Tag Archives: Watchman Nee

The carnal pursuits of kingdom believers

Variously termed “word of the kingdom” or “kingdom exclusion,” this branch of dispensationalism is a curious mutation of Christian evangelicalism. Predicated upon the formula of “faith only,” exclusion ultimately adds “…plus works,” which is the cornerstone of the teaching.

Arlen L. Chitwood, a leading proponent of this doctrine, 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 his teaching, omitting the word conditional (see here), but he does not explain why he has done this. One senses he is aware of a contradiction in his thought, but 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).

At its core, exclusion promotes salvation by works, emphasizing works and the carnal nature of humans so dominantly that faith becomes a mere prerequisite, not an end unto itself. Beginning with grace, exclusion 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, teaching that God will literally beat unfaithful Christians with a rod of fire in the millennial kingdom. The rod, incidentally, proceeds from Christ’s mouth! (This notion is so bizarrely literal that it is incredible that even a few people take it seriously.) Ultimately, according to Faust, punishment, not the blood of Christ, redeems man from sin.

Contemporary exponents of this teaching are preceded by the likes of Robert Govett (1813-1901) and Watchman Nee (1902-1972), men who argued 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. For justification of this doctrine, Govett and Nee employ passages relating to “kingdom rewards,” but insisting that rewards are a product of God’s grace, not man’s effort. At the critical moment, however, exclusionists argue that salvation is ultimately accomplished by works.

The contradictory nature of this teaching arises from vacillation. At one moment, exclusion expounds works; at another, faith. At no point are exclusionists able to reconcile faith and works, grace and human effort, ignoring almost entirely the doctrine of sanctification. Instead, they proffer soul salvation.

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 (i.e. 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.

Ultimate 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.

Does it matter?

Several people have asked why I bother: “Why do you write about exclusion?” The principal reason is that there is a dearth of critical research on the subject. When I first encountered the writings of Watchman Nee, J.D. Faust and Arlen L. Chitwood, I found few analytical sources. Apart from their own writings, there was no analysis, no critical thought, no explanation of the origins Kingdom Exclusion (KE). In short, there was little perspective.

My aim is to rectify this situation.

I do not conceal the fact that I am opposed to KE, but my research is consistent and well-documented. I’ve read extensively on the subject, interviewed and corresponded with key figures, and have engaged in a dialog with numerous others. My objections are theological.

1. The temporary exclusion of so-called carnal Christians is entirely absent in scripture. The likes of Chitwood, Nee and Faust contend that unfaithful believers will be subjected to 1,000 years of exclusion (variously defined) in the millennial kingdom. The thousand-year rule of Christ is described in Revelation 20, but no mention is made of exclusion. Nor is it found elsewhere. The fact that it is simply absent should settle the question.

2. KE fosters a salvation-by-works gospel. Some are more explicit than others (e.g. Chitwood: “The salvation of the soul … is conditional“), but all tend toward works as a condition of grace, inasmuch as grace is inadequate for redemption, that some other means is necessary.

These two factors — it’s absence in scripture and that it alters the gospel — constitute my primary objections to the teaching.

From whence did it come?

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.

Searching for the origins of Kingdom Exclusion

Despite J.D. Faust’s claim that exclusion is represented in the writings of the early church fathers, I have not been able to date KE[1. KE is an abbreviation for “Kingdom Exclusion.”] before the 20th century. (For the purposes of this discussion, it appears I must disregard the Catholic Church’s teaching on purgatory, which Faust and other Protestant exclusionists argue is a corruption of the scriptures. If we include purgatory, exclusion dates very many centuries earlier.) Several figures in the 19th century hint at it, perhaps, but I have not found explicit statements to that effect (particularly ones that can be confirmed by historians).

Continue reading Searching for the origins of Kingdom Exclusion

Characteristics of Kingdom Exclusion

Kingdom Exclusion, sometimes Millennial Exclusion, is a form of dispensational theology predominant among a set of Baptist-leaning Christians. It assumes a premillennial view of history, but departs from traditional, evangelical Christianity on several points.

Major precepts:

• Millennial exclusion of carnal Christians (these will suffer in the lake of fire for one thousand years or else suffer exclusion from God’s presence during that time); eternal exclusion of non-believers
• Emphasis on assurance
• Emphasis on reward and ruling with Christ
• Emphasis on type and antitype, which effectively allegorizes vast portions of scripture (millennial exclusionists would not use the word “allegorize” though); others read the scripture quite literally.

Precepts of a more radicalized form:

• Tripartite man for the purpose of distinguishing three types/aspects of salvation (accomplished successively, not comprehensively)
• Soul salvation, a works-based mode of redemption—one might say it is merits-based (this conceptualization of salvation contradicts scripture)
• Separatistic—they do not generally accept fellowship with other Christians

This teaching is propagated by Arlen L. Chitwood and J.D. Faust. Other millennial exclusionists include the late Watchman Nee and the late A. Edwin Wilson. One should not conclude, however, that these figures represent a single school of thought, for each differs on key points, agreeing only on the major precepts.

Postscript: The term, Kingdom Exclusion, is employed by Faust in his work, The Rod, Will God Spare It?, and thus it is used here.