Historical Roots Of Easy Believism

In this section, I will discuss some of the teachers throughout the history of the Church who have taught the false gospel of easy believism. I have not named any living modern preacher of easy believism. There are too many such preachers. My prayer is that God frees them of the bondages of easy believism, so they can become powerful Holy Spirit-inspired preachers of the real Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, as God intended. If they do not wish to repent, it is better they retire from preaching for the good of the Church.

 

The Gnostic “gospel” of merely believing revelation knowledge

 

One form of the easy believism “gospel” teaches that we can be saved by just having a revelation of the Holy Spirit of and knowing what Jesus has achieved through His death and resurrection and then believing this revelation. This form of easy believism claims we can be saved by knowing and believing this revelation without receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and without turning from our known sins in our hearts. This supposed means of receiving salvation sounds very spiritual and appealing to some churchgoers. But actually it is very similar in a number of ways to the teachings of many of the Gnostic heretical cults who plagued the early Church. The Gnostics taught people were eternally saved by merely receiving and believing “gnosis” or special revelations or knowledge about God and Jesus Christ and what He had achieved.

The word “gnosos” is used in the New Testament to mean “revelation knowledge of spiritual truths” about salvation (see Luke 1:75), God (see 2 Corinthians 10:5), Jesus Christ (see Philippians 3:8 and 2 Peter 3:18), God’s glory (see 2 Corinthians 4:6) and His knowledge (see Romans 11:33). “Gnosis” is used in 1 Corinthians 12:8 in the expression “the Word of knowledge”. In Colossians 2:3, Paul said that in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”. “Knowledge” here is “gnosis”. 1 Corinthians 14:6 links revelation, knowledge (“gnosis”), prophesying and teaching together. In 1 Corinthians 1:5, Paul states the Corinthians were enriched by Christ in all knowledge or “gnosis”. 2 Corinthians 8:7 says similar things.

In Romans 15:14, Paul says the Roman believers were “filled with all knowledge” or “gnosis”. In 2 Peter 1:5, Peter commands believers to add “knowledge” or “gnosis” to their faith. In 2 Corinthians 11:6, Paul said he had much “knowledge” or “gnosis”.

Because the New Testament contains so many positive comments on the great value of “gnosis” or “revelation knowledge of spiritual truths”, many in the early Church were deceived by the teachings of the Gnostic cults about being saved by such revelation knowledge. On the surface, the Gnostics sounded very “Biblical”, highly “spiritual” and “full of revelations of the Holy Spirit”. But actually, they tricked many churchgoers into receiving different “gospels”, false “Christs”, phoney revelations, twisted interpretations of the Word and fake spiritual experiences.

The Gnostics claimed that they had superior revelation knowledge to ordinary Christians. The Gnostics said they were especially chosen by God to receive revelations or mystical knowledge of His mysteries. The Gnostics claimed they were the superior class of prophetic spiritual believers and that ordinary Christians who did not have their revelation knowledge were second-class soulish believers. The Gnostics said all pagans formed the lowest class of people.

How similar this is to today! Easy believism preachers hold conferences and seminars in almost every country trying to attract godly Charismatics, Pentecostals and Evangelicals to their “Gnostic”-like teachings. These easy believism preachers claim to be more spiritual, anointed and prophetic and possessors of greater revelation knowledge about Jesus Christ than other supposedly more soulish types of Pentecostals, Charismatics and Evangelicals. Through highly effective marketing techniques, networking and the support of some television ministries, they have infiltrated many previously more godly and Biblically sound church groups.

Easy believism preachers oppose the Gnostic teachings that the physical creation and the human physical body are evil and that Jesus did not really die on the Cross. But the easy believism preachers are similar to Gnostic in numerous other ways.

It is very important we obtain revelation knowledge of the written Word of God. Also, 1 Corinthians 12:8 teaches the Holy Spirit will give us “Words of knowledge” or revelations of God’s knowledge about particular matters.

But we need to avoid a Gnostic-like attitude to receiving salvation. I have heard easy believism preachers equate saving faith with just believing or not doubting the revelation knowledge the Holy Spirit gave through His Word about Jesus’ death and resurrection. They say believing is only knowing with certainty. Like the Gnostics, these preachers also do not believe saving faith needs to be accompanied by repentance – a changed heart attitude to their known sins.

The Gnostics varied among themselves. But many taught that as long as they knew or believed revelation knowledge of the mysteries about God and Jesus Christ, they were saved regardless of whether they were continually committing sexual immorality and disobeying God’s other moral commands found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and the Letters of Paul, Peter, John and so on.

Note in 1 Corinthians 13:3, Paul taught, “And though I understand all mysteries and knowledge…but have not love, I am nothing.” Love is a post-conversion fruit or result of repentance and conversion. The Gnostics claimed to have revelation knowledge of God’s Word, but they loved sin. Because the Gnostics tried to receive salvation without true repentance, their behaviour did not express true love for God and others. They were religious hypocrites who claimed to have greater revelations of God and of Jesus Christ than what ordinary believers had. They exalted themselves and their own ministries and deceived many churchgoers.

 

Easy believism in Luther’s time and his reaction

 

Martin Luther, the great Protestant Reformer constantly attacked legalism or trying to merit salvation by good works in his writing and preaching. He had been tormented by the burdens of legalism he had learnt previously as a monk. His revelation of justification by grace through faith had even led him to mistakenly look on the Book of James as inferior to the Books of Romans, Galatians and Ephesians. Luther called the Book of James “an epistle of straw” because of its emphasis on works or actions. Despite Luther’s misunderstanding of James, Luther strongly attacked easy believism and those Protestants who preached it during his time. Luther wrote the following about Protestant easy believism preachers and what they taught in his time:

“They think one should not frighten or trouble the people, but rather always preach comfortingly about grace and forgiveness of sins in Christ and under no circumstances use these or similar words. ‘Listen! You want to be a Christian and at the same time remain an adulterer, a whoremonger, a drunken swine, arrogant, covetous, envious, vindictive, malicious, etc!’ Instead they say, ‘Listen! Though you are an adulterer, a whoremonger, a miser, or other kind of sinner, if you but believe, you are saved, and you need not fear the law. Christ has fulfilled it all!’…And it is saying yes and no to the same thing. For there is no Christ that died for sinners who do not, after forgiveness of sins, desist from sins and lead a new life…Now he who does not abstain from sin, but persists in his evil life, must have a different Christ, that of the Antinomians: the real Christ is not there, even if all the angels would cry ‘Christ! Christ!’ He must be damned with this, his new Christ…But our Antinomians fail to see that they are preaching Christ without and against the Holy Spirit because they propose to let the people continue in their old ways and still pronounce them saved. And yet logic, too, implies that a Christian should either have the Holy Spirit and lead a new life, or know that he has no Christ.” [1] (Note Luther’s expression “antinomians” here refers to church leaders who use the wonderful teaching of being justified and redeemed by grace through faith as an excuse for them and others to ignore or underemphasise the Biblical teachings on obeying God and living a holy life daily). Luther’s comments above are highly relevant to today.

 

Easy believism is similar to the Sandemanian heresy

 

The modern easy-believism “gospel” which is popular among some Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Charismatics is in many ways a form of heretical Sandemanianism of the 1700’s. The Sandemanians or Glasites were the followers of John Glas and his son-in-law Robert Sandeman. Glas was a HyperCalvinist minister belonging to the Church of Scotland for a period of time. HyperCalvinism is a mostly unbiblical perversion of the teachings of the godly Protestant Reformer, John Calvin. In fact, most HyperCalvinists teach easy believism. Glas and Sandeman greatly opposed the great revivalists George Whitefield and John Wesley for preaching true conversion to Christ included surrendering to Jesus’ Lordship and turning from known sins.

Glas and Sandeman were so concerned about maintaining the Biblical purity of the doctrine of justification by faith and not good works that they fell into the opposite error. This is the idea we can be justified by a faith which only agrees with the truth of certain key Christian doctrines.

Glas, Sandeman and their supporters taught that trust in God is not a part of saving faith and turning in our hearts from known sins was not a necessary part of conversion but both were merely later optional fruits of faith and conversion. In his book “The life and times of John Wesley” (Vol. 2), Tyerman wrote about Wesley’s response to a letter by Glas or Sandeman:

“The supposed author, to whom Wesley addressed his answer, was John Glass, an expelled minister of the Church of Scotland, or Robert Sandeman, a Scotch elder, the founder of a sect sometimes called Sandemanians, and sometimes Glassites. Wesley’s tract was really a defence of his friend, Hervey, on the subject of saving faith, in opposition to the Glassite or Sandemanian notion, that faith is a mere assent to the truthfulness of the gospel history. Wesley’s answer was short, apposite, indignant, almost savage. He told Glass, or Sandeman, that he had ‘a peculiar pertness, insolence, and self sufficiency, with such an utter contempt of mankind, as no other writer of the present age had shown’…His (Glas or Sandeman’s) notions of justifying faith were ‘stark, staring nonsense’; for, if true, ‘every devil in hell will be justified and saved’. [2]

After preaching their easy believism “gospel” for around 100 years, the Sandemanians had just 587 members in England and Wales in 1851. The Wesleyan Methodists, however, had 1,385,382 members in 1851. The Calvinist Methodist groups had 180,725 members in 1851. In 112 years since their beginnings, the Methodists had grown to being 8.7% of the whole population of England and Wales by 1851. [3]

 

Bible Study Questions

 

1.       Explain in what ways the easy believism “gospel” is similar to the general features of the false “gospel” which the Gnostics preached.

2.       What did the advocates of easy believism in Luther’s time teach about salvation, grace and forgiveness?

3.       Why did the heretical Sandemanians oppose the great evangelists John Wesley and George Whitefield?


 


[1] Larry Christenson (editor), “Welcome Holy Spirit”, Augsburg, Minneapolis, 1987, page 195.

 

 


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