Being Lured Away From Justification
There is an important lesson to be learned when we hear of faithful servants of the Word vacating singular service to Christ crucified to join some heterodox communion. There is an unfortunate, but familiar pilgrimage that entirely too many have taken—servants who have offered strong confession and service in the pure Gospel, but who then have doctrinally gone astray. How does this happen?
When the chief article of justification begins to wane in one’s thinking as the chief article—when it becomes just one among all the other articles of faith—the Devil can use whatever articles make up one’s doctrinal passion (good in their own right) to replace it. Just because you are against the false teachers about whatever articles of faith are near and dear to you; this is no guarantee that the Devil must have thrown up his hands and raised the white flag in seeking to separate you from a right faith and service in the righteousness of Christ. He has demonstrated ample ability to use your passions, your commitments against the false teachers, and your zeal, to dethrone the central significance of the forgiveness of sins in an all-sufficient cross of Christ.
Once dethroning the sufficiency of the righteousness of the crucified Christ as the chief article, he then works to drive a wedge between those articles of faith and issues of habit that stir your passions, and the pure milk of the Gospel. When other heterodox traditions hold your views on your passionate articles of faith, the Devil will be at work to have you view their doctrinal errors as not so bad… even when they involve false understandings of justification, the central article of the Gospel.
Those who have been around a while have observed well how this played out over time with many champions of an inspired and inerrant Bible in the 1960s and 70s. Tragically, over time, many of these faithful confessors sold out the pure Gospel in the name of passion and zeal for evangelism and the mission of outreach. “Let’s get on with the mission of the Church!” was their cry. And they believed that the Baptists, Campus Crusade, and the church-growth authorities had what was needed to successfully undertake the Great Commission.
Since these Protestants had it right with mission and evangelism, it could be minimized that they had faulty understandings of how sinners are justified before God. In the midst of their narrow-minded passions, the Church and her Ministry, the Means of Grace, the historic liturgy, and a totally monergistic understanding of the saving work of Christ could be compromised for the sake of an all-encompassing, passionate vision of effectively saving souls.
But this is only the half of it. Many who matured in the faith some time after the Battle for the Bible and the compromise with Protestantism in the name of evangelistic mission—members of the next generation—these men were especially nurtured to cherish the treasures of the Church, its Holy Ministry, and its historic liturgy. And many through the teaching they received came to appreciate these articles and practices, as confessional Lutheranism historically retained and expressed them.
But I believe that we are witnessing how the Devil can use a passion for the catholicity of the Church, its historic liturgy, and the Holy Office of the apostolic Ministry, to rend asunder the crown jewel of the Church – justification by grace through faith alone. The Devil can do it just as easily as he can use and pervert passions for an inerrant, fully authoritative Bible. ‘Swimming the Bosporus’ can vacate sufficiency of the Grace of Christ just as much as watered-down emergent church missional thinking.
The point that Jesus makes about he who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me (Matt 10:37) has application also for we who would hold and cherish the articles of faith in the Gospel of our Lord. If we mis-order these articles, cherishing any article more than the chief work of the Savior on the cross and in the Gospel; if we treat any other article of faith in our minds as the central article upon which the Church stands or falls… then we become vulnerable to a form of doctrinal idolatry that the Devil can use to wrench the righteousness of Christ from us and our ministry to others. Good Lord, deliver us!