A Question I Was Asked:

What is Your View of 'Lordship Salvation'?

UK Apologetics Reply:

Lordship salvation is a teaching within Protestant Christian theology which maintains that good works are a necessary consequence of being declared righteous before God. So, according to this reasoning, Jesus cannot be considered a person's Saviour without fully being the Lord of that person's life, or, the ruler of that person's life; this being illustrated and demonstrated by that person's gradual purification from sin and the exercising of good works (James 1:27). This teaching is, at least loosely, advocated in many of the creeds of Protestantism, but it is also opposed by many as being a possible doorway into legalism.

All agree that acceptance before God is through faith alone by grace alone, but theologians differ on whether true justification can ever be realised where one tends to lead an overly worldly life, rather than a fully pious one. The question always being: How 'holy' should a Christian life be?

There is a more or less directly opposing position often called 'Free Grace' theology which maintains that the Lordship salvation view is marked by legalism and a lack of reliance on the grace of God under which we must all stand, or instantly fall.

Probably (but not certainly), the first known use of the term "Lordship salvation" occurred in a noted 1959 debate between Presbyterian theologian Everett F. Harrison (a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary at the time), and John Stott, a British Anglican evangelist/theologian, which was published in Eternity magazine. Stott upheld the 'lordship' view while Harrison opposed it.

This controversy then somewhat 'took off' in the United States (but less so in Europe), when Calvinist John MacArthur argued against (what he called) the doctrine of 'carnal Christianity' in his book, 'The Gospel According to Jesus.' Then, in 1989, Charles Ryrie published 'So Great Salvation,' and Zane C. Hodges published 'Absolutely Free! A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation.' Many of these writers (and others since) consider that 'lordship salvation' is always in danger of lapsing over into legalism because of appearing to set rules under which Christ is prepared to work with the regenerate, this being in stark contrast to several highly grace-oriented statements of Paul the Apostle in the New Testament. Some have also accused 'lordship salvation' of emphasizing the Gospel of Matthew (obviously primarily intended for the Jewish people), at the expense of the much more grace-based, and one has to say, apparently more spiritually mature, Gospel accounts of Luke and John.

There is no doubt that both sides can quote many Scriptures in support of their own positions yet it cannot be the answer for either side to be involved in 'points-scoring' on preferred Scriptures, or for the rest of us to rush to taking sides over this issue but, rather, to adopt a balanced position whilst seeing the strengths in each point of view. A sort of 'middle position' has indeed developed on this debate which asserts that the Lordship salvation view tends to be legalist at times, while the Free Grace view tends to be antinomian (anti-law), yet conceding that there are strengths and weaknesses in both arguments. Without doubt, 'lordship salvation' has many strengths; we do indeed need to properly go through repentance, then to enter into full submission to the risen Christ in our lives, ensuring that Christ rules everywhere - not just in parts - of our lives and, as we slowly mature in the Faith, we should expect to see increasing likeness to Christ, the Christian 'works' which will be evidenced then being Christ's works, as He rules in us. Moreover, some have indeed upheld a kind of 'cheap grace' teaching which takes the great sacrifice of Christ, by which we are saved, rather lightly, accepting very little change in the life of the regenerate believer.

On the other hand, the big problem is: Whilst the 'lordship view' might be said to be the ideal way in which one might come to Christ during the present age, we do know that some have come to Christ in a different manner (death-bed conversions, the thief on the cross, the saved of the Old Testament etc.,), therefore God cannot be restricted in this matter. Moreover, I myself have certainly noted legalism in certain reformed, 'lordship' teachers, including John Piper and Robert L. Reymond (for example, see chapter 21 of Reymond's 'Paul; Missionary Theologian,' called 'The Pauline Ethic,' in which Paul is totally misrepresented, and Reymond clearly teaches a legalistic message, inferring that that is where Paul the Apostle stood. Well, it is not where he stood). The 'lordship view' does appear to lay down rather strict rules for God's acceptance which - make no mistake - God Himself is not bound by!

UK Apologetics, therefore, are not involved in the debate, easily seeing the strengths in both sides of the argument, perhaps standing a little closer to the 'lordship salvation' argument overall, but also considering that the glorious New Testament teaching of grace is also sometimes under-stressed by such writers. We do believe that this line of thought sometimes appears to set rules for inclusion in the Body of Christ in a manner in which Paul himself always backed off from doing and we believe that - at the end of time - many will be discovered to have been saved who might well have failed the 'lordship' rules.
Robin A. Brace. August 30th 2009.