Unitarianism Vs. Calvinism

Yesterday morning I made a passing comment concerning a college friend of mine’s involvement in the Unitarian Church. I also pointed out that the leading historic opponents to the tenets of Unitarian doctrine were Calvinists — you know, those people who emphasize things like sound doctrine and Biblical principles. I didn’t want to leave those comments dangling, so here’s the info for those who want to pursue it.

This introductory quote is from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Grand Traverse, Traverse City, Michigan:

William Ellery Channing (1780-1842) studied theology at Harvard. First, as minister in a Boston Congregational Church, he came to be known as “the apostle of Unitarianism.” He preferred to avoid abstruse points of doctrine, concentrating instead on morality, charity and Christian responsibilities. Denounced by the orthodox Calvinist periodical, “The Panoplist,” Channing issued several defenses of his position, the best-known being “Unitarian Christianity,” delivered at an ordination in Baltimore in 1819. In this famous speech he emphasized the unimportance of “the Trinity.”

You can see why a conflict would erupt between those who hold to the historic Christian doctrine of the Trinity and those who felt it was “unimportant.” And while “morality, charity and Christian responsibilities” are all fine and good, they should not be emphasized to the exclusion or subversion of salvation by grace through faith.

So, here’s my point: Today Calvinism is often marginalized or represented as a recent novelty. Those opponents who admit to its historicity often treat Calvinism like Christianity’s ugly step-child. But, the more you know about church history, the more you recognize the indelible stamp of the Reformers on all Protestant and Evangelical churches, contending for truth and standing against the errors and contortions of fringe theologies and heretical groups. Whatever else you may say about Calvinism, its history is rich with education, thoughtfulness, and devotion to the sacred value of God-breathed Scripture.

If you’d like to read the entire text of Channing’s “famous speech,” you can read it here:

Channing Speech


Theology Matters

A few months ago, Smyrna A.M. — a local paper distributed free to every mailbox in the area — advertised that they were looking for a few local ministers to submit articles for possible publication. Always looking for an avenue to let people know about GCA, I began sending in occasional submissions and (at least so far) every one has shown up in the paper. Today my latest article was distributed.

I had originally titled this article “Theology Matters,” but the folk at the paper changed the title to something more eye-catching.  Thanks again to the editors at Smyrna A.M. for being willing to publish articles of substance from various local pastors and for allowing us another opportunity to spread the word about GCA.


Wednesday, 10/10/07

The Message: Theology = education, not entertainment

I get a lot of e-mail. Due to the popularity of our Web site, I receive comments and observations from a wide range of denominations and countries. One of the most consistent themes emerging from my inbox is the general lack of doctrine and theology being taught in most churches. In its place, churches offer showmanship — clowns, puppets, lightshows, theatrical productions, surround-sound, smoke machines, rock bands, etc.

An elemental shift has occurred in the contemporary church. According to the Bible, although the followers of Christ are in the world, we are not to be of the world (John 17:14-16). We are called to reflect the principles and teaching of Christ, as salt and light in an otherwise decaying and dark environment. But, as church buildings and budgets have grown, churches have begun competing with the world over the disposable income people spend on entertainment. And in the process, doctrine and theology have suffered.

So, does that really matter? I mean, what’s the point of theology anyway? Is doctrine really that important?

The word “theology” is a contraction of two Greek words, meaning “words about God.” The Bible is full of such words. As you learn the Bible, you learn what God is like, how He thinks, how He acts, and what it takes to approach Him. It’s not enough to simply think about God. It matters what you think about God. Proper theology teaches you how to think about God properly.

In his epistles, the apostle Paul urged the church repeatedly to concentrate on “sound doctrine.” That means: solid teaching. They were not to merely imagine what Christ was like or what He taught. They were to devote themselves to the solid, provable teaching handed down to them by the apostles. Proper theology leads to proper Christianity.

Biblical theology answers the most pressing, important question any of us will ever face: “How can sinners stand forgiven and un-condemned before a righteous, holy God?” Given that we are all mortal and the ratio of death so far is a perfect 1:1, what you think about God’s salvation is a very important consideration. Proper theology leads to peace with God.

And finally, once we understand our relationship with God and His Son, that knowledge affects every aspect of our lives. How we treat people, how we raise our kids, how we live in society, and how we treat our marriage, are all directly impacted by a genuine understanding of our position before God. In other words, proper theology leads to a proper life.

So, does theology matter? Yes. In fact, there is no other subject in this lifetime that will have a greater impact on your eternal destiny than the words you say about God.

Theology matters.

Jim McClarty is the pastor of Grace Christian Assembly in Smyrna. GCA meets at 904 Hazelwood on Sunday mornings at 10:30 and Wednesday evenings at 7. For more information visit: www.salvationbygrace.org You can e-mail Pastor Jim at: jim@salvationbygrace.org.


Five Solas

On Sunday I mentioned the Five ‘Solas’ of the Reformation and wrote them on the board. A few folk have mentioned that when they listen to the mp3’s from our site they cannot see me or what I’m writing. So, I’ll list them here on this fine Reformation Day 2006.

Sola Scriptura: Scripture Alone
Soli Deo Gloria: God’s Glory Alone
Solo Christo: Christ Alone
Sola Gratia: Grace Alone
Sola Fide: Faith Alone

Learn ’em. Know ’em. Live ’em.


Theology (and exegesis) Matters

Sunday morning, as we were wrapping up, Jeff commented on the contrast between two groups of people who heard the word preached:

1) Those Jews who heard Peter preach at Pentecost, were “pricked in their heart,” and asked “what shall we do?” leading to repentance and baptism. And —

2) The high priest and the Sadducees who heard Peter preach, were “cut to the heart,” and took counsel to slay the preachers of the gospel.

In Jeff’s memory, the same terminology was used of each group, but it turns out that the two phrases denoting their heart response were different. Nevertheless, through a bit of careful exegesis, Jeff discovered an even more fascinating bit of info on the words Luke used to describe the activity of God in both groups.

Here’s Jeff’s email (my comments follow)

I did a little research on the comment I made yesterday at the end of Jim’s sermon – I was assuming that the terminology in Acts 2:37 and Acts 5:33 was the same with “cut to the heart.” I was wrong.

However, I found something more interesting. Acts 2:37 uses a term meaning to “cut or pierce sorely.”

On the other hand, Acts 5:33 and Acts 7:54 both use another term, meaning “to saw asunder or in two, to divide by a saw – to be sawn through mentally.” The Acts 5:33 reference is when they were intending to “slay them” (Peter and the apostles) and the Acts 7:54 reference is when they gnashed their teeth at Stephen’s message and killed him.

Also note, Acts 2:37 is the only place in the NT where that particular word is used. And the Acts 5:33 and Acts 7:54 references are the only places in the NT where that word is found.

I find it more interesting that although “pierce” or “cut” (depending on the translation) is used in all three instances, the 2 Greek words used lead to different results. The first term for “cut to the heart” resulted in a longing for redemption, whereas the other term in the last 2 instances resulted in a vehement hatred.

Note below that in both forms of the verbs used, they are in the “Passive” voice with an “Indicative” mood. The passive voice represents the subjects as acted upon. The indicative mood is a mood of certainty with respect to the completion of the action of the verb. In both cases, the people were “acted upon” – They did not “choose,” after reflection, to love or hate the message they had heard. This “cutting” or “piercing” happened to them upon hearing the message (“when they heard this…”).

In all 3 cases, the Gospel message did exactly what it was intended to do – call sheep and condemn goats. In other words, God is Sovereign!

katanuÈssw ( 1 instance in the NT )
1. to prick, pierce – to be sorely pricked
2. metaph. to pain the mind sharply, agitate it vehemently
a. esp. of the emotion of sorrow

(katenuÈghsan) – 3rd Person Aorist Passive Indicative
Acts 2:37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?”

diapriÈw ( 2 instances in the NT )
1. to saw asunder or in two, to divide by a saw
2. to be sawn through mentally, i.e. to be rent with vexation

(diepriÈonto) – 3rd Person Imperfect Passive Indicative Plural
Acts 5:33 But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and were intending to slay them.
Acts 7:54 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him.

2 Corinthians 2:14-17 –

“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.”

The preaching of the Word of God is an overwhelming responsibility. As Paul asked, “Who is sufficient for these things?” In preaching the Word, we plead for men to come to Christ, anticipating that God will call out His sheep through the preachment of His gospel. But, the reality is that God also uses the preaching of His word as a method condemn those who have heard the truth and rejected it.

This is not the type of thing we should be trifling with. The ever-living, never-dying souls of men and women, boys and girls are at the very heart of the matter. We are called to preach the truth, the sound doctrine of the things of God, without flinching or covering up the uncomfortable parts. We are called to convict men of their sinfulness and point them to the One who eternally saves.

We are called to tell the truth.

Once again, theology matters.


Preaching Christ and Him Crucified

The fellow seen here is Charles Haddon Spurgeon. He died back in 1892. He is often referred to as “the prince of preachers” because of his gift for communication and command of the English languge, as well as his grasp of doctrine and commitment to the text of Scripture. There are very few preachers in the world who have not at some point “borrowed” something from Spurgeon. And most denominations have attempted to connect C.H. to their brand of theology; his influence is that wide. As different groups have attempted to co-opt him, Spurgeon has been called a Premillennialist, an Amillenialist, a post-millennialist, an Arminian, a Calvinist, an evangelical, etc. (By the way, the evidence is that he was Premil.)

But, as for his leanings soteriologically, you have only to read the following quote. I’m posting this quote here because sometimes we at GCA start to feel like a “voice crying in the wilderness” when compared to the mega-churches and modern movements within “christendom” that draw huge numbers of people with offers of little more than theological pabulum  But, we stick to our guns, preaching the doctrines that lay at the heart of the Protestant Reformation. And if that means we’re out of the mainstream, so be it. We still walk in the footsteps of giants.

This particular pericope comes from a sermon entitled, “Christ Crucified.”



Before I enter upon our text, let me very briefly tell you what I believe preaching Christ and him crucified is: My friends, I do not believe it is preaching Christ and him crucified, to give people a batch of philosophy every Sunday morning and evening, and neglect the truths of this Holy Book.

I do not believe it is preaching Christ and him crucified, to leave out the main cardinal doctrines of the Word of God, and preach a religion which is all a mist and a haze, without any definite truths whatever.

I take it that man does not preach Christ and him crucified, who can get through a sermon without mentioning Christ's name once; nor does that man preach Christ and him crucified, who leaves out the Holy Spirit's work, who never says a word about the Holy Ghost, so that indeed the hearers might say, "We do not so much as know whether there be a Holy Ghost."

And I have my own private opinion, that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and him crucified, unless you preach what now-a-days is called Calvinism. I have my own ideas, and those I always state boldly. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism. Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.

I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith without works; not unless we preach the sovereignty of God in his dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor, I think, can we preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the peculiar redemption which Christ made for his elect and chosen people; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation, after having believed. Such a gospel I abhor. The gospel of the Bible is not such a gospel as that.

We preach Christ and him crucified in a different fashion, and to all gainsayers we reply, "We have not so learned Christ."
Delivered on February 11, 1855
by the C. H. Spurgeon
At Exeter Hall, Strand.

Putting The “Fun” Back Into “Fundamentalism”

I found an old Zip disk and was sorting through pictures and Word files, re-discovering pieces of my past. One file was a light article I wrote for the local newspaper circa 2001, or so. As I read it I realized that I still feel the same way. So, I thought I’d post it here.

Putting The “Fun” Back Into “Fundamentalism”

Jim McClarty
Pastor, Grace Christian Assembly
A Sovereign Grace Fellowship

“So what kind of preacher are you?” a woman recently asked. “You’re not one of those fundamentalists are you?”

I knew what she was driving at. One small segment of Evangelical Christianity has usurped the term “fundamentalism” and redefined it so that only they fit the category. Now, when we think of “fundamentalists,” we imagine fire-breathing pulpiteers who spend their time listing all the things they reject and condemning everyone with whom they disagree. And, it doesn’t help things when Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson use our recent national tragedy as an excuse to go on television and rant.

“Yes,” I replied, “I am a fundamentalist.” She took a couple steps back. I assured her I wouldn’t bite.

You see, I am an adamant defender of the fundamentals of the Christian faith. The virgin birth. The sinless life. The death, burial and resurrection. Those are all fundamental to Christianity. Without those basics, you have no faith.

So I asked her, “Would you go to a doctor who didn’t understand the rudiments of medicine? Or, would you trust an auto mechanic who didn’t know how engines work?”

“Of course not.” She was catching my drift. The same way that we would never trust our bodies or even our cars to the care of someone who lacked the fundamentals, we should never entrust our spiritual well-being to someone who ignores the basics. In fact, you can pick any area of learning or knowledge and uncover the building blocks, the foundation, on which the whole system is built.

In theological circles, those fundamentals are called “doctrines.” A doctrine is simply something taught as a rule or principle of the faith. And, the principles of Christianity are built on those fundamental doctrines.

So, don’t be afraid to call yourself a fundamentalist. Study the doctrines and construct your faith from those basic building blocks. That’s the method Jesus prescribed –

“Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock.” (Mat. 7:24)

Yep, I’m a fundamentalist. I love the doctrines of the Christian faith and am not ashamed to say so. Recently one of our congregants told me, “As we keep teaching the Bible, we’re going to be known as the church that put the ‘mental’ back into fundamentalism.”

I smiled. “You’re right. But, wouldn’t it be great to be known as the church that put the ‘fun’ back, too?”

You can read more about Christian doctrine at our website: www.salvationbygrace.org


Doctrine According to Pink

I was recently reflecting on the ministry of GCA. We regularly receive support and encouragement from our listeners and readers. But we also receive the occasional criticism … or the hateful venting of someone violently opposed to what we teach. Oddly, the most common criticism leveled at GCA is that we teach too much, too deeply, or place undue emphasis on “doctrine.” They claim that doctrine is divisive and that it puts a damper on evangelism by making the Bible too complicated. They would prefer that I just said simple, attractive, approachable things about God and then begged people to come accept Him.

But, if we know anything at all from Scripture, it’s that we are not merely instructed to speak about God. We must also make certain that we tell the truth about God. Certainly, the conversation between Eve and the Serpent ought to be sufficient to prove that point. Satan is not afraid to speak about God. He’s perfectly willing to ask, “Has God not said …?” The problem is that he is also willing to speak lies about God. And that proclivity to speak lies about God continues to permeate much of what is called Christianity.

It’s vitally necessary that we use proper discernment when listening to someone speak of God; or worse, claim to speak for God. Everything must be held up to the Bible — the original source material — and examined in that light. And the only way we can truly know the value of any person’s speech concerning God is to have a firm foundation in Biblical doctrine.

Anyway, I said all that to say that recently a friend sent me a couple of quotes he thought I’d like and I thought I’d pass along this pericope from Arthur W. Pink:

"Of course it is true that doctrine, like anything else in Scripture, may be studied from a merely cold intellectual viewpoint. And thus approached, doctrinal teaching and doctrinal study will leave the heart untouched, and will naturally be dry and profitless. But doctrine, properly received, doctrine studied with an exercised heart, will ever lead into a deeper knowledge of God and of the unsearchable riches of Christ." 

It’s true that people can go the rest of their lives avoiding opportunities to dig deeply and urgently into God’s word and think that they have some sense of who He is or how He acts. But, that’s a false security. The great themes of the Bible, properly explored and expounded, lead us to a grander, fuller realization and appreciation of the One who ever-loved us and who redeemed us “according to the good pleasure of His will.”

I will spend the rest of my days on Earth attempting to mine the inexhaustible riches of the revelation God has graciously given His people. And I’m certain I will die feeling that I barely scratched the surface. But to search, to dig, to long for a greater understanding, that should be the goal of every Christian. And doctrine — the plain, brilliant, eternally-consequential teaching found in God’s word — ought to be the hallmark of every Christian church.