Revisiting the Made Sin Controversy

For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. - 2 Corinthians 5:21

The Backstory

    My soul has been tormented by the controversy and division that has taken place amongst many brethren by the so-called "made sin controversy."  This controversy was first made manifest in a sermon by Bro. Mark Daniel in Albany in February 2005 where he preached that Christ's substitution was so complete that He was not just forensically "made sin" but was actually "made sin."  He even went so far as to say that Christ became a sinner.  My first reaction to this was one of amazement, that our Lord, the spotless Lamb of God could be called a sinner by anyone, much less a sovereign grace preacher and pastor!  Some may think I'm crazy to even write about this again, and should just let sleeping dogs lie.  However, I cannot do that as I care about the truth.  I also earnestly desire for reconciliation between those who split over this issue.  Maybe they won't reconcile in this world, but in the next.  However, I hope that maybe this paper will help bring the offspring and those who came to the controversy later in life together.  I desire unity, not division.  That is the purpose of this paper.  However, I have hesitated to publish it because it may seem too much like a soap opera.

    Here are some excerpts from the sermon of Mark Daniel in Albany Ga, Februrary 2005: 

"Paul using this very passage from Deuteronomy as his reference point for his statement in Galatians 3:13, is showing that one thing Christ became, that He was not before is that He became a sinner. He became a man in whom was sin!" 

"He had to be equally as sinful, equally as guilty and equally as accursed as me in order to take my place."

"He became sinful that I become righteous."

"He became the equal sinner that I am, he became the same sinner that I am before God."

"It's as incomprehensible for me to be a sinner and a saint, at the same time as He could be the Son of God, pure and holy, and be a sinner, just like me."

"He had to be made the identical substitute for their sin. A righteous man could not die for my sin! God would have never killed Him. If He was a righteous man, no sin in Him, God would have been unjust to kill him."

"It says, God somehow, took a being, who had never known sin before and actually made him to be sin."

"On the cross, Christ actually became as sinful as I. Something He had never been, could not have become, and did not want to happen, and prayed for that it might let it pass, and yet became a reality in His very being."

"And somehow then, I'm made to understand, unthinkable thoughts, of how that his Son, purely, holy and righteous could be made as sinful as I."

(Mark Daniel, Absolute Substitution, Eager Ave. Grace Church, Albany, GA, February 13, 2005.   Full sermon available in mp3 format and pdf format.)

    Controversy within the congreation and online erupted immediately after this sermon was preached.  The new pastor was immeditately taken to task by members of his congregation with them demanding that he explain himself and recant about what they thought was his seemingly absurd and blasphemous position.  Also, there were other members of the church that defended him.  Mark Daniel never recanted or changed the language he used, and he was officially removed from the office of pastor by the congregation.   As I understood it, the church actually split with some members actually leaving the congregation.   Don Fortner had this to say about the controversy.

One matter needs to be cleared regarding Mark Daniel. It is insignificant to me what is thought or said about me and/or my doctrine. But Bro. Lawson is totally in error about Mark Hiding anything from the Eager AV Church. Those men have known my doctrine for 20 years. It has not changed. They knew my association with Bro. Mark. They were not kept in the dark about anything. They simply called a pastor who would not buckle under to their intimidation. Mark is a faithful man. I have known him for a long time. And I was present in Albany at Eager AV Church for a meeting just a few days before the Church removed him from the pulpit specifically for saying what the Word of God clearly says, that " he who knew no sin was made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." It is both unwise and contrary to everything taught in the Scriptures to make accusations against any man based upon the reports of others.  (Don Fortner in an e-mail...)

    Other congregations were affected by this as well.  My own church that I'm now a member of, but was not a member at the time had already been embroiled in controversy and had already split into two distinct congregations.  Around a third or more of the members of 13th Street Baptist Church had already left to form Hurricane Road Grace Church over disagreement over other issues, some of it wasn't necessarily related to church doctrine, but personality issues.  Henry Mahan himself even left the church that he helped to start, and joined the Hurricane Road Grace church.  Each congregation took a position on the made sin controversy, with the 13th street elders siding with the members in Albany that removed Mark Daniel, insisting that Christ was made sin by imputation only, and the Hurricane elders siding with Mark Daniel.  Don Fortner and the vast majority of the Henry Mahan style free grace churches sided with Mark Daniel, where only a small handful of churches sided with the Albany church.

    The Internet was also used by men to enflame this controversy, and men today keep the controversy alive in the online realm.  Some on the imputation only side (online personalities like Scott Price and John Pedersen) state that if one even associates with any of the men that supported Mark Daniel, they have evidenced themselves as compromisers of the Gospel and are to be treated as an unbeliever.   Most of the people keeping the controversy alive today are those who would side against Mark Daniel.  These internet personalities are continually warning others to stay away from Don Fortner, and any of these other churches.  They even go as far as condemning me as a heretic because I publish articles and sermons by these men.  And I have done so since the inception of this website, and intend on doing so until I'm no longer able.

A Failure to Communicate

    After many years of thinking about this controversy, and speaking with dozens of people on both sides of the issue, I've determined that the reason for the controversy is not necessarily doctrine, but a failure to communicate.  There was a failure to love one another as brethren, and sit down, and at least try to reasonably discuss the issue.  There were people on each side which falsely accused the other side of heresy.  And each side failed to listen to the opposing side.  There is a lot of blame to go around regarding this controversy.  Although, I now mostly blame those who were accusing Mark Daniel and others of heresy.  Those that tried to stay neutral and tried to maintain the peace were also attacked unfairly.  And while I now attend a church that opposed Mark Daniel and teaches that Christ was made sin only by imputation, I also attend church conferences where the opposing perspective is taught, that Christ became sin in His actual person.   I am now the ultimate compromiser in the minds of some men!  

"Brandan Kraft is a compromiser. He promotes Arminians on his website (Brandan's note: I'm not aware of this) and has attacked some good sovereign grace preachers (Brandan's note: again, I'm not aware of this). These are facts that some on here are familiar with. He promotes preachers who push what Don Fortner held to on the wrong view of HOW Christ was made sin. He pushes Spurgeon and a long list of tolerants on his website. Time would not allow me to list the problems. In my opinion, for what it's worth, I think he and his website is very dangerous.  ...  Promoting or tolerating a false gospel (on his website) that CANNOT and WILL NOT be used as the power of God unto salvation, he has his own, more subtle form of the rejection of means in God's salvation by free and sovereign grace. All you have to do is search his authors, watch his podcasts of him whining about many things some of the preachers and teachers in this very group here teach and defend. (Brandan's Note: I think Scott protests too much and the shoe probably fits.)" - Scott Price

"Yes, Scott, you have spoken to the very sad apostasy of Brandan Kraft. There was a day when he was clear on the gospel. Now he mocks what he once claimed to believe. Very, very sad indeed, and his influence and reach, because he is intelligent, articulate, and has a very friendly, "nice" demeanor, is significant." - John Pedersen

Mark Daniel's Words

    Bro. Mark sadly passed away in October of 2021, so we are unable to correspond.  And regarding his firing at Eager Avenue, that had nothing to do with me, and it was not any of my business, nor anybody else's except those involved.  But upon examination of this controversial sermon, I believe the original language of Mark Daniel went overboard.  It's hard to hear because it looks awful to me and others.   I do believe though that he was trying to make a very valid point, but his words became erroneous (at face value) when he stated that Christ became a sinner and failed to clarify what he meant by that (at least in this sermon, I am not privy to what other discussions he may have had on this topic).   I am however willing to give Mark Daniel the benefit of any doubt I might have.   When possible, we must be willing to apply charity to one another's words and try to think the best of each other rather than the worst.  His words, when standing alone are hard to read.    I have to balance that sermon out with the rest of his preaching as well as those with whom he is associated.  When Mark claims that Christ became a sinner, what I think he meant by that was that Christ became a sinner objectively before the Father but not intrisically.  This is the reality of imputation.  The Father viewed Christ as a sinner.   These words by Mark claiming Christ was a sinner aren't words I would choose to use, as the Scriptures don't use this terminology.  Also, people are undoubtedly going to be given the wrong idea about that phrase.  We must be extremely careful with our language, and we need to stay true to Scriptural language as much as possible.  I believe Mark's language appears out of line here, but I cannot condemn him at all.  To do so would be unfairly cruel and anti-Gospel in my opinion.

    And when Mark claims that Christ became sinful in His very being, I believe he meant to say that Christ took upon Himself the effects of sin in His very being but not the commission of sin.  I believe this because I've listened to many of his defenders clarify this in their later preaching.  I was at a church conference in Cottageville at Millsite Baptist Church where Bro. Frank Tate made this exact point.    Frank was clear to point out that Christ remained the spotless Lamb of God  throughout the entirety of His ministry, up to and through His death on the cross.  But when Christ was made sin on the cross, our Lord took upon Himself all the effects of our sin like our shame and guilt, and even the wrath of the Father.   This is why our Lord sweated as it were great drops of blood in the garden of Gethsamane.  Christ made our sin (objectively) His very own, and He also made our sin (or the effects of it, not the commission) His very own in His body.

Imputation

    Saying that Christ was a sinner objectively (which I believe is implied in Mark's words) is the same thing as saying that Christ was made sin through the imputation, or the accounting within the mind of God.  Christ being made sin was an immanent act of God, meaning that it took place entirely within the mind of God.  

    Calvin had this to say regarding the passage of 2 Cor 5:21:

He says, then, that Christ, while he was entirely exempt from sin, was made sin for us. It is commonly remarked, that sin here denotes an expiatory sacrifice for sin, and in the same way the Latin's term it, piaculum.  Paul, too, has in this, and other passages, borrowed this phrase from the Hebrews, among whom Msa (asham) denotes an expiatory sacrifice, as well as an offense or crime.  But the signification of this word, as well as the entire statement, will be better understood from a comparison of both parts of the antithesis. Sin is here contrasted with righteousness, when Paul teaches us, that we were made the righteousness of God, on the ground of Christ's having been made sin. Righteousness, here, is not taken to denote a quality or habit, but by way of imputation, on the ground of Christ's righteousness being reckoned to have been received by us. What, on the other hand, is denoted by sin? It is the guilt, on account of which we are arraigned at the bar of God. As, however, the curse of the individual was of old cast upon the victim, so Christ's condemnation was our absolution, and with his stripes we are healed. (John Calvin's commentary on 2 Cor 5:21)

    I agree 100% with Calvin here, however I can also agree with John Gill where he states that Christ became a mass of sin on the cross.  What John Gill meant by that is Christ also took on the effects of sin in His very body, and He suffered, bled and died for that sin.   That is He felt all of the effects except for the commission of course.  He took upon Himself OUR SHAME and OUR GUILT.   And then He extinguished the fiery wrath of God on the cross.   Our problem comes when we try to separate imputation from the actual sufferings of Christ.  These two thoughts must never be divorced from each other!  

Christ was made of a woman, took flesh of a sinful woman; though the flesh he took of her was not sinful, being sanctified by the Spirit of God, the former of Christ's human nature: however, he appeared "in the likeness of sinful flesh"; being attended with infirmities, the effects of sin, though sinless; and he was traduced by men as a sinner, and treated as such. Moreover, he was made a sacrifice for sin, in order to make expiation and atonement for it; so the Hebrew word hajx signifies both sin and a sin offering; see Ps 40:6 and so amartia, Ro 8:3. But besides all this, he was made sin itself by imputation; the sins of all his people were transferred unto him, laid upon him, and placed to his account; he sustained their persons, and bore their sins; and having them upon him, and being chargeable with, and answerable for them, he was treated by the justice of God as if he had been not only a sinner, but a mass of sin; for to be made sin, is a stronger expression than to be made a sinner: but now that this may appear to be only by imputation, and that none may conclude from hence that he was really and actually a sinner, or in himself so, it is said he was "made sin"; he did not become sin, or a sinner, through any sinful act of his own, but through his Father's act of imputation, to which he agreed; for it was "he" that made him sin: it is not said that men made him sin; not but that they traduced him as a sinner, pretended they knew he was one, and arraigned him at Pilate's bar as such; nor is he said to make himself so, though he readily engaged to be the surety of his people, and voluntarily took upon him their sins, and gave himself an offering for them; but he, his Father, is said to make him sin; it was he that "laid", or "made to meet" on him, the iniquity of us all; it was he that made his soul an offering for sin, and delivered him up into the hands of justice, and to death, and that "for us", in "our" room and stead, to bear the punishment of sin, and make satisfaction and atonement for it; of which he was capable, and for which he was greatly qualified... (John Gill's commentary on 2 Cor 5:21)

The Real Reason for the Splits

    The split at 13th street and perhaps in other churches in my opinion was fueled by other struggles, personalities and different styles of ministry.  Doctrine in my opinion became the escape clause for many to explain the split.   Ultimately though, the split was good, and will be used of God for His glory.  I do desire to see both sides of the split reconcile their differences and hold hands together in unity.  We don't all need to go to the same church, but we can at least be charitable toward one another and embrace each other as brethren.  Some in each congregation are already doing this.   Others are not so much ready.  I've come to know and love many of the brethren over at Hurricane Grace Road, and I also enjoy their preaching and teaching.  Additionally, I love the fellowship and preaching of Jim Byrd and the brethren at 13th Street Baptist Church.  I refuse to get caught up in the dispute and refuse to hear anything bad about what each side may say about each other.  I especially refuse to hear any more condemnations of either group by the internet peanut gallery.  As far as I'm concerned, each side is filled with believers, and both churches are faithful to the Gospel.  

Conclusion

    I believe each side of the debate is correct.  On the "imputation only" side, I agree that Christ was made sin by imputation.  On the "made sin" side, I agree that the effects of sin without the commission and rebellion were made manifest in Christ's body.  The division and the rhetoric that this disagreement has created is regrettable in my opinion.  I don't believe there is any real disagreement between both sides of the conflict, only perceived disagreements.  In the end, people on both sides will eventually embrace each other once again as brethren much to the dismay of so-called Gospel defenders like Price and Pedersen who in my opinion prefer to keep the controversy alive as it gives them plenty of flesh on which to feed.  Brethren who have been split apart may not be unified in this world, but they certainly will in the next.  Until that time, may we all strive together to maintain peace and harmony amongst ourselves.  To those who wish to keep the controversy alive, especially those like Price and Pedersen who do not attend any of the churches where this occurred, they should keep their nose out of the issue and just keep to themselves about it.  I know many won't do this, and they will keep the controversy alive.  There are many that don't  desire peace.  Many don't desire reconciliation.  And too many refuse to hear statements to the contrary where these men clearly state that Christ did not rebel or engage in any commission of sin in His being.  It is my opinion that while many think they are being true to Scripture, they are indeed continuing to be divisive.  It is my hope that they would reconsider their position, revisit this controversy from an honest and open heart, and prayerfully embrace the brethren from which they have separated themselves.

Note: I've created an addendum which can be read here.

Topics: Pristine Grace
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