20 August, 2016

FAQ – “Why all this discussion on common grace? Isn’t all this just a matter of semantics? … a mere quarrel about words?”





Q. 1. “What is the ultimate purpose in creating a page, blog or Facebook group specifically for common grace?”

To discuss and promote the truth of God! Any Christian can promote a page on any doctrine of the faith: eschatology, providence, the effectual call, the development of the Trinity in the early church, etc. We have a special interest in this topic and other people are interested too. The blog and discussion group involves studying Scripture, analyzing theologians, relating doctrines, etc.

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Q. 2. “How can such a website be for personal edification and spiritual needs?”

God edifies us by His truth as Christ says (John 17:17)—not by lies and errors. The glory of God is seen in His almighty, saving grace in Jesus Christ and by His Spirit; His purposeful providence, involving both elect and reprobate; His beautiful simplicity in all His attributes. Do not people have a spiritual need to grasp the pure truth of God’s Word? Aren’t we called earnestly to contend for the biblical faith and to search the Scriptures to see if a doctrine that is widely taught is true? This truth helps us grasp the meaning of many passages in the Bible and honour the non-contradictory God of the Bible. It takes prayer for illumination to grapple with the issues and get beyond the popular compromise position which makes for a lot easier ecclesiastical life—for if one simply accepts the common-grace position, many other churches view one more highly and one can get on easier with Arminians too, for both groups hold to common grace, as do Rome, Eastern Orthodoxy and the liberals.

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Q. 3. “How is studying common grace helping you to love God and love your neighbour more?”

I love God by believing, confessing and defending His truth: i.e., particular, uncommon grace. I love my neighbour as I help Him understand that there is no weak, ineffectual love in God. I love my unbelieving neighbour in that, by God’s grace, I may be used to show him that there is no love of God outside of Jesus Christ, so that he may grasp his terrible situation and so repent and be saved.

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Q. 4. “What is your main concern regarding the idea of a common grace?”

Our biggest concern is that we do not believe the Bible teaches it. Our argument against common grace concerns the holiness of God’s name. Also this initial error of a love of God for the reprobate is being used by many (including professed Calvinists) to erode the antithesis (Gen. 3:15), to soften total depravity, to compromise particular atonement, to preach a desire of God to save the reprobate, to silence and (then) deny unconditional reprobation and election, to refuse to condemn Arminianism and its teachers, and to enable fellowship with unbelievers.

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Q. 5. “Does not all this controversy and discussion over one very specific doctrinal issue seem to go against the admonition in Titus 3:9 to ‘avoid foolish controversies’ and the admonition of II Timothy 2:14-16 to ‘strive not about words to no profit’ and ‘shun profane and vain babblings’?”

This controversy isn't “foolish controversies” or “vain babbling”it is concerned with God, providence, the headship of Christ, the purpose of the Word, etc.

One’s view of common grace/free offer of the Gospel drastically affects one’s theology. We ought not to consider in-depth discussion about such an important topic a “foolish controversy” or “vain babbling.” Entire denominations have been torn apart over this very issue. It would seem foolish *not* to devote time and energy plumbing the depths of this issue.

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Q. 6. “Is not all this merely a debate over minor issues?”

The question concerning common grace is not a minor question. Common grace expresses something about God and man: about God, it declares that His grace is general or universal; and about man, that he is not totally depraved, but can do much good. Over against this we maintain that the grace of God is particular and concerns only the elect; while about the natural man we confess that he is totally depraved and can do no good whatsoever.

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Q. 6. “Does not theological precision such as this topic produce pride in people?”

This question can work both ways. One can find pride also in his ability to shy away from theological discussion just as easily as he can be proud of his theological debating skills. It can lead such a person to say, “I’m glad I’m not like those grouchy and puffed-up debating Calvinists who are always trying to prove their point! I’m humble because I keep myself unspotted from the discussion groups!” It would seem either position (to debate or not to debate) can lead a believer to the same place of pride if abused.

What about the theological precision the church holds regarding the Trinity, or the person and natures of Christ (e.g., as in the Chalcedonian Creed) or even the truth of justification by faith alone? (Sheer pride!) Maybe we should shelve *all* theological precision to prove how humble we are, so that we are a bunch of really humble heretics?

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Q. 7. “Is not all this degree of focus on the topic unhealthy?”

This is a page or blog specially devoted to that subject. Someone can have a page or website devoted to Amillennialism or Adoption or Nuclear Disarmament without saying any of these things are the most important subjects in all the world. If you read Athanasius, his focus was the Deity of Christ. Herman Hoeksema was very covenant-centred.

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Q. 8. “Why all this obsession over ‘common grace’? Why all this discussion on it?”

Anybody can promote a website or discussion group on any doctrine of the faith: eschatology, providence, the effectual call, the development of the Trinity in the early church, etc. We have a special interest in this topic and other people are interested too. The discussions on this topic involve studying Scripture, analyzing theologians, relating doctrines, etc.
Many people do not understand this subject and that is why this site exists. People need to be warned of this destructive traitor within the church. But they must see it as a traitor first. Common grace is the bridge that brings the world into the church and the church into the world.
Common grace is the basis for teaching the doctrine of the free offer of the gospel. Without common grace, Arminianism, Amyraldianism and all other Hypo-Calvinistic ideologies have no basis for their teaching. Common grace is pivotal in these errors.

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Q. 9. “But I’ve hardly ever heard the term ‘common grace’ in all the sermons I’ve listened to. What’s all the fuss?”

In actuality, we do hear ‘common grace’ being preached more often than we think, although it’s never given that exact name or explicit title when it’s coming from many a pulpit.
Consider that the majority of evangelicals in the world preach an Arminian-esque and semi-Pelagian type of ‘gospel’ message: that is, that the ultimate and final component in the work of salvation rests upon man making a decision or taking action. Common grace falsely tells a mixed crowd of unbelievers that God loves all of them, head for head, and He expresses this love to them by providing certain things for them to sustain life and even enjoy certain luxuries. While Common grace proponents will say this is not meant to be salvific, these things are still intended by God to point the unbeliever to repentance and faith in God since they should somehow recognize they are undeserving of this ‘favor’ and daily blessing by God that simply keeps them alive and thriving in their communities.
Meanwhile the preacher in many of our churches will also make the same claim to his audience—that God loves absolutely all sinners and wants to show all of them mercy, if only they’ll just ‘ask Jesus into their heart’ or ‘make a decision for Christ’ to walk down the aisle and ‘get saved.’ So Common grace is conceptually tied into the God-dishonouring ‘gospel’ we sometimes hear in churches that tells us God loves all men and all sinners, and that He shows this to them on a daily basis by making sure they are sustained in earthly life.

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Q. 10. “Surely all this discussion doesn’t matter … because God saves all the elect anyway? Aren’t you forgetting? … God is God. He is sovereign and in control of all things.”

There is a vast difference to believing in the sovereignty of God and the error of Fatalism. We are called to live as wise and not go blindly on without caring as do the Muslims who believe in fate. When we are called to depart from error and are warned against error (as we are in James 1:16) then we do that. Our argument against common grace is the holiness of God’s name. “Fatalism” comes into being when men think God has and does do it all and therefore we don’t need to oppose error because it can’t change God’s decrees. I agree we can’t, but we still must be up and doing. God has not called us to a life of nothing.

Just because God does sovereignly preserve all of His people in faith through all sorts of situations, does not mean that ‘mindless Christianity’ is a good thing. It certainly does not justify someone despising the Word of God.

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Q. 11. “Can one of the elect believe in common grace during his sanctification process? Is believing in common grace going to keep one of God’s elect out of heaven? Are you going to break fellowship with a believer because he is still in the ‘common grace camp’? The Holy Spirit gets all of us where we need to be, but at different times and sometimes on different schedules. I’m sure there was a time in your life that you perhaps thought differently on certain theological questions than you do today. I just get concerned that sometimes issues like this turn into the main thing when it’s not the main thing.”

What is your difficulty with encouraging people to believe in the right way of things? Should we not correct error? II Timothy 3:16-17 states: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” Scripture is profitable for “correction.”

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Q. 12. “I agree we should correct error, but sometimes we can become the so-called ‘doctrine police’ … Doctrine didn’t seem to matter so much when Jesus told the thief on the cross ‘Today you shall be with me in paradise.’ I guess I’m stuck on, ‘For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified’ (Rom. 8:29-30 ESV). To me, that is all God. He is doing it all. Not man. Not me. But I’m hearing a role of man to correct the doctrine of the ‘common-gracers’ so they can then save themselves.”

The doctrine of common grace (especially the well-meant offer) lends itself to the understanding of people that they, in some way, do save themselves. It is this and other things we are correcting. Words have meaning, and no matter what artificial man-made distinctions may be concocted, the real inherent meanings of those words will inevitably assert themselves. Of course, no one can add or diminish to or from the elect, but that does not mean we do not fight vociferously for the truth, and against the lie. After all, that is the nature of the antithesis.
Man does have a role to play and a big role at that. Not in regeneration or election, but in the preaching of the gospel. To deny all of man’s role, would you stop that and say “God will save all of the elect anyway”?

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Q. 13. “The order and severity of the decretals between what I believe and you believe won’t matter at the end of the day.”

This is blasphemy. Who is any man to play with God’s truth and to tell us that things don’t actually matter and make no real difference?

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Q. 14. “We must be very slow indeed to say such critical things of any church or denomination …”

Are you, also, “very slow indeed” about making criticisms of, say, the PRC? or of Herman Hoeksema, etc.? Another thought: Was Jude, in his epistle, “very slow indeed” to make critical remarks of those false teachers?

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Q. 15. “Your whole disagreement with the well-meant offer and common grace is over semantics. All this insistence of arguing ‘The gospel is not an offer, but a call, a command, a proclamation, a promise, a declaration ... but not an ‘offer’!’ And that ‘good gifts are not ‘grace’ or ‘tokens of love toward the non-elect, but simply ‘providence’’. ... or this: ‘Offer’ in the confessions means ‘present, or exhibit’ etc., and not ‘a gracious invitation.’’ And, ‘We shouldn’t use the word ‘offer’ today, since it’s misleading to hearers and the word is used by Arminians.’’ ... At the end of the day, this whole debate is over semantics and nothing more ...”

“If we wish to be unambiguous it is better to err on the side of caution. Words have meaning and we must be careful not to say things in a way that leaves doubt as to what we mean.” (Terry Fenema, 15/06/2019)

“There is a danger that the controversies of theologians and churches are merely a matter of semantics. That is, they are a matter of strife over words and the differing meanings that the theologians ascribe to words. If a conflict is merely a matter of semantics, there is no real or important difference of doctrine.
Our controversy over the offer, what I always refer to as the “well-meant offer,” exactly to indicate that the controversy is doctrinal and not merely a matter of semantics, is truly and seriously doctrinal.
We have no objection to describing the call of the gospel as an ‘offer’ with regard to the word itself.
What the Reformed and Presbyterian community of churches, by and large, mean by the offer and what the CRC in 1924 definitely meant by the offer, which it itself described as the “well-meant offer,” is that God on His part offers salvation in the gospel to all humans out of a (saving) love for all without exception and with a sincere desire to save them all. The offer is well-meant in the sense that God desires to save all by the offer because He loves them all with His saving love in Jesus, who of course is the content of the offer.
This offer, we condemn as the Arminian and semi-Pelagian doctrine of preaching and of the gospel itself. It is the denial of predestination, the particular, limited atonement of Christ, and of salvation by sovereign grace (if God loves and desires to save all in the preaching, the explanation of the actual salvation of some is not the grace of God, for He is gracious to all alike, but the will of the sinner).
This is not a matter of semantics, but of substance—the substance of salvation.
Ask your correspondents whether they mean by the offer that God offers salvation to all out of a gracious attitude towards all alike and with the sincere desire to save all.
If they mean only that God presents Christ to all in the preaching with the serious call to believe and with the promise that all who heed the call will be saved, I have no quarrel with them. They might look for a better term than ‘offer’ in light of Arminian theology and in light of the understanding of offer in our day.
In 1924, the CRC demanded that Hoeksema confess that the offer of the gospel is the expression by God of (saving) grace to all, necessarily conditioned for its effectiveness upon the acceptance (will) of the sinner.
You and your correspondents might like to know that in the 1960s a professor in the CRC seminary, Harold Dekker, openly wrote that the atonement of the cross was universal, that is, for every human. His theological ground was the doctrine of the offer as adopted by the CRC in 1924. The “well-meant offer” implies universal atonement. The gospel reflects the cross. The CRC could not discipline the heretic. On this history in detail, with quotations, see my book, “Hyper-Calvinism & the Call of the Gospel.(Prof. David J. Engelsma, 31/08/2018)

[The controversy over common grace is not a mere quarrelling about words], for, first, it is by no means a harmless theory that confuses God’s providence with His grace; and, secondly, the Kuyperian theory of common grace includes much more than this … It does not merely teach that by the power of common grace the world is essentially sustained after the fall and the development of the human race is made possible and vouchsafed, but also that a positively good world-life of the fallen human race, in connection with all created things, has thus been guaranteed. In all progress and civilization, in science and art, in industry and commerce, as carried on by the “world,” in all the mighty works of the natural man, Kuyper perceives a positively good element. The natural man accomplishes, in actual fact, many good things and performs many good works. And that he is able to do this is to be attributed to the operation of God’s common grace. (Herman Hoeksema, “The Protestant Reformed Churches in America” [1947], pp. 310-311)

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Q. 16. “Your whole disagreement with the well-meant offer and common grace is over secondary issues. Do you believe in the Primary-Secondary distinction? For example, in Galatians 1:8 Paul pronounces a “curse” on anyone who preaches a false gospel. He is not this strong on any other issue—not even the doctrine of Christ’s resurrection (I Cor. 15)—, which strongly suggests that the gospel holds a place of prime importance in his mind. Likewise, in Matthew 22:36-37, the question in verse 36 is not pronounced invalid by the Saviour, but answered in such a manner that demonstrates that the question was perfectly reasonable. In doing so, the Saviour accepts that some things hold a higher importance that others in Scripture, as He also does in Matthew 5:18. Also, many people believe the 10 commandments to be in order of priority. Another one would be the fact that heavier punishments are meted out for some things than other things. Doesn’t this emphasise the fact that some commands are more important than others? 
So all of God’s Word is very important, but some parts are even more important than others. Christians should not ignore any of it, and treat it all as precious, but also be able to distinguish between what is most important and less important. Would we fight as hard with a brother who held a different view on (say) eschatology as we would with a Jehovah’s Witness who has the gospel completely wrong?”

I would agree that there are some things in the faith that are more important than others. Your allusions to Galatians 1:8, Matthew 22:36-37 and Matthew 5:18 are correct to ground that truth, and other arguments could also be used. (Not sure with the listing of the 10 commandments in order of importance, though; things may not be quite as simple as that)
Though some things are more important than others (e.g., believing Christ’s resurrection is essential for salvation [I Cor. 15] but believing paedobaptism [e.g.] is not essential to salvation), the distinction between "primary" and "secondary" is not a full presentation of the issue and I do not even like to speak in those terms, because the way that they are used is often misleading. It is better to speak of “creedal” truths and to note that there are some doctrines which are “more central” than others, though all are important and have their place, and we are to “buy the truth and sell it not” (Prov. 23:23).
This is fair enough: “So all of God’s Word is very important, but some parts are even more important than others. Christians should not ignore any of it, and treat it all as precious, but also be able to distinguish between what is most important and less important. Would we fight as hard with a brother who held a different view on (say) eschatology as we would with a Jehovah’s Witness who has the gospel completely wrong?”

Food for thought:

“He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.” (Luke 16:10)

The word fundamentalist comes to mind. This is where men determine from Scripture what is fundamental and what isn’t. I think it better to be “holistically biblical” and trust that the Author of Scripture, the Holy Spirit, knows what He is doing.

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Q. 17. “But shouldn’t we distinguish between ‘truths essential to salvation’ and ‘truths *not* essential to salvation’?”

Try baking a cake with some of the minor ingredients missing. You wouldn’t sell that type of cake to a customer a second time.
That is only an excuse for being lax in discipline and maintaining a broad church. Broad is the way that leads to destruction.
Usually when truth is left out it creates a void which is soon replaced by error. That error soon infects the things they once called fundamental and primary.

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Q. 18. “But doesn’t doctrine divide?”

True doctrine unites. False doctrine divides















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