Monthly Archives: March 2015

Poison of Pietism: Prayer and Pietists

This is part of a series of posts on the Poison of Pietism. Click here to see the entire series.

For all of the talk about prayer, the importance of prayer, the power of prayer, the necessity of prayer, and so on, there is very little ever actually said about the doctrine of prayer. Simply put, prayer is communication with God. It comes in two forms: public and private. We all understand the nature of public and private communication except when we get to our prayers. Pietism has caused this confusion. Public communication is very different from private communication. What you say to your boss at work is very different than what you say to your wife in the bedroom. Both the style and the content of the communication differ in public and private communication. We all know and intuitively feel this difference between the public and the private except when it comes to the act of prayer. Pietists have created this confusion in our thoughts and practice by insisting that private prayer be dragged into the public square as an act of looking good to the watching world and paving the way for evangelism. As is the case with everything pietists do, they are concerned about the public image associated with any activity and they believe innocuous prayers about mundane topics can make the church look good in front of the watching world and, thereby, cause evangelistic efforts to be successful.

Although this sounds very simplistic, public prayer must be about public topics. Public prayer is conducted in public settings. The proper content for public prayer is anything that has to do with the three covenantal institutions found in the Bible (all of which are public) and the relationship of the church to them. Pastors and teachers are required to pray publicly. The Bible is full of exhortations to pray for our leaders, our elders, and our fellow believers. Paul often asks people to make public prayers for his ministry in his letters to the churches. It is entirely appropriate, although infrequently practiced (especially the imprecatory Psalms, which are Scripture emeritus to pietists), to use the Psalms (the inspired prayers of the Bible) in a public prayer. In addition, it is entirely appropriate to use a “prayer book” in public prayers. Reformed churches for decades used to use and rely upon prayer books for their public prayers. Under the influence of pietism this practice has basically come to a stop. I believe all of us generally are able to make the distinction between what is public and what is private but we choose to ignore that distinction when it comes to prayer in church.

Most of what happens today in what are usually called “prayer meetings” has no business being there. I believe most of us realize that modern prayer meetings consist mostly of requests for physical healing and opportunities to gossip about somebody who has a “spiritual need” by making a request for prayer for him. These “prayer requests” give us opportunity to integrate with our fellow believers and also give us something spiritual to say. The fact that they serve some function, however, does not make them proper. Private physical needs are so low on the totem pole of things to be prayed about that I find it hard to justify wasting public time in prayer for them. Paul suffered from a physical malady and, despite all of his requests for prayer on his behalf as an apostle, he is never recorded as having asked for prayer for his illness. In addition, he did not spend a great deal of time praying about his chronic illness. Three times he prayed for relief from his illness and then he submitted to the will of God that he remain in his illness. Paul knew that his illness was a private matter that had no business in the public prayers of the church.

Our prayers are to be according to the will of God and His revealed will indicates that our need to worship and obey Him, along with our need to petition about our spiritual problems, are of much greater importance than our physical ones. (Note: I am not saying never pray about physical needs, especially in our private prayers where that topic is entirely appropriate. I am just trying to put our prayer topics in perspective.) The issue of illness is of particular difficulty. We know from Scripture that illness can be caused by one of three things. First, an illness can simply be a result of living in a fallen world. Second, an illness can be discipline from God for profaning the communion table. Third, an illness can be discipline from God for some sinful practice in the life of the believer. Given the fact that two of the three possible reasons for illness are related to sin, it is important to not rush to prayer for illness and assume that the sick person is innocent.

James 5:14-20 describes the process we are to follow when we want prayer for illness. Notice that no prayer is made for the sick person until after an opportunity has been given for the elders to issue a judicial opinion with respect to the illness. The sick person is to confess his sins and the elders are to determine, to the best of their ability, if this particular illness might be related to any sinful practice or behavior. A great injustice is done to the sick person when all prayers for healing automatically assume that the illness is not related to sin. We should be very careful before we bring prayers for healing from illness into the public forum. The proper procedures must be followed before any public prayer for healing should be given. The pietist, in the misguided belief that dragging the private prayers of the saints into the public arena constitutes a form of intimate fellowship, is severely in error and doing spiritual harm to the church and individual believers.

As mentioned earlier, Jesus taught us that our prayers are to be according to His will. No public prayer should ever be uttered if the person uttering that prayer is unable to biblically establish that the content of the prayer is consistent with God’s revealed will. The game that we play by saying “In Jesus Name” at the end of a prayer does not sanctify an unbiblical prayer. To pray in the name of Jesus is to say that we believe that our prayer is consistent with His revealed will. If we are not convinced that the content of our prayer is consistent with His revealed will, we had better not pray in public.

Most of our prayer should be of the private variety. The exhortation to “pray without ceasing” is a reference to our private thought and prayer life. We have not been left without instructions on how to pray. Matthew 6 contains an extensive section of teaching where Jesus told the disciples how to pray privately. Most of what He says there is routinely ignored by the pietists in the church today. In particular, Jesus rebukes the practice of dragging private prayers into the public forum. The pietists of His time, the Pharisees, were expert at taking what was meant to be private and making it public in order to receive the praise and accolades of men. Let’s examine His teaching for a moment. (As a side note, isn’t it interesting that Jesus gives the “Lord’s Prayer” as an example of a private prayer for the his disciples, warns them to not repeat it mindlessly in public; and then many churches make the recitation of this prayer a part of their weekly liturgy? )

Jesus puts almsgiving, prayer, and fasting together as three private spiritual disciplines. I continue to be amazed that pietists seem incapable of understanding that the principles that apply to almsgiving and fasting also apply to personal prayer. In all three disciplines Jesus emphasizes the importance of secrecy. With regard to alms He says, “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” With regard to fasting He says, “when you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do…when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face so that you may not be seen fasting by men.” With regard to prayer He says, “Go into your inner room and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” Could He be any more clear about the importance of secrecy as we engage in these private spiritual disciplines? Why then, do pietists continually insist upon dragging the practice of prayer into the public arena? Why do pietists insist upon saying, “I am praying for you” (fully realizing that these prayers are of the private variety)? Why do pietists insist upon asking me what they can pray for about me when they know it is private? I fear that here is a whole lot of spiritual competition going on.

Even pietists realize that it is unseemly to go around proclaiming things like, “I am fasting today”, or “I am giving alms to so-and-so”, or “I am fasting for you”. They rightly recognize that those are private activities that are to be performed in secrecy. Nevertheless, when it comes to prayer we are suddenly expected to describe our private prayer lives in detail as an example of how intimate our fellowship is with each other and God. Our public fellowship is never intended to be as intimate as our private fellowship with God. Furthermore, our private fellowship with God is never intended to become a part of the public discussion. Never. To do so is to lose all of the reward associated with the private exercise of the spiritual disciplines. As Jesus repeatedly said of those who practiced private spiritual disciplines in the public eye, “They have their reward in full.”

As mentioned earlier, Jesus taught us to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. That means that we need to self consciously attempt to make sure that every prayer we utter is consistent with His revealed will. How is it possible to take our private prayers that so often deal with matters of the secret will of God, drag them into public scrutiny, and remain consistent with that principle? It is a simple matter to keep our public prayers consistent with the revealed will of God by using the inspired prayers of God (and other, time tested prayers of the saints throughout Church history) in our public prayer times. Our private prayers are an entirely different matter. It is extraordinarily difficult for an individual believer to know if his subjective private prayers are consistent with the revealed will of God. Nevertheless, that is what Jesus has taught us to strive to do. On the other hand, it is impossible for public prayer about subjective private matters directly related to the secret will of God to even come close to being in consistent adherence with God’s revealed will. There are just too many private subjective variables to be discerned. That, no doubt, is one of the reasons private prayers are to remain secret.

Even here, however, we can derive great comfort from the fact that God modifies our private prayers to make them acceptable to Him and His will. Romans 8:26-27 describes this process. It says, “And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” So, let us resolve to make our public prayers about public issues according to the revealed will of God in the Bible. Let us resolve to make our private prayers about anything that is on our minds and to make them, as far as we are able, consistent with the will of God while, at the same time knowing, that God Himself is sanctifying our private prayer to make it acceptable to Him.

Pietists like to brag about the frequency and content of their private prayers. (Compare this to how unseemly it is to brag about the frequency and content of their sex lives!) Just like the Pharisees, they have received their reward in full. Unlike almsgiving and fasting, which require serious effort on the part of the participant, it is easy for the pietist to talk a blue streak about how much he is praying since nobody will ever know the truth. I suspect that most pietists are convinced in their own minds that they pray all the time simply because they have a lot of “God chatter” in their self talk. All of this allows them to feel good about themselves. All of this allows them to be seen as good chaps by the watching world. Even a world that hates the revealed truth of God tends to turn a condescending eye to those who constantly talk about how much they are praying. Just be careful to never use the name of Jesus when describing those prayers or the world will become offended. What we discover is that the pietist can use his prayer, and his doctrine of prayer, to convince himself that he is living before the watching world in such a fashion as to make way for the highly successful (which means lots of converts) proclamation of the gospel.

One of the favorite concepts in the pietist’s doctrine of prayer is the need for endless repetition. Pietists love to talk about their “prayer lists” and how they pray down the list every single day. They also love to talk about how they have prayed about a particular item or another for weeks, months, or even years. In essence, the pietist
believes it is a sanctified spiritual activity to engage in the process of nagging God through prayer. This is true despite the fact that Jesus expressly told His disciples to not engage in the practice of meaningless repetition. The pietist loves to cite the example of the woman in Luke 18 as a proof text for this practice. It is worth examining in a bit more detail.

Luke introduces this parable by saying that Jesus gave it to them so that they might learn to “pray at all times and not lose heart.” You probably all know the story. A widow in a city was asking a judge to give her legal protection. At first he refused to do so. She persisted in her demand. Eventually the judge gives in and agrees to protect her. In doing so the judge says, “Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, lest by continually coming she wear me out.” At first glance this sounds like open permission to nag God all we want. First glances can be deceptive.

Here is how Jesus interprets this parable. “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now shall not God bring about justice for His elect, who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them speedily.” The content of the prayer of the widow is what is critical in this parable. It is not the mere fact that she is persistent. It is the fact that she is persistent in the revealed will of God. She is demanding justice. She knows that it is God’s revealed will that magistrates deliver justice. She persists in her prayer for justice and it is granted. This parable does not give us permission to nag God about anything that we want. This parable does give us a command to pursue the revealed will of God in our prayers.

Revelation 6:10 records the prayers of the departed saints in the intermediate state. “..and they cried out with a loud voice saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” Now that is a powerful prayer. That is a prayer according to the will of God. That is a prayer that should be uttered publicly in every church in the land on every Sunday morning. Of course, that will never happen. Prayers like those being uttered by the departed saints are offensive to pietists. Prayers like those being offered up by the departed saints at this very moment would never be repeated by the pietist because they are offensive to the watching world. In their distorted theology, the prayers of the saints impede the progress of the gospel.

Prayer is not a game. Prayer is not a show for the world to watch. There is something very wrong with the pietist doctrine of prayer that allows for the world to look in and judge us. Public prayer declares the will of God back to Him and, thus, serves as a type of gospel proclamation. Private prayer should be never known to anyone but God.

Poison of Pietism: The Golden Mean of Liberty

This is part of a series of posts on the Poison of Pietism. Click here to see the entire series.

We have seen many biblical examples where liberty is expressed. We have seen a few examples where liberty is suppressed. I have mentioned that the law of love determines when to express and when to suppress individual Christian liberty. A very brief discussion of the principle of the golden mean and how it relates to this matter is helpful at this point.

The principle of the golden mean recognizes that error in thought and behavior often is the result of either an excess or a defect of a particular truth. In this case, the biblical truth is the doctrine of individual liberty. What is the excess in the doctrine of liberty? That would be selfishness. Christian liberty must always be exercised according to the law of love or it degenerates into pure selfishness. We have freedom but we are not to use our freedom as an excuse for excess. We are not to be mastered by anything. Philippians 2: 3-4 describes the antidote for the excess of selfishness in the doctrine of liberty. It says, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interest, but also for the interests of others.” The Christian who is operating in liberty has a perfect balance of his own interests and the interests of those around him. He is operating under the law of love (agape) (See my essay entitled “Love” for more information about this topic.)

What is the defect in the exercise of liberty? That would be pietism. The pietist believes that any self interest is wrong(ofcourse,theyrarelybehavethiswaythemselves). TheChristian,accordingtothepietist,should generally exercise no liberty at all. The Christian, according to the pietist, is to make himself the slave of all, in all times and in all places. The pietist universalizes Paul’s statement (as well as taking it out of context) that he became the “slave of all” in order that he “might win the more” and declares that all believers are to enslave themselves to any person they come into contact with in the hope that he might eventually be saved. Christians are not called to be in bondage to the world any more than they are permitted to be in selfish bondage to their own desires.

The golden mean of liberty recognizes that there are times to be self interested and there are times to be other interested. The believer operating in liberty is thinking the thoughts of others and determining when to behave in sacrifice and when to behave in self interest. The excessive form never considers the idea of sacrifice. The selfish individual does not even think about sacrificing on behalf of another simply because he spends all of his time thinking about himself. The defective form believes that whenever a choice needs to be made, the proper choice is always the one that involves personal sacrifice. (Again, I emphasize that few, if any, pietists really live this way. However, that does not prevent them from telling others to act sacrificially all of the time.) The golden mean recognizes that there are times when sacrifice is the superior path. At the same time, the golden mean also recognizes that not sacrificing is often the superior path. The law of love determines the pathway.

The concept of sacrifice is an important one in the doctrine of liberty/pietism. Sacrifice is closely related to the doctrine of pietism as well as being an integral part of true biblical sanctification. We need to consider it for a moment.

Pietism and Sacrifice

First, a definition of sacrifice is in order. I will use this definition of biblical sacrifice: The voluntary decision to give up a right for the benefit of another provided that act does no harm to third parties and provided the law of love (agape) has determined, as best as it is able, what is in the best interest of the recipient of the sacrificial behavior. Paul says in I Corinthians 9:19 that “Although I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more.” The pietist improperly takes this verse, universalizes it, and requires everyone but himself to live by that universal principle. ‘All’ does not always mean all. We are not to be enslaved to everyone we meet. Nevertheless, Paul makes the point that we have the right and the responsibility to engage in sacrificial activities on behalf of others. In general, the new commandment of love that Jesus has given us requires us to make sacrificial acts on behalf of our fellow believers. With respect to the world, obedience to the moral law of God in our treatment of our neighbors fulfills our duty of love to them. Sacrifice is not required, but it is permitted.

All believers are exhorted to engage in sacrificial behavior on behalf of their fellow believers. (See the essay on “Love” for more details,) However, refusing to engage in sacrificial behavior is not sanctionable by the church elders. There is no law that mandates sacrificial behavior. There is no law that specifies a punishment for not behaving sacrificially. Nevertheless, the Bible teaches that we are to engage in sacrificial behavior with others as a loving and appreciative response to the sacrifice that Jesus has made on our behalf. The lack of sacrificial behavior is indicative of a cold and spiritually lifeless heart. Is it possible to never sacrifice and be a Christian? Of course. But the life of the Christian should be characterized by sacrificial behavior on behalf of others, especially those of the faith.

It is axiomatic that an act can be sacrificial and moral only if it does not harm others. It is, of course, possible to behave sacrificially (and without agape) and have the end result of doing harm to others. I am not interested in that class of behavior here. For an action to be properly sacrificial it must be in the best interest of the recipient of the sacrifice. Selfish or meaningless sacrifices are of no value whatsoever. Paul made that point to the Colossians when he listed several of the sacrificial behaviors they were engaging in and declared that “these are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.” It is very important to note that pietistic sacrifices always fall into this category of sacrificial behavior. Pietistic sacrifices are meaningless and worthless. Pietistic sacrifices designed to impress the watching world have no impact whatsoever.

There is a class of personal and private sacrifices that can be performed at anytime and that have little or no impact upon others. These sacrifices are found in the practices of personal piety. These activities must remain secret and exist only in the private relationship between God and the individual believer. Activities such as prayer and fasting fit into this category of sacrificial behavior. Jesus describes these behaviors in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:2-18) and He stresses the importance of these activities remaining completely unknown by others. Additionally, married couples can agree to sacrifice their conjugal rights for a time in order to devote themselves to personal, private sacrificial actions. I Corinthians 7:5 says, “Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time that you may devote yourselves to prayer…” Other than these types of sacrifices, a sacrifice must benefit someone or it is not a sacrifice.

One of the principle errors within the doctrines of pietism is to require the believer to engage in public sacrificial behavior that benefits no one. As a believer who rejoices in my liberty I cannot count the number of times pietists have come up to me and rebuked me for moral profligacy (brought about by my “undue emphasis of the doctrine of biblical liberty) and exhorted me to sacrifice. I have been told several times that I needed to terminate particular lawful (biblical law) human relationships that I had in order to avoid the gossip and slander of others who were observing my behavior. I have been told that those relationships were not dignified and above reproach in the eyes of the watching world, so they had to be terminated. To do what the pietist demanded of me would have been to do harm to my partners as well as reinforce sinful thoughts and deeds in the lives of those who were slandering me. I have also been told to sacrifice particular behaviors (smoking cigars being one of them), not to keep a weaker brother from stumbling but, as a general principle for behavior when absolutely nobody would benefit by my sacrifice. Lastly I have been told that I should sacrifice particular relationships and behaviors for the sheer sake of doing the act of sacrifice, without regard to who might benefit. All of these types of sacrifice fall under the mantle of those described in Colossians 2 that have the appearance of wisdom but are actually of no spiritual value at all.
Lastly, the misapplication of the weaker/stronger brother principle to unbelievers always results in unnecessary sacrificial behavior that is beneficial to nobody and quite possibly spiritually harmful to some. The doctrines of pietism bring about a perpetual state of theological milk drinking that does not challenge any believers to grow up and eat meat. Furthermore, the doctrines of pietism, when applied to the pagan world, cause all believers to lose their saltiness and convey an improper and inaccurate view of the nature of God to the world. Ironically, while the pietist believes he is paving the way for successful evangelism, he is actually retarding the progress of the proclamation of the gospel. It is the exercising of our liberty, not the sacrificial suppression of it, that creates opportunities to preach the gospel to the world.

In his “Institutes of the Christian Religion”, Calvin makes this statement about the unnecessary and harmful impact of suspending individual liberty and acting sacrificially, in the presence of the “watching world” as well as in the church, for the wrong reasons. “But neither are those to be listened to who pretend that they act thus to avoid giving offense to their neighbor, as if in the meantime they did not train the consciences of their neighbors to evil….If they never grow up so as to be able to bear at least some gentle food, it is certain they have never been reared on milk.” The pietist would have us suspend our liberty and harden our neighbors in their sin, as well as feed fellow believers a steady diet of nothing but milk that is guaranteed to keep them in perpetual spiritual infancy. Pietism demands sacrifice when sacrifice is in the best interest of nobody. Pietism demands sacrifice for sacrifice sake. That is false religion. Pietists are to be opposed whenever they make an appearance in the Church
because their proclamations are harmful and dangerous to the spiritual life of the body. They are to be opposed because their teachings do not accurately reflect the nature and character of God. Pietism harms evangelism, pure and simple.

Earlier I mentioned the idea of personal private sacrifice and I used prayer as an example. The pietist has a special place in his illogical mind for the doctrine of prayer. Like so many other spiritual activities, the doctrine of prayer is corrupted when it is filtered through the grid of pietism. Like so many other impacts of pietism, the doctrine of prayer does harm to the believer rather than good. Let’s examine prayer and pietism.

Poison of Pietism: Does the Bible Teach Personal Evangelism as a Moral Duty?

This is part of a series of posts on the Poison of Pietism. Click here to see the entire series.

If the “main business” of the members of the local church is to “win souls”, then there should be plenty of teaching in the Bible that tells us so. If it is the duty of each individual member of the local church to engage in personal evangelism, there should be exhortations galore in the Scriptures motivating us to go out and get to work. To find out if that is the case, I propose that we examine six biblical churches. If personal evangelism is the “main business” of the members of the church, then we should find Paul writing to the churches in Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, and Thessalonica and telling them so.

Some will object that I am leaving out the most important book of the New Testament in regards to personal evangelism. That, of course, would be the book of Acts. That is a fruitless objection. The book of Acts is the book of the evangelistic acts of the apostles. It is not the book of the acts of the evangelistic laymen in the churches planted by the apostolic evangelists. All of the evangelistic events that are described in the book of Acts are attributed to the actions of authoritative evangelists and apostles. Laymen were not involved. That, of course, makes a significant case for the argument I am advancing here. To take the events that transpired in the book of Acts and universalize them as normative for all Christians in our day is to make the same mistake as the Pentecostals and charismatics. Just as it is not the case that we are all to “speak in tongues” today, so we are not all to “preach the gospel to all nations” today. It is shocking that Reformed theologians can see the mistake that is made in universalizing the charismatic activities of the apostles and then miss the point on their doctrine of evangelism.

Simply put, historical biblical texts are not sufficient proof that believers are required to engage in particular behaviors. Just because Paul “became all things to all people” it does not follow that it is the duty of each layman to do so. Just because Paul was the “apostle to the Gentiles” it does not follow that it is the duty of each layman to be an evangelist to the neighbors. Just because Paul “spoke in tongues” more than everyone else, it does not follow that believers today are expected to speak in tongues. Historical statements cannot be used to establish doctrinal precedent. That is an abuse of proper biblical hermeneutics. Historical assertions cannot be used to establish behavioral norms for all Christians at all times. That is an abuse of pastoral theology. If it is the case that personal evangelism is one of the main duties of all Christians, that should be easy to establish from teaching passages that say so.

Other than the incorrect interpretation of the “Great Commission” discussed earlier, I am aware of no teaching passage that instructs individual believers that it is each person’s moral duty to engage in personal evangelism. Perhaps I am just missing something. Let’s go through Paul’s letters to the six great churches of his time and see if he teaches them about the moral necessity and top priority of the practice of personal evangelism.

Corinthians: Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church was dealing with a variety of problems and issues that had arisen since he planted the church and moved on to other mission fields. The church had split into factions and Paul taught them on the doctrine of unity. Cases of sin had come up and the elders were not exercising discipline. Paul instructed them on the doctrine of discipline. Paul’s name was being slandered by false apostles and he defended his apostleship. In Chapter 3 he rebukes them for not making progress in spiritual maturity.

The members of the church were engaging in many abusive behaviors. They were using the civil courts to sue each other. Paul instructed them on how to deal with that problem. The doctrine of marriage was under assault as some new believers thought they were free to divorce their unbelieving partners. Paul taught them otherwise. Indeed, Paul develops a fairly detailed doctrine of marriage in this letter.

One of the biggest problems that had come up in the church was in regard to the abuse of Christian liberty. Chapters 8-10 deal with Paul’s instruction on the principle of the weaker/stronger brother. I have discussed that in detail previously. It has nothing to do with evangelism. Chapters 11-12 deal with abuses that were going on during Lord’s day services. Chapter 13, of course, is the famous chapter on love (agape).

Chapter 14 talks about the abuse of spiritual gifts in the worship service. It does describe the process of evangelism in that verse 23 says, “If therefore the whole church should assemble together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad?” Paul is teaching about the abuse of the gift of tongues. This is not his doctrine of evangelism. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that “unbelievers” are coming to the church meeting to hear the preaching of the gospel by ordained elders. This could not be used to support, in even a cursory fashion, the doctrine of the moral necessity of all believers to engage in personal evangelism with their friends and neighbors.

Chapter 15 talks about the doctrine of the resurrection and Chapter 16 concludes with some comments about the collection for the saints and personal greetings. There is nothing in the first letter about the moral necessity of all believers to engage in evangelism. What about the second letter?

The second letter becomes even more personal as Paul ratchets up his defense of his calling and authority as an apostle. He goes into great detail to describe the ministry of an apostle. It would be a great mistake to take anything he says about himself and universalize it to all believers at all times. He talks about his sufferings and tribulations as a preacher of the gospel. He writes them about his joys and his sorrows. In Chapter 8 he writes about how Titus has also been appointed by the Church to be an authoritative proclaimer of the gospel. He concludes his second letter by telling them of the visions he has had and of his thorn in the flesh. He concludes his letter to them with an exhortation to examine themselves. He exhorts them to unity and maturity. At no point does he ever discuss the topic of personal evangelism.

Galatia: The Galatian church was dealing with problems from people who believed it was necessary to become a Jew prior to becoming a Christian. Clearly, Paul’s letter is revolving around the issue of conversions and people exercising faith in the Lord Jesus. If it is the duty of all believers to evangelize, we should expect some teaching in this book about how individual evangelists should deal with the problem of the Judaizers.

Not surprisingly, no mention of personal evangelism exists in this letter. Quite the contrary, Paul writes at length about how he presented his evangelistic methods and content to the other apostles in Jerusalem to make sure that he had not been preaching “in vain”. The entire book is about authority and the authoritative preaching of the gospel by ordained evangelists. It would make no sense that Paul would present himself to the other elders and apostles if he had the ability and duty, as a layman, to preach the gospel. Paul understood the doctrine of authority. The pietist of today does not.

Paul rebukes the Galatians for their tendency to fall back into Judaism. He does not rebuke them for not conducting personal evangelism properly with one another. That topic is not even remotely related to what he is bringing up with the Galatians. He emphasizes their need to grow up and live in the “freedom that Christ set us free”. He lists the fruits of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit and exhorts them to live by the Spirit. None of the fruits of the Spirit pertain to personal evangelism in any way. This letter says nothing about the alleged moral necessity of each believer proclaiming the gospel to his neighbor.

Ephesus: This letter from Paul was to be distributed to all of the local churches in the Ephesian region. Paul wrote this letter to them during his Roman imprisonment. He knew he would most likely not be returning to them. Given that reality, did he emphasize the absolute necessity of each member engaging in personal evangelism so the local churches could grow? It would seem that he should, if he held the same doctrine that is held by pietists today.

Chapter 1:13 says, “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation– having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise…” The Ephesians heard the gospel from Paul. They repented under his authoritative preaching. They were saved. Their souls were won. Does he then exhort them to immediately go out and “tell others about Jesus”? That is what pietists do today. Did Paul do that? No. He, “pray(ed) that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints…” Paul did not pimp his converts. He built them up by praying for their spiritual growth and maturity.

Paul then writes about how the mystery of the salvation of the Gentiles was now being seen. Does he tell them that it is their moral duty to evangelize the Gentiles? No. He says, in relation to that mystery, “…of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power.” He does not attempt to guilt manipulate the Ephesians into doing evangelism. He accepts the responsibility of being an evangelist himself.

Chapter 4 begins the section of the letter where he applies the doctrine he has just written. Does he tell them it is their duty to evangelize their neighbors? No. He tells them to preserve unity. He describes the authoritative offices in the church, which includes the office of evangelist. He clearly writes that not all are evangelists. He does say that all are to grow into spiritual maturity. He does say that we are all to build up our fellow believers. He does not say that each individual was responsible to evangelize his neighbor.

In verse 4:25 he tells them to “speak truth, each of you, with his neighbor”. This is not the same thing as telling them to “proclaim the gospel, each of you, with his neighbor”. On the contrary, this sounds a lot like the salt and light evangelism I discussed earlier. This sounds a lot like the conversation exhortation Edwards wrote about earlier. However, this sounds nothing like the doctrine that it is the moral duty of all believers to evangelize their neighbors. That doctrine is not found in this letter.

He concludes the letter with the famous “armor of God” metaphor. Many pietists believe that verse 15 proves their doctrine. Paul writes, “…and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace;…” Pietists argue that Paul would not say that the gospel is related to the feet if it were not the duty of all believers to walk about preaching the gospel. There are many problems with this position.

First, no metaphor should ever be used to establish a doctrine. Like a parable, the point of a metaphor is to find the central teaching point and emphasize that. Is the central point of the metaphor of the armor of God that it is the duty of all believers to engage in personal evangelism? That is not possible given what Paul writes next. Verse 19 says, “and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel…”. If it were the case that Paul is teaching the Ephesians that it is their duty to engage in evangelism, why would he not write them and tell them to pray that they might have opportunity to open their mouths to proclaim the gospel? He does not. Why? Because it was not their duty. The duty was his and that is why he instructed them to pray that he might have opportunities to proclaim the gospel.

Second, the clear teaching of the metaphor of the armor of God is for the entire local church to be able to prosper as the entire ministry of the church is conducted. The metaphor is not to be individualized. It is written for the entire local church, just as Paul had urged them to unity in the local body a bit earlier in the letter. To take this one verse and twist it to say that Paul is teaching the modern pietistic doctrine of evangelism is absurd and misleading.

Philippi: Paul writes to the Philippians and exhorts them to rejoice in the face of difficult circumstances. In Chapter 1 he writes specifically about people who are preaching the gospel. He does not tell the Philippians that it is their duty to do so. He says that he has been imprisoned for his preaching and that others are continuing to preach the gospel, some from pure motives and some from impure. Nevertheless, he rejoices that the gospel is still being preached. If it was the duty of all believers to preach the gospel, this would have been the perfect place to exhort the Philippians to do so. He does not. Instead, he urges them to grow in spiritual maturity. There is no mention of the moral necessity of every believer to evangelize in this letter.

Colossae: The church in Colossae was not planted by Paul. It was started by an evangelist by the name of Epaphras whom Paul describes as “our beloved fellow bond servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf.” In other words, he was a fellow minister. He was an authoritative minister of the gospel and recognized by the church as such.
Paul writes to let them know that he prays for them without ceasing. If personal evangelism is the prime duty of every believer we would expect that Paul would be praying that they would all be successful personal evangelists. Does he? No. He prays that they would grow in spiritual maturity. Anybody seeing a pattern here?

In verse 1:25 Paul describes himself as “I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God…” He does not describe all of the local church members as his “fellow ministers”. There is a very clear line of demarcation, just as Edwards properly described, in the ministry of the apostles and the activities of the laymen in the church.

Paul goes on to warn them against false philosophies and exhort them to practice Christian liberty. Furthermore, he exhorts them to grow in personal sanctification. Nowhere, however, does he ever tell them it is their duty to engage in personal evangelism with their neighbors.

Thessalonica: The church in Thessalonica was suffering serious persecution as well as being given some bad instruction in doctrine. Paul writes two letters to them to deal with those issues. It is important to note that they were not being persecuted because they were each going about evangelizing their neighbors. Paul writes, “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for your also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews.” The Thessalonian believers were being persecuted because they were acting as salt and light, just like the Jewish believers in Judea had been persecuted.

We know for a fact that they were not being persecuted for their personal evangelistic efforts because this is the letter in which Paul specifically instructs them to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you; so that you may behave properly toward outsides and not be in any need.” Paul understood that the apostles and evangelists had been called to suffer persecution for the proclamation of the gospel. The individual members of the local church had not. Therefore, he exhorts them to lay low and mind their own business. It could not be any more clear. Prior to telling them to keep a low profile, he commands them to practice sanctified behavior. His desire for them was that they would grow in spiritual maturity.

The second letter deals with some false teaching they had received on the second coming of Jesus. He concludes that letter by asking them to “pray for us that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you…” It is significant that he does not tell them to “spread the word” the way so many pietistic preachers do today. Instead, he asked that they pray for him in his official duty as an apostle/evangelist to preach the gospel unto all nations.

Some will say that everything written above is an argument from silence. I do not disagree. However, if it is the case that the “main business” of the local church is for each member to be engaged in personal evangelism, there should be some mention of that doctrine in Paul’s writings to these six churches. That fact that there is not is very telling. There is no biblical basis for the pietistic teaching that it is the moral duty of all believers to evangelize their neighbors. Pietistic preachers and elders do great harm to their flock, as well as the Church at large, when they persist in this teaching. Pietists need to repent of an unbiblical doctrine of evangelism.

Poison of Pietism: Should the Church Emphasize Evangelism as a Moral Necessity?

This is part of a series of posts on the Poison of Pietism. Click here to see the entire series.

Most evangelical churches emphasize the absolutely necessity of personal evangelism on the part of their members. One pietistic Reformed church in my area has this quote from C. H. Spurgeon headlining their website, “Our main business, brethren, is to win souls. Like the shoeing-smiths, we need to know a great many things; but, just as the smith must know about horses, and how to make shoes for them, so we must know about souls, and how to win them for God.” I do not know what the context is for this statement by Spurgeon. There is no citation given. It is possible (I think probable) Spurgeon was speaking to a group of pastors and evangelists. In that case, the quotation would be misleading. It is presented as if he was speaking to a local congregation. Regardless of Spurgeon’s audience, as far as this local church is concerned, it is a fine example of the pietistic doctrine of the moral necessity for all Christians to engage in personal evangelism.

This particular church website continues the fine tradition of pastors pimping their members in order to obtain numerical growth. “Our mission is to be co-laborers with Him in first finding and then in building up His people to be a holy temple in the Lord… It is the job of the Elders of the church to equip each member for the work of ministry since they are designed to function in their renewed image as gifted members of His Body.” Notice how it is the mission of all to “find” new members. Then notice how it is the mission of the “elders” to “equip each member” to go about the business of bringing in new members. This is the exact opposite of the biblical model.

I was once asked to stop attending a local church when I made my position on evangelism known to the pastor of the church via a letter that I wrote to him. Here is what he wrote to me in response, “Based upon my review of the letter… The Bible is clear in its teaching regarding the responsibility of all Christians to evangelize and was clearly something taught by the Apostles which is why we see the congregation going out and sharing the gospel with others in Acts 8 as well as praying for boldness to continue doing the same back in Acts 4. The great commission was also given to all believers (1Co 15) not just officers in the church. Evangelism by all members in the church is key to its growth and the advancement of God’s kingdom here on earth (Acts 11)… These things also are central to the mission and ministry of our church since they were central to the mission and ministry of Jesus. That being said–and there is far more which could be–it would be imprudent and impossible for us to bring into membership individuals so in error on such an important doctrine to the church.” So there it is, any potential member who is not willing to be pimped by his pastor is told that he is an inferior Christian, if he is a believer at all, and asked to go to another church.

Not everybody is in agreement with the modern pietistic position that it is the moral responsibility of all Christians to engage in personal evangelism. Jonathan Edwards was an 18th century American preacher who has been called “the theologian of revival”. It was under his watch that the monumental “First Great Awakening” took place. Church historians have described this event as the first genuine revival in the Christian history of the United States. He is perhaps most commonly known as the Puritan preacher responsible for the sermon entitled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. As undoubtedly the most important preacher during the Great Awakening, it would be of value to see what he has to say about this issue. Edwards wrote a short document entitled “Thoughts on the Revival of Religion in New England” in which he discusses the many topics that came up in regards to the Great Awakening. Part IV of his essay is entitled “What things are to be corrected and avoided”. Section “v” of that part is entitled “Errors relative to lay-exhorting”. As Edwards uses the term “lay exhorting” it means the same thing as today’s popular term “personal evangelism”. Here are some of the things he had to say about the topic (my comments are in parentheses):

“Another thing, in the management of which there has been much error and misconduct, is lay exhorting about which there has been abundance of disputing, jangling, and contention. (As I said above, by “lay exhorting” he means what we today call “personal evangelism”.)…The two ways of teaching and exhorting, the one of which ought ordinarily to be left to ministers, and the other of which may and ought to be practiced by the people, may be expressed by those two names of preaching, and exhorting in the way of Christian conversation (Note that Edwards is arguing for the position I described earlier in that he is making a distinction between the authoritative preaching of the gospel and individual believers being salt and light through the conversations of daily life.) But then a great deal of difficulty and controversy arises to determine what is preaching, and what is Christian conversation… The common people, in exhorting one anther, ought not to clothe themselves with the like authority with that which is proper for ministers… In order to a man’s preaching, special authority must be committed to him… But the common people, in exhorting one another, ought not thus to exhort in an authoritative manner… Laymen ought not to exhort as though they were the ambassadors of Christ, as ministers do; nor should they exhort, warn and charge in his name (It is obvious from the context that Edwards is not using the term “ambassador” here in the same way I did earlier. He is using it in an authoritative sense as a preacher of the gospel)…

That lay persons ought not to exhort one another as clothed with authority is the general rule; but it cannot justly be supposed to extend to heads of families in their own families. Every Christian family is a little church, and the heads of it are its authoritative teachers and governors (Hence, parents are to evangelize their children.)…

No man but a minister duly appointed to that sacred calling ought to follow teaching and exhorting as a calling, or so as to neglect that which is his proper calling(The Reformed doctrine of “vocation“ is clearly assumed here. All believers are called to their vocation and should spend most of their time engaged in that. To spend time in evangelism is to neglect one‘s own vocation, according to Edwards.)… Therefore that man who is not a minister, taking either of these upon him, invades the office of a minister (Note that Edwards fully understood that the faithful proclamation of the Word of God from the pulpit was the means by which God would save His elect people. It is the calling of the minister to do that. The notion that it was the duty of every believer to go “door to door” to personally evangelize was completely foreign to him. Yet, God saw fit to bless his generation with a tremendous outpouring of His Spirit as evidenced by genuine repentance and conversion. Go figure.)… It will be a very dangerous thing for laymen to invade the office of a minister. If this be common among us, we shall be in danger of having a stop put to the work of God, of the ark turning aside from us, before it comes to Mount Zion, and of God making a breach upon us; as of old there was an unhappy stop put to the joy of the congregation of Israel, in bringing up the ark of God, because others carried it besides the Levites (It is crucial to see what Edwards is saying here. He believed that lay involvement in the authoritative work of evangelism would hinder the progress of the gospel! What a different view is held by those who claim to walk in his shadow today!)…

There ought to be a moderate restraint on the loudness of persons talking under high affections (what Edwards is talking about here is common today among pietistic lay evangelists. They say that they are “on fire for Jesus” so that they “can’t keep it in”. These types of comments are very popular among those who consider themselves skilled lay-evangelists and “soul winners“. The same things were being said by people in Edward’s time. This is his advice to them.); for, if there be not, it will grow natural and unavoidable for persons to be louder and louder, without any increase of their inward sense; till it becomes natural to them, at last, to scream and halloo to almost everyone they see in the streets, when they are much affected (Does this not describe much of what passes for “evangelism” today?). But this is certainly very improper, and what has no tendency to promote religion…

There should also be some restraint on the abundance of talk, under strong affections; for, if persons give themselves an unbounded liberty to talk just so much as they feel an inclination to, they will increase and abound more and more in talk, beyond the proportion of their sense or affection; till at length it will become ineffectual on those that hear them, and, by the commonness of their abundant talk, they will defeat their own end (And so, Edwards also argues against the practice of “nagging evangelism” that is so popular today.).”

Edwards had a biblical understanding of the doctrine of evangelism. He understood that God would bless the preaching of the gospel from the pulpit by His ordained authorities with either positive or negative fruit. Under the awakening, there was a tremendous amount of positive fruit and many were converted. Then, things calmed down. Those who had observed the passing of the first Great Awakening decided that they wanted to see a second revival movement in their time. By having carefully watched and studied what had taken place on the surface during the first revival, they set about to recreate those conditions in order to bring about a second revival. Those people were known as the “Methodists” because they devised a “method” by which they could bring about conversions. They were dedicated Arminians (see Evangelical Heresies) and they were successful in changing the face of evangelism in this country. Unlike the first revival, few of the participants in the second awakening persevered in true Christian belief and behavior. That created the historical impetus for the development of the doctrine of the “carnal Christian”. They rest, so they say, is history.

The doctrine of pietistic lay evangelism today is the end result of the corruption of the biblical teaching on evangelism. It is rooted in the grand desires of men to see numerical growth and have all of the glory associated with such growth as well as the doctrines of Arminianism. It is not genuine. It is not biblical. To prove that point, let’s take a moment to look at what the Bible has to say about lay evangelism.

Poison of Pietism: Is Everyone an Evangelist?

This is part of a series of posts on the Poison of Pietism. Click here to see the entire series.

One of the most treasured beliefs of the pietist is that it is the moral duty and biblical responsibility of every person who claims to be a Christian to be engaged in the act of evangelism. This doctrine is easily derived from the pietistic belief that we are to imitate Paul in all things. Since Paul was an evangelist, we should all be evangelists. The notion that everyone is an evangelist runs deep in pietistic circles. The counter belief that not everyone is an evangelist is seen as subversive and evil by the pietist. This is dangerous ground.

Campus ministries are fine examples of this pietistic practice. Most of the various campus ministries use some sort of evangelistic brochure or pamphlet that contains the essentials of the gospel presentation (generally Arminian in nature). Almost all of them end with the need for the new believer to join the local church and tell all of his friends about Jesus. Indeed, one of the primary evidences of the new life in this young believer is alleged to be his willingness to go out and “witness” to others. This attitude is not just limited to the campus ministries. I have had preachers tell me that if everyone would just “lead one person to Jesus this week”, the size of the church would double every week. I have had preachers tell me that I am a fool if I do not agree that it is the duty of every Christian to evangelize. I have had preachers tell me that I am a false teacher, and therefore obviously an unbeliever, because I do not believe it is the moral duty of every believer to evangelize the world.

Pietist preachers are, for the most part, pimping the church. The simple reality is that most of them desperately want to see an increase in the size of their congregation. In their minds, that will be a clear and obvious sign that God is “blessing” their work. More practically, it will cause them to rise in status among their peers as well as increase the amount in the church coffers. Yet, most of them are unwilling to go out and stand on the street corner and proclaim the gospel message themselves. So, what do they do? They brow-beat and guilt manipulate their people with the doctrine that it is the moral duty of all Christians to evangelize. After all,it is the job of the preacher to “equip the saints”, is it not? The preacher can then safely stay home and deliver regular messages informing his congregation that it is their job to go out and do evangelism. He can conduct seminars on the proper methods for evangelism. He can conduct all sorts of evangelism workshops for his people to attend. He will not do any of the work of evangelism himself. Rather, he will tell his congregation that evangelism is their job and that they are required and qualified to do it.

The belief that all believers are responsible to do evangelism is widespread. It is, however, not found in the Bible. The pietist goes to the Great Commission as the primary proof text for his assertion that it is the responsibility of all to evangelize the world. Matthew 28:16 says, “But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated.” Jesus then delivers what has come to be known as the Great Commission to the eleven when He says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” From this verse the pietist derives his theological position that all believers are to evangelize the world. Does that make sense?

Jesus is delivering this commission to the eleven disciples. They are in the process of becoming the twelve apostles. Judas, as we are all aware, is dead. They will soon select a twelfth apostle to take his place. Specifically Jesus tells the apostles to “make disciples of all the nations”, to “baptize them”, and to “teach them”. Technically the eleven apostles were not even told to do evangelism. They were told to make disciples, baptize and teach. Nevertheless, I will grant that the concept of making disciples includes the concept of initiating a new individual into the covenant and that requires evangelism. So does the concept of baptism. But we must not forget that three different things are mentioned here. Who is responsible to carry out this commission?

Do pastors and laymen believe that it is the moral duty and responsibility of all believers to baptize new believers? Perhaps a few do. For the most part, however, I believe it is safe to say that most pastors, elders, deacons, and laymen believe that it is the duty of the pastors and the elders to conduct the sacrament of baptism. I believe most Christians would think something was wrong if everyone started baptizing everyone else. I believe most Christians would say that the act of baptism should be left to those who have the authority to do it.

Do pastors and laymen believe that it is the moral duty and responsibility of all believers to teach in the church? Perhaps a few do. For the most part, however, I believe it is safe to say that most pastors, elders, deacons, and laymen believe that it is the duty of the pastors and teachers to engage in the act of teaching in the church. I believe most Christians would think something was wrong if everyone started teaching. I believe most Christians would say that the act of teaching should be left to those who have the gift and authority to do it.

Given what is true about baptism and teaching, how can it possibly be the case that it is the moral duty of all believers to engage in evangelism? The answer to that question, of course, is that it is not. The Great Commission was given to the entire Church. Not everyone in the local church is expected to be doing all of the things that are contained in it. The Church universal, acting as the Body of Jesus, is able to do all of the things ordered in the Great Commission. Jesus gave His Church a clear order of authority that describes who does what in His Church. To tell the rank and file believer that it is his moral duty to be an evangelist is simply wrong.

Leave Evangelism to the Evangelists

Notice that the Great Commission was delivered to Jesus’ apostles. It was not delivered as a moral commandment to everyone who followed Him. Furthermore, there is no passage anywhere in the Bible in which a person, who does not hold authoritative office in the Church, is instructed to evangelize. The book of Acts contains most of the descriptions of those who were going out and doing evangelism and, in every single case, the person or persons doing the evangelism were commissioned to do so by the local church. In other words, they held an office in the church and they were doing their duty. In addition, there is no place in Scripture where a person who does not hold an authoritative office in the local church is told to go out and do evangelism. Until the blinding effects of pietism came along it was easy for people to understand this truth. Evangelism is to be done by the evangelists, not the laymen.

Ephesians 4:11-12 contains Paul’s description of the office of evangelist. He says, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” Here Paul is clearly describing the men that God had gifted to serve in the various offices of the early church. The apostolic office was filled by men called by Jesus Himself who had walked with Him and witnessed His deeds and words. When they died, the office ceased to exist. The prophetic office was also a temporary office given to the church to complete the work of giving us all of the revelation necessary to conduct out lives faithfully before God. With the completion and closing of the biblical canon, the office of prophet ceased to exist. The office of pastor/teacher (the Greek construction allows them to be combined into one office) is given permanently to the church and is filled by men who are elders who have the gift of teaching. These are the men who preach and teach in our churches today.

The office of evangelist was given to the church and filled by men who had the gift of evangelism. These men were called and commissioned by the local church to conduct their evangelistic ministries. Although, being a part of the apostolic age, they were on occasion able to engage in prophetic charismatic activity, there is no reason to believe this office has ceased to exist after the closing of the canon. Evangelists did not need to be eye-witnesses to the life of Jesus (apostles) and they did not need to write inspired Scripture (although some of them did). Evangelists today preach the existing Word of God in places where local churches do not exist. The people who should be conducting evangelism in our churches today are the people in whom God has implanted the gift of evangelism and raised up for that purpose. Historically these men have been called missionaries. With the dilution of what it means to be a missionary in evangelical culture, that seems like an unfair appellation. Nevertheless, a man who is gifted in evangelism today should be commissioned to a particular mission field. It is his job to plant churches. The missionary is the evangelist. It is the missionary who fulfills this particular part of the Great Commission that Jesus gave to His Church.

A lot can be said about the doctrine of missions and that is not my point here. It is sufficient to say that sending your teenage son to a foreign country to paint houses for poor people is not biblical missions. Sending a doctor to a foreign land to practice medicine among the natives is not missions (it is philanthropy). Sending a “missionary” to an already established church in a foreign country to teach Sunday school is not missions (it is teaching). Sending a man to an already established church to preach on Sunday mornings is not missions (it is preaching). A missionary is a man who brings the Word of God to a particular group of people who do not have the Word of God and who do not constitute a particular church. Missions is the act of evangelism in which the sinner is told of his sin and commanded to repent. Missions is where the evangelist brings the good news to the sinner and calls forth God’s elect. A missionary plants a church and then moves on to plant another. Paul didn’t even stick around long enough to baptize the people who were converted under his ministry (I Corinthians 1). He left the work of baptism to the local pastor/teachers who were leading the local churches he planted. Clearly there was a biblical division of labor in the work of the Great Commission. Just as clearly the individual, ungifted layman is not called to the work of evangelism.

What is the Layman to Do?

Some will be quick to jump on what I have written and accuse me of letting the layman off the hook. That is hardlythecase. AllthatIampointingoutisthefactthatthepietisticdoctrinethatallbelieversaremorallybound to act as evangelists is in error. It does not follow from that point that the individual believer has no duty of any sort with respect to the propagation of the gospel message.

Perhaps the best way to distinguish between evangelists and laymen with respect to the propagation of the gospel is to say that evangelists are active in their proclamation of the gospel and laymen are passive. Jesus said that His followers “are the light of the world”. His followers naturally radiate light that is visible to all. Paul, describing his apostolic ministry but equally true to a layman, says in II Corinthians 5:20, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ…” An ambassador is not actively engaged in attempting to recruit the citizens of the land in which he is living to come and join his country (the work of the evangelist). An ambassador represents his Lord in the foreign country in which he lives. That is an apt description of the believer who seeks to live a life in obedience to the law of God in the world. In doing so he becomes a faithful “light to the world”. Indeed, it is impossible for a Christian to live a faithful life and not be a light giving ambassador for Jesus.

The work of the evangelist is active and offensive. The work of the ambassador is passive and defensive. I Peter 3:15 perfectly describes what an individual believer is to do. He says, “…but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to every one who ask you to give an account for the hope that is in you,…” Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, tells us the duty of the believer with respect to evangelism. We are all to be prepared to give a defense for the hope that is within us whenever someone of the world notices our light.

In the meantime, what are we to do? We know that our obedience to the revealed will of God in the Bible is going to attract the attention of the world. For the elect, it will present an opportunity for repentance, for the reprobate it will present an opportunity to persecute the believer. For us it will present an opportunity to give a defense of our faith. We can expect persecution. Paul told Timothy that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” He also told the layman what to do in the meantime. In I Thessalonians 4:11 he said, “…and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you.” We need to go about our business. We need to mind our own business. We need to stop feeling guilty for the fact that we are not all evangelistic missionaries. We need to be obedient to the law of God. We need to exercise our Christian liberty in the eyes of the watching world, just as Jesus consistently did. That will give us many opportunities to defend our faith. Then, when those opportunities arise, we need to be prepared to give a defense for the hope that lies within us.

Pietistic preachers need to stop abusing their position of authority by telling their congregants that it is their moral duty to be evangelists. The non-missionary people of God need to be relieved of the burden of guilt that has been put upon them by pietistic doctrine that tells them they will be held accountable by God for the souls of their neighbors. That is simply not true. The Word of God is clear on this issue and the pietist, as usual, is wrong.

Poison of Pietism: Exegetical Dishonesty

This is part of a series of posts on the Poison of Pietism. Click here to see the entire series.

Pietists are dishonest exegetically. They know and understand that proper biblical exegesis requires them to find a passage in Scripture that actually teaches their doctrine. As we have seen, that passage does not exist. Every passage that is allegedly in support of their doctrine and practice is seen, upon closer examination, to have nothing to do with pietism. So, rather than giving up their cherished positions, they resort to the dishonest practice of proof texting their position. Proof texting is simply the practice whereby a verse that contains words that can appear to support a particular doctrinal position is removed from it’s context and alleged to actually be in support of that position. By removing the verse from the context it is possible to use it to “prove” a wide variety of aberrant doctrines and practices. In fact, pietists in the early church also resorted to proof texting to support their bizarre behaviors.

Pietists in the early life of the Church tended to lean toward asceticism. They had strong tendencies towards seeking martyrdom as well. Many of them spiritually devolved into the practices of various monastic orders. Did they have biblical support for their doctrine? Of course! Paul took an informal vow of celibacy. They took a formal one. Paul took an informal vow of martyrdom. They took a formal one. Paul took an informal vow of poverty. They took a formal one. They imitated Paul. We should too. Or so they say.

In addition, look at what Jesus said about being one of His disciples in Luke 14:33. “So therefore, no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned?” Later, in Luke 16:13 He says, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other, or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Later in Luke 18:24-25 He says, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” What were they to do? They did what the Bible instructed them to do. They gave up all their possessions, took vows of celibacy and poverty, and entered the monastery. We should all do the same. At least, that is the truth according to the exegetical method of the pietist.

Most modern day pietists are also materialists so they would never give up their possessions in order to advance their pietistic cause. (You may wonder how I can so easily make this declaration. It is simple. Any Christian who does not tithe is robbing God. Eighty percent of professing Evangelicals do not tithe. Therefore, at least eighty percent of professing Evangelicals are materialists.) They easily dismiss the words of Jesus and lecture us on how we are always to take them “in their context”. Nevertheless, when it comes to their own cherished doctrines, the context suddenly becomes irrelevant.

Ironically, the very passages I have just quoted from Luke actually record Jesus teaching the opposite of pietistic doctrine. Jesus is attacking the materialism of the Pharisees in the passages found in Luke 14-16. As was often the case, He uses lots of hyperbole to make His points. The Pharisees, as they usually did, took offense at His teaching. 16:14 records, “Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things, and they were scoffing at Him.” Jesus’ reaction to their scoffing is amazing. He says, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.” What an amazing statement. No wonder the pietist does not use this section of Scripture to support his doctrines.

The pietist, as you will recall, believes that that which is highly esteemed among men should be the basis of the believer’s behavior when living among them. Remember, believers are to treat all nonbelievers as weaker brothers. Believers are to give no offense to nonbelievers. Believers are to become all things to nonbelievers. Believers are to adopt all of the non-sinful practices of the world so as to earn a right to be heard and pave the way for the proclamation of the gospel. Yet, when it comes time to evaluate the things that the world esteems highly, Jesus pronounces them all detestable. He is not just neutral towards them. He does not say we can adopt some of them if we want to. He says they are detestable. No believer should ever seek to gauge his behavior by a standard which Jesus has pronounced to be detestable. Yet, that is exactly what the pietist wants us to do.

Jesus concludes His blasting of the Pharisees for their materialism (which should also blast most Evangelicals) by telling the story of the rich man and Lazarus. I am sure you all know the story. What is interesting about this story in regards to pietism is the conclusion. Remember the rich man asks Abraham to do something miraculous to his brothers so they do not end up in Hades with him. Abraham is recorded as responding,”If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.” This, of course, is another statement about the sufficiency of Scripture and the utter worthlessness of deeds as an evangelistic tool. Men do not repent because they see miracles. Men do not repent because believers change their behavior so as to adopt their worldly standard. Men do not repent because believers treat them as weaker brothers and suspend their Christian liberty while in their presence. Men do not repent because they see believers as generally nice, likable folks. Men repent in response to the preaching of the gospel by men ordained to that duty and calling. The pietist ignores the clear teaching of the teaching passages of Scripture and supports his doctrines with isolated verses ripped from their context. That is dishonest.

Poison of Pietism: What Does it Mean to “Please Men in All Things”?

This is part of a series of posts on the Poison of Pietism. Click here to see the entire series.

I Corinthians 10:32 through 11:1 is really the only passage in the Bible that can possibly be used to support the doctrines of pietism. That alone should raise a red flag. Anytime an allegedly biblical doctrine is only supported by one passage of Scripture we should be wary of adopting it without careful analysis. Given what we have already seen in the teachings on the world found in the Bible, and given what we have see about how Jesus reacted to those around Him in the world, we must be very careful before universalizing this passage and building an entire doctrine of life and evangelism upon it.

The context of this passage is clearly the weaker/stronger brother doctrine. Chapter 8 is specifically about the doctrine of the weaker/stronger brother. He reintroduces the doctrine in verse 23 of chapter 10. Through verse 31 the entire teaching is exclusively for believers. Verses 32 and 33 change the focus and become the only possible biblical source for the doctrines of pietism. Here Paul adds the statement to “give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved.” For the first time in the entire discussion of the weaker/stronger brother Paul introduces an unbeliever into the context. Offense is not to be given to the “church of God”. That is, no offense should be given to weaker brothers who are believing members of the local church. Paul, however, goes further by saying that no offense should be given to non-believing Jews and Greeks. Indeed, he states that he personally strives to “please all men in all things…that they might be saved.” At first glance this looks exactly like the doctrine within pietism that asserts all believers are morally bound to suspend their liberties in the presence of nonbelievers in order to pave the way for their salvation. In this case, the first glance is inaccurate.

It is true that Paul has shifted his focus from dealing with the doctrine of the weaker/stronger brother to dealing with his theology of missions. He has moved on from the idea of offending fellow weak believers in the local church to the idea of offending potential new believers on the mission field. The primary context, as it almost always is in Paul’s writings on mission theology, is the concept of Jews versus Greeks. The difference between the Jews and the Greeks is a very familiar theme in Paul’s writings. He was a missionary to the Gentiles (Greeks) but he always initiated his gospel preaching in the local synagogue (Jews) if he could find one. Typically he would bear very little fruit among the Jews he was preaching to and he would get thrown out of the synagogue. He would then dust off his feet and go to the Gentiles, usually joined by the few believing Jews that would be willing to come along with him.

Moving back and forth between these two widely divergent cultures presented some major problems. As we know, the Jews and the Greeks would usually not even speak to one another. They had widely divergent cultural standards. They had almost nothing in common. How was Paul to evangelize both groups? He needed to “please all men in all things” if he was going to effectively move back and forth across this immense cultural barrier. Paul said earlier (9:19-21) that he became a cultural Jew when preaching to the Jews and a cultural Gentile when preaching to the Gentiles. Maybe the best example of Paul utilizing this mission strategy is found in his treatment of the practice of circumcision with Timothy and Titus.

Acts 16:3 contains the account of the circumcision of Timothy. As Luke records, “Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.” Timothy’s mother was a Jew. Paul was on his second missionary journey and he was traveling through areas well populated with Jews. So as to not put a cultural stumbling block in the way of these Jews and not create any unnecessary impediments to his preaching of the gospel to them, he circumcised Timothy. No Jew could use the fact that Timothy was not circumcised against either one of them. No Jew could use the fact that Timothy was uncircumcised to dismiss the preaching of Paul offhandedly. Paul took that weapon away by adapting to an unnecessary part of their culture.

On the other hand, Galatians 2:3-5 records the exact opposite behavior. In this case, Paul is traveling with Titus, who is a Greek. Paul is reporting on his recent mission activity to the church in Jerusalem. What he says is worth quoting in it’s entirety. “But not even Titus who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. But it was because of the false brethren who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.” In this situation Paul does the exact opposite of what he did with Timothy. How do we explain the apparent contradiction in behavior?

There is, of course, no contradiction. In the first example Paul was employing a strategy to remove any cultural impediment to his missionary preaching. Hence, he circumcised Timothy. Paul’s theology of missions is quite clear. Whenever it is possible, a missionary should adapt to the culture in which he finds himself in order to eliminate any potential stumbling blocks. In the second case Paul was fighting against those false believers and members of the watching world who were trying to rob him of his Christian liberty and compel him to return to the Jewish ceremonial law. These unbelievers were following him around trying to find reasons to take offense with his preaching as well as attempting to discredit him as a preacher in the Church. How did he respond this time? He refused to give up his liberty for the unbelievers. As he put it, “we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour”. We should practice the same principle. When the watching world seeks to force us to give up our liberty, we should not yield to them for even an hour.

The lesson is that it is wrong to universalize the principle of becoming all things to all people. A missionary should adapt to the culture in which he finds himself as much as possible. He should strive to become all things to the people in which he ministers. When to give up liberty and when to not give up liberty is best determined by the law of love (agape) and the moral law of God. Obviously, when adapting to a culture involves adopting a sinful practice, it is forbidden. In all other unnecessary matters, the law of agape must rule. No two situations are the same and the Christian has to make decisions on the fly. ‘All’ does not always mean all. The habit of taking the tiny word ‘all’ and making it always mean all has created many theological errors in the Church over the years. This is another instance of that phenomena.

What can we take from Paul’s statement? The teaching should be clear. Paul’s statement about trying to please all men in all things is an important part of mission theology. For those who are involved in cross-cultural missions it is very important to know when to give in and when not to give in. In situations that are lawful, the evangelist has to determine if his behavior is doing harm or good to his audience. The general doctrine is to remove all unnecessary impediments to preaching. The specific application is to determine, via the law of love, which should be removed and which should remain. For example, if I am going to be a missionary to Japan it is important for me to know that it is considered highly offensive for me to blow my nose into a handkerchief and then insert the handkerchief into my pocket. The proper way to dispose of nasal mucous is to shoot it onto the street. I would adopt the practice of shooting snot onto the street in order to not put any unnecessary impediment before my teaching to the Japanese. This is the sum total of what Paul meant when he said that we are to “please men in all things.”

Although an important part of the theology of missions, the lesson about pleasing all men falls far short of the pietistic doctrine of applying the weaker/stronger brother principle to the unbelieving world. Indeed, in situations where all the members are of the same culture, there is no basis for holding to the position at all since no cross- cultural misunderstandings would come up. Not all believers are apostles. Indeed, there are no apostles at all in
our time. Not all believers are evangelists. Not all believers are missionaries. When Paul said to imitate him he did not mean that we are to become missionaries. None of the things that he says about himself with respect to his theologyandpracticeofmissionsapplytous,unlesswearealsomissionaries. Totelltheaveragememberofthe church, who is not an ordained minister commissioned to preach the gospel, that he needs to “become all things to all people” and “become the bond slave” of others in order to preach the gospel effectively is the worst kind of bondage.

I conclude that I Corinthians 10:32-33 does not support the doctrines of pietism. Lastly, Paul’s own example in his dealings with Peter serve as an excellent case in point. Galatians 2:11-13 contains the recounting of Paul’s rebuke of Peter for trying to be improperly pleasing to all men in all things. Peter, in order to please the Gentiles, had been willing to ignore Jewish culture and eat meals with them. Then, when some Jews (whose culture said that eating meals with Gentiles is wrong) came along, Peter tried to please them by separating himself from the Gentiles and eating with the Jews exclusively. In both cases he was trying to please all men in all things. When Paul found out about his behavior he rebuked him to his face for hypocrisy. He recognized that the excuse of being pleasing to all men was just a front for cowardice and Peter’s unwillingness to be socially uncomfortable. It was also indicative of Peter’s fearful unwillingness to oppose the Judaizers who insisted that a person must become a Jew prior to becoming a Christian. No doubt that behavior was also motivated by a strong desire to be liked. Clearly trying to please all men at all times is not a universal principle. Pietism cannot be staked on I Corinthians 10.

Poison of Pietism: What Does it Mean to “Imitate” Paul

This is part of a series of posts on the Poison of Pietism. Click here to see the entire series.

Pietists love to exhort others to “imitate Paul”. Rarely, if ever, is it possible to pin them down as to precisely what that means. Usually it is just a vague reference to making sacrifices in order to conform to the standards of the world in order to please all men in all things and pave the way for evangelism. What, exactly, does that mean? What, exactly, about Paul are we to imitate?

Acts 15:36-41 records Paul’s split with John Mark prior to his second missionary journey. Paul was angry with John Mark for leaving the first missionary journey prematurely. Their rift was so strong that we have the first example of a church split. Paul took Silas and sailed off without John Mark, leaving him to travel with Barnabas. Paul could be a harsh, intolerant and stubborn man. His stubbornness created the first schism in the church. Are we to imitate that example?

Acts 21:7-14 records Paul’s decision to ignore the prophecies he received from Agabus while staying in Caesarea with Phillip the evangelist. Agabus informed him that if he persisted in his journey to Jerusalem it was sure to end in imprisonment and death. Paul ignored him. As a result, he was captured and imprisoned in Jerusalem for over two years (Acts 24:27). Imagine the mission work Paul could have conducted during that period of time if he had listened to the prophecy about him and given heed to the advice of the Ephesian elders to not return to Jerusalem. Nevertheless, he was on a personal mission of martyrdom. Are we to imitate that?

I Corinthians 9 records Paul’s description of himself in regards to his right to make a living as a missionary. He clearly explains how he has taken what is essentially an informal vow of poverty in order to proclaim the gospel. As he says, “…when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.” Paul owned nothing. Paul had no home. Paul had no retirement plan. Paul planned on being martyred. Should we all imitate that?

In I Corinthians 7 Paul writes about the doctrine of marriage. In the course of his writing he mentions that he has essentially taken an informal vow of celibacy. He recognizes that not all people “have the gift” to remain celibate. Nevertheless, for those whom it is not necessary to marry, should they be required to imitate Paul and remain single all their lives? Should they be required to be celibate despite the fact that marriage is lawful? The pietist says, “Yes, if Paul would do it, you should do it“.

The pietist would answer in the affirmative to all the questions above if someone were to solicit his advice. Yes, you should become a martyr. Yes, you should take a vow of poverty. Yes, you should remain single. Does the pietist practice these things? Of course not! Nevertheless, that does not prevent him from waxing eloquent about exhorting others to do what Paul would allegedly have done. What it essentially boils down to is the pietist wants to use the principle of pleasing all men in all things as a club to beat others over the head and control their behavior. Pietists have their reasons for doing this, of course, and those reasons will be examined later. For now it is sufficient to realize that when a pietist exhorts you to “imitate Paul as he imitated Christ”, that exhortation has very little to do with biblical truth and a lot to do with attempting to control the behavior of others so he can feel better about himself and accomplish his own personal agenda.

Calvin makes some interesting comments on the passage in I Corinthians 10 that apply to the idea of “imitating” Paul. On verse 29 (“I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience?”) he says this, “He always carefully takes heed not to diminish liberty, or to appear to take from it in any degree.” Calvin rightly recognizes that the tendency of pietists and other legalists is to try to diminish individual Christian liberty. He makes it very clear that modifying behavior for a biblical weaker brother (i.e. a Christian, not an unbeliever somewhere out there in the “watching world“) in no way reduces the liberty that the stronger brother has. If we are to imitate Paul in this area we must also agree that our voluntary suspension of liberty for a fellow believer does not diminish our liberty in any fashion.

With respect to the exhortation to imitate Paul, as he imitated Christ (11:1), Calvin wisely makes this statement, “A good teacher must not be so austere as straightaway to require from others everything that he does himself…We see how many evils have been introduced into the church by the absurd desire of imitating all the saints without exception.” Indeed we have. Pietists have fallen into this trap with their doctrine of “imitation” and it has resulted in untold heartache for those who try to live by their legalistic standards. Imitating Paul does not mean poverty, celibacy, and martyrdom.

With respect to the pietistic doctrine of applying the principle of the weaker/stronger brother to nonbelievers and requiring believers to suspend their liberty in the presence of pagans, we can fully support the view that we should “imitate Paul as he imitated Christ”. How did Christ deal with nonbelievers? We have already seen Jesus’ approach to this issue in the passages in Mark discussed previously. We should do the same as Jesus. Imitating Paul does not cause us to behave at variance with imitating Jesus. When it comes to the suspension of our liberty, we should do what Jesus did and refuse to do so in front of the watching world. When it comes to the issue of our liberty we should exercise it in front of the watching world in order to create opportunities for the proclamation of the truths of God. As Jesus clearly illustrated, it is by means of the exercise of our liberty that opportunities to evangelize the world are created. Paul and Jesus are in complete agreement about how the gospel is to be spread. There is a methodology that the Church should use when taking the gospel to all the nations. It just does not have anything to do with treating the world as weaker brothers. Let’s look at what each said.

The Biblical Method of Gospel Propagation:

We can search the Scriptures for years and never find any teaching passage that instructs all believers to use the public sacrifice of their liberty as a means to spread the gospel. The Bible contains no teaching in which we are all instructed to live our lives in an attempt to gain the favor of the watching world as a means of bringing it the message of salvation. We are never told that our actions speak louder than our words. Quite the contrary, we are told that words, spoken by ordained representatives of God, are the means by which the gospel is spread. The exposition of the propositional revelation of God is the means by which the message of salvation is spread. Luke 10:1-16 and Romans 10:14-17 contain the teachings of Paul and Jesus on the proper methodology for preaching the Good News. Not surprisingly, they are in total agreement.

Luke 10:2 says, “…the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” Jesus then commissioned seventy of His disciples and sent them out to preach the Good News of His Kingdom. They were sent out to preach in the fields, cities and synagogues. They were sent out to perform miraculous attesting signs that would draw the people to them and give them opportunity to teach and preach the truth claims of God. The pietist will jump on that last sentence and say that our sacrificial behavior has the same impact as the apostolic miracles. That is not true. The Bible is filled with statements about how the Messiah will come in miraculous power. There is no concept at all of His people following in His steps by sacrificing their liberty in the eyes of a “watching world”. Quite the contrary, Peter instructed the saints to “Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bond slaves of God” (I Peter 2:16). The method by which the disciples of Jesus were to spread the gospel was preaching. They were to use words. They were to declare the propositional revelation of God to the people and call them to repentance and faith. What about Paul?

Romans 10:13-17 says, in part, “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?…So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” The means for the propagation of the gospel are clear. Ordained ministers of the gospel are to be sent out to declare the propositional revelation of God contained in His Word. These ministers are to declare the “whole counsel of God” and not shrink back from declaring everything that is contained in the Scriptures about the nature and character of God. These preachers are to go “unto all nations” and teach all men to observe all that God has commanded us. As they do so, they will be a “fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life” (II Corinthians 2:15).

Faith comes from hearing the Word of God preached by men set apart for that purpose. Neither Jesus nor Paul taught that faith comes from observing believers sacrifice their liberty and adopt the cultural standards of behavior of the society in which they live. That notion is entirely contrary to everything taught in the Bible about the ministry of the Word. The preaching and teaching of the Word of God is consistently set forth as the means by which men might be saved from their sins. Despite this clear teaching, the pietist clings to a passage written by Paul which allegedly supports his position. Let’s look at it.

Poison of Pietism: Paul is the Patron Saint of Pietists

This is part of a series of posts on the Poison of Pietism. Click here to see the entire series.

It is impossible to find support for the doctrines of pietism from a biblical understanding of the concept of the “watching world” or by the behavior of Jesus. Pietists derive their doctrines almost exclusively from a handful of statements made by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians. In particular:

  • 4:16. “I exhort you therefore, be imitators of me.”
  • 10:32-33. “Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.”
  • 11:1. “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”

Two other verses often used to support the pietistic position are II Corinthians 8:21 which says, “…for we have regard for what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men”, and Romans 12:17 which says, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.”
From these verses the pietist derives his position that all believers are to apply the principles of the weaker/stronger brother doctrine to unbelievers. In addition, the pietist derives his position that it is the moral duty of all believers to “please all men in all things” in order to grease the skids for the work of evangelism. We need to take some time and examine these concepts in more detail.

Removing a verse from it’s context simply because it uses a phrase that supports a previously adopted position is bad exegesis. Attempting to use II Corinthians 8:21 as a proof for pietistic doctrine is an example of bad exegesis. The context of II Corinthians 8 is Paul’s work at organizing a financial gift that was to be taken to Jerusalem to support the saints living there who were impoverished. Those saints were in poverty due to the fact they had sold their property at the time of Pentecost in order to support the burgeoning ministry of the church in Jerusalem. Verse 20 says, “…taking precaution that no one should discredit us in our administration of this generous gift.” Paul and Titus had raised a significant amount of money for the Jerusalem saints and Paul was earnest to ensure that nobody was corrupted by it. Hence, he writes that he “has regard for what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.” It is abundantly obvious what he means. Paul does not want the men who were observing and participating in the collection, transportation and distribution of this “generous gift” to see any evidence of corruption in the process. To take this verse and expand it as a general principle of life for all believers is wildly absurd. Paul is not teaching that it is the duty of all believers to have regard for a moral standard which the world believes to be “honorable” and then amend their behavior in front of the watching world in order to be in conformity with that standard and, thus, ensure the success of gospel preaching. Indeed, the “men” he is speaking of were most likely all believers. The honor that he is speaking of relates to the proper distribution of money. There is no way to use this passage as a proof text for pietism.

Romans 12:17 is in the context of dealing with unbelievers, so it is possible that a proof text for pietism could exist here. Verses 18-19 go on to say, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God…” Paul then goes on to describe the duty of the State in bringing the providential wrath of God upon evildoers. In the course of explaining that principle he says, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.”

The clear context of the passage is how to deal with unbelievers with whom we have legal disagreements or by whom we have been criminally harmed. Verse 17 instructs the believer to not seek personal vengeance. Rather, if he decides to defend himself, he is to use the properly constituted authority in the State to prosecute his case against those unbelievers who have done him harm. It is in that sense that Paul writes to “respect what is right in the sight of all men.” Clearly, respecting what is right is a direct reference to biblical jurisprudence and not a blank check to endorse the moral standards of the world and the doctrines of pietism. Respecting what is right in the sight of all men does not give “all men” the right to set worldly moral standards to which Christians are expected to conform. Obviously the individual believer is not being told to put himself into bondage by becoming all things to his persecutor and submitting to the unjust persecution of his enemy.

On the contrary, Paul makes the duty of the individual believer to the world very clear in 13:8 where he writes that “he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law”. I have written on this principle in detail in the essay entitled “Love” and will not go into detail here. It is sufficient to say that Christians are required to behave lawfully towards the world. Believers are never commanded to behave sacrificially towards the world. Believers are never told to conform to some moral standard that the world has concocted in order to pave the way for witnessing. It is impossible to take this verse and contort it into a proof text for pietism. The practices and doctrines of pietism are far too complex to be proof-texted into existence. If pietism is true, there should be significant teaching passages in the Bible that prove what the pietists assert. Those passages do not exist. Pietists love to assert that Paul lived a life consistent with their doctrines. As we shall see, even the life of the apostle Paul is not an example of pietism.

Romans 12:17, when properly interpreted in it’s context, actually ends up being a proof text against the pietistic doctrineofpleasingthewatchingworld. Anydiscussionofthemeaningofverse17mustbeginwiththedirect exhortation found in verse 2. Romans 12:2 says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Calvin, in his commentary on this passage, has this to say, “The term world has several significations, but here it means the sentiments and the morals of men; to which, not without cause, he forbids us to conform.” Could it be any more clear? Paul flatly states that we are never to conform to the moral standards of the watching world. Never.

To what are we to conform our lives? Calvin goes on to say, “The world persuades itself that those works which it has devised are good; Paul exclaims, that what is good and right must be ascertained from God’s commandments.” As we have seen all along, the law of God is our standard for moral behavior. Conforming to the moral standards of the world, a key doctrine of pietism, is a sin. Pietists who command others to conform to the moral standards of the watching world are commanding them to sin. They must stop.

It is extremely unlikely that Paul would write what he does in verse 2 and then completely contradict himself in verse 17. Romans 12:17 says, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.” The pietist would have us believe that Paul first tells us to “be not conformed to this world” and then tells us to “respect what is right in the sight of all men”. If we adopt the pietistic interpretation of these sentences, both statements cannot be true. If the pietist is correct, we have a contradiction between these two verses. As usual, the pietist is not correct. The key to verse 17 is where to take a breath.

There are two ways to read the second sentence in verse 17. Read the following two sentences, taking a breath at the “…”. “Respect…what is right in the sight of all men.” In this reading we can see that we are being told to respect the things that all men believe to be right. “Respect what is right…in the sight of all men.” In this reading we can see that we are being told to respect what is right as all men watch us doing so. These are two very different ways of reading the verse and they cause us to come to two very different conclusions about what Paul is trying to communicate. Because of his erroneous presupposition, the pietist adopts the first reading. Because of the context (verse 2 in particular) the honest exegete adopts the second reading. Paul is telling us to respect what is right. What is right? As he had written in verse 2, what is “right” is the written Word of God. By definition, what is “right in the sight of the world” is wrong. That immoral standard is never to be respected. So, we can see that a verse that apparently proves the pietistic doctrine of conforming to the immoral standards of the world actually ends up proving just the opposite.