Harmartiology, part 3

Today is October 31.  It is a day which many years ago, changed history forever.  From that day forward, life as we knew it would never be the same again.  While most people in society recognize this day as “Halloween”, many Reformed evangelicals remember today as Reformation Day.  If you are a Christian but not a Jew or a Roman Catholic, you should recognize this day, October 31, 1517 as the beginning of what we know now as Protestantism.

Martin Luther is said to have nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31st, 1517.  The 95 Theses challenged the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church on the nature of penance, the authority of the pope and the usefulness of indulgences, and sparked a theological debate that would result in what we know today as the Reformation.  While Luther himself didn’t bring any reform to the church, his Theses triggered the Protestant Reformation by rediscovering the Gospel–the good news of salvation by grace alone through faith alone through Jesus Christ the Lord.  It was in that time that many Christians split from the Roman Catholic Church in protest, and formed protestant churches that believed in the sole authority of Scripture, justification by faith alone, and the priesthood of every believer.

If you are a Christian and know very little about the Reformation, I encourage you to read up on this pivotal moment in church history.  The very church you attend every week exists now all because of what the fore-fathers of our faith did back then.  By the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment, they saw and understood the apostasy that was Roman Catholicism, and initiated a return to adherence and obedience to God’s Word alone.

2I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 4Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. 6But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

Revelation 2:2-7

Let us in this day remember the the height from which we have fallen; to sincerely repent of our sins, and do what we did at first.  Let us no longer forsake our first love, Jesus Christ our LORD and Savior, but let us love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength in obedience and surrender as an act of worship, in response to what God has done for us.

There are generally 3 views of original sin; 3 very different beliefs about how far we have fallen from grace; how Adam’s sin affects us.  The Pelagian, Federal, and Augustinian view; a more recent view proposed by Clark Pinnock has not been widely accepted.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned… (Romans 5:12)

In Pelagianism, original sin affected Adam alone and no one is affected by Adam’s sin.  People incur death when they sin after Adam’s example.

Pelagianism views humanity as basically good and morally unaffected by the Fall. It denies the imputation of Adam’s sin, original sin, total depravity, and substitutionary atonement. It simultaneously views man as fundamentally good and in possession of libertarian free will. With regards to salvation, it teaches that man has the ability in and of himself apart from divine aid to obey God and earn eternal salvation.  In and of itself, Pelagianism is overwhelmingly incompatible with Scripture and condemned by all protestant churches.

In Clark Pinnock‘s view, no one was affected by Adam’s original sin, and mankind inherited neither the corrupt nature or guilt of original sin, but only inherited a cultural depravity.

Pinnock is known to be the primary proponent of the controversial “Open Theism” theology, the belief that God does not exercise meticulous control of the universe but leaves it “open” for humans to make significant choices (free will) that impact their relationships with God and others.  This movement is denied by most Reformed evangelicals today as a view of harmartiology that is also incompatible with historic biblical Christian orthodoxy.

On a side note, the classic Arminian view of the imputation of Adam’s sin was popular in the Methodist movement and still is somewhat popular in many western Christians.  Arminianism understands that original sin imputes to us the corrupt nature of Adam only, and not his guilt.  As John Wesley stated more forcefully, humans were in fact totally corrupted by original sin, but God’s prevenient grace allowed free will to operate.

I understand all thes
e above views to be incompatible with the totality of Scripture and the whole counsel of God.  All of which are in stark contrast to the Augustinian/Calvinist view of total depravity which denies Jacob Arminius’ universal prevenient grace and any moral ability in mankind to turn to Christ.   Because of Adam’s sin, all of humanity is imputed by it, and thus all of humanity sinned in Adam.  Since we participated actually in Adam’s sin and were seminally there, depravity is total and both the corrupt nature and guilt are inherited.

On the other hand, the Federal view which is known as a Calvinistic interpretation, understands Adam only as a representative headship.  That is we participated in Adam’s sin in representative (not actual) way, where he was our proxy.

Total depravity (or radical corruption) is a theological term primarily associated with Calvinism, which interprets the Bible to teach that, as a consequence of the Fall of man, every person born into the world is enslaved to the service of sin. In other words, a person is not by nature inclined to love God with his heart or mind or strength, rather all are inclined to serve their own interests over those of their neighbor. Put another way, even with all circumstances in his favor a man without God can do nothing but work for his own destruction; and even his religion and philanthropy are destructive, to the extent that these originate from his own imagination, passions and will.”  (Wikipedia) 

In the words of John Piper,

First, as a result of Adam’s sin we all enter the world with a fallen nature. This is original sin–the sinful tendencies, desires, and dispositions in our hearts with which we are all born. Thus, original sin is something inherent in us–it is a morally ruined character. The original sin that we are all born with manifests itself throughout our lives in actual sins–the actions, thoughts, and feelings we have that violate God’s moral commands. So our sinful hearts (original sin) cause us to make sinful choices, think sinful thoughts, and feel sinful feelings (actual sins). We are not sinners because we sin; rather, we sin because we are sinners. We are all born totally imprisoned in original sin. There is no island of goodness left in us.

Second, the guilt of Adam’s sin is credited not just to Adam himself, but to us all. We are regarded as having sinned in Adam, and hence as deserving of the same punishment. This is imputed sin. Thus, we not only receive polluted and sinful natures because of Adam’s sin (original sin), but we are also regarded as having sinned in Adam such that we are guilty of his act as well (imputed sin). Imputed sin is the ruin of our standing before God and is thus not an internal quality but an objective reckoning of guilt, whereas original sin is the ruin of our character and thus is a reference to internal qualities. Both original sin and imputed sin place us under the judgment of God.

O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear.
In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known;
in wrath remember mercy.

Thanks be to the Apostle Paul, Augustine, Luther, and Calvin
(among many other Reformers), and Theopedia,
for reminding us of the importance of this day
and the need for repentance and faith in Christ.

5 thoughts on “Harmartiology, part 3

  1. Thank you for your ministry. If you find any value in my web site I would be honored to be linked to yours.

    In addition I have put to gether a user friendly way to introduce others to the doctrines of grace through a chain reference study Bible called The Sovereign Grace New Testament (in Summary). I will be happy to send you a free copy if you are interested or I can send you the PDF file for your perusal. May the Lord continue to bless your labors for His cause and Kingdom.

    Stan Murrell

  2. Hey,
    It is such a blessing to see active christians with polite understanding and sharing of beliefs. I have yet to read all of your site – in fact I only visited it this hour. But after looking through a bit I see that you are passionate. God Bless

  3. Except that all who support your point of view continue to say we sinned in Adam and that we are just as responsible as Adam was. Never have I seen a good explanation as to why… why is what Adam did something we are guilty of? I understand why our natures are affected because of what he did. I can even say I understand why it would be impossible for us to turn to God in our depraved state. But please draw a line from what Adam did to my own guilt. Why am I responsible enough to be held in judgement?

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