The Bishop: Beware the Middling Unprotestantizer

William Laud, the bane of the Puritans, was Archbishop of Canterbury under Charles I from 1633–1645.

“Laud’s real policy next demands our attention. What was it? What was he driving at all his life? What did he want to do? What was his object and aim? I do not believe, with some, that he really desired to Romanize the Church of England, or meant and intended, if possible, to reunite it with the Church of Rome. I think those who say this go too far, and have no sufficient ground for their assertions. But I decidedly think, that what he did labour to effect was just as dangerous, and would sooner or later have brought back downright Popery, no matter what Laud meant or intended. I believe that Laud’s grand idea was to make the Church of England less Protestant, less Calvinistic, less Evangelical, than it was when he found it. I believe he thought that our excellent Reformers had gone too far; that the clock ought to be put back a good deal. I believe his favourite theory was, that we ought to occupy a medium position between the Reformation on the one side, and Rome on the other, and that we might combine the ceremonialism and sacramentalism of St Peter’s on the Tiber with the freedom from corruption and ecclesiastical independence of St Paul’s on the Thames. He did not, in short, want to go back to the Vatican, but he wanted to borrow some of its principles, and plant them in Lambeth Palace. I see in these ideas and theories a key to all his policy. His one aim from St John’s, Oxford, till he was sent to the Tower, was not to Romanize, but to unprotestantize the Church of England. Some may think this a nice and too refined a distinction. I do not. A ‘Romanizer’ is one thing, an ‘unprotestantizer’ is another.”

Curse or Be Cursed (Galatians 1:6–9)

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” —Galatians 1:6–9


The church is like a nuclear power plant. In his letter to the Romans Paul says, “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” The church’s receiving and being entrusted with the gospel is like her being entrusted with nuclear power. To be clear, the church is not the power, but she is the authorized custodian thereof.

There are attacks against the gospel from without, and so we do well to build strong walls of defense around the church, but the greatest potential threat always lies within. It is the spy within the church, tampering with the nuclear core that can cause the greatest devastation. This is precisely the danger the Galatians find themselves on the precipice of—a nuclear meltdown of the church and their souls.

This is why Paul open this letter with rebuke instead of thanksgiving. In nearly every other letter Paul writes, thanksgiving follows greeting. Consider the following example from Philippians.

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:3–11).

That letter, Philippians, written while imprisoned, is one of Paul’s warmest letters. The tone there is the complete opposite of Galatians. You may reason that this is because there are no serious errors being embraced by the Philippian church at this time. And this is mostly true, but, then what are we to make of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians?

“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:4–9).

Is there any church to whom Paul writes that had such a diversity of problems as the one in Corinth? Among them were divisions, sexual immorality, failure to exercise church discipline, suing one another, syncretism, disorder in the church gatherings, perverting the Lord’s Supper, and a denial of the resurrection of the saints. All of this and Paul still says, “I give thanks to my God always for you.” 

With the Galatians, thanksgiving is not only absent but replaced with a scathing rebuke. Why? Because the very core is being threatened. They are on the cusp of the worst possible spiritual catastrophe, a Chernobyl of the church; and thus it is that Paul expresses astonishment at the Galatians and anathematizes the false teachers. Concerning his cursing the false teachers, no more severe statement could be made and no lesser statement could be justified. When heretics have made their way to the core, it is curse or be cursed. If false gospels are not damned, men are.

We Must Pummel (2 Peter 2:1–10a)

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1 ESV).

In the second chapter of his second letter, Peter unleashes, not on false teaching, but false teachers. One commentator aptly captures the tone writing, “ ‘Refuting’… is not quite the word for Peter’s language; pummeling, denouncing, castigating, condemning, attacking, and assaulting are more accurate descriptions of what Peter does to his opponents. He offers a few arguments in response to false teaching in chapter 3, but chapter 2 is mainly occupied not with refutation but denunciation of the most severe sort.”

Though Peter is writing this letter near his death (1:14), the apostle could still grow fiery hot, though now, in contrast to his youth, we see the beauty of a sanctified flame. The potentially dangerous wildfire has become a useful blowtorch. This is the most extended and intense treatment of false teachers in the New Testament and it is blessedly brutal.

How far are we from making any denunciations of false teachers that approach this? Something is seriously wrong if you think Peter unloving or unChristian. That so many do think this wrong demonstrates how unloving and unChristian we are.

Consider how incapable the contemporary church is of even identifying or understanding the danger. The late R.C. Sproul well diagnosed the epidemic upon us writing:

“We are living in perhaps the most anti-intellectual period in the history of Christendom—not anti-academic or anti-scientific but anti-mind. I doubt if there has ever been a time in church history when professing Christians have been less concerned about doctrine than they are in our day. We hear almost daily that doctrine does not matter that Christianity is a relationship, not a creed. There is not simply indifference toward doctrine but outright hostility, which is exceedingly dangerous and lamentable. We cannot do even a cursory reading of the Word of God without seeing the enormous emphasis accorded to doctrine and that unsound doctrine and false teaching are not merely errors in abstraction but are profoundly destructive to the life of the people of God.”

We cannot identify the false because we don’t know the true, nor do we care.

In addition to animosity towards doctrine, we are indifferent to history. Few Christians have any knowledge of heresies such as  Arianism, Pelagianism, or Unitarianism. The church has fought heresy, condemned it, and crafted creeds and confessions in response, but we’re so ignorant that these weeds are allowed to sprout up again and again unnoticed. If we will not learn from history, we must be prepared to be one of her lessons.

False teachers will rise, and false teachers will fall. We must know this, and must recognize them lest we share in their destruction.

The August Theologian: How Heresy Serves the Church

“The rejection of heretics brings into relief what your church holds and what sound doctrine maintains.” —Augustine of Hippo, Confessions

The Apologist: When the Dead are Living and the Living are Dead

I remember hearing a certain existential theologian speaking some years ago. After he had finished, I overheard one old Christian saying to another, ‘Wasn’t it wonderful?’ The other answered, ‘It was wonderful, but I couldn’t understand it.’ True Christianity is quite different. When the Bible says, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,’ a child and a philosopher can understand that it means God created the heavens and the earth in antithesis to the idea that God did not create the heavens and the earth. It does not mean that we can plumb to the exhaustive depths of all God knows about this, but it does mean that the basic facts have been clearly expressed in terms of antithesis. With the paradox-ridden new liberal theology, statements have a way of seeing to be profound while actually being only vague. To get the full impact of this, just read a chapter in the works of B.B. Warfiled, J. Gresham Machen, Abraham Kuyper, Martin Luther or John Calvin, and then read a chapter by one of the existential theologians. —Francis Schaeffer, The Church Before the Watching World

The Apologist: Higher Criticism is Lower Scholarship

Before we take up the details, however, we must stress the fact and the reason that we reject liberal theology, old and new, is not that we are opposed to scholarship. Constantly through the years great Bible-believing scholars have engaged in what is usually called lower criticism–the question of what the best Bible text really is. It is natural that biblical Christians should find textual study important, because since Scripture is propositional communication from God to mankind, obviously we are interested in the very best text possible. Consequently, Christian scholars have labored through the years in the area of lower criticism.

Higher criticism is quite a different matter. Picking up where lower criticism leaves off, it attempts to determine upon its own subjective basis what is to be accepted and what is to be rejected after the best text has been established. The “new hermeneutic” is a case in point, for here there is no real distinction between text and interpretation; both are run together.

The real difference between liberalism and biblical Christianity is not a matter of scholarship, but a matter of presuppositions. Both the old liberalism and new liberalism operate on a set of presuppositions common to both of them, but different from those of historic, orthodox Christianity. —Francis Schaeffer, The Church Before the Watching World

The Backroads to Heresy (1 Timothy 1:18–20)

“…wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith…” 1 Timothy 1:18b-19

Paul gives two combats tips concerning waging the good warfare; a weapon for each hand. You fight the good fight of the faith by holding faith, and holding a good conscience. The first tip makes perfect sense, as much as the drill sergeant yelling, “You kill the enemy by shooting him!” But the second tip sounds like, “You kill the enemy with good hygiene.” Huh? Yet, it’s as simple as this, when trench foot impairs, disables, or kills you, it hurts the campaign. Shoot the wolves, and stay healthy—that’s how we win.

“This,” in v. 19 is singular. It is by rejecting a good conscience particularly that some have made shipwreck of the faith. Holding a good conscience is waging the good warfare. We must contend for the faith lest we be a heretic.

There are two routes to heresy, the interstate and the backroads. The interstate is clearly marked with big green signs that read, “PELAGIANISM—NEXT RIGHT,” or “MODALISM—THREE MILES.” You know where you’re going and you mean to go there. Then there are the backroads of immorality. You were on the well-lit heavenly highway but you messed up. You pulled off the road because you wanted some darkness. Now your lost and scared, but you like this darkness, so you delude yourself. You redraw the map. You convince yourself that if you just keep this direction, you’ll still get to the heavenly city.

John Calvin wrote, “All the errors that have existed in the Christian Church from the beginning, proceeded from this source, that in some persons, ambition, and in others, covetousness, extinguished the true fear of God. A bad conscience is, therefore, the mother of all heresies.” Really? But listen to how well Calvin’s assessment jibes with Scripture.

“If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit [Do you hear ambition?] and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain [See covetousness?].” —1 Timothy 6:3–6

Still not convinced?

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”

Just as sound belief and sound behavior go together, so do heresy and immorality (1 Timothy 1:5–6, 10; 6:3). And the relation is mutual. Heresy not only leads to immorality. Immorality leads to heresy.

“Doctrinal purity must be accompanied by purity of life. There is an inseparable link between truth and morality, between right belief and right behavior. Consequently, theological error has its roots in moral rather than intellectual soil (cf. Matt. 7:15-20). People often teach wrong doctrine to accommodate their sin. That truth is borne out by the immorality that so often characterizes false teachers.” —John MacArthur

Matthew 16:21-28 & Satanic Vandalism

The disciples have received a canvas and they recognize the silhouette. “That’s the king,” they confess. Now Jesus wants to make the silhouette a portrait; He wants to fill in the lines. Peter has received revelation from the Father that Jesus is the Christ, now He is receiving further revelation as to what that means from the Christ. Jesus tells them, “You see a crown, but do you notice its thorns? You see a throne, but do you see that a cross undergirds it?”

Peter is ready to receive the canvas and its silhouette, but he wants to paint a mustache over God’s Mona Lisa. He thinks he can improve upon God’s masterpiece. Peter has the right picture. He has been given a paint by numbers sheet. Number 2 is royal blue, and number 1 is supposed to be blood red. Peter wants to improvise. No longer content to be the disciple he wants to be the rabbi. He decides everything should be royal blue. But Jesus says red is a “must.” The masterpiece of God’s kingdom has a lot of blood red in it, and Jesus tells His disciples that no one else can paint it. He must bleed to paint this glory.

Trying to paint over the cross and keep the Christ is satanic vandalism. In the wilderness Satan tried to offer Jesus the world without the cross. Peter is acting here as Satan’s disciple, not Jesus’. Many have tried to keep the glory without the gory, but the paint won’t stick. Blood red is the primer for Jesus’ work of new creation.

Now let me fill in some lines. Some act like they keep the cross, but they hollow it out, and then cover it with precious metal. No more blood. Many that deny that Jesus was paying the penalty for sins in the place of sinners to reconcile them to God will affirm many other truths about the cross, but the paint wont stick. Deny ransom, deny propitiation, deny substitution, and whatever cross you may embrace, it ain’t Jesus’. The cross is the crux, and the crux of the cross is penal substitutionary atonement. This is crucial to God’s masterpiece.

If a child were to paint over a revered piece of artwork in a museum with their crayons, this is one time when daddy and mommy would’t praise their creativity. When an aspiring adult artist does this, it isn’t ignorant creativity, its damnable vandalism. Don’t expect the Father’s accolades when you try to paint by different numbers. This is an instance where creativity is best termed heresy.