Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Ricky Harcrow on the Means of Salvation

I have been receiving the Banner of Love periodical for quite some time now.  Someone obviously paid for my subscription ever since I departed the Primitive Baptists, all in an obvious effort to save me from my new-found Calvinistic beliefs.  Yet if there’s one thing I’ve learned since I have been receiving it, it is this.  The periodical devotes much of its time to propagating the distinct views of Hardshellism.  In many of the issues can be found an article or some short excerpt supporting their anti-means doctrine.  It has gotten to the point that when I receive a new one I immediately start looking for the “Bash Calvinism” feature of the month.

On the front cover of the December 2014 issue is an article entitled “The means of salvation” by Elder Ricky Harcrow, in which he gives his views on what I claim is the chief error of Hardshellism.   I’ve been in the company of Elder Harcrow on a few occasions, and must say that I always enjoyed his preaching and found him to be a very intelligent individual.  Sadly though, in this article is given a typical apologetic against the gospel means doctrine, and I feel compelled to correct these falsehoods and misrepresentations.

Harcrow wrote:

“I have been asked to give my views on the ‘means’ doctrine that so pervades the religious systems of our land today."

Correct. The gospel means doctrine does pervade the “religious systems” but not just those of today.  It is seen all throughout history, in particular Baptist history, which should give the author and his denomination reason to question their claim of being Primitive on this issue, instead of just assuming it to be the case.  And it pervades it, not because it is wicked leaven as the author wants to suggest, but rather a fundamental truth of the gospel.  Most all orthodox Christians, whether they incline towards an Arminian or Calvinistic way of thinking, feel that it is their responsibility to tell men to repent and believe in Christ, and that God saves through such.  Can the overwhelming majority of Christians for centuries be wrong on the very basic concept of witnessing to the lost?  Instead, they are to give the cold shoulder to anyone in their sins and wait for them to get some sort of feeling.  Then, and only then, can they be told about Christ?

Harcrow wrote:

“I think we have time after time given our views and the views of our people on such but perhaps the inquirer has not read such from our pen or other writings.”

What the inquirer really needs to know is that the pen of Primitive Baptists is writing something differently now than it did once before.  Were he to read after the pen of men who lived in the 1800s he would see that they generally believed in gospel means, the predestination of all things, and that perseverance was an acceptable term describing the security of the saints.  It was only towards the end of this period that these truths were exchanged for the entirely new conditional time salvation paradigm.  From what Elder Harcrow states later in his article, it seems that he has some particular inquirer in mind.  If so, maybe this person will stumble across this blog and be able to see the true, authentic Old Baptist position upheld!  He could see the much broader "views of our people", and not just those cut from the 20th century Conditionalist cloth!  He would get to see the “other writings” of men such as John Leland, Clark, Watson, and many others!

Harcrow wrote:

“We preach that the work of Christ through his shed blood is the means or avenue by which all sinners are saved and fitted for that place called heaven.”

In this statement and the one which follows Elder Harcrow’s strategy is to narrow the subject to deal specifically with the matter of redemption by stating that the blood of Christ is the means by which sinners are saved.  This allows him to then falsely portray anyone who believes in gospel means as either not believing this or that they are undermining the blood of Christ by giving the Word an undue place in the saving of lost souls.  Can the author or any of his contemporaries cite the name of a single “gospel regenerationist” who does not also preach that the blood of Christ is a means by which sinners are saved?  I say “a means” as opposed to “the means”, for the author’s intent seems to be that of convincing his audience that the death and blood of Christ are the ONLY means of salvation.  This is true in one sense, and not true in another.

Hmm.  What if I were to say that the electing grace of God is the means by which sinners are saved?  Or that the Holy Spirit alone is the means by which sinners are regenerated?  Or that the “direct voice” of Jesus is the means by which dead sinners come to life?  My confused friends, do you not believe that these also can be called means of salvation? They aren’t objections or additions to the blood of Christ being THE MEANS of salvation, are they?  No, they’re not.  Why?  Because there are other doctrines which serve to make up the grand subject of salvation.  One cannot dismiss gospel means by confining the discussion to that of redemption, but we most look at other areas, mainly regeneration and sanctification, for those too are necessities in a sinner’s salvation. “The redemption wrought and procured by the blood of Christ is the procuring cause (emphasis mine – KF) of all this  (John Owen).”  It is the means which procures all other means (e.g. effectual calling, regeneration, justification, sanctification, faith, repentance, holiness) which are needed to make the people of God fit for heaven.

Harcrow wrote:

“Those who shall be saved were ordained to that great end by an act of God as the great architect of salvation.  Hebrews 9:15 says, ‘And for this cause He is the mediator of the New Testament, that by MEANS of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are CALLED might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.

Here we are told in no uncertain terms that by Means of DEATH…..they which are called (and no other) might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.”

What a weak argument this is.  For two reasons.  Simply emphasizing a text where the word ‘MEANS’ expressly occurs is no sufficient argument that this is the only place where the subject can be debated, any more than having to see the expression “Holy Trinity” in a text to argue for a Triune God.  If a bible text reveals that someone or something is to be the manner by which an end is realized, then that thing necessarily becomes the means by which it is brought to pass.  This is how we can say that Moses was the means by which Israel was delivered from Egypt, Joshua the means by which they conquered Canaan, the prophets the means by which the Word of God was conveyed to His people, the clay and spittle the means by which the blind man received sight, etc.  Moreover, the New Testament writers use specific prepositions that suggest the use of means: by, with, and through.  We are called by the gospel (2 Thes. 2:13), begotten with the word of truth (James 1:18), born again by the word of God (1 Peter 1:23) and so forth.  That which follows the preposition is the means by which the event transpires.

Secondly, it is a weak argument for it ignores the biblical texts where the means doctrine is to be found.  The Hardshell objection is specifically towards 1) gospel regeneration and 2) the certainty that the regenerate will be converted by the gospel.  But as mentioned above, Elder Harcrow cited Heb. 9:15, narrowing the issue to the means of redemption, which is only one chapter in the story of salvation. In order to refute the gospel means position, one must address those passages where the gospel appears to be the means of regeneration and the means of sanctification, additional steps in the order of salvation.  If the declaration that by means of death is sufficient to debunk the gospel means position, then why the need for the Hardshells to abuse and twist the language of such passages as Romans 1:16, James 1:18, 1 Peter 1:23 for the past century?  Would not simply saying that the death and blood of Christ is the means of redemption be enough to end the debate? I am quite sure the elder has his opinion on these passages, and I’m about 99% sure of what they would be.  The point, though, is that he doesn’t cite them in this article.  Consequently, the gospel means position is not really being addressed, much less refuted.

In addition, the author’s argument is partially contradictory for after intending to show that the debate can be settled by citing the death and blood of Christ as the means for redemption he proves that the discussion must move beyond this by stating sinners must be called!

they which are called (and no other) might receive the promise of eternal inheritance”.  

Now here is where we can approach and discuss the matter of gospel means because he has introduced a subject around which the matter circulates. The elect must not only be redeemed, but called! And that call must take place in a certain way.  Whichever way it is becomes the means by which it occurs.  It is either by the Holy Spirit alone, the Word alone, or the Spirit and the Word.  What saith the scripture in answer to this question?  It says this:

“Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” (Rom. 8:30)

And this:

“But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:

Whereunto he called you by our gospel (emphasis mine – KF), to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thes. 2:13-14)

Thus, we are called by God in conjunction with the gospel.

Harcrow wrote:

“Those who believe that God regenerates (St. Jn. 6:63), quickens (Eph. 2:21), and communicates (2nd Tim. 1:9) eternal life through MEANS of the Holy Spirit, independent of the MEANS of men or of second causes, ask for no stronger testimony other than that found in the word of God.”

Well that's the question isn't it?  What is indeed "found in the word of God"?  As a former teacher within this order, I claim that the anti-means doctrine is not found in the word of God.  It is found rather in a set of preconceptions and premises which have been ingrained in the Hardshell mind.  This Primitive Baptist Grid is forcefully imposed upon the Bible each and every time a text emphasizing man's responsibility to his Maker is confronted.  The text is twisted and made to harmonize with the premise that has been judged in advance to be true.  We cite a couple of examples. 

1)     If a text mentions somebody “doing something” to be saved, then it can’t be eternal salvation.
      2)     If a gospel command is given, then the recipient must “already” be regenerated.

Eisegesis, not exegesis, is what is required to glean the anti-means theory from scripture. None of the passages cited by the author refute the gospel means position.  John 6:63 actually teaches the opposite.  Eph. 2:21 is not even dealing with regeneration. And 2nd Tim. 1:9 simply says that God calls His people with an holy calling, but does not address the matter of how the call takes place. We have to turn to other places in scripture to find the answer.

Harcrow wrote:

“The gentleman who asks the questions to me says that our old fathers believed in ‘GOSPEL MEANS AFTER A FASHION’.  I concede I do not understand who he was speaking of and he does not say.”

I would like to know more about this gentleman who asks this question for he is absolutely correct!  Who is he and where is from?  Is he himself one among them who has come to see the truth of gospel means and the history of the denomination?  Or an outsider who simply knows Baptist history fairly well?  Our ‘old fathers’, whether it be referring to the Baptists prior to the 1832 split or the 19th century Primitive Baptists themselves did most certainly believe in gospel means.  This fact raised by the gentleman utterly annihilates any claim to church succession by either the author or his order! The author concedes that he does not know of whom the gentleman is speaking.  If this is an honest, humble confession, then it is also a sad one, for it becomes an expression of the general ignorance that prevails in the order with regards to its own history.  But this should not be. It’s a very simple thing, for example, to read the Black Rock Address and see how the brethren, despite objections to mission methodology, nevertheless handled gospel means passages within an eternal context. And Elder John Watson’s The Old Baptist Test is the ultimate proof that gospel means was the original accepted position.

I’m particularly interested that the gentleman said our fathers believed in GOSPEL MEANS AFTER A FASHION!  Although this may be unclear to some I have a pretty good guess what he means.  The first generation of Hardshells did not believe in “gospel regeneration” but rather believed in a “gospel conversion” that was certain to follow. To them, conversion was no mere optional time salvation, but the completion of an event which had begun in regeneration. Though they agreed that regeneration was immediate, accomplished by the Spirit alone or the direct literal voice of Jesus, they nevertheless believed that conversion was certain to occur at some juncture, bringing all the elect to a real living acquaintance with the Savior.  Thus, they believed in GOSPEL MEANS AFTER A FASHION!  It was as certain to the people of God as was their election, redemption, and regeneration.

If I have understood the gentleman’s language correctly, then he should very thankful that he has been blessed to learn something few others have.

Harcrow wrote:

“However, I may have read after someone who claimed the name Old School or Primitive Baptist that did believe and preach the GOSPEL MEANS DOCTRINE TO SOME DEGREE.  I, personally, have known some along the way.  Many good and able men have gone into error and I confess that any of us are not above such.  I just pray that we may be spared from such a direction.”

So the litmus test for being an Old School Baptist is if they are anti-means?  In that case, no one prior to the time this objection began to dominate the order can be called an Old Baptist.  The Black Rock brethren, Elder John Leland, Samuel Trott, Gilbert Beebe, the Kehukee Assocation, etc.  None of these were Old Baptists?  Again, what does this do to any claim to church succession?

He prays that they be spared from going the direction of Means doctrine.  And I would pray that they be spared from going into Arminianism, Pelagianism, Free-Willism, Antinomianism, Legalism, No-Hellism, and Quasi-Universalism, but their acceptance of the conditional time salvation paradigm has already landed them in the middle of it all.

Harcrow wrote:

“What then is the gospel?  That is the question.  What power does the gospel possess? I say it (the gospel) is the POWER OF GOD to everyone that believes.  It is the message of Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God. It is the Gospel that is the power of God unto Salvation to everyone that is born again.”

Let me express it in the usual way that Hardshells understand this text.  The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that possesses “seed faith”.  It has the power to give a timely salvation to the one who currently has faith below the level of consciousness; a non-cognitive faith which knows nothing and is directed at nothing.  Yet the text affirms that it is the power of God unto salvation to EVERYONE that believeth. So even if we were to espouse this absolutely ludicrous interpretation of Romans 1:16 it would nevertheless affirm the evangelization of all the elect!  The gospel saves EVERYONE that believeth.  Or, in the Hardshell manner, it saves EVERYONE that has “seed faith”. Not just some, or a “few”.

Furthermore, if the gospel is the POWER OF GOD to the man “already regenerated” how can it be said that he may reject this message?  Does the power of God succumb to the power of man in this instance?  This is a glaring problem for the Hardshells who deny that gospel conversion is an act of God, but something made effectual or not based on the free-will of the regenerate.

Harcrow wrote:

"Jesus instructed his apostles to ‘Preach the Gospel to every creature’.  Mark 16:15-16.  That the preaching of the gospel is ordained by Christ there is no argument or doubt; it was and is.  It was to be preached, but it was not designed as a MEANS for the regeneration of sinners.  The Bible says, ‘And they went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word signs following. Amen.’  That Jesus called, qualified, sent forth, went with and worked with his apostles with signs, etc. NONE will dispute; but that this display of his power and Godhead either says or implies that God is in need of a MEANS or anything else to secure the great work of salvation, we deny."  

Question sir. Did God NEED to use Moses to deliver Israel?  Did God NEED for Israel to walk around Jericho seven times before the city could be taken?  Did He NEED men such as Paul and Peter to pen down the Bible?  Did all the Israelites who fought battles in Canaan HELP God secure the victory? Did He NEED the assistance of the tree in order to make sweet Marah’s bitter streams? I see this weak argument and caricature all the time in Hardshell apologetics.  They have adopted the premise that if any instrument is used in performing some event, then this means that God requires help. What usually follows is an appeal to Isaiah 63:5 where the prophet shows God looking but finding none to help, and then use this as an argument that God doesn’t need the gospel or its proclaimers to help Him save His people.

How many times must we respond to this misrepresentation?  God uses instruments, not because He lacks the power to carry it out in a direct manner, but because He has ordained it to occur this way.  How foolish would it be to say that since God is deficient in power that He must use the sun in order to assist Him in granting light to His creation?  Or that God requires the help of the male/female union in order to bring His people into the world because He lacks the power to just cause them to sprout out of the ground like hobbits?

Are these things not so simply because God chose it to be that way? Do you see?  The subject of gospel means is not a question of God’s power, but a question of how He has chosen to operate.  Thus, the lost NEED to hear the gospel, not because of any want of divine power, but because this is the manner revealed in the scripture by which the effectual call transpires. We "Means" Baptists, the real "Old" Baptists, have no spirit in us of wanting to help God, and shame on the Hardshells for repeatedly saying as much!  Rather, we recognize that where God has ordained salvation He has also ordained the manner by which it unfolds.

This charge actually (like so many others) comes back to haunt those who trumpet if forth.  Does God NEED the help of ministers to give His people a time salvation? Is He not able to just do it Himself?  Is there some want of power in God that He can’t convert His people, so the regenerate child of God must “save himself”, per Acts 2:40?!!!  He must "work" to get his own evangelical faith!!! He must "work" to get his own evangelical repentance!!!  Because if it comes through the gospel it ceases to be a gift of God, right?

How about it?

Harcrow wrote:

"It is not the WORD MEANS that I or my people object to but the unscriptural use which is made of it in dividing the honor of our salvation and giving credit for something outside the purpose of God in the salvation of sinners.  I find NO system of MEANS appointed of the Lord, outside His own work, to be used by men to AID them in their efforts to save sinners.  Call it what you will but a new name will not change the falsehood or heresy.”

We could respond to this statement just like the previous.  Who gets the credit when a previously regenerated child of God is converted?  We know that conversion is not of the Lord because means are involved, correct?  And we know that evangelical faith and repentance are not of the Lord, because they too require the preaching of the gospel?  So in gospel time salvation, God is robbed of all the glory, and the praise is divided between the preacher and the child of God, who “work” to get this salvation not provided to them by God!!!!! 

Until my deceived brethren come to see that God’s employment of means in no way denies Him as being the author or receiving all the glory and praise, they will continue to meet with these same gross Christ-dishonouring conclusions in their own system that they think result from the gospel means position.

Harcrow wrote:

“Primitive Baptists have had the charge laid against them that they do not believe in preaching the gospel. I will challenge those who make the charge to produce a man among us that does NOT believe in preaching the gospel.  I know many of them today and many who have passed off the stage and I have NEVER heard one say or imply that he did not believe in preaching the gospel."

I can’t help but chuckle when I read this.  Surely the author knows that what folks mean when they make this charge is that you do not believe in preaching the gospel as it is understood by almost every other know, in the sense of having a desire to witness to all men everywhere, to reach the lost and point them to Christ for salvation.  So I will answer his challenge by asking him to produce a man among them who believes in preaching the gospel to the unregenerate. That's the point.

But what do we mean by “preaching the gospel”?  Do we mean calling upon men to repent and believe in Christ, or simply going around telling everyone that has a holy grunt that they are already saved?  Do we mean travelling to other places to witness to men of the Savior, or going to previously established Primitive Baptist churches and fill appointments?  Is it pleading with men to come to Christ, or just be converted to Hardshellism?

Harcrow wrote:

“In fact I do not know of a religious order on earth fact believes in preaching the Gospel MORE than my people who are called Primitive Baptists.”

So the man who endeavors to only preach to the elect actually desires to preach the gospel more than the one who will preach it to all men indiscriminately?  The man who will preach only to those “already regenerated” really desires to preach the gospel more than the one who preaches to both the lost and the saved?  The man who will only preach at a Hardshell church has a greater urge to share the message more than the one who will do it anytime anywhere?  And the man whose church only meets once or twice a month wants to share the message of Christ with others more than he whose church meets every Sunday and/or Wednesday night?

Yeah, that makes a whole bunch of sense.  Harcrow is simply feeding the pride of his Hardshell brethren here.  If it were true that the Hardshells generally have a greater desire to preach the gospel, then we must ask the question why is that desire seldom acted upon? Is it not because his theology and rules of church order prevent him from doing so?  If he felt compelled to preach to everyone, his conclusion that the gospel is not for the lost would prevent him from acting upon his compulsion.  If he had a desire to preach the gospel to an unregenerate sinner he couldn’t do so, for his views of man’s depravity tells him he’s not supposed to.  If he had a desire to preach in distant lands, his view that the Great Commission was given strictly to the apostles would run contrary to his desire. If he wanted to go to an “Arminian” church, he wouldn't because he knows that he would probably be reprimanded by his home church for doing so.

It seems to me that it would be a case of his head versus his heart.  He has the desire but this desire would be curbed by what he believes.

Harcrow wrote:

“It is fact however, that we preach the gospel for a far different reason than others who may claim the name Baptist or any other religion.  WE PREACH THAT THE GOSPEL IS NOT A MEANS TO ETERNAL LIFE BUT RATHER A TESTIMONY OF CHRIST WHO IS ETERNAL LIFE PERSONIFIED."

Here we see that “one and only” mentality rear itself as it so often does.  So now a person can’t even be called a Baptist unless they object to gospel means?  Even though it would still be an error, I kind of hope that the elder meant to say ‘Primitive” for to deny that anyone can be called a Baptist unless they subscribe to Hardshell views of the gospel and its purpose is about the most extreme statement that one can make.  Harcrow creates a false dichotomy when he says that the gospel cannot be a means because it is rather a testimony of Christ.  Why must it be one or the other?  Why, the very reason it is a means of salvation is because it testifies of Christ, the one whom sinners must come to know and trust if they are to be saved.  Paul writes in Romans 1:16 that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation and then follows in v. 17 with the reason why.  “For” (because – KF) therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith.  In other words, for sinners to be saved there must be something revealed upon which their hearts and minds may grasp.  The reason why the gospel can save sinners is because it IS a testimony of Christ!

Harcrow wrote:

"This is common knowledge to our people but we suppose that some may not have understood the REASON why the Gospel is necessary.  Well here it is: 2nd Tim. 3:16, ‘All scripture is given by inspiration of God is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God (child of God) may be perfect (mature), thoroughly (completely) furnished unto all good works’.  Can any sensible bible reader read into this anywhere that the inspired word is ‘A MEANS’ or ‘THE MEANS’ to secure the eternal salvation of the soul?  No, it is not to be found in this verse of any other verse.”

How can it be said that the gospel is necessary when it really isn’t necessary for men to be saved thereby?  Necessary only for the reasons here inscribed?  Are there not other scriptures which show that the gospel does more than just produce a mature upstanding Christian?  I could just as easily refer to a passage in scripture which states that Jesus is the Son of God, and deny that He is as well fully man, all because it doesn’t mention it in that one specific verse.  Emphasizing a text which shows that the gospel is instrumental in sanctification is no implicit denial that it is not likewise instrumental in regeneration or eternal salvation.

Actually, the learned bible reader does see MEANS in this passage.  He sees that sanctification is under consideration, and that this is a work which God performs for His people with the Word being one of the primary means.  He does not follow Hardshell doctrine, which fails to recognize that the grace which regenerates also sanctifies.

Harcrow wrote:

“Outside the doctrines of Grace all religions of men basically require the creaturely will of man to stand sovereign over God, so that no matter how much weight is given to God and His Grace, in the final analysis, it is the man who is in control of the FINAL decision of his salvation."

What a misrepresentation of those who adhere to gospel means!  There are without a doubt some who do feel that the will of man can overrule the grace of God in regeneration and salvation, but it is not this one.  Nor is it the view of any Calvinists! They are clear to point out that God changes the person, making him willing in the day of His power (Ps. 110:3).  God does not save him according to His will, but neither does He save him APART from his will.  The sinner does make a choice but it is a choice made under divine influence.  Salvation does not bypass the mind, nor does God deal with His people like robots, but rather with the faculties with which he has equipped them.  They think.  They feel.  They know. They choose.  In their opposition to any and all activity of the violation of the will in regeneration, the Hardshell brand of the new birth has become a changeless experience.

Let me turn this question upon the author and his brethren.  Does the will of man stand sovereign over God in conversion for those "regenerated" children of God who reject the gospel when they hear it?  Is it not the final decision of the regenerated child of God whether or not he is converted

Harcrow wrote:

“In their view there must be a MEANS other than the blood of Christ to make salvation effective and real.”

In this place Harcrow contradicts his own self, for earlier in his article he admitted the existence of the means of the Holy Spirit! Is the Holy Spirit not necessary as well to make salvation effective and real?

Harcrow wrote:

 “We say that if it takes another MEANS apart from the death of Christ then Christ’s work, by MEANS of his death, was NOT and cannot be sufficient. Amen.”

Again we pose this question to show the error behind the thinking here.  Since the Holy Spirit must regenerate the child of God for whom Christ died, does this mean that the death of Christ was not sufficient?  Must they not yet hear the voice of Christ and live?

All things necessary for the elect to be regenerated and saved into heaven were procured by Christ in his redeeming work.  The only way it could not be sufficient is if God were to detach himself from controlling the MEANS, instead leaving them contingent upon the free-will of man as to whether or not they become effectual.