Saturday, September 10, 2016

Does Determinism Destroy Discipleship? Hubmaier & Wesley weigh in

"Some say the church is threatened by liberalism
and others say fundamentalism
but the real threat is non-discipleship to Jesus."

                                             - author Dan White Jr. via Twitter

As I researched early Anabaptist theologian Balthasar Hubmaier, I was struck by both the similarities between his theology and later Arminianism and Wesleyanism, and also his critique of Luther's determinism compared with later critiques of Calvinism. [1]

On determinism, both Hubmaier and Wesley addressed the issue pastorally, having each observed first-hand the consequences of this belief for discipleship and holiness.

Below, I have provided excerpts from each of these theologians, written more than 200 years apart, so that you can compare for yourself.


About Hubmaier

Balthasar Hubmaier was one of the only Anabaptists of the reformation era with a doctorate. He was a contemporary to Luther, and was martyred in 1528 after fellow-reformer Zwingli had him arrested for his rejection of infant baptism.

Hubmaier as pastor-theologian

Upon seeing first-hand the resignation that resulted in Christians who had embraced Luther’s determinist theology, Balthasar Hubmaier wrote in his Apologia (1528), "The Sixth Article, That Not Everything Occurs by Necessity" (bold mine):
It is a harmful error, dishonoring to God and intolerable to the Christian faith, that everything must take place by necessity.
This error is so great and grave that it has resulted in much error and mischief among both heathen and Christians. For the sake of brevity the stories of the damage cannot be recounted here. This error is also specifically against God and his highest honor, for since God created reasonable beings, in heaven as angels and on earth mankind, he desired to be supremely honored and praised by them. Now, there is no greater honor man can render to God than to praise, honor and magnify him without compulsion and unforced, for God loves the cheerful givers (and not those who give by compulsion), 2 Cor 9:7. He therefore gave both kinds of beings a free and unforced will, as the Scriptures testify [...] we see clearly that in the first place God made man that he could and should, without compulsion and without force, honor and praise him and keep his commandments; God gave a person this choice and entrusted to him the power to choose water or fire, good or evil, life or death.
But that a person can choose, will and work, not only before the Fall, but also since the Fall on the authority of the divine Word in which God gives to those who will and believe the power and might to do and to accomplish what he has commanded them to do, I want to cite a number of testimonies from the Scriptures, which I have, of course, also taught and preached previously, and have published this particular doctrine in my second booklet on the freedom of the human will. The first Scripture follows:
"The Lord said to Cain, (1) 'Why are you angry and why has your countenance fallen? Is it not true, that if you were righteous, your sacrifice would be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching to manifest itself; but make it (the sin) bow before you and master it,'" Gen 4:6f. It follows that we have the mastery over sin and can master it.  
(2) "This commandment" (says God, the Lord, through Moses) "which I command you this day is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over the sea for us, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' But the word is very near you; it is in your mouth, and in your heart, so that you can do it. See, I have set before you this day life and goodness, death and evil, I who today command you that you love the Lord your God and walk in his ways, and that you keep his commandments, his statutes, and his ordinances, so that you may live and multiply.... But if you turn your heart away, and you will not obey, but fall away ... I declare to you this day, that you shall perish.... I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you this day life and death, blessing and curse, that you might choose life, that you and your seed may live, that you love the Lord your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him." [Deut 30:11-20] Here anyone who has ears can hear that we are able to will, perform, keep and fulfill God's commands without force and without compulsion.
(3) "Be attentive to these things, says the Lord God: 'Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death,'" Jer 21:8. It would be a false god that would offer two ways, knowing that we would necessarily have to take the one way. But he is faithful.
(4) "If you are willing and hear," God the Lord says further, "you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel against me, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken," Isa 1:19a.
He would be an untruthful God if the willing, hearing, and eating were not in our power. But he is truthful, therefore the error is untruthful.
(5) "He came to his own," writes John, "and his own received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the power to become children of God," John 1:11f. Here we see again that God has given us the power and the choice to become his children, or by our own wickedness to remain children of wrath. If we then become children of God there is no doubt that we can serve, honor and praise our Father out of love and without being compelled by necessity. Anyone who teaches differently misleads many people into indolence and despair through such ideas; for if all things happen by necessity, why should I do much praying, fasting, and giving alms; if God will have me, it will take place by necessity, but if he does not want me, then all my works are in vain. Here one sees now very clearly what great harm and evil have grown out of this false doctrine, as I have clearly set forth in my first booklet on the freedom of the will. But as Adam put the guilt on Eve, and Eve on the serpent, so we would also like to make a fig leaf apron for our malice, put the blame on God, toss our sins off of ourselves and put them on him, which is a great blasphemy, which will not help us escape divine punishment. Let every one know how to direct himself accordingly. (Balthasar Hubmaier, "Apologia" in Balthasar Hubmaier: Theologian of Anabaptism, trans & ed Pipkin & Yoder, p 532-34)

Commenting on this portion of Hubmaier's work, Dr Michael W McDill writes:
In Hubmaier’s day Luther was the Reformer who most persistently touted a variety of determinism by his denial of human free will. [...] Hubmaier was aware of Luther’s view of free will and had most likely read some of Luther’s works. Hubmaier’s vexation with the notion of the bondage of the will originated with those in his region whom he perceived as using the issue as an excuse for moral laxity. He was concerned about those in his own city who were pushing the same type of determinism, which some apparently took as license for moral slackness. His assault on Luther’s ideas was accomplished through his polemic against those near him who were denying the freedom of the will. 
Hubmaier had a pastoral concern for these matters. He did not want to see people succumb to a lazy or worldly, and ultimately despondent, sort of Christianity. (Michael W McDill, "Balthasar Hubmaier and Free Will" in The Anabaptists and Contemporary Baptists (2013), Kindle location 3283)

Pipkin & Yoder comment on his other treatises, Freedom of the Will, I & II:
The denial of the freedom of the will had led to development of tensions in Nikolsburg, which he felt were based ultimately on half truths deriving from a perversion of the biblical perspective. The result was that one might conclude that since it is God who works in us the willing and the doing, there is no reason for Christians to attempt to live the disciplined Christian life. In the course of both treatises Hubmaier makes a study of an unusually large selection of biblical passages in order to prove the freedom of the will, without at the same time denying the roll of grace. (Pipkin & Yoder, p 426).

In Freedom of the Will, II (1527) Hubmaier comments on the resignation resulting from a mis-understanding of Romans 9.  He writes:
Do you not see how seriously all those err who say: "Aye, whatever I do, whether it be good or evil, is the will of God, for we are his lump of clay. He makes us what he wants." Yes, he has made of you a vessel of honor by pouring his holy Word into you and has given you the free power and choice to become his child, John 1:12. Since, however, you do not will, you make of yourself out of your own wantonness a vessel of dishonor. (p 482)

And in case you're thinking, "Sure, but God commands us to do things we can't do all the time", Hubmaier answers:

Whomever God commands to break his bread with the poor and does not believe that with the words, "break our bread with the hungry," God now gives him the power and strength to will and to do such, and still lets the inborn stinginess of the flesh remain as it is, does not recognize the power of the mouth of God, Isa 58:7.
Whoever knows what the new birth is will not deny the freedom of the will in the human being, John 3:5; 1 Pet 1:23; James 1:18; Mark 2:14.
As often as Christ said to a person, "Stand up and walk. See. Hear. Stretch out your hand. Be cleansed," he gave to the same the power to stand up, to see, to hear, to stretch out his hand, and to be cleansed. That must be or his Word will be like a human word, John 5:8; Luke 18:42; Mark 6:56; Matt 8:4; 12:13; Mark 3:5; Luke 6:10. Whoever says that the flesh need not desire against his natural will, to do the will of the soul, which has been awakened by the Word of God, taps at the wall in the bright sunshine, Matt 7; John 7; Gen 4; Romans 8:13. [2]
A foolish lord it is who sets a goal for his people and says: "Go to it, run so that you win," when he knows all along that they are forged into chains and cannot run, 1 Cor 9:24.
Whoever says that wives cannot be obedient and subject to their husbands, servants and subjects to their lords, and that sin cannot be obedient to evil Cain, O you of little faith, Gen 4:7; Rom 13:1; Eph 5:22; 6:5f; Col 3:22; 1 Pet 2:13f; 3:1.
That would be a perfidious God who would invite all people to supper, offer his mercy to everyone with exalted earnestness, and would yet not want them to come, Luke 14:16ff; Matt 22:2ff. That would be a false God who would say with the mouth, "Come here," but would think secretly in the heart, "Stay there," Isa 55:1; Matt 11:28; John 1:12; Luke 15:22.
That would be a disloyal God who would give a human being grace publically, and clothe him in a new garment, but secretly would take it back again from him and prepare hell for him. [3]
It is a curse to say that God commanded us to do impossible things, Matt 19:17. For everything that is impossible in our strength is made possible to the believer through his sent Word, Luke 18:27; Mark 9:23; 13:11. Thus it was possible for Mary, a pure virgin, to give birth to a child, she who had never known any man, Luke 1:31. So much power does the sent Word of God have. ("Apologia", p 464, 465-66)
Later, Hubmaier adds:
Nevertheless, it is certain and sure that the crucified Christ wants all people to be saved and come to the recognition of the truth, 1 Tim 2:4.
We should listen to the incarnated God--thus speaks the voice of the heavenly Father out of the clouds [...] Matt 17:5; 2 Pet 1:17; Luke 9:35 [...]
It is a crazy foolishness of ours that we desire to know the secret will of God, and we despise his known will. (p 467)
You can read the rest of Hubmaier’s work in Balthasar Hubmaier: Theologian of Anabaptism, translated & edited by H Wayne Pipkin and John H Yoder (Find in a Library).


More than 200 years later, John Wesley preached his sermon Free Grace (1740), coming to the same conclusions regarding the Calvinism of his day (bold mine): 
This then, is a plain proof that the doctrine of predestination is not a doctrine of God, because it makes void the ordinance of God; and God is not divided against himself. 
A Second is, that it directly tends to destroy that holiness which is the end of all the ordinances of God. I do not say, none who hold it are holy; (for God is of tender mercy to those who are unavoidably entangled in errors of any kind;) but that the doctrine itself, -- that every man is either elected or not elected from eternity, and that the one must inevitably be saved, and the other inevitably damned, -- has a manifest tendency to destroy holiness in general; for it wholly takes away those first motives to follow after it, so frequently proposed in Scripture, the hope of future reward and fear of punishment, the hope of heaven and fear of hell. That these shall go away into everlasting punishment, and those into life eternal, is not motive to him to struggle for life who believes his lot is cast already; it is not reasonable for him so to do, if he thinks he is unalterably adjudged either to life or death. You will say, "But he knows not whether it is life or death." What then? -- this helps not the matter; for if a sick man knows that he must unavoidably die, or unavoidably recover, though he knows not which, it is unreasonable for him to take any physic at all. He might justly say, (and so I have heard some speak, both in bodily sickness and in spiritual) "If I am ordained to life, I shall live; if to death, I shall live; so I need not trouble myself about it." So directly does this doctrine tend to shut the very gate of holiness in general, -- to hinder unholy men from ever approaching thereto, or striving to enter in thereat. 
1. As directly does this doctrine tend to destroy several particular branches of holiness. Such are meekness and love, -- love, I mean, of our enemies, -- of the evil and unthankful. I say not, that none who hold it have meekness and love (for as is the power of God, so is his mercy;) but that it naturally tends to inspire, or increase, a sharpness or eagerness of temper, which is quite contrary to the meekness of Christ; as then especially appears, when they are opposed on this head. And it as naturally inspires contempt or coldness towards those whom we suppose outcast from God. "O but," you say, "I suppose no particular man a reprobate." You mean you would not if you could help it: But you cannot help sometimes applying your general doctrine to particular persons: The enemy of souls will apply it for you. You know how often he has done so. But you rejected the thought with abhorrence. True; as soon as you could; but how did it sour and sharpen your spirit in the mean time! You well know it was not the spirit of love which you then felt towards that poor sinner, whom you supposed or suspected, whether you would or no, to have been hated of God from eternity. 
Fourthly. This uncomfortable doctrine directly tends to destroy our zeal for good works. And this it does, First, as it naturally tends (according to what was observed before) to destroy our love to the greater part of mankind, namely, the evil and unthankful. For whatever lessens our love, must so far lessen our desire to do them good. This it does, Secondly, as it cuts off one of the strongest motives to all acts of bodily mercy, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and the like, -- viz., the hope of saving their souls from death. For what avails it to relieve their temporal wants, who are just dropping into eternal fire? "Well; but run and snatch them as brands out of the fire.: Nay, this you suppose impossible. They were appointed thereunto, you say, from eternity, before they had done either good or evil. you believe it is the will of God they should die. And "who hath resisted his will?" But you say you do not know whether these are elected or not. What then? If you know they are the one or the other, -- that they are either elected or not elected, -- all your labour is void and vain. In either case, your advice, reproof, or exhortation is as needless and useless as our preaching. It is needless to them that are elected; for they will infallibly be saved without it. It is useless to them that are not elected; for with or without it they will infallibly be damned; therefore you cannot consistently with your principles take any pains about their salvation. Consequently, those principles directly tend to destroy your zeal for good works; for all good works; but particularly for the greatest of all, the saving of souls from death.

[1Many Calvinists today would deny that their theology is determinism, preferring instead to claim the term "compatibilism" for their view, though one need only look at their statements on the topic to see this is merely a nicer veneer. As Dr Pinnock (himself a former Calvinist) once wrote of "adherence to determinist freedom", "he calls it compatibilist because it sounds better" but under this view "people are only doing what they have been programmed to do. There is no moral credibility in this move--the reprobate are set up to perish." (Perspectives on Election, p 62).

For more on this, see: A Theology in Tension, "Calvinist Quotes on God Determining All Evil". For a helpful critique of determinism from within the Reformed camp, see “A Reformed Theologian’s Critique of Divine Determinism” at Roger Olson’s blog.

[2] Here, Hubmaier presents a view of prevenient grace which is very similar to what would later be known as Reformed/Classical Arminian view, that is, that "the Word is the instrument, the means used by the Spirit as a basis for the conviction, the persuasion, the enabling" (Picrilli). For more on the difference between the Wesleyan and Classical views, see my post: An Introduction to Prevenient Grace. For more on Hubmaier's view, see: Great Quotes: Early Anabaptist theologian Balthasar Hubmaier on Prevenient Grace.

[3] For more on this, see my post: On Assurance of Salvation and Calvin's "Evanescent Grace".

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