11 October 2006

My Short, Eye-Opening Stint as a Youth Pastor

How I Got Drawn into the Lordship Debate—part 5
by Phil Johnson

fter college, I spent a few years on the staff of Moody Press as a manuscript editor. I loved the work, and it conditioned me to read things critically and carefully. (I probably learned three times more about theology in my first two years as an editor than I did in five years of college as a theology major.)

But my heart was in church ministry, and in 1979, a few months after Darlene and I were married, we moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, where I spent three years as assistant pastor at Central Bible Church. My main responsibility was leading the youth group.

It was during those years in youth ministry that I was forced to face the lordship issue squarely.

I'll never forget my first meeting with the youth group. It was a modest-sized group—about twenty kids. We had a brief time of introduction where each member of the youth group gave a short self-introduction. I had asked them if they were believers to describe how they came to faith. Every one of them claimed to be a Christian. And in almost every case, they grounded their hope of salvation in some supposed moment of faith in early childhood when their parents led them in praying to "invite Jesus into my heart." In most cases, they said this occurred when they were about three or four years old—too young even to remember the moment. But every one of them hung their hope of heaven on to some point in the past when they supposedly "accepted Jesus as savior," and that one-time moment of faith was the sole basis for their confidence that they were saved.

Ominously, however, when they talked about their hobbies, interests, and aspirations for the future, not one of them articulated any passion or ambition that was remotely related to anything spiritual.

As time went by and I got to know these kids personally, I began to have serious questions about whether some of them were genuine Christians. In fact, (with a few notable exceptions) the kids who seemed to dominate the group lived lives that were no different from their non-Christian friends—and some of them were significantly worse. If they had any real interest in the youth group, it was for the social activities alone. They had no desire for spiritual things, no apparent love for Christ, no ambition for personal holiness, no real esteem for the things of God—absolutely nothing that would distinguish them from the pagan kids in the neighborhood.

In fact, some of the pagan kids lived lives that on the surface seemed morally superior to some of these church kids who insisted they were Christians.

I began to teach a series of Bible studies from the 1st epistle of John. Of course, that epistle includes a lot of truth that will shatter a pseudo-Christian's false confidence. In time, we studied verses like 1 John 2:4, which says, "He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." And 1 John 2:15, which says, "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." And 1 John 3:10, which says, "In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother."

Numerous statements like those throughout 1 John strike directly at the heart of the no-lordship perspective on saving faith. So as that youth group studied those passages, young people began coming to me to admit that they had never really loved Christ before. Some of them asked for help understanding the gospel. A few of them confessed that they had only recently come to possess genuine saving faith.

Of course I rejoiced whenever a young person told me that, and I expected the students' parents to rejoice as well.

Wrong. The response I began getting from parents was surprising. I remember a frantic call I received one night from a woman in our church. She said, "Phil, I'm not sure what you have been teaching in the youth group, but our son came home and told me he has just become a Christian for the first time."

Nothing in her tone conveyed that she was upset by this, so I said, "Well, praise the Lord." I had been praying for that student in particular.

But she suddenly got very agitated with me and said, "No, you don't understand. He has been a Christian since he was 2 years old. I held him on my lap and personally led him in a prayer to receive Christ. He's always been sure of his salvation until you started teaching in 1 John."

It turned out that she was very upset with me. She informed me that a few of the parents in our church had conferred on the matter, and they were concerned that I was teaching their kids "lordship salvation."

That was only the second time in my life that I heard that expression. It turns out that these parents had been exposed to Ray Stanford's Handbook of Personal Evangelism, and they wondered if I was teaching their kids heresy.

Before long, that woman's son's life changed so dramatically for the better that she soon saw the reality of conversion in his life, and she realized that something genuine had finally happened to give her son a true love for Christ. God had changed his heart, and he was truly and soundly converted. He went on to study at a Christian university and is still walking with the Lord today.

But that episode brought the lordship controversy back to the forefront of my thinking. What, precisely, does the gospel call sinners to? Discipleship? Conversion? Surrender? A notional faith, or a life-changing trust? Is love for Christ something different from and extraneous to faith? And if called upon to distill the essence of the gospel in one succinct plea to sinners, what would that include? Did I really, truly understand the gospel?

The irony that I was in full-time ministry and still not settled on those questions hit me upside the head like a railroad tie. I realized I had erred seriously by not thinking those questions through carefully and settling the issues in my heart long ago. So I became determined to research the matter biblically and settle it once and for all in my own conscience before I evangelized any more students.

I acquired Ray Stanford's evangelism handbook and studied what he had to say on the matter. And at about the same time, I began to listen to John MacArthur's radio broadcast.

That was barely a year after the launch of the Grace to You radio ministry. At the time, Tampa Bay was one of only three metropolitan areas in the country where you could hear the broadcast.

But I began to listen, and I noticed that John MacArthur frequently touched on subjects related to the lordship issue. His ministry is and always has been expository rather than topical, so he never preached a sermon on the lordship issue per se, but his handling of the gospel and all his teaching about salvation began to clarify for me the very issues I was grappling with.

I strongly suspected from the gist of his teaching that he too had encountered personal criticism from advocates of the no-lordship position. I wished that he would write a book on the subject. I even daydreamed about the using my editorial skills to help him boil down some of his preached material into book form. I made up my mind that if I ever met John MacArthur, I would suggest to him that he should write such a book.

Phil's signature

66 comments:

goodnightsafehome said...

Who do you think is the fairest critic of Lordship Salvation? The one who doesn't do a hatchet job?

centuri0n said...

Phil --

It's like God had a plan in saving you or something. I'm all goose-bumpy.

Carrie said...

Like other commenters have said, I had never heard about "lordship salvation" until you started posting about it. I'm baffled at how anyone could separate Christ as Lord from salvation.

But what I have heard is similar stories to your youth group. I meet many people that are Christians that say they grew up in a Christian home and were saved at a young age, but then went on to live like the world. Later in life (adulthood) they came back to the church and now are clearly following the Lord.

What is funny is these people are usually fairly insistent that they were saved as kids but in my mind they were not (no fruit). There was never any point in debating it, but I am glad to hear you confirm my thoughts.

I hope parents today understand this issue. Actually, I hope everyone understands this issue as we shouldn't assume someone is saved just because they recited a prayer.

Steven, said...

Like Carrie, I never heard of this until the issue came up on Pulpit. I went through something similar this year. I was really getting bummed out when I noticed that the people walking the aisle at church werent exhibiting any sign of conversion. It dawned on me there seemed to be lots of hopes pinned on the that act of the service. Reflecting on the sermons that led them there bummed me out even further. I was really confused. I know God has the power to save, so what was the deal? i kept thinking of Christ in the great commission, 'go and make disciples' and realized we were't, just descisions. With no follow up. It led me to ask all sorts of questions...how should I witness in light of this? Does the offer of salvation just kinda hang out, and we can just come by and nibble on it when we feel a little down?
Praise be to God, he has anwsered some questions. "Tell The Truth" by Will Metzger was given to me by my new pastor of a new church, and it really is helpful. Thanks for these posts...it is comforting to know that others have gone through these questions previously.
In Christ Alone,
Steven

Daniel said...

One thing that saddens me is seeing a believer who knows nothing of the issues fall under the spell of the "no lordship" teaching. Some of the players are quite articulate and amiable, and it seems that sheep do like those qualities in a wolf - and those who have not trained themselves to think critically become mired in the teaching, and remain in that camp.

Steve W. Prost said...

This has been an enlightening series of posts about your interaction with modern history of anti-Lordship salvation. What Christ can save but the LORD Christ revealed in Scripture?! I would wear the moniker of "Lordship Salvation" teacher proudly... heck, even 'acknowledging' Him as Lord isn't good enough ("Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do what I say... away from me you evildoers"), but surely no LESS than that acknowledgment to that pervasive truth of Scripture will suffice for a saving faith.

One of the most powerful biblical must-read presentations I have seen against enemies of "Lordship Salvation" is A.W. Pink's "Studies in Saving Faith", available to read online at http://www.reformed.org/books/pink/saving_faith/index.html

Berny said...

Tremendous post.

The part about the kid in the youth group coming to be a Christian through your series on 1 John is very exciting and moving.

The youth-group age, I've often thought, is the hardest group to reach.

Pre-adolescent kids still have that child-like faith and acceptance of God their parents placed in from the beginning.

Adults go to church on their own behalf, and they're typically interested in hearing the Word of God preached.

But teens in youth groups are usually dropped off against their will. They're in their "rebellion" stage. They are exposed to sins for the first time in their high schools, and for nobody, absolutely nobody considers it cool to live for Christ at that stage of development.

The result is apathy towards things of the Lord. If they show any interest at all, it's toward the social dimension of youth group life.

My own youth group has been heavy on my heart. Sorry for rambling.

Carla said...

Phil,

I'm sure glad you're posting on this, as it's also addressing some topics that have come up in conversations I've had recently that really don't have anything to do with the Lordship salvation issue. It's given me a lot to think about and helped clarify a few things that I wasn't settled on myself.

I find myself really looking forward to each new installment.

Good stuff!

Carla

jazzycat said...

Your experience with those students speak directly to the adverse effect that this teaching can have with people.

Do you think Jude 4 applies to the no lordship camp as it expresses itself in todays culture?

JSB said...

Phil, you write like a good episode of "Biography." A cliffhanger before the commercial break. You know, like "But Brad Pitt didn't know his life was about to change..."

Love it!

DJP said...

Let me say again, Phil, that I too am really enjoying this series. It makes me glad to have been pre-bumped! (Also gives me a great excuse to polish my post for Thursday... because, Lord knows, it needs it!)

Caleb Kolstad said...

Phil,

The first series i taught through at my new church (to our teens) was on this very topic. Nothing is more essential (in my opinion) then clarifying the gospel to kids who have grown up Christian.

Great post

Caleb

danny2 said...

phil,

i too hadn't thought about these issues until i was in my first ministry. unfortunately, as i was reading some of the harder words of Jesus, i couldn't reconcile them with the "making converts" style of ministry i had been taught. the real unfortunate thing was that when i asked my senior pastor about these words, he explained that our first goal is to make a convert...then down the road we'll make a disciple (he was a fbc grad).

in the Lord's grace, that pastor was moved out of the church shortly after and i was left with the passages, and the lives of my students to use as my gauge.

i had one student (heavily into drug and sex) confess to me that he didn't believe he was a sinner or that he needed Jesus. when i followed up with his mother...encouraging her to pray for his salvation, she corrected me, letting me know he had prayed and been baptized at age 10.

(it amazes me how "no lordship" cries out that we profess works, while they will cling to salvation despite a denial of the gospel because of events like baptism or walking an aisle...clearly more works oriented than Lordship)

i think youth ministry is the prime place this plays out. as one reader already commented, you have students who are moving from childhood to adulthood, forcing them to think through issues. but more importantly, you have parents who expose their genuine theology as they look for it to play out in their children.

i wonder if this issue isn't better thought through in the midst of ministry, rather than in a classroom?

Tony said...

My experience with the whole lordship issue has shown that often it the emotions of people that drive their theology in this direction. Here are a couple examples:

I have known a number of people that deny the idea of lordship because they have many people they have “led to the lord” that have shown no fruit. So rather than admit that their salvation may not be genuine they feel more comfortable denying the issue of the lordship of Christ at salvation. So, their emotions lead them to find ways to justify both their act of evangelism being successful and the actions of the one professing faith after that profession.

People like to hold on to their verbal confessions, often at all cost. I once had a conversation with a man about my own salvation. When I told him that I had considered myself a Christian for 8 years but through the work of God I came to realize that my life did not reflect my profession and that I had not really been saved, leading to a real profession 8 years after the fact, he became upset. I would suspect my testimony led this person to admit, or contemplate, that those “backsliding” days may have been a sign of no faith rather than simply straying. I personally did not see why he had to hang on to the first profession, as I would say that he was a Christian when I knew him. It could only be the emotional attachment to the aisle walking or some other action that he did not want to let go of that led him to his position on lordship.

I think it was Spurgeon, I could be wrong here, that said that it was not knowing when you were saved that was important as much as knowing you are saved. Emotions play so much into ones theology and since we all have emotions we need to be cognizant of this at all times so as not to let those emotions drive our beliefs.

P.S. (an after-thought) said...

I think your discussion leaves out several key truths: First, it is God who is the judge of our salvation. We don't know how He judges those with a new faith who haven't yet had much time to do "works," but we do know that He told the thief on the cross that he would be in paradise. We do know He is a gracious God. We don't know how He judges those who have a baby faith but have not been told that they may want to follow the gift of faith with a life style change. The label "Christian" is a human label. Only God knows the heart.

Secondly, faith is a GIFT of God. We don't have it if He doesn't give it. But the Bible makes reference to a baby faith. So those students may truly have had a real faith planted, but it hasn't taken very deep root yet. As the youth director, you were doing the right thing to help the students see the implications of faith, seeing how they might be different from people without faith.

Of course we know that the Bible says that our faith and following Jesus will, or at least should, be followed by acts of mercy or changes in life style, we aren't saved by these works. Plenty of non-Christian people are kind people. But how many of the students were living the same life style as their parents? Were they affluent? If so, they may not be giving as much to the poor as Jesus directs. I'm just using that as an example because there seems to be a philosophy in some American Christian churches that wealth is a direct result of and a sign of faith. [But Jesus makes it clear that we will be blessed but also persecuted.]

It is pretty easy to judge somebody who calls themselves a Christian but talks and acts in ways that are contrary to basic morality or even against the law, which Jesus urges us to follow. But it is much harder to be accurate in judging someone who commits sins of omission. Did they neglect to do the things that Jesus says we should do?

Youth are, mostly, not capable of complex thinking and putting together theory and practice. I think that a youth director who gently helps them to put their faith into their life is doing them, and their Lord, a great service. Don't expect a mature faith in a young person.

Matt said...

Awesome posts, Phil, keep 'em comin'!

p.s., do you do all of your own graphic design work?

candyinsierras said...

I ran into the same issue while teaching middle/high school at a Christian school. Very few students really seemed to be Christians, contrary to what their parents thought.

Adam Omelianchuk said...

Phil, these posts have been great. You have really helped me change my attitude towards this whole thing. I totally see where you are coming from.

(for the record, I never understood how you could not accept Christ as Lord).

Tim Brown said...

Daniel:

One feels completely hopeless when doubting their own salvation and constantly hearing "I know you are saved because you prayed the prayer..." and you know they are decieved by easy believism...and explaining it to them gets you nowhere. Been there.

LeeC said...

The part where you talked to the young mans mother really hit home.

So many parents want their kids t obe saved that they will overlook the grossest of blasphemies from them while chanting the mantra "Once saved always saved".

While that statement is true, what is salvation? Is it jsut saying a prayer, regardless of what you realy believe or understand? If simply saying a prayer is what it takes to be saved then Christianity is shamanism manipulating things to aquire what we want, for our purposes.

I would say that at least 85% of the baptisms I see these days are of adults who tell of how they made some prayer at the age of three and then lived a life of pure hedonism confident that they had cinched the salvation deal at three and so they didn't have to be bothered with all that God stuff anymore. And then praise be to God He opened their eyes, and they saw thier need to follow thier Lord.

Jerry Morningstar said...

danny2 - I would agree with you that the no-lordship position is the true 'works' salvation. You talk to people who profess Christ but show no fruit and ask them why they think they are saved and they inevitably point to praying a prayer - asking Jesus into their heart or some other moment in time hoop that they jumped thru for a SS teacher or parent or 'evangelist'. They do not connect their salvation with the person of Christ or His atoning death. They connect it with what they did.

I've never seen a no lordship person attempt to address this.

Tom Chantry said...

I love the Spurgeon paraphrase above: "I think it was Spurgeon, I could be wrong here, that said that it was not knowing when you were saved that was important as much as knowing you are saved."

I find over and over again in the ministry that people will relate a story to me of a decision made in childhood, a subsequent life of considerable rebellion, and, finally, clear repentance and faith. It is fairly easy to explain what has happened if there was never any living for Christ. Where it gets difficult is when someone remembers having some sort of feeling for Christ in childhood, but then departed entirely, only to return much later. Such persons have asked me, "Do you think I was saved back then and backslidden, or do you think I've just been converted?" My answer is usually, "I have no idea. Are you trusting Christ today? Have you repented of sin and turned to him in submission as well as reliance? Have you had His assistance in overcoming sin? Those are the questions that matter."

However, that is with an evident (fruit-bearing) Christian struggling with his past. An unrepentant sinner relying on an old profession unaccompanied by any fruit of repentance desperately needs to hear the cold, hard fact: "You do not resemble in any way a Christian according to the biblical description. You are probably unsaved, and unless you repent and turn to Christ, you are in danger of destruction."

sparrowhawk said...

"...if I ever met John MacArthur, I would suggest to him that he should write such a book."

And the rest is history.

And thank God for that.

Jim Crigler said...

I am more grateful to God than I can express that even though 25 years ago I was being taught a variety of things I have changed my mind about (repented of), even then I was being taught "no salvation without Christ's lordship".

NB: One of the things I was taught that I'm still working on was the whole "personal messages from God" discussion that Phil never got to finish because the discussion was hijacked by the continuationist / cessationist brawl. Later this month, I'll ping Phil with my monthly reminder to get back to that. But not yet. ;-)

~Mark said...

I trace the roots of my life with Christ back to a moment as an 8 year old when my mother led me to pray the prayer and accept Christ as Lord. I then spent the next 15 years living as sinful a life as anyone, punctuated with moments of (now) humiliating hypocrisy like the time I joined a Jehovah's Witness in praying for another guy.

(I guess I should mention that all three of us were stinking drunk at the time and standing in a bar at 1 AM.)

Christ brought me into true submission to Him at age 23, but I believe that the root was born at age 8. I thought I was a Christian despite showing no fruit and in fact, like some of the kids you mentioned in your article, living a much less moral life than many around me who openly denied Christ.

If I had died then would I have gone to be with The Lord? Well, since there was no fruit, hence no change, I doubt it. I do believe though that God was working on me.

It wasn't until He actually became LORD of my life that my life changed from the inside out.

I forget where I first heard the quote, maybe it was Adrian Rogers, but it stayed with me from the very first time:

"If Jesus Christ isn't Lord OF ALL, then He isn't Lord AT ALL."

Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess...

Supraman said...

Phil,

Thank you so much for this particular post in your current series. I am currently leading a Bible Study for the youth in my church, and have noticed many of the same things about them that you noticed about the kids in your group. I have been agonizing on how to approach this issue, and thanks to this post, I have a starting point (combined with Dan's "Sister, Have Mercy" post - thanks to you too Dan). Keep up the God glorifiying work Team...

- Supraman

Craver VII said...

And 1 John 3:10, which says, "In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother."

What?? You mean we are not ALL God's children??

Oh, and of course it's difficult for that kids mom, because it messes up the count of how many people she's converted. Now, she can't take credit for her kid's salvation.

In discipling others, I make it a point to mention that although I have seen people come into a right relationship with God, I have NEVER converted anybody--that's the job of the Holy Spirit.

Thanks for the good word!

Ransom said...

I made up my mind that if I ever met John MacArthur, I would suggest to him that he should write such a book.

Sadly, later that year, as an innocent bystander at a bank robbery gone terribly wrong, Phil died in a hail of gunfire, and that book never got written.

I love a good twist ending.

Craver VII said...

f.y.i. That's a pet peeve of mine, when people refer to all of humanity as God's children. Just like a pagan bodybuilder might refer to his body as a temple. Yeah, right.

P.S. (an after-thought) said...

The problem with people who think they ARE saved because they PRAYED the sinner's prayer or because THEY asked Jesus to come into their heart is that they are relying on THEIR OWN WORKS to save them. They haven't put their trust in Jesus who DID the work of salvation by dying on a cross for them, before they ever were born or ever sinned.

Works righteousness doesn't save us; Jesus does (did, actually.)

So the person who thinks they are saved because of the prayer, doesn't understand GRACE. They may or may not be saved; that is God's decision, not theirs.

When they start seeing the whole picture, they might start following Jesus as LORD. This is why a good youth director is essential. However, we must not forget that people who don't have the intellectual capacity to understand salvation can still be saved, so it isn't understanding that saves us either. But understanding can help us with FOLLOWING Jesus.

However, we should never discount the Holy Spirit, who was planted in a person's heart when they were baptised or when they prayed the prayer or when someone told them that God loves them in a way that finally became meaningful to them.

The faith has been planted...they may have been taken to church even if they didn't "hear" all that was said, the seed were watered. At some point, many people with a baby faith or a faith that isn't integrated into their daily life, will "get it." They will start to live what Jesus taught. Unfortunately, our culture doesn't encourage spiritual reflection of any kind, and some branches of Christianity encourage material acquisition as proof of God's favor.

We are all sinners, every day, even at the same time that we believers are already saved. Every day we need to repent. But if we go for a period of time as a believer who also continues in sin, we can still know that we are saved. It is not the amount of sin, nor whether it is visible to others that makes the difference, nor how long ago we said a prayer asking for forgiveness. It is the Cross that makes (made) the difference.

The fundamental problem with the Lordship idea may be semantics. But if one thinks that FOLLOWING is what saves a person, then that person believes in works righteousness.

Al said...

PS - I think your understanding of "youth" is not backed up by scripture. They are men and women at that age and capable of much more spiritual maturity than our society expects of them. If said individuals were saved, the fact that they are only 15 or 16 is a pathetic excuse for ungodly behavior. We should expect mature faith from someone who claims to have been a Christian for 13 years.


al sends

Kymanika said...

"The Gospel According to Jesus" was the first book I read after coming to faith, about 15 years ago. It is in my top 5 most influcencial books ever. And, the one I recommend or give away the most.

Reading these articles is a bit nostalgic for me.

Backwoods Presbyterian said...

Ditto what Carrie said. I have never been in a situation (until I matriculated at Seminary strangely enough) where I heard people espousing no-lordship salvation.

Tom Chantry said...

P.S.,

Correct me if I'm wrong, but you seem to be concerned that the position called "Lordship Salvation" teaches that until a person is intellectually capable of following Christ, he cannot be saved.

Advocates of "Lordship Salvation" would uphold the power of God to save whomever He wishes, regardless of their capacity, intellectual or otherwise. Such cases are not the norm; neither are they troubling in the least to God.

What concerns us is the idea that a person who has normal intellectual capacity can choose to live a life of rebellion against God, yet have his status as "saved" confirmed to him by preachers and other Christians - contrary to all the evidence of a total absense of either repentance or faith.

donsands said...

It is truly sad that so many have embraced a "sinner's prayer salvation", and an "accept Jesus into your heart salvation".

There are of course portions of the truth twined about this type of gospel, but it's not the pure gospel, and is quite dangerous.

Sanctification will be, and must be, a process in a believer's heart and life.
When the Lord saves a sinner, that person becomes a new [kainos] creature [ktisis].
That person is different forever.

He becomes a servant of the Lord, and not the devil any longer.

Thanks Phil for sharing your walk with Christ, as you also develope this important subject of lordship salvation.

Even So... said...

Craver, and anyone else, this is how you address those who say we are all God's children:

We are born into the kingdom of men.

We are born again into the kingdom of God

Galatians 3:26 - For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.

Answering the no-Lordship position:

If we truly have received His grace, we will truly reflect His glory.

In differing degrees, yes, but we will cling to Him alone as our only hope, and when we do, we will see some fruit, even if we cannot recognize it ourselves.

~Mark said...

"Oh, and of course it's difficult for that kids mom, because it messes up the count of how many people she's converted. Now, she can't take credit for her kid's salvation."

~It could also have rockerd her entire belief system, in which case it would be good for her to have people willing to teach her more and pray for her.

Connie said...

Really enjoying your personal account of the Lordship position. It's such a joy to hear how the Lord has made His ways known to others!

As one who "walked the aisle" and "prayed the prayer" at the age of 10, but eagerly embraced a life of self-centered pleasure for the next 11 years, I completely understand the confusion/delusion many professing Xians have today!

When the Lord actually did renew my heart, I quickly was faced with my own pride regarding the experience I'd had when I was 10. Obviously, I became unable to reconcile the subsequent 11 years with the profession I had made.

It seems that many others struggle with this--humbly accepting that they have NOT been saved most of their life. It's one more "spiritual medal" that we must throw in the trash, and no longer wear and show off.

Looking forward to "the rest of the story".

Bhedr said...

Phil,

You have rightly isolated a clear problem in the evangelical church. One that my mother had a burden about as a missionary. I went forward at 4 but she would not allow me to pray a prayer with the Sunday School teacher. In fact they both spoke together and decided that my understanding of the Cross was deficient and only partly there. She would later discuss the scriptures with me and tell me to look into it. 2 years later I went into my moms room and told her I understood. She told me that I must understand that Jesus is my sin bearer. I clearly remember her hinging on that truth. I prayed and something like a tad pole of light came into my heart and joy unexpressable at the tender age of six. I immediately began witnessing and living for God, but unfortunately only weeks later horrible temptation for a little six year old came along and I fell into sin. Of course doubts would come...but it would take me years to learn to find the victory point in the finished work of Christ. Please consider that many free gracers are former Catholics and some..not all...have a hard time identifying with what you are talking about as they lived under and were brought up under the threatenings of Sinai and were told to be good by that rule. Please also consider that the pendulum can swing to both extremes and that there are indeed extremes in your camp. I really hope you will consider this and explore it in the same way you discovered this problem in your youth group. Consider also that this is anecdotal to your experience here. Yes God had a purpose for you in this, but Satan always works an angle at the same time God is working. Please consider this and consider your experiences yet at the same time try to seperate yourself from experience and consider the whole Bibles experience. I am talking about everyone in that Bible. Please remember that you and I are not in it. Consider that we attract to what our experience is.

The pendulum must have balance when looking into scriptural truth.

H K Flynn said...

I think there are a lot of people who think they are saved but are not because they never trusted Jesus for their eternity, like people who have repeated a prayer after someone else. There are others who are obnoxious servants, like in the parables. I wonder if the youth group wasn't a mix of both.
Jodie (HK)

Al said...

bhedr -

Your language is interesting...

At 4 your "understanding of the Cross was deficient and only partly there" yet at 6 you understood. I am curious as to the level of understanding of the cross we should consider sufficient for salvation.

Was the Ethiopian Eunuch's understanding 'there' enough?

I think Lordship, or at least our submission to it, can grow along with our faith.

al sends

Hiraeth said...

Amen, Phil. I remember leaving a student Bible study at University because no-one leading the study was mature enough to lead (and I wasn't, either). Sadly, most of the leading persons in that group later left the faith. I pray that they have returned to the faith. I mean, we went to the pub after church!!

No Holiness, no heaven!

runninbill said...

Consider that the New Testament only gives examples of conversions in adults, and add in lots of antics of Charles Finney, and you get modern "evangelism" of children.

Bill

striving... said...

I like how our church handles it. The kids (teenieboppers, youth) whatever you want to call them, take their chatecism classes, they are able to recieve communion, then after that they make their own profession of faith. Just like I did when I became a member. i could have it mixed up, I have only seen it twice in 8 years, we are a very small church in our city. All our kids in our church (ranging from months - 18) are less than 20. See were small. But I know that they take classes eventually with the pastor and they make a profession of faith in front of the congregation. Kind of makes God their decision, for lack of better words, not their parents.

4given said...

I heard you speak on this at a church we attended in Oklahoma. I was as intrigued than as I am now. Very interesting testimony.

Before we came to Arkansas, we moved out of the Tulsa area into the OKC area for my husbands residency program. We began attending a (don't say it too loud or people might stop attending, almost but not quite Doctrines of Grace) church in which our SS teacher, also an Elder of the church, was confidently no-Lordship. He often referred to Lot and the thief on the cross as his only examples.
To my husband and I it sounded more like grasping at straws.

Joe L. said...

This series is why I read PyroManiacs. Your insights are valuable and timely. Thanks Phil.

Bhedr said...

Al,

Lets just say I went forward and barely remember it and trust what my mom told me...but didn't grasp it. At six a transfer of trust was made. Of that I am possitive. Did my life go like a rollercoaster since that time? Yes..but the more I rest in the finished work of Christ the more victorious my walk with the Lord becomes and the more closer I am to him. My faith rests on fact ...not feeling or desire.

I encourage everyone in this direction.

Jodie? Good point

Bhedr said...

"As ye have therefore received the Lord...so walk ye in Him."

Theres the key to walking. Can't walk like that if a teaching is always trying to pull the plank out from underneath that truth. How can you walk when you have nothing to stand on.

Faith should rest on fact...not feeling.

C.H.H. said...

I wonder if Antonio really is in India, or if he just fabricated the whole thing to avoid dealing with the inundation of Lordship stuff coming from here and Pulpit.

Lou Martuneac said...

Mark:

You cited, "If Jesus Christ isn't Lord OF ALL, then He isn't Lord AT ALL."

Many Lordship advocates are fond of saying, “Unless the Lord Jesus is Lord of all, He is not Lord at all.” Most of them use this phrase and do not know who coined it and in what context it was stated.

In my possession is a sermon preached by J. Hudson Taylor during his missionary work in China. The sermon appears in a little known book by Hudson Taylor titled, Days of Blessing. The sermon is from John's gospel, chapter 6. It is in this sermon that the above quotation appears.

Hudson Taylor was not preaching the Lordship conditions of submission and commitment in exchange for salvation, but is rather encouraging believers to learn to depend completely on God through total surrender of self and possessions.

Lordship advocates hear this phrase, “Unless the LORD JESUS is LORD OF ALL He is not LORD AT ALL,” and erroneously apply this as a gospel appeal. J. Hudson Taylor coined that saying and it was never meant it to be a reference to the salvation experience.

LM

There is a special appendix on this issue in my book: In Defense of the Gospel

Lou Martuneac said...

I am noting how some of you are hearing of the lordship interpretation of the gospel for the first time.

Lordship Salvation is a reaction to the equally troubling positions of Easy-Believism and the bad behavior of some who profess Christ, but live more like the Devil. We have examples of these in many of our churches. We all detest these obvious problems, but the answer is not found in conditioning salvation on upfront promises of surrender and obedience to the commands of Christ.

One of the most significant errors with Lordship Salvation is the confusing of passages meant for the born again disciple of Christ (such as Luke 9:23-24, 14:25-33) and presenting them as though they are gospel messages directed to the lost. It is from this error, which the whole of Lordship Salvation flows. This error leads to a faulty definition of faith, redefines the role of biblical repentance in salvation, both of which result in a gospel message that frustrates grace (Gal. 2:21).

Following are three examples of how John MacArthur’s discipleship gospel redefines the faith that saves:

“The gospel Jesus proclaimed was a call to discipleship, a call to follow Him in submissive obedience. . . . Forsaking oneself for Christ’s sake is not an optional step of discipleship subsequent to conversion; it is the sine qua non of saving faith.” (The Gospel According to Jesus [Revised & Expanded Edition], p. 27, 142.)

“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.” (The Gospel According to Jesus, p. 140.)

“Let me say again unequivocally that Jesus’ summons to deny self and follow him was an invitation to salvation, not . . . a second step of faith following salvation….” (The Gospel According to Jesus [Revised & Expanded Editionp. 221).

Dr. MacArthur’s Lordship Salvation conditions the reception of salvation on what should be the natural results of salvation. Discipleship comes at a cost, salvation does not! Lordship Salvation requires much more than a faith that acknowledges one's sin, a pending judgment for sin, and one’s need of the Savior. The Lordship position does not depend solely on the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Lordship Salvation, according to John MacArthur above, is a barter system, an “exchange” of what man must offer Christ to receive His free gift of salvation. To imply that receiving the free gift of God requires that man “pay the ultimate price” is a gospel of faith plus works.

Changing the terms of the gospel to upfront demands for commitment and surrender in “exchange” for salvation, will not make the problems of Easy-Believism and the loose living of professing believers go away.

Dr. MacArthur has been solid on many issues, but in his Lordship Salvation he has confused the plan of salvation with the doctrine of discipleship for the believer.

LM

donsands said...

" 'God be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified". Luke 18:13

Salvation comes to those who are humble. Where does this humility come from? Where does this acknowledgement of being a sinner come from? Is this repentance?
I believe it is.
It's all included in God's amazing grace, along with the gift of faith.
To God be all the glory.

"A servant of God has but one Master." -George Mueller

Andrew Courtis said...

Phil:

I am a young man who has been a youth pastor for almost a year now. I am very encouraged by what you have been writting, it trully touches my heart and spurs me on continue in preaching the gospel. There is continual pressure to accept youths weak professions and not confront it. Thanks Phil!

Church Dog said...

c.h.h.,

Yeah, I'm sure Antonio concocted a story just to avoid discussing the thing about which he seems most passionate.

Yep, that makes sense.

Maybe he really is in India but his reason for going was to try to escape the overwhelming power of these "Lordship" arguments.

Jerry Morningstar said...

Lou [I posted this at Pulpit but thought I might restate it here since you raise the same argument]

You state that Luke 9:23-24 [take up your cross] is a discipleship passage only directed to those who already believe and has no bearing on salvation.

Consider the parallel in Mark 8:34-38

v. 34 - ‘He summoned the multitude with His disciples’
i.e.- this is a general call addressed to a crowd

If this were a call to go to the next level - we probably should expect Jesus to state that so the crowd would not get confused as to what He was talking about. He makes no distinction.

Then He gives the call to self denial and taking up one’s cross

Does this have any bearing on salvation?

According to Jesus it does

Mk. 8:36 - ‘What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and forfeit his soul [psuche]?

i.e. - if you don’t turn [repent] from your natural tendency to worship self - you will forfeit your soul

It seems absurd to me to hear people accuse LS of confusing Jesus’s calls to discipleship with calls to salvation. We are only confused if Jesus was.

The real problem is that the no lordship / FG position takes the words of Jesus and forces them into a theological grid that does not allow Jesus the natural force of His comments. He knew how to use language and communicated what He wanted to say.

Listen to J.C. Ryle on Luke 9:23, 24:

“The command of our master is clear and plain: ‘If any man will come after Me let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.’

“Now what do we know of all this? Surely this is a question which ought to be asked. A little formal church going, and a decent attendance at a place of worship, can never be the Christianity of which Christ speaks in this place. Where is our self-denial? Where is our daily carrying of the cross? Where is our following of Christ? Without a religion of this kind we shall never be saved. A crucified Savior will never be content to have a self-pleasing, self-indulging, worldly minded people. No self-denial - no real Grace!” [Expository Thoughts on the Gospels - Luke vol. 1, p. 310]

A 2nd level call to discipleship after salvation cannot be sustained in the Scriptures and is not a part of historic orthodoxy in dealing with the gospels. It is a novel view that lacks any exegetical support.

The word disciple [mathetes] referred to a learner, follower, student, apprentice

It had no deeper connotation than that

Acts 11:26 - ‘The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.’

Lou Martuneac said...

Jerry:

Does it concern you at all that the term "disciple" disappears from the New Testament entirely after its final usage in the book of Acts?

LM

Jerry Morningstar said...

Lou - I would answer, 'No' to that question.

The disappearance of the term 'disciple' shows that it was used synonymously with the term which displaced it,'Christian' [Acts 11:26].

A disciple was never a 2nd level follower - just a follower. And as a professing Christian could occasionally prove to be spurious - so could a disciple as in the case of Judas.

I don't believe there is any way one can substantiate the claim that the call to discipleship was a call to something other than a genuine relationship with Christ.

I think you would be hard pressed to find any credible commentator on the gospels before the 20th century that ever held that kind of view towards the 'hard sayings' of Jesus. I believe it to be a 'recent' approach to the gospels that will not stand the test of time. As a good friend once said to me, 'You can't have Christianity without the teachings of Christ.'

FGers make the teachings of Christ to be nice discussion material for the initiated. I don't believe that was Jesus' intention at all. As mentioned - the call to take up one's cross was given to a general audience with no distinctions made[Mark 8:34]. The issue was not stated in optional terms but was rather a matter of life or death - of forfeiting one's soul.

For the FG postion to hold water on the disciple/ Christian dichotomy you would expect to find Paul - in his epistles, calling his converts to move on to become disciples . He doesn't do that - He just calls them to live up to their calling. 'As you have received Christ Jesus - so walk in Him' [Col. 2:6]. Christians are told to make their calling and election sure [II Pet. 1:10]. They are told that if there is no self denial [laying aside of sin] - they will not inherit the kingdom of God. [I Cor. 6:9, 10] That seems to me to be consistent with what Jesus said.

~Mark said...

Lou,

thanks for the background on the "Lord of all" phrase! I have heard the topic discussed in terms of possessions and talents, and it seems natural that it fit a Lordship debate.

To Trust is to Obey said...

LM,

Jesus is already Lord of all. Part of saving faith is to believe that to be so. It is unfathomable to me that someone can believe Him to be Redeemer without believing Him to be Lord of all. These are inseparable things.

Ac 10:36 -
You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.

Ro 10:12 -
For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile--the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him,

To exclude oneself from the "all" in "Lord of all," is to be an unbeliever. If He is Lord of all, He is Lord of you. It's not so much even that we make him Lord. That's where those who separate Savior from Lord are the ones missing the point. We are powerless to make Him Lord. He is Lord. His elect recognize Him as such. The unredeemed do not. The fact of His Lordship is an essential part of the substance of what is being believed by a believer in Jesus.

As Lord of all, we submit to His rule. You just cannot escape it (why would you want to?). To not submit is to not believe. To not submit is to not trust. It is to trust self more than Jesus.

If I got tomorrow's paper today and read that my house was going to be struck by lightning and burn to the ground, you can bet I would act differently if I believed the report. To do nothing would be to disbelieve the report.

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord then you are saying He is Lord of your life. If you believe God raised Him from the dead then you believe that he has raised you to walk in newness of life. You cannot separate the belief from the substance of what is believed. To believe is to act on that belief.

Lou Martuneac said...

"Jesus is already Lord of all. Part of saving faith is to believe that to be so. It is unfathomable to me that someone can believe Him to be Redeemer without believing Him to be Lord of all. These are inseparable things."

My book In Defense of the Gospel does not minimize or reject the lordship of Jesus Christ. Jesus is Lord and Savior throughout all eternity.

We all agree that Jesus is the Savior; the only hope mankind has for eternal salvation from sin, death and Hell (Acts 4:12). We all agree that Jesus is the Lord, the King of Kings, and all power belongs to Him (Rev. 19:16; Matt. 28:18). If He is not the Lord, He is not God. If He is not God, He is not the Savior.

Christ’s lordship, however, should not be used to create a message where salvation is conditioned on man’s up front promise to “follow Him in submissive obedience,” which the Lordship Salvation interpretation of the gospel does.

LM

donsands said...

Lou,

Could you share how you would share the good news of Christ with an unbeliever? That may help me.

To Trust is to Obey said...

LM,

Even taken alone, the belief in Jesus as Savior must emphatically include Him as Lord.

To believe He died for your sins is to recognize Him also as judge.

Ac 10:42 -
He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.

What difference could His bloodshed make if there is not also a Judge who rules over us? And according to that Judge, we are guilty and the wages of that guilt is death.

To have saving faith is to acknowledge that the judgment of death is real and owed. There can be no debt if the Ruler/Judge/Lord is not recognized for His position? To acknowledge the debt is to acknowledge the justness of the Judge. To accept Christ is to affirm His worthiness, His holiness, and His position as Lord of all.....and your own guilt according to His righteous judgments.

We only need a Savior because we have a Lord who is Judge over all. No Lord, no savior needed.

You said it yourself quite well: If He is not the Lord, He is not God. If He is not God, He is not the Savior.

If you believe Him to be Lord then you submit to Him as Lord. To not submit is to not believe. The belief is a gift from God, and it is a belief in Him as your Lord and Ruler and Judge and Savior.

Maestroh said...

I enjoy this series. I got invited to the 'Cheap' Grace conference immediately. But I'm more than just a little apprehensive being around folks who think the Holy Spirit died and left them in charge of assurance.

Chris said...

I served as a "youth pastor" at a church in which the youth were exactly as you described. Given the lack of fruit or any other kind of evidence that the majority of the group was regenerate I simply began teaching through the Bible touching also on 1 John. It was not long before everyone hated me. I had one of the church elders take me to lunch to settle the issue and advised me to tone it down because the kids felt like I was "grading their paper" which translated as "the youth pastor talks to us as if we are were saved." Among them was his cigarrete smoking, beer drinking, foul mouthed, sexually immoral teenage son.

Chris said...

Correction: I meant to type "the youth pastor talks to us as if we are were NOT saved."

Dan said...

I've been a youth pastor the past 12 years. I stand guilty of some years of appeasing the pastoral staff by teaching an easy gospel, which was everything in my core I knew it wasn't. This article spoke for me. My heart is breaking over how shallow many of our churches are because they have moved away from Lordship salvation all to up the numbers and "stir the waters of baptism." How many have we misled by teaching them a false salvation? Our churches are filled with spiritual babes and they are not growing because we have watered down Christianity. I loudly and proudly will teach my students in the future that this is a costly grace we believe in.