(Special Note: It should be understood that the “salvation” discussed in this article refers specifically to “spirit salvation,” i.e., that provision within God’s Comprehensive Redemption Program for mankind that allows any individual to “pass from death to life”— eternal life that can never be abridged or abolished by God or man. For a person to understand the other provisions of God’s Comprehensive Redemption Program for mankind, which are the other two salvation aspects of tripartite man, that of “soul salvation” and of “body salvation,” he should read Salvation of the Soul, a book by Arlin L. Chitwood that may be accessed completely from the link on the homepage of this website.)
The Protestant Reformation, which had its beginning on October 31, 1517, when the German monk Martin Luther reportedly nailed his “95 Theses” to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, was a backlash by Martin Luther against certain traditions of the Roman Catholic Church. Of particular interest to Luther was his recent revelation from reading the Bible that salvation was not a product of indulgences or any “good works.” His epiphany took place while reading Romans 1:16 and 17 when it dawned on him that salvation was in reality a grace-gift of God contingent only upon a decision of genuine faith in (trust in or reliance on) Jesus Christ.
It is understood that as far as salvation was concerned, the four pillars of the Reformation were (1) Sola Scriptura—Scripture Alone, (2) Sola Gratia—Grace Alone, (3) Sola Fide—Faith Alone, and (4) Sola Christo—Christ Alone. Martin Luther apparently had two major concerns. One was that the true salvation message was not being presented by the Church. The other was that the parishioners of the Church were not being taught God’s Word; even more, they had no access to it.
With the exception of having access to God’s written Word, these concerns remain today. It can be asserted that it is now high time for another reformation. The reasons for this assertion is (1) that over the years it appears that a majority of evangelical Christians have succumbed to unbiblical but traditional presentations of the means of acquiring eternal life, and (2) very little doctrinal instruction of God’s Word is being provided in today’s evangelical churches.
As to the first reason, in most cases there is no scriptural violation to the explanation of the deity of Christ, the efficacy of His death on the cross, or His resurrection from the grave. These facts are generally presented suitably and in accord with Scripture. And usually even the passage Ephesians 2:8 and 9 is read or quoted to the lost person with the explanation that salvation is by grace through faith and not works.
But when the Christian attempts to bring the lost person to a decision for Christ, he usually presents to him several unscriptural requirements for the acquisition of God’s grace-gift of salvation, eternal life. Instead of allowing the Bible to be his guide, he parrots a list of steps that have become the traditional norm of the day for bringing a person to Christ. It doesn’t dawn on Him that most of these steps have no scriptural foundation, since “everyone else does the same,” or it was what was presented to him when he was “led to the Lord.”
These “traditional requirements” used to bring a lost person to Christ are referred to in this publication as a “staircase acquisition plan of salvation.” The term “staircase” is used since a staircase is composed of several steps. And each staircase acquisition plan is genuinely different from another, depending on its person of origin. But in all cases, it is definitely not in accord with Scripture.
As to the second reason, today’s evangelical church allots most of its programs and time to “worship” services that provide homilies arranged around several moralizing or socially enhancing points, all neatly outlined and often in rhyme. To these services there are other social affairs scheduled to bring parishioners together for fellowship and to hopefully increase the church’s membership. There are music programs, craft programs, “visitation” programs to name but a few. The emphases within many of these affairs, even in fact in the “worship” services, is on some form of emotional experience that church leaders often and wrongly attribute to the Holy Spirit.
Although many of these activities are fine, they are done to the exclusion of the church’s primary mission of “disciplizing” (Matthew 28:19) believers—the “teaching” of Bible doctrine to its members (Ezekiel 34:2, 3; John 21:15-17; Acts 20:20, 27, 28). Granted, there is Sunday school, which normally offers less than an hour of “programmed” Bible instruction set by individuals high in the “denominational” structure and far from the local church.
This arrangement does not foster Bible teachers who wait upon the Lord for their doctrinal instruction and the presence of the Holy Spirit to present it. And since the sanctification (spiritual growth) of the believer is wholly dependent upon his assimilation of Bible doctrine (John 17:17; Ephesians 5:26), many of today’s churches are composed of a high percentage of immature Christians (Hebrews 5:12-14) who operate strictly in the flesh and who provide an ineffective witness to the outside world.
Fallacy of Staircase Salvation
It is incredible how many dedicated and doctrinally-grounded ministers miss the mark when it comes to presenting the means by which a lost person may obtain eternal life. After vigilantly explaining the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, after detailing how Christ upon the cross paid the penalty-price for sin, and after carefully telling how salvation is not by works but by faith in Christ; the well-intentioned minister then succumbs to traditional unscriptural (“staircase”) steps in instructing the lost person on how to receive God’s grace-gift of eternal life.
This almost always takes the form of what is often labeled the “sinner’s prayer,” which includes a combination of two or more of the following:
Yet, the only step mentioned above authorized by God’s Word is the last one. All the others cannot be substantiated by an honest exegetical study of God’s Word. In the first place, nowhere in Scripture is anyone told to pray and ask for forgiveness to receive eternal life. The parable (Luke 18:9-14) that is used to substantiate praying for mercy as the means whereby one may “seal the deal” with God has nothing to do with the finished propitiated work of Christ. It was specifically meant to teach that trusting in self never leads to justification or favor with God.
Granted, when the Holy Spirit convicts a person that he is indeed a sinner, he may experience some form of sorrow for his sinful life, but this is not a requirement for being saved. He only needs to understand and accept the fact that he is a sinner. Although the Kingdom gospel that was presented strictly to the Jew by both John the Baptist and Christ included repentance; in the Age of Grace repentance is nothing more than the step of turning to Christ by faith and from self and every other confidence or means thought to provide eternal life.
Nowhere in Scripture is a lost person told to ask “Jesus to come into his heart” in order to be saved. The verse used to convey this misinformation is Revelation 3:20, another verse that is addressed to believers and which applies only to the sanctification process. Jesus will never enter an unregenerate heart, but He will baptize the person into the “Body of Christ” by means of the Holy Spirit upon the individual’s decision of faith in Christ Jesus, which is the “new [from above] birth.” It is only then that the person becomes a new creation with a clean heart, which may be occupied by Christ to the glory of God.
Then there is lordship salvation, which essentially means that a person must dedicate or commit himself to God or make Jesus Lord of one’s life in order to receive eternal life. This is something that a lost person who is dead in sin can never accomplish. Even after the new birth and with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the believer, who is in continual combat with his sinful nature, may never be able to completely make Christ Lord of his life. The lordship of Christ in a life is part of the sanctification process that can only apply to a believer, never to the lost.
The One and Only Step a Person May Take to Obtain Eternal Life
Even as the Scriptures indicate none of the above discussed “steps” as a means of obtaining eternal life, there is ample and clear specification within God’s Word that the only means (or “step” if you please) a lost person may take to obtain eternal life is by placing his faith (trust, confidence, reliance) in Jesus Christ. This is in fact a decision made within his will, not a prayer. Even those who would have a person “pray” for salvation are at a loss to explain where exactly in the prayer the person is transformed from “lost” to “saved” (i.e., given eternal life). If anything, they admit that it is when the person decides to pray that the event occurs.
The only place in the New Testament where a person asks the specific question as to how to be saved is found in Acts 16:30 where the Philippian jailer asks Paul and Silas, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ And to this specific question they gave a complete answer in verse 31: ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.’ Nothing more was added to their reply. The jailer then knew that in order to acquire eternal life he need only place his trust in Jesus Christ and nothing or no one else for his personal salvation — and he needed to do nothing else!
Salvation (passing “from death to life”) in God’s Word is described as a ‘gift’ that is ‘freely’ given; not something that is contingent upon any meritorious action on the part of its recipient. It is based solely upon the redemptive work of Jesus Christ and may only be received by faith.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8, 9)
Being justified freely by His [God’s] grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:24)
And, this is important, this “decision of faith in Christ” is made apart from any prayer or pleading with God. It is solely based on the knowledge imparted by the Holy Spirit to the unsaved that Christ did everything necessary for the person’s salvation, and it (the decision of faith in Christ) is a conscious decision of will made in an instance of time.
Of course the individual may opt not to make the decision, but if he does he is instantly born again (granted eternal life). Certainly the decision may be followed-up with a prayer of thanksgiving, but the danger in making the prayer or any of the other above unscriptural steps part of obtaining eternal life is that the lost person may believe that these are necessary for it; thereby, making salvation contingent upon his actions in taking such steps. This then transform the process into a procedure of works, which will never save anyone.
This writer realizes that many thousands of persons have come to faith in Christ even though they have been confronted with a “staircase salvation plan” as defined in this article; but, their salvation only happened upon their faith alone in Christ, which came before, during, or after their “prayer of salvation.” Nevertheless, it is always best to inform a lost person that it is his decision of faith that will save him, not a prayer or any of the above discussed “staircase steps.” Salvation is only possible by faith alone in Christ alone.
The Church’s Primary Role is to Make Disciples of Believers
The primary responsibility of the pastor and the local church is to make disciples and not just shallow converts throughout the world, a procedure that is directly proportional to the resolute and intense teaching of systematic Bible doctrine. Yet many churches and pastors, either through ignorance of God’s Word or by social pressures, are content to maintain a nursery of spiritual infants.
Such pastors and churches relegate instruction in Bible doctrine to a brief session in what is called “Sunday school” each week, usually a period of one hour or less; while scheduling over three times this amount of time for services that feature other, but much less important, spiritually related matters. And even in such “Sunday school” sessions, a believer is fortunate if most of the scheduled hour is truly devoted to methodical Bible study. And those individuals selected to administer doctrinal lessons within Sunday schools may not at times be chosen for their devotion to and knowledge of Bible doctrine, since weekly lessons are provided by a pre-programmed quarterly that obviates these requirements.
The consequence for this lopsided prioritization of time and energy is the proliferation of congregations that are ignorant of the “meat” of God’s Word, excepting only those few individuals who personally take it upon themselves to study Bible doctrine in order to show themselves approved unto God. With such churches composed of believers who are satisfied to gauge their spiritual worth according to their attendance in services that feature moralistic homilies (in some cases no more than psychological pep-talks) each week, is it any wonder that personal carnality, worldliness, and “legalism-spirituality” rules in Christendom today?
Today’s church member may be aware of the “milk” of God’s salvation, i.e., the justification of the spirit based on faith alone in Christ alone; but he is quite ignorant of the “meat” of God’s salvation, i.e., the salvation of the soul (Gk: life) through spiritual perseverance and which will have crucial import at the Judgment Seat of Christ and in the coming Kingdom Age. He may understand that Christ died on the cross, but with no true understanding of what this sacrifice affords the believer, e.g., justification, redemption, imputation, expiation, reconciliation, regeneration, propitiation, sanctification, and glorification.
He understands to some degree the Gospel of Grace but fails to differentiate it from the Gospel of the Kingdom, which leads to flawed interpretations of many passages within God’s Word. He may in fact know that the Bible contains prophecy but has no comprehension that fully one-third of the entire Bible is prophetic, not to mention his lack of any grasp of the prophecies and how they relate to believers and the world in these “last days.” He stands with those of whom the author of Hebrews said:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14)
This is in fact the case. And it can be attributed directly to the dearth of teaching Bible doctrine, both in the pulpit and in other forums set by pastors and churches today. And surely this should not be, since this concept of spiritual shepherding by both pastors and churches has ample foundation in God’s Word.
The following scriptural passages clearly convey that the primary role of the local church, its pastor, and its members, in addition to bringing lost persons to Christ by faith, is to teach them Bible doctrine and thereby making them true disciples (spiritually mature). All underlining is by this writer.
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend [Shepherd] My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.”
And I will give you shepherds according to My heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding. (Jeremiah 3:15)
I will set up shepherds over them who will feed them; and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, nor shall they be lacking,” says the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:4)
Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy and say to them, “Thus says the Lord GOD to the shepherds: ‘Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock.’” (Ezekiel 34:2, 3)
I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them — My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd. (Ezekiel 34:23)
But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. . . . However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. (John 15:26; 16:13)
How I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house. . . . For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the Church of God which He purchased with His own blood.
(Acts 20:20, 27, 28)
So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the Word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32)
Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature. (1 Corinthians 14:20)
The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints. (Ephesians 1:18)
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers [lit: pastor-teachers], for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-15)
Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. (Colossians 1:28)
A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach. (1 Timothy 3:2)
These things command and teach. (1 Timothy 4:11)
Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.
(2 Timothy 4:2-4)
Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly. (1 Peter 5:2)
The primary responsibility of the pastor and the local church is to systematically and thoroughly teach the Word of God—Bible doctrine. All other church and pastoral activities must take second place to this activity. Yes, worship services are appropriate; although, to truly worship God, which is to express one’s love for Him, one must place priority on the consumption and detailed teaching of His Word. Song festivals are fine and their basis is biblical, but never should they be considered equivalent or as a substitute for teaching Bible doctrine. Prayer meetings and visitation programs are scriptural, but never as necessary as programs of instruction in Bible doctrine. To this end, the following book is recommended: The Study of Scripture by Arlen L. Chitwood, which may be accessed from the link on the homepage of this website.
The Church (Body of Christ) has drifted far from its responsibility of accurately presenting God’s salvation plan, primarily in the matter of the human responsibility in salvation, and in properly teaching God’s Word (Bible doctrine) in order to insure that believers become disciples (spiritually mature) in accordance with our Lord’s clear commission. Both of these failures are a result of its adherence to unscriptural traditions rather than to the clear instruction in God’s Word. In this respect, today’s conditions are not altogether unlike the conditions that existed during Martin Luther’s day. Therefore, it is this writer’s firm conviction that it is now time for the Church to experience another reformation.