Calvinism and Arminianism 33

“This false idea of ‘free-will’ is a real threat to salvation, and a delusion fraught with the most perilous consequences” (Luther).

These things need to be pondered by Protestants to-day. With what right may we call ourselves children of the Reformation? Much modern Protestantism would be neither owned nor even recognized by the pioneer Reformers. The Bondage of the Will fairly sets before us what they believed about the salvation of lost mankind. In the light of it, we are forced to ask whether Protestant Christendom has not tragically sold its birthright between Luther’s day and our own. Has not Protestantism to-day become more Erasmian than Lutheran? Do we not too often try to minimize and gloss over doctrinal differences for the sake of inter-party peace? Are we innocent of the doctrinal indifferentism with which Luther charged Erasmus? Do we still believe that doctrine matters? Or do we now, with Erasmus, rate a deceptive appearance of unity as of more importance than truth? (Introduction to Luther’s Bondage of the Will).

If the teaching of free-will is indeed a danger and threat to the true Gospel, then why don’t we hear these things in our day? If we don’t teach the Bondage of the Will and the inability of man to obtain grace or merit anything but the wrath of God by himself, then in reality we are teaching men the doctrine of free-will because they will believe that unless we teach them differently. What right do we have to call ourselves and think of ourselves as Reformed if we don’t take this doctrine seriously? If we take the doctrine of the Bondage of the Will lightly or indifferently, then we have no right to think of ourselves as Reformed and as children of the Reformation. If we refuse to preach on this doctrine and to stress this doctrine in our preaching and teaching, we have no right to think of ourselves as Reformed or as children of the Reformation. Without this doctrine as primary in what we do we are in reality nothing but practical Arminians (if not practical Pelagians).

The Reformers thought of this as so central to the Gospel that they would not have recognized much of the modern professing Church as anything but that which was close to Rome in all reality. As the quote above says, we have become more like Erasmus in our day than Luther. We want to be gracious and winsome more than we want to stress this great truth of the Gospel of God and of His grace alone. We want to be liked and to have positions in the denominations more than we want to preach the Gospel of grace alone. As long as we can be nice about these things, we can retain our positions of prominence in the denominations, we can build huge buildings in our names, and we can write and sell books that sound wise and learned.

In our day doctrinal differences are minimized for the sake of peace in churches and denominations. That is a fine thing to do with minor issues, but it is to be a traitor to the Gospel if we give this up. There is only one and true peace and that is peace with God and then based on that having peace with people, but today we will throw out a doctrine that is at the heart of the Gospel (the will) in order to get along in the churches and to get along in our denominations. When we do that, however, we may not fight as much in the churches and the denominations but we don’t have peace with God. That is also to choose men over God and is an act of idolatry.

Luther stated that this was his most important work and that all of his other writings (except his work on the catechism) could be burned. That should show us how important he thought this work was. If his book, The Bondage of the Will, does indeed set out what he believed about salvation (and the other Reformers as well), then it is a work that we need to pay close attention to. But if it does set out the truth of salvation, then what does it say about our day when we no longer teach what it did and does? Do we think that some appearance of unity in a denomination or a church is better to have than the truth of the Gospel? Do we really think that God desires an appearance of unity more than the truth of the Gospel? Well, ministers say, I would be fired if I preached that. Is it better in the eyes of God to preach a false Gospel and stay or preach the true Gospel and be fired?

It is far better to preach Christ and the truth of the Gospel of grace alone and be fired than it is to preach another gospel and fall under the condemnation that Paul spoke of concerning those who preached another gospel. If we are too afraid to preach the Gospel of grace alone, then how can we say that we truly believe it ourselves? If we will not tell men and women that they cannot help themselves and they need grace alone, then do the ministers believe that themselves? The judgment of God has fallen upon the churches in our land.

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