Two Fathers Of Easy Believism

Dr Lewis Sperry Chafer (1871-1952) founded the Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas in the United States. He served as its professor of theology and president until his death in 1952. As a Baptist leader, he exercised an enormous influence in the training of multitudes of Evangelical leaders through his books and College ministry. Chafer’s writings contain some very good material on our positions in Christ before God the Father and on some other things. But sadly Chafer has introduced the easy believism ‘gospel” to multitudes of Protestant Evangelical ministers, churches, theological and Bible College lecturers and lay people.

The type of easy believism gospel which Lewis Sperry Chafer spread in Evangelical churches can be seen in his following words:

“…to impose a need to surrender the life to God as an added condition of salvation is most unreasonable. God’s call to the unsaved is never said to be unto the Lordship of Christ; it is unto His saving grace…The error of imposing Christ’s Lordship upon the unsaved is disastrous…The most subtle, self-satisfying form of works of merit is, after all, found to be an engaging feature in this practice of applying to unbelievers the Lordship of Christ…It is the preacher’s responsibility, not only to preserve his message to the unsaved from being distorted by issues other than that of simple faith in Christ, but, when speaking to Christians in the presence of the unsaved regarding the issues of Christian character, conduct, and service, to declare plainly that the truth presented has no application to those who are unsaved…Next to sound doctrine itself, no more important obligation rests on the preacher than that of preaching the Lordship of Christ to Christians exclusively and the Saviorhood of Christ to those who are unsaved… A suggestion born of this theme is that in all gospel preaching every reference to the life to be lived beyond regeneration should be avoided as far as possible.” [1]

Chafer also wrongly taught the only sin unbelievers need to turn from at conversion is unbelief in Jesus Christ. He said:

“As before stated, repentance, which is a change of mind, is included in believing. No individual can turn to Christ from some other confidence without a change of mind, and that, it should be noted, is all the repentance a spiritually dead individual can ever effect. That change of mind is the work of the Spirit (Eph. 2:8). It will be considered, too, by those who are amenable to the Word of God, that the essential preparation of heart which the Holy Spirit accomplishes in the unsaved to prepare them for an intelligent and voluntary acceptance of Christ as Savior – as defined in John 16:8-11 – is not a sorrow for sin. The unsaved who come under this divine influence are illuminated – given a clear understanding – concerning but one sin, namely, that ‘they believe not on me’.” [2]

Chafer would be right if he said the main sin unbelievers need to turn from at conversion is unbelief in Jesus Christ. But to suggest it is the only sin to be turned from at conversion is unbiblical nonsense. Jesus Christ is without sin and hates sin intensely (see Hebrews 1:9 and 4:15). So to suggest we can turn to belief in Him without at the same time turn in our hearts from our known sins also is to suggest we can be saved by becoming first class hypocrites.

Such a false doctrine suggests we can turn to believing in Jesus Christ and be saved while still intending to deliberately knowingly practise forms of wickedness He hates. In other words, we can supposedly continue to live like Satan himself and be assured of salvation from sin, Satan and eternal punishment.

Chafer also falsely taught the following about 1 Thessalonians 1:9:

“ On the other hand, turning to Christ from all other confidences is one act, and in that one act repentance, which is a change of mind, is included. The Apostle stresses this distinction in accurate terms when he says to the Thessalonians. “Ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:9).” [3]

Chafer here suggests turning to God from idolatry involves only turning to belief in God and Christ from belief in idols. But to say unbelievers can turn to belief in God and Christ from belief or confidence in idols without also turning in their hearts from the specific sins associated with various forms of idolatry – witchcraft, sexual orgies, drunkenness, child sacrifice, having sex with temple prostitutes and so on, really means they still have belief in idolatry. They have not turned from idolatry except in a merely outward hypocritical sense.

Chafer taught the ridiculous theory there are two gospels – a Gospel of the Kingdom mentioned in Matthew 24:14 and a Gospel of grace mentioned in Acts 20:24. He believed the Gospel of the Kingdom related to surrendering to Jesus as King or Lord and then as a result living a life of faithfulness and obedience to God. Chafer taught the Gospel of the Kingdom only related to the early parts of Jesus’ ministry to the Jews and to His millennial reign on Earth after His Second Coming and was not to be preached during the New Covenant period.

But Chafer taught the Gospel of grace was received by a type of faith which did not need to include surrender to Jesus as our Lord and was not accompanied by repentance or having a changed heart attitude to known sin. He argued that those with this type of faith only needed to receive Jesus as their Saviour and believe the truths taught in the Gospel message.

Chafer’s mention of these supposed two different gospels is linked to his false idea that the phrases “the kingdom of heaven” and “the kingdom of God” often mean two different things in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke:

“The phrase, ‘the kingdom of heaven’, is peculiar to the gospel by Matthew, and refers to the rule of God in the earth. In that particular, it is to be distinguished from the kingdom of God, which is the rule of God throughout the bounds of the universe. One, in certain aspects, is included in the other, and there is, therefore, much that is common to both. The Messianic rule of God in the earth was the theme of the prophets, for the prophets only enlarged on the covenants which guaranteed a throne, a King, and a kingdom, over regathered Israel, in that land which was sworn to Abraham. The term, the ‘kingdom of heaven’, was used by Christ to announce the fact that the covenanted kingdom blessings were ‘at hand’. This good news to the nation was the ‘gospel of the kingdom’, and should in no wise be confused with the gospel of saving grace.”  [4]

By comparing Matthew’s words to Mark and Luke’s, we find many examples which show the expression “the kingdom of heaven” means the same as the phrase “kingdom of God”. Compare Matthew 4:17 to Mark 1:15, Matthew 5:3 to Luke 6:20, Matthew 10:7 to Luke 9:2, Matthew 13:11-14 to Luke 8:9-10, Matthew 13:31-32 to Luke 13:18-19, Matthew 13:33 to Luke 13:20-21 and Matthew 19:14 to Luke 18:16. Matthew 10:5-7 says: “These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: ‘Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” The parallel passage Luke 9:1-2 states: “Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.”

Matthew 19:23-24 uses the expressions “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God” to mean the same thing: “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘ Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, 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.”

 

Chafer said John the Baptist preached legalism

 

Chafer accused John the Baptist of preaching a form of legalism:

“In Luke 16:16 it is written: ‘The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.’ The message of John the Baptist was something new. It was in no sense the preaching of the ‘law and the prophets’ as a direct application of the Mosaic system. Nevertheless, his preaching was purely legal in character. An important exception to this is found in the gospel by John. In that gospel, the characterizing words, selected from all the sayings of John the Baptist are, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world’ (1:29)…This exceptional word from John the Baptist, fitted to the message of grace in the gospel by John, should not be confused with his legalistic preaching as recorded in the Synoptic Gospels, where his real ministry as the forerunner is set forth. What he preached, is clearly stated in Luke 3:7-14.” [5]

Luke 3:7-14 states: “Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, ‘Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father”. For I say that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire’. So the people asked him, saying, ‘What shall we do then?’ He answered and said to them, ‘He who has two tunics let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.’  Then the tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than what is appointed for you.’ Likewise the soldiers asked him saying, ‘And what shall we do?’ So he said to them, ‘Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.’” Chafer then commented on the above verses, saying:

“The intense emphasis on the covenant of meritorious works is obvious in this message, but John did not preach Moses and the prophets. The law and the prophets were until John. It is to be concluded that the preaching of John the Baptist was wholly new, and was according to his mission as herald of the King, but that message is legalistic, and not gracious. It is a covenant of works and not a covenant of faith.” [6]

Chafer’s words above are a classic example of the type of attitudes that ruined multitudes of churches in Western countries in the 20th Century. These churches saw any strong emphasis on repentance from known sin and resultant radically changed behaviour as a form of legalism.

John the Baptist was not a legalist who taught his listeners to try to merit their salvation through good works. Instead as Matthew 3:7-8 and Luke 3:7-14 reveal, he challenged religious hypocrites among the Pharisees, Sadducees and other Jews who wanted to be saved without repenting in their hearts from their known sins and without evidencing the fruits of such repentance in their daily living.

Acts 19:4 records John the Baptist preached to people to believe on Jesus Christ: “Then Paul said, ‘John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.’” Also note Luke 3:18 says that John the Baptist “preached” (N.K.J.V.) or “preached the Gospel” (N.A.S.B.). In Greek, this verse uses a form of the word “euangelizo” which means “bring or announce good news”. [7]

As shown in the Chapter “The Gospel”, Jesus Himself in one real sense is the Gospel of grace. John the Baptist did not preach all aspects of the Gospel of grace, but he definitely preached it. In Matthew 21:31-32, Jesus said John the Baptist preached the true way of righteousness and that sinful prostitutes and tax collectors believed his God-inspired message and entered the kingdom of God as a result: “…Jesus said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him’.” Wicked prostitutes and tax collectors could never be saved by obedience to works of Law or by any other type of legalistic meriting. They could only enter the kingdom of God by the righteousness provided by God’s grace.

Romans 1:16-17 shows the Gospel of grace through Jesus Christ received by faith is linked to a righteousness from God: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’” In Matthew 21:31-32, Jesus said the Jewish chief priests and elders rejected the way of righteousness John preached. The chief priests and elders clung to self-righteousness and legalism and rejected the seed-form Gospel of grace and God’s kingdom that John the Baptist preached.

Other elements of this Gospel of grace which the Baptist proclaimed are seen in his words in John 1:29: “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’”

 

Great backsliding in many parts of American post-World War One Evangelicalism

 

Rev A.W. Tozer wrote about a type of easy believism “gospel” which ruined multitudes of Evangelical churches at his time:

“Right after the first World War there broke out an epidemic of popular evangelism with the emphasis upon what was called the ‘positive’ gospel. The catch words were ‘believe’, ‘program’, ‘vision’. The outlook was wholly objective. (“Objective” refers to what God had achieved through Christ’s death and resurrection with no emphasis on practical human response – Author’s addition). Men fulminated against duty, commandments and what they called scornfully ‘a decalogue of don’t’s.’ They talked about a ‘big’, ‘lovely’ Jesus who had come to help us poor but well-meaning sinners to get the victory…The message was so presented as to encourage a loaves-and-fishes attitude towards Christ. That part of the New Testament which acts as an incentive toward holy living was carefully edited out. It was said to be ‘negative’ and was not tolerated. Thousands sought help who had no desire to leave all and follow the Lord. The will of God was interpreted as ‘Come and get it’. Christ thus became a useful convenience, but His indisputable claim to Lordship over the believer was tacitly cancelled out. Much of this is now history. The economic depression of the thirties helped to end it by making the huge meetings which propagated it unprofitable. But its evil fruits remain. The stream of gospel thought had been fouled and its waters are still muddy.” [8]

I believe historically it is no co-incidence that no great revival occurred among Evangelicals in the United States in the 1920’s to the 1940’s – the period Tozer was referring to here. This was a period in which the easy believism teachings of Lewis Sperry Chafer were popular in many Evangelical circles.

In recent years, many Evangelicals, Charismatics and Pentecostals have repeated the errors of the 1920’s to 1940’s by preaching and acting very similarly to the above.

 

E. W. Kenyon

 

E. W. Kenyon was a Baptist preacher who taught a mild form of easy believism. He was not a Pentecostal, because he believed the baptism of the Holy Spirit and being born again were the same experiences and therefore the Apostles were born again on the Day of Pentecost.[9] Despite this, he has been one of the most popular teachers among many Western Pentecostals and independent Charismatics. They were attracted by many of the good things he taught about Christ’s righteousness, our legal standing in Christ, miraculous healing, using the Name of Jesus against Satanic powers, Jesus being our Advocate, High Priest and Mediator and so on.

You tend to find Pentecostals and Charismatics either love or loathe Kenyon’s books. Some fail to see some of the good things Kenyon teaches. But multitudes of others wrongly treat him like some type of infallible Protestant Pope whose ideas cannot be discussed or even mildly challenged without the persons being in danger of divine judgement for supposedly “touching the Lord’s anointed”. Some even quote Kenyon’s books in the same reverent tones that they quote the Scriptures. Kenyon said:

“We have given a wrong message to the world. Our message to the world has been one of ‘giving and putting away;’ we have told them what they must do, while the truth is that God does not ask the world to give up anything. Someone might ask, ‘Doesn’t He ask them to give up their sin?’ Never. ‘Doesn’t He ask them to give up their wickedness and rebellion towards Him?’ No. It is not subtraction. It is addition…He never asked humanity to give anything.” [10]

Kenyon’s words above are partly true. It is true that conversion involves our receiving God’s grace, God’s righteousness in Christ, the new creation, the Holy Spirit’s Presence and many other free aspects of the salvation Jesus Christ has provided for us. But to infer conversion involves only receiving from God and no real though imperfect giving up of the throne of our lives to Jesus Christ and no turning from unbelief, sin in general and known sins in particular, reveals a very poor understanding of New Testament teaching on conversion. Refer to my Chapter              “Conversion” for more details.

Kenyon rejects the idea surrendering to Jesus’ Lordship is an essential part of conversion. Here are some of Kenyon’s comments about this:

“The New Creation does not come through our repentance or the surrendering of ourselves or the confessing of our sins, but it comes by grace pure and simple. All we do is accept it. It is ours, a gift based upon legal grounds.” [11]

Kenyon is right here saying the new creation does not come through “confessing of our sins, but it comes by grace pure and simple” and “It is ours, a gift”. But he is wrong in saying the New Creation has nothing to do with repentance or surrendering ourselves.

When referring to preaching the Gospel to the unsaved, Kenyon says unbelievers should confess Jesus as Lord:

“Do not tell him he needs to repent for that will confuse him. If he accepts Christ as his Saviour and confesses Him as his Lord, that is repentance. That is all God requires.” [12]

Note Kenyon’s previous comments about conversion not involving surrender to Christ’s Lordship means Kenyon taught that the confession of Christ’s Lordship spoken of in Romans 10:9 did not involve any surrender to Him. Also note in the above quote, Kenyon defines repentance in relation to conversion in a way far more narrow than the New Testament does.

When talking about the new creation, Kenyon said,

“All that an unsaved man does in repenting, in giving up sin, in penance, is the work of an unregenerate man. It has no standing with God. God takes the sinner as he is. No matter how deep in sin he has gone the New Birth will straighten him out. We have thought that a sinner could pray through, that he could repent until God would forgive him. All that is unscriptural. It is all right for a Jew under the Law, but not for a sinner under grace.” [13]

Kenyon is right in most of the things he says here. He is right in attacking the common error that mere prayer, penance, repenting of our known sin and/or giving up our sins alone will result in God forgiving us of our sins. But he is totally wrong in not balancing his comments by saying part of every true conversion involves repentance or changed heart attitudes to sin, unbelief, having self as Lord and individual known sins. Refer to my Chapter    .     “Repentance” for more details.

Kenyon also wrote:

“When I tell the unsaved man that he must have godly sorrow and repentance, I don’t know what I am talking about. Paul told that Christian young man that had committed an unwholesome sin, that he needed godly sorrow that would work a repentance in his own life. That message can be preached to the Church today. The Church needs to repent. The unsaved man needs to take Jesus as his Saviour and confess His as his Lord…” [14]

As you will see later in my Chapter         “Repentance”, it is possible that repentance at conversion does not include godly sorrow for sin. But to suggest the unsaved do not need to repent of sin in their hearts at conversion is a tragic error.

Kenyon also said:

“Peter did not say on the day of Pentecost when they asked, ‘Men and brethren, what must we do to be saved,’ that they were to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. He simply said, ‘Repent, and be baptised everyone of you in the Name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins.’ The revelation of faith had not yet come. God was dealing with them as children. He did not ask them to believe anything they could not see, hear or feel. It may be interesting to note that many times believers have said to us, ‘We want a primitive type of Christianity such as the church had in the first few years of its existence.’ They did not know that by attempting to get that type of Christianity they were repudiating real faith and the Word.” [15]

Kenyon above teaches there were two types of conversions to Jesus Christ in the Book of Acts – one by repentance and the other by faith. Such comments reveal a poor understanding of the New Testament meanings of turning to God, repentance and faith.

My prayer is that if Christians read Kenyon’s books, they will become more biblically discerning than many were in the past.

 

Bible Study Questions

 

1.       What is unbiblical about Dr Lewis Sperry Chafer’s teaching about what is involved in true conversion to Christ?

2.       What is unbiblical about Chafer’s interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 1:9?

3.       Which verses show that “the kingdom of heaven” and “the kingdom of God” mean the same thing?

4.       Did John the Baptist preach a form of legalism or major elements of the Gospel of grace? Provide verses to support your answer.

5.       Read the quote by A.W. Tozer in the section “Great backsliding…” If his words are a true reflection of the state of multitudes of churches in the United States and elsewhere after World War One, what does it reveal about what they were preaching?

6.       What errors did E.W. Kenyon teach about what is involved in true conversion to Jesus Christ?

7.       Why is it wrong to teach that there are two different types of conversion taught in the Book of Acts – one by repentance and the other by faith?

 

 

 


 


[1] Lewis Sperry Chafer, “Systematic Theology, Volume 3, pages 385-387.

[2] Ibid, page 374.

[3] Ibid, page 374.

[4] Lewis Sperry Chafer, “Grace”, Kregel, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1995, pages 106-107.

[5] Ibid, page 127.

[6] Ibid, pages 127-128.

[7] Bauer, page 317.

[8] A. W. Tozer, “Paths to Power”, Christian Publications, Harrisburg, pages 41-42.

[9] E.W. Kenyon, “Advanced Bible Course”, Kenyon’s Gospel Publishing Society, pages 223-226.

[10] E.W. Kenyon, “Two kinds of faith”, Kenyon’s Gospel Publishing Society, 1969, page 88.

[11] Kenyon, “Advanced Bible course”, page 46.

[12] E.W. Kenyon “New creation realities”, Kenyon’s Gospel Publishing Society, page 90.

[13] E.W. Kenyon, “Two kinds of righteousness”, Kenyon’s Gospel Publishing Society, page 26.

[14] Kenyon, “New creation realities”, page 88.

[15] Kenyon, “Two Kinds of Faith”, Kenyon’s Gospel Publishing Society, pages 13-15.

 

 


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