A reader (let’s call him Jack) of this blog recently emailed me, asking me for my thoughts on his spiritual situation because he’s read/listened to a preacher that I’ve quoted on this blog (Paul Washer) and has also listened to a few of Pastor Prince’s sermons – both of whom preach pretty contradictory messages in one sense. I asked for his permission to put an edited form of his email on my blog for others to respond to his struggles, as I think some readers will have some helpful things to say . He was fine with this. So below is his email (edited) followed by an introductory response by me. In subsequent posts, I’ll write more on this topic. For now, I welcome the responses of other Christians from all tribes of Christianity!
…I recall reading on your blog that you like the way Paul Washer preached about the gospel, though you didn’t agree with some of the things (too legalistic if I remember correctly?). I’ve been reading/watching his sermons/teachings, including his Ten Indictments Against the Modern Church in America and his shocking youth message. I have to admit that I’m really shocked/afraid after reading his teachings. I have not had time to find opposing teachings, but I have listened to one or two sermons from Joseph Prince.
Just to give you some background:I’ve been a “Christian” for about 5 years – I’m in my late teens now. I’ve attended 3 different churches (Anglican, Pentecostal and now an Independent church). My spiritual life has never been really good and sadly ,although there have been bouts of improvement in my struggles with anger/vulgarities/insecurity, my struggle with lust has led me down a road to where I’m now nearing a point, I believe, of no return. =/ I’ve doubted my salvation many times, wondering if I’m one of seeds that has no root or will fall away due to the worries of life/wealth (Matthew 13:18-23). This is especially so because every time I make a re-commitment/dedication to start living my life for Christ, I either give up quickly or forget after a few days… eventually going back to square one or worse, regressing.
I would really appreciate it if you could share your opinion on Paul Washer’s teachings. I have nothing to go by, as his teachings seem biblically sound and logically valid. However, if ALL are true, it would terrible news for me because it would mean all these years (5yrs), I have not grown, or worse, not been saved at all.
The post where Jack encountered my quote of Paul Washer is here, written in 2006. This was before I started regularly attending New Creation, though I still held to pretty much the same view of grace then as I do now. As I’ve mentioned many times on this blog, I learned about grace over 10 years ago before I even heard of New Creation Church.
It’s interesting he mentioned that Paul Washer post because I remember that post very clearly as I’ve been wanting to revisit his teachings again in a future blog post. I wanted to do another post on Washer’s teachings because while I absolutely love his passion for missions, I also profoundly disagree with his view on salvation and assurance of salvation.
I agree 100% when Paul Washer said:
I don’t wish the same things your parents want for you. They want for you security and insurance and nice homes. They want for you cars and respect. I want for you the same thing I want for my son. That one day he takes a banner…the banner of Jesus Christ. And he places it on a hill…where noone has ever placed the banner before. And he cries out, “Jesus Christ is Lord!” Even if it costs my son his life.
This was taken from Paul Washer’s famous message here. But I also wrote, as Jack correctly noted, that other stuff in his sermon was too legalistic for my liking.
I’ve listened to a bit of Paul Washer’s stuff and while I am inspired by his passion for missions and agree with his call to go and really reach the lost even if it means great sacrifice and even his view that Christians today (especially in the Western world) are too comfortable and not really living as we should, I’m less fond of his views when he questions whether such Christians are saved.
I’m all for calling Christians to live sacrificially for Jesus and His Kingdom. I’m all for missions. I’m all for (honestly) mentioning that we’ve failed and there is so much more we can do. I’m 100% with him in being against the typical Western comfortable middle-class lifestyle in the light of the fact that there are billions lost out there. We middle-class Christians are big-time hypocrites in many ways. We proclaim our first love is Jesus, but most of us are focused on ourselves and our life. So in all honesty, the church has failed greatly in many ways.
But, I will not go so far as to say that Christians who struggle with sin and do not live “godly” lives should question their salvation. To me, that crosses the line into legalism and works-righteousness.
You see, I’m really enthusiastic about missions and all that. But I’m not about to scare Christians into thinking that if they’re not doing enough for God, or do not show enough evidence that they are saved, they may not be saved at all! That’s my great disagreement with Paul Washer, which I’ll mention more in my subsequent posts.
I know where Paul Washer comes from because for over 5 years of my life I was really into the Reformed/Calvinistic theological tradition. Many young Reformed/Calvinistic Christians nowadays admire Washer’s sermons greatly because he’s extremely passionate about what he sees as compromised Western Christianity. And he’s preached a lot of on this area – e.g. his Biblical Assurance series and Examine Yourself sermon that can be found here. The issue of grace and legalism was one of my two pet topics for those 5 years plus (the other being bringing together the best of the Reformed and Charismatic worlds) and I read and discussed a lot about this issue with many Reformed Christians. So I think I know a bit of where he’s coming from and the theological issues involved.
The main thing I want to address in Jack’s post is the issue of “assurance of salvation”. To me, this is an extremely important topic and one that gets to the core of what the gospel is all about. Christians believe different things about how one can be assured of their salvation. Most (not all) Reformed/Calvinistic Christians believe that we ought to look at our lives to see if we have evidence that we’re saved. They believe that we should not naively think that just because we believe in Jesus, we’re saved. Instead, we need to also look at our lives to confirm we’re saved. Such Christians believe that too many Christians have the false assurance that they’re saved when they actually are not saved so they preach about assurance of salvation and tell Christians that if they are not living godly lives then they should not have any assurance that they are saved. And they think preaching like this would wake Christians up! This is what Paul Washer does a lot in his sermons. And other preachers too (from the Reformed tradition mainly but also from other traditions).
Such preachers sincerely believe that the reason why Christianity is in such a bad state is because many Christians aren’t actually saved. So they preach sermons that make their hearers question whether they are saved. They want Christians to examine themselves and to be more introspective – i.e. to look inside themselves to see if they have the qualities that are meant to be in the hearts of every true Christian. And they are happy when Christians do look inside themselves and feel that they are not saved because they don’t see any evidence. They are not sadistic people who delight in seeing people doubt their salvation. They are sincere preachers who believe that “Christians” will start to wake up if they start to examine themselves and find they are not saved. And the result is these “Christians” would become “true” Christians and live godlier lives. And I think they’ve been quite successful in getting Christians to question their salvation. That’s why Jack wrote above, “I’ve doubted my salvation many times.”
I disagree with Paul Washer’s teachings in this area of teaching though I know many, if not most, evangelical preachers would agree with him. Maybe not as hard, forceful or direct as Paul Washer, but definitely they would preach something similar. I’ve heard it many times in many churches. It’s not that these churches or preachers don’t believe in justification by faith alone. It’s not that they believe we have to earn our salvation. On the contrary, they believe in justification by faith alone and believe we can’t earn our salvation, yet preach in such a way that is confusing and legalistic. Perhaps Michael Eaton, a Reformed theologian and pastor, said it best in his scholarly book No Condemnation – A New Theology of Assurance, a revision of his doctoral thesis, when describing his own experience:
These evangelical commentators seemed to offer freedom with one hand, only to take it back with the other. Having liberated the believer with wonderful expositions of grace, they then took everything back again with dark mutterings about temporary faith and works confirming salvation and talk about self-examination. (p. 7)
It is because such confusing and legalistic teachings pervade many evangelical churches that many people have found New Creation Church such a breath of fresh air. I’m sure some from there can share their thoughts with Jack here. In my subsequent posts, I’ll share a bit more about why many Christian leaders and theologians disagree with such legalistic messages that cause people to doubt their own salvation.