Sunday, January 30, 2011

Grace, the URCNA and Joseph Prince

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)
Morning Prayer
Scripture Reading
Lord's Supper
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.


Joel Tay said...

I fully agree with your assessment of Horton and Prince.

PuritanReformed said...


no page references? =P hehee

Joel Tay said...

part 1:

Just put some random quotes from his book "destine to reign":

"The more they believe that they are righteous, the more they experience true victory over sin... You see yourself righteous and this give you the power to rise above the temptation." p.244, 245.

"Have you noticed that the law entered so that sin might abound? It clearly means that the more you preach the law, the more sin wil abound. After all, the strength of sin is the law. Therefore, when you see sin and you preach more of the law, you are literally adding wood to fire." p. 249

"Beloved, confessing your sins all the time will only make you more sin-conscious. but knowing that you are under Jesus' waterfall of forgiveness will keep you forgiveness-conscious. And knowing that you are forgiven of all your sins will give you the power to reign over every destructive habit and live a life of victory. p.109

"An evil conscience is one that is perpetually conscious of sin and failure, and typically expects punishment. It is a a conscience that is under condemnation" p.132

"The bottom line is that the Holy Spirit never convicts you of your sins. He NEVER comes to point out your faults. I challenge you to find a scripture in the Bible that tells you that the Holy Spirit has come to convict you of your sins. You won't find any! The body of Christ is living in defeat because many believers don't undertand that the Holy spirit is actually int hem to convict them of their righteousness in Christ. Even when you fail, He is ever present in you to remind you that you are continually cleansed by the blood of Jesus. That's the Holy Spirit. ... When you've failed, the Holy Spirit convicts you of righteousness, not your sins." p.134,135.

"When He said hat the Holy Spirit would come to "convict the world of sin" because they do not believe in Him, it is clear that He was referring to unbelievers because they are of "the world". And notice that the Holy Spirit does not convict the word f "sins" (plural). It is only one "sin" (singular) that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of, and that is the sin of unbelief, the sin of rejecting Jesus and not believing in His finishes work. ... If the Holy Spirit never convicts you the believer of your sins, then what does He convict you of? Jesus says that the Holy Spirit convicts you "of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see me no more". " p.136,137

Joel Tay said...

part 2:

"This is sad because the power to overcome sin is found in knowing that you are righteous. When a believer is struggling with sin, it is a case of mistaken identity. He thinks that he is still a dirty rotten sinner and as a result, he will continue to live as a dirty rotten sinner. But the more he sees that he has been made righteous apart from his wroks, the more he will be empowered to live righteously. Believers are struggling with sin today precisely because they do not realize that they are righteous. The Bible says, 'Awake to righteousness, and sin not." This means that the more a believer realizes that he is indeed righteous, the more he will stat to behave like a righteous person. It is time to awake to righteousnes!" p.138, 139

"Believing that you are the righteousness of God through Christ Jesus and simply receiving the gift of no condemnation give you the power to go and sin no more." p.166

"Don't uncover your sins or the sins of others. They have been completely forgiven by the blood of Jesus. p.211

"Since the people wanted to be judged based on their performance, in the very next chapter, God gave them the Ten Commandments. p.223

[In arguing against repentance referring to a change of mind to turn away from sin, he writes,]

"The word 'repent' is the Greek word metanoeo, which acording to Thayer's Greek Lexicon, simply means 'to change one's mind'. ... repentance is just means changing your minds. But because of our wn religious upbringing, many of us have the impression that repentance is something that involves mourning and sorrow. However, that is not what the Word of God says. Repentance just means changing your mind... When you begin to receive the revelation that you are no longer under the old covenant of law, but are now under the new covenant of grace, the bible calls that repentance!" p.233,234

[I think he assumes his readers will not check the lexicon. Thayer's lexicon which he claims to quote actually says this about repentance (metanoia - μετάνοια)

1) a change of mind, as it appears to one who repents, of a purpose he has formed or of something he has done

This is linked to μετανοέω (metanoeō) which means

"1) to change one’s mind, i.e. to repent
2) to change one’s mind for better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one’s past sins"

So Thayer's lexicon itself refutes his claim that it is not turning away from sin and towards God.

Strong's Hebrew and Greek dictionary defines it as:

"to think differently or afterwards, that is, reconsider (morally to feel compunction): - repent."

And Walter Bauer's lexicon defines μετάνοια as:

"primarily 'a change of mind'; also with the nuance of 'remorse' (as regret for shortcomings and errors: with focus on the need of change in view of responsibility to deity. repentance, turning about, conversion"

PuritanReformed said...


thanks. =)

Charlie J. Ray said...

Is that the Joseph Prince on the local "Christian" television stations? If so, his views are more Arminian than anything else. And your point about the positive confession teaching is also correct. Been there and done that silliness.


PuritanReformed said...


I would guess so. The network is called "Destined to Reign" if I'm not wrong, and he has penetrated the American religion market.

I wouldn't say Arminian. Semi-Pelagian is more appropriate.

Charlie J. Ray said...

Ah, thank-you. I think I saw him when I was flipping channels. It sounded "remotely" Reformed but the more I watched the more I realized he twisted things all around. Semi-pelagian sounds about right.

I've argued myself that practically all "Reformed" charismatics are inconsistent. The roots of the pentecostal/charismatic movement are in the Wesleyan holiness movement. Basically synergism on the "gifts", etc. Throw in a little Charles Finney pragmatism and pelagianism and a little gnosticism/mysticism/Christian Science/New Thought....and you have the charismatic movement. It's an odd mix of heresy and heterodoxy at best.


PuritanReformed said...


well, the Sovereign Grace Baptists would beg to differ. But I do think that there are historical linkages, and that the Pentecostal/Charismatic movements would not have arisen if the Wesleyan and Finneyian doctrine of perfectionism was not embraced by some churches.