Rather than continue the discussion which is working against them, they jump over to something they feel will work in their favour. They ask “What is the gospel?” When a person steps into their carefully laid detour by answering, regardless of the reply, the chookwatcher collective leaps in and the focus is shifted from the original discussion to a critique of the person’s response to the question.
So let’s examine this question, and see how the chookwatchers themselves measure up.
What is the gospel?
The answer, of course, if you want to follow chookwatcher logic in this discussion, is to quote 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.
Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures…
Nothing wrong with this response, of course. The thing is, though, that this is exactly what is taught, understood and believed at every ministry the chookwatchers criticise.
What is the gospel? Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day, according to the scriptures.
No one at any of the churches the chookwatchers find fault with disputes this, or denies it. We promote it. We preach it. We live it. We all know that salvation comes through faith in Christ alone. We know and teach that we need to repent, that is, turn from our sinful ways to follow Jesus by believing the gospel and accepting him as our Lord. What is repentance? A change of direction. A change of heart.
Saved by grace through faith
We are not saved by works. We are saved by grace through faith. According to the scriptures. The gospel is the good news that Christ has done everything that needs to be done at the cross to bring us to salvation. All we have to do is believe and receive the gospel by confessing Jesus as Lord.
This is repentance. We acknowledge our need of Christ, the Saviour, Redeemer and Deliverer. We turn to Christ. Usually this is accompanied by godly sorrow brought on by a realisation of our sinfulness and a desire to denounce our past and enter new life in him. All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. He will in no way reject any who call on his name.
From then on we have to learn how to continue in the faith, following the instructions and commandments of Christ as New Testament believers. We are baptised in water as disciples and empowered through the baptism with the Spirit. We are Christ’s workmanship created for good works.
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 of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
We are not saved by works, but we are saved for good works. Our good works, following salvation, reveal our faith. As James says, ‘faith without works is dead’, and ‘show me your faith by your good works’. However, we cannot enter or begin these good works until we have been saved by grace.
The gospel, then, is entry into and continuation of a lifestyle of separation unto God in the household and family of God.
Colossians 1:21-24 And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight— if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.
So we need to continue in faith, grounded and steadfast, and not be moved away from the hope of the gospel which we heard, and which was preached to every person.
Therefore, the death, burial and resurrection of Christ provides for us an entry into the life we are called to and set apart to lead in him. This means we need the teaching of the whole counsel of God, and we need to be aware of everything he has called us and separated us into in Christ. We are called to relationship and fellowship in the Body of Christ under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
Reformed theology of regeneration
When the chookwatchers ask “What is the gospel?”, they should know that it is the message of hope that we preach that leads to salvation. It is also what we live as disciples of Christ. But what do they believe and teach?
When they use their question as a device for controversy, or as a distraction from having their own theology or attitude challenged, they misrepresent the context of the gospel and what it means to those who follow Christ. The chookwatchers are being altogether mischievous when they use this tactic. It pulls the attention from the revelation of their own shortcomings to an examination of the gospel theology of the person challenging their motives and opinion.
The theology of the gospel is not to be used as a weapon against other believers to prove or disprove their relationship with Christ. For instance, a person could be saved by hearing the gospel preached but may not be able to articulate it for some time after. This is not evidence that they do not know the gospel, or are not saved, or that their church oversight does not know the gospel, or preach the gospel, or teach the gospel.
Indeed, despite some of their protests, it is very apparent that the chookwatchers promote reformed theology, and therefore advance a doctrine which claims that we are regenerated without faith—that, in other words, God selectively regenerates sinners regardless of whether they hear the gospel or not, whilst selectively rejecting others and condemning them to eternal damnation. His mercy and grace, they imply, are limited.
They effectively relegate the preaching of the gospel to a nonessential because, they teach, man cannot actually be saved directly by grace through faith, but must first be regenerated whether it is their will or not, or whether they have heard the gospel or not. They teach, through their resources and by their mentors and documented influences, that sinners are incapable of a change of heart through the hearing of the word of Christ, but must be regenerated before faith can come.
R C Sproul, amongst others with similar theology, is a theologian chookwatchers often refer to and recommend.
‘When my professor wrote, “Regeneration precedes faith” on the blackboard, he was clearly siding with the monergistic answer. To be sure, after a person is regenerated, that person cooperates by exercising faith and trust. But the first step, the step of regeneration by which a person is quickened to spiritual life, is the work of God and of God alone. The initiative is with God, not with us.
The reason we do not cooperate with regenerating grace before it acts upon us and in us is because we cannot. We cannot because we are spiritually, dead. We can no more assist the Holy Spirit in the quickening of our souls to spiritual life than Lazarus could help Jesus raise him from the dead.’ (R.C. Sproul, The New Genesis, from The Mystery of the Holy Spirit (Tyndale House: Wheaton, 1979))
In other words, salvation is imposed upon select persons regardless of belief. Faith, in the first instance, does not enter into it. Therefore, according to this theology, they are not saved by grace through faith. What they don’t tell you is that grace does not equate to imposition. Grace is the condition by which God makes salvation available through faith. It is the nature of God towards his creation at a given point.
Yet the reformed position is that select persons are regenerated sans faith. God manipulates their dead spirit by imposition even against their prevailing will by bringing their previously unregenerate spirit to the new birth. Is this the gospel? Is it in line with New Testament teaching? It is not.
In effect it means that a person is regenerated without faith in Jesus Christ. The claim is that they are regenerated regardless of their own will or response to the gospel, or whether they hear the gospel or not, and thus empowered to, subsequently, come to faith in Jesus Christ and therefore, eventually, justified.
This essentially makes the work of the cross null and void. The truth that Christ died for our sin, was buried and raised to life means nothing if a person can be regenerated without actually believing this. If God sovereignly regenerates selected persons, there is no need of the death, burial and resurrection of the Redeemer.
But what does scripture say? Is faith important to salvation? And how does faith come?
Romans 10:8-17 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”
How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?
As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?”
So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
This is so clear. The word is near us, even in our mouth and in our heart. It is the word of faith which is preached. We believe in our heart and confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord. Then we are saved. When we believe and when we confess what we believe in our heart.
So chookwatchers, who have adopted reformed theology as their banner, hold to R C Sproul’s reformed adaptation of the gospel, which reverses the process by saying that regeneration precedes faith, and, therefore, doesn’t require faith, which means that preaching is not a prerequisite, and the gospel, then, is unnecessary to regeneration.
They say regeneration sans faith enables the hearer to then have faith. Yet the select person is, by reformed definition, already born again without faith, although they could not yet be justified, which comes through faith. This is completely the wrong way around, and totally unscriptural.
R C Sproul attempts to qualify this doctrine, ‘The result of our regeneration is first of all faith, which then results in justification and adoption into the family of God.’ (The New Birth, R C Sproul). In this article R C Sproul also rejects the teaching of Christ that we must believe in Christ to be born again. ‘This view, so widely held in evangelical circles, argues that one must believe in Christ in order to be born again, and so the order of salvation is reversed in this view by maintaining that faith precedes regeneration.’
This, of course, again, negates the need of the gospel altogether. It denies the power of the gospel when it is preached to produce faith in the hearer, and the hearer’s change of heart as a result of hearing the gospel which leads to a confession of faith, which brings them to the new birth.
Grace, in all of this, was always present. The Holy Spirit is always present when the gospel is preached to convince the hearer of sin, righteousness and judgment, which brings them to a place of repentance.
Faith comes by hearing
The truth is that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. As Paul says, people are saved by ‘the word of faith which we preach’. Believing God is as close as our mouth and our heart. The word of faith is another term for the gospel. The word of God we hear when faith comes is another way of saying we are saved through the preaching of the gospel.
Chookwatcher theology promotes regeneration sans faith. Therefore they reject Paul’s teaching that we are saved by grace through faith by denying the necessity of faith to regeneration.
So, are they, then, preaching the right gospel, or are they guilty of promoting a message which denies the power of the gospel to change hearts and bring hearers to a place of repentance?
The gospel is the power of God unto salvation for those who believe. How do they believe? With their heart. How is their heart changed? Through the preaching of the gospel. How does faith come? By hearing and receiving the word of Christ.
This is fundamental to the gospel message. You can’t give the basis of the gospel without declaring the purpose of the gospel.
If the basis is the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, then the purpose is to save sinners. How are they saved? By believing in the work of the cross. By knowing the power of the resurrection. By believing that Jesus died for their sins, was buried for their death, and was raised for their new life. How do they discover this truth? By the preached gospel. How does the gospel have the power to change them? By believing the preached gospel. Thus they are saved by grace through faith.
Is teaching a reformed version which removes the faith component preaching a false gospel? Let them be examined on this score.
The gospel is revealed throughout the New Testament. It is more than a verse here or a verse there. It is the whole counsel of God. But it is most succinctly articulated by Christ himself.
John 3:16-17 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
However, reformed adherents, including chookwatchers, dispute whether ‘whosoever’ is ‘whosoever’. They reject that whosoever is anyone who believes, without exception. Rather, they preach a gospel of exclusion, attempting to detour us illogically and unbiblically from the actual meaning of the koiné Greek to fit their theology. In this way they produce a gospel which is not borne out by the gospel, according to scripture.
Whereas Christ welcomes all who hear, receive and believe the preaching of the gospel into eternal life with him, the chookwatcher theology promotes a gospel of exclusion which negates the need of faith for regeneration.
Let them be examined on this.
And, anytime you are successfully challenging them on any issue, be prepared for a sudden, unrelated leap into the world of chookwatcher logic when they ask you to reveal what you understand of the gospel, and remember that they will come at it through the prism of reformed thinking regardless of what you say. Tell them 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 and get back to the original discussion.