Previous article in this series: March 15, 2019, p. 285.
“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them.” Hebrews 10:16
“Why will God…have the ten commandments so strictly preached? …That we may become more and more conformable to the image of God, till we arrive at the perfection proposed to us in a life to come.” Heidelberg Catechism, Q 115
To my examination of the doctrine of the last things of premillennialism I add a postscript of several installments.
This postscript consists of a critique of a teaching of premillennialism which, if it is not, strictly speaking, part of premillennialism’s doctrine of the last things, is, nevertheless, a fundamental element of the heresy of dispensational premillennialism.
The teaching in view is premillennialism’s rejection of the law, that is, the Ten Commandments, as the rule of life of the New Testament church. This false doctrine is known as “antinomism,” which literally means “against the law.”
The previous article in this series demonstrated that the founding fathers of premillennialism were avowed, virulent antinomians. So strong was their rejection of the law that not only did Lewis S. Chafer reject the law of the Ten Commandments as the rule of life for New Testament believers, but he also described the commands of God in the New Testament Bible to Christians as mere “suggestions.” God does not command the believer to worship Him alone, and rightly; He “suggests” that we do so. God does not command the believer not to commit adultery; He “suggests” that the believer not commit adultery. God does not command children to obey their parents; He “suggests” that they obey their parents. No doubt, this god, like some weak parents, begs, “Please”: “Please, obey your parents.”
The “Lordship” controversy over antinomism
A present-day, powerful movement among dispensational premillennialists is developing this antinomism to its extremes. This movement includes leading premillennial theologians, including Zane C. Hodges, for many years professor of theology at Dallas Theological Seminary, the foremost premillennial seminary in the world. The movement teaches that Jesus can be one’s Savior without being also the Lord of his life. It is possible that someone is saved by believing in Jesus while continuing to live a life ruled by Satan and sin. It is very well possible that a saved believer lives impenitently in sin to the end of his life and yet be saved eternally. True, saving faith does not assure a life of good works in obedience to the law of God. It is a real possibility that a saved sinner permanently “drops out” of the Christian life. Good works are not “an inevitable outcome of saving faith.” According to the antinomian gospel of Zane Hodges, one can be saved “without repentance” and without “a life of good works.”
Although Hodges does not expressly acknowledge it, his antinomian book and theology are his defense of fundamental dispensational, premillennial doctrine. The law is for Israel in the Old Testament and in the coming millennium. The law is not for the church. The church is saved by faith, which faith is not expressed by, or bound to, the law, that is, a life of good works.
The dispensational premillennialism of Zane Hodges and his colleagues is antinomian, is lawless. This lawlessness denies the Lordship of Jesus over His people.
And the faith that produces or tolerates this lawlessness, or simply fails to manifest itself in sanctification of life, is not the living faith that unites the believing sinner with the holy Jesus Christ. It is a dead, false, obnoxious faith, worthy of Satan, who shares this faith with the dispensationalists.
This is antinomism in an extreme form of the heresy. It is perilously close to, if not the same as, the developed form of antinomism that exclaims, “Let us sin, that grace may abound!”
This development of premillennialism’s inherent antinomism has occasioned a controversy within the ranks of dispensationalism. The controversy is known as the “Lordship” controversy. The name is taken from the denial by some premillennialists that Jesus the Savior is always also the Lord of the life of the one He saves. Some dispensational theologians oppose this teaching. They maintain the Lordship of Jesus over the life of all whom He saves.
A prominent dispensational premillennialist who defends the truth that wherever He is Savior Jesus is also Lord is John MacArthur. This Baptist preacher, therefore, claims to oppose antinomism. He is popularly regarded as opposing antinomism.
The claim and regard are mistaken.
As a dispensational premillennialist, John MacArthur is an antinomian. He is not a friend of the Reformed doctrine of the law, but one of the enemies. And Reformed Christians must know this about him and his theology.
Contemporary premillennialist John MacArthur is compelled to acknowledge that Chafer, a founding father of dispensational premillennialism, taught “an ‘age of grace’ that smacks of antinomianism.”5 With the use of the word, “smacks,” MacArthur hedges on his criticism of L. S. Chafer. Chafer’s gospel “smacks” of antinomism, because it is antinomism. Necessarily, therefore, the teaching of Chafer, and of the other fathers of premillennialism, “paved the way for a brand of Christianity that has legitimized careless and carnal behavior,” that is, paved the way for antinomism in life and conduct.6
By the legitimizing of careless and carnal behavior, MacArthur refers specifically to those dispensational premillennialists today who believe that one can have Christ as Savior without having Him also as Lord of their life. They gladly adopt the practical conclusion: One may believe, or may have in the past believed, in Jesus, but go on living a wicked, unholy, and lawless life, all the while having the assurance that he or she is saved, and will be saved in the end. This is the fruit of the denial of the Lordship of Jesus, as MacArthur rightly contends.
What MacArthur refuses to recognize, and admit, however, is that the sheer, open, and ugly antinomism of his anti-Lordship, dispensational colleagues and fellow church members is the natural, inevitable development of MacArthur’s own antinomian dispensational- ism. It is not only the founders of dispensational premillennialism and some contemporary, anti-Lordship, dispensational theologians who are antinomian. But the theology itself of dispensationalism is essentially and incurably antinomian.
Dispensational premillennialism denies that the law of God consisting of the Ten Commandments applies to, and is binding upon, the New Testament church and believer. From this viewpoint—the viewpoint of the theology of dispensationalism itself—and from within that theology, the anti-Lordship dispensationalists are right, and MacArthur is wrong, in the Lordship controversy. In their controversy over “Lordship,” Hodges is consistent with the theology that he and MacArthur share. MacArthur is inconsistent.
It is a striking feature of MacArthur’s defense of “Lordship salvation” that in all the book contending with his openly antinomian colleagues and fellow church members, never does MacArthur so much as state that the Ten Commandments are the rule of life of the New Testament believer. Much less is there an entire chapter, or even entire section, calling attention to this issue as fundamental in the controversy and then defending the vital truth that the law of the Ten Commandments is the authoritative rule of the life of the Christian.
Indicating that he is well aware that he is skating on thin dispensational ice in his controversy with his bolder, more consistent antinomian colleagues, MacArthur defines “antinomianism” wrongly in a glossary at the end of The Gospel According to the Apostles. He defines the heresy as the teaching that “Christians are not bound by any moral law.” The truth is that antinomism is the teaching that Christians are not bound by the moral law of the Ten Commandments of Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. But for the dispensational theologian to have defined antinomism correctly would have been for him to have exposed himself to the devastating charge that he is no dispensationalist at all. And the fact is that, as a dispensationalist, John MacArthur denies that the law of the Ten Commandments is the rule of the Christian life.
As a dispensational premillennialist, John MacArthur is incapable of teaching and defending what the Reformed faith calls “the third use of the law”—the use of the law as the guide of the Christian life. No doubt, he is unwilling to teach “the third use of the law.” He is antinomian in principle. His controversy is not with antinomism, but with the consistent development of that heresy by his colleagues.
It is not to MacArthur’s credit that in this book at any rate, the subject of which is the bold, developed rejection of the law by MacArthur’s own dispensational colleagues—their avowed antinomism—the Baptist preacher does not so much as indicate the root of the error in dispensationalism’s repudiation of the Ten Commandments as the guide of the life of the Christian. About this aspect of the Lordship controversy MacArthur is silent. Significantly silent! Necessarily silent! Culpably silent!
To John MacArthur defending the Lordship of Jesus against his antinomian colleagues, the Reformed reader has this question: “Tell us, Dr. MacArthur, are the Ten Commandments of Exodus 20 the authoritative rule of life of the New Testament Christian? Yes, or no!”
The judgment of the Reformed faith upon the controversy within dispensationalism over Christ’s “Lordship” is that it is a tempest in a teapot.
Contemporary premillennial antinomism
Proving the charge that dispensational premillennialism is inherently antinomian is the open rejection of the law of the Ten Commandments by contemporary premillennialists who present themselves as “moderating” the theology of the fathers of the teaching.
Contemporary disciples of Scofield and Chafer, although moderating some of the teachings of the fathers, maintain this repudiation of the law. In the volume that is intended to placate covenant theologians and achieve ecumenical relations with Reformed and Presbyterian churches, the premillennial theologian, Carl B. Hoch, Jr., bluntly proclaims premillennialism’s antinomism: “The entire Mosaic law is no longer the rule of life for Christians. Christ abolished the entire Mosaic law.” He approves the declaration of another premillennial theologian that the law was “abrogated.”
Writing in the same volume, another, supposedly moderate premillennialist does away with the law in these words: “The leading of the Spirit renders the law obsolete.” The obsolescence of the law is supposed to be the meaning of Romans 10:4: “Christ is the end of the law.” The writer explains: “Paul uses the word end in this passage in the sense of supercession.” That is, Christ has set the law aside and replaced it with something else.
This necessarily raises the question, with what has the law been replaced? The seriousness of this question is recognized by Lowery, when he assures Christians that the replacement of the law “does not mean the church is without guidance.” That which now takes the place of the law as the guide of the Christian life is the example of the life of Christ: “what he said and did.”
In addition to his characteristic premillennial error of dividing the history of salvation into essentially different dispensations, whose differences include differing ways of salvation, Lowery errs in his understanding of the word “end” (Greek: telos) in Romans 10:4. Christ is not the “end” of the law in the sense that He abolished the law for His people. But He was the “goal” of the law. For righteousness, the law always had Him in view, always aimed at Him. The law directed the Old Testament people of God to Jesus Christ for the perfect obedience that the law demands. This righteousness became theirs, as it becomes ours now, by faith in Jesus Christ. This is the gracious gift of justification.
But justification does not exhaust the truth of Jesus’ being the “end,” or goal, of the law. He is also the “end” of the law in that He works within the hearts and lives of His elect, justified people the righteousness that the law demands. What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God did, so that “the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:3, 4). This is the gracious gift of sanctification, as the phrase concerning walking after the Spirit shows.
In this sanctifying work, Jesus does not dispense with the law. Not only does He work its righteousness in the lives of His people—the love of God and the love of the neighbor, both tables of the law. But He also uses the Ten Commandments as the clear, objective, authoritative, abiding guide, or rule, of the conduct of His people. Jesus does not render the law of God “obsolete.”
To say so is disparagement of the will, and ultimately, of the very being of God Himself, the revelation of which perfect will of whom—the righteous God—the law is.
To say so is to condemn the ministry of Jesus Christ. It makes Him the quintessential antinomian.
Jesus is the fulfillment of the law. And He is the law’s fulfillment both in justifying the guilty sinner and in sanctifying the corrupt sinner.
The Reformed faith honors the law as “holy, and just, and good” (Rom. 7:12). Premillennialism dishonors the law as an evil, certainly an evil with regard to guiding the life of the New Testament Christian.
The Reformed faith retains the law as the rule of a holy, thankful life. Premillennialism rejects the law, leaving the Christian without a rule, or guide, of life; encouraging the Christian to trample the law under foot; and inevitably producing the denial of the “Lordship” of Christ in dispensationalism.
The Reformed faith calls to, and produces, a law-abiding, Christian life.
Premillennialism is lawless. It is antinomian—“against the law”—at the core. It produces and excuses, if indeed it does not justify, contempt for the law in mind and in behavior.
Everyone must recognize that these are damning charges against dispensational premillennialism, charges that by themselves expose that doctrine as un- and anti-Christian.
In contrast, its honoring of the law of God redounds to the highest praise of the Reformed faith, approving it as the faith of the gospel of God.
(to be continued)
1 This is the content of Hodges’ book, Absolutely Free! A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989).
2 Hodges, Absolutely Free!, 80.
3 Hodges, Absolutely Free!, 167.
4 Hodges, Absolutely Free!, 163.
5 John MacArthur, The Gospel According to the Apostles: The Role of Works in the Life of Faith (Nashville, TN: Word, 1993), 228.
6 MacArthur, Gospel According to the Apostles, 228.
7 On the Lordship controversy among dispensational premillennialists, see John MacArthur, The Gospel According to the Apostles, defending Lordship, and Zane Hodges, Absolutely Free! (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1989), denying Lordship.
8 See John MacArthur, The Gospel According to the Apostles.
9 MacArthur, 259.
11 David K. Lowery, “Christ, the End of the Law in Romans 10:4,”in Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, Blaising and Bock, 246.
12 Lowery, 230.
13 Lowery, 246.
14 Lowery, 246–47.