Charles G. Finney: Hero or Heretic?

December 23, 2019 at 2:48 PM 2 comments

At its root, an evangelist, in the biblical sense, is someone appointed by God to tell others the “good news” (the Gospel). In that sense then, all Christians are to be involved in evangelism (Matthew 28). It is the responsibility of each and every Christian to tell other people about their need for Jesus, with our words and our actions.

The word “evangelist” is only used three times in the Bible: Acts 21:8, Ephesians 4:11–13, and 2 Timothy 4:5. In Ephesians, Paul teaches us that Jesus gave us evangelists (among others), to build up and equip the Body of Christ. In the Acts passage, Phillip is referred to as an evangelist. In the 2 Timothy passage, Paul admonishes his young protege Timothy to do the work of an evangelist.

The work of an evangelist includes “pre-salvation preaching” to help the unsaved understand their need for Christ that leads to salvation. Once people are saved, they are to move on in Christ toward maturity and the same pastor that might preach a pre-salvation message occasionally, needs to equip his parishioners with knowledge they need to become mature in Christ. This is best done through expositional preaching of entire books of the Bible, not topically. While it is fine from time to time to preach on specific topics, it is best to preach expositionally because it allows the Bible to interpret itself and keeps things within the framework of the entire Bible. Topical preaching as a mainstay avoids this and is too easy for the preacher to insert his own peculiar take on aspects of Scripture. Expositional preaching keeps pastors and parishioners honest.

The Church exists in order to equip the saints. It does not exist to entertain the lost, yet that seems to be the mission of too many churches today with their “get them in the door” mentality. However, the primary purpose of the Church is to equip the saints (those who are saved).

Too often though (and I’ve seen this many times over the years), pastors come to conclude the people under their care aren’t growing enough. They see a lack of excitement/growth (number of people) as a sign of waywardness. These pastors begin preaching messages that call people back to God, assuming the people have wandered from Him in the first place.

When these messages fail to bring about the needed change, evangelists are often brought in. The evangelist preaches what many pastors don’t believe they can, especially if guilt cues and emotional manipulation are used to obtain the desired response from the congregation. Invariably, an altar call is given, imploring people to do what is necessary to “get right” with God. Of course, the assumption is that people are not “right” with God and those who remain in their seats and don’t come forward are being obstinate and unrepentant. Many of them end up going forward simply because they don’t want to be seen as that.

Group think plays a big part in this, but that was not the case the day the Church was born on Pentecost in Acts 2. Read that section. Note Peter’s sermon. Note the response of 3,000 people and also of those who rejected the message. By the way, there was no “altar call” there. Peter simply presented facts and the Holy Spirit touched lives.

Altar calls are what occurred under evangelist/itinerant preacher Charles G. Finney (and George Whitefield before him), during what has become known as the Second Great Awakening in America. Finney was a convincing orator, as he was a lawyer before he became an evangelist. His oratory skills as well as his writing ability often mesmerized crowds and readers.

Folks often quote Matthew 10:32 in an effort to prove that if a public confession of faith is not made, the penitent is not truly Christ’s, therefore that was the precursor to the modern day altar call. The problem of course, is that some evangelists (like Finney) were masters at manipulating people into an emotional response to what they preached.

It is interesting to watch an evangelist and his family visiting a church. The entire family often sings or plays instruments. They seem happy and blessed. The evangelist himself preaches a message with fire and emotion. I’ve often wondered though what things are like behind the scenes with that family. (Look up Marjoe Gortner as merely one example.) Moreover, I’ve wondered how many times that evangelist preached that same message day in, day out? Why change it if you’re going to be in a different town and church the next day? After a while, it’s memorized and you can get better with each preaching. It’s no different from a role in a play.

But contrast this with Phillip and God’s use of him in Acts 8. Phillip was directed to draw close to the Ethiopian eunuch’s chariot where he heard the eunuch reading from Isaiah. It was clear the eunuch didn’t understand what he was reading. Phillip explained it to him and the man’s eyes were opened. Phillip had no time to prepare a sermon. Nothing in the text indicates that Phillip used any manipulation or guilt cues. He simply asked a question, then presented the truth of Scripture and explained it to the eunuch. The eunuch then asked to be baptized and he was and then the Spirit took Phillip away from there, leaving the eunuch to go on his way home to North Africa.

However, how many evangelists go way beyond this, normally resorting to using negativisms and manipulation to obtain the desired result, as if they themselves are so far above their listeners? It happens too often and quite frankly, I believe much of it stems from Charles G. Finney, a hero to many within Christendom.

Now, before you might think I’m simply attacking Finney without basis, I’d like to encourage you to do your own research (and I’ve included some links at the end of this article). In fact, I would hope that your research would include Finney’s own words from books he personally wrote, as mine has. After delving into his personal memoirs and Systematic Theology, it is difficult to come away without concluding that Finney was, by and large, a heretic, having clearly rejected many of the most basic truths found within Christendom as taught by Jesus and the apostles.

Here are just several examples of how blatant Finney’s errors were and this is the man who is said to have been at the forefront of the Second Great Awakening of America, but what kind of awakening? These are his own words from his Systematic Theology.

  • ORIGINAL SIN — We deny that the human constitution is morally depraved, because it is impossible that sin should be a quality of the substance of the soul or body. It is, and must be, a quality of choice or intention, and not of substance. To represent the constitution as sinful, is to represent God, who is the author of the constitution, as the author of sin. What ground is there for the assertion that Adam’s nature became in itself sinful by the fall? This is a groundless, not to say ridiculous, assumption, and an absurdity (Finney’s Systematic Theology, pp. 249-250).
  • ENTIRE SANCTIFICATION — It is self-evident, that entire obedience to God’s law is possible on the ground of natural ability. To deny this, is to deny that a man is able to do as well as he can. The very language of the law is such as to level its claims to the capacity of the subject, however great or small that capacity may be.
  • THE SECURITY OF THE BELIEVER — It is not intended that saints, or the truly regenerated, cannot fall from grace, and be finally lost, by natural possibility. It must be naturally possible for all moral agents to sin at any time. Saints on earth and in heaven can by natural possibility apostatize and fall, and be lost. Were not this naturally possible, there would be no virtue in perseverance (Ibid., p. 550).

The above are just three examples of Finney’s error. He simply disagrees with the truth of Scripture and “philosophizes” and “moralizes” about what he thinks is correct or what sounds good to him (emotional virtue).

Yet, we are to believe this man “changed” the fabric of America through his evangelistic crusades? The truth appears to be that he likely simply made things worse as others have attested who worked closely with him during these revival meetings. They followed up with the people who came to these evangelistic services and found that in a very short time following these services, the people, by and large, were worse off than they had been before Finney’s crusades.

A co-worker of Finney’s wrote him following a series of crusades and he stated:

Dear brother Finney, let us look over the fields where you and others have labored as revival ministers, and what is now their moral state? What was their condition within three months after we left them? I have visited and revisited many of these fields, and groaned in spirit to see the sad, frigid, carnal, contentious state into which the churches have fallen–and fallen very soon after our first departure from them (B.B. Warfield, Perfectionism, p. 26).

Another individual wrote:

The people were left like a dead coal which could not be re-ignited; the pastors were shorn of all their spiritual power, and the evangelists–and I was personally acquainted with nearly all of them–I cannot recall a single man, brother Finney and father Nash excepted, who did not after a few years lose his unction, and become equally disqualified for the office of evangelist and that of pastor (Ibid., p. 27).

Why is this the case? Could it be Finney employed solely human acts and attitudes in an attempt to see change the way he envisioned it (social and moral societal change)? If he in fact, founded his ministry on severe theological error, then it is clear those errors would have been preached to crowds day after day, month after month, in an attempt to bring those listeners to his own understanding of what constituted “salvation,” and not necessarily what the Bible disclosed. Turns out, Finney was actually pushing people back on the Law, something that can never save anyone. Finney was no better than the Judaizers of Paul’s day.

It seems at every turn, Finney objected to and repudiated sound doctrine, replacing it with his own philosophizing and morality. But we know that our “morality” is filth compared to God’s own righteousness. We know that nothing man can do will help us overcome our sinful condition. That required Another to do what man cannot. Yet, it is clear from his own writings that Finney completely rejected the entire idea of Christ as our propitiation.

The other evening, my wife and I watched an episode of The Waltons. In this particular episode, a traveling evangelist comes to town after Rev. Fordwick (John Ritter) invites him to be in charge of their “revival” meetings. The evangelist is exactly what I picture Finney to have been like. Loud, mean, fearsome, arrogant, lacking in love, and intrusive to people – all the things that Jesus was not.

Things came to a head with the evangelist and Walton Dad, John. Throughout the episode, John says he has his own view of God and he’s okay with that. His wife, Livvy wants John (and the children), “saved” and during the meetings, several children go forward to “receive” Jesus and are then water baptized the next day. But why did they come forward? For the same reason that many came forward during Finney’s “revival” meetings. They were too afraid NOT to come forward because they wanted to escape hell! They also believed that salvation needed to be “earned” through holiness that people were to continually put on. Without this constant striving toward holiness, a Christian was in danger of losing their salvation (according to Finney).

For Finney, hell was a very real place and one that he believed even true Christians could go to if they apostatized. Finney even stated that Christians (saints) who were already in heaven could fall through apostasy and be sent to hell because of it! Because of his error, Finney constantly misunderstood the difference between sanctification and justification. Eventually, Finney created his doctrine of “Christian Perfectionism.”[1]

Finney is revered by many today and should not be, in my opinion. One can only conclude after reading much of what he wrote from his own pen that this man may not, in fact, have been saved at all! Yet, here he was doing his best to lead others down the same road he traveled! A road of confusion, compromise and essentially, away from God.

For Finney, the idea that the Christian not only could become perfect in this life, but was actually expected to arrive to it was central to his own brand of heretical theology. Ideally, the Christian should not sin (because God resides within us), but because of the sin nature within us (that Finney denied existed), we will at times, sin.

I and many others believe that Charles G. Finney did more harm to the gospel of Jesus than any good. He emphasized “holiness” for the Christian and stated that the Christian can live a holy life without sin. While we are to strive to do whatever is right, we will never be perfect in his life; never, but we cannot use our fallen natures as an excuse to sin either.

The problem with people like Finney is that they want people to live the way they themselves cannot even live and more importantly, the Bible informs us that we cannot. I am left to wonder about the people who venerate Charles G. Finney. Have they not done their own research? Have they not read his own words? Have they not discovered his systematic theological errors? If not, why not?

 

[1] http://www.romans45.org/articles/finney.htm

Resources:

 

Entry filed under: Atheism and religion, christianity, Cultural Marxism, Demonic, devil worship, emergent church, Emotional virtue, eternity, Political Correctness, Politically Correct, Religious - Christian - End Times, Religious - Christian - Prophecy, Religious - Christian - Theology, salvation, Satanism. Tags: , , , , , , .

What Rest Do Christians Enter Into? Babylon and Its System, Part 1

2 Comments

  • 1. Selma Kelly  |  December 29, 2019 at 11:34 PM

    Charles Finney said … “Argumentative prayer is the best kind there is!” He would say that. He was a lawyer. Isaiah 43.26 … “Put Me in remembrance; let us plead together; declare thou, that thou mayest be justified.”

    • 2. modres  |  December 30, 2019 at 8:01 AM

      Finned was certainly interesting though he had virtually no seminary training and he allowed his “truth” to be informed by the way he felt instead of what Scripture days. Too many within Christendom today do the same.


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