In the past several years I've been confronted with ideas about salvation within Christianity which are troubling to me and which I think represent misunderstanding on a large scale of this important issue. Earlier posts have dealt with this to some extent, but recently I had an idea about how to demonstrate that one very popular view of salvation taught by such well-respected, dare I say "famous" teachers as John MacArthur, John Piper and R.C. Sproul, a view that is generally referred to as "Lordship Salvation" is essentially indistinguishable from a works-based salvation.
How might I demonstrate such a thing? Well, rather easily I'm afraid. What I've done is selected 8 questions pertaining to salvation and compared the answers to these 8 questions between 4 groups: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, (Mormon or LDS), The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah's Witnesses), Lordship Salvation proponents and proponents of "Free Grace," which is the view that I hold.
To get answers to the questions, I invited 3 LDS missionaries into my home studio and conducted a sort of interview, asking these questions. I also spoke with someone at a local Kingdom Hall via telephone and also via e-mail to get the answers from the JW perspective.
For the Lordship answers, however, I had compiled quotes from the writings of John MacArthur, John Piper, R.C. Sproul and a few others… quotes which clearly addressed these particular issues. In a few cases, we'll see that these teachers seem not to be consistent in their answers, which creates a certain amount of confusion. I'll point out these conflicts as we go along.
The basic premise of this exercise is that knowledgeable Christians generally understand at least two major problems with the doctrine of LDS and The Watchtower: First, both groups deny the deity of Christ. We're going to set that particular issue aside, however… not because it's not important, but because it's really not in dispute at all. Even LDS and JWs agree that they deny Christ's deity. And Lordship teachers are all quite willing and able to defend the deity of Christ. So, no dispute there.
But the second major problem with LDS and Watchtower doctrine is that their concept of ultimate salvation is based on works and not on grace. And among Christians, at least, this does not seem to be controversial. What's interesting, however, is that Mormons and JWs both will steadfastly deny that they are basing salvation on their works. They will claim a salvation "by grace."
Given that Christians generally agree that the Watchtower and LDS teach a works-based salvation, it seems to me that we ought to use our knowledge of the LDS and Watchtower views as a yardstick by which to measure other ideas we hear taught in Christian churches. We are told over and over again to be discerning; to double-check what we're taught; to make sure that what we're taught is correct doctrine. These questions ought to serve as a sort of a test to determine whether any given teacher is really committed to a salvation by grace, or is merely giving lip service to the concept of a by-grace salvation.
The first step here is to divulge the questions. It should be noted, however, that Mormons and JWs have different understandings of what salvation itself entails. This means that I had to rephrase certain questions to use their jargon the way they understand it, otherwise I wouldn't be comparing apples with apples. So here are the questions, and the following 8 posts will deal with each question individually and compare the answers I received.
Question #1: Is it possible to be 100% certain that you have eternal life?
Question #2: To the extent that a person has assurance of salvation, where is that assurance found?
Question #3: Does salvation require ongoing commitment and perseverance in obedience?
Question #4: What does James say about the relationship between faith and works?
Question #5: Does faith in Christ have to be continual, or is belief at a point in time sufficient?
Question #6: What is faith?
Question #7:Is salvation a reward or a gift?
Question #8: How do you become saved?