When the fresh air of righteousness by faith was being breathed by more and more church members, along comes a reminder that legalism will not see its demise any time soon.
I can't mention any names because I'd be as bad as the person under consideration. He carefully avoids naming sources and countries--for the most part--where he has been challenged in his views, but he gives an occasional hint and comments about the persons in question. Of course, I'm guilty of the same thing, but from the other side of the street. I'm glad that I'm able to see this instead of having someone else point it out to me.
Nevertheless, I'm speaking of the speaker in charge of our week of prayer this week at my local church. I'm glad he's only a visiting pastor and that our regular pastor will hopefully undue what this visitor is so astoundingly doing to his flock. I may be in for a surprise if I probe a little deeper that perhaps our regular pastor is not such a fan of righteousness by faith as he appears to be in his weekly Prayer Meeting studies. [I felt uneasy about this comment and have subsequently apologized to my pastor for thinking such a thing about him. He then was gracious enough to forgive me and advised me not to worry about it and to focus, instead, on our common goal of getting to heaven. I leave the comment here because otherwise those who have previously read it won't make sense of my apology if I were to remove it. In any case, I don't specify his name or the name of my local congregation. Still, you never know who's reading one's blog.]
At first I was excited thinking this much anticipated speaker was going to bring some priceless jewel about salvation to our congregation. After only half an hour of him speaking I was surprised to hear it was simply an update to legalism in the present tense. Works are presented as something wonderful and life-changing. He almost makes you think that works really are not such a bad thing after all, as a necessary component to get to heaven. As he speaks I'm reminded reminded of the phrase "not by works less any man should boast." It's a high-wire act of the greatest delicacy to present works in such a new jewel setting and not let it be mistaken for the tawdry rhinestone that it really is.
What's even more shameful is that in these dire economic times which have descended upon us lately, righteousness by works and faith may find more favor than the tried-and-true righteousness by faith that was in play during more prosperous times.
The term "righteousness by faith" rarely, if ever, comes to light during the last four meetings that I've attended so far. To be fair I missed the Sabbath morning presentation, which may have been autobiographical in nature from what I've heard, but nothing that he could have said then could possibly change the constant attack on leaders and writers in our church that have so lovingly nurtured this precious bloom called righteousness by faith for many years. Even Ellen G. White, who rarely is mentioned in this week of prayer, was more in favor of righteousness by faith than the speaker in question.
A courteous reference to grace is made here and there, but it is then over-powered with the need for works. The influence of James' epistle is felt without being mentioned by name. Admittedly, the practical nature of works is highlighted: helping those in need, instead of simply saying a prayer for them. But that would then suggest that simply by helping more and more people in need--while a wonderful thing in itself--would guarantee you a home in heaven. This can never be the case. Or is this what practical Christianity is all about? Helping others and in so doing, you help yourself.
I hope most of the folks hearing this attempt at Righteousness by works and faith will remember all the other sermons and Sabbath School lessons that focused more on salvation by grace and faith (alone). If they do not, then sadly, that is what they wish to believe.
Out of courtesy to the speaker whom I will still be listening to for the next four days, both mornings at 5:00 a.m. and evenings at 7:00 p.m., I will not share some of the quotes from his personal experience that infer something slightly disturbing about him or his experience. As I hear statements that should make a thinking person shudder instead of laugh, I remember the bible verse that says" "out of the abundance of the mouth, the heart speaks."
One of the oddest of guidelines the speaker gave early in the week of prayer experience is for us all to fast for the next 40 days. After the shock of what he said, he explained that he meant as regards television, all DVDs, and even the Adventist cable networks which featured content that perhaps was questionable or perhaps it was the medium of television itself that somehow is deleterious to genuine spiritual growth.
I continue praying for this week of prayer speaker in spite of the fact that he may very well be doing more harm than good to those in attendance.
"If you look to the son of God and believe in him you have eternal life and he will raise you up at the last day." John 6. This for me is the one text that concisely states what salvation is all about. Works of any kind, even of the beneficial kind, are nowhere in sight in this priceless text.