What do these three have in common? Answer: Nothing. Yet if one were to read former reformed charismatic Jonathan Koh's blog post, one would have thought that they all promote Gospel grace.
The recent furore over charges of Antinomianism has caused Dr. Micheal S. Horton to respond over at the White Horse Inn blog. In this post, Horton defended the Reformed orthodox teaching of the Law-Gospel Distinction. Horton maintained that antinominanism is a perverse distortion of true biblical teaching and he denied that he or the White Horse Inn ever taught it. He maintained that the way to address Antinomianism is not more law but more Gospel. As Horton wrote,
What’s striking is that Paul answers antinomianism not with the law but with more gospel! In other words, antinomians are not people who believe the gospel too much, but too little! They restrict the power of the gospel to the problem of sin’s guilt, while Paul tells us that the gospel is the power for sanctification as well as justification. ... The ultimate antidote to antinomianism is not more imperatives, but the realization that the gospel swallows the tyranny as well as the guilt of sin. It is enough to save Christians even in their failure and not only brings them peace with God in justification, but the only liberation from the cruel oppression of sin. To be united to Christ through faith is to receive everything that we need not only to challenge legalism but antinomianism as well.
All of these are truly biblical, in context of the overall Gospel message. This is important when we look at Jonathan Koh's horrendous distortion of Horton's post.
On his blog, Jonathan Koh wrote:
They say history repeats itself. And it’s true in this matter of grace, antinomianism and legalism. When people accuse New Creation Church and Joseph Prince and other grace-based preachers of “antinomianism”, guess what – it’s happened before. Down the centuries, people have come up on different sides in the Reformed tradition on these matters. And even as I speak, things are hotting up in the blogsphere [sic] and in the Reformed world. People (many Reformed Christians themselves) are challenging some Reformed Christians (like Michael Horton) on the way they preach the gospel and grace. Too much grace, they say. Gotta beware of antinomianism. Same charges that have been thrown at Pastor Joseph Prince and many others.
The problem here boils down to context, context and context. Koh is wrong in his assertion, which we shall see in a moment.
Micheal Horton is a pastor in the URCNA (United Reformed Churches of North America) down at Santee (Christ URC). One thing about the URC churches is that they have some sort of fixed liturgy, and they do not use the liturgy they use merely because they like it. Rather, they have a fixed liturgy because they think that their liturgy reflects their doctrines. Therefore, their liturgy by and large reflects their functional theology.
It is with this in mind that I would like to look at the liturgy of a URC church which I have visited. While Oceanside URC is not Christ URC, I do not think there is much of a difference between the two confessional churches.
Oceanside URC's liturgy for Oct 24, 2010 A.M. service
Call to Worship
Invocation - Ps. 124:8
God's Greeting - Rev. 1:4-5
Song of the Month (from proposed Psalter Hymnal)
Reading of the Law (responsive reading)
Summary of the Law
Confession of Sin (Individual and Corporate Confession)
Ps. 51:10-12 (a cappella)
Declaration of Forgiveness (by the minister)
- Short responsive lines -
Song (Ps. 63)
Song (Ps. 96)
As we can see, the first use of the Law (for conviction of sin) features prominently in the liturgy. This is in fact the common tradition of all Reformed and [Confessional] Presbyterian churches that I have attended so far. The Law is read, there is a period of examination and individual repentance, followed by corporate repentance of sins for the whole congregation. Oceanside URC follows up with a declaration of forgiveness based upon the Gospel, while in the OPC there is the declaration of forgiveness followed by the reading of the Gospel.
The Law-Gospel distinction in the Reformed and Presbyterian circles therefore has both elements of the Law and the Gospel, not the Gospel alone. Horton being a URC minister has this idea of the Law Gospel Distinction in mind, whereby the first use of the Law is applied every Lord's Day followed by the salve of the Gospel.
Prince's idea of grace - Antinomianism
In his blog post, Koh attempt to link Horton and Prince together. Having read Prince's first book, Destined to Reign, I am astounded that such a comparison can even be attempted.
Unfortunately, I do not have my copy of the book with me; it is with my friend Joel Tay who is rather busy at the moment. So no page numbers will be given.
According to Prince, we should not think about sin. In fact, the Holy Spirit is stated not to convict us of sin but of righteousness. The way to be sanctified is to NOT think about sin but about righteousness. In point of fact, Prince even gave us a formula for not sinning. This is done by repeating the phrase "I am the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ" like a mantra over and over again.
One does not have to read far to see that what Prince is advocating is the Word of Faith teaching of Positive Confession, this time applied to salvation. Prince does not tell people to confess their sins. In fact, he counsels just the contrary and says that only Satan convicts people of sin and believers should not think of sin. Salvation therefore is all about not thinking of sin but speaking to oneself positive confessions of one's own righteousness.
We can see therefore the big gulf between Prince's teaching and what Horton advocates. The difference between true antinomianism (in Prince) and false charges of antinomianism is the presence of the proclamation of the Law in its first use. The URC, as with all Reformed and Presbyterian denominations, proclaim the Law. We believe that the Holy Spirit is the one who convicts men of sin, and that the Law is necessary (in its first use) for believers. The Gospel is given only after the Law has done its work, never apart from it.
Also, we believe in the continuing validity of the Law in its third use (for telling us how to live according to God's will). While we glory in the Gospel and God's grace, we do not therefore nullify the Law in our lives. The Gospel in this sense of sanctification is the impetus and motivation for our loving a godly life, yet without being the judge of our salvation. After we have strived to live according to the Law (in its third use), we continue to return to the Gospel as our only hope and the only way we can be saved.
All this of course is alien to the teaching of Joseph Prince, who is a true Antinomian. Contrary to the assertions of Jonathan Koh therefore, there is nothing Prince has in common with Horton and Reformed orthodoxy. We believe in the ministry both of the Law and of the Gospel in the lives of Christians. The Confessional Reformed recognize our continual sinfulness and wickedness before God, continually confess our sins, and turn to the Gospel always for the joyous message of God's forgiveness offered to us in the person of Jesus Christ.
Truly, how different is our sorrow and our joy from the false peace offered by Prince.