Variously termed “word of the kingdom” or “kingdom exclusion,” this branch of dispensationalism is a curious mutation of Christian orthodoxy. Predicated upon the formula “faith only,” exclusion ultimately affirms “…plus works,” a principle that serves as the cornerstone of the teaching.
Arlen L. Chitwood, a leading proponent of the “word of the kingdom,” writes:
“The salvation of the soul, unlike the salvation of the spirit, is conditional. The salvation of the soul is dependent on the life one lives after his spirit has been saved. It is dependent on the individual allowing the Spirit of God to impart spiritual truth into and control his life through his own spirit.” — Salvation of the Soul, p. 13
Chitwood later modifies this statement, omitting the word conditional (see here), but he does not explain why he has done this. One senses he is aware of an ultimate contradiction, but still he continues to insist that soul salvation is “dependent on the actions of the individual.” Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Jacksonville, Florida — a church that promotes Chitwood’s writings — avows that “the salvation of the soul will be realized at the Judgment Seat of Christ and is determined by works” (source).
So at its core, exclusion focuses on the carnal nature of humans, emphasizing works so dominantly that faith becomes a religion of human effort. What begins as grace, ends with works — a direct contradiction of Paul’s teachings in Galatians (chapters 1 and 3 particularly).
The problem of exclusion
Chitwood and Cornerstone Christian Fellowship are not alone in advocating faith-plus-works. Joey Faust, a Texan pastor who popularized the term “kingdom exclusion,” argues that God will punish, not forgive, carnal Christians. He teaches that God will literally beat unfaithful Christians with a rod of fire in the millennial kingdom. The rod, incidentally, will actually proceed from Christ’s mouth! Ultimately, punishment, not the blood of Christ, will redeem man from sin.
Faust and Chitwood are preceded by Robert Govett (1813-1901) and Watchman Nee (1902-1972), who propounded that sins committed after a person’s conversion are not covered by the blood of Christ exclusively. At the culmination of the ages, works are necessary for salvation to be complete. Passages relating to “kingdom rewards” are employed as justification for this doctrine, but note that rewards are the product of God’s grace, not man’s effort. As such, exclusion represents a perversion of Christian truth.
Nearly everyone who advocates exclusion champions eternal salvation by Christ’s death at Calvary. What they are reluctant to say, however, is that a person is not ultimately saved by Christ’s death at Calvary. Seeing man as a tripartite being, having three parts (body, soul, spirit), exclusionists argue that only the spirit of a person is saved by grace through faith. The soul and body are redeemed by works. How one can possibly argue that salvation is by grace alone and by works, I do not know. Such is a contradiction of the plain and explicit meaning of scripture.
Deeper, more concerning issues
It’s not merely that exclusion contradicts scripture; worse still, it hobbles Christians spiritually. All that can result from it is futility and despair. Frequently, church schisms occur after exclusion is introduced into an evangelical community. Even marriages are disrupted, as evidenced from the many e-mails I receive monthly on this topic. As the spiritual well being of Christians is the chief concern of God, so should it be ours.
The tragedy of this teaching is that it attempts to address a legitimate question: What are we to make of sins committed after ones conversion? Is believing in Jesus a “get out of jail” free card? Is grace a license for sin? Certainly not, for Jesus and the apostles make it clear that saints are not to live in sin. But what does God do about sins committed after a person is saved? Does he just ignore the failings of his saints? Exclusionists handle the question in his manner: they argue that “carnal” Christians will lose the salvation of their souls, receiving physical punishment in the millennial kingdom (typically exclusion from the glories of God); afterwards, carnal Christians will obtain eternal salvation.
(I should note that many teachers of this doctrine assert that the penalty of carnality persists throughout eternity.)
The problem is that millennial punishment is never mentioned in the Bible. No matter how closely one reads Revelation 20, a section of scripture that explicitly mentions the millennial reign of Christ, no mention of temporary punishment is found. It’s simply not there. Further, the question of sins committed after conversion is addressed in scripture. Consider the apostle Paul’s response to the question –
What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. –Romans 6:15-18, ESV
Notice that Paul does not say carnal Christians will lose the salvation of the soul; instead, he directs the reader’s attention to the sanctifying work of God that leads to fruitful living. Paul shifts the focus from works of the flesh — “you… were once slaves of sin” — to works of the Spirit — “[you] have become slaves of righteousness.” This is how Paul — and also the apostles and Jesus — addresses the question of sins committed after conversion. Anytime a person returns to his or her own deeds, or his or her own righteousness, that person exchanges the goodness of God for a lie.
Who has bewitched you?
The most challenging doctrine of Christianity is the belief that no effort of a person can save that person. This truth is so absolute as to allow no modification, amendment or improvement. A Christian must rely entirely upon the grace of God from the day of conversion to his or her final breath. To rely on ones own effort — even for a moment — is to fall utterly short of the goal.
Yet, works are necessary, even required. “Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?” (James 2:19). C.S. Lewis wonderfully describes this apparent contradiction in a lecture found in God in the Dock:
The controversy about faith and works is one that has gone on for a very long time, and it is a highly technical matter. I personally rely on the paradoxical text: ‘Work our your own salvation… for it is God that worketh in you.’ It looks as if in one sense we do nothing, and in another case we do a damned lot. ‘Word out your own salvation with fear and trembling,’ but you must have it in you before you can work it out. But I have no wish to go further into it, as it would interest no one but the Christians present, would it?
How can it be that works do not save, yet are required? How can it be that human effort is futile, yet is necessary? The key is found in how one starts and finishes the race of faith.
In scripture, whenever works are championed, the apostles recall grace: “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:1-3, ESV).
What begins in faith must end in faith.
Some time ago, I was conversing with a Christian brother about the “word of the kingdom.” He very succinctly stated the principal issue is that “it’s all about carnality.” Kingdom believers, he explained, are so concerned about the works that they ignore the Spirit. The result is spiritual decline.
Scripture teaches us that if we want to be perfect as God is perfect, we must rely entirely upon God — in faith and also works. Yes, works are necessary, but, like grace, good deeds come from God. The idea that my effort can increase or improve upon God’s effort is preposterous and spiritually deceitful, “for to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6, ESV).
This is the ultimate step of faith: to trust that God will finish what he has begun.
A last word
I have been studying the “word of the kingdom,” on and off, since 2005, and for two reasons: first, the teaching had been introduced into my community, causing division, and I wanted to know what it was that I might rightly discern it; and, second, because so little has been written critically about exclusion, a teaching by no means limited to the people mentioned in this article. In my studies, I have made several shocking discoveries, but none so great as the following.
Arlen Chitwood claims he teaches the “full counsel of scripture,” that he teaches what the Bible says and nothing more, nothing less. Yet a search of his writings, all available in digital form, reveals he never addresses the doctrine of sanctification once. How can this be? Even in passages key to his argument, that specifically mention sanctification, he is silent. The fact is, Chitwood offers soul salvation as a substitute for sanctification.
In the final analysis, and I offer this article as a sort of final word on the topic (at least for the time being), this is the reason nothing good can come from the “word of the kingdom,” because it entirely undermines the message of the gospel. It is such a ridiculous falsehood as to give fresh significance to Paul’s admonition to the Galatians: “O foolish Galatians! … Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”
His words still resound.
© 2012, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.
I am often asked by those who support “kingdom exclusion”/”word of the kingdom” what motivation a Christian has for living a godly life. They ask, generally, “Why should Christians do what is right? Why should they care?” They suggest that unless one believes one possibly faces punishment in the millennial kingdom, one will be ineffectual in Christian living. One will become carnal.
1. Who among us will not be punished? “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it? … So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty” (James 2:10 & 12). Should we not heed these words? It is James, after all, who is most often quoted in the teaching of “soul salvation.” Should we not, then, draw the same conclusions as James?
2. Where is this punishment found? Revelation speaks of the millennial kingdom, but makes no mention of the so-called “exclusion” of carnal Christians. Or, are we to believe, as Arlen Chitwood and others espouse, that Christians too will suffer the hurt of the second death? That idea is frankly blasphemous.
(I should note that the absence of “exclusion” is mirrored everywhere. No one, to this date, has shown anyone where “exclusion” is to be found in scripture.)
3. Is not forgiveness a greater motivation? Ask yourself, as a Christian, why do you want to be good? Why? Is it because you fear a “rod of fire” or the “hurt of the second death,” or is it because God has so loved you? Were we saved by fear, or the cross?
4. Why should we end with works? How is “soul salvation” not a complete repudiation of grace? Did not Paul warn, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3). I have noted that in all of his writings, Arlen Chitwood never speaks of sanctification. His defenders say, well, “soul salvation” is sanctification? If that is true, “soul salvation” is heresy, for Paul says we are not being perfected by the flesh.
I am astonished that people actually teach that without “soul salvation” (otherwise called the “accountability” gospel) Christians would have no motivation for doing what is right. Those people miss, by a wide margin, the true gospel.
Paul, too, was confronted by such people. Look at his reply: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2).
Let it be so.
© 2010, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.
J.D. “Joey” Faust’s sole claim to recognition is his supposed chronicle of the history of the accountability movement; however, The Rod, Will God Spare It? is anything but scholarly. In fact, it’s impossibly bad.
1. Faust assumes anyone from antiquity who writes about the millennial kingdom is also writing about exclusion, i.e., the punishment of carnal Christians in the millennium. His source for these ancient documents is a CD-ROM, which he apparently word-searched to find relevant information. Unfortunately, the mere mention of the millennial kingdom in these documents qualifies the author as a kingdom exclusionist. That Faust has made of an actual study of these documents is dubious.
2. Faust’s interpretation of allegorical texts is utterly pedestrian. He actually envisions a rod of fire protruding from Christ’s mouth in the day of judgment! (Incidentally, the image on the book cover is equally ridiculous.)
3. Faust’s criticism of the Catholic doctrine of purgatory is painfully hypocritical. He assails the church for representing purgatory as a “place,” but then spends chapters discussing where his form of exclusion will occur literally. He makes no effort to describe what Catholic purgatory actually is, and judging from his sources, it is doubtful that he knows anything of the doctrine. (I’m not endorsing the doctrine of purgatory, but I do expect its critics to at least represent the doctrine accurately.)
4. He is a King-James-onlyist.
5. He, and the few people he numbers in his church, are about the only people who believe his version of exclusion. His interpretation of scripture is so utterly unique, he contradicts nearly everyone else whom he lists in the text as allies of exclusion.
The book, which is really simply a bad outline of a book, fails completely to make the case for exclusion, rendering it the work of neurotic or else a heretic.
© 2010, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.
Don’t know much about the pastor in this video — he appears to be a devout, fundamentalist Baptist preacher — but I found his comments on Joey Faust, pastor of Kingdom Baptist, interesting. That Christians could end up in hell, which is what Faust teaches, is indeed an extraordinary heresy. The pastor in this video connects Faust’s teachings to those of Jehovah Witness’s.
Note, this pastor preaches the strange doctrine of “King James onlyism” –
Frankly, his teaching regarding the NIV is as heretical as Faust’s teaching on soul death.
What we have here is a faction of Baptist preachers forming a “house divided.”
© 2010, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.
Robert Govett, who may well be the originator of kingdom exclusion1 (that is if we exclude the doctrine of purgatory), wrote an interesting work reflecting on “sins before faith” and “sins after faith.” His thesis is that the two are essentially different, which is paradoxical.
We are taught that our past sins are entirely wiped away in Christ. Whatever one did before becoming a Christian is immaterial. No reckoning of past sins will be demanded. But according to Govett sins committed after faith are entirely different. These will be held against the believer, not as affecting the believer’s eternal security, but as affecting his standing in the millennial kingdom. (Some others, however, do assert that judgment after this order will persist into the everlasting ages.)
Question: Why is the work of Christ at Calvary sufficient to wipe away sins committed before faith, but not after faith?
I do not consider that God’s standard of righteousness is less for the believer, so I am inclined to believe that if exclusion is true, no Christian can ever hope to securely enter the kingdom. Perhaps a handful. Any Christian who believes he is living an utterly pure life before God is deceived — I’ve worked too long in ministry to believe Christians are perfect, and it is perfection what God demands.
Some set up a second mode of salvation — “salvation” here is defined as the mode by which the penalty of sin is removed. They propose that Christ is serving as a priest in the heavens, making offerings (essentially offering up his blood continually) for sins committed after faith. This is an interesting solution, but not entirely satisfying.
Question: If all one has to do is confess Jesus’s priestly ministry (cf. 1 John 1:9 & 2:1), what is to keep the Christian from sinning?
As I read the writings of Paul, I am astonished that he never distinguishes between “sins before faith” and “sins after faith,” for he applies no solution — how to deal with “sins after faith” is entirely neglected — unless one has created a false premise.
Perhaps we ought only consider “sins.”
© 2009, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.
“Now if I am to be considered a heretic because of what I believe God has led me to understand from His word, then so be it.” — Dr. Greg Dixon
Comments on: Dr. Greg Dixon on Kingdom Exclusion
It should be understood that a radical form of dispensationalism undergirds Kingdom Exclusion. Writes Dr. Greg Dixon, defending his belief in it, “My journey in this area really started with a search for material on the parables that would be consistent with my eschatological position of pre-mil, a literal 1,000 year reign, etc.” Despite seeking a doctrinal point of view consistent with his beliefs in a “literal 1,000 year reign,” Dixon imposes allegorical interpretations onto Revelation, particularly chapter 20.
Kingdom exclusion is entirely absent in Revelation 20, the one part of scripture that explicitly describes the millennial kingdom. No mention is made of so-called carnal Christians being excluded, nor of temporary punishment. By importing texts from other places in the Bible, namely the parables, Dixon claims to “see” exclusion in Revelation. His chief influence is J.D. Faust’s The Rod:Will God Spare It?, which Dixon argues displays impressive “scholarship and meticulous research.”
Briefly, a word on The Rod: Will God Spare It?: It’s not meticulously researched. In a chapter on Catholic purgatory, Faust never once cites a Catholic source on the subject. His representation of the doctrine is grotesquely inaccurate. (Ironically, as he goes on to describe kingdom exclusion, he creates a doctrine quite similar to Catholic purgatory!) None of his primary source citations from the earliest centuries of Christianity even mention exclusion (let alone a rod of fire), despite Faust’s assertions that they do. Dixon’s description of the text is uncritical and somewhat juvenile.
His concern that he may be deemed a heretic is extreme, but telling. If he is guilty of anything, it is simply bad theology. Writing on forgiveness, he explains, “If believers do not want to be judged for their sins at that Judgment, then God has made provision through His precious blood based on I John Chapter one and two for forgiveness and continual cleansing to maintain fellowship (sanctification). It is an ongoing, daily responsibility of the believer through the Word of God and the Spirit of God to maintain this continual cleansing.” John never mentions this form of “continual cleansing.” Apart from referencing 1 John (cf. 1 John 1:9), Dixon does not explain.
The scriptures rather speak of a one-time cleansing, a moment in time, a point, that has continuous effect in the life of a believer (cf. Romans 5:19 & 6:10). In 1 John, the apostle does not say that confession continuously cleanses sins committed intermittently in the life of a believer, but that confession (once) cleanses a person of “all unrighteousness.” Believers are exhorted throughout the scriptures to rely on the gospel message they received when they first believed, not on the institution of confession.
Dixon’s explanation of Kingdom Exclusion devolves into little more than an endorsement of Faust’s book, not an actual explanation of Bible truths. In the end, exclusion is simply imposed upon the texts of the Bible. If Dixon prefers a literal reading of Revelation, perhaps he can explain where and when the exclusion of so-called carnal Christians occurs.
© 2009 – 2010, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.
There is considerable interest in knowing the origins of “kingdom exclusion,” the notion that carnal Christians will be excluded/punished in the millennial kingdom. The difficulty in tracing KE is that there is a similar, preexisting doctrine: Catholic purgatory. Advocates of KE reject the idea that exclusion and purgatory are alike, but similarities are too striking. As pointed out in this previous article (see here), both exclusion and purgatory occur at the time of the judgment and both are physical localities, etc. There are significant differences to be sure, but enough similarities to merit comparison. Exclusion is ultimately a reinvention of purgatory.
Exclusionism stems from dispensationalism. Introduced in the early 1800s, dispensationalism holds that all history is divided into several, distinct “administrations” or dispensations. In each period, God dealt differently with man and man’s sin. There are no set number of dispensations, though minimally two are suggested: the dispensation of the old covenant and the dispensation of the new. Most significantly, dispensationalists advanced the idea that the millennial kingdom is the culminating point of human history, as opposed to the eternal kingdom.
Shortly after the introduction of dispensationalism, a number of Protestant theologians began to consider how God would deal with sins committed after ones conversion. What would happen to Christians who lived carnally? What would happen to Christians who failed to walk in the good works God which had created for them since the foundation of the world. Men such as Robert Govett suggested there might be punishment, though they did not commit themselves to the idea.
Exclusion as it is known today emerges in the early 20th century. First, Watchman Nee, a Chinese convert and dispensationalist, advanced the idea that carnal Christians would be purged with fire in the millennial kingdom. If someone held this view earlier, I am not aware. By the mid-20th century, similar teachings were being advanced by the likes of A. Edwin Wilson and numerous others.
Today, exclusion exists in many forms — there is no one theory about exclusion, but several different ones. Some, like Nee, advanced the idea that exclusion purges the carnal believer of his sins; others, like Pastor J.D. Faust, argue that exclusion is punishment (not purgation); others are simply vague: Arlen L. Chitwood holds that carnal Christians will suffer the hurt of the second death, but he does not explain what this means.
Exclusionists ultimately conclude that the blood of Christ is not adequate to fully redeem the believer: some Christians will not be prepared for the judgment; they cannot directly attain the Kingdom of God. Ironically, this is the underlying premise of purgatory. According to the Catholic catechism, “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (source).
The traditional Protestant objection to purgatory is that there is no intermediate judgment to be found in the scriptures. The blood of Christ wholly cleanses the believer of sin (past, present and future sin). Granted, purgatory is a matter over which Catholics and Protestants might politely disagree. The New Testament does speak of judgment, the scriptures do speak of purification. Fortunately, Catholics and Protestants maintain that believers are “indeed assured of their eternal salvation.” Protestant exclusionists, however, find themselves in a strange situation. They reject purgatory as heresy, yet advance similar ideas. They seem entirely disassociated from historical reality.
I note finally that exclusionism seems to become more radicalized as it develops. While Nee speaks of purification, later exclusionists, such as Chitwood, speak of salvation. Now, exclusion is a type a salvation. In Chitwood’s case, this form is limited to one aspect of a person’s being, the soul, but it is nevertheless a form a salvation. In a breathless swoop, he reconstructs the doctrine of works-salvation, long rejected by Protestants and Catholics.
The apostle Peter warns against works-salvation: “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first” (2 Peter 2:20). My hope is that by researching exclusion, well-meaning Christians might not fall into this theological mire.
© 2009 – 2010, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.