Accidental double agents in the pulpit

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You have heard it said, “Pray like a Calvinist and work like an Arminian”—or, “pray as though everything depended on God, but work as though everything depended on you.”

But I tell you, this silly nonsense should never be heard coming from the lips of a consistent Evangelical Protestant.

Ever.

The reason is simple: aside from being stupid, it’s heresy.1

This realization hit me as I continued my trek through Bruce Shelley’s wonderful Church History in Plain Language. There, as he writes about the founding of the Jesuit order, the Catholic Counterreformation, and the Council of Trent, he explains:

Luther, Calvin, and Grebel stressed salvation by grace alone; the council emphasized grace and human cooperation with God to avoid, in [Ignatius of] Loyola’s terms, “the poison that destroys freedom.” “Pray as though everything depended on God alone;” Ignatius advised, “but act as though it depended on you alone whether you will be saved.” (Kindle location 5346)

One should quickly and easily see the problem with this kind of thinking.2 Whether we’re using this concept in thinking about our own growth in godliness, encouragement to fellow believers, or in ministry to the lost, it is a failure to recognize that everything does depend on God, both in prayer and in practice.

Praying as though everything depends on God is right and true—but we also must work as though everything depends upon Him. Because everything does.

This is the truth of Philippians 2:12-13—that, as we work, God works through us. This is the reality of John 15:5—if we abide in Christ, we will bear much fruit. But apart from Him, we can do nothing. This is the fact of John 14:12—that we who believe will do the works Jesus does!3

There is no dependence upon us to get things done. God is not passive. Nor is He is impotent.

We work, knowing that it is God who works through us. We are instruments in the hands the master craftsmen, and joyfully so!

A cute soundbyte makes for a memorable quote, but if we don’t think about our words, we may also be acting as accidental double agents in the pulpit.


Photo credit: Normand Desjardins Café•Moka Personnel/Personal via photopin cc

Show 3 footnotes

  1. This is to say nothing of the overly simplistic treatment of Arminian theology.
  2. And those following the recent sanctification debates should also recognize the similarity between the Catholic position shown in Trent and the arguments of many seeking to combat incipient antinomianism.
  3. Greater ones, even, since He is with the Father!

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  • Timothy

    You definitely make some excellent and valid points. Yet, I think the phrasing either way leads to possible misconceptions, making either soundbyte fairly inadequate as a theological statement. I think in the proper context either phrasing has merit, but as a stand alone, each has its particular weaknesses as well.

  • http://www.mhmcintyre.us/ Mark McIntyre

    As with most “pithy” comments, some explanation has to be given for proper understanding. Another of this type is “go and sin boldly” which at one level makes sense, but left unexplained can lead to error.

    With regard to the statement above, with regard to salvation it is absolutely false, but with regard to doing good to our neighbors or other “good works” there is a measure of truth to it. So, the context in which the statement is made and the amount of explanation following the statement makes all the difference.