John MacArthur's Heresy on Lordship Salvation
by Tara Tourangeau
Is Lordship Salvation Really Salvation?
Many earnest believers have differences regarding doctrinal issues but when it comes to disagreement over the doctrine of salvation, the very foundation of our faith, the false must be exposed and the truth firmly established in the heart of every believer. This necessity is markedly seen today in the debate between Lordship Salvation and Free Grace. Not merely a matter of semantics, these two messages are undeniably incongruous.
In the last 15 years or so, justification by faith has once again been brought to the forefront of theological debate. In John MacArthur’s 1988 book entitled The Gospel According to Jesus, the views set forth encompass all that is held by the proponents of Lordship Salvation. Paul Holloway, Pastor of Candlelight Bible Church in Houston, Texas, has done an exceptional job of summarizing the key points on faith as pertains to justification set forth by MacArthur in the above-mentioned title. He says1:
“MacArthur writes that faith ‘encompasses obedience,’2 and that obedience is ‘an integral part of saving faith.’3 Indeed, obedience is bound up in the very ‘definition of faith,’ 4 being a constitutive element in what it means to believe.’5 Thus any ‘concept of faith that excludes obedience’6 must be rejected because obedience is ‘indivisibly wrapped up in the idea of believing.’7 In fact, ‘the character of true faith’ is nothing less than the ‘higher righteousness’ of the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:3-11.8 MacArthur even suggests that obedience is ‘synonymous with’ faith.9 And he quotes with approval Rudolf Bultmann's dictum, ‘To believe’ is ‘to obey.’10”
The Apostle Paul, on the other hand, clearly differentiates between faith and works saying, “But to him who does not work but believes on him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5) and, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Rom. 3:28). If God, through Paul, draws a distinction, we ought also to do likewise.
Concurrence with the Scripture is their first false claim but there is yet another. Lordship Salvation proponents also say that their views harmonize with church history and especially reformation history. Yet what do Augustine (Calvin’s greatest influence) and Luther and Calvin have to say of saving faith?
Augustine - “Faith is nothing else than to think with assent. 11”
Luther - “Then what? Is the Law useless for righteousness? Yes, certainly. But does faith alone, without works, justify? Yes, certainly. Otherwise you must repudiate Moses, who declares that Abraham is righteous prior to the Law and prior to the works of the Law, not because he sacrificed his son, who had not yet been born, and not because he did this or that work, but because he believed God who gave him a promise. In this passage no mention is made of any preparation for grace, of any faith formed by works, or of any preceding disposition. This, however, is mentioned: that at that time Abraham was in the midst of sins, doubts, and fears, and was exceedingly troubled in spirit. How, then, did he obtain righteousness? In this way: God speaks and Abraham believes what God is saying. 12” [emphasis mine]
Calvin - “For, as regards justification, faith is something merely passive, bringing nothing of ours to the recovering of God’s favor but receiving from Christ what we lack. 13” [emphasis mine]
So much for agreement with the Reformers! Calvin calls faith “passive” and what else could it possibly be? Zane Hodges has said, “Rom 4:21-22 states that Abraham was ‘fully persuaded that what He [i.e., God] had promised, He was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness’ (italics added). Obviously, I cannot decide to believe what I am not persuaded is true. And when I am persuaded that something is true I have already believed it.”
David R. Anderson, in his article entitled The Nature of Faith14 quotes Lewellen saying:
“What is true . . . is that MacArthur’s view is embodied in the Westminster Standards and does have a long and powerful history in the Christian church. The idea that faith is an active commitment, including obedience, is the view of one strand of church history—English Puritanism—which is of course a powerful strand. One should not confuse that strand, however, with the ‘true church.’ Calvin disagreed with it; Lutheran theology has always opposed it; even today some Reformed theologians do not accept it. 15”
If faith is not works then, what is it? Lordship Salvationists define saving faith as consisting of knowledge, assent and commitment. J. I. Packer has declared:
“Simple assent to the gospel, divorced from a transforming commitment to the living Christ, is by biblical standards less than faith, and less than saving, and to elicit only assent of this kind would be to secure only false conversions. 16”
And, according to James Montgomery Boice, simple faith:
“...reduces the gospel to the mere fact of Christ’s having died for sinners, requires of sinners only that they acknowledge this by the barest intellectual assent, and then assures them of their eternal security when they may very well not be born again. 17”
We agree, of course, that knowledge must be present as Paul says, “How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard” (Rom. 10:14b)? Assent we also agree with for it is that act which receives the gospel as truth. But where does commitment to the Savior come in? Nowhere in Scripture are the unsaved called upon to a committed life but they are everywhere called upon only to believe. The “barest intellectual assent” statement is what theologians call a straw man. The erection of the straw man is accomplished when the opponent’s view is falsely stated and then, being made only of straw, he is easily blown away. Yet Zane Hodges has rightly stated the accurate view of those who hold to a free grace salvation saying:
“What faith really is . . .is the inward conviction that what God says to us in the gospel is true.18” [emphasis his]
There is not some “special kind” of faith to be employed but rather the saving power of faith resides not in itself but always and ever in faith’s object. If Christ is the Object of faith, that faith is able to save and does indeed save. Therefore what the Lordship Salvation doctrine has done is add a singularly Christian requirement to saving faith. The unsaved are thus shut out from His divine grace and the saved are shut out from His blessed assurance.
And what about assurance? More notably even than the debate in scholastic circles, the conflict has been seen within the individual concerning this very issue. We agree with John Calvin who wrote:
"In short, no man is truly a believer, unless he is firmly persuaded that God is a propitious and benevolent father to him. . .and feel an undoubted expectation of salvation19"
When Christ said, “He who believes in me has everlasting life,” one either believes it or he does not. This is not to say that a true believer may never doubt but it is to say that if one has never known the “undoubted expectation of salvation,” then that one has never believed the gospel for assurance is of the essence of saving faith.
Robert L. Dabney, a Lordship Salvation proponent, responded to Calvin and Luther’s belief concerning assurance saying:
". . . for as sure as truth is in history, Luther and Calvin did fall into this error, which the Reformed churches, by the Westminster Confession, have since corrected20"[!]
And John Macarthur has stated:
“Eternal security is a great spiritual truth, but it should never be presented merely as a matter of being once saved, always saved--with no regard for what you believe or do. The writer of Hebrews 12:14 states frankly that only those who continue living holy lives will enter the Lord's presence. 21” [emphasis mine]
If only those who endure to the end are truly saved, as is eternal security according to the Lordship Salvationist, then how is assurance even possible? According to them, it isn’t. The only assurance of persevering is to persevere! What they are attempting to do is keep the believer in a place of doubt so that, motivated by fear, they will do good works. But is this really their aim? Surely we have been freed from sin but there is a huge difference between thinking I am free from sin so therefore I do not sin and being free from sin because I have died to the fact that I do sin. The former is a delusion and the latter the only way to godliness sinful man has ever known for we were crucified with Christ and our sin dealt with by Him who said, “It is finished!” Place a man under the principle of law (do this and then I will do that) and you will get nothing but more sin – “for the strength of sin is the law” (1 Cor 15:56). Perhaps it could be said that this is, more accurately, their true goal for false doctrine inevitably begets false practice.
The continuous self-examination that Lordship Salvationists encourage is nothing short of heresy. Surely we are to examine ourselves in regard to our Christian walk – our own work – and well may we doubt but never should we question our salvation for that brings His work into question! For a believer to say, “Am I really saved?” is to say, “Did Jesus really die for my sins?”
Lewis Sperry Chafer, on the subject of assurance, has well said:
“From the testimony of Scripture a Christian should know that he is saved . . . Where there is a lack of assurance there is usually an impression that so long as the life is quite imperfect (and how immodest it would be to claim that it is otherwise) it is unreasonable to do any more than hope that through some special exercise of mercy on God's part it will not be as bad in the end as it might otherwise be. Unwittingly such attitudes of mind disclose the appalling fact that persons who hold such views have never turned from dependence on their own works and merit to a dependence on the all-sufficient work and merit of Christ . . . It is offered to all meritless, helpless sinners who are willing to believe that God has already been good in that He has provided, in Christ, not only what they need now, but all they need in time and for eternity.22”
A departure and a return is the doctrine of Lordship Salvation – a departure from the revelation of salvation by faith alone through grace alone delivered to us through the Apostle Paul and a return, not to Wittenburg, but to Rome!
Lordship Salvation proponent, John Stott, has openly stated:
"The visible unity of all professing Christians should be our goal…and evangelicals should join others in the Church of England in working towards full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.23"
And J.I. Packer has said:
“The document urged that Protestant evangelicals and believing Roman Catholics act together as far as possible both in the societal and the evangelistic tasks of the Christian mission, which is in truth the mission of the Triune God, carried out through God's people. 24” and “Catholics are among the most loyal and virile brothers that evangelicals can find these days. 25”
Yet hear Martin Luther address the German Nobility on the Roman Catholic Church!:
“Doest thou hear this, O Pope! Not the most holy, but the most sinful? Would that God would hurl thy chair headlong from heaven, and cast it down into the abyss of hell! Who gave you the power to exalt yourself above God?…you dare to cancel his command, laying it down in your heretical, antichristian decretals, that you have power to do so; and through your mouth and your pen Satan lies as he never lied before… O Lord Christ! Look down upon this, let thy day of judgment come and destroy the Devil's lair at Rome. Behold him of whom St. Paul spoke (2 Thess. 2:3,4), that he should exalt himself about thee, and sit in thy Church, showing himself as God, the man of sin and the child of damnation…. The Pope treads God's commandments under foot, and exalts his own: if this is not Antichrist, I do not know what is. 26”
And similarly the Apostle Paul writes,
“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed (Gal. 1:9).”
In Paul Holloway’s article27 mentioned at the beginning of this one, he lists several quotes from Lordship Salvationists, Roman Catholics and Arminians. He then has you guess which wrote each particular quote saying that the answers are quite surprising. Here are listed only a few for the sake of space and only the quotes of the Lordship Salvationists and Catholics for the sake of the scope of this article:
1.) "Let us not then take refuge in our sloth or encouragement in our lust from the abused doctrine of the security of the believer. But let us appreciate the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints and recognize that we may entertain the faith of our security in Christ only as we persevere in faith and holiness to the end."
2.) "Endurance in faith is a condition for future salvation. Only those who endure in faith will be saved for eternity."
3.) “The Scriptures repeatedly exhort us to persevere, to ‘hang in there.’ It is only the one who endures to the end who will be saved."
4.) "Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation…. therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone obtain eternal life 'but he who endures to the end.'
5.) "There is a deadly and damnable heresy being widely propagated today to the effect that, if a sinner truly accepts Christ as his personal Saviour, no matter how he lives afterwards, he cannot perish. That is a satanic lie, for it is at direct variance with the teaching of the Word of truth. Something more than believing in Christ is necessary to ensure the soul's reaching heaven."
6.) "We cannot ‘earn’ our salvation through good works, but our faith in Christ puts us in a special grace-filled relationship with God so that our obedience and love, combined with our faith, will be rewarded with eternal life."
1.) John Murray (Lordship Salvationist) Redemption – Accomplished and Applied, 155
2.) R.C. Sproul (Lordship Salvationist) Grace Unknown, 198
3.) Joseph Kindel (Roman Catholic) What Must I Do To Be Saved?, 79
4.) (Roman Catholic) Catechism of the Catholic Church, article #161
5.) A.W. Pink (Lordship Salvationist) as quoted by Iain H. Murray in The Life of Arthur W. Pink, 248-249
6.) (Roman Catholic) Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth, 23
Their doctrines of salvation are hardly distinguishable! The Roman Catholic Church pointed to James 2:14-26 and deemed it “the Achilles heel of the reformation.” Interestingly, it is regarded as the same by Lordship Salvationists in reference to Free Grace! Yet in light of all of this, the Apostle Paul has said, “For there must be also heresies among you, that they who are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Cor. 11:19).
Miles Stanford, in his interesting article entitled Why Heretical Teaching28 states:
“Heresies cause us to be like the Bereans, who... ‘were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so’ (Acts 17:11). Heretics cause us to learn how to handle error correctly, and how to share-the truth. Christian character is formed, and God is glorified. That old warrior, Martin Luther, wrote, ‘We little know how good and necessary it is for us to have adversaries, and for heretics to hold up their heads against us.’”
On the basis of this and many other considerations, it is incumbent upon believers to reject the doctrine called Lordship Salvation. For, if one must reform himself prior to being saved, then there will be none saved. If one must remain without sin after he is saved in order to remain saved, then none will be saved. It is the experience of every Christian that, no matter the degree of his disdain for his sin, that sin remains a part of his human character. Thus, if any are to be saved, salvation must be contingent only upon the work that Christ did at Calvary and not upon anything else. The Lordship Salvationists attempt to argue away the inherent contradictions in their doctrine, but the contradictions cannot be explained away.
1 Must Faith Endure for Salvation to Be Sure?, by Pastor Tom Stegall
2 The Gospel According to Jesus, 173.
3 Ibid., 174.
4 Ibid., 171.
6 Ibid., 174.
7 lbid., 176.
9 lbid., 174.
10 Ibid., 176.
11 The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Church, St. Augustine: Anti-Pelagian Writings 5:499.
12 Luther’s Works, 3:20-21.
13 Institutes of the Christian Religion, Library of Christian Classics, vols. 20–21, III. xiii. 5.
15 “Lordship?”, 59.
16 Foreword to The Gospel according to Jesus, ix.
17 Foreword to The Gospel according to Jesus, xi.
18 Absolutely Free! A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation, 31.
19 Institutes, Book III, Chap. II, Sec. 16.
20 Volume I: Theological and Evangelical, p. 215.
21 Kingdom Living Here and Now, p. 150.
22 Salvation, pp. 57-58.
23 To the 1977 National Evangelical Anglican Congress at Nottingham.
24 Evangelicals and Catholics Together, 149.
25 Christianity Today, July 15, 1985.
26 Addresses to the German Nobility
27 Must Faith Endure for Salvation to Be Sure?, by Pastor Tom Stegall
MacArthur's Heresy on the Blood of Jesus
John MacArthur Exposed! (claims to believe in the blood of Jesus, but denies it's significance)
The Curse of Lordship Salvation
The Hypocrisy of Lordship Salvation
The Foolish Doctrine of Lordship Salvation
Scriptural Proof that Lordship Salvation is a Lie
Lordship Salvation Ignores Babes in Christ and the Backslidden