A Karen Swallow Prior Throwback: Dissection of a Downgrade

[Editor’s Note: There has yet to be a single, solitary attempt at providing a documented rebuttal to our post on Karen Swallow Prior’s saying that accommodating “transgendered” people in their bathroom of choice is “as commonsensical as it is refreshing,” her attendance and speaking at an LGBT fundraiser, or her asserting that “…gay marriage is an act done out of love.” Prior has said, “Read my book” and “Google me” when challenged on very specific statements. Her defenders have either come from the Rachel Held Evans-esque camp or, strangely enough, the LGBTQ camp. Some have, without trying to defend her words or actions, called us (essentially) “big meanies.” No one – and we repeat – no one has sought to clarify or retract Swallow Prior’s comments or actions that any right-minded individual would consider to be socially progressive. The danger in this is that some are unwilling to speak or think critically because of Swallow Prior’s association with the ERLC, in the same way that some are unwilling to speak or think critically about Dr. Moore because of his association with Albert Mohler. When we are silent on these issues, our entire Christian culture is swept along with them in this downhill slide. Because of this reality, I think it would be helpful to re-publish a post I did for the RefMT journal last year. Downgrade happens precisely by the behavior we’ve seen by some who can defend not the statements or ideas of Swallow Prior, but only her person (you know, like a “she’s a nice woman, leave her alone” type of thing). Please read and understanding how this behavior leads to theological compromise and destruction – JD]

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“We have said, with deep grief that we should have had to say it, that many ministers have departed from the faith; and this was no unkind suspicion on our part, but a matter of fact, ascertained in many ways, and made most sadly sure…There are many faithful to Christ, and to the souls of men; but, alas! it seems to me that many have no kind of gospel to preach, and the people are willing that it should be so. Some of our colleges are poisoning the churches at the fountains. I very much fear that an unconverted ministry is multiplying… Is this what we have come to? Is there no doctrine left which is to be maintained?”– C.H. Spurgeon, Sword and Trowel, 1887

Spurgeon’s Downgrade Controversy, as it has come to be called, began in 1887 after the renowned preacher published two articles in his monthly publication, called The Down Grade. Written by Spurgeon’s friend, Robert Schindler, the articles argued that religion in England and particularly evident among Spurgeon’s own Baptist Union, was on a steady decline in substance and faithfulness. Although the original two articles were not written by Spurgeon, they included his endorsement, “Earnest Attention is Requested for this Paper…We are going downhill at breakneck speed.”1

The Down Grade articles made a series of charges against the evangelicals of Spurgeon’s day. The first article in March 1887 began Schindler’s assessment of the Down Grade with the ill-fated and infamous pronouncement issued by the English Parliament. Although Schindler mentions the Act of Uniformity in the singular, this was a series of acts stemming from 1549 through 1663 designed to establish a sense of uniformity among the practices of the Church of England. Schindler’s focus, however, was on the Uniformity Act of 1662, which demanding conformity to the approved Book of Common Prayer. This book, which underwent a series of reforms from 1549 to 1662, included acceptable morning and evening prayers, communion, baptism, marriage and funerals. It was, effectively, an artifact of “high church” religion. The Act of Uniformity mandating the use of this book, as Schindler rightly points out in that issue of Sword and Trowel, was in part a hostile response to Puritanism (and with it, Calvinism), which the Crown considered a bothersome annoyance.

Those not conforming to the Uniformity Act and its Book of Common Prayer were henceforth called Nonconformists. Of these were Presbyterians, Baptists, or Independents that all shared a Calvinistic soteriology. Among these were many of the Free Church tradition, of which Spurgeon was a part. As Schindler lays out this short history for us, it becomes apparent that he considers the schism from the Church of England no small move of God and considered it nothing short of a providential blessing. Seeing the forced exodus from the Church of England as a pivotal development in the spiritual revival of his tradition, Schindler’s attributing to this schism what most in today’s mainstream evangelicalism would consider a travesty. He, on the other hand, begins with the root of the revival that was now devolving and being dragged downhill at breakneck speed – a pivotal separation from false religion.

Schindler bemoans that the foundation of the Free Church and Nonconformists were quickly eroded, however. Schindler writes, “The Churches they established were all Calvinistic in their faith, and such they remained for at least that generation. It is a matter of veritable history, however, that such they did not all continue for any great length of time.”2 This establishes the premise of the Down Grade articles; revival does not last long. Orthodoxy must be protected, secured, guarded and preserved. As Solomon warns us, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest and poverty, so poverty shall come upon you like a thief…”3 To put down our doctrinal guard, Schindler and Spurgeon will warn us, leads to spiritual poverty overtaking us like a thief.

Spurgeon charges that many of the Nonconformists rescinded the ground that their fathers bled for and that within just two or three generations surrendered their doctrinal positions and adopted aberrant theological positions. This “Down Grade” first swallowed the Presbyterians, then the Independents, and finally, the Baptists. Schindler characterizes the Down Grade as quickly-occurring. There seems to have been that moment in which the scales are tipped or the paradigm finally shifts, and then all previously slow-moving advance toward doctrinal obscurity is quickly hastened. Again, Schindler asserts that the speed at which the Down Grade occurred for every church was in direction proportion to their abandonment of Calvinist doctrines and holiness, saying “In proportion as the ministers seceded from the old Puritan godliness of life, and the old Calvinistic form of doctrine, they commonly became less earnest and less simple in their preaching, more speculative and less spiritual in the matter of their discourses, and dwelt more on the moral teachings of the New Testament, than on the great central truths of revelation.”4

It’s interesting that Spurgeon’s explanation for the Presbyterians ascent into Down Grade is that they paid more attention to academic achievement, scholarship and oratory than the Baptists, who ordained men not an academic credentials but rather spiritual qualifications, evangelistic zeal and the ability to rightly divide the word of truth (handling the word with proper exegesis, rather than in polished oratory).

Others ascended into Down Grade, according to Schindler, because they tried to take a middle path and modified view of Calvinism, given the nickname of its most famous proponent, Baxterianism. Abandoning these old truths led to a quenched zeal for evangelism, less personal holiness, and adopted a preaching style that focused more on general principles drenched in human speculation than on explicit Gospel truths even though they held to what Schindler calls “nominal orthodoxy.” Modern evangelicals cannot help but think Schinder’s description of the Baxterians sound awfully familiar. In this description lies the typical American evangelical church (many of those common among the Southern Baptist Convention, for example) who have adopted a nonsensical and self-contradictory two or three-point Calvinism, specializing in truncated sermons of self-help cloaked in general Biblical principles and life-tips, and generally avoiding much doctrinal depth or detail in preaching even though confessing in our doctrinal statements what amounts to nominal orthodoxy. In Schindler’s opinion, as well as in Spurgeon’s, any man-centered compromise on doctrine was sure to lead to full-blown Down Grade. To these men, there was no difference between Baxterianism’s modified Calvinism and Arminianism; these terms were treated synonymously in Schindler’s treatise and later, Spurgeon continued to use these terms interchangeably in defense of their mutual position.

Erring on the side of Arminianism wasn’t the only follow of those sliding into Down Grade, however. Schindler outlines in the first article those who he calls, although imprecisely, “antinomian.” His use of this word is misapplied beyond its classical definition, but Schindler uses it to refer to those under the influence of Tobias Crisp.5 Crisp converted from Arminianism (by Schindler’s definition) to Calvinism and rose to a certain level of prominence for his preaching of “free grace,” which was reacting against the growing theology of works-righteousness among the Nonconformists but was an over-correction in Schindler’s opinion and one the that emphasized justification by faith to the exclusion of sanctification. For this reason, he was charged with antinomianism. Crisp denied the charges vehemently, but his dismissal of Christian obedience and minimizing of sanctification came through even in his denials. In a treatise refuting the claim of antinomianism, Crisp said “Do they [the Christian] stand righteous before God, in respect of what he hath done for them? Then they may sit still: they may do what they [want].”6 Even though Crisp’s theology was Calvinistic, the implications of his theology was reminiscent of classical antinomianism. And yet Crisp’s antinomianism was not as bad, according to Schindler, as the over-correction to it by some, leading them to Arminianism.7

Schindler also, in this first article of the Down Grade, explains two classes of those known as Arianism. The first group consisted of preachers that inwardly professed the doctrines but cloaked their beliefs in evading language and shifty dialogue so that their congregations (who would disagree with them) might even take what they had to say as in agreement with them. Their craftiness of words and wickedness of heart deceived the people and led them slowly astray. Others in this first class were slightly more overt, writing their opinion in such a way that the reader could know their beliefs and yet obscurely enough that they could deny the matter if ever given a solid inquisition. The goal of these preachers was to, according to Schindler, “their aim was to ignore his claims, deny him his rights, lower his character, rend the glorious vesture of his salvation, and trample his crown in the dust.”8 The second class of these called Arians were open and overt about their beliefs and although more rare, were no less dangerous than the first.

The precise nature of these heresies were irrelevant in the first Down Grade article in that they all compromised the truth and led down the same hill. Schindler writes, “The central truth of Calvinism, as of the Gospel, is the person and work and offices of the Lord Jesus Christ. We love to use this Pauline and inspired description of our divine Savior and royal Master, and so to “give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name.” When men begin to hesitate about, and hold back the truth in relation to him, it is a sign of an unhealthy state of soul; and when these truths are diluted, omitted, or otherwise tampered with, it is a sign which in plain words means Beware.”

The point of Schindler’s historic accounting of the Down Grade as to demonstrate that many who were now engulfed in Down Grade didn’t intend to. They departed from Calvinism and in the process, were too quickly washed into the sea of compromise. Being careful to illustrate that the Down Grade was not a purposeful endeavor, but rather the consequence of laxness in standards and a void of vigilant diligence, Schindler argues that the Down Grade first began because pastors did not guard the pulpit and would allow heretical men to preach there. Schindler was clear with his charge, “Those who were really orthodox in their sentiments were too often lax and unfaithful as to the introduction of heretical ministers into their pulpits, either as assistants or occasional preachers.” One can’t help to think of the long line of heretics who have preached at Liberty University, and most recently the Mormon heretic, Glenn Beck and the University’s ardent defense of their decision based upon the premise that having him speak was not tantamount to endorsing what he was speaking. I’m sure the Arminian preachers of Spurgeon’s day would have argued the same about the Arians they let grace their pulpits.9

Schindler makes the clear point that what one generation tolerates, the next will embrace. He gives as an example a Calvinist preacher, Dr. William Harris, who invested in a Socinian assistant. Upon his death, his pastorate fell into the hands of a Socinian. Again, the Down Grade began because an older generation of sound doctrinal confessions did not ensure that the reigns of leadership were being given to those of similar convictions. Schindler also explains why the Down Grade occurred quicker with the Presbyterians than the Baptists; the Presbyterians made members any child who had been baptized and had thus opened membership to a vast array of unbelievers. An unregenerate church membership, no doubt, will lead to Down Grade. Although Baptists do not baptize infants, a quick survey of contemporary Baptist life will demonstrate that we struggle with unregenerate membership as much as any paedo-baptist church and for that we have to thank decisional-regeneration and Sinner’s Prayer methodology.

Summing up the environment in which Down Grade is born, Schinder writes “The broader road and easier way… gratified their pride, and let them free to walk after their own hearts in things pertaining to religion. Thus they chose them pastors after their own hearts, men who could, and would, and did, cry ‘Peace, peace,’ when the only way of peace was ignored or denied.”

The response to the first Down Grade article was not a congratulatory applause, but a jeering disapproval more akin to the gnashing of teeth. The Nonconformist community scoffed at the notion they were on the path of this alleged “Down Grade” that was authored by Schindler and anonymously printed by Spurgeon in the Sword and Trowel. Schindler’s historic approach and detailed explanation of the Down Grade’s origin did not phase them and they insisted that it was all a figment of a nervous mind, and perhaps even an indication that Spurgeon was ill.

Little opportunity was given for the criticism to form into an organized resistance, however, with the second volley from Schindler and Spurgeon coming just a month later in the April edition of Sword and Trowel. The second Down Grade article hit even harder, and blamed the state of affairs among the Presbyterians, Independents and Baptists upon its ministers.

Schindler begins the sequel to his treatise by a describing a “quiet time among Nonconformists” created by a cessation of open persecution, replaced by some heartfelt debate taken up by pens rather than swords. And then, the spirit of contention waned and with it, the revival they had enjoyed under persecution waned. True religion mostly vanquished, according to Schindler, and was replaced by Arminianism which was “only Pelagianism under a different name.” Arianism, as Schindler described in his first article, then rose to popularity. To blame for this, the article took to task the clergy.10

Naming names (which was as unpopular in his day as in ours), Schindler wrote of those who had compromised the Doctrines of Grace and replaced it with heresy. He explained that the colleges and seminaries had a pivotal role to play in the Down Grade, spreading false teaching like leaven. One man, Dr. Doddridge, was the pastor of a prominent church and the head of a high ranking academy, he often “traded pulpits” with those who were not orthodox. Interestingly, Doddridge (an accomplished song-writer with cherished and theologically-solid songs under his belt) was not being accused of heresy by Schindler. Doddridge, rather, was guilty of lacking wisdom expected of Christian leadership. His fraternizing with the unorthodox sent the message to his academy students that their heresies weren’t that terrible. Doddridge soon lost control of the doctrine and direction of the academy and it fell into the heresies of those with whom he unwisely fraternized, the Socinians. In short, was brough Doddridge’s legacy into abject Down Grade was his tolerance for the unorthodox, even though he wasn’t unorthodox. Christians, don’t we see this happening today?

Schindler gives case after case in his second article to explain why compromise and tolerance of heresy leads to more of the same. He explains that Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory that had begun to do so much damage to the church even in Spurgeon’s day began in a chapel where Socinianism had conquered the pulpit. He grieves that even Matthew Henry’s pulpit had been overcome by such heresy. Schindler also named the names of churches that had embraced Socinianism. They had made the mistake of forsaking the sound doctrines at the allure of what was new. Schindler explains, “A race of earnest and faithful ministers were raised up who built again that which had been thrown down, leaving their mark on the age and their example to their successors. Do the present race of men prove themselves worthy successors of their fathers? Some do, no doubt. Would that the same could be said of all! But in too many cases sceptical daring seems to have taken the place of evangelical zeal, and the husks of theological speculations are preferred to the wholesome bread of gospel truth. With some the endeavor seems to be not how steadily and faithfully they can walk in the truth, but how far they can get from it. To them divine truth is like a lion or a tiger, and they give it “a wide berth.” Our counsel is—Do not go too near the precipice; you may slip or fall over.”

Does this sound familiar, fellow Christian? Oh, if this is not a description of our time! Perhaps Schindler’s clearest thesis is found in these words, “that where ministers and Christian churches have held fast to the truth that the Holy Scriptures have been given by God as an authoritative and infallible rule of faith and practice, they have never wandered very seriously out of the right way. But when, on the other hand, reason has been exalted above revelation, and made the exponent of revelation, all kinds of errors and mischiefs have been the result.”11 Schindler was not meek in his assertion of how one could avoid this wandering away from truth of the Holy Scriptures – it was to be closely adhering to the doctrines commonly called Calvinism. Schinder explains, “that where ministers and Christian churches have held fast to the truth that the Holy Scriptures have been given by God as an authoritative and infallible rule of faith and practice, they have never wandered very seriously out of the right way. But when, on the other hand, reason has been exalted above revelation, and made the exponent of revelation, all kinds of errors and mischiefs have been the result.” 12

To Schindler, and by extension, Spurgeon, there was no question as to what religious group most highly regarded the Scriptures. He declared with utmost certainty, “Veneration for the sacred Scriptures may certainly be considered as a test of the general purity of religious sentiments. Whether any will be found to equal Calvinists in this respect, shall be left to the judgment; of those readers who have made extensive observations on the subject. Perhaps it cannot be contradicted that, in proportion as any sect recedes from Calvinism, their veneration for the Scriptures is diminished. The Bible is the Calvinist’s creed.”13 Note that Schindler is not arguing that Calvinism is the proverbial kryptonite to Down Grade, but rather that it is a firm allegiance to. It was possible, Schindler might argue, for a non-Calvinist to not slide into Down Grade. However, the article contends, it’s the Calvinist view of Scripture that makes it most likely that one won’t be heading down that hill at breakneck speed until he gives up his theological system altogether.

If his first article of generalities caused concern, Schindler’s second article of named names and detailed specifics of what ministers and churches had compromised and already slid into Down Grade led to nothing short of outrage. Spurgeon optimistically calls the criticism, “excited notice.”14 Spurgeon apparently was blamed of causing division by printing Schindler’s article, of which Spurgeon writes “On all hands we hear cries for unity in this, and unity in that; but to our mind the main need of this age is not compromise, but conscientiousness… It is exceedingly difficult in these times to preserve one’s fidelity before God and one’s fraternity among men. Should not the former be preferred to the latter if both cannot be maintained? We think so.”

As charges were quickly leveled against Spurgeon that his claims were not as bad as what he was making them and that the Down Grade articles were full of exaggeration, he issued a rejoinder to Schindler’s treatise in his own words in August of 1887. Spurgeon claimed that not only was Schindler not exaggerating the compromise and Down Grade, as letters poured in on account of his ringing of alarm, this were proving themselves much worse than they previously thought and – according to Spurgeon – rapidly getting worse.

In this rejoinder, Spurgeon lists some characteristics of this Downgrade, including a “taste for questionable amusements,” waning desire for devotion and spiritual things, the diminishing and cancelation of prayer meetings. It’s these things that Spurgeon blames for the dwindling membership of churches, while his opponents argued the churches weren’t exciting their attendees as they should, thus arguing the opposite. Spurgeon seems especially upset at entertainment-focused churches, writing “The fact is, that many would like to unite church and stage, cards and prayer, dancing and sacraments. If we are powerless to stem this torrent, we can at least warn men of its existence, and entreat them to keep out of it. When the old faith is gone, and enthusiasm for the gospel is extinct, it is no wonder that people seek something else in the way of delight. Lacking bread, they feed on ashes; rejecting the way of the Lord, they run greedily in the path of folly.”

And like Schindler, Spurgeon pointed blame directly at the ministers, saying “Certain ministers are making infidels. Avowed atheists are not a tenth as dangerous as those preachers who scatter doubt and stab at faith.” Spurgeon points out that it was hard for Gospel-focused churches to find men that were both converted and believed in the power of preaching. If you’ve served on a pulpit committee lately, you might find familiarity with Spurgeon’s statements.

Much Down Grade, Spurgeon argues in his rejoinder, is done with the very same excuses that we often hear today. Spurgeon writes, “Numbers of easy-minded people wink at error so long as it is committed by a clever man and a good-natured brother, who has so many fine points about him.” And it’s with this statement of Spurgeon that we turn out attention now to the Down Grade of our own day (henceforth written of in the spelling, Downgrade).

Spurgeon’s Down Grade is not altogether different from our modern Downgrade. Although Schindler and Spurgeon specified the heresies plaguing the church (Arminianism/Pelagianism, hyper-Calvinistic antinomianism, Socinianism and Arianism), these are only symptoms of the underlying problem; our hearts are prone to wander. The disease may manifest itself differently in our day, but the disease remains the same. Affluent Christianity that is devoid of struggle creates stagnant religion, and stagnant religion makes for sloppy theologians. Sloppy theologians leads to compromise, and compromise leads to nearly irreversible Downgrade. Affluence, stagnation, sloppy theology and compromise have all fertilized modern evangelical soil and Downgrade has taken root in nearly every corner of Western Christianity.

A closer evaluation will illustrate that even the symptoms of the disease in Spurgeon’s day are not altogether different from our own. To make the illustration, let me take the course that Spurgeon took in the Sword and Trowel. Schindler and Spurgeon noticed and documented their Down Grade among the Presbyterians and Independents, and yet his primary concern were those of the Baptist Union (who took the greatest exception with his charges). Spurgeon conceded in his first defense of Schindler’s articles that Methodism had not yet suffered under the weight of Down Grade, but it soon would – and even to a greater degree in some cases than among other Nonconformists. Nonetheless, Spurgeon’s primary concern was for those whom he shared the closest spiritual relation – the Baptists. Likewise, let me focus on the Baptists as well, even though the Down Grade has fully engulfed most other denominations and traditions (and most are further down the hill than we).

Spurgeon’s chief lament was that churches and associations built upon the doctrines commonly referred to as Calvinism had been forsaken by some for Arminianism, which he inflammatorily called Pelagianism, and others a modified Calvinism that he labeled Baxterianism and this had been the first step toward Downgrade. How true is that in the Baptist history of our own country!

From the earliest days of American colonial life, Calvinistic Baptists held the majority of Baptist churches. The earliest Baptists on this continent held the five points of Calvinism in their entirety.

The Southern Baptist Convention, led by ardent five-point Calvinists as its earliest leaders (such as Dagg, Manly and Boyce) and enshrined in documents such as the Abstract of Principles, was over-taken by a bizarre and contradictory three-point Calvinism (which is irrational and self-defeating at its heart) in the spirit of Baxterianism. The current resurgence in Calvinism that has been much discussed in both secular and Baptist media has only minimalistically undone the damage done to this compromise in the twentieth century. Some, like Emir Caner and David Allen have even recently asserted that pre-Southern Baptist leaders and shapers of our tradition like William Fuller had at some point abandoned Calvinism. Although soundly rejected by the scholarship of church historians like Tom Nettles, this Arminian myth continues to spread among Southern Baptist entities under Arminian (or as Spurgeon would call it, Pelagian) leadership like New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

With the resurgence in Calvinism upon them, which surely is our only reprieve from this Downgrade, modern day Baxterians have dug in their hills to challenge God’s sovereignty over salvation at every juncture. Professor Adam Harwood at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary has done violence to the Doctrine of Original Sin, insisting fidelity to the doctrine but molesting its historic meaning. Harwood’s treatment of Original Sin, celebrated among the Baxterian strain of the SBC, articulates a fall of man that although affected him, has done no great damage to his nature or ability to call upon the Lord. Divorcing the Fall of Adam from the guilt inherited therein, this perversion of Original Sin is a theological offering so bizarre that Spurgeon would have a hard time recognizing it as even a coherent heresy.

It is no wonder, given Schindler’s premise in the Down Grade articles, that this man-exalting theology has led to man-centered methodological Downgrade in contemporary Baptist life. It is now with breakneck speed that we see the contemporary Baptists run full-throttle into theological devolution.

Paige Patterson has recently and reluctantly revealed, as forced upon him by unsanctioned reporting, that Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has enrolled a Muslim into his seminary which was founded, funded, and is designed to equip Christians to advance the cause of Christ in their given field of study. This was, according to Patterson, an attempt to win the man to Christ. Now, many in the Southern Baptist Convention (leaders and lay people alike) are championing the move and characterizing it as a wise decision made by a compassionate soul winner! This is more evidence of Downgrade than Spurgeon could have imagined. One could scarcely imagine Dr. Doddridge enrolling a follower of Muhammad in his academy, let alone to preface it as an attempt to win the man to Christ. Only in a state of severe Downgrade would men presumed to be reasonably-minded train unbelievers in seminary as a strategy for evangelism. What is next, we must rightly wonder. Will Christian institutions bring in the unconverted infidel to preach to us, that we might win them with our hospitality?

And yet, the Modern Day Downgrade is worse than our imaginations can present it and the day is more evil than we can give it credit. Liberty University has recently had preach at their convocation a polytheistic heretic and follower of that Latter Day bastardization of Christianity commonly known as Mormonism, Glenn Beck. Turning Joseph Smith into a Christus Exemplar, Beck preached to them the virtue of that false prophet to their resounding applause. Releasing a statement just this May, Liberty University defending their profaning of the pulpit by repeating some hearsay that Beck has recently had a “born-again experience,” indicating that perhaps their fraternity with the blasphemer has led him to Christ. And yet in defense of his appearance at Liberty University, Beck plainly said he would not apologize for his Mormon beliefs. Clearly what passes for Christian today, let alone Baptist, is often nothing than religious pluralism as they’ve imagined the Bride of Christ having fornicated with the doctrine of demons (which stands to reason that what these fallen pseudo-siblings of ours call their religion is in no way the spotless Bride of Christ, but an imposter and worldling whore).

The fraternization between the orthodox and profane in Spurgeon’s day was no less impressive than in our own. Those calling themselves Baptists have attempted to mainstream Word-Faith heretic, TD Jakes at the now-infamous Elephant Room. John Piper has fraternized shamefully and inexplicably with Purpose-Driven peddler of the Gospel, Rick Warren. Many a Baptist pastor has made room in the pulpit for dream-marketers and myth chasers, Todd Burpo and Don Piper to sell visions of the afterlife like a charlatan sells snake oil. Even our own publishing house, Lifeway Christian Resources, sells nearly every heresy under the sun.

If in Spurgeon’s Day the subtitle of the Down Grade articles could have been “Baptists Believing Badly,” our Downgrade could be subtitled, “Baptists Behaving Badly.” Few men are as well known and soundly-proven as a habitual liar as unrepentant rebel, Ergun Caner. Rising to prominence by a patently false life story, Caner has done more damage towards the genuine conversion of Muslims as any man in the history of Christianity. And yet, acclaimed former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Johnny Hunt, has recently invited him to share his pulpit in spite of Caner’s bold and explicit declarations of unrepentance. Like with Doddridge, few want to accuse a man of here-to-fore integrity of prostituting the pulpit. Rarely does any Baptist leader take upon himself the mantle of that Prince of Preachers and call these men out by name. And if they would call them to repentance for sliding toward Downgrade by profaning the pulpit, he (like myself) will quickly wind up like Spurgeon and find himself outside our Baptist Union.

The theological Downgrade in our day is no less pernicious than the Down Grade of Spurgeon’s day. And yet, we find ourselves heading downhill at breakneck speed in no short of thanks to our clergy. Spurgeon was clearly on the right side of history, and the annals of time have vindicated our elder brother for concerns that his contemporaries said were the product of a paranoid mind. England today lay a barren spiritual landscape, taken over by pagan religions and the former church cowers in a burned-out heap of disrepair (although God has his elect of unbent knee there even yet). America is not only close behind them, we are getting closer every waking moment and it is rapidly trending downward. If there is any hope of rescue or reprieve, it lay in the doctrines championed by Spurgeon known as Calvinism, the only creed of which is the Holy Bible. And should our brethren reject these doctrines in lieu of those which appeal to fallen natures, then let us resolve ourselves to not go down the hill with them.

1. Robert Schindler, “The Down Grade,” The Sword and the Trowel (March 1887), 122. As quoted from Spurgeon.org in an article entitled Spurgeon and the Down Grade by John F. MacArthur Jr. All citations of Down Grade sources were utilized from the aforementioned website containing the collaboration of John F. MacArthur and Phil Johnson, entitled The Spurgeon Archive. 2. Ibid. 3. Proverbs 6:10-11 4. Schindler, “The Down Grade” 5 Ibid. 6. Christian Liberty No Liscentious Doctrine, Tobias Crisp 7. Another article in this journal, entitled “Tullian and Tobias” explain the eerie parallels between the theologies of the Tullian Tchividjian and Tobias Crisp, one of whom was classified by Spurgeon as an antinomian.  8. Schindler, “The Down Grade” 9. Ibid. 10. Schinder, “The Down Grade” 11. Ibid. 12. Ibid. 13. Ibid. 14. Notes from Spurgeon on the 1887 April edition of the Sword and Trowel, provided by The Spurgeon Archive.

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[Contributed by JD Hall]

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