The Westminster Larger Catechism, Question #72 asks “What is justifying faith?” It answers: “Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.”
That is the true gospel and the true requirement to be saved which every confessional Presbyterian body requires ministers and elders to swear they agree with. To be a believer you must recognize you are lost and helpless and place all your hope and trust in Christ’s completed work on the cross alone for salvation. Sadly, though, we see many controversies surrounding this mater. In my Christian life I have been told I’m not a believer because I don’t exclusively use the King James translation or because I don’t believe drinking alcohol is a sin. I’ve heard from others that playing cards, dancing, going to movies, wearing makeup (for women) and sundry other “rules” have had them labeled unbelievers. I remember one sincere Christian young lady telling me she had failed the theological exam to become a member at her last church and been kicked out. Here in Northern California church members were being branded unbelievers because they weren’t “5 Point Calvinists” (Reformed). It’s tragic to hear of families being divided because not all had come to a full, biblical understanding of the doctrines of grace. Imagine the hurt of having your spouse or child or brother or sister in Christ unjustly labeled an unbeliever and chased away for such matters.
This isn’t really new. The Pharisees of Jesus day had done much the same thing. Their beliefs replaced the Bible’s teaching as their only rule of faith and practice and Jesus condemned them for it. Still they excluded any who didn’t fully follow their system as “accursed” (John 7:49), or not true Jews. Over time, people who insist on adding their own rules to salvation grow more demanding and more bitter as not everyone gets on board. Eventually devastation results.
Sadly, this is the sorrow we find ourselves in here in Weed, California. Don’t get me wrong, I wish all God’s sheep were as I am. I wish that their love for God drove them to love His word and search it daily while growing in grace and knowledge until they also delighted in all right and holy doctrine, including the doctrines of grace. I know, however, some will stay babes in Christ needing to be bottle-fed milk all their days and others will be slow to grow. Nurturing them is part of the work of the shepherd. As I preached recently on James 2:1-4 (The Discriminating Christian?, found online at https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=102119178361561) I reminded people of Paul’s attitude towards the weak brother who didn’t understand true doctrine concerning meat sacrificed to idols (Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8). Paul’s response was not denunciation, not rejection, not discrimination or contempt but brotherly love and patient teaching in the hope that eventually they would have a fuller understanding of God and mature in their faith.
Everyone here in Weed, California, is moving in the same direction and we are working to bring healing where needed. We pray that people will stop using the words “Reformed” and “Calvinist” as insults and learn the difference in our warm hearted Calvinism as we seek to know, worship, and glorify God in spirit and in truth.
We appreciate our Presbytery, PMU, and many of you for coming alongside and helping us rebuild this little corner of God’s Kingdom. We may only have 8 Adults, not counting my family, but we have great hope and confidence in our God.
May Our Great God bless you richly!
Rev. Mark Baldwin