A Study of Theology III – Part 17 (Dr. Thomas Figart)
Perhaps the most important subject in Scripture is the teaching which pertains to salvation from sin. There is a current controversy concerning “lordship salvation” which has led to confusion in definitions and interpretations.
A Study of Theology III – Part 17
Straw Men, Scarecrows, or Salvation?
by Dr. Thomas O. Figart
XII. A Response to the so-called “Lordship Salvation” doctrine; published in the Lamplighter, Winter 1989, a publication of Lancaster Bible College.
I had a science teacher in high school who made two unforgettable remarks to our all-boys class on the very first day. He declared, “When you come in that door, you sit down and shut up!” That was not very profound but it was simple enough to understand. The second thing he said was much more profound, yet just as simple: “The beginning of understanding rests upon precise definitions.” How often I have thought of this through the years! This is especially true in teaching Bible doctrine, and it is necessary for a proper interpretation of Scripture.
Perhaps the most important subject in Scripture is the teaching which pertains to salvation from sin. There is a current controversy concerning “lordship salvation” which has led to confusion in definitions and interpretations. Certain theories which we will call “straw men” and “scarecrows” have been set up only to become roadblocks to the truth of “salvation.”
Let us begin by defining from the Bible just what true salvation is. One of the best passages on the subject is Ephesians 2:8-10, “For by grace ye are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God—not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
Therefore, true salvation is:
- Unmerited favor from God: “For by grace are ye saved”
- Uncomplicated trust in Christ: “through faith”
- Unconditional inheritance of eternal life: “it is the gift of God” The little word “it” referring to the gift of God, is touto, a neuter Greek word, and cannot refer to the word faith (pistis) nor to the word grace (charis) both of which are feminine, but to the divine gift, of salvation: “”
- Unfailing evidence of the new creation in Christ: “unto good works”
From this it is evident that salvation is received as a gift by the exercise of personal faith in Christ. If this is living faith it will produce good works in the life of the believer; otherwise it is merely dead faith, according to James 2:14-21.
Having defined true salvation as faith which is proven by works, it may not seem controversial to define “lordship salvation” as the necessity to accept Jesus Christ not only as Savior but also as Lord. But when certain requirements are expected as part of that acceptance, then salvation comes mighty close to doing something, and this is a contradiction to salvation by faith.
This is not really a new controversy. As far back as 1660, Joseph Alleine, the Puritan author of An Alarm to the Unconverted, included a chapter giving sixteen “directions to the unconverted.” Some of these requirements were: “Strive to affect your heart with a deep sense of your present misery; Henceforth renounce all your sins; Choose the laws of Christ as the rule of your words, thoughts and actions; Forsake your evil company, and forbear the occasion of sin; Set apart a day to humble your soul in secret by fasting and prayer, to work a sense of your sins and miseries upon your heart.” It is not surprising, therefore, to read of Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s reaction two hundred years later, in 1863, denouncing all such requirements for salvation in his sermon, “The Warrant of Faith” (parts of that sermon will be quoted later).
In our day, over 125 years after Spurgeon’s sermon from his church in England, certain writers in America are reviving the same emphasis of “preparationism” for the sinner, confusing true salvation by faith which produces these results afterward.
What is a “straw man?” Literally, of course, a straw man is made by stuffing articles of clothing with straw, but in debating, a “straw man” is a weak argument set up by a debater in order that he may refute it and seem to gain an easy victory, when the real issue has not been answered. There follow three of the extreme arguments being used which are straw men, not really dealing with the issue of true salvation at all.
Straw Man #1: Salvation by intellectual assent only
One writer has stated that the gospel, having been reduced “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” (James M. Boice, p. xi, The Gospel According to Jesus, by John F. MacArthur, Jr., Grand Rapids, Mich., Zondervan Publishing House, 1988).
While this sort of thing may be preached by certain misguided “evangelists,” it is far from the mainstream of evangelical or fundamental teachings today. Anyone with a passing acquaintance with James 2:14-21 would understand that even demons believe in an intellectual way and tremble. To tell sinners that the “barest intellectual assent” is eternal salvation is so obviously wrong that no right-thinking teacher would ever say such a thing. It is a weak straw man approach, used to promote the idea that this kind of preaching is the “greatest weakness of contemporary evangelical Christianity in America.”
Straw Man #2 : A true Christian can live in a pattern of sin
The question is put this way: “Why should we assume that people who live in an unbroken pattern of adultery, fornication, homosexuality, deceit, and every conceivable kind of flagrant excess are truly born again” (John F. MacArthur, ibid; pp. 16-17)? The answer is, that of course such people are not born again (1 Cor. 6:9-10)! Does anyone really hold to this extreme view? The claim is actually made in the same paragraph that “most Christians view these people as insiders” (ibid, p. 16). Just because the media have lumped together such individuals with true Christians hardly proves that practicing sinners are born again. This stems from the present-day lifestyle which has been accepted on American television and has filtered down to become part of our culture to the point where all kinds of sexual practices are accepted as normal. This even involves some churches which have appointed homosexuals of either sex as full-fledged ministers. But to give the impression that this lifestyle is now accepted commonly as real Christianity by “most Christians” is a straw man indeed!
Straw Man #3: A sinner can be saved by a mere outward public response
“Contemporary Christians have been conditioned to believe that because they recited a prayer, signed on the dotted line, walked an aisle, spoke in tongues, were slain in the spirit, or had some other experience, they are saved and should never question their salvation” (Ibid, pp. 22-23).
This type of argument does have validity against emotional appeals used in some evangelistic campaigns, but it is really a straw man when it claims to represent mainstream Christianity. True, it would be a good idea if we could place a ban on all such unscriptural methods, and instead, watch as the Holy Spirit moves in convicting power when true salvation is preached, and leave the results with God (John 16:7-11). Yet, even though those who emphasize “lordship salvation” do not approve of these public demonstrations, they themselves make private demands of sinners which are just as unscriptural as the public methods which they denounce, as giving sinners something to do, in addition to “believe.”