In my last post, I wrote about Scripture’s consistent depiction of false teachers and false professors of faith in Christ as deceptive, subtle, and dangerous. One of the main points in that article was that it is easy to get distracted from the Gospel by other issues that, although they are definitely important in their own right, are not equal in importance to the Gospel. This distraction occurs because we are blinded to the subtle maneuvers of God’s enemies by what we mistakenly think are the “bigger issues” (by which we mean the more obvious ones). I wrote—
In our own day, we can easily be misled into thinking that the primary concern of the church is socio-political teaching that is subversive to the Gospel – but it isn’t. While the postmodernist, social justice, critical race theorists ARE indeed a great problem, and a problem against which I’ve written quite a bit, there is a greater problem. That problem? Men who profess faith in Christ, and who profess to be sound teachers of the Word of God, who are yet teaching men a false gospel of salvation by faith and works. These men will always be present among us, along with the Ariuses and Hitlers and Mussolinis, but they are more dangerous because they are subtle, crafty, manipulative, flattering, and sometimes very hard to detect.
And while this should inspire us to work harder to guard our lives and our doctrine, we often get lazy. We are distracted by the “bigger” issues – by which we mean the more obvious ones – and are content to let men off the hook for saying and doing what is completely contrary to the Gospel and Law of God simply because these men are less of a headache and they agree with us, and can prove to be helpful co-belligerents in our striving against the “bigger” issues.
The Gospel, according to Scripture, is the thing that is of first importance. Here is what Paul says—
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
-1st Cor 15:1-5 (emphasis mine)
The Corinthians had many problems— factionalism, sexual immorality, pride, drunkenness— as well as a host of important questions that needed to be addressed by the apostle Paul— e.g. the roles of men and women in the church, the roles of men and women in marriage, how church services ought to be conducted, how the gifts of the Spirit are to be properly used, how conflict between brothers is to be properly dealt with, and so on. But Paul states in no unequivocal terms that what is of first importance is the Gospel.
And to be clear, what he means is that what is of first importance is the content of one’s belief concerning the person and work of Christ Jesus. Salvation is by faith alone in the revealed propositions of Scripture alone regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ. So if a person gets those beliefs wrong, they are not saved. Point. Blank. Period. Paul does not mince words.
In the context of 1st Cor 15, what is under attack by implication is the resurrection of the Son of God. Note that this is by implication, and not by explicit declarations made by atheistic materialists. Apparently, the Corinthians heretics did not deny that Jesus was raised from the dead. Rather, they believed that there was not going to be a general resurrection of the dead. And this is where Paul focuses. You see, if the dead, in general, are not raised, then by logical necessity Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then the faith of the Corinthians, and anyone else who claims to be a Christian, is in vain. Paul writes—
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
-1st Cor 15:12-19 (emphasis mine)
Again, note that this is an implication of the Corinthian heretics’ belief that “the dead are not raised.” Paul does not say that the consequences of their denial of the resurrection of the dead are only applicable to them if they accept those logical implications as properly representing their position. He does not say this because such a belief is irrational. If one holds to x, and x necessarily implies y, then one also, by logical necessity, holds to y.
The Corinthian heretics had to either repent of their denial of the general resurrection of the dead, or cease calling themselves Christians. The matter is black or white. One either believe the Gospel or one does not. There is no gray area.
Against the Judaizers
Now, lest someone say that the apostle was only this concerned with the question of the resurrection of the dead, listen to what he says in the book of Galatians about those who deny that men are justified by faith alone apart from the works of the law. Paul—
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
-Gal 1:6-9 (emphasis mine(
We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
-Gal 2:15-16 (emphasis mine)
I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
-Gal 2:21 (emphasis mine)
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”
-Gal 3:10 (emphasis mine)
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.
-Gal 5:2-4 (emphasis mine)
Whereas the Corinthian heretics implicitly denied the resurrection of Christ, the Judaizers explicitly denied that justification is by faith alone. Paul, in no uncertain terms, condemns them as accursed.
He also condemns as accursed everyone who seeks to be justified by faith and works.
So the condemnation is not merely for false teachers and their explicit teaching, but for their implied teaching, and for all who believe their explicit false teaching.
Whether we are talking about the physical life and death and burial and resurrection of Christ, or whether we are talking about his passive and active obedience to the Law of God for the sake of his church, the Gospel is of first importance.
The Necessary Implication of the Gospel’s Priority
What has to be noted here is that Scripture is very clear about this matter. What is of first importance is the Gospel’s explicit content and, by logical necessity, the Gospel’s implicit content. And what this means for us is that no questions regarding the orthodoxy of our profession of faith are ever of secondary importance to some other issue, even if that other issue is important in its own right.
Paul devoted an entire chapter to defending the Gospel because of a few people who were denying the resurrection of the dead in general which inexorably leads to a denial of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and, therefore, a denial of the Gospel as a whole. Paul devoted an entire book to refuting the Galatian heretics who added circumcision to faith as the instrumental means of justification.
Would he have put up with another minister in Corinth or in Galatia saying that Paul’s focus on the explicit and implicit content of the “Gospel” they preached was a distraction from the real issue, namely a socio-political fight against the powers of the Roman empire? Or would he have soundly rebuked such wickedness? It should be obvious that Paul would have soundly rebuked anyone who dared to relegate questions about the content of one’s Gospel to the realm of secondary concerns.
Yet in our own day, men like Doug Wilson are explicitly identifying the concerns others have with their Gospel— in what it explicitly and implicitly declares— as secondary matters. Recently, after being criticized for his Federal Vision beliefs, which he has not renounced but merely sought to avoid calling Federal Vision, Doug Wilson wrote a lengthy blog in which he responded to his detractors (with obfuscation and slippery verbiage). Wilson, however, did not like being questioned about the explicit and implicit content of his beliefs regarding the Gospel, and ended his article as follows—
Keep your eye on the ball. I believe that this FV issue continues to be an issue because of the doctrinal downgrade entailed in wokeness that is currently swamping Reformed evangelicalism in general. It is a distraction. I am one of the few voices raised in effective opposition to all of that woke foolishness, and so these canards are being resurrected again in order to dampen any thoughts that any of you might have about the propriety of following me into battle.
You know, the actual battle.
-Heidelfog, Blog and Mablog, (emphasis mine)
Unlike the apostle Paul, whose concerns with the Gospel’s purity go so far as to cover what is implied by a particular belief one holds while at the same holding to a superficially sound Gospel presentation (as he did with the Corinthian heretics), and who went so far as to condemn as cursed not only the preachers but those who believed their false doctrines as well (as he did with the Galatian Judaizers and their followers), Wilson states that Gospel concerns are a distraction from the “actual” battle, namely the social justice/wokeness/critical race theory/etc battle.
This, however, is false. Those of us who have been concerned with Federal Vision and Wilson have been concerned for years that the FV and Wilson are teaching a false Gospel. The reason why they are becoming more noticeable is that Wilson today has a bigger following than he did ten years ago. Wilson is not merely a conservative figurehead among paedobaptists but credobaptists as well. I have personally never stopped warning people about the Federal Vision heresy and its proponents, including Doug Wilson.
I also have written quite a bit against Critical Race Theory, social justice, identity politics, etc. I am not now, nor have I ever been, an advocate of Critical Race Theory, Critical Theory, social justice, identity politics, intersectionality, et al. And as far as I know the majority of people speaking out against the FV and warning against its proponents are likewise not advocates of the ideological swill Wilson thinks is the actual problem we need to be focused on, rather than on the problem of subtle, crafty, dangerous false teachers who sneak in among the orthodox and secretly bring in with them destructive heresies.
The actual battle is the battle being waged against the Gospel by heretical teachers who outwardly profess sound doctrine, but inwardly believe something entirely different by the orthodox vocabulary they employ. The reason why Critical Race Theory, Social Justice, Intersectionality and the rest of that “woke foolishness” must be opposed is because these ideas directly and indirectly opposed the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ. So what is of primary concern, what is of first importance, what is the actual battle to which we must attend is the one being waged against the Lord Christ and his Gospel. And it is not Wilson or any other merely human mouthpiece that we must follow, but God as he directs us by his Spirit and Word.
A Closing Admonition
By all means, oppose the “woke foolishness” Wilson opposes. However, do not think it is the actual battle, especially when the one who identifies it as such does so to deflect criticisms against his theology that have been around for decades, and condemned by multiple denominations and individuals as being crafty, subtle, and dangerous to the well being of the church.
Soli Deo Gloria