Lordship Salvation destroys assurance. It promotes false guilt in believers who have a sensitive conscience. And it promotes hypocrisy in the visible church.
Lordship Salvation theology was created to push back against the error of ‘Easy Believism’ theology. But both these theologies are wrong. Many of our readers have wittingly or unwittingly been exposed to one or both of these errors.
Why am I writing about complexities of theology, when so many of our readers are exhausted and grieving from all the abuse they have suffered? Because while I know it can be a brain drain to wrap one’s head around theological debates, I believe it is immensely helpful for Christian victims of abuse to understand the errors in the theology they have been taught.
If we understand theology correctly we are much better equipped to identify and resist the spiritual abuse tactics which are employed to oppress victims of abuse. And our love for the Lord becomes even stronger and more vivifying, because we have sloughed off wrong ideas about God and the Christian life.
So dear readers, I encourage you to read this post in full. Take you time if need be. And see if what I’m saying makes sense.
Pastor John Fonville is well equipped to explain what Lordship Salvation is, how the doctrine originated, and, most importantly, how it diverges from biblical truth. He grew up as a Southern Baptist and studied at John MacArthur’s Master’s Seminary where he was taught Lordship Salvation theology. He later came to realize how erroneous Lordship Salvation was. So he is very able to explain what Lordship Salvation is…and what its errors are.
Note well: both John Macarthur and John Piper have a Lordship Salvation theology.
I urge all our readers to listen to this podcast: Lordship Salvation, with Pastor John Fonville. There is some preliminary material and then Ps Fonville comes on about 8:27.
I (Barb) had heard the term ‘Lordship Salvation’ before, but I didn’t know what it was. What an eye-opener it was to listen to this podcast!
The Lordship Salvation doctrine arose because of a concern back in the 80’s and early 90’s that the double benefits of salvation – justification and sanctification – were being separated.
Some guys from Dallas Seminary were saying that justification and sanctification were separate deals. In his 1980’s book Absolutely Free, Zane Hodges from Dallas Seminary argued that you can accept Jesus as your Savior and be justified, but you don’t have to accept him as your Lord. This idea is commonly known as ‘Easy Believism’ and it produces antinomianism (lawlessness, libertinism). Hodges said that if you want later on to accept Jesus as your Savior, you can do that and thus become a disciple of Jesus. (By the way, this was not a new heresy. Heresies get recycled with variants and new labels down the centuries.)
In order to correct this error, John MacArthur wrote a book The Gospel According To Jesus: What Is Authentic Faith. He argued that Jesus is both Savior and Lord to all who believe. So MacArthur and his followers came to be known as the Lordship Salvation camp.
MacArthur was correcting the widespread mistaken teaching that you could answer an altar call and sincerely pray the sinner’s prayer and sign this line because you’ve “asked Jesus into your heart” and you would be saved. That kind of theology came out of revivalism. It is also steeped in a Wesleyan two-step view of salvation – a ‘higher life’ Keswick view of salvation – namely, that you can be justified initially but at some later point in your life you have this existential experience with the Holy Spirit and you truly become sanctified and at that point you become a victorious Christian and live the abundant Christian life.
But the problem was, as Michael Horton put it:
While MacArthur was pulling up the weeds of antinomianism [lawlessness], he also pulled up the flowers of the reformation.
Lordship Salvation confuses and blurs the Law and the Gospel so that ultimately Law just consumes the entire Gospel.
John Fonville gives examples of how Lordship Salvation has infected a lot of the visible church. He uses the example of David Platt’s book Radical. (Platt has a Lordship Salvation theology.) Here is Pastor John Fonville at 33:00 in the podcast–
[Lordship Salvation] creates a taxing legalism. Platt issues a call to ‘live the gospel’.
Nowhere does scripture issue a command for believers to ‘live the gospel’ – that is the unique work of Christ alone. I’ve never met a person who has incarnated themselves. And I’ve never met a person who has perfectly through their active obedience given perfect perpetual personal obedience to God’s law. I’ve never met a person who has the authority to lay their life down on a cross and pick it up again the third day and propitiate the judgement and wrath of God for sin. So it’s a confusion of categories and it’s silly to call people to ‘live the gospel’.
The bible calls us to believe the gospel and to obey the law.
The law and the gospel are to be carefully distinguished.
The law says ‘Do this and live. If you do not do it you will die.’
Ever since the Fall, we have been unable to keep the law perfectly. God’s law exposes to us our sin and misery. The Holy Spirit uses the law to reveal to us our need to repent of sin and our pretence of law-keeping.
The gospel gives us the remedy: receive and rest on Christ alone, through faith.
Christ met the demands of the law. He did this in two ways: his active personal perfect obedience to the law during his life, and his passive obedience to the law by suffering the penalty of the law, namely the wrath of God and death on our behalf. So all a repentant sinner needs to do is receive and rest in the finished work of Christ alone.
Because Lordship Salvation blurs law and gospel, it also has a defective understanding of discipleship. Fonville explains this (42:40 in the podcast) by giving the example of how Platt misinterprets the story of the rich young man in Mark 10.
In that section of the podcast I saw lots of parallels with how churches pressure victims of abuse to keep on submitting to their abusers in order to show radical surrender to Jesus’ lordship.
As we have said many times before at ACFJ, churches lay false guilt on victims if they don’t adhere to the church’s counsel. And they induce fear in victims of abuse by implying that if they don’t comply they are not true Christians.
Reformed theology rightly distinguishes Law and Gospel
The Reformed Confessions and Catechisms steer a clear path between the two errors of Lordship Salvation (legalism, moralism) and Easy Believism (libertinism).
Here is Pastor Fonville (54:45 in the podcast) —
The Reformed Confessions talk about how we are united to Christ by grace alone by faith alone. And we receive a whole Christ: Christ as Savior and Lord. We receive Christ with all his saving benefits. We receive the substance of the covenant of grace which is both justification and sanctification. …
Qn 75 of the Westminster Larger Catechism speaks about progressive sanctification—[Barb has put the words from the Catechism in italics]
Sanctification is a work of God’s grace…
This is so important: it is a work of God’s grace. So right there, you know sanctification is not some synergistic effort between you and God to save yourself.
Sanctification is a work of God’s grace whereby they (that is the elect, God’s chosen people, whom God hath before the foundation of the world chosen to be holy) are, in time, through the powerful operation of His Spirit applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them…
So it is a work of God’s grace through the powerful operation of the Holy Spirit who applies the death and resurrection of Christ to us. It’s not our work. And by that work of grace of the Holy Spirit applying the death and resurrection of Christ to believers, then
…they are renewed unto a whole man unto the image of God having the seeds of repentance unto life and all other saving graces put into their hearts, and those graces so stirred up increased and strengthened as that they more and more die unto sin and rise unto newness of life.
The Lordship Salvation crowd (MacArthur, Piper, etc.) blur the distinction between justification and sanctification, so you have to meet certain conditions in your sanctification-works in order to enter into heaven.
In contrast, the Easy Believism (Free Grace/non Lordship) crowd separate justification and sanctification. They emphasize, legitimately, that assurance of salvation is clearly taught in the Scriptures, but in so doing they reduce faith to something less than the full orbed biblical teaching. They bifurcate justification and sanctification.
But the Reformed Confessions do not blur the lines between justification and sanctification, nor do they unscripturally separate or bifurcate justification and sanctification.
At 103:30 in the podcast, Ps Fonville explains the Law and Gospel hermeneutic of the Reformed Confessions. The Reformed Confessions distinguish between two types of covenants:
- Law is the covenant of works which is first announced in Genesis 2:15-17.
- Gospel is the covenant of grace which is first announced in Genesis 3:15 and finds its way from promise there to fulfilment in the New Heavens and New Earth.
Pastor Fonville says:
When you turn the gospel (the covenant of grace) into the covenant of works and make personal spirit-wrought sanctity a condition for salvation, you have just injected the covenant of works back into the covenant of grace and you have destroyed the gospel. That’s why it’s so important to make these distinctions in the bible and to have these categories. [the categories of Law and Gospel]
So what is the place of good works?
… once the Holy Spirit has worked Christ-embracing faith in our hearts, all conditions of salvation having been met in Him, do good works then cease to be necessary?
Of course not—why would they? Good works are glorifying to God, comforting to the soul of believers, and are used by God to win others to Christ. (source)
John MacArthur and John Piper do not have reformed theology. They do not subscribe to any Reformed Confessions. They do not follow the framework that the Reformers articulate. They do not rightly articulate the Law (the covenant of works) and the Gospel (the covenant of grace). So they go very wrong on many things from there.
And here’s another caution. We need to remember that there are people who falsely claim to be Reformed in their theology who inject the covenant of works back into the covenant of grace and thereby destroy the gospel. The Federal Vision crowd Norman Shepherd & Doug Wilson are obvious examples. But many unstable presbyterian (PCA) ministers are in this group too.
Michael Horton rightly says–
When you collapse the covenant of works into the covenant of grace you don’t have law and gospel, you have glospel. (1:06:00 in the podcast)
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to beware of false teachers in all tribes of the church.
One benefit of the Reformed Confessions and Catechisms is that they help us learn and pass on to the next generation the true doctrines of Christianity. And they help us identify the false teachers.
Lordship Salvation destroys assurance and it promotes false guilt in believers who have a sensitive conscience.
For a serious believer who is weak and sinning, Lordship Salvation doctrine destroys the believer’s assurance so it leads to despair. For a Christian victim of domestic abuse, Lordship Salvation induces false guilt and terror that they are going to hell if they don’t comply with the church’s counsel and the abuser’s demands.
Lordship Salvation promotes hypocrisy in the visible church.
The other thing Lordship Salvation does is promote hypocrisy in some people in the visible church. And we know what that leads to – it makes the visible church an environment that is conducive to wolves in sheep’s clothing and wolves in pulpits. These wolves create man-made laws by twisting scripture and they use these laws to oppress others. They hammer their man-made laws especially hard on victims of abuse when victims resist the oppression. And all the while these wolves are pretending to be law-keepers, but they are wicked hypocrites. Many people outside the church see this and decide to have nothing to do with Christ.
Which leads me to the only one problem I have with this podcast. It comes near the end of the podcast (1:58:15). A female listener asks how is she to rightly understand these three warning passages in light of the gospel:
- Matt 6:15 For if you do not forgive men their trespasses neither will the Father forgive yours.
- Matt 7:2 For in the judgement you pronounce you will be judged, the measure you use is the measure that will be used against you.
- Matt 10:33 Whoever denies me before men I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven.
I didn’t see any error in Pastor Fonville’s response to the listener’s question, but I thought his answer was inadequate because
- he didn’t consider the possibility that this woman had been taught confusing and defective ideas of forgiveness (see my post Three kinds of forgiveness)
- he didn’t consider that she might be dealing with a situation where she was rightly judging someone but her church was telling her that her judgement was wrong
- he didn’t consider the possibility that she might be rightly standing for Christ and Truth but was being told by her church that she was denying Christ by her attitude and behavior.
UPDATE: please read the comments below by Marissa Namir and Colleen Sharp who are on the TheologyGals team. They explain that they had to edit Ps Fonville’s interview in order to fit it into the podcast. And they’ve followed up with the woman who asked that question, and supported her to move to another church.
Related posts at this blog
The connection between #MeToo and the rejection of ‘salvation by faith alone’ (Sola Fide)
Pastor Fonville is the teaching elder at Paramount Church, Jacksonville Florida. See the church’s statement of faith here. In the podcast I’ve referred to in this post, Ps Fonville is being interviewed by Theology Gals. Theology Gals is a podcast by women, for women. They bring a biblical, reformed Christian perspective to the table. They discuss theology, studying God’s word and the importance of applying it to the Christian life.
Theology Gals interviewed Jeff Crippen a while ago. The episode was called Abuse and the Church.
Dr R Scott Clark’s interview with John Fonville:
Dr R Scott Clark and his pastor, Chris Gordon, talk about the doctrine of justification: http://www.agradio.org/podcast/justification-scott-clark
R Scott Clark interviewing Michael Horton in 2013 about the Lordship Salvation controversy:
Covetousness and Oppression
Psalm 10 KJV
by Ps Sam Powell
PSALM 10 Why standest thou afar off, O Lord? why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?
2 The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor: let them be taken in the devices that they have imagined.
3 For the wicked boasteth of his heart’s desire, and blesseth the covetous, whom the Lord abhorreth.
4 The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.
5 His ways are always grievous; thy judgments are far above out of his sight: as for all his enemies, he puffeth at them.
6 He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved: for I shall never be in adversity.
7 His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and fraud: under his tongue is mischief and vanity.
8 He sitteth in the lurking places of the villages: in the secret places doth he murder the innocent: his eyes are privily set against the poor.
9 He lieth in wait secretly as a lion in his den: he lieth in wait to catch the poor: he doth catch the poor, when he draweth him into his net.
10 He croucheth, and humbleth himself, that the poor may fall by his strong ones.
11 He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten: he hideth his face; he will never see it.
12 Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up thine hand: forget not the humble.
13 Wherefore doth the wicked contemn God? he hath said in his heart, Thou wilt not require it.
14 Thou hast seen it; for thou beholdest mischief and spite, to requite it with thy hand: the poor committeth himself unto thee; thou art the helper of the fatherless.
15 Break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil man: seek out his wickedness till thou find none.
16 The Lord is King for ever and ever: the heathen are perished out of his land.
17 Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear:
18 To judge the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may no more oppress.
Scotland to become one of the first countries to criminalize psychological abuse & coercive, controlling behavior
At a debate of a new Domestic Abuse Bill in the Scottish Parliament, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson condemned the ‘pernicious, coercive and controlling behaviour’ of perpetrators.
This BBC News article, Holyrood [home of the Scottish Parliament] debates domestic abuse law, explains how unless psychological abuse and the use of coercive control is accompanied by physical violence or overt threats it can be very difficult to prosecute under current law. This new legislation hopes to provide protection for victims of both physical and the more covert psychological abuse and coercive control. Here is an excerpt from the article.
The new bill will create a specific offence of “abusive behaviour in relation to a partner or ex-partner”.
And it will also include proposals to ensure psychological abuse, such as coercive and controlling behaviour, can be effectively prosecuted.
The proposals have been given the backing in principle by opposition politicians.
Mr Matheson told MSPs of some of the “horrendous types of behaviour victims can be forced to endure – but which cannot currently be prosecuted by the courts.
He said perpetrators “may not necessarily use physical violence against their partner or even overt threats”, but they could “behave in a highly-controlling, abusive way over a long period of time”.
The Justice Secretary continued: “Examples of what abusers may do to humiliate their partners are horrendous.
“For example, abusers may force them to eat food off the floor, control access to the toilet, repeatedly put them down and tell them they are worthless.
“Abusers also try to control every aspect of their partner’s life, by, for example, preventing them from attending work or college, stopping them making contact with family or friends, giving them no or limited access to money, checking or controlling their use of their phone and social media.”
He said where this behaviour is not accompanied by physical violence or overt threats it could currently be “very difficult to prosecute”.
Mr Matheson said: “A perpetrator may have subjected their partner to years of abuse but may only have been convicted of a single instance of assault or threatening and abusive behaviour.”
He stressed the new law would not inadvertently criminalise “ordinary arguments and friction that may occur in many relationships”.
Ministers are also “considering very carefully” how the proposals could be changed to reflect the impact of such abuse on children who are “in effect secondary victims of partner abuse”.
The following article will be of interest to police, criminologists, women’s advocates and academics in the domestic abuse field.
Seeing What is ‘Invisible in Plain Sight’: Policing Coercive Control by Cassandra Weiner, Doctoral Researcher, School of Law, Politics and Sociology, University of Sussex. (October 2017)
Abstract: Coercive control has emerged as a key focus for researchers and activists working in the field of intimate partner abuse. In England and Wales, the issue has taken on a new urgency. On 29 December 2015, s. 76, Serious Crime Act made ‘coercive or controlling behaviour’ a criminal offence. Implementation of the new offence has been slow. The analysis of data generated by empirical work with police and survivors suggests that police need to understand a working model of coercive control in order to adopt what could be a transformative approach to policing intimate partner abuse.
Women who were married to abusive priests and pastors are for the first time revealing their experiences of sexual assault, control and fear. They say the church has known for decades that some clergy abuse their wives but has done very little to fix the ongoing problem.
This article was published yesterday at ABCnews in Australia. For copyright reasons we can’t reblog it here but we urge all our readers to read it by clicking the link.
The article mentions A Cry For Justice. I (Barb) was involved in helping disidentify the women’s stories. There are eight women’s stories embedded in the article. To find them, scroll down the ABC article till you see these four pictures, then click on the drop down arrow under each picture.
Time to Listen was an evening event held in North Sydney on Sept 6, 2017. Videos of it are now available. Hooray!
Part 1 – Julia Baird, ABC journalist, and Graeme Anderson, Senior Ps of Northside Baptist Church, Crows Nest NSW, talk about the public attention given to domestic abuse in the church in the last few years in Australia.
Part 2 – Julia Baird leads a panel discussion of what is being done and what people can do next. Panel: Erica Hamence, Bruce Chan, Michael Jensen and Liz Mackinlay.
Eternity News did a writeup of the Time To Listen event: Churches ‘should unite’ to fight domestic abuse. The rest of this post is excerpts from the Eternity article, with links added by me. (However, I encourage you to also read the whole Eternity article.)
_ _ _ _
Domestic violence specialist with BaptistCare, Bruce Chan, has called on churches to band together to fight the scourge of domestic and family violence.
Chan [said] the Baptist church in NSW was developing a pilot programme on domestic violence, More than Skin Deep, that would be trialled in churches this year, and rolled out to 1000 churches next year. It’s not restricted to Baptist churches, so any other church can contact BaptistCare who are interested to find out. …
Common Grace, a movement of Christians passionate about Jesus and justice, will launch a package of resources, called Safer, in November. …
Pastor Graham Hill … said he was stunned by the storm of reaction to a recent article by Julia Baird that quoted US research on the high levels of abuse by men who attend evangelical churches sporadically. [He said: ]
I was quite stunned personally when your [Julia’s] article came out and people tried to push back on that with excuses and denials and justifications and so on. That stunned me, the extent of abuse that happens in many families and certainly in the life of the church.
I have no idea personally of what it’s like to suffer, of course, like many of the women are suffering, but when I listen to them I hear stories of shame and fear and secrecy and being silenced. And then when I see Christian leaders trying to silence this conversation, it feels to me that we’re exaggerating those feelings, and so we’re causing more pain, more grief, more suffering, more silence, more loss, and I think we need to begin to address that honestly.
Some people say ‘wouldn’t it be nice if instead of justifying and excusing and denying, we just said sorry.
I’m sorry that we haven’t listened. I’m sorry that our systems and our cultures and our language and our theology has silenced you. I’m sorry that when you come to ask for help that we’ve told you that you need to practise more forgiveness or you need to be more submissive. I’m sorry that when it’s come to our attention that there are men behaving badly, that we’ve exonerated or we’ve colluded with those men in some way or we’ve allowed them to charm us. I’m sorry that instead of actually seeing a moment when we can make a difference we’ve resorted to excuses and denials rather than actually embracing the moment and choosing to change and make a difference. [bold added by Barb Roberts, because I know Graeme’s apology will be a balm to many victims who are reading this. It certainly was for me.]
Donna Crouch, a pastor from Hillsong Church who has worked in the domestic violence area for a long time, gave some practical tips for churches trying to work out how to respond.
“I think to start with we’ve got to change our language in church, that domestic violence is ‘out there.’ It’s not ‘out there;’ it’s in here, it’s everywhere – and not be ashamed about that … how to own that without being embarrassed. Of course it’s going to be in our church because our churches are a reflection of the community we’re in – so let’s get on with it!”
Crouch said her team focused particularly on how to intervene during the critical period when a woman is about to leave an abusive husband.
“The break-up is most critical period for a woman to be killed; that means our response before, during or after is also critical,” she said.
She said in NSW there had been cases where the first instance of physical violence was murder.
“That only heightens our responsibility for all this intervention with all these other symptoms of family violence.”
She said her team had been working on developing relationships with the local police domestic violence liaison officer, and finding out who the professionals and counsellors were in the community.
“We’re not going to do a Christian version of the professionals; we can use the trust that people put in us to refer them and do the journey with them. If that means sitting with them, calling the DV hotline, if it means going to the police, we do that.”
Pastor Michael Jensen said it was really important for pastors to have the knowledge of the dynamics of domestic violence to be able to see through deception on the part of the perpetrator.
“To see where I’m being buttered up is really important, just to even see that as a possibility that by his charm he’s actually trying to win me to his side is extraordinary,” he said.
He also said churches had an important role to play in speaking differently about masculinity.
“Jesus is an interesting guy, you know – humility … not exercising his muscle to assert his masculinity, that kind of taking the anxiety out of being seen to be a man, I think, would be something that in church communities could be revolutionary, could be a real change in the balance.”
Church Controversy with Domestic Abuse: an annotated bibliography This bibliography is continually updated, so if you want to suggest items that we could add to it, please email firstname.lastname@example.org .