Written by Jonah Albrecht / November 2017
Series Introduction: The 4 -isms of American Christianity is a series based on the book Has American Christianity Failed? by Bryan Wolfmueller. In this book, Wolfmueller shows how many Christian churches in America places the focus on the internal testimony of man vs the external testimony of the Scriptures. The more you look at American Christianity, you see how so often it falls into the pendulum of pride and despair.
Galatians 3:3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
A man named John was going to Oxford university when he became involved with a group called the “Holy Club,” a group of serious churchmen committed to a methodically rigorous regimen of religious observance with the brothers John and Charles Wesley as the leaders. The Wesley brothers, through devout and pious living, influenced John to fast twice a week for 36 hours straight, prayed 7 times a day, went to worship at least 3 times a week, and received the Lord’s Supper daily. He nearly fasted himself to death during the forty days of lent. John was seeking a personal commitment to Jesus as his Saviour, but all these things drove him more into self-affliction and weakness to the point of death being on his doorstep. The more he strove to live a pious life, to gain that point of holiness, really drove him into the sin of despair. He lacked the enlightenment of the Gospel.
What John went through in the mid-1700s is still around today. In fact, the teachings of John and Charles Wesley have wormed their way into American Christianity so well that people don’t even notice it. The name for this teaching is pietism. Pietism’s basic principles are, “The Gospel is for the unbeliever and the Law is for the believer”, and “The Gospel made me a Christian and the Law keeps me a Christian”.
We are taught about what God has done for us through Jesus. American Christianity takes that and says, “What have you done for God?” Satan loves to use teachings like this because it sounds pleasing to man’s thinking, but is an abhorrence before God. Pietism removes the free grace of God and replaces it with a debt we owe to God. Instead of being children of God, pietism makes us slaves to our Heavenly Father.
King David wrote in Psalm 14, The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. You can’t get any plainer than that—not even one person who does good. How then, would it be possible to do good works to stay a Christian, to gain a holy life? It isn’t. Paul goes on in Galatians 3 to talk about how the Law brings a curse upon all who do not follow the teachings of the law. We are all cursed because we just read there is no one who does good. We can’t keep the law, we are cursed, the curse is eternity in hell. Where does that leave you? That’s the problem with this teaching of doing works to stay a Christian, or gaining a holy life. Every time you match yourself up against the law you get lost in the sin of despair. You, me, and every other human on earth will see their lives matched up against the law on judgement day. Basing your life on work is not going to cut it.
What a blessing it is to know we have a God who doesn’t let us stand alone against the law. God knows our true state. He knows all our sins of commission and omission. He knows we deserve his punishment of hell. But He also loves us. He loves you, me, and the whole world so much that He Gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
This is the Gospel. This is what Satan, through pietism, doesn’t want you to think is for you. But it is for you! It is for the unbeliever that he may see there is a hope for salvation, and it is for the believer that he may receive the blessed assurance of sins forgiven. Grace! The free gift is yours with no strings attached. John at Oxford felt the pressure of living a purified life through the works of the law, and it nearly destroyed him. The law has been fulfilled and the glorious light of the Gospel shines on us and through us.
By the Grace of God, John too saw the error of his ways and was brought to repentance. He said, “God was pleased to remove the heavy load to enable me to lay hold of His dear Son by a living faith, and by giving me the Spirit of adoption, to seal me even to the day of everlasting redemption.” God has done the same with you and me. We have been sealed as children of God. Our good works are not because we have to for salvation, but they are a testament of the love, grace, and salvation your heavenly Father has freely given to you.