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Mainstream Dispensationalism Attacks Relevance of Sermon on the Mount to Our Lives.

 

Excerpt from Jesus' Words on Salvation, Chapter 10

 

 

The Modern Gospel Teaching That The Sermon Is Irrelevant

Those who today believe in the Modern Gospel of Cheap Grace find it necessary to denigrate the value of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.

One argument is that Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount are meant for a different dispensation. For example, Pastor Mike Paulson of Touchet Baptist Church in Touchet, Washington, in a sermon entitled What Would Jesus Do or What Would Paul Do? boldly dismisses the Sermon on the Mount. He claims its teaching belongs to a different dispensation. Pastor Paulson says it is heretical to teach the Sermon on the Mount literally as applicable today.

Unfortunately, most ‘modern’ Christians follow those teachings today—I call them Beatitudinal Christians and a simple reading of the Sermon on the Mount should [show] them that they can NOT live that sermon completely today—no way, not at all—not even close! The stuff in the Sermon on the Mount actually contradicts Paul’s teachings in everything from salvation to doctrinal belief! You would think folks would see this—but like Jesus said of them, ye err not knowing the Scriptures....[Link to PDF of the entire webpage.] 

Pastor Paulson is not an aberration, but a normative teaching today. Walvoord published under the Moody Press is likewise typical:

The Sermon on the Mount, as a whole, is not church truth precisely…It is not intended to delineate justification by faith or the gospel of salvation. (John Walvoord, Matthew: Thy Kingdom Come (Moody Press: 1984) at 44, 45.)

This approach found its clearest exposition in the teachings of the founder of dispensationalism — Clarence Larkin. He began the movement by saying there is nothing for a modern Christian to worry about obeying from the Sermon on the Mount. His text, still cited today among dispensationalists, is Dispensational Truth (Philadelphia: Larkin, 1920 -Fortieth Printing). Based on dispensational logic, Larkin explains Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount “have no application to the Christian, but only to those who are under the Law, and therefore must apply to another Dispensation than this.” (Id., at 87 -view of PDF of pg 87.) This notion thus divorces the church from Christ.

Clear Invalidity Of Dispensationalism

 

However, dispensationalism is clearly an erroneous doctrine as applied to render defunct Jesus’ teachings. After Jesus’ resurrection when the atonement was done and the era of grace had clearly begun, Jesus gave the Great Commission. Nothing in this suggests Jesus wanted His commands in the Sermon on the Mount to expire merely because the era of grace had certainly begun. To the contrary, we read:

And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying, “All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. (19) Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: (20) teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” Matt. 28:18-20

The Greek word for observe is literally diligently do and often is translated as obey. It is the Greek word tereo.

Jesus was reiterating His commands had ongoing validity. They did not die at the Cross, as dispensationalists insist. Jesus is speaking after the Cross. Jesus is saying His teachings are as much alive as when He delivered them.

In fact, during His earthly ministry, Jesus warned His words would not expire at the cross. Jesus said His words would remain valid even though “heaven and earth pass away” (Matt. 24:35.)

Yet, dispensationalists harmonize away Jesus’ teachings as invalid because they claim to have found a better version of God’s grace than the one Jesus taught. Thus, Jesus’ words were only supposedly valid for another two years after Jesus spoke them, i.e., they expired at the crucifixion. “It is finished” for the Modern Gospel proponents means all of Jesus’ lessons are canceled unless they fit our Modern Gospel doctrine of faith-alone.

Cheap Grace Claims Jesus Does Not Mean What He Says

 

In the Law God gave Moses, God said that if we obey the law, it is imputed righteousness to us. (Deut. 6:25.) God in Deuteronomy 30:11 then assures us obedience to the Law “is not too hard for thee, neither is it far off.” (ASV.) As Apostle John said: “And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:2-3.)

 

However, many wed to the Modern Gospel of Cheap Grace argue that since Jesus’ teachings about moral action are supposedly impossible for anyone (other than Jesus) to comply with perfectly, then His teachings are nothing more than an illustration. Jesus’ supposed point in commanding against adulterous lust, keeping your oath, etc., is not because He expects obedience. Rather, Jesus allegedly gave those commands to paint a picture of an unattainable perfection necessary for salvation. Jesus supposedly meant to show us how impossible it would be for us to attain salvation except by faith alone rather than striving to obey Jesus’ points. The Sermon on the Mount is thereby eviscerated of any literal meaning. It allegedly only shows how salvation for such imperfect beings is impossible except through the saving grace of faith. In fact, some claim Jesus wanted us to realize the futility of any attempt to obey the commands Jesus actually gave in the Sermon on the Mount.

 

Dallas Willard in his otherwise great book The Great Omission (San Francisco: Harper 2006) says precisely this:

Thus, for example, Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount...[such as] looking to lust [are] illustrations of what living from the Kingdom God [should mean]....[However] to strive merely to act in conformity with [them]...is like to attempt the impossible, and will lead to doing things that obviously are wrong and even ridiculous. (Id. at 105 - viewable PDF of page.)

Thus, Willard goes so far as to denigrate Jesus’ principles of conduct by claiming they actually reflect an impossible standard of conduct. Willard says it is just too hard to be humble, a peacemaker, and one who does not adulterously lust after married women, etc. Willard thinks it is obvious that Jesus does not expect us to actually change our behavior to conform to His teachings.

 

Not only that, Willard denigrates the Sermon by claiming Jesus would have us do things that are “obviously wrong” (he does not explain how) and “even ridiculous” if we should obey its principles.10 Oh my! What men cannot convince themselves when they start from a wrong assumption that they are free to ignore Jesus’ doctrine.

 

John MacArthur gives the same explanation.

 

Yet Jesus had stunned multitudes by saying, ‘Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt. 5:20)—followed by, ‘You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (v. 48). Clearly, He set a standard that was humanly impossible, for no one could surpass the rigorous living of the scribes and Pharisees.11


MacArthur’s premise that the Pharisees were living obedient to the Law is a false premise in this statement, as we saw in the chapter on the Pharisees.12 The Pharisees had shallow doctrine on the Law. They were lost because they were teaching the less important aspects of the Law of tithing, while ignoring its more important aspects of Justice, Mercy and Faith. (Matt. 23:23). Thus, their followers could never be saved. They were being disobedient to the commands that matter, paying attention only to the lesser commandments. Hence, Jesus was totally serious in saying the listener must have a righteousness that exceeds the Pharisees’ righteousness. This is what the Sermon then outlines.

 

Carl Stange, a famous religion professor at Koenigsberg in 1903 and commentator on the Sermon on the Mount, is another who speaks like Willard and MacArthur. For example, Stange similarly writes of the Sermon on the Mount:

 

The teaching about the ideal.... only serves to make plain the reprehensibility of the human condition....The meaning of the moral demand is not that it gives us the power for the good but rather that it shows us our impotence for the good.13

Bauman’s Response To Stange’s Dismissal Of The Sermon

 

Clarence Bauman, however, decried this hermeneutic. Clarence Bauman is Professor of Theology and Ethics at the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary. Bauman says that Stange improperly makes Paul’s doctrine elevated above Jesus’ words by the Modern Gospel of Cheap Grace, and then the improper lense through which to understand Jesus:

 

Stange’s central axiom is derived not from Jesus but from Paul and reflects not the content of the Sermon on the Mount but the influence of Reformation dogma.

Stange made claims about the Sermon on the Mount which its content does not validate. He read into it theories and experiences foreign to its sphere. Stange’s misinterpretation of the Sermon on the Mount exemplifies the characteristically Lutheran hermeneutical incongruity of superimposing upon the teaching of Jesus the theology of Paul.14


Bauman explains how far we have fallen from Jesus: “Jesus’ teaching of the Way of the Cross has been replaced by Paul’s proclamation of the Word of the Cross....” The Modern Gospel of Cheap Grace tells us it is too hard to actually follow Jesus’ commands in the Sermon. Thus, the Cheap Grace Gospel teaches us that it is absurd to hold these commands up as a standard. Rather, this pseudo-gospel tells us these commands were satisfied by atonement. So Bauman concludes “implicit in the logic of most atonement theories” of the Modern Gospel of Cheap Grace is that “following Jesus is presumptuous and unnecessary.”15

 

In Pastor Paulson’s quote above, such a terrible notion is no longer implicit. Paulson openly says it is actually heretical to teach what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount as something to follow. Paulson said: “The stuff in the Sermon on the Mount actually contradicts Paul’s teachings in everything from salvation to doctrinal belief!” Paulson then reasons that we err in following Jesus’ teachings any longer!

 

Leo Tolstoy, a Russian Christian remembered as one of the greatest authors of all time, likewise decried this modern hermeneutic. He says it is wrong to see Jesus as speaking facetiously rather than seriously. Tolstoy said the Modern Gospel makes Jesus into someone who merely pretends to be insisting on obedience. We are asked to see Jesus as preaching things He supposedly thought too lofty to actually perform. Tolstoy said this is unfair to Jesus. One must take Him at His plain meaning. It is insulting to the Lord to assume He is being deliberately misleading to make His point:

 

I accepted the fact that Christ meant exactly what he said. The least that can be required of those who judge another man’s teaching is, that they should take the teacher’s words in the exact sense in which he uses them. Christ did not consider his teaching as some high ideal of what mankind should be, but cannot attain to, nor does he consider it as a chimerical, poetical fancy, fit only to captivate the simple-minded inhabitant of Galilee.16


Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), professor at the University of Berlin and pastor of the Pomerania Confessing Church, likewise critiqued this view that denigrates Jesus’ words:

 

We Lutherans have gathered like eagles around the carcass of cheap grace, and there we have drunk of the poison which has killed the life of following Christ. The word of cheap grace has been the ruin of more Christians than any commandment of works.17