False Gospels of Appalachia

Our church recently hosted an evangelism conference called The Proclaimer Conference. At this conference, I led a breakout session entitled False Gospels of Appalachia which focused on identifying and responding to false gospels which one may run into while sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in Appalachia. This breakout session was well-attended and well-received. My fear has been that people would attend my breakout only to satiate a curiosity about Appalachian culture. However, my goal has been to offer practical help for those sharing the gospel in a very religious (but not necessarily regenerate) American subculture. Due to time constraints, I had to limit my discussion to seven false gospels prominent in Appalachia (and particularly Central Appalachia). In the discussion of each false gospel, I provide a description, problems, typical indicators, Biblical and theological corrections, and a response. I’ve had a few people who could not attend the conference or the breakout session who asked for my notes and so I have decided to publish them here.

My original notes (which I provided for the attenders) were rough and needed some small revisions which I have made in what is provided here. As I continue to learn and teach on this topic, I will likely keep revising. These notes are not intended to be academic writing as they were prepared for presentation in the setting of a local church. As I taught the breakout, I added personal illustrations of dealing with these false gospels. My notes are largely based on my experience as an Appalachian pastor. I hope you find them to be helpful in considering how you share the gospel among this people group of whom some will join the eternal meta-cultural chorus for eternity (Revelation 5:9-10; 7:9-10), hopefully with mountain dulcimers, banjos, and fiddles in hand.

Discover the beauty of Appalachia on a Smoky Mountains hiking trip

False Gospels of Appalachia

Presented at Vansant Baptist Church in Vansant, VA for The Proclaimer Conference on June 28, 2019.

Introduction

Common Thinking Concerning Doctrine

  • “Our church doesn’t focus on doctrine we just worship the Lord.”
  • “Doctrine is divisive!”
  • “I don’t care much about studying doctrine. I want to get down to the practical.”
  • How do you react to the above statements?

New Testament Thinking Concerning Doctrine

  • 1 Timothy 4:16, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.”
  • Jude 3, “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”
  • 2 John 7-11, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.”
  • Galatians 1:6-9, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!”
  • Matthew 24:11, “Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.”
  • How important is doctrine according to Jesus, the Apostles, and the other NT writers?

False Gospels Prominent in Appalachia

  • The following is not a comprehensive list of the false gospels you will find in Appalachia.
    • Nor are all of these false gospels unique to Appalachian culture.
    • However, they tend to be prominent here.
  • When sharing the gospel, you will likely run into them.
    • Many of these false gospels are not always easy to recognize. Those who hold to them will make statements or actions that will feel odd to gospel-sharers. You will likely feel like “something is off but I just can’t place my finger on it.”
    • Remember, the best lies are those that are mixed with truth and twisted with truth.
    • e.g. – Genesis 3:1, 4
    • e.g.. – Luke 4:3, 6, 9-11 (cf. Psalm 91:11-12)

Easy Believism

  1. Description
    1. This false gospel teaches that salvation can come by faith (usually expressed through a prayer) that does not result in real life change.
    2. It rightly acknowledges that a person is justified by faith alone.
    3. Yet, it misunderstands the nature of faith and spiritual regeneration.
    4. Therefore, the faith it teaches is a false faith—an unbiblical kind of faith.
  2. Problem
    1. This false gospel gives a person false hope. He think because he ‘walked the aisle’ and ‘prayed a prayer’ he is right with God and is going to heaven. Therefore, the person has no urgency to become right with God.
    2. The lack of Biblical faith leaves the person in a state of lostness and under God’s wrath.
  3. Typical indicators
    1. A lack of repentance at the time of “decision” and a lack of life change after
    2. A disregard and neglect of the local church
    3. A life that is centered on something other than Christ
    4. A lack of concern for God’s will and obedience to God’s Word
    5. A conscience that lacks conviction when remaining in a sinful state
  4. Biblical and Theological Corrections
    1. Ezekiel 36:26-27, “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”
      1. Genuine faith is the means of salvation but not the cause of salvation
        1. God dispenses saving grace when a person genuinely trusts in Jesus
      2. Spiritual regeneration is the cause of salvation
        1. At the moment of faith, the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit into the heart of the new believer causing the immediate aspects of salvation to take place.
      3. Matthew 12:33-35, “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil.”
        1. Jesus expresses that a change of behavior gives evidence of one’s changed nature.
        2. One who remains the same after “making a decision for Christ,” has not placed Biblical faith in Jesus.
      4. Mark 8:34-37, “And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
        1. Biblical faith calls for and causes personal denial in order that God’s purposes might be fulfilled.
      5. Romans 10:9, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
        1. Paul reveals here that Biblical faith recognizes Jesus as both Lord and Savior.
        2. A person must come to Jesus on Jesus’ terms, not on man’s terms.
          1. In other words, Jesus is not like a lunch buffet—one cannot pick and choose what he wants Jesus to be.
          2. If Jesus is not Lord to a person, He will never be a Savior to that person.
        3. James 1: 26; 2:14, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless… What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?”
          1. Biblical faith results in behavior that is pleasing to God
        4. A good resource concerning genuine saving faith: Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards.
  5. Addressing the Heresy
    1. Call sinners to repentance
      1. Genuine saving faith always results in immediate repentance
    2. Be careful with the terms you use in speaking about salvation:
      1. “Faith” and “believe” are terms that have been appropriated in many ways in our culture and so have lost a great deal of power to communicate.
        1. “Trust” is term that better fits the Biblical idea of faith
      2. “Be saved” like the two previous terms has been widely appropriated and makes it difficult to communicate clearly.
        1. The person you’re sharing with may have a very different idea of “be saved” than you have.
        2. Also, if you use this term, you will need to explain it:
          1. Saved from what?
          2. By who?
          3. How?
      3. “Invite Jesus into your heart” cannot communicate the full significance of conversion.
        1. If you use this phrase, be sure to supplement it to include the other aspects of conversion.
      4. “Pray the prayer of salvation” may lead someone to think of prayer like a magical incantation which causes salvation.
        1. Be cautious in using this kind of language and explain that prayer is an expression of the faith.
        2. The prayer has no power in itself to save.
      5. “Surrender in faith” is a helpful expression which communicates well the ideas behind Biblical conversion to our culture.
      6. “Born again” can be a helpful term which is Biblical, communicates the change that happens, and can often open up the doors for a conversation.
        1. However, be ready to explain this term as it will often need unpacked.
    3. Be loving and honest.
      1. If someone is in the eternal danger of condemnation, we want warn them with love.
      2. It is sometimes appropriate to tell someone that his life does not match up with what the Bible says a saved person’s life will look like. God may use you to lead them to genuine salvation.
        1. 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?”

Additions to or Substitutions of Christ’s Work

Legalism

  1. Description
    1. Legalism is the requiring of (or belief in the requirement of) something in addition to faith in Jesus as a means to salvation.
      1. The requirement is typically a commandment of God which is turned into an attempt to earn favor with God. Appropriate obedience driven by gratitude for salvation has been abandoned.
    2. Legalism is not holding God’s commands in high regard and desiring to obey God. Nor is it expecting that churches and individual believers will desire to obey God’s commands. Obedience is an important sign of Biblical faith—not a sign of legalism.
    3. Whereas Easy Believism (at least practically) denies the necessity of work as evidence of salvation, legalism requires some sort of work as a means to salvation. Both heresies confuse the relationship of works and salvation.
  1. Problem
    1. Legalism underestimates the holiness and justice of God.
    2. Legalism denies the significance of original sin and the doctrine of total depravity resulting in an overestimation of mankind’s ability to obey God.
    3. Legalism does not acknowledge one of the primary functions of God’s Law—to reveal man’s inability to live up to God’s standards.
    4. This results in a denial of the sufficiency of Christ’s work.
    5. The faith that one has in Christ is not a Biblical faith and therefore, the person is still dead in his trespasses and sins and destined for condemnation.
  2. Typical Indicators
    1. A focus on one or a few acts of obedience (or added human rules) above all others
    2. A self-righteous attitude
    3. Lack of compassion toward those who genuinely trust in Jesus
    4. A prioritizing of seeing another condemned over guiding another to repentance and faith
      1. Think of the older brother in Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15)
  3. Biblical and Theological Corrections
    1. Galatians 2:16, “nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.”
      1. Context: Judaizers (a type of Judeo-Christian legalists) had entered the Galatian church and were teaching that faith and circumcision were both necessary in order to be right with God.
        1. Consider the similar problem in Colossae when Paul responded in Colossians 2:16-3:4.
      2. The term justified is dikaioō which means to make righteous or to declare innocent
      3. God requires a righteousness that we cannot attain on our own efforts
        1. This was Jesus’ point in Matthew 5:20, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”God imputes righteousness to those who surrender to Jesus in faith
    2. Galatians 3:2-5, “This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?”
      1. Paul’s argument here is that since a person can only come into a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus, the only way to continue in salvation is to have faith in Jesus.
    3. Galatians 3:21-22; 24, “For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe… Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”
      1. Paul continues his argument by explaining that the Mosaic Law was given to show mankind that we cannot earn God’s favor because we are unable to meet God’s standard.
      2. Therefore, the right response to the Mosaic Law is to humble oneself and cry out to God for a way of salvation. God provided the only way of salvation through Jesus Christ.
    4. Ephesians 2:8-10, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
      1. Paul briefly and clearly states that salvation cannot be merited by doing good works.
      2. Rather, salvation is attained only by grace provided through means of faith in Jesus.
      3. Verse ten explains that true salvation causes a person come under the craftsmanship of God in such a way that he is recreated into an obedient Jesus-follower.
  1. Addressing the Heresy:
    1. Explain the concept of grace thoroughly
      1. In the context of salvation, the Greek word grace (charis) speaks of God’s compassion and favor toward those who, realizing their inability to meet God’s standard, humbly trust in Jesus Christ.
      2. Grace, by its very nature, cannot be earned or merited.
    2. Explain that God’s standard for acceptance is perfect righteous motives, attitudes, and actions.
      1. Revelation 21:8, “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
        1. No one can say that he has always avoided these sins.
        2. Yet, those who have committed these sins will be eternally condemned.
      2. James 2:10-13, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.”
        1. James shows that, at the breaking of one command of God, the person has become a law-breaker to God.
      3. Guide the person to acknowledge that he has not met God’s standard
        1. The Ten Commandments can be helpful in this. Go through them one by one and ask the person if he has ever broken them, even once.
        2. Jesus used some of them in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) to help the people realize that they could not meet God’s righteous standard. He focused on the attitude of the heart which results in the fruit of disobedience to the commandments.

Moralistic Salvation

  1. Description
    1. Moralistic salvation is very much like the heresy of legalism.
      1. However, unlike legalism, moralistic salvation is more focused on interactions with other people rather than following God’s commands or man-made religious rules.
    2. Those who hold to a moralistic salvation believe that because they do not harm others and/or because they do good for others, God will accept them.
  2. Problem
    1. This heresy faces similar problems to legalism.
    2. God’s holiness and justice are severely underestimated.
    3. Man’s ability to be good and righteous is greatly overestimated.
    4. Those who hold this view think they do not need reconciliation with God because they do enough good to keep on God’s good side.
    5. As a result, they are children of God’s wrath and will be eternal condemned.
  3. Typical Indicators
    1. This type of heresy is common in civic organizations and fraternal orders.
    2. I often call this The Good Ol’ Boy Salvation.
    3. Those who hold to a moralistic salvation tend to focus on actions which are perceived as good in their community
    4. Likewise, they will avoid things that are perceived as bad or hurtful by their community.
    5. Because this heresy does not focus on God’s direction, it tends toward a pragmatic attitude (i.e. “Ends justify the means” or “Let’s do whatever it takes” or “it doesn’t matter how you do it as long as you get it done”)
    6. When asked about their need for salvation, those who hold this view may indicate that they’ve never done anything that bad or that they’ve never really hurt anyone.
  4. Biblical and Theological Corrections
    1. Genesis 3: the first man and woman rebelled against God which caused a comprehensive corruption to enter into creation and especially all of mankind.
    2. Romans 5:12, 15b,18a, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned… by the transgression of the one the many died…So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men”
      1. All mankind descended from Adam and Eve.
      2. Conception did not take place until after the Fall of Genesis 3.
      3. Therefore, all mankind inherited a sinful nature from the first parents.
      4. All mankind agrees with that sinful nature by committing sin.
    3. Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?”
    4. Isaiah 64:6, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”
      1. Mankind’s attitudes, beliefs, and actions are corrupted and unacceptable to God.
    5. Hebrews 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”
    6. God will accept no one apart from Biblical faith in Jesus Christ.
    7. Matthew 19:16-26: The rich young ruler thought of himself as a basically good person. Yet, Jesus showed him that His heart was not surrendered to God. He needed God to save and change Him.
    8. Romans 3:10-18: Paul quotes several OT passages to show the universality of mankind’s depravity.
  1. Addressing the Heresy
    1. This heresy can be addressed in the same way as legalism. However, it may be prudent to discuss grace after addressing God’s perfect standard and their inability to meet that standard.

Sacramental Salvation

  1. Description
    1. Sacramental salvation is a heresy in which one believes that God dispenses saving grace as the person participates in religious activities—especially activities known to these groups as sacraments or ordinances.
      1. Such activities seen to be the means of saving grace may include baptism, Lord’s Supper (aka Eucharist, Communion), foot washing, speaking in tongues (aka glossolalia), confession, confirmation, etc.
    2. Doctrinal Statements of those who espouse this heresy:
      1. “While, then, baptism is ordained for remission of sins, and for no other specific purpose, it is not as a procuring cause, as a meritorious or efficient cause, but as an instrumental cause, in which faith and repentance are developed and made fruitful and effectual in the changing of our state and spiritual relations to the Divine Persons whose names are put upon us in the very act” (Alexander Campbell, Christian Baptism, 256).
      2. “[T]he immediate duty of men pricked in the heart by a sense of guilt is to repent and be baptized; we would also know that this is what we are to do to be delivered from our guilt…remission of sins follows baptism, and is therefore to be expected by the baptized…the second blessing promised on condition of repentance and baptism, is the ‘gift of the Holy Spirit.’” (J.W. McGravy, New Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, 38-39).
      3. “The fourth and final condition for salvation in the NT age is baptism…Most importantly, we affirm that the clear and specific teaching of the NT is that baptism is the time during which God graciously bestows upon the sinner the double cure of salvation. As such it is a divinely appointed condition for salvation during this New Covenant Era” (Jack Cottrell, The Faith Once for All, 359-362).
      4. “The saving gospel is the good news that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again. We obey the gospel (II Thessalonians 1:8; I Peter 4:17) by repentance (death to sin), water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ (burial), and the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the initial sign of speaking in tongues as the Spirit gives the utterance (resurrection). (See I Corinthians 15:1-4; Acts 2:4, 37-39; Romans 6:3-4.)” (Our Beliefs, https://www.upci.org/about/our-beliefs, retrieved on June 28, 2019).
      5. “SALVATION consists of deliverance from sin through the blood of Christ. This is accomplished by REPENTANCE from sin, WATER BAPTISM IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST for the remission (forgiveness) of sins, and receiving the BAPTISM OF THE HOLY GHOST with the evidence of speaking in other tongues, and the continuance of a godly life (Acts 2:26-41)” (Doctrine Statement, http://aljc.org/doctrine-statement, retrieved on June 28, 2019).
  1. Problem
    1. The participant must do something more (other than trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior) in order to coax God into saving him.
    2. This heresy rejects the sufficiency of Christ’s work
      1. Jesus’ death and resurrection were not enough to earn a sinner’s salvation
      2. Jesus’ ability as High Priest is often rejected
        1. Another mediator is needed between God and man.
        2. Either a church or a minister becomes the mediator between God and the sinner.
  2. Typical Indicators
    1. Requiring a process in which one must go through before being declared “saved.”
      1. This process is often communicated as certain “conditions” of salvation.
    2. The belief that salvation is attained at the “occasion” of the religious act rather than at the time one places faith in Jesus.
    3. An overemphasis upon “the church” in the process of salvation.
      1. The church is typically underemphasized in American culture at large in a very unbiblical way, yet with some of these groups, the church is necessary in imparting salvation upon the candidate.
  3. Biblical and Theological Corrections
    1. Some of these groups point to the book of Acts in order to give Biblical evidence for their conditions for salvation.
      1. However, they confuse Luke’s intention in writing Acts.
        1. They often treat Acts as a Treatise on the doctrine of salvation.
        2. Rather, Luke’s intention is to show Christ’s work continued by the Holy Spirit through the church.
        3. In the book of Acts, Luke reveals a close association between faith, repentance, receiving the Holy Spirit, baptism, and forgiveness of sins. However, Luke portrays these aspects of Christian faith in differing orders throughout Acts.
        4. Luke was not attempting to give conditions or to teach the process of salvation in the kind of way that Paul does in Romans.
    2. Titus 3:5-7, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
      1. Paul reminds the church in Crete (through Titus) that salvation is bestowed not through works we do but by God’s grace.
      2. Here, Paul uses the image of washing to portray salvation.
        1. This provides evidence that ritual washings such as baptism are symbols (not conditions) of the spiritual reality—a cleansing of the soul by the Holy Spirit.
    3. 1 Timothy 2:5-6, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.”
      1. Since there is one mediator between God and man—Jesus Christ, any doctrine of salvation which promotes a person other than Christ or a group of people who must perform an act upon the sinner for salvation to be enacted, rejects Christ as a sufficient High Priest and offers up a false and ineffective mediator.
    4. Romans 4:4-5, “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.”
      1. Paul is explaining that God’s covenant signs do not act as a means of salvation.
      2. Rather, faith alone is the means of salvation.
      3. Paul uses Abraham as an example that God imputes righteousness unto salvation at the time of the sinner’s faith. The sign of that salvation (in Abraham’s case, circumcision) only comes after faith begins and only after salvation has been granted.
  1. Addressing the Heresy
    1. Explain the sufficiency of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for salvation.
      1. While most of these groups state this explicitly, their practice and teachings regarding appropriating salvation contradict these statements.
    2. Focus on passages that address faith in Jesus as opposed to works, covenant signs, or religious actions, as the means for obtaining salvation.
    3. Refute the claim that Luke is attempting to show the procedure for procuring salvation in the book of Acts.
      1. New Testament scholar Robert Stein provides a helpful analogy of Luke’s portrayal of salvation and the events associated with salvation in Acts. He describes salvation in Acts as a wedding. Many elements are part of the ceremony and wedding day (weddings clothes, wedding party, walking down the aisle, wedding music, the exchanging of rings, the reception). Yet, these elements do not make two people married. One event amidst all of these creates a life-long marriage—the covenant vows. In the similar way, faith is like the vow. It is the means of being saved. Baptism is like the exchanging of the rings—a sign of the covenant but not the means for making the covenant. (Robert Stein, “Baptism in Luke-Acts” in Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, edited by Thomas Schreiner and Shawn Wright).

Universalism

  1. Description
    1. Universalism is the belief that God will eventually save everyone.
    2. Such a belief makes faith in Jesus unnecessary for salvation.
    3. In central Appalachia, Primitive Baptist Universalists (PBU) teach this doctrine.
      1. There are only four PBU associations: Regular Primite Baptist Washington District Association, the Three Forks of Powell’s River Regular Primitive Baptist Association, and two Elkhorn Primitive Baptist Associations.
      2. PBU churches exist in the Southwest Virginia Counties of Buchanan, Tazwell, Russell, Dickenson, Wise, Scott, and Lee
    4. The other PBU churches can be found in the greater Tri-cities area of Northeastern Tennessee, Letcher County, KY, and McDowell and Greenbrier Counties in WV.
    5. PBU beliefs:
      1. PBU churches do not believe in a real, personal Satan. Instead, Satan is natural man fighting against spiritual man.
      2. God’s punishment for sin is only given in the present world and time. Hell is the suffering which mankind undergoes while on earth. Hell is not an eternal reality.
        1. This doctrine is while they are called “No-Hellers.” Yet, PBU churches consider this term a misnomer.
      3. Mankind is sinful and needs salvation which is only provided by the atonement of Jesus.
      4. Yet, Jesus’ atonement is universally applied to all mankind, regardless of faith.
      5. Therefore, all mankind will live in heaven.
      6. For more information, see Howard Dorgan’s In the Hands of a Happy God: The “No-Hellers” of Central Appalachia which can be checked out of the Buchanan County Library.
  2. Not all Primitive Baptists are PBU—only the ones mentioned above.
    1. Primitive Baptist churches began in the 1820s, influenced by the teachings of Daniel Parker as a reaction against the missionary movement.
      1. Parker taught that there were “two seeds” one from Adam from which the elect came, and one from the serpent from which the reprobate (those who were predestined by God for Hell) came.
    2. The tenants that would give rise to Primitive Baptists churches were laid out in the Black Rock address of 1832.
  3. In the first decade of the 20th Century, Primitive Baptists rebuked one of the churches and elders for preaching universalism.
    1. “Resolved, that whereas, we have been troubled with the doctrine of universalism that we advise the churches that if they have any elders preaching such heresies, or members arguing it, that they admonish them to quit preaching it or talking it, and if they fail to hear them to withdraw fellowship from such, and especially we admonish Hale Creek church to admonish Elder M.L. Compton to refrain from such doctrine” (Minutes of the Washington District Primitive Baptist Association, 1907).
    2. Hale Creek Church is just a few miles East of Vansant. This false gospel (a type of universalism) started just a couple miles from our church!
    3. In 1924, the Washington District Association of Primitive Baptists split into “Heller” and “No-Heller” sides. The PBU denomination was born. Among the Universalist congregations were: Hale Creek, Jerusalem, Looney’s Creek, New Garden, Pilgrim’s Rest, Prater Creek, Salem, Slate Creek, and Sumac Grove (Dorgan, In the Hands of a Happy God, 60).
  1. Problem
    1. PBU underestimates the holiness and justice of God.
    2. It also removes the urgency of the gospel message.
    3. The preaching of the gospel becomes unnecessary.
    4. PBU preaches a god of its own imagination rather than the holy and just God of the Bible.
  2. Typical Indicators
    1. A lack of urgency for the gospel message and salvation of souls.
    2. Unbiblical statements about Hell and the extent and appropriation of Christ’s atonement.
  3. Biblical and Theological Corrections
    1. Psalm 2:5-9, 12, “Then He will speak to them in His anger And terrify them in His fury, saying, “But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain. ‘I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. ‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Your possession. ‘You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware.’… Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, For His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!’
      1. Psalm 2 reveals a just and holy God who will significantly punish those who do not worship His Son.
      2. The “temporal Hell” of PBU is not as significant a punishment of which the Bible speaks.
    2. Proverbs 29:11, “Assuredly, the evil man will not go unpunished, But the descendants of the righteous will be delivered.”
      1. Consistent with Biblical teaching elsewhere, those who are not changed from their original evil nature will be punished.
    3. Matthew 25:31-33, 41, 46, “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left… “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels… These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
      1. Jesus taught of an eternal condemnation in which He will judge and condemn those who do not belong to Him.
    4. Revelation 20:14-15, “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
      1. John reveals a final judgment of all mankind in which those who have not received Christ are thrown into the eternal lake of fire to be tormented alongside Satan, the beast, and the false prophet.
    5. 1 John 2:1-2, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”
      1. While John may appear to teach a universalism here, as he teaches that Jesus’ death was for the whole world, elsewhere John made clear that such an atonement can only be appropriated by placing faith in Jesus.
      2. John 20:31, “but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”
    6. Romans 5:1-2, Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.”
      1. Justification is only appropriated through faith.
  4. Addressing the Heresy:
    1. Focus on the perfect justice and holiness of God.
    2. Explain from the Scriptures the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
    3. Finally, direct them to the clear teachings of Jesus on an eternal Hell.

Denials of the Trinity

Oneness Pentecostalism

  1. Description
    1. Oneness Pentecostalism (often known as “Jesus Only” is different than many forms of Unitarianism.
      1. Most forms of Unitarianism deny the divinity of Jesus Christ in some way or another.
      2. Oneness Pentecostalism is a form of modalism in which One God, who is one person, presents Himself in different roles.
    2. Some Oneness Pentecostal Statements:
      1. “There is only ONE GOD: the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and of all mankind. This One God, the I AM, is manifested (revealed) to mankind as FATHER (Creator), SON (Savior, 1 Jn.5:20), and HOLY GHOST (indwelling Spirit, Rom. 8:11). God is a Spirit (John 4:24), the Eternal One, the Creator of all things, and of all men. Thus making Him their Father (through creation, Malachi 2:10). The LORD is the FIRST and the LAST, and beside Him there is no God (Isa. 44:6)… The Holy Ghost is not the third person in the Godhead! The Holy Ghost is the Spirit, Jesus Christ coming to dwell in the hearts and lives of those who receive him. That is why, when speaking of the Spirit, Jesus said “I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you” (John 14:16-26; Rom 8:9; 2 Cor.13:5). So, THERE ARE NOT THREE PERSONS IN GOD, but three manifestations of the ONE GOD. God is the Savior, and his saving name is now revealed to men as JESUS. Therefore JESUS is the name of God. SALVATION consists of deliverance from sin through the blood of Christ. This is accomplished by REPENTANCE from sin, WATER BAPTISM IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST for the remission (forgiveness) of sins, and receiving the BAPTISM OF THE HOLY GHOST with the evidence of speaking in other tongues, and the continuance of a godly life (Acts 2:26-41)” (Doctrine Statement, http://aljc.org/doctrine-statement/, retrieved on June 28, 2019).
      2. “The beautiful message of Scripture is that our Creator became our Savior. The God against whom we sinned is the One who forgives us. God loved us so much that He came in flesh to save us. He gave of Himself; He did not send someone else. Moreover, our Creator-Savior is also the indwelling Spirit who is ever-present to help us. God told us how to live and then came to live among us. He showed us how to live in the flesh and laid down His human life to purchase our salvation. Now He abides within us and enables us to live according to His will. Jesus Christ is the one God incarnate, and in Him we have everything we need: healing, deliverance, victory, and salvation (Colossians 2:9-10). By recognizing the almighty God in Jesus Christ, we restore correct biblical belief and experience apostolic power” (About Oneness Pentecostalism, http://www.upci.org/about/about-oneness-pentecostalism, retrieved on June 28, 2019).
    3. According to Tal Davis, of the North American Mission Board, Oneness Pentecostal movements teach that to receive and maintain salvation, a person must:
      1. Place faith in Jesus only: “Oneness teachers would agree that salvation requires putting one’s full faith in the Jesus of Oneness doctrine, that is the Jesus who is the totality of the Godhead, who died on the cross as an atonement for sin, and who rose again from the dead.”
      2. Repentance and Baptism in the “Name of Jesus”
      3. Speaking in Tongues
      4. Adherence to Holiness Standards
      5. From Tal David, Oneness Pentecostalism, https://www.namb.net/apologetics-blog/oneness-pentecostalism/, retrieved on June 28, 2019).
  1. Problem
    1. A concept of God which is contrary to the God of the Bible is an idol created by man.
      1. As such, idols cannot save.
    2. The god preached by Oneness Pentecostalism has no ability to save because it presents a false Christ—an antichrist.
    3. Therefore, those trusting in this doctrine are still in sin and awaiting condemnation.
  2. Typical Indicators
    1. Baptism “in the name of Jesus”
    2. A focus on Jesus to the neglect of the Father and the Spirit
    3. A belief that the Father and the Spirit are merely manifestations of Jesus.
  3. Biblical and Theological Corrections:
    1. Genesis 1:1-3, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.”
    2. John 1:1-3, 18, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being… No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”
      1. In the Creation account (and John’s retelling of the Creation account) three distinct Persons are present at the same time.
      2. The Father is the Author of creation, speaking His plan.
      3. The Son is the Agent of creation, the Word who comes from the mouth of the Father to do His will.
      4. The Spirit is the Administrator of creation, hovering over like a mother eagle over her nest, ensuring that everything created thing is obeying the Father’s will and the Son’s work.
    3. Psalm 2 and Psalm 110: presents a conversation between the Father and the Son.
    4. Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
      1. Jesus commanded His Apostles, the foundation of the church, to baptism with the Trinitarian formula—a formula that clearly conveys the same nature and distinct persons of the Father, Son, and Spirit.
  1. Addressing the Heresy
    1. Orthodox Christianity has clearly agreed on the Trinity since the early years of the church and taught that God exists (not merely manifests Himself) as three co-eternal, co-equal persons who are distinct, yet unified.
    2. The early church gathered in four councils (called the Christological councils) and decisively dealt with Unitarian thinking and other forms of heresies surrounding Jesus Christ and the Trinity. The councils are: Nicaea (AD 325), Constantinople (AD 381), Ephesus (AD 431), and Chalcedon (AD 451).
    3. The council of Nicaea expressed a Creed to summarize the Bible’s teaching in regard to Christ: “We believe in one God, the Father All Governing, Creator of all things visible and invisible; And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father as only begotten, that is, from the essence of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not created, of the same essence as the Father, through whom all things came into being, both in heaven and earth; Who for us men and for our salvation came down and was incarnate, becoming human. He suffered and the third day he rose, and ascended into the heavens. And he will come to judge both the living and the dead.,.” (Found in Daniel Akin, A Theology for the Church, 526).
    4. When addressing this heresy, walk through passages of Scripture which portray God as three distinct Persons, yet One God.
    5. The OT word for “One” (echād) was often used to express a complex unity in which two or more persons were joined together as one unit. (cf. Deuteronomy 6:4, Genesis 2:24).

Jesus as God’s Son but not God

  1. Description
    1. These heresies are found in the cults of Jehovah’s Witnesses and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons).
    2. They reject the deity of Jesus Christ and therefore, the Trinity.
  2. Problem
    1. Jesus’ divinity is necessary for salvation
    2. Sin against an eternal God requires an eternal punishment.
    3. Only an eternal being (past and future) could pay the penalty for eternal punishments.
    4. Jesus’ divinity, which includes His eternality, is necessary for our salvation.
    5. This heresy is a modern-day version of the ancient heresy of Arianism
      1. This heresy was the catalyst for the Council of Nicaea (AD 325).
      2. The council decreed, “But, those who say, Once he was not, or he was not before his generation or he came to be out of nothing, or who assert that he, the Son of God, is of a differently hypostasis or ousia (substance) , or that he is a creature, or changeable, or mutable, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes them” (Found in Daniel Akin, A Theology for the Church, 526).
    6. Because those who espouse this heresy have a god who is unable to save, they usually resort to some sort of legalism for salvation.
  1. Typical Indicators
    1. Speaking of Jesus as God’s Son but not God.
    2. An emphasis on works required for salvation.
  2. Biblical and Theological Corrections
    1. See John 1:1-4
    2. Philippians 2:5-10, “Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
    3. Colossians 1:15-20, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.”
    4. Hebrews 1:1-4, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,  having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.”
    5. In these passages, Jesus is clearly portrayed as being, by nature, God and therefore is eternal, equal, and of the same substance as the Father and the Spirit.
  3. Addressing the Heresy
    1. Most who espouse this doctrine try not to focus on it in conversations.
    2. Keep them on this issue and do not get side tracked on lesser topics.
      1. Their legalistic salvation flows from their misunderstanding of Christ.
    3. Focus on the passages that express the divinity of Christ and the Trinity.
    4. Direct them to consider the logic of their doctrine in relation to God’s Word.
      1. Remember, Jesus is called the Only Begotten of God, not because He was born to the Father but because His nature is the same as the Father’s.
      2. When a being has an offspring, that offspring is always of the same nature as its parents.
      3. In the same way, Jesus is the same nature as the Father.

Conclusion

Exercise: Identify the False Gospel:

  1. Are you sure you would go to heaven if you died today?
    1. “I’ve never really hurt anyone.”
    2. ____________________________________
  2. Have you been saved?
    1. “Yes! I was baptized ten years ago.”
    2. ____________________________________
  3. Have you asked Jesus into your heart?
    1. “I did when I was a kid at Vacation Bible School. I haven’t gone to church in a long time but I’m sure glad I prayed that prayer!”
    2. ____________________________________
  4. If you were to die today, are you sure that you wouldn’t go to Hell?
    1. “I am. Hell is the suffering we experience here.”
    2. ____________________________________
  5. Are you right with God?
    1. “I was baptized in the name of Jesus”
    2. ___________________________________
  6. Do you have a saving relationship with God?
    1. “Yes, I’ve always obeyed the ten commandments”
    2. ____________________________________
  7. Are you certain that you’re saved?
    1. “I do a lot for God. I’m trying to be like Jesus.”
    2. ___________________________________

Paul’s Farwell to the Ephesian Pastors as a Warning to Us

Acts 20:29-32, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

Prayer

 

 

Additional Notes:

 

Helpful Links:

https://www.ligonier.org/blog/3-types-legalism/

https://www.namb.net/apologetics-blog/oneness-pentecostalism/

https://www.appalachianhistory.net/2017/06/hellers-or-no-hellers.html

https://www.amazon.com/Hands-Happy-God-No-Hellers-Appalachia/dp/0870499629

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