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Things I Never Heard in Fundamentalism — Sanctification (5)


From the moment we stepped into other-than-fundamental churches, we’ve heard about grace. Not just grace at justification that saves us from hell fire, but grace at sanctification that keeps us close to God and growing in Him. A grace that is not earned — like a boss who passes out merit badges for my meeting quotas — but is lavishly and consistently given. It’s part of the all-things-new atmosphere — life-sustaining, nurturing, and satisfying. It’s that God-as-Loving-Father metaphor that dominates a grace-focused soteriology. But I’ve talked about all that before.

So it was in that spirit that our pastor quoted Steve Brown:

The greatest cause for our not getting better is our obsession with not getting better. There is a better way of getting better than trying harder. Sanctification becomes a reality in those believers who don’t obsess over their own sanctification. Holiness hardly ever becomes a reality until we care more about Jesus than about holiness (53).

Brown channels Luther when he defines sanctification as “getting used to being forgiven” since “people who are forgiven, generally get better . . . but they never get better enough to earn God’s love and grace.”

There’s more, of course. Lots more. And it’s so different. Before I heard sermons on “How to Get God’s Grace:”

Stubborn people have no grace. . . . God says, “if you wanna go down My path, I will give you all the grace you need. But if you wanna go down your path, I’ll let you go down that path. I will take away all the desire to do My will. I will take away all the power to do my will. And furthermore, while you’re going down that path, I’m gonna shoot at you! I will give grace only to the humble.”

Which, I’m discovering, is a page taken right out of Bill Gothard’s playbook (i.e. “The Umbrella of Protection,” “Circle of Blessing.”). Almost word-for-word. And from other moralistic legalists throughout the centuries. It’s our natural bent to think we can do this on our own and that God’s evil and tyrannical and vicious and limited by some arbitrary “umbrella” or “circle.”

But God’s not shooting at us. He’s carrying us. He’s not a mob boss or a prison guard. He’s our Daddy.

25 thoughts on “Things I Never Heard in Fundamentalism — Sanctification (5)

  1. The impression I always got growing up in fundamentalism is that Christ forgave all our sins before our conversion (excuse me, “before we got saved”), but after that, it’s all up to us. Any and all sins we commit after “getting saved” were held against us unless we asked for forgiveness for every one of them. Communion (er, “the Lord’s Supper”) was always a very fearful time for me; I remember always being afraid that there would be a sin that I forget to confess, and would therefore “be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27).

    “A grace that is not earned…but is lavishly and consistently given.” Exactly! As I’m still learning, this grace at sanctification is the most wonderful and freeing thing. Again, a great post. I am definitely looking forward to the rest of the series (even if reading this post just made my reading list even longer than it already is!).

  2. Wow! Bringing up communion. I certainly remember the periods of silence before the elements were passed out among the congregation. These moments were used for “self reflection” (whatever that means). Grace says take communion because Jesus told you to. Grace says come to the table because Christ sacrificed for us.

  3. I remember specifically being taught to use those moments of silence to confess any unconfessed sin, so as to avoid breaking 1 Corinthians 11:27. Definitely not grace! You’re right; we’re to “come to the table because Christ sacrificed for us.” That’s something I’m still in the process of learning (2+ decades of teaching – in IFB churches and an IFB college – can be hard break!)

  4. This is such a paradigm shift from fundamentalist thinking, it makes my head spin. Communion is many things. I believe in Sacramental theology, that is, that common elements become signs of God’s grace. In communion, the bread and cup become signs of the love and forgiveness offered by faith in Christ. Most fundamentalists have no idea about this.

    What makes me mad is how people talk and act as if they own grace. Grace belongs to God. It is God’s to dole out as God wills. Nobody, absolutely nobody can mete out grace for God.

  5. Right, right, right! Isn’t that the whole point of the Parable of the Workers? Where the Master doles out the same salary to the workers who came at the beginning of the day and those that came in the last 10 minutes? The Master says, “Hey — it’s my money/grace! I can do what I want with it!”

  6. You’re right. Grace, like just about every other element from our former religious lives, was used as a cudgel, a device, a tool for getting people to do something.


  7. just wanted to share an application from last week with you: “start acting as an endeared child of God (Abba) and not as an unrelated employee.”

  8. Pastor Peter preached a sermon on sanctification this Sunday from Romans 6. I’ll post the link once the audio is up. For someone with a Fundy background, it was water in a desert.

  9. “I’m going to shoot at you.”

    Niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiice!! Yeah, *that’s* the kind of grace I want! *eye roll*

  10. It’s the only kind of grace God offers. We never come to God “worthy.” We come to God forgiven. There is a difference. These moments of reflection during fundy communion to somehow make one worthy are exercises in futility. There is an old prayer of the Anglican church:
    “We do not presume to come to this, Thy table, merciful Lord trusting in our own righteousness, but in Thy manifold and great mercy. We are not worthy so much as to gather the crumbs under Thy table. … .”

  11. I’ve heard stories of Scottish Presbyterians who are so worried about the “examination” part before Communion that they never partake!! I can’t find the reference now. . . .

    To be honest, Dan, I still haven’t digested the differences with Communion. Even though the mechanics are similar (we’re still in the South, after all, and grape juice is preferred). There’s something different here. Something BIG. Grant has described it as more corporate. Communion is so individualistic (as you described) in our previous world. This is more all-of-us coming together to . . . commune with Christ! It’s more like a meal.

  12. Do all all come forward for Communion (like those “evil” Catholics)? All Reformed churches I’ve attended do. It does change the dynamics.

  13. I worked for a Lutheran in college who described the Baptist practice of communion as “toasting ‘Here’s to you, God’ with little shot glasses.”

    In reference to the bolded quote at the end of the “How to Get God’s Grace” sermon, when James said God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble, what does he (James not Berg) mean?

  14. Reformed Communion is being lifted up into the *real presence* of Christ who sits at the right hand of the father. We are all lifted up corporately and participate together in what is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, the wedding feast we all eagerly anticipate.

    Presbyterians used to come forward 12 at a time to sit at a table and partake of the elements together. Most of my in-an-actual-congregation experiences of Presby Communion involve the elements brought to us. In other-than-church contexts, sometimes people experiment with coming forward. It’s the former that always feels more communal to me. But I grew up as an “evil”, individualistic Catholic, coming forward for my own, personal token.

    I do like when there’s one big loaf to rip from, though. On Easter my husband broke the one loaf into 4 hunks that were then passed down the pews in a self-serve/rip kind of way. *That* was communal!

  15. Communion can be done differently in different churches. Sometimes it’s up to the pastor, sometimes the worship committee or even the session (Presbyterian) or Ad Council (Methodist) makes the decision. But, it is different. It’s basking in the spiritual presence of Christ – a Sacrament. There’s also a line of thought that communion is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet prepared for us since the world began.

  16. In reference to the bolded quote at the end of the “How to Get God’s Grace” sermon, when James said God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble, what does he (James not Berg) mean?

    Well, we know it’s not a conditional statement: “If you’re humble enough, you get God’s grace.” Because such a condition defies the very nature of grace (and the condition is not in the Text). That’s like saying, “If you clean the whole house, I’ll give you a gift.” Then that’s not a gift. That’s a reward or a salary or a carrot-on-a-stick.

    “Humble” is another way of saying that you recognize that you’re totally unable to save yourself. You can’t strive to prove you’re humble. You can’t work on your humility.

    James is quoting Proverbs 3:34. To say that this one proverb says the opposite of all of the Pauline epistles (especially Romans and Galatians) is to really miss the point.

  17. I’m trying to contrast your statement “You can’t work on your humility” with the James 4 verse:

    10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

    Not opposing you, just working it out.

    What do you make of it?

  18. Hey Beth. . . .

    That’s actually the verse we’re all exactly talking about. And working at humility is an oxymoron. Humility is the realization that your work and your efforts don’t work in God’s eyes. It’s realizing you’re not-God. To work at being humble would be like to boil water into ice.

    The Pharisee prays in the street so everyone can hear him. The publican prays in the closet so no one hears him but God. The first guy isn’t praying at all. He’s performing. The second guy is humble. And he’s not working at it either. . . . He just realizes it. The actions are just a natural result of the realization.

  19. So basically it’s me contrasting myself with God. Period.


    Hard to be anything but humble in that scenario, if I have a right view of God.

  20. I think humility is kinda like the fruit of the Spirit – they’re not something you work toward, they’re something you get. And you get it by drawing yourself closer to Christ.

  21. Hey Camille,
    Ive wanted to use this one liner, since reading a Focus on the Family article a few years ago about the umbrella theology of christians who have a ‘be pleaing to God’ fixation on perfectionistic submission and obedience to God, afraid God won’t protect them unless they do everything right , like, all the time!!!!

    Here it is! MY GOD ISN’T AN UMBRELLA! Aren’t you glad! He’s so much more interesting than a silly umbrella covering! I mean, what if it leaks! EEEK! He not only surrounds us with His protection which we do not have to earn by performance,see Psalm 91, GRACE is a free GIFT, see Galations, my favorite FREEDOM EPISTLE, He also woos us like a Bride Groom calling to His Bride in the wildnerness, when wer’e not even sancified yet! SEE HOSEA.

    Many years ago I wanted to, but did not have God’s permission, to attend a Gothard seminar. Boy, am I ever glad God restrained me! I only just recently foud out how strange his theology was! God’s faithful protection was there even when I didn’t know He was protecting me at the time! and I wasn’t even using anumbrella! Yikes! I guess the Gospel messagae really IS about freedom to live, to laugh, and get our life back again, as we have, since coming out into the light and truth of true freedom from those past religious chains people used to rattle at us, to frighten us into submission. Remember the scene in The Last Battle? Where the little animals are all crying with fear, because the bad Ape is making Puzzle the donkey, give false prophecies of doom and gloom to them in front of the false stable? CS Lewis painted such a sad picture of how innocent minded people who really only want to love, follow,, and serve God with all of their hearts, can get so easily caught up in a system of ‘things that bind them.’ Wer’e free! Isn’t it wonderful!

    During a previous election, some people wer’e so tired of religious fundamentalism of the religious right in Colorado, that they had bumper stickers which read “Focus On Your Own D—Family”. Isn’t God a better Father for us to listen to, than these parenting gurus? Barbara Quinn

  22. I’m fighting tears over here. Going through your “things I never heard” articles one by one, and feeling so blessed…like I’m seeing God clearly for the first time in a long time and not being afraid of Him but wanting desperately to be with Him. Thank you for documenting your journey and your thoughts.

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