Jeffrey Meyers – Faith Works

“Personally, I would like to see us out from under the straightjacket of the Westminster standards.” — Jeff Meyers

Covenantal nomism (a phrase coined by New Perspectives liberal E.P. Sanders) is the anti-Christian belief that one enters into God’s covenant by grace but remains in through works of obedience or simply through faithfulness to the covenant’s demands.  Further, and as Michael Horton explains:

Covenantal nomism also holds that the average Jewish person may sin and yet remain in the covenant through repentance, renewed obedience to the law, and (according to some major rabbinical sources) the “merit of the fathers”-the faithful deeds of the patriarchs. The condition for remaining in the covenant is not, then, successfully fulfilling all of God’s commandments-it is not legalistic perfectionism-but freely intending to obey them. The fact that covenantal nomism provides for transgressions and does not require perfect obedience means, for Sanders and others, that it was after all a religion of grace . . . Paul’s letters-and specifically Galatians-show that Sanders and the “new perspective on Paul” are basically right in their identification of first-century Judaism as “covenantal nomism.” But even if we grant that covenantal nomism rather than perfectionistic legalism was the broad consensus formula for first-century Judaism, it is precisely this that Paul opposes as the Galatian heresy: “O foolish Galatians! . . . Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by the hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:1-4). This confusion is substantially the same as the one the Protestant reformers faced. It crops up throughout church history whenever Scripture’s clear distinctions between law and gospel, faithfulness and faith, get confused concerning the way we receive the inheritance promised to Abraham.

With covenantal nomism what’s good for the Jew is good for the Gentile and as we continue our examination of the full corpus of PCA pastor Jeffrey Meyers, we now turn to a discussion of the idea of faith and works (what Wes White calls the FV doctrine of “sola fidelity” ) under the rubric of covenantal nomism.  Notice carefully how Meyers explains 2 Timothy 1:8-9 and the phrase  “according to our works” not in terms of obedience to the moral law, but rather as a caution against spiritual pride.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

#651
From: Jeff Meyers <jeffmeyers@…>
Date: Mon Nov 25, 2002 11:21 am
Subject: Re: faith/works

On Monday, November 25, 2002, at 01:50  PM, Joel and Rachel Wilhelm wrote:

Joel G. and Mark seem to be saying that the II Tim. passage *is*  fighting  merit theology (I agree). What I do not understand is where this “merit  theology” is coming from if covanental nomism is assumed? I can see the covenantal nomism argument making sense in Romans/Galatians but if  here in  II Tim we see merit rearing its’ head, where did it come from? Are there different strands of Judaism in view? Or something else?

First, the passage you referenced says nothing about “merit.”  Second, the NPP is not diametrically opposed to reading the NT as being opposed to all sinful pride.  Covenant “nomism” is not necessarily incompatible with such a reading.  The Jews became proud and thought that their observance of the law commended them to God.  Paul rebukes them.

Take, for example, circumcision.  It was intended as a humiliating rite, one that ought to have reminded Abraham and his descendants that they would not secure the promise by means of the flesh (=penis).  God cut off the power and virility of man.  The promise will be fulfilled by God himself, apart from man’s power.  But it seems pretty clear from reading the NT that circumcision came to be considered an act of heroic spirituality, especially for Gentile God-fearing adults.  This is behind Paul’s polemic in Galatians.  What was intended as humiliation has become a badge of spirituality for the Judaizers.  All the “works of the law” (meaning that which made the Jew’s distinct in the old world) were being treated by the Judaizers as works of heroic spirituality rather than temporary distinctives designed to set apart the Jews as kings and priests to the Gentiles until the coming of the Messiah.

So it’s not unlikely that Paul has these things in mind when he writes that God has not called us “according to our works” in 2 Tim. 1:8-9.

What is this but a polemic against pride?  Surely the Reformers were largely correct in using Galatians against the late Mediveal Roman church.  Admitting this is not exactly the same thing as saying that the Jews thought they were meriting God’s favor by generic “good works.”

And notice another interesting thing about Galatians.  If Paul’s polemic is against those who think they are meriting salvation by doing generic good works, that is, obeying the moral law of God. . . if the phrase “works of the law” refers to obedience to the moral law. . . if being “under the law” refers to this, then why does he commend obedience to the law in Gal. 5:13-14.  Furthermore, how can we read Paul’s opposition of “faith” and “works” as an abstract dichotomy between “passive trust” and “active working” when he describes what the Galatians are being deflected from (by the Judaizers) as “OBEYING the truth” (Gal. 4:7)?

Jeff Meyers

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14 Comments on “Jeffrey Meyers – Faith Works”

  1. Hugh McCann Says:

    Horton quotes from “The Heart of the Gospel: Paul’s Message Of Grace in Galatians,” Modern Reformation magazine, Sept/Oct 2003, Vol. 12 No. 5, pp 32f.

    http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var1=ArtRead&var2=244&var3=issuedisplay&var4=IssRead&var5=25

  2. Hugh McCann Says:

    Oops – article name for above: ‘Paul and Covenantal Nomism’

  3. LJ Says:

    Sean or Hugh:
    My goodness! Are the errors only subtle to me? Am I the only one who has to read this three times to figure it out? Am I that thick? Ok, stop nodding your head “yes!” I guess I’d rather be thick and finally get it, than be slick and never get it, eh?

    It seems that most of what he writes is fine until the last paragraph, am I right?

    Here’s what Myers wrote: “Furthermore, how can we read Paul’s opposition of “faith” and “works” as an abstract dichotomy between “passive trust” and “active working” when he describes what the Galatians are being deflected from (by the Judaizers) as “OBEYING the truth” (Gal. 4:7)?

    Possibly I’m too new to the whole issue and lack the historical background to have the errors jump out at me. But the last paragraph is clearly wrong.

    But no wonder he (they, the FVer’s) got away with this for so long!

    LJ

  4. Sean Gerety Says:

    Don’t feel bad LJ, I’d like to think Meyers was clever enough to pull the wool over the men of the Missouri Pres which recently exonerated him, but I think there may be more to it. I suspect the leading MO Presbyters, who are also Covenant Seminary profs, are also FV men, or, at the very least, very open to NPP novelties and N.T. Wright in particular.

    However, per the above I think the thing to keep an eye on is how completely Meyers denies the law/gospel distinction even as an interpretive principle with regard to 2 Timothy 1:8-9.

    What might help explain where Meyers is coming from is from a previous post where he writes:

    “It seems pretty clear to me that the first word of the decalogue (not commandments) has to do with trusting Yahweh alone. The language of “having” or “possessing” no other god is marriage language. Israel, the bride, is to cling to Yahweh, her Husband and Lord, in faithfulness. What is this but salvation by faith? How is that wrong?”

    Notice how faithfulness is synonymous with salvation by faith. That’s because according to Meyers, and Federal Visionists in general, one enters into a covenant relationship with God and is untied to Christ through the waters of baptism. As per the above quote, it is not at all unusual for FV men to compare what they imagine happens in baptism with marriage (I wouldn’t be surprised if they even thought of marriage, at least privately, as a sacrament). However, to remain in this relationship, to remain married, requires a combination of faith and works, or, more simply, personal loyalty. Of course if they said by means of faith and works I think the jig would be up entirely even in the minds of the most brain dead TEs and REs, but they say exactly the same thing regardless. For example, to the investigative Committee Meyers said: “To say that the kind of faith that justifies is a “living, active, and personally loyal faith” is simply to define genuine faith over against false or superficial belief.” So, while the above post is taken from something Meyers wrote in 2002 we can see he is still saying the same things in 2011.

  5. Hugh McCann Says:

    Dear L.J.,

    Were the snakes not subtle, they’d never catch prey. They must blend in to their surroundings, in order to catch the unsuspecting & undiscerning. The errors of the not-so-subtle would be less dangerous, b/c easier to spot. The hidden serpent is more dangerous!

    Let’s begin by getting before us the texts (from the ESV) in question in the email.

    2 Tim. 1:18f ~ Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began…

    Gal. 5:13f ~ For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

    And, Gal. 5:7 (not 4:7) ~ You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?

    Though unable to improve upon Mr Gerety, I will simply gainsay Meyers’ comments below, assuming the gospel-believers’ discernment and understanding. 🙂

    J.M.: First, the passage you referenced says nothing about “merit.”

    MOI: Almost laughable, this! What the heck do they think
    ‘gospel’ means,
    or, ‘not because of our works,’
    or, ‘his own [implying not our] purpose and grace,
    which he gave us’ (freely, as in a gift)?!

    J.M.: Second, the NPP is not diametrically opposed to reading the NT as being opposed to all sinful pride. Covenant “nomism” is not necessarily incompatible with such a reading.

    MOI: This IS cunning indeed. One should expect a proponent of a view to say that it is drawn from, or is based in the NT, rather than it ‘is not diametrically opposed to the NT’! (Just a bit ‘tangentially opposed,’ then?) But further, for the NPP-FV-CN* gang, new definitions are given for grace & gospel, and how works & righteousness are to be viewed.

    J.M.: The Jews became proud and thought that their observance of the law commended them to God. Paul rebukes them.

    MOI: Wow! Sounding downright evangelical! {A half-truth masquerading as the whole truth…

    J.M.: Take, for example, circumcision. It was intended as a humiliating rite, one that ought to have reminded Abraham and his descendants that they would not secure the promise by means of the flesh (=penis). God cut off the power and virility of man.

    MOI: …is a complete untruth.} Madness, this. No, God was painfully picturing the sinfulness of man. This wasn’t castration or otherwise emasculation, it was circumcision. God did not cut off man’s ‘power & virility’! He cut away a very sensitive, private piece of skin to indicate the sinfulness of man’s MOST private part: His heart!

    J.M.: The promise will be fulfilled by God himself, apart from man’s power. But it seems pretty clear from reading the NT that circumcision came to be considered an act of heroic spirituality, especially for Gentile God-fearing adults. This is behind Paul’s polemic in Galatians.

    MOI: It was part of Paul’s complaint, to be sure. But the Galatians were in danger of falling into the same self-righteous snare the Jews had: Auto-soteriology, self-salvation acc. to works + faith.

    J.M.: What was intended as humiliation has become a badge of spirituality for the Judaizers. All the “works of the law” (meaning that which made the Jew’s distinct in the old world) were being treated by the Judaizers as works of heroic spirituality rather than temporary distinctives designed to set apart the Jews as kings and priests to the Gentiles until the coming of the Messiah.

    MOI: O.K.

    J.M.: So it’s not unlikely that Paul has these things in mind when he writes that God has not called us “according to our works” in 2 Tim. 1:8-9.

    MOI: Among other things. We think first, however, of his testimony in Phil. 3:3f ~ ‘For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh — though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more… [6-9]…as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.’!!!

    J.M.: What is this but a polemic against pride? Surely the Reformers were largely correct in using Galatians against the late Mediveal [SIC] Roman church. Admitting this is not exactly the same thing as saying that the Jews thought they were meriting God’s favor by generic “good works.”

    MOI: ‘Slick,’ to use your word, L.J. But the second sentence here is wrong, absurdly wrong; dangerously wrong. What else can ‘pride,’ ‘an act of heroic spirituality,’ & ‘a badge of spirituality’ mean, other than spiritually fatal self-righteousness?! He’s already admitted that ‘All the “works of the law” …were being treated by the Judaizers as works of heroic spirituality.’

    J.M.: And notice another interesting thing about Galatians. If Paul’s polemic is against those who think they are meriting salvation by doing generic good works, that is, obeying the moral law of God. . . if the phrase “works of the law” refers to obedience to the moral law. . . if being “under the law” refers to this,

    MOI: Yes, yes, they do; and…?

    J.M.: then why does he commend obedience to the law in Gal. 5:13-14.

    MOI: Ha ha! Love toward one another ‘fulfills’ the law! Not in a salvific sense, of course. The law was savingly fulfilled by Christ for his sheep. But we, having been justified freely by his grace, are to put to death the flesh (lascivious lusts as well as self-righteous ‘generic good works,’ to use J.M.’s phrase) through walking in the Spirit.

    This ‘makes replete [_pleroo_] the law,’ Gal. 5:14.

    Cf. Col. 1:25 ~ Again _pleroo_, ‘to fulfill’ (the word of God).

    Similar is Col. 1:24 ~ _antanapleroo_, ‘to complete’ (that which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ).

    J.M.: Furthermore, how can we read Paul’s opposition of “faith” and “works” as an abstract dichotomy between “passive trust” and “active working” when he describes what the Galatians are being deflected from (by the Judaizers) as “OBEYING the truth” (Gal. 4:7)[SIC]?

    MOI: ‘Obeying the truth’ – does that mean
    (1) a partial obedience – one trying one’s best? or,
    (2) complete obedience, as saith the law? or,
    (3) believing the gospel, wherein we are credited with the obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ?

    Context may helps us answer this: Gal. 5:1-13 ~ ‘For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.’

    Blessings,
    Hugh

    * Whose movement John Robbins well-labeled as “convenantal legalism.”

  6. Sean Gerety Says:

    Nice work Hugh.

  7. Hugh McCann Says:

    This 1696 Witsius quote from White’s blog,

    “I know not by what right the very learned man [Dr. Cave] takes it for granted that by the works of the law, which Paul excludes from justification, are understood works before conversion, done without faith, by our own strength, which popish fiction the Protestant champions have so often and so solidly refuted, that it is amazing [that] a Protestant is found who again patronizes it.”

    …reminds us of these Anglican Articles of Religion (1563):

    XI. Of the Justification of Man.
    We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort; as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.

    XII. Of Good Works.
    Albeit that good works, which are the fruits of faith and follow after justification, cannot put away our sins and endure the severity of God’s judgement, yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith, insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.

    XIII. Of Works before Justification.
    Works done before the grace of Christ and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ, neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the School authors say) deserve grace of congruity: yea, rather for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.

    XIV. Of Works of Supererogation.
    Voluntary works besides, over and above, God’s commandments which they call Works of Supererogation, cannot be taught without arrogancy and impiety. For by them men do declare that they do not only render unto God as much as they are bound to do, but that they do more for His sake than of bounden duty is required: Whereas Christ saith plainly, “When ye have done all that are commanded to do, say, ‘We be unprofitable servants.'”

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  8. LJ Says:

    Sean:

    You copied Meyers with this: Meyers said: “To say that the kind of faith that justifies is a “living, active, and personally loyal faith” is simply to define genuine faith over against false or superficial belief.” So, while the above post is taken from something Meyers wrote in 2002 we can see he is still saying the same things in 2011.

    When he starts using the “faithfulness” adjectives I get it. It’s just when they go off on all the esoteric marriage, covenant, baptismal integration stuff that I get flummoxed.

    I appreciate your diligence on this and bearing with me.

    Now, I’m going to read what Hugh wrote and, I suspect, when I’m done I’ll be all up to speed!

    LJ

  9. LJ Says:

    Hugh,
    I can’t begin to thank you for the time you put into helping my understanding with your postings. What a blessing you are brother. Now, I’m going to do your work justice and read it quietly and carefully at home.

    You are the bomb!

    LJ

  10. Hugh McCann Says:

    Dear S.G. & L.J.,
    Thank you for your kind words.
    I hope I can be of help!
    God’s Hammer and the Trinity Foundation certainly are!
    Hugh

  11. Hugh McCann Says:

    Sean,

    FWiW, You’ve either made a cute pun with “Covenatal nomism” ((paragraphs 1 & 2), or else a typo.

    And once with “coveantal nomism” (para. 2).

  12. Sean Gerety Says:

    No pun intended, just typos.


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