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Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Lordship Controversy

by John MacArthur (Article Link) gty.org
The Lordship ControversyNo more important issue confronts the church than the controversy regarding the way of salvation. This, of course, is the most fundamental matter of all, for it ultimately determines how we present Christ to a lost world. Unlike questions about modes of baptism or systems of church leadership, this one has eternal implications.
Are we supposed to exhort unsaved people to receive Christ as Lord and Savior, or as Savior only? The difference may not seem like much, but the ramifications are enormous.
One has only to look at the feeble spiritual condition of the church today to see that something is seriously wrong. I'm convinced that at the root of the problem is a weakened gospel that presents Christ as Savior only and makes surrender to His lordship an option to be considered later.
The lordship of Christ is not peripheral to the gospel message. Surrender to Christ's lordship is the only acceptable response to the gospel, and any message that does not call sinners to submit to Jesus as Lord is not really the gospel. The Savior-only message that has been popularized in our generation falls far short of the message our Lord commissioned His disciples to preach.
The following is meant only as an introduction to the major issues of the lordship controversy. I intend to familiarize you with what is at stake in the controversy, and to suggest some of the key considerations about the nature of saving faith.
These words are excerpted, with minor adaptations, from my book, The Gospel According to Jesus, which contains a much fuller treatment of the issue. The book includes in-depth studies of Jesus' major evangelistic encounters with individuals, His evangelistic sermons, and several of the parables He used to illustrate salvation to His disciples. It examines the meaning and place of faith, repentance, discipleship, and Jesus' lordship. I hope you'll want to read the entire book.
My prayer is that the Spirit of God will use what follows to whet your appetite to understand the gospel better, to articulate the truth more clearly, and to yield yourself to the lordship of Christ more fully than ever.
A Look at the Issues
A subtle shift in emphasis over the past hundred years or so has gradually eroded the way evangelicals understand and present the gospel. Preaching and witnessing have changed. The message we're hearing is less challenging, more comforting. But is it the truth?
Listen to the typical gospel presentation nowadays. You'll hear sinners entreated with words like, "accept Jesus Christ as personal Savior"; "ask Jesus into your heart"; "invite Christ into your life"; or "make a decision for Christ." You may be so accustomed to hearing those phrases that it will surprise you to learn that none of them is based on biblical terminology. They are the products of a diluted gospel. It is not the gospel according to Jesus.
The gospel Jesus proclaimed was a call to discipleship, a call to follow Him in submissive obedience, not just a plea to make a decision or pray a prayer. Jesus' message liberated people from the bondage of their sin while it confronted and condemned hypocrisy. It was an offer of eternal life and forgiveness for repentant sinners, but at the same time it was a rebuke to outwardly religious people whose lives were devoid of true righteous­ness. It put sinners on notice that they must turn from sin and embrace God's righteous­ness. It was in every sense good news, yet it was anything but easy-believism.
Our Lord's words about eternal life were invariably accompa­nied by warnings to those who might be tempted to take salvation lightly. He taught that the cost of following Him is high, that the way is narrow and few find it. He said many who call Him Lord will be forbidden from entering the kingdom of heaven (cf. Matthew 7:13-23).
Present-day evangelicalism, by and large, ignores those warnings. The prevailing view of what constitutes saving faith continues to grow broader and more shallow, while the portrayal of Christ in preaching and witnessing becomes fuzzy. Anyone who claims to be a Christian can find evangelicals willing to accept a profession of faith, whether or not the person's behavior shows any evidence of commitment to Christ. Several decades ago the national media reported on the spectacle of a notorious pornographer who claimed to be "born again" yet continued to publish the worst kinds of smut. A well-known sports figure professed faith in Christ and was baptized in a highly publicized ceremony, then weeks later was accused and later convicted of rape. Another celebrity who claims to be a Christian is renowned for the profligacy of his lifestyle. What troubles me about all these is that many Christians insist such people really are born again and should be embraced by the rest of the church as true believers.
The Abandonment of Jesus' Gospel
One segment of evangelicalism even propounds the doctrine that conversion to Christ involves "no spiritual commit­ment whatsoever." [1] Those who hold this view of the gospel teach that Scripture promises salvation to anyone who simply believes the facts about Christ and claims eternal life. There need be no turning from sin, no resulting change in lifestyle, no commit­ment--not even a willingness to yield to Christ's lordship. [2] Those things, they say, amount to human works, which corrupt grace and have nothing to do with faith.
The fallout of such thinking is a deficient doctrine of salvation. It is justification without sanctification, and its impact on the church has been catastrophic. The community of professing believers is populated with people who have bought into a system that encourag­es shallow and ineffectual faith. Many sincerely believe they are saved, but their lives are utterly barren of any verifying fruit.
Jesus gave this sobering warning: "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven;but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness'" (Matthew 7:21-22, emphasis added). Clearly no past experience--not even prophesy­ing, casting out demons, or doing signs and wonders--can be viewed as evidence of salvation apart from a life of obedience.
Our Lord was not speaking about an isolated group of fringe followers. There will be "many" on that day who will stand before Him, stunned to learn they are not included in the kingdom. I fear that multitudes who now fill church pews in the mainstream of the evangelical movement will be among those turned away because they did not do the will of the Father.
Contemporary Christians have been conditioned to believe that because they recited a prayer, signed on a dotted line, walked an aisle, or had some other experience, they are saved and should never question their salvation. I have attended evangelism training seminars where counselors were taught to tell "converts" that any doubt about their salvation is satanic and should be dismissed. It is a widely held misconception that anyone who questions whether he is saved is challenging the integrity of God's Word.
What misguided thinking that is! Scripture encourages us to examine ourselves to determine if we are in the faith (2 Corinthi­ans 13:5). Peter wrote, "Be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you" (2 Peter 1:10). It is right to examine our lives and evaluate the fruit we bear, for "each tree is known by its own fruit" (Luke 6:44).
The Bible teaches clearly that the evidence of God's work in a life is the inevitable fruit of transformed behavior (1 John 3:10). Faith that does not result in righteous living is dead and cannot save (James 2:14-17). [3]Professing Christians utterly lacking the fruit of true righteousness will find no biblical basis for assurance of salvation (1 John 2:4).
Real salvation is not only justification. It cannot be isolated from regeneration, sanctification, and ultimately glorifica­tion. Salvation is the work of God through which we are "conformed to the image of His Son" (Romans 8:29, cf. Romans 13:11). Genuine assurance comes from seeing the Holy Spirit's transform­ing work in one's life, not from clinging to the memory of some experience.
Some Historical Background
In a study of Jesus' gospel, we cannot be concerned primarily with academic systems of theology or the views of specific theologians on a given doctrine. Nevertheless, in seeking to understand the issues, we must look at how the contemporary perspective of the gospel has evolved.
Prior to the twentieth century, no serious theologian would have enter­tained the notion that it is possible to be saved yet see nothing of the outworking of regeneration in one's lifestyle or behavior. [4] In 1918 Lewis Sperry Chafer published He That Is Spiritual, articu­lating the concept that 1 Corinthians 2:15--3:3 speaks of two classes of Chris­tians: carnal and spiritual. Chafer wrote, "The 'carnal' Christian is... characterized by a 'walk' that is on the same plane as that of the 'natural' [unsaved] man." [5] That was a foreign concept to most Christians in Dr. Chafer's generation, [6] but it has become a central premise for a large segment of the church today. Dr. Chafer's doctrine of spirituality, along with some of his other teachings, have become the basis of a whole new way of looking at the gospel. It is therefore essential to confront what he taught.
Chafer's dichotomy between carnal and spiritual Christians was seen by Dr. B. B. Warfield as an echo of "the jargon of the Higher Life teachers," [7] who taught that a higher plane of victori­ous living was available to Christians who would lay hold of it by faith. This idea of two classes of believers was undoubt­edly an unfortunate result of Chafer's predilection for dispensationalist distinctions. It is a classic example of how dispen­sationalism's methodology can be carried too far.
Dispensationalism is a fundamentally correct system of under­stand­ing God's program through the ages. Its chief element is a recogni­tion that God's plan for Israel is not superseded by or swallowed up in His program for the church. Israel and the church are separate entities, and God will restore national Israel under the earthly rule of Jesus as Messiah. I accept and affirm that tenet, because it emerges from a consistently literal interpre­tation of Scripture (while still recognizing the presence of legitimate metaphor in the Bible). And in that regard, I consider myself a traditional premillennial dispensa­tionalist. [8]
Dr. Chafer was an early and articulate spokesman for dispensa­tionalism, and his teachings helped chart the course for much of the movement. He was a brilliant man, gifted with both a keen analyti­cal mind and the ability to communicate clearly. The systematic methodology of traditional dispensationalism is in part his legacy.
There is a tendency, however, for dispensationalists to get carried away with compartmentalizing truth to the point that they make unbiblical differentiations. An almost obsessive desire to catego­rize and contrast related truths has carried various dispen­sationalist interpret­ers far beyond the legitimate distinction between Israel and the church. Many would also draw hard lines 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 the age of grace.
The age-of-law/age-of-grace division in particular has wreaked havoc on dispensationalist theology and contributed to confusion about the doctrine of salvation. Of course, there is an important distinction to be made between law and grace. But it is wrong to conclude, as Chafer apparently did, that law and grace are mutually exclusive in the program of God for any age. [9] Actually, elements of both law and grace are part of the program of God in every dispensation. Most critical is this truth: Salvation has always been by grace through faith, not by the works of the law (Galatians 2:16). Clearly, even Old Testament saints who preceded or were under the Mosaic Law were saved by grace through faith (Romans 4:36-816). Just as clearly, New Testament saints have a law to fulfill (1 Corinthians 7:199:21Galatians 6:2). That is not "careless co-mingling" [10] of law and grace, as Chafer implied. It is basic biblical truth.
Chafer's view of all Scripture was colored by his desire to maintain a stark distinction between the age of "pure grace" (the church age) and the two ages of "pure law" (the Mosaic era and the millennial kingdom) he saw sandwiching it. [11] He wrote, for exam­ple, that the Sermon on the Mount was part of "the Gospel of the kingdom," the "Manifesto of the King." [12] He believed its purpose was to declare "the essential character of the [millennial] kingdom." He judged it to be law, not grace, and concluded it made no reference to either salvation or grace. "Such a complete omission of any reference to any feature of the present age of grace, is a fact which should be carefully weighed," he wrote. [13]
Other dispensationalist writers did weigh those ideas and went on to state in more explicit terms what Chafer only hinted at: that the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount "have no application to the Christian, but only to those who are under the Law, and therefore must apply to another Dispensation than this." [14] This lamentable hermeneutic is widely applied in varying degrees to much of our Lord's earthly teaching, emasculating the message of the gospels. [15]
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?
But that is a dangerous and untenable presupposition. Jesus did not come to proclaim a message that would be invalid until the Tribulation or the Millennium. He came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). He came to call sinners to repentance (Matthew 9:13). He came so the world through Him might be saved (John 3:17). He proclaimed the saving gospel, not merely a manifesto for some future age. His gospel is the only message we are to preach.
Wrongly Dividing the Word
Let's look a little more closely at the dispensationalist tendency to make unwarranted contrasts between related or parallel truths. It is important that we delineate carefully between essentially different biblical axioms (2 Timothy 2:15). But it is also possible to go overboard. The unbridled zeal of some dispensation­alists for making dichotomies has led to a number of unfortunate impositions on the gospel.
For example, Jesus is both Savior and Lord (Luke 2:11), and no true believer would ever dispute that. "Savior" and "Lord" are separate offices, but we must be careful not to partition them in such a way that we divide Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:13). Nevertheless, loud voices from the dispensationalist camp are putting forth the teaching that it is possible to reject Christ as Lord yet receive Him as Savior.
Indeed, there are those who would have us believe that the norm for salvation is to accept Jesus as Savior without yielding to Him as Lord. They make the incredible claim that any other teaching amounts to a false gospel "because it subtly adds works to the clear and simple condition set forth in the Word of God." [16] They have tagged the view they oppose "lordship salvation."
Lordship salvation, defined by one who labels it heresy, is "the view that for salvation a person must trust Jesus Christ as his Savior from sin and must also commit himself to Christ as Lord of his life, submitting to His sovereign authority." [17]
It is astonishing that anyone would characterize that truth as unbiblical or heretical, but a growing chorus of voices is echoing the charge. The implication is that acknowledging Christ's lordship is a human work. That mistaken notion is backed by volumes of literature that speaks of people "making Jesus Christ Lord of their lives." [18]
We do not "make" Christ Lord; He is Lord! Those who will not receive Him as Lord are guilty of rejecting Him. "Faith" that rejects His sovereign authority is really unbelief. Conversely, acknowledging His lordship is no more a human work than repentance (cf. 2 Timothy 2:25) or faith itself (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9). In fact, surrender to Christ is an important aspect of divinely-produced saving faith, not some­thing added to faith.
The two clearest statements on the way of salvation in all of Scripture both emphasize Jesus' lordship: "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved" (Acts 16:31); and "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved" (Romans 10:9). [19] Peter's sermon at Pentecost concluded with this declara­tion: "Let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ--this Jesus whom you crucified" (Acts 2:36, emphasis added). No promise of salvation is ever extended to those who refuse to accede to Christ's lordship. Thus there is no salvation except "lordship" salvation. [20]
Opponents of lordship salvation have gone to great lengths to make the claim that "Lord" in those verses does not mean "Master" but is a reference to His deity. [21] Even if that conten­tion is granted, it simply affirms that those who come to Christ for salvation must acknowledge He is God. The implications of that are even more demanding than if "Lord" only meant "Master"!
The fact is, "Lord" does mean "God" in all those verses. More precisely, it means "God who rules," [22] and that only bolsters the arguments for lordship salvation. No one who comes for salvation with genuine faith, sincerely believing that Jesus is the eternal, almighty, sovereign God, will willfully reject His authority. True faith is not lip service. Our Lord Himself pronounced condemna­tion on those who wor­shiped Him with their lips but not with their lives (Matthew 15:7-9). He does not become anyone's Savior until that person receives Him for who He is--Lord of all (Acts 10:36).
A. W. Tozer said, "The Lord will not save those whom He cannot command. He will not divide His offices. You cannot believe on a half-Christ. We take Him for what He is--the anointed Saviour and Lord who is King of kings and Lord of all lords! He would not be Who He is if He saved us and called us and chose us without the understanding that He can also guide and control our lives." [23]..........
For the complete article at Grace To You click here.  gty.org

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