Antinomianism has plagued Christianity for a very long time. In modern American evangelical history people might think first of the controversy over “free grace” within Dispensational circles, in which the advocates of “free grace” denied the abiding validity of the moral law as summarized in the Ten Commandments. More recently there is a genuine fear in NAPARC circles of a renewed antinomianism. There are genuine antinomians about still. I have had lengthy discussions with some who deny the abiding validity of the moral law and no matter how much evidence one amasses from the gospels and the epistles, they seem to know a priori (before they ever look at the evidence) that the new covenant is such that the Decalogue could not be the norm for the Christian life. There are other movements, e.g., the so-called New Covenant theology that are at least quasi-Antinomian, whose chief objection seems to be the abiding validity of the fourth commandment but whose explanation of the role of the moral law is virtually indistinguishable from that of the Antinomians who deny the abiding validity of the moral law. Our current discussions are nothing new. In earlier periods, as you can see, Samuel Rutherford (1600–61) opposed “familists” (a spiritualist sect in the early to mid-16th century that denied the visible church and its ministry) and the Antinomians and defended Martin Luther (1483–1546) from the charge of antinomianism—tragically too many Reformed folk today, who seem largely ignorant of Luther’s actual work, who rely on unsourced internet wizards, persist in describing Luther as antinomian. Roughly contemporary with the debates in the British Isles about the time of the Westminster Assembly, there were, in the American colonies, heated theological and political debates over the “free grace” teaching of John Cotton (1585–1652) and Anne Hutchinson (1591–1643). Of course, as already mentioned, Luther and Philip Melanchthon (1497–1560) opposed Johannes Agricola (1494–1566) as an antinomian. Indeed, the spirit of antinomianism goes back to the Gnostics and the Valentinians, who, like many of the early Anabaptists, denied the reality of Christ’s humanity and the reality of physical reality generally. The Gnostics used to say, “give to the flesh the things of the flesh and to the spirit the things of the spirit.” To the degree such a spirit-matter dualism and the attitudes of Anabaptists came to influence American evangelicals in the 19th century, to the same degree it has been affected by antinomianism.
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