Paul's Passing Thoughts

Christ Covenant Presbyterian Church: Statement on Sonship Theology Which is the Same Thing as New Calvinism

Posted in Uncategorized by paulspassingthoughts on August 15, 2011

Because of the deficiencies and dangers of Sonship teachings, the Session of CCPC forbids the use of its materials and the teaching of its precepts within our church body.

 

 Subject:

 

Doctrinal Position Paper

on

Sonship Theology

 

Created by:  

The Session of Christ Covenant Presbyterian Church

Table of Contents

1      Introduction. 3

2      A Look at Sonship. 3

2.1       In the PCA.. 4

2.2       Basic Teachings and Identifying Phraseology. 4

2.2.1        “Preaching The Gospel To Yourself”. 4

2.2.2        “Believe Your Justification”. 5

2.2.3        “Law and Gospel”. 5

2.2.4        “Works Righteousness”. 5

2.2.5        “Repent of Your Repentance”. 5

2.3       Gospel or Holy Spirit?. 5

3      CCPC Assertions. 6

3.1       About the Ordo Salutis. 7

3.2       About Justification. 7

3.3       About Sanctification. 8

3.4       About Adoption. 10

3.5       What Is The Gospel?. 10

3.5.1        Sonship View Of The Gospel 10

3.5.2        CCPC View Of The Gospel 11

3.6       Law and Gospel 11

3.7       About the Preaching of the Word. 14

4      CCPC Statement on Sonship. 15

4.1       CCPC Conclusion. 16

1         Introduction

The Session at Christ Covenant Presbyterian Church (CCPC) has observed the need, based upon events and discussions within the local church as well as within both the Tennessee Valley Presbytery and the PCA, to put together this White Paper.  The intent of this paper is to clarify the Session’s view on various topics and aid in dialogue and affirmation of a unified position of what Scripture teaches regarding Justification, Sanctification, and the Christian life.

The reason for this paper has been precipitated by the introduction of “Sonship” teaching within our church body. This material contained a “new” teaching that caused our leadership to look more closely at it. As Sonship[1] began to be more widely seen and heard within our church, many of us viewed this as yet another ‘spiritual fad’, something that was popular today and would be gone and forgotten tomorrow.  It seemed at first that Sonship was just another program aimed at making us ‘more spiritual’. While this is true in some ways, the errors that these teachings leave behind and foster are not minor. Among these teachings are the following:

  • that the believer’s responsibility is to “believe the Gospel” or “preach the Gospel to ourselves”[2] rather than strive at the Christian life by discipline and perseverance,
  • that “God is never angry with a believer”,
  • and perhaps most importantly of all, the fact that our Justification is the essential power behind our Sanctification – seemingly at the expense of the role of the Holy Spirit.

Finally, Sonship theology has affected the life and peace of Christ Covenant Presbyterian Church. At CCPC we have found it a source of division, contention, and more than anything else – confusion.  CCPC has lost elders and members because we were not, in their view, preaching Christ and the Cross (as these individuals believe to be defined by Sonship), or because we were preaching the Law and not the Gospel. This is indeed a very serious charge to make against a church body and its leadership.

2         A Look at Sonship

The Sonship movement finds its roots in the ministry of the late Dr. Jack Miller, founder of World Harvest Mission, a sending missions agency. Dr. Miller was concerned as a pastor about the spiritual condition of the missionaries his agency supported. As a way of addressing these concerns, he developed a set of materials which eventually became published under the title of Sonship, hence the title of the movement. Dr. Miller’s material focused on a few essential truths about what Christ’s work on the cross achieved. For missionaries who worked hard, had become burned out and discouraged, this material became a breath of fresh air as it emphasized that God’s love and affection for them were not dependent on how productive they were in their Christian vocation. It was not long before this emphasis resonated among many tired and overworked pastors. Conferences began to be held teaching the Sonship material, and many pastors were being encouraged and refreshed because they felt they too had been unconsciously working to achieve God’s favor in their Christian life. The truths of the gospel were found to have application, not only in bringing a person to justification, but also in leading a person through sanctification as well. Whenever a pastor or missionary began slipping into sin, or into a “works-oriented” mode of ministry, he was taught to remember to “preach the gospel to his heart.” The gospel, therefore, was not merely how the unsaved were brought into the Kingdom, but was also see as the main method of sanctification for Christians.

2.1      In the PCA

The Sonship movement has won many advocates within the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA). There are various well-known advocates within the denomination and its seminaries and mission organizations. The movement’s ideas have as well been incorporated into the thinking and teaching of a number of our pastors and elders. However, others within the PCA ranks have raised concerns over what appears to be something different than traditional Reformed theology. Indeed, it may be that in some forms and expressions, Sonship is a “different Gospel” (Gal 1:6, 2 Co 11:4).

2.2      Basic Teachings and Identifying Phraseology

Sonship is an amazingly difficult teaching to understand and contrast with orthodox or Reformed theology. Perhaps that is because the language of Sonship uses a number of common terms and phrases (e.g. “Gospel”, “justification”, and “sanctification”). Often, however, these words and phrases have been imbued with quite “non-ordinary” meanings. This redefinition of words adds a great deal to the confusion that often arises from its teachings.

The basic point of Sonship theology appears to be that faith in our justification is what “empowers our sanctification”.  Another way of expressing it is to say that the key to growing in sanctification and living the Christian life is to continue “believing the truths of the gospel” (such as justification and adoption), and to continually grow in our understanding and application of these truths.

We would like to offer a word of caution here. Much of the language of Sonship is very familiar to us. Words like gospel, grace, law, and sanctification are words that are dear and precious to all of us in the Reformed faith. It seems that Sonship often uses these words with meanings that are somewhat different than what the accepted and orthodox meaning of them has been. It would be a tragedy, if by identifying these words or phrases with Sonship, that they became “tainted” or “negative”. It would equally be a shame if the reader of this paper had any hesitancy to use these terms in their teaching or preaching, or everyday discourse. These are the words of the Spirit, spoken in His Word. Every Christian should always feel free to use them.

2.2.1   “Preaching The Gospel To Yourself

Central to much of what Sonship teaches is its view of the Gospel[3]. The phrase “preach the Gospel to yourself” or “preach the Gospel to your heart” is based on a particular interpretation of Romans 1:15ff: “…I am eager to preach the Gospel to you also who are in Rome…” (NAS). The assertion in Sonship theology is that the Gospel is intended not only for unbelievers to bring them to salvation, but to believers as well – so much so that the fact of our justification “becomes” the power by which we live the Christian life. We avail ourselves of this power by constantly reminding ourselves of our justification (and all that it entails) – i.e. “preaching the Gospel to ourselves”.

As this idea is expressed and reinforced within Sonship teaching, language and practice, the danger which we see is that the Gospel subtly replaces Christ Himself, the means being confused for the end.

2.2.2   “Believe Your Justification

This phrase “believe your justification” is simply another version of “preaching the Gospel to your heart”. The supposition is that many of our own day to day failures in living the Christian life occur because we don’t “believe our justification”. If we truly “believed our justification”, we would respond in gratitude and love and do those things we are commanded to do out of a joyful and willing heart.

2.2.3   “Law and Gospel

Some Sonship adherents construct a (false) dichotomy between Law and Gospel[4]. At CCPC we have seen this dichotomy used to judge the teaching and preaching of Scripture as falling into one of those two opposing camps. If the sermon or teaching was able to tie the topic back to the Cross[5], then it was a “Grace sermon” and therefore acceptable. If it did not do this, it was a “Law sermon” which promoted works righteousness and was not dissimilar from any other worldly entreaties to moral behavior.

2.2.4   “Works Righteousness

Works Righteousness, of course, is a well known and Biblical phrase. As sometimes viewed by Sonship theology however, works righteousness can refer to teaching or preaching that promotes or emphasizes the believer’s duties and obligations with regard to one’s own sanctification. Sermons emphasizing topics like Philippians 1:27 (“Conduct yourselves in a worthy manner…”) or I Thessalonians 4:3 (“…refrain from sexual immorality…”) could be judged by Sonship theology as promoting “works righteousness”.

2.2.5   “Repent of Your Repentance

Another popular Sonship belief is to “repent of your repentance”. This phrase seems to be related to the Works Righteousness discussion above. If you understand the Sonship view on Law vs. Gospel and Works Righteousness, then you will understand how some in the Sonship camp can view repentance as a huge potential for “works righteousness’, especially if such repentance has elements or assertions of renewed effort on the believer’s part.

2.3      Gospel or Holy Spirit?

The original Sonship material that Dr. Miller assembled has been updated, expanded, and published in a workbook called Gospel Transformation. It is described as “an approach to discipling that centers on the transformation of Christians by believing the Good News.” After introducing the gospel in terms of justification and adoption, idolatry is highlighted as the quintessential enemy of the gospel. “An idol is anything we believe we need apart from Jesus to make us happy, satisfied, or fulfilled.” Interestingly, all surface sins have their roots, in one way or another, in idolatry. Faith is the “power switch” that allows us to receive the power of God – and this in turn allows us to truly repent and appropriate the Holy Spirit who gives us the power to live the Christian life. The end result is obedience, the fruit of the Spirit, and faith working through love.

As a roadmap for spiritual growth, there are some important concepts and ideas conspicuously absent (such as any extended discussion on prayer and Bible study). But there is a reason for that. Prayer and Bible Study (indeed, even obedience itself) are seen by the Sonship position as products of transformation, and not means of transformation[6]. In other words, a person doesn’t change through prayer and Bible study. A person “who is changed” will pray and study the Bible more. And how does a Sonship person change? By “preaching the gospel to his heart”. When we “get it[7], we will be naturally moved and motivated to do the things God wants us to do, like pray and study the Bible. As we better understand our own sin and God’s holiness, Christ’s cross becomes even “larger” and more precious to us. As we see God’s love for us in the cross we will want to respond in faith and love even more. In Sonship parlance, this is called “getting it”.

To summarize, an essential distinctive of Sonship theology is that “believing the gospel” not only leads to justification for the believer, but it is the power for Christians to advance in their sanctification as well. The glaring omission from this whole process seems to be the work and role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.

3         CCPC Assertions

The language and terminology that is often used in Sonship theology can at best be described as confusing. While the words themselves are familiar: Gospel, justification, sanctification, law, or righteousness, the meaning behind these words are often vague and indistinct –perhaps even antithetic to the Reformed position as expressed by the Westminster Confession of Faith. It is especially confusing because quite often the adherent to Sonship is either unaware or unwilling to note the difference in meanings, leaving one often puzzled as to why there was disagreement or contention when both camps seemed to be saying the same things.

At CCPC, rather than tackle the problem of defining what Sonship may or may not teach on a given subject, we have found it much more useful to define what we believe instead. In our affirmations and denials to follow, we have affirmed the Westminster Confession of Faith. This paper will further clarify some of these positions. We have taken this approach because in our experience we have not yet found a Sonship adherent who claimed anything other than agreement with what the Confession teaches on these subjects[8]. What we originally tried to use to help us define the theological ‘line’ (i.e. the Westminster Confession), was ultimately found inadequate to the task.

3.1      About the Ordo Salutis[9]

  1. We affirm that the various topical portions of what is commonly called the ordo salutis, such as justification, adoption, and sanctification, are separable only in thought.  Each of these topics form a portion of what may be called God’s redemptive plan for mankind and are intricately and mysteriously interwoven in actuality.
  1. We also affirm, however, that there is benefit in dealing with individual subjects within the ordo salutis so that we may get an understanding of God’s wonderful redemptive provision for His people.  Such considerations and study should always be mindful that any single subject, indeed any group of redemptive subjects, ultimately does not stand alone but must by necessity be an inseparable part of the whole.

3.2      About Justification

  1. We affirm and adopt what the Westminster Confession of Faith teaches in regard to justification. Further,

2.      We affirm that justification is a one-time judicial act whereby the sinner is declared righteous not on the basis of anything that the sinner has done but rather because of the finished work of Jesus Christ in the atonement. Gal. 2:16, Romans 3:21-25, 4:5, 2 Cor. 5:21, Phil. 3:9, 1 Cor. 1:30, Rom. 5:17-19, Eph. 2, Romans 4:1-25, Gal. 3

  1. We affirm that justification is the sole work of God and the sinner is completely passive in this act and does not participate at all.
  1. We affirm that justification ( which “…is an act of God’s free grace[10]…”) is not intrinsic but imputed to us because Christ’s righteousness[11] is imputed to us (as conversely our sin is imputed to Him).
  1. We affirm that our justification is because of and dependant completely and only on the finished work of Christ. We cannot fall out of a state of justification but the elect “may by their sins come under God’s fatherly displeasure and not have a sense of His presence with them until they humble themselves, confess their sins, ask for forgiveness, and renew their faith in repentance.” [12]
  1. We affirm that we are not saved ‘by’ our faith (on the basis of exercising faith) but ‘through’ our faith (responding with trust in Jesus Christ).

.

  1. We affirm that our imputed justification restores a relation between the sinner and God that was lost at the Fall.
  1. We deny that God’s act of declaring a sinner righteous is what actually changes the sinner’s nature, instead We affirm that the Holy Spirit often uses the believer’s understanding of justification in order to advance the sanctification of the believer.
  1. We affirm that when justification restores the sinner’s relationship with a Holy and Righteous God, this provides the basis for God, by His Holy Spirit, to operate in and on the sinner in the process known as sanctification.
    1. Before justification, we would not and could not choose to do God’s will.
    2. After justification, we are both willing and able to choose to do God’s will.
  1. We affirm that the basis of both justification and sanctification is the finished work of Christ (Rom.5:9; Heb.10:10); that because of the believer’s union with Christ, His holiness is ours (Eph.2:13); and therefore, “positionally speaking”, God views the believer as possessing a holiness as perfect and as complete as the righteousness in which we are accepted (Eph.2:6).
  1. We affirm that justification takes place outside of the sinner – in the counsel of God – and does not change the inner life of the sinner.  Accordingly, it is not enough that we stand before God justified, but we also must be sanctified in our inner being[13].
    1. Justification occurs at the point in time that God has opened our eyes (1) to see our sin, (2) to see our hopelessness in anything that we can do to pay the penalty for our sin, and (3) our receiving of Christ’s imputed righteousness based on his fully sufficient fulfillment of the law and payment for our sins.
    2. While we are free to reject Christ, God’s call (allowing us to see our sinful state and His grace in providing Christ finished work in our place) is irresistible.
    3. God’s call is entirely independent of us. However, we are changed at the time that we are called in that we can accept Christ’s finished work.

3.3      About Sanctification

  1. We affirm and adopt what the Westminster Confession of Faith teaches in regard to sanctification. Further,
  1. We affirm that sanctification is a life-long process, highly experiential, whereby the Holy Spirit enables, teaches, guides, and urges the believer to “grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” [14]. 2 Thess. 2:13, Eph. 4:23-24, Rom. 6:4,6,14, 8:4, Gal. 5:16-26, Rom. 6:12-13, 1 John 1.8
  1. While justification is an act by God on a completely passive sinner, We affirm that sanctification, with proper balance given to the sovereignty of God and the duty of the believer, is a cooperative action between the believer and the Holy Spirit[15]. God has not only decreed the ultimate outcome (glorification) but also has decreed that the believer will participate.
  1. We affirm that the believer’s part in sanctification is often referred to by the words mortification and vivification:
    1. Mortification: putting to death the old man. How does this occur? Don’t feed it: a lifestyle of repentance, abstaining from sinful desires.  Rom 12:9,16,17; 1 Cor 6:9,10; Gal 5:16-23
    2. Vivification: strengthening of the new man. How does this occur? Feed it good things: a lifestyle of trust and obedience, availing of the means of grace. Micah 6:8; John 15:2,8,16;Rom 8:12,13;12:1,2,17; Gal 6:7,8,15

5.      We affirm that the believer is called to put forth a diligent, persistent and serious effort in his own sanctification. The believer is assisted in this process by the means of grace[16].  1 Cor 9:24-27, Phil 3:12-14, Col 1:28-29;2:1

6.      We deny that any works performed by the believer, by the ability and power given by the Holy Spirit, have any salvific merit whatsoever; on the contrary We affirm that good works are strictly an effect of sanctification as the Spirit produces fruit in the believer’s life.

7.      We affirm that sanctification is a battle in this life, an “irreconcilable war” and that the “Spirit fights to assert authority over the flesh”. [17]

8.      We affirm that while justification is a judicial/legal act of divine will outside of man, sanctification is a moral and re-creative act that changes the inner nature of the believer[18].

9.      We affirm that sanctification is a work of the Holy Spirit who leads believers to participate through means of Grace (e.g. the exercise of faith, the study of God’s word, prayer, the sacraments, and the association with other believers), in order that we may be obedient to Jesus Christ.

10.  We affirm that sanctification is driven by our union with Christ and as such we are called to a consistent life of repentance and faith to maintain that vital communion with Him.

11.  We affirm the following from the Westminster Larger Catechism:

Question 75: What is sanctification?


Answer: Sanctification is a work of God’s grace, whereby they whom God hath, before the foundation of the world, chosen to be holy, are in time, through the powerful operation of his Spirit
by applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them, renewed in their whole man after the image of God; having the seeds of repentance unto life, and all other saving graces, put into their hearts, and those graces so stirred up, increased, and strengthened, as that they more and more die unto sin, and rise unto newness of life.

3.4      About Adoption

  1. We affirm and adopt what the Westminster Confession of Faith teaches in regard to adoption. Further,
  1. We affirm that adoption is a wonderful description of the rights and privileges conferred upon the elect by the grace of God alone – which in themselves are but a mere down payment on our future eternal inheritance.
  1. We deny that God’s act of adopting the believer is what actually changes the believer’s nature, but We affirm that the Holy Spirit often uses the believer’s understanding of adoption in order to advance the sanctification of the believer.

3.5      What Is The Gospel?

Perhaps no other discussion can more succinctly differentiate traditional Reformed theology from Sonship theology than simply defining the concept of the Gospel.  Clearly, the Sonship position on the Gospel is non-traditional and seems to introduce a much more comprehensive use of the word than CCPC would consider to be supported by Scripture.

3.5.1   Sonship View Of The Gospel

As the then leader of World Harvest Ministries, Stephen Smallman, wrote in 2002, Sonship contends that the word “gospel” must be viewed with a much broader understanding than the typical “limited evangelistic context”.  That is, the gospel is not only directed to unbelievers through the salvation they receive in the atonement of Jesus Christ, but is also directed to believers[19] as the power they are given as a result of their salvation. As the Sonship manual states, “the cross is the ongoing power of the Christian life”.

3.5.2   CCPC View Of The Gospel

We clearly agree with the traditional Reformed (as well the general evangelical church) view that the most appropriate definition of gospel is just what the Greek word means – “good news”. It is the good news about the great salvation purchased by Jesus Christ, by which He reconciled sinful men to a holy God.  This salvation is of grace; it is a gift of God.  It comes to pass only through His sovereign will, and there is absolutely nothing we can do to initiate the process.  Only the quickening of our heart performed by the Holy Spirit in the act of regeneration giving us a new nature allows us to repent and believe this good news.  We are then justified through the atoning sacrifice of Christ where, simultaneously, He imputes His righteousness to us and our sins are imputed to Him.  Thus, we are justified by faith as Paul so eloquently expressed in Romans 3:23-24.

We at CCPC believe that the gospel in its broadest sense can be seen as the complete salvation process, describing the multi-faceted nature of God’s saving work.  Thus it speaks of God’s entire redemptive plan including effectual calling, regeneration, repentance and faith, justification, adoption, sanctification and glorification.  It is based on the substitutionary atonement as the only remedy to the penalty of sin.

On the contrary we do not believe that the gospel, as defined within Sonship theology, speaks to the methods or power of living the Christian life.  In fact, we believe that there should be no confusing of the forensic act of justification with the cooperative process of sanctification.  We would agree that there is a close relationship between what is termed definitive sanctification and justification as part of the salvation complex.  Although definitive (or positional sanctification) declares us holy (sanctified) by virtue of our union with Christ (Romans 12:1), its purpose is to ensure the decisive character of the change that is effected.  We assert that the ongoing, progressive sanctification process is entirely a work of the Spirit and since it is not salvific in nature, cannot be based on the “re-discovery of the gospel.”   To meditate on our justification and acknowledge our righteousness afforded to us through our union with Christ is certainly one way to strengthen our Christian walk.  However, we categorically deny that the gospel in the Reformed, evangelical context provides any power for the sanctification process.  Finally, we believe that Sonship’s primary proof text in Romans 1:16-17 regarding the definition of gospel is an inaccurate exegetical interpretation of the passage.  Rather, we believe that preaching the good news of the saving grace of Jesus Christ is the crux of Romans 1, indeed of all the book of Romans.  From the introduction of God’s entire gospel in chapter 1, verse 1, to the specific mention of preaching both to Greeks and non-Greeks in verse 15, it is clear that the intent of the word “gospel” is used in a salvation context.

3.6      Law and Gospel

The words ‘law’ and ‘gospel’[20] sometimes mean different things in different contexts. In the seventh chapter of the WCF, Concerning God’s Covenant with Man, Law and Gospel refer to two different dispensations under the covenant of grace. As such, these words are often used synonymously with the Old Testament and the New Testament. But these words are also used in a different, though related way, by the connotations of human obedience associated with the Law, and of divine grace associated with the Gospel. Consequently according to the Sonship perspective, law is often used to mean “everything in Scripture which is a revelation of God’s will in the form of command or prohibition” and gospel is often used to mean “everything … that pertains to the work of reconciliation and that proclaims the seeking and redeeming love of God in Christ Jesus.”[21]

Although Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law and we no longer are slaves to its burden, we are not to toss it aside as though it has no value to us.  The law still serves as a perfect revelation of true righteousness.  We certainly recognize that we are not saved by the law, but by grace. But as the apostle Paul declares, the law drives us to Christ and thus is not the enemy of His gospel. Accordingly,

  1. We deny, as a false dichotomy, that the whole of Scripture consists of law and gospel as two opposing principles.
  1. We affirm that law and gospel together reflect the justice and mercy of God, and that the grace of God prepares the elect to receive in faith the teachings of both law and gospel.
  1. We affirm and adopt what the Westminster Confession of Faith[22] teaches in regard to the law and the gospel:

This covenant was administered differently in the time of the law and in the time of the gospel.[23] Under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances given to the Jewish people, all foreshadowing Christ.[24] For that time the covenant administered under the law through the operation of the Spirit was sufficient and effective in instructing the elect and building up their faith in the promised Messiah,[25] by Whom they had full remission of their sins and eternal salvation. This administration is called the Old Testament.[26]

 

Under the gospel Christ Himself, the substance[27] of God’s grace, was revealed. The ordinances of this New Testament are the preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper.[28] Although these are fewer in number and are administered with more simplicity and less outward glory, yet they are available to all nations, Jews and Gentiles,[29] and in them the spiritual power of the covenant of grace is more fully developed.[30] There are not then two essentially different covenants of grace, but one and the same covenant under different dispensations.[31]

  1. We affirm and adopt what the Westminster Confession of Faith[32] teaches further in regard to the Law:

Although true believers are not justified or condemned by the law as a covenant of works,[33] the law is nevertheless very useful to them and to others. As a rule of life, it informs them of God’s will and of their obligation to obey it.[34] It also reveals to them the sinful pollution of their nature, hearts, and lives,[35] so that, examining themselves from its point of view, they may become more convinced of the presence of sin in them, more humiliated on account of that sin, and hate sin the more.[36] Thus they gain a better awareness of their need for Christ and for the perfection of His obedience.[37] The prohibitions against sin[38] in the law are also useful in restraining believers from pursuing the desires of their old nature, and the punishments for disobedience in the law show them what their sins deserve and what afflictions they may expect for them in this life, even though they have been freed from the curse threatened in the law.[39] The promises of the law similarly show them that God approves obedience and that blessings may be expected for obedience,[40] although not as their due from the law as a covenant of works.[41] The fact that the law encourages doing good and discourages doing evil does not mean that a person who does good and refrains from evil is under the law and not under grace.[42]

 

  1. We affirm the three-fold use of the Law:

a.       Civil Use[43]: The law in this regard serves to restrain sin and promote righteousness. This use of the law is generally called Common Grace and benefits all of mankind and is thus not a means of redemptive grace.

b.      Teaching Use[44]: The law in this regard serves the purpose of bringing man under conviction of sin by bringing to the sinner’s awareness his inability to comply with the law.  In this use the law serves as a tutor to bring the sinner to Christ and in this way serves as a means of God’s redemptive grace. However, until God changes the sinner’s heart, the sinner will not have conviction of sin. In addition to conviction of sin, the 2nd use of the law also teaches us a great deal about God’s character and nature – reflected in His commandments.

c.       Guiding Use[45]: The law in this regard serves as the rule of life for believers. This so-called “third use of the law” reminds believers of their duties and obligations and leads them in the way of life and salvation.

  1. We affirm that the law is preparatory to the gospel, that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the law, and that the life in the Spirit given by Jesus allows believers to joyfully obey the Father’s will as revealed through the law and in the teachings of Jesus and the apostles.

3.7      About the Preaching of the Word

We believe that the primary methods of the application of sanctification in the believer’s life are the Holy Spirit and the Word, and that preaching occupies a very important position in the application of God’s Word. Accordingly,

  1. We affirm that edifying preaching of the Word includes the full counsel of God as represented in His Word.  Every book, every chapter, every topic is “….inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.[46]
  1. We affirm the following from the Westminster Larger Catechism:

Question 159: How is the Word of God to be preached by those that are called thereunto?

Answer: They that are called to labor in the ministry of the Word, are to preach sound doctrine, diligently, in season and out of season; plainly, not in the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power; faithfully, making known the whole counsel of God; wisely, applying themselves to the necessities and capacities of the hearers; zealously, with fervent love to God and the souls of his people; sincerely, aiming at his glory, and their conversion, edification, and salvation.

Question 160: What is required of those that hear the Word preached?

Answer: It is required of those that hear the Word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine: What they hear by the Scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the Word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.

  1. We affirm that redemptive preaching involves not only the declaration of the atoning work of Christ on the cross, but the entire embodiment of Jesus’ teaching; including His birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and heavenly reign.
  1. We affirm that edifying preaching includes due attention to the whole of the Godhead as revealed in Scripture, including the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – their attributes, purpose, work, and glory. Just as Scripture speaks and teaches of all three of these Persons, so should the exposition of the Word to believers do the same. Indeed, a believer’s edification and growth depend upon a growing knowledge and reliance upon the Trinity in all things.

4         CCPC Statement on Sonship

The following statements reflect Christ Covenant Presbyterian Church’s summary position on Sonship Theology. The position stated herein expresses our own deliberations on this subject, which have occurred for well over a year.

CCPC believes there to be a harmful imbalance and error in Sonship doctrine, much more than a difference in emphasis when teaching and preaching. After studying Sonship teachings and material and having numerous conversations with its advocates over this past year, CCPC has come to the conclusion that the Sonship perspective presents significant theological and exegetical problems. Although the CCPC Session has made clear our position on various aspects of Sonship in this white paper, particularly as it pertains to sanctification and justification, we find it useful to briefly restate some of those positions below with specific focus on Sonship.

1. We believe that the Cross of Christ is not the complete story of God’s revelation. Sonship teachings seem to make the Cross the summum bonum[47] of preaching and teaching. We find that such an overemphasis on a part of God’s revelation of Himself and His ways is unhealthy and tends to make secondary, the Glory of God – which encompasses His complete revelation which indeed is the true summum bonum.
2. We believe that the Bible does teach that a child of God can experience God’s temporal anger[48], and his displeasure. Though not affecting the believer’s standing in salvation, sin in the believer’s life can evoke Fatherly displeasure and provoke Fatherly discipline.[49] This stands in stark contrast to Sonship teachings that state that because the sons of God are “in Christ,” God sees them only as righteous in Christ and thus God could never be displeased or “angry” with them. Such teaching is not only incorrect but harmful to the life of the believer

3. We believe that in the Scripture there is a connection between our obedience as believers and God’s blessings[50]. Indeed, we believe the Scripture teaches that the path of obedience is the path of blessing. Similarly, through disobedience a believer can forfeit the blessing of God.
4. CCPC affirms the teaching that fear and duty toward God are Biblically valid motives of Christian living[51] and in no way commits an assault against the believer’s security. In addition, such motives as fear and duty are not to be frowned upon or avoided. Indeed, the Bible often uses promises of reward as well as threats of punishment or loss in order to motivate the believer to faithfulness and obedience[52].

5. Although sanctification is a cooperative effort between the Holy Spirit and the believer, CCPC strongly stresses the believer’s need for active, strenuous effort in the work of sanctification. This stands in stark contrast to Sonship teachings which would classify such teachings and efforts as “works righteousness”.
6. Finally, CCPC embraces what is known as the “3rd use” of the law as it is applied to believers. This stands in stark contrast to Sonship teachings which seem to obscure or ignore the role of the law as a teacher and guide for believers (Rom 3:31, Mt 5:17ff, Rom 8:4)

4.1      CCPC Conclusion

As a system of belief and teaching regarding sanctification, we find Sonship imbalanced, incorrect, and harmful to the Christian life.

Specifically, we take issue with the model of sanctification that appears to be taught – one is empowered by “preaching the Gospel to ourselves”, as opposed to being empowered by the Holy Spirit. We also find Sonship teachings perilously close to promoting antinomianism by its pejorative view of a believer’s works and role in Sanctification, and it’s great emphasis on grace without due consideration to the believer’s responsibility. This type of teaching was spoken of in the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer contrasted what he called “costly grace” and “cheap grace”. He called this “cheap grace”:

…the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession[53].

It is our view that Sonship is proffering a form of “cheap grace”[54]. While Sonship has elements within it that are both true and beneficial, these negatives clearly outweigh the benefits of this teaching. Couple these issues with the discord and disharmony that sometimes accompanies Sonship theology, as well as the plethora of far more healthy materials and teachings, one has to wonder why any church body would admit Sonship teaching through its doors.

Finally, and most importantly, Sonship teaching seems to replace both Christ and the Holy Spirit with the Gospel – and in practice redefines the means as the End. In the confusion of its language and the looseness and imbalance of its theology, Sonship can and often does appear to promote a form of idolatry – if not in its doctrine, surely in it’s practice.

Because of the deficiencies and dangers of Sonship teachings, the Session of CCPC forbids the use of its materials and the teaching of its precepts within our church body.


[1] We are using the term “Sonship” in this paper in a very general sense, unless otherwise specified. Later in this paper we reference some of the variants of Sonship.

[2] These phrases and ideas, which are characteristic of Sonship, are explained or dealt with later in this paper.

[3] We deal with the definition (or redefinition) of the word Gospel in a later section of this paper.

[4] We deal with this false dichotomy in a later section of this paper.

[5] Which would mean that in a sermon on say, the Book of Ruth, the pastor would need to work in a reference and summation pointing back to the Cross. This strict measure of a sermon seems to at least promote an imbalance in preaching the revelation of God, the Three in One.

[6] Or means of Grace.

[7] Perhaps a very telling indicator of how a Sonship adherant views other believers is in the phrase “get it”, which refers to whether or not another believer understands and embraces Sonship.

[8] Additionally, we rarely came across a Sonship adherent who admitted to being one. This may be to avoid any pejorative connotation that the word Sonship has picked up in some circles. What is key in understanding this movement however is not the label, but the theology behind it.

[9] Order of salvation.

[10] Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 33

[11] Romans 5:19 (“…through the obedience of one, the many shall be made righteous.”)

[12] Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XI “Of Justification”, #5.

[13] Louis Berkhoff, “Systematic Theology”, pg 513

[14] Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XIII “Of Sanctification”, #3.

[15] Phil 2:12,13 (“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”  NASU)

[16] The disciplined exercise of prayer, meditation, Scripture, worship, personal submission, the sacraments etc.

[17] Westminster Confession of Faith – Modern Version, Chapter 13 “Concerning Sanctification”, #2

[18] Louis Berkhoff, “Systematic Theology”, pg 530

[19] It seems that Romans 1:15-16 is the primary proof text for the concept of the gospel being for believers where Paul says he is “eager to preach the gospel to you who are at Rome”.  Further Sonship followers would interpret verse 16 (“…power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes.”) to mean that the gospel should be understood as empowering believers through every aspect of that salvation.  Another often cited text is Colossians 1:4-6 in which Paul calls the gospel “…God’s grace in all its truth”.   Additional texts include Col. 1:23 and several passages from Galatians including 2:14 and 3:2-3.

[20] In our experience, the phrase “Law and Gospel” is a common one within the Sonship movement, so we address it here.

[21] Berkhof, Systematic Theology, pg. 612. In this latter sense, the word grace is often used instead of ‘gospel’ in order to help avoid confusion. Reformed theology recognizes that the administration of the Law contained both law and grace, and that the administration of the Gospel contained both law and grace as well. In contrast to this perspective, some adherents of Sonship appear to perceive law and grace as two opposite principles of relating to God that have nothing to do with each other – a false dichotomy. Hence, in the Sonship perspective, a believer need not be concerned with the law since its main use is to show unbelievers their need for Christ presented in the gospel. In the Reformed view, law and grace are complementary. The law does prepare us for the gospel by showing our need, but at the same time the gospel fulfills the purposes of the law. (cf. Matt. 5:17-20)

[22] Westminster Confession of Faith – Modern Version, Chapter 7 “Concerning God’s Covenant with Man”, #2

[23] 2 Cor 3:6-9;Heb 1:1-2

[24] Heb 8-10;Rom 4:11;Col 2:11-12;1 Cor 5:7;Col 2:17

[25] 1 Cor 10:1-4;Heb 11:13;Jn 8:56;Gal 3:6-8

[26] Gal 3:7,8-9,14;Acts 15:11;Rom 3:30

[27] Gal 2:17;Col 2:17

[28] Mt 28:19-20;1 Cor 11:23-25;2 Cor 3:7-11

[29] Mt 28:19;Eph 2:15-19;Lk 2:32;Acts 10:34-35

[30] Heb 12:22-25,25-28;Jer 31:33-34;Heb 8:6-13;2 Cor 3:9-11

[31] Lk 22:20;Heb 8:7-9;Gal 3:14,16;Acts 15:11;Rom 3:21-22,23,30;Ps 32:1;Rom 4:3,6,16-17,23-24;Heb 13:8;Gal 3:17,29;Heb 1:1-2

[32] Westminter Confession of Faith – Modern Version, Chapter 19 “Concerning The Law of God”, #6

[33] Rom 6:14;Gal 2:16;3:13;4:4-5;Acts 13:39;Rom 8:1

[34] Rom 7:12,22,25;Ps 119:4,5,6;1 Cor 7:19;Gal 5:14,16,18,29-22,23

[35] Rom 7:7;3:20

[36] Jas 1:23,24,25;Rom 7:9,14,24

[37] Gal 3:24;Rom 7:24-25;8:3-4

[38] Jas 2:11;Ps 119;101,104,128

[39] Ezr 9:13-14;Ps 89:30-34

[40] Lv 26:1,2,3-9,10,11-13,14;2 Cor 6:16;Eph 6:2,3;Ps 37:11;Mt 4:4;Ps 19:11

[41] Gal 2:16;Lk 17:10

[42] Rom 6:12,14;1 Pt 3:8-12;Ps 34:12-16;Heb 12:28-29

[43] A usus politicus or civilis.

[44] A usus elenchticus or pedagogicus.

[45] A usus didacticus or normativus.

[46] 2 Timothy 3:16-17

[47] Latin for “Highest Good”

[48] For the purposes of contrast, we make a distinction here between temporal anger, which can result in broken fellowship with God, and his eternal wrath, which is reserved for the unredeemed.

[49] Ephesians 4:20 (“…do not grieve the Holy Spirit…”), Heb 12:7-13 (“…He disciplines us for our own good…”)

[50] Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XI “Of Justification”, #5: believers “may by their sins come under God’s fatherly displeasure and not have a sense of His presence with them until they humble themselves, confess their sins, ask for forgiveness, and renew their faith in repentance.” ; Phil 2:12-13 (“…with fear and trembling…”)

[51] Heb 11:7 (“By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith”. NIV)

[52] 1 Peter 2:17 (“…fear God, honor the King…”), Neh 5:15 (“…but I did not, because of the fear of God…”), Ps 19:9 (“…fear of the Lord is clean…”), 1 Peter 4:9 (“…be hospitable, without complaint…”), Eph 6:1-3 (“…obey your parents, for this is right…”)

[53] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

[54] Though we do not go so far as to declare it antinomian, Sonship surely is perilously close to it.

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6 Responses

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  1. Bill said, on August 15, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    Ok, somebody finally woke up in the PCA. Forbidding the Sonship teachings in that church is a good move! I’d go ahead an call it Antinomain, not just perilously close, but that’s just me. Unfortunately, years have passed and many PCA churches are established as “Sonship Churches.” It’s going to be hard to get rid of all of them. Eventually as Sonship grows they may end up dominating the Assembly decisions.

    Arkansas Bill

  2. pauldohse said, on August 15, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Bill,

    This is the strongest stand I have seen so far. One should take heart; “elder” is not yet synonymous with “coward.”

    paul > —–Original Message—– >

  3. Bill said, on August 15, 2011 at 9:39 pm

    Paul,

    yeah, take heart. I did notice on the web that the PCA General Assembly filed complaints against the Federal Vision Movement. So, at least some of those churches are no longer with the PCA. Maybe there is some discipline going on. Everybody has limits, I just hope it’s not too late. When the bad guys have sufficient numbers to take over, it becomes a lost cause.

    Arkansas Bill

  4. pauldohse said, on August 16, 2011 at 6:00 am

    yep

    > —–Original Message—– >

  5. Lou said, on February 7, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    I think you misunderstand the intent of the Sonship materials. I do not belive there was ever an intention to invent or develop a new theology. There is nothing in Sonship which is inconsistent with the WCF. The essence of the Sonship teaching can be found in The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification by Walter Marshall (1692). The teaching about idolotry echoes John Calvin. I can lay no claim to be an official spokesman. I do believe that some of the formulations, especially in early Sonship materials, were nexact and unfortunate, but your representations are unfair. Most of us who have found Sonship useful would agree with most of the affirmations and denials found in the CPCC statement. I don’t believe there was ever an intent to deny that effort is an essential part of sanctification. I think it would be more accurate to say that “sanctification is by faith” (which is not novel at all in Sonship; it can be found in Berkhof, for example) than it would be to say that “justification is the essential power behind our sanctification.” The essential power comes from union with Christ and is of the Holy Spirit. By in terms of the motivation to holiness, that comes largely through faith in the gospel (in the larger sense) and in the promises of God. There is a distinction to be made between Law and Gospel. The third use of the law is to be affirmed. We need the guard rails, we need to be informed so as not to be fooled by the flesh. But the law (as Paul says) has not power, either to justify us, or to sanctify us. One ought not to create a false choice between believing the gospel and striving. The real contrast is between striving according to the flesh (which is wearisome unto death) and striving by the power of the Spirit (which is life and freedom). To strive by the power of the Spirit involves a cognitive and an affective element. To make it purely a matter of the will is outside the pale of Reformed orthodoxy. I stand ready to be corrected in accordance with the Scriptures.

  6. paulspassingthoughts said, on February 7, 2012 at 10:42 pm

    Lou,
    I believe Dr. Jay E. Adams, who knew the father of of Sonship Theology personally, nailed it in his book, “Biblical Sonship.” If the book had anything good to say about Sonship, I can’t recall what it was. I am only going to address your either/or communication technique that can be traced all the way back to the insufferable Jon Zens: “But the law (as Paul says) has not power, either to justify us, or to sanctify us.” It’s either the power to justify or sanctify, or not, when it’s neither. The power comes from the Spirit, but the Spirit uses the law to sanctify (John 17:17). “One ought not to create a false choice between believing the gospel and striving. The real contrast is between striving according to the flesh (which is wearisome unto death) and striving by the power of the Spirit (which is life and freedom). To strive by the power of the Spirit involves a cognitive and an affective element. To make it purely a matter of the will is outside the pale of Reformed orthodoxy. I stand ready to be corrected in accordance with the Scriptures.” Striving is either all us, or all from the Spirit, when it is both. This is a manipulative form of communication that absolutely saturates new Calvinist cuture.


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