THE TEACHINGS OF JOHN MacARTHUR


John MacArthur, the gifted and charming pastor of Grace Community church in Panorama City, California, has been the center of controversy for many years. He appears to be one of those rare individuals whose presence leaves a wake of confusion and contention. For many, he is a champion of the faith whose voice is correcting many of the ills of Christianity. For others, his teachings border on heresy. He is seen by these as a threat to the Christian faith.

Much has already been written concerning John MacArthur. What good could another article about him accomplish? Why should the VISITOR get involved in the fray? If John MacArthur is being unjustly criticized, he should be defended. If, on the other hand, John MacArthur is doing damage to the body of Christ, he should be exposed. In either case, the influence of John MacArthur and its subsequent confusion have reached into the ranks of fundamental Christianity. Silence is not an option.

An initial reason for writing is that some within fundamentalism seem to be implying that MacArthur has clarified previous confusing doctrinal statements and there is no longer any problem with him. Others say that MacArthur has been the victim of misunderstanding all along. These voices are wrong.

A second reason for writing is to remind separatist Christians that regardless of the rightness or wrongness of MacArthur’s teaching, he is a thorough-going new evangelical. His credentials of compromise are impeccable. A full embrace of the man and his ministry would not be possible even if his teachings were proven to be acceptable.

A third reason for writing stems from the hunger within fundamentalism for theological substance in preaching and sanity in evangelism. There is a growing disregard for the shallow preaching and mindless evangelism that have characterized much of our ranks for decades. In many ways, John MacArthur is a fresh breeze in arid times. He is saying things that desperately need saying. He is bringing a degree of dignity back to the pulpit. Present conditions coupled with MacArthur’s charm and charisma and abilities have combined to make him very appealing to those who should otherwise know better.

Lastly, the almost perpetual confusion caused by MacArthur should serve as a stark warning that something is wrong. Some of the controversy swirling around this preacher goes way back to the middle 1970s. I have learned over the years that a person can make himself clear if he so desires. Putting a new twist on old doctrines of the faith serves no good purpose. Separating what ought to be united is every bit as wrong as uniting what ought to be separated. MacArthur is guilty of doing these things as I will subsequently prove in this article. He is confusing and remains confusing because error is confusing.

WHO IS JOHN MacARTHUR?

John MacArthur was reared in Southern California and received his early education there. His first two years of college were spent at Bob Jones University. His undergraduate work was completed at Los Angeles Pacific College, followed by seminary training at Talbot Theological Seminary.

He has been the pastor of Grace Community Church in Panorama City, California for many years. Under his ministry the church has grown from 450 members to a membership of several thousand. He has also been named President of Masters College and Seminary. Over the years, more than 7,000,000 tapes of his messages have been distributed around the world.

MacArthur is a gifted author. Among his works are two controversial books: The New Testament Commentary on Hebrews, and The Gospel According to Jesus. Much of his influence is achieved through his popular radio program called, “Grace to You”.

WHAT DOES JOHN MacARTHUR TEACH?

As indicted earlier, John MacArthur’s teachings have resulted in a great controversy and confusion that refuse to go away, even when repeated attempts of clarification are made. One capable Bible scholar labeled his teachings as “imprecise”.

There are no doctrines that are more essential to our historic Christian faith than the saving power of the blood of Christ and the eternal Sonship of the Person of Christ. Since the 1970s, MacArthur has managed to muddle what the Word of God has made clear concerning these truths. At the core of the problems MacArthur’s insistence upon redefining terms so that he uses orthodox language to express himself, but he has changed the meaning of the words. This, of course, was the tactic employed by neo-orthodoxy.

ERROR ONE - It Is The Death Of Christ, Not The Blood
Of Christ, That Saves From Sin.

MacArthur creates an issue that doesn’t exist by seeking to separate the death of Christ from the blood of Christ. On page 237 of his commentary on Hebrews, MacArthur states that it is “not Jesus’ physical blood that saves us, but His dying on our behalf” . In a letter to Mr. Tim Weidlich, dated April 4, 1986, MacArthur writes, “Obviously, it was not the blood of Jesus that saves or He could have bled for us without dying. ...Yes, the blood of Christ is precious - but as precious as it is - it could not save.”

MacArthur reduces the blood of Christ to a mere symbol of death. In this same letter of Mr. Weidlich
he writes,
I admit that because of some traditional hymns there is an emotional attachment to the blood - but that should not pose problem when one is dealing with theological or textual specificity. I can sing hymns about the blood and rejoice with them - but I understand that reference to be a metonym for His death.”

Dr. Stewart Custer, of Bob Jones University, rebukes the error of MacArthur succinctly when he writes these words to the California pastor:
“To separate the blood of Christ from His death and imply that it is merely a symbol is not the historic Fundamental position.”

The Scriptures speak again and again about our salvation being accomplished through the shed blood of Christ. Verses such as Romans 5:9 could scarcely be more clear, “...being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him”. MacArthur is equally clear if we can take his words at face value:
“Nothing in his human blood saves. His shed blood represents His sacrificial death for us.” (Grace to You”, 1976)

The Scriptures and MacArthur cannot both be right.


ERROR TWO - Jesus Christ Became The Son Of God At The Incarnation.

John MacArthur teaches that although Jesus is eternal, He is not the eternal Son of God. He writes, “Son is an incarnational title of Christ. It is an analogy to say that God is Father and Jesus is Son...God’s way of helping us understand the essential relationship between the first and second persons of the Trinity. ...Christ was not Son until His incarnation”. (Commentary to the Hebrews, pp. 27, 28)

MacArthur makes his erroneous position sufficiently clear about the Sonship of Christ in the previously mentioned letter to Mr. Weidlich:
“Regarding he Sonship of Jesus. I am only concerned to explain the meaning of Hebrews 1:5. If there was a time when the second member of the Trinity became a son, was begotten; and if the use of the future shall be to me a Son;’ then there must have been a time when He was not.”

The truth of the matter is that Hebrews 1:5 is not saying there was a day when Jesus became a Son, but there was an occasion when the Father publicly and openly acknowledged Him as His Son. God acknowledges Christ was His Son at the baptism of Christ, the transfiguration of Christ and the resurrection of Christ.
“And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of Holiness, by the resurrection of the dead”. (Romans 1:4)

Again the Scriptures are abundantly clear on what MacArthur manages to cloud. Jesus Christ is truly the eternal Son of God. The Psalmist declared a thousand years before the incarnation,
“Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him.” (Psalm 2:11-12)


ERROR THREE - The Term “Lordship Salvation” Is Employed Prominently
Without Proper Warning.

Early believism has been a blight on American Christianity since the days of Charles Finney. The numbers oriented, super-aggressive, gimmick employing factions of fundamentalism have contributed greatly to the problem. Lordship salvation has been a reaction to all of this, swinging the theological pendulum too far the other direction. In its strongest form. Lordship salvation means that trusting Jesus Christ as personal Saviour is not sufficient for salvation. He must also be Lord of your life.

Lordship salvation advocates separate what must be united. Jesus Christ is our Lord and Saviour. No one is saved who negotiates terms with God. However, complete obedience to the rule of Christ as a requirement of salvation is foreign to salvation by grace. In practical experience this leads to sincere people making professions of faith over and over or a continuous doubting of one’s standing before God.

MacArthur’s problem is his insistence upon using a bad term (Lordship salvation) to correctly teach that genuine salvation is the result of Holy Spirit-wrought conviction of sin and life-changing faith in God.

In his book, The Gospel according to Jesus, he writes,
The call to Calvary must be recognized for what it is: a call to discipleship under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. To respond to that call is to become a believer. Anything less is simply unbelief. The gospel according to Jesus explicitly and unequivocally rules out easy-believism. To make all of our Lords difficult demands apply only to a higher class of Christians blunts the force of His entire message. It makes room for a cheap and meaningless faith - a faith that may be exercised with absolutely no impact on the fleshly life of sin. That is not saving faith. (The Gospel According to Jesus, pp. 30-31)

Once again MacArthur’s imprecision has brought unnecessary confusion to the body of Christ. In the wake of his words controversy swirls. Instead of the positive effect of truth being declared with carefulness and simplicity, there is charge and countercharge over what he is saying or not saying. An uncertain sound is not the mark of a faithful pastor-teacher of the Word of God.


WHAT IS JOHN MacARTHUR DOING?

John MacArthur is a champion of compromise. Even if he did not perpetuate confusion and false doctrine, he would not qualify as an acceptable leader for fundamentalists. MacArthur is a staunch new evangelical with impeccable credentials of compromise.

A long list of poor associations can easily be comprised for MacArthur by perusing the various publications which focus on the issues of the day:
1) He has spoken at an event sponsored by Wheaton College along with a Catholic speaker.
2) He serves on the Board of Trustees at Moody Bible Institute.
3) He is a speaker at word of Life.
4) In the Spring of 1988, he spoke at a conference in Bermuda with Dr. Jack Wyrtzen, of Word of Life, along with Dr. Wendell Kempton, of ABWE.
5) He was a scheduled speaker in 1989 at a Southern Baptist Church in Denver.
6) He has been a speaker at Dallas Theological Seminary.
7) He spoke at an annual fellowship of conservative Baptists in Phoenix along with new evangelicals Charles Colson, Hadden Robinson and Steve Green.
8) He spoke at Charles Stanley’s First Baptist church in Atlanta on March 17, 1986.
9) He spoke at the National Religious Broadcasters convention in February, 1982 along with Pat Robertson and Rex Humbard.
10) He spoke at the 1987 Super conference VIII at Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church along with Tim Lee and E. V. Hill.


CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

Do fundamentalists need another reminder that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? The cost of compromise is the loss of God’s blessing on our ministries and the eventual removal of our candlesticks from their places of service in God’s work. Why toy with disaster by becoming enamored with a compromiser regardless of how charming he might be? We must fight with tenacity our tendencies to follow gifted and charismatic personalities.

Let’s not play games with the precious doctrines of God’s Word. There are no good reasons to tamper with truth. We are saved by the blood of the crucified One. We need no other message.


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