Behind the Lordship Controversy

By: Ernest Reisinger

 One old Puritan said that the dangers in controversy are greater than the dangers of women and wine. I do not know if this is true or not but I do know every true Christian loathes controversy, and all the more when it is among the family of God. Yet we must not forget that most, if not all, the great creeds and confessions were born out of religious controversy.

One respected theologian recently said, “When the book The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur appeared the fat was in the fire.” He was referring to what has come to be known as the “Lordship Controversy.”

This is the first in a series of articles which will address vital issues that are related to this ongoing debate.

 What is behind the Lordship controversy? I can answer with one word — THEOLOGY. However, this answer needs some explanation, and I hope to provide it in these studies.

The Gospel According to Jesus has provoked pamphlets, books, sermons, conference themes, etc., in response. Two books that stand out in the controversy were written by champions of the Dispensational school of theology: So Great Salvation by Charles Ryrie and Absolutely Free by Zane Hodges. Together they contend for the non-Lordship position.

 This is one controversy I am happy to see because it is bringing some theological skeletons out of the closet. Now men are in print, thereby revealing themselves and their twisted theology.

It is not my aim or design in these studies to vindicate or apologize for the theological or non-theological errors of the non-Lordship people. Proponents of this view are not in the historical and biblical stream of theology held by the reformers and the great teachers in the church. These men seem to have no regard for the great creeds and confessions of the historic churches.

Every body of Christians is not equally corrupt in doctrine and practice, yet none is so pure that if its character were examined by the great head of the church, He would not have somewhat against it.

The great Apostle was certainly in earnest, and he resisted error wherever he found it. Yet, he did not castigate those who built on the right foundation, even though some things in their superstructure were not exactly perfect and some of the superstructure will ultimately be consumed. He did not treat them as enemies if their foundation was Christ the Lord. His conduct even to the enemies of our Lord was not seeking to turn upon them the contempt of all mankind. Rather, his treatment of them was calculated to do them good. I pray that such may be my own efforts.

The Lordship Controversy Does Not Stand Alone

The Lordship issue will never be solved in addressing it by itself because it is inseparably connected to a theological system that cannot be divided (in spite of the claims to “rightly divide the word of truth”).

The Lordship issue is just a small child, and every child has a father, a mother, and usually, some brothers, sisters, and maybe even some cousins. The Lordship issue has a father and his name is Arminianism. The Lordship issue has a mother and her name is Dispensationalism (who has a sister called Antinomianism), and they are not in the process of divorce yet.

Let me just name some of Lordship’s brothers and sisters. Later I will deal with some of them individually and show that they are all spawned by the same parents. Before I name some of the Dispensational Family let me state again that behind this Lordship child is Father Arminian, Mother Dispensationalist and her sister Aunt Antinomian. We must correct the Father and Mother or we will never affect the children.

The children are related to each other and none can be separated from their parents. The difference between the non-Lordship teachers and the so-called Lordship preachers is not just the subject of Lordship. There are differences on many other important biblical doctrines as well. Such as:

  1. Who Jesus really is and where He is
  2. The nature of saving faith
  3. Regeneration
  4. Repentance
  5. Justification
  6. Sanctification
  7. The inseparable relationship between justification and sanctification
  8. The biblical doctrine of assurance
  9. The condition of man
  10. The character of God (sovereign in creation, sovereign in redemption and sovereign in providence.)
  11. The relationship of the Ten Commandments to evangelism and to the Christian life.

I hope to address some of these doctrines in their relationship to the Father and Mother and the twisted theological system of Dispensationalism.

Lordship Is Taught in the Bible

Let me draw your attention to a few passages of scripture that should put to rest the Lordship question. These texts would put it to rest if the issue were not tied to that warped, twisted system of Dispensational theology.

At our Lord’s birth the angels announced Him as LORD. Luke 2:11: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour who is Christ the LORD.” His Saviorhood is within His Lordship, not apart from it.

The New Testament preachers preached Him as LORD. 2 Cor. 4:5: “For we preach not ourselves but Christ Jesus the LORD.” See the book of Acts, the sacred manual of evangelism. The word “Savior” only occurs two times and “Lord” 92 times and “Lord Jesus Christ” 6 times and “Lord Jesus” 13 times. This should tell us something about their evangelism.

In the New Testament sinners received Him as LORD. Col. 2:6: “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the LORD so walk ye in Him.”

The dying thief found out who He was — Luke 23:42: “LORD remember me . . .”

The adulteress woman in John 8 found out who He was. When Jesus asked her “Where are your accusers?” Her answer tells us clearly who He was: “No one, LORD.”

Doubting Thomas found out who He was in John 20:28. He said, “My LORD and my God.”

Jesus Himself confirmed this point in John 13:13: “Ye call me Master and LORD and you say well for so I am.”

Paul tells us that the very reason Jesus died and rose again is that He might be LORD. Romans 14:9: “For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be LORD both of the dead and living.”

In Philippians 2:5-8 the great Apostle gives us the steps of our Lord’s humiliation and then in 2:9-11 he speaks of His exaltation. We are assured in these passages that all men will bow the knee and that every tongue will confess — confess what? “That Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” Please note the words “every knee” and “every tongue” — some in restitution but all in recognition. In the light of the above scriptures, which trace Him from the cradle to the cross, to the resurrection, to a throne, how could there even be a question, let alone a controversy, about His Lordship?

The first apostolic sermon should settle the question. Acts 2:36: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

Peter makes it clear in no uncertain terms that Jesus is LORD by God Almighty’s decree.

The Lordship Controversy Has Serious Implications

It is a great comfort for Christians to know that He is Lord regardless of what men say or think. Further, it is a comfort to know that we have placed our hand in that sovereign nail-pierced hand to lead us through sorrow, sickness and death. And if you have not experienced these things yet, be patient — you will.

Let me point out some of the implications of this truth:

  1. Lordship implies entire submission at the outset. It is a strange salvation that knows nothing about daily submission to Christ the Lord.
  2. Lordship implies willing service. The most outstanding conversion in the history of the church — the great Apostle Paul — is recorded in Acts 9. It is interesting to note his two questions in verses 5, 6: “Who art thou, Lord?” and, “What would you have me to do?” He was a willing servant.
  3. Lordship implies obedience. Jesus said in Luke 6:46: “Why call me Lord, Lord and do not the things that I say?” Obedience.
  4. Lordship implies ownership. If He is my Lord He owns me lock, stock and barrel. When sinners bow to His Lordship they not only get saved but their pocketbook gets saved also. The Bible says we are bought with a price. He owns us (I Cor. 6:19, 20).

Charles Ryrie, the champion of the non-Lordship position, in his long-term opposition to the Lordship teaching has made some strong and shocking statements in his book Balancing the Christian Life. He makes the following statement: “The importance of this question cannot be overestimated in relation to both salvation and sanctification. The message of faith only and the message of faith plus commitment of life cannot both be the gospel; therefore, one of them is false and comes under the curse of perverting the gospel or preaching another gospel” (p. 170).

Another Dispensationalist, Dr. Ray Stanford, while he was president of a large Dispensational Bible College, wrote a book with two of his colleagues entitled, Handbook of Personal Evangelism. Here are some quotes from the book:

    “Lordship salvation contradicts scripture.”

    “This message [Lordship Salvation] cannot save.”

    “This message is accursed of God.”

    “The person who preaches such a message is also accursed of God.”

    “It, in effect, makes God a liar and the Bible untrue.”

    “It hinders the growth of the body of Christ — this will stop the growth of the local churches . . .”

The quotes from these two Dispensationalist authors should cause serious Christians to shed their grave clothes of Dispensationalism.

It is because of the havoc Dispensationalism has caused in American Christianity that I have an increasing conviction and a deep concern. Some who read this article may think we just have a semantic problem, or that this is just nit-picking, or unnecessarily making too much about the issue, or that perhaps what we have is just a failure in communicating with each other.

Listen carefully to my response. It is none of the above. It is not minor, rather, it goes to the very heart of the gospel — the champion of the non-lordship issue said, “It is another gospel.” Christianity Today did not think it was something minor. They described it as a “volcanic issue” (Sept. 22, 1989, p. 21).

The issue of Lordship goes to the very root of biblical Christianity. I firmly believe that Dispensational Antinomianism is spiritually bankrupt. The Lordship issue is vitally related to the very foundation of biblical, historical Christianity.

We might ask, “Just what effect will the true biblical Lordship position have on real Christians?” Here are some:

  1. It will provide and provoke that which will keep us coming to Christ for fresh forgiveness and fresh assurance.
  2. It will kill spiritual pride — there will be no more so-called “spiritual Christians” as a super-class.
  3. It will exalt Christ to His Throne Rights.
  4. It will prove helpful and hopeful, to saint and sinner alike, to know a Christ who is Lord of all, and to know that as Lord He has power to save and power to sanctify.
  5. It will have a profound effect upon our evangelism. No more of this wicked huckstering off this poor, impotent, pathetic Jesus. No more getting votes for Jesus. It will box sinners up to the power of Christ and the mercy of the One who is able and willing to save all who will come to God by Him.

Behind the Lordship controversy is a warped, twisted, unbiblical theology of Dispensationalism.