I could have titled this the "powerless gospel of Pentecostalism" or a number of other "ism's" but I have to deal with the fall out of the damning effects of fundamentalism's gospel all the time, more so than I do with those under the sway of Pentecostalism. I haven't written much about fundamentalism in a long time because it was mostly out of frustration and anger and God had to chasten me from it.
The tale of two friends...
So, now I approach this subject out of sorrow because once again, I am seeing first hand, the damning effects of this false gospel upon a long time friend of mine who has walked away from Christ. He and I grew up in the same fundamentalist flagship mega church for "Jack Hyles and Sword of the Lord" fundamentalism. We were roommates in high school and in college. His grandfather had even been a preacher in the same strain of fundamentalism about 20 years before we met. After college, we both got married, he moved away and had a big family and was active in RU, the Bus Ministry, soul winning, a church split and all the other typical stuff that you go through in fundamentalism. We both went through the same conflict at one point in our lives...we couldn't conquer the power of sin in our lives. I tried to adhere to the "standards" but could never overcome the intense drive for sin that always sucked me back in! Afterwards, I'd be ashamed and try to double up my soul winning efforts, my Bible reading, prayer and other means of making myself stronger, but none of it worked. I was a hypocrite and I knew it. What would I do? Just give up and be what I really am? A lying, adulterous, blasphemous, thief and murderer? The gospel saved me at this point by someone sending me a book that showed me why I was under such bondage.
A couple years ago, my best friend came to that same crossroads. He struggled with all the same sins I did, but concluded that he just needs to be what he is and live consistent with his sinful desires. Long story short...it is now costing him his family and his marriage and yet he still thinks that he is saved and will get very angry if someone tries to convince him otherwise. This story can be told one million times over by people like me who used to be entrenched in fundamentalism's gospel. So, why is their gospel powerless for people like my friend who has turned away from Christ?
Gospel Terms According to Fundamentalism
Nobody in a fundamental church will deny that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ apart from works. But here's what they mean by those terms: Salvation - A free "get out of hell card" and a free "ticket to heaven" Grace - God's kind willingness to let you get off the hook for your sins. He pays your tab for you. Faith - A mental agreement and nothing more. Christ - Savior, Son of God, second member of the Trinity (at least they get this theologically correct) Works - anything more than mental agreement.
Salvation is not salvation from the power of sin over a person's life. The power over sin not found in the gospel of fundamentalism. In fact, sin is not something that we really have any power over, it's something to be feared and to be guarded against at best through an elaborate web of rules and regulations that safeguard us from getting too close to sinning bad enough to really "destroy our lives".
So, apply this kind of salvation to a person's life who is unregenerate. Any unregenerate man can see the benefits of a "get out of hell free" card and mentally agree to God's willingness to pay the tab. He'd be glad not to add any more effort to it. However, those who really feel the need to do more will be attracted to the legalistic sanctification in order to build up his own ego about his earned holiness. This is a powerless gospel because the unregenerate man cannot control his lusts. He can only feed his lust for approval by church leaders, power in the church or a position in the church to compete with his lust for other baser things. To make things worse, he is self deceived into thinking that he is actually a believer and a child of God because of the "get out of hell card" that he received when he "walked the isle" or prayed the "sinners prayer". This powerless gospel won't sustain a person forever. It will either cause him to despair of his helplessness to measure up and he will depart from the faith; or he will convince himself more and more of his own self-righteousness, priding himself in his ability to keep tougher rules than others. Others who are true born again believers in fundamentalism will actually believe the true gospel, but preach the powerless one because of the commitments they have to the movement. So, to stay in this kind of fundamentalism, is either self deception, self righteousness or compromise.
Why would fundamentalists preach this kind of gospel to people and give them a false hope of real salvation? Because, without it, their whole structure falls apart. The great numbers of "converts" that they covet so much in their churches would diminish and bring them to the realization of their utter spiritual destitution. But as long as bodies are coming through the doors and decision cards are being filled out, they can rest in these supposed evidences of their own rightness and blessedness from God. Without this false gospel, they cannot keep control over people's lives and behavior with their myriad of rules and standards.
The power of the real gospel
When I came to the realization that salvation was much greater than this cheap substitute that had been peddled about by fundamentalism, it set me free! When I say salvation is by grace through faith in Christ apart from works, here's how it should be defined:
Salvation - Freedom from the slavery of sin in this life and from the presence of sin in the next life. Eternal life is not a "ticket to heaven" it is the ever increasing, intimate knowledge of God in Christ! It is an exchange of my death for Christ who is my life! Grace - God's free and sovereign choice to love me in spite of my sin. He provides everything for me - the price for sin, the power against sin, the pleasure in righteousness and the perseverance to endure in my faith until my faith become sight. Faith - A Spirit enabled power of convincing the entire heart, mind, will and affections to place total confidence in Christ's finished work of Calvary for justification and sanctification. Christ - Savior, Son of God, Second Person of the Trinity and LORD! Works - Anything that I can try to do in my own power that will earn my own merit before God.
The power of this gospel is that it is holistic. It saves the entire person, not just the person's eternal destination. If salvation doesn't happen in this life, then it won't happen in the next life either. That's the dirty little secret about the false gospel that is not told. The powerless gospel of fundamentalism promises salvation from hell someday, but can't secure salvation from sin today!
This gospel makes salvation for this life and the next. Grace is not just God's willingness to pardon me, but God's power in me! Faith is not just a mental agreement, but it is fueled by the Spirit to keep believing and trusting in that grace that empowers me to be saved. Christ is not just a Savior, but He becomes my new Lord under whom I gladly submit myself and serve. My works merit me nothing but hell. Any good works that I can produce, any obedience that I can achieve is the power of Christ's grace working in me through faith that is sustained by Christ who is Lord over me!
By the word "Reforming" I am speaking of "reviving and renewing" The essence of this kind of reformation is the enrichment of understanding God's truth, arousing the affections Godward, and increasing devotion to Him. - J.I. Packer