The Free Agency of the Gospel
By: Deji Yesufu
Dr. James R. White is one of the two founders of the Alpha and Omega Ministries, based in Phoenix, Arizona. The ministry has committed itself to apologetics efforts for over forty years. James White the leading spokesman for the group, has engaged many cults and pseudo Christian organizations in debates and it is always enlightening to watch him to do this. When Dr. White debates Muslims, he usually brings his opponents to examine the inconsistencies in the revelation of the Quran. He also proceeds to show them the trouble with the whole preservation of the Quranic texts through the centuries. The Muslim opponent is quick to show White that their revelation do not contain errors and discrepancies as those found in the Bible. Dr White however uses that argument against them: he shows them that while the Bible was distributed freely through the centuries, in different parts of the world, on the other hand the distribution of the Quran was controlled.
The Free agency in the preservation of the biblical text has contributed to the varied manner with which Christians can authenticate the veracity of their scripture today. Muslims, however, do not have this liberty: all they have is the 1914 Egyptian text that was given to them by some Muslim authority in Egypt – while other texts were destroyed. The downside for Islam in all these is that they have very few texts from antiquity to determine the veracity and accuracy of their scriptures. The natural tendency in religion is for man to control things. On the other hand, God functions best within the free agency of his works that is only controlled by his wonderful sovereignty.
The first proof of this must be taken from the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. If our Lord wanted a controlled religion, he would have penned every word of the New Testament. He didn’t do this; rather he poured himself into twelve men over a three year period and then left his Spirit within these men to direct them. While these men served, Christ went beyond the twelve and chose one man outside of them to pen a third of the New Testament. Thankfully the Apostles were humble enough to recognize God’s hands on Apostle Paul and they not only gave him a right hand of fellowship, they also authenticated what he wrote as scripture. If the twelve were ruled by a controlling spirit, they would never have received Paul and there would not have been a gentile Church. Christ had given the Apostles a lesson on the Free Agency of the Gospel in Matthew 13 when our Lord showed them that the work of the Spirit follows the prodigious distribution of the word of God in the hearts of men. All will hear, but it will yield result only in the hearts of those whom God gives ears to hear. We cannot control the work of the Holy Spirit. We can only trust the Spirit to do a lasting work wherever the word is preached. How and when God will save sinners, we do not know. We trust the Spirit to work within our own feeble attempt at gospel preaching.
In recent Church History, we see the Free Agency of Gospel work in the life and ministries of the magisterial reformers. While Martin Luther was a monk and a theologian in Germany, Ulrich Zwingli was a Roman Catholic priest in Zurich, Switzerland. The spark of the Reformation came first by the prodigious distribution of the Holy Bible through the newly invented printing press and via the pen of another Catholic Priest, Desiderius Erasmus. Erasmus published the first edition of his Greek New Testament in 1516 and Bible scholars all around Europe suddenly discovered they could read the Bible in another language other than latin. In the process, they saw clear cut differences in the language of the Latin Vulgate, that had perpetrated Catholic traditions for ten centuries, and Erasmus’ publication.
This was what sparked the Reformation, so that Luther and Zwingli came to accept Protestant conviction at about the same time, independently too, without the knowledge of one another’s writings. Their convictions were further deepened by the persecution meted on them by the Catholic Church that preferred a controlled environment. But no one could control anything in those days anymore. Protestant doctrines sounded revolutionary and publishers made a lot of money printing the Reformers’ works and distributing them all over Europe. At some point, historians say, close to eighty percent of Europe was Protestant. The Roman Catholic Church rolled all these back via the counter reformation later. The point that needs to be made however is that God has always used free agency in gospel proclamation, as against the controlled methodologies of the organized church system.
I write all these because of a strange but beautiful phenomenon occurring in reformed circles in Nigeria. It is my discovery of Calvinism in Deeper Life Church. Deeper Life Church was birth by W. F. Kumuyi in the 1970s and is today a leading Pentecostal denomination in Nigeria. Deeper Life theology is essentially Arminian, while they are open to Charismatism. I do not know how it all begun but within the very controlled environment of Deeper Life, Calvinism began to emerge. This might have come about through the love of Kumuyi for many Calvinists like C. H. Surgeon, and his penchant to quote them in his sermons. It is possible that as he did this, a few young people began to examine Spurgeon writings themselves and discovered the Calvinism in them. Then as they watched YouTube they began to see modern reformed preachers like Paul Washer, John Macarthur and John Piper. In summary, the prodigious spread of gospel preaching via the internet has opened up one of the most controlled denominations in Nigeria to the gospel as accentuated by Calvinism. I have met a few of these young men and women and I can say with authority that God is doing a work among them.
The reformed movement in Nigeria has grown essentially in this manner. There is a sense in it that when the missionaries came to this country and introduced education as a means to evangelize the natives, they understood the ability for the gospel to spread in the hearts and minds of enlightened people. Chinua Achebe, in his book, There was a Country, talked about how the activities of the missionaries created some tensions in his own home. Achebe’s father was an orphan. He was raised by his uncle and just about the time he was coming out of adolescence, the missionaries arrived in their village. Achebe’s grand Uncle allowed his nephew to get an education. The nephew returned home not only as an educated man but as a baptized Anglican. Achebe’s grand Uncle was however a pagan, who was not open to Christianity – as much as he loved the education it birth.
One day, in one of his bids to convert his uncle to Christianity, the dear man took his nephew to the shrine where all his gods stood and said “what do I do with all of these?” The effort at proselytizing ceased from that day on. My point is this: the mere ability for a person to read, opens him up to be able to assimilate arguments and take a firm position on issues. Christianity seeks to dislodge age old arguments etched on the hearts of men and where people have the freedom to examine biblical claims, especially in an atmosphere of charity and freedom, there is the higher likelihood of them bowing to superior arguments as taught in the Bible. Conversion in Christianity is mainly understanding the gospel, repenting of sin and holding on to Christ in faith. This understanding comes via the prodigious spread of the gospel message.
As we consider the free agency of gospel preaching, we should also warn against what might impede the free flow of God’s work in the hearts of men. Readers might have noticed that I have successfully connected freedom and the spread of gospel preaching with the work of the Spirit. On the other hand, there is another work that is not of the Spirit of God, which tends not to spread but to control the spread of gospel preaching. This spirit, in the guise of curtailing false teaching, tends to anathematize certain people and control the hearing of those who are under them. They discourage learning by false labeling and they give the impression that the truth can only be found from within their camp. This was what Islam sought to do when many of the Caliphs that succeeded Mohammed destroyed many of the Muslims scripture and used the force of government to ensure that only one Quran was used by the Muslim faithfuls. While such control might have created unanimity in faith, it denied Muslims of today ability to compare their scriptures with those from other parts of the world and thus denying them ability to find the real revelations as they proceeded from Mohammed.
While Islam might be far fetched, a closer examination was in the efforts of Rome in anathematizing all the magisterial Reformers and destroying their writings. Those of us who grew up Catholics and who still have relatives in Roman Catholicism know that this effort of anathematizing people works very well because it means that materials produced by the “other side” are never truly examined and even though the gospel has a free agency, it can never reach the minds of its adherents because these other people have been demonized.
A similar thing happens in reformed circles too. Pastors, in the name of protecting the sheep, anathematize the writings and works of other reformed teachers. This curtails the reading and investigations of sincere seekers in the reformed faith. While it is true that there are many spirits out there and people must be careful with imbibing erroneous views, including some that come in the garb of reformed, we cannot lose faith in the power of the Holy Spirit to lead people to truth. It is the Holy Spirit that begins conviction in the hearts of men. It is the Holy Spirit that begins a true movement within an hitherto controlled environment. We can then trust the Spirit to guide God’s people to the truth. Jesus said that what is false will bear false fruit. We can trust God that if he has begun a good work in the hearts of his people, he will also guide them to all truths. A true church does not need to anathematize other Christians in the name of preserving the gospel within their midst. If the truth is in your church, your people will know it, believe it and live it. If not, then you deny them the ability to learn and I believe that such actions will not escape the judgement of God.
I have real churches in mind here, just as Christ had real people at heart when he died to save us from our sins. There is such a thing as the free agency of gospel preaching. The Spirit of God works through the word freely distributed in the hearts of men. It is Satan that seeks to control things. And if we are in doubt as regarding what control can do to the religion of men, look no further than Islam and Roman Catholicism.