theology of new england

In a previous article, I posted an introduction by Dr. Dana to the book of David A. Wallace,1 in which Wallace investigated the New England Theology as it developed during the latter part of the 18th and first half of the 19th centuries. This introduction is well worth reading. What follows is some conclusive remarks from Wallace after examining the so called New England Theology (the characteristics of which we cannot go into depth here). These remarks are very relevant as it touches on quite a few important aspects in dealing with false doctrine.

In these conclusive remarks, Wallace mentions the indifference to doctrinal truth which means that in false teaching, anything goes as long as it fits the bill. A second remark is the lack of solid truth that is preached, taught and delivered to the flock of Christ. Because of indifference, doctrinal teaching is thrown out and replaced by some sentimental, saucy junk food which does not satisfy the soul’s hunger for the living truth of God’s Word. This can, in my opinion, be seen as the direct reason for the increase in “experiential religion”, manifesting itself in hype, emotional spirituality and a deep dive into mysticism (a.k.a. lectio divina, taize, contemplative and centered prayer, to name but a few). The combination of these two, namely indifference and a lack of solid scriptural truth, also leads to – and actually promotes – the growing presence of false “prophets”.

Wallace points to Scripture, especially Jesus’ admonishing to refute false doctrine, Paul’s word to Timothy in 2 timothy 3:15-16 and his letter to the Galatians, and John’s letter to call the believer to a commitment to Sola Scriptura as our grounds for combatting doctrinal error. The moment this very important principle is discarded as our regulatory principle, the door is flung wide open to allow all sorts of error to creep in and cause chaos. He makes a very strong statement: “God does not bless error. Nor does he honor a diluted, or a mutilated gospel.” The church of Christ will do well in listening to this statement.

Another very loaded statement, following his argument, is that indifference and liberal viewpoints must be seen as “criminal in God’s sight.” The church should guard the purity of its doctrine, simply because the collective church is the pillar and holder of God’s revealed truth (1 Timothy 3:15). Allowing for any sort of doctrinal impurity, is to put a low premium on the truth handed to his church and condemns us as guilty of error.

Ultimately, Wallace’s call is back to a high view of God’s Word and the place it should occupy in establishing the people of God on solid doctrinal ground.

Following then are the conclusive remarks Wallace makes (this was published in 1856, so words might be spelled somewhat different from how we will do it today):

There is prevalent intense indifference to doctrinal truth. A popular liberality smiles complacently on every form of religious belief (except old fashioned orthodoxy.) and insists that one is just about as good as another. It is further to be feared, that there is very little, earnest, thorough, discriminating preaching of the truth, even as far as it is professedly received ; that many subjects of vital importance to the soul, are seldom mentioned in the pulpit; -that many dangerous errors abound, against which, the warning voice of the watchmen on Zion’s walls is seldom lifted. This state of things is far from consistent with that importance every where attached to doctrinal truth in God’s word. Our Savior thought it necessary to caution his disciples in very pointed terms against the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Paul reminded Timothy that, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works,” at the same time exhorting him to “hold fast the form of sound words” he had received, and warning him against those who would not endure sound doctrine, but would, after their own lusts, heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears. The same apostle must have thought the truth as it is in Jesus of momentous importance when he thus wrote the Galatians: ” But though we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received let him be accursed.” John, in his Epistle to the elect, lady expresses similar views: “Whosoever transgresseth and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ hath not God. If there come any unto you and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house neither bid him God speed; for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.” There is set forth in God’s word a system, called at one time, the “Gospel,” at another the “Truth as it is in Jesus,” at another the “Doctrine of Christ,” and at still another the “Word of God.” To this system of truth the Scriptures continually attach the very first importance. It is the sword of the Spirit the wisdom of God and power of God unto salvation. It is this which the Spirit uses in converting the sinner, and in sanctifying and comforting the people of God. Nothing else is the sword of the Spirit; nothing else is the means of effecting the salvation of souls. God does not bless error. Nor does he honor a diluted, or a mutilated gospel. No other truth, however important, can accomplish the ends for which God has ordained the gospel of his grace. It alone will reform what is wrong among men, and save souls  from eternal misery.

If these things be true, as they are beyond all controversy, then that indifference and that liberality already mentioned must be simply criminal in God’s sight. If there is any thing in this world about which the church ought to be jealous, it is the purity, fulness and completeness of the doctrine proclaimed in our pulpits and issued from our press. If souls are converted and sanctified – edified to the highest degree-the truth as it is in Jesus, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, must be learned. Those who substitute something else for it, give famishing souls a stone instead of bread. Those who keep back a part are unfaithful to their Master, who has bidden them declare the whole counsel of God. Those who abandon important truth, leaving error to abound unopposed, must be regarded as traitors to their Lord. If ever the world is converted and the reign of righteousness inaugurated, it will not be by leaving out of sight the truth of the gospel-nor by abandoning whatever of it is offensive to the carnal mind-nor by the preaching of error; -not even by the proclamation of other truth however important. It is only a pure gospel in its integrity-proclaimed with the simplicity with which it is set forth in the inspired volume, that will be the means of ushering in that glorious era. Most assuredly the church, styled the pillar and the ground of the truth is called upon to look well to the truth, it is her duty to maintain and propagate.

Let us then search the Scriptures. Let us go to the great Teacher and find out the truth. Let us hold it fast. Let us feed upon it ourselves. Let us send it-the bread and water of life-to the perishing world around us. Let us give our influence to the support and propagation of a pure gospel. Let no maxims of worldly prudence, no false liberality, induce us to aid in building up the cause of error. Let us consent to no theology so “comprehensive” as to embrace both truth and falsehood. Let us not be “children tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men and cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive ; but speaking the truth in love, grow up into him in all things which is the head even Christ.”

Footnotes

1. Wallace, David A. The Theology of New England Boston: Crocker and Brewster, 1856 

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