Test the spirits

Several years ago Sean Gerety (of Trinity Foundation fame) wrote to me the following (some of this is slightly edited for the purpose of readability):

“Please deduce the necessity to know that a person is unregenerate from 1 John 4:1.”

I responded thusly:

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone forth into the world” (1 John 4:1).

If someone is not speaking by the Spirit of Truth (“of God”), then they are of necessity speaking according to the spirit of error (“not of God”) verse 6. The clear implication is that false prophets are not of God. They speak lies (errors) about God, just like their father the devil. You wouldn’t say that it is possible that the false prophets are speaking by the Spirit of God would you? Sean Gerety had written:

“The test per 1 John is does a man’s teaching comport with Scripture or does it not. Clearly Piper taught some pretty odd and dangerous things in Future Grace that I would suggest no one follow.”

Yet with your view that one must distinguish between a person and a system, you would have to say that it’s okay to follow him, as long as you don’t follow his system of doctrine in his book, Future Grace. If this distinction between the person and the system agreed with Scripture, then Paul’s double anathema in Galatians 1:8-9 would come down on the “systematic house” of the false gospel with no person inside it. The false teachers’ “house” (system) would be burned to the ground, yet he himself (person) would be saved. Sean’s view (like his mentor’s Dr. John Robbins) is that a Christian cannot obey the command of 1 John 4:1, since “one must keep in mind the distinction between a system and a person.”

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone forth into the world” (1 John 4:1).

Since one must keep in mind the aforementioned distinction between a system and a person, one can only test and disbelieve those ‘system spirits’ (and NOT the false prophets themselves) that are not from God IN SPITE of the Biblical fact that these spirits are not separate, but come from the overflow of the heart, and then out of the mouths of many false prophets. So, although you could certainly say that a certain spirit was NOT from God, you cannot necessarily say that the person from whence it came was a false prophet and therefore lost (i.e., presently unregenerate). The clear and logical conclusion is that NO MATTER what system of blasphemy a person utters, you cannot test, and therefore judge them as a false prophet. For if you judge an Arian as lost based on the system of doctrine that he believes, then Sean and John will come back with the retort that you must keep in mind the distinction between a system and a person.

“As we have said before, and now I say again, If anyone [Person] preaches a gospel [System] beside what you received, let him [Person] be accursed” (Galatians 1:9).

But Paul, you CAN’T call down the anathema of God on these persons. You can only call it down on their theological systems. Remember Paul, one must keep in mind the distinction between a system and a person. Earlier, I had mentioned Sean’s mentor, Dr. John Robbins (the founder of The Trinity Foundation and publisher of Gordon Clark’s books). Robbins had defended Gordon Clark’s belief that all Arminians were saved. Robbins said the following in defense of Clark:

“Second, can an Arminian get the doctrine of justification straight? Yes, considered all by itself, he can. He can understand the resurrection, imputation, substitution, the alien righteousness of Christ, and believe them. Many Arminians do not, but it is theoretically possible for one to do so. One must keep in mind the distinction between a system and a person. In one of the quotes you provided, Clark pointed out that people are sometimes wonderfully confused, and they are saved in spite of that confusion.”

And yet Robbins ALSO said this:

“To return to our original example, the editors of Present Truth suggested that a separation be made between Karl Barth’s theology and his person, indicating that it is permissible to judge his theology, but not his person. Such a separation is foreign to the Scriptures. The reason one is not to call a brother Raca or Fool is that his theology is basically correct: He is a brother and has been regenerated by God. His theology is his person; as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. Not only are we not to make a separation between a person’s theology and his person, we are commanded to judge another person by his theology. John, in 2 John, does not say that the theology of certain people is antichristian (though it is) nor does he say they speak lies (though they do). He calls the people antichrists and liars. He judges their persons by their theologies, and he commands the elect lady and her children to do the same. Worse still, from the point of view of the twentieth century—the bloodiest and most polite century in history — John commands the elect lady and her children not to show any hospitality to such liars and antichrists. It is not without significance that John first gives his reasons, then calls names, and then gives the command. Accurate identification is necessary to appropriate action. Unless that identification is made, the appropriate action will not follow. Witness the reluctance of denominations and institutions in twentieth-century America to dismiss employees and officers who deny the faith.”

In the former statement (a lot more recent than the latter), Robbins says this:

“One must keep in mind the distinction between a system and a person.”

But the latter Robbins will rebuke the former Robbins by saying this in reply to this aforementioned alleged distinction:

“Such a separation is foreign to the Scriptures.”

The earlier Robbins had it right — such a separation is foreign to the Scriptures:

“For as he [Person] thinks in his heart [System], so is he [Person]” (Proverbs 23:7).

For more on the inconsistency of the older and younger John Robbins, please see:

http://www.outsidethecamp.org/robbinsfaces.htm http://www.outsidethecamp.org/notf.htm

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