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Lordship Salvation, A Biblical Evaluation and Response

Theological Issues Related to the Lordship Salvation Controversy

The purpose of this dissertation is to study the views of Lordship Salvation in the four most controversial areas:faith, repentance, Christ's lordship, and discipleship.However, a number of related theological issues are also drawn into the debate. It has been beyond the scope of this study to discuss these theological issues in depth.Neither will this appendix be able to evaluate each issue in relation to Lordship Salvation. But it will be helpful for further study to identify the chief areas of theological disagreement and the basic positions of both Lordship Salvation and Free Grace.Four such issues are therefore summarized below without evaluation of their arguments.

The Relationship of Law to Grace

One overarching theological disagreement concerns the relationship between law and grace as two principles which shape the doctrine of salvation. At issue is the role of the law in the New Testament.Inevitably, the merit of some dispensational views of the Scriptures is disputed.

Mueller understands New Testament law as including "the Moral Law of the Old Testament, the Word of Christ in the New Testament, as well as the commandments of Christ and the Sermon on the Mount" and considers it "the focal point of the obedience of faith." 1   He criticizes those who totally dichotomize law and grace and make grace the chief principle of the Christian life.Of Chafer he says,

[I believe] that L. S. Chafer built a system of theology on the basic axiom or presupposition of a total dichotomy between LAW and GRACE. The latter are two mutually exclusive poles in Chafer's thinking and this fundamental conception becomes a veritable criterion of reduction running throughout all of Chafer's theology. Chafer related the whole of the Christian life to Grace—both Justification and Sanctification (emphasis his). 2  

Dispensationalism itself is not considered the enemy of Lordship Salvation, but "extreme" forms are: "Non-lordship salvation is grounded upon an extreme dispensationalism." 3   While affirming that "Dispensationalism is a fundamentally correct system of understanding God's program through the ages," MacArthur goes on to state a criticism:

There is a tendency, however, for dispensationalists to get carried away with compartmentalizing truth to the point that they can make unbiblical distinctions.An almost obsessive desire to categorize everything neatly has led various dispensationalist interpreters to draw hard lines not only between the church and Israel, but also between salvation and discipleship, the church and the kingdom, Christ's preaching and the apostolic message, faith and repentance, and the age of law and grace.

The age of law/grace division in particular has wreaked havoc on dispensationalist theology and contributed to confusion about the doctrine of salvation

It is no wonder that the evangelistic message growing out of such a system differs sharply from the gospel according to Jesus. If we begin with the presupposition that much of Christ's message was intended for another age, why should our gospel be the same as the one He preached? 4  

Where the influence of dispensational theology is most criticized is over the issue of repentance.It is claimed by some in the Lordship position that the Free Grace position has succumbed to the tendency to compartmentalize scriptural truth by denying that repentance is necessary for salvation today.Pink states,

Some of the most prominent of those who are pleased to style themselves "teachers of dispensational truth" insist that repentance belongs to a past period, being altogether "Jewish," and deny in toto that, in this age, God demands repentance from the sinner before he can be saved (emphasis his) 5  

Those of the Free Grace position have not responded directly in the context of the Lordship controversy to the Lordship criticism that the law is undermined in favor of grace in salvation. In general, arguments have been presented in the theological works of defenders of dispensationalism like Chafer and Ryrie.However, dispensational distinctives between the age of law and the age of grace, or the distinctives between God's dealings with Israel and the church, are sometimes cited in order to argue that repentance is not demanded of unbelievers in the church age as an addition to faith. Chafer writes, "while covenant people are appointed to national or personal adjustment to God by repentance as a separate act, there is no basis either in reason or revelation for the demand to be made that an unregenerate person in this age must add a covenant person's repentance to faith in order to be saved." 6   Others argue from a similar dispensational stance that some New Testament passages were addressed exclusively to Israel in the context of the Mosaic covenant and do not apply to those not under the covenant. 7   On the other hand, those of the Free Grace persuasion who view repentance as a change of mind do not rely on dispensational truth alone in their understanding of repentance, but depend on lexical and contextual evidence.

The relationship of law to grace has been the subject of countless books and studies.The conclusions of such study, along with careful biblical analysis, could be applied helpfully to the Lordship Salvation debate.

The Relationship of Justification to Sanctification

The relationship between the justification of the believer and the sanctification of the believer is also disputed in the Lordship Salvation debate. Both sides agree that the two concepts are related.The major disagreement concerns the degree to which justification determines a believer's sanctification. 8   Representative arguments will illustrate the debate.

On the Lordship side, MacArthur's arguments exemplify the position:

While justification and sanctification are distinct theological concepts, both are essential elements of salvation.God will not declare a person righteous without also making him righteous.Salvation includes all God's work on our behalf, from His foreknowledge of us before the foundation of the world to our ultimate glorification in eternity future (Romans 8:29-30).One cannot pick and choose, accepting eternal life while rejecting holiness and obedience. When God justifies an individual He also sanctifies him (emphasis his). 9  

MacArthur is careful to separate sanctification from justification in that "sanctification is a characteristic of all those who are redeemed, not a condition for their receiving salvation (emphasis his)." 10   Mueller criticizes the Free Grace position of Chafer and others with this characterization:

Although recognizing "salvation" as a comprehensive or multi-faceted work, those who deny Lordship as integral to salvation also separate justification from any necessary relationship to sanctification. One can enjoy the judicial position of the former without necessarily practicing the latter (emphasis his). 11  

The concern of Lordship adherents is that this proposed separation of justification from sanctification leads to antinomianism or an excuse for carnality. This touches on the law/grace issue once again. In his criticism of Chafer, Mueller writes,

Chafer has a very antinomian view of the Christian life whereby Law is separated from Grace, Justification is separated from Sanctification, and Christianity is divided up into two classes—"the great mass of carnal Christians" and the "Spirit-filled Christians." 12  

On the other side, the Free Grace position believes that the distinction between justification and sanctification is confused in Lordship Salvation. Zuck writes,

The Lordship view does not clarify the distinction between sanctification and justification, or between discipleship and sonship. It mixes the condition with the consequences. It confuses becoming a Christian with being a Christian (emphasis his). 13  

Ryrie argues that such a confusion implies or comes dangerously close to injecting works into salvation:

Many misconceive justification as making us righteous rather than declaring us righteous.In other words, they think that our inward state of holiness, if enough, will cause God to rule in our favor.Our good works which make us righteous to one degree or another will result in some degree of justification. According to this misconception, justification can grow as we grow more righteous, and justification can be diminished and even lost if we become less righteous.Even though we acknowledge that God enables us to do good works, in the final analysis justification depends on us. 14  

In a response to MacArthur's Lordship view on faith, Radmacher also states his concern over the Lordship view of justification and sanctification:

I fear that some current definitions of faith and repentance are not paving the way back to Wittenburg but, rather, paving the way back to Rome. Justification is becoming "to make righteous" rather than "to declare righteous." 15  

Further study should define justification and sanctification and the exact relationship between the two doctrines. It should distinguish between positional and practical ramifications considering what degree of good works, if any, is guaranteed by God's act of justification.

Security, Perseverance, and Assurance

Generally, those on both sides of the Lordship debate do not dispute the eternal security of the believer. 16   However, there is disagreement over the validity of the doctrine of the perseverance of the believer with implications for the related doctrine of the assurance of the believer.

Boice associates perseverance with his concept of discipleship-salvation.He states,

The final important element in following Christ is perseverance.This is because following is not an isolated act, done once and never to be repeated. It is a lifetime commitment that is not fulfilled here until the final barrier is crossed, the crown received, and it and all other rewards laid gratefully at the feet of Jesus.

this is to say that discipleship is not simply a door to be entered but a path to be followed and that the disciple proves the validity of his discipleship by following that path to the very end. 17  

MacArthur also upholds the traditional doctrine of the perseverance of the believer when he states,

For Paul, perseverance in the faith is essential evidence that faith is real.For ultimately and finally to fall away from the faith proves that person never really was redeemed to begin with. 18  

He relates perseverance to his view of faith as a divine gift:

As a divine gift, faith is neither transient nor impotent.It has an abiding quality that guarantees its endurance to the end

The faith God begets includes both the volition and the ability to comply with His will (cf. Philippians 2:13).In other words, faith encompasses obedience. 19  

Lordship doctrine believes assurance of salvation is dependent upon one's perseverance in the faith and accompanying good works. MacArthur argues,

Professing Christians utterly lacking the fruit of true righteousness will find no biblical basis for assurance they are saved

Genuine assurance comes from seeing the Holy Spirit's transforming work in one's life. 20  

He believes, "The only validation of salvation is a life of obedience.It is the only possible proof that a person really knows Jesus Christ." 21   Thus "Doubts about one's salvation are not wrong so long as they are not nursed and allowed to become an obsession." 22  

Disputing the Lordship concept of perseverance, some of the Free Grace position argue that a true believer can persist stubbornly in unbelief and disobedience and still be saved. Hodges argues,

The simple fact is that the New Testament never takes for granted that believers will see discipleship through to the end. And it never makes this kind of perseverance either a condition or a proof of final salvation from hell. 23  

Ryrie suggests that the security of the believer might better be framed in terms of God's preservation rather than the believer's perseverance. 24   Butcher also argues from the many ethical requirements of the New Testament:

Commands to obey become irrelevant and illogical if obedience is assured.Either the NT honestly exhorts believers to obedient Christian living, understanding the real possibility of failure, or the strong ethical sections of the Apostles' writings are reduced to logical absurdities. 25  

Regarding assurance, Free Grace advocates insist that attempting to base assurance primarily on one's works or submission to Christ as Lord make absolute assurance impossible because such an approach demands quantification which experience denies.As Harrison asserts,

The ground of assurance of salvation is endangered if surrender to Christ's lordship is a part of that ground. Instead of looking to the sufficiency of Christ and His work of redemption, one is compelled to look within to see if he has yielded himself to the Son of God. If he is conscious of times in his life when he has denied the lordship of the Master (and who has not?) then he must logically question his standing before God. 26  

Those who oppose Lordship Salvation maintain that assurance is derived primarily from faith in God's Word. 27   Ryrie states that there are two grounds of assurance, the first is the objective Word of God which declares that a person is saved through faith; the second is the subjective experience of a changed life. 28  

The biblical validity of the concept of perseverance and the biblical grounds of assurance must be considered in order to address the differences between Lordship Salvation and Free Grace.The possibility of apostasy must also be evaluated biblically.

The Reality of Sin in the Believer

Controversy also swirls over the reality of sin in the believer. This issue is often phrased in terms of the possibility of a "carnal Christian."

Lordship Salvation denies there are two classes of Christians, one walking in obedience and one not walking in obedience. MacArthur, Mueller, Gentry, and ten Pas all criticize either Chafer or Ryrie for their doctrine of the carnal Christian. 29   While affirming that Christians can fall into sin and act carnally, one Lordship author proposes that "carnal Christian" is a "contradiction in terms." 30   Framed in an argument for the necessity of repentance (in the sense of turning from sins) for salvation, Chantry writes,

In a panic over this phenomenon [of worldly Christians], the evangelicals have invented the idea of “carnal Christians.” These are said to be folks who have taken the gift of eternal life without turning from sin.They have “allowed” Jesus to be their Saviour; but they have not yielded their life to the Lord. 31  

The Lordship objection to the idea of a carnal Christian is not only theological, but practical.They believe it encourages sin.Gentry observes, "It actually seems as if sin among some (not all) of the Non-Lordship men was of little consequence at all." 32   MacArthur states,

The gospel in vogue today holds forth a false hope to sinners. It promises them they can have eternal life yet continue to live in rebellion against God.Indeed, it encourages people to claim Jesus as Savior yet defer until later the commitment to obey Him as Lord (emphasis his). 33  

If one submits to Jesus as Lord, it is reasoned, that person can and will not persist in a sinful lifestyle.

However, Ryrie challenges such reasoning when he asks, "As far as sanctification is concerned, if only committed people are saved people, then where is there room for carnal Christians?"He then goes on to propose biblical examples of "uncommitted believers." 34   Ryrie thinks of the carnal Christian as a believer in whom are areas of both carnality and spirituality, rather than varying degrees of spirituality. 35   Chafer's often criticized view of the carnal Christian had several descriptive elements. He described the carnal Christian as one who can receive only the milk of the Word, who yields to envy and strife, who is dominated by the flesh, who is a "babe in Christ," and who is characterized by conduct in life that is on the same plane as an unsaved person. 36  

Butcher finds theological difficulties with the denial of the existence of a carnal Christian and Lordship's view of the nature of sin in the believer. He claims that MacArthur's view of the regenerated person misunderstands the power of sin and the depth of human depravity. He also argues that "to suggest that an unbeliever can and will develop mature Christian attitudes towards sin as a sign of readiness for regenerationis beyond comprehension." 37  

Another concern of Free Grace advocates is that the Lordship view of sin in the believer is unrealistic and experientially impractical. Zuck argues,

If one commits everything to Christ to be saved, where is there room for growth and development in the Christian life, as the Bible clearly encourages? And what happens if a believer falls into sin?

The lordship gospel does not make much allowance for carnality. Not that carnality is condoned or should go unchallenged.But it is seen in the Bible. To say that every believer consistently obeys the Lord overlooks examples of many believers in the Bible who lapsed into sin (emphasis his). 38  

Further study should focus on what is the practical and theological difference, if any, between a Christian who sins and a "carnal Christian." A view of sanctification must be presented which allows for the reality of sin yet acknowledges the new life of the believer.


References:

1  Marc Mueller, "Syllabus," 27.

2  Ibid., 11.

3  Belcher, Layman's Guide, 101, 103.

4  MacArthur, The Gospel, 25, 27.

5  Pink, Salvation, 46. See also, MacArthur, The Gospel, 160-61; Gentry, "The Great Option," BRR 5:57, 77; ten Pas, Lordship, 13. ten Pas asserts that not all dispensation-alists are opposed to the Lordship Salvation view of repentance, but "It is the Dallas Seminary variety of Dispensationalism that is antagonistic towards it."

6  Chafer, Theology, 3:375-76. While Chafer believed that repentance should not be added to faith nor considered equivalent, he believed it was included in faith and sometimes used synonymously with faith (3:377).

7  Pentecost, Sound Doctrine, 65-68; Hodges, Free!, 158-60.

8  Meaning progressive sanctification in the Christian life, not positional or ultimate sanctification.

9  MacArthur, The Gospel, 187.

10  Ibid., 188.

11  Marc Mueller, "Syllabus," 11.

12  Ibid., 13.

13  Zuck, "Cheap Grace?" KS 13:6.

14  Ryrie, Salvation, 129. See also, Zuck, "Cheap Grace?" KS 13:6.

15  Radmacher, "First Response to John F. MacArthur, Jr.," JETS 33:40.

16  Two exceptions, for example, are Marshall and Shank who use Lordship Salvation as an argument against the doctrine of perseverance, yet deny the security of the believer. See Marshall, Kept by the Power, 200-11, and Shank, Life in the Son, 217-20.

17  Boice, Discipleship, 21-22.

18  MacArthur, The Gospel, 216.

19  Ibid., 173.

20  Ibid., 23.

21  Ibid., 194.

22  Ibid., 190.

23  Hodges, Free!, 80. See also, Ryrie, Salvation, 141-42.

24  Ryrie, Salvation, 137-42.

25  Butcher, "Critique," JOTGES 2:43.

26  Harrison, "No," Eternity 10:16; See also, Butcher, "Critique," JOTGES 2:37, 41.

27  Hodges, Free!, 49-51.

28  Ryrie, Salvation, 143-44.

29  MacArthur, The Gospel, 23-25; Marc Mueller, "Syllabus," 11, 13; Gentry, "The Great Option," BRR 5:76; ten Pas, Lordship, 15-18.

30  The article, "Why the 'Carnal Christian' Is a Contradiction," GYou 2 (Winter 1988): 3, is unsigned, but apparently authored by John MacArthur, Jr.

31  Chantry, Gospel, 54.

32  Gentry, "The Great Option," BRR 5:76.

33  MacArthur, The Gospel, 15.

34  Ryrie, Balancing, 170-73.

35  Ryrie, Salvation, 64.

36  Chafer, He That Is Spiritual, 19-21.

37  Butcher, "Critique," JOTGES 2:38-39.

38  Zuck, "Cheap Grace?" KS 13:7.