The Three Stages Of Error In The Church

When error is admitted into the Church, it will be found that the stages of its progress are always three. It begins by asking toleration. Its friends say to the majority: You need not be afraid of us; we are few, and weak; only let us alone; we shall not disturb the faith of the others. The Church has her standards of doctrine; of course we shall never interfere with them; we only ask for ourselves to be spared interference with our private opinions. Indulged in this for a time, error goes on to assert equal rights. Truth and error are two balancing forces. The Church shall do nothing which looks like deciding between them; that would be partiality. It is bigotry to assert any superior right for the truth. We are to agree to differ, and any favoring of the truth, because it is truth, is partisanship. What the friends of truth and error hold in common is fundamental. Anything on which they differ is ipso facto non-essential. Anybody who makes account of such a thing is a disturber of the peace of the church. Truth and error are two co-ordinate powers, and the great secret of church-statesmanship is to preserve the balance between them. From this point error soon goes on to its natural end, which is to assert supremacy. Truth started with tolerating; it comes to be merely tolerated, and then only for a time. Error claims a preference for its judgments on all disputed points. It puts men into positions, not as at first in spite of their departure from the Church’s faith, but in consequence of it. Their recommendation is that they repudiate the faith, and position is given them to teach others to repudiate it, and to make them skillful in combating it.

Charles Porterfield Krauth, The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology As Represented in the Augsburg Confession and In the History and Literature of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1871), 195–96. (HT: Ken Johnson).

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  1. Thank you once again Dr. Clark for your insight and contributions to the Reformed Faith.

  2. Question is, where does this first step originate? Invariably it is with the academes where the accountability is loser regardless of oaths and signing pledges to the orthdoxy of an educational institution. Why? Because the boy’s brilliant don’t you know. And that’s the sticky wicket. We are enamored of the intellect, the academically accomplished. Until we see men, no matter how supposedly brilliant, who go against orthdoxy as the same as a man who commits adultery with our wives we will never get a handle on error in the church. Academic credibility has it’s merits but we know no man after the flesh. In the kingdom of God the true Faith, as expressed in our reformed confessions, is all that matters.

    • You said it! You are so right. It starts with the with the academics, the very ones who should be our leaders in keeping the faith, wanting to make a name for themselves through introducing some novel twist on the faith to prove they are more brilliant than anyone else. There is a long line of such men: N. T. Wright, Norman Shepherd, Douglas Wilson, Peter Leithart, John Piper, John Frame, and many others. What Jesus said about the Scribes, Teachers of the Law, and the Pharasees seems applicable to them.

    • angela all my friends love john piper, I’m still reeling from the blow of him being a federal visionist. It’s kind of unbelievable, maybe i’m just immature and have to wake up. well, he does make assurance hard that’s for sure.

      • Colin,

        Not sure that I would call him a “federal visionist“ but there are some areas where his theology overlaps with theirs. He was influenced by Daniel Fuller, Who taught something very much like what Norman Shepherd, Who was a major influence/source of the FV theology, taught.

        Certainly, Piper’s doctrine of final salvation/justification is close to if not identical to that taught by some of the federal visionists

    • Yes, it’s hard to have assurance when you have a final judgment to face depending on how sanctified you became in this life. Both John Piper and the FV teach you must do your part, there is no final salvation without it. I prefer to look to Christ alone for my assurance, I love Him for being my total and perfect righteousness before God. It makes me want to serve Him and worship Him in grateful assurance for complete salvation.

    • This is why it is important to belong to a confessional church. Louis Berkhof wrote a wonderful systematic theology. And he was a member of a three forms of unity reformed Church. And his writings were in accord with the confessions and Creeds of his church. But his systematic theology is not the official teaching of the church. No synod adopted it as such. That’s why it’s important to ask, what does our church teach? And that must be found in a confessional expression. So it’s irrelevant what John Piper teaches. It only matters if it’s in accord with the teaching of the church which it’s confession is a summary of the scripture which is the Canon that governs all. And it’s important, does he submit to the authority of a true church? It’s not important what a galaxy of so called reformed teach. It matters what the church teaches. And last I checked he was not a member of my Church.

    • Piper also teaches the ESS heresy, well, some believe to be, others not, but just to be surprised to see a new strain of Arians birthed from his teaching and he teaches much of the Montanist heresy as well as promote heretics of all stripes and just generally make a mess of so much.

  3. Thank you for this, Thomas. As long as we retain our Reformed confessions they are our authority for judging truth and error. The shared teaching of John Piper and the FV of a two stage justification, where final salvation depends on our works is soundly condemned by the Reformed confessions.

  4. The reason it is important to name Piper is because of his influence. He is hailed as the leader of the Young, Restless, “Reformed” or “New Calvinists”. Many think what he represents in his teaching is Reformed theology. The problem is that his theology is neither Reformed nor Calvinistic. He uses some of the same terms but that’s about as far as it goes.

    • Dear Bob,
      A very thoughtful insight! Though I am a bit removed from the US scene, I’m well aware of Piper’s great influence on three other continents. At least since Barth we all know that New or Neo means non-. Why else would a distinct name be invented? We sorely need accurate and historically faithful definitions of both Reformed and Calvinistic, of the kind that wouldn’t cause the Reformers turn in their graves (not that this would be possible)… I’m very grateful for Dr. Clark’s clarifying articles on the subject. He has also pointed out that some conservative Baptists (rightly) refrain from hijacking the term ‘Reformed’ (posted 23 Sep 2016). There are just too many (semi-)Arminian balls to keep under water—it can’t be done. I am also mindful of his recent Krauth citation (30 March) about the three stages of error in the church: Piper’s spin on WLC Q.1, on the established definition of hedonism, and on Jonathan Edwards’ writings has vied for (at least) equal rights in many circles.

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