November 8, 2012

Incompatible Gospels: The Misfit of Lordship Salvation and Gospel-Centric Fellowship

There may not be any problem more common among men, even good men, than their being inconsistent.  All men say one thing and then fail to always live by what they have professed.  It is a problem of a different kind when men try for whatever reason to join together two things that are not compatible.  While in this life inconsistency in itself is unavoidable, attempts to force a conjoining of incompatible properties or principles is not necessary.

In Fundamental circles there are two growing trends.  The first trend is for a man to begin to espouse a Gospel message that curiously has the same tints and shadows cast from one of Dr. John MacArthur’s The Gospel According to . . . books.  The second trend is for a man to publically reveal that he has been awakened to a Gospel-centric orientation concerning his Christian fellowship.  Rather than just re-examine whether the Biblical focus concerning fellowship is a pure Gospel or a pure church I would like to draw attention to these questions: How can someone claim a belief in a narrow Lordship-defined Gospel and also claim that they fellowship around a broad non-Lordship defined Gospel?  Likewise, how can someone claim that it is all about the Gospel and not care enough about the definition of the Gospel that would publically place them in agreement with or against Lordship salvation?

How a Lordship Gospel and a Gospel-centric Fellowship are Incompatible

Lordship Salvation Defined
According to the proponents of the Gospel of Lordship Salvation there is more than just grace and faith to being saved.  In their pontifications of this Gospel, these proponents over and over again advance the notion that obedience and surrender are just as important as or even more important than grace and faith for genuine personal salvation.  Read their words for yourself.
Thus in a sense we pay the ultimate price for salvation when our sinful self is nailed to a cross. . . .  It is an exchange of all that we are for all that Christ is.  And it denotes implicit obedience, full surrender to the lordship of Christ.  Nothing less can qualify as saving faith. (John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus, p. 140.) 
That is the kind of response the Lord Jesus called for: wholehearted commitment.  A desire for Him at any cost.  Unconditional surrender.  A full exchange of self for the Savior.  It is the only response that will open the gates of the kingdom. (John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus [Revised and Expanded Edition], p. 148.) 
There is no doubt that Jesus saw a measure of real, lived-out obedience to the will of God as necessary for final salvation. (John Piper, What Jesus Demands From the World, p. 160)
The Gospel according to them is that a person must make a commitment of absolute surrender and obedience to Christ in order to be really saved.  Any Gospel that does not make that requirement is not the true Gospel, but a false one.

Gospel-centric Fellowship Defined
The doctrine of Gospel-centric fellowship is fairly simple to understand.  Its adherents generally believe that since the Gospel is the main thing and everything else is secondary to it in importance that they can fellowship with anyone and everyone who is a believer in the Gospel.  Here is their reasoning: since the Gospel is the foundation of what it is to be a true Christian, it should also be accepted to be the only true touchstone for Christian fellowship.  Doctrinal questions about baptism (whether its immersion or sprinkling; for believers or babes), spiritual gifts (whether there is a continuing revelation or a completed one), or miracles (whether they ceased or continue today) and doubtful practical applications (whether one shouldn’t drink at all or just not get drunk; whether music is amoral or has spiritual implications; or whether Christ is or is not against, in, for, above, or otherwise prepositioned to culture) do not and should not have any bearing on Christian fellowship.  In the end these things will not matter as much so they must not matter as much now.  All believers should unite and center their lives around the simple Gospel because of its central importance.

So then how can a man hold to both of these positions?  If a man believes that the Gospel message necessitates absolute obedience to Christ for there to be saving faith, but then that same man fellowships with someone regardless of his fidelity to Biblical truth that man compromises that Gospel.  This is not just an unavoidable inconsistency but an attempt to force together two incompatible Gospels to the disregarding of one or both.  If someone holds to a Gospel of obedience to Christ then it should follow that their fellowship should also be around a Gospel of obedience to Christ.  As it stands now, too many men are trying to preach two different Gospels.  They preach a Gospel of obedience for salvation, but then fellowship around another one that is accepting of disobedience in doctrine and practice.  How, on the one hand, can obedience to Christ be of such importance that without it no one can be saved but, on the other hand, be of such little importance that it plays no role with whom a Christian should fellowship?

If It Only Were About the Gospel of Christ
If it were all about the importance of the Gospel then variations of the Biblical Gospel would matter.  No man could truly believe in the utmost importance of the Gospel, but then walk in the shadows when it comes to matters of a Crossless or Lordship Gospel.  His voice would be clear and distinct defining with great clarity where he stood.

The truth is that the Gospel does matter, and it matters much.  But its place of importance rather than diminishing other Scriptural teachings elevates them all in importance.  Because the Gospel matters, everything else matters.  Because Christ is my Savior, everything He taught should be important to me.
It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.  Matthew 4:4
Then from the Great Commission itself, we read these words,
Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. . . Matthew 20:28
It seems inconceivable that someone who understands the message of the cross would use that message as their justification to ignore wrong.  No man should believe that the same God, who will so richly reward us for the smallest deed done for Him, will ignore and pass over our variations from sound doctrine and practice.  If in this truth men were willing to live all about the Gospel, all would be well.

Evangelist Gordon Phillips

Site Publisher's Addendum:
This is an article written by Gordon Phillips.  It is jointly reproduced here by permission. I encourage you to post any comments and interact with Greg at his Faith, Theology & Ministry blog.


  1. Let me get some clarification here as one who is certainly not a fan of MacArthur or Piper. Are you saying that saving faith is completely devoid of an
    attitude towards learning and obeying God's truth? Are you saying that saving faith is devoid of a commitment to God of any sort?

    1. Thanks for asking.

      What we are saying is that front-loading faith with a commitment to live as an obedient, committed disciple of Jesus Christ to become a born again Christian is NOT the gospel of Jesus Christ. For further clarification please refer to articles such as:

      Summary of Lordship Salvation From a Single Page

      Can God-Given Faith Be Defective?


  2. Paul,

    You asked if "saving faith is completely devoid of an attitude towards learning and obeying God's truth." I believe that a result of salvation will be those things (among other things) in the life of a child of God, but we must be clear that those things are not the means of obtaining salvation.

    Salvation is by God's grace through our faith, belief, trust in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Salvation is not dependent upon an individual making a commitment of change to his life or of surrender of all that he is. Any and all such promises by us, though sounding spiritual, are only more attempts by man to once again be offering his own deeds, his own efforts, his own works in exchange for forgiveness of sin. No such promise to God is any good because we could never keep it no matter how sincere we are.

    The necessary change in us comes from God, Who makes us a new creature, when we come in simple faith to Him. The only promises or commitments that truly matter in salvation are those that God Himself has made to us. It is us who trust in His Word, not Him in ours, that results in salvation.

    I trust this helps. Lou has many articles on this blog that you should carefully read to better understand the issue of LS.

  3. Paul,

    If I may, let me add to what I wrote before and expand upon the false idea that intentions, promises, or commitments from man are of any value in our salvation. When it comes to God, the value of His intentions, promises, and commitments regarding salvation are in the fact there is absolutely no difference between what He says and what He does. Abraham believed this as Paul reminds us in Romans 4:21, "And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform."

    When it comes to us what value is there in any of our intentions, promises, or commitments? Our intentions are more inaction than actual action; our promises more words than performance; our commitments more desire than completion. When it comes to what can save us who truly believes that attitude rather than substance is what matters? This is exactly why God commands us to put our trust in the substance of the finished work of Christ. Only that can save us! The truth of the matter is that despite the fact that some men believe that declaring their obedience and surrender to Christ is part and parcel to what saves them, not a single one of them ever came remotely close to following through on those commitments. Do they believe that it something just to be said or something that must be done?

    May I be quite frank and say that what I myself see in the LS doctrines is just a novel, contemporary form of the doctrines of the Judiazers of old. They wanted the Mosaic Law to be a part of saving faith, not that they perfectly kept the Law but they wanted to be judged by their good intentions toward it. But Paul ably tells us that obedience for justification is an all or nothing proposition.

    Look again at the words of John Piper I quoted. Do we notice that even he hedges on the obedience issue when he used the descriptive modifier "a measure.?" Is there really some value in just a measure of obedience to God? Really? Just and only "a measure" of obedience will get the job done? There is no difference between "a measure" and "a partial," and it is certain in the Scriptures that God does not see the partially obedient man any differently than the completely disobedient man. My friend, salvation is all of God.

  4. Hi Lou,

    Thanks for bringing this inconsistency to light. I had not considered this before, yet now that I've been exposed to it it makes absolutely no sense. You're not saved if you're not obeying Christ's commandments but you can fellowship with anyone who doesn't obey them... what???

    I would very much like to hear Piper explain this.


  5. Kev:

    Thanks for the input. This is the kind of nonsense that comes from men who prefer friends and fellowships above the clear teaching of the Word of God. It seems to me they construct applications from dubious theology to legitimize their fellowships.

    Thanks again,