To the Members of Horizon Christian Fellowship
It is with a heavy and sad heart that we have decided to leave Horizon Christian Fellowship. We have come to love the people and the fellowship at this church but feel that we can no longer remain under the leadership. Leaving is hard enough, but it is all the more difficult for the reasons we are leaving: a doctrinal dispute which concerns the gospel. This letter contains an explanation for the reasons behind our departure and a warning to other members. I strongly encourage you to check for yourself to see if what I write is true.
Recently, a controversy has erupted over the gospel message that is taught by a popular celebrity pastor John Piper. On September 25, 2017, just prior to the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, John Piper wrote and published an article on Desiring God titled “Does God Really Save Us by Faith Alone?” In this article Piper seeks to answer the question, “are we saved by faith alone” to which he answers in the negative; we are not saved by or through faith alone. In November of 2017, I co-authored an article, titled “John Piper on Final Justification by Works,” in response to Piper’s teaching and submitted it to Pastors Clift Barnes and Pablo Valenzuela. In response to my article Pastor Barnes said he wasn't sure what Piper was trying to say and Pastor Valenzuela said he “vehemently disagreed” with me. Neither one of them agreed with me that Piper had detracted from the gospel and they made no attempt to defend Piper’s statements.
While there are some true statements in Piper’s article it also contains a doctrine that is fatal to the gospel. That doctrine is Piper’s doctrine of “final salvation.” Piper writes the following:
In final salvation at the last judgment, faith is confirmed by the sanctifying fruit it has borne, and we are saved through that fruit and that faith. As Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 2:13, “God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.
At first glance it appears that Piper is rephrasing 2 Thessalonians 2:13, but he is saying something entirely different. For a better understanding of this passage please consider “Does 2 Thessalonians 2:13 Teach That Our Good Works Are An Instrument Of Salvation?” by R. Scott Clark. The passage in Thessalonians states that God chose us “to be saved, through sanctification;” not to be saved through the fruit of sanctification. Notice that Piper says, “faith is confirmed by the sanctifying fruit it has borne.” The fruit of sanctification is not itself sanctifying and the passage does not say that we are saved through that fruit. Piper has made a critical error because he believes the fruit is sanctifying and therefore he has read into the passage that we are saved through that fruit of sanctification. He says “we are saved through that fruit and that faith.” But what does he mean by fruit? If we are going to represent Piper accurately and fairly then we have to allow him to define the terms he uses. Piper gives us the answer in the article titled “Will We Be Finally ‘Saved’ by Faith Alone?” to which he answers in the negative yet again. Here Piper writes,
Works play no role whatsoever in justification, but are the necessary fruit of justifying faith.
Piper says that “works” are the “fruit” and he is correct. We agree that our good works are the necessary fruit. The problem is that Piper would have us believe that “we are saved through that fruit.” In other words, we are saved through faith and works. This is the only logical conclusion one can draw from this. If works are the fruit and we are saved through that fruit, then we are saved through works. It’s quite clear that this is what Piper is saying but is this what the Bible teaches? The answer is a resounding no! The Bible uniformly rejects this notion. One of the clearest passages of scripture is Ephesians 2:8-9 which reads, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
In this well-known passage of scripture, we read that you are “saved through faith.” It is “not a result of works.” Contrary to what Piper teaches, we are saved through faith; not faith and works. Here we are also told that “it is the gift of God.” This point should not be missed because if it is through works, as Piper teaches, then it would not be a gift. Paul informs us in Romans 4:4, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.”
In the book of Romans, Paul tells us that if we work for something then it’s not a gift but in the book of Ephesians he tells us that salvation is a gift because it’s not a result of our works. Piper defines fruits as works and the Bible defines work as that which we do so that something might be earned. If we are saved through faith and works then we, at least in part, earn our salvation. But the Bible rejects this notion which is why we read, “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Romans 4:4-5). John Robbins, founder of the Trinity Foundation, also pointed this out
The Bible emphatically teaches salvation by faith alone: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:50). “Those by the wayside are they that hear; then comes the devil, and takes away the Word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved” (Luke 8:12). “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21). “Who will tell you words, by which you and all your house shall be saved” (Acts 11:4). “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:31). “That if you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved” (Romans 10:9). “By which also you are saved, if you keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless you have believed in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:2). “For by grace are you saved, through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). “…it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21). “…them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:10). “God has from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13). “But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul” (Hebrews 10:39).
When I first spoke to Pastor Valenzuela about this issue he said that he has listened to Piper for years and has found his teaching to always be right in line with the Bible. It seemed to me that Pastor Valenzuela’s assessment of Piper was based on his personal experience of having listened to him over the years and not on the evaluation of Piper’s doctrine of final salvation in the light of God's word. At the time I felt that he and the other elders would need more time to look into the matter.
Of course, one might be tempted to say that Piper’s expression of his doctrine of final salvation was a slip of the pen. When I later spoke to Pastor Barnes about it he stated that he believed Piper just meant that works have to be present in the life of the believer. Surely Piper must believe that we are saved by faith alone as the Bible teaches. Well, one can hope but we would advise you not to hold your breath. As the controversy continued, Piper’s views would become more and more clear as people began to take notice. Shortly after Piper wrote and published his article, which sparked the controversy, another article came out by Desiring God on October 14th, 2017, titled “How to Train Your Dragons; Killing Pet Sins Before They Kill You.” The article was authored by Greg Morse, staff writer for desiringGod.org and graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary. In the article, Morse confirms Piper’s view and also denies the gospel. He writes,
If you have a pet sin, you must renounce it at once. Your salvation depends on it... But what about being saved by faith alone? You’re not. You’re justified through faith alone. Final salvation comes through justification and sanctification — both initiated and sustained by God’s grace.
Morse, learning from Piper and citing his original article, explicitly states that we are not saved by faith alone. He says, “You’re justified through faith alone. Final salvation comes through justification and sanctification.” This should tell us that Piper meant what he said and we understood him correctly. Both Piper and Morse are redefining the doctrine of justification by faith alone by creating a false distinction between a person's justification and salvation. According to them, we are only justified by faith alone but we are not saved by faith alone and we do not get into heaven by faith alone.
Morse, however, gave us confirmation that we understood Piper correctly. According to both Piper and Morse, our salvation depends in part on what we do rather than on what Christ has already done. Piper says this implicitly and Morse confirms it explicitly when he says, “If you have a pet sin, you must renounce it at once. Your salvation depends on it.”
Then, on the heels of the article written by Morse and published by Desiring God, Piper himself confirmed this view in a sermon given at Bethlehem College, published November 13, 2017, titled “How Do You Get into Heaven?” In that sermon, Piper appears to articulate the doctrine of justification by faith alone accurately until he too makes a false distinction between a person's justification and how a person gets into heaven. Piper preached,
How do you get into heaven? You don’t get into heaven by faith alone. You get justified by faith alone. You get into a position where God is one hundred percent for you by faith alone.
Piper says the same thing Morse said, which is that you only get justified by faith alone. According to Piper, you are only justified by faith alone, which gets you into a position where God is one hundred percent for you, but you don’t get into heaven by faith alone. If you don’t get into heaven by faith alone then logically you get into heaven by faith and works. This is troublesome, but it is consistent with everything else that is coming from Piper and Desiring God on this controversial issue.
For many people, this was a complete shock and while they attempted to process what they were hearing and reading, others drew attention to the fact that Piper had expressed these views for years, citing his forward to Thomas Schreiner’s book Faith Alone: The Doctrine of Justification published in September of 2015 as proof:
As Tom Schreiner says, the book “tackles one of the fundamental questions of our human condition: how can a person be right with God?”
The stunning Christian answer is sola fide—faith alone. But be sure you hear this carefully and precisely: He says right with God by faith alone, not attain heaven by faith alone. There are other conditions for attaining heaven, but no others for entering a right relationship to God. In fact, one must already be in a right relationship with God by faith alone in order to meet the other conditions.
“We are justified by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone.” Faith that is alone is not faith in union with Christ. Union with Christ makes his perfection and power ours through faith. And in union with Christ, faith is living and active with Christ’s power.
Such faith always “works by love” and produces the “obedience of faith.” And that obedience— imperfect as it is till the day we die—is not the “basis of justification, but . . . a necessary evidence and fruit of justification.” In this sense, love and obedience—inherent righteousness—is “required of believers, but not for justification”—that is, required for heaven, not for entering a right-standing with God.
Here Piper says we are “right with God by faith alone, [but we do] not attain heaven by faith alone. There are other conditions for attaining heaven…” There is no denying that according to Piper these are conditions we must meet because he says “one must already be in a right relationship with God by faith alone in order to meet the other conditions.” So, what are these other conditions we must meet? Piper says, “love and obedience—inherent righteousness—is ‘required of believers, but not for justification’—that is, required for heaven.” This is why according to Piper we are only justified by faith alone but we do not get into heaven by faith alone. Again, according to Piper, there are other conditions we must meet. This means it is, in part, by our obedience and our inherent righteousness that we get into heaven. In other words, it is not Christ’s righteousness alone imputed to us through faith alone that gets us into heaven.
Again, one might be tempted to say that this was a slip of the pen but it is worth noting that John Robbins called out Piper for this as far back as 2002:
In chapter 19 [of Future Grace], “How Many Conditions Are There?” Piper actually enumerates 11 conditions we must meet if we want any “future grace”: loving God, being humble, drawing near to God, crying out to God from the heart, fearing God, delighting in God, hoping in God, taking refuge in God, waiting for God, trusting in God, and keeping God’s covenant, which he says is the summary of the first 10. Piper proclaims: “I am hard pressed to imagine something more important for our lives than fulfilling the covenant that God has made with us for our final salvation” (249). Consider his words carefully. Piper does not mean that the work of Christ in perfectly fulfilling the covenant on behalf of his people is the most important thing he can think of for our final salvation; he says that we personally, or as he says, “experientially,” fulfill the covenant on our own behalf, and that our fulfillment of the covenant is the most important thing for our final salvation. We ourselves “fulfill the covenant that God has made with us for our final salvation.” Furthermore, keep in mind his description of “future grace”: “the heart-strengthening power that comes from the Holy Spirit....is virtually the same as what I mean by future grace.” Therefore, if we fulfill the conditions required of us, if we obey the covenant, then God will give us “the heart-strengthening power that comes from the Holy Spirit,” and we will be saved. This is not the Gospel. It is a pious fraud.
Robbins is correct. In the Biblical view, works are a necessary consequence of our salvation. However, in Piper’s doctrine of final salvation, works are a necessary condition for our salvation. In the Biblical view we are saved unto good works. In Piper’s doctrine of final salvation we are saved through good works. The difference is subtle but lethal.
Then again in 2005, Robbins called out Piper for his false gospel of final salvation. According to the article it was stated on Pipers website, “Nevertheless, we must also own up to the fact that our final salvation is made contingent upon the subsequent obedience which comes from faith.” Robbins responded, “It is false that "our final salvation is made contingent upon the subsequent obedience which comes from faith." This is the doctrine of Rome. Our final salvation is sealed from the moment of first belief. It is not contingent on anything we do or don't do. The sole ground of justification is the obedience of Christ extrinsic to us.”
This is nothing new from Piper and at this point, we need to understand what he means by “faith.” Many people rush to defend him by claiming that Piper is saying that we can’t be saved or get into heaven by a dead faith. They say that Piper is teaching what James chapter two teaches. Therefore, we need to ask, what is the “faith” which alone justifies according to Piper? Well, the answer is not difficult to find because Piper repeatedly tells us, and every time he gives the correct biblical answer. In his first article he says, “The faith which alone justifies is never alone, but always bearing transforming fruit.” In the sermon cited from November he belabors the point that only a true and living faith can justify a person. So when Piper says, “you don’t get into heaven by faith alone; you get justified by faith alone” or when he says, we are “right with God by faith alone, [but we do] not attain heaven by faith alone,” he is speaking of a true and living faith that is made manifest by good works. Piper rightly believes as all Protestants believe, that a person can only be justified by a true and living faith which produces good works. So the question becomes, why is the imputed righteousness of Christ through faith alone, which is a true and living faith that is made manifest by good works, not enough to save us or get us to heaven? What more do we need? Should we side with the Judaizers and add circumcision? Should we side with Rome and add the sacraments and works? Should we side with Piper and add works and an inherent righteousness? The only logical conclusion one can make from all of this is that Piper is saying that we, in part, are saved and get into heaven by our good works.
Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons will boldly proclaim that they believe Jesus is the son of God but they mean something completely different. Piper boldly and emphatically proclaims that we are justified by faith alone and not by a dead faith that is alone, but by a true and living faith that produces good works, but he means something different. To be justified by faith alone, in Piper’s view, is to be in a right relationship with God or to be put into a position where God is 100% for you, but it is not enough to save you or get you into heaven. You have to add your good works to Christ’s finished work. You have to add your inherent righteousness to Christ’s righteousness. This is an enormous blasphemy.
On January 16th, I shared our articles and podcasts with Pastor Robert DeHaro. Some time after that, during a birthday party we both attended, I asked him what he thought of the information I had sent him. To my delight, he said he agreed with me and he believed that Piper was wrong. He even remarked at how amazing it was that someone of Piper’s stature who had a doctorate in theology could be wrong about how to get to heaven. I was very comforted to get this response from Pastor DeHaro and I believed that having one of the elders on my side would help to persuade the others.
I believed that as time went on and as more people began to call out Piper that the leaders at Horizon would recognize his error and respond appropriately, but much to my disappointment this was not the case. The next time I approached the issue with Pastor Barnes was on May 9th, 2018. Just a few days prior, on May 6th, I had sent Pastor Barnes an article about John Piper written by my good friend, Carlos Montijo, titled, “When Protestants Err on the Side of Rome: John Piper, “Final Salvation,” and the Decline and Fall of Sola Fide at the Last Day.” Pastor Barnes did not respond to my messages so on the Wednesday evening of May 9th I approached him after the church service and asked him what he thought of the article. Pastor Barnes was very quick to respond that he did not agree with me at all and we began to discuss the issue.
This discussion, however, quickly turned into a heated argument between Pastor Barnes, Pastor Valenzuela and myself. Pastor Barnes said he had personally asked Mark Dever about this and Mark looked him right in the eye and said: “Piper is right on justification.” I responded by saying, “I don’t care what Mark Dever says because Piper is wrong.” Pastor Barnes responded by asking, “Why should I care about what your people have to say?” The difference in my mind was that Dever had only given Pastor Barnes his opinion on the matter, but we had made arguments and given evidence for our position. Pastor Barnes also asked why John MacArthur hadn’t called out Piper. He asked, “If what you're saying is true then how come MacArthur isn’t calling him out?” It seemed to me that Dever’s opinion and MacArthur's silence was all that Pastor Barnes needed to dismiss everything I tried to show him. It appeared that Pastor Barnes wouldn’t be persuaded by our arguments unless they were confirmed by another celebrity pastor. It wasn’t enough to simply consider what Piper teaches in the light of God’s word.
During that discussion Pastor Barnes also asked me several times why I felt that I needed to bring this to them. He asked, “Who have you heard quote Piper?” He was referring to the elders and he asked several times but I didn’t have an answer. Pastor Barnes also said they don’t use Piper's stuff and Pastor Valenzuela said, “We are not pushing Piper.” Their point was simply that this isn’t something that is affecting our church. The conversation eventually ended and we left that night in disagreement with each other.
At that point, I decided to pursue reconciliation and I reached out to Pastor Barnes the next morning. We later met for breakfast and discussed the fight and my concerns with Piper. This would be the only time I’d ever actually sit down with one of the elders to go over some of the material on Piper. At that meeting, I took some quotes from Piper to show Pastor Barnes and he stated that he wasn’t really sure what Piper was trying to say but that he thought Piper was just simply saying that works have to be present in the life of the believer. The primary focus of that meeting for me, however, was reconciliation and I decided not to press the issue too hard. I had taken them at their word that Piper’s material was not used by our church, and that nobody was quoting or recommending him.
During that meeting, however, Pastor Barnes brought up Pipers attempt to clarify his position. By this time Piper had already responded publicly and directly to the controversy in an episode of Ask Pastor John titled, “Will We Be Finally ‘Saved’ by Faith Alone?” on March 2, 2018. In the episode, he attempted to defend his position by offering clarification. While this was an attempt to clarify his views, we should point out that clarification was never needed. It was clear from the beginning what Piper was teaching and that it was at odds with the Bible. The doctrine of final salvation through faith and works is a rebranding of the doctrine of double justification which is a heresy from hell. Therefore he didn’t need to clarify his position but rather recant.
Unfortunately, Piper maintained his position that we are not saved by faith alone and obscured his false teaching even further. Piper does teach some truths but his errors on the gospel are lethal. The fact that he uses biblical terms and orthodox language while also citing multiple passages of scripture to support his views makes it all the more difficult to discern. Therefore we encourage you to familiarize yourself with the tactics of false teachers and the tools that God gives us to not only understand his word but to also spot those who detract from it. We also highly encourage our readers to read all of the source material on this topic from Piper and Desiring God and carefully go through the passages of scripture cited to support the doctrine of final salvation through faith and works. What you’re going to find is that Piper constantly twists the scriptures and that he has taught this for years. I would also strongly encourage you to go through the additional sources at the end of this letter.
Why we are leaving
As time had passed nothing new had happened. I did several episodes on our podcast, Semper Reformanda Radio, in which we were continuing to call out Piper for his false gospel but I never brought it back up with the Pastors.
Recently, however, some things had come to my attention which provoked me to confront the issue again. Late last year, another member of the church, David Callendine informed me that some members of our church had gone to a conference where Piper was a speaker. They were given a book written by Piper, Expository Exultation, which contained expressions of his doctrine of final salvation.
Later on, David also told me that Pastor Valenzuela had spoken favorably of Piper to another church member which gave him the impression that he was recommending Piper as a solid teacher. David later talked to Pastor Valenzuela about this and told him that he agreed with me that Piper was wrong on the gospel and should be avoided.
After David expressed his concerns over Piper’s teaching with Pastor Valenzuela he called me to ask if I had shared my work on Piper with Pastor Raul Meza, Pastor Valenzuela's brother-in-law. I stated to him that I had never spoken to Pastor Meza about it directly. David then informed me that, while giving a message, Pastor Meza quoted Piper favorably at least three times during a Wednesday night service. I encouraged David to reach out to Pastor Meza and speak with him about his concerns. David agreed and later asked Pastor Meza via text message if he was aware of the work I’d done on Piper. Pastor Meza replied to the text “I am aware of Tim’s stuff and I wouldn’t call it research. They are simply distorting the truth."
I found that remark to be extremely superficial and shallow, especially because we had cited primary source material and had covered decades of Piper's ministry. We weren’t just responding to one article; we had done extensive research. The article I first wrote with my friend Tim Kauffman was extremely well researched and had over 50 citations. The article that was written by Carlos had over 80 citations and was extremely well written. We researched Piper’s influence from men like Daniel Fuller and Doug Wilson who was a proponent of the Federal Vision heresy. We had so much research that we couldn’t put it all into the article. This bald accusation of us “distorting the truth” is reckless defamation. In that same text message, Pastor Meza also told David,
Maybe you should start listening to his teachings to become his student and not only what others are saying about him. I listen to him every day, at least 1 or 2 times on RefNet radio and have never questioned his love for God.
The lack of discernment is alarming. We don’t evaluate the teachings of other men by their professed love for God. We also encourage people to read Piper for themselves to see if what we say is true, but to recommend that you become his student is foolish. What is irritating about these remarks is that not one of the elders ever attempted to defend Piper’s statements. It is infuriating that this would be said about me to another member behind my back and that I’d later be denied the opportunity to discuss the issue with the elders in person.
I also learned from another member that the training program for the elders is the material Shepherds Under God from Bethlehem College and much of it is written by John Piper. The reason I learned this was because I had inquired about becoming an elder at Horizon and I had asked one of the members what material they were using.
All of this revealed that what I had originally been told by Pastor Barnes and Pastor Valenzuela about not quoting Piper, not using his material, and not recommending him was not true. I believe they had downplayed how much influence Piper has in our church and I think this became more apparent as time went on. It also became more apparent that they did not have a biblical understanding of how to deal with this issue.
My Last Conversation With Pastor Barnes
All of this prompted me to ask for a meeting with the elders. On Saturday, June 8th I sent Pastor Barnes a text asking him if I could meet with all of the elders to discuss some of my concerns about this issue. Pastor Barnes responded, “I’m sure we can meet but I do not know when because I would need to check with each person’s availability… Regardless of personal views, the elders have decided that the discussion on Piper is done.” I then responded by telling him what my concerns were but he did not respond to me. Then on Friday, June 14th, almost a week later I sent Pastor Barnes another text in which I said, “Hey Pastor Clift [Barnes] any word yet on when we can meet?” He replied, “Hello Tim. I will call you after lunch to talk rather than text you about the meeting.”
Pastor Barnes called me after lunch to ask me to clarify why I wanted to have a meeting about John Piper. I shared with him some of these concerns and he informed me that they did not agree with me and that they were not going to discuss the issue any further. I insisted, however, that if they were not willing to meet with me then I needed to ask him some questions on the phone. The conversation was extremely difficult because Pastor Barnes did not want to talk about it. I insisted that as a member in good standing that I had a right to know where they stood on this issue. To simply tell me that they did not agree was alarming. Did this mean that they agreed with Piper's doctrine of final salvation through faith and works? Did this mean that they also believed that we do not get into heaven by faith alone and that we are not saved by faith alone? Did this mean that they also believe that there are other conditions we have to meet in order to get into heaven? Did this mean that they believe that our salvation depends on what we do and not entirely on what Christ has done? Did this mean they believed our final salvation was contingent on our obedience and not entirely on the obedience of Christ? Were they willing to preach this gospel and say the same things that Piper has said? These questions may be offensive to them, but it is worth remembering that many of the men who defended Norman Shepherd during the justification controversy agreed with and taught his heretical gospel.
Although the conversation with Pastor Barnes was difficult it was nevertheless informative. I asked Pastor Barnes if he believed that he would be obligated to call out a false teacher if he found out that members of his church were reading and listening to that false teacher.
He said, “yes, I would be obligated to do that, but I don’t believe that Piper is a false teacher.”
I said, “hold on, we are not there yet.” I then asked him, “Do you agree that there are people in our church that read and listen to John Piper?.”
Pastor Barnes answered, “Yes I agree that there are people who listen to Piper.”
I then pointed out again that Piper says we are saved through fruit, meaning works, and faith. Pastor Barnes responded by saying, “Well, I don’t think that is what he is trying to say.”
I responded by telling him, “Piper has said the same thing multiple times and you’re not supposed to speculate about what you think he is trying to say because you have to deal with what he has actually said.” I then pointed out that Piper’s statements are written down so we can verify them. It’s not simply hearsay. Furthermore, his statement that “we are saved through that fruit and that faith” is a proposition. Propositions, also called declarative statements, are verbal expressions that are either true or false. Therefore, we must insist that the rational mind discern if this is true or false. Let Pastor Meza, who falsely accused me of distorting the truth, give his answer as well. All we have to do to represent Piper accurately is to take him at his word, allow him to define his terms, make valid inferences and deductions, and discern if what he says is true or false. That is exactly what we have done. This indeed is what Piper says, and this is still on his website and he has not retracted it. I am not distorting the truth. Christianity is a system of truth and the Bible alone is its objective standard. When we consider Piper's statements in the light of the objective standard of scripture we can easily discern whether or not they are true. I pointed this out to Pastor Barnes and said to him, “Piper actually says that ‘we are saved through that fruit and that faith.’ That is a proposition and therefore it has the quality of either being true or false. So I want to know from you if that is true or false.”
Pastor Barnes very reluctantly said, “that’s false.”
I then said, “you’re right that is a false gospel and therefore you’re required by scripture to call him out and warn your people away from him.”
Pastor Barnes then protested that he didn’t say that was a false gospel and he accused me of putting words in his mouth. He then stated that he was not going to call him out and he was not going to do anything about it.
I told him that to teach that we are saved through faith and works is in fact to teach another gospel and he should know better. I also told him he was being insubordinate to the truth and irrational by rejecting the obvious and necessary logical conclusion, that he had just admitted to me that what Piper taught is a false gospel. I wasn’t putting words in his mouth, I was making a valid deduction which would require any rational person to admit this. He had already admitted to me that if his members were reading or listening to someone who obscured the gospel then he would be obligated to call them out. He also admitted that our members were reading and listening to John Piper, and now he admitted that what John Piper says about being saved is false. Pastor Barnes, of course, didn’t like the position he was being put in and tried to shut down the conversation by saying that we were done talking about it and that they had made up their minds.
I told Pastor Barnes that I had nothing to hide. I wasn’t trapping him but I fully intended to press the issue. I reminded him of Jesus’ dispute with the chief priests and elders in Matthew 21:23-27:
And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, "By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?" Jesus answered them, "I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?" And they discussed it among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will say to us, 'Why then did you not believe him?' But if we say, 'From man,' we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet." So they answered Jesus, "We do not know." And he said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.
Jesus showed us how to argue with religious leaders who refuse to acknowledge the truth. First, we need to recognize that there is no neutral ground. Either the baptism of John was from heaven or it was not. If it was from heaven then they were obligated to believe it and therefore acknowledge where Jesus’ authority came from, for it was at the baptism that he received the Holy Spirit and was confirmed by the Father. However, if it was not from heaven then they were obligated to call it out as a fraud but they couldn’t do that because they feared the people, who revered him as a prophet. Jesus was a master at argumentation and I told Pastor Barnes that this style of argument was what I intended to use in my discussion with the elders.
I ask Pastor Barnes, “Is John Piper’s doctrine of final salvation from heaven or from man? Is it the gospel we get from scripture or is it another message?”
Pastor Barnes said, “I’m not going to answer that.”
I said, “Well, the Pharisees couldn’t give Jesus an answer either.” Pastor Barnes then accused me of calling him a Pharisee, but I pointed out that was an invalid inference from what I said. I wasn’t calling him a Pharisee I was pointing out that he, like the Pharisees, had refused to acknowledge the truth and had, therefore, put himself into an impossible position.
I pointed out the obvious reason he couldn’t give me an answer. If Piper’s doctrine of final salvation was from heaven, if it was the gospel message we get from scripture then they are required to preach that same gospel. However, if it is from man, that is, if it is not the gospel message we get from scripture then they are required to call it out. Pastor Barnes would not answer and shut down the conversation. He said they were not going to call out Piper and that the elders had already made up their minds. I told Pastor Barnes that this was their job and if they were not willing to do it then they were not meeting the qualifications of an elder. Unfortunately, this applies to every single one of them.
David later told me that Pastor Valenzuela said to him that they, meaning the elders, aren’t teaching that, referring to Piper’s doctrine of final salvation. While this was stated as a defense it was nevertheless highly revealing and the question that needs to be asked is, Why not? If Piper is right, let’s give an ad hominem argument here, but they are not willing to teach it then that means they are not willing to preach the gospel. They could not say as Paul said, “26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26-27). Clearly, with an admission like that and a fervent insistence that Piper is right they could not say they are innocent of the blood of all because they have shrunk from declaring to you the whole counsel of God, namely how to be saved and get into heaven.
However, if they are not teaching Piper’s doctrine because they know it’s wrong then they are required to call him out and refute it. This is the Biblical requirement for the qualifications of elders given by Paul in Titus 1:9-11. This is what Paul himself did concerning the controversy in the Galatian church. Paul also tells us, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them (Romans 16:17). The mandate from Scripture is to mark and avoid those who cause offenses by teaching false doctrine. If they don’t do this then they are derelict in their duty as under-shepherds. In fact, they are not acting as shepherds but rather as hirelings (John 10:12).
Everything I’ve said here in writing I also said to Pastor Barnes on the phone. This is not a personal conflict but a public doctrinal dispute over the gospel. This concerns every member at Horizon and if you read this you should confront them with it. Unfortunately, most people will treat this as if it’s a personal dispute between me and the elders and they will decide not to get involved. That’s a wrong response because if your pastors are going to turn a blind eye to a false gospel and then endorse, recommend, quote, or simply ignore those who teach it, then they should be opposed to their faces. Paul opposed Peter to his face when he obscured the gospel by succumbing to the peer pressure of the Judaizers. In this situation, Piper is the Judaizer and they are Peter.
It is possible however that if others do confront the elders about this matter that I will be misrepresented by them. I say this because I was repeatedly misrepresented by them on multiple occasions. Just to name a few, I was falsely accused of missing church services for the reason that I simply didn’t want to attend. I was falsely accused of being divisive. I was falsely accused of distorting the truth. This is of no consequence to me because I don’t care what they say about me. My only concern is that they not engage in abusive ad hominems against me in order to persuade people against what I’m saying. The gospel is at stake and such tactics are not only fallacious but wicked.
I won’t be present to defend my position and therefore recommend that other members consider the broader scope of our work on this issue. This doctrine of final salvation through faith and works is an enormous blasphemy and it must be uniformly rejected and refuted by the church. Unfortunately, none of the Pastors at Horizon had discerned Piper’s false gospel for themselves and after it was pointed out to them they did not discern how they ought to respond. It was clear my concerns had fallen on deaf ears and my attempts to warn them of Piper’s false gospel had been rejected but not refuted.
If someone has to explain to these men why the teaching that we are saved through faith and works is a false gospel then they should not be in ministry. If someone has to explain why deliberately preaching a false gospel and doubling down on it makes you a heretic, then they should not be in ministry.
As a husband and father, I need to know that my pastor will step in to guard my family from false teaching, especially when it comes to the gospel. This issue caused us to lose confidence in the leaders at Horizon and placed us squarely at odds with them. This is why we left. I especially hope that members of that church will heed to these warnings.
I commend you to these other resources which cover this at length.
Podcasts / Sermons
 Piper, John. "Does God Really Save Us by Faith Alone?" Desiring God. September 25, 2017. Accessed July 14, 2019. https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/does-god-really-save-us-by-faith-alone.
 Piper, John. "Will We Be Finally 'Saved' by Faith Alone?" Desiring God. March 2, 2018. Accessed July 14, 2019. https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/will-we-be-finally-saved-by-faith-alone Episode 1166
 Clark, Gordon Haddon. Predestination. Unicoi, TN: Trinity Foundation, 2006. pg 86
 Many of Piper’s defenders have tried to argue that we are justified by faith alone but salvation is not by faith alone because it includes both justification and sanctification. They argue that sanctification includes works and therefore salvation includes works. This is what Grege Morse eluded to when he wrote, “what about being saved by faith alone? You’re not. You’re justified through faith alone. Final salvation comes through justification and sanctification…” The logic is simple. Salvation includes sanctification and in sanctification we are sanctified by good works. Therefore we are saved by good works. This is also why Piper said the fruit, which he defines as works, is itself sanctifying and we are saved through that fruit.
The argument they present is valid but the conclusion is false because the premise that we are sanctified by our good works is false. We are not sanctified by or through good works. As Carlos Montijo already pointed out in his article, “When Protestants Err on the Side of Rome: John Piper, ‘Final Salvation,’ and the Decline and Fall of Sola Fide at the Last Day (Part I)”:
Good works contribute nothing to salvation, but rather result from it in sanctification, which is why the Bible says to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Php. 2:12-13). Christians are primarily sanctified by God’s word, not by works, as Jesus said, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth” (John 7:17-19). Good works are the fruit, not the cause, of sanctification, though God uses certain works, such as the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible reading and study, and Biblical preaching as secondary means of sanctification, hence the command to “exercise yourself toward godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7).
Further, the Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter XIII Of Sanctification, “they, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ's death and resurrection, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them.” Good works are the result of sanctification not it’s cause. Therefore we are not saved by or through good works even though sanctification is part of salvation. One only has to read Act 15 to recognize that the controversy over circumcision was not limited to justification and everything Paul said in Galatians about justification is also true of salvation.
 Morse, Greg. "How to Train Your Dragons: Killing Pet Sins Before They Kill You." Desiring God. October 14, 2017. Accessed July 14, 2019. https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-to-train-your-dragons.
 Piper, John. "How Do You Get into Heaven?" Desiring God. November 13, 2017. Accessed July 14, 2019. https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/faith-alone/excerpts/how-do-you-get-into-heaven.
 Schreiner, Thomas R. Faith Alone-- the Doctrine of Justification: What the Reformers Taught ... and Why It Matters. Zondervan, 2015.
 Robbins, John. "John Piper on Justification." Trinity Foundation. Accessed July 24, 2019. http://trinityfoundation.org/horror_show.php?id=35.
 Robbins, “John Piper on Justification”, 2.