This is the third sermon by Mr. Fox to review, and the eighth from Balmoral Bible Chapel. We listened by podcast.
Mr. Fox, Balmoral Bible Chapel, May 22nd, 2011, Saving Faith Versus False Faith.
Summary: (Mr. Fox begins with some announcements, then prays.) Turn with me to John 8.31-36. (He reads from there.) How many of you enjoy political debates? More and more, they are becoming nothing but sound-bites. The essence of true debate is for it to yield great benefit to those who listen. I have to thank the Lord for false teachers who try to air condition hell or tell us when the day of judgment is. They set such a dark curtain in order for the true light to shine. Last week we found ourselves hearing the debate that Jesus had with his adversaries. And we read that many believed in him as he said certain things. What things? He has been teaching about being living water and true light. In light of that, many believed in him. There’s truth in this word concerning unity. The word is not just the Old and New Testaments. Jesus is the Word. Jesus placed a stamp of certification on the Old Testament. The whole word is profitable. Three things from our passage: (A) the importance to continue in the word of Jesus Christ; (B) you will know the truth; (C) it is the truth that will set you free. This order cannot be changed around. We find Jesus making a distinction between true and false disciples. The fruit of discipleship is a manifestation of obedience. It’s not a condition. Both true and false disciples will profess belief in Christ. It’s not how people begin that counts, but how they continue that will distinguish them between having a possession of faith and a profession of faith. When trials come, those in Christ, through faith, will not be shaken. They will persevere. Those who hold fast, in time, bear fruit. Jesus tells his disciples that the one who endures to the end will be saved. We forget to tell people who come to Christ that you have a real enemy in yourself, in the world, and in the heavens. We will not be found amongst those who deny his word. We see that some believed Jesus to a certain point. Their discipleship was not genuine. It’s important to know the difference between saving faith and false faith. I don’t have the time to unpack this for you. True saving faith will have a profession and possession of faith. We want to find ourselves wrestling with the teachings of Jesus Christ. Remaining is the fruit of the disciple. Nothing else will set you free. Now to John 6.37-40. (He reads from there.) Continue in the word, know the truth, and you will be set free from yourself, sin, and the power of the enemy who comes in those who are enslaved in darkness. Christianity is not a game, but a life and death issue. I think we’ll leave the matter there. Let’s pray.
Remarks: In this sermon many verses are quoted (not all mentioned in the summary) that support the gist of the passage chosen by Mr. Fox to preach on. This is done, however, at the expense of explaining the passage particularly. The doctrine of perseverance is in both the passage and the sermon. But something more must exist in the passage than the general idea that it is necessary to be found at last among the saved! One can make a verbal profession while having no faith in one’s possession. A sinner’s prayer, a raised hand, and a signed card are no proof of a sinner getting saved. This is what Mr. Fox is anxious to warn about. And this warning is very necessary in our Billy Graham ‘decision’-making milieu. So this is no ‘feel-good’ sermon. We are thankful for that. The jokes that Mr. Fox had prepared to let fly in his preliminary remarks are jettisoned (for the wrong reason, but we are thankful just the same.)
This sermon, like the two others we have listened to from this pastor, is a blunted arrow poorly aimed. The title promises that saving faith and false faith will be contrasted. But there is no hint of contrast in any of the three points introduced. Can anyone find a contrast there? First point: the importance of continuing in the word: no contrast found. Second point: you will know the truth: no contrast there. Third point: the truth will set you free: nothing again. Or can any of these points be legitimately contrasted with each other? No, continuing in the word does not contrast with knowing the truth or being set free. Try any other configuration that you want, using these three points, and you will find no contrast. Not only is there no contrast shown in these points, whether considered singly or together, but then after the points are introduced, they are abandoned to make way for the general idea that one must persevere! There seems to be no reason for anything that is done in this sermon. The title is ignored. The points are there we not why. And the pastor goes all over the Bible in search of perseverance, and then teaches nothing about it!
Here is a suggestion of what might be done, with little effort, if any respect for the title were retained and exercised. We suggest one point. Saving faith sets us free to serve God; false faith keeps us in bondage to serve sin. There is a contrast that serves the title. Saving faith and false faith are at odds. That is what the title tells us; therefore why not tell us how and why this is so? For example, in what ways may the freed spirit serve his Maker? In what ways must the captive spirit serve his lusts? In what ways do these two spirits butt heads in the world? Address questions like these, and the sermon opens up to show the characteristics of both kinds of faith, not to mention the characteristics of each people on either side. By this kind of faithful treatment of our title, the saints can be blessed and warned to persevere, and the unconverted can get convicted for their lack of proof that their faith is of the persevering sort. These thoughts were prompted from just a few minutes of consideration for what the passage actually contains, and the reading of just half of what Matthew Henry offers up in commenting upon it. Yet this pastor has virtually nothing to say in this sermon except statements like these: the whole word is profitable; some believed in Jesus to a point; and Christianity is not a game. Can things get more uselessly elementary than this? And when he tries to say something more profound, he comes up with terms like ‘manifestation of continuance’ and ‘condition of continuance.’ He can’t explain these odd terms because he can’t understand them himself. Like Mr. Doeksen who departed from Deer Park Alliance, he seems to be imitating this overrated wannabe-scholar by the name of John Piper, which is a sure way to become obscure and irrelevant! If you can’t do the job in your own skin, it is certain that you will fail in the skin of another! If Mr. Fox had chosen a straight and simple route like the one we so painlessly gleaned and intimated above, he would not so heedlessly fall into the sin of preaching false security to his hearers (which is the very opposite of his intention: to preach a doctrine of perseverance.) “We will not be found amongst those who deny his word,” he says. What he should say is, “How many amongst us will be found to deny the word we profess to be saved by?!” And then, “How many of us deny God’s word every day and in how many ways? Here, let me show you what these ways are…now what does this say about us? about you?” That is the sort of content and tone that should naturally emerge if the doctrine of perseverance were applied. Mr. Fox does not persevere in this sermon. He does not persevere to make his points handmaidens of his title. He does not persevere to preach his points. He does not persevere to preach what he finally decides to preach on: the doctrine of perseverance. He does not persevere in the principal work that he thinks God has called him to execute.
Conclusion: “I don’t have time to unpack this for you,” says Mr. Fox about the difference between saving faith and false faith. Isn’t that your job, Mr. Fox? Isn’t that what the title of your sermon promised us you would do? Shouldn’t we expect you to unpack something from your chosen theme? “We forget to remind those who come to Christ that you have a real enemy in yourself, in the world, and in the heavens,” he says. Did you tell us anything about these enemies in this sermon? No, you said nothing about them; so the sin of forgetting is mostly yours because you, as the pastor, should lead by example. “We want to find ourselves wrestling with the teachings of Jesus Christ,” he says with seriousness. Does he not tell us something like this in every sermon? But have you wrestled with anything at all, Mr. Fox? If Christianity is not a game, then surely the pulpit must be something more than a mascot! We must be found wrestling, we must be found wrestling, he says, but in three sermons in a row the man who needs to wrestle most has done nothing to honor his title, his text, his points, or the theme he ends up talking about! The reason for this dishonor must be that he did not wrestle in his study and closet: not with his books and not in his prayers. But the more fundamental reason for his botched work may be the fact that his vocation has no call from God to back it up.
Once again, we have to ask, in wonder and with a wry face on, how those persons in this congregation who know better can be satisfied with a pastor who can teach nothing more than the most dreamy, apathetic souls in church already know! Mr. Fox is earnest; but zeal without aptitude for teaching is just one proof (and the only one we need) of a professed calling that has no divine backing. Not all that profess to be called are in possession of a calling. Not all that profess to be called are called to prophesy. There is this idea pervading churches of all kinds at this time, and which has pervaded the Brethren assemblies from their inception, probably, that he who desires to teach the Bible is ‘apt to teach.’ Desire to teach does not fulfill the qualification of aptitude that the Bible says an elder must have. Aptitude to teach means more than a desire to teach; it means that you have ability. This man has not the aptitude; he is not able. Therefore he is doing a thing for which he is not called, even the greatest thing for which a calling is most necessary. “I’ve been discipling for a long time,” this pastor assures us. With material like this? Successfully? We should wonder about that. We are very eager by this time to move on to examine the next church. But we have said something; we have more warrant at the close of this analysis than Mr. Fox has at the close of his sermon, to say, that ‘we’ll leave the matter there.’
But just one defense of our criticism before we store this analysis. Mr. Fox says that he’s thankful to live in a country where the worst that can happen to a Christian, in regards to persecution, is criticism. Since this analysis is nothing but criticism, and since it comes from a Christian quarter and therefore cannot be classified as persecution but only reproof and correction, he should be extremely thankful to receive our criticism and to take all that we have said to heart. Now we can move on. And we insist that we have nothing against this man except that his pulpit duties cannot be shown to be the outworking of that characteristic of aptitude the apostle Paul reveals the called man must be in possession of. “A bishop [an elder] then must be…apt to teach” (1 Timothy 3.2.)