Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Disproportionate grace

An Australian ecclesia recently decided to "dissociate" itself from another ecclesia because they don't like the "disproportionate emphasis on the doctrine of grace" by the other ecclesia.

A "disproportionate emphasis on the doctrine of grace" sounds like an oxymoron to me. "Grace" is all about God's abundant, overflowing, overwhelming, infinite, disproportionate generosity!

Paul used the word "grace" about 80 times in his letters. John says “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17) and “from the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another” (1:16). Luke said “all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words [or words of grace] that came from his lips” (Luke 4:22). Paul said he taught "the gospel of grace" (Acts 20:24). Many of Jesus stories and parables emphasised the disproportionate nature of God's generosity. If we don't understand disproportionate grace we really don't understand the Gospel.

Members of the ecclesia concerned would no doubt benefit by reading some of the following helpful books:

Law and Grace by Christadelphian author W.F. Barling

Conviction and Conduct by Christadelphian author Islip Collyer

Legalism vs. Faith by Christadelphian author David Levin

The Grace Awakening by Charles Swindoll

What's So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey


Gerry said...

Hi Stephen,

History is bound to repeat itself when people don't think for themselves.

The Pharisees are alive and busy about their business of Crucifying the Lord yet again.

Why is it that they are afraid of GRACE?

By GRACE your brother in the Lord

Unknown said...

It seems to me that alot of people are scared of grace. They are worried that talking about grace will encourage people to "take advantage" of it and use it as a license to sin and "slack off" on spiritual discipline and so forth. I think this is a legitimate concern, but not one that should prevent us from talking about the "gospel of grace" often. What can we do to reassure these folks that we're not talking about a "license for license"? How can we teach grace such that people understand it in its fullness? Some of the books you mention go into this, but my suspicion is that those who are "charisphobic" are not going to want to read them. They might read a shorter article, though.

Steve said...

Why are people afraid of grace?

I think that throughout the history of the church there have been groups which have argued that salvation by grace "can't really be that simple!" and have found creative ways of making the Gospel more complicated, sometimes completely obscuring the original message in the process.

It's a trend which began in the first century, even before the New Testament was completed. The underlying ideologies in Gnosticism began even before Christianity and may have entered the church through Jewish Gnostics who converted to Christianity. The word gnostic comes from the Greek gnosis "to know" and the Gnostics were thus named because they believed all was not what it appeared to be on the surface and in order to be saved you had to have a special "knowledge" of the "hidden truths". John's writings appear to have been written to counter this directly, and he encourages his readers with the reassurance that they do indeed know the truth, and that yes, it really is very simple! It's possible that in some of Paul's writings he dealt with Gnosticism as a secondary problem, although his main concern was exclusivism.

Now, while I'm not suggesting that Christadelphianism has adopted any of the uniquely Gnostic doctrines, I am concerned about the emphasis (especially in some Christadelphian circles) on the need for knowledge and correct doctrine as being "essential for salvation". This actually drives some people away from Christ because they may feel inadequate about their academic or intellectual ability to grasp all the fine details. I've met a lot of young people who have delayed baptism (some never getting baptised at all) because they "don't know enough". While Jesus demanded a decision from his listeners and called them to repentance stressing the urgency of a response, Christadelphians typically have a long learning process before anyone can be baptised. The process can take years, and some people have even been denied baptism because they were confused, uncertain, or lacked knowledge about fine details.

No wonder that both John and Paul resisted the trend towards gaining knowledge as a means of salvation.

Steve said...


Do you have a short article on grace in mind?

Anonymous said...

I take due note of Trevor's comments about Grace. He offers a good balance. However "out there" amongst the mainstream Churches in the real world, one does regularly encounter what is commonly referred to as "CHEAP GRACE". These are people for whom "grace" does indeed amount to "license for license"! It seems that there is much more of that, than of the real thing.

To remind those people that Grace comes with an OBLIGATION to do WORKS, often attracts the charge of LEGALISM.

When we preach about GRACE, we should always emphasise that Biblical GRACE is a PACKAGE which is only given to those who truly repent of their sins. That is where it STARTS. It is NOT offered to the UNREPENTANT!

The continuing OBLIGATIONS include submission to a "TRAINING COURSE" which teaches us that "denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world". (Titus 2:12)

Reject that training course and you also reject the GRACE that offers it!

When Jesus was asked "what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" His answer was:
"KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS"! (Matt 19:16-17)

Allon Maxwell

Anonymous said...

It is interesting to notice that Jesus managed to preach the Gospel without ever using the word "GRACE"!

On the other hand, He preached often about OBEDIENCE to His COMMANDMENTS. e.g. Luke 6:46-49.

What are we to make of that?

The content of the four Gospels indicates that He was far more concerned with Holy Living, than about some of the things that some of our contemporaries try to impose on us as "doctrinal first principles".

Allon Maxwell

Cliff York said...

Hi Steve

I found "Principles and Proverbs" by CD author Islip Collyer an extremely enlightening read... along with the others that you mentioned.

Also, "In the Grip of Grace" by Max Lucardo is a very worthwhile read.

Let the Sonshine in

Gerry said...

Hi Stephen & ntb,

The amazing thing about Grace is that it doesn't matter if people do take advantage of it.....

Jesus gave us his Grace and he did this because we are SINNERS. What we need to remember is that even though we have received Grace WE STILL SIN.

Fortunately for me it is not my brethren and sisters who will judge me but it is my Saviour who will do this.

Grace is available to everyone, we accept it and yet we still Sin. The Lord has already said that he will account for our Sin. We need to remember that Christ already knew we were going to Sin even after we accepted his Grace, but he still offers it to all men and women.

Therefore don't concern yourselves with how others behave, we are all unworthy....ther are no degrees of unworthiness.

By Grace your brother in the Lord

Anonymous said...

Hello Gerry - the thing is, while you view and label your fellow brethren and sisters as "Pharisees" you will never be able to extend and practice grace towards them yourself, surely?

(As far as I am aware, Jesus never really showed much grace to the Pharisees? ...or maybe He did and I just don't see it? Maybe I'm doing Him an injustice I don't know).

One definition of "Grace" is "bestowing undeserved favour", and we are told to love our enemies and "Be perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect" - since He sends the rain on the just and the unjust.

But if we see our fellow brethren and sisters as "Pharisess", then I cannot possibly see how grace can ever operate fully in this situation from either end?

To view your fellow brethren and sisters as "Pharisess" only perpetuates the polarisation and justifies your own position of treating them the way Jesus treated the Pharisees? Which surely is not right if they are part of the Body?

....and if they are not truly part of the Body - as your labelling of them suggests - what is all the fuss about? ...why not let them be? That is what Jesus would do, for answered His disciples concerning the Pharisees' offense "Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch." Matt 15:14.

If you can't lead by example on the grace issue, best to drop it.

....just trying to think things through.

By grace, Dawn Fallon

Gerry said...

Hi Dawn,
Thank you for your comments but I think that you misunderstand what I mean.
My brethren and sisters are all of mankind who have accepted the Lord Jesus as their Saviour. I do not just refer to a few who are Christadelphians. Man's ability to judge "Righteously" is something which is nowhere near that of Jesus. We may say we forgive but we remember and most of us will wait for a repeat and then say "I just knew that they would do that again"....this is not what Grace is.
Jesus rightly judged the Pharisees in what he said because he could understand their hearts. They had not repented. Many brethren and sisters have trodden the HARD LINE over the years and some have seen that they have been misguided in doing so. I have a dear friend who would have been in the front row ready to cast a stone with the others, but he has now seen that that is not the way that Christ showed us. He now is a defender of the defenceless and honours the charter to 'serve others in humbleness' that we were given by Jesus.
You wrote: "(As far as I am aware, Jesus never really showed much grace to the Pharisees? ...or maybe He did and I just don't see it? Maybe I'm doing Him an injustice I don't know)."
I am quite sure that Jesus offered Grace to the Pharisees as much as he did to all other men and women. The difference is that he was pretty much always having to deal with their snipping and tricks. He didn't have the luxury of simply ignoring the Pharisees. I believe that in responding to the Pharisees as he did, was a clear example of him attempting to show them what was right as opposed to what was wrong - he was teaching them that the way they had chosen was not the correct way.
You wrote: "But if we see our fellow brethren and sisters as "Pharisees", then I cannot possibly see how grace can ever operate fully in this situation from either end?"
Grace is not something that I have it is something that I receive from Jesus. To see injustice and not speak up is wrong ! To see brethren & sisters treated shabbily by others and not speak up is WRONG ! As I said GRACE is not something I can give to others but it is something so precious that I want others to receive it....therefore I must speak up when I see that injustice is being done.
You wrote: "To view your fellow brethren and sisters as "Pharisees" only perpetuates the polarisation and justifies your own position of treating them the way Jesus treated the Pharisees? Which surely is not right if they are part of the Body?"
Seeing injustice and the way people behave to others is something that cannot be overlooked. The polarisation that you mention already exists and ignoring it will not lessen it. It can only be dealt with head on...if we love our brethren and sisters, then they are worth fighting for, we shouldn't therefore ignore the issues for their sakes. Jesus dealt with the Pharisees the only way he could - by using their arguments and countering them with what should have been. If they are part of the body, it is our absolute duty to try and correct their understanding so that they can receive Grace - there is no other way to go.
If they are not part of the Body - then they still might be. I do not have the absolute insight that Jesus had and therefore cannot pass judgement on them as did Jesus. Consequently while I still have life in me I will try to save them from the path that they are on and lead them to Grace...There is no other way.

By GRACE your brother in the Lord

Anonymous said...

I agree that Grace needs to operate both ways but it is clear that Jesus was not about to tolerate the behaviour of the Pharisees while they continued in their abusive behaviour.

In fact history seems to support the view that the grace that is freely given to all comes with the caveat that recipients must also be gracious.

Like the servant forgiven much who then tried to extract a little from his own debtor. The one thing that has always angered God is when people are abusive to others.

Grace is given freely and generously - but acceptance of this grace carries with it a responsibility to also be gracious - not to repay the grace received with aggression to those who should be in our care - who are also in need.

The priests, Pharisees and scribes in Jesus day were doing exactly that - lauding it over others and holding them to ransom by the power invested them by the Mosaic law - when that power was supposed to be used to free and lift the people up it was being used instead to bind and grind them down. Instead of being holy to the Lord they were wholly for themselves.

Jesus did not feel it wrong to call them as he saw them.

Are we the children of God?
Then we should act as he does in holiness - pure from self will and perfectly gracious when others attack us - but if we are not upset by the behaviour of abusive people then we are not of our Father.

Love in Jesus
John Davy

Anonymous said...

Hi Gerry - I understand better what you’re saying now, thanks.

Your desire to love your Pharisaical bre & sis (as you see them) into the way of grace by denouncing what is wrong is admirable – but I am still somewhat confused and unconvinced that a public fight on the internet about it is the right way. It just seemed that openly condemning bre & sis as “Pharisees” was a bit, well, …..ungracious!!

You said that grace is something you cannot give, but I do believe we are exhorted to *be* gracious and that grace is something we should nurture, and to minister grace to each other – even when it is not ministered to us by fellow believers. 2 Cor 9:4 says that grace is something which should be in every believer. It is something we have to nurture though, and some bre & sis possess it in greater measure than others!

However, I am all for exposing any unfruitful works of darkness (Eph 5:11), and I absolutely agree with you there. But I am unsure whether disagreeing over fellowship issues can be classed as “unfruitful works of darkness” because each ecclesia is responsible before God how it conducts it’s affairs. And judgement will begin at the house of God. Exposing disagreements concerning fellowship issues publicly on the internet – well, it makes me wonder.

Scripture says that we are to “grow in grace” (2 Pet 3:18), and publicly labelling bre. & sis. as “Pharisees” didn’t really speak to me of “growing in grace”? I hope you see my confusion there.

I believe grace is something we CAN give and impart (because God, through Christ, has given it and imparted it to us).

Heb 12:28 exhorts us to “let us have grace” and Col 4:6 says “let your speech be always seasoned with grace”. Now even if you consider some of your bre. & sis. to be “Pharisees”, to publicly speak it on the internet surely is not speech which is “seasoned with grace”? – but rather a public defamation of some kind?

….and Ephs 4:7 tells us “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may *impart grace to the hearers*” – so I was just rather confused that while the issue is about “grace” , the actions do not appear to demonstrate grace because the of the manner in which part of the Body is labelled as “Pharisees”. Hence my confusion.

By grace, Dawn

Gerry said...

Hi Dawn,

It is very easy to get mixed up in this sort of discussion. I will try and deal with some of the issues you raise.

1. Using the Internet is a fair and open way of dealing with matters. Historically brethren controlled matters because they didn't allow them to be discussed so openly. Now we can do it and everyone can offer a viewpoint. It is one of the great uses of the Internet. One of the problems with a ‘closed group’ such as Christadelphians is that they are generally not open to public scrutiny, however the Internet allows for everyone to see what is really going on. What might have been done and got away with 20 years ago can now be exposed for all to see.

2. I say that I cannot give then GRACE - this is because the Grace I refer to is the Grace that Jesus extends to all mankind. It is not mine to give. I cannot buy it, I cannot win it, I cannot sell it - it comes from Jesus who died for my Sins. In terms of acting 'graciously' I have no issue because this is not something that will save anyone by covering their Sins. Life experience has taught me that Bully boys do not change, acting graciously towards them is seen by them as weakness and they simply continue to exert control over others. By the same token - I have compassion for them as they are misguided and need the Grace of our Lord.

3. Brethren & Sisters choose to be Pharisees. It is their choice and not mine. I grew up as a Pharisee amongst Pharisees. I knew no better, but now I do and I seek to reach those who act as Pharisees and to highlight to them that there is a free offer of Grace to all those who turn to the Lord and are repentant. Calling someone a Pharisee is done to get their attention. It was a form of address used to get my attention quite some years ago when I had been to a Sydney conference and together with hundreds of brethren in suits and ties I was leaving Sydney Town Hall. Someone from the crowd singled me out and levelled that charge “You are a modern day Pharisee” …. I took notice.

4. I agree that we should “grow in grace” but that does not mean that we should be a doormat for brethren who have set themselves up to destroy others by their actions. We must not forget the effect that these matters have on ‘young bre & sis’ who are not seasoned and able to deal with such matters. Being on the receiving end of such actions has the potential to make some doubt their own faith – we cannot let this happen !

For evil to flourish we just need to remain silent.

By Grace, Gerry

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the explanation Gerry – very clear.

I guess it’s just that I have had two experiences with grace-based mainstream Christian fellowships and they haven’t been very good ones I’m afraid, so I admit I have some apprehensions and reservations regarding any fellowship which describes itself as grace-based. I found them to be very narrow-minded, and they blocked people out and cut people off who didn’t share their grace-based mindset and it led to a degree of confusion on my part (and God is not the author of confusion).

But I have no knowledge of the situation currently under discussion here and so it’s none of my business really – just I occasionally read Steven’s blog now and then, and I noticed your comment so I thought I would explore it more.

As for brethren and sisters *choosing* to be Pharisees: I have to admit I am unsure about that. We have to remember that the Pharisees rejected Christ as Messiah: they were not Christians. But I do not think we have the liberty to label any brother or sister who confesses Christ, and acknowledges Him as the way of salvation, as a Pharisee. I believe that is a mindset we have to reject. But there we differ, evidently.

Nevertheless I hope and pray that in God’s perfect timing a way forward can be found for reconciliation and restoration, and thank you for your replies which are much appreciated.

By grace, Dawn.

Cliff York said...

Hi Gerry and Dawn

What a great forum we have here on the internet to be able to hear two sides of a discussion as it were.

I have looked at Gerry's posts and note that he has not named any individual a Pharisee - but he has highlighted Pharisee/legalistic behaviour.

I agree with Dawn that we must beware that we do not judge an individual's eternal worth to Jesus and God, but I also believe that to fail to raise up our voices and point out Abuse and abusive behaviours (any abuse... but especially Spiritual Abuse) is to actually enable it.

All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men and women to say nothing.

Ken Blue (in "Healing Spiritual Abuse" pg 21) has the following very insightful advice... "Let me say a final word to readers who are victims of Spiritual Abuse. This book ("Healing Spiritual Abuse") will most likely heighten your awareness of what you suffered and [for a time at least] intensify the pain. If the pain promotes healing, well and good. But if it incites bitterness toward the abuser or an abusive institution, then you will be worse off than before. As angry as Jesus was toward the spiritual abusers of His day, He stood ready to forgive them in an instant. His own power to forgive resides within us, and we are wise to avail ourselves of it."

It appears to me that there are two types of folk in the meeting who embrace grace. There are those who by disposition and nature are naturally gracious, and there are those who have been "hard line" [like myself in the past] who have been shown a better way, because someone cared enough to "call it" as it was, and to "tell it as it is."

Some have never suffered Spiritual Abuse (SA) because their Ecclesial environment has perhaps always been gracious and compassionate and empowering. It is hard for these folk to full identify SA when they hear about it.

For others, the difference in living an "overpowering life of legalism" and an "empowering life of Grace" is so profound as to almost incite bitterness toward Abusers and Abusive systems. Forgiveness is the only way... and it must be practiced and accounted for... not just given lip service!!

So let's keep fearlessly identifying Abuse and Abusive behaviours and exposing them for what they are, whilst at the same time being careful not to "label" any individual as a "Pharisee".

Jesus loves them too... He just hates their sins!! Because Legalism is TOXIC and makes Jesus violently ill (cp Rev 3:16).

Let the Sonshine in

PS. Mercy is when we DO NOT get what we DO deserve... and Grace is when we DO get what we DO NOT deserve.

Anonymous said...

Cliff used the terms ""overpowering life of legalism" and "empowering life of Grace". I have never heard either of these terms before, and of course neither is in the Bible.

Could some please define exactly what they mean in simple words? (preferably quoted direct from Scripture)

Allon Maxwell

Anonymous said...

I find Cliff's use of the term "empowering life of Grace", more than a little confusing . The Scriptures NEVER describe "Grace" as a POWER - or a POWER GIVER! In the NT that comes from FAITH and LOVE, both of which we are responsible for putting into action through exercise of the Holy Spirit Fruit called "self control".

We must never allow ourselves to become completely "overpowered" by the concept of "Grace", that we exclude the need to give constant positive attention to learning what it means to "repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance". (Acts 26:20 Luke 3:8)

Allon Maxwell

Cliff York said...

Hi Allon

I have read your comments and probably the best advice I could give you is to read three books that I recommend.

"The Grace Awakening" by Charles Swindoll.

"In the Grip of Grace" by Max Lucardo.

And... "Recognising Verbally Abusive Relationships" by Patricia Evans.

As with all reading material, you will need to "chew the meat, and spit out the bones" (we do that with Thomas and Roberts too).

Legalism is all about mens insecurities and mens need to have power over others, because they themselves are often "out of control." Hence the term "overpowering life of legalism"... ie. Pharisees use Legalism to have "Power Over" others. This is called "Fleecing the Flock." It is getting our needs met at the expense of others.

Grace is all about.... well, GRACE really. Being gracious means that one does not need to be in control of everything that is happening around them. A Grace filled and Spirit Led life is one that concentrates on empowering others to be all that they were created to be - like when David invited Mephibosheth to eat at his table as one of the Kings sons all the days of his life.

A Grace filled life does not seek to gain "Power Over" others in order to have ones own needs met... a grace filled life gets "underneath others" and "empowers" them to be what they were created to be - a Human Being in the image and likeness of the Father Himself.

Though you might not find some of these words and phrases in the KJV, the concepts are certainly there... and Jesus (THE Counselor and worlds greatest Psychologist)showed us the most powerful Gracious empowering patterns by His examples.

I suggest once you have read the three books I have recommended, you will be able to explain all this to others in even better language than what I have done.

Let the Sonshine in

Anonymous said...

Swindoll talks about "vertical grace" (that which we receive from God) and "horizontal grace" (relating to the grace we should show in our personal relationships with others). Of course, extending grace to everyone means we let go not just of our friends and relatives, but also of other Christians we disagree with, including the legalists. Horizontal grace means that we simply love them, and allow God to deal with them in his own way.

What puzzles me is the attiude of Gerry where he accuses the "legalists" of being "busy about their business of Crucifying the Lord yet again".

This statement does not speak to me of this "horizontal grace" Swindoll speaks of.

I do not seeing any of the "letting go"?

By Grace, Dawn Fallon

Gerry said...

Hi Dawn,

You raise the following matter....

"What puzzles me is the attiude of Gerry where he accuses the "legalists" of being "busy about their business of Crucifying the Lord yet again". "This statement does not speak to me of this "horizontal grace" Swindoll speaks of.".....

I am aware of the Horizontal Grace idea that Swindoll speaks of and try to live my life in such a way. However when I refer to "the legalists being busy about their business of Crucifying the Lord yet again".... I am refering to their actions of ignoring the sacrifice by Jesus and His Grace that is offerred. By their actions and inactions they make the sacrifice as though it didn't happen and seek to insist on an Observance Based Salvation that is based on rules. As we know the Pharisees of Jesus' time were still stuck in their need to enforce man made rules (not happy with the Ten that God had given them) and they were generally not able to see Jesus as the Son of God "Messiah" because he didn't fit their expections.

It is no different now. The Pharisees among us have not really changed, but as we have seen somey have seen and responded, I count myself as part of this number.

For those who are hard line, I pray that they will see the light and change. I dislike and abhor the way they treat other brothers and sisters, but I still love them and want them to follow the direction of Grace that Jesus gave us.

By GRACE your brother in the Lord

Anonymous said...

Dear Gerry – Yes I do appreciate that you are genuinely trying to get others to see the beam in their own legalistic eye by the language you use – to provoke a reaction so to speak.

…it’s just that I think it can be counter-productive to use that language in many cases (though you say in your case it worked when someone jibed at you “Pharisee” in your hearing – but to be frank I think that was a cruel thing to do, and that they actually robbed you of something, but I won’t go down that path.)

….but let me tell you a little story. A true one. About 3 years ago I used to write on a Messianic Forum and someone on there brought up the subject of the trinity. and I made this remark “If some of my Christian friends knew what I believed about the trinity they would throw me over a cliff”.

…….Now, when I wrote it I wrote it in blindess with a proud heart: but back came a swift response on the Forum: “Do you realise how you sound by what you’ve just written?”.

I went back and re-read it and realised what I had done. I apologised and was totally ashamed.

By making this statement: “If some of my Christian friends knew what I believed about the trinity, they would throw me over a cliff” I had done 5 very bad, sinful things:

1) I was comparing myself with Christ and setting myself up on His level

2) I was falsely accusing my fellow Christians of being murderers and Christ-killers (with me as the “pseudo-Christ”)

3) I was a liar: I knew very well NONE of my Christian friends would throw me over a cliff for what I believed in the trinity. They might withdraw themselves from me, but NONE would kill me for it.

4) I was being extremely arrogant.

5) I was full of pride over it.

Five shameful things I did in one short sentence on the internet.

….my reasons for explaining all this, is that I hope it helps you to see why I picked up on your phrase"busy about their business of Crucifying the Lord yet again" – because can you see the similarities with my story? In your statement I’m afraid I see all 5 of the above in it!!! (Sorry Gerry, but I guess having “been there and done that” I recognised it, though I appreciate it is rather different situation).

Gerry, I just want to encourage you to search out another Horizontal way of expressing that love and grace you feel in your heart for these brethren and sisters (and I don’t doubt it is genuine), because trying to jolt your opponents into it by such negative (and arrogant) language, can be totally misinterpreted and in fact make them go the opposite way.

Your sister by Grace, Dawn.