Thursday, February 17, 2011

J.I. Packer's (and Luther's) Indictment of modern Protestantism

In order to make the following quote more understandable:

Erasmus (1466-1536) was a great Renaissance scholar and one of Luther's chief opponents. Packer writes of Erasmus, "Christianity, to Erasmus, was essentially morality, with a minimum of doctrinal statement loosely appended. . . Erasmus cannot be acquitted of the charge of doctrinal indifferentism. . . however sure one might be that the Church was at some point wrong, one was never justified in disrupting Christendom about it (as Luther was doing); peace in the Church was of more value than any other doctrine." And on to the quote:
Has not Protestantism to-day become more Erasmian than Lutheran? Do we not too often try to minimize and gloss over doctrinal differences for the sake of inter-party peace? Are we innocent of the doctrinal indifferentism with which Luther charged Erasmus? Do we still believe that doctrine matters? Or do we now, with Erasmus, rate a deceptive appearance of unity as of more importance than truth? Have we not grown used to an Erasmian brand of teaching from our pulpits - a message that rests on the same shallow synergistic conceptions which Luther refuted, picturing God and man approaching each other almost on equal terms, each having his own contribution to make to man's salvation and each depending on the dutiful co-operation of the other for the attainment of that end? - as if God exists for man's convenience, rather than man for God's glory? Is it not true, conversely, that it is rare to-day to hear proclaimed the diagnosis of our predicament which Luther - and Scripture - put forward: that man is hopeless and helpless in sin, fast bound in Satan's slavery, at enmity with God, blind and dead to the things of the Spirit? And hence, how rarely do we hear faith spoken of as Scripture depicts it - as it is expressed in the cry of self-committal with which the contrite heart, humbled to see its need and made conscious of its own utter helplessness even to trust, casts itself in the God-given confidence of self-despair upon the mercy of Christ Jesus - 'Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief!'
- J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston from their introduction to Luther's The Bondage of the Will


Jacob M. Aho said...

An other outstanding
post. Keep on posting.


Matt Perkins said...

Glad you liked it Jake!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for posting this. J.I. Packer and John Stott are two of my favourite theologians. So many in the Anglican Communion have been seduced by Rome. Let us never forget our Reformation origins. Latimer, Ridley and the other Bishops and priests gave up their lives for Christ and in defence of the Gospel of God's Grace. Let us keep the Faith they bequeathed to us.

-- Roland

Matt Perkins said...

Amen Roland!

Anonymous said...

Dear Matt,

I'm sorry I have been so negligent. Somehow this week turned out a few days longer than normal and I'm afraid I forgot all about Eldad and Medad until just now as I put my feet up for a few minutes. I am sorry, Matt.

Moving forward, this Packer post is excellent. It really is a balancing act, isn't it? As Packer presents them, Erasmus and Luther both want what it good as they see it. (So I guess that ultimately makes me an Erasmian.)
I was struck by the quote "deceptive appearance of unity". Hmmmm....Does this mean that people who agree on A and B but disagree on C are deceived in that A and B unify them? Certainly people who claim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are unified by Christ, even if their specific understanding of His gospel alters somewhat?
I believe it is correct for Christians to acknowledge what they believe and what is being taught from their pulpits. We can't weaken what we understand to be true just to be part of a clique. But I also feel that for everyone who is earnestly seeking Christ, His primary teachings will resonate as truth in every heart.
People need each other, Christians need each other, Erasmus understood this, and sought temporal and emotional support for his brothers and sisters in Christ.
And remember, Luther wasn't trying to break away--Leo X did this for him--he was simply attempting to reform the body that was, not create a new one. And just about everyone is unified in the opinion that a little reform was necessary.
But maybe I'm guilty of doctrinal indifference.

Anyway, you know I'd love to hear what you think.

Love from

Anonymous said...

As someone with relatives who were members of the American Episcopal Church (T.E.C., Inc.) I can assure you that there are those who do not believe the Gospel (aren't "regenerate" as the Prayer Book says) who may be "nice" people and present a "deceptive appearance.." of being Christians. Unfortunately, many don't think they need to be "saved" from sin, because their Priests tell them they are ok as long as they "partake of the sacrament" of holy communion every once in a while. The more serious Anglo-Catholics see Baptism as the primary sacrament insuring one's salvation.
One Traditional Anglican Bishop I spoke to thinks Erasmus is great. This same Bishop has seriously considered joining the Roman Catholic Church like the others did recently in England. There is a fundamental difference between the Gospel preached by Luther and "another Gospel" taught by many Roman Catholics. I encourage your readers to see: (Reform group in the C. of E.) and the Church Society (U.K.) web sites for additional doctrinal articles expounding the historical(Reformed) teachings of the Church of England. -- Roland

Anonymous said... is the web address for the organization that I referenced in my post above.

Charlie J. Ray said...

Unfortunately, the new Anglican Church in North America is not much better. It's primarily Anglo-Catholic.

Matt Perkins said...

Hey S.P.,

I agree with what Roland wrote. But I think he was speaking mainly to the situation in Anglicanism where some deny the true gospel which reveals that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and not by works.

But I know you are not in an Anglican context. My response to your position would be pretty much the same thing I wrote in a comment a few months ago where we were talking about unity and false teaching. Here's that comment:

It would be nice to believe that all those who claim Christ as Lord and Savior should be unified by Christ. But the fact is, those are only words and what one person means when he says "Christ" or "Lord" or "Savior" may not be anywhere close to what the Bible reveals about who Christ is, how He saves and what it means for Him to be Lord. The apostle Paul called false teachers who most likely claimed Christ as Lord and Savior "accursed" twice in Galatians 1:8-9. So obviously unity must be based upon agreement not only that Christ is Lord and Savior but what it means for Him to be Lord and How He saves. I think Paul calling these false teachers in Galatians, who were Judaizers, "accursed" shows that there must be agreement on how Christ saves. When it comes to the necessity of agreement on what it means for Christ to be Lord I would give as an example 2 John where John calls those who deny that Christ came in the flesh "antichrists." Once again these heretics most likely claimed Christ as Lord and Savior, yet they meant something different and were condemned.

So that's my problem with an Erasmian form of unity. Paul rhetorically asked "what fellowship has light with darkness? (2 Cor 6:14)." The fact is that the visible church, until the Lord returns, will be a mixture of the redeemed and the reprobate but that in no way suggests that there should be attempts at unity that compromise doctrine as that would be attempting to join light with darkness in fellowship.

Okay, I think I've written enough.

Thanks for all the great comments!

The Underground Pewster said...

"Or do we now, with Erasmus, rate a deceptive appearance of unity as of more importance than truth?"

Yes, in that this is what I typically hear preached.

No, in that church statistics show a consistant decline of the old "mainline protestant" denominations in spite of, or perhaps as a result, of what we typically hear.