The Pelagian Captivity Of The Church

By the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

- Romans 12:3

When we seek to understand the teaching of Scripture, probably the most important principle to keep in mind is that Scripture interprets itself. No one biblical passage can be accurately understood in isolation from others, and this has been recognized from the days of the early church to the present. If our interpretation of one text would force us to deny the plain meaning of another passage, then we have interpreted God’s Word incorrectly.

At first glance, a text such as Titus 2:11 might appear to state that every individual has an equal opportunity to be saved, since Paul says the grace of God has appeared to all people. This is the position Arminians and Wesleyans take; however, it must be rejected in light of the rest of Scripture. Given Jesus’ promise that no one whom the Father draws will fail to come to Him (John 6:35–47), saving grace must not be offered to all people. If it were, then everyone would be saved for everyone would be drawn by the Father to His Son, Jesus Christ. But since everyone is not in fact a believer in Christ, and since some have been passed over for salvation and will end up in hell (Matt. 26:24; Rom. 9:19–24; 1 Peter 2:8), we understand that Titus 2:11 cannot be teaching that all people have an opportunity for salvation. The text must mean that all kinds of people, not every individual, receive saving grace.

Arminians and Wesleyans may be wrong that all people have an equal opportunity for salvation, but at least they believe God’s grace must do something in order for people to be redeemed. This was not so for Charles Grandison Finney, one of the most important religious leaders in nineteenth-century America. Although Finney is esteemed by many people in the church today, he was actually a thoroughgoing Pelagian who believed human beings are morally capable of choosing Christ. Grace is unnecessary, for human beings can develop the right frame of mind to believe in Jesus. It is the job of the preacher to do whatever he can to help get people into the right emotional and mental state to believe in Jesus. Finney’s legacy lives on in the modern church’s emphasis on using manipulative methods to produce professions of faith in Christ.

Finney and those who believe in human ability are guilty of violating Romans 12:3. They think of themselves—indeed, of all peo-ple—more highly than they should, giving them an ability Scripture does not say they possess. Moreover, they trust in their own power, not the power of God’s Word, to save, ultimately denying God the glory He’s due

Coram Deo

The power of God for conversion is in His grace working through the preaching of the gospel (1 Cor. 1:21). We do not have to invent fancy techniques to bring people to faith; we just have to preach God’s Word accurately and trust Him to save His people. Let us put our hope not in methods but in faithfulness to God’s Word.

Passages for Further Study

Isaiah 55:10–11
1 Cor. 1:18–31

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