Which is the Greater Threat to the Contemporary Church – Legalism or Antinomianism? – By Rev George Ong (Dated 8 Mar 2021)
Legalism and Antinomianism are the two deadly heresies that can destroy the church. If you do a survey on which of these two heresies are believers more familiar with, I am quite sure that most believers would say they have heard of legalism, but only a minority would be familiar with the heresy of Antinomianism.
Many believers aren’t even aware that the New Testament warns much more against Antinomianism than it does against legalism. Jesus, together with the Apostles Paul, Peter, John and James and Jude had all warned against the errors of Antinomianism.
Many are also unaware that Antinomianism remains the prevailing theology in many Protestant churches. What’s worrying is that those who have been influenced by this heresy (including pastors) aren’t even aware of it.
One clear example is the Antinomian teaching that after one has said the sinner’s prayer, his salvation is permanently assured and eternally secured. Many thought that this is Biblical, Reformation, Puritan and Evangelical Christianity when it is pure Antinomianism.
The heresy of Antinomianism has continued and survived today in many forms and especially in the teachings of Joseph Prince. Today, the leading voice for the doctrine of Antinomianism is Joseph Prince.
Of course, Joseph Prince has denied that he is an Antinomian. He has been able to hide the fact from many people that Antinomianism is the real theology he is operating from. He cannot hide anymore. By making a mere comparison between the doctrine of Antinomianism and what Joseph Prince teaches will starkly reveal his true Antinomian identity.
What is worse is that, Joseph Prince, the true-blooded Antinomian, has gone on to declare that he is preaching Luther’s doctrine shamelessly. If Luther were alive today and knowing his vigorous character, I’m sure he would grab Joseph Prince by the collar, give him a good shake-up, and demand an explanation for misrepresenting him. The reason is, Luther himself, had fought against the Antinomians of his day, who were the theological forefathers of Joseph Prince.
In Luther’s day (though Antinomianism was already present), legalism was the more potent threat than Antinomianism as works were seen as necessary for salvation. In our day, it’s the reverse – Antinomianism, which is the false grace doctrine that Joseph Prince teaches. Antinomianism is, indeed, the graver and more prevalent threat than legalism.
Unlike Luther’s day, today’s church doesn’t need to be told that their dead works of legalism can’t save them. Instead, we need to be told that our dead faith – a faith that is without works in James 2:17 and 26 in Antinomianism that is preached by Joseph Prince can’t save us.
We are now facing a different situation than what was faced by Luther and the reformers. In a day when the modern church is infected not with the works-based faith of Legalism but the no-works faith of Antinomianism, we don’t need to be told that the dead works of legalism can’t save us; instead, we need to be warned that the dead faith of Antinomianism can’t save us.
But Joseph Prince has craftily set up the straw man (a strategy he frequently uses) of a church that is much afflicted with legalism for his evil excuse to push his ‘only-grace-no-works’ doctrine to the maximum crowd and at full speed.
As I’ve said, this is a deception as the emphasis on legalism or works was the issue of the Reformers but not in our day. Legalism or works-religion is the problem in Luther’s day. But licentiousness which sprouts from Antinomianism, not legalism, is the problem in our day.
So what has happened is that Joseph Prince, by pushing his ‘only-grace-no-works’ doctrine, is leading the Church to an even deeper end of the other extreme – Antinomianism.
Joseph Prince thunders that the Church has been afflicted by law or legalism, and that’s why he has to preach so much about grace. Yet, you have to answer this question honestly – is the emphasis of most churches today on law or grace, on works or faith?
Are you hearing more law-type sermons or grace-type sermons being preached in most churches today? How many sermons have you heard about hell in the last five years? How many sermons have you heard on the wrath and judgement of God against sin?
What about sermons in Luke 19:27 about Jesus as the terrible judge to be feared when He ended the parable with these words, “But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them – bring them here and kill them in front of me.”
When was the last time you heard the hell-fire sermons that preachers of the ‘John the Baptist’ type preached in your church? Have you ever heard a preacher in your church say that besides faith, obedience is an essential condition for saving faith?
Have you come across any preacher who dares to say that discipleship is necessary for salvation and that if you are not a disciple, you are not a Christian? Many don’t even know that a Christian and a disciple is the same person. One cannot be a Christian without being a disciple. And if a preacher dares to speak it at a church that invited him, that would be the last time he would be invited to preach.
Have you ever heard any preacher who has the courage to say that if Jesus is not your Lord, then the faith that you possess is a farce? Did you ever hear any preacher in the worship service say that if you don’t do the will of God, you will not enter the kingdom of God, Matthew 7:21? Did you ever remember hearing any preacher say that we are not only justified by works in James 2:24 (as works are the evidence of true faith), but we will be judged by them?
Since when have you heard a sermon on the warning of Jesus to cut you off and throw you into the fire if you don’t bear fruit and remain in Him, John 15:1-6? In your entire life as a Christian, have you heard any preacher preach on James 2:24, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone?”
On the contrary, we have heard the grace-type sermons so often in most churches – about
the blessings of God,
the promises of God,
the providence of God,
the protection of God,
the peace of God,
the comfort of God,
the healing of God,
the grace of God,
the love of God,
the mercy of God,
the kindness of God,
the patience of God,
the longsuffering of God,
the forgiveness of God, etc.
And especially in New Creation Church (NCC), members have been indoctrinated with the grace-glorifying and law-bashing sermons of Joseph Prince week in and week out that they are starting to get tired of them. This was told to me personally by not only many Ex-NCC members, but also those who are still attending NCC but are now seriously thinking of quitting the church.
In today’s church, members who are living in adultery are merely counselled (and those counselling sessions never seem to end), instead of telling them to repent. Churches no longer take church discipline as seriously as the apostles in the early church did. Excommunication of people from the church, a biblical doctrine that was practised in the early church, is unheard of in the modern church. And if any pastor dares to excommunicate anyone, he will be accused of being a harsh shepherd and having no love for the sheep.
If one were to be honest, the imbalance as falsely pointed out by Joseph Prince is not law over grace and legalism over Antinomianism, but grace over law and Antinomianism over legalism. The real imbalance is libertinism or licentiousness, which is the offshoot of Antinomianism over legalism.
In the current church scene, churches are bent more towards the Grace-type messages rather than the Law-type sermons. To address the imbalance, we ought to be preaching more law rather than more grace. But Joseph Prince has deceptively convinced many that the imbalance is law over grace. Hence, more Grace-type sermons are being preached in the church.
As a result, the imbalance of
grace over law,
Antinomianism (licentiousness) over legalism,
justification over sanctification,
belief over behaviour,
creed over conduct,
faith over works,
is further accentuated.
With the prevalence of licentiousness and combined with the absence of the fear of God (Joseph Prince teaches there is no place to fear God as New Covenant believers), which is the true reflection of the modern church scene, she is on her way down to the dumps.
The day will come when God and His power will leave the licentious church without her knowing it like it left the licentious Samson without him even knowing it (Judges 16:20).
Rev George Ong