March 29, 2007

The Gospel Controversy: Faith & Obedience

In a thread at the pseudo- fundamentalist blog Sharper Iron a Pastor asked for information about the relation between faith and obedience.

Following is an excerpt from The Gospel Controversy, an article which appeared in the official periodical of Preach The Word Ministries, October-December, 1999.

The Bible teaches that true saving faith is, in itself an act of obedience to Jesus Christ. This theme is like a thread running through the fabric of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul begins by stating that the reason God made him an apostle was “for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name” (Rom. 1:5). Further, he describes the sinfulness of mankind by speaking of “them who are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness” (Rom. 2:8). Sinners are disobedient to God while they obey lawlessness. He tells the Roman Christians (and us present day believers) “that ye were the servants of sin, but ye obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you” (Rom. 6:17). In chapter ten, Paul reiterates six times that men receive justification by faith (Rom. 10:4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11). He then equates faith with calling on the Lord (Romans 10:12, 13). After the great challenge that some have never called on Christ because they have never heard of Him (Romans 10:14, 15), Paul turns to the nation of Israel. Israel’s lost condition is not because they had never heard of Christ but because “they have not all obeyed the gospel” (Rom. 10:16). No point could be more clear. When a disobedient sinner truly trusts Christ to save him, that act of faith is itself obedience to God! Paul’s benediction to Romans concludes the theme. Speaking of the Gospel, the Apostle tells us: “But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God made known to all nations for the obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:26).

Rather than make demands on the lost that Scripture does not make, let us preach the Gospel as it is, dealing squarely with the issues of sin, repentance, and faith. The lost who respond to Christ in true faith will obey Him at that point. Convicted and convinced by the Holy Spirit, they will understand that their obedience to sin places them under the judgment of God. They will trust Christ alone for salvation, calling on Him. That is obedience to the Gospel! Those who have so trusted Christ can be trained as disciples of the Lord Jesus. They will follow Him in baptism, the first step of obedience to Christ in the Christian life. They will surrender their wills fully to Christ and follow Him. They will be willing to take up a cross, enduring humiliation, suffering, and possible death for the One who literally bore a cross to save them from sin.

Reprinted by permission

The last paragraph is key. The first highlighted portion shows that Lordship’s call for upfront commitments to obey, follow, surrender and bears the cross to get saved, are demands which the Bible does not make on a lost man.

The second highlighted portion shows that obedience should be the natural result of saving faith. Some might state it this way,
"The lost who respond to Christ in true faith will obey Him from that point forward."
This article contrasts the Lordship idea of commitments to obedience and discipleship for salvation with the Bible's plan of faith resulting in obedience and commitment to discipleship.

LM

March 13, 2007

Defining the Debate with Dr. Mike Harding

Dear Guests:

Pastor Mike Harding was addressing another man in this thread at SharperIron (see p. 5). He made some helpful remarks that help in defining some of the major issues in the Lordship debate. I wanted to comment on a few of his remarks. Following is his post on p. 5 of the SI thread titled, John MacArthur: Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist is a Pre-Millennialist.

The most pertinent question on Lordship is in regard to the nature of saving faith. Brother Martuneac and I were in general agreement about repentance. As Lou and I interacted on this issue, Lou affirmed the recognition of the object of faith being Christ as Lord and Savior. We disagreed over the idea that Christ had to be recognized by a sinner as “the Lord” as opposed to “my Lord.” However, I don't think Lou would object to the sinner calling on Christ as “my” Lord. It seems that the real disagreement between some good men on this issue (by good men I mean men of the caliber of Kevin Bauder) is whether submission is a part of faith at all, whether that submission is explicit or implicit in faith, and finally whether submission is in principle as opposed to complete, mature, and total. The position that I have defended is that submission is (1) implicit in faith, (2) that saving faith is submissive in principle, and (3) that this faith will grow and progressively mature. On the other hand, there are passages in the Gospels and the Epistles that exemplify faith in explicit terms of submission. As far as the so-called “hard sayings” of Christ that discuss aspects of commitment and discipleship in relationship to the Gospel of the Kingdom, these are the most difficult issues to resolve and I believe that these passages have become the battleground between the opposing positions.
Following is my reply to Pastor Harding at SharperIron. I had posted a few comments in the same thread just prior to this one.

Mike:

You are referring to “nature” or “content” of saving faith. I like to boil it down a little differently to clearly define the area of debate. I like to speak in terms of what are the requirements for and what are the results of saving faith. We all agree that genuine saving faith should result in genuine results. As you put it, “that this faith will grow and progressively mature.”

The question that fuels the debate is: What is required of a sinner that would constitute saving faith, i.e. the faith that results in his receiving the gift of eternal life? As we have discussed saving faith as defined by many LS men is front-loaded with demands for commitment to the results of salvation as if these commitments are required for salvation. Those statements are the crux of the debate and have never been edited, explained, or eliminated by the men who make those claims.

MH wrote,
As Lou and I interacted on this issue, Lou affirmed the recognition of the object of faith being Christ as Lord and Savior. We disagreed over the idea that Christ had to be recognized by a sinner as "the Lord" as opposed to ‘my Lord’. However, I don't think Lou would object to the sinner calling on Christ as ‘my’ Lord.”
No problem with “my Lord,” and not necessarily a problem with “the Lord.” There is nothing inherently wrong with speaking (even in soul-winning) of “the Lord.” It comes down to what is being implied by the speaker when he calls upon a sinner to receive Jesus Christ as Lord. When I hear this, “You must receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior,” I do not necessarily cringe, but I am listening. I am listening for how the term/title “Lord” is defined as it relates to what a sinner is required to know or what decision he must make regarding Christ’s lordship for salvation. The reason I am listening is because the Lordship interpretation of the gospel (as defined by JM) has made deep inroads into fundamental Baptist circles.

Allow me an example. I heard this myself in a Sunday morning service. The speaker was preaching a gospel message directed only to the lost. There was no mention of sin, death or Hell. Repentance was briefly mentioned, but there was no mention of faith or believing. The lost were told that all he must do is, “open the door to his heart for the Lord to rule in His life” and he will be saved. This kind of “submission” to “the Lord” for salvation is an example of crossing the line.

MH wrote,
…whether submission is a part of faith at all, whether that submission is explicit or implicit in faith, and finally whether submission is in principle as opposed to complete, mature, and total.”
I think many would agree there is an element of submission in principle as long as we are defining faith in terms of dependence, trust and believing. If someone were to define submission to the gospel message of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone, as “submission in principle,” I have no problem with that. The problem is that many of the LS men go way beyond principle. They may, but I am not certain LS advocates teach a lost person must start out his relationship with Christ immediately following salvation in “complete, mature and total submission.” I’m sure we’d all like to begin our walk with God in “complete, mature and total submission.” We, however, know the realty of the inner warfare (Rom. 7) and the sin which doth so easily besets us (Heb. 12:1).
What they are calling for is the upfront commitment for “complete, mature and total submission” to the commands of Christ to begin a relationship with Christ. Once “commitment, full-surrender, a willingness to die for Jesus’ sake,” becomes part of a definition for saving faith, that then is a departure from principle and Scripture.

MH wrote,
On the other hand, there are passages in the Gospels and the Epistles that exemplify faith in explicit terms of submission. As far as the so-called “hard sayings" of Christ that discuss aspects of commitment and discipleship in relationship to the Gospel of the Kingdom, these are the most difficult issues to resolve and I believe that these passages have become the battleground between the opposing positions.”
I trust we all agree none of us here are taking on the Hodges’ Mental Assent only as the “opposing position.”

The “battleground” is to a large extent over the “commitment and discipleship” passages. I would also include the Sermon on the Mount because LS advocates consider it supportive of their view of the gospel message for today. John MacArthur (representing LS) for example says the Sermon on the Mount contains, “pure gospel,” and he writes,
Hell will be full of people who thought highly of the Sermon on the Mount. You must do more than that. You must obey it and take action.” (Hard to Believe, pp. 81,86.)


LM

March 2, 2007

Insights from the IFCA Interview with John MacArthur

I have been reading the transcripts (see links below) of the interview, conducted by the Executive Committee of the IFCA, with Dr. MacArthur in June 1989 shortly after the release of The Gospel According to Jesus.

The result of that interview with Dr. MacArthur, in regard to his Lordship Salvation interpretation of the gospel, lead to the IFCA’s Executive Committee writing and issuing the doctrinal statement titled, The Nature of Saving Faith.

The first transcript (Part 1) of the Q&A with Dr. MacArthur dealt with three areas of doctrine. Each area was or is an ongoing concern some have with John MacArthur. The three issues he was being questioned about are:
1) The blood of Christ
2) The eternal sonship of Christ
3) Dispensationalism

The blood of Christ issue is one that people have been passionate over. Most I have heard from or about have moved on from this.

The eternal sonship caused a huge flap. Some IFCA members resigned over it. Later MacArthur issued a statement that I once read at the GTY site where he acknowledged he had made a mistake on that issue.

As for the dispensational question- the concern was raised because of the heavy, nearly exclusive use of reformed theologians in the footnotes of The Gospel According to Jesus.

Part 2 of the interview was devoted totally to some of the doctrinal issues stemming from The Gospel According to Jesus.

In the early portions of Part 2 transcripts you can read from Dr. MacArthur’s own remarks, about several people he knew when he was a young man who sorely disappointed him in regard to an alleged relationship with Jesus Christ they had. They either backslid horribly, or their appearance of being a Christian was a fa├žade; I don’t know which.

What I do know is this: Those events started him on a journey that lead him to adopt and later advocate the Lordship Salvation interpretation of the gospel.

In the transcript Dr. MacArthur said,

And as a pastor I have seen them come and go and come and go and come and go, and trying in my own heart to assess the nature of true conversion was very much a personal struggle with me, not a theological one. And then I began to study the Gospel of Matthew, and I preached in Matthew for eight years at our church. And in that process of going through Matthew, I began to come to grips with the whole gospel record, because I was doing a study of the synoptics and John at the same time. And I began to fix on how Jesus evangelized and what He called for and so forth.”
This point in his life and study of Scripture is pivotal. He had experienced the disappointment that any pastor would if those he believed to be saved went bad or had lived out a facade. With those disappointments in mind his study of Matthew resulted in coming to believe The Sermon on the Mount contains pure gospel. In my article, Is The Sermon on the Mount Pure Gospel, I explain why that sermon is not an evangelistic appeal.

In his review of The Gospel According to Jesus, Dr. Ernest Pickering wrote the following, which I cite in my book:
John MacArthur is a sincere servant of the Lord, of that we have no doubt.... We believe in his advocacy of the so-called lordship salvation he is wrong. He desperately desires to see holiness, lasting fruit, and continuing faithfulness in the lives of Christian people. This reviewer and we believe all sincere church leaders desire the same.... But the remedy for this condition is not found in changing the terms of the gospel.”
Dr. Pickering speaks of the “desperate desire” which lead to Dr. MacArthur’s “changing the terms of the gospel.” From reading Dr. MacArthur’s opening remarks in the LS section of the IFCA interview with him- one can read when, how and why his “desperate desire” originated.


LM

IFCA Interview with John MacArthur (Part 1)

IFCA Interview with John MacArthur (Part 2)
The Lordship Q&A is in Part 2