern I have with Mrs. Copeland’s tract is that she falls into an old heresy (false teaching) called Semi-Pelagianism, and she misunderstands the nature of saving faith.

The Semi-Pelagians were a group of monks in the fifth century who believed that if they acted first and got in the right position, then God would give His grace. This false teaching was refuted on the basis of Scripture by a famous Pastor by the name of Augustine. Some Protestants today have disregarded the history of the Church, and in doing so are repeating heresies that have already been refuted. Thankfully, the classical Reformers (Martin Luther, etc.) were familiar with Church history and were able to build on it, rather then repeat the same errors. Mrs. Copeland teaches exactly what the Semi-Pelgians taught: “Permit God to enter,” “Welcome Him in,” “Be devoted to Him first,” “Increase your capacity,” “Put yourself in position,” “God will give you His grace if you just repent and make a turn towards him with your whole heart.” Copeland gets into an error by using the illustration of the wide receiver. Wide receivers have to work to get open before the quarterback will throw the pass.

Thankfully, this is not the way God works. The Apostle Paul said that Jesus “Saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace” (2 Tim. 1:9). Jesus Christ gives us His grace not because of our work to get in the right position, but by His own purpose and love. When you hear the gospel that Christ forgives you, the Holy Spirit is given to you as a gift, not on the basis of your labor to get in position. When Peter was preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, the book of Acts records, “The Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word….the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out…” (10:44-45). The Holy Spirit is called a gift because God bestows it freely.

Mrs. Copeland says to seek out God first, and then He will give you good things. However, because of our sinful nature, the Scriptures say: “No one seeks for God” (Rom. 3:11). Our sinful natures are so corrupted that the Scriptures say, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God…” (1 Cor. 2:14). Thankfully, because God is rich in mercy He saves us freely by grace through faith. Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). At first glance it may appear that that the “this” which is not our own doing is “grace” but not “faith.” However, an analysis of the nouns in the Greek tells us that the “this” is referring to both “grace” and “faith!” So, even our faith is a gift from God which is given not on the basis of what we do, but for free.

By God’s grace through faith we trust in the promise of Jesus Christ to save us. Paul says, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Rom. 4:4-5). Paul describes faith as trust in someone who is outside of us. This Jesus Christ is the One who justifies (“justify” means to “pronounce righteous”) us by faith. Faith does not save because it is a good work in and of itself, but only because it is a passive instrument by which you receive and trust in the promised mercy. Paul says, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it” (2 Cor. 4:7)? Mrs. Copeland does well in speaking of faith as reception. But because she denies that faith is a gift, she opens the door for man to boast about getting open to receive the pass. Faith is something that we have, but it is also something we have received.

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